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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Catholic New Year's Resolutions

As the new year approaches, I'm sure most people are thinking about and seeking ways to improve themselves with strengthened resolve.  Fresh start! Clean slate! Start anew!

And while we dream up of things like working out more, taking on a new skill, earning some other achievement, etc... How about strengthening our resolve to do something more with our Catholic faith?

Personally, I'm usually on some continuous improvement effort regarding my Catholic faith.  Due to the immensity of Catholicism, sometimes it's best to ease into doing more and learning more.

So I've put together 13 (for 2013!) fairly easy suggestions:
  1. Attend Daily Mass once a week. Because believe it or not, we're spoiled as Catholics to be able to worship on a daily basis.  Not every parish offers Mass every day or at convenient times, but surely a parish near you offers something that could work.  I know offers an easy way to search for parishes and their Mass times. For further enticing, daily Mass is often a lot shorter than Sunday Mass. 
  2. Pray one of the Liturgy of the Hours once a day.  The second highest form of prayer in the Church is the Divine Office or Liturgy of the Hours (the Mass is the highest).  It's a way to "pray unceasingly," as St. Paul writes, at specific times of the day. Praying the Divine Office is required for clergy and religious, but us lay people can share in this form of prayer with them.  What's cool to think about is that whenever you're praying the Liturgy of the Hours, Catholics around the world are doing the same!  Here's how to pray it, and my favorite app/webapp for it.
  3. Abstain from eating meat on all Fridays.  Did you know that as Catholics we're supposed to observe some form of penance on Fridays?  Canon law specifies abstinence from meat throughout the year, not just Lent.  However, bishops can petition the Vatican to allow other forms of penance or charity, which is the case here in the US.  Read more here.  And I personally didn't know that til recently...
  4. Read Daily Readings every day. So if you don't make it to Daily can at least read the readings for the day!  Just remember that these Daily Readings follow their own schedule apart (though sometimes similar) from Sunday's Readings.  If you see on the left menu of my blog, I link to Fr. Alfonse's Daily Meditations.  He offers his own meditation and thoughts on the Gospel reading and I'm often a fan of his insight and how he relates to the Gospel reading of the day.  Anyway, as St. Jerome once said, "Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ."  So don't ignore!
  5. Go to Adoration once a week.  Again, we are so spoiled as Catholics that we have opportunities to go before Jesus, truly present--body, blood, soul, and divinity... and just...adore Him.  As Christians, we not only proclaim Him as our lord and savior, but seek that intimate relationship with Him.  And like any relationship, what good does it do by ignoring the other?  What good does it do by not speaking to the other?  We can definitely 'find Jesus in the temple' #JoyfulMysteryPun and just spend time with Him, in person.  Yes, I have had staring contests with Jesus and He always wins. also gives Adoration times.  I also know of this website that gives times/places of where you can find Perpetual Adoration (in Texas, but main site links to other states)!
  6. Post a Catholic status or tweet something Catholic frequently.  Hey, if Pope Benedict XVI can tweet, so can you!  The Internet is just as important of a place to create a Catholic culture because it lets you connect easily to real people.  You never know when what you post is just what someone needs.  Just be charitable and be prepared to make a defense for the joy that's within you.  :-D
  7. Pray a Rosary once a week.  The Rosary is a great way to reflect on the life of Christ by praying with His Blessed Mother.  St. Louis Du Montfort wrote a book entitled, The Secret of the Rosary, and it offers a beautiful perspective on the Rosary.  I love how he explains how the Rosary was used against demons.  Worth a read!  You can either buy it or read it online.
  8. Go to Confession at least once a month.  A sincere confession is definitely a good thing.  It's a great way to reflect on ways you've fallen short and have the resolve to do better for next time.  A certain kind of humility transpires as a fruit of confessing one's sins, which makes it more conducive for the soul to be receptive of God's graces.  A lot of healing too, in confession.  Recently, a blog post came out regarding a priest's perspective on the sacrament of reconciliation--worth the read to gain better appreciation of it!  And fun fact:  supposedly Mother Teresa and Blessed Pope John Paul II went to confession. every. day.  Or at the very least, very very very frequently.  Lol, sometimes I need to go once a week... #havemercyonmeasinner
  9. Read the Catechism every day. Rejoice!  We are in the Year of Faith!  Pope Benedict XVI has named this year from Oct '12 to Nov '13 as the Year of Faith in his apostolic letter, Porto Fidei (The Door of Faith).  Purposely and coincidentally, the Catechism of the Catholic Church celebrates its 20th anniversary during the Year of Faith and Pope Benedict XVI has asked us Catholics to spend the time and study the Catechism (and to study the docs of Vatican II, which has its 50th anniversary this year as well).  I recommend reading the Catechism every day because a fellow Fightin' Texas Aggie Catholic has made it really easy to receive morsels of the Catechism in your email each day.  It's not too late!  We're only in the mid-500s (paragraph numbers, not years)!  You can sign up here: Read The Catechism In A Year.  I'm actually learning a lot and the Catechism is such an invaluable resource on outlining what we Catholics believe.
  10. Attend a prayerful retreat.  Our life is often a battle of the visible and invisible things.  And sometimes we need to retreat and regroup.  Praise God that there are opportunities for everyone!  I know for college kids there is Awakening, for adults there is A.C.T.S. and Cursillo.  For middle and high school there's Youth 2000.  Married couples can attend marriage-specific retreats too! I mean, the list goes on and on and on and on.  Check out your parish bulletin or diocesan website to see what's going on!
  11. Get involved with a new ministry.  One quick glance through the any parish bulletin and it's probably easy to see that a number of different ministries could use help.  Involvement in ministries is great because you can connect with (often many) members of the parish.  Some examples are the Knights of Columbus, Catholic Daughters, various prayer groups, ministry to the homeless, ministry to the sick, parish mission councils, etc.  And then there is getting involved with Mass as Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, Lector, Usher, choir, altar server, etc.  The nice thing with getting involved with Mass is that the work is highly transferable, no matter where you go ;-)
  12. Read a book about a saint or a saint's works.  What's nice about being part of something that has lasted for 2000 years is that a lot of work and thought has already been done.  We just need to dig back into history and see what's there.  And as a Christian, we need solid examples of what it means to be Christian and what better place to look than the saints?  Here, then, are the heroic and exceptional examples of men, women, and children who lived a Christ-centered life.  I've featured a few saints on this blog, but there are so many more!  Find a saint you are intrigued by and read up on them!  Bonus points if they've written a lot of works and if you read them!
  13. Pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy at least once a week. We can begin to show mercy to others when we ask for Jesus' Divine Mercy.  He reveals His call for us to show mercy to others through St. Faustina.  And one of the devotions to Divine Mercy is praying the Chaplet.  You pray the Chaplet on Rosary beads, but it is shorter than a Rosary!  I like this prayer because it really helps me focus on Jesus' Passion. 
And yes, there are so many ways to further develop one's interior life, learn more about the faith, and putting faith into action.  But at least here's a small list to start.  :-D

