Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Sharing God's love in Czech Republic!

Ahoi!!!  Translation - Hello in Czech, but as I write this, I am back in Bahrain trying to close my eyes and picture all the GREEN I got to see in Ostrava.  Yes, another journey God has blessed me with and just what my soul needed!  Once again, He has proven to me that His ways are beyond my understanding, but always for my good.  He sent me to the Czech Republic to help on a Service Project/Mission Trip for Military Kids; at least, that's what I thought I was doing - going to help.  It wasn't until I got home that I realized that in the end, God was giving me the help I needed.

I promised that I would wait on the Lord and allow HIM to fill my days and time here in Bahrian according to His will.  That meant not rushing in to volunteer for all the things I like to do or what I thought I should be doing; I would not make a move unless He first moved me.  Which is why when they announced at the Chapel that a new Youth Group would be formed on base and that they needed volunteers, it was all I could do but smile and think, "God, is this a test??"  Dave squeezed my hand but I just smiled and oddly enough, I didn't feel that twinge in my heart; that longing for Youth Ministry that I had after I left it for good seven or eight years ago.  Back then, my heart still agonized over my decision to leave Lifeteen for CSS, but I knew it was God's plan and eventually, my heart accepted it and obviously, healed.  So no, I would not volunteer to help start up this Youth Group; there are lots of parents with teens who would be more than perfect for that job.  My job would be to sit and watch and wait to see what God had in store for me.  And then the little box on Facebook flashes telling me I have a message! 

"Marie, this is Gabe.  I just landed in Bahrain and I've been told you are here.  Can we get together soon?"  I've known Gabe - or should I say, I've known about Gabriel Rivera for many years.  It was through Lifeteen that I first heard about him.  He was a musician at St. Matthews who led the Lifeteen Choir and led Praise and Worship at several retreats and events.  Although I had referred my friend Nydia to him when she was working on a Children's Mass for St. Joseph and they ended up working together, we had never actually met or had a conversation.  So imagine my surprise to get a FB message from him telling me that he was in Bahrain!!!   It turns out that the organization in charge of the Youth Group they were starting had sent him to Bahrain to kick off Club Beyond and promote their annual Service Project in the Czech Republic.  Gabe had been touring Europe with MCYM (Military Community Youth Ministries) doing Praise and Worship at different camps and before he could head back home to the States, they asked if he wouldn't mind one last stop in the Middle East.  Who wouldn't jump at that chance??? ;)

So in walks Gabe and we connect as if we've known each other for years.  He actually stayed with Dave and I for several days while he was transitioning into a new apartment and he just felt like family from the start!  We invited him to the Cenacle and they all embraced him and we saw him at mass every week.  We both kept saying how amazing it was that God would put us here in Bahrain at the exact same time!  I remembered the saying, "For such a time as this..." and I would be reminded of it again after we returned from our trip.  You see, Gabe was sent with a very important but difficult mission.  He had to come in and convince people he didn't know to send their teens to the Czech Republic with him for a week!  And as if that wasn't hard enough, he also had to recruit a woman to go with him as an Adult Leader to chaperon any girls that might sign up.  Being that he needed a volunteer right away, he asked me if I would be willing to go.  I had told God that I would not necessarily volunteer for anything unless they "needed" me - that is very different from me wanting to help.   I want to help all the time, but people don't always need my help so that was the deal.  "Let them ASK me Lord; I will wait for them to ask..." and here was Gabe, asking for my help.  I knew right away that the answer would be "Yes".  And then my initial thoughts were, "What did I get myself in to?" 

There were times when I wondered if I was really needed - Gabe found some great adult volunteers for Club Beyond shortly thereafter.  I began to wonder if I really wanted to go back to work with teens; am I too old for that now?  Maybe I wouldn't be able to relate.  And then there was the physical work involved; it would mean little sleep, hard work and lots of teenagers!!!  I started asking God to please correct my mistake if I had indeed made one; please let Gabe tell me that he doesn't need me. 
I still don't know if Gabe really needed me at all; but what I do know is that I needed this for me
Arriving in Prague


The work was not that physical; we had great accommodations; I got plenty of sleep, ate well, and I met great people.  We were there to serve the Roma people; the Roma community.  They are often referred to as "gypsies" and suffer much discrimination throughout most of Europe.  In Czech, 82% of Czechs refuse to acknowledge any form of "special care of Roma rights."  83% of Czechs consider them asocial - or not suitable for society; not able to conform to social norms and 45% of Czechs would like to expel them completely out of the Czech Republic. The Roma people suffered much during WWII at the hands of Nazi German mobile killing units and in camps such as the ones at Lety and Auschwitz.  90% of native Roma died and the Roma there now are mostly post-war immigrants from Slovakia or Hungary, or the descendants thereof.  They are segregated and live in very modest neighborhoods.  It made me think of places in the US where you have the blacks on one side of the track and whites on the other.  While I'm sure this was present in my own lifetime, I can honestly say I have never experienced this type of discrimination myself and it breaks my heart to know that it is still very real and present today.  I feel blessed that MCYM chose to share God's love with them through our service; my prayer is that our presence was just a slight glimpse of the love God has for ALL of His children and how He wants them to know He is with them always, sending His love to them through the love of others; even if it seems it is just a few. 

The other sobering fact I learned is that only 2% of the Czech Republic is Christian!  Communism wiped out religion and those who were believers had to suppress their faith.  Consequently, they did not bring up their children in the faith and while there are multitudes of old religious statutes and icons of Christianity, more specifically, Catholicism, many know nothing about their past.  The amazing thing is that young people are heeding the call of Christ!  Some of the Czechs shared with us that their parents are not believers.  One of them shared with me that she only revealed that she was a believer to them and her friends a few years ago and many do not understand.  Thankfully, they have organizations like Young Life and Lifeteen making a presence and impact on them.  They are the ones who hosted these service projects in conjunction with MCYM and will continue to hold camps for Czech teens throughout the summer.  And you can see that they have a true heart for Christ; they are searching, trying to live their faith the best they can and somehow I believe that their parents will come to know Christ through them one day.

The language barrier was really evident; I kept slipping into Spanish when they couldn't understand me in English, as if somehow they would understand that?  It was funny.  The Czech language is hard and it really made me sad when I tried to ask some of the Roma kids about the rosaries and crucifixes some of them were wearing around their necks, but they just didn't seem to understand.  I had my crucifix on and pointed it out to them but they just smiled and I really didn't get a response, so how much they know about Catholicism I'm not sure.   Fortunately, warmth and smiles and hugs and laughs are universal; they need no translation and there was an abundance of that for sure!!  The teens were so good about playing with them and interacting with them; we also worked hard at painting and sprucing up the two community centers set up for them by a wonderful organization in Ostrava who makes it a priority to provide classes and social activities for the Roma children and their families.  We did our best to plant the seed of God's love through VBS lessons each day and while we are not sure how much they actually knew what we were talking about, they understood enough to know that our love for" someone" named Jesus is what brought us there to them.  The main project was setting up a playground in their community and the joy on their faces when it was completed was priceless!!  Now they will have a place where they can just be children; play together and be carefree.  My prayer is that it will instill in them a sense of being loved.  That others loved them enough to want to share something good with them because they are precious and loved and worthy of good and nice things; worthy of love and respect and the dignity that God desires for each and every one of us.

