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Gingerbread Vatican

I am not too big on making gingerbread houses, and can probably count on one hand the number of gingerbread houses I ever made. This year, however, I came across this lovely masterpiece at Church of Saint Gregory the Great. Yes...allow me to introduce you to the Gingerbread Vatican. 
Just look at those gummy bear saints, the Necca wafer mosaic, the licorice pillars, and the colors! I would have had the husband take more pictures of this spectacular work of edible art, but we wanted to get seats for the Christmas mass that was about to take place. The artist(s) responsible for this magnificent gingerbread art paid a lot of attention to detail. Just look at the frosting water spouting from those fountains and the papal insignia. Also, in the photo below, you can see just how massive this thing is in relation to my mantilla-clad self. Doesn't it just look awesome?!?

I don't care much for gingerbread houses...but I may just be tempted to create my own gingerbread Vaticans in the future.

Pax Vobiscum

Camerado, I give you my hand: A Geeky Review

I finished reading Camerado, I Give You My Hand by Maura Poston Zagrans a week or so ago and I am still talking about it. This book tells the story of Father David Link, a saint-in-training who proves that there are no limits to what we can do in the name of compassion and God's grace. We are often told that faith can move mountains and Father Link's life is proof that this is possible. Though a high profile lawyer and dean of Notre Dame Law School, he always found the time and energy to help the poorest of the poor and the most marginalized of society. 

Camerado is one of those books that shows you just how much is possible for those who seek to live out Christ's command to love one another. Before entering the priesthood, Father Link had everything a man in his standing could want. He had married his high school sweetheart, been a loving father, worked for a prestigious law firm, served his country, and made quite a name for himself as dean to one of the most prestigious law schools. All of these things were good in and of themselves, but Father Link demonstrated that more is needed and possible for people willing to serve God and his neighbors.

While reading this book, I grew acquainted with Father Link and the people he has helped in his prison ministry. I'm a big fan of The Shawshank Redemption, so the only way I can describe him is to compare him to Andy Dufresne. Unlike Dufresne, however, he is a priest whose retirement plan consists of seeking out convicted murderers, drug dealers, thieves, etc. and turning their lives around. He understands the needs of these prisoners and seeks to fill the voids that led these men to a life of crime. He acts as a priest, a mentor, counselor, teacher, and even as a family member to so many people who are simply in need of a powerful and positive role model in their lives. In this book, you get to see the kinds of changes Father Link creates by simply serving God behind prison walls. 

I can't tell you how many times I teared up when reading this book or how many times I got the chills. I can tell you, however, that it was a very good read. I had a tough time putting it down and I have been inspired by Father Link's example. I lack Father Link's people skills, but this book demonstrates that there is so much we can do for our fellow man regardless of how busy we may be and what skills we may or may not possess. In short, this book has the potential to change your life if you feel that you are stuck in the doldrums. It may prove to be a great catalyst if you have ever been called to serve your fellow man and been unsure of where to start or what you could do. 

I was offered a free copy of Camerado, I Give You My Hand for review. The opinions and thoughts expressed in this review are my own.

Pax Vobiscum

I Blame Padre Pio

I'm a Cradle Catholic who has gone to mass pretty much every Sunday (and sometimes other days as well) for my entire life. I can probably count up all of the times I brought up the gifts on one hand. Maybe once or twice I was a cute enough kid to bring up the gifts during mass with a sister or parent. Maybe once or twice as an adult with my fellow mantilla-wearing sibling. In the last two weeks or so, my husband and I were called to bring up the gifts twice. TWICE. 

I partially blame Padre Pio for this. The rest of the blame falls on God's profound love for me.
Padre Pio, Pray for Us!

The first time we were called to bring up the gifts was during a weekday mass that we made it to by the skin of our teeth. We both work in the city and I work way more overtime than a normal person usually works because there are no PhD candidate labor laws as far as I know...but such is life when you are attempting to generate data and get the HPLC monster to work properly. This is part of the reason I haven't been blogging so much. The amount of work I have been doing and also a period of self-discovery and change (a prolonged metanoia of sorts...the Greek version of the word).

The mass was a healing mass held by Father Pio Mandato, a Franciscan priest born whose family hailed from Pietrelcina. His family and Padre Pio's family (THE Padre Pio) were good friends and he had received his first communion from Padre Pio. This was not an event I wanted to miss because Padre Pio has been with me for most of my PhD career and has already done his part in making small miracles for me in times of need. He is quite the intercessor for me, so I was compelled to go and receive a blessing with a Padre Pio relic (one of his gloves). Unfortunately, because I am a sinner on a tight schedule...I was not able to go to confession right before the mass. Neither had my husband. Both of us were called to a mass where we would be unable to receive. It was awful knowing that we could not participate fully. It was as if we lived in Christ's time, were invited to have dinner with him, and found out last minute that we weren't able to sit at his table after all. There really is no way to describe the disappointment unless you have been in a similar position.

