Monday, March 25, 2013



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. 


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!! 


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!”   


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 

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".   
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

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?!
"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


Sunday, March 17, 2013

What a week!!!

What a blessed week this has been!!! There is so much excitement in the world right now after the wonderful blessing God bestowed on us in sending us a new Pope!!!  Of course, everyone is talking about his humility; I too was blown away at his request for us to pray over him.  What a privilege for us to do so!  And how wonderful to be reminded that even the Vicar of Christ needs God's divine assistance to serve his mission.  Phil 4:13 - "We are self-sufficient only in that we are Christ sufficient."  I read that translation this morning and loved it! This is my "life" scripture verse and I had never heard it put that way but it is true! 

I stop and wonder though, why we would be surprised at his humility?  All of the Pope's I've lived through have shown great humility!  It is the hallmark of a servant of Christ!  And then special attention is being given to the fact that he is passionate towards the poor.  But again, this is nothing new.  Social Justice is one of the pillars of the Catholic Church!  She has always taught that we are all the same in God's eyes and everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and compassion; inside the Catholic Church and out of it!  We don't only care for just our own; we are called to serve everyone!  Where our poor brothers are concerned, She teaches that we are to ensure they receive the same basic needs everyone needs to survive.  If we have not heard this or even practiced it, it is really through our own fault; society's influence in telling us that it's every man for himself; but this is not what the Church teaches.  Yes, that same Church that so many seem to think is out of touch in today's world ; that same Church has always, always been passionate about helping the poor!  Of course, I believe that God in His almighty wisdom knows how badly the world has become blind to the virtues of humility and compassion for the poor and I for one am so happy to see the WORLD paying close attention!   And what a joyful, warm and loving man He has sent to do this!  There is no doubt He is the one chosen by God for this specific time because it is evident that people are immediately drawn to him and I believe he will make a deep impact in not only Catholics, but all Christians alike!  Praise be to God!

I also thought about Pope Benedict; how loved and humbled he must have felt to have Pope Francis ask all of the faithful to pray for him!  I hope he felt our love and prayers for him deep in his heart!  Which brings me to the main subject of my blog today; what I felt God asking me to share.

When he was elected, I was especially moved by his admission of feeling overwhelmed by the task assigned to him; he was praying someone else would be elected.  He said in one of his first audiences with the people; "I am simply a servant in the vineyard of the Lord; please come and join me."  I am paraphrasing of course, but I understood what he was saying because in that moment, I had just decided to answer the call to start CSS.  I really was hoping someone else would be called to that task and I felt unprepared, unworthy and certainly humbled when it was clear that the task was being assigned to me!  I think I even shared that at my first meeting with the Group Leaders that year.  Anyway, I felt a connection to him immediately in that regard.  And how funny that 8 years later, at almost the same time again, we were both "released" from those duties.  Not because we asked to be; simply because God felt it was time.  And here we are again, both called to live a contemplative life.

I had not event thought about it that way until I received an email from my dear friend, Christy Balsiger, who said that I was now living the contemplative life, like Pope Benedict!  Wow!  That is true!  I may not be secluded by myself away in a monastery or convent, I am in a place that allows me to quietly spend as much time as I want in deep conversation with God.  And as I sat there pondering those thoughts this morning, I felt God asking me to share with you the beauty of this experience and how easy it is for anyone to spend some time in contemplative prayer.

The term sounds intense; it seems to take too much time; and maybe it even sounds b-o-r-i-n-g.   But what I have found is that contemplative prayer is simply sitting and having a one-on-one conversation with God.  I will admit that I'm not good at formal prayer; I don't pray the Rosary daily or have certain devotions I have to pray every day; I do have my own favorite short aspirations I say daily, especially to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, ie. Jesus, I trust in You; Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner, etc...  But for the most part, I just love sitting there and thinking.  I let my mind just quietly think what it will, since what is in our minds is what is usually in our hearts.  I sit there and think and then when I start to ask a question or ask God for something, it's amazing that somehow, at the same time I'm thinking about it, He's already giving me the answer!  It's true!  It causes a slight problem because if I'm journaling, I already have the answer before I've finished writing the question and I'm tempted to just quit writing! ;)  But as I was contemplating that today and how cool that is, God said, "It's like any relationship that you cherish.  the more time you spend with that person, the more you know them and you can almost hear what they are going to say before they even say it!  You can complete their sentences; you can read their minds!"   GOD has this ability; it's humbling to know He knows us inside and out and yet He still loves us the same.  But to know that we can get to know Him so intimately too is truly amazing!!!  The Scriptures are true!  If you live in Me, I will live in You!  My Sheep know Me and they know My voice!  Your heavenly Father knows what you need before you even ask! (If you know the exact Scripture verse, feel free to insert here) :)

It's so simple; all it takes is giving Him some uninterrupted time for conversation...simple conversation.  And believe me; for a person who is not used to sitting still; is not very disciplined and can be very easily bored - doing this has been the easiest thing for me and the most rewarding!  I long for that quiet time in the morning - so much that sometimes on Dave's days off, I get a little annoyed that I'm not alone. lol  And I have never, ever felt bored; in fact; I sometimes have to force myself to get off that chair and move! And it has brought a profound peace to my life that I hope I can pass along to others.

I am sure Pope Benedict was watching that night and was humbled by our love and prayers!  And I want you to know that I feel the same way.  In every letter you wrote me; in every email, phone call, FB posting, care package, comments on this blog, I feel your love and prayers and I am humbled and very grateful.  They uplift me daily and I want you to know that you are in my daily prayers too. I am so happy to be able to share this exciting time in the Church with all of you as we join our Holy Father, Pope Francis I, on this wonderful journey!!!

