One Hour

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When I was a girl, my family regularly attended church three times a week. Here was the schedule: Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. For my childhood and into young adulthood, this was the rhythm of my life. My weeks were punctuated with prayer services and youth group.

Though it was worthy and notable to attend worship as much as possible, I didn’t always see it as such. Sunday night prayer service interrupted my peaceful Sunday afternoons. I’d have to wake up from a nap, put on my church clothes (again!), and return to church to sit for an hour. I didn’t have much regard for Wednesday nights, either. For years, my parents led our small youth group, and I enjoyed the time spent with my friends. Other than that, I could have cared less to go to church on a Wednesday night. Even though my mother explained Wednesday night prayer service as the mid-week fuel in our spiritual gas tanks, she hadn’t convinced me. For me, church on anything but Sunday morning was a nuisance.

I tell you that story to tell you this story: One Hour of Eucharistic Adoration.

Catholic teaching affirms that Jesus is “literally and wholly present- body, blood, soul, and divinity – under the appearance of bread and wine” (1 Cor. 10:16–17, 11:23–29; John 6:32–71, Catholic Answers). Catholics call this “The Real Presence.” When a Catholic attends Eucharist Adoration, she understands that she kneels and prays before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. As you can imagine, to spend time with the Lord is truly a gift.

I consider myself so very blessed to attend a parish that has one of the few perpetual adoration chapels in our rural diocese. At any time of the day or night, I can access the chapel, and sit before the Lord with my thoughts and prayers. In addition to chapel access, my parish also has formal adoration hours with a benediction on Wednesdays. The typical time that one spends in Eucharistic Adoration is one hour, though it can be more or less. However, I will argue below that an hour is an ideal amount of time to spend before the Sacrament.

In the Gospel of Matthew (chapter 26), Jesus is depicted suffering with agony in the Garden of Gethsemane before His betrayal and crucifixion. He asks his disciples to sit and watch while He prays alone. After praying, Jesus returns to His friends, only to find them sleeping.

He asks Peter:

“So you could not keep watch with Me for one hour? Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (26: 40-41, NAB)

Ouch.

How often are we like Peter? How often do we shirk our responsibilities to the Lord? It’s easy on Wednesdays, when I’ve had a terrible week, to go into my house and not leave again until work the next morning. But, ultimately, what would be better for me? Hiding and “sleeping,” or keeping watch for one hour with the Lord in the chapel? Our spirits are willing and excited about spiritual growth, but when the rubber hits the road, often it’s much easier to break down and remain stagnant. And believe me, those weeks I don’t attend Adoration, I see the effects of it.

If you’re a Catholic, and you haven’t been to adoration before, consider visiting your local parish or nearest adoration chapel. If you’re a Catholic who hasn’t been in a while, today is the perfect day to visit the Lord and to revamp your devotion. Finally, another beautiful gift of adoration is that you don’t even have to be Catholic to participate. The Lord may truly surprise you in ways you can’t imagine.

So, do you have one hour?

 

A Very Good Body: Romans 12 and Weight Loss

I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.

Romans 12:1

Since this summer, I have dropped a significant amount of weight with the assistance of bariatric surgery. The decision to undergo a major, body-altering operation came after years of frustration: multiple stints at Weight Watchers, a round with inner ear staple acupuncture, visiting nutritionists, flip-flopping between gyms, and simply abstaining from food for a set period of time.  I was tired, and I knew something had to be done. I couldn’t climb the steps at my office without losing my breath. My body and my mind couldn’t take it anymore.

From my surgery date, I’ve dropped nearly 60 pounds. I’m at my lowest weight in nearly 15 years. In 40 more pounds, I’ll be at my ideal weight for my height. This is very, very good news for my mental and physical health.

In today’s second reading in the Mass, we read a small part of Paul’s letter to the Romans. As seen in the quote above, Paul exhorts the Romans to offer their bodies as “living sacrifices” to God. This also ties into today’s Gospel reading where Jesus tells his disciples that in order to follow Him, they must die to themselves first. However, in our culture, sacrifices and giving up anything is a foreign concept. Our culture promotes self-preservation and the promise of unlimited happiness if you buy enough of the right products.

Sacrifice is not a cultural value. Yet, over and over again we hear Jesus, and later Paul, admonish readers to die to self and to transform their minds and physical bodies for the sake of holy living. Upon hearing these parts of Holy Scripture, I ponder how the Physiotherapy, Weight Training, Dumbbellalteration of my body has led me to become more dependent on God for my daily nourishment.

