Lord, You know all things.

On this, the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, most Catholics are inclined to think of Matthew 16 in which Christ changes Simon’s name to Peter and declares him to be the rock upon which He will build His Church. This is important, but it’s not my favorite verse associated with Peter.
That is, rather, John 21 in which Simon Peter who thrice denied the Lord is now asked three times “Do you love Me?” Christ tells Peter to “Tend My lambs,” “Shepherd My lambs,” and “Tend My sheep.” This is commonly called the restoration of Peter.
Then the Lord tells Peter that “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go…Follow Me.” St. John tells us that Christ said this to indicate the death by which Peter would die, and Tradition holds that Peter was crucified upside down.

To me, Peter is a great example of living for Christ. He is not perfect. He falls. He denies knowing Christ on the eve of the Passion. But when mercy is offered, he eagerly accepts it. Yes, he is frustrated by the repetition of the question “Do you love me?” He is human. He gets frustrated. He does things that aren’t the wisest. Honestly, sometimes, Peter is a loudmouth idiot. But he is also an amazing example of repentance, of humility, and of faith. He loves God. He believes in God. After Pentecost, he is filled with an incredible passion for the Lord and for preaching.

And that should be an example to us. St. Peter loved God ardently and wanted to share Christ with others. We should imitate that. St. Peter accepted love and mercy when they were offered to him. We should do likewise. St. Peter followed Christ regardless of the cost. We should do likewise.

St. Peter, pray for us!

I Belong to…

In a recent interview, Iggy Azalea said that she belongs to no one, a strong feminist statement. And it’s a statement that I really understand and even agree with, something about it started bothering me. It took me a while to figure out what bothers me. It’s not because I think that people should belong to one another-literally or figuratively. I don’t like the idea that a woman becomes a man’s property when they’re in a relationship or at any other time.

Rather, what bothered me was something that probably wasn’t anywhere near Iggy Azalea’s mind when she said that. See, I have no problem with saying at a purely human level that I belong to no one. I don’t belong to any human beings. Neither does Iggy Azalea. No human being should own another human being. However, in a spiritual sense, I do belong to someone. I belong to God.

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.”

-I Corinthians 6:19-20

This basic concept presented by St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians carries so much meaning. “You have been bought with a price,” Paul says. The price he references is Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. The New Testament is filled with the idea that we as Christians belong to Christ.

This is an incredibly important part of my life and of my identity. At some point in the past year, I was challenged to rethink my identity. I had hit a point in my life where being a teacher was pretty much my sole definition of who and what I was. Now, being a teacher isn’t a bad thing. I really believe that I’m called to be a teacher. But I’m more than that. I’m a daughter of God. I’m the daughter of my earthly parents. I’m my brother’s sister. I’m a friend. I’m more than just my profession. And somehow, I had forgotten that. I had forgotten that first and foremost I belong to God. I had forgotten the most important part of my identity.

I mentioned in a previous post that about a year or so ago I started praying on a daily basis “Be real to me, Lord Jesus.” In that prayer, I started to find myself again.

Last summer, I started talking to a few friends about wanting to DO something to help support and encourage the ideals of strong, holy Christian women. I wanted (and still want) to work to promote the integration of faith and femininity. I want to show the world that there is nothing wrong with me being an almost twenty-seven-year-old woman who is single, who is Byzantine Catholic, who wears skinny jeans, who is actively pursuing her career, and who wears a chapel veil.

What does it mean to be a Catholic woman? It means living a life that is given wholly to the Gospel, given wholly to the Lord of the Universe.

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.

-Ephesians 4:1-6

I have been called to follow Christ, and I have chosen to accept that call. I have chosen to live my life not for myself but for the Lord. I have chosen to belong to the Lord. Admittedly, that is my choice. I have chosen to give my life over to a higher power and to trust Him. Every day, I choose to live not for myself but for God. It isn’t easy. I can’t do it on my own. But I ask the Lord to help me and strengthen me. I’m not perfect. I make mistakes. But I have been called to follow the Lord, and I want to live a holy life, a Godly life.

