Friday, August 16, 2013

The road trip of a lifetime (A very long account)

I haven't written a post this long since the day I came home from WYD in Madrid... just beware.

Alrighty heeey! So you wanna hear about the road trip of a lifetime? I for one am in awe of how the Lord has saturated this entire week with His grace and has made His presence known so generously!

A short time ago my grandfather gave me a little bit of money not for my loans, but to do something nice with my friends in view of my upcoming entrance. For months now people have been asking me what kind of things I'd like to do before I enter and sure, I've had my little bucket list of things that would be fun to experience in the time before my entrance. But really the only thing that I've really wanted to do for some time now, was visit the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. I went when I was 19 and fell absolutely in love with the little town of Ashland, and have wanted to go back every year since then! I'm 26 now, and I've only just had the chance. Since a few of my girlfriends so lovingly decided to come and support me in my half-marathon, we decided that it might be worth one last hurrah up the coast of California to the Oregon border!

Traditional, single-sided altar facing the east at St. Stephen the First Martyr.
This is the only parish in California dedicated to celebrating the holy sacrifice
of the mass exclusively in the extraordinary form. There is an ancient renewal
happening in this church. I think you have to walk inside to understand. 
Thankfully the Lord blessed us all along the way, and especially in our trip-planning. One friend is about to head off on a two-year mission soon, and another is on her way back to college at Franciscan. We have another friend who we all wanted to visit in Sacramento before we leave, so last Friday after work we all packed up my car and made our way there just in time for her birthday party, where we had a lovely evening of cake and karaoke. The next morning a couple of us were blessed to attend mass at St. Stephen the First Martyr - which is home to the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter. Each week one of these priests travels down from Sac Town to Fresno to celebrate the single Latin mass in our diocese at 3:30pm. It it always beautiful and they give wonderful homilies (and confessions too if you ever get the chance...). How wonderful to pray in the church they call home!

Sunday evening my friends and I were invited to dinner at the sisters' convent
after attending High TLM mass were they chanted, a social hour with some of their
parishioners, and then Solemn Vespers where we were all delighted by a surprise
visit from His Excellency Bishop Robert Vasa (who is awesome).
We had wonderful conversations and it was a beautiful opportunity to learn more
about their community and how I can support their vocations from the cloister!
After mass we said goodbye to the birthday girl and made our way through the breathtakingly gorgeous wine country, to Santa Rosa where we were met by Mother Teresa Christe, MSSR. The Marian Sisters of Santa Rosa were SO generous in providing us with accommodations in a wonderful space just behind St. Eugene's Cathedral, which is an AMAZING parish. If you are ever blessed to find yourself near Santa Rosa, CA... do make ever effort to visit the cathedral and the sisters! They've only been established there since 2011 and the fruits of their prayers and presence are REALLY apparent. Their apostolate is incredibly and beautifully focused on living the fullness of the Church's liturgical life... and they are about to explode with vocations - so watch out world. Here is their FB page!

Yes, that is a bottle stopper race medal.
We had a lovely Saturday evening of great conversation, a (somewhat) healthy dinner, time with our Lord (in the perpetual adoration chapel which was downstairs from our bedrooms), and then some much needed sleep. Sunday morning we headed out early for the Water to Wine Half Marathon, which I ran through PERFECT cool and overcast weather - finishing in 2 hours 14 minutes. Praise God! The course was so beautiful and I was thankful that the clouds shielded us runners from the sun, keeping a very relaxed atmosphere all throughout the 13.1 miles.

I may never wear this shirt in another race, but I will always run for the
dignity of the human person and the right to LIFE from conception
to natural death. St. Maximilian Kolbe, ora pro nobis. 
 The course was progressively downhill in elevation from beginning to end, but in between the hills were a bit more tough than I had anticipated. There were a good number of steep downhill slopes that went by really quickly, followed by several long inclines. After training for a full marathon, God allowed this half to be substantially easier as far as my overall endurance throughout the race, but it was still tough! In addition, I had been training with recordings of the Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet which I was planning to run with during the race. But for some unknown reason I could not get my earbuds to work! So I ran in silence and kept track of the prayers myself! And was humbled to offer each of those long hills for a different intention. I ran through the beautiful Dry Creek Road which is framed by a ton of wineries... and all of the grapes are ripe on the vine right now! It was so gorgeous. And amazing to think about how it will soon be harvest season. The laborers will come and pick those grapes off the vine and transform them into delectable bottles of wine, not unlike the wine that became Christ's first miracle on earth. I won't write too much about the race at this time. I'm still gathering my thoughts, but suffice it to say that it was sobering and humbling to run my final race with the support of so many amazing people, and the special privilege of wearing my Life Runners T-shirt.

