Reaching Within Blog
Reflections from students, staff, and faculty about how they're living their faith, engaging spirituality, or trying to integrate their lives meaningfully. This blog began in May 2012.
Tuesday, Mar. 5, 2013
Although I’m not Catholic, or technically part of any religion, I still value time to reflect on various things that I’m grateful for everyday. I believe gratitude is necessary for every person to live a truly happy life, and so I incorporate many different activities into my life that remind me every day what it means to give and the importance of it.
While I’m not particularly religious, I would say that I am definitely spiritual. So I meditate for fifteen minutes every morning not only to center myself, but also to thank God for my incredibly blessed life. I acknowledge and give thanks for things, from my amazing family and friends to things such as having running water and screens on my windows. Starting my day off by being in a state of gratitude helps me to remember the importance of helping others to have a better quality of life.
Personally, I think I have a magnified sense of just how blessed my life is because I am adopted. Being adopted has given me a definite perspective of how drastically different my life could have been if I hadn’t been adopted, or had simply been adopted into another family that isn’t as well off as my family is. Talking to my birth mother, who lives in a trailer in Minot, North Dakota, doesn’t have a job, and barely graduated high school, just puts me in awe of where I am in life in comparison. Here I am, living in Los Angeles, from a well-off family, a graduate of high school, and almost done with undergraduate school with plans to pursue a Ph.D. and a nice job. This awareness of various ways in which people live their lives and the realities they face has compelled me with a strong desire to help people in any way I can.
Throughout high school and to this day, I still do many volunteer activities. I even received a letter from President Obama thanking me for all of my community service and encouragibng me to keep going! I think it’s very important to help others who are less fortunate or are simply in need of help because I know I wouldn’t be where I am in life today without the people who’ve helped me out along the way. So it’s necessary to pay it forward, in a sense, because if people don’t, they wouldn’t thrive as much, or even at all in some cases. What kind of a world would we create if we didn’t help each other out now and then? Certainly not the kind of world that I would want to live in! We have one life, one planet, and I think everyone has a duty to leave this world a little better than they found it.
So as I reflect on what I think it means to give, I think it means that you care not only about others, but also this world. It means that you acknowledge and are thankful for what you have and have a desire to help others in need. It means that you care about the bigger picture in life, and aren’t content with just sitting by and doing nothing. We are so lucky to be alive, living on this beautiful and wondrous planet, and I think we need to make the most of it, because if we don’t, what would we get out of life?
If you are interested in geting involved with Relay for Life at Santa Clara University, please follow this link.
Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013
I’ve been thinking a lot about how I would write this, or what exactly I would say, but for the most part I just wanted to convey my faith experiences since taking first Eucharist. I am currently sitting on a plane, thinking to myself what I did in my life to deserve such an amazing experience while abroad. Certainly, God thought I did something right, and as a result I was given the opportunity of a lifetime to study politics and religion in one of the most dynamic cities in the world. I knew for a fact that this was His way of saying that I needed to go out in the world, discover my true self, and work at it to better not just myself but others as well. I tried to do just that.
During my week-long study break, I chose to go on a five-day trip to the home of Catholicism: Rome. I could have easily gone with friends to Rome and done what college students do, but I felt I had a purpose to go there and I let my heart guide me instead. I booked my flight and my hotel alone, and found it within myself to break the taboo of traveling alone at my age. I did this because I knew that I wanted to take advantage of the amazing location to study my faith deeper and reflect on where I am at since I first became a Catholic. With that said, I posed myself two questions to answer throughout that week and up until the end of my study abroad experience: Why am I a Catholic? Why am I proud to be a Catholic. This is what I came up with.
I grew up in a very Mexican-Catholic family. If I could choose one person that epitomized religion into me, I would have to say it was my grandmother. She was a very devout catholic who filled our home with religious mementos of El Santo Niño de Atocha, and the Virgen de Guadalupe. My grandmother was the exemplary Catholic, humble despite her many acknowledged shortcomings. She knew she wasn’t perfect, but what got her through the day was knowing that that was okay, and that her family would still love her. She passed away when I was seven years old, and after she died, I was left with many questions, most of them unanswered to this day. But for some reason I chose not to do my first communion until I came to Santa Clara. Freshman year at Santa Clara, I met Lulu Santana who helped me understand that it was okay to have lots of questions, and it was okay to wholeheartedly embrace the love that is our Lord. By the end of RCIA (the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults), I was more ready than ever to take first Eucharist and receive the holy oils that made people want to smell my face. The ceremony was beautiful. I would say that if I were to list the proudest moments of my life, that day would probably be top three.
Today I am on an airplane home having spent the past four months living the dream and traveling in Europe.
