Settling: Notes on Putting Down Roots

Saturday, January 5th, 2019

As I write this, I am somewhere over the American midwest, headed towards Dallas, Texas. If I had to guess, my plane is cutting across the sky where Tennessee and Missouri meet. Below me, I see a river and patches of farmland.

I am on the road again.

This time, I am flying from Kentucky back to New York City at the conclusion of a much-anticipated winter break. After a delay at my airport of origin, I am experiencing a reroute through Dallas in order to return to the Big Apple. While it’s totally out of the way to travel southwest with a destination in the northeast – I don’t mind. I love travel, especially by air. I love the vibe of airports, the anticipation of boarding a plane, the suspension of everyday life as the aircraft takes off and soars through time. I love the movement, I love the adventure.

Before moving away to college, I lived in the same house for 18 years. For me, moving away to college was an adventure akin to getting on the plane – the vibe was right, the spirit of anticipation was there. As I studied to become a teacher, I thought of all of the school districts in Kentucky where I could teach. From the far Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River – my opportunities were endless. I thought I would find myself teaching in the hills of Eastern Kentucky one year and in the Western Coal Fields another year. The idea of bouncing around the state was met with anticipation –  another sense of adventure.

After graduating from college, my living arrangements shouted “adventure.” I lived in South Korea with a Korean family for a year, taught in two separate school districts in Western Kentucky, and taught for three years in my own home county. My homes included an apartment situated on a busy main street, an apartment nestled between two retirees, my parents basement, and another little house. Now, as a New York City resident, I find myself living in an all-women’s living residence on the west end of the famed 34th Street.

However, between the movements, I found myself growing weary of the constant moves and change in jobs. Some changes were not my own choices, while some were. Yet, I longed for the days when I lived in the same little house on the same little farm. The adventure was fine, but it was beginning to grow old.

After moving to Manhattan, I started to make an effort to establish more roots in my local community. By nature (or social construction), New York City is an ever-changing place. One doesn’t move to Manhattan to settle down and raise a family – he or she moves there to say they lived in the heart of one of the best cities on the planet. It’s not a place of permanence for most people who live there. Instead, it’s a constant revolving door of people and ideas.

Despite the built-in opposition, I wanted to make Manhattan a home – if but for a little while. For example, many Catholic young adults who take their faith seriously want to find a parish in which they can connect. This can be tough for a myriad of reasons. I am no exemption, and in college, I was a notorious church hopper. However, after my first few weeks in my new home, I made an effort to register at a nearby parish. This was one small step to creating a home, to establish roots.

Finally, in big cities, the temptation to “wonder” is at an all-time high. I would wonder what it would be like if I lived in another borough of the city, if I had another job, if I could go and do so many other things. Yet, as I wrap up my first six months living in New York City, I found this “wonder” mentality detrimental – I couldn’t enjoy my blessings without wondering about everything else around me. This tiny shift in mindset alone helped me root my mind and heart in my current location – instead of allowing my mind to wander. Day-by-day, I root myself in my own reality and enjoy the city as it bustles and grows. The city is more vibrant, the world becomes a lovelier place to live.

Rootedness in our own culture is tough – we are always promised that something bigger and better is around the corner. We are encouraged to move around – to find what’s out there. Ambition is the new king of our hearts.

I encourage you, especially if you are making a move to a new city or new home – think about how you can cultivate rootedness – even if it is temporary. Maybe this looks like registering at a local parish or church, joining a social group, or intentionally making friends with your neighbors. For each of us, this looks different. However, I recommend that we all be still, if but for a moment, and reflect on how we can create homes and sanctuaries, right where we are.

Myths About NYC Living

Often, when I tell others that I live in Manhattan, I am met with wide-eyed amazement. For many, the New York borough of Manhattan is the place where dreams are made. If you think about it, most television shows we watch are centered in Manhattan. Random photos of city scapes we see in magazines are from New York City. Everyone can recognize the New York skyline in any given moment.

