08 October 2016

A Reflection on Tragedy

It rained for the first time in a while. I awoke and a steady tapping caused me to peek between the blinds to see raindrops on the window. While some would frown at such a sight, I felt my lips curl into a smile. After a few days in which one tragedy followed another, I smiled, because when it rains, the leaves seem greener, avoiding a puddle-filled path becomes a complicated game of hopscotch and the very smell of the air is calming.
I think part of the appeal of rain is that it makes everything clean. The tragedies of the world can be washed and, if not completely healed, then treated. Rain brings new life, asks us to have a different perspective on our routine and reminds us that accepting the stillness and silence of tragedy can, paradoxically, bring us peace.



Without the rain, though, my perspective is different. At some point in my life, I learned that, when faced with troubling circumstances, it was better to bottle up emotions. Even if my mind was racing with doubts or worries, it was better not to let anyone know. The stronger and less affected you feel, the better. And so, I clamped down on the lump in my throat, blinked back tears, focused on the texture of clothing under my thumb, repeated a mantra in my head of "It doesn't matter," did anything to keep tragedy from getting to me.
Time, of course, will show you that this method does not work. Eventually, your body breaks. While your hands grab hold of anything you can reach in order to stabilize yourself, the lump in your throat turns into gasps for air between tears and cries of "Why is this happening? I don't understand."

The weird thing is that on one occasion during which a group was mourning, I heard the sniffs and saw the dabbed eyes of those who were crying and I didn't think, "They are weak." Instead I thought, "They are strong." It takes strength to sit in the silence, the stillness, the "I don't understand" of tragedy.

When tragedy strikes, we have two choices of action. We can choose to dwell on tragedy and see only tragedy: a bad morning turns into a bad day, grief paints the world in gray, one conversation highlights the desolation in your relationship with that person or in your experience with the topic at hand. Or we can choose to see the small good moments that hide behind a curtain of tragedy: the slow smile of a friend, the curiosity and restless energy of a toddler on wobbly legs, the determined glint in the eye of someone who will not settle for prior failure. These latter moments are beautiful, and I was only able to see them because I had sat in the silence.

Tragedy is still here. A few difficult days does not win us a "get out of tragedy for a week" card. But it does, hopefully, make us still, make us remember that our routines and friendships do not anchor us. That is a role for God and He will be in the stillness and the silence with us. He will be with us when it is time to return to our routines and friendships. And I hope that, because of the times we experience tragedy, we can more easily commune with those who suffer when we do not.

Do not let your heart be troubled or afraid. John 14:27

"For I know the plans I have for you," says the Lord. "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope." Jeremiah 29:11

09 August 2016

When Summer Blues Hit

Every now and then, I have a bit of a cruddy day. Sometimes it's a problem in my life that needs to be dealt with, sometimes it's just a funk, sometimes (especially as a woman) it's hormones being ridiculous (or maybe I'm being ridiculous). I can choose to wallow in "blah" feelings (let's be honest: this is often my first step) or I can take steps to relieve them. Since I am an introvert and an intuiter (INFJ personality type over here), I like to deal with an issue on my own first before I'll bring it up to other people. I just need more time on my own to process things. It seems silly that I'm only now figuring out what to do about such things at 24 years old, but this is a list of some things I like to do to combat what I am at this time calling the "Summer Blues."



1. Take a walk.

When I awoke, something in me could not stay still, so I had to get out of the house. I don't know if it's a vitamin D thing or what, but somehow getting outside and going for a walk can improve my mood majorly. Living so close to campus gives me a nice path to walk, as well. I can walk through the secret garden-esque grounds of a nearby library, amble along a line of rosebushes and pick one of several crisscross pavements to follow. One of my favorite things to do is sit by a centrally-located fountain and people watch as students cut across the quad to class or play with their dogs. Granted, such walks have to take place before 9AM if I want to avoid the brunt of Texas Summer heat, but the timing is nice, since even less people are out and about and I can enjoy the quiet time.

2. Talk to God.

This item should go at the top of the list, but it happened in conjunction with walking, so I've placed it second. I have been trying to get more in the habit of thinking of God when I first awake, thanking Him for one more day and trying to prepare myself spiritually for the day ahead. As I walked, I poured out my thoughts to Him. My worries, my fears, my insecurities, anything goes (preferably, I do this after thanking Him for some things. If I'm going to nag and complain, I should probably try to be a little bit grateful, too, right?). I know that He will listen and won't tell me how absurd my concerns are (some of them doubtlessly are, and I come to realize that). I remember the psalms: "Show me, Lord, your way so that I may walk in your truth. Guide my heart to fear your name." (Psalm 86) There seems to be a psalm for every emotion and state of mind. I might ask the saints to pray for me (Mary, Joseph and Thérèse are standard; other saints are included if I have a special case).

3. Write it down.

When my mind is buzzing with thoughts, it is comforting to write those thoughts down, if only to have them stored somewhere else (praying is good, of course, but there is something about doing tactile work to get restless energy out). Writing has always been therapeutic for me. I may never show someone the page. I may just throw it away after. The point is, everything is said. If I am dealing with a problem, it can also be nice to, once that problem is resolved, come back to the page and see that has been worked out or that the prayer within has been answered.

4. Do something mindless.

One of my first steps when I am stressed out is to do busy work. It usually manifests itself as cleaning, cooking or baking. I may even sit in my closet and reorganize my things. I don't think it is really appropriate as a first step, because it really is just busyness and does not address the issue at hand. However, after I have taken the above steps, I do like to do something mostly mindless as a way to "detox" from the stressful period. My mind goes from worrying, for example, to "hashing out" the issue with God and myself, to entering a resting state. I think it's best if I can do something that can be deemed productive, like the above examples. That way, I can at least feel a little good about being asocial for a while. ;) After the "busy" stage of mindless work, I can shift to something less productive and more fun. Singing and dancing like a silly person is always a good option.

5. Reconnect with people.

The danger of being mild and shy person is that I can stay in my head too much. After I've done the above steps, I need to reintegrate myself into social interaction. This can manifest itself as having a discussion with my husband, checking in on friends I haven't spoken to for a while, meeting with a friend (I think this is an especially good option if they need help with something), chatting with my sister, going to Mass, making plans for later in the week, reading about a saint, etc. If the things in my head are me-focused, it is a really good help to be around other people and remember that I am not the center of the world. ;)

Anyone have steps to de-stress? Would you add anything to my list? Leave a comment. :)

08 July 2016

Stat Crux Dum Volvitur Orbis

Very late last night, I heard about the Dallas shooting (which is only about 100 miles from where I live) and watched as the number of deaths and injuries climbed. Last week I heard about the death of a kidnapped priest. A couple weeks ago, I found out that the priest who heard my first confession and confirmed me has been diagnosed with a brain tumor (contact him here, if you like). Last month, I learned about two couples who had both lost their babies during or shortly after pregnancy. A few months ago, we took a collection at Mass to support people who had lost their homes from a tornado. Before that were the Paris shooting, the scandals associated with the university my husband attends, the kidnapping of several young girls from a village...

