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Living Your Faith

There was a time when crossing myself in public was a very uncomfortable thing for me to do. Yet, I would always do it when I sat in a plane that was about to take off. I just didn't want to be outed as one of those "religious nuts" or even one of those "paranoid people" that was scared to death of planes. Then, after 9/11 I had this fear of being outed as one of those religious extremists that were about to set a bomb off in the name of God (which would be the last thing God would want from anyone, but we'll save that conversation for later). For a tolerant society, we tend to get weirded out by even the smallest signs of faith. How did it get to the point where people like me were uncomfortable of praying in public, saying grace when you go out to dinner, or just signing yourself? I'm not sure. However, I can understand how this came to be considering how "Merry Christmas," "Happy Hannukah," and all these other greetings seem to be phasing out in response to this "Happy Holidays" phenomenon.

On a side note, I am trying to phase out "Happy Holidays" from my vocabulary since this greeting sounds more like something devised by Hallmark to sell crap rather than any meaningful celebration. If you're Jewish, I wish you a Happy Hannukah (we Catholics are all for celebrating miracles). I do my best to be mindful of my Muslim brethren during Ramadan (us Lent-observers totally feel for you). You get the idea. I thank people who wish people a Happy "insert observance or holiday here" even if I don't celebrate it. Why? Tolerance is taught through exposure...not by hiding a central part of yourself as if you're ashamed of it. Don't let the "Happy Holidays" crowd tell you otherwise because chances are they have no idea what most of the "holidays" truly mean for different religious folk or cultures.

Before I start a ranting, let me get back to the original point of my post....

It is tough expressing your faith in a world that encourages purely secular behavior and it's gotten to the point where expressing faith can make us uncomfortable. It almost feels like we will offend sensibilities if we so much as say "God bless you" when someone sneezes...let alone cross ourselves. When I decided to pray the rosary daily a few months ago, I quickly realized that I would only be able to pray it during my commute to school (because every other moment of my life is consumed by schoolwork or labwork). This meant that I had to pray in front of complete strangers on the train and in the subway. This made me very uncomfortable...especially since I am one of those who prefers a private, contemplative form of prayer over a public, community type of prayer. 

At first I became a rosary ninja. I prayed as secretly as I could, making sure to sit at the front or back of the train, facing a wall. I would do the sign of the cross as sneakily as I could, either going extremely slow or super fast....waiting for the perfect opportunity when no one would be looking. Little by little, however, the anxiety wore off and I eventually found myself unafraid of crossing myself in front of whatever stranger sat next to me. I even began to keep my rosary outside of my pocket. Next thing I know, I am crossing myself in front of a crowded train stop, rosary in hand, with "Mysteries" leaflet, muttering prayers under my breath rather than silently repeating them in my mind. Talk about progress. I am now more comfortable praying the rosary in front of strangers than I am removing my combat boots in public so that I can readjust my socks (which always slip down throughout the day...it's kind of annoying). 

I think everyone at the train stop got used to it. However, once I started being outwardly religious, I started noting other people around me a little more....and I found some pretty remarkable things. An elderly african american man got on the subway and, without distributing leaflets or advertising a particular religious group, gave a testimony. He bravely (and quite calmly...and sanely) testified before a group of strangers about his steadfast faith in God. A tiny, old latina one day sat beside my on the subway pulled out her bible and just started reading quietly in Spanish. A young, african american woman sat in front of my on the subway and started praying the rosary. She did so quietly without breaking a sweat or getting a nervous look in her eyes. Yeah, you do get the occasional "fire and brimstone" guy protesting about every faith but his own....but for the most part, I have seen so many people expressing their faith in their own special way. I see so many people wearing crosses, rosaries, Stars of David, etc. I see people praying, reading bibles, wearing yarmulkes, holding prayer beads, etc.  This, to me, is the most beautiful thing and it certainly fills me with hope. Regardless of the religion practiced, it fills my heart with joy to know that there are people out there who worship something far greater than celebrities, materialism, sex, money, fame, and other worldly goods. 

The most wonderful thing happened today. I was sitting in the conference room today, reading some scientific papers for class tomorrow. I had just finished lunch, but I didn't have much to do in the lab...so I just lingered on a bit. A guy I am kind of familiar with, walks in and gets his lunch out. Without hesitating, he crossed himself, thanked the Lord for the meal he was about to eat, and did a quick prayer before he started eating. Mind you, he did this in a university...in a science department...in a room full of scientists. Also, he was a male PhD student who obviously has a lot on his plate as it is without even factoring in religion. Based on my experience, prayers of Thanksgiving are few and far between among college-aged males (unless you're a missionary, priest, or seminarian)...at least in my circles (PhD students, scientists, math guys, and the occasional medical guy). Considering how often the media wants you to assume that science and religion clash, I was moved by this small act of faith. I mean, even I don't give thanks before meals (another thing I must remedy). 

