God in Transition

presented by Fatima Perez, Full Member sister for Women Youth Apostles’ Formation meeting this past August.

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“Let nothing disturb you, Let nothing frighten you. All things are passing away: God never changes. Patience obtains all things. Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices.”
-Saint Teresa of Avila

Since 2014, the above quote of St. Teresa of Avila has been serving as an important reminder in my life. In 4 years I’ve had handfuls of major life changes. I got engaged in May 2014, then 2 months later, changed youth ministry positions. I got married in May 2015 and less than a year after, had a baby. Four months later, we moved into a new apartment then 2 months after that, made a big career change. Almost 7 months later, had another baby. At the end of 2017, we then moved into our house, then just this past May, I changed jobs again.

Needless to say, I’ve been journeying through transitions like it’s a hobby or something. But in all of what I have experienced thus far, God has shown and taught me many good life lessons. Changes in our life don’t have to be huge ones either; they can also be on much smaller scales as well. Regardless, change can be very difficult, and so I want to share what has helped me in navigating through unknown territories throughout these past four years in particular.

Because I have a fascination with word origins, I looked up the world “transition” in the Dictionary as I was writing this. It is a noun and from the Latin transitionem — “a going across or over,” noun of action from past participle stem of transire “go or cross over”. I believe and see now why the Holy Spirit led me to this thought, because its root – go or cross over – can apply so well into our lives as Catholics. On that note, having gone through several life changes within four years, here are three teachable moments from my seasons of transitions.

Call Out Fear

The first was putting a name to what it was that I struggled with in midst of transitions.  For me, my fears were stemmed from a lack of trust. This happened, for example, years ago when in college and I needed to fully let go of my then-boyfriend (now-husband) Jon, but didn’t. I feared being alone and I feared him diving off the deep end with his faith when it wasn’t my responsibility at the time. And it’s because I lacked trust.

In more recent years post-marriage, I again experienced lack of trust initially when Jon and I found out we were pregnant with our second child, Lucy, only within 6 months of James being born. I feared what people would think or say about us, I feared how we would manage financially, I feared many things that were truly beyond my grasp.

Though I initially lacked radical trust in both instances, it was through prayer and reflection that the lack of trust shifted into the realization that God will provide, which He, of course, did. After completely letting Jon go and trusting in God’s plan for him, years later we both reconnected through ministry, grew in friendship, and years after got married. And now we have our amazing children, James and Lucy. And we are also living in a house. While these changes were not all planned for, we entrusted our entire lives in God’s hands and He time and again showed His generosity and faithfulness.

Moreover, it was time spent in Adoration that I realized the same God who saw me in all my fears and suffering was the same God who saw me in my joys and triumphs. This is the same God who calls us out of our places of familiarity and into uncharted waters. And when that happens, He calls out to us on the water and says, “It is I, do not be afraid. Come to me.”

If you are afraid of transition right now, a helpful question to ponder is “what is it that I am afraid of?” Because if we are unable to put a finger on what it is that we are afraid of, we begin sinking due of our lack of faith, thus preventing the Holy Spirit to guide us to the place where we need to go, to cross over.

Communication is imperative 

Through prayer and the counsel of family, friends and sisters, communication with God and loved ones help us to more totally discern God’s will. Communicating options, addressing fears or concerns, bringing everything to prayer or even asking for prayers all benefit transition. Not only does communication help further you in discernment, but it gives way for peace of mind, and this is a tremendous grace when transition finally occurs.

For those who know my past know that I didn’t pursue a career path with my degree upon graduating. Instead I decided to do youth and campus ministry full-time as that is what God was calling me to. In a personal blog post I wrote in August of 2016, I said: “a week from tomorrow will be my last day working as a campus minister at Bishop Ireton. I recently accepted a position that would finally help jump start my interior design career path and I can’t even put into words how excited and nervous (in a good way) I am. Though I will deeply miss doing what I’ve done as a day job, I look forward to learning and overcoming new challenges in the design world, and being able to provide more for my family – my domestic church.”

Constant communication with God in prayer and with loved ones helped me understand that at that specific point in my life, God was calling me out of full-time ministry and into my career so that I would not only utilize the gifts that He blessed me with, but more so that I would be able to provide more for my family, especially since we were preparing for Lucy to be born into the world.

All I experienced during that transition was an outpouring of grace, understanding, and complete support, all of which helped ease my “cross over”, again.

Orienting towards Heaven

In Hebrews 8:11, St. Paul wrote: “By faith, Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was to go. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living intents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”

In our Church’s Liturgical Calendar, there are different seasons our Church journeys through – the New Year begins with the Advent season, then into the Christmas season, then Ordinary Time, then Lent, then the Triduum, then Easter, and then back to Ordinary Time until the Solemnity of Christ the King. Then it’s Advent, again.

These changes in seasons are important to the life of the Church because it draws us out of the routine of our lives and plunges us into the very salvation history we are a part of, which is all about transition, a crossing over – literally Christ dying on a cross, rising from the dead, and having faith in Him coming again. We pray this every day at Mass in the Memorial Acclamation. And so when we bear in mind our salvation and the history attached to it, there will be countless opportunities God presents us with for growth, for challenge, endurance for hardships and steadfastness in suffering – all to prepare us for our Heavenly home. Orienting our life toward Heaven is the ultimate transition, to cross over from our earthly life to our eternal home.

