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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Hope: 10 Minutes With A Homeless Woman

Another year, and another Christmas Eve morning spent at Beautiful Feet! I blogged about my experience last year, and how that made an impact on me.

This year was pretty much a repeat, and while I don't want to rehash all that, I do want to blog about a particular moment during that Christmas Eve morning that stood out to me.

We had already sorted clothes and everyone was downstairs helping serve that "Thanksgiving-esque" meal graciously cooked by my brother Knights of Columbus. Space was tight with all the tables filled. Some of the homeless decided to eat at the tables outside, which was totally fine because the weather and sun outside late in the morning were quite beautiful!

I decided to walk outside too just to see who all was hanging around outside. I stumbled upon some of my parish peers engaged in conversation with this elderly woman. I didn't catch some of the beginning parts of that conversation, but I caught on and started paying attention when she started talking about the Virgin Mary.

And. How. Much. She. Loved. The. Virgin. Mary.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help
So I guess she started giving a sort of life story and how Mary has given her strength and hope through her difficult times. Listening to her, we found out that she was in an abusive relationship, her now ex-husband molested their granddaughters, she used to be a cocaine addict, she's been assaulted physically, she currently lives in a homeless shelter, her teeth were knocked out by one of her relatives, many other homeless people don't like her and will throw things at her, and I'm sure she covered other sad events.

But what really threw me off and intrigued me was how she endured all these traumatizing things by keeping close to our Blessed Mother. She had learned how to pray the Rosary way back when, and she had a sort of conversion moment upon praying it. And since then, she's been devoted to the Virgin Mary! She said something about how praying the Rosary keeps her sane while dealing with the craziness of her homeless life.

What throws me off the most is how freakin' excited and joyful she was in expressing this love for the Virgin Mary. I didn't really sense sadness from her even as she explained her dark past. Haha she was even showing off her Rosaries and Mary medals and all this other Mary-related stuff she had on her! And I really liked how she told us that she knows the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal who live down the road.  Not only that, but how she utterly begs them for their ginormous Rosaries that they carry around with them! Haha, made me llol (literally laugh out loud).

Even more surprising to me was how she understood mostly what Catholics teach about Mary. She understood that we do not worship her, but rather honor her greatly because her Son honors her. And she totally understood that without her and her saying "yes!" out of love and obedience to God, we wouldn't have Jesus. She understood that Mary helps lead us to Jesus as He leads us to God, the Father. She also understood that she's surrounded by demons and how Mary protects her. (Side note: I forget which Catholic saint said this, but when he was interacting with demons, he asked them, "What are you most afraid of?" and the demons answered, "Mary." I mean, it's not like...Mary crushes the head of serpents or anything...)

Anyway...You see, I don't think most Catholics even understand some of these concepts of what the Church teaches about Mary. And she was here...telling us all this...and how her life relates to it all...with such joy and hope! So, I was definitely amazed and impressed.

Green Scapular
Because of her past and need for physical and spiritual healing, I felt called to give her the green scapular I had in my wallet (lately, I try to keep scapulars and Miraculous Medals with me to hand out). The green scapular is a devotion Our Lady revealed to a French religious sister named Sr. Justine Bisqueyboro in the mid 1800's. It centers on Mary's Immaculate Heart, and the prayer that should be prayed daily is, "Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us, now and at the hour of our death." The fruits of this devotion can be help in the areas of physical health, peace of mind, and spiritual conversion. After I gave her my green scapular, my youth minister friend gave her a brown scapular which is a totally different devotion with different fruits.

She so was grateful that we gave her these scapulars, and she pretty much took it as a sign. She said that these were amazing gifts for Christmas.

Then she went on her merry, joyful way. Towards the end, I got pulled away to help bring in more donated food into the building. But I couldn't help but be amazed at her joyful hope. She was so incredibly happy when she left, and that was really awesome to see! Geez, she seemed so happy even as a homeless person. I find difficulty in finding us who live in suburbia oozing with the kind of joy and hope she had.

Hanging out with her got me thinking about the theological virtue of hope the rest of the day, and I later looked up what our Catechism says about it:
1818     The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspire men's activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity.
And how Mary plays in the role of hope for us all:
64     Through the prophets, God forms his people in the hope of salvation, in the expectation of a new and everlasting Covenant intended for all, to be written on their hearts. The prophets proclaim a radical redemption of the People of God, purification from all their infidelities, a salvation which will include all the nations. Above all, the poor and humble of the Lord will bear this hope. Such holy women as Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Judith, and Esther kept alive the hope of Israel's salvation. The purest figure among them is Mary.

So in that short 10-minute conversation with the elderly homeless woman, I gained a better appreciation for the power of hope and how Mary can strengthen that hope. Without a doubt, the hope of heaven through Mary (through Jesus) is sufficient enough to sustain her, and it is definitely a blessing to have witnessed someone en fuego for the faith like her.

Please pray for her, that she may receive healing from her physical and spiritual sufferings and for her to find not just a house, but a home. And also pray for people of good will, who find it in their hearts to help our less fortunate brothers and sisters.

If I remember correctly, her real name is Tammy, but her street name that she goes by is Maria Cristo.

Faith. Hope. Love.
- JD

Picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help from Wikipedia
Picture of the Green Scapular from Our Lady of the Rosary Library

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Real Life Tribute

So my Thanksgiving plans this year included going to watch The Hunger Games: Catching Fire with my family since it just came out. But see, this was awkward for me because I hadn't yet seen the first one! Or read the books! (I know, utter your groans...).

After returning home from work for the break, I decided to solve this problem of not having seen the first one in preparation for seeing Catching Fire. But first, I had to confront a very real, first-world problem. Where should I use Netflix? On the PS3? Xbox 360? Wii? 3DS? iPhone? iPad? Desktop? Laptop? Blu-Ray player? Wi-fi connected TV? Ultimately, the PS3 won.

Popped some corn... Cracked open a cold beverage (okay, twisted open)...

And then I watched The Hunger Games!

I thought it was pretty good after watching the movie! I felt hipster because I was already into archery before Katniss made it really cool. Even then, after watching the movie I really wanted to shoot my bow again!

Now, remember that I haven't read the books so I don't know how well the movie follows the books, and many often say that the books are always better etc etc etc...

But what intrigued me from watching the first movie was this entire concept of the "Hunger Games" whereby kids are chosen by lottery to compete in a nationally teleivised deathmatch as entertainment and remembrance of some rebellion against the Capitol from the past. And the Games are advertised as a good and necessary thing by the government. x_x

While there are so many themes and elements about the story that I could blog about, I really want to focus on just one. It's an important one, not just to us as the movie-watchers or book-readers, but to the setting and people found in Panem as well.


I think the most striking thing about the story is how Katniss volunteered to be Tribute in place of her sister, Primrose, who was chosen by the lottery to represent their District 12. This was unheard of! Katniss was the first volunteer ever for District 12! And she did this out of protection and love for her sister. That is very apparent. People throughout Katniss' journey to the Arena in preparation for the Games are struck by this. And since I saw Catching Fire, I can now also say that this act of volunteer sacrifice has inspired others throughout the various Districts. Pretty cool. I smell a rebellion coming.