It seems as if every hour offers a new crisis. Even this list, which includes so many awful things, does not speak of the homeless mothers who beg to feed their children, the men who have been laid off and can't find work, the sick children who doctors can't cure but instead offer to make the remainder of their lives as comfortable as possible, the elderly in nursing homes who rarely receive visitors, the addicts who try but just can't quit, the people who have counted every last cent but barring a miracle will not be able to make rent this month, or any of the people who see these problems and feel like hope is too elusive. At some point, we are tempted to say (or we really do say), "How much more of this can I take?"



I went to Mass this week and Father (who was a visiting priest) talked about gratitude and how we do not show it as often as we should to God. This is not to say that we should be grateful for awful things that happen (though good can come from bad events). Rather, when so many things happen in the world that we deem "bad," it can be very difficult to notice the good in the world. How can I look at a student's drawing and appreciate their creativity and passion if I am thinking instead about how other kids throughout the world don't even have crayons, don't even have an education, don't even have a supportive family to encourage such pursuits? How can I receive God's grace if I am focused on my sins and instead of doing something about them and myself, I am wallowing in my sinfulness?

But wallowing in thoughts of how many bad things are happening does not make good things happen. It does not bring compassion, mercy and kindness to those who have suffered. It does not bring light into the darkest of situations. It does not make us, as Christ's body on earth, do the job which was given to us: to teach everyone of God's goodness and to love as He loves. We may be the only Christian or positive influence another person encounters: we ought to make each moment of our lives a testament to Christ, so that even in those single moments, people see Christ in us.

So no matter what is going on in your own life, in the lives of your friends, or in the life of the world, do something to communicate God's love and grace to others. Take heart that chaos and crises are not the ultimate plan for the world. Take heart that there is great mercy in the Sacrament of Confession and (in Father Z style) go to Confession! Take heart that there is great grace and strength in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Take heart that the cross is steady while the world is turning. 


"In the world you shall have distress: but have confidence, I have overcome the world." [John 16:33]

"Dear friends, may no adversity paralyze you. Be afraid neither of the world, nor of the future, nor of your weakness. The Lord has allowed you to live in this moment of history so that, by your faith, his name will continue to resound throughout the world." [Pope Benedict XVI]

27 March 2016

Alleluia

Happy Easter!

After a very long Lent, I am so happy it's finally Easter, and also happy that I can now say alleluia. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!


This morning at Mass we prayed for converts, and I realized that I was received into the Church three years ago. Sometimes it seems that I have been Catholic for much longer, while at other times I feel very much like an infant. I don't know that I'll ever get over that contradictory feeling, nor do I want to: I want to be thankful every year.

And I am thankful. I think with all the difficulties and sorrows of life, it is easy to get bogged down or to do things in a robotic way. It is easy to forget the joy. It is easy to forget the Easter that comes after Lent.

But I can't forget Easter. I can't forget the evening I so anticipated. I can't forget the evening I was confirmed while my sponsor had my back. I can't forget the evening I received the Eucharist for the first time and felt absolute peace, as if Jesus was steadying my heart because He was holding it close to His own. I can't forget His forgiveness, His grace or His goodness. "What return shall I render unto the Lord for all he has given me?"

May you never forget the goodness of the Lord, and may you and yours have a very happy Easter. If you were received this Easter, welcome home.

Alleluia!

22 March 2016

Lent 2016: Week Six (Holy Week)


Six Weeks Down

Here we are in the last week of Lent, which just seems bizarre. Though the husband was gone from Thursday until early Monday morning, I did not have a quiet week. On Thursday, my women's group swapped items we no longer wanted (hello, baking pans and cute skirt), ate many snacks and talked about the pregnancies of multiple women in the department. On Friday, I went to a potluck and met some prospective students who visited the department for the weekend (I didn't meet all of them, though, so now I'm wondering whether the accepted list will be people I don't know. Woops.). I also got to meet a new priest, so booyah. On Saturday, I had a much needed lie-in (after the most insane dream), then went to a St. Patrick's Day party, which was hosted by very kind and fun woman. I'm still daydreaming about the scones, so I may need to make some soon.

All the delicious food I wish I could eat every day.

Strangely, I almost don't want Lent to be over. Holy Week, however, is like the countdown to the New Year: the anticipation is now much more felt. In addition, the sorrow is now much more felt after Palm Sunday. Every year without fail, when the congregation recites the lines of the crowd who called for Christ's crucifixion, I cringe. I almost steel myself, as if I can will the Lord's subsequent suffering not to happen because it's just too horrible. I am still stunned that God came to Earth and this is how we treated Him.

I'll be thinking on these things throughout this week, and hope I am drawn closer to the cross by it.

Even my body shall rest in safety. For you will not leave my soul
among the dead, nor let your beloved know decay.

Quotations

  • "Lift up thy face therefore unto Heaven; behold, I and all my saints with Me, who in this world had great conflict, do now rejoice, now are comforted, now secure, now at rest, and shall remain with Me everlastingly in the Kingdom of my Father." (IOC. 3. XLVII)
  • "And I the most miserable and poorest of men, how shall I receive Thee into my house, I that scarce know how to spend one half hour in true devotion? and would that I could even once spend something like one half hour worthily!" (IOC. 4. I)
  • "Jesus died outside the gate, to sanctify the people by his own blood. Let us go out to him outside the camp bearing the insult which he bore. From here we have no lasting city; we are seeking one which is to come. Through him let us continually offer God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips which acknowledge his name." (Hebrews 13:12-15)
  • "The Lord is the strength of his people, a fortress where his anointed find salvation. Save your people; bless Israel your heritage. Be their shepherd and carry them for ever." (Psalm 28:8-9)
  • "Ours were the sufferings he bore. Ours the weight of guilt he endured." (Midday Responsory)
Final Notes

Last week, an interview with Papa Benedict XVI came out like a surprise hug. You can read the full text here.
Prayer request: on Saturday evening, a relative died. Please keep Mary Jo and her family in your prayers.
Check your parish's schedule and go to a Tenebrae and/or Good Friday service this week.

15 March 2016

Lent 2016: Week Five (Passiontide)


Five Weeks Down

Passiontide is upon us. It's a bit of a shock to the system to walk into Mass and find the crucifixes covered with violet cloth (the weather was on board, though, because it poured all week). I usually spend a good deal of Mass looking at the crucifix, so to have that routine unavailable to me was like another small Lenten penance. Looking at the crucifix is a good practice, but it is good to give up even good things. Without the benefit of a visual aid, I had to focus in other ways. It made me think about the faith. We will not always feel so very close to God. We will not always have the luxuries (simple as they might be) we have now. We will need to stay on the right path anyway even when we don't feel like being holy, even when it feels difficult, even when we feel little consolation.

The Gospel reading on Sunday was about the death of Lazarus. Jesus goes back to Judea to see him, but he had already died. Martha says, "Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. But now also I know that whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee." (John 11:21-22) Even in this seemingly impossible circumstance (Martha did not know what Jesus would do), Martha still has hope. She still believes that something good can come from the bad. We have all had bad circumstances in our lives, and we've probably heard people say, "What good can come from this?" I realized then that I haven't been asking that question with hope. Instead, I've asked it with worry. I've asked it without the assurance that Martha shows above. That's something I should change.

