01 October 2014

Ma Joie!


I want to live for a long time still,
Lord, if this be Your desire.
I would like to follow You in heaven,
If this would please you.
Love, that fire of our Fatherland,
Never ceases to consume me.
What matters life or death to me?
My sole happiness is to love You only.


Longtemps encore, je veux bien vivre,
Seigneur, si c'est la ton desir.
Dans le Ciel, je voudrais te suivre,
si cela te faisait plaisir.
L'Amour, ce fue de la Patrie,
Ne cesse de me consumer
Que fait la mort ou la vie?
Mon seul bonheur, c'est de t'aimer.


"Ma Joie!
" A poem by St. Therese


Happy Feast of St. Therese!


13 August 2014

Story of a Rosary

On the 30th of March 2013, I was gifted my Rosary. Anyone who has been around this blog for a while or who is exceptionally good with dates will know that was the day before Easter. Later that evening at the Vigil, I would be confirmed. Those three hourswhile many lament such a duration for Masswould be some of the best three hours of my life.

Before the Vigil, some family and friends joined me at dinner. Less than a year prior, I would have been surprised that anyone wanted to be at the Vigil with me. Sitting at a table surrounded by people who had so influenced my life and faith was gift enough. Still, some brought gifts for me. My aunt gave me a box with a card attached. I opened the box to see...



This Rosary, my aunt explained to me, was made by a woman who crafted and gave away Rosaries for free. As I lifted the Rosary from the box, my aunt continued, telling me she had the Rosary blessed. To anyone else raised in the Church and celebrating their Confirmation, such a gift would be normal, perhaps expected. It was so unexpected that anyone in the family would give me something quite obviously Catholic that I couldn't find any words which seemed proper. "Thank you" tumbled out at some point as I turned beads over in my hand.

I remember the first time I said a Rosary (or at least five decades worth). C and I walked around my campus at night, me trailing behind in the prayers, ruffling through a booklet's pages for the next mystery in streetlamp light. I remember the street corners we turned and the spot where I finally had the Fatima prayer down. After that night I said the Rosary daily. I know it didn't last for any grand stretch of time consistently, but I returned to it in early mornings, fell asleep to it at night or began reciting Hail Marys when faced with some anxious or nervous situation.

The cross of the Rosary surprised me, as it wasn't the usual crucifix. Instead, flowers cover the surface, which remind me of my Confirmation saint, St. Thérèse, who is associated with flowers (Little Flower, anyone?) and especially roses. It also reminds me of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who graces my Rosary with her presence on the centerpiece. In this depiction she is not crowned Queen of Heaven, not stricken with sorrow; rather she looks young, as if at the Annunciation when she says yes, where she obeys God and Christ is made Incarnate. She is ever faithful and abundantly feminine.

On the opposite side is carved Jesus Christ. Again I think of the Incarnation: Christ is made from Mary. On this side, it looks like love shines from His Sacred Heart. Still other times I look at it and I can see Christ instituting the Eucharist: instead of his heart, he holds the chalice. I'm guessing it isn't supposed to be both images, but I think arguments can be made either way from the picture.

As beautiful as the Rosary is, I was surprised to receive it, even on superficial bases. Red isn't really my color, yet burgundy beads abound. The crucifix was absent, which was strange since I had such fascination and adoration for the crucifix at Mass. As time went on, and especially this Summer, I realized how fitting each detail is to my life, not much more than a year later.

When I see the flower-covered cross, I remember St. Thérèse, my dear sister in Heaven whose intercession I rely upon. When I see Mary on the centerpiece, I want to become more like her in every possible way. When I see Christ, Sacred Heart version, I remember the great suffering He endures for us because He loves us, and I long to become holier, to ease His suffering, if only by a small amount. When I see Christ, Institution of the Eucharist version, I pray for priests: for their faith and love of God to increase, for valid Masses to be said, for an increase in the number of priests throughout the world, to one day have a son to give to God in the priesthood. I pray that all Catholics will truly, firmly believe in the Real Presence. I pray that we always reverently receive Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. When I see each red bead, I remember Christ's blood shed on the cross, wine changed into His blood and martyrdom (which each day seems more probable).

Perhaps it is advisable to have only a couple devotions, tops. It makes sense: you have to sacrifice the breadth of possibilities for the depth of understanding which can only be had in a few. Still, there are so many good values I should imitate. There are so many important truths which demand attention. There are so many valuable people who need love and prayers.


When I see my Rosary, I see the person I want to be, the realities I cannot deny and the men who make living as a Catholic possible. A Rosary is not just a collection of beads. It is a story of Christ and His Mother, of redemption, of love without bounds. It is patience and obedience, charity and good will, perseverance and suffering. It is my story linked together with that of Christ.

Already parts of the Rosary are showing signs of use, but I hope this Rosary is part of my life for a long time.

08 July 2014

The Thing No One Talks About

It was on an evening of the second week of Totus Tuus that one of the girls, N, I roomed with told me: "H is thinking about quitting."

"What?" I responded, "Why?"

H is a seminarian in our group. From what I could tell, he was a rather optimistic and excitable person, very good with the kids, super energetic... Basically all the things I feel I have deficiencies in. I didn't know him well, but I knew him enough to be surprised that he would think of leaving Totus Tuus.

N proceeded to tell me that H had been feeling really down, filled with a negative attitude about the program. He wanted to be there, but something was wrong. As she explained, I recalled what I had felt only a few days previous. Each Saturday we travel to the next parish to attend Vigil Mass and meet our host families. When we arrived at our second week location, it seemed as if I had some mental and emotional block put up. As our group heard Mass, I felt very distracted and had to continually remind myself to refocus. I could not engage in the homily given and struggled through the prayers. I understood rationally that I wanted to be there: there is no better place to be than at Mass. But emotionally, it just wasn't working.

As we exited the cathedral and the girls met with our host family, I felt...less than enthused. I wasn't excited about the new parish. I wasn't excited about the new family. I did not want to be there and only barely attempted small talk as we drove down the street. I would even have struggled to say that I cared. It was like I was completely checked out except for the times I forced myself to try to get back into the real world. It was as if something gloomy and dark was resting upon me.

That is when I realized, as I told N and Y (the other girl we roomed with), that I'm fairly certain the struggle I had had was inspired by Satan.

Okay, watch now as everyone has some sort of "That's a bit far, don't you think?" comment. No. Not at all. As the title of this post suggests, this is the thing no one talks about: the fact that the devil is prowling like a lion seeking to devour us. That imagery makes it seem as if the devil is obvious in his work, but he isn't. He, being an angel, knows far more than a man knows. What's more: he knows man's weaknesses. He knows which buttons to push and when to do so.

