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Swear to God: The Promise and Power of the Sacraments (A Review)

Scott Hahn is a theological powerhouse. My first experience with his writing came with his book Swear to God. In this book, Hahn discusses the significance of the sacraments in relation to our everyday lives and our eternal lives.

I am sure there are many books out there discussing the significance of matrimony, the eucharist, God's covenants with man over time, and their significance. However, I do not think that every book out there is written for the average layman or woman who hasn't had extensive theology backgrounds. The simplicity in which Hahn explores the significance and relevance of the sacraments makes this book an easy read even as you find yourself learning more than you expected about ancient Hebrew, traditions, the history of Christianity (and Judaism), the Old Testament, and quite a few big figures in the Bible. As I was reading this book, I found myself making many connections between the sacraments I have celebrated (baptism, Eucharist, confession, matrimony, and confirmation), the life I have lived, and the life I want to live. Upon reading this book, I have come to look upon the sacraments a bit differently and, as a result, have come to live a richer and more faithful life.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has felt their spiritual life growing a bit dry and find themselves wishing for a richer and fuller encounter with God through the sacraments He has given us. I would also recommend this book to anyone who wishes to explore their faith a bit more deeply. You will not be disappointed by the treasures you will find in this book.

Pax Vobiscum

Disclaimer: I was offered a free copy of this book for review by Blogging for Books. All words and views expressed in this review are entirely my own.

My Nativity Scene

I found this nativity set at a cute mom and pop store last year. I fell in love with it and HAD to have it. I love the hues, the shapes of these statues, and especially how they designed Mary. The baby Jesus is attached to the manger, so I don't have the manger up. I'll put that up once Christmas comes around...after all, it is still advent. We still wait. Still, today is special in the sense that it commemorates the beginning of the end of our wait. The conception of the immaculate mother who will one day give birth to the savior of the world. A very joyous feast of the Immaculate Conception to you all! 

Pax Vobiscum

Waiting Through Advent

Psalm 130*

From the depths, I have cried out to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplication.
If you, Lord, were to mark iniquities, who, O Lord, shall stand?
For with you is forgiveness; and because of your law, I stood by you, Lord.
My soul has stood by his word.
My soul has hoped in the Lord.
From the morning watch, even until night, let Israel hope in the Lord.
For with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption.
And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

I am doing a very poor job of keeping with the spirit of advent. I know we are still waiting for Christ and should not be really celebrating Christmas until we've truly learned to appreciate the longing that is associated with Advent...but I've already shopped for Christmas presents. I've got a tree set up. I attended a holiday party today at school, sang an impromptu version "12 Days of Christmas" to my school's dean...while holding a tankard of cider. My lab and I already dressed as the 12 days of Christmas and I somehow was able to turn my "4 calling birds" costume into a Tolkienish getup.

Last night's advent fail began innocently enough. A month or so ago, a kneejerk response to a concert announcement resulted in a ticket to what turned out to be a Christmas-themed show.  On one hand, I definitely failed in accepting a big Advent lesson in anticipation and patience. On the other hand, I crossed something huge off my bucket list last night. 

The bucket list item was seeing Loreena McKennitt** live. 

Don't get me wrong, the fact that the concert was at Carnegie Hall and the fact that the show benefitted the Golden Hat Foundation were big pluses...but the only reason I went out of my way to go to this thing was that this artist very seldom tours in the US....and I am too broke to go to Canada or Europe for one of her shows (were that I could!). Though she sang 4 songs overall, the show was remarkable. It was fantastic not only because I got to see my favorite Canadian songstress, but because there was so much talent on display. The best thing of the entire show was the rendition of Ave Maria by a young girl who was still in 7th grade. It was absolutely beautiful. Perfection, even. And even though I cheated on the spirit of advent by attending a Christmas moved me. 

Have you ever gotten chills hearing music? Have you ever heard something that moved you to tears for an inexplicable reason? Have you ever found yourself marveling a the transcendent nature of a full orchestra or choir ensemble? My goodness, when I hear so many people making music with instruments and/or voices in a synchronized manner...all I can think about is choirs of angels glorifying God through song. Orchestras and choirs are truly amazing reminders of the beauty that can be achieved when people work together toward a common goal.

These past weeks, we have been given hope for the reunification of the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church. Pope Francis and the Patriarch Bartholomew are setting in motion something that is certainly bound to bring more glory to God. Reunification. Now that is something I would love to live to see. Like the prophet Simeon, we have been given the gift of a glimpse of the things to come in the future. I am thankful for this small crack of hope that's starting to break away at the walls separating us from our Eastern brothers and sisters. Still, I cannot help but feel a yearning for peace, a yearning for that member of the family to return. 
Papst Franziskus in Istanbul 30.11.2014
Image Credit
All things, I know, are done in God's time. I am working on simply trusting God for things that take longer for completion. Patience is a lesson that I am still learning and I have some way to go before I truly accept it in a way that will allow me to simply be still and know that God will take care of it all in His own time. I may live to see the reunification, but it is also more than possible that it will not occur in my lifetime. I simply have to wait an have faith. I suppose we have to come full circle now in the spirit of Advent...because it is all about waiting, knowing that something great is going to happen a few weeks from now. We aren't supposed to cheat on this wait with holiday parties, etc...but we also should not spend all of Advent simply waiting. We are not a waiting people. We are a people that prepares as we wait. Advent is our chance to prepare ourselves for Christ's coming. We are to renew our faith, to grow in charity, and to cleanse our souls through the sacrament of reconciliation as we wait. 

Advent is a reminder to us of how long our ancestors had to wait for their savior. In some ways we lucked out having been born this age as opposed to several thousand years before the birth of Christ. There's a lesson in the words of longing you come across in the Old Testament, the words of the prophets that were told about a redeemer they would never see during their time on earth. Hopefully one advent I will get it right and simply wait without spoiling myself with pre-Christmas celebrations. This is tough but more than possible.

I just have to try harder. 

Pax Vobiscum


*For the lovers of  Latin, I give you Psalmum 130:

De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine;
Domine, exaudi vocem meam. Fiant aures tuæ intendentes
in vocem deprecationis meæ.
Si iniquitates observaveris, Domine, Domine, quis sustinebit?
Quia apud te propitiatio est; et propter legem tuam sustinui te, Domine.
Sustinuit anima mea in verbo ejus:
Speravit anima mea in Domino.
A custodia matutina usque ad noctem, speret Israël in Domino.
Quia apud Dominum misericordia, et copiosa apud eum redemptio.
Et ipse redimet Israël ex omnibus iniquitatibus ejus.

**Not everyone out there has heard of Loreena McKennitt, but I LOVE her music. I've loved it ever since 1998, when Ever After came out and one of the trailers sampled McKennitt's The Mummer's Dance (see video). I was hooked. I was 13 and these were the days before the internet, but given my ability to remember music I fall in love with, the bit that was sampled in the commercials played in my head off and on over the years until the advent of internet music and Pandora. Pandora allowed me to finally put a name to the song I had heard so many years ago and I have purchased every album since (on sale, of course). 

My Catholic Posse

Some people collect baseball cards of players they like. I collect medals of saints I want to be like. And I carry all of these in my wallet at all times. I should note that I also have a coupon book full of saint cards and a shoebox full of pamphlets, cards that don't fit in the coupon book, booklets, and other materials. Because that is simply how I roll. We are going to need all the help we can get trying to get to heaven and the saints definitely want to help us get there. They know the steep path we have to climb to make it to holiness, and they will certainly help you get there if you are willing to ask for help.


