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Sunday, May 27, 2012

So you just got Confirmed...

Dear newly Confirmed member of the Catholic Church,

First of all, I want to welcome you to the club!  I mean, you were already part of it...but now your initiation process is complete!  So welcome!!!  Hopefully Bishop didn't put too much chrism in your eye, if he used too much or missed your forehead for some reason!

I just wanted to let you know, on behalf of your parish family (and the diocese, and really...the greater Church as a whole), that we're so proud of you.  If only you knew the extent of our prayers for you to receive this sacrament.  Believe me, whether it is made known to you or not--a lot of prayers have been offered for you.  Across the parish, across the nation...even others from around the world!

I hope that your suffering through Confirmation classes has at least equipped you with the basic knowledge to know what it is you are partaking in.  But my dear sibling in Christ, there is so much more to learn!

Being Catholic does NOT end at Confirmation!

Confirmation is NOT graduation.

It's like...learning a martial arts discipline and earning your black belt.  Baptism is earning your white belt.  You progress through the other belts through religious education and Confirmation classes.  Then finally--you earn it! Your black belt.  Confirmation.  But in martial arts, they always say..."black belt is simply the beginning."

With all this training and basic knowledge, now is the time to start applying what you know.  And to go even deeper.  And yes, to teach others too by your life and example.  Confirmation is simply a renewed beginning of the rest of your Catholic life.

My dear sibling in Christ, do not let your Catholic faith fade!  Whether you feel it or not, the Holy Spirit now burns brightly within your soul.  And last I checked, if you're on fire (literally), you have to do something about it.  You can either A) make the fire bigger, B) let it burn itself out, or C) extinguish it.  And it's obvious for me to say that Option A is the way to go...because the fiery soul is truly a gift.  A great power.  Thus, a great responsibility.  It's your responsibility to keep that fire burning.  Dump some diesel on it.  Nuke it.  Maybe have movie director Michael Bay provide his explosive expertise.

God's call for you is now ever present.  What is your response?

I hope and pray that you take the strength of the Holy Spirit now burning within you to put your Catholic faith into action.  Passivity only allows the fire to burn itself out.

Dearest sibling in Christ, the Catholic Church needs those who are on fire with the Holy Spirit.  The world seems to be an increasingly hostile environment for the Catholic Church, especially in the American Catholic Church.  We need young, enthusiastic Catholics who genuinely seek what it really means to be Catholic and to inspire the minds and ignite the hearts of others to be disciples of Jesus Christ.  To be living examples striving to answer their call to holiness through actions of love and charity.

Let me quote an offshoot of a song lyric which somewhat quotes a good friend quoting his favorite retreat speaker quoting his favorite theologian quoting a pretty legit saint:
"If you are who God calls you to be, you will set the world ablaze" - St. Catherine of Sienna
Yes.  St. Ignatius of Loyola also used to say to his students, "Go set the world on fire."

It's okay to be simultaneously a pyro and fisherman for God.  Use responsibly.

So do something with your faith.  Seek truth.  Don't settle for mediocrity and partial truths.  Go help other people.  Develop yourself in the interior.  Be a living witness and saint.

And you've received gifts.  Share them with the world!

Know your faith.  Own your faith. Live your faith.  Spread your faith.

Sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.
- JD

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Today's Miracle Moment

Just another typical Saturday.  Today, I had plans to go pray in front of an abortion clinic like I normally do.

I woke up at 6:45AM this morning after a late night watching The Avengers with my parents.  Got dressed.  Went downstairs.  Let my new puppy outside.  Let her back in.  Got in my car.  Drove to McDonald's to get a coffee because I really needed it.  Then I drove to my parish to wait in the parking lot for others to show up to carpool over to Planned Parenthood.

I arrived at my parish at about 7:10AM and no one else was there.  I decided to turn on some classical music because I didn't feel like listening to mainstream music.  7:20AM rolls around and no one had shown up yet.  I know I told people on Facebook to show up by 7:15AM.  Letting my mind wander, I thought about how I've been pretty much consistently praying in front of an abortion clinic once a month for little over a year now.  And I was satisfied with how I'm keeping up with it, although all those times I've prayed in front of an abortion clinic, I never saw apparent fruit from our presence in peaceful prayer.

Until today.

What my parish group normally prays is the full Rosary--all 20 Mysteries, using a booklet specific for pro-life Rosary-praying.  We usually try to get to Planned Parenthood by 8:00AM because that's when most of the clients start showing up for their appointments.  Since November, this particular Planned Parenthood we pray at hadn't been doing abortions because their abortion doctor had to quit or stop working at this location because he commutes from really far away multiple times a week, and he couldn't handle that anymore.  So for a while, this Planned Parenthood couldn't perform abortions because they hadn't replaced the doctor.  That, in itself, is a miracle.  But in the past month or two, they've resumed. Unfortunately.  This Planned Parenthood performs abortions on Saturdays, and that's why we usually try to be present and praying on a Saturday.

