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A lesson in Latin....and Penitential Psalms

Psalm 130, like Carl Bloch's "The Resurrection"
is not so much about death
as it is about life, trust, hope, and mercy.
I've made an effort to memorize Psalm 130...aka the "De Profundis." I know what you're thinking..."But Barbara, that's a funeral song." Well, it is a song normally associated with funerals. However, if you pay closer attention to its words and the context of this song, you will find that it is a beautiful, a very beautiful, penitential psalm. This psalm, though somber, is a message of mercy, salvation, and trust.

In our darkest hours we sometimes find ourselves crying out to God and hoping that He listens. Sometimes we feel that He doesn't listen. Sometimes, a darker sentiment overcomes us and we find ourselves tempted to believe that God has somehow abandoned us. No matter how terrible our lives and struggles may seem at times, God never abandons us. God is always there for us. God is working all around us. We're simply too short-sighted to see his works in action...or realize that His works often take times.

When life gets me down or I find myself feeling sorry for anything terrible that I've done (Yes, I sin too. I'm only human), I turn to this psalm. This song describes our moments of desperation quite well. It describes that yearning in our hearts for God's help. For His mercy. For his companionship. When I recite this psalm, my heart translates the words. Below, I break down the verses of the psalm into the words my heart hears. I hope that, in reading this, you will begin to see this psalm as I see it....not merely as a funeral song...but as a promise, a safeguard, and a form of reassurance when life seems to get the best of us.
"De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine;
Domine, exaudi vocem meam. Fiant aures tuæ intendentes
in vocem deprecationis meæ."

"Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to my voice in supplication:"

The longing in my soul compels me to cry out for my Father as a child would cry for their father when they stumble. I wish for Him to hear my voice...not just hear it...but listen to the words and sorrows it carries. Even though I know that I have sinned against Him, I dare call out to Him. He knows me, He understands me, He loves me...even when I cannot find love elsewhere. I cry out with words. I cry out with desperation. I simply lift my own troubles and sorrows to Him. Lord, I am sorry. Lord, I trust in you. Lord, forgive me and do not abandon me.

"Si iniquitates observaveris, Domine, Domine, quis sustinebit?
Quia apud te propitiatio est; et propter legem tuam sustinui te, Domine."

"If you, O Lord, mark iniquities,
Lord, who can stand?
But with you is forgiveness,
that you may be revered.
I trust in the Lord;"

Lord, I have sinned against you. The weight of my sin is a terrible burden and though I am unworthy of your grace...I still seek it. I seek it not as one who takes advantage of your mercy and forgiveness. I seek it, rather, as a prodigal son. I may have once been too proud to listen, too selfish to care, too foolish to understand how much you loved me. I may have turned my back on you and listened to empty promises that led me away from you. However, I know I was wrong. I know there is no joy in my own life if I turn away from the source of love, compassion, and mercy. I may not have turned against you, but I have turned away from you...and in doing so, have fallen from grace.

Yet, You are just. You know my heart. You know its sorrow. You know its regret. You know how foolish I was to turn from you and you know how much my heart longs for you. You know my soul will never rest until it rests in You. You, who have created me, know my heart and know its sorrows. You grieved when I was lost to you, and wish to rejoice at my return. You know I have suffered greatly when I turned from you. You know the anguish we suffer when we turn away from you. And yet, in your mercy, you keep calling us. We hear your voice in our hearts, calling for us to return...even when our hearts are hardened against you. Your love never relents and this is why we could never survive without your love....this is why we suffer so much pain when we stray from You.

Lord, I trust in you. I trust in Your love. I trust in Your mercy. I trust Your love for me. You are my God. You are my Father. You are my rock. You are my salvation. My Lord, I trust in You and have always trusted You...even in moments where I thought I believed otherwise.

"Sustinuit anima mea in verbo ejus:
Speravit anima mea in Domino.
A custodia matutina usque ad noctem, speret Israël in Domino."

