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Boondock Saints: A Good, Wholesome, Catholic Movie?

Above my sister's bed is a Boondock Saints poster...near a painting of Smeagol that I made for her, above a Don Bosco relic, beside a Harry Potter poster, and 90 degrees away from U2 and the Beatles. The Boondock Saints has to be one of her favorite movies. I love Connor and Murphy…but I think the movie is simply “okay.” It’s not my favorite movie…but I still appreciate some of the things in this movie.
Yeah, throwing in some Latin in the end doesn't necessarily make it a prayer...

In fact, this past Sunday when my sister (aka The Fool) and I were both kneeling before our Lady near the church entrance, I tapped her on the shoulder and whispered "We're just like Connor and Murphy from the Boondock Saints." One thing I love about this movie is the beginning when the brothers are praying together during mass. It’s just BADASS, in a wholesome Catholic manner. Speaking of wholesome, Catholic…according to her, when it came to one of the movie nights at the Newman Catholic Center a few years ago (could be months ago instead of years considering how my perception of time has been ruined by PhD studies), someone tried selling the movie to everyone else as "a wholesome Catholic movie."
I'm Murphy, the Fool is case you were wondering. 
My sister, very much in love with this movie, once tried watching this movie with my dad and applied this same approach. At one point, according to my sister, he kind of just shook his head and said something along the lines of "This is definitely not a good film for Catholics." This was after Rocco's finger got shot off and they're all cursing like sailors (as opposed to the rest of the movie when they're fighting heresy and using soap to wash out the mouths of all blasphemers in Boston).

Well, the first time I watched the movie....I LOVED it. There's something about the opening of the movie that struck a chord...the idea of brothers going to mass together, praying together, working together, drinking Guinness together, saving each other's lives, and even getting into bar fights together. I am not one for violence, but they had did have legitimate reasons for getting into that bar fight. Being a Dropkick Murphys fan kind of reinforced my appreciation. I also love the idea of fighting for all that is good and right in the God, faith, goodness, social justice….noble purposes. I think the way I feel can be best summed up with some Tolkien…
 “I do not love the bright sword for it's sharpness, nor the arrow for it's swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend”- J.R.R. Tolkien 
After watching the movie several more times, I began to pick it apart (especially after reading up on the guy who wrote the screenplay). Then I began to see the reason why we Catholics did not permit them to film the movie within one of our churches. My dad was right about this movie….well most of it. You see, in my opinion, once Rocco is introduced…the movie goes downhill. Mind you, the brothers are hysterical at times…but they are far from sainthood.

My top 5 Boondock Saints peeves:

1.     Rosary

They wear the rosary…like many other people these days. I don’t know if it’s a trend or something, but I see so many rosaries around people’s necks that it kind of makes me wonder how often people pray the rosary. Yeah, the brothers don’t really seem to pray the rosary all that often in this movie….or pray very much at all…minus that “Shepherd’s prayer” that is more like a killing mantra than a prayer.

2.      “You don’t play with God”
This saying was repeated time and time again (in Portuguese) by my parents every time my sisters or I came close to crossing the line between funny and offensive to God. Plain and simple, you don’t mock the holy….which is what we see in this movie on a few occasions. The one scene that makes me uncomfortable is when one of the brothers dips his hand into a coffee cup and starts blessing police officers. Yeah, my inner, uber-strict, pre-Vatican II self started cringing with this scene, thinking back to my parents’ warnings. Don’t get me started on the confession booth scene…

3.     Rocco. 
Once this guy enters the scene, everything goes downhill. The brothers start off defending themselves from the mob and next thing you know, they go from defending themselves to becoming full-fledged vigilantes. In a sense, they become the mob. They start killing off people just because they were in the mob and because Rocco told them to. Am I the only one who noticed that Rocco initially aspired to become part of the mob? If they’re going to start killing off mob people, why don’t they kill Rocco?

4.     Il Duce.
Could they have gotten a more militant atheist to play this guy? I mean, during interviews, every other word out of his mouth is an insult against the Church, God, and all that is right in the world. On top of this, he’s no better than the mob his sons are fighting. I mean, he was even part of the mob as a young man. If you’re going with consistency, the brothers should have killed him off as well….and if he’s such a good guy, why does he still kill people for the mob. I mean, yes, the mob got you out of jail. However, why do you want to kill the people the mob tells you to kill…. This fact is cemented in the Boondock Saints sequel, where we learn that he was originally a potential serial killer-turned-hit man. This guy seems to have some sort of psychological disorder that makes him want to kill people. What happened to overcoming a need for murder? What happened to “overcoming temptation” (a good Catholic quality)?  What happened to “Thou Shalt Not Kill?”

5.      Dialogue.
If you cussed like they cuss in this movie, you would break your mother’s heart…unless she happened to be a sailor and swear like one. Some of the swearing is just unnecessary and even immature at times…which really make me question Troy Duffy’s grasp of the English language beyond the 4 letter words at times. The extra scenes are also ridiculous. I mean, how am I supposed to believe that the brothers’ mother made them learn so many languages when she’s slurring her words and swearing up a storm when talking to her sons on the phone. A drunkard would never care to ensure their kid’s language skills. I know it was Saint Patrick’s Day in this scene….but come on. There was no need to turn the mother into a stereotypical “drunk and swearing Irishwoman.” It’s just ridiculous.

This movie on a scale from 1-10 (1 being LAME and 10 being awesome)…I give this movie 4. However, in the scenes preceding Rocco banding together with the brothers, this movie gets a 10.

In summation, if the Boondock Saints is a good, wholesome, Catholic movie...then 300 is a good, wholesome Greek Orthodox movie…
The look in his eyes says "....yeah, no."

 Sorry Fool for tearing up your movie. 

Pax Vobiscum.

Saint Joseph of Cupertino, Pray for Us....

Just letting everyone know that my finals are approaching. I am currently working on a paper and presentation that are both due in less than 24 you can say that I am a little strapped for time. If you don't see a post in a while....DON'T PANIC. I have not joined a cult or anything like that. I'm still Catholic, I am still a science geek, and I intend to keep "The Catholic Science Geek" blog running. Only now, I am going to have to put a hold on the posting for a few weeks until I get some free time. Until then, I will keep praying, attending mass, and doing what I can to serve God (besides posting). If I can sneak in a post or two during this time, I most certainly will! With this said, best of wishes on your finals, graduations, etc. as the school year winds down. If you need a little bit of help, try praying through Saint Joseph of Cupertino....
O St. Joseph of Cupertino who by your prayer obtained from God to be asked at your examination, the only preposition you knew. Grant that I may like you succeed in the Molecular Toxicology final, Biochemistry final, and Probiotics paper and presentation
 In return I promise to make you known and cause you to be invoked. 
O St. Joseph of Cupertino pray for me.
O Holy Ghost enlighten me.
Our Lady of Good Studies pray for me.
Sacred Head of Jesus, Seat of divine wisdom, enlighten me.
 (Just replace the italicized words with your own exams, papers, presentations, etc.)
Saint Joseph of Cupertino, pray for us...that we may pass our exams
....the gift of flight would be cool too...

