Embarking on your Faith Journey

Have any of you ever read a really great book or watched a really great movie or heard a really great story? Now, what did that book, movie or story have that was so great about it? Maybe it had to do with some mythical place, or an incredibly interesting main character. Perhaps you were able to identify with it in some way. Something about that story drew you in. And I can tell you, that each of these stories has something very simple in common. They all have some sort of journey that you as the reader, watcher, or listener follow. It may be a journey to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far, away, to Hogwarts, Middle Earth, Narnia, Metropolis or Gotham. It might be a journey of self-discovery, or one where the main character saves the world. We are drawn into this story. We are drawn into the mystery.

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I have this map up here. It belongs to my Dad, and it had a prominent place in my home for most of my life. It’s a hand drawn map of Middle Earth, the world that J.R.R. Tolkien created for his famous trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. I grew up staring at it, memorizing the landmarks and physical obstacles along the way from the Shire to Mount Doom in Mordor. This is one of the stories that I was enamored with as a child. I loved the idea of the adventures that took place in Middle Earth. I wanted to meet characters like Bilbo and Gandalf, and I wanted to be a strong heroin just like Arwen.

Now, what if I told you that our faith can be just like one of these journeys.

Just like the ones that we see in our favorite books, movies, or stories.

 You might be thinking I’m a little crazy at this point. But, one of my favorite saints, St. John Paul II is quoted in saying, “Life with Christ is a Wonderful Adventure”.

There is a moment in every story where the main character is posed with a question. Usually that question is whether or not to take on an adventure. Whether they’re off to destroy a ring, find a horcrux, or save the city from eternal doom, there is a moment when the main character consciously makes the choice to do the right thing. And often enough, we learn that the main character was destined to take part in that journey.

So are we.

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This painting is one of my favorites. It’s called “The Calling of St. Matthew” and it was painted by a guy named Caravaggio in 1600. Here we can see a ray of light making its way to Matthew, while Christ is pointing at him. The story of this painting actually comes from a story in the Gospel. The Gospel of Matthew tells us:

 “As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man named Matthew- sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” – Matthew 9:9-13

We all have this moment. There is a moment where we are asked to join Christ on a journey. We are asked to accompany him on an adventure that we were made for.

My faith journey started out like many others. It was quiet. I grew up on Long Island, went to public school, lived with my Grandma, Mom & Dad, big sister Julie, and went to Mass on Sundays. I played with neighbors as a kid, and loved to draw and write stories. For me, this moment of encounter didn’t happen as a child, at my baptism, first communion, or confirmation, but rather, it happened on a retreat, kind of like the one you’re on right now. I had had a couple of really rough years in high school. I was anxious, depressed, I had lost friends, and a boyfriend who I was too dependent on, and my Dad had moved out and my parents divorced. I was a senior in High School. I wasn’t living a life for Christ, even though I had gone to Church, to youth group, and volunteered my time to the poor and to the younger children at my parish. I was living day to day, trying to fake a smile, and act as though everything was okay. I knew that I wasn’t though. I knew that I was loved, but couldn’t grasp what that meant, or how it could affect my life.

And so I went on this retreat. I didn’t particularly like going to youth group anymore, but out of habit, I went on the Spring Retreat. Ironically, or not so ironically, the theme of the retreat was “I will Follow” and we had to sing this awful song and do silly hand movements to it. However, I knew that being a scutch and remaining closed off was not going to be fun for anyone. So, I tried to be open and listen to all of the presentations and participate in the prayer services. Friday night we handed whatever was burdening us over to God by tossing a rock into the Long Island Sound. We were asked to quiet ourselves, and to think of what was burdening us. There were thousands of pebbles on the beach. We each picked up two rocks. One represented our burdens, and one represented a promise. We each threw our burden into the Sound, and held on tight to our promise. I began to open up then. But the true turning point for me was on Saturday night. I sat in adoration of the Eucharist, which is when the Eucharist is exposed in a gold stand called a monstrance for a prolonged period of time. I desired mercy; just like St. Matthew. I had experienced God’s loving grace in the sacrament of confession. And as I sat, for the first time feeling peace in front of the Eucharist, I cried, and felt a whisper in my heart to come, and follow Him.  I felt an overwhelming sense in my heart that I was loved. Truly Loved.

