My Patron Saint

My Patron Saint

“Which Saint are you going to choose for your Confirmation?” It’s a question I heard about as frequently as “What are you going to be when you grow up?” The dreaming, the imagining and the pressure was pretty much the same for both questions.

I always thought I would choose St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. Elizabeth is a pretty name, I thought. And living in Maryland, I remember the time my parents took me to Emmitsburg to see her shrine.

elizabeth

St. Agnes was a favorite of mine as well. Patron saint of girls? I’m a girl, so that’s cool. She was always a favorite. The martyrs are all inspiring.

agnes

Finally, push came to shove and 7th grade came around. I had to make a decision. “No, you can’t just pick a pretty name,” my teacher said. “You have to pick a saint whose example means something to you. Which saint lived a life that you would like to imitate?”

Well, now things changed. St. Elizabeth became a nun. I did not want to be a nun, at least not yet in my life. In fact, I decided right then and there to rule out every female saint that was a nun, which seemed like 90% of them. The mothering ones didn’t quite appeal to me either. That narrowed it down to the early martyrs and a handful of others, including:

St. Joan of Arc.

joan

That’s it! That’s the one! There’s an adventure story if you ever heard one. God told her to put on men’s clothes and lead the French army to victory, which ultimately led to a martyr’s death by burning, all the while fixing her eyes on the crucifix and calling out the name of Jesus.

I always had a sense that someday there would be some sort of revolution or underground movement, or that Christianity would go underground (like the early days), and I would be heavily involved as a leader. More childish nonsense, perhaps. But it lasted the whole of my childhood, and St. Joan of Arc fit that narrative.

Did I imitate this saint’s path to holiness, like my religion teacher said I should? Looking back at the last few decades, I might not be much of an underground leader, but I’ve definitely gone against the grain. I still love that I chose St. Joan of Arc because her attitude of “who cares what society thinks” has been a big inspiration for me. Maybe the Holy Spirit was guiding me there, knowing that I would soon face a lot of things that would set me apart. As much as I love her, I’m ashamed to say I don’t ask her intercession nearly as often as I should. I’m trying to get better at that so she’ll know me when we meet in heaven.

Who did you pick for your Confirmation saint, and why? Are you still happy with your choice? Do you talk to them much?

Constantinople’s Lament

Constantinople’s Lament

My mom still talks about a time when I was a toddler and wanted so badly to see the inside of a church I had spotted on the side of the road. Being an adventurous mom, she pulled over and took me inside. Next thing you know, little Connie Ann is running up and down the aisles from the front to the back, pointing at the cross and shouting gleefully, “Jesus!”

I’ve since learned to control my outbursts (mostly). But I still love, love, love churches. Today I want to talk about my experience visiting one of the world’s greatest, found in the city of my namesake. (Yes, my name is Constance, but when my mom was in a playful mood, she called me Constantinople. And this was before I became a lover of Church history.)

Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia, August 2010, Evening

Dedicated on my birthday, December 27 (though in 537), the Hagia Sophia is a beautiful masterpiece of Byzantine culture as well as an engineering marvel. The ring of windows at the base of the dome amazed everyone who saw it. “What is holding the dome?” they wondered. It looks as though the dome is suspended on a ring of light.

If you squint, you can see the Theotokos on the wall in the back, behind me head.
Standing where the Empress Irene would sit. If you squint, you can see the Theotokos mosaic in the apse.

Apart from the columns, the marble, the dome, and the windows, this church was filled with the most ornate mosaics in the empire. Beautiful scenes filled every wall and alcove, designed to lift the viewer’s thoughts to the world above.

HagiaSophiaMary
Mary and the Child Jesus with Empress Irene and her son, Emperor Alexander.

Visiting this great wonder of the world was a dream come true, though it was also marked with sadness. You see, when Constantinople was overtaken by the Ottoman Turks in 1431, they converted our beautiful home into a mosque. The Christian artifacts were removed and the heavenly mosaics were covered in plaster. Islamic art and writings were hung over the images of our Lord and the Saints. The Glory of Christendom was forced to submit to the Muslims, guarded by four minarets.