On a more delightful note, I have rediscovered the Catholic Stuff You Should Know podcast. A group of priests take turns in pairs hosting the show and they discuss topics from holy water to saints to artists to book passages to sacraments... Any Catholic thing you want to know about, they've probably talked about (or you could ask them to cover something particular, maybe). Some of them are in Rome presently, so I love when they talk about life in Italy. I used to listen to the podcast a lot while in college but somehow it went off my radar during my last semester (I think I thought they had stopped, which would have been a bummer). Now I have a good hundred shows to catch up on. Check them out. :)

Other highlights of the week included buying a coloring book (because I am secretly five) and taking a walk on Sunday evening to a point which gave us a great view of the river and surrounding towns. Now all the trees are very green and leafy, so it really feels like Spring (or Summer sometimes, to be honest). 

I obviously didn't give up childishness for Lent.

Quotations


  • "Thou shalt not long toil here, nor always be oppressed with griefs.  Wait a little while, and thou shalt see a speedy end of thine evils. There will come an hour when all labour and tumult shall cease. Poor and brief is all that which passeth away with time." (IOC 3. XLVII)
  • "Unto Thee I commend myself and all that is mine, to be corrected: better it is to be punished here, than hereafter." (IOC. 3. L)
  • "St. Joseph, Most Obedient, Pray for us!" (join the St. Joseph novena here)
  • "O Lord, my God, in you I take refuge." (Psalm 7:2)

Stay strong. Look for the good. Buy some crayons. Happy Lent. xx

11 March 2016

Italy Trip: Days 4-6

Here is part two of the Italy adventure! Again, these are excerpts from the journal I kept while in Italy. The first two days are in Venice, the third day back in Rome. Click here to read part one. :)

DAY FOUR

In the morning, we got ready, had breakfast and went back to S. Marco's Square, this time to visit the museums. The Correr Museum now takes up what were once the rooms of Elizabeth of Austria. When C went to Vienna in 2014, he got me a hair pin modeled after ones Elizabeth often wore. It was neat to now see her study, dressing room and bedchamber, which look out onto the water. A very pretty gray-blue is used in a lot of the decorative paint in these rooms. We continued to more rooms filled with sculpture of mythological figures and philosophers. Religious artwork, especially of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, filled the next rooms. The archaeological rooms had replicas of ships and coins dating back to the 1700s. My favorite rooms were the libraries: ceiling high bookshelves, three foot diameter globes, missals and books of mathematics on display and paintings of people reading, writing and studying astronomy....

Pretty Missal

Can I live here?

We made a short excursion to a shop on the lower level where C picked out some Venetian silk ties, most decorated with fleur de lis. We crossed the small square south of S. Marco to Doge's Palace, or Palazzo Ducale. This palace held council rooms large enough for more than the ten, twenty or forty members who would meet there. There was also a room which still had some of a fresco which had suffered damage from a fire. It depicted Paradise with Jesus and Mary, the Evangelists, saints and angels of different ranks. There was a contest to find out who would recreate the scene. The chosen man's work is in the same room. He was meant to do a large piece in the next grand room (53 x 25 meters, one of the largest rooms in all of Europe), but his son had to finish it. He added a Marian-focused spin. Jesus and Mary are seated in Heaven. St. Michael the Archangel holds out scales to Jesus. St. Gabriel holds out lilies to Mary, a nod at the Annunciation. They are surrounded by angels and saints, some 500 faces in total. The painting had to be done in stages and brought over piece by piece. The artist found it to be more of a privilege and service to the public and asked for a lower commission. It is amazing to think of such circumstances and imagine being a fly on the wall while such things were happening. The next room had a large wall painted as the Last Judgement. Christ welcomes saints into Heaven and sends others to Hell. The peace of the former and the despair of the latter are almost tangible.

We then went up S. Marco Campanile (Bell Tower) and had the most amazing view of the city. After being in the narrow, winding labyrinth-like streets, it was a great new perspective to see everything from above. Terra cotta roofs stretch across the island, broken only by the grayish white gleam of the Basilica and palace walls. We looked out to an endless, slightly hazy coast dotted with traghettos and broken occasionally by towering churches. The wind was cold and my fingers were nearly frozen, but it was absolutely worth it.


From here we left to the armory and prisons. We saw a ton of arrows, swords and daggers, as well as a rather terrifying looking chastity belt (though I suppose it is ore terrifying for the men than for the women). There was also a collection of guns and armor for horses. When we reached the prisons, it felt eerie. You descend half a dozen steps to a bridge called the bridge of Sighs, so called because this would be the last time prisoners would be able to set their eyes on the city through the grated windows. This path is maybe six feet high, so C had to stoop. More gate-like doors and wooden doors with severe looking locks bring you to the prisons themselves. There were maybe half a dozen prisons a bit bigger than a standard American bedroom with round holes in the walls, presumably to transfer food through. Some people must have managed to sneak in, because there was graffiti on some walls. I was relieved to step out of the prisons and get out of the building entirely after that damp and dreary experience.

We escaped to the hotel to get warm and decide on dinner plans. While I initially wanted to have a "nice" dinner in Venice, the truth is, that is easier said than done. So many restaurants are tourist traps with sub-par food, cover charges and gimmicks. The ones actual locals go to are more focused on chiccetti, similar to Spanish tapas. We attempted to go to a pizza place, but it must have closed because it was nowhere to be found. We went looking for a different place and stepped into...dun dun dun [not even joking. This is what my book says]...a tourist trap that smelled strongly of fish and had overpriced drinks. Two minutes and an interesting conversation between C and the waiter later and we left for the same place we had the previous night. We were welcomed with a "Nice to see you again" and no cover charge, so we were pleased. C got some gelato afterwards, but all I had on my mind was sleep, so we went back to the hotel and I passed out at 9.30 [anyone who knows me knows how ridiculous that is, night owl that I am].

DAY FIVE

I awoke at a bright and early 3.00 AM [really??] and stayed up eating chocolate, watching videos and conversing with family. I was able to sleep for another hour and a half, had a croissant breakfast and packed while C showered. We checked out at 10.00, but left our luggage behind to pick up later. We made our way through S. Marco's Square again past high end shops (Burberry coats are pretty, but 2000 euro) to the University district. On the way we ran into a man displaying paintings on the street. We only stopped to take a picture of the street (Calle S. Christopher) and when he approached us and pointed to the painting in his hand, C said no. The man said, "Oh, no. People think I come up to them to sell painting and say no. no, I just like to paint. It's a lot of work. Other people make prints and sell them for a big price. I give them to galleries I am an engineer and teach mathematics." "Did you get your Ph.D in Michigan?" C asked, pointing to the man's shirt. "Oh yeah. Michigan. I have family in New Jersey. I paint for a hobby. It is many layers on top of each other--magnifico!" He complimented my picture of C in front of the street sign. "--But if you want a painting I only charge twenty euro." [I'm still laughing.]