 The race was not a huge one and there weren't a lot of places for spectators to catch a glimpse of the runners, but somehow my friends found me and got to cheer me on almost exactly at the halfway mark, just like they did at The OC Marathon! Then they met me at the finish line and we spent the rest of the morning marveling at the generosity of the Lord in giving us such beautiful running weather - followed by a spectacular break in the clouds that brought the sun out just in time for post-race brunch!

 After I got cleaned up we were making our way from our accommodations into the cathedral for mass at 1:30pm... when we were stopped on the sidewalk by a lovely woman who asked us who we were and where we were from. I think she was excited to see new young people. She immediately invited me and my friends to attend the young adult gathering inside the parish hall later that evening, which we did after dinner with the sisters! How good is God? Our evening was full of holy conversations, new friendships and discussion of our holy father's homily from his visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida just before World Youth Day. We were so thankful for this opportunity for fellowship. Oh how easy it is to build community when someone is willing to just say hello to someone they've never met before!! Thank God for this woman who stopped us on the sidewalk. Let us pray for the strength to invite someone new into our lives this week, and share with them about the goodness of the Lord.

My girlfriends and I attended mass inside the cathedral before heading off onto the next part of our trip on Monday morning. We took the whole day to drive up CA-101, passing through the Avenue of the Giants, stopping for a drive through the Chandelier Tree, a peek at Confusion Hill, and a chat with Paul Bunion. It was a full day of gazing and gawking at God's creation. It is truly an incredible sight to behold.

No photo could ever do justice to the beauty that is found along the Avenue of the Giants.
I mean... I didn't take this picture. So... no offense to whomever did!
But still. You knowI speak the truth. 
At a certain point I was in awe of the number of redwoods we were driving through - when one of my friends brought to my attention just how immense the roots of those trees must be in order to support them. And I realized that, even growing up with the sequoias practically in my back yard, I had never once taken into consideration the tremendous root system that is planted under the earth in all our forests. Can you imagine the beauty that must lie beneath our feet? The complex intertwining of roots that support the beautiful flowers, plants and fruits that we see? It was one thing, as I drove beneath the majesty of the giant redwoods, to appreciate their greatness... but quite another to be faced with the realization they are nourished and their lives are sustained by something that we can't even see. Hidden roots beneath the earth give these trees everything they need to grow as marvelous sights to behold. Those roots are so important... vital, in fact - the most essential element of the tree! And yet we hardly ever give them a thought. It was just... interesting, and humbling.

Archangel Gabriel Orthodox Church - humble from the outside,
BEAUTIFUL on the inside! Well, humble inside too, but quite striking.
In Ashland, OR we were blessed to have been offered a place to stay at the Walsh Memorial Newman Center, directly across campus from Southern Oregon University. My friends, PLEASE take note... this - is - an - AWESOME Newman Center (their website doesn't do it justice... I have no idea what the community is like during the school year, but I hope it's a thriving one!). It is a big house with lots of rooms and space for fellowship, but also has a sort of inviting feeling that would welcome a group of young people to come in, pull up a couch and spend an evening discussion scripture and catholic theology! Quite interestingly - the university campus ministry shares the Newman Center with the local Orthodox community, which has its chapel adjacent to the house. On Sunday morning one of my friends woke up early to chant the Morning Office at sunrise with me. We were on our way outside to begin, when we heard the orthodox community chanting Matins inside their chapel! Not wanting to disturb, we went to the other side of the house to pray ours. But when we walked back in the door to the chapel was open, and we met the community's priest who was very friendly, and told us that we were welcome to pray inside the chapel anytime during our stay. What a blessing!