Be Not Afraid

In addition to St. Teresa of Avila’s quote, another motto and very simple prayer of Pope St. John Paul II that has helped me move forward throughout my transitions is “be not afraid.” This was the first thing he said when he was elected pope, and continued to say throughout his papacy; it was his message to be not afraid in times of uncertainty and fear. This cry of JPII continues to drive my mission and to not hold on to fear or anxieties of the future, but to truly allow the Lord to work through and in my life each day at a time, and to “cross over.”

Transitions will happen in our lives, both big and small. Though we are unable to see God’s plans fully, may we never lose sight of His generosity and faithfulness in midst of those transitions, both of which will surely aid us in our daily “crossing over” of our earthly lives to eternity.

…and kindle in them the fire of your love

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by Krysti Patient, Full Member and 2017-2018 Missionary to Youth

Today the Church celebrates Pentecost after fifty days of glorious Easter, and welcomes once more with great and grateful need, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the people of God. While reflecting on this time in preparation for this blog, I happened to also be preparing a talk on the very same season to our Girls’ CLC (Catholic Life Community, discipleship group) at All Saints Catholic Church, where I’ve been assigned for the past two years for ministry both as a volunteer and a Missionary to Youth through Women Youth Apostles. Providence aligned a few subjects or themes that provided a lens through which I wanted to look at this beautiful event- the birthday of the Church. I was inspired to dig up an old talk I gave to my own community and several other guests at our Annual Retreat two years ago on Mary, Queen of Apostles, for this, one of the oldest titles given to Our Lady comes from this blessed event in the Upper Room, where she was present with the disciples. Furthermore, it seemed appropriate to involve the Blessed Mother in my reflection given the month, for May is the month of Our Lady, and this coming soon after Mother’s Day. Finally, Women Youth Apostles just this past Wednesday welcomed guest speaker China Briceno to speak to us for our Formation meeting about “The Fight for Femininity”. China took us through John Paul II’s document, Mulieris Dignitatem (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women). This document highlights attributes of the ‘feminine genius’ that I would like to use to provide some thoughts on Pentecost, the Blessed Mother, and my experience as a Missionary to Youth these past 9 months.

Receptivity

The receptivity of Mary is genius. This quality is what made her the ‘handmaid of the Lord’ and inspired her Fiat. This very attribute of Our Lady is what welcomed the Holy Spirit to overshadow her and bring into flesh the presence of Christ, the Word and Son of God. This openness to life, the life of the Christ child, and this trusting openness to whatever God has planned for me, is something I have asked for in prayer throughout these months as a missionary and in diving into youth ministry. In the Spiritual Life, I have made efforts in prayer to ‘do’ less and ‘be’ more, to allow the Lord to overshadow me and provide me with an understanding of His will. As a youth minister, and a sister in my community, I have recognized how key this receptivity is to become a vessel and then instrument of the Holy Spirit, to be used to bring that Christ-life to my sisters and the young people I serve. Our community spirituality places great importance in the Fiat of Mary, her radical ‘Yes’, and in fact the first line in our own community prayer is “Gracious Lord, we are your handmaidens”. This receptivity has been the first priority of my mission and impressing the importance of this quality on the young women in my ministries is the utmost goal, the first step to a life with Christ. For this was Mary’s first step. This Pentecost, receptivity is what is needed when we pray, “Come, Holy Spirit”.

Generosity

This attribute is so closely linked with receptivity. The very receptivity of Mary that welcomed the Holy Spirit and gave way to God’s will in her life was radically generous of her. It is typical for us to think of generosity in terms of giving, but this is not contrary to receptivity because we are first called to be generous with our very selves to our Lord and His plan. I often think of the story of Mary and Martha here as well- both of these women showed Jesus generosity, but it was the generosity of Mary’s prayerful presence to Christ that was most pleasing, not the material service of Martha. Another line of the Women Youth Apostle prayer that comes to mind here is, “Place within us a burning desire to do the work of your Kingdom here on earth.” This burning desire is the same as that ‘fire of [His] love’ when we invoke the Holy Spirit- “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love.” We ask the Lord to be generous to us, with a generous outpouring of His Holy Spirit that will fill our hearts to the brim. This generosity of God’s is an active initiative that burns within His faithful. The Blessed Mother was generous with the whole of her life, submitting herself entirely to the Spirit, allowing the Lord to initiate a very good- the best- work within her, filling her to the brim and kindling a mothering heart for all that was generous with all. I have found myself in this year of mission asking for Our Lady’s intercession to show this generosity in my giving of self to the Lord, to my sisters, and to the Lord’s young people.

Maternity

               I mentioned Mary’s mothering heart, which leads to this third quality, maternity. Our Lady’s unique identity as both virgin and mother is so beautiful because through Mary we are to understand woman’s universal call to motherhood, no matter her state in life. From the cross Christ gave the world through John His own mother, and all of us the Church, to Our Lady as her new adopted children. From that moment on, the Blessed Mother looked upon each human face and saw the face of her son. The care she must have shown- a mothering care- for the souls of each of these children taken as her own, is a quality needed in our world, and especially by the young people. Mary was present there in the Upper Room with the disciples as they awaited the Holy Spirit, this woman who had received the Spirit herself at an important beginning years ago. I imagine her leadership, her maternity in that room for these men and some women gathered in anticipation and probable uncertainty. I think of her words in the Magnificat, “The Almighty has done great things for me” as she anticipated the great gift the Lord wished to give her spiritual children.

