Category Archives: Spirituality

St. Francis of Assisi, Pray for Us

“Francis ‘Neath the Bitter Tree”, icon by William Hart McNichols ©
Available for purchase at http://www.fatherbill.org

Today, October 4th  we celebrate the feast day of Saint Francis of Assisi (1881/1882 – 1226).  St. Francis was a Catholic friar, preacher, and mystic.  He founded the men’s Order of Friars Minor, the women’s Order of St. Clare, and the Third Order of Saint Francis for men and women.  He’s known as the patron saint of animals, birds, and the environment, and unofficially a patron saint of the poor.  He is unarguably one of the most known and beloved saints of the Church.

Like so many others, I was drawn to the saintly life of Francis from a very young age.  His tender love for all of creation and the poorest of the poor was something that stood out to me.  For my Sacrament of Confirmation, I choose the name Francis and I had even thought about becoming a Franciscan at one point in my life.   Still to this day, Francis is a saint I look to for guidance, understanding, and inspiration in living my Christian life.  He played a profound role in my conversion to a vegan lifestyle and even this blog.  Over my desk where I do most of my work, hangs an icon of my favorite saint, which I reflect upon during my some of my daily prayers.

On his feast day one of the most common practices in the Church is the blessing of animals.  This is a beautiful gesture, but this is also a more than appropriate day to selflessly give of ourselves to others, our community, etc…and not just today, but everyday.  In 1995-96 I was a runaway youth on the streets of San Francisco.  In the chaos and turmoil of my young life I would somehow manage to attend daily mass at St. Boniface Church on Golden Gate Avenue in San Francisco’s tenderloin district.  This parish was/is run by Franciscan Friars and is known for serving the poor and marginalized of the city.  On many occasions I saw some of the most magnificent acts of love and charity by these Franciscans.

One memory so vividly stands out..,after afternoon mass the Friars would distribute food to those in need, in fact on many occasions I my tummy was comforted by some of their humble offerings.  I remember sitting across the street in a park next to the church when I saw an elderly homeless man who was obviously very ill attempt to walk up the sidewalk to reach the area where food was being distributed.  An elderly Franciscan glanced over and saw him, stopped what he was going and came to assist him.   The man was filthy, barefoot, and filled with open sores on his feet and legs.  The Friar assisted him up to a bucket which was turned upside down and eased the man in having a seat.  The Friar went back towards the church and returned moments later with a large cup of water and food.  As the man began to eat, the friar got onto his knees and gently poured water over his feet, massaging the filth off, and used his robe to slowly dry his feet.   He then slowly bent down and kissed each one of his feet.   I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  I quickly looked around to see if anybody else was seeing what was happening, but nobody was.  The Friar then spoke to him some (and I was across the street and couldn’t hear what they were saying), but then the Friar took of his sandals and lovingly placed them on the man’s feet.   He let the man finish eating for about 10 minutes before helping him up, and helping him continue walking up to the church…the friar barefoot, and the homeless man in sandals.  It was like something we read about out of the gospels.  I was moved beyond words, and as I write this almost 20-years later, tears are falling down my cheeks like droplets of rain.

In a world still filled with so much pain, hunger, fear, neglect, hateful bigotry, deception, and vanity – faith, hope, and love are the medicines we need to give to all, without hesitations or reservations.  How blessed are we to have St. Francis who gave the entirety of his life to imitate Christ.  May we all be so inspired by Jesus and all of the holy men and women, such as Saint Francis, who have given all, to be all.  May we be inspired to live our lives in being generous messengers of hope, stewards of faith, and instruments of love.

Most high, almighty, and good Lord,
Yours is the praise, the glory, honor, blessing all.
To you, Most High, alone of right they do belong,
And no mortal man is fit to mention you.

Be praised, my Lord, of all your creature world,
And first of all Sir Brother Sun,
Who brings the day, and light you give to us through him,
And beautiful is he, agleam with mighty splendor:
Of you, Most High, he gives us indication.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sisters Moon and Stars:
In the heavens you have formed them,
bright and fair and precious.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
Through Air, and cloudy, clear, and every kind of Weather,
By whom you give your creatures sustenance.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water,
For greatly useful, lowly, precious, chaste is she.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
Through whom you brighten up the night,
And fair he is, and gay, and vigorous, and strong.