In 1935, Mustafa Atatürk had the Hagia Sophia converted once again- this time to a museum. In an effort to honor both the Christian and Islamic history of the building, some of the mosaics were once again exposed, though many remain covered to this day.

Deesis
Deesis Mosaic: Jesus flanked by Mary and John the Baptist.

This is our Constantinople, bound by the shackles of time. Being in this place, seeing what it was, and knowing what it has become created such a storm of emotions in my soul. They say you many not pray in the building- but they can say what they want.

What is there to say when one walks where such tragedy has occurred? What once was the beautiful house of God is beaten down and chained by years of wounds and disenchantment. Would anyone believe the glory it used to house? Will it ever again be what it truly is? How many souls are just like this temple, tragically fallen from grace and seemingly without hope? What glorious beauty hides beneath the whitewash of our conquerors? When will we break the shackles and accept who we were meant to be? Do we have the Faith and Hope to live for the One who built us?

I hope so. And yes, it will always be Constantinople to me.

Things I Do At Work, Ep. 1: Shakespeare Tribute

Things I Do At Work, Ep. 1: Shakespeare Tribute

Every Friday, I have to clean out the refrigerators. Not too glamorous, right? I’m supposed to warn everyone before hand with an email. Again, boring, right?

In comes Pollyanna. Friday emails have actually become my favorite part of my job, because I get to WRITE. Instead of sending a quick, “I’m cleaning the fridge, write your name on anything you want to keep,” I’ve been getting creative. Here’s the latest installment of this series:

Friday Email 8/15/2014

Subject: “The Raven Himself Is Hoarse” or “Men in skirts: Part 1.”

This day in 1057, after being warned by witches and having endured the harsh monologues of his wife (who had an odd relationship with ravens), MacBeth was killed by Malcolm, and Malcolm became the new King of Scotland. Of course, MacBeth should have seen it coming- he had killed Malcolm’s dad, King Duncan, because his bird-obsessed wife told him to.

 

Centuries later in 1603, when King James VII of Scotland became King James I of England after the death of Queen Elizabeth, William Shakespeare honored him by writing the great Scottish play, Macbeth.

 

Shhhhh don’t say the name!

 

Of course, Willie Shakes changed it up a bit so James’s ancestors would seem a bit nobler, and their enemies a bit more grotesque (Nothing new with the Mainstream Media. But since #17thcenturyTwitter made use of actual birds, it wasn’t very user-friendly. It tended to poop out, a lot).

 

 

In honor of the great Elizabethan Playwright, Master of the Stage, we have a Sonnet to place before thee, in hopes thou doth not protest our use of Iambic Pentameter.

 

Sonnet 155:

As now we reach the setting of the sun
And leave the day and all its woes behind,
Before the clock doth chime the week be done,
Methinks there must be rules to thee remind.
Although we have enjoyed a brave repast
Of lunches fraught with chips and salads brave,
The unclaimed feast must now be onward cast
To meet the somber silence of the grave.
Yet hark, forsooth, a better way I see
To save it from a fate so rightly crude:
Perhaps a name, a date upon it be
The way to halt the slaying of the food.
Instead of ruing, casting me the blame,
Methinks thou shouldst just give thy food a name.

 

#HappyFriday #HastagImDone

Faith of Our Fathers

James and I went to our beloved Williamsburg, VA for the long 4th of July weekend this year. One of the wonderful things about Williamsburg is that each time we visit, I am struck by a different facet of our nation’s history. One of the things that really hit me this year is the prevalence of religious faith in our story.

Friday at 12:00, we gathered with a crowd to hear a reading of the Declaration of Independence on the steps of the courthouse. Before the reading, the man doing the introduction said, “Let us begin with a prayer.” I heard a voice in the crowd remark, quite shocked, “Prayer?” As shocked as he was to hear the mention of public prayer, I was shocked to hear his shock. In my mind, I thought, “Yes, you unfortunate product of secular indoctrination. Prayer was acceptable in 18th century America. It was a part of life. Just wait til you hear the language in the Declaration.”