And then hopefully by year's end, you can be all like...

Insert your success here
Happy New Year! Keep it Catholic!
- JD

Monday, December 24, 2012


So for years and years now, my church has helped out with Beautiful Feet Ministries, a homeless outreach organization that provides for spiritual and material needs as well as basic medical attention for homeless individuals on the outskirts of downtown Ft. Worth.  Every year on Christmas Eve morning, my church helps out by sorting clothes donations, praying for and with the homeless, and serving them lunch.  And in the particular ministries I'm in at my church, a few weeks ago we put together new socks stuffed with toiletries to hand out to them whenever they finish their lunch.  Also, our Knights of Columbus council cooks up a delicious Thanksgiving-esque lunch for the homeless (like...turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, roll, etc). Pretty cool stuff.

This was my third year in a row participating in helping out with Beautiful Feet.  I had the privilege of laying out an improved game plan on the sorting process.  Because man, when you have 100+ people trying to sort a bunch of clothes, it can get really hectic and chaotic when you don't have some sort of system or game plan in place.  Yes, my engineering mind definitely kicked in when trying to improve this process.  I can honestly say that we accomplished our sorting, bagging, and storing tasks relatively efficiently (better than the last two years, haha) and had a bit of down time before we had a mini-service before serving lunch.

Actually, Beautiful Feet normally holds a service for the homeless prior to lunch time, but we had the unique opportunity in leading that service instead of Beautiful Feet personnel leading it.  And that was a really beautiful thing to be part of.

To start off the service, some of our youth led the singing of Christmas carols to just get everyone in the mood and in the Christmas spirit.  Our youth minister led an opening prayer and reflection.  The Beautiful Feet coordinator working with us asked us to find some people willing to give Christmas testimonies.  Our first testimony during the service was actually one of the homeless gentlemen.  He wanted to share a poem that he wrote about the first Christmas day.  The poem was just...beautiful!  It was beautiful because you could tell that he understood the meaning of Christmas and eloquently poem'd about it.  Better than I could.  And it turns out he loves writing poems because he shared some of his other works (like, published in a booklet he was carrying with him) with others.  Pretty neat!