Be praised, O Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
For she sustains and guides our life,
And yields us diverse fruits, with colored flowers, and grass.

Be praised, my Lord, through those who pardon give for love of you, And bear infirmity and tribulation:
Blessed they who suffer it in peace,
For of you, Most High, they shall be crowned.

Be praised, my Lord, through our Brother Death of Body,
From whom no one among the living can escape.
Woe to those who in mortal sins will die;
Blessed those whom he will find in your most holy graces,
For the second death will do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord, and thank him too,
And serve him all, in great humility.

Canticle of the Creatures or the Canticle of Brother Sun.  A poem written in stages by St. Francis of Assisi from the period of the summer of 1225 until his death on October 4, 1226

 

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Never Forget

Twelve years later and I still remember that horrific day of terror, confusion, and pain as if it happened yesterday.  Quickly our nation came together in a way I had never seen before.   We held each other, we wept together, we consoled one another…then we went on with life.  We took down our American flags.   The benefit concerts ceased.   We picked up from where we left off…attacking one another.  In the midst of such tragedy and chaos a dozen years ago:  what happened to that spirit of loving unity that we all shared in?  It took the deaths of 2,977 people to draw us close together as a nation; a family…have we forgotten their memory already?

I will never forget.   September 11, 2001 woke me up and opened my eyes to see life in a totally new way.   It reminded me how love always prevails over hate.  It restored my faith in God and the brilliance of humanity.   Even amidst what seems like never-ending divisions in our world today, the lives and memory of those who perished live on in my heart.   They inspire me to continue to be an instrument for peace, when and wherever peace is needed.   Always remember.  Never forget.

May 11, 1933 - September 11, 2001

May 11, 1933 – September 11, 2001

 

Lord, take me where
you want me to go;
Let me meet whom you
want me to meet;
Tell me what You want
me to say, and
Keep me out of your
way.

 

This prayer was found in the pocket of Franciscan Friar Mychal Judge, the FDNY chaplain and first confirmed victim who died September 11, 2001 at ground zero.

The Top 5 Reasons I Went Vegan

Since I made the transition from a vegetarian diet to a full-fledged vegan lifestyle, I often get a lot of questions (and criticism) about why.   In all honesty, there’s countless reasons I could offer friends, family, and even strangers about why I made this life changing decision.   There are a lot of myths to veganism which I will eventually address in a future post, but today I want to share the top 5 reasons why I went vegan.

1. HEALTH

When I was around 23-years old, my health began to take a turn for the worse.   I began a heavy regimen of medications, visits to specialists, countless tests and medical procedures, etc.  At 25-years old my pulse jumped one evening to 220+ bpm as my heart went into Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT).  Paramedics were called on my behalf and I was defibrillated three times while conscious.  Amazingly, that still didn’t correct the problem.   I would go through over two-dozen more episodes of SVT before I underwent a cardiac ablation surgery.   Still, my health worsened.   By 28-years old I was diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure and began taking over 18 prescription medications multiple times a day.   All of this, many other conditions including my chronic back pain left me in a mess.   I was passionately and stubbornly in love with every type of meat, dairy, and seafood…yet veganism was not something that ever crossed my mind.

Finally in 2012, broken and desperate, I decided to try a vegetarian diet.   My world and health began to change almost immediately.   More fascinated on how something so simple could offer so much resolution to my health crisis, I decided to make a major life decision.  I decided to become a vegan.  Since 2012 I have been taken off all cardiac medications, now only taking two blood pressure medications.   I went from injecting two different types of insulin, to only taking an oral diabetes medication, to being taken off ALL diabetes medications.  On September 1, 2013 I will mark 9-months free of any diabetes medications.  I no longer take cholesterol medications.   In fact, my LDL and HDL cholesterol levels, as well as my triglycerides levels couldn’t be more perfect!  SInce going vegetarian (then vegan), I have nearly lost 70 lbs.!   I no longer need to use medicated shampoo for my irritated and often times, painful psoriasis on the back of my scalp.  My concentration and attention to detail is more clear than it has ever been, I didn’t even realize that my brain was living in a fog…I thought that was normal.  This list could literally go on and on, but these are some of the highlights.