That was our mission for the week and we completed it.  I will never tire of saying that it is the greatest privilege to be allowed the honor of serving God and to be His hands and feet here on earth!  No greater privilege!  And the rewards are indescribable!  One would think that just that knowledge would be enough, but God doesn't stop there!  He is the most loving God who wants to shower us with even more blessings, and shower me He did!  You see, I went to give His love to others and in the process God gave Himself to me.  Once again, He knows my heart and every need and He blessed me by allowing me to receive Him in the ways that are most meaningful to me; in the ways that He knows I respond more completely to and that is by being in the company of faithful believers who love Him as much as I do and by being able to participate in Praise and Worship through song, which we were blessed to do every night at the end of our day.   Yes, I have a beautiful faith community in Bahrain which I am eternally grateful for but I needed that special connection I get from P&W.  We all receive the Holy Spirit in different ways and for me, there is something about music that fills me with a presence of God that makes my heart want to explode!!!  I don't know how else to describe it but that's how I feel the presence of the Holy Spirit most powerfully.  And God gave Gabe this incredible gift of drawing us closer to Him in prayer through song and it was powerful!   We also had small group discussions re: our faith and how to live it and it took me back to my Lifeteen days when we would go to the Steubenville Conferences in the summer and I would be refreshed and renewed and strengthened for the rest of the year!  I had not had that in a long time and God knew I needed it!
 Gabe leading us in Praise and Worship

The Holy Spirit was in the house!

I feel refreshed; renewed!  I feel blessed, peaceful, grateful, amazed and more than anything humbled.  Humbled at the fact that God knows us so well; He knows the deepest most intimate parts of our hearts and He always provides what we need.  The only thing we need to do is be open to the opportunities He gives us and I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to say "Yes" to this trip.  Grateful that God put someone I knew here in Bahrain to accomplish this trip; Gabe!  And that God put it in Gabe's heart to ask ME to go along.  If it had been someone other than Gabe, I would not have been asked; and even though it was Gabe, he could have asked anyone else.  As a result, I have made a lifelong friend in Gabe and I have been fed, nourished and once again renewed in faith!  My heart is full; my cup overflows! 

As for the Roma Community in Ostrava; I have to believe we planted a seed.  I keep reminding myself of Isaiah 55:11  "so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it."   Please pray for them and all those who are outcast and treated as anything less than the children of God that they are created to be. 

I am still relishing all the memories of last week, thinking and pondering what it all means.  Today, our Holy Father's tweet just confirmed what my heart has been feeling.  He said, "we pray for a heart that will embrace immigrants.  God will judge us upon how we have treated the most needy." 

Blessings from Bahrain!

*If you have a FB page, there is an entire album titled Ostrava Service Project where you can see pics of our entire trip.
 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Where have you been????

Hello friends!!!  Yes, I'm still alive and well on the Island of Bahrain!!! I didn't realize how long it had been since my last blog;  it wasn't  until so many sweet people started asking me if they had missed it.  Thank you all for even caring and reading this; it makes me warm inside to know that we have not been forgotten.  :)

It's been five months almost to the day since we arrived in Bahrain; the place some people call Fantasy Island, tongue in cheek,and I have to admit that I am actually starting to believe it!!!  As I read my last blog, I realized I sounded a little sad and meloncholy; well I'm happy to report that I  have settled in very nicely into this amazing life experience God has deemed to bless Dave and me  with!!!  We continue to be in awe of the magnitude of God's love and goodness towards us and many times we look at each other and say "pinch me!"  Sometimes we even ask "Why us?"  Truly we are not more worthy than anyone else of this amazing life, and yet it is a constant reminder of God's love for each and every one of us.  None of us are truly worthy of all the blessings He gives us each day, and yet it pleases Him to shower us with blessings!  The blessings are different for every one, at different moments in time, but one thing we can be sure of is that He desires our life to be awesome!  I am constantly reminded of Jeremiah 29:11, "for I know the plans I have for you; plans to bless you and prosper you..."  I never doubted that it was God's will to bring us here; I just never knew it was to bless us so abundantly, and I am so glad we submitted to His will for us! 

As you can guess from my lapse in writing, I am finding many more ways to fill my time.  It is very strange to see the sun rise at 4:30 a.m. and it is also very hard to sleep through it!!!  My body automatically wakes up to light so unfortunately, I wake up around 5:00 a.m. every day, regardless of how late I stay up.  But after a few weeks of trying different ways of sleeping in a little longer, I just decided to give in and take advantage of it.  So now, I wake up and I make sure to get the important things out of the way; I have my cup of coffee; read the daily readings, pray/journal, check my email and Skype with my daughters, family and friends, and by the time I'm finished, it's only 7:00 a.m.!!!  Since I got my AFN Box , I've been able to watch American TV; DWTS; The Voice and most recently, the NBA Playoffs.  I can watch them live at 5:00 a.m.!  Awesome!  I've also started swimming in the canal since the mornings seem to be very warm.  We bought a kayak and that is another favorite thing to do.  I kayak around our neighborhood - Floating City.  When all is said and done, it's still only maybe 9:00 a.m.!!!  I'm telling you, I get so much done simply by waking up so early!!! 
Me and Bella in our Kayak
 

So what do I do with the rest of my day???  Well, to be honest, I love NOT having anything on the agenda.  Most days I go to daily Mass at noon.  Most of the time, Dave will meet me there and then we go and have lunch together afterwards.  Then I'll run errands on base or in the area.  Other days I just enjoy time reading, taking in some sun while listening to my praise and worship music, or I'll go and have lunch with friends.  Dave is usually home early; 3-4 pm on most days and we have dinner, relax playing cards, take Bella for a walk on the beach or kayak together.  The weather has been so nice lately that when Dave works late, we'll order a pizza or grab our dinner and go eat it at the beach while the sun goes down.  Yes, I will stop talking about my life now because I realize it sounds to good to be true - but God is so good and I would not be telling you any of this if not simply to boast in the Lord and His goodness! 

Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.  Psalm 37:4

Dinner on the beach
 



And as good as this all sounds, I want to share with you a greater gift God has given me; one that I truly believe has made it possible for me to see and embrace this amazing life, because without this gift, I'm afraid that despite everything we've been blessed with, I might have fallen in to despair or would have perhaps embraced a very different way of life.  And what is this gift?  The Cenacle.

The Cenacle (from Latin cenaculum), also known as the "Upper Room", is the site of The Last Supper. The word is a derivative of the Latin word cena, which means dinner. In Christian tradition, based on Acts 1:13,[1] the "Upper Room" was not only the site of the Last Supper (i.e. the Cenacle), but the usual place where the Apostles stayed in Jerusalem, and according to the Catholic Encyclopedia[2] "the first Christian church".

You may remember that I mentioned in my last blog that a group from our church had come over to bless our house and pray with us - they are The Cenacle! 

When I first arrived and went to confession with Fr. Bob, he told me I HAD to join The Cenacle.  As I continued to tell him about my life in El Paso and what was closest to my heart, he kept saying "Aww man, you need to join The Cenacle!"  Alright, I get that Father, but what is The Cenacle???  And why did I need to join and would they even have me??  Well, as it turns out, I needed to join them more than I realized, reminding me once again that God knows what we need, even before we do! 
Me and Dave with Father Bob

The Cenacle is a group of some of the warmest people I know; they meet every Friday after mass in different people's homes to pray the Rosary and the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy.  Everyone brings a dish and we share a meal.  They are some of the most devout group of people I've met and they are fervent about praying for Priests and Vocations as well.  As a matter of fact, there are two families in the group who have brothers who are Priests.  Along with the Rosary and the Chaplet, I have been learning lots of new prayers that they pray as well.  While it may seem like "alot of Jesus", as Fr. Bob would say, it actually goes by pretty quickly, to my surprise.