This morning's weather was awesome--beautiful, partly cloudy with a breeze.  When we arrived at Planned Parenthood, I noticed that the parking lot wasn't as full as it normally is.  Usually the security guards spend more effort directing clients where to park, but not this morning.  Probably because it's Memorial Day weekend... While that can be seen as a good thing that the parking lot wasn't as full, the same was true for us pro-lifers too.  We didn't have as many people praying on the sidewalk like we normally do because of the holiday weekend.

We started praying the Joyful Mysteries.  Some sidewalk counselors show up and also another parish group.  Cars pass by every now and then and usually I take a peek to see if it's a client or just people passing through on the street.  Sometimes I wave or nod.  One of the guys in my group, 'Sam,' likes to wave at like...every car--whether client or not.

After the Joyful Mysteries, we start with the Luminous Mysteries.  Halfway through that, I see 'Sam' at his end of the sidewalk give a funny, annoyed, "I can't believe I just saw this" look as a car passed by.  The woman in the car awkwardly paused in the street in front of us as if to go into Planned Parenthood's parking lot, but she seemed confused and drives past us to park in the overflow lot.  We keep praying, but 'Sam' and the sidewalk counselors head over to the woman, and unlike most clients, she chats with them for a while.  I guess 'Sam' and the counselors told her to park where parked our cars down the street because that's what the woman did.  But we kept praying as 'Sam' followed the woman.

Continuing onto the Sorrowful Mysteries, I noticed 'Sam' brought back the woman to our group.  I noticed she was holding a Rosary in her hand so I thought, "Oh, she's one of us and maybe she was confused on where to park earlier...maybe she didn't know she had to park a street over...But, I don't know why 'Sam' reacted awkwardly when she drove in...maybe he knows her? -shrug-"  So that's cool, we gained a new prayer warrior.  When we started praying the Glorious Mysteries, she even led one of the Mysteries!

So in this pro-life Rosary booklet, we normally go through a litany and other prayers after we finish the full Rosary.  In the back is an examination of pro-life conscience that we never go through as a group.  But this time, 'Sam' made us go through it because he felt the need for it.  No biggie.  Everyone rolled with it.

After the examination, 'Sam' brought us in like he normally does.  Usually in thanksgiving and to remind us the importance of why we do this.  But this time, he said that a miracle happened this morning.  And I remember thinking, "what...? but nothing happened!"  Because, from my perspective, nothing out of the ordinary happened.  

But it all had to do with that woman that joined us for the Rosary, who, if you remember, was someone I thought was there to pray with the rest of us.

'Sam' let her explain her story to our whole group--our parish group, the other parish group, the elderly woman there on her own accord, and the sidewalk counselors.  And we listened to her story.  And I'm not gonna lie, I wept.  A bunch of us did.  Oh my gosh.  We witnessed a miracle--a change of heart! And most of us didn't even know until she told her story!

So this woman who pulled up and joined us is an African woman from Nigeria named Immaculate.  Yes, Immaculate.  Like, after Mary.  She has several children and is a member of a local Catholic parish in the diocese.  Last year, she gave birth to a premature baby daughter, whom they named Faustina (after the saint).  If I remember correctly, Faustina had to be born prematurely because the pregnancy was compromising Immaculate's health due to complications of her womb.  Because Faustina was a premature baby, she had complications with her own health.  I didn't catch exactly what those complications were, but she survived for a little over six months before passing away.  Understandably, losing a baby so young would cause great suffering for the parents.  Immaculate told us that they had a priest baptize Faustina before she passed away.  :-(  That was towards the beginning of this year when Faustina passed away.

After losing Faustina, Immaculate wanted to find out what was wrong with her.  She sought the help of her gynecologist and after tests and whatnot, the gynecologist concluded that Immaculate needed to get her tubes tied to prevent further pregnancies.  And she didn't agree with her doctor and didn't go through with tying her tubes.  Well, recently...Immaculate found out she was pregnant again.  And because Faustina had to be born prematurely due to Immaculate's own health concerns, Immaculate feared that this pregnancy would lead to another demise.  There's genuine fear here...on both Immaculate's part and her husband's.  They couldn't bear to lose another child again.  I think...because of that fear...Immaculate's husband told her to get an abortion.  Abort the child now, before having to go through what they had already gone through with Faustina.

Earlier this week on Tuesday, Immaculate went to Planned Parenthood to seek options.  And, basically...they told her to come in today, Saturday, to either take the pill or go through a surgical procedure to abort the baby.  She had an appointment at 8:00AM this morning to go through with an abortion.

As she was telling us all the details mentioned above in tears, she'd say how scared she was.  She was praying a Rosary and crying on her drive over to Planned Parenthood this morning.  She'd been praying hard about this...but she felt like she had no other option but to go through with the abortion and obey her husband.

But then she saw us praying the Rosary when she pulled up.  'Sam' gave that funny look because the back of her car had a 910AM Radio bumper sticker (it's our local Catholic radio station).  Anybody reppin' the Catholic Church shouldn't be pulling into the parking lot of a Planned Parenthood.

Apparently, by our presence praying in front of Planned Parenthood was enough to convince her not to go through with the abortion.  She was actually running late for her appointment because she was so horribly conflicted leaving her house this morning.  She pulled in at like 8:30AM.  Praise God 'Sam' and the sidewalk counselors were quick to respond to her awkward arrival.

