Monday, September 24, 2018

A Dream Deferred

Can I tell you something personal?  I have been feeling lost for some years now - I’ve had so many distractions that have kept me from taking a deep look at my life.  When I was younger I had so many goals, so many dreams and then one day I either scratched them off of my list or they shriveled and died.  I find myself looking back knowing that my last day at my current employment will expire on my birthday.  It’s this end of a chapter and this beginning of a new year of life that have me feeling mixed emotions.  In addition, this time of year is also the anniversary of my brother parting to heaven and I always feel a great shadow of sadness.  His death taught me so much and has propelled me in a faith journey that I never intended to take- it’s also a reminder that life is precious, a gift and should be lived to the most complete. 
Also, my close relationship with my nephew (as I get to share his beginnings and adventures) have given me this great desire to begin again, to pull out my pen and dream new goals.  After much contemplation, I think I want to give teaching another a try.  I know that due to my bipolar I’ve failed at it before and it scares me to try again.  Nevertheless, as I have helped my nephew transition into middle school I have come to realize that I love that age group and I love the literature that is taught at that level.  Though, I am still bipolar this time I am at a different phase where I am more able to control my disability.
I have already renewed my substitute credential so after the layoff I MIGHT substitute for the rest of the school year (unless I find a more permanent job) and then next September look into acquiring a long-term position.  I need to renew my teaching credential so that’s another step that I need to take, since I haven’t taught in many, many years the renewal process is a little involved, but I have faith that if this is what God wants for me, He will help the doors that need opening to do just that.  It’s difficult to share this because I am terrified of failing again, so I ask for your prayers.  In the meantime, I have been praying about it and also coming up with ideas on how to deal with the anxiety and racing thoughts that have plagued me before when I taught.  Coming up with ways to deal with the negative feelings ahead of time gives me hope that I will be able to manage my disability and still live the life I’ve always dreamed of.   I feel a tug in this direction and I think it’s time to pursue it and see where God leads me.

A Dream Deferred 
by Langston Hughes 

What happens to a dream deferred? 
Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? 
Or fester like a sore-- 
And then run? 
Does it stink like rotten meat? 
Or crust and sugar over-- like a syrupy sweet? 
Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. 
Or does it explode? 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Why do Catholics do that?

A friend of mine's daughter had to do a project for her sociology class in which she had to observe a religious practice.  She went to a Catholic Mass and had some questions for me, figured I would share the answers for those who read my blog and aren't Catholic and for those that do as a refresher (smile).  Why do Catholic's do that?  My first Q & A enjoy...
1) What does making the cross motion from your head to the left/right side of your chest signify? 
It’s a prayer, an invocation to our triune God: Father (forehead) Son (middle of chest) and Holy Spirit (Left and Right shoulder). It’s a really powerful prayer that can even be a type of exorcism because evil hates God’s name. I've read that at one time the early, persecuted church used the sign of the cross as a password to identify themselves as Christians. 

2) Why do people dip their finger in water and do that cross motion before entering the church? Is this required? 
The water serves as a reminder of our baptism, and also we bless ourselves with it. These are traditions and keeping tradition alive is a huge part of being Catholic. 

3) Why do some people kneel at the aisle before taking a seat in a pew? 
We all are supposed to genuflect (kneeling bow) in recognition of the tabernacle and the altar, it’s a sign of reverence. Sort of how one would courtesy in front of royalty. Catholic's show respect, honor, and worship to Jesus by doing so. We do this because we believe our King of kings is really present. 

4) What are a few of the terms that a priest will say that evoke a recitation from people? (ex: the priest said “the word of the Lord” and people recited something back that I couldn’t understand) 
Our liturgical worship is meant to unite people and invite active participation. We pray together many times in one voice throughout the service. Usually after a biblical reading, we respond. Like when the priest reads the Gospel reading he always concludes with, “The Gospel of the Lord.” And the community responds, “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.” 

5) Why does the priest walk off the stage and back on holding the Bible over his head? And why do people in the pews bow when the Bible passes them? 
As a sign to indicate to the community that something BIG is about to take place and we bow in recognition of God actively present in His Word. The Book of Gospels (not the bible) contains all four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) and we believe that God is truly present in four ways in the Mass: One through his Word (the readings), through the priest, through the people, and through the Eucharist (the consecrated bread and wine). 