We've seen this sort of act of love...this "take me instead!" Hollywood and fictional works pretty often. It's pretty effective in conveying a deeper sense of love and evoking sentiment in the audience.

Katniss' heroic action in volunteering herself reminded me of a fairly modern Catholic saint that I'm growing to love and appreciate more and more. It's fascinating because it involves Nazis, torture, volunteer sacrifice's totally real!

Fr. Maximilian Kolbe, ca. 1939
St. Maximilian Kolbe was a Franciscan priest from Poland. Some highlights about his life:
  • Born in 1894
  • The Virgin Mary appeared to him before his First Communion and asked him whether he wanted the graces from a life of purity or martyrdom. He wanted both. 
  • He was ordained as a Catholic priest at the age of 24.
  • He founded the Immaculata Movement, a movement with devotion to the Virgin Mary asking for her help in the conversion of "sinners, heretics, schismatics, and so on and above all the Masons, and for the sanctification of all persons".
  • Started a magazine called Knight of the Immaculate to fight religious indifference
  • Tuberculosis nearly killed him and left him frail for the rest of his life
  • Spent time in Japan and India to expand the Immaculata Movement
He returned to Poland in the late 1930's. By this time, the Nazis gained power in Europe and began their persecutions of the Jews, Catholics, and anyone else who didn't fit their ideals or who stood in their way. Fr. Maximilian Kolbe was arrested during the Nazi invasion of Poland, but was later released. He was arrested again in 1941 because of his different publications that also began to contain anti-Nazi materials.

Fr. Maximilian Kolbe was sent to the concentration camp in Auschwitz and was branded as prisoner #16670. 

A prisoner in Fr. Kolbe's barracks escaped from Auschwitz, and protocol called for 10 prisoners from the escaped prisoner's barracks to be killed as retribution. Francis Gajowniczek, a Catholic Polish sergeant, was one of the 10 chosen to die. When chosen, Francis exclaimed that he had a wife and kids. 

An elderly Francis Gajowniczek
Fr. Maximilian Kolbe, as an old Catholic priest, stepped forward and volunteered to take the place of Francis. The Nazis accepted the request.

Years later, Francis remembered:
I could only thank him with my eyes. I was stunned and could hardly grasp what was going on. The immensity of it: I, the condemned, am to live and someone else willingly and voluntarily offers his life for me, a stranger. Is this some dream?

I was put back into my place without having had time to say anything to Maximilian Kolbe. I was saved. ... The news spread quickly all around the camp. It was the first and last time that such an incident happened in the whole history of Auschwitz. (qtd. in
The 10 prisoners, including Fr. Maximilian, were sent to one of the camp's blocks to be stripped naked and left to starve and die. However, Fr. Maximilian led the group in hymns and prayers, encouraging them despite their dire situation. He was also often seen kneeling and praying calmly whenever he was checked on. After a few weeks, he was the only survivor of the 10. Wanting to clear out the starvation bunker, the Nazis administered a lethal injection of carbolic acid to Fr. Maximilian Kolbe. Apparently some witnesses to the injection said he willingly offered his arm.

He died in August 1941, and his body was cremated in the ovens at Auschwitz.

While I still admire Katniss' heroic actions and desire to give of herself to protect others, especially the vulnerable, her story is fictitious. I haven't finished reading/watching her story, but I'm sure it comes to a glorious conclusion. However! Her story reminds me a lot of St. Maximilian Kolbe, and I couldn't help but to share his story.

What's compelling to me about Fr. Maximilian Kolbe is that he volunteered his life for someone he didn't really know. A stranger. For Katniss, it makes sense because she did so for her dear sister. Given a similar situation, would I even do that? Am I willing to offer my life in someone else's place, especially for those that I love? Do I even desire to willingly offer my life for the betterment of someone else's? While I will most likely not be called to die on purpose in a major way, what are small ways I can die to myself to better love others? These are questions worth reflecting on.

Fr. Maximilian Kolbe was beatified in 1973 by Pope Paul VI and later canonized as a martyr by Pope John Paul II in 1982. Francis Gajowniczek was present at both ceremonies at the invitation of the respective popes.

For tribute and honor, Catholics celebrate His feast day on August 14. He is a patron saint of drug addicts, against drug addiction, of journalists, of prisoners, and for the pro-life movement.

"Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15: 13)
- JD

Resources and More Info:
St. Maximilian Kolbe / Catholic Online
Saint Maximilian Kolbe / SQPN
St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe / American Catholic
Who Is St. Maximilian? / EWTN
The Ideals and Program of the Knights of the Immacula / Consecration, Militia of the Immaculata
Francis Gajowniczek / Wikipedia
'Greater Love Than This No Man Has', Maximilian Kolbe Exemplifies Divine Mercy In Action / The Divine Mercy

Photo of The Hunger Games movie poster from The Hunger Games Society blog
Photo of St. Maximilian Kolbe from Wikipedia
Photo of Francis Gajowniczek from

Saturday, December 7, 2013

That Awkward Moment When An Abortion Clinic's Website Has Malware

My other favorite abortion provider seems to have a malware problem for their website...

Kind of awkward.

Give me safe, legal websites! I don't want a clump of malware!

Thank you Google Chrome for keeping me safe.

You just got Obamacare'd!
- JD

Study the Gospels In A Year!

Matt Warner over at Flocknote has been talking about this for a while now, after "Study the Catechism in a Year" was a big hit for the Year of Faith.

Flocknote is a messaging tool for email and text that makes it really easy for groups of any size to easily communicate. I use it frequently for my various ministries at my parish.

It's great that Flocknote offers these free studies because I'm not gonna lie--it's easier for me to read an email than to crack open a thick, heavy book in some sort of structured way.

Speaking of that thick, heavy book...

They'll be using the Ignatius Study Bible, which is a Revised Standard Version translation! It'll have commentary from some well-known theologians! EXCITE!

You can sign up here:
Flocknote - Study the Gospels In A Year!

They will start sending out Flocknotes for this on Monday, December 9!

Here's to learning more!

- JD

"Man Raising Glass of Beer" photo from

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Executive Decision: Aggie Awakening 100

Whoop! I am registered for Aggie Awakening 100!

Awakening is a 3-day college retreat loosely based on Cursillo and Search, which are retreats for women and men on Catholic teachings.  For many college students, Awakening is an opportunity for a real, genuine encounter with God. Maybe even for the first time.What also makes Awakening great is the tight-knit community that develops during the retreat and how it even continues even past the retreat.

I made Aggie Awakening #75 in the Fall of 2005, and then staffed Aggie Awakening #85 as a Table Gopher in the Spring of 2009 (I think, if I did my math correctly, with 3 Awakenings a year).  See, the problem with being an engineering major involved in other organizations at Texas A&M makes it difficult to spend entire weekends on retreats. I wish I could have staffed more but...alas, I did not.

But either way! I'm attending Aggie Awakening #100! ...the conference part of it, anyway!

I'm pretty excited because any legit excuse I can find to return to my other home is a good enough reason for me! In true Aggie Catholic fashion, it'll be a wonderful time coming together as family in Christ and as Aggies.

