Busted Halo

In repentance for her usual neglect of churchgoing, sometime-Catholic Amanda Farah gives up swearing for Lent and explores the season’s meaning & traditions. (And follow her penalty box total.)

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April 26th, 2011

cursingbegin-flashHappy Easter one and all. I’m back to work with the better half of a chocolate egg on my desk and my newly restored vocabulary. A few days later and I find I’m still thinking twice before I say certain words, but more often than not I’m letting myself slip and speak all those words I’d given up during the last six weeks.

I’ll take my small achievements where I can get them: For the first time I can remember, I made it through Lent without eating meat on a Friday. And it may have taken me four weeks to finally tame my language, but my average was still less than one obscenity every two days. I know for many people that would still qualify as pretty filthy, but is quite possibly a record for me.

While giving up swearing has been a yearly practice for me for the last several years, this year has been a bit different for me. The truth of the matter is, I think my weekly reflections about what Lent means to me ended up benefiting me a lot more than coming up with creative ways to express my anger at traffic or surprise when …

April 20th, 2011

holy-week-homestretch-flashWe’re into the homestretch now and there is something I find really fascinating about Holy Week. There is more drama in this one week leading up to Easter than in all the four weeks of Advent: Jesus’ triumphant return to Jerusalem, the Last Supper, the betrayal, a different kind of parade through the streets of Jerusalem, and His death.

It doesn’t have the same fanfare as Christmas, nor the same commercialism — a few chocolate bunnies is nothing compared to the months of lead up about what should be under the tree. At the same time, I feel it makes Easter more special that it doesn’t have an exclusively secular appeal. There will be TV specials about bunnies and egg hunts and discounted chocolates and marshmallow chicks, but never enough to detract from the true meaning of the day. There’s no War on Easter for anyone to complain about, and few decorations to offend non-celebrants. It’s still pretty much a holiday reserved for those who believe.

Nothing quite brings home the significance of the week more than the Easter Vigil. Three hours in church leading up to midnight, the Passion, lighting candles, reciting saints’ names, it’s pageantry unlike any …

April 14th, 2011

andyblog-flashThe longer Lent carries on, the more exposed I feel as a Catholic. I don’t mean this in a negative way, it’s simply that certain restrictions come in conversation more often. When the contents of a pot boiled over onto my recently cleaned stove the other night, my reaction was, “Oh bother,” — not my normal reaction (see my post about giving up bad language for Lent.) In a month, it will not likely be my reaction. My husband recognizes this. Anyone who knows me relatively well would recognize this. But for now, those are the sorts of Winnie-the-Pooh statements I’m making. Somehow, that is more notable than if some four-letter word escaped instead.

Aside from my concerted efforts to not swear or eat meat on Fridays (and I’ve been completely successful in the latter — it might be the first time ever,) I have mostly exposed my religion and myself because, like many 20-somethings in New York, I am overly inclined to discuss my work. Right now, Catholicism is not just my faith, it’s my work too.

It’s an interesting experiment for me. When I was in school, I took classes on religion, read the Bible several times from …

April 11th, 2011

bucketlist-flashI know I’m in my twenties so the idea of being worried about a bucket list already may seem somewhat silly, but one of my good college friends just visited last weekend and reminded me how quickly life is starting to pass us by.  She came to check out Austin because she got into grad school here at UT.  I asked her what made her want to go to grad school.  She responded, “Well, we’re getting to the point in our lives where everything we do is going to dictate the next 20 years.  I want to get this out of the way because I’ll need it eventually and it’s easy to do now without a family.”

We started talking about how, even though we’re only a few years removed from college, everything is moving much faster.  People know more of what they want.  We’re not 21 year-olds new to adulthood and testing the waters; we’re at the point where people want to begin settling down, starting careers and families and such.

Then she said something that totally blew my mind.  She talked about how incredible it is that our 10 year high school reunion is coming up.  No, no, …

April 6th, 2011

nomeat-flashEvery year during Lent I try really hard not to eat meat on Fridays, and every year I usually fail at least once.  Sometimes it’s intentional, like when I’m trying not to offend someone who’s cooked for me, and sometimes, despite a post-it note stuck to my computer clearly reading NO MEAT, I just forget what day it is.  Last week, I bought a lot of fish for dinner and prepared many pies and pastas — all very enjoyable.  However, I timed things badly, and we finished all of the fish before Friday.  A mild inconvenience.

So, in my kitchen last Friday, trying to figure out what dinner should be, my husband shared my lament at having finished off the fish we should have saved for later in the week.  After flipping through a few cookbooks, we found a recipe for a mushroom-based dish and he went out to buy the necessary fungi.