               Two ministry experiences come to mind as I reflect on Our Lady’s maternity at Pentecost. The first began earlier in the schoolyear, around the end of the Fall Semester in December, as we celebrated the close of the semester with our high school teens at All Saints with a family potluck and talent show. I watched many teens share their gifts with their peers and families, gifts I wasn’t even totally aware of, and a true celebration of this being a beautifully diverse Body of Christ. Later in the evening, one of the young women in the youth ministry, and a member of the Girls’ CLC, approached me to ask me to be her sponsor for her confirmation. Being able to pray for her in this special and intentional way in the months since has been a true gift of spiritual maternity (she receives confirmation tomorrow evening!). The second experience was on the two girls’ 8th grade confirmation retreats this past April. A simple reflection to be sure, but it was another gift to be able to watch several of our high school girls join us as assistant leaders and to witness their own qualities of receptivity, generosity and maternity in their care for their younger 8th grade sisters in the Church. I watch some lend musical gifts, others give talks, and all of them help lead and teach and offer personal experience to share with the 8th graders the truth of their experience of a relationship with Christ. Certainly watching CLC girls make commitments before an altar in honor of this very relationship and in the liturgy always catches me by the heart, because there’s a combination of joys between knowing what the Lord has done for each one of them while also assured of how much more He plans to do.

It’s amusing to realize that I’ve been in my missionary year now for 9 months, as I reflect on carrying the life of Christ and spiritual maternity. As I reflect on Our Lady’s presence at Pentecost, I recognize I have been blessed to have this sense of carrying, of holding something special and important, a not-so-secret secret that is the truth of God’s love and to have been able to share this truth with others and especially the young people I’ve been privileged to serve. I praise God for, and I have been blessed to witness the ways the Lord has done great things in the lives of the youth in my ministries, and am confident in the many ways He will undoubtedly do even greater things in their lives in the days to come. I also await with great expectation and assurance in my own inner Upper Room for the Spirit to come to me in new ways and to lead me along new journeys of trust, of receptivity, generosity and maternity as his handmaiden in Women Youth Apostles.

(photos above are of 1. Me giving a testimony to high school teens at our Sunday Lifenight program, 2. Our Girls’ CLC president giving a talk at the 8th grade confirmation retreat, and 3. A CLC girl making her final Full Member commitment before the altar at a commitment mass)

Go To Your Inner Room

An Ash Wednesday Refection by: Fatima Perez

A month or two ago, I remember one night I was rocking my son to sleep. He was having a tough time falling asleep on his own so I took him into my arms and sat us in the rocking chair. With each rock back and forth, and as he looked out the window and up at the stars, I was telling him how much I loved astronomy as a kid. I shared how one Christmas years and years ago, my parents bought me a telescope. There were many nights when my brother and I would hang out on the backyard deck to look up at space, at the stars. All of this eventually brought me to sharing with him, as his eyes finally grew tired, how the God of the universe, who made everything including every star in the sky, created him and loves him.

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This past Sunday, our sisters and friends returned home from our annual Women Youth Apostles retreat. The theme this year was centered on the reality that we are God’s beloved. This extended time of being “away” from the world was a great gift to each of us because it is in silence and prayerful reflection that we are able to more deeply dive into the depths of our heart, understand who we are by truly knowing Whose we are, and that we were created out of love for love; everything else is a result of this truth. This is so important to call to mind time and again because often we forget it as we are inundated with noise and distractions, feelings of inadequacy or unworthiness.

02.14.18 Ash Wednesday

Today, Ash Wednesday, begins the Lenten Season. When we go to Mass today we receive ashes on our forehead. The ashes remind us that we were not ultimately created for this world and the shape of the cross reminds us that we were created for Heaven, for it is in Christ’s death on the cross and rising from the grave that we are able to share in His life outside of this world—Heaven, where we were ultimately created for. This is why this liturgical season focuses on a deeper level of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving because in doing so, we position ourselves to remember that we are not of this world, and this is how we prepare ourselves for the next.

In this preparation, it doesn’t take much to note how the world is full of so much noise and distraction. This is why going on a retreat was such a gift, and I’m sure others who’ve gone on a retreat would agree. In order to enter into a state of deeper prayer, we have to leave the noise, and go in the inner room of our heart. This isn’t because we are being forced to, but because it is by going in that we are able to meet with the God who loves us and Who will guide our path to Heaven, for it is in the silence of the heart that He speaks. It is even in the silence that He shatters our feelings of unworthiness due to sin, or inadequacies in living a life as a disciple of His… for He tells us:

“You are worthy,

You are enough.

Rest in My Mercy.

I love you.”

I pray that this Lenten season will bear great fruit for each of us. When we go into the inner room of our heart, may prayer help us to more closely examine our lives through a telescope, as its very purpose is to collect light to view things far away. May we be always reminded of the lasting light of God’s immense love & abundant mercy for us and as we journey in faith in this world, that we may keep our eyes fixated on where we were ultimately created for, a place much closer to us than we think.

Finding Joy Through Suffering

By: Sara Hammett

“You are being let go.”