I'm also pretty excited about the speaker lineup! Which you can see here.
I mean, Fr. Mike, Fr. Brian, and Fr. David? A great trifecta of the priests I had while I was in college! Shawn Carney?! Duuude, he freakin' help start 40 Days for Life! And then Marcel LeJeune?! We're social media friends, and I'm a follower of his blog, lol.

I was scouring Facebook timelines from 2005 to find a cool retro picture to post on here...but no such luck. But I realized that both my table dads for #75 and #85 are now big.

Anyway! Other fun facts about Awakening:
Aggie Awakening History - A memoir from one of the first staffers of AA #1
Awakening Retreats - A website with a schedule of all the Awakening retreats throughout the country

There's something about being an Aggie Catholic that just makes...being an Aggie... more importantly, being a Catholic...mutually awesome.  I should (eventually) blog about that and how my Awakening retreat impacted me.

If you've made an Aggie Awakening, I highly encourage you to register!
Look, I'll even put the link right here:

I look forward to March!
- JD

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Because of Eli

A little over a month ago, I blogged about this Catholic Answer's radio show featuring Chad Judice as the guest. If you recall, his son, Eli, was diagnosed with spina bifida and wasn't expected to live or have good quality of life. As I heard Chad talk about this story regarding on his son on the radio, I was inspired to hopefully read Chad's books regarding Eli someday.

Well, I didn't mention it after I had written that blog post, but literally the following week I found out my parish's Respect Life Committee would be hosting Chad Judice at our parish in the month of November to kick off their new series of events entitled, "Fridays for Life", where they will invite someone every quarter to talk about pro-lifey things. Like, I had no idea that they were planning on inviting him! So when I found out he would be coming to my parish to come speak, I couldn't pass up that opportunity. 

And that happened the other day!

What did he talk about?
Even though I had heard the basic gist of Eli's story via that radio show and a little bit from Chad's EWTN appearance on The World Over, it was definitely more gripping to listen to him speak in person. He shared with us the state of his life prior to Eli and how normal it was. He's a history teacher and coach, and one time one of his students asked Chad before he got married what his greatest fear was, and he answered with having a child with special needs. Before Eli, Chad's faith was meh.

After giving us this background, he began to recount the process of how he and his wife found out about Eli's condition with spina bifida. Their doctor recommended abortion and for a moment, she considered it. But something stirred within them to decide to keep the baby.

The parts of the entirety of the story that stood out to me were those seemingly miraculous (or coincidental) moments. Chad teaches at a Catholic high school, and it was miraculous to him that hundreds of teenagers genuinely prayed for Eli's healing. This was miraculous to him because our culture today doesn't make it conducive for the average teenager to care about this sort of thing, AND the fact that they prayed showed him that they acknowledged that Eli is in fact a human being in his mother's womb and not just a clump of cells with deformities.

What I also found quite interesting is how the Daily or Sunday Gospel readings over the course of this process seem to fit soooooo well with whatever Chad was dealing with at the time. He shared with us those readings that were cause of hope and inspiration for him at major milestones throughout this process.

Chad also detailed how his life of prayer increased in dealing with all the emotional and spiritual challenges in accepting the fact that his son isn't going to live a normal life. He provided more seemingly miraculous moments when praying at the grave of Charlene Richard, who is on her way to beatification. Chad and his wife went to a "healing priest". His wife received a rose after praying a novena for St. Therese of Lisieux's intercession, which for every knowledgeable Catholic, that's a real deal. And he listed many more instances of how God seemed to have offered him and his wife consolations in their decision to have Eli, but not without challenges.

Eli was born in 2009. Despite spinal and neuro problems from his condition, he's doing pretty good. He cannot walk. He cannot go to the bathroom on his own--someone else has to manually empty his bladder or induce a bowel movement. He's on medications to prevent epilepsy and urinary tract infection. He loves to swim. He loves baseball. He's pretty cognitive despite brain problems. He's in pre-3K. It takes full effort from everyone around him to take care of him. Chad mentioned that his in-laws and his own parents are pretty involved in taking care of him and are on rotation for weekends.

How did this affect me?
I think spent 75% of the time reminding myself not to cry. In my head, I kept saying to myself "Don't cry don't cry don't cry don't cry don't cry!" I guess I was just moved by Chad's inner strength at dealing with all this because I realized that if I were in his shoes, I don't think I could handle it. But that's where his story is inspiring. Chad couldn't handle all this on his own. He realized he had to surrender to God's will, and in doing so, he found the strength to endure this. He also realized that he can longer live for himself. That whole idea of agape love (self-sacrificial love) made manifest in caring for Eli, because without the love and care of others, he would die. But to care for him demands so much time and effort, even if it's inconvenient or unpleasant. Chad said, "love isn't about feelings--it's a decision." And I see in the Judice's lives that self-sacrificial decision to will the good of each other and the good of Eli, which is authentic, profound love. Inspiring!

But yeah, I began to start reflecting on my own prayer life and thinking about my own inner strength while listening to Chad's story. I realized that I have a lot to improve on. Haha sometimes I feel like I'm too Catholic in a group of Catholics, but I'm glad that I had the opportunity to listen to Chad to help me realize that I'm not Catholic enough...that I'm not trusting enough of God's will for my life.

After his talk and taking some questions, I definitely went and bought his two books. The first one, Waiting for Eli, is the story about Eli. The second one, Eli's Reach, is about other people whose lives were affected by learning about Eli's story. Like, seriously--stories of conversion and hope because they've read Chad's first book. He gave us a preview at the end of the talk (ie. shameless plug, but that's understandable). Fascinating! I hope to start these books sometime after I finish some of the current books I'm currently reading!

Anyway, what a cool opportunity to hear him speak. Please pray for him and his family, especially for Eli!

You can follow Chad Judice at, which has links to his social medias and books.

We need stories of hope and inspiration, and be reminded that there's only so much we can do and control. The rest is up to God. And I'm glad I had the opportunity to hear Chad tell this story in person.

Because of Eli.
- JD

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Many Hats and Humility (Luke 18: 9-14)

30th Sunday In Ordinary Time
Jesus addressed this parable
to those who were convinced of their own righteousness
and despised everyone else.
"Two people went up to the temple area to pray;
one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.
The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself,
'O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity --
greedy, dishonest, adulterous -- or even like this tax collector.
I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’
But the tax collector stood off at a distance
and would not even raise his eyes to heaven
but beat his breast and prayed,
'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.'
I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former;
for whoever exalts himself will be humbled,
and the one who humbles himself will be exalted."

For those who know me personally these days, they know that I do a lot of volunteering. A lot. Like, I wear many, many hats. I don't blog about everything that I do because ironically, I'm too busy doing stuff to blog about doing stuff.

Now, for all the "good" that I do helping out at my church and helping out in my community, it may seem like I am attempting to do a lot of good for my own sake. But, no. I am not trying to earn my way into God's good graces.

Last Sunday, I had to teach a class on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. I stressed to the students that the reason why Catholics engage in social justice is because we, all of humanity, deserve dignity. And the works of mercy are ways that we can give people that dignity. We are all called to help out the "least of us" as Jesus because helping the least is helping Him. When He was hungry, did I give Him food? When He was thirsty, did I give Him drink? Etc, etc.