I have to say that our first experience with this was at our house blessing.  They were so excited to come and bless our home - there were about 30 people here that day and Dave and I had no idea what to expect or what exactly they would do.  When they pulled out folders for everyone to recite prayers and read from, I got a little worried.  Mainly for Dave - he's not one for long prayers and these booklets had like 40 pages of prayers!!!  And for myself too because although it may surprise you, I'm not too keen on organized prayer groups like this.  I get easily bored and I've struggled with communal prayers like this; I just feel more attracted to spontaneous, personal prayers.  But we were so happy to have them there and so touched by their warmth that we truly enjoyed it.  But every week???  What did we get ourselves in to??  We went the following week, more out of gratitude for the beautiful turnout at our house, but after that, I wasn't sure if we would stick with it every week. I mean, was it necessary??  Does God ever make mistakes??

The Cenacle at our House Blessing

The next week I had some serious moments of crisis.  First, Dave began to have problems with his eyesight and he confided in me that he thought his retina was detaching in his right eye.  His left had detached 5 yrs. ago in his left eye and thankfully, he was aware of the symDptoms and scheduled an appointment the next day.  Sure enough, he was right and that led to an entire day of referrals from one Dr. to the next.  I was tempted to call our Dr. in the States since I knew how delicate and important the right care was but there was no time.  This kind of problem does not wait and after having seen my neighbor in El Paso lose his eyesight because he waited too long, I just had to put all my faith in God; trusting that He would provide the best medical care for Dave.  They scheduled surgery for Saturday afternoon.  In the midst of all of this, I found out that one of my dearest friends had been diagnosed with cancer.  We had been waiting for results and when I got the call saying, "It's not what we wanted to hear", I broke down in tears.  For only the second time since I've been here did I break down sobbing; heartbroken, and left wondering WHY God would not allow me to be at home to help my dear friend through this battle she would have to face???  This all happened on a Thursday and by Friday, I was emotionally drained and that's when it hit me - The Cenacle!!!   They would be meeting that day and boy did I NEED to be in prayer that day!!!  I went alone while Dave was trying to get his work and other things in order before his surgery.  Of course, they all asked for Dave.  When I told them about his ordeal, they all began to offer help.  When I told them he would be at home with his head hanging down for 7-10 days, they immediately offered a massage table where he could lay with his face down.  Within minutes, they had gone and brought the table and loaded it in my car and sent me home with tons of food for Dave.  I offered up my Rosary and Chaplet for Dave and Elsa and I left there feeling 100 times better!!!  As the weeks followed, I couldn't wait to go to The Cenacle; it is where not only I found comfort in the routine prayers but where I felt embraced by the love of God in all those people there.  Truly, God's wisdom is infinitely above my own because He designed that we be ONE in His Church.  The Body of Christ in the Church is made up of all the individuals in it - we were created to work together to manifest His love to others through the Church and there is no better way to do that than to come together as a community and share His love for one another!  WOW!  How well God knows my heart; my weaknesses and my desires!!!   Desires because as I've said before, one of the hardest things to leave behind was my community of faith; my church family; the body of Christ that had nurtured me and loved me in Christ for so many years!  And how many times have we not heard that the Church is universal; that God is present in His Church throughout the world - even in a Muslim country!  Christ is definitely present in His Church here in Bahrain;  in The Cenacle, where He led me because He knew how much I longed for a faith community; for that Christian fellowship I thought I had left behind.  And He knew that I would need them to hold and comfort me in my time of despair; to strengthen me and to remind me that GOD always provides every little thing that we need - even when we don't know we need it.

These people are my friends; I see them weekly but also at daily mass; they have embraced us and made us part of their families; there is always a birthday party; a going away party; an anniversary to celebrate.  But mainly, I just enjoy gathering with them on Fridays and praying with them.  If there are a few days where I  neglect my daily time with the Lord or feel that I've neglected my prayer life, I find it comforting to know that come Friday afternoon, I will get the chance to make it up and be refreshed and renewed.   Oh....and did I mention the great food????  I guess it wouldn't be a Cenacle without delicous food, now would it????  I would be remiss and ungrateful if I didn't say how much I've enjoyed tasting the delicious meals from the Phillipines, India, and France and I'm picking up some great recipes too! 

There are times when I feel as if I should be doing something more - finding a way to serve Him; to share Him with others around me, but somehow, the timing does not seem to be right.  I will be going to the US in a few short months - TWO to be exact!  It doesn't seem right to start something now that I would have to drop for the five weeks I will be gone.  YES, five whole weeks in the US with my daughters, my family and friends, and my new GRANDAUGHTER - Anabella Marie!!!  OMG- my heart wants to explode as I write that!  But don't be fooled; God finds ways to keep me busy in His service; I continue to Lector every week at Mass and isn't it funny that somehow, He has found a way to put me back in Youth Ministry for a limited time.  Yes, that's a great subject for my next blog....let me just say that next week I will be going to the Czech Republic to chaperone a Mission Trip.  The Czech Republic - is that crazy or what???  And how did this come about???  How did GOD come up with the idea of putting another El Pasoan here in Bahrain and bringing us together in service to Him???
Do you know who this is?


 Stay tuned for my next blog........in the meantime, know you are loved and be blessed!!!

 
 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Past and Present Blessings

My Lenten time alone with Jesus came to an end too soon! After Easter Sunday, I felt sad at thinking that my special time with Jesus was over.  It was back to "ordinary" time; back to the things I gave up, etc...   And I realized that I was NOT ready to give up that special time with Him each day yet - no, I wanted that special time to become my every day "ordinary" and so I continue to sit, talk, listen and journal.  I had not blogged because I was trying to think of what you might want to hear about now.  What could I share with you that would not bore you?  What would be worth giving up some of your busy time to read anyway?  Well, this morning I knew what I wanted to share with you.

But first let me say that I have been experiencing more of the culture.  I finally went to the Souk - the traditional market place where you can buy everything from souvenirs to custom made clothing, men's suits and traditional abayas.  It's a little intimidating because they all want your business and they stand outside their shops and in their best English say "Come!"  It makes me want to laugh because it sounds more like a command than an invitation and sometimes their voice sounds stern and gruff, even though it is not meant to sound that way.  Our maintenance man does the same thing.  He wants so badly to pet Bella and I'm happy to see that he's not afraid of her, but every time he sees her, he says "Come! Come here!"  and she runs under the table!

We also visited the King's Camel Farm.  He has over 600 camels!  Why?  I have no idea but he allows people to go and see them for free.  A worker will jump out of nowhere and give you some greens to feed them and then allow you to take a picture on one of them.  I took a picture on top of a camel who was 6 months pregnant.  She was sitting down when he took me to her but he didn't tell me she was pregnant until after he had me sit on her; I asked him not to make her get up because I felt bad putting all my weight on her in addition to the extra weight she was already carrying!  But I got a nice picture of Ariel - the 25 year old Momma-to-be. 
 
 
We also went to the Bahrain Museum and Fort where archaeologists discovered 7 distinct foundations, which have been dated back to 2500 BC!! To see names like "Mesopotamia" and "Chaldeans" and the land of "Ur" gave me goosebumps! These are all mentioned in the Old Testament and I can't believe I'm walking on anything remotely related to that time in history!


 Here is the Facebook link if you want to see more pictures.
 http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10201002174635382.1073741831.1197495678&type=3

At the opposite side of the spectrum, we also experienced more of the luxury and excess of Bahrain - the International Boat Show held right here in Amwaj where we live, at the Marina.  Yachts, water toys and some of the most expensive cars I've ever seen!  No, we didn't buy one, but we had fun dreaming and you can see more pictures here: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10201013311913807.1073741833.1197495678&type=3



I was blessed to buy a car so I have started to drive!  I realize that patience and defensive driving serve me well.  I usually drive during the days when everyone is working so traffic is light but I've been able to move around; I found my way to the main Mall and have bought a few things for our home.  We invested in some rugs to keep the carpet clean and little things to make it feel more like "our" home since our household goods have still not arrived.  It's been 3 months!!  They said it would be two but now it's turned into three and it's very frustrating not knowing when the winds will blow that ship in to dock!  On a positive note - I'm happy to see that we've been able to survive on the 2 suitcases we each brought when we came.  Sure, I've bought a few pairs of shoes and some clothes that are more suitable for Spring than the winter clothes I came with, but it's been minimal and I love that we've been able to keep it simple for this long!  Dave says he hopes the container is at the bottom of the sea somewhere so we can collect the insurance money, but I want my things! 