Registration has opened for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in September 2015. Do your soul a favor and register for this wonderful event (which will feature Father Robert Barron as a key note speaker). I have already bothered the husband about registering (fees are about $125 for those over the age of 18). There is a chance you may see the Pope if you attend. That in and of itself is a good enough reason for me! Check out the website for more information:

Pax Vobiscum

I Dream of Churches

Today is the feast of the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, which was consecrated in the year 324AD. This church, a Catholic church, is older than pretty much all of the Christian denominations out there. Let that sink in. This church is older than the United States of America by over 1400 years. Let that all sink in. This church outlived the Roman Empire, the British Empire, and more battles, unstable economies, plagues, wars, famines, and other natural disasters than any of us can imagine (excluding historians). Great civilizations have risen and fallen into obscurity in these 1600 odd years, and this church has withstood all this time.

The pyramids of Giza and other very old man-made structures have also withstood the test of time...but the people that built them, worshiped in them, and once lived near them have disappeared. Though the face of the Catholic Church has changed drastically over the years, its people remain. Its people continue to sweep the floors of St. John Lateran, and its people have brought Christ to just about every corner of the world. The same Christ present in the tabernacle of St. John Lateran is also present in every other tabernacle of the world. It is a testament to the constancy of the church founded by Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit. Had it been a purely human venture, St. John Lateran would have disappeared under the rubble of countless civilizations that have swept through Europe and disappeared with time. Its floors would have gathered dust and crumbled over time, or been swallowed by nature like some of the temples you find in the forests of Cambodia.

Whenever I enter an old Cathedral with a vibrant parish, I feel at home. I feel peace. I feel God's constant presence. There is something so transcendent about the tall arches....the myriad of colors reflected by the stained glass....the aroma of wooden pews that have been infused with the aroma of centuries-worth of incense, the ethereal sound of bells echoing from cavernous ceilings too high to be touched by human hands...

Suffice it to say, there are no words that can describe the powerful experience of walking through a cathedral and admiring all it has to offer. The closest thing to this experience was Fr. Robert Barron's Catholicism series.

I have dreamed of cathedrals and churches for years. I have dreamed of walking through them, partaking in masses with everyone from the Pope to Anne Rice. I have met strangers in these churches from all over the world and I have experienced art that is simply ethereal. One particular cathedral that comes to mind had stained glass windows several stories tall with brilliant hues. One of these windows depicted the Virgin Mary reaching down from heaven to bring people to her son and to God. The image used forced perspective to make her appear three dimensional. If you stood right beneath the image of this woman with a deep blue mantle and serene smile, you were presented with a heavenly scene. Behind the woman reaching down for you stood the Father, the Son, and the Holy spirit between them.

In my dream, I admired the stained glass image from the western end of the Cathedral (the window was on the east) and from right beneath it. Impossible as it was, at both positions, the image was just as remarkable. Standing right beneath it, you saw a three dimensional hand reaching out for you. An optical illusion like this one would require the image to be stretched out (much like the remarkable sidewalk art below) in order for the image to appear three dimensional if you were to stand beneath it.

Nativity scene by Kurt Wenner
Viewed at correct position
Notice 3D effect due to forced perpective

Same Nativity scene by Kurt Wenner
Viewed from another position
Notice how everything is stretched out
 Yet, when you stood away from the window, the image was perfectly proportioned so that it appeared no different than the standard stained glass image (save for the brilliant hues of the glass, which were otherworldly). I cannot even imagine how a masterpiece like this one could be designed by human hands as it defies too many rules. Not even the best optical illusionist on earth could ever construct something as impossible and beautiful as this window (though Kurt Wenner does come close). I know I could never draw or paint an image that could do this window justice. It is possible that this image was simply the product of some neurons firing in my brain. It is also possible that there was some divine inspiration involved. I'm leaning towards this possibility simply because I cannot believe that a random firing of neurons can create such beauty.

Whether purely neuron-based or divinely inspired, perfection like this could only be found in dreams, at least in the present world. There may be a day when the prophetic words of the prophet Ezekiel will be realized by the hand of God, allowing for the cathedrals of my dreams to come into physical existence. Until then, I will have to be satisfied with the ethereal beauty of the cathedrals that are built by men that allow God to work through them and guide them through the ages as He has done for millennia.

Pax Vobiscum

Why God Invented the Internet

Pope Francis made some comments some time ago that did not make sense until relatively recently. I refer, of course, to his thoughts on the internet.

"The internet, in particular, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity."
"This is something truly good, a gift from God."- Pope Francis

I'm old enough to remember a world before and after the internet. My first impression of the internet was not a good one. I remember learning of a neighbor whose wife had met someone in a chat room and then walked out on her family to be with that person she met online. I remember the paranoia people had regarding online purchases, sharing information, pornography, stalkers, etc. Even though I've found a lot of pros over the years (access to scientific journals, ebooks, e-libraries, up-to-date news, social media helping me stay in touch with friends), the internet can still be a scary place. If you read any given comment box (the cake comment apocalypse here is a good example), you know what I am talking about. So I will admit that I raised an eyebrow of skepticism when Pope Francis made these comments. 

Then I came across this...

....and my mind was blown. 

In this video are Carmelite nuns from all over the world, joining their voices to sing a remarkable rendition of "Nada te Turbe." This song, based on a poem by St. Teresa de Avila, was compiled to celebrate the 500 year mark since St. Teresa's birth. I cannot even imagine how much work the Virtual Musicians Group put into organizing such a beautiful montage of religious sisters coming together across time and space to create a virtual choir. This! This is a gift!

For a a few minutes, I had a clear vision of what heaven must sound like with so many beautiful voices coming together to sing a song of praise. Pope Francis was right. When the internet is used for things like can truly become a gift from God. 

They also have another song up, Salve Regina! Only this choir contains the beautiful baritones and tenors of the Carmelite Friars that took part in this endeavor. 

Such beauty! Such glorious beauty! This was so beautiful, I had it playing when I was alone in the lab last weekend or so. Okay, maybe I was blasting it...but it was definitely worth it and I would have loved to have someone walk in on me listening to this as I sorted through brains. Don't judge. 

Pax Vobiscum!

Eventide Review and Giveaway!

I got an email some time ago, asking me to check out Voces8 new album Eventide. Though I was not familiar with the British group Voces8, I was intrigued by some of the song titles and decided to look the group up. After checking out their site and learning more about them, I decided to give their album a try. I was not disappointed. 
Track list to Eventide:
1. Te lucis ante terminum
2. Hymn to the Fallen
3. Reflexionem
4. Where I sleep
5. The Seal Lullaby
6. Second Eve
7. Quanta qualia
8. Underneath the stars
9. Locus iste
10. Corpus Christi Carol
11. Benedictus
12. Os justi
13. Steal away
14. Ave Maria
15. O magnum mysterium
16. Te lucis ante terminum

I keep a pretty open mind when it comes to choirs and ecclesiastical music. Even so, I do not always like the voices or style of every choir group I hear. I can be pretty picky when it comes to classics like Ave Maria or Te Lucis. Yes, the lyrics to these songs are the same regardless of the version of the song you listen to...but these songs can be anything from unbearable to ethereal, depending on how the voices and music come together. Albums like this one can be awful, okay, or simply ethereal...lifting your spirits so that you feel that much closer to heaven. As much as I hope for the latter experience when checking out albums like this one, I know better than to have high expectations for choirs that I am not familiar with.

Well, I put the album on and proceeded to get some work done. I figured that I would try out a few songs and go from there. Well, the album played on until the end and I was well into a replay of the album before I even realized how much time had gone by. The voices were lovely, the selection of songs delightful, and it was a great listen overall. The emphasis of this album is the collection of voices and how they can work together to create beautiful renditions of the songs listed above...not so much about the instruments that can be used together with these voices. The voices of Voces8 work beautifully together and are absolutely heavenly (and very relaxing). Keep this album on as you read, as you toil away on your computer, or as you savor a nice glass of wine at the end of a long day. If there's any padres out there, a few of these songs would be a great addition to any Eucharistic Adoration events you may plan in the future.

In short, try out the will not be disappointed.

With that said, I was offered a copy of this album for a giveaway here. I think I will make this one easy. Comment here or on my Facebook page, tweet (follow me at @catholicscigeek), or email me  with the title of your favorite ecclesiastical classic and you will be entered into a random drawing for your chance to win a copy of this album. This contest is open to anyone in the United States. I will announce the winner a week or so from now. I will contact the winner and send out the album once I get an address and once I am able to get to a post office in NYC.

