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I can't be trusted with bible school swag...

...and this is why...
Aragorn son of Arathorn, heir to the throne of Gondor
Allow me to use this silliness to put a plug in for one of my favorite Tolkien/Catholic books:
Bradley Birzer's J.R.R. Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth: Understanding Middle-Earth. It will help you delve deeply into Tolkien's faith and how it influenced the creation of Middle Earth. There's parallels everywhere such as the white city of Gondor representing Rome and the lembas representing the Eucharist, etc.  Strange as it sounds this book and Tolkien's works in general can help you make sense of some of some Catholic traditions. I seriously can't recommend this book enough. 

Okay, enough procrastination. Back to the boring excel spreadsheets and impending statistics analysis doom. Boo!

Pax Vobiscum

Charity and Comfort Zones

I must have one of those faces that people trust. Even when I try to avoid people, they find a way of nudging me back to the world called charity. I am very, very, painfully shy around people. I used to be better at it back when I had a social life and didn't spend most of my days toiling around in a lab. I got worse after moving to NYC. I am awful with money, so I don't carry it. When I do carry it, I tend to give it to homeless people. NYC has a lot of homeless people. Worse yet, when I don't have money, I feel bad about not having money and try to avoid eye contact...more because it shames me that I cannot help them. I am so awful for doing this because sometimes, all a homeless person wants is to be treated like any other human being. Still, there are moments where the Holy Spirit compels me to turn back after briskly walking by and avoiding eye contact. These moments turn into powerful experiences. 

This week, I was walking to work and saw an older woman walking about with that shuffle that I typically associate with the homeless. I didn't have money on me so I started veering ever so slightly to the right to make a wider arch around her when I got close. This did nothing to prevent her from walking towards me, however. Holding up a tattered Post-it with a doctor and an address scribbled on it, she asked me for directions. I hardly every know enough to give suitable directions. My husband always pokes fun at my ability to use bushes, fence posts, weird building signs, etc. when giving directions instead of street names and distance. Needless to say, I am not the most helpful guide.
Still, I have a hard time refusing help when it is asked of me.

This woman was in a state by the time she got to me. She asked me for directions to a neuro specialist in the area and I had no idea where this office was. I tried to get an idea where she came as she seemed disoriented and scared. She started to cry, telling me she had been walking all morning and that she never wanted to come to this place again. At that point, I told her I would not leave her until I got her where she needed to go. I also tried to crack a few jokes to make her feel a little better. I turned into her advocate after my Google maps search proved fruitless, I went into buildings and asked people for directions. Security guards, construction workers, you name it. I would not have gotten the courage to ask some of these people if it was just me depending on it. 

I got her where she needed to go and then went off on my way, wondering about this interruption to the Angelus I had been trying to pray. My praying was a bit thrown off for that morning, but I supposed that I had done the right thing. If that was my dad 20 years from now, I would hope that some stranger would help him if he sought their aid. I'd imagine the world would be a darker place if nobody took that courageous step out of their comfort zone in order to help a complete stranger. Instances like this one, as awkward as they could be for someone like me at times, help remind us that we are humans in need of reminders for the holiness we are to strive for. Let's face it, there isn't much opportunity for charity when I am glued to a computer for stretches of several hours as I take brain measurements. Yes, I may actively attempt charity of mind as I think about my life and those I have known over the years. However, this kind of charity is lacking in the sense that it remains within a person. It does not extend as far as a charitable act that you actively do for someone. Both forms of charity are noble...but that second one can do so much for a soul in need. 

I have to try harder to get over this shyness thing and even harder to make God's presence known to this world through acts like helping an vulnerable elderly woman get to her doctor. I thank God that He sometimes throws people like this woman into my life so that I can learn to become a better person.


Pax Vobiscum

Swear to God: The Promise and Power of the Sacraments (A Review)

Scott Hahn is a theological powerhouse. My first experience with his writing came with his book Swear to God. In this book, Hahn discusses the significance of the sacraments in relation to our everyday lives and our eternal lives.

