The Life of (The Servant of) Christ

Here we are, June 2017, and it has been a while since I added to the blog.  Today, I want to alert you to a mini-series I’ll be doing on Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s book, The Life of Christ.  The book is divided into five chapters. My dear friend and fellow book-clubber-slash-blogger, Miss Clare Whitton, will be publishing reflections here in the upcoming weeks, if you are interested in reading it!  We hope you enjoy our reflections on Christ, through the lens of one of His beloved servants, the Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen.

A bit of background

In May of this year, I discovered some videos on YouTube – excerpts and episodes from the hugely popular television series, “Life is Worth Living”, which ran from 1952 to 1957 on national television (Yes, back when television – and the world – was black and white).  Archbishop Sheen was the host, and his show garnered as many as 10 million views a week.  His dramatic delivery and keen sense of humor won him the Emmy for Outstanding Television Personality over the much-loved Lucille Ball of I Love Lucy in 1953.

If you have some time, I strongly suggest listening one (or many) of his episodes.  Clare and I have both found them thought-provoking and engaging, good for listening to during breakfast or while taking it easy.  They can be found by simply searching “Archbishop Fulton Sheen” on YouTube, or you can go to this YouTube playlist: Popular Videos – Fulton J. Sheen.

Who is Archbishop Sheen?*

Peter John Sheen grew up in a faithful Catholic family, becoming immersed in the Church from a young age.  By eight, he was an altar boy; by twenty-five, a priest.  After being ordained, he studied at The Catholic University of America (CUA! CUA! CUA!) and then spent five years in Belgium studying philosophy.  When he returned to the United States, he lectured at CUA for 23 years.  During his time as a CUA professor, he published 34 books and kept a full teaching schedule while also eventually appearing on weekly radio shows.

There is a classroom on campus, McMahon 112, where students would crowd to hear his lectures.  It is amazing to me the number of times I must have passed that doorway, not considering the greatness that walked those same halls and taught theology and philosophy in the same classrooms where I’ve been receiving my own wonderfully Catholic college education.

In 1926, then called Monsignor Sheen (monsignor is a title for a priest who has been honored by the Pope for his service to the Church), the talented orator made his first appearance on media, recording a series of lectures for a New York radio station.  From there, his fame grew and he became one of the best-known Catholics of his time.  On Easter Sunday 1940, he appeared in the world’s first broadcast Catholic Mass.

Eventually, in 1951 he was consecrated bishop.  That same year, he began filming his famous television series, Life is Worth Living, the same one mentioned above, which I stumbled upon on YouTube earlier this year.

During the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, Archbishop Sheen worked closely with Father Joseph Ratzinger, who you probably know today as Pope Benedict XVI.

After decades of successful preaching and proclaiming the Good News in varied, dynamic, and incredible ways, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen died, on the floor of his private chapel, where he had spent many an hour with our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.

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Throughout Sheen’s life, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was key. It was said by his friends that from the time of his ordination to his death, the good priest never missed an appointment with Christ, spending at least an hour a day in front of the tabernacle.

(Adoration is simply being with God, and spending time in His Presence.  Catholics believe we can do this when we visit Jesus in the tabernacle at a Catholic Church.  Inside that tabernacle is the bread and wine which have become the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ during the Mass.  By the witness of his life, it is clear Archbishop Sheen believed with all his heart and knew his refreshment could be found only in Christ’s Presence.)

It is said we spend our time on what matters to us most – the Archbishop spent his life for God, always making his appointment with Christ and always striving to reach more souls.  We can say with confidence that Archbishop Sheen loved God with all his heart.

And what do we love? How do we spend our time?

These are hard questions, because the answer may not be near so neat, pretty, and holy as we might like.  But Christ meets us where we are, and brings us lovingly to Himself. That, we can count on.

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About the mini-series:

The mini-series will not be formulated any specific way (unless God cooks something up that Clare and I can’t yet see).  But we just want to share our reflections and thoughts on what promises to be a good, beautiful book about the One Who loves us most deeply – Jesus Christ.  So, as you get all excited to read our thoughts, pray that this time of reflection and laughter in our cross-country book club may be fruitful for the two of us, and that the Lord may speak through us, to you!

If, after reading about the Archbishop’s life, or after reading our reflections, you want to read the book, it’s a mere $5.95 on Amazon.com. No excuses! 🙂

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Well, look out for another reflection from Clare or I soon!

God bless you and yours!

(P.S. He was born Peter John Sheen…I don’t know where the “Fulton” part comes from – does anyone know? Share your knowledge! Do it!)

*Biographical information about Venerable Fulton Sheen courtesy of CUA: http://fulton-sheen.cua.edu/bio/index.cfm

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Suicide is not dignified, and it is never justified.

Hi, dear friends!

It has been some time since I wrote to you, but today I learned some very grave news that I wanted to share.  Now is a dire time indeed! Our country (world) needs God, and it is our job as Christians to beg for His never-ending Mercy.

The news: Eleven DC City Council members approved a bill in our nation’s capital that legalizes physician-assisted suicide.  Monsignor Charles Pope wrote an excellent article for LifeSiteNews.com that I encourage all to read thoroughly and with prayerful hearts: www.lifesitenews.com

As the elections approach and we have to choose who will lead our country in these next four years, let us call to mind our primary responsibility as people of good will: to protect all life without exception, from conception to natural death.

Let us remember that, as the article says and as God’s Word says, we will reap what we sow. Let us sow neither death nor evil, so that our country may be spared from great suffering.  Instead, let us sow life, compassion, and God’s Truth, that He may make our great country flourish under His generous care!

In these days leading up to the election, we need to fast, pray, and make sacrifices. Let us turn to God with contrite hearts and ask Him to guide us through whatever is to come, trusting in His every word.

As we pray, let us remember these words of St. Paul to the Romans (emphasis mine):

“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?  He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8: 18, 26-35, 37-38

All my prayers, love, and joy to you and yours!

Please pray for me this weekend, as I will be on retreat.  Feel free to leave prayer intentions in the comments below.

In Christ through Mary,

Erin

I Will Be Your Missionary of Mercy

Dzień dobry from Flagstaff, Arizona!

That’s right. I did it. I am home.

Have you ever spent a long time abroad, and when you get back, you’re just happy to be on American soil again? That’s how I feel. Proud of our wonderful country, and relieved to have no plans to leave again in the foreseeable future.

