Gaudete!

It’s been a long time since I’ve sat down to just blog for fun, and this day just screamed out for it.

Happy Gaudete!  What a great, great day.  I’ve always loved Gaudete Sunday, and this year it seems especially joyful.  For starters, I had a lovely weekend with family, enjoying Nashville through food, history, drink, and more food.  And drink.  I went to sleep last night almost feeling like it was already my birthday.  Honestly, no one deserves this much fun for their birthday after they enter their third decade.

This morning I had poticia and a leftover pink cupcake for breakfast to celebrate Gaudete Sunday.  Poticia is a Slovenian nut bread that my grandma always made for Christmas- now my mom and aunts make it, and my aunt gave me some early – so I saved it to eat on Gaudete Sunday! Rejoice!  I lit my advent wreath and read my morning spiritual reading, and I honestly thought for a brief moment that it was already my birthday.  It’s good to be loved.

Even Sammy, the weekend doorman, gave me homemade treats this morning. Honestly, I do not deserve this much love.

Mass was absolutely beautiful, with all the best Advent songs AND the OPENING OF THE HOLY DOOR with the Bishop sitting in choir and an incredible homily from Father Baker that actually ended with a hilarious reference to L.A. (Lower Alabama) and the command to shout “Happy Jubilee!” in the streets of Nashville.  Honestly.  It’s just too much. I was dying of joy.

Then it was the realization during Communion that:

1) I was born during an extraordinary Jubilee.

2) This is an extraordinary Jubilee, and it basically opened for me this morning, on my favorite Sunday of the year, the day before my birthday

3) In 11 days, I will celebrate the 20th anniversary of my first Marian consecration. 20 years. Whew.

Basically, people, this is a big year for me. I can feel it. Lots of graces.  God has big plans.  Here we go!

Almost half the church was wearing pink this morning. You could feel the joy.  Then a bright pink taxi cab drove by while we were standing outside of church and Father Baker shouted, “That taxi cab!  Come here!  We need you! It’s a Gaudete taxi cab!”  I mean, it was like everyone was intoxicated on Advent Joy.

It was sad to say goodbye to the family after brunch, especially since we have had such an incredibly fun time (lots of laughter!), but it was tempered by the fact that I would see them all in ten days!  I began listening to Advent/Christmas music on the way home (for the first time this year- it pays to wait, I’m telling you) and I could just feel it.  He is coming.  He is near.

Gaudete, everyone!  Go rejoice today!  He is near!

 

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Thoughts on the Synod

I have been more out-of-the-loop with the Synod than I normally would like.  It’s a far cry from last year, when I had just started my job and didn’t have any projects in full swing. I had plenty of time to read as much as I could, watch press conferences, and speculate. This year, work has kept me busy and I’ve barely had time to read a blog post here and there.  I skim Twitter in the morning (following the Holy See Press Office is rather helpful for getting quotes from the press conferences) and sometimes that’s all I can do.

Perhaps, though, it’s not such a bad thing.  I’m aware of the discussions and debates, but in the end, I’ll be waiting until the dust settles to see what comes of all of this. Which is all I could have done anyway. So we pray for the bishops, we pray for the Pope, and we wait.

One thought: Pretending that the only issue the synod needs to discuss is Communion for the divorced and remarried is an insult to families throughout the world. This isn’t a synod on the question of Communion for the divorced and remarried.  This is a synod on the family.  And with all respect to those who are in that situation and hurting, there are millions of people throughout this world hurting for other reasons, and their wounds need to be addressed as well. I was reading comments on an article during the first week of the Synod (heaven help me, why do I read comments on articles…) and the person said if that problem wasn’t going to be solved, why is there even a synod?  Well, that’s insulting to every family that is hurting throughout the world: hurt by war, fatherless families, prostitution and sex trafficking, polygamy, abuse, poverty, infertility, lack of educational opportunities…

What about the families who are struggling to be faithful, to be life-giving, to be virtuous in this culture when everyone around them is telling them to give up?  To act like the synod is only about Communion for the divorced and remarried is a slap in the face, at best.  (Thank you, Cardinal Dolan.)