2. COMPASSION

I’m an animal lover…always have been and always will be!  Far beyond I can even remember, I was absolutely awestruck, in love, and fascinated by animals.   As I was growing up, my passion, love, and respect for animals only grew…even though I was an omnivore.  I remember coming into contacts with vegetarians (and vegans, as rare as they were) in my high school years and always found their points of view very convincing and eye opening, yet not enough to tear me away from my beloved carne asada, chorizo, beef hamburgers…let alone sushi, lobster, or fresh caught trout (yes, I used to be quite the angler).  But the more I grew, the more I learned.

I began to look into the source of my meats, dairy, seafood, and even my clothing.   What I discovered was horrifying.  Yet I was somehow convinced that going vegetarian (or vegan for that matter) would not change the industry, so I went on with life with a “blind eye”.   Eventually my conscience (and health) started to catch up with me.  As a compulsive seeker of truth, turning a blind eye was becoming more and more difficult to carry out.  Eventually I would have to practically inhale anything that was meat and make sure that I didn’t think about the source while doing so.   This became exhausting, and my conscience started to catch up with me.   As a victim of gun violence and an advocate for gun-control legislation, I have often spoke about how it doesn’t matter how many thousands of innocent children die by gunshots in our country , but the fact that a single child dies by a gunshot….for one is far too many.  I began to equate the same reasoning to the horrors in the inhumane and ungodly treatment of animals we raise for food, milk, and products.

Enough was enough.  I couldn’t deny the truth any longer.   How can I profess my love for animals and my opposition to their abuse, neglect, and murder…yet scarf down a steak?  I was invalidating and contradicting my own personal convictions for ease and convenience.  I was an accessory to mass murder.  Many documentaries such as Food, Inc. and Vegucated helped change my life!

3. ENVIRONMENT

Climate change is no longer a myth.   It’s a fact.   And the data is scary.  Each and every one of us has a moral obligation and responsibility to discuss the global crisis.  The studies and data are bone-chilling and scary.

A recent United Nations report concluded that a global shift toward a vegan diet is necessary to combat the worst effects of climate change.  And the U.N. is not alone in its analysis.  A staggering 51 percent or more of global greenhouse-gas emissions are caused by animal agriculture, according to a report published by the Worldwatch Institute.  Researchers at the University of Chicago concluded that switching from a standard American diet to a vegan diet is more effective in the fight against climate change than switching from a standard American car to a hybrid. And a German study conducted in 2008 concluded that a meat-eater’s diet is responsible for more than seven times as much greenhouse-gas emissions as a vegan’s diet is.  What most people don’t think about is the resources and energy (as well as pollution) it takes to manufacture meat…from growing feed for the animals, to processing their waste, consumption of water for the animals and growth of their food, pesticides, processing plants, rendering plants, rendering waste…the list goes on.   This is something the meat and dairy industry don’t want you to know.

And for the seafood so many love?   Meet overfishing:

  • 52% of fish stocks are fully exploited
  • 20% are moderately exploited
  • 17% are overexploited
  • 7% are depleted
  • 1% is recovering from depletion

One does not need to be a scientist to comprehend how this affects oceans and ocean life.  And like meat, there is the alarming environmental repercussions which come from seafood manufacturing and processing.

4. NATURAL

There’s no denying that vegan lifestyle is au naturel…if you take the natural way.   I’ll be the first to admit that natural veganism is something you strive for.  As with anything in life, there are a lot of unnatural and unhealthy ways to go about things, and veganism is not an exception.   However, with the right motives and drive, veganism offers a simplicity in being more natural as well as a burning desire to perfect the goal in becoming more natural and whole.   You begin to read every label…and for myself and many vegans, we put the products back on the shelf when we come across ingredients which contain ingredients we can’t pronounce…and of course, anything that is made from animal products (or has been tested on animals) goes back as well.