Before the surgery, food was my primary coping mechanism. Not in times of doubt and negativity, but also in times of happiness and celebration. Food is everywhere, and unlike drugs and alcohol, is not illegal and can be found almost anywhere. Therefore, I relied heavily on food for my emotional and mental support. I would, of course, pray and read my Bible, but food was a much more pleasant and sensory experience.

Immediately after surgery, this all changed. I now have a stomach that can hold anywhere between two and five ounces of food when I eat a meal. As I am still in the recovery mode for the next week or so, my intake is still restricted. I eat soft foods in portions that would better suit a toddler. I can no longer binge eat because one, my stomach can’t hold it and two, my stomach can’t handle it.

Yet, I still struggle with the infamous “head hunger” that haunts many patients of weight loss surgery. You may know the feeling: You’re full, but due to some external force, your brain still says you’re hungry. So, more often-than-not, you eat to satisfy the mental urge. This was me for many, many years. Now, with my surgery, while I could still cave in to the head hunger, I know it will provide physical side-effects that can be unpleasant or even painful. Ultimately, this has forced me to rely on God rather than food.

This switch, while beneficial, has sometimes wreaked a small amount of havoc in my life. For years, I knew food would be there for me. All I had to do was go through the drive-thru at a local fast food restaurant or stop by a gas station for my emotional fix. Now, I have to deliberately tell myself that I am not hungry and my body doesn’t need what I want to put in it. I also have to say “You’ve just eaten, you don’t want another thing. You’re at capacity. What you want is bad for you.”

Instead, I will find my first instinct after avoiding the urge to eat is to simply pray. Or, if I’m at home, I will read my Bible or other inspirational readings. Sometimes I will close my eyes and just think. Anything to reorient my body towards Christ, to live as a living sacrifice. As I’ve mentioned repeatedly, this is hard. It’s hard to be a living sacrifice in an imperfect body that’s trying to shed old, detrimental eating habits. Sometimes, I fail. And I remember, that there’s always tomorrow. And unlike the days of old when the tomorrow of new eating habits never came, I have many new tomorrows to reset my dietary routine.

Dying to self, living as a sacrifice is against our own nature. Refusing temptations such as abusing food, alcohol, and drugs (or illicit sex, lying, theft, and poor treatment of our neighbors, to name a few) is a difficult to overcome due to our original sin. Yet, in Christ, there is mercy, grace, and forgiveness. When we drop the ball as living sacrifices, when we abuse ourselves and others: Christ is there, time after time. Sometimes, we may have to rearrange our bodies physically (as I did) to understand this grace. And in our darkest instances, when we believe there is no other way to rearrange our lives and bodies, Christ shows up to teach us again how to walk and live in His blessed way.

 

 

Us and Them (or How Not to Evangelize)

I’ve always prided myself on inclusion. Perhaps that’s the first warning in this story, because pride is a very tricky (and sinful) thing.

Need somebody to teach English in the public schools? That’s me. Need another person to give up their college spring break to serve kids living in urban public housing? Hey, that’s me again. I’m there, with no prejudice attached.

We’re all God’s children, right? Sure.

Until I began RCIA and was received into the Catholic Church, I had no particular interest in evangelization. I knew I was supposed to tell people about the Good News of Jesus: that He took on humanity, lived among us, died for our sins, and resurrected to defeat death and sin three days later. Salvation, eternal life, and friendship with God, because of Jesus, is totally free. That’s wonderful news, but I possessed no real interest in telling anyone about it. I was born into a Christian family, the Gospel came pretty easy to me. I assumed it should come pretty easy to everyone else.

Fast forward to the present day, and I’ve experienced a change of heart. As it turns out, not everyone knows about Jesus. And for many, coming to faith isn’t that simple. There’s, unfortunately, often many circumstances that turn people away from the Gospel. Or simply, they may not want to accept it. But still, I want to share the Good News more now than ever.

Entrance: My pride.

Earlier this week, I ordered a stack of cards and a few brochures from the St. Paul Street Evangelization, a Catholic evangelization project that takes the Catholic faith to the literal streets. There’s no SPSE team where I live, but I was able to order the materials to give to acquaintances, leave with restaurant and service tips, and give to a stranger I may encounter.

As I would occasionally leave a Sacred Heart of Jesus card with my restaurant tips last week, I’d feel very good about myself.

“Ahh, spreading the Gospel has never been so easy!” I would think. “This could really set a chain reaction of events in someone’s life and bring countless souls to the Lord.” The satisfaction of a job well done.

So, one evening last week, as I walked through Walmart, I witnessed a familiar sight, one you may know yourself. There was a very overweight woman wearing high-cut jean shorts and a spaghetti-strap camisole for a shirt. There was nothing left to the imagination. With her were a couple of rambunctious kids (whom I assumed did not share the same father).

