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The Path to Vocation

Years ago, I had a conversation with the Fool in which we discussed our vocation. She described the path she had been put on and was able to identify the moments in her life that formed her and set her off on the direction of her vocation. At the time I was having this conversation I was in the middle of the PhD years, a dark and dreary 6-year period full of brains, bouts of impostor syndrome, and endless hours working on a project that appeared to have no end in sight. I thought about her words as I wondered how much of my time was actually being invested towards some kind of vocation. I mean, how can slicing hundreds of brains (at 3-5 hours per brain) contribute towards any kind of spiritual growth?

Since depositing my dissertation last month and accepting a job offer, I've had quite a bit of time to think in the last few weeks. I've also had time to read some of the books I've kept putting off, waiting for the day when I would have time to read them. One of these books, a very quick and beautiful read, is Gift and Mystery by Saint John Paul the Great. In this book, he discusses the events that influenced the maturation of his vocation for the priesthood. The stone quarry and the water purification facility are mentioned as two seminaries. He even goes so far as to clarify that these were not pre-seminaries, but true seminaries where his decision to enter the priesthood matured and where he learned the value of work and the dignity of physical laborers who were used to heavy work. He grew to understand their living situations and worth, remembering their needs and value later as a priest, Bishop, and even as Pope.

He talked about the "deep but quiet religiosity" of these workers and "their great wisdom of life." I could not help but recall the faith of my own parents, two blue collar workers that somehow instilled the faith in children in their own humble, quiet way. Their faith was present in every pain they felt as a result of long hours in construction or in the assembly line. Their faith was present as they shared their faith with coworkers who, in turn, shared their own faiths. My mom brought God's love to coworkers who struggled as she did, but faced struggles that she herself was fortunate enough to not experience. Then there's my dad who, as a construction worker, spent long days on his own meditating on matters of the faith as he waited for concrete to harden. This same man, a construction worker, was more than happy to discuss matters of the faith over lunch with friends, family, and any Jehovah's witness who had the good fortune to knock on our door as our family sat down for lunch. My parents were not priests, but their deep but quiet religiosity did enable them to evangelize (sans theology degree) and effectively bring God's love to others.

From what I've read in St. JPII's memoir, people like my parents appear to have influenced this Catholic great. Hard-working (and most likely poor) people showed him a culture of kindness, friendship, and faith that shaped him and ultimately allowed his vocation for priesthood to mature. The ability of Saint John Paul the Great to learn the unique needs of these hardworking people of faith certainly influenced his life as a priest and, in turn, influenced his role as the successor of Peter. I can't even begin to imagine how many programs, words, conversions, and missions were ultimately influenced by the years St. JPII spent as a laborer and the relationships he had with fellow laborers.

Saint Lucy
(latest Saint to be drawn now that I am back in art mode)
During my time as a brain-slicing PhD student/peasant, I didn't get to see much daylight during my time in the lab. Even so, when I really think about it, I did have some very illuminating conversations with coworkers that were atheist, Muslim, agnostic, Jewish, you-name-it over the years. I may never know if these conversations had any long-reaching impact, but I am a firm believer in "the economy of Grace." At face value, I have learned some lessons from coworkers over the years (atheists especially) as to how I can be a better Catholic. I am nowhere near the great evangelist that St. Paul was, but hope that my words, actions, and examples, may have helped others in the formation of their own vocations. If not, I hope that I have at least had a positive influence in their lives and that the Holy Spirit has managed to find some use for me in these last 6 years as I soldiered on through one of the bleakest periods of my life.

Pax Vobiscum

The Mind-Boggling Theology of Motherhood

I know I haven't been blogging regularly for some time due to dissertation-related reasons, but I am trying to get back to it. The dissertation was passed (with minor corrections), I went on vacation, and now I am back. 

And it's been a long day. Every day is a bit longer these days not so much because we are approaching the beginning of summer, but because I have to wake up pretty early these days. Anywhere between 4-7am depending on the Troublemaker (aka, the baby). She goes by Troublemaker because she is the biggest troublemaker you can imagine. Payback for the terror I was to my parents when I was a kid. Seriously, if you give this teething kid a choice between a teething toy, a teething blanket, and and a binky...guess what she will try chewing on? Her socks. Welcome to motherhood.

