We Are One Body

REMEMBERING SAINT JOHN PAUL II, PRAYING WITH HIM ALWAYS

That famous song sung by the Irish sensation Dana was etched in my soul during World Youth Day in Denver 1993. For those of us “Denver kids” as I like to call us, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

My very first experience of Pope John Paul II – Saint John Paul II was Denver, CO 1993 as a teenage chaperone to high school kids. Barely out of high school myself, my parents and our pastor’s niece and I were leading our Boston Archdiocesan parish group on pilgrimage to Denver for World Youth Day with the Pope. These pilgrimages are a lot more popular now and more exposed through social media, but in my college days, it was a budding phenomenon made into a Catholic thing by JP2 whose heart was to evangelize young people who would in turn “go out” and evangelize the culture.

We really had no idea what to expect and surely had no idea it involved miles and miles (and like 20 miles) of walking into Cherry Creek Park, forced fasting, sleeping out on tents packed in like sardines as far as the eye could see. How would we see the Pope when he helicoptered in? We were so far away from the stage but having a blast with the ethnic cultures, singing through the night, making new friends, brokering tee-shirt swaps that could prove our newly forged friendships with people from far away lands, like Texas and Ethiopia all in what looked like the United Colors of Benetton times nearly a million people.

A stranger came and offered us seats “down front” near the press corps and after we assessed the situation and realized even if he was a con artist (the suspicious Boston in us) he’d only get away with our shower curtain tarps, we accepted the invite and meandered to the VIP area. Sweet! Not even sure why we didn’t question this, but who cares as at this point, we now had these primo seats near the media staging and tons of priests and religious sisters. The guy disappeared and we were locked in for the remainder of the WYD event and now EAGERLY awaiting JP in something that felt like the Super Bowl of Catholicism. This was getting real.

The whole experience was ELECTRIC. When the Pope arrived we were FACE to FACE with the rock star Pope saint in the making and whole heartedly caught up in the chanting of  “JP2, WE LOVE YOU. JP2 WE LOVE YOU” and “VIVA IL PAPA” .. Long Live the Pope. Over and over and over again. He egged us on and maneuvered his hands calling for the banter and played back and forth. He was a big kid and a former actor so the theatrics and his natural charisma were rocking the house or in this case the very dusty Indian reservation filled with Catholics from all over the world. Everyone in our group experienced the presence of Christ through Pope John Paul II and each received the commission. We were only 20 deep from the future saint.

We were juxtaposed next to the world press and for me it was a bit of a foreshadowing of my future life as a TV journalist. I later covered his Pontificate in the good days and in the darkest days of the Church and later his death and funeral.  For the days ahead I was strengthened.

His message to us the Church was serious after the playful banter. It’s a call to us even now:

“Dear young pilgrims,
The Spirit has led you to Denver to fill you with new Life: to give you a stronger faith and hope and love. Everything in you – your mind and heart, will and freedom, gifts and talents – everything is being taken up by the Holy Spirit in order to make you “living stones” of the “spiritual house” which is the Church. This Church is inseparable from Jesus; He loves her as the Bridegroom loves the Bride. This Church today, in the United States and in all the other countries from which you come, needs the affection and cooperation of her young people, the hope of her future. In the Church each one has a role to play, and all together we build up the one Body of Christ, the one People of God.

As the third millennium approaches, the Church knows that the Good Shepherd continues, as always, to be the sure hope of humanity. Jesus Christ never ceases to be the “sheepgate”. And despite the history of humanity’s sins against life, he never ceases to repeat with the same vigour and love: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10, 10).”

You can read more of his message here.

This was a turning point in my life of faith and an experience with the larger Church (we are one body) and the Pope of my generation whose teaching over decades of his Pontificate formed me and has prompted every step of my journey of faith and mission. On a very personal level, this event changed our family when my Jewish dad experienced such grace and power of God in the Vicar of Christ, that year he was baptized a Catholic and received Holy Communion and Confirmation immediately upon returning from this trip. “I came that you might have life.” (John 10:10). We became a complete Catholic family. Pope of youth. Pope of family life. Pope of converts. Pope pointing to the Universal Call to Holiness. Pope affirming the body and sending us out.