Yet – some people know about visiting The Big Apple – but few people know about living in The Big Apple. As a New York City resident for nearly four months, I’d like to address a few myths that many have about those of us dwelling in the mystical New York metropolitan area.

  1. We do New York “stuff” all the time. The average New York resident does NOT do New York stuff. You know – visiting the Empire State Building, journeying to the Statue of Liberty, or going to Times Square (avoid at all costs). If you were born in the tri-state area, odds are, you’ve probably been to these places once, twice, or three times at the most. It’s just not what city dwellers do. We usually leave those sites for the tourists. Oh, and visiting Times Square on New Year’s Eve? ABSOLUTELY NOT.
  2. Life is always glamorous in the city. Watch any television show or movie about New York City – and you’re presented a glittery, and cozy, image of Manhattan. Every window has a skyline view, people always eat leisurely brunches in sidewalk cafes, and Central Park is never crowded. Alas, New York is like any other city on the planet. Once you cut through the tourist-y veneer, New York is found to be dirty and crowded. At the same time, it’s an amazing city in which I feel instantly at home.
  3. New Yorkers are rude. It’s a common misconception that that New Yorkers are rude, crass, and will run you over without a moment of hesitation. I, however, have found this to be largely false. In many moments, New Yorkers have helped me find my way around a crowded subway system or have pointed me the way to the right city bus. Sure, if someone bumps into you, they won’t say “Excuse me,” but that’s normal here.
  4. It’s expensive. Sure, lots of places in the city are pricy – thanks to tourist demands. But, if you know where to look – you can find $1 pizza slices and $1 hot dogs on the same street. You don’t have to break the bank eating in NYC, and it’s easy to find cheap eats. Likewise, you’ll find that many museums have pay-as-you wish or totally free admission. Entertainment in the city is often cheap, but you just need to know where to go. With a little research, NYC can be done well.

It’s not just New York City that has it’s myths. If you live in a rural area, there are many misconceptions about those places as well. Do you live in NYC or a major metro area? What are some common misconceptions you’ve experienced? If you live in a more suburban or rural area, what are your experiences? Let me know below.

As always, may God bless you and thank you for reading.

10 Quotes from St. Pope John Paul II’s “Letter to Women”

Today, the Church celebrates the feast day of St. Pope John Paul II. Like many young Catholics, my first experiences with the papacy included this dearly beloved saint. Though I was not Catholic during John Paul’s pontificate, I did appreciate the impact he had on the world around him. Now as a Catholic, I have admired his Letter to Womenpublished on June 29, 1995, prior to the Fourth World Conference on Women.

For those who argue that the Church is behind the times in matters of gender and sexuality, they would be hard-pressed to find any signs of the oppression of women in this historical document. Rather, the Letter to Women is a vibrant celebration of women from all walks and stations of life. In honor of St. Pope John Paul II, here are ten great quotes from his monumental letter (bold text mine):

  1. “Thank you, women who are daughters and women who are sisters! Into the heart of the family, and then of all society, you bring the richness of your sensitivity, your intuitiveness, your generosity and fidelity.
  2. “Thank you, every woman, for the simple fact of being a womanThrough the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood you enrich the world’s understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic.”
  3. “Transcending the established norms of his own culture, Jesus treated women with openness, respect, acceptance and tenderness. In this way he honoured the dignity which women have always possessed according to God’s plan and in his love. As we look to Christ at the end of this Second Millennium, it is natural to ask ourselves: how much of his message has been heard and acted upon?”
  4. “We need only think of how the gift of motherhood is often penalized rather than rewarded, even though humanity owes its very survival to this gift.”
  5. “The creation of woman is thus marked from the outset by the principle of help: a help which is not one-sided but mutual. Woman complements man, just as man complements woman: men and women are complementary. Womanhood expresses the “human” as much as manhood does, but in a different and complementary way.”
  6. “Were I would like to express particular appreciation to those women who are involved in the various areas of education extending well beyond the family: nurseries, schools, universities, social service agencies, parishes, associations and movements. Wherever the work of education is called for, we can note that women are ever ready and willing to give themselves generously to others, especially in serving the weakest and most defenceless.”
  7. “It is thus my hope, dear sisters, that you will reflect carefully on what it means to speak of the ‘genius of women‘, not only in order to be able to see in this phrase a specific part of God’s plan which needs to be accepted and appreciated, but also in order to let this genius be more fully expressed in the life of society as a whole, as well as in the life of the Church.”
  8. “The Church sees in Mary the highest expression of the “feminine genius” and she finds in her a source of constant inspiration. Mary called herself the “handmaid of the Lord” (Lk 1:38). Through obedience to the Word of God she accepted her lofty yet not easy vocation as wife and mother in the family of Nazareth.”
  9. “…from the heart of the Church there have emerged women of the highest calibre who have left an impressive and beneficial mark in history.”
  10. “Necessary emphasis should be placed on the “genius of women”, not only by considering great and famous women of the past or present, but also those ordinary women who reveal the gift of their womanhood by placing themselves at the service of others in their everyday lives.”