At first, it was difficult being in a country with a small amount of Catholics. It is not as easy to find a Catholic church in London as you might think, and every trip I would take to mass, would take at least 30 minutes to complete. It was, however, very much worth it since I became a part of the community of Westminster Cathedral, a brilliant parish and an amazing feat of architecture. Going there most Sundays was the highlight of my day, but it made me think about how it is more difficult to be a Catholic in different parts of the world. In the UK, being Catholic in a mostly Anglican country is very difficult, especially for me, a student with no car. On most days, it was nearly impossible to get there without rain delaying either the bus or the church. However, I would see past that and try my best to make it to mass every Sunday.
One of the most hallowed experiences of my life happened while in London. On December 12th, also known as el Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe, I promised the Virgen that I would go to church at Westminster that day, seeing as I was very far from home. Unfortunately, as I was leaving work, I forgot to get off at the correct stop. I felt a sense of betrayal, like I had failed Her, so I immediately turned around and went to the church. I was very amazed when I learned that I arrived right as a mass was starting. To my surprise, mass was all about Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. The priest talked about La Virgen’s story and, surprisingly, many people were intrigued by what he said and wanted to learn more. After mass, we were invited to the sacristy to view an image of Our Lady. Everyone in the church flocked to the sacristy. What used to be a quiet, private area of the church soon became a long line full of people waiting to meet Our Lady. I had never been happier while in London.
Backtracking, my trip to Rome was probably the greatest experience of my life. After a very long day traveling, I got to Rome and the first thing I did after checking in was to find my way to Vatican City. This was a dream come true. I arrived on Wednesday, a papal audience day. I am almost glad that it rained because I feel like it deterred a large crowd. When I got comfortably close enough, I just listened to his message. That day it was a simple yet powerful message, faith originates in the church. I took it straight to heart, and thought of what that meant to me. Not to mention, I was put on the spot by Vatican Radio, since they interviewed me because I spoke Spanish (probably one of the big highlights of my trip).
But when one thinks about it, the concept of faith starting in the church is a rather abstract one. I was of the belief that faith started in each individual human being--that when things got tough, we would have faith that things got better. However, that was looking at it from a very small perspective. The Church is a worldwide organization. Yes, different individuals have faith differently, but as one single Christian church, faith does get facilitated and promoted for the greater good of the world, not only for each individual. This really set the mood for the rest of my trip. I can’t tell you how many churches I visited and how many times I had profound faith experiences, sometimes right in the middle of the street. But the beauty of it all is that it really helped me solidify why I am a Catholic and I am proud of it. Believing in something is very easy. I can tell you that I weigh 223.5 pounds; though you might have your doubts, you still take me at my word and believe me. I think some people ascribe to this thought process when relating it to religion, regardless of which. Having faith, however, is something totally different and out of this world.
Having faith means that you stop at a corner of the street and pray to God as you would in a church, knowing that it will have the same effect. Having faith is losing someone dear, but knowing that God chose them to be in a special place in heaven, awaiting the eventual day where you might reunite. Having faith is knowing fundamentally that God exists and is everywhere you see beauty, but especially in the places where you see pain. Faith is knowing that you are not perfect, and that you make many mistakes, but still having the firm conviction that God will take care of you so long as you are honest and sincere, Faith is beautiful. Faith brings out the best qualities in every one of us, showing us the difference between right and wrong.
My faith leads me to know that I made the right choice when I chose to become a Catholic. You see, I am proud to walk around and openly bless myself and pray whenever I pass a church. And I’ll tell ya, I am very proud to walk into some of the most beautiful churches the world has ever seen. But I am not proud of being a Catholic because of the nice facilities, the free bread and wine during communion, or the awesome snacks after mass on Sundays. No, I am proud because in my church, people found it within themselves to show their love of God by building the most magnificent buildings this world has ever seen. I am proud because some of those people doubted themselves, yet to this day their faith has built La Sagrada Familia, Vatican City, Florence Cathedral, etc. I am proud because my church acknowledges that more needs to be done to address the needs of the wider population--not just food and shelter, but education and work placements. I am proud because people like Lulu Santana devote themselves every single day of their lives to serving God by recruiting and teaching young men and women the value of being close to God. I am proud because organizations like the Jesuit brotherhood exist to serve the community where other entities cannot. But most importantly, I am proud because I know that wherever I go, someone will know what I am talking about when it comes to pride in their religion. We have a lot to work on as a church, not just the leadership but the community as well. Regardless, I think we are on the right track to make more people like me proud of their religion.
Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013
Fasting v. to abstain from all food.
So you don’t eat any food or drink anything? That sounds really intense. Why would you willingly do that? These are some of the questions and reactions I get when people hear that I am fasting. There are many responses to these questions, and here are mine.
Every year I celebrate the month of Ramadan, fulfilling one of the five pillars of Islam. I, along with Muslims from around the world, abstain from all eating and all drinking (including water) from the time the sun rises in the morning until it sets in the evening. In the winter it is about 10 hours and 16 hours in the summer here in Northern California.