I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.
With great emphasis, I stressed to the students that no matter what good we do, we cannot earn our way into heaven. No hundreds of hours of community service will guarantee a cozy spot in heaven. Yes, I feel like I've earned 10 Green Cords (a cord earned for completing 100 volunteer hours at my alma mater), but I know and realize that won't necessarily get me to where I ultimately desire even though I do (what seems like) a lot.

There needs to be a level of humility whenever I engage in the volunteer work that I do. Humility helps forge our hearts to love God and others more than our selves. It increases our capacity to love because we're no longer concerned with self, but rather more concerned with the Other. Through humility, I decrease, so that others may increase, and by having others increase, God increases in my life. 

O God, be merciful to me a sinner.
It is through humility that I can recognize my imperfection. I mentioned this the other day how I had a very real moment in silence while driving home from work because I realized I had to change a certain aspect of my life that has been holding me back from being who I am created in the image and likeness of God. I think the root cause of many sins is the (rather deadly) sin of pride. I see that, quite evidently, in today's Gospel reading with the Pharisee. But yet in the end, it is not he who is held in high regard for he boasts with a sense of pride of his good doings. I often find myself like the Pharisee. "I'm such a pro chaperone!", "I prayed ALL THE MYSTERIES of the Rosary today!", "Psh, I don't use kneelers." ...and the list goes on... But I need to be humble like the tax collector.

See, the temptation of being proud in my good doings is that now the attention and focus is all on myself. This leads to selfishness. And if I am filling myself with only myself, then I have no room for others. And authentic love requires an outpouring of self rather than an inpouring (which apparently that isn't a word...but you get what I mean). O how many times have I fallen because of my selfishness! How many times have I failed to love others because I only wanted to love me!

I thank you that I am like the rest of humanity.
And so, I have to have humility. I have to arrive at the point to recognize that life isn't about me. In everything I do--humility. I do not volunteer seemingly professionally for the sake and benefit of myself, but rather, it gives me opportunities to serve others rather than serve myself. The volunteering that I do lets me encounter the rest of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ... so that I can give of myself in love for them. We're all trying to navigate this world. We're not perfect. But I, at the very least, can do what I can in order give others dignity and mercy.

I think the easiest way to gain a better understanding of humility is to just stare at a crucifix and pray. Better yet, praying at Adoration with Jesus truly present in the Eucharist. If I'm lucky, both are in my view when praying, lol.  It is here, at the foot of the cross, before the Lord, that it becomes very real and apparent to me that I'm just the created and He is the Creator, that I am just the loved and He is the Lover. I am not perfect, without Him. I am nothing without Him. 

That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I decrease. Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
- JD

Man with Many Hats // The Foundry 

This type of blog post inspired by Daily Meditations with Fr. Alfonse.

Friday, October 25, 2013

This Week's Moments

Something that we often do in small groups at my parish is briefly talk about a high point, a low point, and a "God moment" from the past week. We do this in order to build community through sharing a little bit of ourselves.

It dawned on me that this type of format would be good blog material because it would be quicker and easier, since I don't have a lot of free time. And as much as I love 7 Quick Takes, those take time to think about and write about, and I often find that I never have time to finish them. Maybe down the road I'll hybridize the two...

Low Point
Several nights ago, I was doing some Internet searching and didn't exactly find the results I was looking for. I was a little dismayed at this, and got pretty discouraged when the results came back rather lacking because it is information I need. And I'll leave it at that. O_o 

High Point
The other night, the young adult community at my parish launched their first ever event! It's a speaker series + restaurant format and Thursday was the first one. Our pastor was the first guest speaker, and he talked about his conversion story (Episcopalian --> Catholic) and the priesthood. I gained more appreciation of him now knowing about his story. On top of that, the restaurant this was held at is a restaurant owned by fellow parishioners and it's delicious! They make everything from scratch! And their cheesecake rivals that of some found in certain factories!

God Moment
God moments are moments when you feel God's presence or God working in His mysterious ways. I have two from the past week. First, the obvious! Our middle school youth ministry had Adoration a few nights ago, and I decided to join in and spend that time adoring Christ truly present in the Eucharist! It's a lot easier to talk face-to-face. Got to hang out with my fellow young adult volunteers and our high school students too with a scrumptious potluck afterwards!

The other God moment I had was yesterday on my drive home from work. I decided to take some time with the radio off. Earlier in the day, at work, I had listened to some podcasts that got me thinking about stuff. And yikes. Silence is a scary thing. It forces me to be alone with whatever I'm dealing with, and be free from the distracting noises of life, which sometimes comes in the form of the radio. I was just reflecting on those podcasts, and I had a very real moment with God. I think I arrived at a moment of realization of brokenness and humilty with a sincere desire to make like a Michael Jackson song lyric and "make a change".

So,  those were my low point, high point, and God moment from the past week. How about you? Comment below! You can sign into Disqus with popular social media platforms!

- JD

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Fire and Division (Luke 12: 49-53)

Thursday of the 29th Week in Ordinary Time.

Today's Gospel reading is from Luke 12: 49-53 ...
49 “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished! 51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division; 52 for henceforth in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three;53 they will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against her mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”
 At first glance, these are difficult words from Jesus. Without any context or background knowledge of Jesus' other words, and a fundamental and literal understanding, these words are challenging to grasp. Whaaaa?! Jesus is going to set the world on fire like a hellish blaze and he wishes it was already on fire?! AND He doesn't come to give peace but cause division?!

Sheesh! Difficult words indeed, and if I heard all that (or read all that) without knowing much about Jesus, then yes, I might just pull a John 6: 60 ...
60 Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”
to which He replies with a John 6: 61 ...
61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, “Do you take offense at this?
Yes, Jesus. I do. I won't run away like the disciples (John 6: 66), but this is uncomfortable.

Because I'm not really comfortable with the idea that You want to set fire on this earth and wish it was already burning.

Because I'm not really comfortable with the idea that You wish to divide my family.

But what do You mean? How am I to understand this?

I started attempting at reading Daily Readings again the other day (which by the way, conveniently, the Catholic Church has a set 3-year cycle of Scripture readings for the entirety of the Church to divulge and learn), and this particular one stood out to me so much that I figured I should blog about it.

Fire. I'm not totally well versed in verses, but whenever I think of fire in Scripture, I think of God's presence and purification or refinement. Like, Moses and the burning bush. And that one praise and worship song, Refiner's Fire.

So maybe when Jesus says He wishes to "cast down fire", He wants to make known His presence like He did with Moses. But this time seems to imply something more dramatic. I mean, how dramatic would that be for the Lord to make known His presence with the casting down of fire? An all-consuming type of fire just to really make the point that He is, indeed, present? Scary thought.

Sometimes the earth is called the "Blue Marble" and because sin entered the world, this "Blue Marble" is not as shiny anymore, if I were to think of it as an actual ceramic marble. Perhaps, because of sin, it is caked on with dirt and grime. But Jesus' fire purifies it. Removes the dirt. Analogies are never adequate but I hope you follow it anyway.

