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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: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Carolina_Parrot_(Audubon).jpg
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 employed...so 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