Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Let us all pray for peace this Thursday. The whole World!

Thanksgiving is fast approaching. Only two days left for this beautiful holiday that we reserve to give a special thanks for all of our blessings. This Thanksgiving I find it somewhat bitter-sweet. What with all the things going on in the world; all the violence and terror, I feel this need to pray with a sense of urgency. I feel we are on the brink of something, well something that can either be terrible or miraculously good. I choose the latter! Why not pray for a miracle? Why the heck not?

I write this short blog post to urge you to do the same. As Americans we have this beautiful holiday, why not also turn it into a day of prayer and urgent supplication for the world?

Whatever way you pray...whatever faith you belong to....no matter how long it's been since your last earnest prayer, PRAY! Let us pray for a miracle, that we may have peace. Let us pray for the conversion of the hearts of all radicals. Seems far fetched huh? Seems too good to even think about? All the more reason why we should do it!

I believe in the power of prayer! I believe, particularly in the power of prayer when hundreds, thousands, heck, why not millions, join in! Pray! Pray! We can change the world through prayer. How? Well if we simply look at the fact that everyone is turned towards the same goal and everyone is, at the same time asking for the same thing, than that already is a change in and of itself. It's just the beginning. Only good can come from prayer!

So when you gather round the table this Thanksgiving, pray! Pray for world peace! Pray for peace in our own hearts. Pray for peace in our families! Pray for peace in our governments! Pray for peace in the hearts of all the world leaders. And Yes! Pray for peace in the hearts of all those who are steeped in evil and violence. Pray!

During WWI, there was something known as the Christmas Truce. It "was a series of widespread but unofficial ceasefires along the Western Front around Christmas 1914. In the week leading up to the holiday, German and British soldiers crossed trenches to exchange seasonal greetings and talk." Although we know what followed, more fighting, it goes to show that the true desire of man is peace. If it can happen for a day or two, why not be bold and pray that it lasts, period!

And if you are reading this and you do not happen to celebrate Thanksgiving, join us in prayer nonetheless. On Thursday, let us gather together and pray! Pray around the world, for the world! May peace reign in our hearts and in the world!!! May God bless each one of you!

Soldiers from both sides taking picture during impromptu truce.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Good does come from terrorism!!!

Antoine Leiris lost his wife in the Paris attacks on Bataclan. (source)

Here is a perfect example to reinforce what I wrote about terrorism this week!
Antoine Leiris, a French journalist, expresses it best, because he has lived the horrific events first hand. He lost his wife, the mother to his only son at the hands of these terrorists. Yet, he even extracts goodness from terrorism! He does not allow hatred to overcome him and his living his life day-to-day will be his way to fight back!

Watch here: BBC Video of Antoine Leiris

Amen Antoine! Live your life every day to the fullest with your son Melvil and live your wife's memory!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Can good come from terrorism?

I have a confession to make. I have sat down to write a post several times within the past week or so. In fact, I had vowed to write twice a week and as you see, I am a bit behind already. Reason? I don't know what to write. Why? Well, it's difficult to write from this new perspective. I said I had a conversion, but in reality, a conversion takes a lifetime. My critical point of view tends to get the better of me.

Personally, after the tragedies with the Russian commercial airliner, the suicide bombings in Beirut and then the massacres in Paris...I am having a horrible time finding the true, good and beautiful! A darn hard time!

I will give it a shot, nonetheless.

The truth? The truth is that evil is a reality. It is exists and it is palpable. The human person is indeed capable of some evil things, things beyond our comprehension. More truth? There is nothing new about what is going on today. I think back to the time of the Nazis. Or the genocide in Rwanda. The list of human atrocities can fill our history books. They kind of do. Some more truth? The flip side is that the human person is also capable of some really good things. We can fill volumes of books, and we do, about the good persons that have existed and that have changed the world for better. We know some personally, we have read about plenty and there are so many alive and well.

So the truth is intermingled with good. Good does exist. We must not forget that. I must not forget that. Although the world sometimes feels like it is falling apart at the seams, goodness does indeed exist. We have to look for it. Society is more inclined to focus on the negative. Media sells the bad, and the ugly; but, we have to go out and look for the good. That is the truth. That is our duty, our mission and it is a necessity.