Take care everyone and God bless you.

Pax Vobiscum.

Old School Latin-Style

I finally went to my first Latin mass a few weeks ago and was a little disappointed to see that it wasn't as Latin as I thought it would be. Don't get me wrong, it was still a GREAT experience and I certainly did enjoy hearing and even praying Latin prayers and such. However, call me a Latin geek, but I wanted more!

I can't explain why I took an interest in Latin as a child or why I made myself memorize so many Latin prayers over the years...but the fact of the matter is that I love the language and part of me wishes I had lived through the pre-Vatican II days so that I could attend a purely Latin mass. I understand why the change from Latin to every other language known to man occured....but praying in Latin (for me at least) is a whole religious experience in and of itself. I find that I can concentrate more. Also, it just makes me feel better when I pray in Latin. I can't explain why, but sometimes I even feel like I can picture things a little better praying in Latin even if this language isn't my first language (or my second language...or even third language for that matter). Praying in Latin somehow just strikes a cord with me... I wish I could explain it better.

A few months ago I cashed in some certificate money and got myself a Latin/English New Testament. I have to tell you...there is a lot that is lost in translation and I prefer the Latin by far (even though I do need some help translating it at times). Mind you, reading the Latin is difficult at times, but it is worth it...and the English beside it certainly does help. I took two semesters of Latin, so I am no expert...but what I do get it. Perhaps my Portuguese background kind of does the several years of Spanish I took from middle school to high school. Regardless of how difficult it is, however, I think the Latin prayers and scripture sound so incredibly beautiful...

Also think about it this way....

Our saints once prayed in Latin.
Masses were said in Latin for centuries.
Our ancestors listened to masses in Latin.
Our ancestors prayed in Latin.
Our Church preserved Latin for 2000 years.

In a way it almost feels like this language adds another bond between us modern-day saints-in-training to the countless Catholics who came before us. This, to me, is one of the most comforting and awe-inspiring thoughts. Call me old-fashioned, but I squeal with excitement whenever a Latin song is implemented in mass or when they decide to say "Agnus Dei" as opposed to "Lamb of God." Now, if they started praying the Prayer of Saint Michael at the end of mass on top of throwing in some Latin...that would make my day.

It's just....SO BEAUTIFUL....

Pax Vobiscum

Ora Pro Nobis

When I was a kid, I loved Saint Anthony because he seemed the epitome of gentleness. I mean, I didn't know a thing about him back in the day save for the fact that he held the Christ child on those holy cards. As I grew up, I still held onto Saint Anthony, but made sure to throw in all the rest of the saints in my prayers "just in case." I mean, if one saint can pray for you and make things happen...then a bunch of saints should exponentially increase the likelihood of results...right?

As I grew up, I got to know more and more about the saints on the holy cards I've collected since childhood. Boy was I surprised to find out that Saint Anthony was Portuguese and not Italian. However, this did not really change my perception of Saint Anthony. image of Saint Anthony was SHATTERED when I watched  Anthony, Warrior of God. However, it was not in a bad way. Boy was I surprised when Saint Anthony didn't turn out to be just a gentle monk that got to hold the Christ child. I mean, HE'S SO MUCH MORE BADASS. Not only did he preach the word of God with an eloquent tongue...he fought against heresy, defended the good word, and saved people from the clutches of sin. And he didn't even need Anduril or a wizard's staff! On top of doing all of this completely weaponless, he fearlessly defended the word of God even when his higher ups did not necessarily do so. I'm not one for trash-talking the Church elders in any way....because I've been though that stage of my extremely stupid adolescent life....but Saint Anthony was unafraid to stand up for God's word in a time where even certain higher ups had forgotten God's word. Thankfully for us, our Church elders seem to know what they're doing these days days. If you don't believe me, please check out any one of Papa Benedict's works, addresses, etc. As much as I had misgivings of this guy after the passing of my beloved JPII's passing, Papa Benedict has been on target about so much.

But yeah, people like Saint Anthony are those who have helped preserve the Church throughout the ages through their word as well as deed. They're the ones that have spread the word of God without having to result to fire and brimstone speeches and unnecessary condemnation. They're the ones that loved God so  much that they proclaimed his glory even when no one else was listening (...well...okay, in Saint Anthony's case the fish were listening...but still). In short, they knew what they were doing.

I have never met an Anthony I didn't like...except this one kind-of-skeevy guy I met once when I was apartment hunting....and I have always had a special place in my heart and prayers for Saint Anthony.

However, as time went by, I began to meet and appreciate other saints.

Saint Francis, for example, appealed to my inner biologist.
Saint Benedict appealed to my inner hermit.
Saint Paul appealed to my inner servant of Christ.
Saint Peter appealed to my inner stick-foot-in-mouth self.
Saint Joan of Arc appealed to my inner athleta Christi.

Then there's my namesake Saint Barbara, my Confirmation name sake Saint Cecilia...who both appeal to my inner faithful Catholic.

I also cannot forget Saint Michael, the most epic defender of the faith. Not only is he always epically battling demons, but he is 100% faithful when it comes to serving God and doing His will. I got to also mention that Saint Raphael has, by far, been one of my favorites ever since I read the Book of Tobit. Here's a guy who is also badass like Saint Michael...but gentle and loving as well...Which reminds me of Saint Gabriel, a faithful messenger who appears throughout the bible to deliver all sorts of news and comfort.

"The Annunciation 1914" by John William Waterhouse...a great painting my my opinion

So, who's your favorite saint?

Pax Vobiscum

Happy Easter Everyone!

Thanks for joining me in my journey through Lent. I have appreciated all of the views as well as the comments. I never imagined so many people would be interested in the things I have to share...and I thank all of you. I truly do. Keeping this blog has certainly helped me strengthen my faith through these past few weeks. With this said, I also thank God for giving me the courage to start blogging about something that means so much to me.

Now, let us celebrate for Christ has RISEN!

On another note, I am back on Facebook now that Lent is over...and you know what that means! I have more photographs and artwork to this BEAUTIFUL stained glass image of the Holy Trinity from a cathedral in Metz, France.

