Friday, December 31, 2010

Here's to 2011!

I heard this song on the radio yesterday and thought it was a great anthem to take us into the new year. Although this video is admittedly a little cheesy, I love the song and wanted to share it with all of you.

For many of us although a new year is full of hope and promises, it is sometimes hard to reach beyond discouragement and truly live in hope and perseverance of your dreams.

To all of my friends and family who have endured challenges, hardships, discouragement, and disappointment this year, this is for you. Your strength and perseverance is truly an inspiration to me. Keep on keeping on.

In 2011, continue to "do it anyway", and you may just see mountains move, and veils lifted before your very eyes.

12 days of Christmas 7

A Hymn on the Nativity of My Savior

by Ben Jonson

I sing the birth was born tonight,
The Author both of life and light;
The angels so did sound it,
And like the ravished shepherds said,
Who saw the light, and were afraid,
Yet searched, and true they found it.

The Son of God, the eternal King,
That did us all salvation bring,
And freed the soul from danger;
He whom the whole world could not take,
The Word, which heaven and earth did make,
Was now laid in a manger.

The Father's wisdom willed it so,
The Son's obedience knew no "No,"
Both wills were in one stature;
And as that wisdom had decreed,
The Word was now made Flesh indeed,
And took on Him our nature.

What comfort by Him do we win?
Who made Himself the Prince of sin,
To make us heirs of glory?
To see this Babe, all innocence,
A Martyr born in our defense,
Can man forget this story?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Celebrating the Single Life -- a book by Susan Annette Muto

I am currently reading a fabulous, captivating book. It's called "Celebrating the Single Life" by Susan Annette Muto. I picked it up at the library where I work, because the title piqued my interest immediately. I am always looking for inspirational reads to shed light on this state of life in which I find myself, hoping to gain new insight from others who have walked this road and strength for the journey.

In Muto's book, I have not only found insight and strength, but also a new found and genuine joy.

While the dated cover of this book (it was written in 1985) made me skeptical of it's relevance, I have been so pleasantly surprised at the depth of wisdom that Muto imparts. When I actually finish the book, I want to write a book review on IOG, but for now I want to share some of my favorite quotes as I read them.

I can honestly say that this is one of the most refreshing items that I have read on the topic of Catholic/Christian single life. Why? Because most things that I had read focus on helping the reader to cope with being single; most authors and speakers on this topic treat singleness as a transitory phase to be remedied as quickly as possibly, even if they do not explicitly state this. Granted, singleness is a transitory phase for most people, but there are a small few who God calls to the single life for a lifetime. Whether or not one wants to be single, there are beautiful callings unique within the life of a single person which deserve to be acknowledged and celebrated.

What Muto does in this book is describe what it means to live the single vocation not as simply a deprivation of some other good (such as marriage or family), but as it's own beautifully dignified state of life. Some of her insights on the special duties, responsibilities, gifts, and characteristics of the life of a single person are aspects that I had never even thought of before. However, as I read each chapter, it's like I am internally nodding my head, thinking "That makes so much sense! Of course that is one of the unique gifts of the single person!"

For example,

"This option to live in tune with reality in a more reflective way has to be chosen at some point by single persons. They simply have more time to confront life's limit's and possibilities than does the person who is committed to family or institutional life. This confrontation with reality happens in common ways. For instance, because there is no one face to whom the single person is bound by marriage, he or she may perceive more sharply the faces of other people. I walk along a busy street or sit observing travelers in a station, aware of the emotional scars on their lines faces. Life's limits are written there for one who takes the time to read them. So too are life's small, fleeting joys as revealed in moments of reunion. "
Stay tuned for more!
Maria's sidenote: Just a little disclaimer...although it seems as though Muto is solidly Catholic overall, at some points in her book she seems to be a little more liberal leaning. Just thought I should mention that -- I would still recommend that all Catholic singles check out this book for its pearls of wisdom.

12 days of Christmas 6

Adoration of the Shepherds, Gerard van Honhorst (1622)

The Oxen

by Thomas Hardy

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
"Now they are all on their knees,"
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
"Come; see the oxen kneel

"In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,"
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

12 days of Christmas poems...days 3, 4, and 5

Nativity by Gerard David, Vienna (ca. 1495)

Day 3

Christmas Poem

by G.K.Chesterton

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.

Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost---how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky's dome.