But the highlight of having a car is that I've been able to attend daily mass a few times a week now!!!  I kept saying how much I missed going to daily mass so I figured there was no excuse now.  It has been a blessing.  I don't know why but I'm constantly aware of the devotion and determination it takes for these men and women to attend daily mass.  There are many service men and women mixed with TCNs (Third  Country Nationals, ie...Indian and Filipinos) who work on base.  The TCNs only get 30 minutes for  lunch so they basically give up their lunch time.  Father gives Mass at record speed - 20 minutes!!!  But I think it's because he's aware that the people there will have to gulp down a quick bite to eat after mass so he wants them to have as much time as possible left to do that.  I'm not sure what the word would be to describe what I feel in seeing people place such an importance and dependence on God for their daily lives.  I don't mean to take anything away from those who are retired or don't work or are self employed and can set their own hours to attend daily mass, but when you see someone rush over on their lunch break, or give it up completely to be nourished instead by the Word of God and the Eucharist, I am just in awe.  I guess I feel humbled; grateful, blessed and renewed in hope for our world.  I don't know how to express it so you can fill in the blanks - all I know is that it's good for my soul! 

This past Friday we were blessed immensely by having 30+members of our church community come to our home to pray the Rosary and the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy; share a meal and bless our home.  This will be the subject of my next blog because this is already too long and I haven't even gotten to the part I really wanted to share with you! 

So to get to the point - I've been experiencing some homesickness watching holidays and special events going on back home that were so dear to my heart. As I continue to meet more people, I'm able to tell them a little more about myself and my life in El Paso and all of that seems to make me miss it more!  This morning I had an email from my dear friend Andi Ponsford whom I have shared many, many special moments with throughout my years in youth ministry and beyond.  I came to really love her children during the years they were in Youth Group and hearing about their adult lives now; seeing how their faith is impacting them now just made me cry! Thinking back on all the experiences we shared together made me realize how much I miss them and that time of my life too!  I think it's because it's becoming very evident that my "vacation" is not going to end any time soon.  My life as I knew it in El Paso really is in the past and it will never be the same again, even if I do get to go back some day.  Life goes on, everyone back home is moving on without me, and I'm grieving the loss of my former life.  Those tears felt heavy at first, but amazingly, they quickly turned to tears of joy!  I suddenly remembered what I had just read and underlined in my daily devotional this morning;  "Be careful not to complain about anything, not even the weather; since I am the Author of your circumstances.  The best way to handle unwanted situations is to thank Me for them.  This act of faith frees you from resentment and frees Me to work My ways into the situation, so that good emerges from it."  I realized that while I could allow those tears of sadness to turn to resentment or despair, God could make them tears of joy if I thanked Him for every moment of my past life instead and counted them as a million blessings!  How blessed I was in my life back home!!!!   The blessings are too numerous to count!!!  And every time I remember and miss someone or something - I need to count it as another blessing - and thank God for it!!!  How many people leave a place because they "hated" it; because there was nothing there for them?  I can't ever say that!  I know, I know I said that I was leaving the country because of Obama, but I was just kidding!!!  Sort of. ;)  But to be honest, I would be incredibly selfish and ungrateful not to see how blessed I was in family, friends, and church community; how privileged I am to have the blessed memories that come from serving in ministry; how blessed I am to be able to see the blessings in my past.  It gives e confidence and blessed assurance of the blessings still to come NOW, in my new place in life and for that, I am ever grateful.  So I won't complain - not even about the weather!  And have I mentioned that it's getting pretty hot now????  Well, I may tell you how high the temperature gets, but it won't be a complaint, it will only be so that you can then turn around and THANK GOD that you're temperatures are still lower!!! 

Thank you to each and every person that has entered my life, past and present - I count you among my greatest blessings!! 

As always, blessings from Bahrain!!!! 
 

Monday, March 25, 2013

HOLY WEEK REFLECTIONS

PALM SUNDAY

Today was a joyful day!  I can imagine what it must have felt like for the people to see you riding in on a donkey to Jerusalem.  The laid down their cloaks for you - their cloaks Lord!  It was explained to me that a person's cloak was the only thing the king or someone you owed a debt to could not take away from you by law.  It was considered a basic need or necessity for everyone.  It was a means of warmth, protection from the environment, it was a means of modesty.  The one thing no one could take from you and here they are, willingly laying them on the ground for You!!!  That in itself speaks volumes for what they must have been feeling - the great expectations they had! 

They raised their palms - the symbol of goodness and victory - for their King - the One who had come to save them and bring them peace!  I can almost feel the energy!!!  I think it must have felt the way it feels when I'm in Heinz Field at a Pittsburgh Steeler game and the entire stadium is on it's feet, waving their Terrible Towels after a touchdown!!  It's electrifying and it shakes you to your core!  But that's just a "game".  I know it can't even compare.

I think it must have been thrilling for the Disciples to see the reaction from the crowds.  Finally,  people were acknowledging the One they had left everything for; the one they had come to believe in.  Validation of some sort.   But for you Lord - how did it make you feel?  I think you were pleased; although I think it was bittersweet because you already  knew that many in these crowds would be shouting a very different tune very soon.  When You would not meet their expectations, shouts of acclamation would turn to shouts of condemnation.

How quickly our feelings for You can also turn when our expectations are not met.  When we're suffering and in need, we realize how much we need You.  We will make the effort to reach out; to raise our palms and proclaim our faith and belief in You, waiting for You to deliver us.  We may even offer You precious things we wouldn't otherwise; we promise to go to Mass more often; we promise to give more money in the collection basket; we promise to visit a holy site.  But what happens when we don't get the answer we want; or more likely, when the answer is not what we expected???  

Discouragement, disappointment, doubts - the three "D's" - the devil's three greatest weapons.  It doesn't take long for me to fall into these traps.  Give me a week like these people; show me my idea of what was supposed to save me being slapped around, mocked and ridiculed, and I may abandon it altogether too!  "Why God? Why???? " are words that come too easily in times of despair. 

I don't want to be like those in this crowd Lord.  I don't want to praise You only when I think You can save me from my circumstances or myself!  I don't want to have any expectations other than the plan You have for me.  Today, I pray then that You would give me the JOY of Palm Sunday every day!  That I would always have an attitude of great anticipation at your coming into my daily life.  That I would daily raise my palms in Your honor and offer you my most prized possessions willingly, without expecting anything in return.  And that when discouragement, disappointment and doubt set in, You would quickly ride in on your donkey and be my Prince of Peace, bringing peace to my heart. 

MONDAY

Today the daily Gospel focused on the dinner Jesus had with all of his friends at the home of Lazarus.  While the joy of yesterday's events was probably still in the air, You Lord knew it would not last.  You knew exactly how the whole week would pan out and so you retreated to find comfort among your friends.  Lazarus, Martha and Mary must have been soooo happy to have you there!  They had not seen you since you raised Lazarus from the dead and now they could lavish their love and gratitude by opening up their home to You.  I imagine that house to be filled with warmth; not only by the warmth of the candlelight,but by the warmth of friendship. 