In fact, the only people I know that do this are my sister and her uber-Catholic buddies. I mean, considering that she goes to school at a seminary, prayers of Thanksgiving are like second nature to her. She prays and crosses herself before every meal. I, on the other hand, am lucky if I even remember to offer up a silent thank you after I've already scarfed down half of the meal. Living with her has certainly helped me remember to be thankful during mealtimes...but it still doesn't come at second nature to me. Besides my sister, no one who has lunch with me ever does this. In any event, however, this guy's small act today certainly left a huge impression on me and I will have to try harder to imitate this guy's example.

Truth be told, when you consider how great prayer is and how thankful we ought to be, the fact that so few people regularly give thanks is pretty sad....which is why we must change this. We must brave the quizzical looks and uncomfortable conversations in order to LIVE our faith and make our faith known to the world through our small acts of charity, prayer, love, humility. You don't have to do anything out of the ordinary to live your faith as long as you live a life that Christ would approve of. You don't have to shave your head and wear a big, brown scapular with Jesus sandals to live your faith. You can do so by offering to pray for a friend when they ask you for "positive thoughts." You can do so by visiting the sick, imprisoned, a soup kitchen, etc. You can say "God bless you" when someone sneezes. You can have masses offered for others. Wear that cross your grandma gave your for Communion. Carry that miraculous medal your parents gave you. If you're a cop, keep a Saint Michael card under your hat. You can even ask God to bless the people who give you a tough time....even if they don't know about it. You can do all sorts of things both public and private that allow you to LIVE your faith. Don't let fear of embarrassment or offense ever prevent you from praying. Above all, do not let it interfere with your religious life or your relationship with God. If you give up on this part of yourself for the sake of the rest of the world....what will you give up next? 

 As I mentioned in a previous post , God is one of your biggest fans. He doesn't want to give up on you...so why should you ever give up on Him? Stand up to the rest of the world! Stand up for yourself! Stand up for your beliefs! If you're to scared to do so...BE NOT AFRAID. Trust me. 


"You shall cross the barren desert,
but you shall not die of thirst.
You shall wander far in safety,
though you do not know the way.
You shall speak your words in foreign lands,
and all will understand,
You shall see the face of God and live.
Be not afraid,
I go before you always,
Come follow Me,

and I shall give you rest.
If you pass through raging waters
in the sea, you shall not drown.
If you walk amidst the burning flames,
you shall not be harmed.
If you stand before the pow’r of hell
and death is at your side,
know that I am with you, through it all
Be not afraid,
I go before you always,
Come follow Me,
and I shall give you rest.
Blessed are your poor,
for the Kingdom shall be theirs.
Blest are you that weep and mourn,
for one day you shall laugh.
And if wicked men insult and hate you, all because of Me,
blessed, blessed are you!
Be not afraid,
I go before you always,
Come follow Me,
and I shall give you rest
."

Me, some guards, and one of my favorite spiritual weapons....no, not the axe....The Cross of Saint Benedict around my neck.


 If anyone out there feels the same about LIVING your faith or has been touched by someone else LIVING their faith, please, please, please feel free to give a shout out in the comments section...to help the rest of us know that we're not alone.

Pax Vobiscum

2 comments:

  1. I wrote about this a while ago on my blog. I also carry my Rosary with me always... always.

    The best thing that I have ever seen happen though was we were at a birthday party at a park last summer for a little boy. Of the 30 or 40 or so people that were there I would say 26-36 of them were Catholic. That being said, we got word of an imminent situation with one of our other friends. Someone asked if I would be willing to lead a Rosary at our house the next day (we were known for hosting such things) and I said, "Now would be better." So my friend, said "OK" and we gathered the folks in and said:

    "We are going to pray the Rosary for our needs (For our friend) we know you aren't all comfortable or know how to do it. Just follow along... we need you." So we dropped right there in the middle of this park and prayed. So many people said how powerful it was, but they also were astonished that after it was over there werent people staring or laughing at us.

    As for prayers before meals, we now always do. We didn't used to pray in public, but now we always cross ourselves and quietly pray. I do it because I know if I was timid seeing others pray would inspire me, so I hope that it serves that secondary purpose as well.

    I think living a public faith is so important. As St. Francis said, "Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary use words."

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  2. What an awesome post! I am working on being more outwardly religious in the academic environment ... I do cross myself on the bus whenever it passes a Catholic church.

    Also: "Tolerance is taught through exposure...not by hiding a central part of yourself as if you're ashamed of it." How awesome and how true!

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