Friday, April 25, 2008

Travel Notes

Here are a few notes from seasoned travelers to make your travel experience just so much more enjoyable (based on actual experience. Do not try some of these at home):
1. Make sure you have your flight info and license, but...
If you arrive at the airport and have a confirmation number, but no airline listed on your itinerary, don't worry. Simply type the number in at every kiosk you find. You'll eventually figure out which airline wants you.
If you lose your driver's license on Friday while on tour, do not panic when it is now Tuesday and your flight is the next morning. Pray to St Anthony, and be glad when your previous hostess searches the snowy parking lot at Applebee's and meets you at the airport an hour before your flight leaves with license in hand.
2. Make sure you arrive at the airport at least two hours early, but...
If you set your alarm's time, but do not hit 'enable,'thus missing your flight, sob hysterically to all airline representatives you meet until they rebook you at no extra fee.
If you are staying 1.5 hours from the airport, tarry over a long breakfast, enjoy long farewells to your host family, and drive slowly to the airport. Arriving 17 minutes before your flight leaves gives plenty of time to check four bags, go through security, and buy Cajun snack mix.
3. Bring as little on board the plane as you can, but...
If you are me, whatever size bag you bring on board will not be big enough or small enough. Which is more full: an overflowing book bag or an overflowing purse? And yet neither have what you want when you want it, and neither is small enough to be out of your way.
If you are Mary, your bag is always the same and always perfect.
4. Be prepared for any emergencies, but...
If you get a bad cold on tour, simply accept the entire contents of your host's medicine cabinet, from entire packages of sudafed, to homeopathic drops, to bottles of dimetapp, to stacks of tissues.
If your rental car is not provided with a scraper while on a Northern tour, use your tough Florida hands to do the trick. And do it with the car door open so that your seat gets covered with snow.
If you are in a hotel room without water, don't despair. Your tongue will sooner or later unstick from your throat.
5. Always know where you are going and who you are staying with, but...
If you are following your handy-dandy GPS,be aware that it does not discriminate between driveway A and driveway B. You may end up unloading your multitudinous bags into the wrong house, with the wrong people looking on.
If you are staying with Mr. XYZ and Family, be aware that there might not be a family. This could be indicated by the presence of a single milk carton and a bottle of mustard in the fridge and an absence of anything else.
If you forget where you are, just lay there in bed until your alarm goes off, at which point the hazy particulars of your life will return to a sharp focus.
If you cannot remember whether Charlotte is in North or South Carolina, don't bring up the subject of connecting flights.
If a show is cancelled and you are going home a day ahead of time, be aware that this may throw a kink into your boyfriend's proposal plans, who has flown in from Florida to surprise you in Illinois and is waiting for you in a chapel with flowers and candles. (Don't worry, it worked out!)
6.Try to follow a healthy eating and sleeping schedule, but...
If you have an evening show, you will be forced to have fast food for dinner and go to sleep with a fatty burger in your belly.
If you don't want to risk taking a risk at a local joint, you will start frequenting the same big name places all over the country and after a while Panera and Ruby Tuesdays aren't so cool.
If you start getting snobby over the taste of one place's ice water over another's, its time to let go.
If you get tired, you will need to take naps in strange places, such as in parking lots and on floors of parish halls, and in strange positions, (who knew your neck could bend like that, or that your legs could fold into such a small space?).

Ah, yes. Just some of the wisdom of travelers.

Why do you wonder at this, O Man?