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.

-Galatians 2:20

Iggy Azalea is right that she doesn’t belong to anyone. She doesn’t belong to her father or her mother or her fiancé or any other person. As I said previously, I belong to no human beings. But my life belongs to the Lord. I belong to the Lord.

To whom do you belong?

Being Watched

I oftentimes don’t think that I have much value or purpose in my parish. Several of the older ladies seem to like me. But often, I feel like I’m a bit of a misfit. I’m a single woman in a church that doesn’t really seem to need or want me.

I was reminded today that it’s not that simple. I may not feel like I have much of a place or purpose, but that is not actually true.

It happened after Communion today. The priest gave a blessing “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” I bowed my head and made the Sign of the Cross as is appropriate. Then, as I have ever since my time in Spain in 2008, I kissed my thumb. I’m not precisely sure when or why I picked that habit up from the Spanish parish I attended during the fall of 2008, but ever since then, I’ve done that simple thing-kissing my thumb at the end of the Sign of the Cross.

When I looked up, I saw a little girl on the other side of the aisle watching me. N is just seven; I’ve known her most of her life. She’s from a wonderful family, and I never ceased to be impressed and inspired by her parents’ faith. I realized that N was mimicking what I had just done. She copied the Sign of the Cross as I’d just made it, and then she kissed her thumb like I’d just done. I made eye contact with her, and we exchanged quick smiles. That was the end of our interaction-although we chatted briefly after Liturgy.

But that moment stuck in my head. As I previously said, I often feel purposeless at church. While driving home, I thought over that moment. N watched me during that moment, and she imitated what I did. That makes me at some level a role model for her. That is a role for me in the parish.

I don’t often think about this, but that is an important role for me in my parish. I can be a role model for the girls in the parish. I can be a role model for them in my behavior, in my speech, and even in my dress. I can try to show them that you can be a young, single woman who likes to wear stylish clothing and still be a modest, devout Catholic. And that is no small thing. It might seem to me like a small thing or something that I don’t really notice. But it is important.

As a young, single woman, I can be a role model. I can show girls that women other than their moms can be faithful Catholics. Being a good and faithful Catholic doesn’t have to contradict fashionable dress or “trendy” behavior.

As St. Paul said, “Let no man despise your youth; but be you an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” (I Timothy 4:12). That’s my purpose. And that should be the purpose of all young, single Christian women in their churches.

 

Why “The Prince of Egypt” is an Easter Movie

From Christian Film Database

I love the movie,The Prince of Egypt. It came out when I was about ten, and I fell in love with the move. It was a story that I knew well, the story of Moses, the Passover, and God delivering his chosen people from slavery in Egypt. It was a story of God’s love for humanity and his desperate desire to draw his people to himself. But something about that movie resonated first with my ten-year-old self and then on into adulthood in a dramatic way.

Several years ago, I tried to convince a friend of mine that it is an Easter movie, and he disagreed with me. I don’t really remember his premise, but thinking it over, I think that I’m right.

On the surface, it is the story of God using Moses to lead the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt and into the Promised Land of Canaan. Well, okay, the movie only takes them just past the Red Sea, but the ultimate goal for them was the Promised Land. And it is clear from the movie that they will get there. It is the story of the first Passover. (Exodus 1-14)

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday, and from there Christians move through Holy Week towards Holy/Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and ultimately Easter Sunday, Pascha. In those days, we celebrate Christ’s Passover. Just as God led his chosen people, the Israelites, out of physical slavery and into a physical Promised Land in the Exodus, so too in his Passion, Christ led his people out of a slavery to sin and death and into a the Promised Land of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus’ death and Resurrection took place at the time of the Jewish Passover, and that is no coincidence. He wanted to make it clear who and what he was. As the Paschal Canon of St. John Damascene says, “It is the day of Resurrection, * O People, let us be enlightened by it. * The Passover is the Lord’s Passover, * since Christ our God, has brought us from death to life * and from earth to heaven. * We therefore sing the hymn of victory.”