We also had two other members of our group give a personal witness on what Christmas means to them.  I particularly like how one of them said that the days leading up to Christmas is a time of preparation, whether for family and friends to come over.  But ultimately, it is all preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ.  I hadn't thought about how we spend all this time decorating for Christmas, making sure our house is clean for guests, and other holiday preparations...but...for what?  Why even prepare?  And the answer is...because we celebrate the coming of Christ!  Awesome :-)  The other witness talk was about how she always travels around Christmas time and thus things are always hectic and crazy, kind of like when Mary and Joseph were traveling to Bethlehem and how crazy it must have been for them to not find a place to stay.  I like how she made that connection.

And then finally, our youth minister wrapped up with a reflection from the beginning of Luke 2 where we find the Nativity narrative.  The main message is that even in the chaos and craziness of our lives, no matter what we're going through, we should keep Christ as our center like Mary and Joseph does away in a manger and beyond.  That to begin keeping Christ as our center and letting Him in our lives, we must say "yes" to Him like Mary does when the angel Gabriel speaks to her in Luke 1.  Her yes, "May it be done to me according to your word" (Luke 1: 38 NAB), lets Christ in...not just for Mary, but for the world!  Think about that and the immense "yes" her yes was.

Cool reflections and testimonies.

But, as cool as sorting out donated clothes and participating in a service are, I think my favorite part of doing it this year was right after the service and before lunch.  The main coordinator designated me as the one to hand out meal tickets so that the homeless can get their lunch.  So yes, I actually got to briefly interact with every homeless individual that was there.  Maybe my customer service skills kicked in, so I had a joyful smile in greeting them and handing them tickets.  But I found that my smile only grew bigger because...they were the ones to first give me a smile and say "Merry Christmas!" to me, and I could definitely see it in their eyes a sense of gratitude because they were going to receive a really delicious meal.  Kind of humbling really, because I wasn't the only one helping out with the day's effort yet here I am sharing a brief moment with every. single. one. of. them.  And that was really beautiful to see how gracious and thankful they all were.  I actually didn't get to help serve lunch this time because I was busy handing out tickets.

You know, I live a comfortable, middle-class, first world life.  And that's fine.  But truly, I can't bring myself to live my life without at least remembering those who don't have a roof over their head with no family to take care of them.  And in my current journey of faith, a stagnant faith gets nothing done--my response as a disciple of Jesus Christ is to put my faith into action--I'm...en fuego, if you will.  Thus, simply remembering the homeless isn't enough...what can I do to help?  How may I serve?  And that's what's great about Beautiful Feet.  It gives me an opportunity during an opportune time of year to serve the homeless.  But! I don't just serve them once year...  About once a month for the past year and a half, I've also helped with making peanut butter sandwiches that gets sent to another homeless ministry in Ft. Worth.  And yeah, since I've started helping out with Beautiful Feet, the thought of "hmm, what clothes in my closet can I donate?" is always in the back of my mind.  Psh, I don't need a tax deduction from donating my clothes to like...Goodwill.  ;-)  Actually, I totally just donated like 5 pairs of pants that no longer fit me this past time so... I hope one of the homeless men get to enjoy them since I can't anymore.

Anyway, I think that the temptation in thinking about the homeless is that they're a bunch of low-lifes who can't get their act together.  And you know what, I don't really know their story until I actually get to talk to them personally.  But regardless of how they wound up in their situation, regardless of the steps they're taking to get out of their current situation, regardless of homeless stereotypes...the least I can do is provide for their material needs and provide food for them...the least I can do is acknowledge them as human beings and give them dignity...personally.  I'm not gonna lie, I get in better touch with my humanity whenever I serve those who are less fortunate (like babies, kids, and elderly in a previous blog post).

So, I ask you, dear reader of my blog, to keep the homeless in your thoughts and prayers, especially this holiday season.  The local weather is going to be harshly cold and most likely wet if it isn't already.  Let us be  grateful for what has been given to us...and remember those who aren't as fortunate.  Hopefully, something stirs within us such that we're called into action and that we answer that call.  Living a Christ-centered life and called to do God's will, we must say "yes" like Mary.  Whatever we do for the least among us, we do for Christ (Matthew 25:31-46).

Merry Christmas and happy holidays!
- JD

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Away In A ... What?

You know what...sometimes I'm too accepting of of whatever I hear and never really stop to think more about stuff.  Praise God I'm an engineer because it helps me try to make common sense of things by seeking a better understanding of...things.

So that leads me to the Christmas carol, "Away In A Manger."

