Stirrings of the Spirit

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Pilgrimage insights

Just over a month ago, I left for Spain to attend WYD with 52 people from the Diocese.  The previous seven months of work had culminated to this moment.

World Youth Day has always been a rewarding experience for me. I remember my first one, our leaders kept telling us that it wasn’t a life changing moment, but a life confirming moment.  Its really hard to know. I don’t know what direction my life would take without these experiences.  I feel incredibly blessed that I have now just experienced my forth WYD.

My prayer in the months leading up to our departure was that I would be able to help create the life confirming experience that I had for these young people.  I really wasn’t sure how they would take it, or if they were prepared enough, but I had done all that I was capable of, and handed the rest over to God.  The group was blessed with an inspiring bishop, engaging priests, committed teachers and open-hearted young people.

Our pilgrimage travelled around Spain before arriving in Madrid for WYD.  Things really kicked off in Loyola where we visited the home of St Ignatius, where he was born and grew up, and more importantly, where he had his personal conversion.  The bishop told us of that Ignatian concept of being able to find God in everything.  God isn’t just with us in the moments where we are at church or when we are praying. He is there through it all.  The students really took hold of this idea, and it was continually referred to again and again in the days to come. They found God in all sorts of moments, and were keen to share them with each other. Evening prayer with them was always a beautiful experience.

We also visited Avila, home of saints like Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross and John of Avila. In fact, the monastry we stayed in, apparently used to be where Teresa used to go for confession.

We visited many churches and cathedrals throughout Spain, including the cathedral in Seville, apparently the biggest in the world, and the cathedral in Cordoba, which used to be a mosque, that was converted into a Catholic church, after the muslims had to leave Spain.  The buildings were amazing, and filled with equally amazing stories. The history of each building just blew us away.  Especially being from Australia, where permanent buildings have only been around for 200 and so years, the concept of how old these buildings are just seems so foreign.

I am inspired by the people who created these buildings, these churches and cathedrals, and the works of art they contain.  I think about how they must have been filled with so much awe and love for God, to be able to be so inspired to create these for us to enjoy for centuries afterwards.

I think that is the concept that has touched me most during the pilgrimage.  I say I learn something new from each WYD experience, and this year I’ve learn about creation.  I have to question what I am creating from my own inspiration from God.  I don’t have talents in painting or sculpture or architecture or building, but I must be able to create something.  What am I creating? It doesn’t have to be something that lasts for centuries, but there must be something that I can create in this moment for the love of God.  Its something I prayed about on pilgrimage and the weeks afterwards, and the major thing that comes to mind is community.  I can help create a community for God. I can help people find other people to share their faith with and walk the journey together.  It is kind of my job, but I am inspired in just how important it is to have other faith filled people on the journey with you, and I want to be able to help those people find each other, so that they can be empowered and continue on this journey. Maybe one day, I will be called to create a family.  I’m not sure.  But for now, it is creating that sense of community that I am striving for.

Hopefully I will have a chance to write about the actual WYD events. They were an adventure in themself.

September 8, 2011 Posted by | Faith, Saints, Spirituality | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Isidore and Maria – Saintly Marriage

As we prepare for World Youth Day in Madrid this year, I have been encouraging the pilgrims to get to know some of the WYD11 Patron Saints.  Every WYD has a different series of patron saints that usually have some sort of connection to the country, or young people.  Spain is a country of great saints, like St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross. But its the lesser known saints that I am enjoying getting to know better. 

Two of this year’s saints are St Isidore the Worker and  Maria of the Head.  The reason I feel so drawn to these two is because they were married. A colleague made a joke when reading the biography of one of them and it stated that he was married to a saint, and this person groaned and said “Can you imagine being married to a saint?” but I pointed out that he was also a saint, so it was probably ok.  They lived their life with simplicity and hard work.

These two are great reminders of the importance of the vocation of marriage.  So often, the most popular saints are priests and religious, living their life in complete devotion to God. It can sometimes be a struggle to relate to that sort of life when you are struggling to balance the demands of your job while still spending quality time with your spouse.  Those moments when you finish work at 7pm and you feel that you should go to Adoration, but you know that your husband is at home waiting for you after not seeing you because you were away for the weekend. 

Isidore and Maria were able to remind me that I was called to marriage, and that it is through my husband, that I am able to find the strength and love to be able to serve God in the way that I do.  Just because it looks different to the way a priest or a nun might do it, doesn’t make that any less worthy. 

The legend behind St Isidore the Worker is the way he united his worklife with his prayer life.  He would always attend Mass before starting work.  The other coworkers reported him to the boss for not doing as much work as the others.  The boss checked up on him and found that although he was late for work, an angel had been doing his work for him. 

