Search This Blog

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Daddy-Daughter Time

I was just standing there outside, and it was really hot. It was really hard to focus. But out of the corner of my eye, I saw him, his wife, and a stroller.


Whoa! It was one of my co-workers! I didn't expect him to be out here with me considering our company is like...80 miles away...from where we were standing and he lives halfway to work compared to me.  I didn't immediately go over to say hi to him because we weren't done yet, but I kept watch from a short distance away.

During this time, I would look over his way and and every now and then, he'd check on his daughter in the stroller.  And what really struck me about this was seeing his face light up with such joy peeking in on the stroller seeing his daughter. Like, full on "play with baby" mode. Like, he even playfully dangled his Rosary for his daughter. Meanwhile, his wife was standing there deep in prayer.

I don't know. I thought that was really cool to see these moments of joy between a father being with his daughter. I just really appreciated seeing this scene standing out there in the heat.

After we all finished praying the full Rosary, I went over to say hi. He introduced me to his beautiful wife and just as beautiful and adorably cute daughter. Apparently today was his first time being out here!

Well, well. Being pro-life unites us all.

We were praying at an abortion clinic. Turns out his wife is hardcore for the pro-life cause and frequently helps out at a familiar pregnancy center in the city that they live in.

And is to see this love that a father has for his baby daughter in front of an abortion clinic.

Awesome! What a marvelous witness that is to see this happen at a place that doesn't make it conducive to see the love a father has for his daughter. I saw a couple walk in and thought to myself that if they are considering an abortion, and go through with it, he'd be missing out on moments like this.

But! Praise God for randomly seeing one of my co-workers in this way at this place. Beautiful.
- JD

Dad and Daughter // Baltimore Times

Sunday, August 18, 2013

After World Youth Day in Rio

Very official looking banner at the street where they usually do parades like for Carnaval
It's been a few weeks since I was in Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day. I had a rough time upon returning! I got back home in the middle of the afternoon Wednesday, a few days after the closing Mass. The very next day, I went to work. That Thursday and Friday was rough because I hadn't yet returned to a normal sleeping schedule. And because I make some ridiculous Catholic decisions sometimes... that Friday after I returned, I went to a young adult Catholic conference at a nearby parish! Had that all weekend! In brief summary of that conference, I liked the keynote speaker, the workshops were helpful, but more importantly, it was great for networking!

Well, Aggie Network-ing works too #AggieCatholics
Narwhal flu?!
So, because of the constant rain and being out and about in that rain nearly every day while we were in Rio, members of my group got sick. You know, usual cold and cough stuff. Praise God that I didn't get sick while we were Rio-ing it up, but I definitely became sick after we returned home! Again, typical cold and cough stuff. Nothing exotic like some sort of animal flu from...I don't know...Peru or something.

So yeah, it was rough after getting back from Rio. But now that I'm recovered and have caught up on sleep (mostly), and now that I've had some time living a post-World Youth Day life, I've had some time reflecting on how it has impacted me.

First, let's get the usual awkward question out of the way.

But let's have a prequel! A flashback!

So last year during Texas' tax-free weekend, I was out and about looking for new shoes and more specifically, new and good shoes for walking around for my trip to Rio de Janeiro a year later (yes, after my executive decision to go, I started making material preparations (and yes, those shoes worked out great)). But in the process of selecting those pair of shoes in the store, I ran into a high school friend that I hadn't seen in a long while. Insert small talk and brief catching up. While the purpose in visiting a shoe store doesn't leave much to be asked as to why we found ourselves in this shoe store, the obvious question was still asked by my friend as to why I was purchasing new shoes. I awkwardly and gladly explained that these new shoes were for lots of walking during World Youth Day. Thankfully my friend already had an idea of what World Youth Day is because her older sister went once and came back wanting to be Catholic (their family isn't Catholic). Not only Catholic but super Catholic. Insert awkward laughter. But then my friend asked me ...

...the awkward question...
" are you going to be a priest when you get back?"

Lol. I gave her the shortest answer I could, given the circumstances (I mean, shoe buying is serious stuff) while still being truthful.  I replied with, "haha, we'll see", and she gave this weird look. We then carried on with our tax-free shoe shopping sprees.

Now that I've been to World Youth Day for the first time and have had some time to let those experiences marinate in my memory and answer to that question remains the same from before World Youth Day. But here in this blog post, I am able to offer more explanation since I'm not in the process of purchasing tax-free shoes for some crazy out-of-country trip a year later.

My answer? Ultimately, what makes us the happiest and most at peace (in a profound way, though not without trial and suffering out of love) is living out life according to how God created us to be. He calls us to live our lives in various states and as Catholics, we call these states in life as single, married, or religious life whether as a brother/sister, monk/nun or priest. But it takes careful reflection, prayer, and discernment with God's help to figure out which of these states of life He's calling us to be that will bring about our greatest joys and peace. So, the short of it is...I'm currently single, but open to the idea of religious life or married life. One of them, I desire more because it attracts me more. But I think the best way I can describe where I am in all this is that I'm in an ice cream parlor with only enough money for 1 scoop of ice cream, and the two available flavors are both very good. But I keep coming back to the original flavor that looked good to me. And I'll leave it at that for this blog post. In summary, World Youth Day did not all of a sudden compel me wanting to be a priest. Or religious brother. Definitely not nun or sister =P. But I haven't ruled the religious option out.