Needless to say, I am truly blessed to have her. With all of my reproductive system issues, my prayers were answered and my life has been permanently altered for the best. So many things have been changed by this baby and all for the better (the family dog may not agree, but she puts up with it as best as she can with the help of pity treats on my part). My prayer life is no longer as regular as it used to be and more sporadic than I would like for it to be...but motherhood has become the CCD teacher I never had. 
The Annunciation
Stained Glass by Gorham and Company (1922)
Saint Paul's Cathedral in Denver, Colorado
I get so many things now. I am beginning to understand God's love for His children. His longing for our attention and our affection. I am beginning to understand Christ's sacrifice and why he allowed himself to undergo so much pain and anguish for the sake of humans that simply will never understand the profundity of his love. I look at the Troublemaker sometimes (even when she is terrorizing the dog or screaming because her bottle wasn't made 5 seconds ago) and all I want is for her to look up at me and smile. That's it. That tiny little smile or even that tiny little laugh of hers is a joy in and of itself. Just as, I am sure, our acknowledgment of God's love must be a joy to Him. Something as simple as that must mean so much to Him. Motherhood taught me that. 

I am beginning to finally appreciate why prayer is so important...even if I don't have much time for all of the rosaries, chaplets, etc. I used to pray. Even so, my soul's longing for conversation with God has not gone unnoticed. I find myself sending up quick prayers throughout the day. In moments of exasperation (Oh good God have mercy! Not another spit-up!), I turn to God...hoping that He doesn't consider these moments as using his name in vain. In moments of peace, I find myself repeating the prayer of the desert fathers (Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner) or a series of "Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy" prayers without even realizing it. 

Don't even get me started about my life as a Marian Catholic. Mama Mary has been a pillar in my journey through the scary wilderness of motherhood. The worry for my child echoes her worry when she and St. Joseph lost their son. The joy of hearing my child's squeals of delight at the simplest things echoes what it must have felt to see her son's joy in the conversion of sinners. Then there's the deep theology of the "theotokos." How one human can take part of God's plan for humanity through motherhood. My child is not the Messiah or the son of God for that matter. But she is a child of God with a soul and a life ahead of her and her very own guardian angel. She has a future in this world and in the eternal world. It boggles my mind that I gave birth to a part of God's creation. This little Troublemaker...who began as we all two cells coming together to make one individual. 

Absolutely mind-boggling.

Pax Vobiscum

Prolife PhD Predicaments

If this dissertation defense goes as planned, I get my doctorate degree this year. After 6 years of research, blood, sweat, tears, and absolute misery 24/7 worrying about experiments and all kinds of other things that could go wrong...I decided not to walk at my school's graduation and, in doing so, will not be receiving all that recognition that comes with a doctorate. I don't get to walk with my peers. I don't get to get listed in the program. No handshakes, smiles, photographs, etc. Getting recognized for your hard work is a pretty big deal for a lot of people. Especially when if they get a doctorate for it. The invited speaker for this year's graduation ceremony was Cecile Richards, the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Needless to say, some things are more important than recognition. I may have the option to walk next year. We'll see. In the meantime, I'll just keep rocking on as a prolife millennial.

Pax Vobiscum

If Deus Vult, then I Vult as Well

Greetings readers. It is I, the blogger who disappeared under the dissertation rock. Boy have I got news too! I submitted my dissertation to my committee this last Monday! Woohooo! 4 months of nonstop writing and I have a couple hundred pages of science to show for it.

With that said, my dissertation defense will be on May 10, 2016 at 1:30pm.

Please pray for me.

Pray that I may go through and give it all I've got.

God told me to get a PhD and I think that I have learned quite a bit in the process even if a meteor hits the world on May 10 and prevents me from actually getting a diploma. So for me, the journey has been worth more than the diploma as a whole because it has been a 6-year purgatory and I have become a better person for it. I am more compassionate, merciful, courageous, self-affirming, confident, and tough than I ever thought I could be.

 I have also grown a lot both intellectually as well as spiritually.

God had a plan for me, I trusted him, and now life is finally starting to move towards where I need to go because God gave me everything I needed to carry myself through this point and into the next stage of my life.