After she told her story, one of the sidewalk counselors offered her literature and resources so that Immaculate could get the help she needs.  Also, apparently Immaculate's own parish has some pretty awesome people involved who can help her find good doctors, financial assistance, and other helpful resources to ensure her health and the health of her baby.  In addition, a few of us gave Immaculate a few blessed items to help her out too.  I personally gave her one of my many extra Miraculous Medals from past Youth 2000 retreats.

But...oh my gosh.  How ...amazing.  This woman had suffered much with her last child and had been led down the path to go through with an abortion.  The people she sought help from kind of led her down this path that would inevitably lead to more suffering.  She was scared and conflicted.  She didn't want to do it...but she found herself at Planned Parenthood--where we were on the sidewalk praying--to go through with the abortion.

And she chose not to go through with it.  She received help, materially and spiritually.  She can go get second opinions on her health situation.  She was so grateful that we were there.  We were so grateful we were there.  Our purpose in being there this morning was affirmed!

Miracle moments do happen.  Life is beautiful.  
Our parish group went to breakfast afterwards, and we were talking about what had happened at Planned Parenthood.  While in line to order food, I was talking to our youth minister about how disappointed we were at the start of today because our group lacked nearly all of our usual youth who prays with us at abortion clinics.  Actually, participation had been declining recently and we were sad about that too.  Also remember what I said at the start of this post...that in my time as a regular prayerful faithful at abortion clinics, I haven't witnessed anything visibly and immediately fruitful of our efforts.  Both my youth minister and I agreed on that too.  But he brought up a good point:  God doesn't need a big group of people to make a difference.  He can change hearts with a few people.  And that we shouldn't be discouraged if our friends are not there to join us on the front lines.  God still works even if we're not as strong.  How awesome.  Though it is a shame that the others who usually join us missed out on witnessing what happened this morning.  But that's okay.

Now, for those who are on either side of the Catholic does seem odd that a Catholic couple would go through the idea of going through an abortion when our faith is very vocal and clear on the issue of abortion.  For some, it does seem justifiable that Immaculate could have gone through with the abortion because her current pregnancy may jeopardize her health and/or the baby's health.  And not every Catholic knows the faith well enough to make clear decisions regarding these matters.

But realize...she's scared and very much afraid.  She doesn't know her health situation...and she's still suffering from the loss of her last child...She only had the opinion of her gynecologist who told her to go get sterilized and her husband wanted her to go get an abortion because he's scared and doesn't know what to do either.  And she was so conflicted about the whole process of this abortion and nearly went through with it.  Deep down she wants to have the baby.  She knows it's alive.  But she felt like she had no other option but she kept trusting in God.   I think Satan was truly at work here...that in Immaculate and her husband's suffering from losing Faustina, left them vulnerable to his lies.  Abortion, then, would seem like the only option to conserve Immaculate's health and prevent having to go through the possibility of another premature birth dangerous to the baby's life.

This is what I love about being a pro-life Catholic.  The Catholic network is rather extensive and we can easily provide the resources that any woman needs to help her go through with a pregnancy.  But only if she's open to it.  And if only women knew that there are other options. To be pro-life requires us to be be pro-woman demands that we be pro-life.  Some people tend to focus on narrow aspects of women's health when really we should care for her holistically (body, mind, heart and soul) and not reduce her well-being to only her privacy and physical state.  And not only that, a pregnant woman needs support throughout her pregnancy.

I love being Catholic because we respect the dignity of all human life, from conception to natural death.  All human life is beautiful and dignified.  And we need to try our best to share that with the world.

But, I hope my retelling of this morning did justice.  It was a lot better in person...I assure you. 

At the very least...please keep Immaculate, her husband, and their baby in your thoughts and prayers.  While the choice to not abort this morning is a milestone indeed, Immaculate still has a long road ahead of her.  She still needs to tell her husband that she didn't go through with the abortion and that, I would imagine, would present some difficulty in him finding that out.  Be assured though, for she has been given the support she needs to keep herself and her baby healthy and the financial resources to make it happen as well.  Since 'Sam' gave her his contact info, I hope we'll be able to check in with her and see how things are going down the road. for me...despite the discouraging lack-of-any-good-things-happening-while-praying-in-front-of-abortion-clinics and the lack-of-any-fellow-Catholics-praying....this totally happened this morning.  And for that, I'm grateful and blessed for witnessing that.  Not gonna lie...I did weep some while writing this blog post as I recalled her telling of her story.

St. Faustina, pray for us.  Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.
- JD

PS  And I'm okay if you share this blog post with others, if you feel compelled to do so.

The issues of sterilization and contraception can be thought of while reading this blog post.  I think a helpful book to read about that is Sex Au Naturel by Patrick Coffin, which I blogged about here.

There are no gray areas regarding abortion.  It's not justifiable for any reason, via any method.  I think a good resource for more clarity on that is which would also point to other various resources.

Awkward Confession

Sometimes I go to other parishes for confession because my own parish's confession time isn't always convenient.

So, I go to my Backup Confession Parish #1 this afternoon and I pull into the parking lot.  I look around and see that the parking lot is full.   I think to myself, "Wait a minute...why is the parking lot full? Their Mass doesn't start for another hour!"