My husband isn’t Catholic.  He isn’t religious at all, actually, but he probably still falls under the category of agnostic.  He doesn’t need to give up meat on Fridays during Lent, but he does anyway.  If he’s the one cooking dinner that night, he makes …

April 4th, 2011

church-hopping-flash3The more years that separate me from my time at Notre Dame, the more I realize how easy college made certain things in life.  Making friends was easy as I was surrounded by a great community of people with whom I had a lot in common; I never had to spend a lot of energy finding people with similar interests.  We also had Mass in our dorm, which meant we all went to Mass with our closest friends — it didn’t take a lot of extra work to be part of a spiritual community.  In fact, being a theology major and, in general, just being a Domer, it was never difficult to find tons of groups, retreats, events, or volunteer opportunities that guaranteed an awesome spiritual community.

Then I graduated and lived in a Catholic Worker house.  As a community we said daily prayers together, usually attended daily Mass, and were always having discussions about faith and Church teachings and how to live out the Gospel.  It too was a wonderful spiritual community.

Then came Austin — when I finally found out how hard it is to make friends in the “real world”.  There was no longer a guaranteed community.  …

April 2nd, 2011

The scene: 10 eighth-grade religious education students, their teacher, and yours truly—a plucky seminarian who was brought in for “Vocation Awareness Day.”  I talk, explaining the many ways we can all serve God in our lives, and that religious life is one of those ways — a very good way… yada, yada, yada.  Are there any questions?  A hand goes up.  I graciously call on the inquisitive young child.

“Why are priests always so fat?”

It is important to note that there was still some sugar on my shirt from the doughnut I had just scarfed down after Mass… black clothes do a terrible job of hiding sugar.  It is also important to note that the previous evening I had more than my fare share of Texas Barbecue at an establishment known as “The Salt Lick” and I can only guess as to how much brisket my system was still digesting.  The morning before that I delighted in a jalapeno-and-cheese sausage breakfast burrito.  At this point, I had gained eight pounds since arriving at my pastoral assignment with four months to go.  That’s in addition to the ten pounds I had gained since joining religious life.

KS_Priest_HotDog_CROPWhile I cannot claim …

April 1st, 2011

losingmayorships-insideI spent last weekend in Philadelphia at a friend’s house, where a group of my old friends and I convened to catch up on each others’ lives. It was a very 21st century sort of gathering: eight of us live across four states, and the weekend was organized through a combination of text messaging, emails, and Facebook. Somehow, despite confusion of train times and places, we all arrived at my friend’s apartment with enough spare blankets and more than enough food to go around.

The subject of Lent came up when, after a friendly reminder that it was Saturday, there was a sigh of relief that we could all eat chicken and pasta with prosciutto. A few of us in the group are Catholic, to varying degrees, and everyone tries to be adaptable.

Only one friend besides myself had made a Lenten sacrifice; she gave up using FourSquare for the forty days. For those who don’t know, FourSquare is a social media tool that has people “check-in” at different locations, usually restaurants and stores, on their smartphones. In addition to telling the world where you are, it also tells you who else is at the location at the same time …

March 31st, 2011

hateaboutyou-flashWhen it comes to loving technology the difference between Brandon and I is staggering.  Brandon loves it and, if not married to me, would have all things iThings.  On the other hand, I’m constantly trying to figure out how to use less of it just to prove Brandon wrong.  To be fair, Brandon has helped me (begrudgingly) understand how valuable technology can be.  It’s a tool and like any tool can be extremely useful, but can also be abused.  Seeing so many people using technology inappropriately has led me to create this list…

Ten Things That Drive Me Crazy About Technology:

10) It makes things that are not HD, 3D, or wide screen “boring”.  (On Christmas Day we were all watching the Muppet’s Christmas Carol – one of our family traditions.  After the opening credits my dad had already pulled out his iPad to watch YouTube videos, my mom was returning text messages on her iPhone, and Brandon was playing Monopoly with his iPod Touch.)

9) It has come without an instruction manual as to how to use it in a mannerly way.  (Very few people have a true sense of cell phone etiquette.  We all know this because we’ve …

March 27th, 2011

prayer-blackberry-largeI need to pray more. It’s a thought that goes through my head about once a day, yet more often than not I don’t act on it. Whether I sat in the comfort of my own apartment or on the subway with a prayer book and Psalms in my purse, it is easier to find excuses. Like today’s for example, when I packed a book of letters from Rabbi Nachman of Uman with a special prayer to be read for 40 days straight to bring on one’s soul mate. My excuse to only carrying it with me throughout the day but not reading from it: I can’t find my list of single people to pray for. What will be tomorrow’s excuse? Or the next day’s or the next?