I can sometimes be an emotional person, which does not mean that I cry constantly, but I understand and experience some things best through emotions or feelings. While I strive to be rational (since emotions can waver), emotions do play a good part in how I experience things like Mass. That does not mean that if I don't feel blown away, I'll think it was a bad Mass. Of course not. Instead, if I feel as if I cannot connectif my mind strays, if my heart doesn't seem to be in it, and so onit is actually much more difficult for me to hear Mass as I am supposed to do. That is exactly what happened to me on Saturday.

It makes sense of course. Our Totus Tuus team is educating children, teaching them about the faith from very basic concepts to very intellectual reaches. We work constantly to inform, inspire and correct these students we have been allowed an amazing opportunity with. The opportunity is worth it, as I remind myself every day, but it is still a lot of work to do. Of course Satan would encourage us to quit, to turn us away from an opportunity to really open up someone's eyes about the faith.

Now that N had told me about H's doubts, I saw how Satan was working. I've even seen since then (this now being more than two weeks later) that when our team becomes stressed, Satan plays upon those chords to make our exhausted, scatterbrained selves even more stressed. He wants us to notice how little sleep we got the previous night. He wants us to replay in our minds the disagreeable conversation we had with someone. He wants us to question how worth it this job is.

So how do you respond when you feel as if Satan is bearing down on you?

Pray. Our group prays a lot. We pray Morning, Evening and Night prayer. We pray the Rosary. We pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet. A team member is praying during every class period. We pray at the opening and closing of each day, before meals and during class with the students. We ask for prayers and pray for each other. We have a huge support system at the parishes. We have daily Mass: the ultimate prayer.


Prayer is so important in the Christian life, but I fear we do not pray as often as we should. Do not be discouraged! It is so easy to add prayer into your life to make it a regular thing. If you pray before bed but always fall asleep, pray when you first wake up instead. Pray at set times by starting up the Liturgy of Hours. Pray with your friends and family. Pray as you commute to work or school. Pray the Rosary every day, even if only one decade. Prayer is not only a conversation with God; it is both our sword and shield.

It is a constant battle, or maybe it is battle after battle. Satan doesn't want to give up. But as Y told me earlier today: we may lose a battle, but I want to win the war.


Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our protection against
the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou, O prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
cast into Hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls.
Amen.

28 June 2014

{pretty, happy, funny, real} Pan Dulce, Tennis, Ice Cream, Misspellings

I have become so busy that these {phfr} posts are the only ones I'm consistently doing! I do have other post ideas, but I'll have to get to those later. Here's my week and all its lovely moments...

{pretty}

The third week of Totus Tuus brought us to a new location. I was the only girl on the four-person team this week, so I was on my own at my host family's place. It felt pretty lonely at first without the girls to hang out with, but the kindness of my host family really made up for the change. The Vs are an older Mexican couple, whose kids have all moved out (though, most of them live nearby on the land the family bought years ago). Both retired, they spend their days hosting family, watching movies, working in the garden and enjoying life simply. The woman is chatty, joking and feeds me like I am her granddaughter. "Did you have enough?" she always asks. The husband is much quieter but chimes in with his own humorous anecdotes, and he and his wife go back and forth talking about their life together. It is a charming but realistic picture of marriage painted before me.

About  mid-week when I returned to the house after the teenage session, the wife invited me to the table where a plate of these beauties lay. Her friend had brought over pan dulce, sweet bread, earlier in the day. Some had apple filling, others were like cinnamon rolls. My favorite is the pink one in the lower left. They are perhaps the simplest, but I think they're so pretty...



After a very crazy week last week (with over one hundred kids), this week was relaxed in terms of attendance. Each day we had between fifteen and twenty kids. I did almost every class with the younger ages (first through fourth grade). Each day we teach one of the Luminous Mysteries and, after all of the material has been covered for the first period, free time is spent coloring images of the particular Mystery of the day. T also taught the younger kids a lot and would tell the kids to make it a contest where he would pick the winner. I think he may have picked himself every time, though, because he would say, "Ooh. This is the best picture I've ever done. It is so prrrreeeeetty." The kids would reply that he had said the same thing the day before, which was true. The image below was from the Transfiguration (the fourth Mystery). T made it especially colorful and I couldn't deny it: it was prrrreeeeetty.



{happy}

Stress relief activity spotted throughout the week is always necessary. I certainly never thought this job was going to be very easy. Honestly, teaching is probably the easiest part. Corralling dozens of excitable kids for Mass where you're meant to be quiet and still? Much more difficult for me than teaching. I am learning valuable lessons in patience, that is for sure.

Anyway, having fun during the week needs to happen in order to give us the energy to tackle another day. One day, we walked over to the nearby school tennis courts and played for a bit. I wasn't wearing the proper attire for tennis (hello, dress which is super affected by the wind and jumping) so I spent some time just taking pictures of the sport. I actually used to be the sports editor of my high school yearbook and was thinking of the two top rules of sports photography: 1) get the whole body of the athlete in the picture and 2) get the ball of the sport in the picture. This one is my favorite of the bunch I took.


{funny}

One of the best parts about being in this town this week was Father F. He and C went to the same seminary, though the were at different levels when they were there together. He is the reason C and I are working with Totus Tuus, because he asked us if we were interested. Father F could probably be best described as eccentric, but in a way that I find funny. I can't think of any concrete, easily explainable examples, which I know is suuuuuuper annoying and unhelpful. Anyway. One night he had the team members and one of the families of the church over for dinner. His home is filled with the usual suspectsheavy Missals, religious art and two rambunctious dogsbut he also has a small pipe collection. I know nothing of pipes, but they do have a coolness factor.


T loves Father F because the latter is well-aware of the former's ice cream addiction and actively supports it. That is, buys several gallons of ice cream throughout the week supports it. T could not be happier, and the rest of us are quite fine with it as well. The thing is, a bowl isn't enough for T. When he isn't finishing off a carton with a spoon, he's loading up a plate with cream and sugar. Twice. I honestly can't take him seriouslythough he isn't a very serious person to begin with. At such times, T loves Father (but not when Father is dumping two liters of soda poison down the sink; at those times, T runs through the hall proclaiming, "I have to save the sodas!"). A very happy trio:


{real}

Last night (Friday) my host family invited the boys over for dinner. I sometimes forget that Mexican food exists because I eat it so rarely. It isn't really worth it if it isn't going to be good, right? I ate everything on this plate, plus another two enchiladas, the beans C didn't want and some of the enchilada he also slid onto my plate because it had beans touching it. I guess I know what not to cook for him in the future....