How is it that Mary is still a virgin even though she had a baby?
Great question, one that requires a careful answer.
First off, its a mystery.
Our human minds cannot easily grasp the technical workings of how a baby was conceived inside a woman without a man being involved. Mary even asked the angel how it could be so: "How shall this be done, because I know not man?" The angel assured her: "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God."
St Joseph didn't understand it either. He was betrothed to Mary and upon discovering her condition, decided to put her away quietly, as the Bible says. This means that he was going to break off the marriage with her in a quiet manner so as to spare her from the shame, public humiliation, and probably death that would result from her "adultery" being made known. It took an angel in a dream to convince Joseph that Mary was innocent of any wrongdoing, and to the contrary, was blessed beyond any other woman in the world: "The Angel of the Lord appeared to him in his sleep, saying: Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost."
So the Bible makes it clear that Mary was "overshdowed" by the Holy Spirit, making Him the Father of Jesus and leaving Mary a virgin. This answer was not particularly helpful to the eight-grader who asked it of me. He was still thinking... "Yes, but... How?"
Unfortunately, I could not give him a biological explanation of the process of 'overshadowing' as a health class would be able to of the processes of human reproduction. I came upon a great meditation on this subject though, in Fr. Gabriel's Divine Intimacy, in his chapter, "Spouse of the Holy Spirit."
He says that the Holy Spirit, already in Mary's sinless soul from birth to an extent we can barely imagine, come upon her in such fullness that that He formed within her womb the Body of Jesus. She was so filled with God that she conceived God. She was such a tabernacle of the Lord in a spiritual sense that she bacame a tabernacle in a bodily sense. This we can see in our own lives to a ceratin degree. We talk about the bodily manifestations of interior thoughts and feelings all the time. When you are upset, your friends only need to look at your face. When you are filled with grace, people will be able to tell from the outide. We say that "her face shone" when she came out of confession, that after receiving Communion, he looked like he "had died and gone to heaven." The fruits of grace have an effect not only on our souls, but also on our bodies. So too was there a bodily result from the intense power and grace of God filling Mary, so much so, that a new body was created within her.
This is but a poor treatment of such a glorious subject, but I can only encourage you to meditate and pray about this mystery. The virginity of Mary is one of our most cherished beliefs as Catholics, one that sets us apart from other Christian groups.
I could say to that eight-grader that with God anything is possible. I could say that as lowly creatures, it is not up to us to demand an explanation from the Most High of how He chooses to work. I could say that the Church said so, and that's the end of it. But it boils down to the gift of Understanding that we all receive in the sacrament of Confirmation and that sadly only some of us work to develop. We pray to understand the mysteries of the faith, not so that we can start imagining how Mary's body reacted to the Holy Spirit, but so that we start to see how it could not have been any other way. We start to see the vast significances and beautiful intricacies of God's plan for Incarnation in the way that it happened, as compared to any other way. We start to see that God has a reason for everything, even if we do not follow His reasoning. We start to see the love and care God has for us, that all things work together for our own good if we want to accept His love.
Mary's virginity is a mystery of the faith. We know that it is so because the Church teaches it is, both from Tradition and from the Bible itself. This knowledge is a gift to us, and we must pray that the Holy Spirit fill us with His graces and gifts too, so that we may understand and love.
"It was not the visible sun, but its invisible Creator who consecrated this day for us, when the Virgin Mother, fertile of womb and integral in her virginity, brought him forth, made visible for us, by whom, when he was invisible, she too was created. A Virgin conceiving, a Virgin bearing, a Virgin pregnant, a Virgin bringing forth, a Virgin perpetual. Why do you wonder at this, O man?" (Augustine Sermons 186:1 [A.D. 411]).
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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I read in the Examination that...

I love kids. This last retreat underlined that for me.
We arrived in beautiful California in the afternoon, though for us, it was the evening. Our generous hostess drove us through the farmland just above the fertile San Joaquin valley along highway 49, which to all you history buffs makes reference to the events that put Sacramento on the map, literally: the gold rush of 1849. John Sutter's mill is not too far from here, but we have no time for sightseeing. We were promised a log house, but found ourselves at a log mansion situated at the top of a giant hill overlooking the valley below us and standing at the foot of mountains behind us. Goats, cattle, dogs and puppies alternately jump and sleep among the rocks and grassy fields and twisted trees on this thousand acre ranch.
Its amazing to me how L.A., Santa Barbara, Napa, San Fransisco and this place call all be in the same state... (which reminds me, does anyone realize that California has a Govenator? I bought a Schwarzenegger mug in the airport gift store labeled "The Govenator of California." Wow.)
Back to business: the retreat was at a beautiful location and we had minimal setting up to do before starting. The 26 kids present were a great group. They were lively and attentive, and really took advantage of the extra time we gave for Adoration, Confession, and the rosary. Many had not been to confession since receiving First Holy Communion, only one had ever said the rosary, and no one even knew what Adoration was. Yet their spirit was great. I knew they were paying attention when after settling in again to the retreat hall after confession, one kid raised his hand in response to my telling them to be proud of themselves that their souls were now clean and that they were able to do so much in one day. He said: "I read in the Examination of Conscience that its a sin to be proud of yourself." Well, he got me there, but only long enough for my brain to smile happily before answering him.
I love kids.