Best wishes and pax vobiscum!

Liturgical Cuteness!!!

Brandon Vogt's son Isaiah is at it again....and is just as adorable as ever playing mass. I can't handle the cuteness of this tiny padre-in-the-making...and the outtakes are priceless! Check it out!

All I can say is that the Vogts are definitely doing this whole Catholic parenting thing right! There is so much beauty in the mass, and it lifts my spirits knowing that there are children out there who can still see the mass with the same wonder I used to have when I was young. According to Brandon, the mass kit seen can be purchased at Our Father's House. Dare I say, a great investment for anyone with kids as excited about mass as this one.

Pax Vobiscum

I Know Iraq Will Be Okay...Eventually

A long time ago, in 2003 on the night before the US invasion of Iraq, I had a very vivid dream that I still remember now. In this dream, I was standing in the middle of Iraq. It was barren and covered in the darkness of night. From where I stood, I could see every border of the country surrounding me through the darkness. I was alone. I then saw the northern end of the country catch on fire. This fire quickly spread. Eventually, every line of this country's perimeter was on fire. The flames grew tall and I grew afraid. I considered leaping over the flames before they grew too high, but the fire spread too fast and I was soon trapped on all sides. My mind went back and forth, trying to find an escape. Could I dare try running through them as fast as possible? Could I try jumping over them? Would I suffocate or burn if I stood where I was? I was alone, so no one could help me. Yet, even as the fire grew around me, it did not touch me. Even as it threatened to cover the entire nation, I was untouched. I was so scared, but it did not engulf me as I feared it would.

At the time of this dream, I was a high school student with a mind that had just digested books like 1984Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451 as well as more war histories than any teenager should ever really read. I thought I knew everything and I thought my president was an idiot for going to war over a bunch of blurry satellite pictures of "weapons of mass destruction" while ignoring the heavily armed nation of North Korea that was constantly killing its own persecuted people and sending rockets into South Korea. I got in a bit of trouble one day for wearing a backpack with a small sign attached to it saying "This war is all Bush" with the letters "l," "l," "i," and "t" artfully arranged into the sign so that it ultimately can imagine. I was asked if that's what I really thought of the whole thing. I said yes. Keep in mind, this was 2003 and the nation was still, in some ways, reeling from the September 11th attacks and demanding retribution. Now that's something you don't see in the media these days...the sentiment of the nation that allowed Bush to declare war. I don't think we would have allowed him to declare war in Iraq if September 11th had never happened and so I can never fully blame him or Cheney for the events that transpired in Iraq and Afghanistan in the years to follow. All things considered, as much as I wanted Iraq to be free from Hussein, I did not support the war that ensued...and continued to ensue in the years that followed.

This dream made little sense to me in the years that followed....but I never forgot it. It is still vividly imprinted in my mind and I keep thinking about it now because it is finally starting to make sense. I told my husband so a few weeks ago as more and more news of beheadings, crucifixions, and murder came out of Iraq. This dream was not about the US invasion...but of the consequences that would come with it. It is the Christians and other religious minorities that are currently trapped in Iraq with enemies on all sides, threatening to suffocate their faith with their destruction. Yet, even with all the violence and senseless murder, no member of ISIS can destroy faith. They will destroy until they rule a pile of ashes in the middle of the desert, but they will not triumph. Both scripture and nature tell us that much. To God goes all the victory and every Iraqi martyr is a victory for God if that person's soul is now in heaven. Ultimately, that is what is important. Salvation.

Though the blood of martyrs currently flows over Mosul and other occupied cities, this blood will bring more sanctification if history is any teacher. Remember Rome? Remember the triumph of Christ over Rome though its streets once flowed with the blood of Christian martyrs, the triumph that came after so much destruction and death? Remember the stories of countless missionaries that were killed over the history of the church? Where did each of these martyrs go and how many Christians do you see in these places now? A prime example comes from Pope Francis' recent visit to South Korea. Look at the images of millions on the street, waiting to hear his words! It's hard to imagine that this nation was once the site of martyrdom.
The same Catholic Rome we know today was once home to one of the greatest persecutions of Christians in history.
Read Quo Vadis for more on this scene. It is a wonderful historical fiction that will give you a good idea of what once occurred to countless Christians that suffered under intense persecution.
These Muslim extremists don't realize it yet, but they are on a path to self-destruction. The death they bring now is the death of their own twisted faith. Their actions blaspheme the God they claim to serve...but these actions, awful as they are, will ultimately make Iraq a Christian nation. God does not operate on our time, he is far too patient for that. We see only fire and ashes now...but he sees the results of a great forest fire. The land that was once barren will be made fertile again and from these ashes will grow a forest from the seeds of every tree that crafted into a cross. We must decrease while he must increase. We may not see the renewal that will come to this land in our lifetimes, but it is coming. Even those who don't believe should know enough about history to know that persecutions ultimately lead to great conversions. It may take tens or hundreds of years for Iraq's lands to be renewed, but it is coming.

We may see fewer and fewer Christians in Iraq right now...but God has plans for those that remain. He has plans for those in Iraq who may not be Christian, but happened to witness the bravery of those who died in the name of Christ. Perhaps these witnesses will feel the presence of God now whenever they pass through a site where Christian children, the Holy Innocents of today, were slaughtered. Then will they know that there was something about the faith that these children died for...something that was lacking from the faith that was twisted by these militant extremists. Maybe they will convert in secret. Maybe they will baptize their children as Christians. Maybe their neighbors will do the same. Maybe more and more people will realize that there was holiness in the Christian martyrdoms that we are witnessing today. Maybe the sites of these horrific beheadings and deaths will one day become pilgrimage sites and shrines dedicated to these martyred saints. ISIS may feel that these horrific deaths will scare us into submission. However, I feel that the gruesome nature of these murders will only make it harder for the martyrdom of these Christians to be forgotten.

The true enemy of Christianity is not death. The true enemy of Christianity is the lukewarm complacency that comes from forgetting. When we remember the people that have fallen for our own salvation and for our own freedoms as Christians, we cannot help but become better Christians. We cannot help but be more committed to our faith when we remember the heavy sacrifices that came with it.

Do Your Part to Help Iraqi and Syrian Refugees!

I may be a broke PhD student but know well enough that my situation is nowhere near as bad as that of our persecuted brothers and sisters in dire need of material help like food, water, shelter, medicine, etc. Please consider making a donation to this organization or to others that are currently on the ground, providing much-needed aid to Iraqi refugees.

Please, please, please consider giving a monetary donation as well as prayers. Any dollar amount you give is sure to be life-saving in some way. These people have little to nothing as most were forced to flee genocide with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Almsgiving is a big part of what it means to follow Christ and what you do for the least of His do for him. I've made a donation and will have to cut back on a few things in order to afford making this donation....please consider doing the same! They desperately need our help NOW! 

The US is finally helping these people 2 MONTHS after these atrocities started...and as wonderful as it is that our nation and others are finally helping...the need of these refugees is far greater and more immediate than the help currently promised to them. If you have been on Twitter lately, you know that Pope Francis is calling upon us to help these modern-day martyrs....what better way to help than helping a charity like Church in Need USA. This charity and others like Catholic Relief Services is currently on the ground, providing much-needed assistance to our persecuted brothers and sisters in Iraq. Whatever you can afford to give...please give...even if it means tightening the budget a bit! 