I decided to park and go in anyway just on the off-chance that maybe everyone is inside the parish hall.  Or something.

Boy was I wrong.

I walk into the narthex and see a spread worthy of a reception of some sort.  Then I look into the sanctuary and Mass is definitely going on.  Like, Communion lines everywhere.  And red seems to be a popular color.

Confirmation...maybe?!  Then I saw Bishop Vann. Then I was like...ohhhhhhh, that makes sense.  This is their Confirmation Mass.

I stood around for a few minutes thinking about a backup plan.  I awkwardly peer into the sanctuary to see if anyone was in line for confession anyway, but I was unsure because there was some standing-room only by where they normally have the confession line.

I was about to whip out my iPhone and use the Mass Times app to find out where else I could go for Confession this late in the afternoon but...a gentlemen walks up behind me and asks me what was going on in the sanctuary.  Not just any gentlemen--a priest!!!  "Ask and you shall receive," right?!

Apparently the visiting priest didn't know about the Confirmation Mass either.  That's cool.  We both go over to the confessional where there were actually people waiting.

And the story awkwardly pauses while I'm in line for confession yet observing the Confirmation Mass and Bishop Vann and the pastor wrap up Mass with closing remarks and prayer.  (Side Note:  Bishop had to jet outa there as soon as he could because he had another Confirmation Mass to celebrate across town.  His life is Catholic)

Anyway, it was my turn, and I go inside the confessional and all is normal.  But  kind of louder than normal because you can hear everyone is abuzz in the sanctuary due to the conclusion of the Confirmation Mass.

Father was in the middle of giving me penance and absolution when all of a sudden the pastor walks in!!!

Awk.  Really awk.

He apparently wasn't sure if the visiting priest had arrived yet, but my fellow confession line buddies apparently didn't give the pastor the memo?  Anyway, we had an awkward exchange of me telling him that yes, there is in fact a priest on the other side of the partition.  Haha, and the pastor even went to the other side of the wall to make sure.  He leaves.  My confessor and I laughed, and I said..."So ...(I repeat my penance) and...?"

Anyway, umm...after I finished with my confession, I walk out and the pastor apologized.  We laughed.  No biggie.  No sacrament abuses here.  No broken seals.  Still legit confession!

I just laugh and smile because my confession was interrupted by a priest...haha.  #Catholicproblems

All clean!
- JD

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Executive Decision

Last summer, I went on a small road trip with our youth group to another parish an hour away.  We joined up with another youth group to watch a live feed of the closing Mass at World Youth Day 2012 in Madrid, Spain.

And after staying up all night (literally) watching the Closing Mass, I couldn't help but think, "Man! I really want to go to a World Youth Day!"  And I decided that I would start saving money, knowing that such a trip will cost like at least 3500 small coffees from McDonald's.  Not that I get small coffees at McDonald's that often. Anymore. Ahem...

Anyway, I remember back in high school, our youth group went to like...each one.  But I never had the time or could afford it.  So I missed out on the opportunities to go to WYD in Toronto, Germany, and Australia.

But now that I'm full-time employed with some earned vacation time, I've made an executive decision to go to World Youth Day 2013 in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

Earlier this week, I attended a meeting to start getting more information about a combined trip between my parish and another parish.  Sounds pretty exciting!  Can't wait!

I hope that a lot of youth get to go too to share this experience!

It's gonna happen.  God-willing. JD-hoping/praying.

(Insert something Portuguese here)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Know kneelers, know comfort. No kneelers, no comfort.

Last summer, I was sitting there at Mass  in the amphitheater of Six Flags Over Texas and Bishops Farrell of Dallas and Vann of Ft. Worth were on stage.  We sang through the new translation of the Holy, Holy, Holy as practice for the upcoming Advent season.

After we finished singing, I kneeled down.  On concrete.  I saw the rest of our youth group kneel down as well, because...that's just what you do during the Eucharistic Prayer, Consecration, etc.  I looked around puzzled because some of the other groups didn't kneel at first.  Was the concrete that much of a discouragement to not kneel during this part of the Mass?  But after my youth group all finished kneeling, I noticed the groups around us slowly start to kneel.  And that was cool because we sort of led the way. 

While the Bishops were doing their thing in persona Christi at the altar, I couldn't help but notice my discomfort kneeling on the concrete.  And I was wearing shorts.  As I was trying to focus, I also found myself encouraging myself to endure concrete kneeling. 

Haha, I think after that Mass...I thought "man, I'm glad I don't have to do that often."  

I go back to daily life.  And last summer, daily life included more Daily Masses than usual.  One of the joys of being a volunteer for the youth group is seeing the high schoolers attend Daily Mass regularly.  I've noticed this before, but after Six Flags, I started noticing moreso that some of the high schoolers don't use kneelers.  Eeeenteresting.

Seeing their example, I started not using kneelers in the pews at Daily Mass and Sunday Mass whenever I've got a kneeler to myself.  At first I was like, "hmm, I'll do what they do...coz it's more hardcore! And I don't want to be outdone by them especially if I'm to be their teacher!"

Well, not using a kneeler eventually became a habit of mine.  

And sometime recently, I realized a deeper meaning of not using a kneeler in the pew.  