"my soul trusts in his word.
My soul waits for the Lord,
more than sentinels wait for the dawn.
More than sentinels wait for the dawn,
let Israel wait for the Lord;"

Foolishly, I walked away from you...but my soul still longs for you. My soul longs to hear Your voice. The laws I once found unfair, are your laws and so I must keep them. I did not wish to hear your words due to pride or some other selfish reason. I thought I knew what was best for me. I thought I would be happy on my own without you. I thought I could live by other laws and rely on other strengths. However, I was wrong. Even when I followed the laws of my own wishes or the laws of those who catered to my pride, sloth, envy, greed, lust, wrath, and gluttony...I felt a longing for your own words and knew that they were just. I knew that they were right. I knew that they were true. Even when I sought other words and other lords, my heart and soul secretly sought You. I longed for your words and your judgment...and still do. I await the day where I hear them again...and await the day when I see You again. I long for You still and I wish to return to You...if You will allow me to return to you....

"Quia apud Dominum misericordia, et copiosa apud eum redemptio.
Et ipse redimet Israël ex omnibus iniquitatibus ejus."

For with the Lord is kindness
and with him is plenteous redemption;
And he will redeem Israel from all their iniquities.

....And You always allow us to return to you. No matter how hard we fall, what sins we have committed, or how far we wander from Him...He will always wait for us. He will always gather us in his arms and lead us back into His home. He will always seek us. He will always put a longing in our hearts for Him. He will always call out to us, even when we convince ourselves that he does not listen to our supplications. He loves us for He is the source of all love. He will forgive us if we seek his forgiveness...and he will never turn us away if we seek Him. He has always been there for us and will always be there for us.

In this psalm, there is trust. The words of this psalm convey a profound trust in God, a trust in His words, a trust in His mercy...and a promise of salvation. I really wish I had better words to convey how this psalm makes me feel....but I hope that the words above have helped you see that this psalm is way more than just a psalm to be read or sung at funerals.

Pax Vobiscum

Religious Intolerance Thwarted by Geeky Vandalism

I can now count myself among the vandals of this world...
No, not the 5th century East Germanic barbarian type of vandal...
Well, I performed my first-ever act of vandalism today at Penn Station. I was on my way to the subway train du jour, when the poster below caught my attention. I didn't really pay attention to the advertisement itself. It was the graffiti that caught my attention. At first glance, I took it for an anti-Semitic scribbling. I saw the J at first and thought that it read and was directed against "Jewish People." You can imagine my shock and anger. Upon doing a double-take...I saw that it wasn't anti-Semitic at all. Unfortunately, it was just as bad. It was anti-Catholic. If you can't read the green words markered onto the poster, it reads "Kill every Jesuit Priest on site." For the record, the actions that follow would have been the same even if graffiti was anti-Semetic or anti-enter religious group here....because I do not stand for any form of religious intolerance. Period. Even if it means partaking in a bit of vandalism.

Whoah. To think this type of anti-religious garbage can still be seen in broad daylight (or even in artificial, fluorescent light)! Oh, for the love of all that is good and Catholic in this world!

My reactions, in chronological order, once it sunk in were as follows:

Oy vey....could be some misguided and disgruntled Fordham drop-out who doesn't really mean it.
Uh. oh. What if it's some underground satanist cult?
Oh dear. It must be one of those fundamentalist anti-Catholic groups I thought no longer existed.
Who in the world would want to kill anyone on site....especially a padre?
Well, I can't just let this message stay up there...regardless of the intentions behind it.

Figures I am one of the people that end up walking past this atrocity. Maybe God put me there at that time and place as a test. Would I be courageous enough to do something about it...or would I just walk on, too afraid to do what was right?  Naturally, I could not let this sit. I don't stand for any form of religious intolerance or anti-life messages...especially something this violent and just plain evil. Therefore, I resolved to fix the problem by writing "Don't" in the beginning. That way it would read "Don't kill every Jesuit Priest on site." I know it doesn't sound like the best idea ever....but, well, I couldn't just leave it as it was...even if it did mean my adding to the graffiti. Unfortunately, I did not have a permanent marker on me. All I had was a bunch of pens and pencils. I tried one pen, to no avail. It just would not write on the surface of this poster (it had the texture and surface of a bumper sticker). I then tried my awesome handy-dandy insert pharmaceutical company here pen. It has a bit of a felt tip to it, so I figured it would work. Nope.