St Peter'S Basilica, Vatican, Catholic

The Lord hitting me with the truth. (pixabay.com)

 

Though I came in contact with the woman for less than one second, it’s as if the Lord asked in that moment, “Would you share the Gospel with her if I asked you to?”

I felt my stomach and psyche knot up.

“Lord,” I said. “I know I should, but maybe somebody else could do that. Now, if you need someone to report for duty in an exotic land or to volunteer to sweep the floor at a convent, You know I’m ready to go.”

Basically, I was telling Jesus that I didn’t want morbidly obese women who didn’t wear appropriate clothing and couldn’t control their loud kids in Heaven with me. I pushed the woman and the thought to the back of my mind, thinking of other things I deemed much more important.

The next morning, I attended Mass at a local parish close to my hotel. I settled in, did the standard look-around that comes with visiting a new church, and waited for the Mass to  begin. As I waited, I prayed that Jesus would show Himself to me during worship.

What a dangerous prayer for anyone to pray.

After the typical Catholic gymnastics, the ups and downs, it was time for the homily. Sunday’s Gospel reading was from Matthew 15:21-28, the story of the Canaanite woman and her demon-oppressed daughter.

In brief: The Canaanite woman asks Jesus to heal her daughter, but His disciples tell Jesus to “send [the woman] away.” The woman begs Jesus to heal her daughter, even after Jesus says that “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” The woman quickly responds: “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” To this, Our Lord replies, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”

In Jesus’s day, Canannites were a despised race, typically seen as the “other” in society. Rarely, did an Israelite want anything to do with the Canaanite, especially a Canaanite woman. As I listened, the parish priest speculated that Jesus may have played upon his disciples’ prejudices, only to turn the tables on them. Jesus’ disciples, it seemed, only wanted a certain type of person to experience Jesus’ healing and teachings. Yet, Jesus showed that His teachings were, and still are, applicable to everyone. With only her faith, the Canaanite woman’s daughter was healed and a miracle was performed. Race, sex, and social status was not a hindrance for Jesus.

As I listened, this message struck me between the eyes. Less than 24 hours earlier in Walmart, I was no better than Jesus’ disciples. Sure, I wanted salvation for everyone. I want everyone to know Jesus. But, when I was asked “Would you share the Gospel with her if I asked you to?,” I wasn’t about to abandon my neat, clean Christianity to minister to a woman who I assumed had no sense of common decency. During Mass, I prayed and I asked for forgiveness. I realized that when you ask Jesus to show Himself to you, it’s best to prepare for discomfort rather than nice platitudes.

And for this discomfort, I am grateful.

 

 

 

When She Shows You Her Son: A Life with Mary

About three weeks ago, my fiance and I were privileged to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of the Island in Manorville, New York. This was my very first visit to a Marian shrine, and as a recent convert to the Catholic faith, I found a particular warmth to the shrine property (I’ll talk about my visit in another post). As we walked among the trees and rain, I was so happy to have a space to reflect upon Mary’s role in my Christian journey.

Prior to my conversion, I possessed a deep admiration for Mary. “How special, I thought, for her to be chosen as Jesus’ mother! She just simply cannot be an ordinary person; There’s

Virgin, Mary, Madonna, Jesus, Baby

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much more to her than we could imagine,” I often pondered. Yet, my faith community viewed Mary as someone who was just “nice.” We would dress up as her for the Christmas play and someone would sing “Mary Did You Know?” On December 26th, Mary would go back into the Nativity scene box, never to be spoke of or seen again until after Thanksgiving.

Unfortunately, many Protestants see Catholic devotion to Mary as unnecessary, or even worse, idolatrous.

A friend once mentioned, “I just don’t like the Catholic emphasis on Mary. It takes away from Jesus.” To this, I responded by saying that Mary doesn’t distract us from Jesus. Instead, she shows us the way to her Son.

For example, in John 2, we see the wedding feast at Cana. The wedding has run out of wine, and Mary tells Jesus this news. He replies with “Woman, what does this have to do with me?” Mary then responds to the servants, telling them, “Do whatever He tells you.” As the story concludes, Jesus performs His first miracle at Cana, turning water into the finest wine.

This is a powerful testament to Mary’s example for Christians. It seems, rather than fume that Jesus won’t comply with her immediately, she is patient, turning to the servants, saying “Do whatever He tells you.” In one simple statement, Mary spoke the essence of Christian life: to follow Jesus and submit our will to His. In today’s world, following Jesus unconditionally is difficult. We have so many distractions: cell phones, social media, our work, plans, worries, and anxieties. It’s hard to follow Jesus when we are preoccupied in our minds with everyday monotony.