A few bridges later and we arrived at the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, a large church at the water's edge. The Basilica (unlike my photograph of C) really was magnificent inside and out. There are too many statues to count, because I still find more in the pictures I took. The white stone and gray-green dome look beautiful by the sea. About twenty steps lead you up to large green double doors. Posted above the door was a notice saying absolutely not to give anyone money, because admission to the church was free. This didn't stop a woman inside from trying to get money from us and following me when I went into my purse for my glasses. The church is octagonal with many side altars that could be high altars on their own. Old fashioned confessionals are dotted throughout, which I hope are still regularly used. Titian did much of the artwork, a lot of which is Marian themed. THe main altar has a Byzantine style icon of Mary and the Infant Jesus. Another interesting feature is Pius X's chair, which is golden, flanked by statues and probably fifteen feet tall. We took our time enjoying the view outside. It was comparable only to St Peter's Basilica (smaller but more meaningful) and the view from the bell tower which we had the previous day. The sea seems to stretch out forever.



Of course, we became lost on the way back, but we were serenaded by a cheap gondola blasting dance music, so that's nice. We also found Cafe India, a decent sized restaurant with fair prices and a man who either whistled along with the 80s classic rock that was playing or modified the lyrics to make them tell his friend/coworker that he would love him every day/forever. I had to make C stop from joining in for fear that the three would form one boy band and make it big in Venice, which would mean I would be stuck in a land with almost no greenery for the rest of my life. C got a meat lover's pizza and I go a pancetta, egg and cheese sandwich. It was the best food I had in Venice hands down. No other tourists came in while we were there, but several locals did. We relaxed inside for a while, then returned to the streets. We were still lost but eventually realized we were close to our hotel. We went looking for a magnet for C's mom (her standard souvenir request) and I managed to track down the Kiko makeup shop I was looking for (where everything was 30-50% off. Score!).

We returned to the hotel to sit and warm up before Mass. We went out for Mass, but the doors were closed as we arrived and we could find no other door (!) [Thankfully, it was Saturday night, not Sunday night]. We wandered again and I ended up ducking into a shop and purchasing a black, long sleeve dress. We stole more time and phone-charging electricity at the hotel, then emerged for the final time to walk very misty, winding streets. When we came upon Ponte degli Scalzi (the bridge to the train station), the whole canal was covered in a dense fog, which was amusing because our friend Fr. W had just commented on a Facebook photo that it was very misty when he visited. We boarded our train to Verona [with neither time nor sunlight to adventure in Romeo and Juliet's city] where we waited for our second train [and an Italian woman tried to converse with me so I looked like a total idiot], which unfortunately was not as nice, since I was crammed in a car with four strangers. Gotta do what you gotta do.


DAY SIX
I woke on the train several times before it arrived in Rome (strangely on time). We took a bus to our hotel and only realized when we got there at 6.30 that we would be able to have breakfast in half an hour. We had doubted our train would make it on time and just ruled breakfast out. We were going to go to the Angelus, but C wanted to take advantage of having a bed, rather than a cramped train car, to sleep in, which means we snoozed and didn't start our day until the afternoon [sorry, not sorry. We were exhausted.].

Since we slept in, we had to find an evening Mass and we were lucky enough to find and English one. San Silvestro in Capite was sizeable and covered with art featuring various saints, including St. Francis. As we walked in, the choir and musicians were practicing. As we prayed before Mass, an older Irish priest came up to C and asked his life story [joking. Just what he was doing in Rome], then asked him to do the second reading during Mass. Of course my husband would be picked out. I joked about being put to work while on vacation. The celebrant was a visiting priest who had studied with a priest of that parish (I think they were from Nairobi). On top of this, the congregation was mostly Korean, so a lot of countries were representing that night. The Irish priest talked to us again at the end of Mass and, after taking a second look at C said, "You're very tall" and said he must have to stoop to look me in the face. I liked him. :)

photo by Husband

We then walked to Trinity College Pub which was full of Italians (I guess I was expecting Irish or tourists or Irish tourists). It was nice to be in a place where English was dominant, at least in written word. They also had free wifi, which is always a plus. During dinner, I was able to send a message to my mother telling her I was having Coke (after, I had to explain to her that European Coke is superior to the American variety and tastes similar to Pepsi) [and now I want European Coke...].


We walked up Corso, a very busy shopping street [if you are impatient, read: a nightmare], which was especially packed with last minute Christmas shoppers. On the way, we found a mall strung with lights. We walked down the strip, but most shops were closed or closing. We continued toward the Spanish Steps and came across a monument dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. The BVM stands at the top with a crown of stairs around her head and a wreath of flowers on her arm. At the base of the pillar, Moses, Isaiah, David and Ezekiel stand with Old Testament inscriptions below. The next square over is where the Spanish Steps are, but they were undergoing renovation and open during certain hours, so we got gelato [at a place with the best pistachio I had in Rome] and walked around looking at the shops. We were still tired from travel, so we turned in early.


That's days four through six! I'm tired just thinking about how tired I was on that last day. Stay tuned for day seven (we went to St Peter's, so I decided that's a bit much to squash into a post with two other days).

10 March 2016

How We Should Raise Our Sons and Daughters

"I just don't want a lot of daughters."
"Why not?"

"Because I don't want to have to beat up a lot of guys who are interested in them when they're older."



"It's not her I don't trust. It's any boy she likes that I don't trust."




"All teenage boys think about one thing. I know because I used to be one."



I have heard these lines and conversations pretty much word for word, some multiple times, in my fairly short lifetime (although, let's be real and point out that that last one is impossible). Most of the time they are uttered by fathers about or to their daughters. That teenage boys will at the least break a girl's heart and at the most push them to do immoral things is not treated as a question, but rather as a certainty. That is, unless the father manages to step in before too much damage has been done. Because this is such a recurring theme, I've thought on it enough to find three problematic views this trend perpetuates:

1. Boys are a danger to girls.
Whenever I hear the above sentences, they are uttered as absolute statements. In fact, they are stated similarly to the way that "Boys will be boys" is stated, as if there is nothing that anyone can do to change the way the male sex acts. This begs two questions.

The first: what kind of epidemic has to hit a society in such a way that we "know" how a whole group will behave? What factors combined to cause such a sure behavior? The second: why do we treat a whole group of human beings as if they cannot use the rational nature they were born with to act in a respectful manner?

As a bonus question, would we treat any other group in the same way? Would we adopt the phrase "Girls will be girls" if we saw that there had been a great increase of female-on-male assault? Would we tell Johnny that Susie likes him, that's why she pulled his hair at recess?

2. The only way that a boy will not be a danger to a girl is if another male presence is involved.
"No kissing boys" is the motto of my step-father, who began to recite the words when I was in middle school. As if I cared that boys existed. The majority of my middle school days were spent at sleepovers watching horror films and eating chocolate ice cream. Sure, I had friends who started to see boys as "cute," rather than "another student I need to beat at test scores." Nevertheless, I was cautioned from an early age to avoid messy situations...before I even knew what a messy situation could be.

