the best week in the history of ever

First of all, a very Happy Easter to everyone! He is risen and He is so, so good.

I started off my morning with Mass, Easter Vigil at 4:30 at the Uni-Kirche. It was inhumanely early but also supernaturally beautiful. I have gone to my fair share of Easter Vigil Masses, and it is one of my favorite liturgies of the year, but something about celebrating it in a different language, in a different country, made this one significant. Also, one of my best friends was concurrently becoming Catholic in Austin at the UCC’s Easter Vigil, so that was another great reminder of how awesomely UNIVERSAL the Universal Church is!

Besides the greatest thing to ever happen to the world, I am excited about this week for a few other reasons. First of all, I (finally!) get to register for classes at UT. I know you’re excited about that. I can hear you all celebrating from here.

But what’s really exciting is that I get to go on an awesome adventure this week! I am beyond pumped. Because of this adventure, I will probably not get to post as often as I have been doing recently, so I’ll give you a pre-departure run-down of my week so you know what’s up.

Tuesday morning, I depart Freiburg for the great city of Munich (or, auf Deutsch, München). My plan as of right now is to take myself on a walking tour of the city, go to the city museum, and see one of the palaces of the old imperial family. I also have a few restaurants and biergartens picked out, and if time permits, I might go over to the famous Cinderella castles (aka “Mad” King Ludwig’s castles, aka Neuschwanstein and Linderhof). We’ll see about that… if I don’t get there this time, I will definitely go later on in the summer.

One site I’m passing on this time is Dachau. I definitely want to go at some point, if not to Dachau then definitely to Auschwitz while I’m in Poland, but a trip to a concentration camp by myself does not sound like the most solid choice for my mental health. Regardless, I would appreciate the intercession of Fr. Kentenich and St. Maximilian Kolbe for safe travels, please!

Now, München is supposed to be a cool city and all, and I’m really excited to spend a few days exploring there. But it’s kind of an after-thought to this trip, to be honest… the main event begins when I fly out of München to ROME, ITALY!!! The eternal city!

Once I get to Rome, the plan is to immediately leave. No, really. I’ll be spending the night in a small town about 3 hours outside of Rome where my friend Melissa is finishing up her semester. Because Melissa has an exam on Thursday and can’t make it to Rome yet, I’m going to spend that afternoon and evening with her. We’ll head into Rome the next morning to meet up with our other friend, Monica, who is studying in Milan. (My friends are so international… love it.)

The rest of the weekend is, for us and for thousands of other Catholic pilgrims, devoted to the amazing life and witness of Pope John Paul II, who is being beatified on Sunday, May 1 (the Feast of the Divine Mercy… I can’t get over how perfect it is!). The weekend will come to a head on Sunday morning, when Pope Benedict will celebrate the Beatification Mass.

I am so incredibly honored and ecstatic that I actually get to be in Rome for this event and to attend the Mass proclaiming the greatest man my generation has seen to be “Blessed.” (I mean… tell us something we don’t know!)

I can’t wait to spend some time with friends from back home, to explore two of Europe’s greatest cities, and to celebrate my last week before classes start! This is going to be a great week, y’all. Stay tuned for pictures!

Reasons Why I Included This Picture: 1) I am roughly this excited about this week. 2) Melissa is second pretty lady from the left! 3) I got to dance to Katy Perry with Michael Noriega via Skype this morning. 4) I am currently wearing this dress. 5) Why the heck not?

P.S. A very happy birthday to my Dad, who has made all of these adventures possible!

triduum

And so the three most important, dramatic, sacrificial, quintessentially-Catholic days of the year have begun. I am so humbled to join my brothers and sisters in Christ, world-wide, in the walk to the foot of the cross.

“The passion of Jesus is a sea of sorrows, but it is also an ocean of love. Ask the Lord to teach you to fish this ocean. Dive into its depths. No matter how deep you go, you will never reach the bottom.”
-St Paul of the Cross

not all who wander are lost

Let me begin by telling you a bit about myself.

I fancy myself to be a pretty good writer.

I am a perfectionist and a romantic, especially when it comes to writing.

I am additionally quite verbose, if you haven’t noticed.

Until less than 12 hours ago, I didn’t have Internet in my room yet. (Sidenote: BUT I DO NOW!! Praise the Lord!)

and

I rarely save documents on my computer.