All together now:

Away in a manger,
No crib for His bed
The little Lord Jesus
Laid down His sweet head

The stars in the bright sky
Looked down where He lay
The little Lord Jesus
Asleep on the hay

The cattle are lowing
The poor Baby wakes
But little Lord Jesus
No crying He makes

I love Thee, Lord Jesus
Look down from the sky
And stay by my side,
'Til morning is nigh.

Be near me, Lord Jesus,
I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever
And love me I pray

Bless all the dear children
In Thy tender care
And take us to heaven
To live in Thee there

I don't think you can buy this in stores...
So, I don't know about you...but...I never really questioned the song.  I'm all like, "yeah, I get that."  But after thinking about the song more, it fails to explain or detail the most fundamental aspect to this song: what in heaven is a manger?

Perhaps I'm not cultured in late 18th century Europe from which the lyrics to this carol originated, but in living this modern life, perhaps knowing what a manger is has become lost to me as common knowledge.

Context clues from the rest of the song tells me that a manger involves animals and somewhere to put a baby.  Mmk, so stable?  A manger is a stable?  Errmmm.  Sure.  I'll take that!  Makes sense!  Let's move on!

But see, that's not exactly what a manger is.  I was finally enlightened after like...20 years of understanding a manger to be some sort of stable that somehow held baby Jesus.  In actuality, a manger is simply a type of food trough for animals.

A food trough for animals.

How can this be, that the God of the Universe, our Creator, our Father in Heaven, begot His only Son, the King of kings, incarnate of the Virgin Mary...and because Mary and Joseph could not find a place to stay...Mary had to give birth in a stable.  With nowhere else to place the baby, Jesus, he was placed in a manger wrapped in swaddling clothes (Luke 2: 1-7).

Perhaps it's my modern mind that thinks that someone of great importance deserves the best, and yet here is Jesus, Son of God, placed in a food trough for animals.  How incredibly humbling, if you think about it.  And it's practical too.  I mean, it's not like He could fall out.

Being the Son of God, Jesus probably had this radiant glow about Himself in the manger.  A glow that speaks adorableness, beauty, cuteness, and all the synonyms.  You know how sometimes babies are just sooooooooooo cute, you just want to eat them up?  Or at least stick their foot or hand in your mouth?  I'm not a father, but I've been around enough babies and their parents to see this happen.  Actually, one of my fav bloggers blogged about it once, Bad Catholic: On Wanting To Eat Your Baby.  Marc Barnes eloquently ties Beauty to the desire of wanting to eat your baby--I cannot match his expression on this matter.  Worth reading.

But back to the manger.  I can't help but think that by Mary placing Jesus in a manger (like she had a choice...) kind of says, "hey, eat Me!"  And again, Jesus must've been divinely adorable as a newborn--Mary and Joseph probably eyed his arms hungrily (in the sense mentioned in the above paragraph, I should stress).

And fun fact, Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea.  In old Hebrew, "Bethlehem" means "house of bread."  Somehow, I'm seeing a theme of food here.

Reflecting on all this, perhaps Jesus wasn't parable-ing or being symbolic in John 6: 22-59 in His Bread of Life discourse.

Anyway, cool stuff.  A manger is a food trough.  How wrong I was to think it meant the stable, but now knowing that Jesus was away in a [food trough] with no crib for a bed, He had a place to lay down His sweet head (yes, it was probably pretty sweet... ;-) ).  Which lends towards a more beautiful understanding of what took place that first Christmas day.

Now pardon me--I'm hungry. #multimeanings
- JD

Sunday, December 16, 2012


And there was much rejoicing and praise upon hearing that Texas A&M's quarterback for the 2012 football season, Johnny Manziel, was named as the Heisman winner on the evening of Saturday December 8, 2012.  Well, for the Aggies anyway.  Non-Aggies weren't as excited or enthusiastic, haha.

It was cool taking a break from my wedding reception-ing that evening and being on Facebook.  I had to scroll longer than usual in order to read a Facebook post that had nothing to do with Johnny!  And I'm convinced that Twitter stopped working for a little bit because the Aggies BTHO'd tweeting about Johnny, I'm sure (or maybe my hotel's wi-fi wasn't that great...I'm not sure...).

I'm not gonna lie (#HonorCode)... I nearly forgot what Johnny's real last name is because everyone called him Johnny Football or now Johnny Heisman.

I'm like...those are two awkward last names.  -facepalm-  Oh yeahhhhhhh, then I remember that his last name is Manziel!