I should feel bad for my step-father, considering he has only daughters and probably had miniature crises when my sister and I got to our teenage years. But a part of me doesn't want to feel bad. A part of me wants to demand that no father ever has to joke about getting his gun when a boy asks his daughter out. Some would say this is my overly positive idealism coming out. Some would say that isn't reality. It isn't realistic to expect boys to know how to respect girls. It isn't realistic to expect fathers not to have to stress themselves out protecting their daughters.

3. Sometimes, even (2) is not the case.
Sometimes, after the worry and stress spent over what could happen to a girl, we completely drop the ball. People figure, "It's going to happen anyway. Might as well have it happen with the least possible consequences." ("It" being a relationship, heartbreak, sex...) So now parents listen attentively to their ten year old girls talk about the boy they're dating. Now mothers put their daughters on birth control pills years before a sexual situation arises. Now fathers watch their daughters become withdrawn after boyfriends cheat on or break up with them. Instead of offering guidance and protection, families and society say that it is inevitable that girls will get hurt by boys, so we may as well just accept it now.

This is normal?

Why, when faced with this problem, do we choose to stand by and watch it unfold? If a fire starts in our house, do we not try to put it out before it can swallow our home? How much more precious are our families than our homes? Surely if they are more precious, they need our protection and care, too. If we would put out a fire, install smoke alarms and call firefighters, why wouldn't we take similar precautions with the people we love?

But we shouldn't just say that men are at fault. Women are capable of immoral acts and attitudes as well (hi, yes, I am female and I'm totally a crappy human being at times). I've seen and heard both sexes inappropriately gesture toward or comment on the opposite sex. To be honest, it gets a bit juvenile after a while. Perhaps a better way to put it is, it gets a bit base. This issue is about human kind.

So what do we do?

1. Raise our sons well.
Instead of accepting the bizarre present way of things, we ought to counteract it. Let's teach our sons the virtues. Let's teach them to be mindful and self-controlled when they interact with women. Let's teach them that women are not objects, amusements or conquests. Let's teach them chastity (and not just in regard to the physical, but the emotional as well). Let's teach them to be wise in their actions and courageous in the face of public opinion which would oppose them. We should raise our sons to see that "the dignity of the human person is rooted in the image and likeness of God." (CCC 1700)

2. Raise our daughters well.
Let's teach our daughters the virtues. Let's teach them to be mindful and self-controlled when they interact with men. Let's teach them that men are not objects, amusements or conquests. Let's teach them chastity, both physical and emotional. Let's teach them to be wise in their actions and courageous in the face of public opinion which would oppose them. We should raise our daughters to see that "the dignity of the human person is rooted in the image and likeness of God." (CCC 1700)

Let's not be content with "that's just the way it is," but instead change the way it is.

08 March 2016

Lent 2016: Week Four (The Rose Among Violets)


Four Weeks Down

Oh man. How was your week? Even though we've made it past the half-way point, I am really starting to feel Lent. Do you know what I mean? And it's not that I've taken up such difficult penances and religious practices or that I'm struggling to keep my life together. Rather, I have become more aware of how much of a wait Lent really is. Lent is six and a half weeks leading up to Easter, which sounds like a small amount of time from some contexts (a semester? a pregnancy?), but makes me think of how long of a wait it is until Eternal Rest. How many times will we know suffering in our own life or see it in another's? How many times will we ask, "Why?" or "When?" How many times will we flee temptation? How many times will we return sinful and sorrowful to our merciful God? (Perhaps I've been reading too many psalms of lament. I spent a lot of time alone this week, so that also makes me a bit morose.)

We cannot know the answers to these questions, nor can we know how many days we will be given until we face eternity. The latter should make us pause, examine ourselves and continue striving for sanctity. I'm hoping that each day of Lent guides me in that direction, in the direction of God and his goodness.

Appropriately, this Sunday (the fourth Sunday of Lent) was Laetare Sunday, so called for the Introit at Mass, which begins "Laetare Jerusalem," which means "Rejoice, O Jerusalem," taken from Isaiah. Advent sees a similar day on the third Sunday, Gaudete Sunday. On both Sundays, the priest wears rose vestments, which show us a glimpse of the light to come through the dark violet surroundings of Lent. It will not always be Lent. Easter will come. It will not always be suffering and difficulty. Joy will come.

Quotations

  • "Although thou shouldest possess all created good, yet couldest thou not be happy thereby nor blessed; but in God, who created all things, consisteth thy whole blessedness and felicity; not such as is seen and commended by the foolish lovers of the world, but such as the good and faithful servants of Christ wait for, and of which the spiritual and pure in heart, whose conversation is in Heaven, sometimes have a foretaste." (IOC. 3. XVI)
  • "And so my heart rejoices, my soul is glad; even my body shall rest in safety. For you will not leave my soul among the dead, nor let your beloved know decay." (Psalm 16:9)
  • "King of kings, yet born of Mary, / as of old on earth He stood, / Lord of lords, in human vesture, / in the body and the blood; / He will give to all the faithful / His own self for heavenly food." (Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence)
  • "Hail, Queen of Heaven; / hail, Mistress of the angels; / hail, root of Jesse; hail, the gate / through which the Light rose over the earth." (Ave, Regina Caelorum)

04 March 2016

Italy Trip: Days 1-3

Finally! The Rome trip! For those unaware, my husband and I went to Italy for two weeks over Christmas, three days in Venice and the rest in Rome, my new favorite city. I'll be sharing our adventures in five parts with excerpts from the journal I kept while we were there (and my present commentary), as well as photographs (of course!). I absolutely loved Italy and still feel so lucky to have been able to go. :)


DAY ONE

Christopher and I arrived in Rome yesterday morning after an eight hour flight with surprisingly good plane food (for some reason I was especially excited about that bit) [for real, guys. I love airplane food. I'm like a kid in a candy store when the attendants roll out their food carts. "Chicken or pasta?" Yes. Anything and everything, please.]. After landing, we took the FL1 train to our hotel. For much of this journey I was irritable, which I now blame on heat and hunger [story of my life]. Our hotel room is very European (i.e. small), but nice. We recuperated from the flight for a while, then headed out, taking the 60 bus to Santa Susanna, the church which held our free tickets to the Papal Audience for the next day. We took to walking around, ambling along small Italian streets that small Italian cars are still able to navigate. Many streets are done up with Christmas lights and some shops have garland and Christmas trees on display. Musicians play (or in one man's case, bring radios?) in open squares and larger streets. Waiters stand at restaurant doors, inviting people in for warmth and candlelit meals. Young people, mothers with strollers and (my favorite) priests walk along the dark cobblestones. It is all very idyllic. Still, I couldn't really grasp the fact that we were in Italy, finally, after waiting for such a long time.

As if the city knew I still held such reservations, if reservations they could be called, we turned a corner into the square which houses the Trevi Fountain. C was talking as we did so, but I would be hard pressed to remember what he was saying. The Fountain looms over you--I don't know how high--and if you aren't careful, you'll miss the details in the grand size of the piece. A flourish of sea flowers clings to the marble cliff. Each statue of the women has a unique character. The inscription at the top tells when and by whom and to what purpose the piece was constructed (which is all in shorthand, so you kind of have to know what it says already to know what it says). At night, it is lit up by lights throughout the square where people scrabble to get good angles for their pictures and vendors sell souvenirs and (the latest gimmick) selfie sticks. It seems to be a haunt for local teens, as well, who joke and shove each other on each stair level. Maybe it's my virginal Italian eyes or maybe it's that the Fountain was recently restored and cleaned, but it is a beautiful and stunning sight.

