Lent Days 10-12: The Post-Retreat Reflection/Megapost

If any of y’all are wondering why I didn’t blog for the past three days, it was because I was away on retreat. However, I wasn’t a participant, but a staff member. Due to confidentiality, I can’t talk about what I did this weekend in detail, but I can divulge everything I felt that weekend. 

I should tell you that before this retreat, I have never been a staff member. Heck, I was never a staff member for anything in high school or college. But I was eager to do my part and help create the best weekend for 40+ young adults. 

In theatre, there’s a saying: “There are no small parts, only small actors.” This applies to retreats as well as to life itself. One of Fr. Robert Barron’s Lenten meditations this weekend talks about how people are often so caught up in having life revolve around them rather than try a role that God wants them to try. In my case, although I was a volunteer, I was assigned a position that I did not ask for. However, I decided to accept it and offer it up.

At first, it was a lot of fun. I got to be hands-on, involved in preparing many events and activities. By the end of the first day, my legs were totally sore from being on my feet the whole day, but I felt that it was totally worth it.

The next day was more intense than the first, for both the retreaters and for me. It started off well, with me helping the retreaters grow in their faith and assisting in a Bible study. But a lot of little disappointments happened throughout the day. I was a newcomer to the staff, so there were times that I felt left out amidst the more experienced workers. It built up to a point that by the time dinner came around, I found that I had nowhere to sit. I went off to a staff-only room and started crying.

I hated that I felt left out and invisible. I wanted to be okay with the idea of not being noticed or belonging, but I wasn’t. Throughout the day, I kept pushing aside those small times when I hated being unacknowledged and dinnertime was the breaking point. I didn’t understand why I felt forgotten even though I prayed to have that fear of being forgotten taken away from me. Then, a few people came into the room: two acquaintances and a priest. I told them about how I was feeling, how I hated how I felt, and how I wished I felt something else.

I don’t remember the specific words that the priest said, but he did say something about how the Lord might be testing me in my desire for humility. My acquaintances reassured me that even though I didn’t think my actions went unnoticed, they did notice and, more importantly, God noticed. I realized two things after venting: 

1) I had to acknowledge how I felt with indifference. Acknowledging an emotion, positive or negative, means identifying how you feel. However, you can’t think that the emotion you feel is good or bad, you just have to accept that it’s there.

2) I was finally experiencing everything I was writing about for the past week. I now know what it’s like to live out my faith, what it meant to be humble, what it meant to empty and completely surrender myself.

In other words, the priest was right. I was being tested by God. But God was there even when I wasn’t aware of Him. Fr. Robert Barron’s Friday meditation says that Christ crucified is where God finds us when we are at our darkest. It’s no coincidence that the staff room I hid in had a crucifix and that I was crying underneath it. God was with me there and then.

Earlier in this blog, I compared challenging yourself in Lent to learning how to swim. During this weekend, I felt like I was swimming myself over a waterfall. But after focusing myself on God, I found my center with Him. I realized that I needed Him and that He would always be with me. I meditated on Psalm 139 that night during Adoration. Then, the same priest who consoled me read a passage from the Gospel of Luke, the story of the bleeding woman. One verse resonated with me: “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.” I felt healed as soon as I heard it. Like Fr. Robert Barron said in his meditation for today, my life felt elevated because I encountered Christ alongside everyone else.

The rest of the night was wonderful. I got to know more people and felt excited for the upcoming day.

But it wouldn’t be long before I would be tested again.

Towards the end of the retreat, I started to feel left out again. This time, it was because it didn’t seem like there was any material proof the words my friends told me yesterday were true. This time, I knew I was being tempted, but I felt the tears coming around again. This time, I pulled one of my friends aside and went to a staff-only room with her. She became that material proof that took the doubts away, telling me that I was appreciated and that my work hasn’t gone unnoticed. She wanted to hang out with me after the retreat. That was all I needed. I know, I’m a doubting Thomas. But I got over myself a lot faster this time.

The last day of the retreat involved a lot of prayer and amazing music. I’ll end this blog entry with a few songs from the retreat and pictures that I took today that reminded me of everything I experienced.

 

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May the blessing of the Lord be upon you, the blessing of the Father and the Son and may the spirit of God, the spirit of love be with you all your days.

Lent Day 9: For Such a Time as This

One of my favorite Old Testament books is the book of Esther. The Jewish holiday of Purim begins Saturday night. Today’s First Reading features Esther in a time of prayer. 

Sometimes, things happen that inspire us to change our perspectives, which Fr. Robert Barron talks about in his Lent Reflection. For Esther, she realized that it was no coincidence that she was chosen to become queen at a time when her people needed someone to save them from Haman’s genocide. Last year, it was no coincidence that the 50th Anniversary of Vatican II happened at the same year that Pope Benedict decided to abdicate and Pope Francis was elected.

Timing is everything and since God is the creator and master of time, it was His will that all of these things happened. To this day, I still wonder why Benedict chose to retire, even though I know that he wanted to retire before he was elected. He chose to be pope for eight years, setting the foundation for some changes in the Church that were more interior than exterior. Because of Benedict, the Mass has changed and I’m starting to forget the times before the new Roman Missal.