More than one bishop has commented that if the focus of the synod is Communion for the divorced and remarried, it is a narrow focus that pretty much completely ignores the situation of families outside the western world.  We tend to forget that much of the Catholic world lies outside our everyday experience.  The Catholics in North America make up a mere 8% of the Catholic Church.  Add Europe and you get a total of about 32%. Not exactly a majority.

One of the most striking things about the World Meeting of Families was not just the international community present, but where much of the international community came from. Not from affluent Europe (an easy trip to Philadelphia).  No, they were from Asia and Africa.  I’ve never seen so many bishops gathered for Mass in one place outside of Rome, as I did at that opening Mass for the WMOF.  Where were they from? Africa and Asia. (Including this guy.) The Church is growing and the Church is faithful in these “2nd millennial” churches.  They deserve to be in the conversation.

That being said, I stand by the things I said last year (here and here) about last year’s extraordinary synod, and I urge everyone to pray for the bishops.  We can spill a lot of ink, we can gossip and complain and speculate and worry.  Or we can pray.

Feverish gratitude (20 years late?)

In honor of the way my 31st year has begun, I give you my thoughts from Monday, written in the middle of the flu.

For a moment you feel okay, and you think maybe you aren’t really as sick as you thought you were. Then the chills come, and you brace yourself for the pain they bring as they run up and down and up your body like Rachmaninoff playing scales.

And you want your mom.

There’s something about a mom that nothing else can replace. My friends are wonderful– picking up my prescription and getting me chicken soup. But a mom…

Right now I’m alone and the remote control is so far away. That wouldn’t have happened twenty years ago. It would be next to me. It’s so hard to lift my head to drink fluids. Twenty years ago, Mom would have somehow produced a straw from the kitchen cabinet.

I don’t know what I would do if I had children. I can barely move, much less take care of another living being. While my friends may lament not being married with kids… Right now I lament not being 11.

Back Home Again

Some things are worth sacrifices.  But when the sacrifice is over, you don’t sit around thinking, “Gee, I wish I was still sacrificing.”  It doesn’t mean that you would change anything about the past, or even that you hated every minute of the sacrifice.  It was worth it, but now there’s a new phase of life and you’re okay with that.

For the past six years, I had the joy and honor to teach almost every Saturday from mid-February to mid-May and mid-August to mid-November.  It was worth sacrificing my Saturdays (and about half of my Fridays) to have the opportunity to preach the Gospel and share the joy of Jesus Christ with over a thousand people.

It was a joy, but it’s also a joy to have my Saturdays back.  One of the first things I planned?  A road trip to Notre Dame.

Two weeks ago, three guys and I piled in my friend Matt’s Jeep early Friday morning to make the trip to the beautiful state of Indiana.  It was harvest time, the trees were changing, and I was goin’ back to Indiana.

It was fun to show Mario and Father my old stomping grounds —  our first stop was my home parish, St. Boniface.  The church was unlocked and it was just good to be home again. As we were leaving, my pastor was driving into the parking lot– such a gift! So we got to chat with him and then I had the guts to ask him a question about the church that I had wondered since middle school… and he must be turning soft, because he showed me the answer – a secret I didn’t think I would ever be told.  I would be more transparent about it if I didn’t think my middle school classmates would hunt me down and make me tell them, too.  Suffice to say, it was pretty awesome.

Then we went over to the perpetual adoration chapel, which I saw with new eyes, taking guests there.  I had always known it was beautiful, but I think walking into it realizing that most people probably expect a little room tucked in the corner of the hospital… and then you walk into a gorgeous Gothic chapel with incredible statues and beautiful stained glass windows — well, we’re pretty blessed in Lafayette.

steI stole this picture off the internet.  And it doesn’t do the chapel justice.

We didn’t have much time before dinner, so we finished the tour of Lafayette with a stop at the taproom at People’s Brewery.  People’s is an addition to Lafayette after I left home, but I had enjoyed their beer when Mom and Dad bought it, and they usually bring me a six-pack when they visit. So I was looking forward to checking out the taproom.   So that we didn’t have to make decisions, we decided to get two flights, which would include samples of everything they had on tap, and split them.