These stories have a way of developing over time into something that feels unbelievable.  The other WYD leader working with me often laments with me that angels have shown up to do our job for us, but we usually don’t make it to daily Mass either.  It reminds me of a time in high school where I declared I didn’t have enough time to join the family in prayer that evening because I had way too much homework.  My old aunty was staying at the time, and told me that I would find the time, if I gave some time for God first. So I joined the family in prayer and went off to do my homework, to discover that it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be, and I finished in half the time that I had scheduled.  I always try to remember that story whenever I feel that my time management is failing and that I don’t have the time for Mass or prayer.

I’ve really enjoyed learning about these two saints and can’t wait to maybe experience more of their story while in Spain this August. 

 

June 22, 2011 Posted by | Faith, Saints, Spirituality | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

World Youth Day Experiences

My deposit has now been paid to attend the 2011 World Youth Day in Madrid, Spain and I am suddenly feeling exuberant and alive and excited at the possibilities. Its taken be a bit by surprise, because for the last year or so, I have been tossing up whether or not I should go, and ultimately decided that I wouldn’t.  I have been to three World Youth Days in the past both as a participant and also leading a group.  I wondered if maybe I had gained all I could from the World Youth Day experience and thought I’d step aside and leave the space open for someone else to take.  Also, now that I am married, my priorities are different, and 18 days is a long time to be away from my husband, plus it would put on quite a strain on our budget. 

Those plans changed.  I will be starting a new job in January, and part of the job description will be to lead the Diocesan group to Spain.  Something that I had dismissed months ago as not being for me, is now suddenly a source of great excitement.   However, keep me in your prayers.  I don’t know if excitement is all I’m going to be feeling over the next eight months.

My first World Youth Day was Toronto 2002.  As a Due South fan, it was always my dream to go to Canada, and then combined with a World Youth Day, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity.  It was the first time my diocese had ever sent people to a World Youth Day, and I went with two other young women.  It was a wonderful experience to be surrounded by so many other young Catholics. I came from a small parish, with mostly older people.  I’m sure its not the only parish in the world like that. Where you are the young person, and the next youngest are your parents.  It came be disheartening at times, but after my first World Youth Day experience, there was no way I could go back home thinking I was the only young Catholic in the world.  That memory will always stay with me.

My next World Youth Day was Cologne 2005.   It wasn’t a good year for me.  I had lost my job in December 2004 due to the small business I worked for going bankrupt.  It was taking longer than expected to find a new one.  I also had to end a serious relationship earlier that year. It was one of the darkest times of my life.  There were moment I seriously thought that God had just abandoned me.  Yet somehow through all the sadness, and a lack of income, I found my way to Germany.  My church community had raised enough money to cover half my costs.  It was an incredible effort, and one that I will also be extremely grateful for. It was exactly what I needed.  I rediscovered the Love of God, and renewed my faith in him, and realised that no matter how dark I perceived things to be, God would never ever abandon me.  That trip also included a pilgrimage in Turkey and Greece.  Neither were places I probably would have gone on my own volition, but they are incredible countries. I cannot wake for another opportunity to visit Turkey and the Greek islands again. 

The last WYD I attended was Sydney 2008.  I led a group from my parish of 20 people.  I probably went into the challenge a little idealise and naive, expecting everyone to get along and behave themselves and not get into any mischief.  Its possible that some people in my group had different ideas.  Once again, the church community played a big role in getting the group there.  As it was in Australia, less money was needed to get people there, so we were able to fundraise enough money to cover all the costs of registration and travel for everyone attending WYD from our parish.  I think that most of the people had a great time. They got to experience that wonder of being part of a global community, and that faith in Jesus conquers barriers such as language and culture.  I had plenty of stressed out moments, but it warms my heart to hear one of them tell me it was the best experience of their life.  I think the lesson I learned from that WYD was that I have something to offer the church.  No matter how small and insignigicant it may seem at times, I have something to give.  Whether it be typing minutes from a parish meeting, leading a youth group, driving someone to Mass, becoming a reader, or praying for someone who is sick, we all have something to give. 

And now Madrid is just around the corner. I’m a little bit wiser this time around, so hopefully won’t make the same mistakes as last time.  I am hoping for another wonderful experience, and wonder what will be revealed to me this time.   I hope and pray that I will be able to facilitate an experience for the young people attending World Youth Day with me, that they will be open to learn their own gifts and the messages that God has for them. I hope that WYD will be as rewarding an experience for them as it has been for me.

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December 7, 2010 Posted by | Faith, Spirituality | , , , | 1 Comment