St. Pope John Paul II, pray for us.

Our Lady of Mercy, pray for us.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.

Start Acting Like It

This was originally posted on my personal Facebook account. In light of recent events, I believe it’s a timely reflection on the state of the Church and what can be done about this deviant scourge in our midst. 

Some thoughts:

I am currently reading the grand jury report regarding the sickening Catholic clergy sex abuse case coming out of Pennsylvania. I’ve always been of the opinion that when it comes to convicted child abusers, ESPECIALLY sexual offenders, that the best justice is street justice. But, for better or for worse, we don’t necessarily live in that type of society.

In spite of all of this, do I plan to stay Catholic? Absolutely.

In no other church do I have access to the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus through Holy Communion.

There will always be scandal, there will always be sinners, there will always be passively, polite people who stand by and let bullshit like this happen because they don’t want to disturb the (false) peace. That’s because people are people: that includes you, me, and everyone else kneeling on the rail on Sundays.

But…

You can speak out, stand up, keep going to Mass, keep going to Adoration, keep praying and praying, keep serving your parish, and making your voice heard when something doesn’t seem right. In the words of St. Teresa of Avila, “[right now on Earth,] Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet..but yours.

So start acting like it.

The Webster Apartments: A Review

When I was 11-years-old, I made my first journey to New York City with my mother on a school trip. Though I was born into a rural community, I’ve always been city(ish) at heart. Without a doubt, the trip was magical and I was stunned at the big city: the lights, the sounds, and the never-ending hum of activity. Shortly after, I told my mother I was moving to New York. Like many young pre-teens with dreams, I wasn’t for sure I would actually move to the Big Apple. But, after meeting my Long Island boyfriend (now fiance) and securing a teaching job in the city, my long-held dream of living in New York City, specifically Manhattan, has come to fruition.

One of the most daunting tasks of moving to a new city, any new city, is finding a place to live that is affordable, in a great location, and safe. Unfortunately, apartment searchers often have to compromise one or more factors in order to find a place to lay their head. Thankfully, before moving to NYC, I came across The Webster Apartments, a short-term, women’s only residence in the heart of Manhattan. Thankfully, when I applied for a room, there was an opening in early July. After nearly 12 days of living in Manhattan, specifically at the apartments, I want to give you the grand tour of big city life, offering the pros and cons of my new living arrangement.