Israel and Poland were incredibly special. To go to the Holy Land – where Jesus walked, lived, taught, died, and rose again – is truly the trip of a lifetime. I touched the spot where Jesus was born; presented all of our intentions, yours and mine, where the magi presented their gifts to Christ the Babe; stuck my hand in the very hole where Christ’s Cross stood; renewed my Baptismal vows in the Jordan River; floated on the Dead Sea; and sailed on the Sea of Galilee. I entered into the Valley of the Visitation; into Mary’s home in Nazareth where she gave her fiat to the archangel Gabriel; into the Wedding Church at Cana; and into temple ruins at Capernaum. I stood at the Wailing Wall; watched women cry at King David’s tomb; and entered Dormition Abbey, where Mary fell asleep and was taken into Heaven. I ascended the Mount of Temptation and Mount Tabor, the site of the Transfiguration; I visited Mount Carmel; and I prayed at Christ’s Tomb. I participated in Mass at the Chapel of the Resurrection in the Holy Sepulcher, walked the Via Dolorosa, stood in the pit where St. Helen discovered the True Cross, and touched a thorn tree not unlike the kind of thorns that would have been woven into a crown for Our Dear Lord’s Passion. I walked in Christ’s footsteps, and the Gospel has come to life in my heart.

After Israel, we flew to Budapest and drove North through Slovakia into Poland. Slovakia is beautiful; I plan to return some day to explore and enjoy, next time with extra loved ones. We stayed for five days with a host family in Sosnowiec, Poland for “Days in the Diocese,” which is an opportunity for Polish families and parishes to host pilgrims from all over the world, share their culture, and show grand hospitality. Our sweet young family was generous and joyful, and it was a bonus that Ela and Jarek spoke English so well. We talked and laughed a lot with them. During these five days, we took a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa and prayed in front of the miraculous image of the Black Madonna, Queen of Poland.  We also traveled to Auschwitz I and Auschwitz-Birkenau, the most infamous of the Nazi death camps. I walked under the well-known “Work will make you free” sign that spans the gate to Auschwitz I, and I walked the rows between buildings where millions of human beings were brought to die. I stood outside the Block where St. Maximilian Kolbe volunteered to take the place of another prisoner, where he lead nine others in song and praise of God while they were starved of food and water for two weeks. I stood outside the building where women were tortured and experimented on while so-called “doctors” tried to find viable techniques to make an entire race sterile, extinct. I walked past rows and rows of burnt up buildings at Birkenau, feet away from crematoriums. I touched the barbed wire that held innocent people in that horrible death camp, that horrible site of human suffering and evil destruction. I walked through, bewildered by the flowers growing in those fields. How can something so beautiful grow where such ugly evil was rampant? The feeling of peaceful calm was so eerie. Even while I looked at a picture of a crowd of Jewish women and children waiting exactly where I stood to be led into the gas chambers, how could I fathom that souls walked here in their final hours? The camps were hard; what other adjective could I use? But hope is always bigger than despair, love always greater than fear, truth always dominant over lies. Please take a moment to read this message of hope and mercy, proof that God makes beautiful things out of our human failures.

After the Days in the Diocese, we said good-bye to our first host families and departed for Klecza Dolna, just outside of Wadowice which is where St. Pope John Paul II grew up. Our new host family, though more humble in housing, offered another loving and joyful home and an abundance of foodstuffs. This second home brought the commencement of World Youth Day 2016. Days were full of overstuffed train rides, exploring the beautiful city of Kraków, English catechesis in Wadowice, plenty of walking, a LifeTeen WYDUSA Rally with Matt Maher and Audrey Assad, sleeping in a field, and Mass with the Holy Father Pope Francis. The message was Mercy, and the response we are called to give is this: “Yes, Lord, I hear You calling me, and I will respond to the Mercy You have shown me in abundance. Yes, I will accept the Mercy You wish to shower over me. Yes, I will learn to show Your Mercy to others. Yes, I will be Your missionary of Mercy.”

Here are some of the messages from World Youth Day:

In God’s eyes, you matter, and your value is invaluable. He is always cheering you on, like the most loyal of fans.

Mercy is loving to those who will waste your love.

Nothing is more beautiful than Mercy. The Year of Mercy is about doing something beautiful for God.

Mercy is never earned, only ever freely given despite the recipient’s unworthiness.

We will never be worthy of the Mercy shown to us by God.

Blessed are the Merciful, for they shall obtain Mercy. (WYD Theme Song) (And now in English)

We also learned:

Details about the Image of the Divine Mercy.

Practical ways to practice the works of Mercy, spiritual and corporal.

How to be instruments of God’s Mercy.

Mercy is so beautiful, and I cannot wait to share more about the catechesis, adventures, fun, and lessons learned. Mostly, I learned that before I can give it away, I have to accept and receive Mercy. Let us pray that we will open our hearts – as individuals, as a faith, as a nation, and as the entire human race – to receive the Mercy showered down on us from the Cross.Image result for divine mercy image in krakow

O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of Mercy for us, I trust in You.

O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of Mercy for us, I trust in You.

O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of Mercy for us, I trust in You.

Jesus, I trust in You. Jesus, I trust in You. Jesus, I trust in You!

Pilgrimage update

Hi there guys! I landed in Israel on Monday (7/11/16)  , and since then it has been a whirlwind of excited exploration of the Holy Land.  I’ll have a long reflection after this paragraph, but first I want you to understand how grateful I am. Thank you for sharing your intentions with me! I asked for five pages, and I ended up with more than twelve! There Jesus goes again, multiplying food, this time for our spiritual maturity rather than temporal needs! I am excited to share about my pilgrimage this far, but please do not be upset by the lack of pictures. For one, I am trying to take less pictures and be more in tune with the place in which I am physically existing. Second, posting this on my phone is a challenge. If I have a section in capital letters which reads “CHURCH OF THE NATIVITY, ETC,” for example, this means that, when given the opportunity, I will edit the post and add pictures. Until then, it is not a good use of my time to try to upload a bunch of pictures.  Please be patient with me as I share my experience here!

Oh and one more thing: before I tell you anything, please follow this link to Facebook to follow our group’s page. 

https://www.facebook.com/naunewmanWYD/?fref=ts

We will have different people reflecting on different days of the journey, and it will be glorious! Lots of pictures to be found there, too, over the course of our trip. 