6) Are the people who receive the bread and wine for communion first and then distribute it to the rest of the church, elders of the parish? 
The people that go up to the front are the people that will help distribute communion. They are the first to receive the Body and Blood of Christ because they will be helping the priest give communion to the community. They are regular members of our congregation, anyone who is a fully initiated, practicing Catholic can become a Eucharistic Minister. During our service a lot of people in the community help in the service. Some help with the readings, others greeting at the door, some taking up collection, some singing in the choir… And some distributing the Body and Blood of our Lord. 

6) Why do people open their hands, palms up, during certain prayers or after the priest says something? 
Our worship is all encompassing, we use all our being body, mind, soul. So, at times we kneel together, other times we lift our hands to the Lord as a sign of receptiveness. We are open to the will of God. We also do it as a sign of honor and praise.

Our faith is beautiful, full of meaning and tradition passed throughout generations.  

Monday, September 17, 2018

Tour of Saint Barbara Catholic Church

I don’t get tired of saying that I love that Catholic parishes remain open all day so that any person can seek refuge at any time.  If for whatever reason, you don’t have a space at home where you can be alone with God just stop by any Catholic Church and you will find yourself in a place that is so conducive to prayer.  Each parish is so unique, the inside structure and d├ęcor varies – in some you can almost get a feel for the year it was constructed based on the inside construction.  I am fortunate because I have many parishes minutes away from where I live and due to my Sunday commitments I alternate as to where and what time I attend Mass.  I also, have options when I want to be alone with God (which makes me quite spoiled), thus I thought I would do a series giving you tours of the parishes where you will most likely find me.
Stole this pic from their website, all others are mine.

The first parish that I went into when I came back to the Catholic Church was Saint Barbara in Santa Ana.  My brother invited me to a retreat with a young adult group he was involved with, the group being part of this parish community invited me into the parish’s life.  At the time I was still attending protestant churches, but I was feeling a tug, like the Eucharist calling me home.  Thus, I found out when the parish was hosting confessions and with all the insecurity and fear in me I went into the confessional for the first time since my first communion at the age of seven.  In that confessional I found God’s mercy and a priest who guided me back home.  Therefore, Saint Barbara Parish will always hold a special place in my heart.  There I have been a lector, minister of hospitality, JPC prayer warrior, secretary of the parish council, and most recently RCIA catechist.  Since it’s the first Catholic Church that I attended as a revert I thought I would start my blog tours with this one. Let's begin...  
The outside has this beautiful shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes which is always kept surrounded by flowers that parishioners continue to bring her throughout the year.  You can always catch people praying here.  It's one of my favorite spots. 
The inside is very big and in the customary shape of a cross with the altar being the head.  It was constructed in 1962 and since it's been host to a large thriving community.  The Vietnamese being the largest, which I find so encouraging when I go to services in that language because the church is bursting with people, as large as the building is people still stand on Sundays due to not enough pews.
Curiously, the parish doesn't have an image of its patron saint, Saint Barbara, which I found a little odd.  It does however have two (new) screens which come in handy in translating the readings when I go to Mass in Vietnamese or to guide people in prayer.
This parish doesn't have a separate chapel that hosts the tabernacle, rather the body of Christ is kept underneath the crucifix behind the altar.
It has beautiful carved and colored Stations of the Cross.
 In a separate alcove at the back of the Church there's an altar to pray, honoring the Vietnamese Martyrs.    
Finally, though not much to look at - this door leads to the confessional where I had my first confession as an adult.  It's also the place where I found a lot of healing and direction from an elderly priest who has since completed his journey on earth.  

Though now I mostly only attend this parish to help with Catechism- it will always hold a special place in my heart because it was the place where a lot of my initial conversion occurred (smile).