This world is wild as an old wife's tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall all men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

Day 4 The Holy Night
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

We sate among the stalls at Bethlehem;
The dumb kine from their fodder turning them,
Softened their horned faces
To almost human gazes
Toward the newly Born:
The simple shepherds from the star-lit brooks
Brought their visionary looks,
As yet in their astonied hearing rung
The strange sweet angel-tonge:
The magi of the East, in sandals worn,
Knelt reverent, sweeping round,
With long pale beards, their gifts upon the ground,
The incense, myrrh, and gold
These baby hands were impotent to hold:
So let all earthlies and celestials wait
Upon thy royal state.
Sleep, sleep, my kingly One!


Day 5

Moonless darkness stands between

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Moonless darkness stands between.
Past, the Past, no more be seen!
But the Bethlehem-star may lead me
To the sight of Him Who freed me
From the self that I have been.
Make me pure, Lord: Thou art holy;
Make me meek, Lord: Thou wert lowly;
Now beginning, and alway:
Now begin, on Christmas day.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

12 days of Christmas poems -- Day 2

Christmas (II)
by George Herbert

The shepherds sing ; and shall I silent be?
My God, no hymne for thee?
My soul ’s a shepherd too : a flock it feeds
Of thoughts, and words, and deeds.
The pasture is thy word ; the streams, thy grace
Enriching all the place.
Shepherd and flock shall sing, and all my powers
Out-sing the day-light houres.
Then we will chide the sunne for letting night
Take up his place and right :

We sing one common Lord ; wherefore he should
Himself the candle hold.

I will go searching, till I finde a sunne
Shall stay, till we have done ;
A willing shiner, that shall shine as gladly,
As frost-nipt sunnes look sadly.
Then we will sing, and shine all our own day,
And one another pay :
His beams shall cheer my breast, and both so twine,
Till ev’n his beams sing, and my musick shine.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given

Adoration of the Shepherds by Anton Raphael Mengs

A Christmas Poem

by Catherine Doherty

You who are



not finding.



your search

from all men.


Into the silence

Of this


so tender.

Surrender to it.

You who are



Not finding,

Come to the



A Child

For all

To see,

Yet shrouded

In the


Of mystery.

You who are



Not finding,

Fall on

Your knees!

You search

Is ended.

The night

So tender.

The crib

So simple

With the

Child in it

Is what you seek.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Flying home on a jet plane

flickr/by bcmom

I don't fly much. I can virtually count on one hand the round trip plane trips that I have taken in my life. I am actually rather scared of flying. But since I am now living 10 hours from my family, flying is something that I will be doing much more of.

I have discovered though, that after the shock of takeoff and the plane is coasting smoothly in the sky, I begin to suppress my anxieties and enjoy the experience. In many ways, flying is truly exhilarating. I remember a few months ago when I flew down to Nashville for my interview thinking about how one feels so alive when they are flying in an airplane, high above the clouds.
Yesterday I flew home to Pittsburgh from Nashville for Christmas. Once again, as the plane began gliding through the sky and I looked down at the sprawling landscapes and twinkling lights dotting the scene below, I experienced a similar sense of wonder.

In a way that is entirely unique to the thoughtful atmosphere that a solitary road trip provides, taking an airplane ride always seems to provoke a singular sense of reflection and introspection for me.

Last night I think I put my finger on why. Flying high above the houses and hills, trees and clouds, being able to see the earth beneath you for miles and miles gives you a superhuman perspective. Both literally and figuratively.

This is not a perspective that, unless you are a pilot or stewardess, you see on a daily basis. It is a perspective that evokes a sense of wonder and awe. In a mysterious way, it helps you to gain a more vivid sense of your place in the world. Seeing the expansive earth below me made me think about what a small part it is that I have in this universe; yet I have a totally singular part in this universe. Even more amazing, is the realization that amidst all of this vast and orchestrated creation, we were created by God to fulfill a specific role and to answer a specific call. It's marvelous.

In the midst of the metaphysical thoughts that looking out of your airplane window evokes, it also beckons one to put all of your current worries, problems, plans, and experiences in a larger perspective. In the perspective of the Eternal Creator.

Of course, it also makes you think of the heavens, feel closer to the heavens, and meditate on what heaven is like.

I think that also, it fills you with a sense of gratitude. About a half an hour before we landed in Pittsburgh, I reveled in the night scene outside my window. The billowy clouds beneath the plane looked like we were traveling above fluffy cotton candy. The sky above the clouds was hazy, and then turned into a light blue, which turned into a darker blue, leading the eye to gaze at the clear stars and the bright almost-full moon.

It looked like a scene from a storybook. But we were traveling in it. It was magnificant.