Later that afternoon we listened to a speech by Patrick Henry, where he informed all of us that he faithfully read the Scriptures twice a day without fail, an hour in the morning and an hour at night. His religion shaped every bit of his politics. Why, he even talked about Thomas Jefferson, and how even though evidence shows him to be a Deist, his faith in a God had a profound influence on his work.

Saturday morning, we took a drive down the Colonial Parkway to Jamestown. I haven’t been since I was a little kid, and James had never been at all. We had so much fun exploring something new together. It felt like our honeymoon all over again.

When we got to Jamestown, there was more evidence of God in our history. Check out this monument:

 

"Lastly and chiefly the way to prosper an achieve Good Success is to make yourselves all of one mind for the good of your Country and your own, and to serve and fear God the Giver of All Goodness, for every plantation which our Heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted out."
“Lastly and chiefly the way to prosper an achieve Good Success is to make yourselves all of one mind for the good of your Country and your own, and to serve and fear God the Giver of All Goodness, for every plantation which our Heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted out.”

Religion is part of our history. You can’t erase it. It is so fundamentally embroiled into the fabric of this nation and her people that you cannot re-write the story without it. Our forefathers created a nation on the idea that there IS a God, and that He is the ultimate source of our inalienable rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

My travel bucket list

Lately I’ve been thinking about all the places I want to go, so I decided to make my travel bucket list. Why? Because life is too short to sit around saying you wish you could do something, someday.

Me at the Acropolis in Athens

In no particular order, here are the places I am going to explore:

1. England: I want to see the sights in London, but then I want to drive around and see the countryside as well. Maybe we could take two or three weeks and make it up to the Scottish Highlands too.

2. Australia: I want to spend a night looking at the stars in the Southern Hemisphere, preferably far from city lights.

3. Florence and Tuscany hill towns: I want to see the art at the Uffizi, then check out Siena, Pisa, and little off-the-beaten-path places.

4. Switzerland: I’ve flown over the Alps during sunrise twice. Now I want to see them up close.

5. Austria: I have always wanted to see Vienna and Salzburg, since I was a young kid, mostly for the history. And, who are we kidding, there’s something about the combined forces of Mozart and the Von Trapp family.

6. Caribbean: Um, can I be there right now? Maybe we’ll make it there on our honeymoon.

7. Africa: I want to see the animals, but I’ll stay away from bush food and death by hyenas. Might take some work to convince James on this one.

8. Patagonia: penguins!!

9. France: to see Le Tour de France, of course! This is actually one of future hubby’s dreams. I’ve already been to Paris, Chatres, and Versailles, but I’ve always wanted to see more of the French countryside. I want to learn French first, though.

10. Spain: I want to see the Prado in Madrid, the Alhambra castle, the Mosque of Cordoba, and flamenco dancing in Seville. Basically, I want to make a day stop to Madrid for the art museum, then spend a week galavanting around Andalucia.

There are a few more places I could add, like medieval towns in Holland, Belgium for the chocolate, Germany for kicks… but I think these are the main ones. Not sure if I’ll ever make it out to Africa, the shots and the toilet situation might be enough to keep me away. BUT… Fiancé and I are already making plans to go to 2 of these places by 2014! Guess which!!

“Occupy” Steals House From Struggling Single Dad

A single dad, struggling to raise two daughters on his own, is falling behind on mortgage payments. His house is about to be foreclosed, so he and his daughters are living in an apartment while he tries to catch up on payments. Then out of nowhere, Occupy Wall Street swoops in, squats in his house, and gives it to a homeless family in a big “look at us, we’re Robin Hood, giving back to the 99%” ceremony.

Yes, this really happened. Click Here to read it. For some reason (oh gee, I wonder why), not much of the media is covering the story.

This guy is clearly not a member of the 1%. Struggling single dad losing his house does not equate to multi-millionaire CEO. The craziest thing is that OWS is actually fighting to stay in the house. HUH? Last I checked, going into someone else’s house against their wishes and refusing to leave was called breaking and entering. And trespassing. And stealing someone’s house is grand theft (at least I think it is… who steals houses?). In fact, in Colonial Virginia, “Housebreaking”, as it was called, was a felony punishable by death.