Fr. Andreas Blom is originally from a loving but non-religious
family in Sweden! He converted and is building the orthodox
community in Ashland with his wife and two daughters. He
seems young and full of the holy spirit. May God bring us all
back in to one family, for we are one body of Christ. 
While our orthodox brothers and sisters are not in communion with Rome, we do recognize that they have apostolic succession and therefore valid sacraments. What a grace to be invited into their chapel to pray in front of Jesus! Orthodox churches and chapels are always so beautiful to me. They are filled with breathtaking icons of our Lord, our Lady, and many holy saints from their own tradition as well as many that we share! There is something amazing about being surrounded by these icons as you pray. It creates such a tangible realization that we are surrounded by a communion of saints, especially in the presence of our Lord.

Our Lady of the Mountain Catholic Church in Ashland, OR
 At noon on Tuesday my friends and I attended mass at Our Lady of the Mountain just a few minutes away from where we were staying. It was a simple and modern church but with such a wonderful reverence! A couple of people came over to us after mass and asked where we were from - thinking that we might be arriving into Ashland as new university students. We shared with them about ourselves and then were very happy to go over and meet Fr. Angelo Te - the pastor, who I contacted in hopes of finding accommodation for ou trip! He had put me in touch with the director of the Newman House who was more than pleased to provide my friends and I with so much more than we could have asked for! It was great to meet this pastor and to pray with the catholic community in this little town of the Bard. The tabernacle is inserted into a carved out space in a stone wall! There's a strangely ancient feel to that particular space in the church.

That afternoon we took a stroll through the famous Lithia Park, which is probably my favorite park of all time. It was even better than I remember it from my first visit to Ashland seven years ago. There are concrete paths laid out, but they are not as intricately planned as paths you see in most parks. They weave in and out of trees, ponds, small hills and a gorgeous creek, in such a way that you feel more like you're walking through a forest that just happens to have some concrete laid down - rather than a park planned out by people. In each section of the park we found something new that made us appreciate the diversity of this small college town, all the different kinds of people who reside in it, and all the people who visit it because of their love of the arts. There was something incredibly freeing and childlike about hopping on rocks up the creek and then walking single-file along a dirt path during our 3pm Divine Mercy Chaplet. I think we all experienced the love of the Lord a bit more personally there in the splendor of the park where people seemed to be truly at peace and content. Oh what a wonderful world it is, and how marvelous when God gives us to see it in such radiant light. It makes the sacrifice of total abandonment to Divine Providence all the more bitter sweet when we recognize the goodness found in a life to which we know we are not called - and the grace that comes with offering our desires to the Lord for the salvation of souls.

You see my friends, it is no secret to those who have known me for any number of years that I have an incredible love for Shakespeare that has, at times, lightly brushed the surface that lines the realm of devotion. When I hear, read or recite iambic pentameter it affects me on an emotional level just about as much as music does for most people and while the tales in his plays are not really original, they are told through a uniquely timeless beauty that I have yet to find have been matched or succeeded. If I could reach heaven reading nothing but the Bible and the Bard, I'm sure my heart would be ecstatic and fulfilled. Before discovering my vocation to religious life I cannot remember any time in my life that I love more than the semesters I spent teaching actors how to "speak Shakespeare" during grad school in London. Being immersed day in and day out with this poetry and wit gave me... well... just a whole lot of joy. Let's just say that.

On top of the fact that Ashland pretty much lives and breathes Shakespeare everyday for about 10 months out of the year, it just so also happens to be the cutest little college/retirement town ever. I remember falling in love with the town the first time I visited - but that was a time when I was practically counting down the minutes to my exit from small town life and my move to New York City. I had no intention of ever leaving New York once I moved there for theatre school. I was a 19, but still very much a child when I visited the first time. But upon this second visit to Oregon, it was quite a different experience of recognizing the potential for a peaceful family life one might build there. It seemed such an inviting place for children to run around and play - filled with greenery, water to splash around in, a small welcoming catholic community, and the potential to help build up the kindgom of God through helping minister to students who go there for college. So much opportunity for good works and holiness! From the moment we entered town to well after we left, a million thoughts crossed my mind about how holiness and sainthood could definitely be reached through life as a lay person working in a community such as the one I encountered in Ashland. Oh how the Lord might use me in this place which gives me such happiness!

