My first pilgrimage

This past Sunday we decided to attend Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  I’d been wanting to go since we arrived and took this opportunity to go for the day.  It was a first for both of us to make a trip like this. When we got off the metro there was all sorts of stalls selling any type of religious icon you can imagine and when we turned the corner onto the street we saw this in the distance:

We passed people, whole families, walking on their knees. Up the whole street.  Even little kids.

When we finally made it up to the square, we could see the original Basilica (built in 1709), canted from sinking, and the new Basilica, (built in the 70’s).

The Church was huge.  Before we left we wanted to make sure they had Mass around the time we arrived and boy were we shocked to find out that they have Mass EVERY hour until 7 or 8 at night.  So once we got there we walked around a little and tried to sit as close to the front as possible, which was difficult because it was packed.

We ended up pretty close.  Can you see the image?  Its in the lower right corner of the picture, underneath the giant cross in the goldish-frame.  The Mass was surprisingly personal for being in such a huge location.  And guess what?  I understood the homily :)  I didn’t catch which readings it was and there were wayyy too many people for missals (at least that I saw) but it was clear to me that that the homily was about faith (and checking the readings later confirmed that!).  The priest said if you want to be truly happy, you must have faith and you must be holy.  The problem is how to increase your faith, but that’s best done by prayer.  At the end we all prayer together for more faith and to help make us holy.  The homily was also about abortion and how its easy to loose faith in crisis situations.  I’m not sure if the priest said this but if its any wonder why Christians are against abortion (despite the obvious reasons) consider that if abortion had been legal during Christ’s time, we might not have a Savior.  Its the startling truth.

After Mass we were able to get a closer view of the image of the Virgin by going underneath the altar.  We got confused at first and ended up in the crypts underneath the altar at first (surprise!) but eventually got straightened out by following the masses of people to the Virgin.  Here she is, nearly 500 years later…

I do love the giant Mexican flag (although all the flags of the nations are presented to the side of the altar as well).  For those of you that don’t know the story, Mary appeared to a a young Indian guy, Juan Diego, several times near this exact location.  No one believed him when he told them that Mary told him to build a church.

“Know and understand well, you the most humble of my son, that I am the ever virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the True God for whom we live, of the Creator of all things, Lord of heaven and the earth. I wish that a temple be erected here quickly, so I may therein exhibit and give all my love, compassion, help, and protection, because I am your merciful mother, to you, and to all the inhabitants on this land and all the rest who love me, invoke and confide in me; listen there to their lamentations, and remedy all their miseries, afflictions and sorrows. And to accomplish what my clemency pretends, go to the palace of the bishop of Mexico, and you will say to him that I manifest my great desire, that here on this plain a temple be built to me; you will accurately relate all you have seen and admired, and what you have heard. Be assured that I will be most grateful and will reward you, because I will make you happy and worthy of recompense for the effort and fatigue in what you will obtain of what I have entrusted. Behold, you have heard my mandate, my humble son; go and put forth all your effort.”

After several times, he eventually returns to the Bishop having collected many beautiful flowers from a hill in the dead of winter as proof of seeing her, and when he hands out the flowers that were wrapped in his cloak, the image of the Virgin was imprinted on his cloak.  This is same cloak that is displayed in the Basilica today.

This story is extremely important to Mexicans because the mother appeared to them, the native Mexicans, during a turbulent time in history.  For this reason Mexican’s have a great devotion to Mary.  Even during the independence and revolution many years later, Fr. Hidalgo and others used this image to gather support.  To say that its a symbol of national pride would be an understatement.

Anyway, I have many thoughts about Mexico and its Catholicism and what happens with separation of church/state that hopefully I’ll find time to write about later.

I have to say that this past week was one of my favorite psalms, its too bad I didn’t recognize it!  The Timothy books are one of my favorite books as well.

Reading 1 Hab 1:2-3; 2:2-4

Responsorial Psalm Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
Reading 2  2 Tm 1:6-8, 13-14
Gospel  Lk 17:5-10

Falling Behind

I’ve fallen behind, but its not been forgotten!  I guess these are more for my own sake, but still, I wanted to publish them.

