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Why should you go to mass? Reason I: The Memories

Upon looking at this post's title, you're probably wondering why a Catholic science geek is trying to get you to mass...and probably wondering "Why should I go to mass? She has no right to tell me how to spend my Sundays!" You're right in the sense that I do have no right to force you to go to mass on a Sunday. However, I got plenty of reasons why going to mass would be a good of which I will explore in this post. If you don't want to hear any of it, please know that I am only doing this as a favor to a friend. 

I'm sure you also have plenty of reasons why you should stay home. Perhaps you are a Red Sox fan who cannot bring themselves to take mass seriously when a particular priest, for some unfortunate reason, happens to be a Yankees fan.  Perhaps, you hate the flower arrangements at a particular church, almost as much as you hate the woman in charge of arranging them. Perhaps you have terrible memories of your parents dragging you to church while you were kicking and screaming. Perhaps your reasons are more serious. Perhaps mass reminds you too much of a deceased loved one. Perhaps mass reminds you of some form of heartbreaking event. Perhaps you can no longer go to mass because of a terrible experience that you do not want to revisit. There's a spectrum of reasons why people don't go to mass ranging from frivolous reasons to very grave. Again, I don't want to judge you. I don't even want to force or scare anyone into going to mass. I am simply asking you on behalf of a friend and attempting to provide some reasons to at least get you thinking about going to mass. 

Let's face it. Memories, while nowhere near as important as the Eucharist, are usually the make it or break it point when it comes to mass attendance. People with good memories of mass tend to keep coming back, while people with bad memories tend to stay home and hop on the "I'm more of a spiritual Catholic" bandwagon. You know who I'm talking about...and this post series isn't designed to judge them. It's designed to get some more of us out of our houses on Sunday mornings and back to the pews. I figured I would start off this series with a less serious, but still very important reason that every Catholic (and other denomination) can relate to...memories.

When I was a child, my family was one of those families that always went to mass. My dad would wear a suit or, at least, a nice shirt and pressed pants. He always shaved before mass, so the scent of shaving cream and cologne would also waft through the house. My mom used to take time to make herself look as nice as she could before we went to mass. The house would smell of perfume and hairspray after my mom was done, and she always came out of the bathroom looking fantastic. Though my mom never wore makeup, she always presented herself in the best manner that she could when it came to mass. She would put on her pearls, and have her hair done up perfectly without a single hair out of place. Though my mom and I were almost identical as far as appearances go, I have yet to get my hair to stop looking like mad scientist hair. My hair, in case you're wondering is usually raggedy with a mix of straight, wavy, and curly hair bunched up in a pony tail. No matter how long or short I cut it, there's always more than a few wisps of hair that come undone and don't know what to do with themselves.

My sisters and I, before we got old enough to dress ourselves, would always wear dresses (except on some occasions where we wore other cute clothes that matched). The only time we didn't wear matching dresses was if one of us had grown out of a matching dress, or if the store did not carry the same dress in 3 different sizes. We would wear the white frilly socks that should still be burned in the memory of every Catholic girl that ever had a first communion. We also tended to wear some form of Mary Janes (white, black, brown) that clacked whenever I (the wayward middle child) would hop all over the stone walls lining the bushes around the entrance of the church. In the days where we went to Portuguese mass on Saturday nights, I (being one of the first ready, you'll find out why soon enough) would watch the cartoon "Doug." My sisters would join as my mom got ready. Then we'd drive to the church and walk in as a family. My sisters would walk with my dad (daddy's girls) in the front and I would walk with my mom (momma's girl) in the back. 

When we got older, my parents let us dress ourselves and that's when I entered the Cosby Sweater years. I, for no sane reason, decided that it was badass (in a respectable way) to wear these obnoxiously bright, patterned knit sweaters to mass. I think I even went through a period where I wore the same sweater over and over every week. It became my mass sweater and certainly made getting ready for mass a lot more quick and efficient. Unfortunately, however, since you don't really get dirty during mass...I never used to wash this sweater. I would just put it back on the hanger as soon as I got home. Needless to say, it got to the point where it started to smell kind of funky. Think incense, musty, burnt candle, and body odor kind of funky. My mom at some point kidnapped the sweater and gave it a much needed washing...but it didn't feel the same after a while. I moved on to better things soon a button-up shirt and skirt combo. 

My mom sang during Portuguese masses. She had a powerful alto (perhaps mezzo?) voice and could be heard above the voices of all the other women there. She loved to sing. She had a passion for the words she sang and a love for God that could be heard throughout the church. I joined my mom in the front. Sometimes I sang and sometimes I would just hear. On a few occasions I has the opportunity to do the reading. We practiced as a family when one of the kids got to do a reading...and it was something special. The whole family got involved. When we started going to English mass, my mom was not familiar with too much of the new songs. However, that did not stop her. There was one song that was easily translated..."Alleluia." Yes, it was only one word and not the longest song, but she sang it as beautifully as she sang any of the Portuguese songs she knew and loved.

My dad's devotion was more quiet than my mom's. At one point, he started praying before Our Lady of Fatima in a little area by the entrance of the church. My mom joined him and eventually my sisters joined him. He and my mom were convinced that praying before mass improved their lives drastically and I believe them (especially seeing how the rosary has changed my life). My sisters and I were skeptical, but joined my parents anyway. Over time we came to appreciate this small, extra act of faith even though it involved praying extra every Sunday and getting to church a little bit earlier. Today, even when my dad is abroad and it's just me and my sisters, we kneel before Our Lady and pray for her intercession. 

My dad always made sure we had change for mass. One great way to get change, we soon found, was by going to Wawa (a place that's kind of like a delicatessen for all of those beyond a particular region of the Tri-state Pennsylvania/Delaware/New Jersey area). We would all get coffee or tea and some form of muffin or pastry as a family. I always got a orange-passionfruit-jasmine green tea (since discontinued) and a banana nut muffin. My mom always got an apple fritter. My dad tended to get some form of pie or a doughnut. This quickly became one of the parts about going to mass that my sisters and I looked forward to the most. When we did not go to Wawa, there was never a shortage of bakeries in my town to provide a Sunday treat of some sort for my family. 

Each of my sisters and I, at one point or another, got a chance to be one of the three shepherd children or even Our Lady (a very coveted role) during one of the processions my church had every May. If you're not Portuguese, just believe me when I tell you that this is a BIG DEAL to Catholic kids. It's their time to shine and be the center of attention for a good long time as the procession winded through the streets. Whenever we went to Portugal, we continued to go to mass. We went on pilgrimages to several holy sites in Portugal and to several candlelight processions. These experiences were exceptionally special because they allowed us to experience our Catholic faith in the same manner that my grandparents and great-grandparents had experienced the faith. This, in a sense, served as a connection to the past and to people that my sisters and I did not get to know very well due to the distance between Portugal and the US. 

What wouldn't you do for a welcome like this?
Mass was also the place where I, as a young child, found Jesus and Latin. For some reason, I wasn't really into the Old Testament as much as I was into the New Testament. I really came to like the New Testament because I was very fond of that guy that told these great stories (the parables), loved children, and tended to look out for everyone else.  Jesus sounded a lot cooler in these readings than he did when my parents tried explaining him...I came to like Jesus and the New Testament so much that I would read all of the readings with Jesus in them instead of listening to the priest's homily or paying attention to mass. The missal became one of the coolest books I ever came across as a child and I would go through the New Testament readings for the entire liturgical year within a few weeks. There were so many great stories and people within this book...and there was LATIN at the end of the book. I memorized quite a few Latin prayers throughout the years during mass. I found the language to be very beautiful and it was close enough to Portuguese that I understood a good part of it. To this day I can still recite the Credo, Pater Noster, Salve Regina, Ave Maria, Gloria in Excelsis Deo (long and short), Agnus Dei, and quite a few others. In fact, I prefer the Latin version because it helps me concentrate on each prayer a lot more. I don't just recite mechanically when it comes to praying in Latin. I have to translate it in my mind and as I do it, the prayers come alive. 