You may be wondering what these things have in common. It doesn’t seem like they fit together, but believe you me, they do.

See, I went on a grand Schwarzwald adventure last weekend, and I wanted to write an awesome post telling you about my experience and what I did and what I learned. So I did!

It was awesome, trust me. I interspersed pictures throughout, told you about my day on Sunday (which, in case you were wondering, included a museum with cuckoo clocks and regional art, a 10-km hike with one of the most beautiful views of my life, and a pretty church), connected some past life experiences to my Schwarzwald story, and then wrapped the whole thing up with a grand realization I made about Divine Providence. I was really proud of it. I couldn’t wait to post it, but I had to, because, you see, the Internet company has taken forever to get me connected.

As I told you, I rarely save documents on my computer, and if you have ever borrowed my computer and been horrified at how many windows I keep open at once, you can imagine that it gets a little overwhelming and confusing. This is the part of the story where tragedy strikes. Between the completion of the brilliant post and my next Internet trip to McDonalds, my computer decided to shut itself down. And delete my beautiful writing.

Undeterred, I sat down again and reproduced my original post, rather accurately, from memory.

And then my computer died again.

And so I gave up.

So instead, here are some pictures from my day on Sunday. First, I took a train and a bus to St. Märgen, a small provincial town built around and named after this monastery.

The monastery is now partially a museum. They have lots of cuckoo clocks there, because the cuckoo clock is native to this area of the Schwarzwald. Here’s one.

After I got bored of looking at cuckoo clocks, I headed out on the Panoramaweg, a trail through the forest and the hills.

The view was spectacular.

There were a couple little chapels along the way. They were pretty neat.

"Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us and grant us peace."

There were also a lot of passive-aggressive trail signs. Very funny, German sign writers.

"Man is good and the world is beautiful on holiday in the hills of the Black Forest. Don't forget to praise God for them and to throw away your trash!"

I determined that all forests, no matter where in the world they are, smell the same. And, to some extent, look the same.

This tree, specifically, reminded me of good ol' Big Sandy... activity trees, anyone? #Pinesonthemind

The Panoramaweg led me to St. Peter, another small monastery town. The inside of the church was beautiful!

It was nice to have a chance to sit down after all that hiking.

The kneelers were PADDED. Take note, other churches of Europe.

So there you go, friends. I apologize for the lack of deep thoughts, amusing childhood anecdotes, and romantic language. But really, if you use your imagination, this is almost as good.

Random fact of the day: iTunes rounds up when determining song lengths! Who knew? Now you do!

new passions v2

**And the Facebook is working again. And all was right in the world.**

Warning: The following post inspired by my recent trip to the Augustiner Museum is extremely long and highly nerdy. Writing it mostly helped me sort out some of my own thoughts, but I think it’s interesting enough to post, too. If you don’t agree, you can go read my thoughts about beer instead.

I think I’m developing a new intellectual pursuit. I know, I know, that’s all pretentious and Plan II of me, but it’s true. It’s nothing I’d ever even really thought about before, but now that I’m immersed in it, I’m fascinated.

Sacred. Art. Is. So. Cool.

I blogged a little bit about some of the art my mom and I got to see when we were in France. But even since then, I’ve just been captivated with all that I’ve seen.

Sacred art is really prevalent here in Europe, what with all the old churches and, you know, the Renaissance and stuff. No big deal. But apparently the Oberrhein, the region of Europe that includes Freiburg and Strasbourg, is a hotbed for statues, altarpieces, paintings, wood carvings, and stained glass windows depicting Jesus, Mary, biblical scenes, and the early saints. In my exploration of the sacred art of the Oberrhein (a journey which, thus far, includes the Unterlinden Museum in Colmar, cathedrals in Strasbourg and Freiburg, and most recently the Augustiner Museum in Freiburg), I’ve discovered how rich and alive my faith’s history and culture really is.

The cathedral in Freiburg was easily the biggest church Ive ever seen... crazy.

One thing that’s especially fascinated me and made me want to learn more is the style of the portrayals of the early saints. In every church I’ve visited (like, ever visited, even in the US when I was 8 years old), when there are stained glass and statues portraying the saints’ lives, I always look as hard as I can for some indication, some label, of which saint is which. But they’re almost never labeled! It’s so frustrating!