Last Train Home

Ubi Caritas Et Amor (Et Aliqua Culpa), Deus Ibi Est

Thursday was a great day. On Thursday, I went to the thesis defense lunch of a very good friend. She did great and it was nice sitting around so many other nerds and geeks. I missed the defense due to train issues...but I was still in good spirits, After this, I went to see my old laboratory and managed to catch up with old colleagues and my old thesis advisor. Again, I was in great spirits. I went to mass that was celebrated by a bishop and the mass was absolutely beautiful...filling my heart as well as my soul with powerful sense of what it means to be Catholic during the Triduum.  I had felt Christ calling me to be with him. I could feel his presence in the Eucharist. I could see him washing the feet of his apostles when the bishop knelt down to wash the feet of those lucky few up in the front. I felt a deep yearning for Christ in the Eucharist. Yet I could not respond because it had been such a long time since I had gone to confession and I most certainly did not deserve him. I waited until the end of mass and plucked up the courage to hunt down one of the padres as, little by little, they started clearing up the church and turning off all the lights. 

I broke down and cried, and mustered up the courage to track down one of the priests. I finally found myself before a priest, crying like a child and asking him to confess me...okay...maybe I was begging between sobs. I could barely even speak due to the separation from Christ that I had been experiencing. It was one of those moments when a padre looks at one of their parishioners and sees that they need to make an exception. I didn't even have to explain my irregular and 100% all-consuming PhD schedule had made me unable to make it to any of the Sacrament of Reconciliation times. He simply told me to wait outside on a pew until for him to come out. He  must have known how much I needed this, because even when I tried to chicken out...he remained silent, waiting for my confession once we were in the confession booth. Finally, I gave in and did a quick confession...that was still pretty thorough. It was nothing like the hour-long take-your-time confessions that I normally like having with the padres...but it certainly healed me. 

My penance was to pray before the Eucharist for 5 minutes. At first, this seemed like no big deal. I had been to Adoration quite a few times 5 minutes before Christ would be like letting me off the hook. On any other day, praying before Christ would be a fantastic spiritual treat. Therefore, it seemed so strange that this priest would allow me to experience such a beautiful thing instead of penance. However, once my knees hit the floor, my penance turned out to be just that....penance. I was happy to pray before Christ...but my yearning intensified. I was close to him....but we were separated by small, golden doors. I could not receive. I would not be able to receive for at least another day. My only consolation was that, if I behaved myself, I would be able to receive Christ at other masses during the Triduum. This consolation was enough to put me in good spirits again and head over to Starbucks where I sat with my sister and a friend for an hour or so, having coffee and making the guy next to us laugh like crazy. I was on fire that night in terms of wit, jokes, and good humor...and we laughed quite a lot.

I was unable to go to mass this Good Friday due to my schedule and am a little bummed about it. However, I still prayed the rosary this morning and did what I could to avoid sin. I even fasted...and followed the advice of this young whippersnapper when it came to breaking my fast. I stopped at a place in Penn Station and got ice cold apple juice and a baguette (yeah, I unpatriotic). After a long day, the ice cold apple juice really looked like quite the treat (especially since I don't really drink fruit juice...but it was either fruit juice or hunt down some wine). I gave them a $20 and expected a $5 and a $10 back. They gave me three 5's back (I still cannot believe my bread and juice came to $5 exactly). Feeling particularly crummy sometimes brings out the best in  me. Therefore, I sought out one of the homeless I usually see at Penn Station and found myself offering her the juice as well as $5. She declined...and then I offered her just the money, which she accepted with a "God bless you." I wished her a Happy Easter and wandered back into the crowded throng of people that makes up Penn Station. I looked for another one of the homeless I frequently see there...but could not find her. 

My train track came up and I boarded the train, thinking that my chances further Easter alsmgiving was over. However, I was wrong. A man came up and asked people if they could spare a dollar or that he could afford the fare to Newark. Without thinking or hesitation, I just gave him one of the $5's knowing all to well that there's always the chance that people are scamming you for your money.

I know what you're probably thinking. If I knew there was a chance that he was scamming me, why did I give?

Flashback a few years to Atlantic City. I was sitting on a bench and some woman comes up to me and asks if she can sit next to me. I was naive at the point and she starts telling me a story about how her mom kicked her out of the house...etc. etc. etc. I knew she was lying and I have her some money more so she would leave me a lone than because I believed her. Another homeless guy sees this and comes up to me, telling me that this woman was just going to buy booze. He proceeds to tell me of this underground community of homeless people that finds other means of getting what they need. Some clean floors to get food from restaurants. He even demonstrated how easy it was to bum cigarettes off of people. I had already felt guilty about just giving the money to the woman for her to leave me alone...but this guy turned my act into something even uglier. He made a mockery out of almsgiving. He made a mockery out of me and he continued to almost berate me for my stupidity/naivete until my older sister came back from wherever she had been. She got me out of there and got the guy to stop bugging me. 

This experience hardened my heart to the less fortunate. I stopped giving the homeless money. I looked at them with suspicion and did so for quite a while until I was confessed by a pretty remarkable padre. You see, my conscience could not stand this hardened heart of mine and I needed advice on it....and boy did this padre give me some lessons. He told me that it did not matter what the homeless used their money on...that almsgiving required true selflessness. This involved being selfless to the point where you just give without concern over how the poor spend their money. I protested, thinking back to my Atlantic City experience. 

"What if they just use it to go off and get drunk? Can't I just give them  food or something?" 

"Well, sometimes that beer is what they need at the end of the day...just as you or I need a drink sometimes. You think that their being homeless strips them of their right to something that may give them what they need at the end of the day. You may give them the happiness they needed after an otherwise terrible day. If you just give them food, you are attempting to hold power over them them. Giving with those types of intentions exercises some control over what they are allowed to do with the money you give them. This is not almsgiving. You cannot give with the intention of controlling that person in any way. What gives you the right to do that?"

He then proceeded to tell me that the safest thing to do was just give selflessly to whoever was in need. His words were hard to swallow, but my conscience welcomed them. Regardless of what story they have, how terrible I feel, or how much I trust them...I tend to give. Yes, there are still times when I refuse (there is no way I am going to an ATM to withdraw $40 for you, regardless of how nicely you ask....). However, one thing I find hard to refuse is train tickets. There have been a few times where I have gotten people tickets home. I have come to the conclusion that God's mission for me is to send people home. I'm serious. Whether it means home in the heaven sense, Catholic Church sense, or just the train ticket sense, I always feel a call to help lead people home. Sometimes at train stations, I see people beg cent by cent or dollar by dollar to get the money necessary to get a train home. Whenever these people ask me for money, I just buy them a ticket regardless if they are recently released convicts heading home or disabled elderly men. I cannot imagine what it would be like if the only thing separating me from my family was a little piece of paper. I do what I can to help these people because that desperate longing for the comfort of home is something I can certainly relate you can see by my experience on Thursday. The priest who confessed me, allowed me to get the ticket I needed to receive Christ this Easter. He did not have to help me. He certainly was not obliged to do so. However, he saw my desperation and wet out of his way to help me get what I needed. He could have easily turned me away so that I could come to the next set of confession hours....but he gave me just what I needed to find peace instead. How could I not do the same for my fellow man? 