Thursday, September 13, 2018

A Case for Authenticity: J Crew Bubble Necklace

 I don’t like fakes.  No, this is not an angst ridden Holden Caulfield statement, I am referring to those made in China phonies that have infiltrated the market to make the consumption problem bigger.  Those products marked as if they are brand name items, but in reality they are just a cheap imitation- usually the too-good-to-be-true price tag is a huge indication.  Normally, the fakes immediately look, well… fake.  However, now knockoffs are so popular that some pirates are making products a little more difficult to detect between the real and the dupes.  As a person who has a side eBay business flipping my thrift store finds, I have become ever so studious in the art of authentication.  I pride myself in selling only originals, but as a regular thriftier I do come across many, many fakes.

You know what my biggest argument against Christianity was?  That all Christians were a bunch of hypocrites.  At the time I hadn’t met anyone who lived to the standards of Christ.  I would describe all the flaws of all the people that I knew were Christians, I didn’t see their intention in trying their best to live holy lives I just saw their shortcomings.  These weaknesses I held as enough to make my case against organized religion…  Months before my brother died he asked if he could speak to a priest, mom took him to a nearby parish and because they hadn’t scheduled an appointment and probably caught the priest of guard, he yelled at them.  He told him that he didn’t have time and if they were regular parishioners they would know to schedule an appointment and not come just whenever they NEEDED to come.  This was a real hard blow for my brother who was battling with schizophrenia and his thoughts went into interpreting this interaction as God having left him.  I was so angry with the priest because he was supposed to be Jesus and when he rejected my feeble brother – you know what they say, “mess with me, but don’t mess with my loved ones!”  In the years since, I have come to the conclusion that we all hate liars, but that I need to be less judgmental with people.  We all have bad days, we all stumble we all fall; but, the difference in a Christian is that Jesus picks us up and motivates us to try better next time.  Little by little, one fall at a time we are invited to change and become holier.  Thus, Christians are not hypocrites, they just haven’t arrived at holiness – like everyone else we are works in progress…  That priest had a bad day, a moment where he didn't live up to the Christian expectation, but I have those off days all the time so now I understand that even ordain people have flaws, but that doesn't make them phonies.

...I have digressed from my original purpose…  I love accessories and when I found my first J Crew Bubble Necklace that retailed for $150 dollars at Goodwill for $6.99 I just about passed out.  Since, I found five more and because I found two of the same color I figured I would try selling one on my eBay store.  That’s when I realized that many people where not fooled into paying the hefty price and the pirates of China capitalized on those beautiful beads.  After serious research I concluded that only one of my pieces is an original and the others are fakes.  Aww, the woe of that discovery!  Though I only paid a few bucks for each, the fact that I was lied to, that my keen eye to spot the real had been fooled made me so mad.  It was also an awakening into how big the counterfeit world has grown.  Now in addition to shoes, bags I need to learn how to spot "real" costume jewelry!  Some of you might be thinking that I am being a bit dramatic, but fakes are very harmful.  I will dedicate a future post into the world of counterfeits and the effects of it because lies no matter where are no bueno.  

But today I will go over the real J Crew Bubble Bib Necklace vs the J Smew copy.
The white one is the real $150 in 18K gold plated brass with hand-set resin cabochons and beads, the red is one of the many replicas of this iconic statement piece.  From afar both look exactly the same, but a trained eye would see difference immediately...

The chain on the white one is larger and has remained gold even though the necklace was released in 2012, the replica is much smaller, flimsier and has tarnished with age. 
The end stopper, the real one has a simple gold fixing at each end of the beads the red one has a lace-like much bigger stopper.
The back design is subtle in the real J Crew and a nice shade of gold and much more defined both in detail and yellow color in the fake one.
Finally, the clasp on a real bubble necklace is a lobster clasp and the brand name tag is round with a bit of middle rise.  The fake tag is much bigger, flat and the clasp is different. You can also see that with time the real one has kept its color while the dupe has tarnished.

I live for authenticity whether in people or the things that surround me because I know that while the differences between the real and the fake necklaces are visually subtle the cost between the two affects a whole lot of people.  In a future post I will discuss the effects of counterfeits and why the real deal is much, much better for society.  I will also add my knowledge on identifying the real deal for any authenticity nerds out there (smile).