And now on to my adventures thus far: Monday morning, around 4:30 am, Kayla, myself, and Kayla’s sister, Megan, woke up to drive down to Phoenix to catch an 11:45 flight to Newark. (We ended up being 4 and a half hours early, but it was great – we played cards and made friends and did a lot of people watching.) Then, after a five hour flight across the country, we landed in Newark and had a few hours to wait until our 10.5 hour flight to Tel Aviv. The flight was, among other things, long. Duh, right? Yes. 10 hours is a long time in a plane. But it was uneventful and safe and I learned some things along the way. For example, did you know that as soon as an airplane enters Israeli airspace, all passengers are required to stay seated until the plane lands? Yep, there were flight attendants semi-chasing standing passengers down, calling, “Sir, sir, you cannot be standing. Please sir!”

We landed in Tel Aviv at 4:08 pm, local time, on Tuesday, July 12th. How confusing, since we left the east coast at 11 pm, and the flight was 10 hours, and the time change was 7 or 8! Ahh! How crazy! As Kayla has been reminding me…”Today is today.”

Upon arrival in Jerusalem, passport control and customs were all easy-peasy, and no one lost their luggage. (Please pray for a dear one who is traveling elsewhere and lost his luggage in transit.) We found our bus, and met our guide, Joseph, who has a lot of knowledge, and who is very kind and joyful.  He tells a lot of jokes and gives information about social, political, religious, economic, and geographical issues or situations. After arriving to the hotel, we celebrated Mass and ate dinner.

After dinner, I made my way to the roof, from which we could see the Old City of Jerusalem, just a few hundred meters away. There, we saw the Dome of the Rock’s famous golden dome, and the amount of Olives, with the Garden of Gethsemane, where Christ prayed and suffered great agony before His arrest and crucifixion to save us from our sins. One of the big things that has stood out to me is the closeness of everything to Jerusalem. The Mount of Olives and the Garden where Jesus often prayed? Minutes walking from the gates of the Old City. Bethany, where Lazarus was raised from the dead and Mary and Martha lived? Just barely over the crest of the Mount of Olives, on the side not facing Jerusalem. Bethlehem? A mere ten minutes away, beyond the Separation Wall that closes in Palestinian territory. Jericho, the oldest city in the world? Somewhere under 50 minutes away driving. Another comment: when we went up to the roof, we heard the Muslim prayers over city loudspeakers. At first, Kayla and I were thinking of how the public, open-broadcast media reminded us of various dystopia stories, like the “1984” Thought Police or from that book, “The Giver.” I keep thinking about how invasive it would feel to constantly hear these prayers, especially if you understood what they were saying, as a Christian or Jew who disagreed with them. I just asked Joseph, though, and he said that since Israel is a democratic state, there is freedom of religion and Muslims are allowed to broadcast their prayers, not too loudly, in Muslim neighborhoods as long as it does not bother anyone. Last night, in Jericho, was the first night I heard a bit of beauty in the idea of praying as a community like that. 

PICTURE DOME OF THE ROCK

On Wednesday, we traveled into Palestinian territory, to Bethlehem (“The House of Bread”) where we celebrated the Holy Mass at the Church of the Nativity, and then toured the stables underneath where Catholic tradition holds that Jesus was born.  To all who sent me intentions: I presented our book of prayers in the same place where the three magi presented their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to our Little Lord. (A note about these locations we are visiting: The sites may not be totally 100% accurate. The place I kissed the ground, where we Catholics believe that Jesus Christ, our Incarnate God, was born, may not be the exact ground where Mary gave birth to the Son of God.  It very well might be, since Christians began venerating this area directly after Christ’s death.  But other things, like a rock that hid St. John the Baptist from Herod’s soldiers during the murder of the Holy Innocents, may not be the real deal. Whether or not these sites are totally accurate, climbing down into the tomb of Lazarus, touching the spot where the magi presented their gifts to the Infant Savior, and renewing my Baptismal vows in the water where Christ Himself was baptized by St. John the Baptist are all sacred experiences. They help me understand Christ’s life and the reality of the gift of His Incarnation. As Marissa said, the actual location does not matter as much as what we are here to do: walk in the footsteps of Jesus; put ourselves in Christ’s place, walking at His side as His disciples and asking Him to show us what He desires to move in our hearts.)

After the Church of the Nativity, we took our bus to Shepherd’s Field, to a small chapel above the caves where shepherds in the area would have cared for their flock in the winter months. Then, after lunch, we drove to the Valley of the Visitation – Ein Karem. The valley was beautiful, though at first I was a little confused about the topography of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is not flat. It is all valleys and mount(ain)s. There is no flat spot to say “from here, I’m descending into a valley” or “from here, I’m ascending a mountain.” Nothing of that sort for Jerusalem! We climbed a bunch of stairs to the Church of the Visitation, which was beautiful. The Magnificat was translated into many different languages, and the paintings of Mary were very stunning. Baluchi (Canadian who built plenty of churches in the  Holy Land) added onto a church that was already here. Afterwards, we went to Mary’s Well, where there is a natural spring that the Virgin Mary likely stopped at on her way to stay with St. Elizabeth. Then, we walked to the other side of the valley (not as far as it sounds), to where St. Elizabeth gave birth to St. John the Baptist. (Since Zechariah was a high priest, he could not have had his wife give birth in their home, because the blood in the house would have made him impure — very simplified explanation of a more detailed situation.) At this Church of St. John the Baptist, there was another wall, this time covered in different translations of the Canticle of Zechariah. 

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PRAYER BOOK AT MANGER, VISITATION CHURCH FACE, MAGNIFICAT WALL, CANTICLE OF ZECHARIAH, STONE THAT COVERED ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST 

Then, we went to see the Menorah and Knesset building (the government building) in Western Jerusalem. There’s a very marked difference between the western and eastern parts of Jerusalem: from the transportation, to the state of the streets, to the way the men and women dress, to the ratio of Jews/Muslims you see in traditional clothing versus modern apparel, it is all very visible if you pay attention.

