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Divine Mercy Novena Day 1: Good Friday

If you are not familiar with the Divine Mercy chaplet, please refer to this older post. Once you are familiar with the chaplet, you can prepare yourself for Divine Mercy Sunday with this beautiful novena. I call it beautiful because it allows you to bring souls to Christ with the hopes that they may experience Christ's grace and his mercy. If you take this novena seriously, you will find yourself not only benefiting your own soul through a deeper understanding of Christ's mercy...but you will benefit other souls as well. These souls may not have anyone else to pray for them. These souls may be one prayer away from that crucial metanoia that will ultimately lead them to Christ. Conversions isn't something that just happens...it is a process that may be initiated by prayers for these individuals and a bunch of prayer warriors storming heaven on behalf of souls in need of conversion.

God loves every soul out there....and it is up to us to vouch for souls who cannot vouch for themselves. With that said, please consider praying this Novena with me. You pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet for nine days, starting on Good Friday and ending on Divine Mercy Sunday. You can find the details here, but essentially you fulfill a few conditions along with prayer of this Novena (confession, Eucharist on Divine Mercy Sunday, praying for the pope's intentions, etc) to attain plenary indulgence as well as many other graces. In previous years, I have kept particular souls in mind as I have met the different conditions of this Novena with the intention that any graces I could receive, are instead given to these souls. I believe that God is merciful beyond my understanding and, as such, believe that prayer and suffering on behalf of other souls is a powerful help for these souls.

The Divine Mercy Novena begins on Good  Friday and, according to the diaries of St. Faustina Kowalska, "by this Novena [Christ] will grant every possible grace for souls." I know I am one of those souls in dire need of Christ's mercy because I am nowhere near perfect and I cannot rely on myself to change this. I must rely on God and, in order to do so, I must trust in His mercy. The promise of grace through this Novena is a powerful thing. I think of it as that hand that Christ extended to St. Peter when he started to flounder in the water. He had faith and this faith is what led him to attempt to walk on water with Christ. Yet, it was his doubt and his fears that caused him to sink even in the presence of Christ. We may not think of our own faithful life as being similar to those great apostles from the New Testament...but it is very similar. We face temptations, we find strength in Christ, and we rely on his friendship (grace)...as St. Peter relied on Christ's friendship (grace).

The souls we are asked to pray for on the first day of the novena are the souls of all of mankind...especially sinners. Let us pray that all of these souls are brought to Christ that his mercy and compassion wash over them.

Papal Favorite: Marc Chagall’s “White Crucifixion” depicts Jesus, wearing a tallit instead of a loincloth.
Marc Chagall's  White Crucifixion (1938)
A favorite of Pope Francis

"Today bring to Me all mankind, especially all sinners,and immerse them in the ocean of My mercy. In this way you will console Me in the bitter grief into which the loss of souls plunges Me."

Most Merciful Jesus, whose very nature it is to have compassion on us and to forgive us, do not look upon our sins but upon our trust which we place in Your infinite goodness. Receive us all into the abode of Your Most Compassionate Heart, and never let us escape from It. We beg this of You by Your love which unites You to the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Eternal Father, turn Your merciful gaze upon all mankind and especially upon poor sinners, all enfolded in the Most Compassionate Heart of Jesus. For the sake of His sorrowful Passion show us Your mercy, that we may praise the omnipotence of Your mercy for ever and ever. Amen.

Pax Vobiscum

(For previous reflections for the first day of this Novena, click here.)

Learning from Hannah

The odds are certainly not in my favor with regards to fertility.

I know science will only be able to do so much for me, and I absolutely refuse to even consider IVF for faith-based as well as experience-based reasons. Experience-based reasons include countless hours of labwork. I know the techniques involved, the materials, the tools, the protocols, etc. With that said, even if I wasn't Catholic and even if I could have this procedure performed with the guarantee that no embryo would be destroyed in the process....I could not bring myself to do it. Firstly, IVF is an industry. Second, the entire procedure is too "Brave New World" for me. Too many microscopes, pipettes, incubators, cell media, etc. and not enough humanity. Too many non-human steps to create life and too little emotion. I don't care how caring an IVF specialist claims to be, at the end of the day, the whole procedure is just that...a procedure. It is simply a procedure that involves a specimen from a male, a specimen from a female, pipettes, microscopes, sterile dishes, a punched in time card...and that's it. I am not going to judge you if you have had IVF performed or think any less of children conceived through IVF. Knowing what I know and experiencing what I have experienced in a lab...and even reading the dystopian novels that I have read...I just could not do it. 