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The nice guy bringing us our flights described them all, then recommended drinking them from low IBUs to high, so that the hops wouldn’t wreck our palate.  I think my favorite was Belgian Stout, which we couldn’t take home because it’s made with nitrogen and they can’t bottle it.  But we ended up bringing  home the regular IPA and the Red Ale (which I liked because it was named for our local Irish pub).  I was hoping to like their Oktoberfest, because it’s brewed especially for my home parish’s Germanfest, but it just wasn’t my favorite.

IMG_9885Twelve beers.  Enjoy them, but make sure you’re home in time for dinner.

We returned to the homestead for a delicious dinner (thanks, Mom!), and another good friend of mine, Father David, joined us because he knew Father Kevin from seminary.  My nieces were staying with my parents, so it was an extra treat to get to spend time with them, too.  I feel like the guys got a little taste of the family craziness, which is always good.  After dinner we played a rousing game of Trivial Pursuit.  (Dad and the priests won.)

The next morning we woke up bright and early to continue our grand adventure. Father celebrated Mass, Mom made breakfast, and then we hit the Hoosier Heartland to trek up to Notre Dame.  My awesome brother not only got us tickets but also a parking pass, so we parked south of campus and headed to the bookstore.  Since we were parked so close to campus, we could even take our loot back to the car before exploring the rest of campus. It’s the little things that count, you know?

It was fun to show the guys the way my family always celebrated game days.  Steak sandwiches from the Knights of Columbus, prayers at the Basilica and the Grotto, and a fairly new tradition, the trumpets under the Dome.  But it was my first game back on campus since my sister-in-law’s father had passed away, and it was sad not to see him at his tailgate.  I’m sure St. Peter frequents his Notre Dame tailgates these days.

The game was a too much a nail-biter — it made it fun, but I would rather have been bored. : )  But we pulled it off in the end.

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We celebrated the win with another Watson tradition … Bruno’s for dinner after the game!   We didn’t have to wait as long as I thought we would (and I even saw one of my brother’s old friends at the bar).  Then we hit the road to head back to Lafayette, and we all fell asleep in the car. Except Matt. I’m so grateful to Matt and Mario for for driving all weekend.

Sunday we headed back to Tennessee.  A short trip, but packed with old memories and new inside jokes.  So many of my childhood Saturdays were spent on that campus, and it was good to return – and actually witness an Irish win.  (the last game I went to, we lost to Air Force… and the two people I took to the game ended up breaking up a few days later…Eek.  Needless to say, better memories this time around…)

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2 Conferences and a Home Visit

Every once and awhile over the past two months I would plan to blog.  Then I would stare at the computer screen and the date of the last post, glance at all the photos in iPhoto from the past two months, stare some more, then get completely overwhelmed and close WordPress.

Let’s just say this has been an incredible summer.  I think it’s the fastest summer to date – I can’t believe it’s already August – but it has also been one of the most fun summers to date.

Part of the reason the summer went so fast (besides my packed social calendar) is that I was out of town for large chunks of it.  I spent two wonderful weeks in theology-land, attending two conferences at Franciscan University, with a home visit sandwiched between the two.  Have I mentioned that I put 3,500 miles on my car this summer?  yeah.

The first conference was the Bosco Conference, a catechetical conference that is full of practical workshops, great people, and beautiful times for prayer.  I was able to stay with my dear friend Amy (so there was a lot of sleep lost over late-night conversations), catch up with a few friends from the catechetical world, drink in the wealth of knowledge that is Dr. Petroc Willey, and spend time with Sefanit (for those of you truly veteran blog-readers, you’ll recognize that name from Rome!).

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The Portiuncula Chapel is my favorite place in Steubenville.  Okay, in all of Ohio.

This trip came at the perfect time — I needed the time to be with Jesus.  Attend a few talks, go to Mass, sit in the chapel, eat.  repeat.