But that isn't his last name...from
I find it interesting that Johnny's last name changes based on what he's doing.  Oh, so he's playing football and being awesome at it?  Let's make his last name Football!  OH EM GEE! HE WON THE HEISMAN!  Let's call him Johnny Heisman now!!!  COZ DAT WHAT HE DO!

lol, anyway...I'm cool with Johnny having a "this is what I do/I am" last name's always the quirky little things we Aggies like to do that make me appreciate being an Aggie.  Traditions, or something...

Awkward pause though.

My life is Aggie.  And Catholic.  But we Aggies can't play the "we're hipster" card in calling someone's last by their identity.

You see, there lived a great Christian philosopher and apologist who lived around the turn of the first century.  I've heard his name before, but I recently heard someone talking about him on the radio and I made the farfetched connection to Johnny Heisman.

We Catholics call him, St. Justin Martyr.  He was... martyred.

From Wikipedia
I haven't had the time to read up on him properly, but for someone who lived around 100AD, his historic record seems to have been preserved nicely through the centuries.  He was martyred for disagreeing with another philosopher, condemned by Roman prefect Ruficus, and executed along with several companions.

He's an intriguing character to me because he was defending the Christian faith among pagans right after the time of the apostles.  I think further study and inquiry on his works and life would provide great insight on what it meant to be Christian back in those days.

While I'm not writing this to compare and contrast Johnny and Justin...I just find this practice of last naming based on what you're famous for interesting and fun.  Lol, if you know me via Facebook and Twitter...I'm a fan of hashtags.  Goodness...maybe one day I can be known as "JD Hashtag."

Maybe next year.

Soooo....shout out to Johnny Heisman! I'm grateful that the Aggies finally has someone recognized for his skills on the field since we haven't had a Heisman winner since 1957.  x_x

And shout out to St. Justin Martyr!  I wish I knew more about him!

The Catholic Church celebrates St. Justin Martyr's feast day on June 1.

Thanks and gig'em,
- JD

Thursday, December 13, 2012


With the midnight release of The Hobbit later this evening, I feel compelled to share something that I've learned fairly recently. 

I watched The Lord of the Rings when I was in high school and read The Hobbit when I was in college.  I never really connected these works with my Catholic faith because my appreciation of faith wasn't mature enough during those times to make that connection.  It was more, "Ooh ahh, adventure! Epic battles!"

Yet a year or two ago, I learned that J.R.R. Tolkien, author of these works and others, was actually quite the Catholic and bff's with C.S. Lewis (who isn't Catholic, but in the end a Catholic-wannabe).


I hope to relive The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit through a Catholic lens sometime very soon.  I'm sure my appreciation for those tales and how they connect to my Catholic faith would be much greater after reliving those books/movies.  Perhaps that's the magic of Tolkien--that even without considering the Catholic undertones of his Lord of the Rings trilogy, they stand on their own as tales with an epic sense of adventure and involving a difficult journey with allies against the forces of evil.

Found a cool quote from an article on, quoting Tolkien in one of his letters:
"The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work," he wrote, "unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like "religion", to cults or practices, in the Imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism" (Letter 142). 
Lastly, someone I know maintains a website that offers lessons on making Catholic connections.  Their Lord of the Rings series can be found here: Link To Liturgy - Lord of the Rings Series.

Worth blogging more about, I'm sure.
- JD

Bold = updated Sunday 12/16/12

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

¡Víva Juan Diego!

For those of you who happen to be my friend on Facebook, you'll probably notice that my middle name   seems too Hispanic for this Filipino.  Honestly, "Juan Diego" is not my real middle name--my middle name is my mother's maiden name ;-) (Yes, like Hispanics, Filipinos do this as well)

Or maybe you actually clicked the About Me section of my blog and noticed that I briefly explain why I sign my blog posts as "JD."  But...who exactly is this Juan Diego and why am I taking on his name?

FIrst, a little bit of background.  Some Catholics have the custom of choosing a "Christian" name, often that of a saint, at Baptism or Confirmation.  Catholics practice this custom so that young Catholics can gain a better appreciation for the saints.

As for me, when I was going through preparation for Confirmation, I had to choose a Confirmation saint.  Ideally, confirmandi (a candidate prepping for Confirmation) should choose a saint that they can relate to in order to have that better connection and appreciation for the saints in general.  These Confirmation saints are also our intercessors and our patrons praying to God on our behalf.

Man, in this important choosing process, even though I was in high school, my Catholic decision-making was definitely still elementary or junior high at best.

The following was my only requirement for a Confirmation saint:
  1. Cool sounding name
And being the lacking-in-knowledge Catholic that I was in early high school, I didn't know too many saints.  I spent some time researching, but I didn't find any particular saint that stood out to me.

