Tuesday, February 21, 2012

(From "Random Reflections") The Season of Lent

Hello dear readers,

I sit at my computer writing this post on the eve of a widely appreciated day known as Fat Tuesday, or Mardis Gras. This day is in turn the eve of another significant day, that of Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of the Lenten season. I'm sure we'll all chow down on our paczki and ice cream and other delightful junk foods, crammin' it all in before Lent. But then the penitential season will begin, and with it, the sacrifices, as well as the blessings.

As I said, Lent is a penitential season - a season in which we make reparation for our sins through self-denial, as well as strive to grow spiritually. It is common to give something up for Lent, especially something that we enjoy. My family traditionally gives up sweets and desserts. I typically give up snacking in between meals in addition. I've known people who have given up pants (wearing skirts all during Lent) or even sleeping in their bed. Other sacrifices could include watching TV or movies, listening to music, or the internet. I'll admit, these sacrifices don't sound like pleasant things to do.

So why do we sacrifice during Lent (or at all)? We may think, "I would die if I gave that up!" But, that is the beautiful and wonderful point of sacrifice. Sacrifice and self-denial mean dying to ourselves and what we want for the sake of others and for the sake of Christ. It means being willing to give up something that we love or enjoy for the love of God. That may not sound like that worthy of a cause to some. But let's put it into another perspective.

When Jesus, God Himself, came down to earth as a man, He was scourged, mocked, crowned with a crown of thorns, and crucified. Why? For us. He underwent extreme torture and died the death of a criminal  all for the sake of every single human being ever to live, to redeem us from our sins. "He was pierced for our trangressions, crushed for our iniquity. He bore the punishment that makes us whole, by his wounds we were healed." (Isaiah 53:5) In other words, he underwent for us the punishment that we as sinners deserve to receive. Did God deserve it? Of course not. But did he do it? Did he sacrifice his very self in so powerful a way for us, even though it should have been us hanging on that cross? Yes. And this was and still is the ultimate sacrifice, the sacrifice of all time.

So if God Himself can sacrifice himself for unworthy sinners as ourselves, why could we not sacrifice a small part of ourselves for someone infinitely worthy as He? If God gave an unfathomably tremendous gift to us through his sacrifice, why could we not give even a small gift of sacrifice back? If God was willing to go to such sacrificial lengths for sins which were not his own, why could we not make even a minor sacrifice for sins which are indeed our own?

This, my readers, is why we sacrifice. To make reparation for our sins; to give a gift back to God for what he the one he gave to us; to sacrifice for the sake of God because he did so for us. And when you think of things as how I wrote above, it really makes giving up junk food for Lent not sound so bad. It may be difficult for us, but that's okay. That is what will make the fruits of our Lenten sacrifices all the more abundant.

But remember - Lent is not only about misery! Well, it isn't about misery to begin with. But, it is also about seeking to deepen our spiritual lives and our relationship with God. It is an especially blessed time where we should make a strong effort to pray more, or go to Mass or confession more, or anything to deepen our prayer life. We should try to do some more reading of Scripture or other spiritual reading. Howsoever we choose to do it, we should seek to grow closer to God and to grow spiritually. Doing this will be what really makes our sacrifices all the more fruitful!

So, dear readers, as we rapidly approach the beginning of Lent, let's try and find areas of our life that could use a little discipline, or a little extra oomph. Let's try to grow in self-denial for the sake of God, and strive to  grow closer to Him through deeper and more frequent prayer. Let's make this Lent an awesome one!

Happy Mardis Gras! Eat up!
~Stephanie

Saturday, February 4, 2012

(From "Random Reflections") My March for Life Experience

Hello my dear and faithful readers!

I wish to sincerely apologize for failing to keep my promise of writing you a new post once a week. I see that my last post is dated January 12th - three weeks ago now. I know, I'm a terrible blogging person. But I've got some time to kill now, and wish to use it to tell you about a fabulous trip I took a couple weekends back.

Two Saturdays ago, on January 21st, I rose at the much-too-early hour of 4:30am, threw some sweats on, and stumbled out the door along with my sister and my dad. We left to meet the rest of my youth group at my church, where a charter bus awaited our group of over 40. Then at 6am that morning, we departed for Washington, D.C. and the 39th annual March for Life!