Learning to go natural is an organic and fresh experience.  It simply makes your soul feel good.   I shy away from overpriced and unhealthy “fake meats.”  Plus, meat just freaks me out, so why would I buy something that looks and tastes like meat.   I have fallen in love with growing our own food and buying from local farmers, makers, and manufacturers who believe and practice the same ethics as I do (or strive to), from people who embrace what this compassionate lifestyle provides us.

One of the many myths is this “diet” is expensive.   This lifestyle is remarkably inexpensive.  To my last calculation, our grocery bill has been cut by close to 65%.  This percentage doesn’t include the endless medication and medical appointment copays.  But it’s not really about the money.   It’s all about the feeling of fulfilment which is nothing less than an incredibly spiritual bond.   It may sound so cliché to spout that I’m a vegan for life, but so be it if it is.  I could never go back.  I would never go back.

IMG_76795. YUMMY

Do you know how many varieties and species of fruits and vegetables grow in the world?   What if I told you there we’re over 7,500 different types of apples alone which grow throughout the world?   And that’s just apples!  The selection of other fruits and vegetables is unthinkable.

Vegan cooking is fun, challenging, and delicious!  Another big myth about being a vegan is that our food is boring, bland, or lacking vital nutrients.   That’s just not true!  And as delicious as fresh fruits & vegetables, the food we eat does go far beyond that!

Vegan chefs took home the trophy at the 10th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational with a nondairy cheese winner, and vegan bakers have dominated the butter-and-egg fest that is Cupcake Wars…twice!  Chloe Coscarelli and Doron Petersan both earned top honors with nondairy creations.   In fact the best Macaroni & Cheese I’ve ever had is made fresh at Washington, DC’s Everlasting Life Cafe, an all vegan and 100% gluten-free soul food restaurant!   Yes…vegan soul food!  Since going vegan, I have been exposed to so many new and different vegetables, fruits, nuts, and other foods.   Your creativity and imagination are the only limit when it comes to preparing incredibly delicious vegan dishes!

When Pets Speak to Psychics

Gracie & Luna get a psychic pet reading on FOX 5's Morning News on August 19, 2013.

Gracie & Luna get a psychic pet reading on FOX 5’s Morning News on August 19, 2013.

Last week Gracie (our labrador retriever mix) and I got an invitation from WTTG FOX 5’s Annie Yu to join her live on the set of the FOX 5’s Morning News for a special “Pet Project” segment with animal communicator and psychic, Diane Roadcap.   Gracie is an avid lover of everything water related…except baths!   She loves swimming and playing in the ocean, rivers, and creeks…but will do whatever it takes to avoid a bath.   Paul and I have always wondered why this is the case, so we gladly accepted the invitation in hopes that Diane could give us some insight as to Gracie’s thoughts and feelings.   Amanda Marie Bowen and her 2-year old deaf Great Dane, Luna were also invited on the show.   Of course some are probably skeptical about a pet psychic or any psychic for that matter…but I believe Diane had an amazing connection with Gracie, and I bet the same could be said by Amanda (the other segment guest) who brought Luna to have a reading as well.

Diane Roadcap’s website says, As a child, Diane recognized that she had a deep spiritual connection with animals.  Playing with a variety of animals in the wooded areas around her home outside of Washington, DC, she discovered that she could connect with them at a soul level.  This connection was confirmed at age five when her dog Blackie telepathically warned her that a poisonous snake was dangerously close to biting her.  She heeded his warning and slowly backed away before it could attack her.  She continued to receive communications from animals and discovered that she could  easily read their needs and wants, humor and insights, aches and ailments.”

While we were still in the green room, Diane already began reading our pets as well as Amanda and her family.   She knew that Gracie had a smaller, older K9 companion at home which would describe our 11-year-old Miniature Schnauzer, Tabatha.  She also mentioned another light-colored labrador which had passed away…of course I knew this was Heidi, a beautiful labrador who passed away when I was around 3-years old.   “She wants you to know she’s standing next to you”, Diane exclaimed.   I could have fallen out of my chair!   She went very into depth reading Amanda, her family, Luna, and their pets at home which I won’t go into detail, as it’s not my place to tell about that very special moment.