I understand that not everyone out there has such wonderful memories as I do when it comes to going to mass with the family. However, you can always start making good memories. I'm lucky that I have a boyfriend who supports my wanting to continue going to mass every Sunday after we get married and start raising a family. Though he was never really a churchgoer (or even a practicing Catholic), he understands how much my faith means to me and how much going to mass means for me. I had so many wonderful memories about going to mass with my family and these memories have stuck with me for my entire life. I want to make sure my kids have memories like this one day. Even after my mom passed away and I started fearing that I would forget her voice....I never forgot her singing during mass. It was simply too powerful an expression of faith to ever forget. Even though I live in my own place now and don't get to see my dad as often as I would like, I have never forgotten his silent, steadfast devotion to Our Lady. No matter how tough things get, I remember his example and his faith. As a result, regardless of what church I go to, I will still kneel and pray. Even if I'm sightseeing and not necessarily attending a mass, I will still follow the example of my father. 

If you don't have great memories, I hope that you will start making some of your own....memories that will triumph over whatever reason you have for not coming to mass. Feel free to steal any of my ideas (even the Cosby sweater idea if you really, really want to mortify your children) to start working on your memories. If you have any questions or concerns regarding mass attendance, feel free to comment or even email me. I would be more than happy to help you out on behalf of my friend. You see, he invites me to mass every Sunday and wants me to help spread the word that everyone else is invited too.

Pax Vobiscum

Pray for Freedom of Religion, Pray for Chinese Catholics

Before you continue reading, please note that this is written with anger, disappointment, shame, and hope. These are a dangerous combination when it comes to well as speaking. However, considering recent news and the Chinese government's continual, aggressive (and puerile) behavior towards the Catholic Church, I cannot stay silent about what our Catholic brothers and sisters have to endure in China. At this point, I don't even care about the rejected tourist visas I may get in the future. I will warn you now, that this is probably not one of my more unpleasant posts. However, my heart is telling me that I have to get this all out of my chest. I'm not going to use any cited information here and I am not revealing any details here that may endanger anyone still in China or planning to go to China.

I had the opportunity to visit China a few years ago. I went as part of a program promoting the exchange of ideas between schools in the US and China. I met a lot of wonderful people and got to visit a nation that is breathtaking. I visited during the winter, so many things weren't in bloom at the time...but the natural landmarks I saw were spectacular. I loved the place. I loved the food. I loved the people I met.

I hated the silence.

I stayed there for a few weeks and came across only one church. I am not sure what religion it was, but I was disappointed to see how closed off it was. Even the churches I've visited in Washington Heights, NYC weren't this closed off or barred. There was a huge iron fence around the entire perimeter and, if I didn't know any better, I would have said that the place was condemned...due to the lack of upkeep. It was disheartening for someone so used to lively, well-nurtured churches (regardless of denomination). The memory hasn't left me.

Militant atheists may argue that we do not have any need in this world for religion and will fight to have their way. I beg too differ about this. You see, the books I've read by Gabriel Amorth mention that a lack of religion lead to a rise in superstition. I believe him. While in China, I came across a large number of superstitions pertaining to luck, money, name it. Wear red shoes to your wedding for good luck. Split your chopsticks evenly for good luck. Avoid giving gifts in particular numbers, in blue or white because it's bad luck regarding death. Buy red and gold for prosperity. If you were born in a particular lunar year, the particular animal you were born under gave you particular skills or qualities. Dragons for luck and prosperity...a phoenix for longevity, you name it. Jade money monsters were good omens for monetary fortunes. Cabbages are good for name it.

We Americans posed in front of  two lion statues guarding a building within the Forbidden Palace. One is a male holding the world in his hands (prosperity, luck). One is a female, playing with a baby lion (family, fertility). The guides told us that before the whole "1 baby per couple" mandate, all women would flock to the female lion statue with the belief that they would get pregnant soon. These days, these statues do not have women posing in front of them. Women are scared of posing before these statues. Guess why? Superstition and the whole one woman = one baby rule. The other options are abortion, lie about the child (turning them into a "niece" or "nephew"), pay a hefty fine, or abandon the child at some location (hopefully an adoption place). Women are so afraid of that second child (a few special exceptions aside). This fear was evident in the silence and abrupt change in topic I met whenever I tried to find out the methods used by the state to control pregnancies. Even if the couple chooses to pay the fine, or are permitted to keep a second child for some reason, they live in a society where others will mock this need for a second child (only farmers need another child!) by a nation of couples what will then stare wistfully at the family pictures (with 2+ kids) of visiting internationals.

People my age asked what it was like having two sisters and they talked about their own families. They didn't have to explain in detail just how much weight they had on their shoulders. They had to perform well in school to give their parents a comfortable retirement.  They had to marry people that would ensure prosperity. We had some things in common (our love of Tolkien and Jane Austen), but it was almost as if we had grown up in different worlds. During one conversation, I was thrown off guard by a nonchalant "two students committed suicide during finals." This would have made national news in the US....but it was commonplace there. This was simply something that happened during finals...much like rain happens when it gets too cloudy. If you failed at meeting certain expectations, your death was almost treated as a "next logical step." Forget the sanctity of human life...the tragic loss of an intelligent student that just did not make the cut. I hope that the family, at least, would grieve their loss...because no one else would.

The older generations tended to keep silent about any touchy subjects. They had no complaints about the order of things. They thought everything was fine as is. At least that's what they told us. The younger people I encountered were less reserved when it came to talking about everything from religion to some flaws in their education system. I got the impression that at least one or two of them wanted to know more about religion. They seemed to believe in God, but did not know how to go about the whole religion thing. They seemed to want some form of religion...but didn't really have the resources that we take for granted. Imagine having a conversation with someone who wanted to explore religion, but felt it was a toss-up between Buddhism or Christianity. These are the types of conversations I had.

My big point here is that there is a yearning in their hearts for God, even though freedom of religion is so heavily oppressed by the Chinese state. These people want so desperately to believe...but are restricted. They, therefore, cling so desperately to whatever beliefs they can. They are allowed to believe in so many frivolous superstitions (red shoes, cabbage pendants, etc) and so they adhere to them. However, they cannot cling to the faith that we so lightly toss aside. It sounds crazy, but I feel that the Chinese government is afraid of us. Cabbage pendants, red wedding shoes, and dragon figurines are harmless. Our faith, however, is dangerous in the right hands.

And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary his mother: Behold this child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted" -Luke 2:34

Our faith threatens to make our Chinese brothers and sisters rethink things such as the single child policy. It will call out mandated abortions for what they really are...murder. It will call the government out on its violations of human rights and the dignity of its inhabitants. It will teach the people that the government is just that...a government...not a deity with the right to permanently silence well-meaning human rights activists. It will give people dangerous ideas like the idea of eternal salvation through acts of love and charity. Most dangerous of all ideas, it will teach the people that there is only one Master who loves as as brothers and treats us as equals....and teach these people that they have the same rights and freedoms as those who hold power over this once great nation. Yes, I say "once great" and I mean it. I don't care how many billionaires you create, how much you export, how much you lend the US government, or how much you control the global economy. These things are all temporal and they don't mean anything to me. What matters to me is that a nation is capable of giving its citizens the basic human rights we take advantage of so often. A nation that rules by flexing muscle, instilling fear, and encouraging no great nation in my book. Give me a nation that respects its people and rules in a fair manner...and I will call this nation great.

Imagine what it would be like to have every one of your prayers monitored. Imagine living in a place that forbade you from praying as you wish. That separated you from a Church founded by Christ...a Church so loved by Christ. A Church entrusted to Peter and a long line of holy fathers leading all the way up to our Papa Bento. Imagine a nation where talk of apostolic succession (such as this) can get you in trouble...where the government picks your bishops.

Think about the things your government wouldn't tell you every time it picked a bishop. Each appointment would serve as a wedge to separate you from your true Church...from your true faith. Each appointment would be made with the government's best interests in mind. With that said, this government would certainly make bishops out of men who would put the words of the governments before the words of God. Imagine being afraid to accept such an atrocity...being afraid of showing the wrong reaction to this appointment. Imagine, for a second that you were a bishop that was forced by the government to sit in on such as mockery of a bishop appointment. Imagine weighing the consequences of your actions. What would happen to you and your family if you chose to take your faith go to an underground mass held by priests true to Rome...true to the Roman Catholic Church...and not a puppet church? What would happen to your soul and the souls of your family members over time as you continued to adhere to the puppet church's words? Would you have the courage to get up and leave from a "mass" when the homily given by a particular "priest" was blatantly contradictory to the teachings of Christ. Imagine being afraid to correct the message in this homily when you teach your faith to your child. Though you love your child dearly, the child is already targeted by so much propaganda that you begin to wonder if this child will say something or do something that reveals your "dissident" thoughts to the government.