Christ is the Passover that comes once and for all. The lambs who were sacrificed and the first-born sons who died were for the liberation of those particular slaves, for that particular group of people’s freedom. They were but a foreshadowing of what was to come. They prefigured the Firstborn Son who would come into the world and become the Lamb of God, the Lamb who was “slain, and purchased for God with [his] blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” (Rev. 5:9)

That is the story prefigured by The Prince of Egypt. The story that began in the Garden of Eden, continued with Noah, with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and with Jacob’s sons continues with Moses and the enslaved Israelites. It is the story of a God who tells Moses that “I have seen the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry…for I know their sorrow.” (Exodus 3:7). That is the same God who will send his only Son into the world because he continues to see the affliction of his people and heard their cries. And in the appointed time, he sends Jesus to live as a man, to suffer and die, and to rise from the dead to save his people from their slavery to sin and death.

To me, that means that The Prince of Egypt is absolutely an Easter movie. It tells a story of God’s relentless desire for his people, his tireless love for a people who continually turn their backs on him. He is a God who hears his people crying out for him. He loves them, and while his plans may not always make sense to us humans, he will never fail us.

And that is also the story of Easter, the story of a God who so loved the world that he sent his only Son into the world to give life and freedom to all people.

Why I Want to Get Married

I was recently asked why I want to get married. The quick easy answer for me is “because I want a KitchenAid.” (No seriously, I do, and I don’t understand [other than the cost] why I have to wait until I get married to get one. But if you want to buy me one, I’d love to have one. Also, I kind of want a purple one, but I’m not going to be picky.)

Also, I’ve put a lot of time and energy into building up my “Planning for my Maybe, Possibly, Someday Wedding” Pinterest board, and it’d be nice to get to use some of those ideas.

I jest.

The real answer is more complicated. See, I’m Byzantine Catholic, and marriage is one of our seven sacraments. As Catholics, we define a sacrament as “an outward sign of an inward grace.” Well, hey, I like grace. I always want more of it. I definitely need more of it. So if there’s something that’s going to get me more grace, well, sign me up!

In Genesis, God says that is not good for Adam to be alone, and therefore he created Eve. (Gen. 2:18) I accept that. We aren’t made to be alone; we are made to live with other people. Marriage can help in this area, but that’s not entirely satisfactory reason for me. I have friends. I have family. Do I really need to get married just to keep me from being alone? Well, marriage does require a different sort of companionship and commitment than my relationship with my housemates does. It is a different kind of love.

Marriage is meant to be a mirror of the love of the Trinity. Cardinal Dolan explains that far better than I could ever dare, so just read him on the subject. Please.

In I John, St. John tells us that “God is love and the one abides in God abides in love and God abides in him.” (I John 4:16) I love that idea. I love it. Love comes from God, and if we are followers of God, then we must be mirrors of his love to the world. Marriage is a way of mirroring that love. But this is where that gets hard…

A few years ago, Haley of Carrots for Michaelmas wrote a post entitled “Marriage is a Kind of Death.” The title is a little shocking/jolting, but as I read it, I had to agree with that assertion. In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells us to “love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34) How did Christ love us? What was his greatest expression of love for us?

Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:6-11)

That is love. That’s the way that we’re supposed to love one another. That’s the love that our marriages are supposed to reflect to the world. I want to live that love. I want to be Jesus to those around me. Now, I don’t need to get married for that, but that’s what married love is supposed to be. And if I get married, that’s what I want. Is it hard? Yes. Will it require sacrifices from me? Yes. But will it be worth it? I believe yes.

The day after his wedding, Blessed Charles of Austria reportedly told his wife “Now we must help each other get to heaven.” That, to me, is one of the primary aims of marriage. Marriage is designed to draw us closer to God. It is supposed to help us to grow in holiness-by laying down our lives out of love for others. And this life then ought to be a witness to the world of God’s love for all of us.