The Pros

  1. Location: The Webster Apartments are located on West 34th Street in Midtown Manhattan. This is a prime location, just a short walk to multiple subway stations and Penn Station, a hub for travel from New York and beyond. Just down the street is the flagship Macy’s store, alongside a Target and Kmart for your grocery needs. Just a few blocks away is the Empire State Building, Koreatown, and a variety of other attractions. It’s nearly impossible to say you’re bored while living at the Webster.
  2. Affordable: Compared to other apartments in Manhattan, the Webster Apartments is a steal. In your bi-weekly rate, you receive two meals a day, weekly housekeeping service, free wi-fi, and 24/7 security at the front desk (among other services). While this sounds like a recipe for terribly expensive for living in NYC, the rent rates are dependent on how much you make before tax. The minimum a resident can make and live at the Webster is $30,000, while the maximum is $80,000. For reference, I pay around $1400 a month in rent. Some women pay more, some pay less. Thankfully, the Webster understands that starting a new job in the big city doesn’t always accompany a big paycheck.
  3. Safety: The Webster does not take the safety of its guests lightly. All visitors are required to sign in and the front desk is staffed by security personnel 24/7/365. Moreover, as part of her applications, a prospective resident must consent to a very detailed background and credit check. One cannot simply apply to live at the apartments with a criminal record an/or a poor history of repaying debts. And while the Webster does not keep tabs on when its occupants come and go, women are to scan in upon entering the building after a day of work or leisure. Also, for better or worse, no men are not allowed above the first floor. If you want to show your dad or boyfriend your room, you both must be accompanied by a Webster staff member. Personally, I think this is a great policy, as it cuts down on tomfoolery. But, if you have a boyfriend or fiance, he can visit with you in one of the many beau parlors (read: small, decorated rooms with a TV) on the first floor. Finally, any male guests you have can eat with you to the dining room for a small fee.

The Cons

  1. Community is hard to find: Contrary to what you might think, living in the Webster is not like a college dorm. Most women here to work, eat, and sleep. This contrasts with a college dorm, where many young women are eager to make friends and connections to sustain them through the college experience. Therefore, at the Webster, there’s not many guests sitting together at lunch and dinner. Most eat and leave, not saying much to anyone else. At night, you won’t hear loud music or boisterous laughter. Most women are turned in by 11pm. As an introvert, this vibe at the Webster doesn’t bother me. I’m fine to come in, go to my room, and sit in solitude. But, if you’re looking to make friends right away, you may have to work at it.
  2. The Food: Honestly, the jury is still out on this one. The food here at the Webster is unique, has variety, and one has plenty of options to choose from. There’s always two meat-based options and one choice for vegetarians. For example, tonight you can choose to build your own taco and burrito, with a wide range of toppings. Veggies are always available as a side dish and there’s a salad bar once you go through the line. However, I would say that the food is lacking in the flavor department. Maybe I’m just used to down-home cooking where cooks use something called salt to season up their dishes. Here, far north of the Ohio River, it doesn’t seem that they’ve received the memo. Overall the food is edible, but don’t expect Michelin-star quality.
  3. Restricted Appliances: My one reservation about moving to the Webster (though not a deal breaker) was that guests are not permitted to have big appliances in their rooms (mini-fridges, coffee brewers, etc.). I understand why this is a rule: the building dates back to the 1920s and too many extra appliances plugged in to outlets could cause a shortage, or even worse, a fire. But, I had grown attached to my Keurig brewer back home. It pained me to know I would have to leave it behind (a total first-world problem), but I did. Guests are permitted to have a small cooler, which they can fill up with ice from the ice machine on the 2nd floor. While it doesn’t quite function like a mini-fridge, it can keep foods cool as needed.

Life at The Webster Apartments has proven to be a fun, convenient, and exciting way to encounter life in New York City. I highly recommend this living arrangement to any young woman looking to relocate to the city for work or internships. The Webster provides a nice place to live and thrive, and acts as sort of a safety net as you make your way into the hum of the Big Apple. For more information on The Webster Apartments and its eligibility requirements, click visit websterapartments.org.

All the best,

Sarah

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Though my review of The Webster Apartments is favorable, this post or blog is not sponsored or affiliated by the Apartments. 