When we were getting ready to leave El Paso, our closest friends hosted a final dinner for us and it was so special.  We shared a meal but we also shared a love that is so special between dear friends.  I will never forget how tangible the feeling was!  When they each reached out to bless us with Holy Water, you could almost reach out and touch the presence of Your Holy Spirit.  I didn't want to focus on what would be happening in the next few days; I just wanted to be present there in the moment; to bask in the conversation, the laughter, to be wrapped in the warmth of their love and friendship.  I bet you felt the same way Lord.  Soon You would be gone, but tonight You wanted to just bask in their love and friendship.

Mary was the sensitive one; I imagine she must have sensed a sadness underneath.  Or maybe she was so overcome with love for You that she felt she had to do something outwardly to express it.  So she goes and gets her more costly possession - her most expensive jar of oil and she pours it on your feet and lets down her hair to dry them.  For a women to let down her hair in public was scandalous!  It was not done!  And yet in her act of love, you see that she does not count the cost or care what others would say.  How happy they must have been later, after Your death, to  know she was able to show You her love and devotion one last time before Your death!  No regrets!!

I am sad to say I have too many regrets.  It seems that I have the best of intentions when it comes to doing good deeds for others but I often hold back.  I'm either too busy to follow through or I over analyze it.  Will they think this is corny?  Maybe it's too much?  will I embarrass them? Maybe I can't really afford it right now.  Is it something they even need?  I can't tell you how many times I've bought things that I never give because after over-analyzing the whole situation, I'm exhausted and I just give up on the idea, only to later regret not following through. 

Jesus said to Judas, "You will not always have Me."  Well, we won't always have the opportunities to help someone in need or express our love and devotion to Jesus through our brothers and sisters either.  After all, that's what we are doing when we go out of our way to do an act of kindness for someone else.  "Whatsoever you do for the least of my people, that you do unto Me."

Lord God, today I want to thank you for all of my friends and the gift of their friendship. Watch over and protect them until I can be with them again.  And most especially I pray that you would give me a "Mary" heart.  Let my heart be sensitive to those around me; to look deeper than the surface and recognize the sadness or hurt of those in need.  Give me the courage to act on those promptings of your Holy Spirit to reach out to them; to help them regardless of how much it cost - literally and figuratively - or even what others may think.  And finally, let me never have regrets for not loving and serving those with whom I had the opportunity to do so.  Let me not put off for tomorrow what I can do today.  Help  me love without abandon - live without regrets!! 


TUESDAY

The Gospel today made me think long and hard about Peter.   I do believe that He really did want to follow you Lord and when he said, “I will lay down my life for you!” he really meant it, although clearly he didn’t know what that really meant.  Still reveling in the great reception they had all been a part of a few days earlier, he might have even been a bit prideful in his statements!  I will lay down my life for You!”   In our humanity, don’t we all like to be associated with a winner!  How often don’t we say, “I knew him when….” when we see someone we know achieve something great!  How often don’t we catch ourselves name-dropping?  It’s almost as if it makes us a better person by just simply claiming to know them.  And it’s very easy to pledge allegiance to someone everyone approves of or loves.  By this time many had seen or heard of Your miracles and you had a great number of followers; everyone including the Disciples had great expectations of You!  Unfortunately, You knew that soon this would no longer be the case.  Expectations would be shattered and Your followers would be few.  I hear the sadness in Your voice when you look at Peter and know that although his heart is in the right place, he is not yet strong enough to stand against the grain and follow through on His words.

Today the Catholic Church is still reveling in the joy of our new Pope!  Even those disgruntled with the Church seem to be happy and so many already have great expectations of him; everyone seems to think he’s come to agree with their way of thinking and set the rest of the Church straight.  Are you looking down with sadness at us now too?  Do you already know what will happen the first time Pope Francis proclaims Your truth in a way that goes against what they were expecting to hear?  Will they be disappointed or angry and deny Your Church; will they once again walk away?

I imagine that you’ve looked at me through those same sad eyes many times too.  You hear my words, and you know that my heart is in the right place, and yet you also know my human weaknesses.  You know that I’ll probably start with stout resolution, only to find myself wavering when things don’t go as I expected; when my determination starts to flounder because of the reaction I may get from others.  You see me weakening when I’m accused of being self-righteous, a holy roller, and too judgmental just because I’m trying to follow Your ways.  And darned if I can’t almost hear that cock crowing when I retreat, back down, or decide to say nothing in order to remain “neutral” and hope no one challenges the things I’ve claimed.  When I think back on all those times, I too want to weep as Peter wept.  How could I?  WHY did I let you down???

Peter repented deeply and you allowed him to redeem Himself Lord, when you manifested Yourself to Him after Your resurrection.  In Your mercy, you gave him three chances to declare his love for you when you asked him; “Peter, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord, You know I love You”, he said.  And three times you then asked him to put that love into action.  “Feed my sheep.”  You wanted him to “walk the talk” and he did.  Strengthened in faith by Your mercy and grace, Peter did go on to lay down his life for You and Your flock here on earth.

I need more than three chances Lord!  I need to be redeemed by Your mercy and grace.  And I find comfort in knowing that like Peter, You are willing to forgive me and give me the grace to grow stronger in faith so that I can truly follow You.  You know my heart Lord; you know my human weaknesses, and yet You love me the same.  Thank you for that unconditional love Lord!  Please continue to strengthen my faith Lord; give me an increase of courage to follow You, even when it seems I’m all alone in the crowd.  Do not allow me to deny You when others ridicule me because of You.  And when I am accused of being one of your disciples, let the verdict be loud and clear – “Guilty!”   

WEDNESDAY

Oh Judas, how could you??? Every single one of the disciples wondered who would ever betray Jesus; "Is it I? Surely not I, Lord?" I'm sure that no Christian would ever want to believe that they could be like Judas. And I say Christian because sometimes what baffles my mind the most is that Judas was actually a follower of Christ. He walked and talked with Jesus; he experienced the miracles; he experienced Jesus' love. So could he?

I wonder if Judas coined the phrase, "the devil made me do it!" We don't often want to take responsibility for the poor choices we make in life, especially when we know better. I think that's why it's easier to believe that Judas had no choice in doing what he did. He was simply fulfilling a role in the plan of salvation. But when I sit here a meditate on Judas and his betrayal, I am struck by the reality that Judas willingly went to the Pharisees and inquired on his own, just how much he could get for turning Jesus over, long before the moment where we read in Scripture that the darkness, or the devil entered him. The devil entered him after the betrayal was committed. Which leaves me a very real and scary thought.

When we betray Christ, it is a choice; our choice. Judas was motivated by those powerful, human traits that are so dangerous to all of us; money, greed and pride. He had high expectations of Jesus; He believed he was their King - but an earthly King who would rule with power and would acquire riches and he would bring him all the comforts in life he longed for! But when he realized that this would not be, his greed for material wealth, power and prestige took over. Sometimes, we expect that our life will be very different simply because we do follow Christ. We expect Him to answer every prayer quickly and exactly the way we want. We expect our lives to be blessed; we expect an abundance of happiness and blessings; we expect peace in our lives because after all, that's what He promised! But life is filled with internal conflicts, struggles, trials and they all come from human choices. From the beginning of time, every consequence that leads to pain and suffering comes from a personal choice; the choice our first parents made to sin. And it will be that way forever; sin is always a choice.

Our choice then to betray Christ usually comes when our expectations are not met. When the life we imagined or want doesn't turn out the way we expect, it must be because God is not there; He really doesn't have the power to bless my life; never mind His plan, I can do it on my own. And when the results of our choices lead us to even more pain and suffering, or worse yet, when our actions inflict pain on someone else; on innocent bystanders like those we betray, it's not our fault! The devil made me do it!!