Not one to give up, I resolved to scribble hard until I got a legible "Don't" written down. Unfortunately (or very fortunately, depending on how you look at it), my pen dug in through the poster. I then realize that the poster is just some huge sticker. I resolve, therefore, to just tear off the part of the message I find most offensive (mainly the part about killing). I proceed to tear at the poster, and a piece comes off. This piece rips off clean, taking with it the "Kill every" as well as part of the "J" in Jesuit. Therefore, the poster now looks like this and I am now a vandal.

Vandal, or no, the "Greatest Network for the Greatest City on Earth" now has a Jesuit priest on site because, let's face can never just settle for "good enough." You got to settle for the best.

I can just see Saint Ignatius of Loyola and Saint Francis high-fiving each other right now.

Pax Vobiscum

I'm Feeling Extra Catholic Today

The strange thing about this semester is that even though I am taking fewer classes than ever, I have been more busy than ever. I got an abstract submitted for the Society of Toxicology meeting in March (in San Fran!!!). I had to do some massive amounts of data analysis (blister-inducing levels of number crunching) last-minute for this, but at least it's in. My neuro class is really keeping me on my toes as far as reading, studying, exams, quizzes, etc. goes. My other classes are okay, but laboratory-related work and reading have been taking up most of my time (...sooo many scientific papers to read!!!). On top of that, I am TA'ing a class that I also need to really understand in case one of the students has a question. Factor in the migraines and subsequent Imitrex side effects...and...well....that just about sums up my semester thus far.

Oh, and midterms...can't forget those...

On the plus side, I got a new quiet place to go to before and/or after Neuro. It's called St. Paul's Chapel. It's over a century in age, and it's beautiful. I first walked in there for mass some time ago, when proteomics gave me an excuse to stay on the main campus all day on Thursdays. I dropped this class, however, and have since been in the lab Thursday mornings and afternoons...only coming back for class at 4. As much as it pains me to miss mass by such a great padre (I still have that recording of his sermon), I can't help my schedule. Fortunately, however, I still have some time to visit Saint Paul's chapel for a few quick prayers. 

How could anyone possibly hate on this?
And boy do I need all the prayer time I can get these days....

It seems like there are so many people in need of prayers. I've had to add on quite a few people to my prayer list lately. I've added some angry souls, some souls with family problems, some souls that have passed away, some souls seeking reconciliation, some souls in search of happiness, some unemployed souls, some in-danger-of-abortion souls, some wandering souls (don't like calling them lost souls...because they aren't lost my book at least), and some other personal intentions. 

A few years, I started praying on behalf of people. I asked God to accept these prayers as though the other person was praying them. I asked God for his mercy on their behalf and asked God for help on their behalf. I even asked God to soften their hearts so that one day they would pray again and seek Him. I don't remember how I got the idea to pray for other people...but I hoped that God would take my prayers into if they had come from someone else. These people, out of anger or hopelessness had abandoned God. They had revolted against Him. They had ignored Him. In some way or another, they had sought to remove God from their lives or just given up in trying to believe that He was in their lives to begin with. However, I could not believe that they truly wanted to be separated from God. I saw them as angry people who needed some extra help. I figured that my prayers couldn't hurt, and I figured that they would one day seek God on their own. I don't know what the policy is for prayers such as these...but they worked. Someone who never knew God before, started believing. Someone who had stopped believing in God, started to find healing and are currently growing in their faith. 

I doubt I was the only one praying for these people...but I may have been the only one praying on behalf of these people....for these people. In any event, I am just glad that my prayers were answered (as I have never had a prayer that was left unanswered in some way or another) and that these people have gotten through their rough patches.