Don't get me wrong, I still remain a little suspicious.
"Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves:
 be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves."

I have seen enough of some of these homeless to know the tricks they employ to get money....and I don't envy them. Regardless of how much money they may or may not make over the course of the day...I do not envy the manner in which they must earn their daily bread. I do not know enough about all of these people to judge them either. How am I to know who is innocent and who is conning? I don' I just leave it all to God. If they are innocent, my God help them more than I am able to help them on any given day. If they are guilty... may God forgive them and give them a chance to see the error of their ways. In any event, I think it is safer for me (and leaves my conscience most at rest) to just assume that those seeking help from me happen to be those that actually need it.

 Perhaps it is my pride speaking...or maybe it is my reason...but I could not live the lives they live whether they are homeless or con artists. Therefore, if I am being scammed, I leave it up to God...who is the only one who will ultimately judge me as well as any homeless or scammers I have come across during my entire life. I intend to go to the next world with as clean a conscience as I can. I cannot control the hearts of others or perceive their true intentions as the Lord does. Therefore, until I can distinguish poor from scammer, I will continue to give when I can, love when I can, and pray when I can for these children of God.

In case you're wondering, that last $5 (and all the nickels I had in my car) paid the toll for my drive home today. God certainly has His own way of doing things :)

Pax Vobiscum

Be still my soul

I DID IT. I have been feeling terrible about it for months and I finally did it.
Today, I did something I haven't done since probably October....I went to confession.

My soul, tormented as it has been for a while now, is at peace.

More to come once I get some sleep as it is quarter after 11 now and I am mega tired.
My soul currently feels as free as I did in this photograph....

Oh....and let's end this post with a rather peaceful song sung by one of my favorite boy's choirs of all time.

Catholic Brain Candy

Being the average college-aged American I am, I have a credit card. This credit card happens to be one of those cards that gives me an gift card every time I get 2500 points. Like the average 25 year old woman, I pay for everything from my monthy train pass, my Metrocard, my car insurance, gas, and every other bill with my card. Unlike most Americans, however, I use the thing like a debit card....stalking any mailman that could be delivering my bill to pay it off ASAP**. That's something I learned from my very traditional Old World European parents....and it hasn't failed me yet (my credit score would be the envy of any potential home buyer).

**Don't worry, our family gives mailman a Christmas card every year to make up for any offence caused by my stalker-like behavior.

As I do every few months, I just racked up 2500 points. I tend to get books with my card.
The last 2 books I got were by Fr. Gabriele Amorth ("An Exorcist Tells His Story" and "An Exorcist: More Stories"). I got these after picking up "The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist." For the record, I highly recommend all 3 of these books since they're written in a manner that respects Church doctrine and doesn't employ gratuitous pea soup scenes or violence to boost book sales. Also, these books were well-written, informative, and explained things with a lot of clarity...especially Amorth's books. Be prepared for some lessons in theology and the sacraments if you do decide to read these.

I already have the collected works of C.S. Lewis and my sister (theology student that she is) has lined our bookshelves with quite a few books on Catholic teaching, C.S. Lewis, moral theology, etc. Therefore, as much as I love me some Lewis and hardcore Catholic reading,  I will not be purchasing his books...nor will I purchase anything too academic. My brain will be too drained for anything other than easy reading once finals are over...due to biochemistry of course. With this said, it is up to you readers to help me decide what to buy and eventually read. Finals are coming up and I will need some recovery reading after they are finished. Feel free to post or message your selections as well as some thoughts on whatever book or author you recommend. I look forward to any recommendations.

Saint Jerome by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio

God Isn't Stupid...

One thing that really bothers me about certain people, is their need to refute God's existence with each new discovery that man makes.

I have everything figured out about how this works:

Step 1. Generally well-known uber-genius scientist (ex. Stephen Hawking) says something like "the universe is made of nothing."
Step 2. Media, in an effort to sell more subscriptions, releases an article with a headline similar to the following: "Scientists Disprove God's Existence." 
Step 3. Pseudo-scientist/anti-religious nuts clog all media threads with anti-religious comments.
Step 4. Richard Dawkins writes a book full of rants based on his limited (and flawed) knowledge about God and religion. 
Step 5. I go to a bookstore, see Richard Dawkins' new book in the science section. I proceed to drop it into the crevice between the bookshelves, flip it over to the cover can't be seen, put another book in front of it, or place it in its proper section (like the "ranting lunatic" section).
Step 6. Buzz dies down.
Step 7. For new discovery, repeat steps 1-6.

So many people just can't grasp the idea that God is a genius. I'm talking about the militant atheists as well as the nutty Phelps folk.

Nutty Phelps folk- (noun) members of WBC or similar sect who are CLUELESS when it comes to God and what the bible really says...even though they strive to live by literal translations of maybe 15 passages at most. These 15 passages or so are followed because they support the hideous rantings of nutty (and hateful) leader. Instead of listening to God's words and commandments, they make hideously colored signs and ignore Christ's command to "love one another" as they picket the funerals of our fallen heroes. They're also they type of people who really make all the sane Christians out there look very bad.

What these people don't seem to understand is that God is so far beyond our limited understanding. When God made the world, he didn't just throw it all together. God is way too much of a genius to ever do something like that. No, when He made the world...He already had all sorts of laws and processes to govern it. There were no accidents here. By the time He created the world, He had already figured out everything from gravity to cell division and evolution. People just don't get this for some reason and both the nutty Phelps folk and the militant atheist crowd are guilty of trying to understand God's infinite glory by putting Him into a box defined by our limited understanding as humans...

...which reminds me of a pretty great St. Augustine story that circulated Europe during the middle ages....a story my dad has told and retold many times through the years.

One day St Augustine, while thinking about the Trinity, saw a little boy on the beach. This boy was trying to put all of the ocean's water into a tiny hole he had dug in the sand. He ran back and forth carrying water from the ocean to pour into the hole. Saint Augustine goes up to the boy and asks what he's doing. The boy explains that he is emptying the entire ocean into the hole. Saint Augustine then attempts to explain the impossibility of the boy's task. The boy, however, counters by telling Saint Augustine that he will sooner empty the entire ocean into the hole than Saint Augustine will ever fully grasp the whole mystery of the Trinity. To make a long story short, the boy who schools Saint Augustine turns out to be an angel and Saint Augustine learns his lesson.  
 Even people in the middle ages understood God better than we did...just by understanding the limitation of our own knowledge!

God's plan is so vast and, at the same time, so intricate that it's impossible to grasp it in its entirety.  We may "get" a few parts of it. We may be inspired by a mere glimpse of understanding here and there...but these "eureka!" moments are nothing compared to "all that is seen and unseen." We cannot truly comprehend all of it. We are so limited in our understanding even when it comes to simple things like basic chemistry or how the heck are we supposed to understand God completely?!?!