You see, that is what these terrorists want. They want us to be terrorized and forget the goodness of each day. They want us to be so horrified with what has happened, and it is in fact horrible, that we refuse to see any good in this world.  In fact, we must do this for those who have died at the hands of these monsters. We must look for the good. We must see the good of the lives that were lost; the lives they had lived. We must see the good in that communities and countries come together in solidarity and prayer. We must see the good in that we are the majority and they (the terrorists) are the minority.

The human heart desires what is true, good and beautiful. That is what we are created for. The human heart, when tended to and cared for seeks what is enveloped in love. Truth, goodness and beauty point towards love and are virtues of love. Those hearts that have been abused, abandoned and neglected are sometimes overtaken by darkness and fall into the trap of evil. They too were created for good, but somehow they have lost their way.

I am a firm believer in the power of prayer. I pray for the victims of all these tragedies. Not only in Paris but in so many other areas of the world. I pray for the families and friends left behind who question the existence of goodness. And yes, shockingly yes! I pray for the terrorists. I pray for each one of them, alive or dead. Why do I pray for them? Because once upon a time they were just like you and me. They sought good. They sought beauty and truth. Unfortunately they lost their way and were blinded to all of these things. I pray that God open their eyes so that they may see the truth and the evil in their ways and change; repent. I pray for the mercy of God upon their souls.

The beauty? The beauty is that you and I can combat terrorism right now. Right here in our own home, neighborhood and at work. We can combat terrorism by living our lives to the fullest. We can combat it by continuing to seek the good. We can combat it by seeking to see the beauty in everything, even the most evil of things. We can indeed extract these things from them, because that is what we and our world were created for. As long as we keep doing that and keep living our lives, we can combat the evil in this world. We must live our lives in goodness for the sake of those who lost them. They lost their lives doing exactly what we do every day. The mundane, the normal, the everyday stuff that makes up our day to day. They lived.

These terrorists have given us, if we accept the challenge, a renewed perspective. Let us live our lives to the fullest. Let us live each day as if it were our last. Let us love as if we shan't see each other again. Let us not only seek truth, goodness and beauty, but let us embody it. Let us be truthful. Let us be good and let us be beautiful in our own unique way.

Thank you for reading.

God bless you all and let us be united in prayer for the goodness of this world.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Porn: creating an internal filter for small children

In my last blog post I wrote about the eyes being windows to the soul. If the eyes are so intricately connected to the soul and can even reveal things beyond this world, wouldn't that make the eyes vital to the state of one's soul? To one's interior life? Wouldn't that then mean that whatever comes in through the eyes would have a profound influence on what lies beneath?

Now, more than ever, western society is so preoccupied with what comes into our bodies. We are constantly worried about the chemicals and hormones found in foods and other products we use on our body and skin. But are not our eyes an entry point to our bodies as well? Shouldn't we simultaneously be worried about the images that we are "consuming" throughout our day? Do we not believe that image consumption can also alter our bodies (i.e. brains) just as much as other materials we consume?

Let's face it. We live in an image-saturated society. Whether we are connected to our tablet or smartphone, or we are just driving down the street. We are constantly being bombarded with information, predominantly images. A picture is worth a thousand words! Never before have marketing gurus taken these words and turned them into billions of dollars like now. Images touch our emotions. They drive us to consume and can alter our feelings in just seconds.

So what of pornographic images? In recent years we have been hearing more and more of the ill effects that pornography has on the brain. (www.fightthenewdrug.org) Studies have shown that not only does it alter the brain but it also lights up the same areas of "addiction" as do chemical drugs. The addiction is just as severe and dangerous. The devastation is long lasting as well; sometimes even harder to overcome. Images, especially the ones that are laden with violence, many times are never forgotten. Engraved in our brains forever!

There are so many aspects of this topic that can be touched upon. Where I would like to begin though, is what is of great concern to me as a mother of two very small boys. I am painfully aware that even at such a young age, given the wrong incident at the wrong time, my boys can be exposed. The older they get, the stakes are not only higher, but the opportunities are much more abundant. So what to do? Are we really being forced to speak to our very young children about pornography? Can we trust that all parents and adults that may come into contact with our children will have the same concerns as us? Lastly, are firewalls and passcodes really the solution to this very intricate problem?