A few years ago, I told a friend of mine that I don’t want to GET married; I want to BE married. The idea of a big wedding and having a party where I’m the center of attention is about as attractive to me as being boiled in oil. But on the other hand, I want to be married. I want to have a marriage; I’m just not enthusiastic about the part of my wedding where there will be people paying all kinds of attention to me.

When I recently told one of my housemates about this, she corrected me. “You don’t JUST want to GET married. You ALSO want to BE married.” She pointed out that the actual “getting married” part is the whole thing in the church, and I want that. I really do want to have a beautiful church wedding with all of the rituals and traditions that are inherent to a Byzantine Catholic wedding. But my desire to get married isn’t just about the wedding day. It’s about the life that comes with it.

I don’t want just the pretty day. I want the life that comes with it. I want the challenge of daily surrender, of putting another person (other people if I am blessed with children) ahead of myself. I want the life lived in the service of others.

I want to be married because I want to be a part of a union that reflects the love of God to the world. I want to be married so that I can live the love of Christ in a daily basis as my husband and I build a family. I want to be married because I want to build and encourage the Body of Christ. I want to be married because I believe that God has called me to marriage.

That’s the bottom line. It’s not Pinterest. It’s not the Kitchen Aid. It’s Christ crucified. (I Cor 1:23)

I believe that I was called to marriage. I believe that when I was 18 years old the Lord told me that I was made to be a wife and mother. And I believe that he has repeated that call to my heart and on my life multiple times since then.

So why do I want to get married? I want to do the will of God in all things.

Why I “Go Vegan” for Lent

For the second year in a row, I’m choosing to become vegan for the Lenten season, which began today in my church tradition. After making this decision for myself last year, I posted something about it on Facebook because I know that I have several friends who are vegan and I was looking for some ideas for recipes and cookbooks. I received some really helpful advice both about recipes/cookbooks but also about nutrition and what are really good non-meat sources of protein. Overall, it was a really useful exchange for me.

Aunt Voula is here to help. Photo courtesy of Quickmeme.com.

But I was also asked at least once why I choose to do that. And one of those commenters (probably unintentionally) mocked my choice. The choice that I’m making is to follow as much as I can the rules of strict fast for Eastern Christians. (They’re not followed as widely in 21st century America as perhaps they ought to be, which is why Auntie Voula doesn’t know how to cook without meat.) This means that I’m avoiding meat, meat products, fish, eggs, dairy-ha, I do that anyway, and wine. I’m supposed to avoid oil too, but um, that’s crucial to my cooking. This is a sacrifice that I’m choosing to make, and it’s not for everyone.

The reason why I make this choice is simple. Lent is about sacrifice. It is about drawing closer to the Lord. The basic idea of Lent comes from the forty days Christ spent praying in the desert after his Baptism and before beginning his public ministry. If you remember this story (Mt. 4:1-11 and Lk. 4:1-13), this season in the desert ends with direct temptation by Satan. Similarly, the Catholic and Orthodox Churches (as well as some Protestant Churches) celebrate Lent as a season of prayer, fasting, and penance to help prepare ourselves to better celebrate the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ.

Christ the Bridegroom

For me, one way to do this is to find ways to simplify my life. What can I remove from my life to help me to focus more on God? Meat might seem like an odd answer, but it does help me to make my life more simple and to think of myself less. For the record, this Lent, my plan is eat pretty much just lentil soup, vegan split pea soup, and a kale-quinoa dish that I love on a two or three week rotation. This offers me the opportunity make sacrifices, to simplify my life, and to (theoretically) focus more on Christ and less on myself.

In exchange, I’m hoping to pray more and focus my attentions more on other than on myself.

Lent for Singles?

Lent is drawing nigh. For Eastern Christians following the Gregorian calendar it begins in 13 days. For Western Christians, it begins in 15 days. For Eastern Christians following the Julian calendar, it begins in 20 days. Simply put, it is coming.