I was super full from dinner, but that didn't stop C and I from going out. We hardly have time with just the two of us since we are constantly working in a group or, when not in a group, we have to sleep. He wanted to go for a movie, but I wasn't interested in anything showing, so we went to Starbucks where I redeemed my free drink (but gave it to him, since I didn't want something as big and heavy as a frappuccino after eating so much) and he bought me a tea. Free drinks are always nice. Spelling my name incorrectly, on the other hand, isn't my most favorite thing in the world. I have the simplest possible spelling! I don't get it. 


We now have a week off from Totus Tuus, which I am definitely going to enjoy. C and I plan to spend a couple days with the family we were with the first week, then we're going down to New Orleans for a few days, then heading up to our next week's assignment. We never stop.

22 June 2014

{pretty, happy, funny, real} Onward...

Volume 3 up in here! Have a look at my week...

{pretty}

Before we (me, C and another team member N; our other team member T stayed in and got much needed sleep) left our first week's location, we went down to the boardwalk (which had no boards and was more like a promenade). All the lights along the river cast a beautiful rainbow along the water's surface.


I tried a new hairstyle later in the week. I french braided all my hair, then gathered the length of the braid into a bun. I twisted back a small piece of hair I had left out and pinned it with this pretty pin C got for me when he went to Vienna last March.

{happy}

As the weeks go on, I am thankful that I said yes to this opportunity. The days are long and draining mentally and physically, but it truly is worth it to be able to teach about the Catholic faith. I feel like I am learning right along with the kids. After all the hard work, fun time is definitely a necessity. Here I am with C by the river. With everything that changes each weekthe town, the parish, the people, the scheduleit is so nice to have him as a constant.



This week, two groups of four became one group of eight for a larger parish assignment. While this move was practically important because of the larger size of this parish, it was also important in keeping me sane. I stayed with two other girls (the aforementioned N and a new girl Y) at our new host family's home. One night we painted our nails the same color. If anyone noticed, they probably thought we were silly, but it was a nice, small bonding experience. This week without them, I feel much more alone. Still, I'm thankful we had our week together with much needed girl talk.



{funny}

Every Friday for Totus Tuus, there is a water balloon fight (assuming the kids get a score of 10 for Mass behavior and participation). This week, the kids were very near to missing out. We told them they'd received a 9.5 and, after silence fell over the room, C announced that, since they had sung very well, we'd actually decided to give them a 10. The cheers were quite loud enough for this quiet person, so I retreated to our supplies room where I had some work to do. Not long after, these three hooligans (T, H and C) came in, readying themselves with war paint and water guns. Really, these guys are no different from the young boys when it comes to the water fight...



{real}

On a trip to get Mr. C here a water gun. This picture is a fair snapshot of our typical expressions: me happy, he serious. I guess water guns are more serious than I thought...



One afternoon, the large group of us returned to the girls' host family's house. Within twenty minutes of eating dinner, three boys were passed out all around the living room. Totus Tuus is honestly one of the most tiring things I've ever done. While we do have breaks in the afternoon, those are usually filled with cleaning up after the day session, eating dinner and planning for the next day. We start at 7AM (or later, for when we've woken up late) and don't really settle down until 10PM. When we can get in the sneaky nap or two, we take advantage of it. B doesn't look very comfortable here, though, does he?


Now we've all moved on in two groups of four to our next towns. I am with C, H and T, which means I am the only girl. This also means I am housed by myself, separate from the boys and separate from the other girls who are now about two hours away from me. It is weird to be alone, but this family is nice and I know I won't be alone for long, because we have far too much work to do together.

I am going to Mass in a couple of hours (Extraordinary Form!!) and then a few hours after that, our first teenager session begins. I am sure that when this week ends, I will be looking forward to our week off very much. :)

Unless You Eat

From today's Gospel reading:

Jesus said to the Jewish crowds:
"I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give
is my flesh for the life of the world."

The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying,
"How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" 
Jesus said to them,
"Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you do not have life within you. 
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
has eternal life,
and I will raise him on the last day. 
For my flesh is true food,
and my blood is true drink. 
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
remains in me and I in him. 
Just as the living Father sent me
and I have life because of the Father,
so also the one who feeds on me
will have life because of me. 
This is the bread that came down from heaven. 
Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died,
whoever eats this bread will live forever."

Happy Feast of Corpus Christi.

13 June 2014

{pretty, happy, funny, real} Totus Tuus Be Cray

What a week!

This week kicked off the start of Totus Tuus, which I talked about in some detail here. It was a week packed with traveling, meeting people, adjusting to new schedules, enjoying/enduring Southern weather, saying Rosaries, hearing Mass, teaching the faith, laughing off a sugar rush and avoiding water balloons. I am so looking forward to some relaxation this weekend.

{pretty}

Our first host family has a truly beautiful home. It is easily the nicest house I've ever been in. C and I just looked at each other and laughed when we pulled into the driveway. The bonus is that the indoors and outdoors match in beauty. During the afternoon break of our first full day, we walked through the yard and garden. These orange flowers are called canna lilies. I think they are such an unusual and boldly vibrant color. They are intense in their prettiness.

{happy}

Our host family also raises chickens for eggs. I am very interested in this kind of "urban homesteading" and asked several questions about the chickens when we returned inside. These gals are cute, but snobbishly gluttonous.


The family has honestly made the best effort to make us feel welcome in their home. It is such a nice change to see how a Catholic family operates. Actually, it's a bit of a relief: I can see how the Faith infiltrates every aspect of the home life. The mother homeschools and promotes the classical teaching method at breakfast. The parents both engage me and C in discussion about souls after dinner. There are icons in the kitchen, prayers posted in the bathroom, crucifixes on nearly every wall and religious books everywhere. We share so many of the same values and understandings, which I don't always come across. I have certainly taken notes on how I might like to create and maintain my household in the future.

{funny}


And this family has a dog. Not the usual kind I like (beastly, massive things), but he is cute and fluffy and had his tongue sticking out in the first picture I managed to take of him. He growls if you don't pet him and will play catch with you for days. It's amusing how much a kick he gets out of the game, honestly.

{real}


As it turns out, teaching children and teenagers for eight hours a day is pretty exhausting. This is me only on the first or second day, too! It's so fulfilling when you get to bring up good discussion points and the kids understand what you're saying (or you can get to that point with more discussion). It is also hard work. It's nonstop: teaching the faith, playing, going to Mass, (in my least favorite moments) helping hurt kids, planning for the upcoming weeks, traveling, being super honest about the faith... It is intellectual, physical and emotional work.

Alright. I'm off with the other team leaders to enjoy the evening (hopefully with ice cream). 

