I have come to fall in love with teaching in Catholic schools. What are YOU in love with?...

"Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything." - Pedro Arrupe

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Examine the Examen

Lent has always been a much needed time to refocus my prayer life, and this season is no different. Something I started to do every night before going to bed is pray the Ignatian Examen.

As the website above explains, there are 5 simple steps* to follow in this prayer:

1. Become aware of God’s presence.
2. Review the day with gratitude.
3. Pay attention to your emotions.
4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
5. Look toward tomorrow.

*In the book I am currently using (Reimagining the Ignatian Examen), it uses 5 R's to remember the steps: Relish, Request, Review, Repent, Resolve.

There are a few things I have found to be most wonderful about this routine of prayer:

1) It takes less than 15 minutes...but those 10 +/- minutes are meaningful.

2) It is easy to use, and it helps me walk through the day in such a way that I focus on the good.

3) Best of all, it allows me to wake every morning with gratitude as the first thing on my mind.

I look forward to using the variations on the Examen as laid out in the book throughout (and after) the Lenten season. I encourage you to try your hand at the Examen too, especially if you are looking for a different prayer experience.

I pray that you continue to have a blessed Lenten season. Remember to find things (both large and small) for which to be grateful and for which to give thanks to God!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

#Ashtag, You're It...

Obligatory #Ashtag selfie

I went all out today - purple sweater, necklace, and all. The Lenten season has begun...

In all seriousness, there are lots of great apps and ideas out there to start the season off right. Here is a list I sent to the teachers at my school:

1) Lenten "The Religion Teacher" Webinar - 10 Ways to Guide Students on an Extraordinary 40-day Journey - Don't be afraid to talk to your students about what you're planning to give up or how you're planning to pray/spend time with God this Lent...
2) CRS Rice Bowl App and/or Focus's Lentsanity App
3) Lent foldable (from Look to Him and Be Radiant blog)
4) Loyola's Lenten resources (Arts & Faith, Living Lent Daily, etc.)
5) 40 Ideas for 40 Days (from Catechist's Journey)
6) Lent lapbook ideas
7) Printable Stations of the Cross
8) Purple Rain (music, readings, and reflections for each week of the Lenten season)
9) Printable Lenten calendar for kids
10) Who doesn't love Pinterest?

There was also a great post recently over at Catholic APPtitude with iPhone/iPad suggestions (free or cheap!) for Lent - check it out!

I hope you have a blessed Lenten season!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Meaningful Weeknight Activities

Though it's been a long week, it's hard to believe it's already Friday. Maybe it's because I have been able to fill my evenings with meaningful activities that have helped to move the week right along...

On Monday I sat down with the young adult planning team, and we started finalizing some logistics, jobs, etc. for our upcoming retreat. We made some solid progress, and everyone brought both joy and determination to our conversation.

On Tuesday I went to young adult volleyball - it was the first time in what felt like forever...and it was a ton of fun. I would definitely consider myself in just about the middle range of skill levels, so, while I definitely made some errors (and missed some serves), I made some good plays as well. Everyone was uplifting on the court and fun to talk to off the court. I hope I can now make this a regular thing...

Wednesday was a Strengths for the Journey reunion dinner and prayer reflection. Each time I turned around I was running into someone else I knew - it gave me a true sense that my Church community is my home here now. I even met a few new people, including one ACE grad who worked in Plaquemine, LA. A delicious dinner was followed by an introduction to various prayer forms and a discussion with our tables about how we might strive to use our strengths to influence and understand our respective prayer lives.

Tonight was Adoration followed by some grocery-buying and dinner-getting with my sister. How wonderful to sit in silence in the presence of the Most Blessed Sacrament and offer praise/thanksgiving. After such noisy days at school, nothing strengthens and renews my heart/zeal like the quietness.

Only one more day until the long weekend. I'm looking forward to some rest, relaxation, and limited internet access! Happy Valentine's Day & Presidents' Day to all!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Final Prep Before the Holy Spirit Does Its Thing

Yep, you read that right - today was the 8th graders' Confirmation retreat. (It was nice to have an excuse to be inside for most of the day, quite frankly, as it was overcast and misty - bleh.) With the help of some amazing (yes, truly incredible!) friends (& awesome sister) and colleagues, we were able to pull together some great resources and execute a reflective, thoughtful retreat.