Whew. That was day one! Yesterday (Wednesday), we went to Bethany and visited the tomb of Lazarus, where Jesus raised him from the dead after four days in the tomb. The tomb surprised me because of the humility of its location. You walk up a wide section of street, with stairs, only for foot-traffic, and after you pass by the Church of St. Lazarus on your left, you walk a little further and all of the sudden, there it is: a doorway cut out of the rock, with a multilingual blip about the site and a small yellow sign pointing at the doorway. I descended into the tomb. After some 6-7 steps, you can see where the stone would have been rolled in front to seal the tomb. Then, you keep descending down the curvy, slippery, narrow staircase into a small section that flattens out. This would have been the preparation room for the body of Lazarus. There were cavities in the walls and a (new) plaque which read “O death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory?” There was another verse as well, talking about how the glory of God has overcome the darkness and we do not have to fear, but I don’t remember which it was. From Corinthians, I believe. From there, we went down to the Church of St. Lazarus, where I really enjoyed some quiet prayer time of meditation with the images of Lazarus emerging from the tomb, and Christ’s words “Ego sum resurrecti et vita” — I am the Resurrection and the Life.

Then, we made our way to the Judean wilderness, to the Jordan River were we enjoyed the Holy Mass and subsequently renewed our Baptismal vows in the River Jordan, where Jesus Himself was baptized. That was beautiful. What an image I will be able to call to mind when we read the readings about the Jordan and about the Baptism in the Jordan! What memories, what movements of the heart!  The Gospel was the short and endlessly sweet “Come to me, all who are burdened, and I shall give you rest. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Let’s talk about the yoke. Not yolk, yolk of an egg. But rather, the yoke is the section that connects two animals of burden, perhaps oxen, when they are pulling a load. This homily was the first time I learned that Christ’s message is infinitely more sweet than I realized before. His yoke is easy means that He and I are together in the struggle. The burden Christ pulls is light. (How can it be? Oh glorious God, You whose innocent and only Son took on my sin and carried the Cross for me…You invite me to Yourself and say that the burden we carry is light? You can only be pure love, full of compassion and pity and mercy, if You are able to call this burden light. You can only be the One True God!) If Christ and I are hitched together in this journey of life, I can be confident that God will not leave me to struggle on my own, and neither will He allow me to waste away in uselessness, not working out my salvation alongside Him with fear and trembling.

After lunch, we were dropped off part way up the Mount of Temptation, where Jesus spent forty days in the desert, facing temptation from the Devil and uniting Himself intimately to the Father. At the top of the trail, we found a monastery. (I wish I knew the name of the monks there, but I do not.) In the monastery were two special sites which tradition relates to Christ’s temptation in the desert: first, a cave where it is said He meditated for forty days, praying and uniting Himself to the Father. The second is a rock, where Jesus sat while He battled the Devil’s temptations. The caves on the Mount of Temptation are where the lepers lived after being cast out of Jerusalem. How very like Christ to go into retreat with the Father in the most “impure” place known at that time. How fitting that He would take such a disgraced place and make it holy with His prayers. 

Israel

CAVES OF THE LEPERS & MONASTERY

We descended the mountain and went to the Dead Sea to float and cover ourselves in mud. The water was very warm, and it was crazy to sit up in the water with absolutely no problem. You could float easily with your feet out in front, or underneath you like you are treading water (but you didn’t even have to move your legs), but as soon as you put your feet behind you, past your center of gravity, they would shoot up until you were on your stomach. It was momentarily frightening every time, because the water’s high salt concentration means it burns your eyes pretty good if you get water in them.  I do not have pictures on my phone of the experience, but I loved it. It was so fun and relaxing, though very hot, and I enjoyed the time spent with friends. After retiring to our hotel, we had time for swimming at the pool, journaling, relaxing, and enjoying our time.

Today, Thursday, we left Jericho and went to Haifa.  In Haifa, a northern port city on the Mediterranean, we visited the Church of Maris Stellis — Star of the Sea — on Mount Carmel when Elijah was at one point (1 Kings 18:40-19). Words do not describe, and can you imagine how much more wonderful Heaven will be? From there, we moved on to Nazareth, where we ate lunch and then went to the Basilica of the Annunciation, rather close to our hotel. The Basilica here reminded me of our faithful Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Y’all, I am tired, but I am telling you that Mary is absolutely incredible! I am sorry, but I am just not doing this day Justice. I am too tired! Today, we also had a lovely three-course lunch served by a Christian family and their employees.  We toured, were left time to walk around and explore (I went up some stairs to the Holy Family Church, which was especially beautiful), and had Holy Mass at the Basilica. After Mass, we left directly for Cana, where we visited the wedding church, saw Becky and Wayne renew their Marriage Vows, and celebrated their love.  

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Whew. That was a lot.  Thanks for tuning in!

 St. John the Baptist, pray for us!

St. Elizabeth, pray for us!

St. Zechariah, pray for us!

St. Joseph, pray for us!

St. Lazarus, pray for us!

St. Mary, pray for us!

St. Martha, pray for us!

St. George, pray for us!

St. Anne and St. Joachim, pray for us!

 

In Christ through Mary,

Erin

It is time.

Hello, dear ones!

Thank you for the flood of email prayer intentions.  Thank you for trusting God with your needs and desires, and knowing that I will bring them to Him every opportunity I find.

You all remind me of an especially beautiful Eucharistic reflection guide:

“Do you need to ask a favor on someone’s behalf? Tell Me his name. Could it be your parents, your brothers, or your friends? Tell Me what you would want Me to do at the present time for them. Ask for much, very much; do not hesitate to ask; I like hearts that forget themselves in order to alleviate the needs of others. Speak to Me then, with simplicity, of all the poor whom you would like to console; of the sick whom you see suffer; of those who have gone astray whom you wish to see on the right path again; of your friends who are far away and whom you would like to see at your side. Talk to Me, but like a friend, trusting with all your heart. Remember, I have promised to hear every request that comes from the heart; and should not the plea and requesting favor for those whom your heart most especially loves comes from your own heart?

And for you, do you need any graces? Make Me a list, if you wish, of all your needs to come and read it in My presence.  Tell Me frankly that you are proud, love sensuality and luxuries…Then ask Me to help you as you struggle to be free of such miseries!”
I was writing down your many intentions, I was thinking over and over that one special line of Christ’s: “I like hearts that forget themselves to alleviate the needs of others.”
Beautiful, your faith is beautiful!  Thank you for sharing your joy and trust with me as we go before God. Now, I must ask you to keep me in your prayers. I depart tomorrow, July 11th, for Tel Aviv!
Yours in Christ through Mary,
Erin
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The Countdown

This is it!

7.5 days ‘til take-off.

Large-scale adventure 2016, mark 2.

Clothes laid out.

Checklists created.

Itineraries to be double-checked.

Bag to be packed, and then repacked, and then emptied completely and packed one more time.