In that moment, just like St. Matthew, I got up, and followed Him.

I was drawn into the mystery.

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I found Joy on that retreat. For the first time in a long time, I found joy in doing simple everyday things. I even found Joy in getting stuck in the mud of a small Long Island Harbor, after running after my friends onto what looked like solid ground. In case you were wondering, I did ruin my flip flops that day. I had no idea what this journey would entail or what my destination would be. To be completely honest with you, I still don’t know what the destination is. I can tell you, that since I decided to get up and follow Him, my life has truly been an adventure. I’ve gone places, done things, and encountered people that I wouldn’t have even thought possible in High School. But, I had to take that first step and climb that very high mountain. I had to leave my comfortable life behind, and like Frodo and Sam in The Lord of the Rings, I left the Shire.

I started to take my volunteer work seriously. I was a volunteer with the Middle School Youth Group at my Parish. I played silly games along the way with middle schoolers and enjoyed it. I even let a 12 year old do my hair with shaving cream for the “Edge Kids Take Over”. It took a few showers to get it all out.

I went on trips to places I had only dreamed about before. I walked the streets of Dublin and Paris with my Mom and sister.

I took in the beauty of one of the world’s oldest book of Gospels, The Book of Kells, in Dublin, and I stood in awe of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. I went on pilgrimage to Madrid, Spain for World Youth Day 2011. I walked along the same cobblestone streets as St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross. I sat in the same churches as a Doctor of the Church. As a group, we went to Mass with various English-Speaking Cardinals, and eventually with Pope Benedict XVI.

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We stood and humbly waited in the rain, which was described as a hurricane over the announcer. There was obviously a mistranslation there. And we waited for the Pope to arrive. We met young Catholics from all over the world: Colombia, France, Iraq, Australia, Nigeria, and Malaysia. I found I had a friend in Jesus’s mother after I realized that each church I went into had the image that my Parish is named after, Our Lady of Perpetual Help. This still happens by the way.

In college, I continued to follow Him along a path that I couldn’t quite see, and had some incredible experiences. I trudged through Washington DC in 10 degree weather as a witness to the beauty that Human Life is at the March for Life.

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 I studied in Galway, Ireland, after working up the courage to follow the desires of my heart and change my major from something that would secure me a job after graduation, to something that I truly loved: English Literature and Irish Studies.

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 I sat in the middle of a country road in a town where there were more sheep than people, and appreciated the beauty of creation with a sunrise at 4am with some of my wonderful classmates.

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 I took a bus and visited relatives that I had never met and shared in faith and tea and ice cream with them. We drove all over my Grandfathers hometown.  I felt a little silly standing with that tomb stone in the rain, but I knew that these were the family members that gave me my Catholic faith, this was the church where my grandparents and great grandparents worshipped a God who is Love, and so I complied and smiled as a cousin I barely knew took my picture.

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I walked across the Peace Bridge in a city where violence was the norm for so long. I shared in the hurt that my cousins felt from the past, but also listened to their hope for their city and for their home. I quite literally crossed the River Foyle with them and was present as they shared their story and their heart with me.

I traveled in a minivan, and my campus minister was pulled over by cop in West Virginia for going 83 mph, to a place that I had never been. There were mountains there. I served the poor of Appalachia in Beauty, KY with some of the most kind-hearted, loving people I know.

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The Lord helped me break out of my comfort zone by working with power tools and to truly be present with the people of Beauty. I was reminded by a cook that I met from Georgia, just how beautiful my soul was, and how she could see it in my eyes. I spoke of my love for Mother Teresa and the Catholic Faith with a nurse from the next town after she confided in me just how beautiful she found the Catholic Church, even though she was a Baptist. She met me with love, not judgment, just as Jesus had.

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I built a deck and a ramp that week along with 8 of my classmates and mentors. That is something I would have never thought I could do, much less that I would want to. My Dad still doesn’t quite believe it.  Even in the mud that week, I found Joy.

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More recently, Jesus asked me to climb an even higher mountain. He asked me to serve in a way that I had never thought before. He asked me to move away from home to a place called Garrison, and to run retreats where students could encounter Him. I laughed, but after much prayer and a leap of faith, I went. And I could not be happier. Those words that JPII spoke are true, “Life with Christ is a wonderful adventure.”

Will you get up and follow him?

