Quizzes, Concerts, and Roller Coasters

I remember sitting in my high school theology classroom, chanting these words in unison with fifteen other girls:

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy, but I come so that they might have life and might have it more abundantly.”

John 10:10

That verse was one of the passages that my theology teacher required us to memorize for our Scripture class.  She had observed that some Christian denominations know the Bible remarkably well and can quote numerous verses from memory.  But in her experience, not many Catholics know Bible verses by heart.  So we had memory verse quizzes throughout our semester to try and increase our retention of God’s words. 

I’m very grateful for this tactic.  It worked exactly as it was intended; to this day, some of those verses still float around in my memory.  My teacher specifically chose verses that could easily apply to our daily lives, and they have served to comfort me in times of uncertainty.

This particular verse has appeared in my life in a couple of unexpected but very welcome ways.  The first was a few years ago at a concert.  I was attending a large-scale alternative rock/punk concert with some of my friends.  We were wandering through the booths looking at merchandise in between performances.  A particular tent caught my eye, first because of its beautiful galaxy pattern, but then because of the text that read “Steal, kill, and destroy.”  Considering the genre of music all around us, I wasn’t particularly surprised—until I saw “John 10:10” on the tent as well. 

“Wait a minute,” I said to my friends.  “That’s a Bible verse.  But, it’s next to such violence.  We’ve gotta check it out.”  Something seemed fuzzily familiar, but it hadn’t clicked yet. 

We approached the tent, and the staff smiled in welcome.  I told them I was curious about their beautiful tent, and asked what Bible verse they were quoting.  As soon as I heard them start the sentence, I finally recognized it, and I was able to finish the quotation with them.  It was so exciting to have this little nugget from high school show up in a place I’d never been before.  I felt like the Holy Spirit had waved at me unexpectedly, like finding a friend by surprise in a foreign country. 

The next time I ran into this verse “in the wild” was just last month.  I was at the NJ Catholic Youth Rally with my dad.  Typically, that event is attended by youth groups and young adult groups, but my church’s group hadn’t organized a trip.  My dad and I decided to attend by ourselves and have a father-daughter day instead.  The rally included a day in the Six Flags park, Mass, and a Matt Maher concert.  I have dreamed of seeing Matt Maher perform live for years, so when my mom forwarded me the information about the rally, I was eager to go.

The rally opened with a welcome ceremony led by the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal and some youth from their ministry program.  My favorite thing about it was our “warm up.”  One of the sisters taught us the elements of their outfit—veil, habit, cincher, and sandals, as well as a rosary and three knots to represent their vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience—and set it to a familiar tune to help us remember.  Then she made the entire auditorium stand up and dance to “head, shoulders, knees, and toes” but with the names of her outfit components!  With each repetition, she sped up and challenged us to keep pace with her.  Even though my chronic illnesses kept me from participating fully, it was certainly a lot of fun to watch!

After our warm-up challenge, another sister stepped forward and told us her vocation story.  She prefaced her story with a recitation of John 10:10, which instantly caught my attention.  She went on to describe the moment that she knew Jesus was calling her to something special.  She had attended World Youth Day when she was sixteen, and was dancing with friends and strangers in a stadium with Christian music blasting.  She described the immense joy and fullness of life that she felt in that moment, and she knew that such joy is exactly what God made us to experience and wants us to enjoy. 

That is why, the sister explained, that Six Flags was such a perfect venue for our gathering today.  Riding on roller coasters with friends can give us such an exciting feeling of euphoria.  It is a way to experience the abundant life that Jesus wants for us.  It is also a way for us to practice outreach to others by showing kindness, patience, and love to all around us. 

I adored this notion.  I’d never thought about a day at Six Flags through the lens of theology before, but I’m glad that the Sisters suggested it to me.  It fit in so well with the lessons I’ve learned from my faith educators over the years.  Throughout my years at school, I heard a quote from our patron, Don Bosco, that has taken up a very special place in my heart. 

“My children: jump, run and play and make all the noise you want but avoid sin like the plague and you will surely gain Heaven.” 