 

Another Miracle on 34th Street

One week ago today I moved to New York State and on July 5th, I moved to 34th Street in Manhattan, New York City. Somewhere between the Hudson River and the flagship Macy’s store, I am now home (if but for a temporary time). Because I am not adept at cultural references, the 34th Street name did not strike a chord with me. But, for many friends and family, it did. One favorite response to my newfound address? Look out for miracles! And looking out for miracles, I have surely done.This past Sunday, July 1st, the Gospel reading at Mass recounts the story in Mark chapter 5 of Jesus, a synagogue official named Jarius, and Jarius’ daughter. In short, Jarius begs Jesus to heal his daughter who has been sick for a long period of time. However, in the time it takes Jesus to respond to the desperate father, people from Jarius’s house arrive bearing bad news: The little girl is dead and Jarius should trouble Jesus no longer. However, Jesus turns to Jarius and says, “Do not be afraid; just have faith.” Jesus goes to Jarius’ home, where He informs everyone that the girl is not dead, but merely asleep. Jesus then takes her hand, and says talitha koum, meaning “Little girl, I say to you, arise!”How many times in our lives have we been like Jarius? We’re desperate and at the end of our ropes, only to see the death of someone or something in the form of a dream or hope die. Or, maybe we’re paralyzed by fear and we can’t bring ourselves to believe in the words of Jesus when He says, “Do not be afraid; just have faith.” Jarius is a lot like all of us: scared, worried, and troubled by circumstances that we can’t quite understand or comprehend. We can barely function, much less “arise” like Jarius’ daughter.I don’t believe in luck or coincidences, but I do believe that God speaks in mysterious ways. Before I moved on Monday, I was terrified. I wondered if I was making the right decision to leave Kentucky and a life that was calm, even if it was boring at times. Yes, I wanted to move to the city. Yes, I wanted to live closer to my fiance. Yes, I was ready to mix up my teaching career. Everything had fallen into place from the job offer to securing housing right in the heart of Manhattan. Yet, I was very afraid that I had made the wrong decision and that everything would be a sure disaster.But, the Gospel of Mark spoke to me in a profound way during Mass.When reading the Bible, I try to stay away from reading each individual verse as if it’s written to and for me. I understand that Scripture has a context for a time and place. While Jeremiah 29:11 was written for Jews suffering the Babylonian exile, it doesn’t mean one cannot derive some comfort and courage from the verse. Similarly, while I am not Jarius’ daughter, I too can also sense the freedom that Jesus offers when He says, “Little girl…arise!”The day before my move, when I heard this Gospel reading, I was filled with hope. I knew that with Our Lord, I had nothing to fear in my new transition. Will it be tough? Yes, sometimes. Will I sometimes fall prey to anxiety and weakness? Yep. But, each time, I can remember the words of Jesus when he says “Little girl…arise.” It is in Christ that you and me and everyone else can persevere, rise to sainthood, and enjoy the wonderment of Heaven. We just have to rise up day after day and trust that God is always with us – whether we live in secluded cabin or we’re looking for miracles on 34th Street.–Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this post, please consider liking this blog’s Facebook page. Also consider subscribing through WordPress or email. I look forward to connecting with you! 

Myths of a Different Kind: Two Falsehoods I Used to Believe About Catholicism

Solemnity of the Ascension // Our Lady of Fatima // Mother’s Day, 2018

It’s very common for inquirers about Catholicism to arrive in their RCIA classes or local parishes with misconceptions about the Faith. Often warned by well-meaning acquaintances about the dangers of the Catholic faith, those curious about Catholicism often have to work through this emotional and cultural baggage before (and sometimes after) receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation.

For those who convert from an Evangelical Protestant background, some “myths” run a common thread across denominational lines. Some of these common myths include the idea that Catholics worship Mary, Catholics must earn their way to Heaven, Catholics believe they can “just go to confession” (and keep on sinning), and that Catholicism rejects Biblical teaching in favor of man-made traditions.

For me, the experience was a little different.

Many Protestant groups teach that one only has to “accept Jesus” in order to secure salvation. Often, it is taught that salvation can never be lost, regardless of what the person does. Other groups teach that salvation is eternal, but if you continue to live a life of sin after acknowledging Jesus, then you probably weren’t really “saved” to begin with. Baptism is often presented as something one does as a sign of obedience after salvation, not as an act necessary for salvation.