This presentation was given on the Sophomore Retreat: Faith Journey through CYFM. 

Reflecting on Service (2)

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A few weeks ago I left a beautiful group of people to come back home. My experience with Workfest was one that I won’t forget anytime soon. I was given the opportunity to serve for a week with the Catholic Campus Ministry at Hofstra University. My Campus Minister had spent a year serving with a group called Christian Appalachian Project, which works to better many communities in Eastern Kentucky. Our Campus Minister absolutely loves this program, and has been telling me about it for over a year. CAP, as its better known, runs short-term service opportunities over Spring Break like Workfest. During Workfest, college students from around the country go to Camp Andrew Jackson and travel each day to a home that CAP is currently serving. During the course of the week of Workfest, college student’s work on a variety of necessary repairs on the homes that the families can’t manage on their own.

When we left campus on the Saturday before Workfest, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I had been involved in different youth ministries, attended retreats as well as days of service but this was my first time on a real mission trip, and my first time working with students from all over the country. The car ride down was filled with laughter and music but come Monday morning we were divided into our crews. I was placed in the Brown Crew, and together we started to learn how to use different types of power tools. Some were more confident than others. The Brown Crew had students from Stevens Point Wisconsin, Cincinnati Ohio, Scranton Pennsylvania, Burlington Vermont, and Long Island.

It felt like we were in Kentucky for a long time before we finally began the work we were there to do. Our crew worked about 40 minutes from Camp AJ with the Smith Family. There we met Haley and her two daughters Kate and Anna. Haley’s husband, Joe was at work, and her son was at school. The Smith family needed a new roof, floors, as well as the front and back porch. The first few days were tough, I was a little homesick, tired, cold, and not quite used to the amount of mud we were working in. I can’t say that I was the most confident using some of tools, so I tried to help in any way I could. Even though our conditions weren’t ideal, we all tried to serve in ways that showed the love of Christ. The readings at mass each day were reminders that we were there because we love Jesus, and we love him by loving others. There were times that I moved debris, and held pieces of wood steady so that those I was working with could use a saw or a drill. But, each day we were called to come out of our comfort zones. And so each day, with the help of my crew, I contributed in new ways. We also were able to pray with our family several times a day. This was really a great part of how CAP operates. Getting to pray with and know Haley was a part of this trip that reminded us all why we were there. We were there to do Christ’s work and to love as he taught us. My crew’s experience with our family was one that allowed all of us to see how God works in the lives around us. Amanda shared with us that she had her son at a young age, and her life is not the way she had imagined. She wanted to work in a law firm, she hadn’t seen herself being a stay at home mom. She kept telling us that God had a different plan for her. Even though she was different from all of us who were working, she inspired us all with her faith. We were there to improve her life, but she was there feeding our faith.

Each night we were able to reflect with our school on the events of the day. We would start each discussion with roses and thorns, the good and bad parts of each day. On our free night our group decided to go on Night Hike, and do our reflections outside on the top of a rock. Seeing the stars in Kentucky and sharing in conversation and prayer with some of the best people I know was truly a blessing. It was also incredibly humbling to hear the stories of those who I had come with., and to see how God was using them. This was probably the turning point of this trip for me. Before our Night Hike, my trip was good, but after this experience, my trip became extraordinary. It opened my eyes to the world around us, the community we were serving, and the extraordinary people I was sharing it with. Although none of us would see the end result of our work, we were still becoming a part of these families in a great way. We were able to be a small part of God’s great plan for this family, all because we made the choice to follow him. .

My trip with CAP to Kentucky is one that was extraordinary and that I feel incredibly blessed to have experienced. Serving others is something that, when done with Christ, is not a burden but rather a blessing.

This post was first given as a reflection at a Lenten Prayer Service in 2014. All names have been changed to protect the privacy of each individual. 

Mary

Reflecting on Service (1)

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Driving through the mist covered mountains each morning brought me joy. This simple pleasure was a surprise to me, and I looked forward to it every morning. To be honest with you, I didn’t expect to find God in the little things on this Mission. I was expecting a great revelation to occur; I was expecting a great sign from Him. I was expecting an answer. Instead, I was consumed by moments of Joy that were brought about through small actions of great love.