Mary, Virgin, Jesus

Jesus and Mary: Depicted in traditional Korean attire (pixabay.com)

As a personal example, I struggle with anxiety. Daily, I find myself worried over things both big and small. Little, nagging worries occupy my mind. Obviously, Holy Scriptures tell us not to worry. We are told not to fear (365 times, actually!). At yet, at this, I fail. In spite of my failures, each day, I like to remember the words of the Blessed Mother, just as she told the servants at Cana: Do whatever He tells you. These words encourage me to not worry and to put my trust in Christ. Mary always points you and I towards her Son, towards obedience towards Him, and to the knowledge of Him. I’m not a professional Catholic apologist or theologian, and there are so many more writings about Mary you could read that surpass my skill. However, for my Catholic and Protestant friends alike, remember that a Biblical Mary will always point you to Jesus, never to herself.

As I stood in front of the shrine in New York, I was amazed at the detail. As Mary stood tall, she carried the infant Jesus in her arms. Rather than hold Jesus to the side, Mary held Him in front of her, the center of our visual focus. As I looked up, I said a prayer that day, thanking Our Lord His mother’s life and for her fiat. May you and I both, as the faithful on earth, always do as He tells us with joyful, hopeful hearts.

 

You Don’t Have To

This afternoon I visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. I hadn’t been since June 2001, and even then, it was a brief visit. Today,  I ducked into the Cathedral after crossing the street and fighting tight throngs of tourists. It was nice to sit in the church and take in all of the images and sights I ignored as an 11-year-old: The high ceilings, the shrines, the beautiful altar, and of course, the stained glass windows.

Twitter, Facebook, Together

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Around us, hundreds of tourists (many traveling in from outside of the United States), took pictures. The time spent of the photographs was often detailed, even with a high quality camera. As I knelt at my pew, I felt the urge creep up in the back of my mind.

“If you snapped a picture of the altar right now, it would look great on Instagram. Especially with the right filter. Think of the ‘likes’ you’ll get!”

As I live and breathe, the very thought crossed my mind. I don’t hide my love for social media. Through Facebook and Twitter, I’ve connected with old friends and friends I’ve never met in person. I enjoy posting photos of my travels, and I enjoy that other people enjoy the posts, too. Likes and hearts are nice.

However, I often find myself under pressure. Pressure to find a perfect Instagram filter, pressure to word a caption just right, pressure to share every event.

But, as I sat in the pew this afternoon, I mentally sat on my hands, thinking,  “You don’t have to document every single event, every single moment. It’s okay to let life fly ‘under’ the radar.”

As difficult as it was (and I struggled), I kept my phone in my purse. I didn’t take any photos at St. Patrick’s today. And the result is clear: I still feel as fulfilled and satisfied as if I had taken a photo, doctored it up with filters, and posted it on Facebook. More the same, while eating dinner at a kitschy new Korean restaurant in Manhattan Koreatown, I sat on my hands. I can eat galbi and bibimbap without posting a picture of it on Twitter. It tastes the same, and I enjoyed it without all of the pressure of “Is this lighting good enough for this picture?”

In conclusion, has this moment of clarity “cured” me? No. I have a picture of a flower and chocolate box window display in Rockefeller Plaza I’d like to post. I may, I may not. We will see. Only time and Instagram will tell.

But…

Next time, when you feel hurried or pressured to post an update or photograph of an event, remember: It’s okay. You can live life in peace, without the worry of likes and external validation.

 

On the Island of Peace: Thoughts

Every July 13th, I remember my Korean host father.

It was the day he died.

When I was a Fulbright teacher, I lived on Jeju Island, dubbed the “Hawaii of Korea” (and the namesake of this blog). One of the highlights of the Fulbright Korea English Teaching Assistantship is that for your first year, you must live with a host family. As I’ve said in past posts of past blogs, I truly hit the host family jackpot. I was seamlessly knitted into the fabric of my family, and I was welcomed into every aspect of Korean family life. Chuseok (think Thanksgiving), New Years’, Christmas, birthdays, I was present. Unlike other teaching assistants, who were sometimes pushed to the side during the year, I was blessed with a warm home.

In August 2014, as I was moving into my new apartment in Western Kentucky, I received a KakaoTalk message from my host sister saying that her father had died. I was stunned, as if a pile of bricks had hit my head. Just some 400 days earlier, my host father (whom I called Bruce), had dropped me off at the Jeju International Airport so that I could meet my connecting flight in Seoul back to the United States. While I won’t linger on the shock and aftermath in this post, you can read more about it if you click here. Today, instead, I’ll ramble for you.