We American Catholics have it so easy and should be ashamed of how much we take advantage of when it comes to faith. I don't like criticizing people and I know there is so much good within our Church...but I take a look at the news sometimes and cannot believe half of the things going on in this world. As you can see by the title of this post and the ongoing quasi-rant, one of the stories that draws my attention is the plight of our fellow Catholics in China who live every day in fear of being discovered secretly adhering to the Roman Church or fear subjecting themselves to a puppet-church run by a government that forces women to abort their children and forces families to adhere to the government version of Christ's teachings.

We are free to worship as we see fit, regardless of how much we may or may not complain about our parishes, Papa Bento, or any number of prominent Catholic figures. When we are lazy on Sunday mornings, we simply stay at home. We don't think of the hundreds or thousands of people that risk imprisonment or worse whenever they sneak off to an underground service. When we don't feel like praying, we pretend that prayer isn't important. We don't think of the many Catholic missionaries that go to China under cover and at their own risk...just to teach people to pray. We complain about the state of our Church when the current economy forces a parish to use plastic flowers after the local florist can no longer afford to donate flower arrangements. We don't think about how people in China (and even other areas of the world) have to crowd in someone's basement just so they can receive the Eucharist. Don't even get me started on our indifference to the Eucharist. There are those who complain about the its taste...even those who have the gall to debate transubstantiation. These people don't think about the lengths the Catholic Chinese go through to receive the body of Christ. We lukewarm Catholics should be ASHAMED of all of the things we take for granted.

Some of us are so satisfied with our own lives that we have grown complacent and learned to take advantage of a faith that people have died for. We throw faith aside when it is convenient for us...even bringing shame to our faith with half of the swear words that come out of our mouths. If  you don't believe me, just Google the meaning behind "OMFG." ....*pause as you look it up*....Yes, that is the disgraceful atrocity that is coming out of our youth's mouths these days. Yet, none of us care anymore. We do not even think twice about using God's name in vain anymore...even though there are those in this world who aren't even allowed to revere God's name.

We have to pray for our brothers and sisters in China. Pray for their freedom. Pray that the Chinese government awards them the same freedoms we take advantage of. Show some solidarity! Support their faith in any way you can. Support the missionaries, support the Church, help show the world what's going on in China by making it known...even if it's a simple tweet consisting of "Pray for Chinese Catholics." Show the world that you will not stand for religious oppression. Live your faith! You're allowed to show the world you're DO IT.
To all Catholic Chinese,
 Be strong and do not lose faith. You have not been abandoned by Christ. He watches over you as you read this and loves you...TRULY loves you. He knew that his people would suffer in his name and he knew how hard it would be for his flock to live according to his word. He also knew exactly what he was saying when he built his church. 
"And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."- Matthew 16:18
 You may be oppressed now, but it is temporary. God runs the show and knows exactly how everything will play out in the end. Everything you are living through now, has already happened....and faith prevailed each time. No matter what the world will try to tell you, Christ will always prevail and the suffering of his followers will never be in vain. He loves us too much to ever let his words die....regardless of what the government or others may tell you.
Christianity must have appeared at some point that itwas doomed for failure from its start....but it's still so very much alive today. The world saw some unshaven guy coming out of the desert, wearing camel skin and proclaiming the coming of God. If someone were to do this today, the world would be convinced that he was talking the crazy and probably institutionalize him. He would not have a single follower. Now imagine what the world must have thought when some other guy (a relative of this first strange man...go figure, it must run in the family) started telling everyone that he's the son of God. The world also thought that this guy was crazy. Who could believe half of the things he was saying, especially he expected us to love even our enemies?
 The world thought that nobody would take him seriously...let alone die for him. Yet, that is exactly what happened and the world was wrong. Christianity spread like wild fire in spite of all of the persecution, death, and suffering of early Christians. Their faith never wavered and the word spread to every continent. Yes, our history is not perfect. However, it's real and it teaches us that Christ will always come out victor...regardless of how many times people have tried to murder or persecute his followers. Your faith will not be forgotten and may one day serve as an example to the rest of the world. No matter what the world or your doubts try to tell you now, you will one day be allowed to worship freely.
I know that one day China will be freed from oppression. History has taught me that much. The Roman empire started off by persecuting Christians...but ended as a Christian empire. Oppressive governments will be toppled...they're always toppled. I know that China's children will one day be allowed to worship as they please because God is watching over them now. He knows what's going on and He's looking out for you. I know that one day, your children will remember your sacrifices you made as they teach their own children their faith. Christ is comforted by your unwavering faith...even as his heart is pained by the suffering of his followers. Do not worry if mass takes place in someone's attic, or if you can only see a Roman Catholic priest once a month (as he must travel from location to location)...your greatest reward is in heaven.
Agony in the Garden, handmade portrait
Photograph taken at a state-run souvenir shop in Beijing.
Ironic how the government knows how to cater to the spiritual needs
of tourists and not its own people. 
One day, Christ will welcome you at heaven's door as a faithful servant....that is the greatest reward (at least in my book). He will commend you taking care of his Church, for keeping your faith, and for living in true imitation of Him. You may not have a church to call home now...but your strong faith puts ours to shame. You are truly more deserving of a beautiful, free church than I am. I know you're struggling and my thoughts and prayers are with you. However, I assure you that none of your suffering is in vain...and that faith will win in the end. It always does. 

 To everyone else out there, please take a moment to pray for China's Catholics and do what you can to support them. Pray, spread the word, donate, live your faith, and be a voice for those who are silenced by their government. Athleta Christi unite!

Pax Vobiscum

Linger in the moment...

Ever since I started going to school in New York City, I've turned into one of those people. I may not live in New York, but I can smell a tourist from a mile a way. I have gotten the hang of the subway to the point where I can give directions. I have also developed the skill of zooming through crowds, stopping only to silently scream (a la Seinfeld's Elaine Benes when she's trapped in a subway) whenever there's people standing in my way dawdling or staring at the latest advertisement for "The Green Lantern." I've turned into a rat race rusher, darting from place to place trying to catch a train home or get to the lab on time. Besides praying the rosary on the train in every morning...there is little about my commute that I actually enjoy. Yet, I still get a little bit of a rush when I beat the clock and actually make it on the train at 6:20 after my subway car rolls into Penn Station at 6:19.

I am somewhat disturbed by how much effort I put into these types of victories. Mind you, I haven't gotten to the point where I throw elderly people out of my way, but I have gotten more comfortable with shoving my way through the crowd. I am afraid of losing more and more of my humanity to this need to get to work on time or my need to get home ASAP. My commuting patience seems to have worsened with each day that's gone by...but it's not gone completely. I have been reading C.S. Lewis off and on during my daily commute and was winding down on "Mere Christianity" today when it happened. All trains in and out of New York appeared to be delayed indefinitely due to some issue with the power.

I was kind of disappointed, but I was not angered as some of my fellow commuters fussed and fumed. It was refreshing to see that I had not yet lost all of my patience and I think my growing trust in God may have played a factor. Therefore, instead of fuming in Penn Station, I tried my luck with Port Authority. I left Penn Station and never really made it to Port Authority. I got sidetracked and found myself following a crowd and considering on seeing a movie or something. As I pondered, I saw that some promotion crew was handing out free ice cream (caramel or chocolate Haagen Dazs...aka...the good stuff). I enjoyed my cone and then had the brilliant idea of heading off to a book store. I have been reading Neil Gaiman's Sandman series this summer and had one book to go...therefore I went to the bookstore, picked up the book, sat down, and read it. I finished the book and headed back to Penn Station where more delays waited for me. Eventually, trains started running and I got on the first one out of NYC. I will spare you all the details, but will say that eventually I ended up taking the bus home.