10 June 2014

Totus Tuus

The last several days have been a whirlwind. Let's break it down....

A couple of weeks ago, a priest friend of my fiance asked if I would be interested in teaching at Totus Tuus this year in the South, in an area where teachers were still very needed. I was interested, but I little wary. I had never done Totus Tuus before. For those of you who don't know what it is, Totus Tuus is a Summer catechetical program for grade school through high school students. As a recent convert, I knew my knowledge would only be at the infant level anyways. What if these kids knew more than I did?

Nonetheless, my fiance and I both submitted applications and heard of our acceptance only a couple of days later. So...we headed South. Travel took a couple of days, but we finally arrived here last night and did our first day of teaching today. Because I knew so little about the program before jumping in, I'll give a good overview of the schedule and goals for anyone who may be teaching in the future and looking for some source of help.

As stated earlier, grade school and high school students are taught at Totus Tuus. A parish will host the week long program, often for the greater surrounding area than just the parish members (in fact, the program accepts non-Catholic children if they are interested in going). The grade school--1st through 6th grade-- and high school--7th grade through 12th grade--classes are split up: the younger grades meet from 9AM-3PM while the older grades meet from 7PM-9PM (approximately, depending on the parish schedule). For the younger students, we are currently teaching the Luminous Mysteries and the Ten Commandments. The day is divided into four teaching sessions with breaks in between. At mid-day, we hear Mass and have lunch. The older grades usually have a skit and a couple of discussion sections where the questions can be deeper and more involved concerning the Commandments, for example.

I was nervous about teaching the younger students because we didn't have all the information we needed until only a couple of days ago and it would still be nice for my own security to go through the schedule with someone who knew how to do it. Our team leader was incredibly helpful in answering questions and guiding us through the process, even though this is the first year she has ever done Totus Tuus as well. After a bit of a warm up to begin, classes were divided by age (often putting 1/2, 3/4, and 5/6 grades together; in this case, we had a small number of students, so we divided it 1/2/3 and 4/5/6. I had the older group). The first lesson of each day is the appropriate Luminous Mystery of the Rosary (first mystery on the first day, second mystery on the second day, and so forth...). For these, we read about the Mystery from Scripture and discuss important aspects of the Mystery. The next three lessons each deal with the first three Commandments in a similar fashion: Scripture is read and the Commandments are discussed. What we found really helpful was making a trivia game out of the content, breaking the class off into boys and girls (a pretty go-to kind of division). It turns out kids are really competitive. If that's what they need to be engaged in the material, I have no problem with it. ;)

One night a week, the older classes go through an Examination of Conscience and then we go to Adoration with the opportunity to go to Confession. This was the activity we did tonight and it really was such a good way to end our first day of teaching. Of course, education still continued after when we discussed aspects of Confession and other Sacraments, but the hour free from distraction and running and planning lessons with time to just focus on the Blessed Sacrament was really awesome.

At the end of the week for the younger students (Friday), we're supposed to do a water fight. It's Summer, so a water fight is fairly unavoidable. For the end of the week for older students (Thursday), we choose some group activity to do. I think this week we are going to watch a movie, but a lot of the planning is flexible. I'm quite alright with it, considering our next assignment has us working with about 150 kids, while this week has under 30. I'm sure that jump will bring its own stress, but for now I'm enjoying the program and feeling a lot less stressed about it than I thought I would be.

Alright. It's late and I have to be up and at it in 8 hours. Nos vemos.

06 June 2014

{pretty, happy, funny, real} ~ babies, travel, dogs, food (aka the things constantly on my mind)

Do you know about this link-up over at Like Mother, Like Daughter? Each week, bloggers share pretty, happy, funny and real life moments (as the title suggests) from their week. I've seen it for ages and never joined up, but I thought it might be fun to begin doing so. :)

{pretty}


I gained a cousin in this lil gal in mid-March (not the 15th, so no need to beware the ides of March. Relax, people.). She is impossibly cute: I somehow forget just how much until I see her again. Her name is Rylin, but I have decided to call her Lady Ry (like Lady Di. Get it? Get it!?).  End of.



Professional sitter upper already:

Also, professional napper:

{happy}

The day after my birthday at the end of May, my fiance, C, arrived to pick me up from home (more on that later), then take us to the Chicago area to spend time with his family. I am always super pleased to spend time with him. Here he is, chillin' out, maxin', relaxin' all cool...by the pool.


I am also gaining other pretty awesome people by marrying into his family. His cousin, R, had this whole spread for us the morning after our arrival. How much of a domestic genius is she? I mean, really. Her hospitality is always off the charts. I have secret not-so-secret plans to fashion my house after hers, our styles are so similar. I hardly ever eat watermelon and now, after eating a quarter of one at her house, it's all I crave.


 From the Chicago area, we left for the East coast (he has a fancy pants conference-y thing to attend), making a short but very enjoyable stop at the University of Notre Dame. The buildings are all this pretty light colored stone (someone smarter than I am, or who just cares much more than I do, should figure out what that is) and the grounds are Irish green, probably because of this giant lake around which the campus sits. Fun fact: the school is actually called Notre Dame du Lac. This view and the walk around the lake were so refreshing and necessary after a few hours in the car.


We continued on and I woke up to scenery like this in Pennsylvania. Most people would probably think it dreary, but I love cloudy grey weather especially when paired with rolling green hills and trees. The uncultivated-ness of it makes me imagine I am living in a different time. I can look on the far off rows of trees and pretend I'm living centuries ago. And then water splashes on the window from a neighboring semi and the spell is broken. Sigh...


{funny}


As we were queuing to pay a toll, a dog poked his head out of the back seat window from the car in front of us. I don't know why, but I found the image so hilarious and snapped a picture. It was also necessary that I do so because I have become so obsessed with dogs recently. I think it's because I've always liked dogs but lately haven't had a dog in my life. I want one so desperately and will jump at the soonest opportunity to have one. I sent this image to my sister immediately and we texted back and forth talking about and sending pictures of dogs for the next hour. Like we do. Every day. Necessary. 


{real}

I cannot be trusted with a bag of Doritos. I will eat the entire thing. Yet, my mother still thought it a good gift (part of a huge snack bag) to give me for my birthday. I guess she was sort of on to something because the bag miraculously still has chips in it, even though I've dug into the bag half a dozen times already. Moderation! I really don't think these are going to last much longer, though.

Yes, that's right. Just hook it up to your face like a feed bag.
You know you want to.
 While unhealthy eating is sometimes unavoidable on a road trip, finishing the road trip does not necessarily mean you're going to jump back into healthy eating. I like to consider this next image, my dinner the night we finally got home, as one of balance. While it contains loads of the protein I missed out on over the day and a half of travel, it also contains the super tasty, extra crispy skin from half of a chicken. No big deal, right?