So there were were, sitting in the church, feeling sorry for ourselves. One or two of the buttons of my coat had popped off that week and I had substituted an NYC subway-scented pashmina as a chapel veil. Throw in a pair of bummy sweat pants (perfect for lab use, but not for church attire) and a hoodie with thumb holes torn into the sleeves...and you have a pretty good picture of what I looked like in that pew: A hobo who had crawled into a church to keep warm. I probably even smelled like lab rodents. My husband was dressed nicely for work, so we must have been quite a pair. 

As I mentioned earlier, I have been going through a metanoia of sorts. I have been trying to listen to and find God in the long hours, the lack of progress with the HPLC, stress, you name it. I was coming out or about to dive into a long stretch of dry prayer life. These dry spells are great experiences once they are over because they have helped me grow and mature in my faith. They help me understand where atheists, lapsed Catholics, etc. are coming from when we talk faith and they have given me some perspective into the dry martyrdom of many saints who have suffered greatly but not been killed for their faith. 

As beneficial as these dry periods may be, they are pretty rough when you go through them. That week had been a rough one for me.  In the parking lot before mass, I said a quick and very desperate prayer to God, through the intercession of Padre Pio, for a sign...ANY SIGN that God still wanted me and loved me. That sign came when, out of nowhere, one of the ushers asks my husband and me if we want to bring up the gifts. We gave each other a puzzled look and accepted. There were so many people there who were better dressed, less frazzled, and more ready for mass than we were. Some of them were even in a state of grace, having gone to confession like responsible Catholics. 

As unworthy as we felt, God still wanted us to partake in this mass...not just look in on it. It was as if, even though I was unable to eat with Christ...he still invited me into the room where the dinner was set up and still willing to let me serve him. This was BIG. God wants me and loves me...even when I, by human standards at least, am unworthy to be wanted or loved. This is part of the metanoia I keep talking about. I am only now, after 28 years, learning to appreciate the infinite and generous nature of God's love. God is more merciful to me than I am to myself. Than I am to others. Than others are to me. God. Almighty, omniscient, omnipresent, and still willing to love us fully enough to forgive us all the evils we commit if we only take a moment to seek forgiveness. 

To seek forgiveness is to seek God through his love and mercy. Seeking forgiveness requires you to leave pride behind and put yourself at the unfathomable mercy of God. And He never fails to welcome us back. This lesson, in and of itself, has been the hardest lesson for me to learn because I am way too hard on myself. I've always been that way...but God was never that way and He wants us to see that. This is an especially important lesson to start learning in a world that tempts imperfect people to sin and then plasters their sins all over magazines, ridiculing them and refusing to forgive. God's capacity and willingness to forgive is beyond our understanding. He does not love according to our rules or what we deem to be fair. His justice is far more merciful than our justice because it stems only from love and is unblemished by a need for retribution, convenience, or lack of understanding. 

God called me to serve Him, as I was. I was unworthy of receiving him because I was weighed down by sin and felt awful for letting him down. Even so, I saw mercy and love in His call for participation. This love was manifested in a radiant "thank you" from Father Pio as I handed the wine. It was manifested in the radiant expression that Father Pio had on his face as he elevated the Eucharist and looked on it with true reverence and awe. It was also manifested in a realization that even though I  unworthy, God still found worth in me. I was not worthy to receive His Son. However, I was worthy enough to serve a part in the sacrifice and this thought was very humbling. God chose us for this function not because we were worthy, but because He loved us. Nothing that we do will ever make us worthy. We are only worthy because His love makes us worthy. He loved us into existence and it is his love that keeps calling us towards Him even when we falter time and time again.

This past weekend before mass when my husband and I walked away from the Nativity Scene and towards the pew, we passed by the gifts to be given for this mass. A thought occurred to me to ask for a redo, through Padre Pio's intercession. We were both properly dressed and I did not smell of lab animals. I had even sewn some buttons on my coat by then, even though I had not worn it to mass. Most importantly, however, both my husband and I had gone to confession and were ready to receive. As we waited for mass to begin, an usher approached us. Lo and behold, God had listened and He had called us to Him again. God, it seems, believes in second chances and will always continue calling us to Him. 

As for Padre Pio....he has yet to disappoint this extremely bothersome Catholic Geek.

Pax Vobiscum

Voice of Joy Giveaway Winner!

Friar Alessandro of
The Voice of Joy
Congratulations to Suzanne for winning the Voice of Joy Giveaway! I hope to send out the CD soon, once I get an address to ship the CD to.

Suzanne's soul-stirring favorite was O Holy Night...which is a very beautiful song regardless of which version happens to be your favorite. Voice of Joy contains a lovely Italian rendition of this song (O Santa Notte) happy listening!

Thank you to all people who participated in this giveaway. Hopefully more to come in the future!

Pax Vobiscum and a blessed Advent season to all!