Pax Vobiscum

To All the Amazing Priests Out There....THANK YOU

To all of the priests in my life....THANK YOU.
Thank you for sitting through hours of ugly-cry confessions by people like yours truly.
Thank you for the countless hours of migraines and tired eyes resulting from the studying of St. Thomas of Aquinas' Summa Theologica just so you could teach us about God and faith.
Thank you for always making openings in your schedule for people in dire need of help.
Thank you for sitting though extremely awful "come as you are" choir performances.
Thank you for accepting the sacrifices that come with accepting the vocation of "He must increase; I must decrease." (John 3:30)
Thank you for comforting parishioners in time of grief.
Thank you for accepting the heavy cross that comes with "in persona Christi."
Thank you for defending the faith in a world that would rather attack a priest rather than accept uncomfortable truths.
Thank you for leaving your loved ones to become a minister to strangers in different lands.
Thank you for continually defending life.
Thank you for giving up on biological fatherhood in order to become a father to all.
Thank you for changing my life and helping me during my faith journey.
Thank you for ministering to the poor, the sick, and downtrodden.
Thank you for bringing so many souls closer to God...even if it means having to stay up late writing homilies.
Thank you for helping so many people grow in my faith.
Thank you for selflessly giving up so much time for spiritual direction.
 Thank you for continuing the work of Christ and his apostles...even in a world that hates you.
Thank you for accepting this hate with grace.
Thank you for accepting and standing up for immigrants, illegal or otherwise, who may not have a welcome home beyond the Church.
Thank you for inspiring people to find the transcendent in a greedy, self-centered world.
Thank you for learning new media in order to better engage the young and tech-savvy.
Thank you for fighting for us. I don't think many people truly appreciate the spiritual attacks you deal with as you strive for holiness.
Thank you for celebrating would literally be impossible without you and others like you.

We don't often thank the padres in our lives for the sacrifices they made and the hard work they put into saving I am taking the opportunity here to thank them and to encourage young men out there to take the plunge with regards to priesthood. I was very fortunate to have known so many wonderful priests throughout my faith formation. I have truly been blessed with some very great role models growing up and hope that I can one day pay it forward to all the great priests I've known.

My sister had the opportunity to sit beside a bunch of great seminarians during her time as a student of theology...and the stories she'd come back with were great. There were a lot of fine men in her theology classes and some of these fine men will one day be fine priests. It is hard for any young man to accept a call to priesthood and the world makes this journey even harder. It takes a lot of sacrifice, A LOT of studying, and A LOT OF COURAGE. Even if your family isn't behind you, seek God when He calls you. Pray, discern, visit the seminaries, seek answers to your questions, and "be not afraid."

I am of the belief that God knows what He's doing when it comes to increasing or decreasing vocations over the years. Better a few good priests than a plethora of false prophets leading sheep astray. With this said, I do believe St. JPII was right in announcing that this is "a new springtime in the Church." God is awakening hearts out there in this spiritually starved world...and He is calling for men to consider priesthood. He is calling for vocations. He is calling for more priests.

Father Barron (an AMAZING priest that has shaped my faith even though I've never had the opportunity to meet him) has created a powerful documentary "Heroic Priests" that I encourage all priests (and all potential priests) to check out. Please take a look!

Priesthood is an amazing vocation that gives you the ability to use your talents (whatever they may be) to bring souls to heaven. What better way to serve God than by helping Him with his plentiful harvest.

Pax vobiscum

ن (Nūn) Shirt Giveaway

My heart is breaking for the Christians and other religious minorities that are being brutally murdered or forced to leave their homes, monasteries, churches, etc under penalty of death. People are literally being crucified in the Middle East right now all for the sake of some militants who have more hatred and stupidity in their hearts than they do the love of God. I cannot even imagine how twisted their minds must be to ever think that they can one day stand before God and explain to Him why they blasphemed His name and slaugtered his children for the sake of greed, ignorance, a "caliphate," and other false idols. As angry and helpless as I feel seeing these atrocities and how little is being done to end them, I cannot sit by and spend too much time condemning.

I will, instead, use my time and energy to help those who are helping the Christians that are under attack, the refugees in dire need of humanitarian aid. uCatholic  is currently selling t-shirts and stickers with the  symbol on them to raise money for relief services for Christians that are currently under attack in the Middle East. I've been praying for these Christians and know that my prayers and the prayers of others will not go unheard. STILL, I want to help them in other more immediately tangible ways (food, shelter, water, medical aid, etc). I know I cannot simply send myself or a box full of supplies to the Christians out there...but I can do my part to support relief services that are already on the ground and in dire need of all the help they can get as more and more refugees flee their homes for fear of death. Each shirt sold will benefit these Christians in two big ways. First, it will provide relief services with some much-needed supplies and services. Second, it will allow you to raise awareness. Let's face it, the news is doing as good a job as ever of avoiding inconvenient truths...and the slaughtering of people for their faith is not as newsworthy to some networks as it should be.

This symbol has become a symbol associated with modern-day genocide. It is the symbol spray painted on the homes of Christians to single them out for death. 
According to uCatholic,"OVER $3,000 RAISED SO FAR for those being persecuted by Islamic Militant Groups who are being identified publicly by this letter written on houses of Christians. Proceeds from your purchase go to relief services for Christians in the Middle East region. Please pray for our brothers and sisters, and wear this shirt as a reminder for others to join us in supporting them."

If we continue to raise awareness to these atrocities, we increase the likelihood that the persecuted Christians receive some kind of aid and that the Islamic militant groups will be brought to justice. I am hoping that more nations step up to the plate by condemning these atrocities and doing more to stop those committing them.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
In an effort to do my own part in raising awareness and funds for those helping the persecuted Christians, I am sponsoring a giveaway for one uCatholic Nun shirt. A winner will be selected at random after a week. I will announce the winner in a week and they will have their choice of shirt size and the shirt will be mailed at no cost to the winner. This is my first real giveaway and I have no idea how to run a decent giveaway on my own so I am employing Rafflecopter to facilitate it. Good luck and please keep praying for peace!!!

Disclaimer: This giveaway is not sponsored by uCatholic. I requested permission from uCatholic to hold this giveaway and was given permission to do so.

Movin' On Up

Looks like New York City is now home to at least 2 more Catholics. Surprisingly, the apartment I moved to is actually bigger than my last place. The good news with this move is that I may be able to blog more often because my 3-4 hour per day commute has pretty much disappeared. I can now roll out of bed and walk to the lab as opposed to roll out of bed, walk to car, drive car to parking lot, walk from parking lot to train station, take train to NYC, take subway uptown, and then walk to lab. Needless to say, the long lab days have gotten that much more bearable. Did I mention that there's a gym downstairs and laundry room a few doors down? One word for you: HUZZAH!

Naturally, I had a rough time trying to find a suitable and affordable place in NYC for years, meeting road
block after road block. In hindsight all of these minor misfortunes turned out for the best and as much as I questioned God's plans for me in the meantime, He ultimately  took great care of me. I'm not going to lie, sometimes it is quite hard for me to leave everything up to Him and it is especially hard for me to feel His presence during some difficult situations where it seems like there is no end of road blocks. During these times, I question and complain A LOT. Without fail, each and every time I ultimately get to see how foolish I had been to despair.
Dat Bridge
One of my aunts once told me that my grandfather used to adamantly petition God and question Him until things fell into place. I really hope that all of my questioning and petitioning means that I have inherited his kind of strong faith. Sometimes it feels like I have. Sometimes it feels like God gives me trials before great moments just so that I can better understand that all things come from Him and I should DEPEND on him for all things. Sometimes it is extremely hard for me to have that kind of faith, the kind of faith that allows me to simply depend on Him and simply trust that he will provide for me. I hope this move will help me reach that understanding.

Speaking of understanding, I finally know why I took all those years of Spanish in high school and not French. I can always learn French at leisure, but I am definitely going to need the Spanish to survive in my particular corner of NYC. I am definitely rusty, but seem to know enough to get around and to procure the things I need from the little bodegas that seem to exist on just about every corner. And then there's the churches around here. It is no secret that they cater to their predominantly Spanish-speaking populous. I love that about the Catholic Church...permanent but always in flux with regards to the changing needs of her flock. I stumbled upon a prayer service here the other night as I searched for a church to call home during my time here. It was in Spanish, there was singing, and there was a strong show of faith. Mantillas, rosaries, prayer books, and lots of families with children in tow. This tight little community of Hispanic Catholics reminded me so much of the Portuguese Catholic community I grew up in. I have no shame in admitting that the experience brought tears to my eyes, hearing the women singing their songs of praise, remembering how I used to sit up there in the front pews singing with my mom in the choir. We Portuguese are a very nostalgic people. We cannot help but cry.