 

[Note: these images spanned more than a week, because (1) I figured it was acceptable enough, as this is my first link up and (2) the last couple of weeks have all kind of blurred together because we've been so busy. Excuses, excuses. I'll be more exact in the future.]

29 May 2014

Grape Soda and White Sandwich Bread

I've been thinking a lot on a scene I described a little in this post. You can go check that one out if you want, but I am going to describe it here in more detail and in a bit of a different way.

When I was in high school, the very first friend I made (by discovering we were both Geminis, no less; what an odd thing to bring people together) was a Christian. She went to an Assemblies of God church and participated in the usual Protestant teenager youth group shindigs. As we became better friends, I joined her for weekly Wednesday meetings where we would learn a bit more, take notes in our Bibles and socialize with other people our age. However, I think the biggest deal for the both of us was the music. We were both musically inclined, both played instruments, both enjoyed singing along to blaring music from her car when she got one and spent a good deal of time together sharing new bands we liked. There was a Christian music festival held in the state which I had gone to before and which people from her youth group also went to during the Summer. So at the end of our freshman year, we made plans to go to this week-long festival at the end of June/beginning of July.

(Long-winded introduction done? Nope, not yet.)

So there we were at this music festival, wandering down dusty roads weaving in and out of people with tattoo sleeves, dreadlocks or bright pink mohawks, while guitar tuning strained from one canvas tent and the thump of poor-quality bass pounded from a small corner stage. All of these wristband-clad teenagers and twenty-somethings had gathered for the love of Jesus and the love of music and it all struck me as quite simple, really.

When I think back on that week (and even on other weeks during other years when I attended), I of course remember finding the right camping spot or what it was like to see a few of my favorite musicians or sneezing dirt from my nose for a week after (you're welcome for that image). However, there is a specific scene which I think on more, especially recently.

On the penultimate day, I think during a year which celebrated a milestone anniversary of the event, the festival hosted Communion at Main Stage. Now, the grounds were huge, so when I say "main stage," I really mean a grand set-up, not some rinky dink platform. The stage was positioned in this deep basin by the lake. Standing within the hollow or sprawling along the edges of the bowl, people could fit in the thousands to watch more major and well-known artists perform (P.O.D. is a good example of a fairly popular band; they were there one year). Anyway, Communion happened this Friday night (which seems especially fitting from a Catholic perspective if any day is chosen to celebrate it). Volunteers were quite quick to begin handing out materials to everyone there: a small candlestick and an all-in-one Communion cup. It was similar to a yogurt cup which holds yogurt in the bottom with a small separate shelf to keep the granola dry until you want to mix them; so there was about a swallow of juice and a top compartment where a small round wafer lay. Words were printed on the top plastic (probably the usual "Do this in memory of me" line).

"This is convenient," I thought to myself, examining the packaging from all angles. While I was marveling, candlelight was spreading throughout the crowd as the sun fell below the horizon and someone stepped onto the stage to lead Communion. While I was expecting the man who began the festival or one of the musicians, this person was neither. He was some sort of minister, which makes sense for leading such an occasion, and he talked quite a bit about what we were doing.

Go on and tell me that candlelight isn't awesome. I dare you.
source

While I cannot remember much of what he said, I do remember at one point him holding up something which looked like a larger than usual pita bread and saying, "This is my body." As he lowered the jumbo-sized pita, the girls next to me nearly ate their own wafers but stopped, realizing we still hadn't been given the okay yet and one giggled, saying, "This is, like, Lutheran, or something." The others laughed and I was tempted to give them an appropriately withering look. "Can't you see that this is a big deal?" I wanted to say.

The magnitude of this Communionthere were so many people in attendance and there is something about a sea of candlelight which always just gets to mewas obvious to me, and the "celebration" (my Catholicism is showing) on stage was getting to me. I had never seen Communion happen quite in this fashion. It was as if the minister knew something which I did not. There was some sort of mystery I was not understanding.

Now, I'm not sure to which "denomination" this minister belonged. I'm certainly hoping he wasn't Catholic and sincerely doubt it, seeing as non-Catholics aren't meant to receive the Sacrament they do not believe in and because it is not a Sacrament without the proper matter (wine is required as the drink; juice is not wine. 2 + 2 = 4. Some simple facts here, guys.). So let's suppose he was Lutheran, or some other denomination which tends to regard the Sacrament as a bit more than just a "symbol" (Lutherans traditionally believed that Jesus is present in the Eucharist, but not that He completely overtakes the bread and wine; more simply: they believed the bread and wine was still bread and wine, not Jesus). Communion was not treated as mere symbol by this man, or at least it did not seem to be to me. There seemed to be something more going on, or at least "something more" was being pointed to. While others were commenting on how unusual it was, how different this Communion was, I felt as if I were waiting for something miraculous to happen.

Throughout my Communion-receiving life, I don't think I ever really thought of it as mere symbol (which I think I've said elsewhere on this blog, but I'm too lazy to find it). If I did think of it as a symbol, I thought of it as a really important, intense symbol. Whenever we did Communion at my Protestant church (only monthly, which I did find odd. If we're supposed to "do this in memory of [Jesus]," why were we only doing it once a month? We only remember His death once a month?), I would sit there in our silent moment of reflection, thinking about how sinful and poor a creature I was, thinking about how lucky I was that God died for me, trying not to take that sacrifice for granted.

Maybe every "Communion is a symbol" Protestant goes through the same thought process. Maybe everyone tries to be reverent and properly reflect on the actions being performed. Looking back on that scene, I wonder if I could hear a small voice telling me: "There is more to this." I certainly know there was more to it in another scene that same week.

I believe it was the next and last day of the week as the event was winding down that I went with a couple friends to one of the tents in the center of the grounds. The band which performed was probably a small-town band and there was a Communion service at this one too. No candles, as it was mid-day and the items distributed were far different this time. Instead of wine, even instead of juice, we had a variety of fruit-flavored sodas (including orange, which isn't even similar to grapes!); instead of a small wafer we had white sandwich bread. I'm almost laughing to myself at this point, which may appear disrespectful to some readers, but honestly. It was hard for me to grasp any sense of reverence as a musician led us with those famous words again and the sound of snaps and fizzes of soda cans filled the tent. I wasn't one to turn down a drink in the 90 degree heat, but I could not make myself finish a can. The disconnect between the Communion service the night before was as glaring in my mind as the sun reflecting off the trash bin into which I dumped the mostly-full aluminum container.