But then I recalled my childhood.  PBS was really cool back then.

And I remembered one particular Wishbone episode:

¡Víva, Wishbone!

And that's why I chose St. Juan Diego to be my Confirmation saint!

Done and done.

lol jk

Now if you didn't watch the Wishbone episode and/or would like more of an explanation, allow me to summarize St. Juan Diego's story and further explain why I chose him to be my Confirmation saint.

Our Lady and Juan Diego
St. Juan Diego's original name was Cuauhtlatoatzin (other variations too), which translates to "Talking Eagle" in the Nahuatl language.  He was an older man of native Mexican descent.  He lived through Hernán Cortés' conquest of Mexico in the early 1500's.  Upon the arrival of Franciscan missionaries, he and his wife were baptized and Cuauhtlatoatzin took on the Christian name, Juan Diego (oh hey... ;-) ).

Not gonna lie, this guy was hardcore.  He walked miles and miles to go to Mass.  I'm talkin' like, greater than 10 miles, one way.  One particular December day, he was walking along his usual path to Mass when he heard music and the voice of a young maiden calling out to him.  He stops and talks to her.  The young maiden reveals herself to be the Virgin Mary and asks St. Juan Diego to go to the bishop and have him build her a shrine/church on the hill where she appeared to St. Juan Diego.

So he goes to visit the bishop.  After waiting for hours, he finally sees him.  St. Juan Diego explains the Virgin Mary's appearance to the bishop and skeptical, he asks Juan Diego to bring him a sign.

Returning back to the place where the Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego, he explains to her that the bishop is doubtful and that he, himself, is not worthy to carry out this task of convincing the bishop to build her church.  Mary insisted that Juan Diego-a-go back to the bishop and ask again.  Like before, the bishop had his doubts and wanted to see a sign.

Discouraged, Juan Diego returned to Mary.  She told Juan Diego that he will find his sign tomorrow.  After returning home, Juan Diego found his uncle deathly ill.  So the next day, instead of going to visit Mary, he tries to find a Catholic priest to give his dying uncle last rites.  But!  Mama knows best--she intercepts Juan Diego when he tried evading the spot where she normally appears.  She assures Juan Diego that his uncle will not die and instructs him to go on top of the hill for the sign that she promised.

Now, recall that it is December.  When Juan Diego went up that hill (not to fetch a pail of water), he saw Castilian roses that only come from Spain.  Growing.  In December.  #FunFact, Castille, Spain is the hometown of the bishop.  Mary also appeared atop the hill (but not to come tumbling down after) and helped Juan Diego arrange the flowers in his tilma (a cloak that you wear) and told him not to open it before showing the sign to the bishop.

Juan Diego treks back to see the bishop.  As he unrolls his tilma to show him, the roses fall to the ground and brilliantly appearing on the tilma is the miraculous image below:

Bishop, moved by this image, then agrees to build the shrine/church for Mary.  St. Juan Diego took care of this church until the day he died.

Mary's title in appearing to St. Juan Diego is Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Why I Chose St. Juan Diego As My Confirmation Saint
Really, two reasons:

  1. Cool sounding name
  2. Initially learned about him through that Wishbone episode
Yes, these are simple reasons, but truly the reasons why I chose St. Juan Diego.  Nothing profound here.  However, as I've grown in my faith and in age, I see St. Juan Diego's influence on me.  True story:  I started going to Daily Mass for the first time after I chose him to be my Confirmation saint and getting Confirmed since I read about him going to Mass err'day and walking miles and miles just to go.  I live five minutes away from my church so ... I can't complain.   And then, probably what I find most inspiring about St. Juan Diego is his devotion and obedience to our Blessed Mother.  Yeah, I probably listen to my mom more than I do my dad...and there was a time in college where I extremely disappointed my mom and it was torturous for me to endure--yet, even in disappointment, she still loves me.  And we kind of see that in St. Juan Diego when he wasn't able to get bishop's approval to build the church for Our Lady, initially.  

Depending on who you ask, some Catholics can relate really, really well to their chosen Confirmation saint.  As for me, I think St. Juan Diego's role in my life will be increasingly more apparent as time goes on.  This is how it's worked out between us so far, haha.  Also, I have a great appreciation for Hispanic and Latino culture.  Perhaps that is a consequence of my being Filipino...which definitely has Spanish influence as well.  With that said, Our Lady of Guadalupe is so integral to Mexican culture, and none of this would have been possible were it not for St. Juan Diego's help.

