Friday, March 25, 2011

The Solemnity of the Annunciation: Holy Land Style

Today the Church celebrates the solemnity of the Annunciation, which commemorates the angel Gabriel announcing to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive and bring forth the Savior of the World. We remember and allow ourselves to be inspired by Mary's fiat - her joyful surrender to God's will.

Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done unto me according to thy word.

As those words echo in our hearts today, please enjoy some pictures from my pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

This is a picture of Mary's Well in Nazareth. This well was built over what is believed to be the site of the well from which Mary would have drawn water for her family in Nazareth. This is also the location where (in the Greek Orthodox tradition - not Roman Catholicism) Gabriel appeared to Mary.

This is the main entrance to the Catholic Church of the Annunciation. It is built over the actual home of Joachim and Anne. 

This is the grotto inside the home where the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary (upon which the church from the previous picture was built).

Our group was able to celebrate mass right in front of the site of the Annunciation. In many traditional stories, the presence of Mary is often associated with the otherwise unexplained scent of roses. One of my favorite moments on this trip was during this mass when I could smell the sweetness of roses. That sign of Mary's presence along with our proximity to the location of the holy event that occurred thousands of years ago is a memory that stills brings me joy and peace.

As we take a break from our Lenten fasting today, may the disposition of our hearts and our own surrender to the will of our Father be united to Mary and offered to God through her generous and effective intercession.

Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I May be on Spring Break...

...but I sure do miss the funny moments of teaching. So, in honor of my students (and with a prayer that their breaks are going very well) here are some of my favorites from the last week we were in school.

We had been discussing St. Patrick and the age he was when he died. (He lived a decently long life.) Somehow, it was mentioned that Jesus was 33 when He died...

Student: Wait! What? Jesus was 33 when He died?
Me: Yes.
Student: But why was He so young? How did He die?
Me: (looking at the student but not saying anything)
Student: (with comprehension slowly crossing his face) Oh. Right. They crucified Him.

Student: Miss Hunter, if we leave our thermometer upside down for a long time, will all of that red stuff slide down to the other end?
Me: No, that isn't the way it works. It only moves when the temperature changes.
Another Student: It isn't called "red stuff." It's called Mars.
Me: ...actually, it's Mercury.

Me: (proofreading a student's paragraph) Christopher, Christopher, Christopher, Christopher. You have 5 sentences in the paragraph, and four of them start with "Christopher." Can you think of a pronoun we could use instead of saying "Christopher" so many times?
Student: (pausing for a moment to think) Chris!

Monday, March 21, 2011

I Want to Embrace Gratitude

Waking up for daily morning mass is really, really hard for me. I rarely find the motivation. However, this morning (even after being up until 2 a.m.) was no problem. Would you like to know why?

This morning I wanted to tell Jesus "thank You" more than I wanted to sleep.

I'm serious. That's what got me out of bed.

Gratitude is a powerful thing. I remember once going through a phase where I was struggling to examine my conscience. I wasn't frequenting the Sacrament of Confession because of it. Finally one day I went down to the Chapel and started making a list of all the things for which I was grateful. After developing a decently long list, I immediately began writing all of the things for which I was sorry. After acknowledging the gifts in gratitude, my offenses against the God who had granted those gifts - my sins - became much more obvious.

I need to be grateful. I need to be aware of that gratitude. When I am, it changes me inside. It motivates me to choose God more.

In an effort to continue the gratitude, here is a list of some things for which I am currently very grateful:

1.) Time off from teaching to relax.
2.) God's mercy and forgiveness as it comes to me through the Sacraments and through the people in my life.
3.) The ability to Sacrifice willingly.
4.) The direction God is taking me.
5.) A good job.
6.) Fantastic co-workers.
7.) A "cheap show" movie theater.
8.) Friends who will join me at extremely last minute notice.
9.) Consistent and predictable phone conversations.
10.) Having a car of my own.
11.) Moments that cause me to pause and think, "wow. I might actually be an adult now."

Maybe you feel inclined to make your own gratitude lists too.

If you would like to leave a list in the comments of this post, I would LOVE to read them. If you would rather make a list as part of your private prayer I hope that time is blessed!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

To Know the Father's Will

Sometimes the waters of discernment really are muddy.

Sometimes even with dedicated prayer, the intercession of the multitudes, and an honest heart God's will is simply hard to see. Not because God hides it from us, but because we only grow in our ability to discern when we are forced to work harder for the answer.

I have a friend who has noticed that when God wants him to think or pray about something, He makes it very obvious. God manages to bring up references to the topic EVERYWHERE - a bumper sticker on a car that passes by, the only words heard in a conversation that is passed.  That is not how God speaks to me.

I've lost count of the number of times that I've prayed the St. Therese novena. I've not seen a rose. People all around me have been blessed through the roses that come with that prayer. Not me. Oh I've always gained a lot of spiritual graces while praying the novena (which is what it's all about, right? ;-), but I've never seen the visible sign. That is not how God speaks to me.

To be honest, when I hear God, I hear Him fairly directly. I get a specific message. I receive that message in the stillness and quiet of my heart. (So, naturally, when I don't want to hear an answer I'm quite certain is coming, I avoid the still quiet.) I've spoken with friends who have marveled at this. They long to have God speak to them like that. Typical of human nature is the irony that I long for the signs. Hearing God the way I do comes with some problems. It is often hard for me to trust that something is His voice and not Satan's or my own.

My point is that while we all struggle through the sometimes complicated waters of discernment, we are all swimming in a sea of real and powerful graces.  When I can trust in that I can find some kind of peace. But it isn't easy. I have to set aside A LOT of my own selfishness and fears. I have to really truly believe and live the reality that His grace is sufficient, His mercy overcomes, and His love for me is so great and powerful and perfect that He'll carry me through to an even greater life with Him.

If only I trust - even when things really aren't clear.

He is there.

And is grace IS enough.