Recently, I have come to find that an individual I know has not only abandoned God, but grown to despise God and anyone or anything associated with God. There is a difference between atheist and anti-religious...and this person has chosen the second path. I may be Catholic...but I don't actively hate or seek to be anti-enter religion here. I may not practice Hinduism, but I will appreciate the artwork and even read the literature (Ramayana, anyone?). I may not practice the Muslim faith, but I seek to learn more about it and try to be respectful when it comes to Ramadan (anyone who takes Lent seriously can't help but sympathize). You get the idea. I may not believe in everything they believe, but I respect them and even try to learn from them if I see that it can improve my own religious life. Hating other religions is not something that comes naturally to me. I guess this is part of the reason why this individual's attitude upsets me.

I simply cannot justify someone actively hating people, artwork, etc. just because they are religious in nature. I cannot understand how people can find so much hatred for something that is so integral in my life... something I love so much. I love God. I truly love God. Therefore, I cannot comprehend or even stand when people curse God. I love Christ. I love that he was willing to sacrifice himself for us. Therefore, I cannot understand or stomach when people make obscene comments regarding his sacrifice...his body and blood. I am saddened that this individual has taken such a hateful path and that this individual actively seeks to scorn and make fun of things that others hold sacred.

So what am I going to do about it?

One clue: rosary.

Pax Vobiscum

A GREAT someone else...

No, not "The Master" from Doctor Who....
Check out this blog: "A Moment with the Master."

Especially this post:  No Fair

Just so all you know, this guy is fantastic when it comes to explaining matters of the faith. He's even better at living the faith (puts people like me to shame). In any event, he posted this on his facebook, I read it, and I loved it. He doesn't post regularly (yeah...I know...neither have I recently)....but CHECK HIM OUT! Seriously, you will thank me later for introducing you to this theological gold.

In case you're wondering, I am knee-deep in midterms right now and half-finished with my next post. Hopefully, once this neuro midterm is over, I will finish it up.

Until then, God bless you and pax vobiscum.

To smack (some sense into) a Catholic

I, along with many before me, believe that there is salvation in other religions. I know there are those out there that believe that you have to be insert religion here to be saved, but I am not one of them. Catholicism, believe it or not, is a pretty tolerant religion when it comes to seeing and borrowing the good in other faiths. As a result, we do believe that heaven may be full of people from other faiths. Don't believe me? Check out the instructor's book at your local confirmation class meeting. During my brief stint as a CCD instructor, one of the things I highlighted in that book (and made sure to stress during class) was a passage that said that there are good aspects to other religions that can be borrowed by Catholics seeking to improve their religious life. I myself have already borrowed a few things here and there from a few other faiths.

 I will say, however, that Catholicism, is the most complete religion for me.  Based on what I have learned about Catholicism and every other religion in all those gen-ed classes I've had to take, my very colorful collection of friends from every faith group imaginable, and from my own research...I have come to the conclusion that the Catholic faith is the only one that could work for me. I do not mean to say that other faiths out there are somehow worth less than Catholicism....far from it. I am of the same mind as St. Francis of Assisi when it comes to other religions (or at least I try to be...unless it's the WBC or some other nutty cult). As long as your particular religion calls for you to live a virtuous life full of faith, hope, and love...while respecting my own religious's okay by my book.

St. Francis once took it upon himself to break through enemy lines during the Crusades in an effort to convert the Sultan and anyone who would listen. He sought to preach the good word and figured that he could help these people become Christians...or at least become a martyr in the process. He did not succeed in either mission. He did, however, leave on friendly terms with the Sultan and his men. After his encounter, he even attempted to get Christians to respect the beliefs of their Muslim brothers and sisters. He saw the faith of these people and could not help but appreciate it. He was impressed by their reverent treatment of the Qur'an, their daily calls to prayer, and their constant acknowledgment of God. Though it was popular in those days for Christians to speak out against Muslims and Islam, Saint Francis encouraged Christians to live among Muslims and to respect them.