I set a reminder on my BlackBerry every day to read a few Psalms to pray for a particular person to get married. I love and care for her deeply, yet I always find that work gets in the way. As if work is more important than taking 5 minutes out of my day to offer something to the Almighty as thanks. If I believe there is a higher power and nothing …

March 26th, 2011

apology-flashAs a sometime Catholic, I often find myself apologizing. Primarily, I find myself apologizing to those more devout than myself for my negligence. This comes up most often having dinner at my parents’ house with the priests from their parish, who ask the perfectly innocent questions of why they haven’t seen me in a while or where I go to church in my neighborhood.

The other side of the coin is having to apologize for having religious convictions at all. As someone in my twenties living in an urban area and in a so-called creative profession, it’s generally assumed by my acquaintances and associates that I am either an atheist or subscribe to some kind of a New Age-y religion (possibly with the intention of annoying my more conventional parents).

I get a lot of surprised reactions when it comes out that I am Catholic, and I often have to run damage control; this ranges from assuring whomever I’m talking to that he or she hasn’t offended me with an off-handed comment, or telling someone else that my social philosophies aren’t that different than his or hers despite my faith.

I feel worse at these times about apologizing for my …

March 23rd, 2011

Tom Shadyac, director of <em>I AM</em>

Tom Shadyac, director of I AM

What would you do with your millions of dollars? Give it away? Move into a mobile home? Make a documentary?

This past weekend I was inspired, to say the least, by two media productions. The first is Secret Millionaire on ABC. Have you seen it? The show’s premise is to embed a millionaire in an impoverished community to secretly seek out local heroes. Sounds kitchy, but I cried at least four times. When unassuming individuals, who work with little to no resources to help their community, were rewarded (with money) at the end of the show, they were brought to tears. It didn’t seem to matter if they were given pennies or a check for tens of thousands. They were just so happy that someone acknowledged them and that someone cared.

This show made me want to be a millionaire simply so that I can go around and reward deserving people, too. And if I had that money, that’s what I believe I would do.

That’s what Tom Shadyac did. In a different kind of way. You might be familiar with his films Ace Ventura and The Nutty Professor. But his humor fell …

March 22nd, 2011

In today’s media environment, we invariably hear the stories about which things go wrong.  I guess it’s human nature to focus on the negative, but the focus of news organizations do have its place.  I think that when issues like the sex-abuse crisis continue to unfold, we do need to be reminded of it so that we don’t turn our eyes away from it, lest we conveniently skip over the lessons that we may have to absorb as a Church.  I remember during Benedict’s visit a few years ago, a Catholic commentator was on television claiming that the Church sex-abuse crisis had been put behind her and now we could all move on… 18 months later it exploded again in Europe.  Sadly, negativity has its place in the world.

That being said, I realized after writing my last post which focused on the letter a friend of mine wrote to me concerning the sex abuse crisis, it might be important to take a step back and share what I like about the Catholic Church.  Because I can get stuck focusing on the wrongs of a person or the failures of an institution as much as anybody.  I am more than …

March 21st, 2011

lentenbandwagon-flash2My biggest problem during Lent is that I listen to too many other people’s Lenten sacrifices and get so excited about doing them myself that I take on too many things.  One year in college I was feeling particularly scrupulous and decided to give up sweets and meat and promised to go to daily Mass everyday (including Saturdays) and even do night prayer every single night.  That lasted all of four days.  Pitiful.

After many years of this I’ve come to realize that I won’t instantly transform from a regular schmo to a saint just because it’s Lent and I pretend to be a monk and give up snickerdoodles.  That’s why the Church gives us this time every year, because it takes time.  We can slowly and yearly become a little more like the person God wants us to become, but it cannot, and does not, happen from one day to the next — it takes a lifetime.

I don’t have any problems with people giving up sweets or beer or whatever they decide, but I’ve found this practice doesn’t help me in the slightest.  I usually just replace what I gave up with something else and go completely …

March 19th, 2011

For those of you who don’t know, the holiday of Purim is coming up March 19 – March 20 (21st in Jerusalem).  The holiday is kind of like a cross between Halloween and St. Patty’s Day with a Jewish flare – imagine dressing in costumes and drinking until you can’t tell the difference between good and evil.  To put you in the holiday spirit, and to understand more about Purim, enjoy this video from G-dcast narrated by my super talented spoken word princess and friend, Vanessa Hidary AKA the Hebrew Mamita.…

March 19th, 2011

virtuesBIGsmallI usually write about news events and the latest research, but virtue is all around us — and our best chance of character development comes in our relationships with our families. So here’s your to-do list for the day:

(1) Check out this website:

A college friend recently sent me a link to For Your Marriage, a website run by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It’s been around since 2007, but recently received a design overhaul to attract more readers.

