Monday, January 27, 2014

And it's...Mercy Monday!

Happy Mercy Monday, everyone!

I've decided--in an attempt to live out my New Liturgical Year Resolution of immersing myself in God's mystery of mercy (which is cool, because my household is reading St. Faustina's Diary this year, and "inducting" St. Faustina)--to begin Mercy Mondays. 

Basically, providing a lovely, short excerpt from the Diary each Monday. Why? Because the Diary is awesome. And God's mercy is way more awesome. And the Diary can appear super daunting to read, since it's huge (I mean, Jacob and I have been working on it since September, and we're only in the first notebook...). 

So here we go! 

“Jesus was suddenly standing before me, stripped of His clothes, His body completely covered with wounds, His eyes flooded with tears and blood, His face disfigured and covered with spittle. The Lord then said to me, The bride must resemble her Betrothed. I understood these words to their very depth. There is no room for doubt here. My likeness to Jesus must be through suffering and humility.”  (taken from the end of Section 268, Notebook 1)

What is characteristic to any nuptial relationship? Two individuals becoming one.
"For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother [and be joined to his wife], 
and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh." (Mk 10:7-8)

And what happens when we receive the Eucharist? The Jesus-Body, Blood, Soul, Divinity (in other words, His Flesh + His Soul and Divinity) is united to ours! We are given the tremendous gift of a nuptial relationship with Christ in the Eucharist. So, what Jesus said to St. Faustina about resembling Him is not simply for her alone. We receive our Bridegroom at Mass, and it is only right that we become images of Him! (incidentally, I find it ironic that I've seen married couples who-in my opinion-have a slight resemblance to each other. Maybe it's just my imagination, but who knows...)

As St. Faustina said, "My likeness to Jesus must be through suffering and humility."    

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Just Keep Marching, Just Keep Marching, Just Keep Marching, Marching, Marching!

Approximately a couple hundred thousand people spent hours on end in the freezing cold (which, I heard, even plunged into the single digits with windchill and whatnot) on January 22. Several buses from across the country were cancelled because of the weather. Yet people still came if they could. Some of these people came from a couple hours away. Others traveled from 26 hours away. Many of these people were experiencing sleep deprivation and a bit of hunger, in addition to the cold. A certain kind of wildness must live within these people. When these thousands of people could have been doing what they wanted to do, in the warmth of houses and dorm rooms, they freely chose to stand and nearly freeze for hours on end. What kind of people are these?

 They are not a certain cookie-cutter type of people. Lutherans, Orthodox Christians, Anglicans, Jews, Latinos, Catholics, Canadians, College Students, High School Students, Politicians, Introverts, many groups (some people belonging to more than one group, obviously) all converged in a big melting--er--freezing pot.

Because all of these individuals share a passion for life, and want life to be experienced by all--including those in the womb. The March for Life that descended on Washington D.C. on January 22, 2014, was not a sorrowful, miserable affair. Yes, we were cold and uncomfortable. But joy extends beyond mere external conditions. The March for Life is a celebration of life; it is a unifying of thousands of people, of different backgrounds and religions, in order to show the world that we love life-and everyone must be allowed life! 

Despite the fact that I had previously been on the March three times, I was really struck by the universality of the pro-life movement this year. I read an article that the people in charge of the March were seeking to make it more ecumenical, and they did a marvelous job. With an Orthodox Bishop leading prayer at the beginning, the reading of a "tweet" by Pope Francis to all of us, a mini-concert by the Catholic singer Matt Maher (who I ran into on the sidewalk earlier in the day!!!), and ending with prayer led by Dr. James Dobson, the rally to kick off the March was a beautiful way to draw all people together under the banner of life.

Another aspect of the March that hit me in a new way was the gift of our presence at the March. Being able to go to the March is a gift, which no one should take for granted. We have the right to assemble in public and make our voices heard, and shame on us if we don't exercise that right in speaking out for the unborn!