"The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor." ~ 1 Corinthians 15:41

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Winter Solstice

“The light shines in the darkness of our lives, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

On today, the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year
and the longest night of the year,
we wait in joyful hope of our Savior.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Emmanuel: Why Christmas is a big deal for single people

On my last blog, Contemplative in the City, I wrote at length about the cross that is present in the lives of single young adults: the cross of loneliness.

Whether you are searching for a spouse, still discerning your vocation, or just plain not sure what direction you are headed, the experience of loneliness is a daily reality for us singles. The challenge is to figure out how the Lord wants to bring fruit out of your solitude; and bring peace in and through this cross.

A week or two ago when I was driving home from work and thinking about the Advent season, I suddenly had a very convicting realization.

Emmanuel means God is with us. He came down from heaven to be one of us. To live amongst us and to love us. His identity as Emmanuel didn't end with the Ascension. He said to His apostles as He says to us, "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:20).

If we really, truly, believe this, our lives could be radically transformed. We are not alone. He has come to love us with the only love that will truly fulfill us. He wants to walk beside us, to come into our hearts and to live in union with Him.

Certainly, as human persons who are communal beings, we will always desire the friendship and love of other human persons. This is a good and holy desire. But these seasons, or in some peoples' cases, lifetimes of loneliness allow us to recognize that greater hunger more clearer; beckoning us to draw ever closer to the Lover of our souls.

If we take this to heart, that Emmanuel is coming, and truly internalize it, we will see that this Good News indeed.

He comes to each of us, the only answer to our fundamental loneliness. As singles, we have the opportunity to sense this ever more acutely.

So in this last week of Advent when we say "O come, O come Emmanuel", think about what Emmanuel really means, and how the Good News of Christmas has the power to transform your life. Come to the manger with your big dreams, your dashed hopes, your daily trials, your echoing heart.

Let us prepare Him room.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wintry scenes

Monet's winter magpie

The South and it's writers

I am reading Flannery O'Connor's "Mystery and Manners" right now, and very much enjoying it. I am finding her reflections especially relevant because she talks a lot about Southern culture and it's people, and the Southern writer.

And so, a quote for tonight:

"The best American fiction has always been regional. The ascendancy passed roughly from New England to the Midwest to the South; it has passed and stayed the longest wherever their has been a shared past, a sense of alikeness, and the possibility of reading a small history in a universal light.

In these things the South still has a degree of advantage. It is a slight degree and getting slighter, but it is a degree of kind as well of intensity, and it is enough to feed great literature if our people - whether they are newcomers or have roots here - are enough aware of it to foster its growth in themselves.

Every serious writer will put his finger on it at a slightly different spot but in the same region of sensitivity.

...The writer operates at a particular crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet. His problem is to find that location."

~ Flannery O'Connor, Mystery and Manners

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tennessee blizzards and moving adventures

Somehow I always manage to move on some of the most extreme weather days of the year. When I moved twice in DC, it was in the 90s, with scorching heat and humidity.

This past weekend my brother brought a UHaul truck of my furniture from DC to move into my new duplex. We were planning on moving everything on Monday morning, and used Saturday evening and Sunday to sightsee a bit around the city.

The temperature plummeted on Saturday evening, and by Sunday there were flurries in the sky. With temperatures in the low 20s, and a cold stinging wind, I we opted to drive around to see some of the highlights of Nashville, like Centennial Park and Vanderbilt campus instead of getting out to see them and walking around.

By Sunday afternoon the snow was beginning to come down more heavily, and we decided to turn back to my friend's apartment where we were staying earlier than anticipated. It was a good thing we did because the roads got really bad, really quickly. Because Tennessee isn't prepared to handle snow but once in a blue moon, they don't know how to salt the roads, send out plows, etc. This equals havoc.

It was crazy because along the road leading to the apartment complex where we were staying, there were abandoned cars all over the place. People couldn't get up the hills so they just left their cars on the side of the road. One news channel reported 65 abandoned cars along the highway, along the apartment complex drive, and in a gas station parking lot all in a few mile stretch.

The high on Monday was only 19 degrees. Brrr! I didn't think it was supposed to get this cold in Tennessee. Ever. But it probably was only 15 degrees when we set out with the moving truck on Monday morning. The roads were still slick and snowy in some parts, but trudging along slowly we were thankfully able to make it safely to my new apartment, about 20 minutes away.

The most dramatic event of the moving process, however, was that the padlock on the UHaul truck had gotten frozen shut. The key just would not go in. My brother, some friends and I all tried to get it opened with no avail. The door to open the truck was also seemingly frozen shut.