He did this because he believed that there were lessons to be learned from our Muslim brothers and sisters. He believed that these lessons could improve the prayer lives and faith of Christians. I think he's right. There is certainly a lot we can learn from people of other faiths...just as I am sure there is a lot to learn from our own faith. There are lots of  great nonCatholic role models out there (like C.S. Lewis)....just as there are plenty of great Catholic role models (like Bl. Mother Teresa and JPII).

Truth is, even though I know a lot of great Catholics...I know some "they-can't-be-serious"/"this-must-be-a-cry-for-help" Catholics too. Unfortunately, I have the toughest time biting my tongue when it comes to these people. I personally know a Catholic who stopped going to mass and I came dangerously close to smacking (some sense into) them. No, I didn't want to smack them for not going to mass anymore. I wanted to smack them for all the bad habits that followed their departure from mass. You see, though this Catholic created a gaping hole in their faith life by not attending mass, they found some pretty crappy replacements for this hole.

A few examples of crappy replacements:

Instead of going to mass and listening to some padre's sermon,  this person had the genius idea of foregoing any such sermons. No, this person knew a lot more than any seminary-educated padre in matters of religion. Therefore, they started doing that whole "spiritual, personal relationship with God" thing. Hey, this may actually work for some people. Unfortunately, however, it doesn't seem like this approach is working for this particular person. I get the impression that this person's journey to God has led them farther away from Him and closer to nonsense. You see, this person started listening to Harrold Camping's "RAPTURE 2011" BS and BELIEVING IT. Though they weren't foolish enough to sell all their possessions, quit their job, and spend their life savings in anticipation for the end of the world... they were pretty scared to death about the rapture that never came. They were ABSOLUTELY convinced that this rapture would come even when other Catholics attempted to reason with them.

Was this experience enough to knock some sense into them?


Prof. Trelawney doodle from one of my older sketchbooks
You see, this individual consults pay-by-minute psychics to interpret dreams and who knows what else. This kind of thing really bothers me. I mean, you go out of your way to live a more "spiritual" faithful life with the intention of bringing yourself closer to God. You do it so that you can improve your religious life and become a better person. Why the hell would you need a psychic to tell you everything is okay when you supposedly have everything under control? Why would you need a psychic to tell you everything is okay when you supposedly have gotten closer to God by being more "spiritual?" Why do you trust someone over the phone (who's charging you money!) more than you would trust a mass service? The Eucharist? A good sermon? Scripture readings?

The sad thing is, this isn't the only thing amiss in this person's life. This person lives by so many superstitions, that I may just make a book out of them...or get some anthropology PhD to use them all for a dissertation topic. In this person's presence, the smallest things can lead to a Professor Trelawney-esque doomsday prediction. Don't do this, or it will mean a death in the family. Don't do that, or there will be 3 years of bad luck. Don't do that other things because it will disturb the dead. How can anyone live like this?!?

Am I missing something here? The way I see it, these are all steps back from a genuine life of faith...from a genuine state of grace (friendship with God). If you live a life of good faith (regardless of the faith), you trust in God. You don't put your trust in nuts like Harrold Camping. You don't put your trust in Miss Cleo. You don't put your trust in superstitions. You put your trust in God as a father, as a creator, and as a friend. You actively seek God without ever needing to resort to half of the garbage that this person seeks. If you truly wish to speak with Him, He will listen...and will be willing to answer you (just not always in the way you expect and not always in the way you want Him to answer you).

 I truly wish I could take this person aside and smack some sense into them. However, it's never that easy. There is a limit to what one can say to people like this without offending this other person or just having them ignore you. Somehow, I feel like this person will probably never change. It's sad, but it's true. This person will probably never truly accept God into their lives in the way they wish to accept Him (or even claim to accept Him). They're just too busy focusing on uncertainty, omens, good luck charms, you name ever spend enough time on God.

Quasi-disclaimer: There is a chance that I am wrongfully judging this individual. In all truth, they may just have a good relationship with God. There is a chance that they may actually live a good "spiritual" life. It is possible that I just don't see their faith as well as I do the faith of other individuals. However, I truly see the use of psychics, avoidance of omens, and complete trust in Camping as signs of a weak faith.