How could something which seemed so important, verging on one of the most distinct moments I'd experienced, mean just as much as half a school lunch? Carbonation is supposed to settle the stomach, but I walked away unsettled and confused. "If only someone had told me then what the Catholic Church teaches about Communion," I may catch myself thinking, but I know it is a pointless thought. No one told me then. No one told me until almost four years later. Only then could I understand those two services from a different, more solidified perspective.

I don't know if God was moving me those days to examine Communion more urgently. I don't know if my own mind sounded the alerts: "Something is right here" and "Something is wrong here." Maybe I sound too much like a legalistic, by the book, them's the rules Catholic to say that Communion should not be celebrated with grape soda and sandwich bread or to even state that no way was that as reverent as the service the night before. I don't care how comfortable it was to others: they can write their own reflection on it. Knowing that the Eucharist is such a big dealit is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, sacrificed, lying on the altar, waiting for us in the priest's hands, given to us because we believe, because we are obedient to His words on the night He was to sufferI cannot look at other services the same way. I cannot help but think, "You are missing something essential here." I cannot help but wish my Christian brothers and sisters to believe what the Catholic Church teaches about the Eucharist because She believed Jesus Christ when He told His disciples: "This is my body." Not "This is like my body," not "I was joking, all you followers who are running away from me because you think I am encouraging zombie-like behavior. I was only being symbolic when I said 'Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life within you.'" Instead: "This is my body."

source


[Yeah, I know: this is my dozenth post on the Eucharist. Why? Because it's a big deal. Don't expect me to stop any time soon.]

21 May 2014

Life More Abundant

I was 16 when I found out there are websites which promote anorexia.

even if the one person is yourself
source

Girls (and the rare boy) called these websites "pro-ana." They shared "thinspiration" images: slim, high-cheekbone girls with swaying hair, calorie-limiting diet plans and words which cut the mind more than hunger ever could.


I was shocked by these websites, to say the least. Once over the initial shock, I was determined to change the lives of these people who had let eating disorders become the focus of their lives. I would bring them hope. I would show them there was more to life. I would save them from their problems.


It was one of the more naive plans I've ever concocted. You can't go into the thick of battle without armor and expect not to get scratched. Not long after I made my "heroic" decision, I began to catch my reflection in the mirror a little more frequently. I ruminated on what I had eaten on a given day. I would think my jeans far too many sizes too large.


Like many life-changing things, I found myself in the middle before I knew I had begun. I started by skipping or severely limiting meals. No calories in, no calories to worry about getting rid of, right? However, you can't just skip meals all the time without consequence. So I found myself tearing through the the pantry, grabbing handfuls of whatever snack was closest. Part of me urged, "Yes. You need more. More. More!" while another part of me pleaded, "No. You shouldn't be doing this. Just stop. Stop. Stop!" It wouldn't take long for the guilt to settle in. When it did, I would be on the floor of my room doing every imaginable ab exercise, researching tricks to lose weight more quickly and making plans to only consume 300 calories the next day.
 

source

I knew enough to know that my actions weren't healthy, but it was like I switched off that "smart" side in my mind in favor of confusing my body. Why did I need to be reasonable when other people seemed alright enough who were in my same situation? We all knew it was wrongmaybe we even prided ourselves in still being able to point that fact out because we weren't completely "lost." We could somehow get away with not really having a problem, especially for people like me, who didn't have the obvious physical signs. I could always say I technically wasn't anorexic because I was at a "normal" weight. I could always say at least my throat wasn't burned up from forcing myself to vomit like some people did.


It was a bizarre justification system I worked with, but it worked for me. Anyway, it worked until one time I found myself in the bathroom ready to put my fingers down my throat, one voice in my head saying, "Do it" and another saying, "Stop." Until this point, my "purging" had only been through exercise: I was afraid of throwing up and hated to be sick. Forcing myself to do so was always out of the realm of possibility. Now, however, staring down the toilet as if it could bring me salvation or destruction (maybe both), that switch in my mind flipped back. 


source


I retreated to my room, asked a friend if they weren't too busy for a hang out (before I could convince myself to back out) and, not long after, walked out the door. As we drove around, I opened a purple folder full of my own "pro-ana" paraphernalia: those oh-so-inspirational images, diet charts, lists of "good" foods and "bad" foods.... I tried to explain why and how I'd gotten to this unbelievable point in my life, almost not believing the words I was saying. How did I get to this point?

She was unbelievably kind and tactful in her responses to what I imagine was my own hysteria. We talked, she brought me home making me agree to call her whenever I needed and we met with the pastor of our church later that week. At this meeting, he urged me to look through Scripture and note how it said we should treat our bodies. The first verse I found was: "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body." (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) Way harsh, right? In one way, I felt guilty reading these lines. How could I have treated myself so poorly when I am supposed to be a temple of the Holy Spirit? I should make myself a good place for God to dwell. I should respect what He has given me. Why despise such a gift? In another way, I was floored. How incredible that God could want to be with us so closely. Of course, the thought of our bodies being a temple for God is even more exaggerated when I think of the Eucharist...

The next verse I found restored my hope greatly. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." (2 Corinthians 5:17) [St. Paul's pretty much a genius with these letters to the Corinthians, no?] This verse became my favorite verse, which I recited to myself whenever I was tempted. I had taken a wrong turn, but God, by granting me some crazy amount of undeserved grace, was bringing me back. I could offer Him all of my self-centered thoughts, self-deprecating words and self-harming actions and He would give me life. I could be new because of Him.
 
source

Over time, I worked to re-wire my brain. I threw away all the images I printed off. I blocked the websites I had frequented. I made myself think of the things for which I was thankful. Very slowly I told others about my experiences, maybe to serve as a warning, maybe as "proof" to say I at least partially understood someone else's situation, maybe because sometimes I just needed to talk to someone.

In at least one way, having had this experience was good for me: it encouraged me to study psychology, to understand why and how people think, to learn how to actually be of help to someone. In other ways, it remained a struggle. After months of counting each and every calorie, I could accurately estimate the calories in nearly anything I ate. It took a long time for me to not automatically start calculating whenever I had a meal in front of me. I made myself quit counting as a penitential act during Lent of 2011. I wasn't even seriously considering Catholicism then. I'd gone to Mass a handful of times by that point and when I heard the real point of "giving stuff up" (making sacrifices which bring you closer to God), I knew what I needed to give up. I continued to stop counting even after Lent and haven't counted since then.

So what's the deal? Am I officially cured?