Pax Vobiscum

Don't Pray Like a Parrot

A long, long time ago...back when I had bangs and wore massive sweatshirts to school, my family had a parrot we called "Birdie." We taught this parrot phrases and I even tried to teach this parrot how to pick out playing cards based on numbers and colors. This bird was a bit of a silly genius at times and other times, it could be super creepy. Every Christmas it would see the house decorations and exclaim "HAPPY EASTER BASKET!" and when Easter came, we would get a drawn out and somewhat eerie "Merry Christmas" in a scratchy, baritone voice. In spite of its inability to tell one holiday from another, it learned how to mimic quite a few phrases and sounds, the creepiest of which was the laugh of one of my parents' good friends. For whatever reason, the parrot picked up the habit of trying out this laugh when it was dark and quiet. One minute you'd hear crickets chirping outside, and the next minute you would hear a low-pitched, hollow laugh that belonged in a movie like the Shining and not your typical suburban household.

Some species of parrot, especially the African Grey, can learn to say quite a few things. According to a Benedictine padre in the monastery I frequent, there are two parrots in Sri Lanka that were once housed in a convent. These parrots learned how to recite the prayers of the rosary. This padre made a point that people can sometimes pray like these birds. They can pray mechanically, without feeling or emphasis...or even and understanding of what they are praying. It is impressive when parrots can "pray" like this, but it is not so impressive when people pray like this.

As much as we may hate to admit it, we are sometimes guilty of praying like parrots. In our everyday hectic lives, we may quickly recite a prayer out of necessity or habit without really pausing to reflect on the significance of each word of this prayer...or the significance of even being able to address God as "Father." We may simply recite the act of Contrition during mass more out of habit than piety...simply reciting the words to this prayer without considering the need for reconciliation with God after we sin. I don't know about you, but I know I have been guilty of praying the rosary in parrot mode during those hectic days when I just want to be over and done with my prayers. In these instances, I may not realize it, but I am simply reciting a series of words out of obligation to daily rhythm rather than praying from the heart. We've all been there and we will all reach points in our lives when we turn into prayer life parrots. We are only human.
Image credit:
It is rather sad, actually, when people turn prayer into a simple recitation of a series of words from memory. It is sad because this mechanical prayer business pulls us farther and farther away from God. When you pray like this, you will find it harder to feel God's presence. You will find it harder to feel the power that comes with the Holy Spirit, the power that can flow from God, through you, and to a world in desperate need of miracles and holy people. Miracles can come through devout prayer. They cannot come through rote memorization of words. You can work miracles through prayer if your prayers allow you to orient yourself towards God, if your prayers make your soul stir with an ardent faith. You cannot do any of this if you treat prayer like a mere series of words.

When you pray like a parrot, you mechanically repeat a series of words you have learned. You aren't dwelling on God's word or the purpose that God has given you. You are not really communicating with God as if He were a loving Father. You aren't really talking to Christ in a way that acknowledges his significance in your life. You are simply repeating words without any real emotion, words whose meaning is lost to you. Parrot prayers result in your distancing yourself from God. They turn God into some kind of entity that is too far to reach and too unconcerned with your life. You owe it to yourself to avoid parrot prayer at all costs. Firstly, prayer should not be treated as a magical spell or formula that must be recited daily in order for you to consider yourself in good standing with God. Prayer should allow you to not only converse with God, but to listen to Him as well.

Prayer should make you feel alive. It should lift you to heights that are normally explored by angels if it is a prayer of praise. It should be a transcendent experience that breaks the barriers that currently separate the kingdom of this world to the kingdom of God, allowing miracles to triumph medical impossibilities if it is a prayer of intercession. It should bring you to your knees, knocking the wind out of your lungs if it is a prayer of repentance. This type of prayer helps you experience God being closer to you than the air you breathe. This type of prayer helps you truly experience the company of saints and angels in your everyday life whenever you need their support.

Today, I prayed the St. Michael prayer in a truly powerful, powerful way with a priest. As I prayed, a felt a power rushing over me, a power that could easily vanquish all evil. It was both exhilarating and frightening at the same time. Even though I felt the tranquility of God's peace upon me, my knees were shaking and I was almost breathless as I prayed. There was an emphasis with each word and the priest helped me envision Pope Leo creating this prayer as a defense against the evils of this world. At the end of this prayer, it felt as if I had been exorcised of all the doubts, fears, and sadness that had been afflicting me off and on for the past month or so. At the conclusion of this prayer, I felt a peace that I had not felt in some time. I was strengthened, and the blessings that came with a devout recitation of this prayer were more than tangible. I even ugly-cried...though the priest assured me that even ugly crying was an incarnation of the gift of tears. After experiencing this from one St. Michael prayer, I have resolved to avoid parrot prayers at all costs.

Henceforth, I will try to do the following in order to ensure a faithful, powerful, transcendent, and even mystical prayer life:

1. Focus on the biblical history of each prayer. Put myself in the scripture passages that these prayers were based on and try to envision God's universe as explained by each prayer.

2. Meditate upon the words used in each prayer and the images they evoke. This will help me better understand how normal people like me become saints...and hopefully lead me to a more holy life.

3. Speak with God. I need to speak more extemporaneously and more often. Speaking to God as I would to my dad may help me better appreciate God as Father.

4. Listen to God. This is very important because I do feel that God often sends me warnings and advice in the most unexpected ways. I should trust in God more so that I can better hear Him when He does try to help me through this life.

5. Take my time. I need to take my time with prayer. Rushing through prayer is a one-way ticket to parrot prayer and its consequences. I probably can add hours to my prayer life if I use my time more wisely. Who needs to take pointless online quizzes anyway? We all have time that can better be why not invest it in a better prayer life.

6. Depend on God and trust Him completely. I should pray with a fire in my heart as well as an ardent trust in God. I should pray KNOWING that He will help me in the best way possible...and simply trust in Him when that way does not conform to my own way.

7. Follow the Holy Spirit. If you feel a nudge to give a homeless person $20 while you are praying or conversing with God...then DO IT. God will work great things through you if you give Him a chance.

8 Ask for help. There is an army of saints, angels, and souls in purgatory that want to help us get closer to God. What better way to attain holiness than by asking for the intercession of those who have been in our shoes before. They understand our flaws well and want to help us make it to heaven...even when we may not have heaven in mind. God will help you too...if you open your heart to Him.

9. Pray with Love. The most powerful prayers are the prayers that start with love. Love of my savior on the cross. Love of the poor old woman who sifts through trash cans at Penn Station for recyclables. Love of the weak and vulnerable. Love of family. Love of life. When you pray with love, you pray with Christ because He is love.

10. Pray with feeling. Emotional prayers can be extremely powerful experiences...and what better way to pray than to pray with joy, contrition, etc. You can even ugly cry during prayer. God doesn't mind even the snottiest ugly cry if it heals you, draws you nearer to him, or helps you turn your life around. God made us the emotional beings that we are and what better way to celebrate this than to pray with feeling.

I am sure that it will all get easier once I have more practice, but I think these are good ways to start turning my prayer life into something more meaningful and powerful than my typical subway rosary. I am very excited to move forward in my prayer life and hope that today's experience is a sign of experiences to come.