But at the Unterlinden, I learned that that’s because there is this extremely detailed network of associations and symbols used to identify portrayals of the saints. For instance, if there is a statue of a female saint holding a lamb, that’s St. Agnes. However, if it is a male figure with a lamb, it’s John the Baptist. Some of them are kind of weird–St. Antony is always accompanied by a pig.

I mean, I guess I was aware that this kind of thing existed–I recognize statues of St. Laurence, my home parish’s patron, because he’s always holding a griddle, and St. Lucy, my confirmation saint, because she always holds a platter adorned with her eyeballs (lovely). But I never realized how important it was to the artistic culture or how detailed and all-encompassing it was. It just makes me want to learn every single saint’s story so I can identify all the paintings and statues!

Another thing that’s really stuck out is the specific assortment of saints that are frequently pictured. Biblical saints, of course, are very present; the Evangelists, appropriately, and also James the Greater, who for some reason really looks like a pirate. Besides them, though, the big players are the great saints of the early church. Despite choosing one of them as my confirmation patroness, I really don’t know too much about these martyrs and virgins of the first few centuries A.D., so it’s been awesome to learn more about them. The common portrayals I’ve been seeing have been Sts. Laurence, Barbara, Antony, Margaret, Catherine, and Sebastian.

For serious, at the Unterlinden I saw so many depictions of St. Sebastian that I really started to wonder what the heck was going on. The only reason I really knew of his story–he was martyred...twice...by being shot with arrows–was because a lot of my male friends chose him as their confirmation saint. He is the patron of sports, after all. It turns out that he’s one of the saints that people really turned to during the Black Plague and so he, logically, became very popular at that time. And then it all made complete sense. I’ve seen him all over the place since then.

I’ve gotten pretty good at distinguishing these guys. Laurence, as I said, carries a griddle (in memory of his martyrdom), Antony is always accompanied by a pig (again, no idea on that one…), Barbara normally carries a small model of a church, and Margaret is shown with a dragon and the staff with which she killed it. (Um, awesome much? Those early virgins were pretty badass.)

Now, it’s not surprising at all that a specific time and place in art and culture would have certain trends, certain things that artists especially valued, and certain people to whom they gave honor. But what really strikes me is the simultaneous dynamism and stability of Christian society. In the middle ages, Catholics in central Europe had really strong devotions to St. Barbara, St. Sebastian, and company… they prayed to them, made art featuring them, probably named their children after them. Even the main guilds of Freiburg each had a patron saint. The tanners, for instance, were especially devoted to St. Agnes. These devotions were so ingrained in European society in that historical moment.

But it didn’t stop there. Christian society; European society; heck, human society: they don’t stand still. They’re in constant motion. Which we can see because hundreds of years later, in the 20th century, the same region of Europe was marked with a completely different flavor. Modern Europe, building off of hundreds of years of tradition, produced a new generation of great saints, men and women whose lives were very different from those of the early martyrs. And these saints are some of the ones my generation most identifies with, prays to, and will probably name our children after: Sts. Faustina and Maximilian Kolbe in Poland and St. Therese of Lisieux in France, to name a few.

Despite the obvious differences between today’s society and the Middle Ages’, there is still a need to connect to people, especially those who inspire us, those who are great. And we build and strengthen those connections in a lot of the same ways. Ever seen a picture of St. Therese that didn’t include a rose? Modern saint identification. And how did St. Faustina communicate her message to the world? Largely through the Divine Mercy image. Modern sacred art!

You know, after typing that all out, it doesn’t seem groundbreaking at all. It seems like the most natural thing ever. Seeing the very nearness of the early church to my own experiences kind of drives home the universality of my faith and of the human experience in general. I’m sure there were people going to the Cathedral in Strasbourg back in the day who were curious about the saints in the stained glass windows. In fact, the artists, writers, and theologians who first began devising the network of saints’ symbols and associations probably did so because of that human desire to identify with and understand art. (Also probably because those people wondering about the saints’ identities weren’t exactly literate… but I diverge.)

Before I get lost in my nerdy little world and bore all you people in blog-land, let’s summarize. Sacred art is cool. There is lots of it in Freiburg. Art brings people together. Even people who live thousands of miles and hundreds of years apart. It kind of makes me want to write my thesis on it. Which kind of makes me want to change my major to European Studies. But I don’t want to get too ahead of myself. So for now, let’s just stick with “Sacred art is cool.”