What are we to do as parents? How can we protect our children? The greatest tool is prevention. Let us prevent the problem before it even begins. But how do we prevent our children from being exposed to these images that seem to be everywhere? Avoid screen time as much as possible! Up until the age of two, children should have no screen time whatsoever. Other than being a great temporary babysitter, children do not benefit at all from screen time before the age of two. "Infants may stare at the bright colors and motion on a screen, but their brains are incapable of making sense or meaning out of all those bizarre pictures. It takes 2 full years for a baby’s brain to develop to the point where the symbols on a screen come to represent their equivalents in the real world." (healthychildren.org)

But do we really have to begin telling our children about sexual images at a much earlier age than ever? Well yes and no. Obviously a three year old is incapable of understanding anything about sex and sexual images. But we can talk to them about bad images and good images.

I have to make a side note here: I feel that as long as you can postpone screen time with children, the better. After the age of two it's not so much how bad screen time is but what they're missing out when they are getting screen time. Children need to be out, running around, exploring with their hands and bodies. Screen time just  hypnotizes. Albeit, it is a great help when you need to get things done around the house, but I always come back to the same question: (to help me avoid falling into the trap of relying too much on screens) what would my grandmother/great-grandmother have done?

So what of good images and bad images? We can talk to our very young children about how some images make them feel "yucky" or funny. We can tell them that if someone wants to show them something on a screen (i.e. phone/tablet) they must ask mommy or daddy for permission. Between the ages of three to six it is easier to set rules and have them follow them by default. Once they get older, past seven or eight we really have to talk about the explicit images that can cause real harm to their brains, "like drugs!"

We simply cannot rely on the fact that all parents will think like us. Although we may say "I will never leave my child around a parent or adult I don't trust", we have to think a bit further and realize that they may be around a child or children that have parents who are not concerned with these issues. Some parents (most likely the father) may even have these images stored in his tablet, phone or in drawers at home that the child may have access to. Unfortunately, we cannot trust that anyone else will protect our children from this grave harm.

We also must consider that as our children get older, firewalls and passwords may be of great help but they are simply not enough. Now there are even software programs and apps that can help prevent children from accidentally straying onto harmful websites. Yet, we still have to talk to our children about these things before someone else does. We may think to ourselves, I don't want to traumatize them or rob them of their innocence, but there are ways to approach the issue without doing this. It is better that we address it early and in the proper way rather than having them really be traumatized by images we can never-ever remove from their brains again.

I want to recommend a book I recently came across, particularly to those parents of children who are six and older. "Good pictures, Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today's Young Kids." by Kristen A. Jenson, MA and Gail Poyner, PhD. It is an excellent book, set up as a story of a mother who sits down with her son to look at pictures. From their the author explains the different effects that "bad pictures" have on the brain. She addresses how the brain is "tricked" into being addicted to these images and how a child can help to prevent this through a "can do" plan. It provides an internal filter for children so that they know how to handle these images that unfortunately they will run into eventually. The Amazon reviews speak for themselves. I met the author personally and what she has done is not only timely but absolutely revolutionary. This is an essential tool to today's parenting.

Finally, let us not be discouraged. Although we have to be realistic and come to terms with the fact that these images are bound to cross our children's visual path, we do have great tools available to help educate them. Just like drugs, alcohol and cigarettes, we have to teach our children the dangers of these. We can equip our children with age appropriate information that will help them choose what is right and help them learn to take care of their bodies in every way. We must start early and learn that prevention is the best method to fight this "new drug". We must prevent our children from falling into the trap of porn addiction. Let us prevent our children from being shamed and traumatized from images that can ruin their future relationships and emotional state.  Let us "fight this new drug" together and raise healthy and happy children!

The good? Let us teach children to value beautiful images; the beauty of the body and sexuality that is based on love and respect. The good is that we have tools. We have the ability to teach our children right from wrong. The world can never be more powerful than the love, education and tenderness a parent can provide. It may seem as if it is sometimes more powerful, but in the end, love conquers all. As long as love is present, it is always more powerful than evil.

You can refer to my resources section (under each appropriate category) for links, books and other information. 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Windows to the soul

They say the eyes are the window to the soul. The eyes reveal so much more than we sometimes wish to reveal. Is it any wonder why people look away when they have something to hide? They cannot seem to look you in the eyes. There is a lot to be said for this. Our eyes, are indeed windows to our soul but also to our heart, and our emotions. They are the windows onto our life.

Which brings me to a question I want to ask you. Since today is the Feast of All Saints Day, I would like to ask: Have you ever met a saint? I am not talking about an official saint, declared by the Church. I am asking, have you ever had the feeling you have met or known a saint? I bet you have!