Whadda Do?

On our way to California we had a number of curious encounters. One of these became our theme for the weekend: Whadda do?
We left for the airport before 5 am for our 7 am flight. We flew Frontier (a whole different animal, for you carrier buffs) and for anyone who is interested, Fritz the mountain goat accompanied us to Denver, at which point Hector the otter took over for the trip to Sacramento.
We arrive in Denver and decide to have lunch during our three hour layover. We find a little place near our gate and sit down, slightly tired from our early rising and slightly on edge due to at least six screaming babies being on board our four hour flight, one of whom had decided it was a good idea to crawl beneath my seat and play with my ankles.
So there we are, sitting peacefully waiting for our food, when suddenly, out of the clear blue sky, a knife sails over and strikes Tricia on her hand, which was laying innocently in her lap. A loud surprised "OW" escapes from her lips, as she looks around for the thrower of the missile, which, though plastic, had some force behind it. A tall gangly waiter glances over unconcernedly, his long brown hair combed neatly over his eyes. An angel's halo glows above his brow, and the innocence of a newborn babe flows out of his voice as he says: "Whaddo do?" Yet this paradigm of guilelessness clutched a handful of telling evidence: several plastic knives in one hand, with the other hand remaining inside the silverware box at the servery. I feared for this young man's life in the first few tense moments, but Tricia only looked at him in silence and then stated calmly, "It didn't really hurt." I stole another glance at the offending party, but he only gave a brief "Oh" in response and returned to the perusal of his collection of cutlery.
So there you have it. The phrase "Whadda Do" carried us through the rest of the weekend.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Habemus Papam!

Here I am getting ready for our next trip! We head out to CA early tomorrow morning: 4:40 am to be exact. Even as I think of that hour, I groan. I just came down with a cold too, so perhaps my groan is more like a wheeze. Still, the point is the same: anything before 7:30 am is too early. And besides I could be going to see the Pope. Ah yes. The Pope! Pope Benedict is in America! That is a whole ocean closer than he has been to us since he become pope! We have the Pope!
The last time I heard that phrase, I was in St Peter's Square. In 2005, I stood in the piazza gaping at the white smoke rising and curling from the tiny smokestack above the Sistine Chapel, unable to grasp the fact that white smoke = new pope. That smoke signalled the election of the pope who was to replace the familiar John Paul II, the pope we all grew up with. I pushed and jostled my way to the front of the crowd as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was introduced to the crowd below as Benedict the sixteenth. The utter silence exploded into shouts and huzzahs of joy! Habemus Papam!
And yet I will not be there in NY this weekend. Instead I will be flying to beautiful California, landing at the Sacramento airport, on our way to Angel's Camp. There we will be doing much the same as the pope, though on a smaller scale. We will have 25 kids, while he will fill Yankee stadium (capacity 45,000, nevermind the seats being set up on the field) on Sunday. Yet we and the Pope share a common goal of being willing participants in the army of Christ. We all have that mission. Through our Confirmations we are made soldiers for Christ, with the responsibility of making His fight our own. We must learn more about Him whom we fight for. We must witness to the power of His words. We must be shining examples for all to see, even as Pope Benedict is surrounded by thousands of cheering faces. Pope Benedict comes to tell us of Christ our hoe. We must remember that. Christ is our hope in this dark spiritual battle. Even as we fight for Him, we know He is fighting for us, that He is dying for us every day in the mass as Calvary is reenacted.
Pope Benedict comes to America as the representative of Christ. He is the Head of the Church, our leader and general in the spiritual battle for souls. Christ told Simon "You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Peter means "rock" and through the apostolic succession, we are assured that Christ has never left us alone. The Authority of the Church, given to Peter when Jesus gave him the keys to Heaven and earth, has been passed down in an unbroken line to this very Pope Benedict! Amazing! Keep an eye on this weekends activities... and read some of the speeches and talks he gives online if you cannot watch any of the events live. EWTN has had steady coverage on the visit and major news channels will also have some coverage of the major events. For the Pope's itinerary check out:,2933,350448,00.html?sPage=fnc/world/papalvisit
More later!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Greatest Weapon