“it’ll change your life”

Before I left for Europe, I can’t even count how many times people told me: “Enjoy it, it’ll change your life.” or “You’ll come back a different person.” or “You only get a chance like that once.”

I mean, fair point. Studying abroad is a pretty unique experience, one I’m not likely to forget. And I’m sure I will experience lots of things that will help me in my personal development and show me things about the world I never knew before.

But dang, is it a lot of pressure to go into something thinking, “I have to make the most of every moment because it’s going to change my life and if I waste one second I will regret it forever!!!”

I’ve found myself thinking that a lot. If I’m just walking around the city myself, or sleeping in one morning, or going for a run around the lake, I sometimes think, “What am I doing here? I need to be doing things that will make this the life-changing event that everyone’s telling me it will be!”

That’s such a trap. If I spent my whole time here thinking like that, I’d be too busy worrying about having life-changing experiences to actually experience anything life-changing.

So yes, I have been spending a lot of time alone, and walking around the city buying food from street vendors and window-shopping and going to museums on a whim because student fare is ridiculously cheap. But is that bad? I rarely have the chance to do any of those things in “real life.” I’m a woman without a mission in a big city. My friend Ashley told me that I’m like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I mean, I’ll take it.

What I’m really doing is living in the moment. No, right now I don’t yet have a close group of confidants with whom to discuss deep thoughts (in German, of course), and right now I’m not in classes, and right now I’m not traveling around Europe like crazy. But I am living in the moment. All those other things will have their moments, but this one ain’t it.

For now, every day I do something different, learn something new about the world, and discover something about myself. And if I have a chance to do something, like go to a jazz guitar concert even though I don’t know the first thing about jazz guitar, you better believe that I take it! Living in the moment can take lots of forms.

I’m sure, months and years from now, I will look back on this time and see that it did change my life. Maybe I will regret some things, but hopefully it will be filled mostly with fond memories of good experiences and self-discovery. “Becoming a new person” happens gradually, because of a life lived in the present.

So I beg of you: the next time you talk to someone who is about to do something like study abroad, or go to college for the first time, or, I don’t know, get married or something, please, please, don’t tell them that it will “change their life.” Tell them to have fun and that you are excited for them and leave at that. The life-changing part will happen on its own. You don’t need to point it out.

top five friday: the bear necessities

I didn’t bring too much here to Germany… enough to fill one suitcase, one backpack, and a little extra. There are some things, though, that I just had to bring.

  1. Pictures of friends: If you’ve ever been in my dorm room in Austin, this probably doesn’t surprise you. My favorite people’s faces make my room a little less depressing. After I put them all up in what I thought was a clever and fun design, I realized that it looked a little like an angry cat face, and so I also put up some prayer cards. Now the wall is full of my best friends on earth AND in heaven! Sweet! And also it doesn’t look like an angry cat face.
  2. My UBI rock: This is one of two UBI rocks I got from my two summers at Covecrest, a Life Teen summer camp in Tiger, Georgia and a place that is very close to my heart. The inscription, UBI, stands for “U are the best, B Happy, I love you.” Two special people I associate this rock with are my BFF Laura, who also went to Covecrest the second year I went (which is when we became BFFs), and my friend Andrea, because I gave her my second UBI rock when I was her angel for Longhorn Awakening 48. It can also be used as a paperweight so, you know… score!
  3. Verses auf Leben und Tod: This is kind of cheating because I bought it once I got here, but it turns out that it’s pretty hard to find German novels in America. This one’s pretty good so far. It was originally written in Hebrew and then translated to German, and it’s about the life and experiences of an author. My goal is to finish it by the time classes start… we’ll see.
  4. My Cubs blanket: When I was packing, I wasn’t certain that they would have a blanket here for me. (In retrospect, that was kind of a dumb thing for me to worry about.) But I sure am glad I brought my Cubbies blanket with me! I got it for Christmas from my Aunt Pam a few years ago. You know how some blankets are soft at first and then they pill and get less soft? That never happened with this one because it’s magical. Also, I hope it will help me feel connected to the baseball season this year even though I’m not able to follow my boys this year.
  5. Purple Teddy: Since he turned 18 recently, I decided that it was time for Purple Teddy to see the world. Besides, he would have been pretty upset with me if I’d left him at home to hang out with my cats while I was in Europe. I actually brought him with me instead of bringing my traveler’s pillow. Totally worth it.