On the bus, I started getting bothered by all the stops we had to make (people would buzz for a stop barely 20 feet ahead of where the bus had just stopped). I was seated at the front so I got a chance to see everyone that walked by. At one point, a young Latino boy got on. He was dressed up and holding the same diploma every other Jersey kid gets on their 5th grade graduation (the one with a stamped signature from some politician). Then it hit me. This was a huge night for this kid. He had just graduated from elementary school and was on his way to middle school. I remembered my 5th grade graduation and the joy I felt.

The boys parents got on the bus behind him, and the mom held a beautiful...really beautiful baby girl. She must have been less than 1 years old and I could not help but smile and silently say a hello as the parents paid their fare. Her face LIT UP. Her smile was absolutely huge and beautiful. It was the smile of pure joy, a smile so infectious that I found myself smiling for the rest of the night...even though I was at hour 4.5 of my commute at that point. By the time I got to my car, I was near hour 5 of my commute and had just made it to the roof of the parking deck after the sun had set. I was on the phone with my boyfriend at the time, but I could not help but marvel at how BEAUTIFUL the sky looked. The colors ranged from the softest red hues to the most gorgeous blue/greens. It was spectacular that I found myself struggling to make a coherent sentence as I described it to my boyfriend. He must have thought that fatigue was setting in...but I wasn't tired. I was simply appreciating the fact that if it wasn't for all those delays today...I would have missed the beautiful sight.

These two moments will probably stay with me for the rest of my life because they were moments where I truly got a chance to see the beauty that God sees whenever He looks at the world. I know that there's a lot of terrible stuff out there too. I know there is suffering. I know there is despair. I know there is anger. I know there are blasphemies. I know there's a lot out there that would upset God. However, there is still so much of His own love and beauty that can be seen when you take the time to look.

As a child, teenager...and even college student, I looked at a town or city and wondered what the place must have looked like when it was still untouched by human hands. I wondered what types of trees would have grown there and how tall they would have grown. I know what this must sound like, and no I have not watched Pocahontas lately...I just used to appreciate the natural world a lot more. I used to appreciate other people a lot more. New York City's 24/7 rush hour gradually sucked a lot of this appreciation out of me. I have simply lost so much of the appreciation I once had for nature and humankind that I often forget about when I'm rushing from place to place. I'm a biology geek...I am supposed to appreciate nature, ecosystems, plants, and animal a lot more. I am a genetics I should appreciate my fellow human beings a lot more than I do when I am forcing my way through crowds.

It pains me to say this, but I am guilty of overlooking the important things. I've forgotten the value of smiles and sunsets. As cumbersome as today's journey was, I think I needed it. I needed a chance to just stop running and just soak in the wonderful things that this life has to offer. There are so many simple gems out there that go unnoticed. One good example of this is the Meadowlands. I'm not talking about the massive sports stadium. I am talking about the marsh ecosystem that my train goes through each day. Not too many people ever look outside and absorb or even truly notice what they see. In my early commute days (and some rare occasions in the year or so since) I saw so many things that made me simply appreciate God's handiwork. I would rejoice whenever I saw a flock of cranes or a few turtles sunbathing on the rocks or wooden planks. Whenever the train slowed down, I would appreciate the way the sun's rays reflected off of the scintillating water...making it look like stars were dancing on the water. It was almost magical. I even remember one day just looking out the window and marveling at how the tall grasses lining the train path seemed to sway in the breeze.

 I truly feel God's presence during these seemingly insignificant moments (often missed but never forgotten once experienced). It is moments such as the ones I experienced today where I feel as though God is letting me in on a few of His secrets regarding Creation and the love He has always felt for his creations. I share in His joy and I share in His love. Don't get me wrong, these moments are no substitution for my prayer life or some of the powerful experiences I've had during mass and Eucharistic Adoration. However, these small moments are special in their own way.

So why do I forget about all of these things on a day to day basis? Wouldn't my day be a lot more enjoyable if I make sure to set some time aside for these small, special moments? If I love these moments so much, why can't I put in a little more effort in my day to make them happen?

Enter temptation.

Temptation is not always as obvious as seeing an unattended wallet on the ground. It's not always as blatant as anger or lust. We can be tempted by innocuous things like getting to a bus on time if we let this action get in the way of our relationship with God. Even school can be a temptation if we put it before God. Besides praying the rosary, how often have I been putting God before my everyday doubts and worries...before my daily "rat race?" I haven't merely forgot about these special moments. I haven't merely forgot to appreciate God's work and to thank Him for all of it. I have merely let so many other unimportant things come first. I have been tempted to beat everyone else to the good seat on the train. As a result, I have been too tired upon reaching the seat, that I have failed to look out the window and marvel at God's work. I have been tempted to race though the throng of people, without pausing to help someone pick up the change they had just dropped.

I have been tempted by the ticking clock so much that I no longer look out for my fellow man as I attempt to beat the rush hour crowd. As a result, I have become more selfish, more unappreciative, and I have failed to live as one who was made for better things. I have failed to focus on God's gifts, on God's love...on God Himself. I have taken things day by day and lived from one subway victory to another without pausing long enough to consider that there is more to life than a commute. There is more to life than rushing from place to place. There is more to life than the life we have now. There is our spiritual life and our eternal life...and as important as these are...I've put them aside in favor of something so mundane and odious. As a result I have become more grouchy during my commute and have put myself in danger of becoming a worse person in the long run. I cannot afford to slide back to my former self when I have made so much progress improving myself over the years. I cannot become a "cranky commuter" that spends their entire life complaining about work and commuting. There is too much in this world to see, do, and appreciate for me to ever chose a life of monotonous misery.

Do you see how the daily rush can be a it can make a person become selfish and ungrateful? Though my commute lasted 5 hours today, I cannot help but be thankful for it. It has opened my eyes to the person I was becoming and helped me see that there is so much beauty out there if you bother to look. I cannot become a cranky commuter. I must remain a saint-in-training. I must continue to live for God and I must constantly search for Him, even in the most unlikely places. Perhaps I may have to take some lessons from my man Saint Francis...
(Photograph by Loci Lenar

The Canticle of the Sun by Francis of Assisi
Most high, all powerful, all good Lord! All praise is yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing. To you, alone, Most High, do they belong. No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.
Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and you give light through him. And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars; in the heavens you have made them, precious and beautiful.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, and clouds and storms, and all the weather, through which you give your creatures sustenance.
Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water; she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom you brighten the night. He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.
Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you; through those who endure sickness and trial. Happy those who endure in peace, for by you, Most High, they will be crowned.
Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whose embrace no living person can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Happy those she finds doing your most holy will. The second death can do no harm to them.
Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks, and serve him with great humility.

Pax Vobiscum

An Issue of Trust

The world is lying to you. It's telling you to do all sorts of things that will ultimately lead to your unhappiness and destruction. It's giving you terrible advice. It's forcing you to do things against your will. It's making you sacrifice your values. It's tearing apart whatever is left of the innocence you had as a child. It's telling you that you are not worth it, that you deserve to hate yourself. It's telling you that you're little more than a mere 1/6900000000 of  Earth's population....a fraction so small it rounds to 0. Therefore, according to the world, you are simply don't matter.

The world hates you and will keep lying to you....and the best thing you can do is ignore it. Ignore its taunts. Ignore its doubts. Ignore its false flattery. Ignore its tricks. Just ignore it altogether.
‎"It is better to be the child of God than king of the whole world." - Saint Aloysius Gonzaga

As much as the world wishes to convince us otherwise, we got someone up there who loves us...regardless of how many times we mess up. We've got someone who thinks that each and every one of us is worth loving... even when the world chooses to hate us. Someone who thinks we're worth the time and effort...even when the world chooses to ignore us. Someone who will go through the trouble to correct us...even if the world would prefer to take advantage our own ignorance, pride, and other flaws. Someone who will push us to be what we were born to be...even when we doubt our own abilities. Someone who will protect us and watch over us as we stumble through life...even if we're the cause of our own falls. Someone who thought we were worthy enough to be born...even though we were born into a particular color, ethnicity, or income level. Someone who thinks we're worthy enough to live a full life...even though we aren't thin enough, tall enough, athletic enough, wealthy enough, etc. etc. etc according to the world's standards.