Dinero – Sunday Reflections 9.19.10

Reading 1  Am 8:4-7

Responsorial Psalm  Ps 113:1-2, 4-6, 7-8

Reading 2  1 Tm 2:1-8

Gospel Lk 16:1-13 or 16:10-13

I didn’t have any brilliant thoughts this week other than the fact that having a younger priest who enunciates and speaks into the microphone slowly does wonders for your Spanish listening comprehension!

“No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”

I’ve always taken this verse very literally, maybe because I know my tendency that once I start buying things, I just continue wanting more things.  Having the things I think will satiate me, never do.  If I buy a new shirt, I’ll want new pants, and then none of my shoes will match so I’ll want more, more, more.  Being both graduate students, we weren’t rolling in the money but as engineering students we were both on scholarships to cover costs and we both save like its nobody’s business.  We have everything we need and what we ‘want’ I feel like we recognize as such.

I have felt that we’ve been blessed because we do tithe X% at church each week, we decided at the beginning of our marriage that if we didn’t start giving back when we had no money then the chances of us just suddenly deciding to start giving back when we’re older and ‘made more’ were slim to none.  Our ‘needs’ list is understandably small when we realize all that we have.  It allows us to be less attached to our money, like an exercise in generosity.  I don’t know if its had a direct impact on our money so much as that by giving away part of our money, it makes us value the money we do have to a greater extent and helps us not spend needlessly.  I hope we can continue to give more in the future, because I know I’m far away from not being attached to our money and the things/experiences it buys, but, we’re trying.  This weeks Gospel reading is always a good reminder.

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The Message – Sunday Reflections 9. 26.10

Reading 1 Am 6:1a, 4-7

Responsorial Psalm Ps 146:7, 8-9, 9-10
Reading 2  1 Tm 6:11-16

Gospel Lk 16:19-31

This week we went to Mass and there was another older priest who didn’t enunciate very well again (deflect the blame…) and I spent most of the homily staring at the beautiful church.  Fortunately, this church also had missals in Spanish (hurray!) so I was able to follow along.  Reading the Gospel in Spanish, I realized I couldn’t recognize it and was afraid that I was misinterpreting it.  Turns out when I went home and read it in English, nope, this was just an intense verse.  Basically the story of Lazarus the poor man and the rich man, who goes to Hell when he dies and doesn’t understand why.  When he sees Abraham in heaven, he wants him to go warn his family before they suffer the same fate, Abraham tells him: “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead”.

I think of how we all want special signs, proof that what we’re doing is right.  It reminds me of that joke about the man drowning in a flood who keeps praying for God to come save him.   He turns down all the help who comes to him saying, “No God will save me!”  And when he dies and gets to heaven he asks God where he was and God answers, “What do you mean? I sent all those people to help you!” Sometimes the answer is there, just what will it take to believe it?

What also came to mind was Elizabeth’s post from over a year ago when she discussed transubstantiation and her troubles accepting it before she became Catholic.  She learned all of the reasons why the bread and wine became Jesus, read the verses where Jesus’s lives out the last super and says this, but still, her heart held back from believing it.  It was this quote that finally let her heart believe:

“Is there anything that could make you believe in this?” Because really, if you refuse to believe something that Jesus actually said, then there’s probably no argument that could be made that would change your mind.

I understand the need for the mind to comprehend how something happens.  To me, faith is not blind acceptance of things based on a feeling.  Faith should go hand in hand with reason and fill in the gaps to understand mysteries that may be beyond our comprehension.  We could get all the signs in the world, but really, what is it that we really need?

The hubs and I infront of the St. "Doubting" Thomas Basilica in India

Prodigal Sons

Sunday Reflections 9.12.10

At the advice of some friends we met during our first week of Spanish school, we went to a different church this week and we stumbled upon a major discovery!

What’s that, you ask?  Here, take another look:

That’s right!  Its a take-away misselette in Spanish!  (And yes, I took it home to memorize and look up verbs – there were only a few left, but it was after the last Mass of the day though so I think it was OK).

This was a huge find, since being able to follow along in Spanish (as opposed to responding in mostly English as I had been doing) has definitely made me feel like less of an impostor in this country :)  I was also able to tell which readings were happening, AS they were happening!  Also, since I read a lot better than I speak/understand, I understood more thanks to the extra articles written about the readings (although the homily was still more or less a mystery to me).

