On being a cheerful servant

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Student: If you could be any food, what food would you be?

Me: Hmm. I’m going to cheat with this one: I would be a cup of coffee.

Student: Why would you be a cup of coffee?

Me: Because it’s warm, inviting, it’s like a hug in a cup, and it wakes you up in the morning.

Student: I like that answer!

From the time that I was in High School, I have had trouble getting out of bed in the morning. So much so, that during my sophomore, junior, and senior years of high school I would arise ten minutes before I had to leave the house. My alarm would go off at 6:15am, I would then repeatedly hit snooze for a half hour, and finally arise at 6:45am. My Mom and I would then leave the house between 6:55 and 7:00am. I was a master at getting ready within ten minutes. I had the routine down to a science. My bags would be packed with my breakfast, lunch, and water bottle (at this time I hadn’t discovered the sweetness that is a cup of coffee). I would roll out of bed, brush my hair, use the bathroom, brush my teeth, and finally change. This became my routine each and every morning.

As I transitioned into college, this struggle became even more real since I had to do so on my own and drive 30-45 minutes to my college campus every morning. It was during this time that I discovered the wonderful perks of caffeinated beverages. I had a Dunkin Donuts gift card from my summer job and decided to use it each morning during my commute. This struggle of trying to wake up at a decent time has continued to be a struggle through my college and post-college career.

As I began my year of service with Capuchin Youth & Family Ministries, I knew that one of my greatest challenges of the year would be getting up and ready for the day before the students on the retreat. This proved to be especially difficult being that our retreats typically don’t wind down until about 11:30pm. This means that most of the retreatants don’t settle down until after midnight, sometimes much later. Being the “adult” it is my job to make sure that everyone is safe, in their beds, and attempting to sleep. I repeatedly tell them, “You know that I love you all, but do you know what I love even more? Sleeping.”

These odd work hours have become one of the greatest struggles of my Cap Corps year as well as one of my greatest joys. It is definitely the most difficult part of my job this past year. We constantly rearrange our sleep schedule based on different retreat programs. This is physically demanding, and lying in bed until the last possible minute doesn’t work in this field. One of the ways that I know helps me each day is waking up before the retreatants and being ready to wake them up. One of the struggles of this is doing it with a smile.

I realized early on in the year that this would be a challenge for me. In October of 2015, CYFM put on a Lock-In because of an unexpected open weekend. As bright-eyed, baby CCVs, we were so excited to put on a program that we were able to plan from scratch. However, with an overnight program filled with activities came little to no sleep. I believe I slept for a total of three hours during that retreat. The morning came, and myself along with four other volunteers and two friars had to be bright eyed, smiling servants.

As we prepared breakfast, and as the cherubs slowly rose and made their way down to the dining hall, I was actually cheery. To be honest, I still don’t know how this miracle occurred, being that I was actually exhausted. Fr. Tomas, being his normal, joyful self commented on my cheeriness and appearance of alertness. However, holding my warm cup of coffee in my hands, the only answer that I could come up with for him was that I was “faking it”.

This idea, for me, goes back to my time training to be a peer leader when I was in High School. I was a part of a ministry team that would be running the icebreakers, liturgy, and behind the scenes tasks at a youth conference in upstate New York (everything north of Westchester is upstate to a Long Islander, don’t yell at me!). The week involved Discipleship training, as well as practicing skits, games, etc. On our final day of the youth conference we were all exhausted. We rose at 6am to begin preparation for the final day of Ministry, and my youth minister was particularly cheery, as the rest of us were, well not.

I remember looking at him, with tired eyes, and asking, “Tom, how are you so awake right now?!” His response was simple, and it stuck with me (and stayed with me throughout my year of service).

“I’m not,” he replied “I’m faking it,” and he still had a smile on his face.

This idea stuck with me, not because it made my youth minister inauthentic, or made the job of ministry seem easy. This idea stuck with me because it made me realize that my youth minister was a real person, who genuinely cared about our well-being, and our souls. And although we were all exhausted, we were still there to serve, and we were there to be cheerful servants, not grumbly servants.

“Do everything without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine like lights in the world, as you hold on to the word of life, so that my boast for the day of Christ may be that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. But, even if I am poured out as a libation upon the sacrificial service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with all of you. In the same way you also should rejoice and share your joy with me.” Philippians 2: 14-18

And so, that morning in October, I was reminded of that encounter and the lesson that it taught me way back when.

Whether or not I kept this lesson in mind during later retreats is a different story. However I was reminded of this lesson towards the end of the year at one of the CAM orientation days. We were playing a question game, and one question that I was asked went like this:

Student: If you could be any food, what food would you be?

