2013 in Review

At this time in my life I am forgetting things at a faster rate than ever before. Since I don't expect this rate to improve, I feel the need to archive some memories from 2013.

In January, I began student teaching at the local middle school. In 6th grade language arts, I had a fantastic mentor teacher who challenged and inspired me toward excellent educating. In 6th grade math, I worked with someone who challenged me in a different way - providing an example of the kind of teacher I did not want to become.

That same month, four college friends and I packed up my little car and drove to Washington DC. After being pulled over, getting scammed on parking, and illegally walking on the frozen reflecting pool, we walked out the door of the Holocaust museum to join hundreds of thousands of protesters marching against the modern-day holocaust of abortion.

February saw many early mornings as I continued to student teach, and many late nights planning lessons and grading. Companionship with my dear friend Taylor helped me survive. Our study/work nights, fighting the song wars on our laptops, having RA duty together, and rosary walks were times to treasure.

March and April were a marathon of senior projects. I spent so many long hours in the library, that a librarian offered to have my mail forwarded there. I attempted a visit to St. Cecilia's in Nashville, but my car broke down in Louisville. I had packed twine "just in case" there was time to craft, and made rosaries at the car shop all day.

In May, I graduated with honors, and all four grandparents were present for the event. I made it to Nashville for a 5-day vocation retreat where I met many wonderful women, enjoyed excellent Dominican preaching, and spent hours in contemplation and prayer with my Lord in the chapel.

June 28, my 21st birthday, a call came from the vocation director at St. Cecilia's with a message to "wait." The feelings of both disappointment and relief were overwhelming. The job search began with renewed vigor. I was so thankful for the great blessing of daily Mass throughout the summer.

In July, I interviewed at a nearby public elementary school. A few days later, my nerves were shaken by a phone call saying none of my references were reachable. Because the president's office was generous enough to keep me on for the summer, I happened to be in the same building as 3 of my education professors, who immediately called the principal to recommend me. Within a few hours, she called back with an offer.

Because of the job, I wasn't able to join my family's grand canyon vacation, but I thoroughly enjoyed house-sitting and the hours of picking, washing, cutting, grating, freezing, skinning, canning, & cooking vegetables from the garden. It kept my hands busy and my mind off of the looming school year, which began August 12.

Nothing has ever stretched me more than being a 5th grade math teacher. Even after days of pure exhaustion, feeling completely inadequate, and shedding tears on my drive home, I could always look back and think of the many times I smiled and laughed throughout the day. I love my students.

Thanksgiving provided the opportunity for me to visit my great uncle and help him digitize old family photos and records. The "genealogy bug" had bitten, and when visiting family in Connecticut, I discovered many more gems. Through December, I worked on a family heritage scrapbook to share with aunts, uncles, and cousins.

All 31 members of my dad's side were together for the first time this Christmas, and we discovered that my cousin is expecting #32! Our time together was sweet, especially the late night sleepover with cousins Sarah & Elizabeth, marveling at our heritage and wondering about our future. I wonder what doors lie ahead in 2014 and I pray by God's grace I can honor the heritage of faithfulness passed down to me.

Today's mass reading is from Exodus 12 - the establishment of the Passover. I used to wonder at the specificity of God's instructions for the ritual. Why must the lamb be "roasted" and not boiled? Why do they have to roast the head? Why must the blood be on the doorposts and lintel?

I was in awe of the symbols of crucifixion when I read that roasting the whole lamb involved a cross-shaped spit, and when I realized what the wooden doorframes prefigured. The Passover prepared the way for Christ's Eucharistic sacrifice - the paschal mystery. Every time we go to Mass, we participate in such an ancient ritual, one in which the lives of millions have been wrapped up throughout history. An understanding of Exodus 12 certainly spurs on a deep reverence for the Mass. It can also give us greater insights into how to receive the Eucharist.
In this manner you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste (11).
I'm not suggesting that we wear traveling costumes every Sunday, but I do think that, as St. Peter exhorted, we should gird up the loins of our minds, setting our hopes completely on the grace to be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Pet 1:13). The phrase "gird your loins" refers to a lifting and tucking of robes in order to have freedom of movement. To gird the loins of our minds, I think, is to prepare for a journey.

The Hebrews were setting off to the promised land, but our journey is to our home in Heaven - the complete "revelation of Jesus Christ." Each time we receive the Eucharist, we should be in mind that we are pilgrims to another land, and fed by Christ, should hasten to ever come closer to His Kingdom.

My recent visit to the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia allowed for much time in prayer, contemplation, and discussion with these women who have consecrated their whole lives to God. Unexpectedly, I was given many insights to marriage even as I was in a place absent of any married people.
The world can't understand why sex is reverenced so much by the Church as to be put on such sacred ground as Holy Matrimony. All the doctrines surrounding contraception, cohabitation, homosexuality, &c. are seen by the world as obsessive. Many find the Church unreasonable for setting up around marriage such a high hedge.

But then, incomprehensibly, thousands of marriageable young Christians go off to the convent or seminary to take vows of chastity. Marriage is touted as a highly reverenced sacrament one day, and then proclaimed to be unnecessary for one's personal fulfillment the next.

Why?

The Church elevates marriage because of its source. The marital union is a very symbol of God's Trinitarian nature. And it was made clear to me in the convent that the reason the sisters don't need marriage is because they possess that source.
At the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels in heaven. (Mt 22:30)
In heaven we will experience such a powerful love that it will eclipse the most intimate of human unions. This is the secret behind why the nuns revere marriage more than anyone, yet live as celibates. Because God's love is so unfathomably great, its living image in marriage is also great. But because it is unfathomably great, every living image is dwarfed in His presence.