Every time I choose to go against your commands, every time I refuse to seek Your direction, every time I refuse to wait on You, I am allowing darkness to enter. Once I have willingly taken the path to sin, it is only a matter of time before despair inevitably sets in. That moment when you realize that all you thought you had to gain is gone; when you realize what a mess you've made of things; how much pain you've inflicted on someone else, when you realize what a mistake you've made, when you realize that you too have betrayed Him.

It's an awful, gut wrenching feeling to know you have betrayed the One who has done nothing but loved. I can imagine Judas feeling the despair so deeply that he wanted to rip out his heart! Doubled over in pain, sobbing at the realization of what he had done. I've cried those tears of repentance; I know that pain!

But Judas greater sin came when he gave in to something greater than greed; he gave in to pride. He had too much pride to accept responsibility and ask for forgiveness. If only he had gone back to Jesus; if only he would have asked for mercy; the very thing he had witnessed Jesus give so freely to sinners, he could have been saved. Instead, in his pride, he allowed himself to believe that his sin was greater than God's mercy and he plunged to his death; again, his own choice.

Lord God, I will always have those human tendencies to sin. I will always struggle with acceptance of Your will and Your plan over mine. I will probably always have a hard time waiting on You, but I pray that you will deliver me from pride and despair when I am faced with the consequences that come from my own choices. Help me to recognize that I do have the power to change, but that can only happen when I take responsibility for my actions and not try to blame someone else. Despair is a heavy thing to bear and it can be all consuming, but I know that there is something greater than despair and that is Your mercy!! Don't allow me to be too prideful in thinking that my sin is grater than your power to forgive. Help me always remember that there is no sin I could ever commit that you cannot forgive! If Judas had only asked for Your forgiveness, he would have lived! There is no doubt. Instead, he willingly threw himself into death and the rest is history.

Deliver me from pride Lord which is the root of every other sin; deliver from despair; that in difficult moments I may not despair but with great confidence, submit myself to Your holy will, which is love and mercy itself.

"You don't need to wallow in guilt. Wallow in the mercy of God. When you are guilty, say so to God through a confessor. Acknowledge your problems and sins. The moment you have stated them, God puts His Hand over you and you are a newborn babe." ~ St. John Marie Vianney 


HOLY THURSDAY
Growing up, Holy Thursday always seemed to be a little less holy than Good Friday.  Obviously, I didn’t grasp the significance of the events that happened that night; but now I love and I look forward to this night!   I was really excited to see what Fr. Bob would do with our little chapel; excited to hear his homily!  We arrived early and I could hear the choir was practicing one of my very favorite songs of the seasons. and I just knew it was going to be a great night!  Until I looked around and noticed there were no decorations.  No special anything except folding chairs in front of the Altar and three plastic urn flower pots.  OK….. don’t compare….don’t compare…. I kept reminding myself.  If you’re from Queen of Peace, you know why this is so important!  Every other year I was at church in the morning helping decorate the altar; we’d put out the huge baskets that would be filled with holy bread and would permeate the church with its fresh baked scent.  We’d put dry wheat and grapes on burlap cloths and old pieces of pottery scattered around.  Then we would pick out the pitcher and basin for the night and place the towel every so carefully so it would all be beautifully displayed!  I loved going in to the sacristy to pick out the basin; I was like a little girl playing with dishes.  There were several to choose from but I had my favorites and Sister Julia usually let me pick, unless Fr. had already decided.  I realized then why Fr. Bob had given me a strange look when I told him to email me if he needed help decorating the altar on Thursday.  He must have thought I was crazy!  Decorate? 

I forced myself to focus on his homily and I really did enjoy watching his face as he washed the feet of the little children he had asked to go up.  He explained that in the days of Jesus, the Jewish pilgrims who had to make the pilgrimage up to Jerusalem would travel for many days to get there.  Along the way, there were rest houses where they could stop and rest and spend the night.  Something like hostels. And because there were no sewage systems; people threw trash along the road, and the roads were so dusty, their feet of course were filthy so these rest homes provided what they called “foot baths”.  There were basins where they could soak and wash their feet.  So that’s why he had those big planters; he had the children put both their feet in there and then he kind of washed them and dried them.  He mentioned once in a homily that he had also been a principal in a Catholic school for some years and I can see how much he loves children because he was just so happy and sweet with them and he interacted with them as he washed their feet.  It was very touching.

After Mass, he explained that we would process to the “baby chapel” (a small room that has been designated as a Catholic chapel where the tabernacle is kept and where they have daily mass) where the Blessed Sacrament would be exposed until 9:00 p.m.  The chapel is right next to his office in the Chaplain’s building and we don’t have to share this room with any other denomination.  There is a small altar in there and a few chairs.  You can probably seat 40 people in the room.  So off we went in a very non-ceremonial way.  By that I just mean that I was a little disappointed because there were no special vestments; no elaborate procession with music, we all just kind of got in a little  line and followed.  I kept trying to think of a song to sing and all I could think of was “Bendito, Bendito” in Spanish.  Sure, throw in another language to add to the Arabic, Indian, and Filipino languages already spoken!  I decided maybe God just wanted me to be quiet!  And as I’m writing this, I realize now that even though it was not very formal or ceremonial, everyone was quiet and reverent.  There were no people clamoring for the holy bread, asking if they could have one for each member of the family who didn’t show up.  There were no loud voices telling everyone else to be quiet!  It was just simple, reverent and quiet. 

There were no candles around the altar in the baby chapel; no dim lights, no beautiful ornate monstrance; nothing out of the ordinary.  Again, a little disappointment crept in.  People came in for a few moments and then left.  I had hoped that Fr. would explain that was our way of keeping Jesus company during his agony in the Garden; that we were those disciples whom He asked to stay awake and pray; and that we should be so happy to be able to be in His presence in His final hours!  Something, anything, to make more people stay!  But it didn’t happen and most people left.  But as I sat there staring at the Monstrance I had a revelation.  My heart said, “Jesus, You’re here.  You’re here and that’s all that matters!”  I thanked God for showing me that no matter where I am; no matter how simple or how elaborate the celebration, He is present in the Blessed Sacrament and I was so grateful to be able to simply sit in His presence.  I thanked Him for all the years I had been blessed with beautiful ceremonies that ignited my fire and love for the celebration of Holy Thursday.  Perhaps back then I needed that to be able to engage in it more completely; it was necessary to get my attention.  All the little extras like the bread, the costumes, the decorations, visiting the seven churches, all those things were helpful in getting me to embrace it and have a real desire to share it with my children and then all the youth group members I lugged around from church to church for so many years.  All of those details and traditions are ingrained in my heart and helped me fully understand the holiness of Holy Thursday.

I am much older now; I would like to think a little more spiritually mature.  I shouldn’t need the external to draw on the internal.  I remember learning that faith is not an “emotion”.  As beautiful as all the bells and whistles are in our Catholic faith; as wonderful as it is to get that “spiritual high” from an amazing homily; an amazing choir singing a beautiful song; an altar beautifully displayed, we cannot rely on those things to have an intimate encounter with God.  And the reality is that the only thing we need to encounter Him is to “be” with Him.  Regardless of how simple that ceremony was; regardless of how plain the chapel was, He was still there, waiting for us to just simply sit with Him and there is nothing more beautiful than that!

As we walked in the dark back to our car that night, the full moon was out shining brightly through the palm trees that line the streets on base, and Dave and I just marveled at the beauty of it and all that God has created.  We talked about that night in Gethsemane, and how the moon must have been shining on Jesus that night too, and I thanked God for giving me the opportunity to share a little bit of that time in the Garden with Him tonight.  When you’re stripped of all those familiar things or places where you would usually go to find God, you’re forced to open your eyes and look deeper to find Him, but you will find Him because He’s always there; even in the little island of Bahrain, in a simple small room called the "baby chapel".   
 