We all have a story of how we have been struck by someone's profound goodness, by their life. Many of us may have stories of a grandparent, an aunt or an uncle that touched our lives in a very deep way. For better. Some of us may have stories of how when we look back, we realize that there was something rather special about them; something beyond ordinary. We can't place our finger on it. So I am asking you, could it have been a kind of saintliness?

I recently had an experience that prompted me to realize how the eyes of saintly people give them away.

Just about a month ago, I traveled to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families. The event was set up as a series of conferences throughout the day. They were held at the local convention center. In the convention there were hundreds of booths set up with all sorts of Christian-Catholic initiatives and their information and material. This hall was enormous. It took days just to visit all the booths.

At the very back of the convention center, there was a line that curiously wound and looped through several other booths. I couldn't help but notice that all these people were standing in line to meet one little lady. This demure woman stood there for hours taking the time to listen to each person. You could tell that she listened with sincerity and genuine love. The people brought her their petitions; and shared with her the favors that her mother had granted them through her intercession.

In the Catholic church we believe that saints are our intercessors; our friends in heaven if you will. We do not pray to them. We ask for their intercession. In essence we ask them to pray for us. It's like as a friend for a favor. Who hasn't asked a friend to put in a good word for us when we need to get a job or meet someone else? Connections in this life help us quite a bit. Connections in heaven are even more powerful. They put in a good word for us to God and help us out in times of need. Pretty cool, huh?

So back to Philadelphia. This woman never tired. She never stopped smiling. Her look was so captivating. I had to meet her!

Her name is Gianna Emanuela. She is the fourth daughter of Saint Gianna Beretta Molla. St. Gianna, her mother, was a mother, wife and pediatrician from Northern Italy. She lived a saintly life alongside her husband Pietro and dedicated her life to her family and her practice, giving particular attention to the poor. In 1961, during the second month of her fourth pregnancy, Gianna developed a fibroma on her uterus. She was given three choices: to abort, to undergo a complete hysterectomy, or to remove the fibroma. She refused the abortion and hysterectomy knowing full-well that both would result in the loss of her child. She opted for the removal of the fibroma in order to preserve the life growing within her.

On April 21 1962, Holy Saturday of that year, she gave birth to her fourth child, Gianna Emanuela. However, she continued to have severe pain. She died seven days later due to complications.  Gianna Emanuela is a geriatric doctor but also dedicates her life to sharing the story of her mother. That is why she was in Philadelphia.

I had a special connection to Gianna Emanuela. When I was pregnant with my first son in 2012, towards my 15th week of gestation I had a sudden loss of most of my amniotic fluid. The doctor's could not explain what had taken place. I was hospitalized so that they could monitor me and the baby. The risk of infection was high. After three days in the hospital I was sent home on complete bed rest. I pleaded for prayers! There was not much left to do other than to pray and wait to see what would happen.

A friend of mine, who was friends with Gianna Emanuela, contacted her and asked her for her prayers. In particular for the intercession of her mother. I had already started asking her mother to pray for me as I had gotten to know of her story while living in Italy and knew she would understand my anguish. Needless to say, a month later, during one of routine weekly check-ups the doctor, in great shock, announced that all the fluid had returned. I could not believe my ears! Everything was ok. Just a few weeks later I gave birth to our son, Maximiliano.

So here I was, waiting in line to meet the lady who had prayed for me and my son a few years back. As soon as it was my turn I nervously blurted out my story to her in Italian. She paused, looked up for a second, contemplating my words and then turned to look at me in the most tender of ways saying: "Of course, I remember. Your friend who asked me is named...." I couldn't believe that she remembered!

I tell you, that day, I met someone that radiated such saintliness. Her eyes revealed a goodness deep within that is not seen every day. She transmitted something so unfamiliar and yet so markedly familiar. It was something that I could only recognize with my own soul. It was as if I saw something I yearned for but seemed out of reach. It dwelled within her; a goodness beyond any goodness I had seen. See for yourself in this picture:

Meeting Gianna Emanuela Molla in Philadelphia

Humility, sincerity, peace, generosity. All these virtues could be captured in her eyes and in her gestures; her demeanor. I suppose you would have to witness something like this for yourself. You would have to see it with your own eyes. I am sure you have. I am sure there is someone in your life who has touched you so profoundly that for one instant, it was all captured in their eyes. I'll bet you never forget their look. A look of love. What saints have you known in your own life?

P.S. bet you can guess the first picture, just by the eyes.