Monday, September 10, 2018

Christian Rest

After the summer off, yesterday kicked off a new year of the Rite for Christian Initiation of Adults program and a new year of my commitment to serve in ministry.  It is during my volunteer time that my Sunday’s can feel quite hectic with activity.  Yesterday, I had go to mass in Vietnamese in order to make all the activities that I am involved in work.  RCIA takes a big chunk of my Sunday, I am at the church from 930AM to 1230PM setting up, tearing down and in class with my students.  The first weeks are rather chaotic because I am the secretary of the group and I am in charge of sign ups, receiving payment and making sure that I obtain all documents from each student.  Yesterday, also happened to be the Sunday of the month where I attend my Franciscan formation, that’s another three hours of my day from 2 to 5 PM.  Thus, I woke up super early to attend Mass and didn’t arrive back home until after 5 PM completely exhausted.
As I drove home after a day of so much activity I thought of the homily that Pope Francis recently gave on how we should live our Sunday, “For us Christians, the center of the Lord’s Day, Sunday, is the Eucharist, which means “thanksgiving.”  It is the day to say to God: thank you, thank you, Lord; thank you for life, for your mercy, for all your gifts.”  Sunday, as a day of rest should be lived and understood differently for us Christians.  It's much more than a day to do nothing.  Pope Francis went on to explain how people today interpret rest as what will be fun or what will bring them pleasure.  This existence filled with entertainment, alienation, and escape from reality is not true rest, “Man has never rested as much as today, yet man has never experience as much emptiness as today... (rest) is the moment of contemplation, it is a moment of praise, not of evasion.  It is time to look at reality and say: how beautiful life is!” That's just so beautiful, so inspiring it really makes me want to change how I approach my moments of rest.
You see, I am guilty of seeking rest for pleasure, sometimes I am so tired from a day’s work that I just want to vegetate in front of the TV.  At times this desire to have “me time” makes me want to dismiss my volunteer commitments.  Also as an introvert who needs alone time to recharge my batteries I can quickly talk myself into thinking that my need for alone time supersedes helping others.  Yet, as I drove home tired from a day of so much godly activity, I realized how happy I felt even if physically exhausted.  All morning I shared my love for God and my faith with a new batch of students in my class, then I went to grow in holiness with my Franciscan brothers and sisters and I was fed in the Eucharist.  It was my day of rest; yet, it felt so much more rewarding than sitting watching a marathon show on Netflix.  “Only in God does my soul rest,” the psalmist says - a true statement to find peace and fulfillment one day at a time.

Friday, September 7, 2018

How to Remain Faithful in Times of Scandal

These past weeks have been difficult for the church with so much scandal coming to light, many are contemplating leaving the church, others are predicting the fall of Catholicism and others hope that this will help cleanse the church.  I have tried keeping up with the tabloids reading both pieces pro and against our pope trying to make a decision as to where I stand.  However, not everything is black or white – resign or not resign is not the position that I support because the pope’s position is not like a politician that can easily be replaced.  Also, all the focus has been on condemning the pope, that we have forgotten the real predators and even the victims behind this grave sin.  My mind has been restless trying to figure out the best action plan during these difficult times and I've come up with my own way of dealing.
Prayer- I’ve been praying, interceding for our church, our pope, the victims...  When I see another sad headline on the news I pray.  Voicing my fears and hurt to God has helped me see beyond the scandal and to remain Catholic because I know that while sinners make up the church God is the head and He will provide and redeem- even in darkness, that’s His specialty (smile).

Prudence- I try not to react to everything that I am seeing in the news or social media, but to take everything in and contemplate trying to sift between the truth and the biased reporting.  Thinking before I act- I wish I had a friend who I could talk to away from social media about some of my feelings because posting negative things is not my style.  In the meantime just holding my tongue has been really helpful in not creating more drama.

Remembering our History- This has been extremely important.  Recalling the hardships we have faced as a church and reading biblical stories reminds me that there has always been great division, trouble and sin in our lineage.  Thinking of the many great biblical characters that have fallen and God redeemed gives me the greatest hope.

Making it Personal-  While news reports allege that there’s a secret homosexual club within the church, that sixty-percent of priests are gay, that hundreds of priest are pedophiles… My reality is different, the priests that I know are amazing men (with flaws) that have given their lives to serve.  The priests I know have helped me and my family through some of the darkest times in our lives, they are optimistic and hopeful and truly believe in God and our Catholic Church.  They give great witness to our faith and inspire me to be a better version in Christ….