Oh, and another great thing is that they have adoration there!   Mike and I got to the church about an hour early so we were able to have some (much needed) reflection time before Mass.

Onto what I reflected on after the readings, which were:

Reading 1  Ex 32:7-11, 13-14

Responsorial Psalm  Ps 51:3-4, 12-13, 17, 19

Reading 2  1 Tm 1:12-17

Gospel  Lk 15:1-32 or 15:1-10

I want to write here honestly, and while I know that won’t always paint me in the best light (I’m a sinner and far, far from saintly) I do need to work through these things.  I hope you’ll help me.  While reading and reflecting the Gospel I had conflicting thoughts and emotions.  In reading the first part of the Gospel I was first reminded of how I felt before my confirmation and entrance into the universal church almost 4 years ago.  I remember hearing the verses back then and really relating to the prodigal son.  (‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you;  I no longer deserve to be called your son.’)  I completely did not deserve the gift of faith that God was giving me but I embraced it with overwhelming humility and gratitude.  What an incredible treasure I had found!  Even back then, the second part of the Gospel troubled me though.  Why was it that someone, a believer, be upset by the treatment that God was giving me?  I was confused.  Wouldn’t we want more in our flock?  Why would people even think that treatment by God was a competition.  Does he not love all his sons and daughters equally?

I clearly had not had something “bad” enough in my life happen to make this a temptation for me.

This past week, I was most troubled by my immediate reaction to the  Gospel because instead of relating to the prodigal son as I once had, I related to that other brother.  You know, the one that says:

‘Look, all these years I served you
and not once did I disobey your orders;
yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns,
who swallowed up your property with prostitutes,
for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’

I know, its awful to think I can earn “good treatment” from God (look at Job) and even worse to compare myself to someone that did not once disobey God’s orders, but I do think in the beginning of our struggle I had a “But we did everything right!” mentality.   It was a fleeting thought since there are many, many other things in my life I have done wrong, but in terms of things sexuality and openness to life, my husband and I were miraculously (and by the grace of God) able to do a 180 in our actions during our courtship and marriage.  I found myself thinking, “Seriously God?  We’ve been so open to life in our marriage – we even teach NFP! – and you’re letting those couples who don’t want children or who’ve contracepted the whole marriage get pregnant?”  (and yes, it does feel shameful to write that).   I’ll be honest though, I can only play the “we’re innocent!” game for a few seconds before falling through one of the many holes in that type of thinking, one of the largest which may be that the idea of “earning” children is just plain ludicrous.  But the fact that I’m identifying with the whiny guy in the bible verse is a wake-up call.  Still,  I can’t help what I feel and sometimes I do wonder just a little if God hears me.   Sometimes this feels just so lonely.

I know he hears me.  And this is His answer, that I really felt he practically screamed at me last week (in Spanish):

‘My son, you are here with me always;
everything I have is yours.
But now we must celebrate and rejoice,
because your brother was dead and has come to life again;
he was lost and has been found.’

And that’s a smack in the head reminder that that’s plenty for me, because the important thing is that I’m here with Him, not that I’m not eating “fattened calf”.

Because when I stop complaining and when it comes right down to it, if given the choice I’d stick with being stuck right here over fattened calf any day.

Sunday Reflections 9.5.10

I’ve clearly avoided writing this because to be honest, I don’t even know what the readings were this past week.  My Spanish isn’t processing as quickly as I would like it to (or rather, “why am I not fluent yet?!”) and the acoustics weren’t helping either.  Plus I’ve been feeling pretty awful for this whole past week (due to a wicked combination of “traveler’s sickness” and quite possibly the worst PMS I’ve had in a very long time) and during Mass I just sat there and tried to adsorbed my surroundings.  What is great is that I had some pretty profound thoughts (similar to those I had before I was Catholic!).  I really do need to find adoration somewhere around here…

What hit me the hardest, was truly the realization that I need to give everything over to God.  Like, everything.  As I sat there, feeling so hot and awful and crappy and upset and just all around GAH! it hit me how THIS is when God wants me.  Well, he wants me to turn to Him all the time, but he really, really wants me to embrace Him when I’m just really not feeling my struggle anymore.  When I just want to give up.  Because I can’t do it on my own.  He wants to teach me to love as he loves and in order to do that I need to start when things are awful, awful, awful.  Growth involves pain.  And this is unfortunately the painful part.  Its easy to love when things are going great, when you have everything you want.  I know people say that God loves us even when we’re yelling at Him (and He does) but I find that doesn’t get me anywhere but more upset.  Left to my own feelings at times like that, I’m a wreck.  The only chance I have is to try to transcend my own feelings and just DO the right thing, which sometimes amounts to blindly following.  Its hard to stop and listen and not do what you want to do.  Because, well, we’re really not in control anyways, are we?