I skipped a workshop one afternoon to head into Pittsburgh and meet up with my friend Mike Aquilina and his daughter Mary Agnes.  He gives a great tour of the saints of Pittsburgh.  St. John Neumann, Bl Francis Seelos, St. John Paul II, Bl Mother Frances Siedliska… it’s quite impressive.  Mike knows so much about the history of the Church in that area, I could have listened to him all day.

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After the conference was over, I headed home — but met up with my sister and her family on their way through Ohio.  We had breakfast at Cracker Barrel, drove to visit my great aunt in Columbus, and then finished the trip to Indiana.  It was such a wonderful time home– the kids are all at really fun ages, and it was fun to have them all together.  It was a very quick trip home for me — just two days — but with my brother’s family down from Chicago, all of us were together except Sr. Mary Grace, and we managed a lot of fun in just two days.

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(See her blog for plenty of great pictures.)

Then it was back to Franciscan for me, for the Applied Biblical Studies conference.  I was blessed to be able to teach with the St. Paul Center before the conference kicked off.  Two hundred people came for the Journey Through Scripture bible study, and I found myself teaching alongside incredible presenters like Michael Barber, Matt Leonard, and David Currie.  Oh, and this woman named Kimberly Hahn.

It was wonderful to be back with the St. Paul Center, to see their new offices, to hear about the new plans for the DVD series (you have to see this), and just talk with Scott and Kimberly and the gang.

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The conference was incredible, as always.  More time with Jesus in the Portiuncula, more incredible and inspiring talks from the best biblical teachers in the country. But you know what was the best?  There I was, with Dr. Brant Pitre, Scott Hahn, Jeff Cavins, Michael Barber, John Bergsma… and you know where I learned the most?

At the holy hour.  I was sitting behind the Hahns, next to Mike Aquilina and Matt Leonard and all the rest.  And we prayed together.  WE PRAYED TOGETHER.  As I knelt there, the lights dim and the gym floor hard, Father processed around with Jesus in the monstrance, I worshipped the Word of God with giants in the Church.  I was kneeling with these incredible scholars, these beautiful writers, these celebrities…and they were in love, in adoration, in worship.

These men learned a lot from books.  But they learned more on their knees.

And I wept with joy.

A dulcedomum – joaninordinarytime mashup

IMG_7763I had been looking forward to Jill’s visit to Nashville for a long time — before we were even sure it was happening.  As she mentions on her blog, she and John Paul came to town to meet Christopher da Vinck.  Chris is the author of  The Power of the Powerless, a moving testimony to the difference the weakest among us can make in this world.  (You should read the book.  You should also read the article that started it all – here. He read it during his talk, and it was awesome to hear him read it out loud.) As soon as I heard he was coming to speak at Aquinas, I knew Jill needed to come and meet him.  It’s a miracle that it all worked out, and I truly saw her visit as a gift from God.

As I drove to the airport to pick her up, my heart was so full.  I don’t know how else to describe it — I thought my heart was going to burst with love and excitement.  Her visit was going to be short, but I was going to have her (and John Paul) all to myself. I was going to have the chance to show her my life.  And I was very, very happy.  And grateful.

We went straight to Jack’s to get BBQ for lunch, then it was back to my condo to just sit back and relax (for the first and last time).  She had never seen my condo, so even something as simple as that gave me great joy.

That night was the lecture, and beforehand we were able to go to a reception for Dr. da Vinck so that Jill would have a chance to meet him and talk to him.  As she mentioned on her blog, John Paul might have gotten more attention than Dr. da Vinck… but I don’t think he minded. : )

IMG_7736John Paul is very camera-aware.

Everyone was so excited to meet Jill and John Paul – it was quite humbling.  All my friends and coworkers had been praying for them for the last year, and they all commented that they felt like they already knew Jill.  And John Paul was a rock star– the whole trip he took it all in stride, always smiling, always flirting.  He let people hold him, he showed off his cracker-eating skills, and he just generally charmed everyone he met.

IMG_7745We may have been a bit disruptive during Dr. da Vinck’s talk.  John Paul knows how to make his Aunt Joannie laugh.