Where is the law, and why is this even in the courts? It should be a simple: kick the trespassers out of the poor guy’s house, please.

Of course, let’s be fair to the OWS crowd and say that, Yes, there is a HUGE problem with the economy in this country right now. But taking what isn’t yours isn’t going to solve anything.  As I read from one blogger, the first sign of the American economy tanking wasn’t the 2008 mortgage crisis. It was in the 1960s and 1970s when women had to go to work because it was no longer possible to support a family on a single income. Even if it’s possible to get back to the glory days of the American economy, we have a long road ahead of us. Calling it quits and jumping to collectivism like the Germans of the 1930s or the Russians of 1917 is not going to bring prosperity. We have to find another way.

“Give Me Liberty” or at least plastic bags.

Last night I experienced first hand what the American colonists must have felt back in the 1760s. The Stamp Act, it has much been said, wasn’t so much a pain because of the amount of money. It was a pain because it was big government getting in your face. So what exactly in today’s world is so comparable?

Montgomery County Maryland and the Bag Tax.

Sure, 5 cents on every paper or plastic bag from every grocery, retail, or dining establishment might not make a big hole in your pocket. But it stings. Especially when you take into account all the other absurdities of this county government. Let me tell you what happened to me last night:

First, I went to the library to renew my books.

Librarian:  “Sorry, you can’t renew, you have to give other people a chance to read.”

Me: I just stare, thinking Who else wants to read this book on Medieval England that hasn’t been checked out since 2008? Isn’t that what waiting lists and holds are for?

Librarian: “You can come back tomorrow to get them off the shelf.”

Me: I work full-time and have a life. “Really? You can’t just renew them today?”

Librarian: “Nope. New Montgomery County rule. Read the sign.”

So I begrudgingly took my book marks out of the books and went to my car. Next stop, grocery store to get a bottle of Texas Pete hot sauce. I go to check out, and the lines are around the block. Every person at self check-out is taking way longer than usual, because there were no bags to be found. In their place were signs, “New Montgomery County law, bags now cost 5 cents, please bring your own bag,” or some other insensitive, bureaucratic BS. After waiting for the guy in front of me to finally bum a bag off someone to carry his 15 little items, I bought my Texas Pete and put it in my purse, feeling oddly like a shoplifter even though I just paid.

As I walked to my car, I looked up and saw the Montgomery County seal on the liquor store. I don’t know if anyone out there knows this, but in Montgomery County, you cannot buy liquor from anyone but the government. When you do go to the county liquor store, they scan your driver’s license.  With all that data collection, how long before they start rationing?

I miss Howard County. I miss the nice people who don’t honk at you, I miss the clean roadways without beggars, I miss the free plastic bags, I miss the free-market alcohol. Mostly, I miss the lack of obtrusive government interference in my everyday life. I don’t mind paying taxes for roads, schools, or even well-run temporary welfare programs, but I DO mind it when the government tries to tell me how to live. I’m getting out of this county as soon as I can.

If MoCo is trying to force me to get reusable grocery bags and carry them everywhere I go, I’ll get one with the “Don’t Tread on Me” snake. Where’s Patrick Henry when you need him?

Note: Montgomery County still has not informed retail and grocery stores where to send the money from the bag tax. This whole thing is ridiculous.

What’s My Writing Platform?

Recently I decided that I have to be a writer. If I don’t write, I’ll never be happy with myself. My day job is completely unsatisfying from a personal standpoint, and I really want to be doing something creative. I’m trying to get to the point where I can feel comfortable calling myself a writer. I’m doing this the only way I know how: practicing my writing and reading books on the subject.

In Sage Cohen’s book, The Productive Writer, chapter 2 is all about finding and defining your platform. What does she mean by that?

Well, to be honest, I’m not 100% sure. What the heck is a platform? It seems like she means you need to decide what topic you want to be known for. Are you a how-to girl, an expert in culinary history, a poet or a political analyst? What do you want to say to the world?