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the scandal, but reflecting on why I am Catholic leads to hope and a desire to stick around to share in brighter days (smile). 

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Heavenly Visitor the Infant Jesus of Prague

God always gives us what we need.  This morning I discovered that we have a little visitor in our home, a small statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague that has been making its rounds within our family.  My sister’s mother-in-law shared it with my sister and my sister shared it with me.  “My mother-in-law has a great devotion to him, you need to pray with faith that God will hear our prayers,” she said.  Devotions can bring us together and that’s why they are important to me, there’s history and this passing down of tradition and prayer to be shared.  Traveling images can give us hope that we are not alone, that we have community to help us get through difficult times and they also remind us that God is listening and will provide.
My sister showed me the small saint statue with such love, she explained the history within her in-law’s family detailing their devotion to Baby Jesus. She told me how the small pilgrim had been traveling from home to home and landed at her sister-in-law’s house where he has resided until we were blessed with his visit.  The way my sister so lovingly talked about the little statue points towards something greater than the porcelain figurine, this small image elevates us towards God in hope and in prayer.
I like having tangible access to God. I love that our faith is not afraid to use the material to point us towards higher truths, thus this little traveler landing in my home gives me so much encouragement.  I feel like God is here with me, like he wanted to make sure I know that during tribulation he has not abandoned me.  That my sister shared the beautiful image with me is also quite moving because she doesn’t want to keep hope in God to herself, she wants to share it.  While she has need for God and her mother-in-law shared it with her recognizing her need, my sis didn’t want to keep that gift to herself she wanted to share it also recognizing that others need Him too.  I want to learn more about the little figurine starting with his history .  In the meantime I am just happy to have him taking residence in my home, reminding me that God is ever so present.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

In Solidarity

This week has been such a difficult week for the church, I have cried a lot sometimes I wonder if I am taking things too personally, but I love Pope Francis so much that I hurt thinking he might be involved in a cover-up.  What will it mean to me as a Catholic if a man that I have placed in such a high pedestal, a man I’ve admired and gotten to know as my Spiritual Father is guilty of the accusations that so many without concrete evidence are desiring to see him pay.  I feel like it’s the Salem Witch Trials again and some without requiring a full investigation are ready to burn him at the stake.  This quick to judge mentality is what makes me most sad, I feel a great division in our church and it’s scary because I have always naively thought of the church as a utopian society that leads us to God.  This week, I have seen the imperfect humanity that makes up the church and I wonder if both God and imperfection can coexist? Can we have a future together?
Per Thomas Traherne:

“Love can forbear, love can forgive… but Love can never be reconciled to an unlovely object… He can never therefore be reconciled to sin, because sin itself is incapable of being altered; but He may be reconciled to your person, because that may be restored.”

From the moment we were created we have been courted by sin, all of us at times falling to its entrapment.  I think that’s why the narrative of Jesus drawing a line on the ground and saying, “he that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone,” resonates as deeply as it did two-thousand years ago.  We are all sinners, Pope Francis has continuously admitted that even a man of his position is still not without the stains of sin and in need of God’s mercy.  It is these genuine declarations that have attracted me to him and to think that he was living a double life, one where he didn’t practice what he preached seems to me like a grave and terrible contradiction -even betrayal.  I am a truth seeker and want to find the truth behind Archbishop Vigano’s accusations, but in doing so I don’t believe we prematurely need Pope Francis’ head on a platter.  He has the right to due process.
I have this weakness, sometimes I see God in people and make them into little gods.  Through my admiration, I have done this with Pope Francis.  He has become my face of God, the tangible presence of my Savior because I can be a materialist needing physicality to see God.  I still hope that he will speak and share his side of the story, because we truly need to hear it.  However, God has reminded me that He is bigger than the pope, bigger than sin.  God restores when things fall apart and while the Church seems to be hitting rock bottom, when one is at the bottom there’s only UP to go.

I have been praying for my pope and I hope the truth will come to light but I won’t unjustly condemn him, after all who am I to judge?