Water bottles and rain jacket to be marked with my name.

Prayer books to be assembled.

Excitement building.

My goodness, there is so much yet to do!

If you are wondering what in the world I am blabbering on about, it’s this: first blog post by Erin…ever.  Well, what I am really going on about is the pilgrimage I am about to embark on. Think Holy Land walk-where-Jesus-walked week, plus a half day in Budapest, Hungary (pronounced Boodə-peSHt by locals), followed by World Youth Day with the Holy Father in Poland, home of St. Pope John Paul II, St. Faustina, and St. Maximilian Kolbe. As you can see below, my Holy Land guide book (courtesy of John Paul Pilgrimages and Tours) is already full of post-it notes for all the places where we will be praying.

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Being the excited packer that I am, I have had all my clothes together for a few days now: a week and a half early. Just yesterday, I went shopping for the final touches: the super tiny travel towel, the sunscreen and medicines, and the walking shoes (that I should have bought and broken in a few weeks ago-oops). Today, it gets put in a bag to see if it all fits, and then I spend the afternoon taking out what I don’t need. That will leave me available all week to work and wait in eager anticipation for Monday, July 11thAnd of course to celebrate our country’s freedom…Happy 4th of July! Let’s pray for religious liberty this 4th as we seek the right to continue to live out our Christian lives in the public sector, led by God’s grace through the Holy Spirit and the guidance of our Blessed Mother.

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Impressed, are you? Well, probably not. When I started packing, I wanted to pack the minimums, to truly enter into the pilgrimage spirit.  I want my focus to be on God’s presence and all that He has done throughout salvation history, not on which outfit to pick for the day or whether my clothing is going to be okay at the Churches we visit. However…as soon as you start shopping for the three or four things on your list, all the sudden, your well-thought-out list starts growing…and now you have four full shopping bags of stuff and much taller piles than anticipated. It seems inevitable, really.

And yet, and yet…no matter how full my bag gets or how light I pack, I am still missing something. What is that something, you ask?

Prayer intentions.

And I cannot get those alone.

I have a special journal which I began over a year ago, and it is home only to the prayer intentions entrusted to me. I do not write my thoughts in it as I do my normal journal, and I rarely read it through unless to bring to mind what I am praying for, but there are already a few pages full of intentions. For loved ones who are sick, for people who have died, for those who have left the church, for once-expectant mothers whose babies are soon to be one year old, for little children from summer camp, for myself, for people I will never meet who will always be included in this little book of prayers.

These prayers are important, and yes, they will be remembered.  But I need some help!  I want to bring at least five full pages of intentions to Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth, Kraków, the Divine Mercy Sanctuary, all these places. Five front-to-back, one intention per line, full pages of your needs. Of the needs of your community. Of the desires of your heart.  That means I need your help.  Please share this post on Facebook, to your family, to whomever.  I want to collect all the prayers that I can! But I need them by next Sunday, July 10th.

Here’s what I can guarantee:

  1. I will pray for you.
  2. I will not share your intentions with others unless to ask them to join me in prayer, and even then, I will not use your name.
  3. I will not judge you on what you ask for in prayer.
  4. I will bring this book of intentions, with your prayers written inside, to the Holy Sites which I visit. I will bring your prayer intentions with me to Mass, and I will pray that God be with you in each moment.
  5. If you wish for me to pray for something dear to you, but you do not want to share the specific intention, ask me to pray for a “special intention”.  That’s all you have to say. God knows your heart.

 

The rest will be up to God, who always hears us when we call to Him with faith!

To send me prayer requests, please email me at erinonpilgrimage@gmail.com with the subject line “Pilgrimage prayer intentions,” or leave a comment on this post.

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me;

he delivered me from all my fears.

Those who look to him are radiant;

their faces are never covered with shame.

This poor man called,

and the Lord heard him;

he saved him out of all his troubles.

The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him,

and he delivers them.

 

Taste and see that the Lord is good;

blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.

Fear the Lord, you his holy people,

for those who fear him lack nothing.

The lions may grow weak and hungry,

but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

Come, my children, listen to me;

I will teach you the fear of the Lord.

Whoever of you loves life

and desires to see many good days,

keep your tongue from evil

and your lips from telling lies.

Turn from evil and do good;

seek peace and pursue it.

 

The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,

and his ears are attentive to their cry;

but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil,

to blot out their name from the earth.

 

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;

he delivers them from all their troubles.”

(Psalm 34: 4-17)

Forgive Me if I Babble

Now that I’m home, I can write this. Now, I’m home. I’m home! I can write this. I can write this. I can write this. Can I write this?

On the Sol Education Abroad Alumni Page, there is a tab that talks about “Reentry”. Reverse culture shock, one of the sections on the webpage, is when someone who has lived abroad and adjusted to the foreign country’s way of life returns home, just to realize that they have to adjust back to the life they lived before, with a completely new outlook (if they let their time abroad change them). Among with other SOLmates, I have been experiencing re-entry issues, like missing Spanish and the rhythms, people, and life in Heredia, Costa Rica. (Also, I had to remind myself today that there are laws that are followed in the States when it comes to crossing the street. It is very bad form here, and significantly more dangerous, to cross the street as soon as there’s a gap in traffic. In Costa Rica, this is the way tico drivers expect pedestrians to move.)