Ok so maybe I should go look up the readings.  Here they are:

Reading 1 Wis 9:13-18b

Responsorial Psalm  Ps 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14-17

Reading 2  Phmn 9-10, 12-17

Gospel  Lk 14:25-33
Wow.  How about that Gospel?!?
“If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother,
wife and children, brothers and sisters,
and even his own life,
he cannot be my disciple.
Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me
cannot be my disciple.”
Lord have mercy.  Was the Holy Spirit talking to me or what?

Sunday Reflections – Mexico Style 8.29.10

Today was our first Mass in Mexico.  And during this Mass I was reminded exactly why I started this “Sunday Reflections” post to begin with and was impressed by my own foresight!

Where we went to Mass today

We’re staying with a host family for this first month and had asked the couple if they knew what time Mass was on Sunday.  The answer was “6, 7, 8, …all times!”  Gotta love being Catholic!  So we got ready and headed out mid-morning to make it to the city center and attend one of the hourly masses.  We were apparently a little late, as the grounds keeper told us that Mass had “just started.”  Well, in Mexico that means they’re already at the Gospel!   So we stood in the back of the packed Cathedral and tried to focus, which was hard enough considering its in another language (about all I understood from the homily was “Tenemos dos ojos y una boca” and I could have told the priest!), but also because it was easy to look at all the adorable kids running back and forth from the baptismal font, blessing everything in sight!  Next week we’ll definitely have to arrive earlier and sit up in the front.

Built in 1552

So, onto the readings!

Sirach 3:17-18,20,28-29

Psalm 68

Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24a

Luke 14:, 7-14

I found the gospel this week particularly insightful given our situation here in Mexico.  I can’t help but realize in the few short days we’ve been here that we are among the wealthiest, especially compared to Mexican standards.  The grant my husband was awarded to study here is pretty selective and with it comes a certain amount of prestige.   We’ve been wined and dined at some of the nicest hotels and restaurants around town over the past few days.  We’ve met the ambassador and alumni and other grantees who’ll join our “network”, with the ultimate goal to serve each others career advancement.  Colleagues in the US have given us contacts here to help us, who will also be part of our “network”, for no other reason than the fact we both know someone important back in the US.  They help us now, but of course it is expected that once we’re able to, we’ll help them.  After all, why would they bother to have us in their network if we couldn’t offer something in return?  I guess that sounds pretty sinister,  but I have no false impression that we would have been allowed into the Ambassador’s house if we didn’t know somebody special or was in someone’s network.  I realize that we’re privileged and thus run in a privileged circle.  And its hard not to realize as you’re driving around Mexico that not everyone is so privileged to have your “network”.  Unfortunately, in the light of eternity, ultimately none of that matters.

“When you hold a lunch of a dinner, do not invite your friends of your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment.  Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous”

I guess it all comes down to the fact that its a lot easier to be nice to people who will have a reason to be nice to you back.  Like loving something that is easy to love vs. something that is harder to love.  I hope that we’re able to remember this as we live in our little land of privilege over these next few months.  I guess the idea of “paying it forward” is similar to what Jesus was talking about in this passage, where you do favors for people who will not have any ability to pay it back to you.  I wonder if a network would be of any use if we all just did what Jesus suggested in this passage.

Ok, this is less of a “reflection” and more of a “rambling”.  I blame the polka music in the background.

Proof we were there, or at least I was!

What did you get out of Mass today?  Please leave a tidbit for me to consider!

Sunday Reflections 8/15/10

So much to say on this day!  Yesterday was the Feast of the Assumption of Mary.  I remember 11 years ago when I moved to Belgium I had no idea what religious holiday could possibly be in August.  And now I know!