Either way, Jesus seems to mean serious business when talking about fire. His presence. His purification love. Real stuff. Serious business.

Which leads to...this part about division.

I love my family, and I don't want to be divided from them, and it doesn't initially make sense why Jesus seemingly desires that He will be the cause of division for us. But the thing about Jesus is that He desires our hearts. Our souls. Does my heart burn for Him? If He makes Himself known (like, with fire) in order to save us from our sins, I only have two responses: 1) Follow Him or B) Turn away from Him.

I think that is what will cause division--the split between those who follow Him and those who do not.

Earlier this evening I got to listen to my pastor give his vocation story (and brief catechesis on the priesthood). He's an Episcopalian priest convert to the Catholic faith. The main driving factor of his conversion was realizing that in the Episcopal tradition, they do not have the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. He realized, over time as his heart burned for Jesus present in the Eucharist, that he will follow Jesus in the Catholic faith because of the Eucharist since Jesus is truly present (fun fact: a red candle is lit near any Catholic tabernacle to let the faithful know that Jesus is present) which fire makes me think of God's presence) see above))).  When he made the decision to convert to the Catholic faith, this caused some division in his family of the Episcopal congregation that he was part of for 4 years. Granted, many were supportive, some even wanted to make the jump with him, but still others weren't too keen on the idea.

And then please pray for one of my friends. She's seriously thinking about joining a religious order because her love for Christ burns so much so that she is willing to drop everything and follow Him. I have a limited understanding of her situation, but I know, for whatever reason, things have gotten complicated with her family. A sort of division.

Not everyone is prepared for Jesus' presence and purifying love. This will cause division. But! What are things that I can do to help others and prepare them to come to a better understanding of Jesus so that we are not divided on the Last Day and for all eternity, but rather unified in the Mystical Body of Christ sharing in the beatific vision of God in heaven?
"If you are who God created you to be, you will set the world ablaze." - St. Catherine of Siena
En fuego.
- JD

PS Pardon my lack of coherent think-blogging...I need to gain more experience points on reflect-blogging on Mass readings

Fire // Thomas's Pics, Flickr

Monday, October 21, 2013

I Shouldn't Assume Things About Pope Francis... assuming that he doesn't speak English. See, when he was chosen in the conclave earlier this year, I heard that he spoke a small handful of languages that didn't include English. I mean, whatever! It doesn't matter to me because I know that there are many, many competent translators out there.

And when I was in Rio De Janeiro over the summer for World Youth Day, he spoke not a single word of English. Every time I heard him speak, it was either Spanish or Italian. Maybe even Portuguese.

But...just the other day...Pope Francis sends a video message in English (supposedly, for the first time during his pontificate) to the Philippines on their first Conference on the New Evangelization! Sure, he's reading from paper, but!

What a great, simple, heartfelt, and encouraging message he has for the Philippine Church. :-)

To make this short video even cooler...that's my dad's classmate being all cardinal-y at the beginning...and even more impressive is Pope Francis speaking in Tagalog at the end.
"Mabuhay ang Pilipinas! Mabuhay ang Asia! Pagpalain kayo ng Diyos!"
"Long live the Philippines! Long live Asia! May God bless you!"
And like any Filipino, I'm always impressed when non-Filipinos speak Tagalog. :-D

Amen, Papa Francesco. Amen.
- JD

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Reality of Death

And I can say with confidence that...

We're all going to die.

My grandparents' graves
It is inevitable.

When I was younger, I attended the funerals of distant (both in blood and literally) family members, and it never really mattered to me. Like, I had no attachment to them. Sure, it was sad, but being young and not really fully appreciating what it means to grieve and mourn, it never hit me. I knew those distant family members were gone, I understood why my parents were sad, but I didn't really, truly care. It wasn't until I was an underclassman in high school that the reality of death became real to me with the death of my grandparents on my dad's side.

I actually got to know my grandparents. Even though they lived in California and I in Texas, my parents made sure that we got to visit them and that they got to visit us frequently while I was growing up. When all my dad's siblings immigrated here from the Philippines, we held annual family reunions! So, losing them at the beginning of high school was pretty hard.

With their deaths, I began to ask myself, in sadness..."How can I cope with the loss?", "Are they in heaven?" and other usual questions.

I lost my grandfather at the beginning of my freshman year of high school. Things were going downhill for him that summer. I forget what caused him to decline, but I think it had something to do with cysts that developed internally that compromised his health. I remember visiting him in the hospital and a month later having to attend his funeral. His was the first funeral I've ever been to for a close family member.

My grandmother passed away almost exactly a year later. Her memory was declining at the time of my grandfather's death, and I remember my aunt telling me that she could hear my grandfather calling out to her from beyond the grave. Creepily romantic, yeah? Late in the summer that year, she fell down and hit her head. She survived it for a while, but eventually she passed away.

When she passed away, yes, I was indeed really sad about it. But having gone through the process of grieving and mourning for my grandfather the year prior, I was more prepared this time around. But even more so, in that time between my grandfather's and grandmother's passing, I grew in my Catholic faith.

I started attending religious education classes at the start of high school as part of my learning and education in preparation for the sacrament of Confirmation. My grandfather passed away at the beginning of my freshman year, and I didn't really know how to cope. Thankfully, through those classes, I began to pay more attention to and learn more about the faith that my family has passed on to me. While I may not have understood the Catholic understanding of suffering and death at the time (maybe I still don't, or not that well), I knew that in dealing with my losses that the Catholic faith was something I could turn to. And yes, with both of their passings, I'm pretty sure I leveled up in my praying.

How can I cope? I don't know, but perhaps asking God to give my grandparents a nice little plot of heaven would be great. At least I know they'll be taken care of.

How can I deal with this sense of loss? I don't know, but maybe by asking God for a sense of peace and calm for my own sake would help me move on.

I'm pretty sure that in going through the process of the deaths of my grandparents helped solidify, in a real way, for me about being Catholic. I first realized I had to have humility. My grandparents don't belong to me nor to my dad and his many siblings. They belong to God. I had to acknowledge that there really is a God and that whenever we pass away, we hopefully return to His loving embrace in heaven. I also had to realize that the Church has given me ways to pray. When my grandmother was in the hospital, I took up a devotion to the Rosary because I didn't know how else to pray for her. Or myself. Or my family.

With praying and beginning to dive deeper into my Catholic faith, I could begin to make sense of death and how to deal with it.

So, with the passing of my grandparents, it became so, so, so real to me that...

Death is a reality. 

But there was this jerk who lived 2000 years ago who Death could not hold (that's why He's a Death). He rose from the dead in all glory and power like He said He would. He showed us that death is not the end, and He invites us to be with Him and the Father who sent Him. Because of Him, the gates of heaven burst open! And heaven is where we can enjoy a sense of eternal joy and peace!

O Death, where is thy sting?!

...well maybe if Death had a stinger... o_O #joke

Knowing about Jesus, His Death, and His Resurrection...and His Church, I can arrive at a sense of peace when dealing with a loss.