I question if I can write this blog post because I realize that none of my experiences are going to be something I can share completely, no matter how attentive my listener or how similar an experience they themselves have lived. I question if I can write this because I know I am the only one that lived my time in Costa Rica, and I cannot make anyone else understand how I have been changed. I pray that the changes God has wrought in my heart are visible, and that I can continue living my newfound confidence, self-security, and international experience. Tendré que continuar con mi español, y no quiero perder la sabiduria que he logrado allá, en mi querido Costa Rica.
That being said, let me try to share what this time has meant to me, and forgive me if, when I see you, I have references to my time abroad for every possible subject you bring up. I promise I am conscious of how it may sound like bragging to throw Spanish into an English conversation, and I know that no matter how patient a friend or loved one you are, you can only handle so many stories and pictures. So forgive me if I tell you the same things over and over, and forgive me if I translate everything under my breath, and forgive me if I jump at the opportunity to speak Spanish again, and forgive me if my profile pictures rotate between Costa Rica selfies for the next few months.
As a friend, gently remind me when I get carried away that you don’t understand me when I speak Spanish, and if I’ve told you the story before, do your best to patiently hear me out. I want to be present to you, but I am scared I will go and forget what this time has been for me. I want to share these past four months with you, all my friends and loved ones, and because you could not be there with me, sharing my stories and my excitement seems to be the best way to share that joy.
Can I write this? Yes, but I must write this understanding that I lived these experiences alone, and only God, who searches me and knows me through and through, will ever understand the heart of my Costa Rican adventure.
And what is it that I am trying so hard to write? I think it is going to end up as a thank you. Yes, a thank you to God, to my family, to Costa Rica, to la familia tica, to my SOLmates, to myself, for every breath I’ve been gifted, every new morning opening my eyes to God’s glory.
Thank You first and always to God. If not for God, Who has a plan for my future, I would not have chosen Costa Rica and, before that, I would not have chosen CUA. It is through prayer and the grace of an openness to God’s will that I have chosen both my beloved college and my sweet Costa Rica, and if it were not for His faithful voice guiding me, I would be lost somewhere out in the world. I truly believe that God holds me in the palm of His hand, and though I may live in the world, my heart is hidden in Christ.
Thank you to my parents, who are sitting nearby now. Thank you for always encouraging me and having faith that I can do whatever I choose to do, with a strong work ethic and focused goal-setting. Thank you for encouraging me to pursue Spanish, that for which I have a true passion. Thank you for all the times in high school going through flashcards and trying to read questions in Spanish to quiz me. Thank you for the spiritual and monetary support too. If it weren’t for your constant prayers and well-wishing, I wouldn’t be the confident young woman I am today.
Thank you to my familia tica. Mil gracias. Ustedes me han apoyado por todo, aunque pensaron las primeras semanas que yo iba a regresar a los EEUU. Deben saber que siempre lloro, a veces sin razón, y que estoy endeudada a usted más que todo, mamá tica, porque me ha confortado mil veces con la sabiduría que “es bueno llorar”. Me ha dado el amor de una madre para sus hijas, y por eso estoy agradecida. Gracias por recibirme como su propia hija, y ya sabe que siempre tiene una hija extrañándole de los EEUU. A Meli y Angie, han sido las hermanas que nunca tenía, y ha sido un verdadero placer. Felicitaciones con sus graduaciones en noviembre, y nos vemos algún día. (Meli, lo siento que le ataqué con mis horquilla mientras nos estábamos despidiendo!! Ojalá que su mejilla esté bien) Óscar, gracias por ser mi papí tico, por enseñarme mucho, y por asistir a la Misa con nosotros mi último día. Significa mucho para mi que vino.
A mis SOLmates: Guys, thank you for everything. We have made a lot of connections that will last a life time, and some of the most important ones have been within our group. I cannot wait to take a train from DC to Kentucky and/or Wisconsin and/or wherever else to see you all, and I feel so very blessed that I’ve been given the chance to know all you crazies. Thanks for the memories, and I look forward to running into you some day in another Spanish speaking country!
To my friends and loved ones at home, in Flagstaff, DC, Baltimore, Florida, New York, Rome, wherever you may be: Thank you for helping to turn me into the sort of young woman who has the confidence to go live abroad for four months.  Without the incredible web of support that God has blessed me with, I may have never been brave enough to send in my application.  Thank you, each of you, because you are the ones I lean on, the ones who encourage me and support me, the ones I hold closest in my heart and remember most often in my prayers. Thank you for loving me!
To myself. I want to thank myself for being so awesome. No, just kidding. But I am thankful that I chose to take a chance. I am thankful to all who have made me who I am, though I could not possibly list you all here, because it is all of you who have instilled in me the confidence that I needed to take a chance and make the choice to live in Costa Rica for four long/short months.
To anyone who is considering study abroad, please, do it! Pray about it…think hard about where you want to go (or don’t think hard, if that’s your style)…regardless, just go. Study abroad has changed me.  I am so grateful.
I do not know if that’s what I set out to write in the beginning, but I know that there is at least one more thank you I need to give: Costa Rica. Land of marvelous geography, diverse biodiversity, incredible flora and fauna. Land of pura vida, full to bursting with ticos, land I have come to love. It is true what they say about Costa Rica: the people are incredibly welcoming. They are, for the most part, honest people. Loving people. Open people. Costa Rica has flaws, of course, as does any country, but if you are wondering if your time there would be worth it, I can only say “yes”. I hope some day to return, maybe someday when I have a family, maybe as a missionary or a religious sister. It is all in God’s hands, but until then, I will carry Costa Rica in my heart. Pura vida, mis amigos!

Para Mis SOLmates

It’s been a pleasure.

I don’t know why we never realize it until we face something tough, like saying goodbye to 35 of my newest friends, but there’s something about hard times that help me understand Scripture better.

You see, I was just thinking about how we always want to be in that next place. We are always looking to the future, to the next great thing. For years, I have wanted to study abroad, and now that it’s over…well, what’s left? A dream achieved! Studying abroad is something I am proud to say I have done! But now, it feels a little strange because I have to come up with a new dream. Or how about the last three to four weeks of the program? I’ve been longing for home: that paradox that makes me understand why goodbyes are often termed “bitter sweet”. Vieras que, after so much time away from all those I have loved for years and years, I want to be with them – that’s the sweet part, knowing my longing will soon come to an end. But what makes it bitter is that I have to say goodbye! To Costa Rica, for an indefinite time. To my beloved host family, for an indefinite time. To all of you, my SOLmates and my companions on this journey, also for an indefinite time.
So I can now say that I understand that Scripture, “this hope is an anchor for my soul,” just a little bit better (Hebrews 6:19). Because despite all those indefinite times, I’m sensing a theme. I always seem to want that which is yet to come. Because I think I’ll feel more complete, more full, more myself, when I have that part of me which I am missing back together again. (Are you following me?)
But get this: the Bible says we are made for Heaven, that this is not our home. So I have hope that anchors my soul. This hope tells me that when I long for what is next, what will make me feel more complete, it is because I long for Heaven: where we will be as He is. (“Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” 1 John 3:2) In all my time abroad, I have always found I could feel at home in any Catholic Church. Because I know that my home is not here, and my soul longs for Heaven.
So SOLmates, while I may have spent a lot of time longing for home those last few weeks, know that home for me, is also in each of your hearts. That your friendships have helped sanctify me, because each of you have showed me a little bit more about who God is. My home is spread out between where you are, and I cannot wait for the day when I see you again in Heaven, if not before. All my love!