I'm currently taking a Holocaust Literature class, so I was also constantly seeing my presence at the March as a way of unifying myself with the martyrs in the Holocaust, praying for an end to our current Holocaust. As I stood on the packed metro, I remembered the many people-Catholics, Jews, Gypsies, and so many others-who were forced onto packed trains and cattle cars during WWII, before they met their death. As I stood in the freezing cold for hours before the March, I remembered how those in concentration camps would have to work and live in ridiculously cold and harsh conditions. As I marched with thousands of people, I remembered the death marches of WWII, and how so many people were forced to suffer in that way.

I experienced the cold temperatures while wearing two pairs of socks, boots, four pairs of leggings, a skirt, a warm coat, gloves, and a hat, so I was in luxury compared to the victims of the Holocaust. What I experienced was nothing compared to the suffering that they endured. And what I experienced was nothing compared to the suffering that millions of parents and babies experience a year with abortion. I was not forced to go out to D.C. on January 22. I could have taken a free day on campus (FUS cancels classes for the March). I chose to march in D.C. God has given me the gift of life, and it is my duty to speak up for those who have that gift stolen away from them.

The dashing FUS group after morning Mass at the National Shrine
of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. I'm in the middle,
and I look like a mummy because I wrapped my face in a white
scarf due to the cold! 
 We do not have the luxury of sitting in our comfortable lives. We may be good people, and pray for the end of abortion. And prayer is vital! But so is witness. Even if we may not feel all that comfortable with making a public display sometimes. We need to get uncomfortable and witness to life-even if that means depriving ourselves of sleep and warmth for hours on end in D.C. Even if that means taking the time-and effort-to drive to the nearest abortion clinic to pray. Even if that means standing at "Life Chain" each October for a couple hours. We cannot hide away and hope that abortion will end. We cannot stick our heads under our covers and wait for contraception-and the contraceptive mentality-to stop.
We need to get out there and join the movement! Don't just "Be" pro-life; "Live" pro-life every day.

Some may think that the M4L2014 ended at the Supreme Court building on January 22. That's just not true. The March for Life continues. Each and every day, we decide if we will stand up for life.
Pray at an abortion clinic. Pray at a Planned Parenthood. Teach others about the truth of abortion (because, believe it or not, there are TONS of people out there who legitimately don't know what abortion or contraception are or what they do). Pray. Pray, pray, pray. But don't stop there. Act. Live. March.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Do You Want to Build a Snowman? A Sanguine's Reflection on "Frozen"

Yesterday, Jacob and I went to see Frozen, because we had been given movie ticket vouchers as a gift, and because we heard it was awesome. Well, that is only partway true. We were going to see Frozen, but then I decided that The Hobbit would be cooler on the big screen, but then we got lost on the way to the theater (the theater that took our vouchers was in some town in PA) and missed The Hobbit. But we got there in time to see Frozen! And I am so very, very glad. 

I honestly did not know much about the movie, except that it was loosely inspired by "The Snow Queen" (by Hans Christian Anderson), centered around the relationship between two sisters (one of whom has the power to make snow/ice), and, according to numerous Frannies, was extremely catechetical. 


I had already been listening to the soundtrack, so I knew that the music was amazing. Still...oh, it was beautiful. And the visuals were incredible as well. So gorgeous! And I love snow, hence I was pretty happy to see the beauty of winter portrayed well. The movie was not perfect (ie: a bishop is seen in the coronation scene, yet who are the experts of love and healing? Magical trolls. Disney has yet to give a strong place to positive Church figures in a princess movie; though I feel that clothing has improved in Disney princess films, some of the clothes were a bit indecent) but was very, very good

The character development was super interesting (though I really wanted more development of Kristoff's character-including more of a backstory), and the snow thing was intriguing. (which also left me desiring more explanation of its origin-so Elsa was "born with it"-and...any others in her family line born with it? Just a random fluke of birth? I wanted a little bit more to explain the snow power)

However, by far, my favorite element of the movie is Princess Anna.
Feisty and red-haired, full of life and spirit, Anna is the ultimate sanguine, and I love it! During the whole movie, I would repeatedly whack Jacob’s arm, excitedly whispering, “That’s just like what I do! I say that kind of thing all the time!” etc. So many things to love about Anna. Her courage, her awkwardness—both with her words and on her feet, her failure with direction/physical activity…so many other things I can’t remember off the top of my head. Oh yeah, and her immense love of chocolate. I basically felt like I was watching myself on screen for a large portion of the movie J