And perhaps that's the attraction of Catholicism--that it provides a way of peace and sense in dealing with the reality of death and the teachings of Jesus on the reality of what comes after death. Catholicism doesn't have a cheap or cheesy understanding of the matter, but rather a beautifully rich and full sense of death and resurrection. And the "last things": heaven and hell.

So yeah. Looking back since then, I think coping with death always helps me turn towards my Catholic faith because through it, at least I know there is meaning and purpose. My understanding of the Church's mind on these matters is still a process of learning, understanding, and appreciating even as I deal with the deaths of others that are or are not close to me.

Please pray for my grandparents and for the repose of their souls! That they may enjoy the beatific vision of God in heaven!
- JD

Thursday, October 17, 2013

I feel like a bad citizen...

...because I had no idea who was the elderly man just in front of me.

It's been long while since I've gone to my own church for this very specific purpose. I decided to get in my usual line and was walking down the aisle of pews and caught glimpse of the end of the line.

So I got at the end of the line in that pew, not really paying too much attention to everyone else around simply because Jesus was out of His box, exposed in the monstrance.

There were like...6 people ahead of me. And one by one, they entered into the confessional until it got to be my turn.

I confess my sins, receive absolution, and leave the confessional. I make my way around the perimeter on the outside pews, and caught glimpse of the elderly man who went to confession right before me.

And I noticed, unmistakably, the polo shirt with the logo that I know only city council members wear.

As I passed by him, it dawned on me that he wasn't any ordinary council member but rather... the mayor.

I keep forgetting that he goes to my church! But after my awkward realization, I thought it was cool that I got to spend time in prayer with the mayor of my city in the pew before we went in for our confessions.

Admittedly, I feel like a bad citizen simply because I didn't acknowledge him (I used to work for the city, but I've never officially met him), but you know what, in that setting, I think it was definitely more appropriate to keep the focus on Christ rather than detract and distract by formally saying hello and awkwardly introducing myself.

But despite that, I thought it beautiful and awesome that I encountered someone in public office who professes the faith and is humble enough to admit that he's not perfect before God Himself, seeking forgiveness and absolution because the joy and peace of Christ are the remedy to the restlessness we experience as a result of sin. He's not perfect. Neither am I.

When I passed by him after confession, he had that sometimes stereotypical glow that Catholics have after having gone to confession, and it was cool to see him walk out of the church holding hands with his wife with a big smile on his face (she went to confession too!).

Let's pray for our public servants, especially those in public office--no matter what level of government! That they seek what is truly good for everyone and that they answer their call to serve the public!

- JD

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Not A Review On Gravity

In this edition of "Oh hey, I noticed something  Catholic about this movie-that-isn't-intended-to-be-Catholic", I want to talk about Gravity.

I had the opportunity to go watch Gravity the other day, and I liked it! I was intrigued by the trailer with Sandra Bullock's and George Clooney's characters seemingly drifting in space hopelessly trying to grab a hold of something. Something about space made my aerospace engineering senses tingle. Had to go see it!

It was kind of a frightening movie only because I couldn't help but think about what I would do in the same situations that those characters faced in the movie. But, without giving anything totally away, I appreciated the Catholic themes present throughout the movie.

This is important to know--you can't hear sounds in space. Or rather, you need atmosphere (or not a vacuum) in order to have a small change in pressure that we can refer to as "sound."

But, as important as it is to know that for the beginning of the movie, it's also important as the movie progresses.

Sometimes silence is the only way we can truly be face-to-face with our interior. By interior I mean our deepest thoughts, desires, emotions, etc. In her loneliness in the silence of space, it becomes conducive for Sandra Bullock's character to pray.

In Catholic understanding, we know that God speaks to us in the silence of our hearts. It is easier to listen to His stirring of our hearts in silence rather than the noise of everything we're dealing with.

Immediately, it is beautiful to admire the cinematography of the earth below from the characters' perspective. I can't even fathom how amazingly beautiful the earth must look in real life from above, but I'm guessing this movie gives a close approximation.

Even the characters acknowledge how great and beautiful are the various views of the earth as they orbit around it.

Beauty is one the the three transcendentals (the other two being Truth and Goodness).  It gives us a sense of awe and wonder of something infinite and divine that is greater than us. And seeing the earth from the heavens (by that I mean ... really, really, really, really high in the sky) really allows one to see the beauty of God's creation on planet Earth.

Intercessory Prayer
One of the things about being Christian is that we pray for each other. The Catholic faith even teaches that the saints pray for us in heaven.

Like I indicate above, Sandra Bullock's character prays in the movie. She asks for help on how to pray and wonders about if there would be anyone to pray for her. Just that monologue alone exemplifies her prayer for help as she realized that.

There's also that brief cameo of a St. Christopher icon (prayer card?). I didn't really know St. Christopher already from previous knowledge so I had to go look him up. Apparently he may or may not be real, and he lived in the early first centuries after the death of Christ. I think what's significant is that He's often portrayed carrying the Child Jesus who is said to be extremely heavy because He carries the weight of the world. Perhaps ironically in the movie, you can see the whole world in the backdrop of most shots!  And most fittingly, St. Christopher is a patron saint of travelers, especially when they encounter disasters. Hmm.

And those would be the three things that stood out to me in a Catholic way.

I think Fr. Robert Barron gives a more in-depth reflection on what stood out to him. Great video (WATCH OUT! SPOILER ALERTS!!!):

And Marcel points out some other aspects over at his blog at Aggie Catholics: Fr. Barron Gives Us A Great Reflection On The Movie Gravity.

And a movie critic review by Stephen Greydanus: SDG Reviews 'Gravity'

- JD

Info St. Christopher //
St. Christopher Icon // St. Joseph School For Boys Bookstore - Orthodox Gift Shop
Gravity //

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Health Centers

I saw a seemingly pretty harsh information article regarding Planned Parenthood. I've put it below, emphasis mine.

Deciding what to do about an unplanned pregnancy can be very difficult. It may be made even more difficult by so-called "women's health centers." These are fake clinics run by people who are anti-abortion. They have a history of giving women wrong, biased information to scare them into not having abortions.
These health centers
  • may not give you complete and correct information about all your options  abortion, adoption, and parenting
  • may try to frighten you with misleading films and pictures to keep you from choosing abortion
  • may lie to you about the medical and emotional effects of abortion
  • may tell you that you are not pregnant even if you are. This may fool you into continuing your pregnancy without knowing it. If your decision is delayed, it could make abortion more risky. It could also keep you from getting early prenatal care.
  • may discourage you from using certain methods of birth control that are very safe and effective
Planned Parenthood health centers often pretend to be real health care providers but many are not. These fake clinics often trick women with false advertising. They may make women think they will be offered unbiased information and a full range of health services.
Planned Parenthood health centers also sometimes try to trick women by using names that are similar to the names of real reproductive health centers in the neighborhood. Many times, the crisis pregnancy centers are located very close to real reproductive health centers. This makes it easy for women to go to the Planned Parenthood health center by mistake.

How do you avoid a Planned Parenthood health center?