I’ll be honest when I say that I took him for granted at the time. #cradleCatholicproblems, I know. But I took the pope for granted even back as a kid when John Paul II was pope. I took both popes for granted for different reasons. When John Paul II was pope, I was a little kid who saw him as an old man. He was past his prime, struggling with Parkinsons, and I didn’t know any better. When Benedict became pope, I was a teenager and I was holding onto my faith during a really hard time, but the problem was I didn’t know what it really meant to be Catholic and there wasn’t really anyone around to help me because I was in public school. In college, I realized how amazing both of these popes were and I figured that Benedict would lead the church until God called him home.

Of course, that didn’t happen. And I’ll be honest: I cried when I heard the news. I knew the news could’ve been worse, but I had no idea that popes could choose to not be pope. I felt abandoned and confused. I wasn’t alone in how I felt, either. It was like Lent had started early. I still miss Pope Benedict today, but I always love seeing him, just knowing that he’s alive and well, even though he’s retired.

Fast forward to March 13, 2013.

I was in the living room, watching the Sistine Chapel’s chimney, waiting for the white smoke to come. So far, I have only seen black smoke and it felt like an answer was taking forever. I knew the times that the smoke was likely to appear, but that morning, it took forever

And then at 1:07PM CST (7:07 Vatican time), the white smoke finally came out.

I started dancing in my living room and I wasn’t the only one. St. Peter’s square was screaming and every Catholic on the internet was rejoicing. Ain’t no party like a Catholic party, people, because we are all connected through our shared baptism and when something like this happens, we can’t help but celebrate.

My mom told me that when God chose the pope in the conclave, he wasn’t just choosing a pope for the 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, but that He also chose the new pope for me. God’s timing was working in my life because as I said before, the fact that there was going to be a new pope lifted me up from the sad part of my life. And this was before I even knew who the new pope was going to be.

My first impression of Pope Francis was “He’s kind of awkward and shy.” What I didn’t realize was that he was taking in the crowd and I soon learned just how not awkward or shy Pope Francis was.

Now while people think that Pope Francis is turning the Catholic Church upside-down, I’ll tell you right now, he’s not. The song is the same, but the way the song is played has changed. Think of it this way: if Jesus’s message is like the original version of the best song you’ve ever heard, every pope since then is that band that tries to make their best cover version of that song. Some have made horrible covers, some are okay, and some covers are as awesome as the original. John Paul II’s song was like the showstopping number of an amazing musical. Benedict’s song was a lot more quiet, like a piano sonata. Francis’s song has just begun, but I compare it to an indie pop song that made its way onto the Billboard Top 40. And all of them are equally beautiful in their own way.

But in the end, all popes are striving to sing the same song: follow the example of Christ and live out His message. 

Today, think about how God’s timing has worked its way into your life and pray for all the popes that have come before. Also, pray for Pope Francis, since he asked us so nicely.

Lent Day 7: Distracted

Fr. Robert Barron’s Lent Reflection for today advised the subscribers to try and reduce distractions so that there would be time to focus on more important things. Too bad I got that e-mail late into the afternoon, during which I was drowning myself in distractions. 

Time for some honesty: I like being distracted. I like planning, but procrastinating is just as fun. This is especially true on days when there’s nothing immediate around the corner.

The problem is that this time, there is something coming around: my weekend retreat. I can’t give away details (confidentiality agreement), but I’ll be on staff for a retreat this weekend and part of the process involves writing affirmation letters. I have been procrastinating on finishing these letters because right now, I don’t feel like I’m being sincere. I also feel like I’m being fake when I write these because I am writing to strangers, but I know that these letters are important.

It doesn’t help that I didn’t get up when my alarm went off and that I totally forgot to do my morning prayers. But this is all part of Lent. We fall so that we can get back up again.

In true procrastinator fashion, I will strive to do my best to finish these letters first thing tomorrow morning. I pray that I actually get up when my alarm goes off and spend my day productively.

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Lent Day 6: Ways to Pray

Fr. Robert Barron’s Lenten reflection today gives some prayer suggestions to use for Lent as part of the tradition of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

But here’s a question: Why do we pray?

Most Christians believe that God knows everything. Also, he’s not a genie so it’s not like if we pray, that prayer will be answered right away or even in the way we want it to happen.

Prayer is more for the person praying. It’s the best way to develop a closer relationship with God by telling Him how we feel, what we want, and maybe intercede on behalf of other people. Through prayer, people have received physical, mental, and emotional healing. It’s a form of meditation and it relieves stress. Most of all, it reminds us to be humble because we can’t solve every problem in our lives by ourselves. In times of grief, prayer is one of the few ways that can help a grieving heart that doesn’t require medication or therapy.

There are so many ways to pray. Fr. Robert Barron’s reflection offers some simple ways, but if you want a challenge, try going on a retreat.

Pope Francis is off on retreat this week. Retreats are a time that includes a lot of prayer. I highly recommend going on a retreat during this Lenten season. I did retreats during Lent back when I was in college and they were seriously awesome. This weekend, I’ll be on staff for a retreat for college students. It should be fun.

Another way to pray is to do a meditative walk. It doesn’t have to be anywhere special as long as you can be alone with God. Pray the Rosary or Litany or the start of a novena. (PS: St. Joseph’s novena starts today. If you want to pray for a job, St. Joseph is the guy to ask.)

I went on a walk today on the path around the local reservoir seen in the picture below. It was a lot of fun.

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My challenge for you: Find a prayer that you’re unfamiliar with and pray it during this Lenten season.