I feel that the whole movie is full of/about Anna’s development. Yes, the movie is about Elsa discovering how to use her power of snow/ice, and it's about their relationship as sisters, but really, Anna’s story is a driving backbone through the whole scenario. As I watched-and thought about-Frozen, I was continually struck with Anna's process of learning how to love in a Godly way.
***Warning**** Spoilers to Follow******
 As a sanguine/people person, Anna loves spending time with her sister in the beginning. “Do you want to build a snowman” is such a sweet song, and a ridiculously cute scene. 
As Elsa pushes Anna away, Anna continues to persevere in love for her sister. She's constantly pounding on Elsa's door, begging her to come and play. Here, Anna reminded me of God's love for us: that He continually comes to us, loving us-and we either let the door of our hearts open, or we sin and slam it--or keep it closed--and close ourselves off to His love. Anna has all this love in the world to give, and finds herself befriending the suits of armor and the pictures on the walls (here, I was reminded of so many Forensics tournaments in high school where my fellow students and I would talk to walls as we practiced). 
Such an awkward introduction. So awesome!

So, when the coronation comes, Anna is ecstatic that she will see all of these people "for the first time and forever." Full of love, she has fantasized her True Love, and has been holding the hope in her heart that she will meet him. When she does meet Prince Hans, Anna is her spunky, awkward sanguine self in her actions and words, and impulsively falls in love with him, agreeing to marry him. Such a sanguine moment! I have to confess, I loved the musical scene ("Love is an Open Door") with Anna and Hans. It was so fun! Continuing in her sanguineness, Anna is torn to pieces when Elsa refuses to offer her blessing to their engagement, and thus ensues the whole freezing over of the kingdom. 

Anna has this man who she has "fallen in love with," and now her sister is rejecting them-yet Anna does not let Elsa's decision affect the love that she has for Elsa. Instead, Anna sacrifices herself by traveling out into the snowy, icy weather to find Elsa. Of course, being a sanguine, she thinks everything will be solved by simply talking things over with Elsa-and has no other plans/ideas. (again, I can relate...) As she journeys to find Elsa, Anna meets up with Kristoff, who begins to sacrifice himself for her. As the story continues, I watched Kristoff and Anna's friendship and sacrifice grow, and Anna's love for her sister deepen in intensity, especially as she reaches the ice castle. 

Sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice. I kept seeing characters sacrificing for each other. In Disney Princess films over the years, I have seen some major selfishness (I'm not going to get on my "The Little Mermaid" rant here, but seriously---the Disneyfied version makes Ariel completely self-serving!). But in Frozen, this is not the case. When Olaf the snowman and Anna had this conversation, I freaked out inside:
Anna: “I don’t even know what true love is,” 
Olaf: “I do! That’s when you put someone else’s needs before your own.”

Disney? Yeah. You just captured the essence of the Christian life right there. From the mouth of a snowman. What just happened? SO PUMPED!!! And then, of course, I completely died with joy at the conclusion of the movie. An act of true love will save an icy heart. As Anna is on the brink of freezing to death, her lover-Kristoff-is racing towards her to save her life. The man of her dreams was coming to save her life, and even though she could see that Elsa was about to die, she could just do nothing and let Kristoff save her. But Anna's immense love for mankind has been transformed through sacrifice in this whole movie. Even the smallest bit of selfishness has left her, she is truly living for others. Laying aside her own desires, she sacrifices her life for Elsa. As I was writing this bog, I found a nifty article that Prof. Bob Rice wrote about eros and agape, which is worth checking out here. Anna lets her erotic love, her romantic, impulsive, passionate love, grow-but it is purified through sacrifice. Such a unity, such a transformation, is so profoundly necessary in our lives, and I was ecstatic that a Disney movie captured it! (other Disney princess movies will show self-sacrifice, but Frozen actually mentioned love being self-sacrifice). 

In Section 4 of Deus Caritas Est, Pope Emeritus Benedict states that  "Evidently, eros needs to be disciplined and purified if it is to provide not just fleeting pleasure, but a certain foretaste of the pinnacle of our existence, of that beatitude for which our whole being yearns."

