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. 

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Celebrating Irish Literature

I can't think of a case where poems

Yesterday, there was an event held on campus. Now, this event was one that I wasn’t going to, but at the last minute, my professor begged the class to go. So, I rearranged my schedule and I went. We were each asked to pick a poem to read. Now, it had to be an Irish poem, it didn’t have to be in Irish, but it had to be about Ireland or of Irish origin. I knew what poem I would read. It was going to be by Seamus Heaney, because he is who I did my major project on last semester, and if need be, I could talk a little bit about him. I decided to read “Scaffolding,” mainly because I didn’t want to read “Digging” or “Mid-term Break.”

SCAFFOLDING

Masons, when they start upon a building,
Are careful to test out the scaffolding;

Make sure that planks won’t slip at busy points,
Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.

And yet all this comes down when the job’s done
Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.

So if, my dear, there sometimes seems to be
Old bridges breaking between you and me

Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall
Confident that we have built our wall.

The program opened with traditional Irish dancing (soft-shoe) and a reading from James Joyce’s “The Dead.” Yeats was a crowd favorite. One other reader chose Heaney (“Blackberry Picking,”) that comforted me. Old Irish poetry was also read. My old professor did an interactive storytelling, much like what we experienced in Salt Hill.

What makes me sad is that this reading, this celebration of art, was not greatly attended. The University has been doing different series centered around Literature. For instance, the Great Writers, Great Readers series has been a success. But, that series doesn’t allow students to get up and read something that they love. It is a great event, because students have the chance to interact with other writers. It holds a different purpose than these poetry readings though. There is also an event where students read their works, after they have been accepted into the Literary Journal, on campus. Again, this isn’t a highly publicized event.

I’m glad that I went to this reading. It was an hour and a half of appreciating great works of art with other people who also appreciate it. The quote above is attributed to Seamus Heaney, that’s probably why I picked it. But I think that it still holds true. Poetry has never changed the world, but it does change people, and people change the world. Literature is a lens that allows people to better understand society. Hopefully, these little readings will continue to grow.

Great Writers, Great Readers: Belinda McKeon

Every semester, my school has a program called “Great Writers, Great Readers.” Essentially this is a series of readings and discussions for students to attend. This month, the guest author was Belinda McKeon.

As we listened to Belinda read from her second novel, “Tender,” I could not help but think of words like mesmerizing, eloquent, and illuminating. To be honest with you, I hadn’t read Belinda’s work before I went to this reading. My professor, Dr. Murphy was at the forefront of this event, and so I decided to attend. Belinda is from County Longford and now resides in Brooklyn, New York. She said that she doesn’t have any particular attachment to County Longford, but it is quiet and has an understated beauty, which is alluded to in “Solace.” Belinda read from a manuscript, and later answered questions of students. I found the question and answer sessions much more interesting than I had originally anticipated.

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There were questions concerning her first novel, “Solace,” her writing process, personal taste in literature, the Abbey Theater, and teaching. Her answers were genuine, making it enjoyable to ask her real questions. Regarding her writing process, she said it is helpful to be able to take a break, to take a walk. Writing every day is for the best, otherwise you lose momentum. She said that “morning pages” was a helpful practice. It’s essentially free writing, in the morning. Writing makes you a better writer. She said at one point, “it really is just about doing it” (Field Notes). Listening to Belinda speak about writing gave me a greater insight to the writing process as a whole.

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I ended up buying a copy of her first novel, “Solace.” She signed it. I came back from this event feeling refreshed. I tend to forget why I read, why I write, and what my next step should be. I’ve written about it here and here. I came out of this event more conscious of writing as a skill, and more conscious of my professors’ confidence in me.

Also, did you know that literary/creative nonfiction is a thing?

Untouched Ireland

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It’s hard to believe that this is the same country that we have been in for the past month. This trip has flown by! It has been packed to the brim with adventures each and every day. Our past couple of days in Donegal have been incredible; we have visited the Maghera caves and beach, Sliabh Liag and St. John’s point. 

This place is other worldly. The memories I have from these past few days are ones that will never leave me. When else will I wade through water in my jeans to see a sea cave? Not anytime in the immediate future. 

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I’m loving this place. 

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Sliabh Liag are the highest cliffs in Europe, and today we ate ice cream at the top. 

If you’re ever in Ireland take advantage of the gorgeous views, and the ice cream. If you can, multitask, and do them at the same time 🙂

Love and prayers,
Mary

Translations

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Yesterday we left Galway and made our way through Sligo into Donegal. Obadiah was ready to leave, but I’m not sure about the rest of us. In Sligo we were able to visit W.B. Yeats’s grave. Having taken a class on Yeats last semester, I was floating on air as we entered the church yard. 

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We arrived in Glencolmcille late afternoon and then took a stroll around town. GCC, as we like to call it is an area of Donegal that is basically untouched. The road signs here are not in English and Irish but rather only in Irish. This really connected to one of the plays we read, Translations, by Brian Friel. It was a very interesting play and has played a key role in how we, as students, are experiencing this remote area of Donegal.