Thankfully I have an industrious landlord, who has a sister that also lives in the neighborhood. He went and got a hairdryer from his sister down the street. He also got an extension cord (which he later told us he had to unplug from his sister's Christmas decorations) so we could plug it in inside. Although it was freezing outside, it was kind of an amusing sight to see three guys pointing a hairdryer at the back of a UHaul truck.

It did the trick though, and in no time the lock was unlocked and the truck door was open. What a relief!

With the helping hands of some friends, unloading the truck did not take long at all.

I am so grateful for all those who were able to help me with this move; it's exciting to have furniture and my things in my new abode.

Now comes the unpacking, the organizing, and best of all, the decorating!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Christmas at Opryland

Last night my friend and I went to see the Christmas decorations at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel. Wow! That hotel is ENORMOUS! Apparently it is the biggest hotel outside of Las Vegas. There are three huge lobbies inside, complete with gardens, waterfalls, streams, and even boat rides. Pretty incredible. Here are some photos of the holiday decor. My favorite was the Christmas tree made out of poinsettias.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Holy women for Advent

Saint Clare of Assisi

I just found this awesome article on Faith and Family magazine which highlights Pope Benedict's recent talks on the women saints on the medieval church. Though I have yet to read the Pope's original Audiences, I found these snippets enlightening and inspiring.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Mary, our Model

Happy Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception!

I have been reflecting a lot today on Our Lady's virtues and how she can shed some light on my current challenges and struggles, especially with moving and transitioning.

I had a rough morning today. I was homesick, discouraged, and grumpy. There are so many things one must do amidst a move to a new state...address changing, opening new bank accounts, figuring out the best way to move my furniture, figuring out how I am going to afford the new things I need to furnish a house, etc., etc.,

I really got caught up in this frustration today, thinking to myself "Gee...maybe I shouldn't have even moved. It's just too much trouble!"

Suddenly, the phrase popped into my head: "Give without counting the cost."

Albrecht Durer (1471-1528)

I realized that I have given to God my future and my comfort zone in taking this leap of faith and moving to Tennessee. But, I have gotten very caught up in counting the cost. Sometimes, I am just going through the normal emotions that anyone would feel, missing old friends and family, giving up the old and embracing the new. But I have also been counting the cost begrudgingly at times too.

It dawned on me that Our Lady not only surrendered her will to God's will in perfect faith. But she truly gave without counting the cost.

Although Our Lady probably did wonder when the angel appeared to her at the Annunciation what sacrifices God's plan would require, she surrendered her will completely to the Lord. I don't think that during her pregnancy, or the 33 years of Christ's life that she was resentful of what God was asking her to give. Instead, she gave freely, and to the utmost when she was asked to stand and watch her only Son suffer and die on the cross.

At Mass today, the priest in his homily talked about how theologians have said that the Blessed Mother had to have been without sin, because there was no room for sin in her. She was so filled with God's grace that there was no space for sin. I thought that was a really neat way to understand the Immaculate Conception.

With each letting go, each giving, may more of God's grace fill us, so that soon there is only space enough for grace; so that there is no room for selfishness or fear.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Gingerbread house of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

Chef Froke with his gingerbread creation. Credit Monique Marie DeJong

I used to go to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for daily Mass when I lived in Washington DC, so it is not only a gorgeous church but also close to my heart.

When a friend showed me the pictures of this holiday concoction I was amazed.

Pretty sweet. (Pun intended)

Check out the article and more photos here!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Words for today

flickr/by yellowcloud

"We are part of this world, tied to the possibilities
and limits of our material condition,
at the same time we are open to an infinite horizon,
able to converse with God and to welcome Him in us.
We operate in earthly realities and through them we can perceive the presence of God and seek Him, truth, goodness and absolute beauty.

We savour fragments of life and happiness and we long for total fulfillment."

~ Pope Benedict XVI (2010 Homily for Unborn Life)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Adventures of house/apartment hunting

There are moments in your young adult life which make you ask suddenly, "Hey, when did I become a grown-up?" Looking for an apartment all by myself has been one of those moments. I know that I am 25, and that shouldn't come as a big surprise for me, but up until this point housing has just fallen into place; I have moved to previous houses because I wanted to live with other Catholic young women, or live with friends I already knew. There was no need to shop around to look at apartments or houses for their structure, location, etc.

But there is a first time for everything, and so for the past two weeks I have been apartment hunting here in Nashville. There have been lots of elements to consider, such as "How far to I want to commute each day?" "Would I rather live in a quiet apartment complex out in the suburbs where you can see the pretty hillsides? Or a neighborhood closer to the city where I could walk each day?" "Or an apartment closer to the universities?" "Could I stand to not have a washer and dryer in my house?" "Do I want to have a porch?" "Do I want to have a yard?" "Do I want something that is new and updated but monotonous, or something older with more character?" Of course, the main criteria being "How much can I afford?"