In Section 10, he continues with "God is the absolute and ultimate source of all being; but this universal principle of creation—the Logos, primordial reason—is at the same time a lover with all the passion of a true love. Eros is thus supremely ennobled, yet at the same time it is so purified as to become one with agape." 

Watching Frozen yesterday caused me to reflect back on the readings from Mass on Tuesday: 
Beloved, let us love one another,
because love is of God;
everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.
Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.
In this way the love of God was revealed to us:
God sent his only-begotten Son into the world
so that we might have life through him.
In this is love:
not that we have loved God, but that he loved us
and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. (1 JN 4:7-10)

And from the next day, 
There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear (1 Jn 4:16)

Anna did not fear; she courageously loved with every fiber of her being! 

**Like I said, Frozen is not a perfect movie. I even had a couple reservations towards the beginning, with the whole repression-expression thing that Elsa went through, because some people may take that in regards to homosexuality (I even saw it mentioned in a review later on). The whole repression-expression aspect of the movie could fit an entire blog post in itself. However, people can take anything to fit their own agendas, so I'm not going to spend to much time on that idea. Foremost, the reality and message that is given a label is "true love equals sacrifice," which our world needs more of!**

In Frozen, we are given a beautiful example of love being transformed and perfected through sacrifice. Anna sacrifices herself, and that sacrificial love-agape-ultimately is what brings life back to her and the country. And Anna still gets her Kristoff in the end, which was an added bonus. AND, Olaf gets his own personal flurry, so that he can enjoy the summertime without melting. Oh yeah, and when Sven takes Olaf's carrot at the end, he doesn't eat it--he gives it back. A sacrifice, however small, is still a sacrifice. Love it! A classic happily-ever-after Disney ending, but with so much growth along the way. (It reminded me a bit of Beauty and the Beast as I watched it, because Belle also sacrifices herself for another and there's lots of great music to boot). 
Plus, who can resist such a cute snowman? 

Hi, I'm Olaf and I like warm hugs!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Tale of Ferdinand, or, The Great Duck Adventure

Our first Christmas as a married couple!
Way back in November, when Jacob and I were buying our Thanksgiving turkey, he noticed the display of geese, cornish hens, and ducks that were frozen and right next to the turkeys. Immediately, Jacob began to enthusiastically proclaim his desire to cook a duck "just like the one in Babe." So, we decided that for Christmas, we would prepare a duck to celebrate.

The dango that guarded our front door
 (along with the angels). 
                                            We traveled to Washington to spend Christmas day and that week with Jacob's family, and they happen to own the video of Babe. Since I have not seen that movie in forever, one night, Jacob and I curled up on the couch and watched it. And it was as amazing as I remembered! Soon after, we returned home to our dango (I left green dango facing the door to creep out intruders) and the duck that lay in the freezer.

Last Saturday evening, the beginning of the feast of the Epiphany, we decided to prepare the duck. Such a festive occasion necessitated the greatest solemnity, and I decided that the duck needed a name. Since I couldn't remember the name of the Christmas duck in Babe, I decided on the next best option: Ferdinand, the duck who acted like a rooster.
Jacob gave me another part of my Christmas present--a new roasting pan!--and we prepared for the 3 hour process of Ferdinand cooking into a luscious dinner.

Ferdinand, prior to my slashing and hacking away (when you cook
ducks, you're supposed to make slashes all over to let the fat drain out). 

Yes, partway through the cooking process, I found the neck.
Jacob could not pull it out of the body, but it stretched
all through the body to pop out the opposite end!
It's almost like HE'S ALIVE!
(But he's not. Because he's partially cooked. He is
in fact all dead.)

As we tried to pull out the bag of orange glaze (I still don't understand why the bags of glaze are always stuck inside the carcass, because they just freeze in there and are tough to get out!), we found that the neck was still frozen solid inside of the duck. Well, no way that was going to go. To my chagrin, we were going to cook Ferdinand with his neck intact.