Blessings from Bahrain!!!

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Power of the Cross

The whole world is watching the Catholic Church!  I think its awesome that even those who denounce the Catholic Church or have left it, are now watching, talking about who will be the next Pope, commenting on all the sacred rituals, traditions and symbols of the Church!  It is an exciting time for our Church and we as Catholics should be even more excited than the rest of the world because God is preparing to move in power in the next few days.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, we must TRUST and BELIEVE that His Will will be done and the man He has chosen will become our next Spiritual Shepherd; the one who will guide us in Truth and give us the strength to continue to stand witness for Him in a world that is struggling to remove themselves farther and farther away from Him.

And if the world is watching the Catholic Church, the world is also watching those who call themselves Catholics!  That inadvertently prompts a heavy reality check on all of us. What kind of witness does our life, our words, our actions give to the Catholic faith? 

Many years ago I read a story about a woman who was very lost and alone and wanted desperately to find God.  In her despair, she reached out to the cashier in the grocery store she often went to.  The cashier did not know her but she went up to her one day and asked her, "Can I please go to Mass with you?"  The Cashier quickly said, "Of course!" as she could see that the women appeard to be very distressed.  She gave her directions to her house and told her she would wait for her on Sunday to attend Mass.  The woman went home with a sense of hope; on Sunday she would go and experience God.  She remembered that once when she was young she had gone to Mass with her chilhood friend and her family and her friend had given her a little lace doily to place on her head.  She didn't have one now - what she should do??  She quickly found a lace tablecloth and cut a little cirlce, put a bobby pin in it and decided that would have to do.  On Sunday, she showed up early to the cashier's home and was more than excited to get to Mass.  On their way over there, she told the cashier that she was sorry that she didn't have the proper head covering and hoped her little make-shift doily would be OK.  The Cashier smiled warmly and said, "Oh, it will be just fine!"  During the Mass she watched and listened; the reverence of the people touched her soul and she felt a great sense of peace listening to the prayers, since she really didn't  know any of them well enough to recite, except for the Our Father.  She did not get in line to receive Communion; the Cashier assumed she was not prepared to receive and thought nothing of it.  As she sat there in silence, looking up at the crucifix, she allowed herself to feel the love of God for the first time in a very long time! 

After Mass was over, the Cashier could see that some of the desperation in her face seemed to have eased.  She softly asked, "How long has it been since you've been to Mass?" "Oh, I'm not Catholic" she replied.  Puzzled, the woman asked, "Oh. Well, I'm really glad you decided to come and you're welcome to come with me any time, but....may I ask why you wanted to come with me?  To my Church?"  The woman smiled and said; I didn't know where to turn; I don't know many religious people, but I noticed that every time I saw you, you wore a crucifix.  Not a cross, but a crucifix and in my suffering, that is what struck me the most.  Jesus suffered on the cross and I wanted to see if He could help me in my own suffering.  I once went to a Catholic Church and I was struck by the crucifix because we didn't have that in my church or other churches I had been to. That is why I wanted to go to church with you."

There is power in the Cross and most especially in the Crucifix.  Many people are suffering in silence and they need to experience that sacrifical love that Jesus showed on the cross.  Yes, we glorify the Risen Christ, but he had to suffer and die first, and we can never forget that if we want to rise from our own suffering and rise to new life! That is why we have a crucifix in every Catholic Church and that is why we wear one.

I was warned not to bring any religious symbols to Bahrain.  My first concern was my crucifix; I wear it daily and I actually made a conscience decision to wear it always since I read that story above.  I wanted everyone to know that I'm a Catholic-Christian; I wanted to give witness to Jesus' sacrifical love.  It is a constant reminder to me also to "live" my  Catholic faith and values so I decided that I would bring it anyway.  I would wear it tucked inside my clothes if I had to.  Well, I have since learned that it's OK to wear it; I asked an Arab man who gave us a class on the culture here if it was OK to wear it and he said "Yes.  Absolutely!  The veils you see some women wearing across their face are simply symbols of piety; they are very religious women.  If you wear a cross, they will simply know that you are a religous person.  There is no problem with it."  So I began to wear it openly, even though I was still a little nervous.  And then something VERY STRANGE happened the other day.  Dave and I were at a restaurant having lunch.  The waiter was Asian; a very sweet and attentive young man.  In fact, he gave us the best service we've  had since we arrived here!  At the end of the meal, as we were leaving, he came up to us and said, "Thank you again for coming and GOD BLESS YOU!"  I smiled and said "Thank you" and walked out and then I looked at Dave and his face was just priceless!  He looked at me and said, "did he just say God bless you???  Why would he say that? Why would he say that here??"  " I don't know" I said.  How would he have known it was OK to say that to us?  Surely he didn't see us saying Grace before our meal because Dave and I have come up with a way to do that without being noticed, since we never know who will be watching....we just hold hands and look at each other as if we are talking and then we make the sign of the Cross on our leg under the table.  So how would he have known???  A thought then ran across my mind; it was my Crucifix!!!  He must have seen my Crucifix because it was very noticeable that day. 

You may disagree, but I felt as if God was reassuring me that wearing my Crucifx openly is safe and the right thing to do!  All of a sudden, this young man felt free to bestow a blessing on us; how wonderful is that?  Maybe it's time to say Grace openly before meals in public too??  I don't know.  But I do know that the WORLD is watching the Catholic Church and all of it's members very closely right now; may we all bear witness to her Truth and Beauty in every little way we can!

Oh and by the way, as I was thinking about that incident later, I told Dave, "Do you remember our waiter's  name?  He wrote it on the tablecloth for us?"  Dave says "No..."  It was ANGEL!!  :)

Blessings from Bahrain!