It has tips on strengthening relationships, the importance of premarital preparation and — right up my alley — a section on marital virtues, updated each month.

I instantly liked the site because the lead story cites research from author and journalist Tara Parker-Pope on the myth about the all-too-often-quoted statistic that 50% of marriages end in divorce. While that may have been true for marriages in the 1970s, the statistics are a lot more promising for couples — especially college-educated couples — getting married today.

So…

(2) Remember this bit of cocktail party conversation:

Have a college degree? You’ve taken a big step toward a healthier, happier marriage: College graduates are less likely to …

March 17th, 2011

laoflw-stpatrick-insideSt. Patrick’s Day has never been a holiday I paid much attention to. I don’t have any Irish heritage. I don’t like green beer. I’m not the biggest fan of corned beef, and am really not a fan of cabbage. I don’t really like parades either. It’s a bit lost on me. And, despite having lived in New York for most of my adult life, it never occurred to me to go to St. Patrick’s Cathedral on St. Patrick’s Day. So today I ventured into midtown to do just that.

It was a little bit ironic that during Mass I could hear the drums and bagpipes from the parade marching down 5th Avenue, and that in order to even get into the church I had to wade through rowdy groups of people looking for a party in the afternoon who chose the Cathedral as a meeting point. I have to imagine this is one of the busier days of the year for St. Patrick’s, but it was still a very personal experience, even with crowds of tourists roaming through the Cathedral, looking on in wonder during Mass.

I do have a soft spot for Ireland and Irish culture, even …

March 14th, 2011

post1-flash-40I consider myself a part-time Catholic. My faith is solid, I observe every Church holiday, but I’m not so good about getting to church every single week. My parents are involved in their church, and I always come over when they’re having the priests for dinner. These same priests were present at my wedding to my agnostic husband.

Catholicism is part of who I am, even if it isn’t woven into the daily fabric of my life. Every year Lent is my chance to make up for my inattentiveness the rest of the year. I get my ashes every Ash Wednesday, I don’t eat meat on Fridays, and I always give something up for the 40 or so days.

If I have a bad habit (aside from the short attention span that often keeps me out of church), it’s definitely swearing. Despite my best efforts to control it, I am ultimately a product of my environment: My mother taught me to speak my mind, and my father taught me the vocabulary. Though I do my best to keep it in check in business meetings and around my elderly relatives, when left to my own devices it sounds like a very …

March 13th, 2011

thenwere4-flashIt’s logical that the more you do something the better you get at it but it’s very strange to me that you can actually get better at giving birth. I did recently, giving birth to our second baby, Maria Catalina.  I handled the contractions much better and this time around it was a totally natural — no pain meds, no pitocin, not even an IV to stay hydrated.  It was a slow and long labor but we made it.

Our nursing situation was almost comical.  We had an awesome nurse at first but with a shift change 2 hours later we lost her pretty early in the game.  Then we got 3 nurses – a supervising nurse, a new nurse, and a student studying to be a nurse on her OB rotation.  It was quite the party in L&D Room number 7.

Our “new nurse” kept having to go ask the supervising nurse how to do stuff because it was so uncommon for her to be working with a woman that didn’t have an epidural.  That part was pretty annoying.  Um, I’m not sure if we can take the heart rate monitors off, let me go ask.  I’m not

March 12th, 2011

funA recent study suggests that some 30% of Americans has trouble relaxing and putting work aside to enjoy vacation – and a handful of us suffer from more acute “leisure sickness” and “weekend headaches” from our attempts at fun.

Reports the Wall Street Journal

Only 53% of working Americans say they come back feeling rested and rejuvenated after vacation, and 30% say they have trouble coping with work stress while they’re away, according to an Expedia.com survey of 1,530. Some try to cram in so much activity that they come back more exhausted than when they left. Others stay so plugged on Blackberrys and cellphones that colleagues and clients don’t even suspect they’re away.

“It’s been my experience that an ‘out of office’ response means nothing anymore,” says Edward T. Creagan, a medical oncologist who writes the Mayo Clinic’s stress blog. “We’re driving ourselves wacko with no time to power down.”

Attempting to relax even makes some people sick. Some 3% of the population suffers from “leisure sickness” when they go on vacation. Symptoms include fatigue, muscle pain, nausea and flu-like symptoms, according to a 2002 study in the Netherlands. And a phenomenon of “weekend headaches” accounts for roughly one-third …

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