I looked at several different apartment complexes in a suburb outside of Nashville which were fine, but much too impersonal for my liking. My next option was to look at apartments that were part of larger houses (like a floor of a house or a duplex) that were in neighborhoods closer to where I work. All of these places that I looked definitely had character, but some of them were rather run down and old though.

I have to admit that the whole process of looking at houses and apartments, though stressful at times because of the time and money crunch, was kind of fun. It was a novelty since shopping for an apartment because it was something I hadn't done before. It made me think of watching HGTV shows like "Househunters"...except I was living my own episode. I even had some comical moments along the way, like when the one woman at an apartment complex forgot that they had shut the electricity off in the model apartment and couldn't figure out how to get it back on. She asked if I could still see the place (in the dark), and then after frantically looking around for the breaker box, opened the refrigerator so that the light from the refrigerator would light up the place, "There. Can you see it now?" It was amusing, because besides the layout of the apartment, I really couldn't see anything at all.

It was fun to imagine how the various places could be decorated, updated, and made into a home.

Thankfully, a few days ago I found a place that seems to be a really good fit. It's a duplex in a neighborhood very close to where I work. The neighborhood is really beautiful, with lovely architecture and landscaping; a great place for walking and jogging. I can actually walk to work, which will be really nice, and I will only be a few miles from downtown Nashville, so I can take advantage of all the cultural activities of the city. It has two bedrooms, so if I find a roommate over the next few months, I will be able to share the place, and the price of rent. It has a living room and dining room, with nice hardwood floors; the kitchen has a lot of character, with whitewashed cabinets and a scalloped accents over the kitchen window. It also has a nice little backyard, where I am hoping I can grow some plants in the spring and also use for entertaining.

I am already thinking about the ways I want to decorate, and how I can find inexpensive antique furniture to decorate my abode.

Move in will be next Sunday and Monday. And so continues the settling in!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Grande coffee, with a shot of chipperness

Anyone who I have ever lived with, be it my family or roommates, can tell you that I am not a morning person. If you can get a softspoken "good morning" out of me as I stumble to get some cereal out of the cupboard, we're doing great. It just takes me a while to wake up. Greet me again at noon and I will likely have a much more enthusiastic "hello" and even a smile.

One thing that I have learned very quickly in Nashville is that a barista encounter in Nashville is 360 degrees different than a barista encounter in Washington D.C. In Washington D.C., everyone in the coffee line was on a mission to get somewhere, with the "importance" of their clicking heels and shiny briefcases to excuse for their hurried and mumbled greetings. The baristas, in turn, were just trying to take orders as quickly as they could to get the lines moving. Forget "good morning" and heaven forbid "how are you?"; there was no time for small talk.

Call me antisocial, but I was pretty okay with this type of encounter at 8am. It was 8am, and I was ordering my coffee, not drinking it yet. For goodness sake, one time I ordered an "Iced soy latte, extra hot please." This goes to show you my capabilities of conversation that early.

Here is Nashville, the Starbucks experience couldn't be more different. The stereotypes about people moving slower in the South are on a whole, absolutely true. And the rumors that they are kind, hospitable, and friendly is absolutely true too. For this I am so grateful. The friendliness of Nashvillians have brought me so much joy, encouragement, and support over the past few weeks.

Except in the mornings when I am getting my coffee. The people ordering in front of me are having long chatty conversations with the cashier that last about 5 minutes. Apparently one must account for this sort of thing when getting coffee before work, because unlike in DC, you can't just pop in and grab a coffee quickly.

Then when you reach the register, the cashier is incredibly chipper as she/he takes your order. When you are waiting for your drink to be made, as you are yawning and waiting for the caffeine you need to help you wake up, the barista decides that this is a good time to start making small talk. "So how are you today?" They ask as they make your drink. "Um, good." You say, grumbling in your head "would be better if you would just leave me in peace. humph." And then with their cheerful, peppy voice they respond "Oh, that's good." Then you guiltily feel like you should make conversation back, but just in time they call your name, "Maria, Soy Latte!"

Relief. You manage a smile, and a courteous thank you. Then rush out the door to sip your coffee in solitude.

At least that's what I thought this week during my trips to Starbucks. The Nashville customer service ethic is so much more gracious than the customer service I have received in many other places. For this, I am very grateful. I guess that mustering up enough early morning chipperness to respond to their heartfelt greetings is just one more way that I am being stretched here.