IMG_7742We had to take a lobby selfie.  I have a big mirror that greets me as I wait for the elevator every morning, and it’s occasionally too tempting to take a selfie of my outfit for the day. I try not to do it very often (because no one really cares what I’m wearing), but my Instagram followers suggested hashtags like #lobbyselfie and #waitingfortheelevator, so now it’s kind of a thing.

Wednesday was spent having fun — an exhausting and fun mix of seeing Nashville and taking John Paul to meet his fans.  Jill commented at one point that she felt like they were on a book tour.  It’s an adequate description — they were two celebrities who were in Nashville for a short time, so they needed to see the sights and meet their fans.

It was a beautiful day, so we set out for downtown to eat a big southern breakfast at The Southern, then headed to the Johnny Cash Museum gift shop.  Then we made a loop down Broadway and over to the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, playing tourist.

Our first engagement of the day was my friend Cathy’s classroom at St. Ann School, where her fourth graders were anxiously waiting to meet the little boy they had been praying for.  Then it was over to Aquinas for Mass and Bible study, then off to a late lunch at Bobbie’s Dairy Dip.

IMG_7776The day was only half over!  I thought they deserved a relaxing afternoon, so we went over to Cheekwood Botanical Gardens to enjoy the dogwoods and tulips in their peak.  The bizarre cold snap the night before had hurt some of the flowers, but there were still plenty to enjoy.  Some of the parts of the gardens and the mansion were less than stroller-friendly, but we still managed to see a lot and delight in the beautiful day.

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IMG_7788Our next stop was the Cathedral, where the Chrism Mass was going to be starting in about an hour.  You might remember that I had the joy of teaching the men in formation for the permanent diaconate during the fall of 2012.  Since we had found out about John Paul during that time, I had asked the men and their wives for their prayers.  One of them in particular, my good friend Rafael, has been a prayer warrior for John Paul and Patrick and Jill ever since.  The deacon-candidates still pray for John Paul at every class, and I was continually humbled by their love for someone they had never met.

Rafael was waiting for us outside the Cathedral, and it was like he and John Paul were old friends.  John Paul let him take him into his arms, and Rafael proceeded to take John Paul right into the Cathedral to meet all his deacon-candidate fans.  We made a bit of a spectacle in the middle aisle of the full church, but it was such a beautiful moment.

Over and over again during this trip, it became clear that John Paul has touched many, many lives…. just by being John Paul.  The heroism of ordinary life, the power of prayer, the witness of the weakest … these lessons have ceased being theological postulates or groundless maxims and have become quite real and evident.

The last stop was, quite fittingly, our sister’s home, the Dominican Motherhouse, where we enjoyed a visit with three of Sisters who have been like family over the past 15 years.  Then it was home for dinner and a lovely visit with my cousin and his wife!

I hope I didn’t wear Jill and John Paul out, but it was such a rare gift to have them here and I wanted to squeeze out every joy!  I think one of the best compliments Jill could have given the visit was when she said she felt like she was living in my blog.  I think that’s a good thing. : )  (It was right after seeing Vince Gill eating dinner and a woman horribly mispronouncing my name.  Welcome to my life!)

Next time the whole family is coming!  (right, Jill?)  And not during Lent.  There are too many ice cream places to hit up…

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A year of joy!

Picture1(Shamelessly stealing pictures from my sister.)

I commented to Jill on her blog that part of me can’t believe he’s already a year old… but the other part of me can’t remember what life was like without him!  She beautifully responded: “Empty.”

It’s so true… What a hole our lives would all have if this boy hadn’t been given to us by God.

I was talking to someone over the weekend who only knows John Paul through my request for prayers and a few pictures.  We are on a committee together and see each other twice a year – last year our committee met shortly before his birth, so I had told his story and requested prayers.  At this meeting she approached me and shared that John Paul had changed the way she viewed Down Syndrome children and other babies with disabilities.  She immediately had my full attention, since she is clearly someone who is 100% prolife, and I was curious to see what she was going to say.  She explained that until “meeting” John Paul, she had always seen unborn babies with birth defects, Down’s, etc, as needing us.  We need to give them a chance, we need to support them, we need to give them life.

She now realizes that it’s actually a matter of us needing them.

Thanks, John Paul.  And happy birthday.