St. John Bosco

My youth group always liked to combine faith with food and fun to most effectively evangelize to neophytes and faith veterans alike. Even in more secular settings, it’s easy to see that fun attracts people.  I work as an RA at school, and part of my job is to run events for my residents.  It becomes very clear very quickly that the more fun the event’s activities, the higher the attendance.  The truth is, human beings like fun—and we should!

God made us to experience joy; His plan for us includes our happiness.

Spending the day with my dad walking around Six Flags was great.  The stress of the school year is off my shoulders, and during the summer I can just relax.  Since it was just the two of us, we could explore the park and ride whatever rides caught our fancy without coordinating multiple people’s varied interests.  We got to spend quality time together all day long, which is a rarity with our busy schedules.

The Mass was beautiful.  I loved seeing so many young people gathered to share in their love for the Lord.  My college is very secular, and I only know a handful of practicing Catholics there.  Sometimes, it can feel very lonely, but seeing all these young people at Mass reminded me that I am not alone. 

I also noticed that the nearest roller coaster paused for the entire duration of Mass.  I realized that Six Flags must have purposefully chosen to close the ride temporarily so that we could celebrate Mass in peace without the screams of riders plummeting down intense drops and rolls.  I was floored by the thoughtfulness and respect that they showed us.  It was so nice to see a secular venue validate our faith.  There are plenty of stories of Christians getting their faith disregarded or disrespected, but Six Flags respected us, and that warmed my heart. 

Our evening ended with the concert.  Matt Maher gave an incredible performance.  I am most familiar with his music from XLTs, nights of Eucharstic adoration at my high school.  XLTs are where my faith first took on real, deep, and personal meaning for me, and I miss them every single day.  At the concert, Matt played a lot of songs that I associated with XLT, so I instantly felt a deep connection to Jesus in those moments.  We also got to hear some of his newer music, which was a great way to expand my horizons and hear the Holy Spirit in new ways. 

I am so grateful that God drew me to this event.  It was such an exciting way to revitalize my faith and build my relationship with my dad.  I had some important lessons reinforced, and got to praise God alongside hundreds of other Catholics from my state.  And most importantly, I got a taste of the abundant life that God desires for me and for you!

Cover photo by Pedro Velasco on Unsplash

Pope Francis in Ireland

Pope Francis has been in Dublin, Ireland this past weekend for the World Meeting of Families, and by the grace of the Holy Spirit, I was blessed with the opportunity to see him!

I am studying abroad in Dublin this semester with Champlain College.  That in and of itself is incredible, and I am so excited!  I’ve had the dates of my travel for several months now, along with our orientation schedule.  So when I heard that Pope Francis was going to be in my new home city shortly after I arrived, I scrambled to check the dates.  Lo and behold, the free weekend I had available right after orientation was the exact weekend he would be visiting.

On Saturday, several of my fellow students and I took to the streets.  Pope Francis was driving through the city in his Popemobile, and we were ready with cameras.  The had barricades lining the streets where he would be, and my friends and I were able to get right up to the barricades themselves.  One friend in particular and I who share a love of photography and, incidentally, the exact same camera body, set up a competition.  When I arrived, he looked at me and said “All right, whoever gets the best picture of the Pope has to buy the other a pint—of water, because I know you don’t drink.”  I laughed and offered to up the ante by upgrading to the soft drink of his choice if he won.  Then we set up our shots and waited.

Almost an hour passed before the cars that preceded Pope Francis, and he whisked by in about a minute.  I snapped away furiously, and I was able to get some pretty good shots!  I love how he gently smiles and looks so friendly.

 

On Sunday, I bundled myself up against the wind and the rain to head to Pheonix Park for Mass.  Every street I walked along was closed to car traffic, and pilgrims were migrating to the park.  The further I walked, the more and more people joined the crowd.  We streamed along the red, green, and navy routes toward the heart of the park.  After a little bit of confusion, I was able to to find my section, and I settled in amongst all the people.

I was honestly surprised to find how empty my section was.  I expected, with sold out tickets, for every area to be packed, but there was really only a handful of people in my section.  The sections near me were similar situations.  I was a little bit taken aback, but I laid down my rain jacket on the ground and sat down anyway.  As it happened, the section that I was in had its view of the altar and stage completely obscured by a massive screen, but I was okay with that.  We were so far away, we wouldn’t have been able to see much anyway.