Those are words any employee would dread hearing and I am no different. Having only been employed at this particular place for only three months, and with recent talk of downsizing, I knew that this may have been on the horizon. On March 22, 2017, I lost my job. Once asked to speak with my boss in his office, I met with HR, discussed parting procedures, and just like that I left. Overwhelmed with emotion, I began to cry. “Why God?” was the first question that popped into my head. Only three months before this very day, I felt the call to seek out this place; taking a cut in pay to serve His children in a unique way. In a matter of minutes, it was stripped from me. My world was suddenly dark, and for the first time in my life I had no idea what was ahead of me. I had no plan and no next step. I felt weak and powerless. I saw very quickly that I had two options. I could have either sat around allowing the Evil One to overtake me, or I could allow the Lord to enter. Later that day, I attended the Confirmation Mass of the parish I ministered with and was assured in prayer that the Lord had other plans. The next five months of my life became an incredible journey of finding joy through suffering; reflecting on the Passion of our Lord, and in recognizing that true joy comes from sacrificial love.
Early on in my unemployment, we had Mass on a Thursday night at our Women Youth Apostles House. Per usual, I was asked to altar serve and for the first time ever I remember not really wanting to. Feeling sad and rejected by employers already denying me, all I wanted to do was attend Mass and just get on with the evening. Nonetheless, I served and was struck deeply by one moment in the Mass. After prepping the altar, I stand towards the priest with the bowl to wash his hands, look up, and stare directly into the face of Jesus behind him on the crucifix. My eyes locked with the sorrowful eyes of Jesus as he endured His passion. It was in that moment that I felt comforted, protected, and united with Jesus. I was reminded in that moment that the Lord suffered and died so that I may live fully; not be miserable and not question the purpose He has for my life. It was that night that I chose to make my prayer during this time in my life to be, “Thy Will be Done.” I wanted to seek His will above all else and if that meant being unemployed, then that meant seeking how He willed to use me. Surrendering all to Him at the foot of His cross (literally) meant that I too had to carry my cross and seek Him first.

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Throughout the next five months of unemployment, carrying my cross meant suffering through applying to over fifty jobs with no call backs, having the frustration of having to watch every dollar I spent, and not feeling secure or comfortable with the road ahead. Time and time again I would feel the Evil One creep inside my mind and make me think I was a disappointment to everyone and that I would never get hired. I would take those thoughts to prayer and would be affirmed that I was on the path God wanted me on. Each of my days were spent caring for two elderly individuals and babysitting five children for one of my Youth Apostle brothers who was suffering with terminal cancer. Each and every day I would wake up, made sure I got to Mass, and fought to remain hopeful no matter how much the odds were against me. In serving and loving those who needed a light in the midst of life’s struggles, I learned that the Lord wanted me to pour my heart and time to serve them; using my time off to glorify Him.

Not every day was easy and there were some days I didn’t want to wake up. One thing I can say is that I went to bed each day full of joy. Through the suffering I went through in losing my job, I gained a new sense of life. Through the sacrificial love I gave daily to those in need, I got back so much more. I was humbled and blessed each day to share in their lives; sharing in their struggles and triumphs. “Thy Will be Done” was my constant prayer of surrender to the Lord and receiving Him in the Eucharist daily gave me strength. In choosing to love and be loved by others, I learned to trust in God’s providence with my whole heart. On September 5th, I began a full time position with Evolent Health as a patient outreach specialist. I couldn’t be happier in knowing I am beginning this next chapter of my journey and that it is in fulfillment of the Lord’s will. Suffering through these past months taught me to love courageously and always seek the will of God in all I do; for that is where I will find the greatest joy.

“Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It”

By: Krysti Patient
Starting this month, Krysti has entered into a Missionary Year through Women Youth Apostles. She leaves behind a full-time job and salary for a dedicated time of service to the Women Youth Apostles community and the young people at All Saints Catholic Church in Manassas, VA.
On Friday, August 18th, I said goodbye to the glass conference rooms and up-to-date technologies of my non-profit job, and most challengingly, to my coworkers. I also said goodbye to small, seemingly insignificant things like my work ID… that was actually pretty hard.

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This small chapter of my life came to a close in what felt like the quickest two weeks of my adult existence. This was my first full-time salaried job after graduating college in 2013 and being a waitress for two years. I was so proud of my cubicle, of my keys, my parking pass, my borrowed work-issued laptop, my annual work trip to Chicago. It felt like I had some time yet to outgrow them but then, when has my time ever been the Lord’s time?

It came as no real surprise, then (especially given the Lord’s tendency toward a pretty healthy sense of humor) that he had much to say to me in the weeks approaching the big transition, in living out the first wave of my “Yes” regarding poverty and humility. So much of my prayer surrounding the daily Mass readings for the past few weeks has been an affirmation from God that what He wants most from me through this year of service is my poverty of spirit. A poverty that “costs everything that is not the Kingdom of Heaven” (The Pearl, Servant of God Madeleine Delbrel). I have been taking note of the Lord strengthening my commitment to Him and calling me out of all of my cubicle-shaped comfort zones.

One particular reflection I had came from a Eucharistic Holy Hour in July, spent meditating on that day’s First Reading from Exodus. The Lord “summoned Moses to the top of the mountain” (Exodus 19:1-2, 9-11, 16-20b). When God summons Moses, He does so after Moses brings the people to the foot of the mountain, where there is fire, trembling earth and smoke. I immediately think, “Sounds like a volcano. They should get out of there.” In all seriousness, this somewhat sarcastic humor of mine echoed a real false warning, a worldly fear that I had in approaching God’s holy mountain – the mountain for me being this Missionary Year ahead.

All “signs” pointed to turning tail. I had a good job, a great work-life balance with ample time to devote to volunteering in ministry and partaking in community life, with some steady comfortable income. It was certainly easy to reflect the spirit of fear that Scripture describes of the Israelites in the midst of my decision. In my prayer, however, I had my version of the events of this passage in Exodus, where I was someone in this crowd of people, with Moses right beside me. As Scripture tells, Moses speaks to God, and the Lord answers in thunder. Moses seems to know what God is saying to him, but all I can hear this noise and feel this trepidation. My fear itself is a language barrier preventing me from understanding the Lord. Eventually, Moses is summoned to ascend the mountain and approach the Lord. But, Moses tells me, so am I.