Picture from the Catholic Community at the University of Nottingham

As I’ve discussed in several previous posts over the years, I struggle with Lent. I often struggle with what sacrifices I ought to make for this season. What should be my focus/theme for this season? How can I grow?

I have a Lenten-themed Pinterest board where I collect various ideas that I might find useful for Lent. It’s a small board, and most of the pins are vegan recipes because I “went vegan” for Lent last year, and I plan to do it again. Yesterday, I decided to search Pinterest to see if I could find any ideas for devotionals or prayers or anything of that ilk that I could add to my board. Most of what I found however was “Lenten Activities FOR YOUR FAMILY.” I found posts for teens and posts for families with young children. Sadly, I didn’t find much in the way of “Lenten Activities for Anyone and Everyone.”

At first, I was a little frustrated by this. Now, I know that most of these ideas/posts come from “Mom Blogs.” They were written by good women (or men) who are trying to raise their families in a good and holy fashion, and they’re trying to share what their ideas for the celebration/honoring of Lent with other similarly minded families. And that’s great. I’m glad that these people have one another.

But this leads me to any area with which I struggle. I’m currently single; I’m as single as the day is long, which is fine. That’s where God wants me, and I believe that there is a value to this season of my life. (Plus, neither Tom Hiddleston nor Rick Porcello has shown any interest whatsoever in marrying me, so that makes it easier.) However, being single does not mean that I live a life without structure or traditions. It doesn’t mean that I’m not trying to build a life of faith. I do want to create and establish traditions. I want to be connected to the life of the larger Church. (I discussed this a little bit on my post about Advent-here.)

My struggle is this. How do I, as a single woman, build traditions? What should I be doing? I can draw ideas from blog posts or articles aimed at families or at teens, but what suggestions out there are specifically geared to me? I don’t want to be an island or a lone reed; I want to be connected to my Church, to her traditions. So how do I as an unmarried twenty something do that?

I can fast from meat and dairy products. I can go to Confession more. I can give up swearing, which I desperately need to do. I can avoid secular music and listen to only classical or liturgical music, which I’ll definitely do. I can go to the Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts at my church as often as possible. (The service is celebrated every Friday during Lent, but I’m booked with an equally important obligation for a few of those Fridays.) These are all good things to do. They are important things to do.

Here is my quandary. How do I celebrate Lent and increase my connection to the rest of the Church? Most of the activities I listed as potential Lenten sacrifices are individual acts. What can I do that will increase my connection to the rest of the Church? This is a question that I would love to have my readers respond to, but it’s also a question to which I have something of an answer.

The best answer that I’ve come up with is that I can pray. I hate being told that as a single woman I have more time for prayer than my married friends, but this might be true. Yes, I have a job. Yes, I’m in grad school. But maybe in my hsubandless, childless life, I do have more time for prayer. And if so, I can use that time for prayer. And maybe at this stage in my life, that is what I’m supposed to do. Maybe I’m supposed to use these quiet (seemingly endless) years to pray for my church, for our world, for my family and friends, and for myself.

This doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t like more recommendations as to how to engage Lent more fully as a single person. This doesn’t mean that I don’t wish that there were more people offering advice to young single women like myself who are trying to maintain Church traditions and actively engage the Church in their singleness. But maybe I need to write the blog posts that I want to read. Maybe the reason that I can’t find the blog posts or pins that I want is because they don’t exist. And maybe, just maybe, there are other single women who would like to read those posts just as much as I would.

But one thing that I can tell you for certain is this: This year, during Lent, in addition to giving up swearing and keeping strict fast and going to Confession more, I will also be taking some focused time each day to pray for others. And if you have any specific intentions that for which you’d like me to pray, feel free to drop them in the comment box. I’d love to pray for you during this upcoming Lent, and I’d love it if you’d consider praying for me.

(Also, I’m going to be re-reading The Gift of Peace: Personal Reflections during Lent.)