At its most basic level I fast because it is an act of worship to God and a way to be in solidarity with those who are less fortunate than I am. I know that when I break my fast at the end of the day, there will be plenty of food to quench my thirst and hunger. I am not forced to fast because there isn’t enough food around. But the fasting becomes much more than that, because when the sun sets and I hear the call to prayer indicating that it is time to break my fast, food is the last thing on my mind. I am filled with gratitude for all the blessings and provisions God has given me. I spend the few minutes before breaking my fast in reflection of all this.
Ramadan is also a restart button for me; a time to purify my soul. For many years I understood this to mean that I had to give something up that was bad. Yes, that is part of it, but I have found that adopting a positive behavior is just as much a part of it and often more powerful. Each morning before the dawn prayer, I take a few minutes to make an intention for the day. Why am I fasting today? What am I going to do today? What am I not going to do today? In Islam, intentions are just as important as the deed itself. These specific intentions help keep my day focused. When I start getting tired, hungry, or cranky, I can think back to the intentions I made in the morning and it helps me refocus my attention to the reason I am fasting and why it matters to me.
Fasting provides a context for me to step back to take account of all that God has bestowed upon me. So often I take these things for granted and fail to recognize how fortunate I am. Fasting during the month of Ramadan is more than just withholding from food and drink, it humbles me and brings me back to God, the source and provider of my existence.
Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013
On April 7, 2012 after a year and a half long process of reflecting, discussing, and allowing myself to be open to all that the Catholic Church had to offer me, I finally received my Sacraments and became an official member of the Catholic Church. The process itself was not an easy one – it took much motivation, discipline, and willingness to take time out of my day to do things I wouldn’t normally bother doing. However, all of the struggles I faced staying committed to the Rite of Christian Initiation (RCIA) program here at SCU were nothing compared to the struggles I have been facing, and still continue to face, for the past year or so.
About 2 or 3 months after I received my Sacraments of Baptism, First Eucharist, and Confirmation I found myself attending mass less and less. At first it was mainly because of the fact that the church I attended at home was so far away from my house, but after a few weeks it was mainly because I was just too lazy to go. I would find excuses, or find myself being happy when I had excuse, to not go to mass every Sunday. For a while, I began to think that it was no big deal and that I would pick it up again when I got back to SCU for the beginning of the new year. But that was not the case.
When I got back to school, I continued to skip mass every Sunday, but instead of thinking that it was okay and I would make it up later, I found myself feeling guilty and almost as if the entire RCIA process that I had worked so hard throughout had gone to waste. I was disappointed and mad at myself for not showing more commitment to my faith especially when I did hold my faith as a high priority. I began to develop more and more a sense of loneliness that I hadn’t felt when I was attending mass because going to mass always made me feel part of a larger community. At the same time, I was much less involved in other on campus clubs, such as MCC clubs, and was not doing anything with my time besides homework and working two on campus jobs. Basically, I was in my own stress-filled bubble and was doing nothing to get out of it.
Attending mass on a weekly basis had given me a sense of belonging and an outlet to relieve any stress I had pent up from the week before. Being able to walk up to receive Eucharist during Mass also made me feel great about myself and how hard I worked to achieve that goal. Without it, I began to feel less satisfied with myself and it made me realize that not only had I given up my church community, but I had given up on establishing relationships in other communities that could greatly benefit my well-being as well as assist in achieving my future goals. I tell myself every day that I need to get back on it, but saying things and doing things are so completely different.
Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013
Country music is not a genre I frequently listen to. I don’t have anything against it, I’m just used to listening to mainstream music. But today, I was reunited with an old friend and she played country music in her car on our way to get dinner.
One song in particular really caught my attention. As soon as I heard: “If I could have a beer with Jesus…” I turned up the volume. What an interesting idea! If I could have a beer with Jesus, what would I do? What would I say? What would I ask? As I paid close attention to the lyrics of this song, I began to reflect on my faith and my life.
“Do you hear the prayers I send?”
In middle school, I hated the idea of memorizing prayers. My teachers taught me that a prayer was a conversation with God. I didn’t see the point of memorizing words that I was supposed to say to him. I’ve known the Hail Mary and the Our Father prayer by heart since I was 10 years old, but to this day I just have conversations with my friend Jesus whenever I do pray. But going to a bar and having a casual beer with Jesus would be entirely different. I wouldn’t be able to talk to him as casually as I do when I pray. If I had him right in front of me, I’d feel guilty for not always believing in him. I’d feel guilty for only talking to him when I was going through hard times.
“How’d you turn the other cheek to save a sorry soul like me?”
I grew up Catholic and I know that Jesus died for our salvation. But I think that is so unfair. We still sin and humanity will keep on sinning. Did he really have to die? Giving up his life was the greatest act of love. But even he was scared to go through with it, though he was willing to die if it was God’s will.
The song is sung by Thomas Akins and the lyrics bring up a lot of other questions. What does this song make you think, feel, reflect on? What questions would you have if you could talk to Jesus face to face?