Time and time again, God has led me through difficulties as I worked on the research and data analysis necessary to get to this point. God taught me how to deal with just about every horrible work-related experience along the way as well as MRSA, wisdom teeth extractions, a mentor who moved himself and the lab to Florida, a social hierarchy within the lab that escalated into what could only resemble a blend between Mean Girls and North Korea (complete with multiple counts of social media stalking of both myself and my family), meeting Bishop Robert Barron (which was AWESOME), and even experiencing the miracle of motherhood (if this sounds like it came out of nowhere, is because I kept it under wraps for a while due to the rampant sexism in the scientific world...but I think I can mention being a mom now that I have a job waiting for me after I finish up).

It has been quite a journey and I am finally nearing that light at the end of the tunnel. Please send a prayer up for me that I can complete this stage of my life and give St. Benedict that Columbia hoodie I owe him for being my patron throughout this crazy journey.

Pax vobiscum

Waiting for Papa Francis

I was one of those very fortunate souls that got a chance to take part in the procession of Pope Francis through Central Park in NYC. The entire experience was, in one word, incredible. There were so many small miracles that took place that day and each one of these miracles ultimately led to an experience that I am not likely to ever forget.

I have been focusing on finishing up my PhD work in preparation for my dissertation this I haven't done a great job of keeping you all posted with everything that has been going on in my life and how my faith has continued to grow and evolve in this time.

Firstly, it is with great sadness that I now mention that my cousin passed away from Ewing's Sarcoma earlier this summer. However, he did squeeze every bit of life out of the time he had left with us and I am sure God has a place for him. He certainly showed a lot of grace in his suffering and I am sure that the amount of suffering he undertook with a smile and a joke was not without purpose. I mention him now because, in my prayers Friday morning I asked his intercession as I prepared for my Central Park Pope Procession adventure after my husband had decided to wear a shirt commemorating my cousin to the procession.

We got to Central Park without a problem, braved the massive line. We were in line before the official entrance time, but there were already blocks of people in line. There was no chance we'd get anywhere near the procession route...but that didn't matter. I was in high spirits. There was no way you could be in low spirits seeing so many people so excited about seeing St. Peter's successor. Several hours later, two chance encounters with two of the right people working security led us to an area of the procession route that had not yet started getting filled up with people. I may get into the reason that caused these two wonderful people to look out for us in a future post...but the long and short of it was we were able to get right at the front on a small stretch of the procession route with room to spare, near the bathrooms, and near the water stations. On top of that, it was an hour or so before they started allowing people to fill out that area.

Several hours passed and in this time, I felt the Holy Spirit moving among the throngs of people. A group of Spanish-speaking Catholics broke out into some hymns at one point, causing me to ugly-cry when they started singing "Pescador de Hombres." This song in particular is a strong reminder of my mom, who used to sing the Portuguese version during Portuguese mass. I ugly cried like there was no tomorrow. Both my sisters and I independently identify this song with her and ever since she passed away, it's been a tearjerker. At that point, I knew that she was with us there too. In between songs, people around us talked about their own experiences and the reasons they were there.

An hour or so before Pope Francis started his procession, a rainbow appeared right above the procession route. As soon as I saw it, I remembered God's promise to Noah in Genesis 9:13 "I will set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be the sign of a covenant between me, and between the earth." This rainbow got bigger as procession time approached. It was beautiful and uplifting. There was just something so transcendent about the entire experience as we waited for Pope Francis.

And then the time came. Being of Portuguese heritage, I took a tissue out so that I could wave it at Pope Francis as he came by. After the snipers, the security, the Fiat, and the rest of the motorcade drove by, the moment came. The crowd surged towards the barriers and I was able to catch a glimpse of the Pope mobile through the crowd of cameras and people along the parade route. There was something transcendent about Pope Francis, something about his presence that made it seem like he was larger than life. I didn't bother fighting with the crowd for "the shot" as he approached. Instead, I just positioned my phone so that it would catch him as he drove by with one hand and waved my tissue with the other as I waited for him to drive past us.