No one has the right to say "Evolution can't exist because God made the world." The mechanisms for evolution were already present when he created DNA, cells, and living organisms. When God created man, he didn't just take a bunch of clay, mold it together, and leave it at that! He made everything from the atoms up. He made the DNA that allowed for our different traits and everyday cellular functions. He made the  neurons that allowed us to think for ourselves and take advantage of free will. He made complex systems we are only beginning to learn about today...protein signalling transduction, transcription, translation, etc. etc. etc. He thought of ALL of this and MORE before we ever came to exist. I know I don't have the words to describe just how incredible this really is. However, I can assure you that if you believe in God and you start learning about these will be rendered speechless. I cannot tell you how many times I sat in class thinking, "Wow, God is a genius."

On the other hand, I just don't understand the need to remove God from the story whenever we discover a new black hole or some new dust particle in some galaxy found in the East Jabip section of the universe. Imagine we just "discovered" that the laws governing the universe have no room for God within them. Okay. Well, then I suppose (assuming we even know how these laws work), we know how the universe was created. However, we don't know the "why." We don't know the purpose of it all. What we know is a series of events (which are all due to chance if you don't believe) that ultimately led us to what we are today. We could build on these series of events, tear them apart, tweak them, or make up new ones. However, no matter what we do, we will never understand the "why" about creation.

In my mind, the "why" is the important part. Everything else is just a detail. Yes, you just discovered the planet is billions of years old as opposed to 6000. This shouldn't matter when it comes to whether or not you believe in God. Who cares how old the world is and who cares how long we've been on this planet. If God created us as hairy be it. It just shows you that He loved us from the start, even if it took us a while to develop the concept of showers and antibacterial hand lotion. If you truly look at and dissect our humble beginnings, you truly come to appreciate just how much God loves....and all the potential he saw in us from day 1. He saw potential in us...even before we realized our own potential. That's how much we mean to him and how much He cares for us.

If God loved the world well enough to start from atom-sized scratch...enough to see our potential from the very  humble much greater is His love for us through the ages than it would have been if he just created us as we are now (talking into Bluetooths with Starbucks in hand, as opposed to in a cave drawing bison). As for 7 days...what is 7 days to God? What is time to God? Can we really deem ourselves knowledgeable enough to truly understand all there is to know about God in order to put a time constraint on Him and His works? NO!

On a similar note, just because we discover a new astrophysical law, it doesn't mean we can use this law to keep God in some box...or disprove His existence. There is far more to God than this natural world will reveal to us. There is so much to Him that we will never understand. Therefore it is senseless to even attempt turning God into a part of some equation or chemical process.

There's two sides to this argument and I can't stand either of the extremes.

I can't stand the people that limit God's infinitude and omnipotence by telling God what He can or cannot do. Imagine criticizing creation by telling God that evolution can't exist because it doesn't fit to our limited understanding. Imagine telling God that the world has to be 6000 years old just because we have a specific concept of time and lineages the God has to work around. Imagine telling God that He has to hate every one of His children except for a select few that follow the words of a particular pastor. Do  these people think that God is incapable of thought? Do they think God is too stupid to figure things out for Himself? I don't know about you all, but I think God knows what He's doing and I do not question His intelligence. Yet, these people do exactly that when they put all of creation into a box that is our limited understanding. We will never know everything there is to know about God and His plans....we just have to accept this.

When the Soviets sent Yuri Gagarin to space, 50 years ago...the world thought it was a big deal. In fact, it was a pretty defining moment in human history. Of course, some people just had to tarnish the event in their own special way. Some "sources" claimed that Yuri said "I don't see any God up here" during his flight. Turns out, Gagarin never said this and actually happened to be a pretty devout member of the Orthodox Church....but do you see how these "sources" operate? Yes, humans make all sorts of awesome discoveries and every time we do, some nut has to take this discovery and turn it into an "anti-religion" or "anti-God" argument. If you don't see God on earth, you won't see God in space. If you aren't awed by God's handiwork by watching a sunrise, you won't be awed by the stars in the farthest reaches of the universe. If you don't feel God's love when you do something as simple as take a walk in the woods, you won't feel God's love by solving the most complicated mysteries of the universe. God isn't going to reward us with his glorious presence just because we sent a guy into stop challenging Him to do so. If you don't believe in Him, let it go. Don't tarnish science with your rubbish...what you've done to your reputation is enough.

Do you honestly think that any physical or intellectual discovery we make will impress God? No matter what we discover, but I don't think it's as big a deal to God as it is to some people out there. The greatest thing we could achieve before God's eyes would be loving Him with all our hearts and living a life that will one day make us worthy of attaining sainthood and earning a place in heaven. That's what really matters. Everything else is just another theory in a sea of potential thesis defense topics.

In any event, being one that believes in God having a sense of humor, I can imagine God chuckling a bit whenever we discover something He figured out way before the Big Bang.

Pax Vobiscum

Apparently I'm a Mindless Catholic

"There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be."  Fulton J. Sheen

I found out that I can get pro-life license plates in NJ today. As you may know, I already have a pretty prolife car named Gandalf. Therefore, the addition of this license plate makes sense and the money goes towards abortion alternatives such as free maternity care and services within New Jersey. This sounds like a pretty noble cause, right? Naturally, I should be able to find the right site to sign up for the plate...right? The NJ Motor Vehicle people must have a quick and easy way to access these license plate forms....right? Well, NO. It was easier to find information for square dancer plates than it was the choose life plates. I'm serious. Fortunately Children First was pretty user friendly when it came to getting the process started for those plates. However, before I resorted to finding the website for this organization in the church bulletin, I thought it would be easier to Google it...than type it in. Boy was I WRONG.

I go online and attempt to find some easy-to-use link for the plate....never happened. I ended up having to type in the website using the church bulletin....but only after finding myself knee-deep in some of the most hateful and misinformed threads regarding this license plate's message and pro-life people like me. It's funny how being "pro-life" automatically makes me mindless, Catholic, anti-women, anti-healthcare, anti-all-that-is-right-and-good-in-the-world. I'm also a hypocrite who supports the death penalty and refuses to adopt children. Apparently,  I also don't know anything about stem cell research, modern medicine, etc because apparently, I follow a church full of crooked padres that is still in the dark ages and bent on keeping people oppressed and dimwitted.


Well, to be fair...all these hateful and incredibly biased people did get one thing right...I am Catholic. Everything else, however, is rubbish. To sum up their arguments against the pro-life crowd...well, it was all just a ridiculous series of rants that would induce a facepalm from anyone...even Archbishop Fulton Sheen. I can't even tell you how tempted I was to school all these trolls and show off just how much of a badass Catholic science geek I am...However, these people seem to want just that. There's no point in justifying who I am and what I stand for when it comes to these people because they will only hear what they think may help their cause. If they don't hear it....well, they twist your words until they get what they want out of them.