Pax Vobiscum

Setting the World on Fire

"If we become who God created us to be, we would set the world on fire."
-St. Teresa of Avila
St Teresa of Avila
I want to set the world on fire so badly. I want to ignite hearts and stir souls. I want to inspire others and do great things. I want to become that person I was meant to be. Sometimes I feel like God gave me the spirit of the warrior, the wimpy body of a scholar, and a mind that belongs to an ancient Roman politician. I want to do great things, but then I start thinking and next thing you know...I fall back into the usual routine. Back to reading scientific papers, back to running stats on data, back to slicing brains, back to everyday lab-related "blah." In spite of all of this, I cannot shake off this feeling that I am made for more. I may not yet know it, but I am constantly called for it. This restlessness must mean something. This desire for something else must mean something.

Currently, I just wrapped up year 4 of a PhD program that is most likely going to squeeze out another 1.5-2 years of work from I cannot set the world on fire for another 1.5 to 2 years. Truth be told, I am on the fence about so many things right now. I am on the fence about where I want to be in 5 years, where I should be in 5 years, and how I get there. Do I want to teach? Yes. Who will I teach? I don't I go back and forth between college students, high school students, and middle school students. Where will I teach? I don't know because I may or may not want to try teaching in a foreign country before settling down somewhere. I'm also realizing more and more that I am not the only one that is going to contribute to the decisions taking place in my life. I have a husband now and his needs need to be taken into consideration.

In the long run, I suppose the details don't really matter. The important part is that I want to teach. The important part is that I know that I will set the world on fire as soon as I start teaching.

In the realm of PhD programs, it is generally frowned upon to get a PhD and then go off to a small college or high school to become a teacher. PhD's are trained to become grant-writing machines or to simply go into industry. Surprisingly, industry is also frowned upon even though it is, as a whole,  a far more lucrative option than academia...a strange paradox. There's a bit of a stigma that is associated with careers outside of academia. The idea is that only the best get into PhD programs and only the best PhDs can score a nice job in academia. Anything else is deemed inferior. Even industry, lucrative as it may be, is deemed an inferior career path to academia...if only because the odds are so low for those setting their sights on a career in academia. This mindset is something that I have had to deal with for a few years now and I am finally coming to terms that there is nothing wrong with choosing a different career path. I'm a square peg that simply is not made for a round hole.

So now that I have some idea of how I am to be what I was born to do I satisfy my need to set the world on fire in the next 1.5 to 2 years? I cannot simply drop everything to become a missionary right now...nor can I drop everything and go on a pilgrimage. I cannot disappear from my current life of lab drudgery to teach a classroom of students. Well, on the other hand, I suppose I could do all of these things, but God put me here and kept me here this long for a reason. I know I could not have done it of my own will or even my own talent. I trust that God knows what is best for me even during the times where I feel the most restless. After all, it is in these times where I have learned to be a better, more patient, and even more faithful Catholic.

If you look back to the key moments of your life closely enough, you will begin to see patterns in decision-making, chance, luck, fate, or whatever else you call it. You will start realizing that each stone you hopped on served as an essential part of a bridge that spanned the river separating the place you come from and the place you need to go. The difficulties you experienced 10 years ago made you better able to bear whatever cross you bear now. The times you fell to the ground made you more resilient, more able to prevent yourself from falling again, more appreciative of the good moments.

I may not have set the world on fire during my time in graduate school, but I've become better able to be the person I was born to be. I don't think I have ever had it as rough as I have had it for the past 4 years. The stress, the medical issues, the failures, etc. took their toll on me and changed me. Strangely enough, I have changed for the better. I have become more resilient, more humble, and more empathetic. My faith has been strengthened in a way that I never thought possible and I have probably done more good in this time than I ever did as a complacent-bordering-on-apathetic teenager and young adult.

The restlessness is almost painful sometimes, but this is all a test to ensure that I am ready to set the world on fire when my time comes...

Pax Vobiscum

Walking with Mary: A Geeky Review

If you consider faith a journey, then I really recommend Edward Sri’s Walking with Mary: A Biblical Journey from Nazareth to the Cross. It provides you with a path that will allow you to explore the sights that many people (myself included) typically pass by without a notice. In this book, we see the path of Mary, the mother of God. The subject of Mary is one that is typically avoided by most Christian denominations. We may see her in the nativity set during Christmas, but she typically disappears for the rest of the year. She is certainly more present in Catholicism, but even Catholics tend to overlook many of the details of Mary’s life that are present in the Bible. As a result, we lose a very valuable series of lessons that we could learn if we were to walk the path that Mary walked from the annunciation to her queenship in heaven.

In this book Sri offers a richer understanding of the moments in Mary’s life that played such a central role in the history of salvation. He incorporates the writings of saints like Pope Saint John Paul II to draw us deeper into the life of Mary so that we can use her as an example of how Christians are to embrace God’s will and live our lives with humility and steadfast faith. Sri takes these writings and weaves them together with tradition and history to give us a personal introduction to Mary, an introduction that allows us to familiarize ourselves with Mary, putting us in her shoes and allowing us to view her as a role model that we can relate to. 

Sure, the world was a lot different two thousand years ago, when most of the events in the New Testament took place…but there are feelings, experiences, and lessons that transcend time and culture. In essence, you can read this book and get to know Mary and learn how you can follow her footsteps toward holiness. Each chapter introduces you to a moment in scripture in which Mary serves as an example for all Christians, it draws you deeper into life as Mary saw it, as she experienced it. You find yourself relating to moments in her life, moments of sorrow as well as moments of grace. By helping you identify with Mary in these moments, Sri makes it easier for you to look to Mary as an example of how to confront difficult trials as well as joyful things like motherhood.

All in all, this book was a very delightful and inspirational read that is sure to help you on your path to holiness. I would highly recommend this book to all women, especially those who have come across difficult, trying times and those who are at a stage in their life where they feel they are at some kind of crossroads. The structure of this book makes it a wonderful book to read prayerfully as each chapter provides excellent material for meditation on Mary’s life.

Disclaimer: I was offered a free copy of this book for review by Blogging for Books. All words and views expressed in this review are entirely my own.

Pax Vobiscum

Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen Knows What's Up

I put on "Day After Tomorrow" last night because it happens to be hilariously awful. Whenever there's a storm outside, snow delays on NJ Transit, or a weather-related closing of can count on me to reference the movie or break out with a quote from the movie. I start watching it last night and it hit me...the crazy that I laughed at is all too real in the present times when too many fools have podiums and too many fools have their own TV shows. Everything from sports to weather to health to entertainment is chock-full of information that is questionable but still shoved down out throats whenever we want to do something as simple as read a newspaper or catch up on weather. I mean, we've all seen how good the media is at fanning the beginnings of mass hysteria by beating the dead horse-of-the-week with panels of experts, tell-all interviews, recreated events, details at 10, more details at 11, speculation at 12, and irrelevant factoids at 12:30. 

I don't know what it is about the world today, but people seem to have lost the ability to simply THINK for themselves before jumping to the same conclusions that are constantly transmitted to them by celebrities, politicians, and media name it.

STILL...not all hope is lost.

If you have ever gotten tired about the back and forth of "butter/gluten/soy/eggs/etc are good/bad for you" are catching on to something. If you have ever found yourself researching the study that is allegedly behind the latest "eat __________ each day to ensure long life" are catching on to something as well. If you've blocked status updates from that friend that keeps posting those "all you need is (insert unrealistic daily allotment of vegetable X here) to cure cancer," you are on to something too. We are all up to something. We are coming to the realization that the world is out of its mind and that science as well as reason have been hijacked by special interests, fools, or the dangerous combination of fools with special interests. 

What can we do to remedy this? We can THINK. We can use our power of reasoning to make the right conclusions...even if they may not match up with the flavor-of-the-week conclusions that seem to have infiltrated the brains of the masses, colleagues, friends, family, those "panels of experts," etc.