For some reason, I became obsessed with the disgusting reality that the neck of our duck lay inside of his body, cooking with the rest of him. Perhaps it was due to the fact that I did not want to accidentally eat part of his neck? I'm not entirely sure. Regardless, with gusto I plunged into the activity of flipping over Ferdinand, poking his skin to let the fat out, and patiently waiting while he cooked.
Despite my enthusiastic attempts at cooking him to perfection, I was unable to pull out the neck, and I did not achieve the crispy skin that every recipe raved about. However, Jacob and I were still both pleased with our delicious Epiphany feast! Seriously, we were eating a duck. That's so awesome!

Ready to eat! I'm donning my solemnity hat,
because it was the Solemnity of the Epiphany,
so such a hat is only appropriate. And the
apron was a present from my family--they made
aprons for Jacob and I with matching potholders
for Christmas! 
Even though we probably aren't going to cook a duck again (they taste good, but we can also prepare chicken and turkey to taste good without a 4 hour process and the expense of a duck), it was an epic adventure! What a way to celebrate the Epiphany--feasting like kings on a home-prepared duck.

Monday, January 6, 2014

On Reading Out Loud

When I was younger, my mom read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy out loud to my younger brother and I. And it was amazing! Hearing my mom's voice weave together the story with the beauty of Tolkien's language was wonderful. There are many aspects of reading out loud which I enjoy, to name a few:

1. Hearing a story out loud brings it to life, moving from simply the sense of sight to the sense of hearing. This may not seem like a big deal, and I don't want to downplay reading words in any way. However, there is something special about hearing. When hearing a story that is read out loud, I use my ears to engage my whole mind in understanding the story. When a story is spoken or read, the reader's voice will many times change tones to express the different voices and feelings that the characters are using. Thus, hearing a story helps to bring the characters to life. (Incidentally, as I write this, I'm thinking more and more of Inkheart, where the reader's voice is quite powerful...)

2. Going further with this, hearing a story causes my ears, heart, and mind to focus more on the story as my eyes rest. Granted, there are times where it is much easier for me to visually see the words on a page to understand what is going on, but letting my eyes rest is a good way to train my mind to focus on various elements of the story. Also, letting my eyes rest while I hear the words being spoken is just plain relaxing.
          I remember a time in high school where I was at a youth group lock-in, and one of my friends asked              me to speak about my life. I was sitting there, talking on and on, and eventually realized that my friend            had fallen asleep. When he woke up later, he explained that he didn't tell me to stop talking when he             was falling asleep, because hearing me speak was so peaceful.
Being able to hear is a blessing, for it helps us to know our surroundings. In turn, knowing our surroundings through hearing also engages us in our community. When I fall asleep at night, hearing the gentle breathing of my husband is a reminder and reassurance of his presence. Sitting in the J.C. Williams center on campus enables me to hear a variety of voices, music, and other sounds blend together. Sometimes I will hear a distinct laugh or shout over the other sounds, which then gives me the knowledge that a household sister or friend is nearby.

3. Perhaps one of the biggest reasons why I like reading out loud is what #2 began speaking about: person-to-person interaction. Reading out loud is a beautiful way for people to interact and engage in literature together. For instance, a father or mother reading out loud to his or her children. The father or mother is reading a story from a book, and the children are gathered around, listening, asking questions, and responding to the reading. I love reading books by myself, but when a group is reading out loud together, there is a special community that is created. I don't know how to describe it exactly, but it's awesome.

As I was reading Meditations Before Mass the other day, I came across a whole chapter about "Silence and Hearing" in regards to the Mass. I thought this chapter was really interesting, partially because Guardini addresses the act of following along in the missalette while the lector read (something which I have done sometimes, but am now thinking more about not doing based on Guardini's reflections.):

"What do those believers who love the Liturgy and wish to participate in it as fully as possible do? They take their missals in hand and read along with the reader. They mean well; they are eager not to miss a word; yet how odd the whole situation is! There stands the reader, continuing the service which the deacon once performed. Solemnly he reads the sacred words, and the believers he is addressing read with him! Can this be a genuine form of the spiritual act? Obviously not. Something has been destroyed.
Solemn reading requires listening, not simultaneous reading. Otherwise, why read aloud at all? Our bookish upbringing is to blam efor this unnaturalness. Most deplorably, it encourages people to read when they should listen. As a result, the fairy tale has dies and poetry has lost its power; for its resonant, wise, fervent and festive language is meant to be heard, not read...
The saving God who came to us was the eternal Word. But that Word did not come in a blaze of spiritual illumination or as something suddenly appearing in a book. He "was made flesh," flesh that could be seen, heard, grasped with hands, as St. Jon so graphically insists in the opening lines of his first epistle. The same mystery continues in the living word of liturgical proclamation, and it is all-important that the connection remains vital. The word of God is meant to be heard, and hearing requires silence." ~Msgr. Romano Guardini.