 

A half hour before Mass began, Pope Francis rode in the Popemobile again to greet everyone throughout the crowd.  As he drove through the channels, people in the crowd ran to his side just to get close to him.  The joy on people’s faces brought me to tears.

I am painfully aware of the abuse that has wreaked havoc on our church recently.  Between the McCarrick situation and the Pennsylvania grand jury report, it feels like the Church is falling apart around our ears.  Because of my travels, I have been largely alone in my faith as I’ve been learning about all of this.  I have not been able to connect with my faith family in the aftermath of this news, and it’s felt very isolating.  I have mourned in silence, and I have felt very alone.  But here, in this field teeming with Catholics, raucously sharing in their faith and eagerly braving distance and adverse conditions to come together and celebrate Jesus in the open air…  My heart became full.  I no longer felt as alone.  The only thing that kept repeating in my head was the phrase, “Our Church may be hurting, but our Church is here.”

I am not at all trying to erase the sadness and shame associated with this abuse coming to light.  But I believe that community breeds love and healing, and being around so many Catholics who were on fire in their faith despite the atrocities that have been rampant brought me hope.  It brought meaning to the messages of strength and encouragement that I have seen on social media recently as we all reel and recover from the headlines.

At the start of Mass, Pope Francis addressed the abuse scandals and asked for forgiveness on behalf of those who committed the actions, and on behalf of those who turned a blind eye to the actions.  He also prayed that this season of shame extend itself, and I thought that was really poignant.  We need to dwell in this shame for a time.  We cannot just sweep these difficult feelings under the rug and pretend they never happened.  We need to feel our shame, really feel it, so that we never allow it to happen again.  Catholics are no strangers to suffering, and we know that suffering brings salvation.  We cannot run from discomfort just because it is uncomfortable.  We run to the Truth, even when it hurts, and we pray that God bestows the necessary graces upon us.

Since the Mass ended, I have learned more disturbing news.  Pope Francis has been accused of covering up for McCarrick.  This claim has been disputed, but the truth is yet unclear.  And perhaps most concerning of all, when Pope Francis was asked about the account after the closing Mass, he refused to talk about it and told us to use our best judgement.  I am uncertain as to why he chose this response, but I am frightened for what will come next for our Church.  Even so, I have faith that our Church will survive, and I am grateful to have seen Her in stride this past weekend.

March for Life Memories

The March for Life is the largest annual national gathering of pro-life individuals.  It is a protest march held in Washington D.C. in late January.  (This date is chosen to commemorate the handing down of the Roe v. Wade decision on January 22, 1973.  That case determined that women have the right to an abortion under the 14th amendment, and that states have limited rights to interfere depending on the trimester of the pregnancy.)

I have been blessed enough to attend that March for Life three times.  The first time was in 2013, the second in 2015, and the third in 2017.  It is absolutely incredible to be around such an immense crowd of people who value life in the same way that I am.  We are most unified by our stance against abortion, but the diversity present at the March is incredible.  There are groups of people who proclaim their identities as Catholics, Christians, Jews, atheists, scientists, feminists, post-abortive mothers, and so much more.  All kinds of creeds arrive to demonstrate their support for the preservation and sanctity of life.

Each March that I’ve been to is tied to specific moments and memories.  In 2013, I most prominently remember walking through light snowfall praying a rosary with my theology teacher.  This was my first year of high school and my first time at the March, and I was in awe.  We were probably three quarters of the way through the course of the March when my teacher offered to lead some other students and I in a rosary.  Throughout the decades, the jostling of the crowd scattered us, and I ended up being the only one who made it through the whole series of prayers with her.

2013 was a very cold year, but 2015 was surprisingly warm.  The defining moment for that year’s March in my head was standing around at the start of the March before our walking really got under way, and one of my friends stripped off layer after layer until she was just wearing leggings and athletic shorts because it was so warm, we didn’t need to be swaddled in endless fabric anymore.   We all stuffed extra clothes into our bags, which puffed up like microwaved marshmallows and looked absolutely absurd on our backs.