We've got someone up there who thinks we're worthy enough to stand up against the world and achieve goals  the world may never understand. We've got someone up there still thinks we're worth saving...and he wants us to be happy for all eternity. He stands by us even as we falter, even as the world would rather push us down. He's here for us, waiting for us...and all we have to do is trust in Him.

Jesus, I trust in you.

Pax Vobiscum

Scratching the Surface of "Mawage and Twu Wuv" Part II

And wuv, twu wuv, will fowow you foweva... So tweasure your wuv. 
You would think that I would post more often since the semester ended. I honestly thought that I would. However, it appears as though I've been slacking off. Well, perhaps not slacking off completely...I have been in the lab pretty much every day since the semester ended....typing and analyzing data. Before I start making up excuses to cover up the Facebook habit I'm trying to give up, let's take a step back from patience and get back to the bra-burning bonfire-inciting passage that tends to make feminists cringe....
 Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands.  Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.  He who loves his wife loves himself.  For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.  ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’  This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” (Eph. 5:21-33)
In Mawage and Twu Wuv Part I, I explained that in a marriage, men as well as women should love one another in a manner that is unselfish and complete. So now, I am going to mix things up a bit, go a little out of order, and hopefully tie everything together at the end.

When you love someone, truly love them, there is nothing that you won't do for that person. You will go beyond your own needs and your own wants in order to do the best that you can for this other person. Forget about all the crap you see on television or in Cosmopolitan magazines, true love and happy marriages aren't all about taking care of your own needs. It isn't about avoiding loneliness. It isn't about being able to afford renting a better apartment. Even so, I get the impression that there are far too many voices out there convincing women (and even men) that egocentric happiness is the make it or break it of today's marriages. A failed marriage is never your fault if you wake up one day unsatisfied with your life. It's your spouse's fault. If your husband doesn't meet your every demand, divorce him. If your sex life has fizzled out, divorce him. If another guy catches your eye, don't sacrifice future happiness by sticking around with your husband. Leave him while you got your youth and good looks. If he can't afford to give you the lifestyle you want, divorce him and find a man who can give you a closet full of Manolo's. If you are dissatisfied with life, it's never your fault. It's always the other person's fault. We are fed these garbage ideas every time we watch something like "Desperate Housewives" or open up some chick-lit book. 

Yet, selfishness should never be the center of any healthy marriage or even a life for that matter. You see, marriage is not supposed to be easy. Disney Princess movies never really go beyond the wedding day, into the struggles of everyday life. We see Cinderella kissing Prince Charming on the day of their wedding and that's it. We assume they live happily ever after because they had the fairytale princess wedding (complete with puffy dress and carriage). However, we don't get to find out what happens when his faithful subjects revolt and depose Prince Charming in favor of a democracy. We don't see what happens when he is forced settle for smaller quarters and when he is forced to farm his own land for once. We don't see how this newlywed couple actually copes with issues such as job loss, cancer, bankruptcy, jealousy, and a number of other issues. Yet, these issues are very real and very common. On top of this, these issues and a couple's ability to deal with these issues determines the health and even survival of a marriage. Statistics will tell you that financial instability is a recipe for domestic violence and divorces  these days. 

Selfishness is one of the key reasons why so many people take issue with the aforementioned passage. Imagine how easy it would be for a woman to be taken advantage of by a man if she had to be subject to him? Imagine all the power this man would hold over his wife...especially if he wasn't such a nice guy. It doesn't sound very fair, does it? Well, it shouldn't sound fair because it isn't. Fortunately, however, there is a lot more to this passage and a lot more to what God expects from the husband as well as the wife.  
"Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish."
One of the things that pops out to me in this passage is that men are called upon to love their wives as Christ loved the church. The passage doesn't mean "I love my church" as in "I enjoy sitting through an hour of mass every Sunday morning." This part refers to something much greater than this. It refers to Christ's love for all of us because WE ARE THE CHURCH. That's right....the church is not just a cathedral, an altar, and a tabernacle. The church is also collection of people, comprised of every saint and sinner that has ever followed or will follow Christ. We are a church full of geniuses as well as fools. We have people like Mother Teresa as well as those whose faith is hanging on by the thinnest thread. We have daily communicants as well as the "hatch, match, and dispatch" folk. We are a beautiful. colorful, and ever growing collection of the greatest and lowliest people you will ever meet. We represent every bit of the good, bad, and ugly that the entire world population has to offer. As diverse as we are, however, we all come together at some point to celebrate our love for the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  

Christ's love for the Church is a selfless love. He built his church millennia ago and has been a constant presence ever since. On top of this, he gave us the Eucharist...a gift that has sustained us for two thousand years....a gift that was given freely and with complete love.  Pause and really meditate on this...Christ gave us his body and blood. He sacrificed himself for our sake out of his own free will and out of his love for us. Even the love of the best eligible bachelor out there today cannot compare to this selfless love.  The point I am trying to make here is that, in loving the church, Christ loves, TRULY LOVES, the best and worst of the church. Christ did not die on a cross for a select few (my apologies to any Jehovah's Witnesses out there). He died for ALL of us and calls each and every one of us to greater things...regardless of our flaws or triumphs. Can you imagine how great his love for the church must be if he willingly died on a cross to save even the most crummy members of humanity?

However, Christ didn't just die for his Church. He did so much more. He walked with us, spoke with us, taught us, and even schooled us when we needed it. In a sense, Christ was sent here to improve us, to make us worthy of eternal paradise...and that's exactly what he did and continues to do. His words and lessons helped shape the modern world, helped convert sinners, and continue to have a profound effect on people from all walks of life. Here's the kicker...he did it all out of love. He loved us so much that he sought to bring out the best in us...whether or not we knew what was good for us. 

One way to understand this is by using an example from my life. I have been a nail biter for my entire life and it is a nervous habit that tends to get a little out of control come finals or huge presentations. I have a long history of people who have attempted to get me to stop. My parents and sisters have tried. Teachers tried when I was a kid, professors tried when I was in college, you name it. My thesis adviser even tried to get me to kick the habit by getting me to start using nail polish (which has led to a drawer full of some rather nice colors...that I barely use these days). However, the trophy goes to my boyfriend when it comes to most attempts at trying to get Barbara to stop biting her nails. He doesn't use force. He doesn't do anything to hurt my feelings or demean me in some way. He has my best interests in mind the whole time and uses encouragement. He's had limited success (exams usually make me cave), but he's never given up. I think it is kind of pesky at times, but I know that he does it out of love for me and that he does it because he has my best interests in mind (nothing worse than biting your nails when you're working in a lab and taking the subway every day...ew). In a similar fashion, Christ always has our best interests in mind...even when we don't want to listen to him. Fortunately, he is extremely persistent when it comes our improvement and our salvation. As annoying as it may be to listen to him and give up a particular vice, it is important to remember that Christ  wants us to turn from sin because he loves us and wants the best for us...not because he wants to punish us (regardless of what some confused souls may try to tell you).

So the big lesson here is marry someone that will help you reach heavenLadies, I now ask you...does your significant other love you as Christ loves his church? As Christ loves you? Does he want the best for you? Does he at least strive to love you as Christ loves his church? If he does, then he is worth your time and love because he is loving you as he is called to love all husbands are called to love their wives. Now that we understand how men are called to love their wives, we can finally tackle "Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord."

I suppose it would only be fair if I talk a little bit more about my own relationship at this point. My boyfriend is not evidenced by his suggestion one time that we go out and watch the latest Star Trek movie. I knew the movie wasn't my type of movie from the start. However, I went to see it with him. I didn't do it because he forced me....I did it because I loved him and wanted to spend time with him...and because I knew that it would make him happy. I suppose you can say, in this case, that I was subject to him. Did I blindly follow him? Did I listen to his suggestion because I am a mindless female who cannot think for herself? Did I do it because he has the upper hand in the relationship? No, no, and no. I'm a pretty stubborn woman (runs in the family) and well aware that, as a human being with free will, I cannot be forced to do anything. However, when it comes to those I love, I will do things for them. I may not cook for myself if I come back from work after a long day...but I will cook if my sister is hungry. About 5 years ago I attended a fancy scholarship dinner with my family because my dad wanted the whole family to go. Both my sisters had gotten that particular scholarship. I never got it and was still sore about it. Therefore, you can say that I had no desire to go whatsoever.  I just wanted to get out of there and spent the whole night holding back tears. My dad did not force me to go, but I loved him. My love for him prevented me from disappointing him...even though it led to several hours of agony on my end. I guess you can say that I was subject to him in this case...out of love.