If we as the Church Militant are fighting a spiritual battle, then what is our greatest weapon?
Well, while you probably could come up with lots of pretty powerful weapons the Church gives us, the title "greatest weapon" has already been claimed... by the Rosary.
The Rosary is a prayer dedicated to Our Lady, made up of One Apostle's Creed, six Our Fathers, 53 Hail Mary's, 6 Glory Be's and one Hail, Hail Queen. It has been a prayer of the universal church for centuries.
But that is just the tip of the iceberg.
The Rosary combines mental and vocal prayer. It combines intercessory prayer with prayers of praise and thanksgiving. You worship the Trinity, you profess your faith, you honor God's beloved mother, you put yourself on God's side and make some powerful friends up in Heaven. By saying one Rosary, you have pretty much covered your bases.
To start from the top, 'intercession' means to ask in the place of. So we ask Our Lady to go to God in our stead to present Him with our petitions. It’s like asking your cute little sister to go ask Dad to for an ice cream cone. Your dad just can’t say no to her. So it is with Our Lady, who was so beloved of God that He can’t say no to her. Anything we ask of God through Our Lady He will grant us. She is His mother, chosen from all the women throughout the history of the world to bear His son. She cared for Him, imitated Him, and suffered with Him. She stood at the foot of the cross when He and the truth He taught were at their ugliest. And so, before starting the rosary, we say our petitions. We list the things we want from God, thanking Him for what He has already done for us, and asking Him to make us saints, asking our Lady to remind Her Son of the promises He made to save us from sin and death. Then we pray the prayers. We start with the Apostle's Creed, which goes through what we believe as Catholics. If you ever need a quick way to answer anyone who asks you what you believe in, say the Apostles creed. The Our Father comes directly from the Bible, from the Sermon on the Mount when the apostles asked Jesus how to pray. He teaches them the Our Father. In it, we are taught to speak to God as a father. We praise His name, and we pray that His will is done on earth. Then we ask that He help us every day and give us what we need. We ask for forgiveness, and we promise to forgive. We ask for strength against the temptations of Satan. The Hail Mary comes from the words of the the angel when he came to ask Mary to be the mother of God and from the words of Mary’s cousin St Elizabeth. We repeat these words to give her and her Son honor. Then we ask her to care for us every day of our lives. We put ourselves into her care.
Each set of one Our Father and ten Hail Mary’s, called a decade, is dedicated to a certain event in the lives of Jesus and Mary. We are supposed to think about that event while we pray the prayers with our mouths. When we announce the Crucifixion, we are supposed to think about how Jesus loved us so much that He died for our sins, and how much every sin we commit hurts Him. Prayers in our mind are called mental prayers or meditation, and prayers with our mouths are called vocal prayers. The rosary combines these two types of prayer. This is perfect for people just starting in the faith, for they can learn how to pray by saying the words. As you grow in your spiritual life, you can begin to picture each scene and begin to understand the mysteries of each decade. There are five decades in one mystery. It only takes about 15-20 minutes to say one mystery (a TV episode is longer!) and there are four different mysteries. They are called mysteries because they are hard to understand. The Joyful Mysteries cover the conception, birth and childhood of Jesus. The Luminous mysteries come next and go over the public ministry of Jesus and the preaching of the word. The Sorrowful mysteries cover His Passion and Death. The final mystery is called Glorious because the decades cover the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead and events in the church after He ascends.
You should pray all four mysteries every day, since the four mysteries together equal one rosary, but usually people just say the mystery that is assigned to the day. Saturday and Monday are Joyful mysteries, Tuesday and Friday are Sorrowful and Thursdays are Luminous. Sundays and Wednesdays are glorious.
If you need more reasons to actually say the rosary, here some of the 15 promises made by Our Lady to Blessed Alan de le Roche about the Rosary:

To all those who shall pray my Rosary devoutly, I promise my special protection and great graces.