You see, because of the discomfort of not using a padded kneeler while kneeling at Mass, I realized a profound thing regarding the Catholic faith: 

I shouldn't be comfortable in my Catholic faith.

Well that seems kind of ... negative, depending on how you look at it.  But no! I see it as a good thing.  The temporary discomforts causes me to seek comfort and peace.  Being uncomfortable in the Catholic faith ultimately causes me to seek the comfort and peace in Jesus, because that is who the Church points to.

And the other part is... I shouldn't be comfortable in my Catholic faith because I feel like if I were to be comfortable, I wouldn't feel compelled to dive deeper.  The quest for 2000 years of Catholic truth makes for a very, very deep ocean at which to dive deeper into.

...and not using kneelers is my one, physical way to remind myself to not stay comfortable.  It's temporary anyway.  And hardcore if you can kneel for a bajillion hours at Youth 2000 retreats.

I mean, I look at the crucifix and see that Jesus had to go through discomfort in order to be resurrected. #understatement  

If He can do that, I can endure kneeling on bare carpet, floors, concrete, gym floors, and whatever-I-happen-to-be-kneeling on for a little while.

Lastly, the other thing I get out of not using kneelers is that...before the Blessed Sacrament, it places me at a lower level.  I really get a sense of humility before the Lord by being lower, physically.  In essence, by placing myself lower, I raise Him higher.  Cool to think about.

Don't get me wrong--I'm not here to say that "everyone should never use kneelers"... Because that would be ridiculous and unrealistic.  But ... my life is Catholic.  Anything I can do that reminds me of my call to holiness (without being heretical or going against prescribed rubrics) is...a good thing.

And oh, if I'm sitting in a pew and have to share kneelers with others, I'll use the kneeler and not force my pew mates to kneel on the floor.  That would be a total jerk move, especially next to grandma.

Know kneelers, know comfort. No kneelers, no comfort.
- JD

Popes kneeling from Flickr: Papist

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Of Mothers, Sickness, and Conversion

In our Catholic walk through life, I'm sure we all experience those moments of conversion that make you go "wow, Catholicism is awesome...Catholicism works!..."  I have had a few major conversion moments throughout my life thus far, and this is one of them.

Note:  To keep things private, I have changed some names.

When I was an assistant black belt instructor at my Tae Kwon Do dojo in early high school, I met a fellow Filipino family.  I taught Shawn, and my family befriended his parents (since my grandfather and parents took me to class since I didn't drive yet).  Shawn's parents are really nice, and I remember my parents and grandfather talking to them non-stop for the full hour of time.

My parents enrolled me in high school religious education classes my freshman year of high school.  Needless to say, it was required so that I could get Confirmed.  I barely remember my class from freshman year, but I do recall my fellow classmates from my Confirmation/religious education class.  That's where I met J.T. or at to know him better, since I'm not sure if I met him my freshman year.  I would say my Filipino radar is pretty good, and I could tell that he, too, is Filipino.  While the Filipino connection was an obvious start to a friendship, I didn't find out til later that J.T. is actually the older brother of Shawn.  I think it was one of those awkward parent pick-up moments after class where I found this out.  It kind of blew my mind, actually, because it IS a small world after all.

Awesome.  So now I know this family through Tae Kwon Do and Confirmation class.  And my family has befriended J.T. and Shawn's parents.  Cool stuff.

As the year progressed, I got to know J.T. better.  Turns out he, too, is a clarinet player!  We had that ... Filipino Catholic clarinet guy connection, whatever that means.  Since it was our sophomore year, we both went through the motions of retreats and classes for Confirmation and the actual sacrament itself.

We get Confirmed...we finish sophomore year... It's summer time...

J.T. and his family took a trip to Rome during that summer after Confirmation.  Because my family and his family had developed enough closeness...and because J.T.'s mom is super awesomely Catholic... she got me   (and some others in the youth group) some sort of certificate blessed by Blessed Pope John Paul II for Confirmation...which...I just now remembered as I'm typing this...which now I'm inclined to go look for that because I'm highly intrigued...but...I digress--I'll look for it later...

Anyway, after Confirmation...we both got involved with the our youth group.  I guess the Holy Spirit truly has that power to set ablaze within souls, because we were definitely "en fuego" to be an awesome example of what it means to be a Confirmed Catholic.

Our involvement continued through the summer and into the fall.  We were both juniors in high school still going to religious ed class, youth group on Wednesdays, and helping out with whatever events on the weekends.

But then... winter came.  And that's when it happened.

The Sickness
Now, let me just say...the passage of time through the events described is cloudy to me since it's been 9 years.  But that's not too important.  What matters is what...happened.

It was a few days after Christmas 2003.

I forget through what channels that I heard the news, but I think it was some combination of emails and phone calls.

J.T. had to go to the emergency room.  He had been complaining of a headache that progressively got worse throughout the day, and at night it got so bad that he couldn't sleep--he could do nothing but moan and be in pain.  And I think his whole body started hurting too  So his parents took him to the ER.

It only went downhill from there.

It all happened so fast.  Within a day or two, J.T. went from perfectly fine to perfectly not fine.