Do you believe in psychics?  As far back as I can remember, I have had ongoing contact and communication with human spirits who have passed away…family and strangers alike.   To my knowledge, there’s nobody in my family who has this “gift.”   Though the information given to me is often vague, it is something I’ve gotten used to and experience daily.   So it makes perfect sense to me that people have an ability and “gift” to fully communicate with pets, both passed and living.   But at the end of the day, we will believe what we know as truth and dismiss that which we don’t.   For me, I believe!

Besides learning that Gracie doesn’t like to be in a confined areas…she’s a very happy dog.   “She wouldn’t change a thing.   She loves people…the more people she’s around, the more she loves life”, Diane affirmed.

Below is a video from the segment.   Check it out!

Aquarium Therapy

photo 1 (10)

Our four reef fish! Six Line Wrasse (top left), Azure Damselfish (top right), Yellow Watchman Goby (bottom left), and Ocellaris Clownfish (bottom right).

For most of us, a trip to the beach can best be described as relaxing and therapeutic.   According to Trip Advisor’s 2013 Top 25 Destinations in the World, 14 locations are seaside and 20 locations are seaside or along a major waterway.    There is no denying that we are balanced by water, whether that be an ocean, bay, river, or lake.   But for many of us, when we think of the greatest relaxing vacation, we think of a tropical beach oasis.   Destinations like Maui, Bora Bora, St. Lucia, Belize, and the Fiji Islands are just some of those popular names that come to mind when you think of aqua blue waters, reef life, warm sands, and tropical air.

Have you noticed an increase of saltwater marine aquariums in public locations?   Perhaps you’ve seen them at a clinic, restaurant, hotel, spa, or maybe even a classroom?   Aquarium Therapy is not new concept, but it is constantly studied and growing with high popularity!

Most people who watch a tank with fish will feel a calming effect, therefore reducing stress.  At Purdue University, researchers discovered that displaying tanks with brightly colored fish helped to curtail disruptive behaviors and improve eating habits of people with Alzheimer’s Disease.  It helps to boost physical and mental health.  It was shown to help create bonding and a positive attitude.   Studies have shown that seniors who were given the opportunity to view aquariums with fish had significant blood pressure reduction as well as  cholesterol.  Children, when visiting a doctor’s office, were found to be much calmer, especially children who suffered from hyperactivity disorders.  Dental patients watching a fish tank required less pain medication.  It also helps in reducing insomnia and persons coping with obesity.   How awesome is this?

Our 29 gallon Coralife BioCube nano reef aquarium with a healthy diversity of fish, corals, and invertebrates.

Our 29 gallon Coralife BioCube nano reef aquarium with a healthy diversity of fish, corals, and invertebrates.

My fiancé and I have two saltwater marine aquariums filled with various fish, invertebrates, and corals.   Contrary to popular belief, we find saltwater aquariums to be be more easy to maintain than freshwater…and not to mention more stunning, beautiful, and therapeutic.   What I find so awesome about a saltwater marine aquarium (particularly a reef tank) is how organic the system is.   When properly maintained; your aquarium becomes its own ecosystem.   This is maintained through bacterias, diversity of species, live rock, live sand, etc.   No unnatural chemicals are needed!

Another added benefit to aquariums are their incorporation into feng shui design.  It is believed that moving water brings prosperity and good luck to a home or office. Aquariums are great feng shui enhancements because they are at the same time soothing and energizing.  The sound and motion of gurgling water activates chi and adds humidity to a dry room, helping to balance chi. Moving water gets things going when the chi has been stagnant for a while (think of ice melting in the spring). Use moving water cures anywhere you want to enhance water or wood energy.

As amazing as this all is, any aquarium still requires learned knowledge, experience, time, money, and patience.   After all, your marine life are all pets and should be treated with the proper respect and care that every pet has the right to.   It is also very important to purchase and trade your marine life with reputable dealers and passionate and ethically driven marine enthusiasts.   Marine life should never be harvested from the oceans!

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