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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.

The Desert of Dissertation

I am embarking on a long and perilous journey that will make or break me. I know ultimately, God has a plan for me that involves a lot more than having a "Dr." in front of my name. Still I have to go for it considering how I got here and how much work I have put into this. I have started piecing together the bare bones of what will become my doctoral dissertation and will now spend any time I have outside of the lab writing, researching, referencing, editing, and questioning life decisions as I build up my dissertation so that I can defend it in the year to come. If you've ever dreaded taking a test or public presentations, please pray for me. If you want another true-to-the-Magisterium-Catholic scientist in this world, pray for me. I am going to need all of the help I can get in order to get over this hurdle. In the meantime, this blog is going on Sabbatical for the most part.

Pax vobiscum!

Geronimo! I'm going in!

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.