Reading 1  Rv 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab

Responsorial Psalm  Ps. 45:10, 11, 12, 16

Reading 2  1 Cor 15:20-27

Gospel Lk 1:39-56

I was actually fortunate enough to attend Mass and listen to the Bishop’s homily at the Cathedral this weekend.  He really covered a lot, from how Mary’s assumption became dogma, how important the body is to our experience of God, purgatory, and even what to do with the body after death!  It was like Catholic 101 packed into 30 min.

The most interesting part to me was when he talked about experiencing the sacraments through our body.  The sights, smells, and tastes are all part of the Catholic worship experience.  And why shouldn’t they be?  We’re souls created in a body and while our bodies may cause us many trials and tribulations through our lives, this is how we experience the world.  Why wouldn’t God try to reach us through every mean possible?

What is also always interesting to me and I have to shake myself awake sometimes to remember the difference, is how Mary is so honored in Catholic tradition.  I used to be under the (false) impression that because Catholics didn’t allow women to be priests they were somehow dishonoring women, suppressing them.  I really failed to recognize how the most highly honored person in the Catholic tradition is without a doubt the Mother of God, Mary (Jesus is Divine).  Whereas in my Lutheran church growing up, Mary was hardly ever even mentioned.  Actually, what women were even present in the church?  The answer is none, until they started ordaining women (within the last 40 years).  Catholics had that honoring women thing going on long before feminism was cool!

I do love the prayer that Mary says after she’s greeted by Elizabeth.  And, as usual, I love reading verses from a common prayer and going “Hey, so that’s where it came from.”  Example today was (obviously) the Hail Mary.

Sunday Reflections – 8/8/10

With our move to Mexico coming up in about two weeks, I’ve realized that listening to Mass in Spanish each week may not allow me to get all that I can out of it.  I’ve written before how Spanish Mass was actually integral in my conversion, as it gave me a lot of time to reflect on the true presence and what partaking in communion means.  Who knows, maybe I’m wrong and it will be like it was before Vatican II and everything was in Latin, but I do like to understand the readings and reflect on them with the help of the homily.  But being in a Spanish speaking country, I realize that I’m going to have to put in a lot of extra time to do this on my own.  So I’m planning getting a Missal (spelling?) in both Spanish and English, reading it on my own in English as well as going to Spanish Mass, and then writing a little reflection on here to make sure I’m “actively participating”

We’re not in Mexico yet, but I thought I’d start this week, since I thought of the idea.

Reading 1: Wis 18:6-9

Responsorial Psalm: Ps 33:1, 12, 18-19, 20-22

Reading 2: Heb 11:1-2, 8-19

Gospel: Lk 12:32-48

These readings really focused on faith, which was very timely.  These readings screamed “Hey you people desiring children, have faith and it will be done!” but that’s surprisingly not what stood out to me the most.  It seemed too obvious.  I’m realizing that our God sometimes works in the less obvious ways.  These words from the second reading stood out to me:

All these died in faith.
They did not receive what had been promised
but saw it and greeted it from afar
and acknowledged themselves to be strangers and aliens on earth,
for those who speak thus show that they are seeking a homeland.
If they had been thinking of the land from which they had come,
they would have had opportunity to return.
But now they desire a better homeland, a heavenly one.
Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God,
for he has prepared a city for them.

So, wait, they didn’t get what was promised?  This made me think about all the people that were ever a part of large change in history that never got to see the realization of what they were working for.  Whether it was the Egyptians that died wandering in the desert, refugees that didn’t make it out of an occupied land, or immigrants coming to America that died along the journey.  While individual people may not have actually seen the final goal realized here on Earth, the whole group eventually did get where they were going and history reflects that.  It makes me think of the big picture, and how the role we play won’t always (or ever) a leader role, a person enjoying the glory here on Earth. But I know that as the mystical body of Christ we’ll all eventually see the glory in Heaven and that’s ultimately what matters.

Anyway, nothing too Earth shattering.  Just a nice reminder.

*I’m not a Biblical scholar, so these little writings will just be what my thoughts are in response to the readings.  Not trying to claim to know more than I do! Only to know how these are speaking to me at the moment.