Apparently he had come down with bacterial meningitis--the bad form of it.  If my memory serves me right, he slipped into a coma.  And while he was in a coma, he either suffered through a stroke or seizures or both...I can't remember exactly.  Either way, because of his bacterial meningitis, it complicated and compromised his health to the point where the doctors said he didn't have much longer to live.

I mean, this all happened in less than a week.  Going from totally fine to death knocking at the door.  Hard to be merry during the Advent season...

I remember going on a retreat right around that time (like, the weekend after this all went down) and we concluded it with a visit to the hospital.  That's where I found out more details about J.T.'s condition and that he wasn't really expected to live.  Whoa.  I might have to lose a friend in death.  I wasn't prepared for this!  I can't...lose a friend after just getting to know him...ya know?

Catholic Strength
But I couldn't even fathom how his parents must feel.  Still can't. parent desires to outlive their child.  And here are J.T.'s parents having to deal with that very possibility.  J.T.'s dad is a pediatrician--a kid doctor!  And there was absolutely nothing he could do to help his son.  Isn't that crazy? To be trained how to help kids back to full health but not being able to help out his own son?

 And oh man...there was also Shawn and their sister too.  They had to deal with the possibility of losing their older brother.

And you know how it's usually the mom who freaks out and gets emotional in these types of situations?  J.T.'s mom, who I'll call Susan, wasn't like that.  I remember us talking to her about about J.T. during our hospital visit.  She admitted she's been crying...but the other stuff she said still blows me away.

...In addition to admitting to all her tears, she mentioned that she has complete trust in God and His will.  That if He wanted to bring J.T. back home, she would be okay with that.  My youth minister and his wife later pointed out that her strength in her faith and in God resembled that of the Virgin Mary at the foot of the Cross.

A picture is worth a thousand words.  Susan was a lot like this:

As a young-in-the-faith Catholic at the time, I never really saw what complete trust in God and His will looked like until that hospital visit.  Both J.T.'s parents, as powerless as they were in this situation, could only trust.  And I saw what a modern day Mary at the foot of the Cross looked like through Susan's example.

I haven't mentioned it yet, but there were a lot of prayers offered up for J.T. from the youth group.  I mean, come on...we're Catholic.  Many Rosaries and Divine Mercy Chaplets and other prayers.  After our hospital visit after the retreat...I think we got together nearly every night or at least once a week to pray for J.T.

As I mentioned earlier, my family is friends with J.T.'s family.  I remember taking my mom with me to visit J.T. in the hospital a week or two later.  By this time, J.T. survived the worst part of his ordeal but had suffered through his stroke/seizures.  Because of these complications, he lost motor skills on his right side, speech and memory.  Maybe other things too, but I can't remember exactly.

But he wasn't in the clear.  At that hospital visit, we found out that even if J.T. gets through all of this, he wouldn't be 100%.

I don't recall much of how his health slowly improved in the following months after being hospitalized.  I remember the youth group getting together to continue our prayers for J.T.  And I don't think I had the opportunity to go visit him in the hospital again after school started up again.

I did dig through some old emails from back then and found an update on J.T. dated March 14, 2004.  That's nearly four months after he first went to the ER.  Some highlights:
  • Still in the hospital
  • Working with a physical therapist at least 5 days a week
  • Some limitation in his right arm movement, but can move both arms at the same time
  • Might still be another 8 weeks before he's able to go home
  • Short term memory issues still, but no loss of mental capacity
  • When asked he wanted to tell the youth group anything, he said "Tell everyone I'm doing great and that I'm praying for them."
I don't remember when he finally came home.  I think it was sometime during the summer.  And then...I don't remember seeing him much since that year.  His life was no longer normal since he had to go through a lot of rehab and his progress was his public appearances were minimal.

J.T. didn't get to finish out his junior year because of getting sick.  I went on to graduate from high school and go to college.  Throughout college, whenever I was back at home, I'd occasionally run into J.T. before or after Mass.  Early on, I remember observing that his walk was very slow and his speech was labored and slow as well.  And year after year running into him, I saw gradual improvement.

After I graduated from college, I actually saw him a little more frequently.  Consequence of living back at home, I suppose.  I worked at a local rec center where apparently his family had a membership.  And J.T. and his dad would stop by to exercise for rehab purposes.  And then of course, I'd randomly run into him at our parish as well.

How This Affected Me
To be honest, after J.T. and his family went through all that...I can't help but tear up every time I think about it.  I nearly cry because he lived through that.  I nearly cry because oh my gosh...the strength of Susan's faith is saintly to me--and the fact that his parents were totally willing to let him go should God will it.  I nearly cry because every time I encounter J.T. because his good self pierces through his own personal darkness.  Even if his body won't let him be visibly joyful, you can still just...tell that he is grateful to be alive and joyful to talk with you.

With J.T., I totally believe in the power of prayer.  We really did pray a lot together as a youth group for J.T. and his family.  I'm practically convinced that the youth group is miraculous in that sense--not because I'm saying so...but Susan herself tells me that nearly every time I run into her.  She is so humbled and grateful for the youth group's prayer and support.