BAM here we are. Flash forward to 2016 and we celebrate his feast day this past weekend. He died in 2005 – and it’s been over a decade since his death. Reflecting on all the sending out and modern missionary work since, it’s part exhausting and part exhilarating to see all that God keeps doing since this moment in time. Just when you think you may have had your last stop, there is a new assignment and new territory. (I never saw LA coming).

Back to that song. If you attended WYD 1993 or watched the events live on TV you remember these lyrics: “We are one body, one body in Christ and we do not stand alone. We are one body, one body in Christ, and he came that we might have life.” That’s the most familiar part. But it goes on like this:

When you eat my body and you drink my blood,
I will live in you and you will live in my love.
When you eat my body and you drink my blood,
I will live in you and you will live in my love.

Can you hear them crying, can you feel their pain?
 Will you feed my hungry, will you help my lame?
 See the unborn baby, the forgotten one,
they are not forsaken, they are not unloved.

I am the Way, the Truth, the Life, I am the Final Sacrifice, I am the Way, the Truth, the Life;
 he who believes in me will have eternal life.
I am the Way, the Truth, the Life, I am the Final Sacrifice, I am the Way, the Truth, the Life;
 he who believes in me will have eternal life.


I have come, your Savior, that you might have life,
through the tears and sorrow, through the toils and strife. 
Listen when I call you, for I know your need,
come to me, your shepherd, for my flock I feed.

At the name of Jesus ev’ry knee shall bend;
Jesus is the Lord and he will come again.
 At the name of Jesus ev’ry knee shall bend;
 Jesus is the Lord and he will come again.

On the rock of Peter, see my Church I build.
Come receive my spirit, with my gifts be filled.
For you are my body, you’re my hands and feet.
Speak my word of life to ev’ryone you meet.

This song became our group’s little anthem. I think too for everyone who attended that World Youth Day with the Holy Father, it might be similar. We sang our hearts out and memorized the lyrics. Our pastor invited us back after our trip and we witnessed to the parishioners after all the Masses and shared about the events and even sang this song for everyone. We were like a World Youth Day gang. I remember these lyrics and feel like heaven is asking, affirming and in-filling again for this great commission that doesn’t end.

This past Saturday I attended a special feast day Mass at a Polish Shrine dedicated to Pope John Paul II here in Los Angeles. (If you are in LA, I recommend a visit to Our Lady of the Bright MountHis first class relic is housed there and I needed to get near his body. His bones. I needed to remind him of my 19-year-old teen-age prayers for my life. My future. Some outstanding stuff that has yet to come around. Catholics honor the saints because the saints like us, have gone before us and the Church has recognized a heroic example of holiness and the fact that they now stand in the great cloud of witnesses – the mystical body of Christ – and intercede for us in our need. We pray “blessed be God in his angels and in his saints.” I mean, what Pope who globe trotted around the world – country to country in front of thousands to bring the love of Christ to every corner of the earth, would not hear us who press in toward him? I brought a really big intention – the most long awaited to him and I know that it’s done. I brought your prayers with me too. So many of you are waiting for results. So many of you are doing work that seems to go on and on and are waiting for a really big breakthrough. Hang tough. It’s coming.

We prayed the Divine Mercy chaplet and suddenly the Polish priest emerged and I asked him if he would let me venerate the relic. (It was a very disorganized feast day!) He could not have been more kind and eager and the 20 or so adults who lingered behind lined up at the altar rail and everyone was able to honor and pray with the saint. I couldn’t stop weeping. It was not sorrow, but such strong emotion of his presence this day. Presence of his Papal authority, his powerful sway before the Father and a renewal for whatever comes next in my life. I could feel his Papal authority with that Polish eternal smile – that joyful confidence that God wants us to have as children going before their Father, confidence that the Father will hear and answer.