Alas, even while Shakespeare was, and his plays are, surely and resoundingly Catholic, for me they are a worldly pleasure. The happiness I experienced walking around the town, praying through the park, and even finally sitting down for a WONDERFUL rendition of Cymbeline at the end of Tuesday night - are all good and worthy gifts from the God, but they can also be distractions found along the straight and narrow path upon which my Lord calls me toward Himself.

Through my own fault and inability to articulate the things that go on in my heart, it has been difficult to... convince (for lack of a better word)... some of my closest friends and family - that yes, I do recognize the goodness of the world and how the gifts/talents God has given me could be very useful as a wife and mother or even active sister. But brothers and sisters, this is simply not the life I am called to! At least for now I am absolutely positive that the Lord desires I enter my Nobertine community and devote as much of my life to Him as possible through prayer. Yes, I am quite sure that I would be immensely satisfied and extremely happy if I were blessed to be called to a life in the world where my gifts could be used to touch the lives of His children and minister to their hearts. But He has blessed me so much more than I deserve - in calling me to offer Him my greatest gift - the gift He works through to deliver many graces to His children - my prayer! And the prayer of my sisters. It has been made so unarguably clear, my friends, that right now He is calling me to labor in meditation and chanting the Divine Office. This is the very best work I can do for Him. The very best gift I can give back to the One who gave everything for me. It is a sacrifice and a consolation at the same time. It is humility staring me right in the face. Who am I that the Lord should give me the opportunity to accept, from within the shelter of the cloister, His offer of pursuing humility - this virtue to which we are all called? I can do nothing but accept with the full knowledge that at any moment this gift could be taken from me, or that by my own fault it may slip through my fingers. And so I must cling tightly to it.

On Wednesday morning we traveled about 20 minutes north the the town of Medford for morning mass, since there is no celebration in Ashland on Wednesdays. It was amazing that the Lord saved the most breathtakingly beautiful church of our trip - complete with an image of Divine Mercy hanging right over the exit - for last. Ok well, almost last... we actually decided at the last minute to pop into the Cistercian Abbey of New Clairveaux for Midday prayer with the monks just about an hour outside Sacramento on our way home. But mass at Sacred Heart in Medford was simple, peaceful, and the perfect way to end our time in Oregon. We were only sorry that we had to get right ont the road, and didn't have time to stick around for coffee with all of the nice parishioners who tried so hard to get us to stay! The people of Oregon are truly and genuinely amazing. They are friendly and welcoming in the most sincere way I have ever encountered, God bless them!

I had no idea how much of a grace this trip would be when I was planning it out with my friends. Not only did I get to pray through another race for you and all of my sponsors, giving thanks to God for how much he has blessed me through Litany Run, but I also had so many experiences of fellowship and witnessing the hope that is found in the people of God... that I lost count! There are so many smaller graces and blessings that came from simple conversations that I haven't written here. It would take all day to write them. I think I take for granted the company that I keep sometimes. The Lord has blessed me with such holy friends and I always underestimate how much nearer He will draw me to Himself as I spend time with them. I cannot express how thankful I am to be constantly surrounded with people who desire so greatly to give their entire lives to the Lord, regardless of what vocation their gift of self is manifested in.

And so fo now I am resolved to have seen the best of Northern California and southern Oregon for the last time. I even forgot to write above about our stop on the beach on our way up the 101. That was probably one of the greatest moments of the week - standing with my toes in the warm sand, and then the cold ocean water, and then the warm sand again. Staring out into the vastness of the Pacific Ocean and giving thanks for the gift of being able to behold it one last time. Oh what a gift sight it! Please Lord let me never forget that I was once blind, and now I see more clearly every day. Let me never stop thanking You for these eyes You have given me to bear witness to the glory you have bestowed on us through the magnificence of our world. A life enclosed in California, forsaking the possibility of ever again experiencing the pleasure of an ocean breeze... this is going to be interesting.

So now life in Fresno resumes for the next 12 days as I tie up all loose ends and do my best to spend every free moment in prayer with my Lord. Please pray for me brothers and sisters, that each of these coming days is filled with more and more peace as I look forward to entering the community through which my Lord is calling me to Divine Espousal. God please make this poor sinner even a little bit worthy of coming into your presence.


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