Other Fun Things

  • This all went down in the early 1500's in Mexico.  Millions and millions of native Mexicans converted to Catholicism in the years following the bishop building the church for Our Lady of Guadalupe.  Interesting enough, on the other side of the world...Europe was losing millions of Catholics due to the Reformation around this time period.
  • St. Juan Diego's tilma survives today, nearly 500 years later.  You can see it at the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City.  The tilma has been the subject of scientific inquiry because it shouldn't have lasted this long.  I definitely want to blog about this further separately.
  • Mary has a habit of appearing to people in different places and different time periods, and whenever she does...she usually takes on the race of the individual(s) she's appearing to.  In this case, she appeared in the form of a young mestiza.  
  • Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patron saint of the Americas

Anyway, yeah St. Juan Diego is pretty cool.  I know that by sticking close to him, I'll stick close to our Blessed Mother.  And by sticking close to our Blessed Mother, I can grow closer to Christ because everything about Mary points towards her Son.  And to remind myself of my connection with St. Juan Diego, I sign off my blog posts as "JD" and my displayed middle name on Facebook is his name.

St. Juan Diego's feast day is December 9, to commemorate the day when Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to him.

The Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12, the day when Our Lady gave him the flowers and the miraculous image appeared when St. Juan Diego unraveled his tilma.

¡Nuestra seńora de Guadalupe, ruega por nosotros!
- JD

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Conception Misconception

Ahhh, Christmas is approaching!  I guess with Christmas coming up, engaging in Christian conversations is not all out of the ordinary considering that ultimately...Christmas is about Christ, right?  Particularly, His birth!

"Adoration of the Shepherds" by Bartolomé Murillo, Fine Art America
I think it's fairly common to hear that Jesus was "immaculately conceived," and we all nod our heads in agreement.  I hear it every now and then through second-hand conversations, the radio, and wherever.  But what does this even mean?  Yet, the terms get thrown around as if asserting something that is commonly understood.  Can I even explain what it is?

You see, if you were to ask me what Jesus being immaculately conceived is...I'd probably say that it would refer to Jesus being born without a biological father.  And I'd leave it at that.  And oh yeah, I can throw in that Jesus is sinless so there's something truly exceptional and ...immaculate about that.

And how wrong I would be... x_x   Truly, I totes used to think that the Immaculate Conception referred to Jesus' conception without a bio dad.

The cool thing about diving deeper into my Catholic faith is learning vocab, doctrines, dogmas, and sometimes finding out that my initial notion of something the Catholic Church teaches is way off the mark.

You see...the Immaculate Conception doesn't refer to Jesus--it actually refers to Mary, His Mom.

I had one of those "whoa, mind blown" moments when I learned what the Immaculate Conception really is...

So, what is the Immaculate Conception?
The Immaculate Conception refers to Mary's conception brought about through the normal marital union between her parents, Anne and Joachim.  What makes Mary's conception immaculate is that she was conceived without the stain of original sin, which is something that all of us humans are born into thanks to the Fall of our First Parents, Adam and Eve.  The word "immaculate" means free from stain or flaw.  So why is original sin an important consideration?  Because, as we know, original sin deprives us from God's sanctifying grace leaving us with a corrupt nature, and hence our need to wash that away through Baptism so we can remove the stain of original sin.

But Mary was preserved from that stain.  We see an indication of that with the angel Gabriel in Luke 1: 28 (RSV), "And he came to her and said, 'Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!' "  Different English translations will render "full of grace" to "highly favoured" or similar wording.  But to really get to what St. Luke is talking about, you must consider his original writing in Greek.  He uses kecharitomene which "is a perfect passive participle of charitoo, meaning 'to fill or endow with grace.' "  This suggests that Mary was filled with grace in the past but her being filled with grace continues in the present.  Pretty cool.  How often do I consider Greek tenses when reading Scripture? #ItsAllGreekToMe

If you're filled with God's grace, there's no room for sin!

But wait! Mary Needs A Savior!
Now that's all fine and dandy about what exactly the Immaculate Conception is, but how does that reconcile with what Mary said during her song of praise when she was visiting her cousin Elizabeth after she found out she would bear God's Son?  She says, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior" (Luke 1:46-47 RSV, emphasis mine), thus indicating that she needed to be saved.

Now, only sinners need saviors, right?

And you know what?  Mary was, indeed, saved!  She was saved from the effects of original sin preventatively, whereas us normal people have to be saved curatively.  In other words, it's like God grabbed Mary before she fell into a deep pit, whereas someone else does fall into the pit and God has to lend a helping hand (ie. the rest of us).  And the nice thing for Mary is that she didn't get her garments dirty from the mud!