Luckily, I have a few people in my life who are an example of Moses to me, who understand the thunder perhaps a little more, and a little more often, than I. By their encouragement and their own closeness to God, I am invited upward to seek Him and know Him more intimately, and I do not journey alone.

In light of this somewhat daunting (though wonderful) invitation, I have been searching more and more for courage, hoping that I can stockpile it for the climbs ahead. But I have found in my searching that a very important prerequisite to courage is love and humility. This is the real work ahead, but it is also what motivates me to give my “Yes” in the first place. My good Jesus doesn’t ask much, but rather, like Peter, He asks only “Do you love me?” I know and He knows my real love for Him, my sisters, and His young people. My “Yes”, my choosing to accept this Mission, is a simple yet confident, sure answer to that question. It is my way of saying “summon me, O God, to your holy mountain.”

We shall see what the Lord longs to reveal to me there.

Please pray for me and for the young people at All Saints in this year of ministry ahead.

Love Beyond Comfort: A Reflection on The Camino de Santiago and Engagement

By: Vania Dienzo

Last month, I had the opportunity to travel to Spain to with my boyfriend Nate to hike El Camino de Santiago. We were invited by our friend, a priest from the Archdiocese of Newark, back in February to attend with a group led by another priest. When Nate told me about the invitation, I wanted to sign up immediately. Embarking on the five week long journey from France to Santiago de Compostela had been on my bucket list since seeing the movie The Way with Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez a few years ago, but five days seemed much more practical in this point in my life. I knew God was giving us this opportunity to go and so we signed up and looked forward to going on a pilgrimage together.

map of routesFor those unfamiliar with the pilgrimage, El Camino de Santiago (also known as the Way of St. James) consists of many routes starting in France, Spain and Portugal and dates back to the Middles Ages when pilgrims traveled from Jerusalem and Rome. The pilgrims end in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela where St. James the Apostle’s remains are buried. Hundreds of thousands of people a year make their way from different starting points to venerate St. James. We would begin our pilgrimage from Sarria, about 70 miles east of Santiago, to fulfill the minimum 100 kilometers (roughly 62 miles) of walking on foot needed to obtain the certificate, or “Compostela.” We knew this would be an intense journey physically, emotionally and spiritually so we prepared for it as best as we could months leading up to it.

In preparation we did research online on what to expect and gear to get, which Nate is really good at doing when it comes to things like this. We walked several miles on the weekends that we could since April leading up to the pilgrimage. We also prayed the rosary on those hikes. Additionally we watched The Way again and a documentary called “Footsteps” about a group of men taking the five week Camino. In retrospect, even if I had walked and prayed more several months before, I don’t believe I would have been completely prepared for all the emotion and strength required for the pilgrimage.

I came on the pilgrimage to pray for others and pray about my vocation and my relationship with Nate. I knew this pilgrimage would allow me much time to pray in challenging way. A literal example would be on our first day, praying the rosary at the very first Camino de Santiago marker while hiking up a huge and unexpected hill; that was a very challenging prayer to start off with. Other moments of prayer were in the churches we visited, walking through the fields and farms, taking in the beautiful view at the top of hills or focusing to finish.

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While walking I thought about how St. James got through much longer than this with much less than we have. He took Jesus’ Great Commission to spread the Gospel to great lengths. This encouraged me to continue as a catechist at my parish. I have to do my part in planning and taking courses to prepare my future students with their discernment to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. If St. James traveled all the way to Spain to teach the faith, I can teach it in my home parish.

Every day was very difficult. Each day my feet and ankles were in pain, and that pain and soreness carried over into the next day. I kept repeating to myself to offer that pain and temporary suffering to God as prayer for those I promised to pray for. There were moments I was worried I would not be able to walk any further since Nate and I were far behind our group due to my slow pace. There were many frustrating moments, too. We were pushed to our limits and forced to listen to our bodies. Nevertheless, God carried us all through that and got us to our destination by the end of each day.

In addition to God and prayer, the people in our group helped me throughout this journey. The group was very patient in waiting for each other and looking after one another on the Camino. We had people share supplies and their knowledge, which God knew we would need each other for. At a certain point during our second day, a pilgrim became dehydrated. It was a scary situation but thankfully there were individuals in the medical field present. All throughout the pilgrimage, there was a beautiful showing of true concern for each other.

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In our sharing group time, I got to hear others profound thoughts, perspectives and struggles. I also got hear reasons for starting the Camino. Learning about each other over hiking and eating reminded me how God is working in each one of us. Our spiritual director, Father Mino, was amazing throughout. He got to know us by making time to talk to us as we walked. He shared his wisdom and didn’t just save it for homilies. I appreciate that time he made for each of us. God brought this entire group together to share in this experience.

The fifth day on the camino was the least difficult day. It was about a seven mile hike from our hotel to Santiago de Compostela. We ran into pilgrims we met throughout the week that traveled various distances. We could see the emotion in everyone’s faces knowing that they’ve made it to Santiago as a pilgrim led and protected by God. Finally making it to the main square, Praza do Obradoiro, outside of the Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela was a joyous occasion. It was a long difficult journey for us and for other pilgrims, days and weeks longer. We finally made it. It believe it’s a tiny taste of what the kingdom of Heaven is like!