  • Don't schedule an appointment unless you are sure it's a legitimate place.
  • Ask friends, other health care providers, counselors, or other people you trust for the name of a real health center.
  • If you are considering abortion, you can find a list of abortion providers on the National Abortion Federation website.
No health care provider should pressure you into a decision about your pregnancy. All real family planning clinics will give you information about all your options.
Staff at your local crisis pregnancy center can help. They can give you information on all of your options  abortion, adoption, and parenting. And they can talk through your options with you so that you can make the decision that is best for you.

Those darn crisis pregnancy centers! Talking about Planned parenthood this way! Don't they know how much women need Planned Parenthood?!


Because...Planned Parenthood doesn't play nice with crisis pregnancy centers. But it's really good about talking about itself. The real article here: Crisis Pregnancy Centers according to Planned Parenthood.

Support your local crisis pregnancy center-that-actually-helps-women-by-tending-to-their-pregnancy-needs-rather-than-force-abortion-because-they-aren't-in-it-to-make-money!
- JD

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Gift of a Special Needs Child

Perhaps one of the big temptations in our modern world is that if you don't like it, get rid of it.

But that shouldn't apply to our kids...and's always touching to hear a miraculous story of hope, perseverance, trust,  and humility when the chosen choice is not to get rid of a child because they have special needs.

I heard this podcast on Catholic Answers featuring Chad Judice, whose second son was born with spinal bifida. He gives a brief recap on their story and answers listeners' questions regarding his story and similar situations.

Sure, Chad and his wife could have aborted their son knowing the prenatal diagnosis ...but...they did not! And listening to the struggles and trials they had to endure in making that life-affirming decision has become inspirational for many, including myself.

Not gonna lie, I nearly wept at work while listening to this. Now I really want to read Chad's books on his son!

Listen here:
The Gift of a Special Needs Child | Catholic Answers

- JD

Eli's Reach // Barnes and Noble

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Associate's Day

I'm a big fan of the Franciscan Friars (and sisters, but this is about the friars) of the Renewal. Always have been. They're an awesome group of friars and it's cool that my parish has a close relationship with them (maybe in recent history, two of our own are or have been Franciscans of the Renewal), and it's nice that they have a local friary!

Once a month, usually at the beginning, they host an "associate's day" for us lay people. I've been hearing my some of parish friends talk about attending and how great it is. A lay associate is simply a lay person who desires to share in the spirituality and work of a particular religious community.

Looking at my really busy calendar, I saw that yesterday was a free-enough of a day for me to attend!

Under ordinary circumstances, an associate's day consists of several things. It starts out with Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours, a few hours spent with the homeless at a local park, lunch, catechesis, and a Holy Hour.

I arrived at the friary a few minutes past 8AM. I thought I would be late because my dog escaped my residential premises this morning, and it took a little while to coax her back close enough for me to catch her... >_>

No one was really there when I arrived. A few other guys and I walked into the friary and got to chit-chat with the friars while we waited for everyone to show up. I met Br. Isaiah, who I have never met or seen before. I also met Fr. Leo, who apparently is just visiting since he's assigned to some town in England (I forget the name). He apparently is a home grown local and a Tech Red Raider. He is visiting because he needs to receive some surgery.

This was my second time inside their humble abode. After a while, I want to say like 40 people showed up? A good chunk were familiar faces from my parish! 

Because yesterday was the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, the friars did a renewal of lay associate promises. Lay associates can commit themselves for a full year of dedication to the spirituality and mission of the Friars of Renewal. I got to partially take part in that even though this was my first time. By partially, I mean that everyone present participated in reciting the prayer, but only the candidates who wanted to be official lay associates stated their name during the prayer. The friars keep a list ;-). Haha I didn't put myself on that list...this time.

After that brief ceremony, if you will, we went into catchesis to learn more about an aspect of the faith. In the past few associate's days, Fr. Pio had been explaining the Mass and its different parts. Apparently last month, he had wrapped up talking about Eucharistic Prayer I, and yesterday he explained Eucharistic Prayers II through IV and the end of the Mass.

Wow! I learned a lot! I didn't realize there was a lot of theological, Scriptural, symbolic richness to the Mass! I mean...I knew, but not the details! And even then, I only got part of the Mass since I wasn't there when Fr. Pio explained the beginning parts of the Mass!

Fr. Pio finished his talk, took some questions, then jetted out of there to catch a flight to Chicago to talk more about his experiences in a visit to China where it's really tough to be Catholic. While trying to digest all he had said and all that I learned, we all went into brunch mode.

As I found out at some point, the friars weren't going to take us to the park where, under ordinary circumstances, we we would hang out and help the homeless. And then I also found out that they wouldn't be doing a Holy Hour of Adoration. Instead, there would be brunch and then we would be joining our diocese's Respect Life committee for a Mass in memorial of babies lost before baptism celebrated by our diocesan administrator (since we don't have a bishop...yet).

So, brunch mode. That explained why I saw many other associates bring food through the friary door earlier in the morning. It was a scrumptious spread of dessert and breakfast-type foods! Speaking of food coming through the friary door, one of my parish friends works at Panera Bread, and on Friday night he was able to obtain the leftover breads. He sincerely wanted to donate the bread to the poor and homeless somewhere, and knowing that some of us from my parish were going to the friary, he decided to join along but arriving later. I saw him walk through the door with his bags and bags of breads. What a good way to make use of that bread since I know the friars will definitely distribute it amongst the poor and homeless that they work with!

After much mingling with others, we all left the friary to go to the Mass at another nearby Catholic church.

Haha, it was funny on our way out. I carpooled with two of my parish buddies, and as we pulled out of the parking lot of the friary, Fr. Leo flags us down. Apparently he needed to catch a ride to the church because he was going to concelebrate the Mass.

We arrived at the church and walked in. I had never been in this particular church before, but I could have had an opportunity for Wedding #3B but it conflicted with Wedding #3A. Oh if only I had the gift of bi-location to be at both weddings at the same time!

Beautiful church though! The stain glass windows were recently cleaned and fixed up and you can tell! They had an adult My Size Mary Statue outside that was pretty cool. Oh if only I took a picture ....

Like I said, the Mass was for unborn babies lost before baptism. This includes those babies lost due to abortion, also miscarriages and illnesses as well. And while I could go into writing about why Catholics baptize babies and how important that is, that would make this post too lengthy.

It was cool because I saw some of my brother Knights of Columbus, of the 4th degree, were dressed in their full ceremonial regalia (feathered hat, cape, saber, sash, etc). If I ever see them, that means its a special occasion for sure! There was a part during the Mass (between Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist) where people processed down the aisle to place a rose at the feet of Mary (ie. place the roses at the feet of a Mary statue at the side of the sanctuary). I don't quite know the significance of this other than A) it was Saturday AKA Mary's day B) the Mass was dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary and C) each rose placed is in memoriam of a baby lost before baptism. Solemn stuff.

After Mass, there was a reception. I made the comment to my parish friends that you could never go hungry at Catholic events because you'll always be fed--spiritually and physically. I mean, we just had brunch not too long ago... Haha. At the reception, I got to do more mingling. Then...went home.