I certainly wouldn't say that. I experienced emotional breakdowns at college which came from bottling up my thoughts and worries until the only thing left to do was burst. While I never faced serious physical problems with my eating disorder, the psychological effects were very much present. I think the psychological effects are worse: they can pop up unannounced at any moment. If I let myself get to a certain point, I will get that "nagging feeling" in the back of my head, a serpentine suggestion to eat too much or eat nothing at all, as either route can kick-start the old routine. While I am sometimes able to tell the minuscule voice to mind his own business and back off because I have no time to entertain such thoughts today, thank you very much, other times I need the help of someone else to tell me I am better than this. Every time, I try to remember that Someone has much better things planned for me.


source
J.K. Rowling, smart lady that she is, once said: 

"'Fat' is usually the first insult a girl throws at another girl when she wants to hurt her.
Is 'fat' really the worst thing a human being can be? Is 'fat' worse than 'vindictive,' 'jealous,' 'shallow,' 'vain,' 'boring,' or 'cruel'? Not to me..."
Not to me.

Maybe you're one of these young girls I met on those websites. Maybe you're older. Maybe you aren't even female. Maybe you're worried about your weight. Maybe you have bigger life issues that are just too stressful right now to handle, so you've found a coping mechanism, like some of my psychology courses said you do. Maybe, like some of the other courses I took said, you are more disposed toward these thoughts because of your genetics and now you just have to work with the hand you've been dealt. Maybe other people are telling you you aren't good enough, directly or indirectly. Maybe you've been compared to other people for too long. Maybe you're making those comparisons yourself. Maybe you just wanted to help some people but you got yourself stuck instead.


Whatever the case is, living a life depreciated by a psychological disorder does not need to be the end all for you. You don't need to listen to the voice that says "more" when you're in the middle of a binge. You don't need to listen to the voice that says "do it" when you're facing one of your biggest fears. You don't need to keep quiet about this disease because "technically" you "don't count." You don't need to keep quiet about this disease because of your shame. You aren't alone.

The statistics once said 10% of teen to mid-twenties aged girls suffer from an eating disorder (I'm thinking the stats are a bit worse now, but that's only a hunch). The best way to start the healing process is to tell someone. You don't have to tell everyone you know and you don't have to go into all the gory details (you can if you want).

source

What you do need is a support system. You need someone to tell you that you are valued and that value comes from more than a number on a scale or a measuring tape. You need someone to tell you that you do not have to wrestle with your mind while pretending everything is fine externally. You need someone to tell you that you are so loved. You need someone to tell you that you will never be truly happy by your current method of comparison. You need someone to tell you that being healthy is pretty.

Maybe I am that person. I do hope you have someone better than I am to tell you all these things, but if I am the only one... I suppose that's another part of the hand you've been dealt. ;) Maybe the help and hope I tried to give to several people years ago is for a single person reading this blog right now. There is so much more in store for you than the anxious thoughts, the impulsive actions and the rotten seed of guilt in your stomach. There is so much more in store for you than this hurt. There is so much more.

"I am come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly." (John 10:10)

12 May 2014

Credo

I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church teaches, believes and proclaims to be revealed by God.”

This sentence was joyfully said. This sentence was easy enough to say on the 30th of March 2013. This is the sentence which I proclaimed when I entered the Church at Easter Vigil. Less than twenty words, memorized and stated with a group of three other candidates proudly before Monsignor and a church packed with Catholics, Protestants, atheists, agnosticsanyone who was willing to witness our welcome.


This sentence was joyfully said. I had anticipated saying this sentence for many months. My heart, which was racing as I walked with the other candidates to the front of the church, swelled with pride, relief and the excitement that can only be felt when one knows a great mystery is on the other side of the door which lies front of them. These words were me finally grasping the door's handle and turning it.


Balcony doors of the Palace of Versailles.
 This sentence was easy enough to say on the 30th of March 2013. However, this sentence was a long time coming. This sentence would not always fall from my mouth easily. I did not always believe these words. If I had been asked a year prior to say these words, I would have been on the fence. I would have loved for someone to tell me what my answer was, because I could not yet see it in my mind.

'What do I believe?'

If I had been asked two years prior to say these words, I would have been able to trace my uncertainty around every letter. The sentence would have ended with a dark blot of a period as if I'd let ink drip from the quill with which I wrote the words. My heart would have raced, not with excitement or anticipation, but with fear.

'What do I believe?'

If I had been asked three years prior to say these words, I would have raised my eyebrows, shaken my head, scoffed at my prompter. I would have said I had no idea what the Catholic Church taught, believed or proclaimed. I would not have thought what She taught, believed and proclaimed was revealed by God; not because I thought She lied and had nothing to do with God, but because I knew nothing about Her or Her relationship with God.

'What do I believe?'

Midwest countryside.
I was told yesterday that there are two parts to conversion: the intellectual part and the emotional part. Valuing intelligence is a good thing, but I think what mattered more for me was curiosity: what is going on here? I suppose I'm lucky enough to feel a thrill instead of despair when faced with a puzzle. The fact that I knew nothing of Catholicism wasn't a problem, because I knew I could ask. I could have history explained to me. I could have Church teaching explained to me. I was lucky enough to have a supportive environment in which to ask questions and be given the room to struggle with the answers. However, as the saying goes, curiosity killed the cat, and I would be lying if I said I never felt frustrated when my light-hearted curiosity began to feel like a stinging thorn in my side. There was always a point when "Why do you Catholics believe this?" became "Why do we Protestants not believe this?" or "Why do you Catholics do that?" became "Why do we Protestants not do that?"

Mere curiosity was not going to cut it after the facts were laid out before me. Mere curiosity would not tell me what I believed. Mere curiosity would not let concurrent Protestant and Catholic church attendance stay as such. I could not hide behind ignorance any longer. It wasn't until I was asked direct questions that I began to worry. I remember on a Summer 2011 evening lying on my bed, phone pressed to my ear in one of our usual hours-long conversations when my then-boyfriend, now-fiance, C, asked, "Where did the Protestant Bible come from?" "People?" I remember replying, as if it were a question. "People got together and decided which books belonged there." "Okay," he said with a surprising amount of patience, "Which people?" Which people? Funny how someone who was supposed to subscribe to sola scriptura Protestantism couldn't say from whence came the Scripture to which they clung. I remember that question more clearly than any other in my struggle because I think, as I counted my ceiling tiles to try to calm the wave of panic which hit me, I realized in that moment that the Catholic Church had its hold on me. It was not an oppressive, crushing hold. No. It was like realizing you had fallen in love. It was a nervous, transfixing and almost ready-to-bolt hold. I felt like Edmund Pevensie being confronted by Aslan. I had my eyes closed, but beyond the erratic drum of my heart, I could hear him breathing in front of me. I could feel his warm breath ghosting over my face. It was both exhilarating and terrifying.