When I was a child, I did not understand why my mom always put her husband and her children before herself. The media told me that my mother was the product of a long-forgotten "Leave it to Beaver" generation that turned women into subservient drones. The media almost convinced me that women like my mom were an anomaly that should be corrected. Perhaps she was an anomaly because none of my friends had moms like mine...but there was nothing wrong with her very powerful role as a perfect, hardworking "Leave it to Beaver" housewife. I mean, while kids came into the cafeteria with "Lunchables," I would bring home-made meals that would make Gordon Ramsay salivate. My mom used to launder and iron our clothes (she even used to pleat my jeans!), cook, clean, sew, and even crochet....on top of a full time job. My mom was a powerhouse when it came to taking care of her family. As I grew older, I began to realize that she did all of this out of love. There was nothing wrong with how my mom put the needs of her family above her own. She didn't have to do it...she wanted to do it. She was compelled by love to do all of this for her family...and I think her investment paid off. 

The big lesson here is that if you find someone who truly loves you in the way that Christs calls us to love one will find yourself subjecting yourself to this other person out of love. You will want to do things for this person. You will want to put this other person first. The tricky part, of course, is finding someone who is worth all of your love, dedication, commitment, patience, time, etc. 

When you marry someone, you become part of a sacred union before the eyes of God. Your decisions no longer affect just you, but your partner (and sometimes children) as well. The consequences of your actions are now twofold (or more). Therefore, before you even think about getting married...make sure you know what to expect from yourself as well as your potential spouse.  When you love as Christ loves, you must do everything in your power to ensure that your significant other reaches heaven. You become somewhat responsible for your partner's spiritual needs. Taking care of someone else's spiritual needs is tough. As flawed human beings, we have a hard enough time getting ourselves to heaven. It's hard to improve ourselves, let alone other people. Yet, that is exactly what husbands and wives are called to do.
"Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.  He who loves his wife loves himself.  For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.  ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’  This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”
I must admit here that I am not too learned in the lore of all that is good and manly. I can only write as a female because I am a female and can only think as a female. I am sure there is a lot here that I may not explain as fully or as well as I would like. However, one thing I can explain is that there is more to a marriage than those initial pangs that we call love. I highly recommend the "Four Loves" by C. S. Lewis if you want to better understand what I am about to explain... The love you need for a successful marriage is not the love you see in Disney movies. The Disney love is that great, violent, whirlwind emotion that sweeps you off your feet and makes you do stupid things like scale balconies or fight dragons for a single kiss. This violent, initial love tends to fizzle out. If this is the only love your marriage is based upon, prepare for things to turn sour. Some things are inevitable. You will find out that this other person has flaws. You will discover that it is very hard to help this person take care of their problems. You may one day find yourself trapped in a cycle of "what ifs?" One of you may get into some accident, get cancer, or undergo some form of very difficult health issue that puts a mental, emotional, and financial strain on your marriage. The initial, whirlwind love that is so celebrated by Disney movies cannot sustain a marriage when things go wrong. Scaling balconies and fighting dragons may impress a lady you are trying to woo, but it will not relieve the everyday stresses associated with everyday life. Tempers will rise, things will go wrong, jobs will be lost, etc. regardless of how many dragons you slay.

Fortunately, however, there is a love that endures. This love is quieter and calmer. This love (agape, as C.S.Lewis calls it) is true, lasting, and unconditional. I'm talking about the love that Christ has for us...the same love that He wants us to have for one another before we even consider marriage. This love is the selfless, sacrificial, and constant love I have been trying to explain. This love endures the worst of times just as easily as it thrives in the best of times. If you and your significant other share this form of love, life can throw anything at you two...and you will always bounce back together. If you and your significant other share this form of love, you will find yourselves subjected to one another..before you even realize it. You will find yourself compelled to do things for this other individual because you value their happiness and well-being so much. You will find yourselves constantly doing everything in your power for each other. You do not do this because you feel as if you must or because you are forced. You do it because you want to do are compelled to it by love. This is what this passage is all about. It's not about enslaving women to their husbands (so please, extinguish the bra-burning bonfires now).

Look at relationship between Christ and his Church! When I look at this relationship I see selfless love, not selfish slavery! Love is very powerful. It can damage in the wrong hands...but it has the ability to inspire so many wonderful and beautiful things. This love will push you to be better for the sake of your significant other. It will push you to do all in your power to care for your significant other and help them attain heaven. This love will compel you to do things for your significant other even when you're too lazy or uninspired to do them for yourself. This love is an imitation of the love that God has for us and it is the greatest love that has ever existed.
The End....for now.

Defending Your Faith...

Mawage and Twu Wuv Part II is taking some time to finish....there's  just so much I have to say and so much more that I want to say. Therefore, instead of leaving everyone hanging, I've decided to share a letter that I once wrote to my alma mater's student-run newspaper. I will admit, this was not my favorite newspaper for quite some time because there was a pretty lengthy period where this paper was little more than a gossip rag. By the looks of it, however, some things have changed over the years and the quality of this paper may have improved. I kept the letter I wrote through the years because it serves as a reminder for what needs to be done whenever we see or read something that is meant to offend Catholics (or other folk). I'm not telling you to run for pitchforks and torches whenever someone tells the joke about the sleepwalking nun. However, I am telling you to DO something whenever the opportunity arrives...whether it is telling a friend to just stop with an offensive comment or simply writing a polite letter to a news station. Play your strengths. If you're a blogger, blog. If you're a writer, write. If you are a Thoreau nut, try peaceful forms of civil disobedience. Just make sure to use common sense and avoid harming yourself and others at all costs.

I have read somewhere (most likely one of the books by Gabriel Amorth) that indifference was the cause for a good number of the angels falling when war broke out in heaven. There were a number of angels that openly sided with Lucifer against God. A number of angels, however, stood by the sidelines without really openly choosing a side. Instead of taking action, they decided to see who would win in the end and did nothing to help God's cause. They didn't take up arms, they didn't help the "good guys," and they didn't proclaim the battle cry of "Quis ut Deus!" Perhaps they defied God in their hearts but were too cowardly to do anything about it. Perhaps they agreed with God, but were too afraid to take up arms. Perhaps they doubted God and were willing to serve "the other guy" if the other guy came out on top. Perhaps they were simply indifferent and didn't really care who won or not as long as they could continue carrying on as they always had. In any case, it appears as though indifference can be just as bad as outwardly opposing.

All you Lord of the Rings buffs know what I am talking about. Just take a look at the roles of Saruman, Gandalf, Radagast, and the seldom-mentioned blue wizards in Middle Earth. Each wizard had a responsibility. Gandalf fulfilled his, Saruman rebelled against his, Radagast kind of (maybe) helped out a little bit, and the other guys seemed to ignore it altogether. Guess which one made it to the Undying Lands? That's right, Gandalf (the one who did his duty). Sorry for the nerdy reference, I've been watching Lord of the Rings while typing.

Another good example, for the less geeky crowd is something like abortion (another hot topic that will certainly lose me readers). Imagine a pregnant teen comes to your door, in need of help. You can help this mother out by giving her shelter and support (and possibly save the child).You can take this teenager to an abortion clinic (and possibly aid in the killing of this child). You can also do nothing, which may also lead to the death of the child even if you weren't "technically" involved. There are a number of things you can do or not do. However, the important thing to remember here is that sins of omission can be just as bad as sins of commission....and even worse at times.

In any event, never be afraid to defend your faith (in a peaceful and nonviolent way). You may end up stepping on a few toes here and there as you defend your faith...but ultimately people will get the hint and back down from Catholic-bashing (or other forms of religion bashing). Intolerance is intolerance, regardless of what person is being bashed. Trust me, I spent enough years being silent to realize that silence does nothing to stop intolerance...and enough to encourage it.