"Why are those who are notoriously undisciplined and unmoral also most contemptuous of religion and morality? They are trying to solace their own unhappy lives by pulling the happy down to their own abysmal depths."  Fulton J. Sheen

I hate the mass generalizations...I hate the prejudiced names these "brave" but anonymous souls give themselves when they post...I hate how stupid they try to make people like me look. I hate how they try turning pro-life and intelligent into two mutually exclusive categories. If I wanted to, I could sink to their level and come up with my own mass generalizations regarding the typical "anti-lifer." However, then I remember the words of one of my favorite satirists of all time..."All generalizations, including this one, are false." Good old Mark Twain must have had these anonymous internet fools in mind when he came up with this gem. Therefore, as much as I want to sink to the uber-cranky pro-abortion crowd level sometimes by giving in to my anger...I think about the damage I would do to the good fight...and let it go. Perhaps those who are on the fence about abortion will see some of the irrational and uber-cranky comments left by these "anti-lifers."

To be fair, there are pro-life people out there who are just as bad as the uber-cranky pro-abortion crowd....and do more damage to our cause than good. This,however, is just another reason for me to do what is right and continue to use truth as my weapon of choice. Well, maybe I will use truth laced with sarcasm and geekiness....since I'm a pro at using these as weapons.
I will smite their lies with a sword of truth, the sarcasm of a pirate, and the geekiness of...a parrot? 
Okay, confession time:
Almost all of my photographs and artwork are on Facebook and not my computer.
 I'm running out of jpgs and am working with what I got at this point. 
Once Lent is over and I'm back on Facebook, images will become more relevant.

Christ didn't need petty anger get the best of him when he sought to educate the masses. Righteous anger, sometimes. Petty anger, never. Therefore, I refuse to sink to their level...even if I truly am more qualified to talk about stem cell research and the therapies they attempt to explain incorrectly. There is a time and place for a science-based thrashing...but anonymous threads aren't one of them. Don't get me wrong, I do what I can to educate when appropriate. However, nothing I can say (regardless of qualification) will get these people to see the errors in their arguments...or the bias. Also, conventional wisdom tells us that feeding trolls only leads to trouble...especially when it comes to controversy and anonymous threads.

Also, I can't use generalizations and lies to fight for the truth. That would be counterintuitive and my conscience already has more than enough dirt on me to keep me awake at night. If there is one thing I could do to discredit my noble cause, it would be reducing myself to the level of this uber-cranky and incredibly misinformed crowd. Thus, I will simply have to do more research and use truth to fight for the truth.

"If you don't behave as you believe, you will end by believing as you behave." 
 Fulton J. Sheen

Pax Vobiscum

Roses: The toughest lesson I've had to learn

One of the blogs I follow, posted a nice story about "blue roses." The story tells of a man who encounters a special needs child in a store and takes some time out of their schedule to simply have a conversation with this child. I commented on this post, having remembered a similar experience I had in Paris this past summer. This post about roses reminded me of my own mom.

My mom was bipolar. I can't tell you how much I cringe when people misuse this word...because it's a very hard condition to deal with. It really does have to be one of the hardest crosses to bear if you either have this condition or have someone close to you who suffers from it. You really have no idea how hard it is to deal with otherwise. 

Even with this disorder, my mom was one of the most beautiful women that ever walked this world. She had one of the gentlest and friendliest hearts anyone could ever encounter. Anyone who met her was touched by her in some way whether it was one of my friends, teachers, neighbors, coworkers... even the bank tellers loved her and still talk about her. She made friends wherever she went and had the knack of bringing a smile to someone's face. She never hesitated to take pity on others and was an extremely charitable woman who would, without hesitation, spend time with those who needed a friendly face, a shoulder to cry on, or simply someone to listen.  She tended to shovel our elderly neighbors’ walkways on top of cooking, cleaning, working full time, AND raising 3 kids. She was never selfish with her time and did all within her power to help others....often putting others before herself. These, I believe, were her greatest gifts and the reason why so many individuals  still talk of her to this day. Whenever anyone mentions her, it is with sadness that she is gone and sadness about how much she suffered....but also happiness for having known her and joy due to the certainty that she is now in heaven. 

One example of how my mom changed those she met for the better came after her funeral. My mother spent some time in a mental rehabilitation center before she passed away due to a breakdown. You see, even though my mom brought smile to other's faces, there were a lot of people who took advantage of her compassionate heart. There were people who envied her for the immense love others felt for her as well as our family. I mean, we are far from the "Leave it to Beaver" family....but we have always supported one another and respected each other. Well, I guess you can also say that my family is one of those few where all the kids are geeky, good at school, and never disrespectful. There were also people who hated my mom because she was such a hard-working and selfless woman. They did what they could to bring my mom down...and given how empathetic my mom was, it was only a matter of time before it got to her. I know it's hard to imagine that adults could be this cruel to someone with such a good heart. However, when you consider what Jesus was put through before he was crucified...well, it's not too hard to imagine. 

In any event, after the funeral, we found a letter among the dozens of prayer was from someone my mom must have met at the rehabilitation center. You can imagine just how great my mom was from this letter alone. I mean, when you go to a mental rehabilitation place, you go there for yourself. You are supposed to go to a place like this to put yourself first and worry about yourself and your own rehabilitation. And yet, there she was….doing what she did best….putting the needs of others and the pains of others before her own. The person thanked my mom for her all of her help and wanted to stay in touch with her. Even in her troubled times, my mother never ceased to help others and support them.  We did not have the heart at the time to reply to this letter…and I don’t think we ever did given how difficult the news would be on this other person who would have just recovered from their own issues. However, this letter gave us some comfort because it demonstrated just how  much of an impact my mom had had in this world.

If there’s one thing I got out of my mother’s illness, it was the need for compassion. Seeing my mom in her sick states, helped me see just how desperately people need compassion. Yet, these people do not always get our compassion. They get ridiculed, marginalized, threatened, hurt, or just ignored by others. We, as a society, tend to be very unkind to those we don’t consider “normal.” Some of the saddest memories I have are of my mom apologizing to us about her illness. She would apologize for a state she had no control over and she tell us how much she wished she was “normal.” It hurt seeing how sorrowful she was and it hurts me even now to remember the times where I became impatient with my mom’s condition when it did get bad.