Imagine that you are only half as tall as the statues and you may have an idea of how large the Trevi is.

The Pantheon was a smaller, granted no less greater, surprise than the Trevi, at least as far as shock value is concerned. Still. Try not to be impressed by a building that has been standing for that many centuries. We entered about ten minutes before closing, which gave us enough time to see many paintings and sculptures. Maria e Gesu' Bambino was my favorite. Mary stands tall and strong with baby Jesus in her arms. The statue itself looks as smooth as realistic skin. I was pleasantly surprised to find Raphael's tomb beneath, who made many of the pieces there. On his tomb is written: “Here lies Raphael, by whom nature herself feared to be outdone while he lived, and when he died, feared that she herself would die.”

We took a north west path through lights and police motorbikes, headed for the Vatican. Somehow, I was more intent on making it to a particular street that the thought of the Vatican slipped my mind until C said if I looked carefully, I could see St. Peter's from our spot on Lungotevere in Marzio. I spied the cupola, the highest point in the city and started to feel a tingling of the thought “This is happening.”

We crossed Ponte S. Angelo to get to (what else?) Castel S. Angelo. The river is lined with statues of angels, some bearing staffs and ready to fight. The bridge is also a perfect place to watch cars pass on one side of the river and people pass on the other side. Lgt. Vaticano turns into Via della Conciliazione, a straight shot to the Basilica of St. Peter.


Ah, St. Peter's. What can I say that others have not? I Can only repeat the Basilica is beautiful but not only for the architecture. The Basilica is breathtaking, but not only for its size. The Basilica is magnificent but not only for its history. It is all of these things—art, enormity, history—as well as the anticipation I have ahd in waiting to see it and my religious history. Rome sweet Home was one of the first books I read about conversion and its cover had the Basilica of St Peter on it. “All roads lead to Rome” and the road of my life started in a very Protestant family and background Through circumstances of meeting people, being a naturally curious person, wanting to know the truth and having good examples of the faith, I became Catholic. I think it must be quite normal for converts to feel like weary, but immensely pleased pilgrims. For a time, they are on a journey of spiritual discovery and investigation; they must question beliefs they have long held; they must examine themselves. They must do all this in the face of opposition, whether that opposition comes from family, friends, or society. They must deny themselves and follow Christ where He leads them, He the good Shepherd who patiently bears his sheep and brings them truth, grace and mercy.


God has been with me on the journey of my life and on this journey to Rome, the seat of Peter, the stones where martyrs' blood has been spilt, the place where saints are buried, the city where walls, floors, ceilings and streets are covered in priceless art depicting scenes of the faith, the balconies where popes have greeted the people, the land where I expect to come away from changed, my home.



DAY TWO

Morning came a little too quickly. We wanted to be sure to get to the Basilica in good time to get decent seats for the Papal Audience. The buses were incredibly packed when we got on (60 by the hotel, 64 at Nazionale-Quirinale) and I worried a little when one bus seemed to break down [!!!]. It turned out alright, though. Finally, we got off the bus and queued up with others to go through a very easy security line. Even though we had visited only twelve hours ago, I was still surprised at the scale of the place. We did luck out in finding two seats in the sixth or so row. I could hear people speaking in French, Italian and Spanish as we waited for the Audience to begin. What a testament to the universality of the Catholic church to have so many different people gathered in one place.

Suddenly, the murmur of many voices broke into cheers as Pope Francis entered the square. He greeted thousands with a large grin and waves. It is surreal to see buildings you've only seen in photographs and it is likewise surreal to see people you've only seen in photographs. He stopped every so often to kiss babies and reach out to people. Many of us who were not close to the perimeters stood on chairs to get a better view of the Holy Father. Finally, he made his way up to the platform in front of the Basilica. Bishops from around the world took turns reading from the Gospel, in which Jesus says He is the way. The Gospel was spoken in multiple languages and then Pope Francis gave his address. He reminded us that the Jubilee for the Year of Mercy had begun and the Holy Door had been opened (this door is only opened for Jubilee years). Ur focus must be on the mercy of God, which Christ welcomes us to receive in love and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He also said that mercy and grace come from God's love and our hearts, not from work we can do on our own. This statement elicited applause from the crowd. Following, the bishops extended prayers to Pope Francis, as well as happy birthday wishes (he would turn 79 on the 17th). Finally, they told us we could have our objects blessed at the closing benediction. He also blessed those in attendance, their families, and sick loved ones. At the end of the audience, one group sang Happy Birthday and a line of people met the Pope.

We followed the stream of people out of the square and turned onto Via di Porta Angelica to purchase religious items. A sizable shop had many things on display: rosaries, probably a hundred different kinds; key chains; mugs; sweatshirts; statues; decade bracelets; medals and more. I was tempted to purchase a statue of St. Therese of St. Christopher, but worried about something happening to it on the travel home. I picked up a box with Pope Benedict XVI on it which had a delicate looking blue rosary inside. While I liked it, I didn't think Benedict was involved so inherently. I asked the girl if the shop had more Benedict items (there were several Francis and JPII items) and they found a center piece I could attach to a rosary [but as I don't make rosaries, I nixed that option] and a key chain with Benedict on one side and the four Papal Basilicas on the other. I was more pleased when the girl found one with St. Christopher on the other side [score!]. I scooped the key chain up as well as a rose-scented rosary to be blessed at the Sunday Angelus.


We couldn't dawdle all day, though. We crossed a bridge into a thanklessly shaded road [it was nice and sunny in St. Peter's Square] and stopped first at Largo di Torre Argentina, where Caesar was murdered. The ruins are beautiful and almost haunting. It is amazing that such old sites have been preserved and stood through so much history. Of course, C had to insert a joke about posting a picture and saying, “Here is where I shanked Caesar.” Oof. A nearby fountain gave us some good water. The water from such fountains is known to be good and it is certainly much better than our hotel's, which is none too enjoyable.

After a good look into the past, we met a priest friend, Fr. M, outside of Santi Vincenzo e Anastasio, a church in the square where the Trevi Fountain is. We followed him down the street to a cafe. Along the way he pointed out the apartments where he and other studying priests live in Rome. We sat in a narrow cafe with espressos and hot chocolate and talked about his assignment. It sounds like a lot of work because they have eighteen hours of classes per week. It all sounds very interesting, so I hope it goes well for him.


We then headed to the Museo di Scultura Antica Giovanni Barracco, a (free!) museum which houses ancient Roman and Egyptian sculpture, vases and excavations. As I looked at the Roman artifacts, it hit me that these pieces did not have to travel far to be here. They did not come from some far away land. Instead, we had come to the far away land to encounter history and art for ourselves. We finished and ventured out for some dinner. I had carbonara (the best I had in Rome) and C has a tomato basil pasta.