So here's the letter. I hope you don't mind this "Filler Material" post.
"To the M-- staff:

In the January 31 edition of the M--, there was a mention of the Ash Wednesday services to he held in the Student Center. I feel the need to point out that some of the terminology used to describe these religious services as well as their attendees was extremely offensive and disrespectful. As a paper that prides itself as the “Student Voice of M-- University,” I would have expected your writers to show more respect when writing about a religious event that is treated with a great deal of solemnity by its observers. I would have most certainly have expected a little more sensitivity than the following:

“ASHES TO ASHES: For all those reformed heathens out there, kick off Lent with a bang in the SC Ballrooms this week. For the M--U Catholic on the go, the services will be held during the common hours at 2:30 pm. Sacrificing some of your lounge time is a small price to pay for the safety of your eternal soul.”

As a Catholic, I treat Ash Wednesday as the beginning of a journey towards reconciliation with God. It is not an event meant to “kick off Lent with a bang.” Such a description demeans some of my strongest beliefs. I find it disheartening that my campus paper would be so callous in describing this day of penitence that is revered by Catholics and other Christians around the world. It saddens me that this “student voice” can judge my beliefs in such a crude manner by making a joke of this event. I am sure that the words used by this paper in describing this event would offend members of any other religion had they been used to describe events such as Ramadan, Vesak, Yom Kippur, etc. While I do not expect an apology for the tactlessness used in this description, I am asking that your paper be more knowledgeable as well as respectful of any religious event they choose to advertise in the future.
I would also expect that the M-- be less judgmental of any event’s potential attendees. I, like many others, have had my struggles with my faith. However, I do not acknowledge myself a “reformed heathen.” I consider the writer’s use of this word to be extremely disrespectful towards Ash Wednesday attendees. There are many reasons why people choose to take part in Ash Wednesday services. People take part of this event for many their own personal reasons. Some do it out of penance, others to celebrate salvation in Christ, and others to take part in a tradition, etc. In other words, each attendee takes part in this service to fulfill his or her own spiritual purpose. I do not think that labeling us all as “reformed heathens” does any justice to our individual intentions. I find “reformed heathens” to be a very discourteous umbrella term that displays the writer’s own ignorance about this event and what it means to different people.
The part of this description that I found most offensive was “Sacrificing some of your lounge time is a small price to pay for the safety of your eternal soul.” I find the publication of this sentence by the M-- to be an extremely offensive form of religious intolerance. Contrary to what this sentence suggests, the Catholic Church does not go around condemning people to Hell just because they do not go to an Ash Wednesday service. I have always had to deal with people making assumptions about my faith and the way that the Catholic Church operates. However, your newspaper should know better than to aid in the proliferation of these assumptions. It is blind assumptions such as these that often lead to conflicts among those of different religions.
M-- University prides itself in the diversity found within its student body, faculty, and staff. In publishing words meant to mock a specific group and/or its practices, the M-- does a disservice to every other group that it is supposed to represent. I understand that some may think I am taking this matter too seriously, but I am one who believes that tolerance and equality are to be practiced at all times. I believe that all people should be respected regardless of their ethnicity, creed, or race. In mocking one group on campus, you are essentially demonstrating to the rest of the campus that it is okay to mock any group on campus. You may mock the Catholics now, but ask yourselves, which groups will you inadvertently mock next? I would also like for you to imagine how you would feel if your own personal beliefs, race, or ethnicity were mocked by a campus paper. Surely, you would not consider this paper to be any “student voice” let alone the “Student Voice of M-- University.”
I would like to encourage your writers to treat events, such as Ash Wednesday, with the same respect that they would give to any other religious event. I would also like to encourage them to treat every group on campus with the same respect that they expect from others. I am sure that the majority of students on campus would appreciate it if your writers began to thoroughly research any type of religious observance before they decide to use their own prejudices as the basis for what they write. I am also sure that these students would appreciate it if your editors did the same."
Never be afraid to stand up for the things you love.

Pax Vobiscum

The Patience of a Saint-in-Training and the Heart of a Country Music-Loving Sister

My apologies on the impromptu blogging hiatus!

Sometimes I find that I want to blog about a particular thing. However, sometimes I find myself unable to find the right words to convey my thoughts. Other times, everything just flows. Sometimes, I end up writing something I like only to edit like crazy later...and end up saying something that was better than what I originally wrote. What I really wanted to blog about this time was the second part to my Scratching the Surface of Mawage and Twu Wuv series. However, I kept getting drawn back to PATIENCE. Since I began this blog, I have just let myself start typing and see where everything goes from there. Sometimes, I cannot believe the stuff I have just written. It almost sounds too good to ever have been typed by someone who spends most of their day analyzing brains. Other times, I find myself writing things that I didn't think I could really share or explain as well as I wanted. My conclusion, therefore, is that I am just going to let the Holy Spirit guide me from now on. If God wants me to blog about patience, then His will be done. Therefore, tune in later for more Mawage and Twu Love.
Saint Anthony of Padua, 
You endured much discouragement in your life before finding your calling.
Help us to find patience in our own lives, and to trust God to lead us where we need to go. 
You preached by example. Help us show others, through example, the truth of our faith.

As far as patience goes, I can be pretty patient when it comes to some things. You have to have some form of patience when it come to science because 90% of the time you spend in your lab is spent waiting for something to happen. The other 10% of your time is spent trying to make some sense of your data. In both cases, you need a lot of patience. If you don't have patience as a researcher, you will either lose your mind or develop some form of expensive habit (drinking, drugs, my case...Lord of the Rings collectibles). I'm not sure if there's statistics out there to prove any of the statements I have made in this paragraph...but I have made quite a few observations in the many years I've spent in science. That, and there has to be some reason for all of the Lord of the Rings stuff I've bought over the years...

My younger sister and I share a sweet pad (by sweet pad, I mean a studio apartment). As much as I tune it out, I cannot help but overhear some of the conversations she has on the phone. In my opinion, the poor girl must be some sort of therapist to half of New Jersey's 20-somethings, male and female alike. God bless her too, because she must have the patience of a saint to listen to everyone's problems all of the time and actually offer help and advice. Dear Abby would be out of business if this girl ever decided to take her help to the newspapers. No matter how long the conversation or how desperate the caller, my sister always takes her time and answers and always gives each caller her undivided attention. My sister must have the patience of the saint. I can deal with things going wrong in the laboratory, but when it comes to normal people issues (boy issues, workplace issues, etc)...I have no patience whatsoever. Ask me for advice sometimes, and I make Dr. Phil look like a mollycoddling pushover. I can be compassionate, but I am the type of person who forgets to sugarcoat when it comes to (what I perceive to be) a lack of common sense. In these cases, I tend to tell it like it is, get annoyed with self-pity, and generally lose my cool when people try turning petty mole hills into mountains.

Example of a "making mountains out of mole hills" phone call:Person A calls to say that they are angry at Person B for not returning any calls even though Person B texted to let person A know that they are in a meeting.
 My response:Ask Person A how many times they called Person B, tell them to stop stalking Person B, and remind them that Person B has a life and will be unable to answer the phone until the meeting is over. Remind Person A that they have a life as well and should keep themselves occupied until Person B is able to get back to them. My younger sister's reply would be much nicer, I assure you. 
Another example:Let's assume that everyone coming across this blog has read or at least read about the Twilight series. If you haven't, you aren't missing much. For the record, I'm with Stephen King on this one when it comes to the opinion that this series is nowhere close to good literature in terms of writing and character development...unlike the Harry Potter series. Fact of that matter is, the protagonist of this series is far too clingy for her own good and cannot make a decision for herself without thinking about which boy's (vampire's, werewolf's...whatever's) heart she's break or win over. She's, essentially, a TERRIBLE role model for teenage girls...or any girl for that matter.
My response: If I was this girl's friend and she ever came to me talking about boyfriend problems, I would find myself hollering at her. I would never WANT to holler at anyone...but I do find myself doing it more often than I would like when it comes to some problems that I deem to be unimportant. I guess I can say I inherited this no-nonsense attitude from my dad. As patient as I would want to be in this "Twilight" case, I can just see my ranting about self-sufficiency, independence, the difference between love and infatuation, and the need for the protagonist to get real and stop thinking about boys until she knew what she wanted and could think for herself...period. I would probably also find myself yelling at her to stop feeling sorry for herself, make a life for herself, and stop being such a crying, whining fool of a teenager. My younger sister's reply would, again, be a lot nicer...I assure you. 
The problem with my approach is that no one ever listens to you when you tear them apart. However, I usually can't help myself when I go into Dr. Phil mode....which is why I always put my foot in my mouth later. I feel bad about my "get real" no-nonsense approach because I eventually realize that "what people need to hear" and "what Barbara thinks people need to hear" are two completely different things. However, this realization often comes too late. The truth of the matter is that patience is key when it comes to helping others solve problems...especially in cases where they don't ask for advice.