I am sure there are many books out there discussing the significance of matrimony, the eucharist, God's covenants with man over time, and their significance. However, I do not think that every book out there is written for the average layman or woman who hasn't had extensive theology backgrounds. The simplicity in which Hahn explores the significance and relevance of the sacraments makes this book an easy read even as you find yourself learning more than you expected about ancient Hebrew, traditions, the history of Christianity (and Judaism), the Old Testament, and quite a few big figures in the Bible. As I was reading this book, I found myself making many connections between the sacraments I have celebrated (baptism, Eucharist, confession, matrimony, and confirmation), the life I have lived, and the life I want to live. Upon reading this book, I have come to look upon the sacraments a bit differently and, as a result, have come to live a richer and more faithful life.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has felt their spiritual life growing a bit dry and find themselves wishing for a richer and fuller encounter with God through the sacraments He has given us. I would also recommend this book to anyone who wishes to explore their faith a bit more deeply. You will not be disappointed by the treasures you will find in this book.


Pax Vobiscum


Disclaimer: I was offered a free copy of this book for review by Blogging for Books. All words and views expressed in this review are entirely my own.

My Nativity Scene

I found this nativity set at a cute mom and pop store last year. I fell in love with it and HAD to have it. I love the hues, the shapes of these statues, and especially how they designed Mary. The baby Jesus is attached to the manger, so I don't have the manger up. I'll put that up once Christmas comes around...after all, it is still advent. We still wait. Still, today is special in the sense that it commemorates the beginning of the end of our wait. The conception of the immaculate mother who will one day give birth to the savior of the world. A very joyous feast of the Immaculate Conception to you all! 

Pax Vobiscum

Waiting Through Advent

Psalm 130*

From the depths, I have cried out to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplication.
If you, Lord, were to mark iniquities, who, O Lord, shall stand?
For with you is forgiveness; and because of your law, I stood by you, Lord.
My soul has stood by his word.
My soul has hoped in the Lord.
From the morning watch, even until night, let Israel hope in the Lord.
For with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption.
And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.


I am doing a very poor job of keeping with the spirit of advent. I know we are still waiting for Christ and should not be really celebrating Christmas until we've truly learned to appreciate the longing that is associated with Advent...but I've already shopped for Christmas presents. I've got a tree set up. I attended a holiday party today at school, sang an impromptu version "12 Days of Christmas" to my school's dean...while holding a tankard of cider. My lab and I already dressed as the 12 days of Christmas and I somehow was able to turn my "4 calling birds" costume into a Tolkienish getup.

Last night's advent fail began innocently enough. A month or so ago, a kneejerk response to a concert announcement resulted in a ticket to what turned out to be a Christmas-themed show.  On one hand, I definitely failed in accepting a big Advent lesson in anticipation and patience. On the other hand, I crossed something huge off my bucket list last night. 

The bucket list item was seeing Loreena McKennitt** live. 

Don't get me wrong, the fact that the concert was at Carnegie Hall and the fact that the show benefitted the Golden Hat Foundation were big pluses...but the only reason I went out of my way to go to this thing was that this artist very seldom tours in the US....and I am too broke to go to Canada or Europe for one of her shows (were that I could!). Though she sang 4 songs overall, the show was remarkable. It was fantastic not only because I got to see my favorite Canadian songstress, but because there was so much talent on display. The best thing of the entire show was the rendition of Ave Maria by a young girl who was still in 7th grade. It was absolutely beautiful. Perfection, even. And even though I cheated on the spirit of advent by attending a Christmas concert...it moved me. 

Have you ever gotten chills hearing music? Have you ever heard something that moved you to tears for an inexplicable reason? Have you ever found yourself marveling a the transcendent nature of a full orchestra or choir ensemble? My goodness, when I hear so many people making music with instruments and/or voices in a synchronized manner...all I can think about is choirs of angels glorifying God through song. Orchestras and choirs are truly amazing reminders of the beauty that can be achieved when people work together toward a common goal.