The scenery is absolutely gorgeous, however it can be hard to take a nice picture from a bumpy cab ride. I stopped in the local church to check for mass times and guess who was there? Our Lady of Perpetual Help. This is the third time I have seen my parish’s image since I have been abroad. Looks like I have someone watching over me 😉

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Last but not least, we had a real hostel experience last night. All the guests sat in the kitchen and took turns playing  music and singing. It was a mix of American, Irish, and Spanish guests. This was not something that I was expecting. Although our spanish wasn’t great, and their english wasn’t great, we were able to get by and enjoy eachothers company. They even played piano man for us Long Islanders. 🙂

Love and prayers,
Mary

This Land Tells a Story

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I’m not really sure how to start this post. This weekend I went up to visit my Dad’s cousins. I took a 6 hour bus ride where I was greeted by my cousin, Mary, and her brother (whom I hadn’t met before). We toured the city that I came into. I saw where many historical events occurred. I had chills. Then we went back to Mary’s house and turned in for the night. The next morning we headed out to the town where my grandfather, Hugh, was born and where he lived until he was 20 years old. We visited: the farm,”Whitehill”; the Church; the school and the top of a hill (pictured above). I still don’t feel like this happened.

In class we have been talking about how the land tells a story, and this is where great literature comes from. This weekend, I can attest that this land does indeed tell a story. My grandfather never made it back “home” but my extended family took me in, and their hospitality was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. It was surreal, but I’ve finally been to this place. I am so glad that this land tells a story.

Love and prayers,
Mhaire Ní Mhaoláin

p.s. I even learned my name in Irish.

A little bit of Galway…

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We visited the Galway City Museum. It featured art as well as bits of history. 

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We had the Irish equivalent to Chipotle… it was delish. 

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We went to the Film Fleadh and saw beautiful brick work. 

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Above: Padraic O Conaire statue from the Galway City Museum and the arts council signage from the film fleadh. 

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And last but not least, a selfie. 

Love and prayers,
Mary

Film Fleadh: The Stranger

Earlier this evening our group was able to participate in the Galway Film Fleadh. To be honest, I thought we were just seeing a movie as a class. However we arrived at the Town Hall Theater and there were a lot of people there. We received our tickets, sat down in the theater and watched as the movie was introduced.

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It was the world premier of a movie called, “The Stranger”. It was directed by Neasa Ní Chianáin. The documentary focused on the life of Neal MacGregor who was an English Artist who moved to Donegal and died alone at the age of 44. The movie was filmed beautifully. It really captured the essence of what I think is Donegal. I’ll let you know for sure when I arrive there tomorrow 😉 Anyway, the film was about an hour and a half long and thoroughly enjoyable. Neal’s brother, Stuart, was also at the premier. He helped to answer some of the questions from the Q&A. We learned that those involved in the film only actually filmed for 10 days, the rest of the work was research on Neal’s life. 

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We learned that the place where Neal lived was remote and there are some who still believe he was a spy. There are some who grew to understand him also. The film spoke to that. Neasa informed us that the film would be shown next weekend to the community that Neal lived in. 

Overall this was a really unique experience for our study abroad group. How many 21 year olds are able to attend an international film festival and see some of the films? Now, I can say I have. 

Love and prayers,
Mary

Dublin for the Day!

Yesterday, July 8, 2014, we embarked on a journey to Dublin for the day. We took the 5:30 am train from Galway to Dublin. Not realizing that a cab ride to the train would take 5 minutes (rather than 20), we left our dorms at 4:45 on the dot. We arrived in Dublin after racing through the countryside at 8am. By 8am we had crossed the entire country. We made our way to city centre, had breakfast and took a bus tour of the city. We used the Hop on Hop off buses, they’re great because they double as mass transit after the first go-around. Some of my favorite parts of the day include: seeing the Book of Kells and the Trinity College Library, seeing James Joyce and Oscar Wilde, The National Art Gallery, and the Guinness Brewery.

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Trinity College Library. I still can’t get over how beautiful this place is. Certainly makes that MLIS seem like a good decision.

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Hanging out with Joyce…

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And Oscar Wilde…

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Found near the Oscar Wilde statue. I love this quote!

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Again, another quote. This time in the National Art Gallery.

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Last but not least, here is one of the many views from the Guinness Brewery’s Gravity Bar. The top floor of the brewery was packed. This is where we were able to get a spot. Way in the distance, you can see the center of town (and the point!). The brewery was a really cool place to visit. It was a little disney-esque, but still very cool. Then we walked back to Heuston Station and took the 6:30pm train back to Galway. We arrived “home” at about 9pm, had some dinner and went to sleep. An exhausting day, but very much worth it to see Dublin.

Love and prayers, Mary