And then it happened. I saw him. He looked a bit tired (which is no surprise considering how the amount of travel and number of events he'd taken part in), but he waved at the cheering masses as if he was not tired. Tears streamed down my face (not an ugly cry, but a gift of tears cry) as I waved at the Vicar of Christ. In a moment that stretched out into eternity, there I was as if I was a small child and I felt a longing and the beginnings of a word stirring in my heart. I found myself calling out the word "Papa" in a small voice as if I was a child and he was a father...not as if I was a grown woman coming to see the leader of the Catholic Church. At that moment, my subconscious knew that Pope Francis was not just a man with a title, as some in the secular world perceive him. At that moment Pope Francis was the rock upon which the church was built, the disciple who recognized that Jesus was the son of God, a father who dedicated his life to a world full of children, the captain steering the Barque of Peter through the stormy seas of an uncertain world. He was the one chosen by the Holy Spirit to lead the world into the Jubilee of Mercy.

As I said before, the experience was incredible.

Pax Vobiscum

PS. For video I took, please refer to my Facebook Page. I am having a tough time figuring out how to get video figured out for Blogger.

Pope Francis' Schedule in Philadelphia Announced

Via World Meeting of Families 
Pope Francis' Schedule in Philadelphia Announced

Papal Itinerary Announced

Today, the Vatican released the comprehensive itinerary for Pope Francis' journey to the United States, including his schedule for Philadelphia on September 26-27 which will close the 6-day Apostolic Journey.

Confirmed by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the World Meeting of Families - Philadelphia 2015, Pope Francis will take part in eight public (8) events in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection.

Saturday, September 26



Sunday, September 27

  • A Celebration of World Meeting of Families - Philadelphia 2015 Supporters + Volunteers:
  • Atlantic Aviation: Official Departure Ceremony

Statement from Archbishop Chaput

"Pope Francis' plans for his visit to Philadelphia seamlessly integrate powerful public moments with more intimate gatherings that are deeply grace filled," said Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M., Cap.   "It is an itinerary that says, 'I walk with you - and so does the Lord.'  It says, 'Embrace your faith and embrace one another as children of God.'  It says, 'God forgives.' And it says 'Come together in celebration.' The Holy Father's planned itinerary is a true gift to all of us in the Philadelphia regardless of faith tradition. I am confident we will leave a positive and lasting impression upon Pope Francis." 


Pax Vobiscum

Why am I still Catholic? Science, Miracles, Consistency, and the Eucharist

I'm coming back from my Dissertation Desert to respond a challenge made to all bloggers of a Catholic persuasion by Elizabeth Scalia over at the The Anchoress. If the title of this post isn't explanation enough, the challenge is to tell the internet why you are still Catholic. I think my story may be worth telling considering I fit into a few demographics that should have swayed me over to any one of the atheist/agnostic/unitarian/etc. camps a long time ago. 

I didn't really know many other Catholics my age until college and I was never one of those openly Jesus-loving bible study kids. (I thought they were weird.) As a result, I have been friends with everyone but Catholics for most of my life. To this day the best friends I've had in this world were either atheist, agnostic, "spiritual but not religious," or just plain apathetic.

I do not exaggerate when I say that I spent most of my childhood and teenage Sundays daydreaming in church and I am certain that I went to one of the worst CCD programs of all time. I distinctly remember how one boy at CCD was allowed to make his first communion just because he could recite the "Our Father." That's how much of a joke my CCD program was. 

Fast forward to middle school and high school and there I was, a teenager getting blasted day and night with news of yet another sex abuse scandal, another reason why the Church was anti-woman institution, and another story that demonstrated why the Church was outdated and needed to get with the times. Next thing I know, I'm at liberal colleges, taking courses that berated religious institutions (the Catholic Church in particular) in every possible way and assigned a number of literary gems written by heretics and/or antireligious folk.

Considering all that was going on in my life, if there ever was a good time to break free from the claws of Catholicism, it would have been my teenage years and early 20s. The other Catholic kids out there were doing it around this time. Hell, even some cousins were doing it. Yet, for reasons hitherto unknown, I stayed Catholic. Why?

Well, there are a number of reasons why I am still Catholic. For the sake of brevity, I will stick to a few of the most important. 

1. My parents lived their faith and discussed it with me whenever I had questions. Neither of them had a theology degree, but they both answered questions whenever I had them and they taught me Catholicism by example. I watched them pray. I watched them give alms, I accompanied them on pilgrimages. I watched my mom crochet linens for the altar at church. I saw the tears in my father's eyes when his heart was touched by a particular hymn. Also, my parents invested time in my faith formation and didn't freak out whenever I misunderstood something. They took the time to explain things to the best of their abilities, going above and beyond simply taking me to Sunday mass and dropping me off at CCD. They did a good job of opening the doors wide enough for me to have a chance at entering a life of faith.