The Rosary will be a very powerful armor against hell; it will destroy vice, deliver from sin and dispel heresy.

The rosary will make virtue and good works flourish, and will obtain for souls the most abundant divine mercies. It will draw the hearts of men from the love of the world and its vanities, and will lift them to the desire of eternal things. Oh, that souls would sanctify themselves by this means.

Those who trust themselves to me through the Rosary will not perish.

Whoever recites my Rosary devoutly reflecting on the mysteries, shall never be overwhelmed by misfortune. He will not experience the anger of God nor will he perish by an unprovided death. The sinner will be converted; the just will persevere in grace and merit eternal life.

Those who are faithful to recite my Rosary shall have during their life and at their death the light of God and the plenitude of His graces and will share in the merits of the blessed.

I will deliver promptly from purgatory souls devoted to my Rosary.

True children of my Rosary will enjoy great glory in heaven.

What you shall ask through my Rosary you shall obtain.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Be Still and Know that I am God

Have you ever woken up in the morning and just felt sad? You look at your life and it hits you that you are fat, ugly,and wearing a mismatching outfit, that everything you say and do is wrong, that you have no future, and that nobody loves you. And even worse, you realize that this is a truer sight, that all your previous happiness was merely an illusion occasioned by a pair of rose-colored glasses. I know there is no reason for my sadness, and yet this intellectual knowledge does nothing to soothe my heart, which just cries and cries, weeping the sad tears of a lonely child.
What do you do? I usually have to take a shower, change my clothes, clean my room, and sit in the chapel. I have to restart the day, try again where the first one failed. Maybe I am just tired. Maybe it is something I ate, or didn't eat. Maybe I got an email from a friend that was worded oddly. Maybe I have to make a decision that I don't want to. Any number of little things can make me sadder on a sad day.
Yet even as I cry, I know that there is a reason for my tears, or, rather, that they have significance. I am not talking about the tears you cry when you are suffering in the strict sense, just about that sadness that comes over you at a moment's notice. You seem to be minding your own business, proceeding with the day, but all of a sudden some little thing sets you off and your whole life darkens.
I think that the sadnesses we experience are part of God's plan. Not that He sends sadness to us, but rather that we experience it because we long for something greater than our life here. As St. Augustine wrote, "Thou hast made us for thyself, Oh Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee." We cannot argue with him: our hearts feel sad even when our lives are fine. We send up our sighs in this vale of tears, longing for eternal happiness.
At times like these, at least for me, there is no arguing with myself. I can only think of the words of the Lord: "Be still and know that I am God." Take a deep breath. Calm your frenzied souls and minds. God is there, as a Father and Brother, extending His hand to you with the utmost sympathy. As a child of God, there is no need for fear. Don't just hope that He is there, know that He is God. Know that our lives are precious, that we are loved; know that this present sadness is not how things really are. Why is it that we see the darker vision as the truer one? What part of our wounded human nature seriously believes that these little pinpricks of life are truer than the joys of life? Why do the joys seem superficial? They aren't. Joy is lasting where sadness is passing, because joy comes from love. When we love and receive love, we are joyful. Life is meaningful and beautiful, because we have a purpose and goal, because we know God is God and we do not need to trouble ourselves.
That is why St Paul writes, "And now there remain faith, hope, and love, these three: but the greatest of these is love." When we are sad here on earth, we need hope and faith. But if we have sure knowledge of God and His goodness, we do not need faith (belief in things unseen) or hope (confident desire of obtaining a future good), only love that grows and grows infinitely in joy. This joy is the truest reality. For here we "see through a glass darkly," but with God all is revealed and brought to fulfilment.
Be still and know that I am God.