How can we start thinking for ourselves? Well, let me to introduce you to Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen....a man who is certainly worth listening to you. In the brief 23 minute clip below, he breaks down just how much we need to think about when we come across that latest statistic that either has everyone locking themselves in a fallout shelter, convincing themselves its the end of the world. He talks about the types of reasoning, the ins and outs of statistics, and different strategies for interpreting statistics in an applicable manner. 
Best of all, he brings up the questions you need to ask whenever you interpret a statistic. How many people were sampled? Who funded the study? Who conducted the study? How relevant are these findings? Let me just say from experience that the material in this video is right on target with some of the material discussed in any epidemiology or statistics course that is worth taking.
Sheen is brilliant...absolutely brilliant. With that said, check out the video

Pax Vobiscum

Spontaneously Loving One Another

I hate the subway. I hate the mob mentality at Penn Station. I hate the pushing, personal space violations, the rushing, the shoving, the obnoxious rolling bags that threaten your ankles whenever a careless tourist decides to take a mad dash to their "ALL ABOARD" train. Forget the Galapagos Island finches, I am sure Darwin came up with his theory of natural selection at the ship port while he was still waiting to board the HMS Beagle. I am sure he was able to fine tune his theory as he watched other passengers survive their sea voyage by creating hierarchies amongst themselves and picking on whoever it was that never quite fit in.

I've never been at sea for a very long time, but having worked in a lab for most of my adult life...I can assure you that seeing the same people in the same space every day can bring out the worst in some. Pecking orders arise, people are thrown under the bus, and all kinds of tensions pop up almost out of nowhere sometimes. People can be awful and, as I am a very flawed individual, I can be awful too. As such, I can understand that it doesn't take much for the worst to be brought out of someone when they are in crowded the Fool and a few of my friends and they will tell you how awful I can be at a concert when someone is trying to shove me to the side as they fight for a place in the front. I don't take kindly to people doing this after I have spent most of my day in line, hoping for a spot that a vertically-challenge hobbit like myself can see the band from.

I've been reflecting on how awful New York has made me over the years I've spent commuting. Seeing people living in poverty everyday is hard on people like me. If I had $100 in singles in my pocket, I could not even come close to helping everyone I see on a day-to-day basis. I can't bear to look at all the poor I see, especially when I know that I am not very well-off myself. I can't help everyone and this thought, strange as it sounds, is crippling. It makes me less charitable, knowing that I cannot help everyone.

But I can still love them. I can still give them a smile instead of turning my eyes down and briskly walking past them. I can still envision them as people.

I can still pray for them and hope the best for them even when I am too afraid to say anything. I can still offer them what I do have with me, even if it isn't much...instead of pretending I don't see them just because I don't have money in my wallet. As one of the monks I know continually says, it is not about the sin. God knows our sins. What He wants is for us to change so that we may prove that we are actually sorry for our sins when we go to confession. It is about the intention we hold in our hearts and what we do with this intention. If my own charity has become a victim to the every-man-for-himself mentality of the big city...this is what needs to change.

Even if I cannot help every person....and even if I do not happen to have money in my pocket....

...I can share my lunch with a woman holding a sign up that is asking for money. I may not have money, but I have my credit card-purchased lunch. I had a cup of water from the cooler in front of my doctor's I can give this woman my iced tea and just because I happen to have it, I can ask her if she likes chocolate. If she happens to like chocolate or just make a comment that she is hungry...I give her my credit card-purchased fine extra dark Ritter chocolate.

...I can still help an older couple carry their luggage down a flight of steps even if it means getting to work a bit later. Even if it means having to overcome this fear of just talking to or interacting with strangers on any given day. God knows the sacrifices introverts go through to simply wish someone a good day...

...I can still smile. Pope Francis tells us we should look people in the eye when we are charitable. As useful as money can be to people living in poverty....sometimes there is a yearning in their hearts to simply be treated as human beings. I can give someone a smile that radiates love if I have just given my last $3 to a sleeping homeless person. And I can do it again at some point in the future when I catch another homeless person on the street with nothing in hand to offer. God knows the sacrifices introverts go through to simply smile at strangers...

Spontaneously loving people gets a bit easier with practice. The more you do it, the harder it is for you to walk away from strangers in need. I know I don't do it perfectly just yet and there are still times when I look down, ignore, or simply pretend that there is nothing wrong with the world. There are times when my introverted nature gets the best of me. However, I have gotten to the point where I will at least offer a prayer up for each person-in-need that I encounter...regardless of how drunk, dirty, scary, etc. they may seem on the outside. I'm getting better at it and even if I still have my failures when it comes to spontaneously loving other people....God knows my intentions and He knows what I am up against every time I try to reach out to someone in need of a bit of charity.

Pax Vobiscum

Divine Mercy Novena Day 1: Good Friday

If you are not familiar with the Divine Mercy chaplet, please refer to this older post. Once you are familiar with the chaplet, you can prepare yourself for Divine Mercy Sunday with this beautiful novena. I call it beautiful because it allows you to bring souls to Christ with the hopes that they may experience Christ's grace and his mercy. If you take this novena seriously, you will find yourself not only benefiting your own soul through a deeper understanding of Christ's mercy...but you will benefit other souls as well. These souls may not have anyone else to pray for them. These souls may be one prayer away from that crucial metanoia that will ultimately lead them to Christ. Conversions isn't something that just is a process that may be initiated by prayers for these individuals and a bunch of prayer warriors storming heaven on behalf of souls in need of conversion.

God loves every soul out there....and it is up to us to vouch for souls who cannot vouch for themselves. With that said, please consider praying this Novena with me. You pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet for nine days, starting on Good Friday and ending on Divine Mercy Sunday. You can find the details here, but essentially you fulfill a few conditions along with prayer of this Novena (confession, Eucharist on Divine Mercy Sunday, praying for the pope's intentions, etc) to attain plenary indulgence as well as many other graces. In previous years, I have kept particular souls in mind as I have met the different conditions of this Novena with the intention that any graces I could receive, are instead given to these souls. I believe that God is merciful beyond my understanding and, as such, believe that prayer and suffering on behalf of other souls is a powerful help for these souls.

The Divine Mercy Novena begins on Good  Friday and, according to the diaries of St. Faustina Kowalska, "by this Novena [Christ] will grant every possible grace for souls." I know I am one of those souls in dire need of Christ's mercy because I am nowhere near perfect and I cannot rely on myself to change this. I must rely on God and, in order to do so, I must trust in His mercy. The promise of grace through this Novena is a powerful thing. I think of it as that hand that Christ extended to St. Peter when he started to flounder in the water. He had faith and this faith is what led him to attempt to walk on water with Christ. Yet, it was his doubt and his fears that caused him to sink even in the presence of Christ. We may not think of our own faithful life as being similar to those great apostles from the New Testament...but it is very similar. We face temptations, we find strength in Christ, and we rely on his friendship (grace) St. Peter relied on Christ's friendship (grace).

The souls we are asked to pray for on the first day of the novena are the souls of all of mankind...especially sinners. Let us pray that all of these souls are brought to Christ that his mercy and compassion wash over them.

Papal Favorite: Marc Chagall’s “White Crucifixion” depicts Jesus, wearing a tallit instead of a loincloth.
Marc Chagall's  White Crucifixion (1938)
A favorite of Pope Francis

"Today bring to Me all mankind, especially all sinners,and immerse them in the ocean of My mercy. In this way you will console Me in the bitter grief into which the loss of souls plunges Me."

Most Merciful Jesus, whose very nature it is to have compassion on us and to forgive us, do not look upon our sins but upon our trust which we place in Your infinite goodness. Receive us all into the abode of Your Most Compassionate Heart, and never let us escape from It. We beg this of You by Your love which unites You to the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Eternal Father, turn Your merciful gaze upon all mankind and especially upon poor sinners, all enfolded in the Most Compassionate Heart of Jesus. For the sake of His sorrowful Passion show us Your mercy, that we may praise the omnipotence of Your mercy for ever and ever. Amen.

Pax Vobiscum

(For previous reflections for the first day of this Novena, click here.)

Learning from Hannah

The odds are certainly not in my favor with regards to fertility.