What do I want to say to the world? I have a lot of interests, but I have no idea what exactly I would want to write about. I have a degree in history and I love art. Could that be the makings of my platform? I wrote my graduation thesis on Italian immigrants and the Catholic Church in the early part of the 20th century. Could that be my platform? What about all the other things I want to write, like the novel I keep thinking about? How do I know when I’ve found the right platform?

In a way, this blog started as an exercise to discover my writing niche. Maybe I could look through my posts and figure out what topics I write about the most.

Maybe there is no clear answer. Maybe I just need to keep writing about whatever I want, and see where it leads me. Sounds like a plan!

Why I Go to Mass

Last night, before Mass, James and I were sitting in the pew at St. Patrick’s. The stained glass windows were black, and the warm glow of candles from the altar created a calm atmosphere. The choir was practicing a chant of Ave Maria. I felt as people must have felt for the last 2000 years. In walks the young priest, wearing that dress. Sure it’s not a dress, it’s the old pre-Vatican II non-pants priest daily wear. Seeing priests in it always makes me feel as though I have been transported through time, or that time is still completely. I am seeing what people saw in 1980, in 1880, in 1780, in 80. (Ok maybe they didn’t wear that back in 80 AD but you get the point.)

Once the priest is done suiting up in the sacristy, the procession begins: altar boys holding candles, the lectors, the priest in his white chasuble. The songs are ones that have been used for generations. There’s something about being at Mass at night. It’s timeless.

Balcony of the Haggia Sophia
Me in the Haggia Sophia, where Mass was said for almost 1000 years.

James and I were at church last night because yesterday was the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Basically that means that on December 8, we celebrate the belief that God allowed Mary to be born without the stain of original sin in order for her to later be the mother of Jesus. Born Catholic, I have always gone to church. Even during times of my life when I felt far from God, and confused about what I believed in, I still went to church. Blame it on my Catholic school upbringing. I think the reason I have never quit church, no matter how dismal I felt about my life or about God, was that to me, the church is home. The traditions, the prayers, the vestments, and the songs from 200 or 500 years ago all make me feel that I am part of something that is way more important than any other something I have ever been a part of.

I have taken many theology classes in my life. I have studied the history of the prayers and the songs, the saints and the creed, the schisms and the councils. Studying, though, can only get you so far. Sometimes, people study so much that they lose sight of what really matters, that God became Man to teach us how to love one another. They care more about the letter of the law than the spirit of the law. No matter how doubtful I ever feel about God, about people, about where my life is headed, coming back to Mass reminds me why I keep going. The Church is our mother, the home we come back to when all else fails. That is the way I felt last night.

Pearl Harbor, 70 years later

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Leading up to the surprise attack, America was in a depression. Europe was unable to pay their debts. Foreign dictators were on the rise. This unprecedented attack launched America into WWII and, eventually, into her Superpower status. Today, 70 years later, it seems we’ve come full circle. Europe is in dept, America is in a depression (even though the official word states otherwise) and foreign dictators are on the rise.

After Pearl Harbor and the revving up of the war machine, America was united in a common ideology. Americans believed that America was the greatest place on earth. Americans believed that America was worth fighting for. In the war’s aftermath, Americans believed that it was their solemn duty to build up America, and re-build war-torn countries. Americans believed that as long as America stood strong, the rest of the world would be taken care of.

Today, few Americans believe in America. Growing up in school in the 90’s and 2000’s, I saw that most kids thought America was the world’s curse. Most people thought Canada and Europe were the civilized regions, and American pride was something of a redneck naiveté. Believing in American greatness is frowned upon. I’m not sure how this happened. Maybe it’s something to do with political correctness. But look where it’s gotten us.

I’m in favor of being polite and treating other countries with respect. But if America is ever going to rise again, her people need to believe in her. We need to believe that America was meant to be the greatest country on earth. We need to have faith in ourselves and in our American heritage. This faith is what brought us through every major struggle we have ever faced, and it will not fail us now.