We began the day with Mass, where I happened to be seated in front of my students and next to a woman with a small child (maybe 18 months old?). At one point, I turned around in my pew because my students were whispering. When I turned back around, the woman asked, "Are they yours?" I explained to her that they were having their Confirmation retreat today, to which she responded, "Oh, I was wondering how early you got started." (Ha ha.) It got me thinking, though, that they technically are mine because I've prepared them for this special Sacrament over the past two years. They are mine because their parents entrust them to my care every day. Maybe I should have answered yes. (I would have loved to see that reaction!)

After Mass, we took a quick tour of the Shrine, where we were holding the retreat. The students learned a bit about Mother Cabrini, and they even got to go up on the altar and into the mini museum.

Post-tour, I gave an overview of the structure of the retreat (based on the three main things at Confirmation: Renewal of Baptismal Promises, Laying on of Hands, and Anointing with Chrism). I also introduced the team, and then we were off and running. (We had a break for lunch in the middle too.) We did activities involving movement, art, and prayer. I think the mixture of activities kept the students on their toes...

Though the students were chatty at times, most were highly engaged and thoughtful during their small group sessions, drawing connections between the activities and their faith journeys. Our pastor showed up towards the end, and he led us in a closing prayer before taking a group photo and sending the students on their separate ways.

What a blessing these young people are! Please hold them in your prayers as they enter into this final month before receiving the Sacrament.

Friday, February 6, 2015

It's not about earning...

We cannot earn heaven.

Try telling that to a class of 8th graders. 

I think it surprised them quite a bit. All this time we've talked about doing good for others, going to Mass, etc., but it's not to earn God's favor.

Heaven has already been "earned"/won for us...when God sent His only Son, Jesus, to die for us on the cross. It's His gift to us - we can either accept it (by how we live our lives) or reject it. But it's already there - it's always (since Jesus) been there. Yes, it matters how we live our lives, for we can only  truly love others if we have first come to recognize and understand God's love for us, as we are mirrors of that divine love on this earth. Therefore, we accept God's gift of grace and salvation when we say YES to Him in small and big ways every day...

One student then asked, "What about all those people in the Old Testament before Jesus? Did they not get to heaven?"

I love when they're actually listening and thinking about what I'm trying to say.

I explained that, as the Church teaches, they were able to enter into heaven once the gates were opened at the Crucifixion.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Refocusing on a few things

How would you spend your day back after having a snow day...?

Starting to build your reading stamina (so that your teacher can have more time for more individualized student attention)? (Yes, that says 3 minutes...gotta start small.)

Jumping into Greek mythology and related activities?

There wasn't a lot I could actually do (or have my students do) today - they were still hyped up about the Super Bowl (and the ads) as well as probably stir crazy from staying inside due to this crazy weather. I tried to be understanding, but at some point, it just becomes ridiculous. There's a time to talk and a time to listen...and they seem to have a little trouble figuring that out sometimes.

Maybe tomorrow will be better...One can only pray that it will be so...

Monday, February 2, 2015

February Snow Day

"Due to the inclement weather and the fact that CPS has canceled classes on Monday, we will not be having school..." <-- Such was the incoming automated call I received last night upon returning home from Mass.

Snow day!! (I think it worked out especially well for those people who enjoyed themselves at Super Bowl parties last night, eh?)

As sleeping in this morning was not an option - curses to my internal clock for getting thrown off if I stay in bed past 7 a.m.! - I decided to get up, warm up with coffee and the Today Show, and then head to the gym. As the day progressed, I found myself working (but not too much, thank goodness!) on a few things for school and finishing a children's book (Eight Keys). In addition, I caught up on some podcasts, including "Wait Wait! Don't Tell Me!" Just a few minutes ago I started Unbroken, which people have told me will suck me in and not let me out again until I finish it. (Gosh, I hope I find the time to read it this week!) And, in just a little bit, I will brave the snowy elements to walk (which, at this point, is safer than driving) to Bible Study at Church. All in all, that qualifies as a well-spent snow day in my book.

Tomorrow morning we'll be back to the grindstone with the students. (At least the snow day fell coming off a weekend this time around - hopefully that will make it easier to ease into the week.)

Hello February - you sure came in with a bang!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Snowy Sunday

Woke up to this today:

...And it's still coming down pretty hard. (Apparently the winds are supposed to pick up later, which is going to make for an interesting commute/walk to Church.)

For me, though, it's the perfect day to be trapped inside, as I have a lot of work to do, considering I haven't done any yet this weekend. (Oops.)

So, I just need to motivate myself to get out the door to the gym, and then I'll have the time I need to be productive between when I get back and Church.

Wish me luck...here I go...