Allerton Park field.
'Which people?' was only a two word sentenceso much shorter than the sentence at the beginning of this postbut so essential, such a tipping point for my faith. I had grown and accumulated knowledge, but now this quest for knowledge could no longer be my excuse. It was time for application of the knowledge I had garnered. It was time for decisions. I do not make light of that statement. Everything until then had been fairly simple. Now, however, fear began to set in. What would it mean if I kept walking down this road? What would it mean if I acceded to this knowledge? It would mean saying yes or no to certain statements. If I said yes, more yeses would follow. With each yes, I would step further and further from the faith of my family, the family which none-the-wiser conducted their lives only feet outside of my bedroom, where I still lay counting ceiling tiles.

In Introduction to Philosophy, we discussed Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy. For one of the Meditations, the lecturer showed us how Descartes' beliefs were like a pyramid. He had the basic beliefs at the bottom and the more advanced beliefs at the top. When he began to doubt the certainty he could place on information taken from his senses, he had to remove that basic block of the pyramid. If you took that block out, the whole thing would topple. I was afraid because I knew the entire pyramid of faith I had built up would come toppling down if I removed so basic a block as the Bible. 
"You have listened to fears, Child," Aslan says to Susan, "Come, let me breathe on you. Forget them. Are you brave again?" My fears were real and, on that night, the breath of God was stirring against me.

I could not have been as brave to confront my questions if I had not had emotional support from my boyfriend. That's how most conversion stories go, right? Someone close to you converts or is Catholic and your head is reeling from this revelation. Scott and Kimberly Hahn are a great example of the dual-part conversion formula: Scott, a hard core Scripture scholar, was drawn to Catholicism by immersing himself in history and Church teaching; Kimberly was astounded at his conversion but later joined him. (Their almost cult-classic book Rome Sweet Home describes their journey in good detail. I recommend it to anyone considering conversion or anyone floored by the conversion of someone they know. I wouldn't say it made me desperately want to join the Church; rather I found similarities in the way I was feeling toward the Church on both sides: both drawn to it and afraid of what joining it would mean.) 

Sunset over the library.
I should be clear here: I did not convert because my boyfriend was Catholic, nor would I advise converting on the basis of a relationship. In fact, I would say definitely, definitely do not convert on that basis. I actually doubt you could truly convert in mind and heart simply because someone you love belongs to the Church (unless you are completely comfortable with a constant disjointed inner battle: then be my guest). What was truly helpful in having someone in my life who was Catholic was the ability to ask questions, seek clarification and gather support when I was in the most tumultuous throes of conversion. I never felt pressure from him to convert. I did feel pressure to figure out what I believed, though.

We should all feel this pressure. We should all have our faith tried and be able to defend it. "My breathren, count it all joy, when you shall fall into divers temptations; knowing that the trying of your faith worketh patience." (James 1:3) "[Y]ou shall greatly rejoice, if now you must be for a little time made sorrowful in divers temptations: that the trial of your faith (much more precious than gold which is tried by the fire) may be found unto praise and glory and honor at the appearing of Jesus Christ..." (1 Peter 1:6-7) 
One of the biggest failings I found in Protestantism was my inability to defend it. What did history say? What about these verses which support the authority of the Church, given by Christ? What about these verses which support the Catholic understanding of the Eucharist? What about the early Church?


St. Ignatius was a student of St. John and the Bishop of Antioch, living in the first and second centuries AD. "Be ye subject to the bishop," he wrote to the Magnesians. In his letter to the Smyrnaeans, he wrote, "They [Heretics] abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again." Early Church writers sounded really Catholic. Why were these beliefs, which were so prevalent in the early Church, abandoned several centuries later by Protestants?

Another thing Protestants couldn't tell me is why they believed things contrary to Catholic teaching. 
Where in that Bible is sola scriptura supported? Why should I think the Papacy is all one big sham when Christ says:

"'But whom do you say that I am?' Simon Peter answered and said: 'Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answering, said to him: 'Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee: that thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.'" (Matthew: 16:15-19)
 and also:
"Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained." (John 20:23)
Christ gives authority to St. Peter. First He says he shall be the rock of the Church, which will stand strong against the powers of evil. Second He places him in charge by giving him the keys to the kingdom; he also gives him the power to forgive sins (or not). As Peter was the leader of the disciples, Jesus sets St. Peter up to be the leader after Christ's Ascension. All of that seemed pretty clear to me when I read it, but was never discussed in Protestant circles. This lack of Protestant Catechesis confused me: why hadn't I been trained to understand the faith when it came to all of these new (but historically old) matters? Why had I never heard discussions about why Catholics, from whom Protestants broke off near five centuries (at most) ago, believed in things like the Real Presence and why Protestants didn't? How strange it was to find out later that Martin Luther believed in the Blessed Virgin Mary's perpetual virginity and Immaculate Conception, neither of which present Protestants (for the most part) support.

Campus sky.
Confusion and struggle hit me. Everything seemed tangled. I know my questions about Catholicism would not have begun as soon as they did had C not entered my life. I know the stress and tension I experienced would have had no basis if he had not asked me about my faith and I about his. While all of the worry could have been avoided, I know that I would take it all on again. I know that, as each question was answered, I could feel everything shift around me as the Catholic Church became more familiar and I began to feel hope. All the tangles were untangling. I began to feel like Catholicism wasn't some strange, ominous door; it was a door to home. I also know that the next pivotal moment of my conversion story will be remembered for the rest of my life.

C and I went on many walks in the Summer of 2012. This was easily the best Summer I've ever had, largely because of the following memory. Our walks always prompted long discussions about faith, school, books, music... I had spent the last couple months checking out Catholic books from the library which were much more captivating than my required coursework. This conversation was prompted by a question I had about The Magisterium: Teacher and Guardian of the Faith. As we neared my apartment, he asked me what my thoughts were about conversion: had I thought about it any more seriously and practically? I don't know if he was looking for as serious an answer as I gave. Perhaps he thought I would shrug about it noncommittally. "Well, I'm not sure everything the Church teaches. I haven't read it all. I don't know everything
" He interrupted me with something like: "It would take more than a lifetime to read everything." However, I continued, "I know. I wasn't finished. What I'm saying is, I don't know everything, but I trust the Magisterium. I trust the authority of the Church. I'll believe what She says."

'What do I believe?'

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty,
Creator of Heaven and Earth,
of all things visible and invisible.
I believe in One Lord Jesus Christ,
the only begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation,
he came down from Heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day,
in accordance with the Scriptures.
He ascended into Heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins
and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come.

'What do I believe?'

I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church teaches, believes and proclaims to be revealed by God.