Yet, in my mind, my mom was never “abnormal” or “sick.” She was my mom. She was the amazing person who always cared for her children and defended them. She was the woman who made friends everywhere. Her condition was pretty much forgotten by my family whenever it didn’t manifest itself….as difficult as it was when my mom had an episode. I never accepted that my mom was “abnormal” or “sick”….not even when she was experiencing her worst episodes. This was good in one way because it made it easier to accept the diseases, disorders, difficulties of other people in the future (students with Asperger’s, friends with OCD, disabled strangers). In another sense it was hard, because I would sometimes find myself refusing to accept that my mom needed medical attention. It was extremely difficult accepting the fact that I had to call 911 to have someone get my mom help. This was my mom…not some “patient.”

I really hope that there are few children out there who had to experience this type of situation. Yet, I cannot say that there weren’t any blessings in disguise. As I mentioned, I have a great deal of compassion for the disabled, special needs, etc. when our paths cross be they stranger or friend. Another thing was I got a chance to see just how beautiful these people were. I mean, even when my mom was recovering and not quite in her right mind, she continued to do the sweetest things. As a child, I remember visiting her in one of these places. There were doctors everywhere and the place was scary because it seemed very much like a hospital. Yet, when we got there, my mom had already drawn a bunch of pictures for us to color. She also used to save us some tiny cereal boxes from her breakfast…just because she knew we loved those tiny boxes of cereal. Even though she had this terrible disorder, she was still a loving mother and she still did what she could for her children. This is something I've always remembered and cherished....even to this day.
I reserved a ticket for my mom for undergraduate graduation
 and gave her a shout out for my masters graduation (check out my cap)
....tune in later for how I commemorate my mom when it comes to PhD graduation

Ever since my mom passed away, I have taken apart every memory I ever had of her and fit everything into the bigger picture. My mom was and is a saint in every sense of the word even though she had bipolar disorder. Even though we, as a society, tend to look down upon people like my mom due to some medical disorder or other issue….these people are still every bit as lovable and amazing as we are. The simple fact that God created them as they are is enough of a reason to love them, appreciate them, respect them, and accept them as equals. As a result, I strive to be one of those people that do what they can to ensure that these people see a little bit of this love, appreciation, and acceptance.

Therefore, I do not scorn the old man who feels the need to pass out crumpled pieces of paper with gibberish written all over them to every person on the street in order to save them….my mom could have been the one passing these leaflets out.  I’ve done what I could do to be as patient and understanding as possible whenever one of my students had a learning disability….my mom could have been one of these students at some point. I do not hate or treat the homeless like they are beneath me because any one of them could have been my mom…because so many of them have a disability of some sort.  

In so many ways, my mom taught me the true meaning as well as significance of “Love one another as I have loved you.” I can’t thank her enough for this lesson…and I cannot thank God enough for helping me through this tough lesson. 

Pax Vobiscum

Walking with Christ

I had a bit of a scare the other day when I was walking home from the train stop. It was dark out at night, it was a bit late, and I was completely alone. Normally, I am okay walking back on my own...but I was terrified that night. I had spent the day worrying about one thing or another, I was stressed out, I was tired, and I was in need of a good cry considering how many things had gone was one of those days everyone has every once in a while. Part of my walk home was in a "not-so-nice" area and there was a loud group of people within earshot...somewhere behind me. Perhaps this was my fear-induced anxiety speaking....but these people didn't seem particularly friendly either. I used to watch "America's Most Wanted"...and had seen more than my own share of horrible stories on the news recently, so I started getting scared. I imagined that someone in this loud group of people was going to attack me because they were drunk or because they wanted to rob me. I imagined some serial killer jumping out of the bushes to get me. I imagined all sorts of terrible things happening.

As I type this, I cannot help but feel embarrassed at just how I let such irrational fear get to me. However, as irrational as these fears may seem now...they were quite real then.

The best I could do to ease my fears was pray as I walked on through the dark streets. I prayed all sorts of prayers and, in the end, the prayer that brought me the most comfort was a simple prayer that just popped into my mind. I simply just asked Christ to walk with me. I imagined him walking beside me and keeping all terrible things at bay. I've never been one to do these sort of prayers...the "unofficial ones" the ones that simply involve you talking to God and don't involve a recognized all over the Catholic world  "official prayer." I rarely do these "talking" prayers, unless they are coupled with "official prayers" because I am simply not used to simply talking with God.

For some reason, as a young'un, I developed this idea that God was so great, that I was not worthy of talking to Him as I would my family or friends. As a result, I developed this idea that I was not even worthy to pray for myselff. I simply didn't deem myself worthy to pray for myself and so I would pray for others or pray for different circumstances...but never for myself. It seemed too selfish and I seemed too unworthy for it. As a result, I unknowingly distanced myself from God over the years. I mean, I did pray...but it became more of an official duty rather than a conversation of any sort. My relationship with God was no longer a relationship...but some form of routine or duty.

It took me a while to start actually praying in a more personal fashion....with my heart as well as my mind. I still have some issues praying like this, but this experience the other night certainly showed me that I was capable of communicating with Christ on a personal level. As I prayed, I started feeling better. It  felt like he was walking with me and it certainly felt like I had his attention. I found peace and though I was unable to shake away all of my fear, I found that the fear remaining was no match for the comfort and protection being given to me by one who was much greater than I. The experience was amazing and I really wish I could convey in words the relief and steadfast faith I felt as I walked. Someone truly was looking out for me....and making their presence known to me. It truly was incredible. I still don't think I deserved this experience....but I certainly needed it at that time.

Fastforward a night or two.

After the experience I just described, I had a dream. I dreamed that I was standing in a desolate place and there was no one else there except for Christ. He was on his way to the crucifixion and he was walking there alone. He wasn't carrying a cross...but he was still walking towards the same uncertainty, violence, anger, and death. And he wanted me to walk with him. He wanted me by his side. At first I was a afraid. I mean, I really wanted to join him and comfort him in any way, but I did not think myself worthy enough to do so. I really did not think I was good enough to deserve his company. In fact I was almost too ashamed to simply be in his presence. I mean, I am not exactly the most worthy person and not exactly the nicest, most generous, most loving heart at times. That, and I have not been to confession in such a long time...making me even less worthy of being with him. Yet, because he had asked me, I felt that I could, somehow be brave enough to walk with him and simply just be there for him. After all, he was the one who was calling me this time and I could see that he needed me. In my dream, I remembered how he had carried me through my walk home the previous night and how he had relieved so many of my fears. Therefore, after hesitating for a moment or so, I finally plucked up the courage to join him. I took his arm and we walked toward uncertainty together. I cannot begin to describe how happy I felt being there for someone who has always been there for me. It's time I get to a confession booth. 