I didn’t cry immediately after reaching the main square like I thought I would, but I did when something some what unexpected happened shortly after. I say somewhat because I had an inkling, but wasn’t definitely expecting it. After our group threw our bags into a taxi to take to the hotel and we began to make our way into the cathedral of the Pilgrim Mass at Noon, Nate grabbed my attention. I could tell he was happy we made it.

He asked, “Are you glad we went on Camino together?” Of course I was!

Then he said, “Suffering. We suffered a lot on this journey together. Would you like to suffer with me the rest of your life?” With that, he knelt down to ask “will you marry me?” I said, “Of course I will!” and began to cry.

I was overjoyed that we just completed a difficult pilgrimage together. Suffering was a recurring theme in our walk and group reflections. I knew God placed Nate in my life to get through it all. These past two years in a relationship with him have been amazing but not without its many lessons. I’m certain God put us together to better each other and I trust God to lead us in our own camino to Heaven in our vocation, no matter what crazy terrain the journey may bring. This moment made the Pilgrim Mass all the more wonderful!

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Since coming back from Spain, I often look back on how difficult it all was yet I’m so grateful for the experience. This was hands down one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in my life so far. God is so faithful! He got us all through it. He reintroduced new friends into our lives and we now share this amazing experience. He got us through the unexpected travel woes and unexpected hills. He showed us His beauty in His creation in the countryside. Through the physical and spiritual struggles and joys of the Camino, He gave us a taste of what He promises in Heaven. Our Camino didn’t end when we got to the Cathedral – we just ended one stage and began another. There are still unknowns in our lives to come, but through prayer and trust in God, we’ll complete the journey and join Him in heaven. St. James, pray for us!

¡Buen camino!

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“I Thirst”

Today on Good Friday (4.14.2017) Youth Apostles hosted Food for the Soul, a monthly gathering for friends and benefactors. The talk was on The Seven Last Words of Christ and Tiffany Lambert, one of our members, was asked to present one of the reflections.

The Church has always understood that Sacred Scripture, being inspired by God, has layers and depth in meaning. Looking at one aspect often won’t fully capture everything that is going on or everything God intends to communicate. And God’s Word is living and active, His mercies are new every morning, so what He intends for me to know today as I encounter His Word can be fresh and personal depending on the different circumstances of that particular day.

Very early in the Church’s beginnings, a method for penetrating the depths of God’s Word proved to be fruitful, so I offer this reflection following the same method which peels away four layers to Sacred Scripture.

The first layer looks at the literal meaning of the words: “I thirst.” Here we think about what is physically happening to Jesus, what He experenced in His humanity. What happened to this person, a very real person who existed in history?

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There are two lines from different scenes we encounter in Lent that have always struck me as the most obvious comments. The first comes from the Temptation in the Desert which basically says “Jesus fasted for 40 days and afterwards he was hungry.” No kidding! You should see me when a meal is delayed 40 minutes. And the second is this line from the Crucifixion, “I thirst.”

For some people, just taking time to quietly imagine what Jesus physically endured can be very fruitful prayer.

So we can take time to reflect on some of the sufferings that would have contributed to His thirst prior to this expression of His need for drink – the lack of sleep, the overwhelming loss of blood, the heat of the midday sun, breathing in dust, the burning gasps for air.

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The second layer looks at how Jesus was fulfilling an aspect of the Old Covenant through His words and actions. There is a theory that connects this line “I thirst” directly with the Eucharist.

We know that the night before His crucifixion, Jesus shared a Passover meal with the Apostles. As the Passover meal unfolds there are four different cups of wine offered and shared. Before drinking the fourth cup, which is the highest point of the meal, there are 5 five psalms that are sung. Interestingly it seems that Jesus, as He was presiding at this Passover, did not offer the last cup.

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Toward the end of the Last Supper He tell the Apostles “Truly, I say to you, I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God” (Mark 14:25). So He explains that He won’t be drinking the last cup to complete the Passover and then it says they went singing psalms into the night.Brooklyn_Museum_-_I_Thirst_The_Vinegar_Given_to_Jesus_(J'ai_soif._Le_vinaigre_donné_à_Jésus)_-_James_Tissot

Fast-forward to the carrying His Cross – remember how Jesus is offered wine and rejects it? His mission was not yet complete so He did not drink. Now at the very end, at the culmination of His life and mission, the Passover meal He began the night before, which became our Eucharist, Jesus completes as He states “I thirst.”

In the third layer we consider our response to these great mysteries presented to us in Scripture. Maybe after considering the great physical sufferings of Our Lord, we are renewed in our commitment to penance and sacrifice. Maybe there is a comfort or attachment we have been holding on to, but we are now inspired to let go, knowing nothing on earth is worth preferring to the love of Our Lord.

Or maybe we see how in the very last moment of His life, Jesus taught us the non-negotiable connection between liturgy and life, ritual and real love.

We may renewed in our commitment to His sacramental presence in the Eucharist and resolved to extend our participation in the Eucharist into a more sacrificial life.

The fourth layer, a little like the fourth cup of the Passover, is the culmination. It’s the highest point of our prayerful reading of Scripture because it shows us how God’s plan revealed in Scripture will ultimately be fulfilled in heaven.

The Greek word for “I thirst”, “dipso”, can also mean “to ardently desire.”