In short...I understand and agree with the Catholic teachings on IVF....but even if I didn't know or agree with them...I still could not go the IVF route.

The husband and I are open to adoption and, if the whole fertility thing doesn't pan out...well, adoption it will be. I have always loved children and been considered the "soccer mom" among friends (for my ability to always supply snacks and beverages, my good birthing hips, and other fine qualities). 

Yesterday, I went to confession and as part of my penance, I was asked to go down and pray before the tabernacle. Christ was on display for an all-day prayer service that was taking place and the group in the chapel was in the middle of praying the Divine Mercy chaplet. At the end of the chaplet, this group had an open discussion. An older Filipino woman brought up abortion as a topic. She emphatically expressed sadness for the loss of so many children and as she spoke my heart cried out.

"Give me those children. I will take those children!"

Tears formed in my eyes as this silent prayer was raised up...

As hectic as my life may be, I still yearn for a family. I want to start a family and raise children. Yes, I am working on my PhD...and yes there are quite a few people that will tell you to put a family on hold in order to obtain a PhD. I don't care about what these people say and have, thankfully, known a few very wonderful women with doctorates as well as families. I look up to these women and know that both are possible. I am not yet 35, but going by age, but am already on the decline as far as fertility goes. Add polycystic ovary syndrome and endometriosis to the mix...and well, things don't look too fantastic. That's not even counting any environmental or occupational exposures to potential toxins that could have affected fertility.

My husband and I are not actively trying to have children right now....but we aren't avoiding children either. Still, my mind has already started to wander back to Hannah...the mother of the Prophet Samuel whenever another cycle begins uninterrupted. I know I should not worry too much about fertility until after at least a year of actively trying for children...but every new baby on my friends feed and every child I see these days brings me back to Hannah. The woman who made such a spectacle of herself in the temple, sobbing as she begged God for a child...the woman who finally got to be a mother after years of being barren. The same woman who, when her child Samuel reached the right age, gave him up so that he could serve God as one of His greatest prophets. 
File:Gerbrand van den Eeckhout - Anna toont haar zoon Samuël aan de priester Eli.jpg
Hannah presenting her son Samuel to the priest Eli
Gerbrand van den Eeckhout ca.1665
God knows what He is doing and I trust in Him. I know my chances for children may not be too great from a purely scientific perspective...but everything is possible for God. He knows me and knows the love in my heart as well as he knows the longings in my heart. He knows the pain I feel when I hear of unwanted children that had been aborted, abandoned, hurt, or neglected by people in this world who really do not know the value of the treasure they were given. He knows that I will literally stand next to an abortion clinic with a sign reading "Infertile couple with loving home! Will adopt your baby!" if that is what it takes to bring my children home. He knows I will deal with all of the lengthy, bureaucratic red tape necessary to bring home my children. He knows exactly how much I can put up with to ease this longing in my heart...and maybe that is why I was given this particular cross to bear. 

I have not given up hope on children yet as I know it is too early in the game to even be too worried about it. Who knows, I may already be bouncing a baby on my knee a year from now. Only God knows...and I just have to trust Him in the meantime.

Pax Vobiscum

God help Pelosi...because she needs all the help she can get

Sacramentals, like blessed rosaries, carry a source of power that cannot ever be ignored or subdued by evil. When our Lady of Lourdes appeared to St. Bernadette, it is said that this miraculous encounter was imitated by children who also professed to hear and see Our Lady as well. These children were either hysteric, under demonic possession, or simply seeking attention. Their purpose in the events that followed this apparition was simply to discredit St. Bernadette and the apparition. God grants great miracles, but challenges certainly tend to follow these miracles. Just look at the trouble preceding the acceptance and mass publication of Sr. Faustina Kowalska's Divine Mercy in My Soul! This book was once banned by the church due to a misunderstanding following faulty translation...until Bl. JPII intervened! Just look at how many trials the saints had to go through before achieving sanctity! Just look at the persecutions that had to take place before people were even allowed to publicly practice Christianity (and the persecutions that occur even today)!