These past weeks, we have been given hope for the reunification of the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church. Pope Francis and the Patriarch Bartholomew are setting in motion something that is certainly bound to bring more glory to God. Reunification. Now that is something I would love to live to see. Like the prophet Simeon, we have been given the gift of a glimpse of the things to come in the future. I am thankful for this small crack of hope that's starting to break away at the walls separating us from our Eastern brothers and sisters. Still, I cannot help but feel a yearning for peace, a yearning for that member of the family to return. 
Papst Franziskus in Istanbul 30.11.2014
Image Credit
All things, I know, are done in God's time. I am working on simply trusting God for things that take longer for completion. Patience is a lesson that I am still learning and I have some way to go before I truly accept it in a way that will allow me to simply be still and know that God will take care of it all in His own time. I may live to see the reunification, but it is also more than possible that it will not occur in my lifetime. I simply have to wait an have faith. I suppose we have to come full circle now in the spirit of Advent...because it is all about waiting, knowing that something great is going to happen a few weeks from now. We aren't supposed to cheat on this wait with holiday parties, etc...but we also should not spend all of Advent simply waiting. We are not a waiting people. We are a people that prepares as we wait. Advent is our chance to prepare ourselves for Christ's coming. We are to renew our faith, to grow in charity, and to cleanse our souls through the sacrament of reconciliation as we wait. 

Advent is a reminder to us of how long our ancestors had to wait for their savior. In some ways we lucked out having been born this age as opposed to several thousand years before the birth of Christ. There's a lesson in the words of longing you come across in the Old Testament, the words of the prophets that were told about a redeemer they would never see during their time on earth. Hopefully one advent I will get it right and simply wait without spoiling myself with pre-Christmas celebrations. This is tough but more than possible.

I just have to try harder. 

Pax Vobiscum



_________________________________________________________________

*For the lovers of  Latin, I give you Psalmum 130:

De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine;
Domine, exaudi vocem meam. Fiant aures tuæ intendentes
in vocem deprecationis meæ.
Si iniquitates observaveris, Domine, Domine, quis sustinebit?
Quia apud te propitiatio est; et propter legem tuam sustinui te, Domine.
Sustinuit anima mea in verbo ejus:
Speravit anima mea in Domino.
A custodia matutina usque ad noctem, speret Israël in Domino.
Quia apud Dominum misericordia, et copiosa apud eum redemptio.
Et ipse redimet Israël ex omnibus iniquitatibus ejus.


**Not everyone out there has heard of Loreena McKennitt, but I LOVE her music. I've loved it ever since 1998, when Ever After came out and one of the trailers sampled McKennitt's The Mummer's Dance (see video). I was hooked. I was 13 and these were the days before the internet, but given my ability to remember music I fall in love with, the bit that was sampled in the commercials played in my head off and on over the years until the advent of internet music and Pandora. Pandora allowed me to finally put a name to the song I had heard so many years ago and I have purchased every album since (on sale, of course). 

My Catholic Posse

Some people collect baseball cards of players they like. I collect medals of saints I want to be like. And I carry all of these in my wallet at all times. I should note that I also have a coupon book full of saint cards and a shoebox full of pamphlets, cards that don't fit in the coupon book, booklets, and other materials. Because that is simply how I roll. We are going to need all the help we can get trying to get to heaven and the saints definitely want to help us get there. They know the steep path we have to climb to make it to holiness, and they will certainly help you get there if you are willing to ask for help.