2017 is the freshest and the most courageous year for me.  The previous two times, I had attended the March with my high school.  We left directly from campus, were chaperoned at all times, traveled in a group, and had a specific itinerary that we kept to at all times.  In 2017, I attended the March with my college diocese.  They organized a bus to go down to D.C., and I was the only person I knew who signed up.  I walked 45 minutes to get to the departure point, and our trip was significantly longer than I was used to because I was much father north than before.  We would drive through the night, arrive in the morning to explore freely, march, and then return to the bus and drive through the next night to get home in the morning.  This freedom was intimidating for me, but I made friends with the woman I sat next to on the way, so we were travel buddies and found our way together.  This was the first time I attended the March for Life Expo, and I got so many free stickers and resources, it was incredible!

My strongest memory from that March, though, was truly a glory story.  After a long night of driving, our bus stopped in a parking lot around 4 in the morning to let us get an early breakfast before we got into the city.  We stopped at a rest stop along the highway somewhere in Maryland, and I was sitting at a table nibbling my way through some hasbrowns when I heard a voice say “Hauer?  Is that you?”

I turned around, and two girls from my high school were standing behind me.  We squealed hello and hugged, and I realized that more and more faces I recognized were all around the rest area.  My high school’s bus had arrived, completely by chance, at the exact same rest stop at the exact same time to get food, so I was able to connect with some friends and mentors at 4 in the morning before marching during the day.

I have a few photos from that year, which I’ll include below, but my favorite media from it was actually not produced by me. Students for Life of America set up a camera viewing the street and compiled a time lapse of the whole March.  Check it out!

 

 

The March for Life is a fantastic and meaningful experience for which I am always grateful.  I really hope to be able to return next year, but moreover, I really hope that someday soon the March will transform from a yearly protest to an annual celebration of victory because true change has been made!

Source:

Roe v. Wade Fast Facts

Święconka

Easter is mere hours away, and that calls to mind many memories for me.  My family has a lot of traditions around Easter.  My immediate family lives in New Jersey, but some of my extended family lives in Indiana.  We would always make a yearly “pilgrimage” to go visit them for a week over my sister and my spring break.

That road trip became synonymous with Easter for me.  It was quite the endeavor, but it got easier over the years as my sister and I matured.  It was a 12 to 14 hour drive (depending on rest stops) with all four of us crammed into a car, and then a week at my grandparents’ house before another 14 hour drive back.

We developed some traditions around that trip.  Personally, I’m a very planning-oriented person, and I always have been.  I would write up specific packing lists and find excitement in cramming clothes into a suitcase.  We would always try to pack the car the night before whenever possible, and I loved to watch my dad play Tetris with all our luggage.  I’m not always very good at spatial awareness, so I was pretty impressed by his ability to pack efficiently.

When we were in the car itself, we had some games to play to pass the time.  A classic was the alphabet game, which is when you look for each letter on the alphabet, in order, written on surfaces outside of the car along the way.  An “A” in a road sign, a “B” on a license plate, and so on.  We also played the license plate game.  I would print out a blank map of the United States, and bring along a colored pencil(s).  As we would drive along, we would keep track of all of the different states we spotted.  One year, we even saw a car from Alaska!  Most of the eastern states were pretty common, and mid-western states became more frequent as we traveled along.  I distinctly remember, when my sister and mom fell asleep in the car, my dad would whisper state names to me as he saw them so that I could keep track without waking them up.

During our week with my family, one of my favorite traditions was the Polish tradition of Święconka.  Święconka, which we pronounce svfie-con-ka, is a pre-Easter food blessing.  On Holy Saturday, we would bring baskets full of our food for the next day to my grandparents’ church.  Their priest, Fr. Len, would lead us in a hymn, reflect on the meaning, symbolism, and history of Święconka, and then pray the blessing.  The prayer was said in Polish, and holy water was sprinkled over the baskets using a straw brush.  It’s been a staple in my Easter tradition for as long as I can remember.