GOOD FRIDAY
I will never buy into calling this day “Good” Friday.  It’s just always a sad and somber day.  I was already weepy just from reading the daily readings first thing this morning.  I was thinking that if I was in El Paso, I would be leading Stations of the Cross up Mt. Cristo Rey.  That is one of my best memories and traditions!  But now we had nothing to do but wait until 3:00 p.m. to go to church.  We had time to kill so we decided to lay out on the balcony and get some badly needed sun for Dave’s legs.  I had my IPod playing Matt Maher songs and spending an hour in praise and worship was the best way to prepare for what was still to come.  I was now excited to go to church and see what Fr. Bob had prepared.  I was not disappointed.
The chapel was packed and we did Stations of the Cross with the children once again reading the reflections for each station.  What a wonderful way to instill a profound awareness into these children’s lives of their Catholic faith! I love that he includes them in the liturgy on the holiest days of the year and in our Catholic tradition.  What amazing memories they will have and hopefully these are traditions they will carry on for many years. 
Once the service began, Fr. Bob was once again truly inspiring.  He focused on Pilate and gave us his whole history; how he came to be in the position he was in; how both the Romans and the Jews didn’t like him; and how the Jews used him as a pawn to get what they wanted; to kill Jesus.  Pilate bought into it, although he really did believe Jesus was innocent and tried three times to let him go.  But the people wouldn’t have it and he was in between a rock and a hard place.  He knew it wasn’t right to kill an innocent man but if he didn’t do it, the Jews would riot and the Roman government would be upset that he could not control the Jews.  In order to keep his political position and reputation intact, he gave in to the crowd and that was his sin.  He was weak.  He was morally weak and although he knew it was wrong to condemn Jesus, he wasn’t strong enough to stand for his convictions. 
Every time we give in to the pressures around us either from others or from our circumstances, and do what we know is wrong, we are giving in to our weakness.  We are weak when we allow ourselves to get caught up in gossip; when we talk bad about someone else; when we give in to sexual temptations, to alcohol addictions or addictions of any kind; it’s because we are morally weak!   Like Pilate, we’re not strong enough to stand up to what we know is right and that is our sin.  Our sin, combined with the sins of the entire world add a tremendous amount of weight to Jesus’ cross, which was already incredibly heavy to begin with.  And how sobering to know that I continue to add to the pain of the crucifixion every time I stand by idle as someone mocks Jesus; spits in the face of God’s laws; mocks our beliefs. How incredibly hard it is to know that every time I give in to my weakness and sin, I pound the nails on Jesus’ hands and feet just a little deeper.
Fr. Bob had a cross made especially for today.  He told us to hold it over our heads and pass it around, up and down every pew, so that we would each get to feel the weight of the cross.  It was an incredible scene watching the cross pass through each and every hand, reminding us that we all had a hand in Jesus’ crucifixion.  Once the cross made it all the way around and back to the front of the chapel, it was time to venerate that same cross.  I wept as I knelt down to kiss it where I imagined Jesus’ feet to be and I wept as I saw grown men and women fall down before it with deep reverence and hold onto it for a few moments.  These are the men and women who give their own lives to protect ours, and it was humbling to see them choked up and clinging to that cross for strength.  I say for strength because only when we can acknowledge the great sacrifice Jesus made on the cross for us, can we truly accept the love and mercy He pours out upon us in death, and that is the only way we can grow stronger in faith!  We have to believe that God’s grace is strong enough to keep us from sin if we want to be able to stand with moral conviction and do what we know is right in His eyes.  We will always be sinners and we will always have our moments of weakness, but if we lay down our own daily crosses at the foot of Jesus’ cross, we will find the courage and strength to persevere and to be faithful to our moral convictions.   
The only thing that is “good” about Good Friday is that it’s over.  And Jesus said, “It is finished.”   Now we wait in anticipation of the most glorious day of the year and that too is very GOOD!!!
You expired Jesus, but the source of life gushed forth for souls and the ocean of mercy opened up for the whole world.  Oh fount of life, unfathomable divine mercy, envelope the whole world and empty yourself out upon us.  Oh blood and water, which gushed forth from the heart of Jesus, as a fountain of mercy for us, I trust in You! 
 
The cross that was passed around and the venerated
HOLY SATURDAY

Today we attended the Easter Vigil Mass - something we had not done in years!!!  The last time we attended, we got the time wrong and knowing it would be packed, we went even earlier.  Needless to say, we sat and waited almost and hour and half before the 2 1/2 hr service even began!!!  "Never again!" we're Dave's exact words.  Even so, I often attended because I loved singing with the choir for all those holy and sacred occasions so I would go to the Vigil and sing and then go back on Easter Sunday with the rest of the family.  I didn't mind.  But eventually, I decided to just attend on Sundays with the family.

That was my plan this year - Easter SUNDAY mass - a big deal since we usually celebrate Mass on Fridays, but Fr. Bob said absolutely NOT!  So I was excited about Sunday Mass.  But then Father Church asked, "You are coming on Saturday, right???"  Blank stare...Saturday?...why?...no...Sunday!
"We really need you on Saturday to Lector because we're doing all seven readings!"  I decided a long time ago that I would serve where I was needed, not necessarily where I wanted, so of course I said, "OH, of course.  Yes, we'll be at the Vigil."  And then I wanted to say, "but don't tell Dave just yet."

In my morning reflections, I read that the liturgy of the Easter Vigil is all about the mystery of God's new creation; a new fire is kindled, a new Paschal candle is lit; we move from darkness to light as we light our own individual candles from that one flame.  New holy water is blessed, new members brought into the Church.  Yes, Jesus is making all things new!! WOW!  How perfect is that for my life right now???  I'm in a new place in life; a new location; a new church community.  I feel as if my time spent with God these last few months have truly rekindled a new fire in me and yes, Jesus is making all things new!!  What a perfect place for Dave and me to be today; at the Easter Vigil, and I know it was God's doing, not my own because I had no intentions of going.

One thing I have come to realize since leaving home is just how spoiled I was in regards to my church community!  It was the best!  And on special feast days, I loved bringing my entire family there because I could always count on the beautiful decorations and the music to make it special! But I also realize now that maybe, those things became a little too important; the main focus of my worship.  When something changed or the music was different or they stopped doing certain things they'd always done in the past, I would feel a little annoyed but mainly disappointed and I wouldn't walk out with that same uplifted feeling I was used to and wanted!  I look back now and remember that basically the first thing we would do was talk about what was missing; what we didn't really like about the service.  I'm embarrassed to admit it but I have to if I'm going to be honest.

I immediately think of the song "The Heart of Worship" - "I'm coming back to the heart of worship, and it's all about You. It's all about You, Jesus.  I'm sorry Lord for the thing I've made it, when it's all about You, it's all about You Jesus." 

That was my revelation today!  When I walked in to the chapel and saw the simple but beautiful decorations, my heart burst with joy, every bit as much as it did when I walked in to Queen of Peace, maybe even more.  More because I appreciated the great effort it took to do that here in Bahrain.  Father doesn't really have help; they don't have cabinets and closets filled with different chalices, vestments, special vases and decorations, but they take what they have and offer their efforts to God and it's beautiful!!  And maybe, I thought, that is why I was able to focus so completely on every word and prayer Fr. Bob said.  I had no trouble focusing on all seven readings!  When Father chanted the entire Easter Proclamation (four pages long!), it was as if I was listening to a beautiful Gregorian chant.  And again, it's the effort that moves me.  Fr. Bob does not have the gift of song! (if by some obscure chance of one in a million you happen to read this or hear that I said this, please forgive me Father!  It's not a criticism, I promise!)  But honestly; I am moved to see that although it does not come easy to him, he goes to the effort to do it anyway!!!  Sometimes, if I know I can't hit a note or I don't know the song, I won't sing it - I won't.  And what is that??  Pride.  I don't want to look bad; I don't want people to stick their fingers in their ears and later laugh at how awful it was!  Yes, I'm exaggerating but it really is pride, I've decided and it's not pretty!  So here is this man of God, offering up his best efforts to the Lord, and the Lord makes it beautiful to my ears!  Without all the distractions of beautiful, ornate decorations or elaborate productions and 30 person choirs, the beauty of the Liturgy, the beauty of the Word and the sacramental symbols took center stage.