If you think about it...and consider Sacred Scripture...we see confession of sins and repentance and having faith.  These are ways to get clean and receive God's grace for salvation.  And God do what He do!  As powerful as we assert that He is and as powerful as He has revealed Himself to's not surprising that He would preventatively save the one who would bear His only begotten Son, who also saves her.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
492 The "splendor of an entirely unique holiness" by which Mary is "enriched fromt he first instant of her conception" comes wholly from Christ: she is "redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son" (Lumen Gentium 53, 56).  The Father blessed Mary more than any other created person "in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places" and chose her "in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him in love" (cf Eph 1:3-4).
Hey, but "all have sinned" so Mary can't be immaculate (Romans 3:23)
So, according to St. Paul and considering the rest of the passage (Romans 3:21-31), all have sinned and their righteousness can only be justified through Jesus Christ with faith.  Putting this against what we know from Luke 1, it would seem contradictory that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" yet here Mary is without sin.

Is it possible that all have sinned?  What about kids below the age of reason, say, a 1-year old?  Have they sinned?  Sinning requires the ability to reason and intent to sin, which the 1-year old would have neither.  How about a little later in Romans when St. Paul talked about Jacob and Esau, "...though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad..." (Romans 9:6-13 RSV).  Does "all have sinned" fit with them, when they're babies?  It's not til they grow up when Jacob cunningly convinces Esau to sell his inheritance to him (Genesis 25:19-34).

So what about Jesus?  Did He sin?  Gosh, I hope not because that would complicate things as a Christian.  x_x  Anyway, so we know that there can be exceptions to "all have sinned."

Perhaps St. Paul was exaggerating because his life is Hebrew and exaggeration is a literary form of emphasis for them.  He likes using "all" when in reality, whatever he's talking about isn't really applicable to "all" (see Romans 11:26, Romans 15:14, 1 Corinthians 15:22 for a few examples).

Is it reasonable to think that Mary was immaculately conceived?
Yes, yes it is.  Think about it.  God becomes the Word made flesh by sending his only begotten Son, born of the Virgin Mary!  Kind of a big deal.  Consider the Ark of the Covenant back in Exodus 25.  It contained the Ten Commandments, or the Law (Deuteronomy 10:2).  We know that Jesus is fulfillment of that law (Matthew 5:17).  So in a way, Mary is the New Ark of the Covenant because she had within her womb the Law.  In fact, that's one of her titles! :-)

My family lacks one of these, but I know people who keep their nice dinnerware in a china cabinet.  You keep your precious dinnerware in a china cabinet so that they are kept safe and clean.  But you wouldn't want to place your dinnerware in a dilapidated or dirty cabinet because that would mess up the dinnerware.  Yeah, at my house we use a simple, stock kitchen cabinet but dust collects in there a little bit.  In a way, Mary is like a china cabinet for Jesus.  She's pristine so that Jesus is "without stain or blemish" Himself while chillin' in Mary's womb, and He would have to be squeaky clean because He's God (again, it would be problematic if Jesus was sinful).

The other day I read an interesting blog post regarding an article that reports how scientific research has shown how fetal cells can be restorative for the mother during pregnancy.  Regardless of the scientific validity of the information, it did made me think about how mother and child are mutually connected.  Through the umbilical cord, the exchange of blood occurs.  How cool is that to think (a little more reflectively) how Mary had to share her human blood, her body with the God of the Universe within her womb!  She needs to be immaculate because otherwise she would have transferred her tainted self to Jesus, and again, that would be problematic.

From WebMD
Lastly, another Catechism of the Catholic Church reference:
491 Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, "full of grace" through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception.  That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854: The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin. (Pope Pius IX Ineffabillis Deus)
This understanding has been with the Church through her history and her understanding grows clearer.  My understanding of the Church's understanding of the Immaculate Conception has been with me for just over a year now.  And writing this blog post allowed me to look at it more closely and hopefully clear up the misconception (even my own) that the Immaculate Conception isn't about Jesus' lack of a bio father.

So there you have it--Mary is the Immaculate Conception.  Not Jesus (we call His conception the Incarnation).  But!!!! Don't get me wrong, she was immaculately conceived not for her sake, but for her Son.  And that's the cool thing about Mary--everything about her ultimately points towards Jesus.  

The Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on December 8.

Ave Maria, gratia plena
- JD

"We must except the holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom I wish to raise no question when it touches the subject of sins, out of honor to the Lord; for from Him we know that abundance of grace for overcoming sin in every particular was conferred upon her who had the merit to conceive and bear Him who undoubtedly had no sin." - St. Augustine