Can't eat in Rome without Papa Benny's favorite soda.

Back at the hotel, I looked into how to get to Termini station that evening. We arrived in plenty of time and I used the hour for gelato and journaling. We boarded our train at around 10.15 and departed twenty minutes later. As it was an overnight train, we were in a sleeper car and shared it with two Italian boys. I can't remember their names, but one was friendly and going to Mestre to attend his girlfriend's graduation. He had spent a year in New York and Fordham studying law. After a while, we fell into quiet as we amused ourselves with writing, reading or music. At around 1 AM I finally fell asleep.

DAY THREE

I awoke at 7 AM in a panic because we were meant to get to Venice at 5.20. However, Italian travel is not often without some delay and we arrived at 8.30. We were also given breakfast. Mine included a giant honey croissant and a kiwi apple juice. We got off the train, declined the opportunity to pay money to use the toilet, and exited the station to what has easily been the most beautiful sunrise of my entire life. Venice is gorgeous and I am so happy we decided to come here. Buildings with arched windows, flanked by small alleyways and broken up by grand museums and basilicas are bathed in an early morning pink and golden hue. The air smells slightly sweet and the stone bridges and streets resound pleasantly with the clack of footsteps. I could never describe the scene well enough. We stumbled upon the Rialto market, a visual onslaught of colors and an olfactory overpowering of smells (for the former, mostly of vegetables and fruits; for the latter, mostly of fish. Fish smells great early in the morning. It was probably swimming that morning...). C managed to guide us to our hotel, a cute B+B with an older, traditional décor that I quite like: soft yellow diamond patterned wall paper and dark wood dressers and armoirs. Our bathroom is up a flight of stairs and designed in a nice mix of traditional and contemporary with porcelain and terra cotta.

New best friend?

On our way to San Marco's, we must have passed one hundred shops. Many shops are designed with tourists in mind. They show off a bit of Venetian character, as well. Elaborate glittery masks for carnival, lace tablecloths, knockoff purses in several shades and sizes, glassowrk (a Venetian specialty), beaded jewelry, scarves, gelaterias and pizzerias (neither of which are as agood as their Roman counterparts)... Tourist trap restaurants send out waiters who advertise their “very fresh food.” The closer you are to Rialto bridge, the crazier it is. The bridge is covered in young people, older tourist couples, mothers with strollers, and people with maps and selfie sticks. Shops line the bridge as well.

Just pretend the construction and red poles aren't there.

Emerging onto the Square is another momentous scene. The Basilica itself is enormous and in the Baroque style. Great gilded horses flank the terrace. There are hints at the Evangelist throughout, especially with lions: on the edifice, as statues guarding a twenty foot tall Christmas tree, at the top of a monument. The other three sides of the square are made up of the Correr Museum, Biblioteca Nazionale Marciano and archaeological museum. Beneath these grand levels of historical note are shops and cafes. For Christmas, lights are strung in the walkways. Out on the square, it is a mix of people taking photographs, vendor carts selling scarves and scammers trying to push roses into women's hands. There is a thick layer of pigeon over everything. Pigeons looking for food, pigeons dive bombing, pigeons landing on people's arms [!]. The light was running out, so I ducked into San Marco's while C spoke with his mother on the phone. The church is very pretty and adorned everywhere with lions. The crucifix above the high altar is simple but nice. I also liked the Marian side of the altar. As I left, the sunset cast another beautiful warm rosy glow over the square.

We had dinner at a takeaway pasta place (cacio e pepe for me, bolognese for C), then went to Tre Mercanti, a specialty grocery store which sells 25 flavors of tiramisu. I was pleased to discover that they also had macarons. Satisfied with our traditional tiramisu and passion fruit macaron, we continued our [misty and slightly creepy] night time stroll, ducked into a supermarket to buy some cookies and chips, and returned to our hotel.

That's the first three days of the trip! Stay tuned for days 4-6. :)

01 March 2016

Lent 2016: Week Three (Animals and a Finished Book)



Three Weeks Down

Ohhhh we're half way there! Almost, anyway.

This past week was more relaxing and less eventful than the previous, during which I realized, "Dang. I have a good life." I have finished my new Sigrid Undset book, Jenny, and let me tell you: it is pretty dang good. It gets a bit dramatic as it approaches the end, but the descriptions of the surroundings make it amazing. Of course, it makes me miss Rome, but that isn't such a bad thing. An excerpt:

"In a few places only a space could be seen between the mass of housetops, as of streets. All this world of reckless lines, crossing each other in a thousand hard angles, was lying inert and quiet under the pale skies, while the setting sun touched the borders of the clouds with a tinge of light. ... Here and there the upper part of a high house rose above its neighbour, its dark, hollow windows staring at one out of a grey or reddish-yellow wall, or sleeping behind closed shutters. Loggias stood out of the mist, looking like parts of an old watchtower, and small summer-houses of wood or corrugated iron were erected on the roofs. ...
Beyond the valley, where the roofs covered the silent cityit well deserved the epithet 'eternal' tonighta low hill stretched its longish back toward the skies, carrying on the far-away ridge an avenue of pines, the foliage of which formed one large mass above the row of slender trunks. And behind the dome of St. Peter the eye was arrested by another hill with villas, built among pines and cypresses. Probably Monte Mario.
The dark leaves of the holly formed a roof over his head, and behind him a fountain made a curiously living sound as the water splashed against the stone border, before flowing into the basin beneath it."
On Friday, I talked about my favorite female saints and had the pleasure to babysit the toddler of a grad student couple. He was super chill all night, so we watched cartoons, played with toys and practiced identifying colors. I was pretty excited to hang out with this guy as well:


On Saturday, my husband and I took a walk in the nice weather (Texas had been in the chilly mid-fifties, which is laughable after below freezing months in the Midwest) and paid a visit to the two bears at their habitat. Yes, I realize having bears on campus sounds crazy. They used to be brought to football games, but that was stopped some time ago. Now they hang out in their campus home when not out in the wild (this location I forget). By the way, only females are kept by the university, so there's no chance of baby bears, which if I'm honest is a little disappointing. 


I finally had to admit that my Valentine flowers were too wilted to keep (they lasted more than twice the "guaranteed fresh" date!), so I got some new blooms. Our local grocery store has different bouquets for only $4. Major deal! I think my flower obsession is safe to continue. :)


Quotations

  • "God of hosts, bring us back, let your face shine on us and we shall be saved." (Psalm 80)
  • "The sufferings of this present time, although thou alone couldest suffer them all, are not worthy to be compared with the future glory which is to be won." (IOC. 2. XI)
  • "You will raise me from the depths of the earth; you will exalt me and console me again." (Psalm 71:20-21)
  • "Blessed by Thou, my God: for although I be unworthy of any benefits, yet thy noble bounty and infinite goodness never ceaseth to do good even to the ungrateful, and to those who are turned away far from Thee." (IOC. 3. VIII)
  • "He that endeavoureth to withdraw himself from obedience, withdraweth himself from grace." (IOC. 3. XIII)
Ciao!