Contrary to this dominant theology in Protestantism, my denomination taught the necessity of baptism for salvation and that eternal security is not a Biblical teaching. Since the Catholic Church teaches the necessity of baptism for salvation and the rejection of eternal security, I had no issue with this during my formation period.

However, there were other myths before my conversion that I carried with me into RCIA. Thankfully, these myths were resolved and I was able to understand more clearly what the Church teachers and how she operates in our world. While I’m not a professional theologian, hopefully I can help you untangle these misunderstandings and any other misunderstandings you may have, too.

Myth #1: Catholics Don’t Evangelize. A few months ago, I read an article (title and author I have since forgotten) about Catholic evangelization. Essentially, the author stated that helping  someone enter the Catholic faith was once almost unheard of. He mentioned that inquiring about Catholicism was like if a non-Italian walked up to someone of Italian descent and said, “I’d like to be Italian. Can you help me do that?” In case you didn’t know, you can’t change someone’s ethnicity.

I imagine, that at one time, Catholicism was easily viewed as a family tradition, rather than a relationship with God (which happens even today in all faith traditions to a degree). Often, for those born into a Catholic family, the idea of conversion may seem foreign or even odd. At one time, I thought people only converted to Catholicism because they were going to marry a Catholic. On reason I carried this belief was because I thought that Catholics simply did not evangelize.

However, when I was in RCIA and upon my confirmation, I discovered that this was farther from the truth. For example, the Saint Paul Street Evangelization creates street teams to encounter passerbys in public spaces in a non-threatening way. These teams often pass out medals, rosary beads, pamphlets, and Bibles to those who are interested. On a smaller scale, many Catholic parishes have envagelization teams. For example, my parish hosted a Discovering Christ and Sharing Christ sessions for those interested in telling their story of faith in social settings. Catholic evangelization is alive and well, even if you don’t see it shouted on your local street corner.

Myth #2: Catholics Don’t Care About the Bible. This myth is rampant, especially in some (but not all) Protestant churches. The accusations are varied: Catholics say a priest forgives you. That’s not in the Bible! or Catholics drink blood each Sunday. That’s not in the Bible! or Catholics observe Advent and Lent, plus they baptize babies who can’t consent. That’s not in the Bible! My personal favorite: Catholics don’t even read the Bible. They’re not allowed to! 

Unfortunately, many of these statements about Catholic doctrines not having a Biblical foundation are based on myths within a myth. Perhaps someone had heard a Catholic family member describe a faith practice incorrectly. Or, maybe someone has encountered a former Catholic who is angry with the Church (and is often poorly catechized), and is determined to spread their own understanding of Catholic teaching.

While I don’t have time to delve into the Biblical basis for Catholic teachings, I can say that Catholics have a strong reverence for the Bible as the inspired Word of God. If you attend any Catholic Mass, you will notice that the Mass is absolutely soaked in the words and story of the Bible. There are multiple readings: the Old Testament, a Psalm, often a second reading from the Epistles, and always, always, always a Gospel reading. That’s a reading from each part of the Bible each and every Sunday! In a three-year liturgical year cycle, a Catholic will have heard the entire Bible read. How awesome is that!

Another example, before receiving the Eucharist, Catholics say, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only the say the words and my soul shall be healed” (Matthew 8:8). So, each time we receive Communion, Catholics are reminded that though we are not worthy of God, He comes to each one of us in the Eucharist. There are so many ways that Catholics reverence the Bible, just in the Mass alone. In fact, Pope Francis admonished Catholics to carry our Bibles just like we carry our smartphones.

Food For Thought

If you’re a convert to Catholicism, are there any myths that you believed prior to your confirmation? If you’re a cradle Catholic, did you have misunderstandings that were cleared up upon further study? Are you a non-Catholic who may have a misunderstanding? If so, I’d love to hear your stories below. It’s important that we always promote the truth in charity and love. I look forward to reading your comments and stories. Have a blessed Sunday!