This excerpt really, really made me do a lot of thinking.

I love reading out loud to others, and I love listening while others read to me. So why have I ever (I don't do it so much anymore, but when I was younger, definitely did it a lot!) followed along with the readings in the missalette at a novus ordo Mass? To concentrate, I suppose. But really, hearing the Word of God being proclaimed is such an incredible gift, why would I not want to just focus intently on hearing what the lector is reading, what the priest or deacon is proclaiming? Furthermore, sometimes when I follow along with the readings, I find myself focusing more on the words in front of me than what the lector is reading, which--when I read at a different pace than the lector--is altogether distracting. If I--or anyone else--is reading from the missalette in order to "concentrate," the real area to be addressed may be our level of prayerful silence, both interior and exterior. If we are practicing interior silence during the Liturgy (something which I greatly struggle with!), we may find it easier to concentrate on the Readings by hearing them, not just by reading them ourselves.

God is talking to us at Mass. He wants us to hear Him with our ears, hearts, and minds!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Put Down that Bulletin, Be Still and Be Quiet!

When Jacob and I visited his family in Washington for a week recently, they took me to Goodwill. Goodwill trips are always a blast for me; a single trip to Goodwill is a journey, a hunt for hidden treasure. Sometimes, I am fortunate enough to find the treasure, sometimes, I leave without the treasure, but with knowledge that I tried my hardest. On this particular Goodwill trip, God helped me to find the treasure: a lovely, mint-condition hardcover copy of Meditations Before Mass, by Msgr. Romano Guardini, a great Catholic thinker and inspiration to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

I am reading sections of this book to grow in my love of God and reverence for the Sacred Liturgy. Seriously, going to Mass can make all of us saints easily, if we cooperate with God and fully participate prayerfully. Understandably, with young children, distractions, and busy lives, it can be extremely difficult to prayerfully focus at Mass. Still, all of the distractions in the world should not keep us--or them--from holiness. We must all continue to strive and seek deeper holiness with all that we have! (Msgr. Guardini's book came out of several talks that he would give to his congregation before Mass each week, to help deepen their devotion, which I find AWESOME!)

Here are sections from the first chapter of the book:

"Stillness is the tranquility of the inner life, the quiet at the depths of its hidden stream. It is a collected, total presence, a being all there, receptive, alert, ready.
Attentiveness--that is the clue to the stillness in question, the stillness before God.
What then is a church?...When we say that Holy Mass is celebrated "in church," we are including something more: the congregation...true congregation comes into being which, along with the building that is its architectural expression, forms the vital church in which the sacred act is accomplished. All this takes place only in stillness, out of stillness grows the real sanctuary...
If someone were to ask me what the liturgical life begins with, I should answer: with learning stillness."
~Msgr. Romano Guardini, "Meditations before Mass" Chapter 1. 

Guardini provides some practical tips in achieving profound stillness, especially during the Mass:

1. Arrive to Mass early in order to genuinely prepare yourself for the Sacrifice.
 ""They [these minutes] are not a time for gazing or day-dreaming or for unnecessary thumbing of pages, but for inwardly collecting and calming ourselves."  (so maybe put down that bulletin--I know it's a preferred pre-Mass activity, which I admittedly have done before, but really...we need to put it down)

2. Go even further, and prepare for Mass on the way to Church!
"It would be still better to begin on our way to church. After all, we are going to a sacred celebration. Why not let the way there be an exercise in composure, an overture for what is to come?

3. Prepare for Sunday Mass the day before!
"Liturgically, Saturday evening already belongs to the Sunday. If--for instance, after suitable reading--we were to collect ourselves for a brief period of composure, its effects the next day would be evident."

In our busy, noisy culture, we must shut our mouths and let God speak!
“Be still and know that I am God!" (Ps 46:11)