I don't want to get too off topic here, so I will just get to the meaty part of the St. Bernadette copycats story. It was difficult to distinguish right away whether or not these St. Bernadette copycats were actually experiencing visions as well or if they were frauds. However, one thing that stood out between these children and St. Bernadette was that these children would not pray with blessed rosaries. They had many new rosaries they prayed with, but for some reason, they avoided the blessed rosaries and would not pray with them. After noticing this aversion to sacramentals, people soon started picking up on other attention-seeking behaviors and actions that did not add up. Suspicions continued until it was finally revealed that these children were frauds. However, even with these pseudovisionaries, the words of Our Lady of Lourdes withstood the test of time and St. Bernadette attained sanctity. The site is still a site of miracles and there are countless pilgrims that keep going back to that grotto every year. Truth works like that....regardless of how much evil tries to tarnish it. God works like that....regardless of how people try to take him out of the picture.
Nancy Pelosi 2013.jpg
Which brings me to Nancy Pelosi. I know a lot of people aren't too happy that President Obama passed off rosary beads that had been blessed by Pope Francis to Pelosi this Tuesday. I know where she stands in terms of abortion and all I can say is that she is going to need all the help she can get when it comes to conversion of heart as well as mind. With that said, as much as I envy her for getting these beads....these beads could not have gone to a soul in more need of help and intervention than Nancy Pelosi (given her status as both a Catholic and politician). I do not believe that this rosary was given to her by chance or by accident and I have a feeling that Pope Francis knew exactly what he was doing when he passed off the rosary as a gift.

A rosary blessed by St. Peter's successor, I'd imagine, is a very powerful sacramental and I believe that there are many graces that can come from this gift. I have faith that Nancy Pelosi may one day turn her back on PP and all those other pro-abortion interest groups if this rosary leads her to prayer and if this prayer, in turn, leads to a St. Paul-like metanoia. She could have declined this rosary and it could have gone to Biden or any number of other Catholics in DC that have focused more on the self-interest groups funding their elections than they have on the Church they claim to follow (whenever they want to garner that Catholic vote). However, I am sure that God is taking care of these individuals considering how many times I've been asked to pray for them and have participated in prayer for them.

Instead of pushing God out of the picture here by protesting how little Pelosi deserves this sacramental, how this is all a travesty, and how she should be denied sacramentals/communion/etc...how about we focus on her conversion? How about we begin to consider that this may all be part of God's plan for ultimate good? How about we pray for her to pray with this rosary, that she may be enlightened by the Holy Spirit as she prays each decade. If you've ever heard of what the green scapular and the Miraculous medal are capable of in terms of conversion....you should not doubt that this rosary should be able to pull this very misguided soul back to God so that she may one day actually surprise even her biggest naysayers. I don't know about you, but I would LOVE to see her working on legislation to protect the lives of the unborn...rather than sending them to slaughter for the sake of PP and other self-interest groups with deep pockets. Pray for her conversion and pray that this sacramental may protect her soul from peril.

Think about it, unlike the fraudulent visionaries in Lourdes...Pelosi actually accepted the rosary. She could have avoided it...and this, I believe...must mean something.

Pax Vobiscum

Saint Marcellus: Patron Saint of Vampire Hunters

It's been super busy for me lately in terms of PhD responsibilities, research, married life, and all that jazz...but I recently finished listening to "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" by Seth Grahame-Smith. It was surprisingly good for an audiobook. The narrator's voice worked, the plot was decent, and the historical tidbits of information were actually pretty good. With that said, I need to introduce you to the Patron Saint of Vampire Hunters

Once upon a time, a very infamous adulteress was buried in a sepulcher just outside of Paris (then called Lutetia). This woman, weighed down by the burden of her sinful life and lusting for more souls to ruin, could not rest in peace. Naturally, as such stories go, she became a vampire and soon preyed upon villagers living around the place in which her body was laid to remain at rest. Not one to let a murderous vampire woman wreak havoc upon Paris, claiming its citizens in order to satisfy her lust for blood and souls, the town's bishop decided to take matters into his own hands in order to protect his parish. The bishop entered the sepulcher and confronted the vampire that had been creating her own army undead. There are none alive today who can ever tell the entire story about the battle that must have ensued, but the bishop slayed the vampire and won the hearts of his flock. Soon, Paris was rid of the plague of undead that had once threatened its citizens and the Catholicism's Eldest Daughter now has the honor of being home to the remains of the Patron Saint of Vampire Hunters.....St. Marcellus of Paris.