The bus ride there was - how shall I put it? Picture this: 35 teenagers, supervised by a few adult chaperons, riding on one big bus together for about 12 hours. Long, insane, loud, and crazy would be some appropriate words; I'll let your imagination come up with others. Nonetheless, it was quite a fun bus ride, and many inside jokes and hilarious memories were made. We also had some great prayer time, saying 3 or 4 rosaries, a Divine Mercy Chaplet, and some prayers from the Liturgy of the Hours, as well as getting to listen to some great spiritual direction from our amazing parish priest who accompanied us on our pilgrimage.

With only two or three stops (one being for Mass at the beautiful St. Paul Cathedral in Pittsburgh), we finally arrived in Arlington, a city in Virginia very close to D.C., around dinnertime. Our evening was spent eating some delicious pizza at an Italian restaurant, then settling into the hotel. The next morning, we were off to tour D.C.!

Me in front of the Washington Monument
My small group visited the Lincoln Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the World War II Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. There is much I could write about those places, but I won't bore you with an overload of details. I will say, however, that I loved Washington, D.C.! It's packed with history practically everywhere you turn, and is home to so many famous sites such as the ones I mentioned above. My favorite places we visited were probably the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, of which I took plenty of pictures. I wish we'd had all day to tour the city - but we had bigger and better things to do and places to see!

Our next stop was visiting the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land, not far from the city. It was a beautiful monastery, home to many replicas of places of the Holy Land, as well as stunning altars dedicated in honor of various saints. Then we headed to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in D.C., arriving three hours early for the Vigil Mass for Life. My small group was lucky enough to find a small patch of floor behind a set of pews and on the left side of the altar to reserve as our seats for Mass. After getting to browse around and purchase souvenirs in the gift shop and bookstore, we celebrated Mass in the breathtaking basilica along with over 17,000 other Catholic Marchers from across the country. It was such an incredible Mass!
Inside the Basilica
The next morning we got up at 5am to go to the Youth Rally and Mass for Life at the D.C. Armory. We arrived around 6:30am, got breakfast, then had opportunities to go to confession, pray the rosary, hear a couple talks, sing, and suffer hearing loss from the live music. Then we celebrated Mass, in connection with the other pro-life teens doing the same at the Verizon Center. It too was an incredible Mass! Afterward, we hopped onto the Metro and headed to the March itself, which began at 1:30pm.

To give you a small idea of the amount of people there...
And so we marched! Our group was, I believe, more toward the front of the sea of pro-lifers, but there were still people - thousands of them - as far as the eye could see, both in front of us and behind us. We were blessed with fairly decent weather, with tolerable temperatures (i.e., with a couple layers, a winter coat, and a hat and gloves you were perfectly fine), and, though there was some rain, it was never any more than a sprinkling. We held up pro-life signs as we walked, as well as our youth group banner.

At the conclusion of the March, we headed for the bus and began our journey home. We left about dinnertime and drove through the night. This bus ride too was a little on the crazy side, with plenty of singing and shouts of random things to go around, but after a while it became much more subdued. Around 1:30am, we all turned out our lights and stopped talking, and I, pretty well whooped, promptly zonked out. We got back to our church around 4:30am or so, and I got back to my house not long thereafter. I crawled into my bed at 5:20am, zonked out again, then slept long and hard till 12:30pm.

Our banner with the Capitol Building in the background
My first March for Life was definitely an unforgettable one. Going to Washington D.C. for the first time was great, and all the places we saw were amazing. Mass at both the Basilica and at the Youth Rally were incredible, because we were there among thousands upon thousands of other Catholics from across the country, all united by a common purpose and reason for being there - to stand up for life. That in and of itself was such an awesome and powerful feeling. Our trip was also a wonderful and prayerful time - we got to grow in new friendships as well as strengthen old ones, we got to pray practically all the time (I mean, daily Mass and multiple rosaries in a day - how much better can it get?!), and we got to create some terrific memories. And the best part of the whole trip? Being a voice for the voiceless and defending the sanctity of life. By far :)

Have a lovely weekend, dear readers, and I promise to get back to my weekly blogging routine! Until next time!
~Stephanie

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