With today being Mother's Day, I can't help but think of my own mom and the other examples of pure motherhood in my life.  And with Susan, seeing her son suffer like that, caused her to suffer but even in her suffering...she knew that she wasn't in control.  And for her to let go and let God the way she did helped me see a vague reflection of our Blessed Mother.  Awesome.

J.T.'s story provided a very real example of being Catholic.  His story, to me, demonstrates that Catholicism truly works, and miracles really do happen.  He wasn't supposed to live.  But he did.  By the grace and mercy of God, he lived through it.  And we're all so grateful that J.T. is alive today.

I'll also bring up this example.  Above, I mentioned how I worked at a local rec center where he and his family frequent.  There was this one time where my supervisor and I were manning the front desk and they checked-in with us.  I caught up with them for a little bit, then they went on to the gym floor.  My supervisor walks over to me and tells me how amazing of a family they are, and she briefly outlined what happened to J.T. with me.  She didn't know I already knew.  So I explained to her (in near tears, lol) that yeah...I've known the family for a long while and that I had witnessed the whole ordeal back then.  She even mentioned that she gets all teary eyed about J.T.'s story and his family.  Annnnd, my supervisor doesn't even go to our church!  And she knew all this just from encountering them at the rec center.  Whoa.

Where Are They Now?
As I mentioned earlier, I still run into their family randomly at our church and other places.

Because Youth 2000 was a favorite retreat of J.T.'s back in high school, both him and his parents still volunteer each year now that J.T. is strong enough.  I got to see and visit with them at the Youth 2000 retreat last month.  They really dig how the youth is so active and participatory in things.

I recently got to speak with J.T. after Mass not too long ago.  To this day, he's still doing rehab a few times a week.  He still does physical therapy and psycho-therapy.  But, what's really nice is that his speech is mostly back and he's able to move around decently.  His short-term memory has improved as well.

From other recent conversations with him, I know he's currently at TCC getting some basics out of the way. I know few years ago, he had talked about discerning the priesthood.  But recently, he seems excited at pursuing becoming a doctor, specializing in some of things he's going through right now.  How awesome is that?

Ever since I graduated from college and got involved with my parish again, a part of me has always wanted to get J.T. involved.  I don't think he does much with our parish now other than Mass.  Praise God our current youth minister is trying to get a Young Adult group going, and I see this as a great opportunity to get J.T. involved at our parish once more.  Even Susan agrees that J.T. should get involved again, but it's been hard with all the rehab and schoolwork.

Since I always run into them in passing, I never got the chance to get some contact info and J.T. hardly checks his Facebook >_>.  But!  Just last weekend, while in line for concessions at the movie theater, I heard someone call out my name.  Lo and behold, it was Susan! In the same line! Two people behind me!  So then we had an awkward catch-up moment with people between us and that was awesome.  I obtained her number and email address so that I can communicate with her all the happenings.

It would just be really cool to have him back and active at our parish again, especially for us old-school people.  I feel like he would have sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo much to offer.

It's my >>MISSION<< to bring J.T. back.  Challenge accepted.

Thanks for taking the time to read this wall of text.  This is truly one of my real-est examples of Catholicism and a moment of conversion for sure.  I hope my current parish friends (teens, parents, young adults, and others alike) get to meet them sometime.  They're an awesome family and they're all really nice and so thankful for God in their lives.

Please continue to pray for J.T. and and his family...because they still pray for us in youth ministry!

Happy Mother's Day!
- JD

**Update: May 12, 2013**
I don't get to see J.T. that often since he still does some rehab and also works.  But, I did run into him and his mom at our parish fish fry during Lent.  I think the biggest development recently is the return or maturation of his mental capacity to be where it needs to be because apparently he's always struggled with that since falling sick.

And of course, I saw them again at the Youth 2000 retreat helping out.  :-)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Worst Church Singer Ever

When I was in high school, our youth minister also happened to be the leader of a Catholic band/apostolate.

He would often quote St. Augustine.... "When you sing, you pray twice."

He would also often say, as words of encouragement to get us to sing along, "God gave you a voice.  You should make him suffer for it."

Believe me...this is twice the suffering:

He talks for a little while before actually singing.  Worth the wait.

Shout out to my bro for sharing this with me! >_>

Faith. Hope. Charity.  Because I need those three virtues when watching this video, haha.
- JD

Monday, May 7, 2012

Your Mom

Just a little tidbit about myself.  I often think that I don't truly know someone unless I've met their parents.  Interacting with the parents of my close friends provides another level of understanding of my close friends that I wouldn't have gained by knowing them alone.  And for some reason, it works out to where I gain a lot more appreciation of my bros by getting to know their moms, and my sisters by getting to know their fathers.  Strange...

Hold that thought.

As a sort of continuation from a prior post, May Feelings...

...what's the big deal with crowning Mary and devoting a whole month to her?  While that's a loaded question... why would I want to get to know Mary?

She's ONLY the Mother of God.

As Christians, we make it a point to be followers of Jesus Christ.  We strive to have that intimate relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior, because it is only through Him that we can be with God, the Father, in Heaven!

I'm not gonna lie.  I, too, strive to have that intimate relationship with Jesus.  And I'm of the type who does better imitating others or being around those who inspire me to grow in that relationship.  I'm blessed to currently be surrounded by those who genuinely seek that close relationship, but the reality one is perfect.  