Our week was filled with laughter, and productive work. But on our last day at the worksite, I had the pleasure of being paired with a Nurses Aid who worked for CAP full time. We talked about her life, her daughter, her job, and ultimately about faith. The first thing she asked me was whether or not I was Catholic. I was taken by surprise, and wasn’t sure if she was going to react positively or negatively to my Yes. Just the night before, the CAP volunteers had been told about Father Beiting and the struggles he endured as a Catholic priest in Southern Appalachia. And so I responded, and she exclaimed, “I find y’all fascinating!”

And in this moment, I encountered true Joy.

I later found out that my new friend was a Baptist, but had a great love for Mother Teresa and Father Beiting. We talked about how she wanted to be Nun when she was a small child, and how later on in life she found Mother Teresa’s books. She loves to read. This was yet another way that we connected. We talked about how religious sisters exude Joy, and how you can tell that they love God with all of their hearts. She told me that loving God is so important, and that’s all that matters. We were able to have a real conversation about things that mattered to both of us. We were able to share in God’s great Love.

There’s a famous quote by Mother Teresa that keeps coming up for me in prayer, “Do small things with great Love.” I think we’ve all heard it before. Mother Teresa was known for her way of loving others like Christ, and I think this quote sums up my Mission experience in a neat little package. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus tells us, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22: 37-39). This golden rule is something that CAP tries to live out each day. I’m grateful for that. Finding Joy in the little aspects of the day allowed me to see God in greater ways. Although I didn’t have a great revelation about my life, I was reminded of how important loving one another is. And love doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. It can be small, and it can do great things.

This post originally appeared on the Hofstra Catholic Life Blog in April of 2015. 

Mary

That time we toured the North East (and the midwest)

Over the past few weeks I have been in the Hudson Valley, Long Island, Boston, New York City, the Hudson Valley again, Pittsburgh, Steubenville, and then finally back home in the Hudson Valley. It’s been a bit crazy, so I’m going to recap in the pictures below. 🙂

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One Wednesday afternoon, Val and I left our away retreat on LI for Boston, MA. To save gas, mileage, and our sanity we took the ferry out of Orient Point. I absolutely loved it, and would totally do it again. It was beautiful.

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The reason for going to Boston was for an accepted students day (that we both went to) and we were able to go to Mass and tour around Boston. It was nice to see where I’ll be living for the next two years.

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Here I am, in Downtown Boston by the Harbour. And below, by the sign for my program.

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After finishing the accepted students program, we headed back to New York for a family retreat in the city. It was totally worth it because the friary had a cat named Bella. This literally made my week. I miss having pets around.

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At youth group that weekend, we played some silly games (that were really about Easter) and talked about the Resurrection.

The following Tuesday, Sam, Fr. Tomas, and I drove west and spent the night in Pittsburgh. Here we had dinner with Sam’s family and saw the city.

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I don’t have any pictures from Steubenville (we were there for a career fair) but when we returned I went to a poetry reading with Fr. Bob.

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Then it was National Siblings Day, and my sister posted a picture.

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And finally we were rewarded with a Mets game (courtesy of Mary Ellen) and we ran into so many people, including Chris! 🙂

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The today we had a great day retreat.

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It’s been a crazy few weeks– but I don’t think I’ve ever been to so many places in so little time.

Mary

Mt. Beacon

When I first learned that I would be moving to Beacon, I started to look up different things to do in the area. And of course, one of the first things to pop up was to hike Mount Beacon. Now, when Val and Sam went last fall, I was away for the weekend. So I didn’t end up going. But now that the weather is getting nicer and the days are longer, we have more opportunities to do things like this.

Mount Beacon was a steep hike, but there were definitely points where one could stop and take a break if needed. All in all, we spent just under three hours on this hike. I think the majority of that time was spent on our way up because we are all pretty new to this. Once we got to the top, we spent some time just enjoying the beauty that surrounded us. Our trek down the mountain took about forty minutes, maybe less.

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Absolutely stunning. I will be hiking this trail again, hopefully in the near future.

To end our day, we ate dinner and then headed to Catholic Underground North at Mount Saint Mary’s College in Newburgh, just across the river.  Overall it was a great day, with an even better ending.

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Mary

Jones

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A week ago, the CCVs had a Youth ministry training in Queens. So, we took the opportunity to explore Long Island a little bit. Our first stop was Jones Beach, of course. After running to the water and walking around in the sand a little bit, we headed back to my home parish for the vigil mass. Then, we had a St. Patrick’s Day dinner with my Mom and Chris.