Saint Marcellus going after a creepy looking dragon-bird (vampire?) with his bishop staff.
This statue can be found at Notre Dame Cathedral. (image credit: Diocese de Paris)
Now, I must tell you that this vampire hunting story was recorded 200 years after the death of Saint Marcellus...so it needs to be taken with a grain of salt. A BIG grain of salt. I mean, some say he fought a vampire. Some say he fought a dragon. There is even evidence that suggests he fought a creepy dragon-bird thing with his staff (as evidenced by the statue above). Still, it does make for a pretty good story...probably a better story than Saint George and his dragon...and certainly a story that deserves more artwork. I will have to add Saint Marcellus to "An Epic Book of Badass Catholic Saints for Kids" at some point in the future...whenever I end up finding the time to draw him staking the heart of a vampire woman with claws, grotesque features, and a tattered medieval gown.

Now for the most-likely-true version of the story...

Saint Marcellus is believed to come from a working class family from the modern-day village of St. Marceau (which was named after him at a later point) and was a very precocious young lad who favored modesty, meditation, and silence over the rambunctious nature of other boys his age. He began studying for the priesthood while a teenager and was the youngest priest in his ordination class. He studied under Prudentius, the bishop of Paris at the time...and was selected to take his place when the Prudentius passed away. He worked hard and was known as a humble man of great standing who not only helped fight off Barbarians that threatened to invade the city, but worked miracles too! There is no reason why this guy should have faded into obscurity by year 2014...and we have to bring him back. If naming him the patron saint of vampire hunters is how we bring him back from obscurity...then so be it.

The feast day of Saint Marcellus is November 1st and his relics are buried under the Cathedral of Notre Dame...which is pretty impressive for a saint that died around 430 AD. I say this because one would think that Notre Dame was once taken over anti-Catholics following the French revolution. I am actually surprised they didn't remove or destroy this saint's relics following their takeover of this cathedral. That, in and of itself, may be more remarkable than any slaying of vampires.

This has been your introduction to Saint Marcellus of Paris, a pretty awesome and not-so-well-known saint.

Pax Vobiscum

#ASHTAG

And so, with Ash Wednesday 2014...comes Lent 2014 and I have high hopes for this Lent season. High hopes as in I will be trying my best to pray more, be more charitable, improve my spiritual life, and...*gulp*... trust in God a lot more. To be frank, I put too much into my own hands and do not rely on Him as much as I should. I want to put more trust in Him and I will try to make this happen in the next 40 odd days. 
I know this is a day late and a dollar short...but here's my #ashtag I should have posted yesterday! I have to say...they got me good this year. +:-P

Catholic science geek indeed. Just look at that lab coat!
For more ashes...check out the USCCB's Facebook Ash Wednesday album.
Pax Vobiscum

A Thing Called Mercy

Hell is a mercy. I know the vast majority of people out there will disagree with me because we have all been taught to think of hell as a fiery place where souls are tortured for eternity because they were "bad" during their time on earth. However, this is a very simplified description of hell. Hell isn't just a fiery place where bad people go. It is far more than just an eternal punishment. It is also a place that is tailored to fit you. In a sense, it is a place that you create yourself with the life you live, the things you grow to accept, and the things you grow to reject. If you reject God in life, then hell allows you to remain separated from Him in eternity.

I think the Father Steven Scheier  in the video below may help you understand the idea of choosing hell best. This Father Scheier was involved in a head-on collision that should have killed him...and did kill him. This priest found himself in front of Christ, hearing an account of all that he had done in his life as a priest. He had slacked off on his duties, choosing comfort and easy ways through his ministry...always believing that he would have a chance at the end to turn his life around at the last minute. Well, that chance didn't come and he found himself sentenced to hell for eternity. The way he describes accepting this punishment is exactly the way I imagine many souls accepting their sentence for eternity when they stand before Christ's judgment. Deep down, I am sure that we all understand God's justice as well as the consequences of our actions whenever we chose the easy versus the right. In the end, those that deserve hell will accept and, like this priest mentions, will not consider making excuses for themselves or seeking a way out.