2. I've been blessed to have some pretty powerful, transcendent experiences. Call some of them miracles and call some of them warnings. I've gotten both ends of the transcendent experience. Some experiences were absolutely wonderful and some were absolutely terrifying, but all of them proved to me (in one way or another) that God existed and that the Catholic Church had the best explanations for these phenomena. I may go into more detail one day, but will leave it here for now. Not everyone has these kinds of experiences and I don't want to imply that everyone has experiences like these or even needs them in order to believe and/or be Catholic. But I had them and they played an important enough role in my own faith formation that it would be dishonest of me to not mention them at all on this list.

3. The more science I learned, the more Catholicism made sense. The world says science and religion are mutually exclusive, but there's a reason why history is so cluttered with Catholic scientists and why so much of science began with the Church in some way. Whether it was the creation of the university system as we know it, the development of the scientific method, or the preservation of knowledge through the dark ages...the Catholic Church continually proves its importance in the development of science as we know it today. 

4. I value truth over popularity. It doesn't bother me if 9% or 99% of the world hates the Catholic Church. I know of every scandal you know of. I've heard every argument against Catholicism that's been made. I've heard all the cliches, all the doom-and-gloom prophecies of the Church's collapse, and all the reasons why Catholics are brainwashed idiots. I still don't budge. Why? I read too much, I study too much, I think too much, and I am too stubborn to simply accept an argument for its popularity. The more I learn about the mysteries, traditions, teachings, etc. of the Catholicism, the more I fall in love with it. 

5. That agnostic boyfriend that became my Catholic husband. If there is one thing that led me to dive deeper into my faith, it was talking theology with my boyfriend. This Catholic girl's complacency went out the window when my agnostic boyfriend and I started having some serious discussions about afterlives, God, faith, etc. Being the scholar that I am, I ended up doing a lot of reading once these conversations started.

6. Catholicism remains the most consistent when it comes to asserting the dignity of all human lives, regardless of what any political party, lobby group, bandwagon, etc. claims. You have to appreciate how Catholicism stands up against so many in order to defend the dignity of even the most despised or neglected life. 

7. Once you fully immerse yourself in the history, traditions, symbols, prayers, etc. there's no settling for cheap substitutions. I was once a huge fan of new age music, especially music with chant mixed into it (a la Enigma). However, new age chants do not hold a candle to the sound of Benedictine monks chanting psalms at 4am vigils. Even the art, stained glass, architecture, etc. looks more authentic in Catholic Churches than it does elsewhere. I find myself actually missing the stained glass artwork of Catholic cathedrals whenever I go to churches with plain windows or modern architecture. Give me the stones  from which the voices of worshipers have echoed for centuries. Give me the beautiful rose windows of Cathedrals built by kings of old. Give me frescoes of the Sistine chapel, the marble Pietas, and the ornate crucifixes that have adorned our Church for two millennia. Keep your whitewashed walls and plain windows.

8. The most important reason is the Eucharist. I didn't truly believe in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist until I was in college...but once I did, there was no turning back. Since then, I have experienced some pretty amazing one-on-one time with Jesus at adoration. I have read up on Eucharistic miracles, and I have sought to understand why Christ would give Himself to us. The more I think I understand, the more I find myself wanting to know and the more I believe. I could never imagine walking out on so great a gift. 

PS. I know we are beyond the feast day of St. Joan of Arc, but I wanted to share my latest piece as I feel it may demonstrate just how much I love the stained glass windows of our Church. I love them so much, they've turned into a bit of a muse for me when it comes to drawing with Sharpies and pencil. Previous drawings include St. Michael, the Annunciation, St. George, and a few others. I drew this particular image as a gift to a good friend who has a special devotion to St. Joan of Arc. I didn't want to spoil the surprise...hence I kept it a secret until now. It's my first work in quite some time (considering my research-related time constraints), but I did have a lot of fun with it and have tried some new things.

I present to you, my latest stained glass doodle of St. Joan of Arc (for the first doodle, click here): 

Pax Vobiscum

*whip cracks in background*

Okay, back to the lab/dissertation.