Let's think for a moment.  Who has walked on this earth that has the most intimate relationship with Jesus Christ?  Who knows Him at a level so much deeper than our own faith and understanding?  

The answer is ... Mary.

I mean, she only gave birth the Jesus.  Fed Him. Changed His clothes.  Taught Him socially acceptable manners for that time period.  Made Him work.  She witnessed His growth from little boy to adult.  And she was there with Him til the bittersweet end.  All that and more.

And she is the perfect, human example of what it means to be Christian having that intimate relationship with Christ.  No, I'm not saying we have to change Jesus' diapers in order that we know Him better.  I'm saying that she has that deeply intimate understanding of her Son that any loving and caring mother would have for her child.  Undoubtedly she accepts Jesus Christ into her heart by simply being His mother.  And fulfilling her role as His mother as well.  

There isn't a lot of verses about her in the Gospels, but with what little we do know about her from Sacred Scripture is that her life was very much oriented towards her Son, which ultimately orients her towards God. Even today and in recent history (through the various times she has appeared to people across the world), she points back towards her son.

Truly, she deserves attention.  As Christians, we know that by getting closer to Jesus, we can get closer to God.  But I think by getting closer to Mary, we get closer to Jesus.  Her life points to Jesus.  A good example is the Wedding of Cana in the Gospel of John, Chapter 2.  "Do whatever he tells you.", she said to the servers when they were freaking out because there wasn't any more wine to be merry.  And Jesus told them to fill jars up with water that later became wine.  And they listened.  And the party went on.

What I love about Mary is that even though the details of her life with Jesus aren't explicitly detailed in the Gospels...we can still reflect on her life and imagine what it must be like being with Jesus every step of His life.  

It's like what I said earlier.  Once I get to know my friends' moms, I feel like I know my friends better.  And Jesus is my friend too.

O clement, o loving, o sweet Virgin Mary.
- JD

Friday, May 4, 2012

May Feelings

Mary's Grotto at my parish for May Crowning 2012
April showers bring forth May flowers...for Mary!

Last year, our high school youth group got asked to help out with the May Crowning for our elementary religious ed kids.  Some of our high schoolers actively help with the young kids.

One of the high schoolers shared this video last year in preparation for the May Crowning:

...which resulted in our youth group getting together to make our own "I pray the Rosary" shirts.  And we all helped lead the elementary students in praying the Rosary, songs, and the crowning.  Cool stuff.

This year we didn't quite get organized in time to make new shirts, but we still helped out with 3 separate May Crownings (soooo many kids x_x, but that's a good thing!).  

It is adorably cute to hear little kids lead a decade of the Rosary.  Fo realz.

If you have time, it's worth searching "Belomasan" on YouTube.  They're the ones that make these May Feelings videos (which  the video above is May Feelings II...and there are currently 5).  They're all pretty awesome.  Don't let the Spanish language turn you away--there are subtitles!

Faith. Hope. Charity.  I pray the Rosary.
- JD

All Natural!

I'm a big fan of a Catholic radio show called Catholic Answers Live which airs in the evenings during the week.  The host of the show is Patrick Coffin and every hour the show he usually brings in a guest where they focus on a particular topic. Listeners are allowed to call in and ask questions regarding the Catholic teaching of the topic of that hour.  Pretty cool stuff!  I've learned a lot.  And it gives me something to listen to on my commute home from work.
Patrick Coffin, in addition to being a radio show host, is also a book and blog writer (and he wears a few other hats not worth mentioning here).  If not evident from the picture above, he wrote Sex Au Naturel where he presents factual and scriptural points on the Catholic Church's teaching regarding sex and contraception/sterilization/abortion.  
I just finished the book today after reading it here and there for a few weeks.  My motivation for reading it stemmed from him shamelessly plugging his book whenever callers pose a question regarding contraception.  In light of what's going on in the United States right now with the HHS mandate that demands all insurance companies to cover contraception and abortifacient drugs, I felt it necessary to arm myself with whatever resources I can muster to defend the Church's teaching.
What I liked about the book was how readable it is.  Patrick presents the information clearly and concisely with a ton of references.  The book is meant for Catholics to read, and he even says that at the beginning.  He covers the history of Christian teaching on contraception, the implications of Humanae Vitae, makes the case for Catholic authority on teaching this matter, birth control, the overpopulation myth, and sterilization...and things in-between.  You can find more info about the book and its Amazon link here on his website at
It's short, but I don't know how many pages there are because I have the Kindle edition...haha.
But anyway, while this blog post isn't a critical review of the book...I know that I'll probably be referencing this book or referencing his references for future blog posts.
I definitely recommend this book for those Catholics and Christians who aren't too clear on Church teaching regarding contraception.  He isn't preachy or judgmental--he just echoes facts and verses.  It's also going to be a good resource for an aspiring Catholic apologist, especially now that the issue of contraception has been elevated to national attention.  NOW is the time to let the American society know why the Catholic Church teaches what she teaches regarding sex and contraception.
On to the next book about sex and Catholic teaching...
Faith. Hope. Charity. Going green.
- JD