(For a more in depth version of the store, check out this clip of Father Scheier from a 1997 taping of Mother Angelica Live on EWTN)

Does that mean all atheists, agnostics, non-Catholics all go to hell? Absolutely not. There could very well be a bunch of atheists in purgatory now, challenging and, thus, perfecting the understanding of the lukewarm souls that ended up in purgatory. There could be agnostics who made it to heaven and are now exploring God with other souls that ended up in heaven. Atheists may not believe in God or may not be ready to believe in God, but that does not mean that they fully reject Him in the way that some who do believe in Him may reject Him. In my experience, quite a few atheists/agnostics/etc simply don't understand Him or don't realize that they already know him. Some of them may even know Him better than I do. 

Personally, I think atheists serve a great purpose on earth when it comes to the education of lukewarm souls that believe in God, but are on the fence when it comes to other essentials in faith. I know, because I used to be a lukewarm soul who started dating an agnostic and who made friends with all kinds of people on the agnostic/atheist spectrum. I don't think God ever intended for me to be one of those super-involved youth group, altar-serving, church choir Catholic chicks. He had other plans for me...and that is why he put me in very non-Catholic (and sometimes anti-Catholic) environments throughout my life. The people in these environments challenged me and I became a better Catholic for it. I also challenged them and, at the very least, they learned a little more about God and His mercy.

This Lent, I encourage you to consider your role in God's plan. Try to think about ways in which you are fulfilling (or avoiding) God's plans for you. Think about the decisions you are making in your everyday life. Ask yourself if there are any improvements or adjustments that you can make to ensure that you are one day worthy of standing before Christ and telling him that yes, you do deserve a place in heaven....and yes, you did all you could to lead others there too.

Pax Vobiscum

The Communion Line Shuffle

I can be a pretty awful Catholic sometimes. The worst part is that I do not often notice how awful I am until divine intervention hits me on the head. Then there's the husband. God with His sense of humor and in His infinite genius, well, He decided it would be best for me to marry an agnostic-turned-Catholic who now gives ME pointers on how to be a good Catholic. No, he's not a niggling nit-picker...and no, he's not turning into a Sedevacantist nut. However, he is teaching me in his own quiet ways....and here I am...his confirmation sponsor...putting my foot in my mouth time and time again these days. And I am (a bit grudgingly at times) loving every moment of it.

One of these moments happened a month or so ago before communion. The husband made a joke about how I had moved from one communion line to another so I could receive from the padre. At the time, I appreciated the work that extraordinary ministers put into mass and liked a few of the extraordinary ministers in my church. However, I didn't want to receive communion from them. At the time, I believed that it was less authentic. I believed that I should receive from the priest...and only the priest. I mean, come on...what are the chances that the extraordinary ministers prayerfully wash their hands before administering communion? What are the chances that they've reached the level of holiness of the priest during mass? What are the chances that they will know what to do with me...this old-school Catholic who still kneels and receives on the tongue? These, and a few more excuses, made me move from one line to another on any given Sunday....regardless of how obvious it was.

The husband noticed and made a bit of joke about it. Since getting confirmed, he hasn't bothered himself too much about communion lines as long as he receives. He had no idea why it mattered so much to me. I laughed it off and didn't think too much about it until a week or so after when I found myself sitting in mass. Having gone to confession, I was thinking about communion and hoping that I would end up in the priest's line and not the line of the extraordinary minister.

Then all of a sudden it felt like the world had stopped and time had frozen.

In my mind, I heard "And why is that piece of my body any less than the rest? What makes that piece any less than the rest?"

I was a bit floored by this. The idea of one host being less worthy than the rest is an idea that never crossed my mind before. I mean, yes, my husband and I had talked about how ridiculous it must look whenever I shuffled from one line to another. However, we never discussed the theological implications of my ridiculous behavior. In moving from one line to another, I was attributing holiness to the person administering the sacrament...not the sacrament itself. Whoah! Talk about a hit to the head! I finally woke up and the scales of vanity and holier-than-thou pride fell from my eyes. Without saying a word, I got in line when the time came, received communion from the extraordinary minister, and accepted all of it with a humility that can only come from a repentant heart. And you know what? It was fine. The placed the host on my tongue and didn't even flinch when I kneeled. The church didn't burst into flames and the grace that rained down on me from heaven felt no less refreshing than it ever did. Perhaps it even felt a bit better than usual because Christ loves obedience and humility more than he does misplaced piety.

The husband, of course, noticed my change in heart and gave me one of this looks. I explained and we had one of those "I told you so" moments that tend to happen whenever my head becomes a little less hard and my heart a little more humble.