Monday, August 27, 2018

My Weekend in Pictures

Hope you had a good weekend… Mine was a cause for celebration from healing physically and spiritually to celebrating one spoiled pup!
I got my stitches removed on Friday from the inside of my lip!  Hip-hip hooray.  Last week I went in for a dental procedure and the dentist accidentally cut me from the inside of mouth all the way out and over my lip.  The outside cut was superficial, but inside I had to get stitches. My nephew said I looked like a pirate with my temporary scar, luckily if has healed and I am back to eating and looking normally!
I was able to go to confession on Saturday.  Even though I try to go every couple months, it hasn’t gotten easier.  It still requires a lot of humility to admit my wrongs and my need for God’s grace.  Sometimes my shame is so great that I take the position of hiding behind the screen so that my confession will be completely anonymous.  I usually go in with a sense of defeat, a list that sometimes includes the same weaknesses and I wonder if I will ever be free of the bad habits that posses me?  After I give voice to my weaknesses there’s immediate relief as if just voicing them releases them from their strong possession.  Then, Father motivates and encourages me to continue growing, giving me advice and prayers to help me in the good battle before absolution.  As I sit in the pew after exiting the confessional I feel such deep joy one blended in hope that perhaps change is possible, that holiness can occur in my life with the help of the Church.   
National Dog Day, occurred on Sunday and one pup was spoiled to the core.  It’s such a different experience having a senior dog.  Dollar is mostly deaf, has agility issues and is losing his eyesight- even though he’s the same dog I’ve had for the past fifteen years he requires a bit more attention and a slower lifestyle with many adjustments.  Even so, he is so loved and cared for by the whole pack.  My parents shower him with attention – we all love him very much, no matter how old he gets.

Hope you had an equally full weekend. One in which the normal day things fill you with optimism for what lays ahead, because life is an adventure. Besos! 

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Finding God in the Natural World

Where do you find God? Years ago, I met an engineer who worked for NASA and he proudly shared how he had stumped a couple of Mormons when he told them that he had been out into the depths of space and didn’t see God or the heavens.  “Where is he?” He asked them.  I had just found God myself and had been reading one of my favorites from CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory, in it Lewis states that people miss God simply because they are looking for Him with the wrong set of eyes.  Thus, if you can’t see Him in your daily encounters, chances are that you will also miss Him in the grandeur.  When I was an agnostic I lived in such a rush working two jobs, while I went to university, and heavily partying that I thought God just didn’t frequent the places where I lived at.  Nature was a natural process that didn’t require my admiration, it simply existed as much of an accident as I.  It served me and I being its master wouldn’t lower myself to smell the flowers because the flowers would always be there.  This sense of entitlement is what blocks our vision from seeing and encountering God.

During my agnostic phase I had a Christian friend who would get so inspired simply by admiring the sky.  When I was with her she would point out the beauty that I missed every day because I was in such a hurry to get from one place to the other.  I used to admire her marvel towards creation and I promised myself that after I had conquered the world I would make time to enjoy a sunset…  As an Agnostic I visited the Amazon Jungle, spent two weeks in seclusion and I remembered being so drawn by my surroundings that I secretly told myself that if heaven existed it would look just like traveling down the Amazon River by day or night.  However, without God - admiring the natural splendor is incomplete, taking all of the magic in is like reading a poem without an author to thank.  The more I encountered beauty the more I felt this great desire to say, “thank you.”  Beauty draws us to God!
I grew up in a country town, with animals and the most beautiful forests; but, when I moved to the big city life of California I forgot about nature in trying to fit in with my new surroundings.  I pushed it so hard out of my consciousness that it wasn’t until I found God that He resuscitated my love for creation.  Today, I love spending time in front of the tabernacle just as much as I love spending time admiring His gifts of creation.  He returned my eyesight and today I marvel at the variety of species He gave us.  I was looking at the diversity of cacti the other day, when I visited a green house, some are large some are small, some are prickly some are soft…  This variation is captured throughout creation, how can anyone believe that an accidental burst could create such richness in beauty?  The more I spend time in nature the more I know God is real and the more I realize that if you can’t see Him in your daily lives chances are you won’t anywhere else, because CS Lewis is right God gives us special vision one driven by truth in beauty.