We know from St. Augustine and Aristotle, just about every song on the radio, and the sometimes emptiness of our own experiences that we are, in the words of Fr. Thomas Dubay, “incarnate thirsts.” We greatly desire happiness; and we will rest in this happiness in heaven.Henry_Ossawa_Tanner_-_Mary_1914

But for now, while our feet are planted here on earth, we are quenched for a time as we encounter him in prayer. “The wonder of prayer is revealed beside the well where we come seeking water: there, Christ comes to meet every human begin. It is he who first seeks us and asks us for a drink. Jesus thirsts; his asking arises from the depths of God’s desire for us. Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him” (CCC 2560).

God thirsts that we may thirst for him. This Good Friday may we hear anew these words spoken by Jesus from the Cross – “I thirst.”

Come, Holy Spirit: Confirmation Retreat

By: Vania Dienzo

A few months ago, a brother in Youth Apostles reached out to the Women Youth Apostles to see if we had any availability to help at the various confirmation retreats and workcamps in the upcoming spring and summer months. With my sister Tiffany’s encouragement, I signed up to be a cabin leader for the first All Saints Girls Confirmation Retreat March 24-25, hoping to get better ideas on activities and structure for my own confirmation students as a catechist. I had never been on this particular retreat before or even had a retreat for my own Confirmation formation so I didn’t know exactly what to expect that weekend. Although I was anxious going into it, I am now very grateful I was able to attend the retreat and to serve alongside four of my Women Youth Apostle sisters.

It had been a while since I’d done relational ministry outside of my own parish in Maryland so I was nervous to meet new middle school teens, have 10 of those teens in my particular care and in my small group, and to also give one of the retreat talks. God showed me that I really didn’t need to be nervous! Though my group wasn’t very open at the start, as we progressed through the meals and activities the girls would share more and we could talk more and more easily over the short period of time we had on retreat.

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Unsurprisingly, the Holy Spirit was a major theme in the retreat! One of the main activities is a scavenger hunt, where teens rotate through various stations, each representing a gift of the Holy Spirit the 8th graders could expect to receive in a new way at Confirmation. I led the station on Knowledge. I could tell the girls already knew so much about the life of Jesus and were open to learning more about the Faith through our discussion. When it came to time for my talk on Saturday afternoon titled “Our Sin and God’s Mercy”,  I still was nervous,  but  right before my talk I prayed to the Holy Spirit to remember my notes so I could share with the girls about one of my my favorite parables about the Father’s mercy, The Prodigal Son, and my own experiences. When I talked, I only needed to check my notes a few times. I could see the girls were listening intently and one of the girls even volunteered bravely for a short demo. I would consider all this the work of the Holy Spirit stirring up my own gifts!

Vania gives her talk, “Our Sin & God’s Mercy” to the 8th grade girls

 

The rest of the retreat was inspiring and moving, even from my perspective as a leader. To hear more questions on sin, see all the retreatants go to the sacrament of Reconciliation willingly and then kneel in Adoration was beautiful. It was also a great joy to pray a rosary with students leading decades and talk about our Blessed Mother on the Feast of the Annunciation.

Another moving part for me was when Rob, the All Saints Director of Youth Ministry, talked to the entire group about community and being involved in different ministries in high school. He led some of the girls through a trust exercise, and I began to tear up when they successfully executed it because it was scary but awesome! I was even more impacted when the high school assistant leaders shared their experiences in CLC (a Catholic Life Community that two of my sisters lead with two other adult leaders), Theater Ministry, Youth Group, etc. They were all wonderful examples of the fruit our ministries can bear and how community is important in our faith lives.

Rob Tessier speaks to the girls about the importance of community in living our faith

 

Overall, the retreat was a great experience led by the Holy Spirit.  It was beautiful to witness young girls learn, pray and interact with each other in our beautiful Catholic Faith. It was also amazing to serve alongside my Women Youth Apostle sisters who are all so naturally great in leading, speaking and getting to know the girls. I felt very blessed by God to be there with  all of them. This retreat definitely reminded me of how much I love our Faith and how much I love sharing it with young people. As a first time confirmation Catechist at my parish, I have more ideas now on how next year’s retreat and class activities can be like. I would recommend catechists and youth ministry volunteers stretch themselves to try out retreats like this one, to discover their gifts and to see how the Holy Spirit might use these to reach the hearts of young people.

Accompanying Teens in Prayer, Charity, and Evangelization

This month’s formation meeting will conclude a six part series on the process of evangelization. The foundation for this series was laid in August with a presentation on “The Mission of the Church.” It gave an overview and introduction to the process of evangelization according to the mind of the Church.

The subsequent sessions have focused on a particular stage in the process of evangelization and drawing out, on a practical level, what these different essential moments look like in youth and campus ministry today.FID

Much of what will be covered during this series will be supplemented by reading Sherry Weddell’s book Forming Intentional Disciples. As the upcoming topic for each month is introduced we will note sections from this book that correspond with the topic.

This month’s formation is called “Accompanying Teens in Prayer, Charity, and Evangelization” and will be presented by Lindsay McDermott on February 28, 2017. We will begin with Mass and Evening Prayer at 7:30pm.

The full list of topics in the series are as follows:
1. The Mission of the Church (Overview)
2. Relational Ministry and Building Trust with Teens (Pre-evangelization)
3. Apologetics (Pre-evangelization)
4. Proclamation of the Gospel through Personal Testimony (Evangelization)
5. Delivering the Fullness of the Faith (Catechesis)
6. Accompanying Teens in Prayer, Charity, and Evangelization (Discipleship)

Post-meeting update (3/1/17): Lindsay was able to share FOCUS’ vision for discipleship and spiritual multiplication. She encouraged us to look ways we can live this out in community and in ministry. Click here for an overview from FOCUS of the path to becoming a spiritual multiplier. What would it take for us to have this kind of impact in youth ministry?