26 February 2016

My Favorite Female Saints

I love that the Catholic Church gives us examples of lives well lived in the saints. Especially since I was a convert who did not know many Catholics, reading about saints made me feel that I wasn't truly alone. Others before me had made great changes, sought God above all else and exhibited heroic virtue. Over time, I have met some saints who have stood out to me, whether because I admire what sacrifices they made, found something of them in myself, or just been drawn to them. Here is my list of (a few of my) favorite female saints.



1. Blessed Virgin Mary


We all know the BVM, don't we? To be honest, I didn't really know her before I started investigating Catholicism. In my Protestant upbringing, Mary was only really mentioned at Christmas-time. As a Catholic, I began to learn more about her life: her parents' names (Anne and Joachim), her significance at the Wedding of Cana, and her sorrow at the Crucifixion. The apostle John took care of her after Christ's death, and she was assumed body and soul at the end of her life. It is difficult now to imagine not knowing her and following her life along her son's. The Rosary was a great help when I wanted to get to know Mary better. The prayers guide you through moments of Christ's life, plenty of which show Mary's role as well. What was once a flat image became three-dimensional and filled out. Mary is a good woman to follow the example of: humility, patience, perseverance, trust, sacrifice...they're all in her.

Patronage: EVERYTHING + EVERYWHERE. But also: bicyclists, nuns, sailors, travelers
Feast Day: MANY. A few: Mary, Mother of God (1 January), Annunciation (25 March), Assumption (15 August), Nativity of Mary (8 September), Immaculate Conception (8 December)
Quotation: "Be it done to me according to thy word." / "My spirit rejoices in God my savior."


2. St. Thérèse of Lisieux


Thérèse Martin was born in France on 2 January 1873, the ninth child to her parents Louis and Zelie (now also canonized). She was only four when her mother died, and her sisters joined the Carmelites one by one as she grew up. This left her feeling motherless and, after her sister Pauline left to the convent, Thérèse became ill. It was only after many months that Thérèse one day looked up at a statue of the Virgin Mary and saw her face radiating in love. Thérèse was cured and took Mary as her mother. She decided at a young age to join the Carmelites and even traveled to Rome in November 1887 to meet Pope Leo XIII to ask his permission to let her enter (she had been turned away on account of her age). She joined the convent at Lisieux on 9 April 1888 and took the habit 10 October 1889. The decreased health and eventual death of her father in 1894 brought her much sorrow. Afterwards, however, her last sister joined the convent. She had what appears to be a good life at Carmel: she painted, cleaned and wrote poems, eventually writing down her autobiography at the request of her sister Pauline. In 1896, she began battling tuberculosis and struggled with depressive and suicidal thoughts. However, she stayed focused on God and Heaven and doing good for others. She died on 30 September 1897 at the age of 24.

Of course, I should need to include my confirmation saint. When I first read the words of St. Thérèse's autobiography, or even small quotations posted elsewhere, I found something alike between us. Also called the Little Flower, her simple humility, embrace of suffering and compassion for others appealed to my own temperament (which still needs a good deal of work to become like hers). I thought, "Here is a girl who I can see in myself, the kind of person I want to be, a good older sister to guide me by example."

Thérèse seems to polarize people. Some think she is fantastic, as I do, while others think she is overrated. I would challenge the latter to reconsider this little soul. "Though she be but little, she is fierce." There is strength under the surface of Thérèse, like a delicate looking flower whose roots dig deep into the soil. She clings to God and there finds her strength. I feel I can face any trials because Thérèse, who appears as small as I sometimes feel, held her ground in God's love. If I don't feel strong, that is okay: I am weak. But He is strong.

Patronage: missionaries, florists, HIV/AIDS sufferers
Feast Day: 1 October
Quotation: "I understood that LOVE COMPRISED ALL VOCATIONS, THAT IT EMBRACED ALL TIMES AND PLACES...IN A WORD, THAT IT WAS ETERNAL!...MY VOCATION IS LOVE!"

St. Therese . Notre Dame Cathedral . Paris, France

3. St. Elizabeth of Hungary


Elizabeth was born in 1207 and was the daughter of the King of Hungary, Alexander II. She was married to Louis of Thuringia at the age of 14 and with him had three children. She is often depicted in art carrying bread and roses, because she would often go out to feed the poor. On one occasion, she was stopped and when she opened her apron, the bread was replaced by roses. Her husband approved of her simple and charitable way of living, and they had a happy marriage. It was cut short at six years, however, when Louis was killed in the Crusades. Elizabeth left court and joined the Franciscans, continuing to work for the poorest and the sick at a hospital. She died in 1231 at the age of 24.

Elizabeth was one of the saints I looked into when considering a confirmation saint. She struck my as a strong, devout woman. I admired her tireless work and the way she carried out the corporal works of mercy. I also thought on her life and wondered if I could act with as much apparent trust in God. She suffered, but lived a life devoted to God in spite of that suffering. I should like to embrace suffering in that way.

Patronage: widows, young brides, death of children, bakers
Feast Day: 17 November
Quotation: "How could I bear a crown of gold when the Lord bears a crown of thorns?"

4. St. Agatha


Agatha was born in Sicily in 231 to a rich family but at a time of persecution. At a young age, she dedicated herself to God and did not want to marry. One man wanted her so much that he, as a judge, imprisoned her at a brothel and later a jail cell (where St. Peter appeared to her), as an attempt to make her succumb to his plans to marry her. When these methods did not break her, she was subjected to torture, at one point having her breasts cut off. She died in prison in 251 at the age of 20.

Saint Agatha was one of the very first saints I ever read about. I cannot remember the exact book now, but at some point I owned a book in which the author talked about her martyrdom. I cannot remember why he brought it up, for it was not a book about saints or about martyrs, but there she was. I now wish I could remember the book, but, since I can not, I can use my time to learn more about her and seek to imitate her steadfastness in the face of persecution. Agatha is a heroic woman and (fun fact) commemorated in the Mass, so I can grow close to her every week.

Patronage: martyrs, breast cancer patients, fire, rape victims
Feast Day: 5 February
Quotation: "Lord, my Creator, you have always protected me from the cradle; you have taken me from the love of the world and given me patience to suffer. Receive my soul."

5. St. Veronica


Veronica is actually named Bernice (surprise!). "Veronica" came from "vera icon," meaning true image, a nod to when she wiped Jesus' face with her veil and retrained the image of his face when He carried the cross. She is featured in the Stations of the Cross (sixth station).

I think often of Saint Veronica, especially when I go through the forth Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary: Christ's carrying of the cross. It seems like such a little thing to wipe someone's face (mothers perform this task multiple times a day), but it is the simplicity of the gesture which always makes me pause and think on what that moment must have been like. For only a moment, Jesus was comforted during His Passion, by a woman who seemingly had no connection with Him (some say she is the woman cured of a blood issue in Luke 8, which would make her story even more amazing). A small act done with compassion becomes great.

Patronage: photographers (naturally), laundry workers
Feast Day: 12 July
Quotation: (possibly, given above) "If I shall touch only his garment, I shall be healed."


I always enjoy learning about new (or old!) saints. Have a favorite? Tell me about them in the comments.