There were teenage kids at the shrine for a day retreat and I could see myself in their eager faces and I was instantly transported back to a place and time of my visitation around their age. All I could think about was that they never heard his voice or saw his face. I was overcome with emotion about the impact of this Pope on my life and as I reflected on the song “We are one Body” I thought of the many ways that JP taught about the power of the Body of Christ, the Theology of the Body in imitation of Jesus – the love he had for the living God – Jesus – who took on flesh, a body for our sins, for our salvation. He implored within us an urgency to BE the body – the representatives of Christ to the world – WHEREVER God was calling us – no matter how far – no matter how inconvenient – in season and out of season.

In this instant underneath his relic, praying as if he were here truly alive standing before me as clear as that World Youth Day in Denver, I could feel this power of God through His chosen and favored son, my Polish Papa, empowering and calling again – BE NOT AFRAID. Be not afraid to go where he calls you. Be not afraid of your future, it’s filled with hope. Be not afraid of how you will proclaim His name, for He dwells in you and I go before you. Be not afraid, when they persecute you, eventually every knee shall bend.

When you eat my body and you drink my blood, I will live in you and you will live in my love” is a powerful lyric. We cannot take Him unless we consume him and when we consume him we take him as living tabernacles to the world. “Can you hear them crying, can you feel their pain? Will you feed my hungry, will you help my lame? See the unborn baby, the forgotten one, they are not forsaken they are not unloved.”

Praying for you+

Lexi

JMJ+

Life in the Fast Lane

13925821_10155097116837678_9058387373880430509_oPREPARING HIM ROOM IN A CONSUMPTION CRAZED CULTURE

In my world of film work amid a new city with perpetual demands and intrigue, it’s easy to get trapped at the consumption junction of the day-to-day with overdoing: calls, texts, social media, meet ups, networking, blurry work hours, Netflix, movies, the news, red carpets, dinners, lunches, coffees, friends, their friends, this event and that gala, “can you talk?” and blah blah blah. As my mother and yours would probably say, “you don’t have to go to every dance you’re invited to.” Or as the songstress Megan Trainor belts out, “My name is no. My number is no. You need to let it go…Nah to the ah to the no, no no!” Clearly she’s talking about an undeserving man, but you get the vibe (and maybe the man thing applies here too)!

Everything is now a brand (including people – and shame if you are not!) and is coated with shiny slick packaging torpedoed at us with a special sauce to set off our every little sensory antenna, but how can we as people of faith SEE and HEAR God amid the pounding call of so many people, places and things that lure our personal time and attention? How can we know what’s for us (God-sent) and just a distraction (other –sent)? How can we maintain our life rooted in Him and do His will when we are swept away by the more?

This year I started to trim the fat. I started to focus on supercharging my spiritual life and physical life by embarking on a “cleanse” that became an incredible physical renewal and really a spiritual fast of sorts. So not only have I lost 30 inches off my body (yay!), but what I’ve given up in how I’ve transformed my lifestyle has become a self offering back to God. Less is more. Less of what I want making way for more room for Him and His plans for my life.

In the Catholic faith and others (as many of other faiths will read this), fasting is an ancient practice of self-denial that is penitential (penance for sins) and is practiced to make room for God – to accelerate our prayer life. Fasting is not just for Lent or Good Friday or seasonal devotions, but really can and should be part of daily devotional life. By mortifying the flesh (and don’t we all do that at the gym to get cut abs and arms of steel, sometimes daily?) we achieve a quickening of results in our prayer life, especially for those stubborn seemingly impossible cases (like stubborn fat that’s taken up residence way to long).