Overall, it was a really nice day. And I was able to show my housemates some of the reasons why I love my home.

Mary

Home

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I do love this little island. And sometimes, the thought of leaving it again, for a few more years, makes me quite sad. But I know that there will always be days like this one, when I get to come home on a whim. Days where we can drive out, and look for beach glass on a small strip of sand for as long as we see fit.

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Home is wherever we are if there’s love here too.

Mary

Esopus

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Last week the Cap Corps Volunteer community went on retreat to the Marist Brothers Center in Esopus, New York. A friar from the Province, Fr. Sam, gave the retreat to the five young adults.

The theme of this retreat was belonging. We explored contemplative prayer, poetry, and beauty. Our retreat began Tuesday evening and ended Friday afternoon. Each morning and night we had a “silent sit” or intentional quiet time. Our breakfasts and lunches were also had in silence. Each afternoon we had a couple of hours of free time, where we were allowed to relax, pray, or encounter Christ in reconciliation.  One of the most enjoyable parts of the retreat was our interaction with the full time volunteers at Esopus. During each of our meal times we were greeted with the same hospitality that we try to show our guests at CYFM. It was so nice to be on the receiving end of that grace though. The Marist volunteers have a blog too, you can check it out here.We had conversation at dinner, and some community time in the evening. We played games, had dessert, and tended to the fire in the living room.

Our introduction to contemplative prayer was through Thomas Keating and Centering Prayer. I found this practice particularly difficult. Although I am content with quiet, I often let my mind race and wander through parts of my day, my prayer life, and through past experiences. I usually end up taking one thing and thinking through it thoroughly, and not actually praying. This wasn’t really what we were supposed to be doing. And for some reason, I couldn’t actually focus on the point of centering prayer. Instead I thought about next year, and many other things.

To be honest, I probably should have taken the opportunity for “spiritual companionship” during free time. Rather, I took a shower, a brief nap, read for a bit, and took a walk down to the river.

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As I approached the Hudson River, I couldn’t get over the shards of ice that were floating along with the current, and getting left behind on the shore. It was kind of gloomy out. I say kind of because it was gray, but it was rather warm out, which made it bearable to walk around outside.

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I couldn’t get over how the ice resembled glass in appearance, but also in sound. The different pieces of ice clanked against each other, moving down the river, taking turns riding along with one another. It really was spectacular. On the way to dinner that night Fr. Sam and I spoke about how cool this was, but also serene and somewhat eerie. I think that this experience put me in a better place to reflect on beauty in the context of belonging.

We read poetry from Mary Oliver, Gerard Manley Hopkins, as well as others. I had never studied any of the poets that we read, but I was especially captivated by Hopkins use of language in As Kingfishers Catch Fire.

I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —

Isn’t it beautiful?! I never had the chance to study Hopkins, so I may be looking into some of his collected works in the near future… or when I have a chance to read (probably next year).

I think that the combination of contemplation, poetry, beauty, and a sprinkle of Laudato Si was beneficial for these Cap Corps. We spend so much time reflecting as a group throughout our normal (as normal as it can be) schedule. The quiet, although difficult for some, was nice. It was nice to spend that time with the Lord, in a more structured and relaxed way.

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Mary

*This post originally appeared on the Cap Corps Volunteer blog on 2/25/16*

Graymoor

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A few weekends ago (I believe right before thanksgiving) the CCVs took  a trip to Greymoor. The Franciscan Friars of the Atonement live here and do their ministry here. They do numerous things, including St. Christopher’s Inn. We had heard wonderful things about the work that these friars do, and that they have a pretty spectacular thrift store. So we went and ended up spending our whole afternoon there. We also saw a pretty spectacular sunset.

Until next time friends.

The Newburgh-Beacon Bridge

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On Monday (my day off) a few of the CCVs decided to walk across the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge. We live less than a mile from this bridge that spans across the Hudson River. It was beautiful on Monday, so after we did our chores, we decided to go for a walk. It was gorgeous! There is a pedestrian pathway along side the The bridge was a little more rickety than I thought it would be, but still a great experience. All of the leaves were turning. It was sunny. And the temperature was perfect.