I know science will only be able to do so much for me, and I absolutely refuse to even consider IVF for faith-based as well as experience-based reasons. Experience-based reasons include countless hours of labwork. I know the techniques involved, the materials, the tools, the protocols, etc. With that said, even if I wasn't Catholic and even if I could have this procedure performed with the guarantee that no embryo would be destroyed in the process....I could not bring myself to do it. Firstly, IVF is an industry. Second, the entire procedure is too "Brave New World" for me. Too many microscopes, pipettes, incubators, cell media, etc. and not enough humanity. Too many non-human steps to create life and too little emotion. I don't care how caring an IVF specialist claims to be, at the end of the day, the whole procedure is just that...a procedure. It is simply a procedure that involves a specimen from a male, a specimen from a female, pipettes, microscopes, sterile dishes, a punched in time card...and that's it. I am not going to judge you if you have had IVF performed or think any less of children conceived through IVF. Knowing what I know and experiencing what I have experienced in a lab...and even reading the dystopian novels that I have read...I just could not do it. 

In short...I understand and agree with the Catholic teachings on IVF....but even if I didn't know or agree with them...I still could not go the IVF route.

The husband and I are open to adoption and, if the whole fertility thing doesn't pan out...well, adoption it will be. I have always loved children and been considered the "soccer mom" among friends (for my ability to always supply snacks and beverages, my good birthing hips, and other fine qualities). 

Yesterday, I went to confession and as part of my penance, I was asked to go down and pray before the tabernacle. Christ was on display for an all-day prayer service that was taking place and the group in the chapel was in the middle of praying the Divine Mercy chaplet. At the end of the chaplet, this group had an open discussion. An older Filipino woman brought up abortion as a topic. She emphatically expressed sadness for the loss of so many children and as she spoke my heart cried out.

"Give me those children. I will take those children!"

Tears formed in my eyes as this silent prayer was raised up...

As hectic as my life may be, I still yearn for a family. I want to start a family and raise children. Yes, I am working on my PhD...and yes there are quite a few people that will tell you to put a family on hold in order to obtain a PhD. I don't care about what these people say and have, thankfully, known a few very wonderful women with doctorates as well as families. I look up to these women and know that both are possible. I am not yet 35, but going by age, but am already on the decline as far as fertility goes. Add polycystic ovary syndrome and endometriosis to the mix...and well, things don't look too fantastic. That's not even counting any environmental or occupational exposures to potential toxins that could have affected fertility.

My husband and I are not actively trying to have children right now....but we aren't avoiding children either. Still, my mind has already started to wander back to Hannah...the mother of the Prophet Samuel whenever another cycle begins uninterrupted. I know I should not worry too much about fertility until after at least a year of actively trying for children...but every new baby on my friends feed and every child I see these days brings me back to Hannah. The woman who made such a spectacle of herself in the temple, sobbing as she begged God for a child...the woman who finally got to be a mother after years of being barren. The same woman who, when her child Samuel reached the right age, gave him up so that he could serve God as one of His greatest prophets. 
File:Gerbrand van den Eeckhout - Anna toont haar zoon Samuël aan de priester Eli.jpg
Hannah presenting her son Samuel to the priest Eli
Gerbrand van den Eeckhout ca.1665
God knows what He is doing and I trust in Him. I know my chances for children may not be too great from a purely scientific perspective...but everything is possible for God. He knows me and knows the love in my heart as well as he knows the longings in my heart. He knows the pain I feel when I hear of unwanted children that had been aborted, abandoned, hurt, or neglected by people in this world who really do not know the value of the treasure they were given. He knows that I will literally stand next to an abortion clinic with a sign reading "Infertile couple with loving home! Will adopt your baby!" if that is what it takes to bring my children home. He knows I will deal with all of the lengthy, bureaucratic red tape necessary to bring home my children. He knows exactly how much I can put up with to ease this longing in my heart...and maybe that is why I was given this particular cross to bear. 

I have not given up hope on children yet as I know it is too early in the game to even be too worried about it. Who knows, I may already be bouncing a baby on my knee a year from now. Only God knows...and I just have to trust Him in the meantime.

Pax Vobiscum

God help Pelosi...because she needs all the help she can get

Sacramentals, like blessed rosaries, carry a source of power that cannot ever be ignored or subdued by evil. When our Lady of Lourdes appeared to St. Bernadette, it is said that this miraculous encounter was imitated by children who also professed to hear and see Our Lady as well. These children were either hysteric, under demonic possession, or simply seeking attention. Their purpose in the events that followed this apparition was simply to discredit St. Bernadette and the apparition. God grants great miracles, but challenges certainly tend to follow these miracles. Just look at the trouble preceding the acceptance and mass publication of Sr. Faustina Kowalska's Divine Mercy in My Soul! This book was once banned by the church due to a misunderstanding following faulty translation...until Bl. JPII intervened! Just look at how many trials the saints had to go through before achieving sanctity! Just look at the persecutions that had to take place before people were even allowed to publicly practice Christianity (and the persecutions that occur even today)!

I don't want to get too off topic here, so I will just get to the meaty part of the St. Bernadette copycats story. It was difficult to distinguish right away whether or not these St. Bernadette copycats were actually experiencing visions as well or if they were frauds. However, one thing that stood out between these children and St. Bernadette was that these children would not pray with blessed rosaries. They had many new rosaries they prayed with, but for some reason, they avoided the blessed rosaries and would not pray with them. After noticing this aversion to sacramentals, people soon started picking up on other attention-seeking behaviors and actions that did not add up. Suspicions continued until it was finally revealed that these children were frauds. However, even with these pseudovisionaries, the words of Our Lady of Lourdes withstood the test of time and St. Bernadette attained sanctity. The site is still a site of miracles and there are countless pilgrims that keep going back to that grotto every year. Truth works like that....regardless of how much evil tries to tarnish it. God works like that....regardless of how people try to take him out of the picture.
Nancy Pelosi 2013.jpg
Which brings me to Nancy Pelosi. I know a lot of people aren't too happy that President Obama passed off rosary beads that had been blessed by Pope Francis to Pelosi this Tuesday. I know where she stands in terms of abortion and all I can say is that she is going to need all the help she can get when it comes to conversion of heart as well as mind. With that said, as much as I envy her for getting these beads....these beads could not have gone to a soul in more need of help and intervention than Nancy Pelosi (given her status as both a Catholic and politician). I do not believe that this rosary was given to her by chance or by accident and I have a feeling that Pope Francis knew exactly what he was doing when he passed off the rosary as a gift.

A rosary blessed by St. Peter's successor, I'd imagine, is a very powerful sacramental and I believe that there are many graces that can come from this gift. I have faith that Nancy Pelosi may one day turn her back on PP and all those other pro-abortion interest groups if this rosary leads her to prayer and if this prayer, in turn, leads to a St. Paul-like metanoia. She could have declined this rosary and it could have gone to Biden or any number of other Catholics in DC that have focused more on the self-interest groups funding their elections than they have on the Church they claim to follow (whenever they want to garner that Catholic vote). However, I am sure that God is taking care of these individuals considering how many times I've been asked to pray for them and have participated in prayer for them.

Instead of pushing God out of the picture here by protesting how little Pelosi deserves this sacramental, how this is all a travesty, and how she should be denied sacramentals/communion/ about we focus on her conversion? How about we begin to consider that this may all be part of God's plan for ultimate good? How about we pray for her to pray with this rosary, that she may be enlightened by the Holy Spirit as she prays each decade. If you've ever heard of what the green scapular and the Miraculous medal are capable of in terms of should not doubt that this rosary should be able to pull this very misguided soul back to God so that she may one day actually surprise even her biggest naysayers. I don't know about you, but I would LOVE to see her working on legislation to protect the lives of the unborn...rather than sending them to slaughter for the sake of PP and other self-interest groups with deep pockets. Pray for her conversion and pray that this sacramental may protect her soul from peril.

Think about it, unlike the fraudulent visionaries in Lourdes...Pelosi actually accepted the rosary. She could have avoided it...and this, I believe...must mean something.

Pax Vobiscum