(Everything Since) Nicaragua

 

When was the last time I updated you all on my adventures here? After consulting my sources, I see that it was Nicaragua, back in February. Wow! Time flies for sure. Now it is April, and I just finished my last class of sophomore year, and soon I’ll be with my parents for a fun-filled week traveling Costa Rica…

I love sharing what new crazy thing I have attempted because I get to live it all over again, and have it recorded while it’s still fresh in my memory for the years to come. Without further ado, a picture-filled update.

After Nicaragua, we started our third module, which for me was Literature with Literarturo (his name is Arturo, but “Literarturo” is so much more fun). Also, let’s keep him in our prayers, because he will be a dad in May. Que emocion! During this time, we went on a coffee tour to learn about the way that such high quality coffee is produced here in Costa Rica, and it was a very good time.  The people leading the tour were fun, interactive, and knowledgeable. The coffee was super expensive though!

We were also offered the opportunity to go to an animal rescue ranch, which had toucans, parrots, and sloths, but I was not feeling up to it, so while it would have been really special, I made the wise decision to stay back and take care of myself. There I go, already applying the lessons I have been learning to take good care of myself.

The second week of this module, my good friends since 1st grade (I think it was kinder, but Jessica always corrects me) came to visit me for their spring break!! Thank you Jessica and Phillip for coming down here! It was a pleasure to meet Robert, and I so thoroughly enjoyed being able to show you around this place where I have been living.  Thank you for being impressed at my Spanish skills and for appreciating my same silly Erin-ness that so defines me.

Jess, Phillip and Robert went to travel for the week while I finished up my third module, and then when they boarded their flight home, I was in a tour bus on my way to where they’d just spent spring break: Volcan Arenal! While there, my group and I swam in La Fortuna waterfall, stayed at a resort hotel, enjoyed the natural hot springs, and went ziplining.

Arenal flowed directly into Semana Santa, for which I was home, mostly alone with my host family for the week. (Besides when Marr and I went to send postcards — props to you Marr!)  Semana Santa was, for me, a lot of time in my room reading, resting, and thinking.  It also brought a strong wave of homesickness that, in some way or another, has carried me through to the end of the semester. Weird, right? That missing home could somehow help me get through these last five weeks? But so it was: realizing how much I love everyone from home and simultaneously trying to enjoy my last few weeks here has been a joyful burden to bear. How blessed am I to be able to say that I have such an incredible support system, both here and at home. Blessed beyond understanding, for sure.

Semana Santa (Holy Week) celebrations were ongoing throughout the week, with lots of low key processions and Holy Hours for the first few days, and on Holy Thursday, I went to Holy Thursday Mass, with the Washing of the Feet. The symbolism was especially beautiful because they selected young people from the parish community to have their feet washed. Oh, by the way: I went to a Saturday vigil Mass for Palm Sunday, which actually did not include the blessings of the palms at the beginning, but the Church was beautiful, we celebrated the Holy Eucharist, and they did all the normal readings (of course), with the different people reading the different parts.  The laity did not seem to have the Gospel with them, so I was the only one (that I could hear) who responded with the crowd part, calling out “Crucificalo, crucificalo!”

Holy Thursday Mass was beautiful, and afterwards, the priest walked the Eucharist around the perimeter of the Church to bring Him to the Altar of Repose, where they have Eucharistic Adoration available every day before Mass.  I was at first unsure of where they were going, but then I realized that they had decorated the side chapel as the Garden of Gethsemane (which I will be going to this summer *squeals*).  Here are some pictures of Holy Thursday:

 

Then, on Good Friday, I went with my Mamá tica to the procession at 9am, with the statue of Christ carrying His Cross. My host family has the tradition of doing a family lunch on Good Friday, so she left for that around 11:30. She felt bad for leaving me at the procession alone, but I was glad to have the time to be alone, go my own pace, and enter into the day without having to worry about what she wanted to do.

The processions were a very special thing to be a part of. I can’t really explain it, because it was a time that I share with God, and a whole bunch of strangers, and I can’t explain what it was like to see the community celebrating the day with such reverence and devotion. I feel honored to have been a part of it.

Saturday came, a day of recollection and quiet. Being here, having nothing to do, was strange, because during Holy Week, it didn’t feel right to sleep in and pamper myself, and it didn’t feel right to be idle. That left me with a lot of thinking to do, and a lot of getting stuck in my own head. But once I decided to pass my time at the Church, thinking and praying with God, He helped me to get me out of myself and to think about all those things in the context of His plan for me in the context of salvation history. No, I didn’t come to any big revelations, but in focusing my heart and my head back on Him, I was brought a step further into His Ocean of Mercy.

I went to the Easter Vigil with my host mom and sister, and it was beautiful, of course! Then my host mom and I went to Easter Mass at a convent up in the mountains above Heredia.

Cue Easter celebrations, and the start of the FINAL module here! Time really flew for me, regardless of how much I wish I could have shared the time with my loved ones from home. We went as a program (read: 35+ people) to a futbol game, Costa Rica vs. Jamaica! It was super fun, and Costa Rica ganó, 3-0!

Abbie and I attended enough of our acondicimiento fisico classes to not have to take the final test, so we went to Monte de la Cruz together instead.  Monte de la Cruz: a lovely, super fun adventure which I am glad to have shared with a lovely, super girl. We got lost in the woods (sorry, Mom) which was a little worrisome (to me, not to Abbie who is super brave and was totally in her element). We spent a few hours in nature, took a lot of pictures of nice flowers and us together, and got some exercise, and generally just enjoyed the time together. Abbie has been one of the most special friends that I have made here. Buddy, you are always welcome in DC or Arizona, whichever you can visit first!

Wow, Manuel Antonio…this was my second of three times in Manuel Antonio. The first was for waterfall rappelling, and the last will be with my parents. This time, though, I hiked the National Park with Tim and Kelsey, and I went parasailing. That was beautiful. About three seconds of “que estoy haciendo??” and then a lot of joy and amazement and “I am so glad I did that!” All in all, a beautiful weekend!

Poas was our last excursion together, and it was definitely a good one. About this time, we started actually talking about how quickly this time has gone for us, and how none of us could have imagined the group being any different. It is crazy to think about how much these people have become a, what, second? third? fourth? family to me. Without further ado…Volcan Poas!