When I started college, my spring break no longer coincided with Easter, so I stayed at school while the rest of my family traveled.  This meant that for the first time in my life, I wasn’t going to go to the food blessing!  So I took matters into my own hands, so to speak.

I had been building up a stash of chocolates throughout Lent (since I had given it up that year).  I gathered all of my goodies, and pulled out my holy water.  I looked up an English translation of a traditional Polish blessing, and prayed over my chocolate.  Then I sprinkled some holy water over my stash.

I sent a picture of my “DIY Święconka” to my sister, and a few hours later, she sent a picture of the real Święconka from Indiana.  (Included below)

 

 

I don’t have quite such an impressive chocolate stash this year, but I’m still going to bless what little I have.  It’s important to me to stay grounded in my traditions, even if they have to change a bit over time.  This is also a great way for me to still feel connected with my family, even when I cannot be beside them.

Mass Journaling

It was a weekday in late August.  I was already back at school, completing some training before classes started.  We were in training sessions from 8 AM to 8 PM for two weeks, and it was pretty draining, but we were pushing through.

I was at breakfast one morning, scrolling through Instagram.  We weren’t allowed to have our phones out during training sessions, so mealtimes began with conversation but quickly lulled into everyone staring at their screens for what limited time we could.

A sponsored post popped up in my feed.  Usually, I completely ignore those kinds of ads, but this one caught my eye.  It was a Kickstarter campaign for a Mass journal entitled Every Sacred Sunday.  As someone who has been journaling since before she could write, and has continued to do so since then, a Mass journal seemed right up my alley.  It was something I had been seeking for a while, actually, but didn’t know exactly what I needed until it crossed my path.  A friend of mine who had been struggling in her faith had spent some time visiting other churches in our area, and described that at one Protestant church she visited, everyone took notes during the sermon, and the teens compared and discussed their notes in their youth group meetings after the service.  I had been very drawn to that idea, but I didn’t feel right about bring a notebook to Mass and taking notes.  I feared being perceived as disrespectful.

Every Sacred Sunday felt like it was giving me permission to take notes in Mass.  Moreover, it was encouraging me to do so!  I read through their plan for the project and instantly fell in love.  I pulled out my credit card right then and there in the cafeteria and pledged for their Kickstarter on my phone.

I followed their journey through production, getting early glimpses of art prints to be included and receiving status updates throughout the process.  The journal finally arrived just in time for Advent and the new liturgical year.  Its design is utterly gorgeous; it’s just my style and I couldn’t have designed it any more perfectly.  Just look at it!

 

 

 

The gold foil on the front is so majestic and beautiful.  The watercolor art for each season is so pretty (I photographed Lent as it is our current season).  Even down to the type face, the clean lines, and wide open spaces, this whole journal has a seamlessly executed aesthetic.  I’m always eager to open up my Mass journal and engage with this beautiful book.

For each week, the readings are written out.  Then, there’s a work page broken into segments.  I try to get to Mass a few minutes early so I can fill out the pages before Mass begins, but if not, I take time after Mass to complete it.  There’s a “Scripture speaks” section where I copy down a verse that really spoke to me from the reading.  There’s a “weekly intentions” section which is subdivided into a gratitude and supplication column, which I love.  I especially love that the thanksgiving comes before the requests, because it’s so easy to forget to be grateful, but it’s absolutely essential to give thanks.  Then there’s a “notes” section, which is probably my favorite section.  I love to be organized, and I’m very academically inclined.  I’m also a visual learner, so taking notes on the homily (and only during the homily) is one of the best ways for me to pay attention to the information that I’m hearing.  Finally, there’s a “go forth” section, which is a space to set an intention for the rest of the week.  Personally, I struggle a bit with that section.  I’m not very good at remembering my intention once I leave Mass, and when I open my journal the following week, I always smack my forehead when I realize I forgot it again.  I’m still looking for a better way to apply the intentions I set at Mass to the rest of my week.

I love my Every Sacred Sunday journal.  It’s a great way for me to engage more deeply with the Word of God presented to us each week.  I was never one for missals, but this is a dynamic way to dive deeper into the Mass, and I am so grateful that I found it when I did.