The truth is, I sometimes lack the understanding to be patient. I have the terrible tendency to assume that everyone else is like me. I assume we're all on the same plane with the same ability to bounce back from life situations. I sometimes even assume that everyone has the same rationale as I do. For example, until I started teaching kids...I did not believe in "special needs." This sounds terrible and I still feel bad about it. However, the truth of that matter is that, as a child, I did not believe that there were kids that actually needed ESL. I thought they were all faking it because I had learned English without a problem when I was in kindergarten (we spoke Portuguese at home). I just assumed that everyone was as capable as I was. I just could not understand why kids would need so much extra help because I never needed help. I mean, I used to finish everything quickly without asking for directions. I did not believe there were kids that needed special reading programs or other forms of special education methods and materials because I had no problem reading. I devoured books. I loved them so much that I thought it was crazy that other kids hated reading.

As a child, I just could not fathom why other students weren't like me. I just thought they were all lazy, faking to get into easier classes, or that they were stupid (I hate using this word and do not feel this way at all now that I've matured, but this is what I thought when I was a kid). I used to get frustrated with how slowly teachers read books during class (so that everyone could keep track). I hated how I was not "allowed" to read certain books in the library because they were supposed to be too advanced for students my age. I still remember, for example, being taken aside by a teacher in third grade because she wondered if my parents had given me permission to read John Grisham's The Client (for the record, my parents always let me read whatever books we had in the house). This is just an example of how out there I was when it came to reading and learning. I was so good at it, that I simply could not understand that other students weren't on the same level.

A lot has changed since I was a kid. I no longer harbor a lot of the prejudices and anger. I no longer am so judgmental of others. I have toned down over the years to become less egocentric and more empathetic to my fellow man. Like Saint Peter, I constantly found myself putting my foot in my mouth. I could not stand Person A because they could not pronounce the word chameleon. However, Person B was my friend and was also unable to pronounce chameleon to save their lives. My love for Person B made me feel more empathetic towards this issue and ultimately helped me get over Person A's inability to pronounce chameleon.  I would also sometimes see my mom or dad suffering because they were not native English speakers. I would see people give them a hard time about it and it would hurt me. This hurt, coupled with the love I had for my parents ultimately let me see past my prejudices and anger against people who needed ESL. In a sense, you can say that love helped me see beyond imperfections and, in doing so, helped me be more patient with my fellow man. In turn, I was given quite a few second chances when it came to knowing some pretty great people.

Then there was the love that others had for me that helped me see past my impatience and lack of kindness. As a child, I never understood how teachers could be so forgiving. Teachers liked everyone, including the trouble makers and no matter how much trouble you got into...your wrongs would ultimately be forgiven and forgotten. I remember getting in big time trouble as a kid (I used to swear like a sailor as a kid because I figured that one way to learn the meaning of a word was to use it often...). There were the times I got into fights and the times I gave people attitudes. There were the times I got in trouble for being rowdy. There were times where even I realized I was in the wrong. There were times where I was so terrible to others that I would panic as soon as I got home...thoroughly convinced that my teacher had somehow black labeled me for something I had done.

However, this was never the case. No matter what I did and no matter what other students did, our wrongs were always forgotten. We were never treated like pariahs for getting in trouble. We were  never truly blacklisted regardless of how crummy our time outs had been or how long we had to sit in the Principal's office to think about what we had done. Ultimately, all was forgiven. I didn't go to Catholic school (been public schooled my entire life), so it took me a while to link this school "forgiveness phenomena" to something infinitely greater (Contrition, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and Absolution). However, it did click eventually. As I experienced it more and more, either at my own hands or the hands of another, my patience grew. I matured and continued to learn. The more I taught and tutored, the more I understood that the kids truly needed extra help. Not all kids had the support I had as a child from my parents, family, and friends. Not all kids could read well due to dyslexia, etc. Not all kids liked the same books that I loved.

I have learned to be more patient with people over the years. I will admit, however, that I am not perfect. I still have some issues understanding people. One huge example of this is my older sister. She and I are on different planes when it comes to many things. I love the girl to death, but there is no way that I will ever willingly listen to her country music. I think she has one of the most beautiful hearts of anyone I know, but I will never be able to understand why she needs so much jewelry. I think she is absolutely gorgeous, but I would not be caught dead in half of the stuff she wears (especially skirts, heels, and color coordinated outfits). I think she has a beautiful voice, but I may kill her if she stays over my place again and snores all night. I admire how much she's grown in her faith over the years, but we will probably never see eye to eye with my extremely conservative Catholicism versus her more liberal Catholicism.

We've fought a lot over the years and it grieves me to say that there were years in which I refused to talk to her. However, even at our worst I never stopped praying for her. I never stopped worrying about her. I never stopped loving her. She was my confidante when we were kids and she's my sister. Yet, even though I love her, there were points when we could not be in the same room together without getting into some form of huge argument within half an hour. In the end, however, the rifts would tear me apart and I would constantly find myself with my foot in my mouth. After overcoming my pride and stubborn demeanor, I have made progress in trying to understand her. I have tried to be more patient with her even though her views differ so much from mine.  We haven't had a huge fight in years, but there are still times where I say something I regret later. Quite frankly, I am not as patient as I wish I could be with her. However, I always regret the lack of patience and understanding I have when it comes to her. Yes, I have improved over the years when it comes to dealing with my older sister. However, I am still trying to understand her and to be patient with her. She's so much like me in the sense that she regrets angry words and feelings as well. Like I told you, she has a beautiful heart (perhaps even more beautiful than my "patience of a saint" younger sister).

These days, I still find myself putting my foot in my mouth when it comes to my older sister. However, I have swallowed my pride and my words more often that not. Sometimes, I just have to pause and try to see the issue from her point of view in order to understand why she feels a particular way about something. I have tried to understand her and appreciate her for who she is. As much as I had to admit it, I am not perfect. I can be quite sardonic at my worst and my sense of humor may not always be understood (which leads to many misunderstandings). However, no matter how much patience I lack in the grand scheme of things, I have a sister who is willing to forgive me...just as I am always willing to forgive her. Regardless of what we say, how angry we can get, or how long a cold shoulder may last...we love each other and recognize that we love each other. We want the best for each other and we will always do what we can to look out for each other. As annoying as we can be, we will also be there for each other. That's just how we roll.

It is also just how God wants us to roll. Believe it or not, we are called to be patient. We are called to put love over pride, the need to be right, and the need to take care of others as we see fit. The fact of the matter is, no matter how much we want to child-proof everyone else's lives....people will always make mistakes and these mistakes will require our patience. We will find ourselves frustrated with others as they stumble through things we deemed to be a cake walk. However, not everyone encounters things in the same way. Furthermore, some have more strength than others. Some have more wisdom than others....and, let's face it, come have more common sense than others. Regardless of what traits we have or what traits we lack, however, the He wants us to be patient with one another.

We are all called to be saints. As a result, we must all strive to be as holy as possible. We are called to be patient in the same manner that God is patient with us. Think about how many times you have made a mistake and been forgiven for it? That forgiveness is a beautiful reflection of God's willingness to be patient with us. If God, through his infinite mercy and love for us, is able to look past our annoying flaws and find our good qualities...we must also seek to do the same. I know how hard it is to do this because this character flaw has been pretty hard for me to change. However, it is not impossible. Furthermore, being more patient with others has made it easier for me to be more patient with myself. This, in turn, has made it harder for me to lose hope in my quest to become a better person with unconditional love and understanding for my fellow man. Hopefully, I may one day attain the saint-like patience of my younger sister and my older sister's heart of gold. Until then, I will have to work on embracing the notion that it does take all kinds to make a world...even if some of them do listen to country music.

Pax Vobiscum