I am not criticizing my old parish or any others that have the means and ability to go all out with their decor and presentations - I'm simply understanding that for ME, they had become a distraction.  And I never would have realized that if I had not been pulled away from that and brought here to Bahrain. Yes, it is a new experience and I'm feeling very blessed for it! 

The daily mediation said, "What is "old" in you that Jesus wants to make new? Let Him fill you with the joy of redemption.  Let Him turn your mourning into dancing.  Let Him put a new song into your heart.  You are a new creation!"  How incredibly poignant is that for me today???  He has filled my heart with joy today.  The immense sadness I was trying so hard to ignore that came from missing being home with my girls on this day was replaced with dancing!  And the songs that we sang; the same old songs we sang at home over and over again, became new,and I cried with every word as if I were singing them for the very first time!  This is what Easter is all about; this is what Jesus said to His mother on the way up Calvary - "See, I make all things new!"  It is true!  He is Risen from the dead and Has come to make our same old lives NEW!  He has come to give us new life - new hope - new joy - everything new!!!  He wants to take us from death to life; from chaos to order; from darkness to light and all we have to do is get back to what really counts; get back to the heart of worship and acknowledge His great love and sacrifice!

Happy Easter to all!  He is Risen - Alleluia!!!!  




 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Palm Sunday on Friday??? Phillipians or Philippines?

Happy Palm Sunday everyone!!!  I'm feeling a little ashamed in a way because unlike most of you, I already celebrated this great tradition on Friday!!!  Through no fault of mine, mind you!  I know I read the ending of a book instead of from front to back; I know I go online to see the results of Dancing with the Stars before the show airs on my time slot; I know I can't always wait to open a gift before Christmas - but this time it was NOT my doing - and yet my heart was happy!  :) 


Father laid palm branches in front of the Altar and at the Crucifix (Dave is sitting on the right - he always wants to be there early!)  Notice the choir on the right of the Altar - there is an important reference to them at the end. ;)

We have been blessed with a wonderful Priest!  I got to go to Confession with him last week and we chatted for over an hour and a half!  Confessions here are one on one; you have to make an appointment so Dave and I decided to do it early before the Easter rush.  I went first so poor Dave waited a very long time for his turn, but since he was taking a break from work, he said the quiet time he spent waiting was worth every minute since he had been very stressed.  Anyway, Dave got his fair share of time with Fr. Bob too while I prayed in the Chapel and during their conversation, he learned that 34 years ago, he and Fr. Bob were in Marine Corps boot camp at the exact same time in San Diego!  Can you imagine?? They probably ate in the same mess hall; maybe even grunted at each other!  After four years, he left the MC and went to Seminary; he entered his life's vocation and Dave got his lifetime sentence - he married me! ;) 

What I love about Fr. Bob is his enthusiasm and love for the Lord and Mother Church.  He always teaches us about the traditions of the Church and on Sunday he went into great detail about the Palms being sacramentals.  He explained that that is why we don't ever throw away the little crosses we braid out of them; they must be burned.  I remember having that same question when I was packing all of my belongings - what should I do with all those little crosses I kept finding?  I couldn't pack them; I couldn't throw them away. I think I finally just put them in storage.  So now I  know - know you know if you didn't already. :) 

And then he gave us the symbolism behind the cloaks being thrown on the donkey and on the ground; he told us why the people so willingly gave the disciples the donkey and why it was such a big deal considering what the donkey meant to the people and families of that time.  People were very poor so many times four or five families went in together to buy one donkey so that they could use it to haul things, transport people, etc....  It meant a lot to them!  But Jesus needed a donkey because the donkey was also the symbol of peace.  When a king was going to proclaim war, he would ride in on a horse;  but when he wanted to point out that he was coming in peace, he rode in on a donkey.  Jesus' entry into Jerusalem would then symbolize his entry as the Prince of Peace, not a war-waging King.  The palms symbolized goodness and victory.  That's why there were often depicted on coins and important buildings.  Solomon had palm branches carved into the wall sand doors of the temple (1 Kings 6:29)  And if you studied Revelation, in Rev. 7:9, at the end of time, the people from every nation raise palm branches to honor Jesus. 

I really miss being home for these special feast days; I can almost see the altar at Queen of Peace dripping in beauty from the touch of Father Trini's hand.  I will miss visiting seven churches and ending up at QOP at midnight for Benediction.  I will miss leading the Stations of the Cross up Mt. Cristo Rey (Barb and Richard Schaumberg asked me for the reflections I used because they are planning on going up so if you want to do it, you might want to contact them). And of course, I will miss seeing and smelling the hundreds of Easter Lilies that will fill the Altar on Easter Sunday!  But God is sooo good because He finds a way to fill my life with those little details that mean so much to me.  I loved the fact that Fr. Bob made the effort to decorate the little chapel knowing it would all have to come down right away since we have to share the chapel with the other denominations.  He and the altar servers had to keep stepping over them and it was tricky and I noticed him just laughing about it when they kept tripping over their robes.  I made sure to thank him for the effort after Mass.  I had asked "Father Church" (their version of Jim Meyers - he is a lay person who takes care of setting everything up) if they ever had Adoration; especially on Holy Thursday.  He said "sometimes" but if they did, it was just until midnight and even then, only if they could get people to stay.  I quickly offered to take that last shift.   But during Confession I asked Father about it and he said "No."  He explained that since almost everyone lives off base (only lower ranked enlisted live on base because it's a small base) once they leave the Chapel they don't come back so he didn't feel people would stay or come back for Adoration.  I was sad but understood.  A few days later, Father Church was excited to tell me that Father had OK'd Adoration for Holy Thursday, but only until 9:00 p.m.  Good enough for me!!!

We are so blessed to have so many beautiful rituals and traditions that draw us deeper into the Passion of our Lord; yes, all the bells and whistles that wake up our senses to the reality of the pain and suffering Jesus endured and then the JOY that all of His followers felt on Easter Sunday!!! I for one treasure them and I'm trying very hard to experience every little bit of them that I can, regardless of how different they may be from what I'm used to.  It would be easy for me to just shrug my shoulders and say, "Oh well, I'm in a foreign land where I can't do everything I would like to do, but I'm sure God understands."  No - I will not allow this Holy Week - the holiest of times go unnoticed.  I am determined to do every little thing I can to join Jesus in His passion.  No matter how different, how small, no matter the time and the driving back and forth that it takes; I will acknowledge it with joy and thanksgiving!  Raise up your palms everyone!!!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!!!!! 

And finally, I have to share a funny story with you!  I must preface this with the fact that there is a very large contingency of Filipinos on the island and they work all over the base.  Our choir is made up of about 10 Filipinos and they do a beautiful job.  Anyway, they are very quiet, sweet and humble people.  Well last week Father asked me to Lector and when I began the second reading, I said, "A reading from St. Paul to the Philippines!!!!  OMGosh!  I immediately corrected myself  and said "Phillipians" but I wanted to laugh so hard!!!   I was sure I would hear gasps or giggles, but I didn't.  I guess everyone was OK with St. Paul addressing his letter to the Filipinos too!

May you all have a blessed and holy week!!!


We got two kinds of Palms - the thin traditional ones and the fuller Bahraini palms