I had lost family members before, sure. It hurts. For example, I still think of my paternal grandparents each and every day. But, when I found out that Bruce was gone, it was unbelievable. Young people die, but not young people that I know. That is far from fair, and not the life I planned. I imagined reunion upon reunion in Korea, and now, that is but a dream.

The family I lived with has shifted dramatically. The house I stayed in for my year is no longer occupied by my family. Last June, I stood outside of the house, wondering who lived inside.

Now, my host brother is now serving his mandatory 2-year military service. My host sister and host mother have moved to a large city, about 50 miles outside of Seoul. As for Bruce, he rests on Jeju Island: where he born, where he lived, and ultimately, where he died.

Jeju, Jeju Island, Sunrise Salary

Jeju Island, South Korea (pixabay.com)

Sometimes, when I’m using Google Maps or Naver (the Korean equivalent), I’ll use street view outside of the house. I’ll see Bruce’s truck, or my host mother’s car. Often, I’ll just smile when I see the little island on the map. It reminds me of a time of goodness and love, a time that I’ll never get back. In a way, I think that’s a very good thing. I treasure my time on the island, and with my host family, even more. Maps are good for that nostalgia.

Today, life is different. It moves on, rather we want it to or not. Sure, the home stay is empty and my host family is gone. But, in my heart, Jeju is the island of peace. It’s where I formed lifelong friendships and bonds. It’s where Bruce’s life touched mine, if but for a single moment in eternity. And for this, I am perpetually grateful.

 

 

 

 

Double Happiness: Thoughts on Chinese Buffets

I am convinced – from all of my travels and culinary experiences – there is nothing more homey and comforting than a Chinese buffet. Think about it: savory noodles, fried crust with soft fillings, hodge-podge sushi, and hot soup varieties found nowhere else. In a world of blandly familiar options, with coffee shop express lunches and tepid fast-food iced tea, Chinese buffets are warm haven from the norm.

Throughout this year, I’ve traveled back-and-forth to New York vising my boyfriend. As new-found custom dictates, we almost always visit a Chinese food buffet on Long Island. Throughout my adventures in Chinese buffets, I’ve found them all to have the same fare. Yet, when I bask in the neon glory of a Long Island Chinese buffet, I find slight contrasts from the buffets found in the South.

First, let’s talk crab rangoons. This delicacy, the Queen Mother of All Chinese Buffet Foods, is a delicate golden triangle stuffed with cream cheese and (probably artificial) crab meat. It’s a collision of warmth and deliciousness, and New York Chinese buffets have not received the memo. My first experience at a northern buffet left me shocked. I scoured the rows for crab rangoons, many times over, thinking I had overlooked them. But alas, no. Simply small, cheese wontons with their puckered tops and merely-stuffed bottoms. Eaten and forgotten in one brief bite at every buffet as crab rangoons stay forever in my heart.

As I move from the row of fried and baked foods, I’m approaching salads. In my years as a connoisseur of buffets, I have not run into salad/cold bars at Chinese buffets in the South. Rather, these smaller restaurants often opt out of salads in favor of warmer foods. Even in the smaller buffets in the Empire State, there is almost always a salad bar. Bright lettuces of the romaine and iceberg variety, sliced vegetables, beets, and pasta salads wait eagerly in the bed of ice. Dressings, too. With your chicken lo mein and fried dumpling, you can even out your plate with a salad drenched in ranch. It’s quite beautiful and much different from my norm. Dim Sum, Dim Sim, Food, Hong Kong

Finally, after a pile of noodles, chicken, and rice, dessert is looms ahead. In many Asian cultures, China included, fruit is an acceptable dessert. In the West, we typically eat cake, cookies, or chocolate to cap our meals. When I lived in Korea and visited China, I ate more Asian pears, watermelons, and apples than I had in my whole life. In California Chinese non-buffet restaurants, fruit is brought to the table after a meal. At a Northern buffet, fruit reigns in her throne adjacent to red and green jellos. Often, I’ll opt for orange slices up North, which seem like an appropriate complement to the orange and honey chicken I’ve devoured minutes before. It’s wonderful and it’s sweet dessert.

I often think, as I sit among the din of chatter and the scent of soy-drenched chicken, that Chinese buffets are truly a tradition. My first interests in Asian culture were sparked as a I looked at an exaggerated painting of the Great Wall and a dragon. Even in the differences, with orange slices and a lack of crispy rangoons, any Chinese buffet anywhere in this country is a culinary miracle that I hold dear. As I live and travel, the two different styles of buffets will always provide double happiness.