#CatholicSwag

Oh! VERY IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE!
Registration has opened for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in September 2015. Do your soul a favor and register for this wonderful event (which will feature Father Robert Barron as a key note speaker). I have already bothered the husband about registering (fees are about $125 for those over the age of 18). There is a chance you may see the Pope if you attend. That in and of itself is a good enough reason for me! Check out the website for more information: http://www.worldmeeting2015.org/

Pax Vobiscum

I Dream of Churches

Today is the feast of the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, which was consecrated in the year 324AD. This church, a Catholic church, is older than pretty much all of the Christian denominations out there. Let that sink in. This church is older than the United States of America by over 1400 years. Let that all sink in. This church outlived the Roman Empire, the British Empire, and more battles, unstable economies, plagues, wars, famines, and other natural disasters than any of us can imagine (excluding historians). Great civilizations have risen and fallen into obscurity in these 1600 odd years, and this church has withstood all this time.

The pyramids of Giza and other very old man-made structures have also withstood the test of time...but the people that built them, worshiped in them, and once lived near them have disappeared. Though the face of the Catholic Church has changed drastically over the years, its people remain. Its people continue to sweep the floors of St. John Lateran, and its people have brought Christ to just about every corner of the world. The same Christ present in the tabernacle of St. John Lateran is also present in every other tabernacle of the world. It is a testament to the constancy of the church founded by Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit. Had it been a purely human venture, St. John Lateran would have disappeared under the rubble of countless civilizations that have swept through Europe and disappeared with time. Its floors would have gathered dust and crumbled over time, or been swallowed by nature like some of the temples you find in the forests of Cambodia.

Whenever I enter an old Cathedral with a vibrant parish, I feel at home. I feel peace. I feel God's constant presence. There is something so transcendent about the tall arches....the myriad of colors reflected by the stained glass....the aroma of wooden pews that have been infused with the aroma of centuries-worth of incense, the ethereal sound of bells echoing from cavernous ceilings too high to be touched by human hands...

Suffice it to say, there are no words that can describe the powerful experience of walking through a cathedral and admiring all it has to offer. The closest thing to this experience was Fr. Robert Barron's Catholicism series.

I have dreamed of cathedrals and churches for years. I have dreamed of walking through them, partaking in masses with everyone from the Pope to Anne Rice. I have met strangers in these churches from all over the world and I have experienced art that is simply ethereal. One particular cathedral that comes to mind had stained glass windows several stories tall with brilliant hues. One of these windows depicted the Virgin Mary reaching down from heaven to bring people to her son and to God. The image used forced perspective to make her appear three dimensional. If you stood right beneath the image of this woman with a deep blue mantle and serene smile, you were presented with a heavenly scene. Behind the woman reaching down for you stood the Father, the Son, and the Holy spirit between them.

In my dream, I admired the stained glass image from the western end of the Cathedral (the window was on the east) and from right beneath it. Impossible as it was, at both positions, the image was just as remarkable. Standing right beneath it, you saw a three dimensional hand reaching out for you. An optical illusion like this one would require the image to be stretched out (much like the remarkable sidewalk art below) in order for the image to appear three dimensional if you were to stand beneath it.


Nativity scene by Kurt Wenner
Viewed at correct position
Notice 3D effect due to forced perpective

Same Nativity scene by Kurt Wenner
Viewed from another position
Notice how everything is stretched out
 Yet, when you stood away from the window, the image was perfectly proportioned so that it appeared no different than the standard stained glass image (save for the brilliant hues of the glass, which were otherworldly). I cannot even imagine how a masterpiece like this one could be designed by human hands as it defies too many rules. Not even the best optical illusionist on earth could ever construct something as impossible and beautiful as this window (though Kurt Wenner does come close). I know I could never draw or paint an image that could do this window justice. It is possible that this image was simply the product of some neurons firing in my brain. It is also possible that there was some divine inspiration involved. I'm leaning towards this possibility simply because I cannot believe that a random firing of neurons can create such beauty.

Whether purely neuron-based or divinely inspired, perfection like this could only be found in dreams, at least in the present world. There may be a day when the prophetic words of the prophet Ezekiel will be realized by the hand of God, allowing for the cathedrals of my dreams to come into physical existence. Until then, I will have to be satisfied with the ethereal beauty of the cathedrals that are built by men that allow God to work through them and guide them through the ages as He has done for millennia.

Pax Vobiscum