This year has been transformative to renew this practice of fasting not just on a couple of set days but truly as a way of life to see and hear God more clearly and to take my prayers and my whole being, body, mind and soul as a self-offering to God. In a culture that tells us that we need more – more Facebook friends, more Twitter followers, more outfits (ok, I have not tackled my closet yet), more in the fridge, more on our social schedule, it’s ok to say no. You will be surprised at what and who you make room for. Even if your life is crazed on the red carpet tripping across the states, or doing what you do…you can maintain an inner strength amid the pace that God puts under your feet. It will keep your mind on spiritual things, make you strong and fasten you to God when everything else seems out of control.

The great Saint John Paul II said, “One of the meanings of penitential fasting is to help us recover an interior life. The effort of moderation in food also extends to other things that are not necessary, and this is a great help to the spiritual life. Moderation, recollection and prayer go hand in hand. . . This principle can be appropriately applied to the mass media. Their usefulness is indisputable, but they must not become “masters” of our life. In how many families does television seem to replace personal conversation rather than to facilitate it! A certain fasting also in this area can be healthy, both for devoting more time to reflection and prayer, and fostering human relations.”

And Pope John Paul II goes on to reference the Blessed Mother as a model in this area:

“..Let us learn from the Blessed Virgin. The Gospel tells us that she pondered in her heart the events of her life (Lk 2:19) seeking in them the unfolding of God’s plan. Mary is the model to whom we can all look. Let us ask her to give us the secret of that “spiritual fast” which sets us free from the slavery of things, strengthens the soul, and makes it ever ready to meet the Lord.”

The secret of that spiritual fast – I love that. Mary had a big mission – she was to become the Mother of God. She prepared Him room.

In the same way that physical fitness develops our physical muscles, fasting develops our spiritual muscles so we are fit to discern, fit to obtain challenging results and cleansed of our own will with an interior disposition toward His will and our ability, like the Blessed Mother, to receive AND carry Him wherever He sends us. If we are already full, not only is it impossible to do, but we could miss His glorious plan for our life.

Have you ever fasted? What needs to be trimmed in your world right now? Let me know.

Praying for you+

Lexi

JMJ+

Harvesting Surprise

14712470_10155303455327678_6470601657494117813_o…..A SQUASH GROWS IN BURBANK

See what I did there? I was out on my quaint back patio grilling and was shocked to find two ripe butternut squash drooping from the runaway vines in my flower garden today. It wasn’t a TOTAL shock because a few months ago my house sister (we hate the terms “land lady” and “land lord” around here) and I spotted this unique vine-ish giant leaf thing taking over the flowerbed behind my cottage. Hello Little Shop of Horrors!

I’ve been so busy going from one film to the next, flying in and out of town that I haven’t had a ton of time chilling so today when I was working and cooking outside SURPRISE…..SQUASH. And one baby cantaloupe – super weird and I have absolutely no scientific explanation for how either of these fruits arrived especially when we didn’t plant them.

I didn’t plant the flowerbed either. I’m too busy for flowers that I could possibly kill. (True story). But this was a gift too. I was praying to really know if I should stay in Burbank. Should I get another apartment? Should I stay in California? Should I ever get my furniture out of storage in Boston or should I light it on fire? Where am I going and why am I here sort of prayers in dramatic fashion. Dear God, It’s me Alexis.

Sometimes God speaks in the most natural ways. After an intense period of fasting and prayer I bounced out of the cottage on a Saturday morning on the way to the gym to find a commotion of planting, watering and irrigation taking place in my yard – tons of flowers and plants in the beds behind and on the side which felt like a huge gift and the frosting on the top of the cake in this gem of an HGTV cottage existence. Then the gardener in broken English looked at me and sweetly said with a coy smile, “So you think you will stay here a little while longer, yes?” Well pick me up off the floor. (Could this be a movie?)

So with the same theme in which I started this baby blog, I want to elaborate again on the concept of “surprise.” The flowerbeds were a mini surprise, a signal grace, as unruly as they are right now. When the veggies appeared, it was like our good God is having fun with me. He always adds and never subtracts and wants to give good gifts (and way better than flowers and fruit)! That vine was growing amid the flowers and I gave up on it because I didn’t SEE anything happening.

“Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.” Habakkuk 3: 17-18

I went about my busy life and suddenly the hefty squash appeared. I think life is like that. Live your life. Pray. Watch. Serve. Be Joyful. Don’t focus on what ISN’T happening because God IS working and growing things behind the scenes. Then in due time, the manifestation comes.

My prayer partner and I have been speaking “harvest” over our intentions so the squash becomes a sign that truly He will bring to pass the long awaited promises. Be assured that if God has promises over your life, they are coming in due season and maybe not in the way you would expect. He has more, He has the greater. Better than our imagination or expectation.

May you experience HIS abundance and may you reap the harvest in every area of your life.

Praying for you+

Lexi

JMJ+

Putting a little wicked awesome in LA

TERRITORY OF MERCY

What a difference a year makes. I suddenly turned around and BOOM it’s time to celebrate one year down in LA LA land. If anyone ever told me that some day I would be a California girl, I would laugh. Out loud. My first experience of California was at sixteen and this teen age dream fell IN LOVE with the west coast, so much so that I begged for permission to go to UCLA. Fat chance as I rank “baby” in sibling order and with parents who wanted to keep me close after sending the oldest to Hoosier territory – a dream way down inside was tamed for my entire young adult life while I began and rooted my TV career in Boston. My wanderlust moved me state to state for similar media and PR work from New York to Palm Beach and Atlanta, with Boston as the launch and landing pad in between “assignments.” So last year when a few twists and turns produced a sudden opportunity to work in Los Angeles, I was not only shocked by this call to go west, but felt really daring, that kind of daring that feels very do or die.

I’m grateful that God planted within me this spontaneous zeal that has helped me to be unabashed in my response to the grace of apostolic movement. Sometimes it seems and feels reckless, but overall it is freeing to be able to just move with him. LA is one of those movements of speed and suddenness.

As I look back on this year of grace that led me to Los Angeles – the Year of Mercy almost entirely lived out here in Cali, with a plethora of work trips packed in between – I feel as though this year for me is not just about discovery of the beautiful mountain clad and ocean lined landscape,  but discovery that his mercy is about being reconciled in our sin, leading the dying and unconverted to his mercy and forgiveness, serving those in need, and in a very LARGE way it is about living our life fully in and under His mercy and fully in his Divine Will which means abundance – as high as the mountains and deep as the ocean. John 10:10 says that God came that we might have life and have it more abundantly. As a pilgrim to World Youth Day way back in my teen years (Denver 1993), this scripture from the Gospel of John was branded for our pilgrimage group. It’s stuck with me my entire life and been a ribbon running through the journey.

As we mature on our journey with Him and let our feet become unstuck, He takes us to new territories of mercy… to places where we will actively seek holiness and be dispensers of His grace leading others to holiness. This is active faith not passive faith. Another attribute of Mercy. God’s Mercy flowed from His side like a torrent to touch each place of our lives and the whole world, bringing renewal to the dead places.

I see mercy as abundance and California has become God’s mercy to me. A renewal of dreams, desires, plans that God has had for me from the moment my eyes locked with this coast. Like the pioneers of old who came to a new land to discover, work and become, this year for me has transformed my way of life in big and small ways and I know that this year is just the beginning in a foundational, transitional way toward permanence. Expectant? Yes. Jer 29:11.

There are a few short weeks left in this Year of Mercy and as I celebrate one year as an “Angeleno,”  I have full expectation that God will complete all that He started when He had this shift in mind and continue to give good gifts. I’m so grateful for the beautiful people He’s positioned (and re-positioned) in my life – soul sister friendships and amazingly faithful prayer warriors. I’m grateful for this year with Him – a year to renew, prepare, and transform for the next season. Thank you Jesus for all you have done and all you will do … more, Lord!

What about you? Where and how are you living out your territory of mercy?

Let’s trust in His Mercy always+

Praying for you+

Lexi XO

JMJ+

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