Even while the world cuts down the hedge around marriage, devaluing and abusing it, they elevate romantic relationships as if they were life's ultimate fulfillment. The Christian respects the sanctity of marriage, knowing its source. And connected to its source, finds fulfillment whether wedded or chaste. 

Defining

March 14 was a great day to be a sixth grade math teacher! My students and I celebrated Pi Day by exploring the characteristics of circles. I began class by standing at the board with a marker in my hand, asking, "What is a circle?"

"A shape with no edges!" responded one student.

I drew a squiggly blob on the board that had fingers sticking out of it; an absurd-looking shape that had no edges, but was as far from a circle as I could make it.

"No," they protested, "it has to be round!"

I drew a rounded figure that resembled a crescent.

An outpour of demands broke out. "Make it without vertices," "It has to be 2-dimensional," "It's not concave," "You know what a circle looks like, Miss Ulmer!" 

Yet still, they could not define a circle. Finally, one student got a clue and looked it up in the back of the textbook: "The set of all points equidistant from a fixed center." Finally, I could use a compass to construct a true circle. 


In all the posts, tweets, statuses, and discussions about "gay marriage" lately, I have noticed many people continuously throw out characteristics of marriage, yet never give a definition.

"Marriage is about love!"

That's true. It's also true that a circle has no edges. But "love" does not define marriage, just like "no edges" does not define a circle. Ellipses, cylinders, and spheres also have no edges. Other kinds of relationships are also about love.

"Marriage is when two people love each other and want to spend the rest of their lives with each other!"

That's true. So is a set of twin sisters who love each other and want to always live together married? A group of close friends who run a business together?  A father and his disabled son? 

"Just last week a debate opponent defined marriage as 'a legal institution with legal rights and legal responsibilities.' Well now, we know that cannot be. After all, a police department, an incorporated business, and even Congress fit that definition. Can any of these reasonably be called 'marriage?'" - Leila Miller, Catholic Exchange

Well, I know of at least one institution that is not afraid to define marriage clearly:


"...husband and wife, through that mutual gift of themselves, which is specific and exclusive to them alone, develop that union of two persons in which they perfect one another, cooperating with God in the generation and rearing of new lives." - Pope Paul VI,  Humanae Vitae

State-recognized marriage would not exist if it weren't for the complementary nature of the union between man and woman, the procreative power that results from it, and the environment it provides for the rearing of new life. If we throw away the things that define marriage for sentiment and all-inclusiveness, we will be going down a path that is senseless. 

A circle is important enough that I won't let my sixth-graders senselessly define it. The definition of marriage holds infinitely more weight, and I won't sit quietly while it is senselessly defined. 

Symbol People

Symbols, foreshadowing, allusions, analogies - these things delight a literature person like me. But those who don't consider themselves "literature people" love these things as well. Oh, they may not enjoy the process of actually reading, of searching through pages to find significant passages, of long hours of paper-writing only to have the final product handed back with red slashes and a grade at the bottom. But every one of us loves stories. Whether we can write expository essays on them or not, we know that the best stories have these things. I think this is because we are story people. We all live in one of our own with real-life characters, plots, and conflicts.

We're also surrounded by and use symbols every day. This very blog post uses squiggly lines and shapes of the alphabet to represent my thoughts. You, the reader, are looking at the letters and comprehending the deeper meaning attached to them. This is a symbol: a material object used to represent something else (often immaterial).

Humans are material, the stuff of symbols. But what is the invisible reality that our flesh and blood represent? With the marvelously complex, ordered, and intricate design that our bodies have, it must be something very great. 

          Then God said: 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.'- Genesis 1:26

What is God "like" then? 

          God is love. - I John 4:8

We understand that love requires a giver and a receiver. Therein we discover that there is more than one person in God. Indeed, the Son is "eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father." And just as the Son is from the Father, woman is from the side of man.

          The man said: 'This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall
          be called 'woman,' for out of 'her man' this one has been taken.' -
Genesis 2:23

And just as the Father and the Son are both "True God," so man and woman are both fully human, equal in dignity and value. 

The order of our bodies is seen perfectly in the complementary nature of masculinity and femininity. And the symbol of physical union between man and woman represents the perfect union of God. But God is not two persons only. The Trinity is composed of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Spirit "proceeds from the Father and the Son" and "with the Father and the Son He is worshiped and glorified." This shows that the very nature of love is procreative, and it helps us understand the first blessing to Adam and Eve:
God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them, saying: "Be fertile and multiply... - Genesis 1:27-28
God did not command this just so that He could have more subjects over which to rule. If God wanted subjects, He could have created a world of slavish creatures to worship Him. Instead, in His grace, He made us in the divine image - giving us free will so that we could make gifts of ourselves in love to each other, and so participate in procreation of new life.

Our very bodies cry out the truth of the Trinity! We are symbol people! In the institution of the family, we can find what love truly is. My heart is so heavy as I see the culture embrace a perversion of the family - contraception - which makes the total gift of self impossible and bars procreation. The contraceptive mindset has fostered infidelity and abuse, so twisting our idea of love that now the culture embraces and even champions homosexual unions. We have given in to lies about love, marring the beautiful symbols of our bodies.

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