The Morning Star: A reflection on the Epiphany

By: Lilie Graybriel 

For most of us, the start of a new year sparks up old memories and gets us thinking about what new memories the future has in store for us. Some people even reach a moment of epiphany, gaining a whole new outlook on life or starting to see someone or something in a new light. Recently, one of my students asked me to explain to them the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord; and naturally, I turned to Google for some help answering.  I found that the word “epiphany” comes from the Greek verb meaning “to reveal.” As I explained to the curious young lad what we were celebrating, I couldn’t help but reflect on those the moments when God reveals Himself to mankind, in particular, through Christ’s birth.

The Gospel yesterday speaks about how God revealed Himself to the Magi through the Star of Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1-12).  We are told that the Magi have followed a rising star in search of the newborn King of the Jews. Unaware of the true significance of this kingship, they follow the star to the future King of Israel after King Herod sends them to search for the child in Bethlehem. Upon seeing the star stopped above Jesus and his mother, Mary, the Magi are immediately filled with joy and kneel before him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

With this in mind, I couldn’t help but reflect on the appearance of stars in scripture, especially since they made in appearance in my prayer before the Blessed Sacrament just a few weeks ago, and again in a priest’s homily during Mass the very next day. Even from the beginning of time, God created stars to act as a revelation of His glory to mankind.

Genesis 1:15 says the stars “serve as luminaries in the dome of the sky, to shed light upon the earth.”

In Psalm 8:4-7, “When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars you set in place, what are mere mortals that you care for them? Yet you made them little less than a god, crowned them with glory and honor.” We are able to reflect on the greatness of God’s creation and how much more He cares for us than even the beauty of the His night sky.

In 2 Peter 1:19, we are reminded to heed the words of the prophets until the day God reveals this message to us as “the morning star arises in your hearts.”

Not mention the perfect revelation in the Book of Revelation! Verse 22:16 reads “I, Jesus, sent my angel to give you testimony for the churches, I am the root and offspring of David, the bright morning star.”

How could he possibly be anymore clear in revealing himself there?

 
But, Jesus isn’t the only person of the Bible referred to as the morning star. In fact, it’s even one of many star-related names given to His Mother, Mary. Star of the Sea, Star of Purity, Our Lady of the Star, and even Our Lady of Light are all titles given to Mary. Not to mention the countless visions of Our Lady surrounded by light, wearing a crown of stars. Just as she does in artistic depictions of her as the Queen of Apostles.

Mary is the guiding light for each of us, always pointing the way to Christ, just as the Star of Bethlehem did for the Magi. However, she is so much more to us than just a mentor or a guide. She shows us the way to be true disciples of Jesus Christ. She’s our spiritual and universal mother.

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In John 19:26– 27, we are told “When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” This wonderful gift of Mary as our mother comes from God, himself, as he’s dying on the cross for us. There have been countless times in my faith where I feel so distant and lost in my faith and I turn to Mary to bring me back. Praying for her intercession and turning to her as my mother always lights a spark inside that brings me right back to Christ. I could be in tears praying to Our Mother for help and those feelings of inadequacy or self-doubt just start to melt away. It literally feels like I’m curled up in my mom’s lap on the couch. It’s moments like these that I find so important to turn to Mary. Mary gets it. She’s been there. She can relate and empathize with our struggles.

During daily mass one day, I lost myself to my thoughts as I began to feel totally overwhelmed by life’s tribulations and suddenly I look up to see the priest hold up the large host and say “Take this all of you, and eat of it, for this is My Body, which will be given up for you.” After hearing these words for probably the thousandth time in my life, my complaints seemed so insignificant. My struggle paled in comparison to the suffering Christ would endure for us on the cross. I imagine this is how Mary felt every day of her life, giving it completely and freely to God. She experienced extreme suffering and sorrow as she stood at the foot of the cross and watched her own beloved Son be tortured and crucified; yet, she didn’t let this event tarnish her faith in the Lord, but strengthen it. She allowed her sufferings to merit grace for the good of saving our souls.

Saint John Paul II wrote in Salvifici Dolores, his apostolic letter on the meaning of human suffering, “For suffering cannot be transformed and changed by a grace from outside, but from within. And Christ through his own salvific suffering is very much present in every human suffering, and can act from within that suffering by the powers of his Spirit of truth, his consoling Spirit.” Suffering is a feeling of pain, whether it be emotional, mental, or physical. It cant be changed by anything other than God acting within us and through us. Mary allowed God to act in her own pain and unite us all in His consoling Spirit and in turn she is filled with this same Spirit in consoling us as our mother. It is in this same document, that Saint JPII writes of the Divine Redeemer wishing use the heart of His Mother to unite each and every one of us to Christ on the cross. It is truly through her that we are able to be united with him in suffering and allow God to bring about the good that will come from our suffering. It’s through Mary that we are made true brothers and sisters in Christ.

Mary’s virtues of faith, hope, and love, humility and obedience, and desire to bring us to closer to Christ can fuel our faith every day as long as we follow the radiant Morning Star. It is in turning to her, as our mother, for guidance that we are given a tiny glimpse into the glory of God and the love that He gives us. Inspired by Mary’s Immaculate Heart and imitating her love for her children we are given the chance to be filled with an overwhelming joy that we might kneel before Christ offering up not just our gifts, but also our sufferings – allowing Him to work within us, transforming our hearts to love as His mother does.