Pax Vobiscum

My Guardian Angel's Sense of Humor

Yes, I believe in guardian angels. You can do your best to convince me that they're just something some parent made up a long time ago to get their kid to stop being afraid of the dark. However, I am pretty steadfast in my faith when it comes to guardian angels. I don't think believing in them is mandatory...but that doesn't make them any less important in my life.

This is what I am talking about....
Jacob Wrestling with the Angel
by Alexander Louis Leloir
For the record, I don't believe in angels in the way that most of the world believes in angels. They are spiritual beings, not babies with wings and harps. They are formidable allies that protect us from all the evil spirits that wander the earth seeking the destruction of souls...not fluffy-winged Precious Moments angels with huge heads and puppy-dog eyes. They are extremely intelligent and faithful servants of God that inhabit the world with us to guide us, help us strengthen our faith, and protect us in ways that we will not always completely understand. They're kind of like us...only more awesome. You see, we are like a go-between...we are spiritual beings as well as physical beings. We we are too much like angels to ever be animals, we are still too much like animals to ever be angels.

...and this is not what I am talking about...
Sorry Precious Moments franchise...
I know I've kept my guardian angel pretty busy over these past 25 years...between all the near-death experiences and the times where I questioned everything...including guardian angels. Regardless of all this trouble, my guardian angel has stuck with me through thick and thin. The subject of angels came up during conversation with a fellow Catholic some weeks ago. This prompted me to look up a few things on angels. I came across some things that sounded awesome as well as some uber-crazy stuff (they will allow anything on the internet these days).

My favorite tidbit (which may or may not be Vatican-approved): If we fall asleep while praying, our guardian angel finishes our prayer for us. Considering how many times I have fallen asleep while praying over the years....I can only begin imagine how much praying my angel has done for me. 

In any event, ever since reading up on angels, I have made an effort to ask my guardian angel for help whenever possible. Believe it or not, I think it's worked.

One night, a few weeks ago, I asked my guardian angel to do a favor for me. It wasn't a "prove you're real by doing this for me" favor. It was more like an "I really miss my mom and wish she was here" favor. For some reason, I had the urge to hug my mom. For the most part, I have accepted that my mom has passed away and time has made this loss more bearable over the years. However, there are still occasions where I just really wish that she was still here. That night was one of those nights. I had a crazy idea to ask my guardian angel to give her a hug for me and make sure that she was okay for me. I then asked my angel to show me some sign that my mom had gotten her hug. I didn't ask for the affirmation as proof...more as reassurance that my mom got her hug and knew that I still missed her and thought of her.

Believe it or not, as soon as I finished asking this, I hear a crash. I get up to investigate, and find that my Legolas standup had fallen face first onto the ground. Mind you, this stand-up was leaning back against the wall and neither me nor my sister had moved or caused any disturbance for it to fall. Also, it should have fallen backwards if it was to fall at all. This is the same Legolas standup that I jokingly refer to as the guy that watches over me as I sleep (elves never sleep and have great eyesight as well as aim...making them perfect guardians against everything from orcs to robbers). A split second after I realized that it was Legolas on the floor, I realized that my guardian angel has a sense of humor...
Padre Pio and the Guardian Angel
by Guido Reni

Of all the things to fall down (or get knocked over) had to be my Legolas stand-up. I guess my guardian angel wanted to make sure that I knew that I have someone else that watches over me as I sleep...

For more on guardian angel stories:

Padre Pio Guardian Angel Stories
St Gemma Galgani Guardian Angel stories

If you got any stories of your own, I would love to hear them.

Pax Vobiscum

Break Time

In case you're wondering....I am taking a bit of a break from the blogging. It's turning out to be quite a busy semester for me between class, research, being a TA, and a bunch of other small things that have been adding up. I'll start posting more often once things settle down...

I hope you all understand.

".....such is the life of a PhD student."