So there you have it! While I fully intended to experience a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal lay associate's day, it didn't end up being that way. But that's okay! I still had a very good experience praying with, hanging out with, and Mass-ing with my fellow brothers and sisters! While I think next month might be a challenge for me to go to associate's day, I'm for sure wanting to come back for December!

- JD

The Community of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal //

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Cross and Black Coffee

Dude, I keep forgetting about ClipArt! #stockimages
I read an interesting blog post about Catholicism, suffering, and coffee from one of my favorite Catholic bloggers a long while ago. Essentially, to drink coffee black is to enjoy that which is not meant to be enjoyable. By way of analogy (and remember, analogies have limits), he parallels drinking coffee black and our worldview of suffering whereas the Church has a different view on suffering.

You can read the original blog post here:
Coffee When It Is Black by Marc Barnes, Bad Catholic

In life, sometimes we find ourselves in situations where we know we'll suffer and thus bear a cross,. And let me tell ya, I've had my share of crosses to bear throughout my life thus far.

But I suppose I'm at a point in my faith where I can handle some of the crosses I bear like I am able to handle drinking black coffee. I used to be like most other people and add cream and sugar to my coffee. I'm pretty sure the workers at McDonald's know my mantra of "one cream and one sugar" as I stop by some mornings on my way to work. Ever since reading Marc's take on drinking black coffee and suffering, I've switched to drinking coffee black.

Now I'm learning to enjoy taking up my crosses. Beforehand, I think I tried sweetening my bad situations with optimism or adding creamer by distracting myself from its bitter tastes. But I never fully embraced my suffering by willingly taking up my crosses. I think I've always taken them kicking and screaming or tried to making it easier on myself through my own devices. Or really, just not keeping in mind of the One who helps carry my crosses. I'm pretty sure He's a pro.

I got to thinking about all this more given some current circumstances in my life. I don't want to give details, but I'll just say that I know myself well enough now to foresee that I will undergo despair and suffering given my current circumstances or the circumstances that I will find myself in.

I have had my crosses in the past, I have crosses now, and I will have crosses in the future.

My take away from all this is that black coffee, as I drink it nearly every morning, is a physical reminder that I should be prepared to suffer. Life doesn't always feel good. Suffering becomes an acquired taste. I cannot handle my crosses on my own so I look towards the One who showed us what it looks like to embrace suffering. One of the lines towards the end of the movie, The Passion of the Christ, is when one of the other thieves sentenced to crucifixion with Jesus asks Him, "why do you embrace your cross?" to which Jesus doesn't really reply but looks upon the thief with eyes of mercy despite His unfathomable suffering from incredible stress, being scourged, having a crown of thorns hammered into His head, and now carrying and embracing the wood that will be the instrument of execution.

It boggles the mind.

Yet! My suffering is not in vain because I know that, mysteriously, God allows suffering to bring about a greater good, and in the most definitive and exemplary event how He does this through His Passion and Death. Yet, He rises, and Death's sting has no power nor victory. We suffer on this earth in joyful hope that He will come again! O, how rich and deep!

But, in the meantime, as much as I don't want to, I need to embrace my crosses in aspiring imitation of His embrace of His cross that one Good Friday. Because it is worth the end.

No cream, no sugar. Challenge accepted.
- JD

This blog post was originally written over a year ago. And maybe I don't keep good track of my draft blog posts. And thus I've edited this post since then.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Not A Review on Elysium

The other weekend, I had the opportunity to go watch Elysium after much deliberation about what movie to go see with my parents.  Apparently we chose the wrong time of summer to go watch a movie because not a lot of blockbuster hits are out right now? And my parents weren't at all interested in watching Disney's Planes, much to my dismay as an aerospace engineering nerd.

Elysium tells the story of one man's desire to go to Elysium, which is a  futuristic, space habitat orbiting the Earth.  The setting of the story is in the far future, year 2154, where the poor and less fortunate live on Earth, and the rich and privileged live on Elysium.  To further emphasize that difference in wealth and living, the citizens of Elysium have access to wondrous technology, and guard it very closely. They live a luxurious, comfortable life whereas the people on Earth live a rougher life without access to the most advanced technology. And I'll leave it at that so as not to spoil the story.

Perhaps I'm just turning into a Catholic nerd, but I find it interesting to pick up on the use of anything Catholic in Hollywood movies recently.  I've seen hints of Catholicism either be part of the story or make a cameo in some movies like Skyfall, The Avengers, Les Miserables (ok, Catholicism really oozes out of this one), For Greater Glory, The Hobbit, etc. just to name a few.

In Elysium, I definitely picked up on the religious sister seen at the beginning of the movie.  She plays a role in the main character's life and is the vehicle to present the "overall theme" of Elysium's story (though I would say not as effective as it could have been, but this is not a review).

Seeing her against the setting of this futuristic world in Elysium provides a visual example of a reality that unfolds here in real life, beyond the silver screen, by the Catholic Church. And it kind of struck me in a way that helps me better fully appreciate my faith.

In the context of Elysium, the fact that it is set in the far future and that a religious sister is present shows that the Church will still be around. Even if we, all humanity, endure through tough times, the Church will still have a presence here on earth. In the real world, deeper study into the history of Catholicism shows that we've been around for the past ~2000 years (since the time of Christ), and what's another 2000 more? Just as we've seen many changes throughout the course of human history in the best of times and worst of times, the Church has been present. Cool stuff! Perhaps as long as there are humans walking around this earth and/or floating in space, there will be the Catholic Church on earth until the end of the age.

Secondly, not only did I see a religious sister present in the movie, but it is obvious in the context of the story that she looked after orphans.  In reality, I find it easy to associate religious with works of charity and service to others.  Religious brothers and sisters take those vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. I see many communities that also run apostolates and have certain charisms like running schools, hospitals, orphanages, crisis pregnancy centers, homeless outreach, media, and countless other ways to reach out to others. Also, the religious sister in Elysium was appropriately seen on Earth, where the poorer people and less fortunate live and not on Elysium where the privileged and elite reside. This further illustrates how, in reality, religious communities are more frequently found in poorer areas helping the poor.

I'm a fan of the Franciscans of the Renewal
Lastly, the religious sister says a line that seems to be one of the main themes of the movie. She says something to the effect of "never forget where you come from." This is important to the movie because of the main character's trying journey to Elysium. And I wish I could say more but that would spoil the story! In the real world, seeing a religious brother or sister becomes a sort of reminder for me that there is a God and that their life is a visible sign of what it means to know, love, and serve the Lord. Seeing them reminds me of where I come from--I come from God, created in His image and likeness. And as a response to His love and commands, there is a Church comprised of His Body. These are the Christians, specifically Catholics. Seeing that religious sister in the movie reminds me that I'm Catholic, and that I shouldn't forget that I belong to God and His bride, the Church.

Awesome stuff.

I find it interesting to gain better appreciation of my faith through cinema. Despite Elysium's shortcomings in plot development, it had cool visuals and action in addition to the presence of a religious sister that helped me better appreciate my faith. I only wish her dialogue involved any God-centered words, but I suppose her simple inclusion was enough for me.

Never forget.
- JD

Elysium movie poster // Wikipedia
Capuchin Franciscans of the Renewal Community // Franciscan Friars of the Renewal