Agony in the Garden by Carl Heinrich Bloch, 1865

Pax Vobiscum

Let the Children Come to Me

As with most of my more interesting stories, this one begins in the subway. I was on my way back from school (and 5 awesome hours of brain imaging in a darkened room) and I had just thrown myself into the closing doors of a subway car. I normally hate how people do this. However, the fact that I did this today will make me less judgmental next time someone holds up the subway car by doing this. I end up standing by a gentleman  sitting between two adorable boys in yarmulkes. He's joking back and forth with them about how smart they are, threatening to get up in front of the whole train to tell everyone how proud he was to have two boys that are so smart. Meanwhile, they have the embarrassed look on their faces (the one you had whenever your parents did something similarly embarrassing to you) and they are tugging on his sleeves, telling him not to do it. I chuckle. Next thing I know, the dad asks me if I think his kids are smart and I say "I think they're very smart...and I'm a teacher so I know a lot of kids." Next thing I know, I am teaching these kids genetics on the train. The kids turn out to be the most adorable (and extremely intelligent) young men.

At one point, one of the boys says something similar to "Well, next time you come over our dad's place..."
To which I replied, "Oh, I don't think so. Technically, I am still a stranger and you got to be careful with strangers...even me."
Why shouldn't you ever trust me? 
Just look at how I behave in public....

I know that's a pretty strange response to give a child. However, in this day and age (especially for children), you can't be too trusting. The dad did agree with me. As he pointed out...especially after the other son had told me their address...the kids were very sweet and trusting. My top priority when it comes to kids (students, relatives, strangers, etc) is their protection and safety. If there's a kid that gets lost, I will stand by them and console them until their parents are found...preventing any would-be abductors/evildoers from hurting this kid.. I never leave these children ...because you never know what can happen in this day and age. In a similar way, I do what I can to make sure these kids know to protect I did with the boys today. As sad as it sounds, I really hope they think twice before being so talkative with a stranger...even if that stranger appears as nice and trustworthy as I must have appeared to these kids.

I love children, I always have. They're great to be around. They're a lot more optimistic than adults. Their conversations are certainly a lot more imaginative, interesting and, believe it or not...extremely intelligent for the most part. They possess a lot of the creative thinking that tends to disappear with age (except in a few nutty people like me). They are full of  love, trust, energy, and innocence that seems to be destroyed little by little with each misfortune that life brings. Kids simply don't see the world in the same way as all the old, disillusion, and bitter adults. This is due, in part, to their innocence...

Warning children not to trust strangers ultimately leads to some suspicion about adults...and does lead to some loss of innocence as they become more wary of the world around them. However, children still remain (for the  most part) far more innocent than us when it comes to so many things.
"And said: Amen I say to you, unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven."
When Christ tells us we have to be like children to enter the kingdom of God, he know what we're up against. He knows that a third of the angels fell from grace when the devil rebelled against God. He knows that we are weaker than these fallen angels in so many respects. We are mortal, we have never stood before God, and we are plagued by sin from the moment of our birth. How the heck do we stand a chance of getting to heaven if only two thirds of all the angels are till there. How can we possibly be better than the third that fell? How can we possibly achieve something that these other guys lost? I mean...they were angels at one point! We're nowhere near angel how can we ever survive?

Fortunately, Christ also knew what human nature was like when he told us to be like children.

We don't start off bad people. In fact, when we're born...we don't even know how to sin. We're not inherently evil. I mean, yes, there's original sin. However, there is also redemption as well as innocence. Children don't start off wanting to become mass murderers. They aren't born wanting to curse off everyone and their grandma. They don't grow up wanting to steal, cheat, allow people to starve, etc.  Unfortunately, we learn imperfect behavior and tendencies from parents and the environment as we grow up. As we grow older, we become more exposed to all sorts of new sins. As a result, our sins get graver and our souls less child-like as our innocence is lost. One of the gravest effects of this is that we start losing our trust in God.

Yet, as we grow older, we are better able to grasp things a lot there is some hope.
"When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But, when I became a man, I put away the things of a child. We see now through a glass in a dark manner: but then face to face. Now I know in part: but then I shall know even as I am known. And now there remain faith, hope, and charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity."
 As we grow older, our ability to distinguish right from wrong improves. Therefore, choosing right over wrong becomes that much more beautiful in God's eyes....and more meaningful in our own lives. In a similar way, knowing and understanding evil makes sin more damaging to us when we choose evil over good. Repeatedly doing evil with full knowledge of it....even worse. Learning and understanding the 10 commandments before obeying them certainly means a lot more than just obeying them for the sake of obeying them. With knowledge comes more understanding about the "why" behind all of God's laws and Christ's teachings. Knowing the "why" also show us how much sin truly damages our relationship with Christ and how our sin hurts Christ....especially if we understand why Christ was born and why he was crucified.

As we age and understand more thoroughly, our decision of right over wrong becomes all the more significant and meaningful in God's eyes. Think about it. Imagine that eating Taco Bell is the gravest sin you can commit (terrible example...but I can't think of a better one). If you've never had Taco Bell, you can easily abstain from eating Taco Bell. However, imagine that you once had Taco Bell as a rebellious teenager (because these seem to be the best years for being foolish). You repented soon afterward, ran to a confession booth, and were absolved of this sin. After reconciliation, you find yourself thinking about Taco Bell far too often. You thought Taco Bell was delicious and you find yourself craving it more and more as each day goes by. Yet, you continue to abstain from it. I don't know about you, but abstaining from something you've once loved and enjoyed is far harder than abstaining from something you've never experienced. Therefore, I think the sacrifice must mean a lot more.

When Christ tells us to be like children to enter his kingdom, he doesn't tell us to trust the entire world. We are told to trust God. We are told to trust God and have faith in him even after we stumble.When we are told to be like children, we are not told to keep ourselves in a safe, cushioned bubble until the day we die. God knows we'll make mistakes, but he wants us to try our best anyway. We're prone to sin at some point or another...but God knows our potential...and it is great. Yes, children tend to be more innocent than adults and this may help them attain heaven a lot easier than us crotchety, old geezers. However, heaven is still possible for us. We have a harder time trusting in God because we've become disillusioned by so many things. There's people who simply stop believing because they can't fathom "how any loving god could ever let this happen" or because they simply let their faith fade over time. However, there are still so many people who never cease to believe in God. There's even people who still put so much of their trust in God as well. This is truly a beautiful thing...especially if these people have been through a lot of terrible things over the years.

We may never possess the strong faith we've had as children ever again. However, what faith we have remaining is so much stronger in other respects since it has weathered through periods of questioning, the periods of doubt, and the periods of disillusionment. As our faith endures more and more dark times and troubles, we hold onto it a lot tighter. The more we understand over time, the more precious our faith becomes. With this said,  I am sure God gives Brownie points to all sorts of former prodigal sons and daughters who hold onto their faith....even if they can't bring themselves to trust God as easily as they used to when they were children.

Pax Vobiscum

Living Your Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me, some guards, and one of my favorite spiritual, not the axe....The Cross of Saint Benedict around my neck.

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

Pax Vobiscum