I thought for a minute and couldn’t think of a food. But, for some reason at that moment, I was reminded of one of my struggles this year: getting up on time, and doing it with a smile. And so, I cheated.

Me: Hmm. I’m going to cheat with this one: I would be a cup of coffee.

When I was asked why, I responded honestly, hoping that these attributes were part of my year. I hope that I was warm, and inviting to each retreatant, and to my fellow leaders. And I hope that I was able to wake everyone up in the morning.

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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

A little more than a week to go.

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A week from this upcoming Sunday, I move. And it’s strange, because I’ve been anticipating this since May. And now, it’s almost here. For those of you who don’t know, I start my year as a missionary with Capuchin Youth and Family Ministries on August 23rd.

In addition to realizing that this is actually happening, I’ve realized that I kind of, sort of, stopped writing once I graduated. And, yes, I probably needed a break. But I don’t ever want to fall out of practice, or forget the love for writing that grew over my four years at Hofstra. So, today, while I was picking out which books I’m going to bring to CYFM, i came across some old favorites..

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Along with a few gifts that I haven’t read yet, my journals, and books I thought would be useful in mission work, books on writing, revising, editing, Poetry, and Geoffrey Chaucer made their way into my box. After all, what High Schooler isn’t going to be enthralled with poems by Chaucer in their original text?!
(please note my sarcasm) (not pictured: “The Elements of Style,” “Station Island,” and “The Wasteland”)

In all seriousness, I hope that God helps me to rediscover my love for these things over the next year, especially writing. I never want to lose that excitement that I had sophomore and junior year of college. I hope that he uses that love to reach the people we’ll be serving. There was a time, not too long ago, that writing was how He was going to use me. I assumed, I was wrong. Life is funny.

Either way, here I am, hoping that this year will help me to better see how He wants to use me and my gifts. *One Week*

With Love,
Mary

Fall in Love, Stay in Love

Fall in Love, Stay in Love, and it will decide everything.

This quote, taken from a poem (prayer?) by Pedro Arrupe, was given out to each graduate from Catholic Life at Hofstra. I think it sums up perfectly what it means to be a Catholic today. It can be so hard to live this type of life in this type of world. And yet, I find myself giving up a year of my life to serve Him. I find myself living for Him in the Eucharist, and I find myself wanting others to know him too. I want others to fall in love with Him more and more each day. That’s where this poem comes into play. It’s so true, that if you fall in love with him, if you truly fall in love with him, it will decide everything in your life.

Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.

What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination,
will affect everything.

It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read,
whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.

Fall in Love,
stay in love,
and it will decide everything.

Yesterday, I got home from work to find a hefty piece of mail in the mailbox. It was addressed to me, and it contained two books to prepare me for my upcoming year of ministry. The first is Engaging a New Generation and the second is Forming Intentional DisciplesAnd so, I went through my bookshelf, took the two books I had planned on reading this summer, and lined the four books on top of one another. And then, like any other millennial, I took a picture and posted it on Instagram. Using an app to size the picture, I found this lovely background of pink roses. Thank you St. Therese, patron of Missionaries. 
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Luckily, I had a catch up date with my good friend Brittany. She has a few priest friends, so adoration was included. I’ve been thinking and praying about the true presence a lot lately. Come August, I’ll have a chapel in my house *cue happy jump and squeal*

Definitely feeling grateful for the Eucharist.

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I know that my campus minister and chaplain knew how fitting that prayer was when they decided to give it out at Baccalaureate Mass, but I didn’t. And it’s only as I continue to look at it, hanging in my room, that I see just how lovely and beautiful it is.

Life Lately

Life lately has been pretty crazy. School has been busy. Church has been busy. Lent has been busy. BUT NOW we’re in the most sacred days of Church, The Triduum. Today is Holy Thursday, and I’m excited to go to mass tonight. It’s also the last day of school before spring break. Finally. This semester has been so long, and break is finally here, so i’m pretty excited.

This past sunday when I came home from retreat, I saw that my piece in America Magazine has finally been published! If you have some time, please take a couple of minutes to read my piece. It’s called In His Time
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In other news, I’m going on a Mission Trip on Saturday. That means I’ll be spending Easter with my wonderful Newman family. I’m very, very excited. We’ll be traveling to Martin County, Kentucky to serve the people there. It’s my second year doing service work with Christian Appalachian Project. I’ll write about it a little more when i get back. For now, I would love if you would keep us in your prayers.

Have an AWESOME Holy Week and EASTER !

-Mary