I went to a feria agricola (agricultural fair) one weekend with Jenny, Catherine, and Hannah, and I loved seeing all the fresh fruits and vegetables. This was a good way to spend my second-to-last Saturday, for sure. I love the produce here! It’s so fresh; a lot (if not all) of the vendors probably brought their crops from home the day before to sell Friday night and all day Saturday.

 

For the last weekend, I went into San Jose with Kelsey, Meagan, Tino, and Abbie for some souvenir shopping, and then on Saturday I mostly hung out around Heredia. On Sunday, though, I had the most special day! My mama, papa, y hermana ticos took me to Orosi Valley, to Cartago, to a pool in Cachi, and just generally on the most special sort of day. I felt like I was really part of the family, and doing something where I was the only white girl certainly solidified how happy I am that I chose to live with a host family. This family has been one of the grandest blessings. I haven’t downloaded pictures from that day yet, so you’ll have to wait until I am back in the USA for those!

Y ya! Hablamos cuando regreso a los EEUU. Ya vienen mis padres!

(That’s that! We’ll talk when I get back to the States! My parents will be here super soon!)

Costa Rica: A Lesson in Love

Costa Rica: A Lesson in Love

As I read all my friends’ posts on Facebook about how we only have 17 (now under 7 on the day I am posting this!) days left together in this beautiful país, I’m doing a lot of reflecting on what this time has meant for me. All thanks be to God, because Costa Rica has been a lesson in love. Here are some of the ways I have learned about love:

Love myself:  I’ve had to spend a lot of time on my own – on my own in my host family as the only American. On my own as the only super-devoted Catholic in my group. On my own when I go to daily Mass. On my own level of Spanish. On my own when I take public transportation to do what I want to do. On my own on walks to school. On my own with my thoughts and a lot of time to reflect. On my own with my values and priorities. On my own, thousands of miles from those I love most. (PS a lot of those on-my-own situations were my choice. Others were part of the package of study abroad…which was also my choice.) Given so much time to be by myself, and so much time to be with my thoughts, I have learned the importance of loving myself.

First, in the basic way that means taking care of my body: staying clean, getting enough sleep, eating well, getting exercise, doing things that support my general well-being.

Second, I have learned the importance of taking time to develop my thoughts and to process events in my life. There has been so much new stuff here! It’s all been very special, but because I have been given a semester with so much free time and so little work, I have had to choose whether I would spend my time scrolling Facebook and watching Netflix and engaging in bad and sometimes sinful habits that come from being idle, or if I would discuss things with my host mom, journal, and do research about questions I have, be they about Spanish, the presidential election, or my faith. (PPS I did too much Facebook scrolling as is, so the choice I made varied from day to day.)

Third, I have learned that to love myself means to enter into prayer with purpose. It’s easy to recite a few prayers before meals and at Mass, but I have learned that developing a daily habit of prayer is essential to my spiritual well-being. My stress-levels and my confusion are directly linked to how much time I spend in prayer. The more time in prayer, the more manageable the language barrier and the adjustment required of me.

Fourth, to love myself means to develop my talents. I played volleyball a few times here and was reminded what a wholesome and joyful activity it is for me. I have spent time writing, blogging, learning, and developing myself. What a healthy time this semester has been! If I wish to be someone who can form life-long relationships, it’s essential that I develop myself. God-willing, this will become a lifelong habit, and one of the most important ones I can develop. I don’t want to be stagnant, and so learning to love myself involves constantly growing and changing.

Love my loved ones: makes sense, right? Loved ones…loved…you would expect that I would have already been practicing this in a big way, considering they’re people that are very important to me (my family, my boyfriend, my friends). God, in His wisdom, used this time to remind me the importance of not taking advantage of the love of those closest to me.

About a month into the semester, my boyfriend said something that really helped me understand the function of “missing” other people. While it’s nice to get and send a bunch of “I miss you texts” every day, he reminded me that we (he and I, but also the universal “we”) must be careful that our missing of others doesn’t become an end in itself. Instead, and this is so beautiful, he asked me to remember that missing someone should be “the product of love that’s far away”. (Isn’t he just the best? I am so incredibly blessed.) Take a minute. Read that over again. Think about it: who do I miss? Do I like the feeling of having someone to miss, or is does this feeling come from a place of purity and good, wholesome love?

Thanks to God speaking (constantly) through my boyfriend, I have developed what I would call a much more mature understanding of the concepts of missing and of love. If love is all those things 1 Corinthians 13 talks about (patient, kind, bears wrongs patiently, doesn’t hold grudges, eternal, etc), then I have a lot of work to do to learn to love my loved ones as they deserve to be loved. To learn to love them as God loves me! But it’s a joyful work, and I rejoice that I have been tasked with such a regal job!

Love God: The basis of the love that I can give to others is the love I receive from God. The best habit I formed this semester was committing to going to a few daily Masses throughout the week and making sacrifices to attend Sunday Mass, despite the temptation (often a very strong temptation) to miss it in order to travel. God has rewarded the efforts I have made to be with Him, and He has blessed me a hundred fold for my faithfulness. Loving Him is my greatest joy!

Love strangers: Let’s face it, there are always a LOT of strangers involved in traveling. In this case, I only knew one person that I would be here with: Anna, who also attends CUA. Every single other person here with me was completely unknown to me on January 15th, the day before I left. From my host family to my directors. From the ticos in my university classes to the fellow Americans in my program. From the strangers I met at a hotel in Brasilito to the people I celebrate Mass with at la Iglesia de Los Ángeles. Learning to love freely and excitedly has opened my heart to loving God more fully. It is currently teaching me humility in an immense way when I reflect back on the semester. Spending this semester with total strangers required me to put my trust in God and to allow those unknowns to develop into friends and family. What a good reminder to be this open at home (USA! USA!), where it is easy to fall into familiar habits with the same people. To be this brave and friendly at home will be a new sort of challenge: I’ll have to choose it, because I’ll no longer be so alone in a new world. When I get home, keeping up this joy of meeting others and encountering Christ will be something I hope to focus on — to make my time here count beyond these 105 days in the tropics.

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You will find me and seek me when you seek me with your whole heart. (Jeremiah 29:13)

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Oh Lord, You have searched me and You know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; You are familiar with all my ways. (Psalm 139:1-3)

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A God who knows me, who has known me since the beginning of time, and who has my best interest in mind.  Because God has known me longer than I have known myself, it is in Him that I find my own identity. As I have grown closer to God in this journey of love, I have come to better know my own heart, my own desires/goals/dreams, and my own ways.