Just tryin' to be more like St. John Bosco
What World Youth Day did help me regarding religious life is gaining a better appreciation for those who have already answered that call. World Youth Day was chock full of priests and religious! (In fact, remember that my group cheered every time we saw one! And we had a friar with us too!). Without a deeper understanding of who they are and for what purpose they serve, religious people in the Catholic Church seem like a bunch of suppressed but holy individuals who do nothing but pray all the time. It's easy to forget that they are just normal people. Granted, they've chosen a life that is radically different than our modern understanding on how to live life. They do not live for their own sake, and they have sacrificed life's greatest things not because those things are bad, but because they are really good. And that's a beautiful. Hence, we cheered. Not only that…but…there seems to be a rise of friends in my proximate circles who are pursuing the religious life, and I can't help but celebrate their decisions!

Now, to the meat of why I originally wanted to do this blog post.

How did World Youth Day impact me?

I don't know that it really did anything truly revolutionary for me. Some people come back from World Youth Day truly changed and greatly convicted to make life-changing decisions. So, as an example, while I didn't come back from World Youth Day wanting to become a priest, one of my second cousin's came back from WYD Toronto wanting to become one. From what I heard, he went through with that and is currently in seminary. One of my favorite Catholic speakers and apologists, Matt Fradd, had a deep conversion moment when he went to WYD Rome 2000. And, after some digging around, I'm sure it will be easy to find stories of people who come back from World Youth Day drastically changed. And more power to them for that! But that's not how I left World Youth Day.

First, World Youth Day reminded me that I have grown lax in my day-to-day practice of my Catholic faith. Our group leader (and I love that he makes us do this) makes it a point that we try to make Mass every day any time we're on pilgrimage. We were supposed to have a priest with us so we could conveniently have Mass, but he had to back out of our trip at the last minute. Instead, we attempted at going to Daily Mass at various parishes close to our hostel in Rio. Daily Mass used to be something that I could make once a week, but work has been so terribly busy over the past year that it's been difficult to do that. Therefore, it was refreshing to encounter God through His Word and His Body in the celebration of Mass throughout the week while we were in Rio.  In addition to going to Mass every day (or attempting to, since we didn't make it every day), we prayed the Liturgy of the Hours every day! Like, we packed (Shorter) Christian Prayer books and 4-volume sets with us! And praying the Psalms at certain hours of the day is a great way to sanctify the day in union with the rest of the Church because the Liturgy of the Hours is the 2nd official prayer of the Catholic Church (1st being Mass, ;-) ).  Daily Mass and Liturgy of the Hours were things I kept up with for a while in the past few years, but I stopped due to being busy…not devoting the time… etc.  In addition to those, we had opportunities to go to Adoration throughout the week. I also used to go to Adoration on a consistent, once-a-week basis, but lately it's been super difficult due to my busy work schedule. And that's a shame, because spending time adoring our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament is one of my favorite ways to pray. In Rio, it was really nice to return to our usual church to spend time in Adoration, usually after having a hectic morning and lunch. And then there was that time we had Adoration with Pope Francis and 3+ million of our bros and sisters. That was something. Really, our whole time in Rio for World Youth Day was an immersion in Catholic prayer life through things that are not new or foreign to me because I used to do these things consistently. But by having these opportunities at World Youth Day, I was able to engage in these prayer experiences consistently once more that are easily accessible and doable back at home. So, since getting back from Rio, I've at least restored praying Liturgy of the Hours (at Night, at the very least). Still working on how I can make it to Daily Mass and Adoration consistently again… and a daily Rosary, too.

Secondly, World Youth Day showed me what joy in being Catholic looks like. Yes, but on a grand scale! Through a worldly lens, it becomes exceedingly perplexing as to why anyone would A) want to be Catholic, B) be a Catholic and spend lots of money to travel across the world to a meeting place where the Pope will be, and C) be Catholic and be joyful about it. And yet, from the moment we were on our way to Rio at the beginning…it was evident that this World Youth Day thing is a big deal. And I began to savor what it all meant during our first day in Rio. That first day, we were warmly/enthusiastically welcomed by Brazilians, met so many others, sang songs, danced in the streets, photos taken, trinkets exchanged, smiles, laughter, and just pure joy!

The prevailing theme throughout the week was encountering people from all over the world and the Church and sharing our joy in being Catholic! I mean, it's not the same kind of joy that you'd find in Rio a year from now at the World Cup. That is a passionate, competitive joy and rivalry out of love for fĂștbol. The joy expressed at World Youth Day stems from this unity we as Catholics have in our faith because our faith is in Christ.  As much as I would love this explanation of joy to be longer than the previous explanation on how I'm a lazy Catholic, I don't know how to say in words the joy that I experienced and saw firsthand during our trip to Rio. It's one of those "you had to be there" sort of things. And then, on top of that…there was a plethora of religious people present and they too shared in our expression of joy! And we, my group, were often overjoyed in just seeing a priest or nun (and others) walk by! So yes, World Youth Day showed me what joyful Catholicism looks like. And that's great because even before World Youth Day, I was already joyful in being Catholic, but now it is nice to know that I'm not the only one, haha. After World Youth Day in Rio, I feel more comfortable in sharing that joy with others with no discrimination whether Catholic or non-Catholic.

Lastly, this World Youth Day inspired me to have an excuse to travel the world every few years. And if I start saving for the next World Youth Day after the previous World Youth Day…then… I should be okay. Just to name a few, it's been in the Philippines, Denver, Cologne in Germany, Sydney, Toronto, Madrid, Buenos Aires, etc and of course Rio De Janeiro. Come at me, Krakow 2016! YOU ONLY POLAND ONCE! Blessed Pope John Paul II is impressed.

In summary, I had a really positive experience at World Youth Day in Rio De Janeiro. While it didn't do anything totally revolutionary for me, I had a blast and such a blast it was to share these experiences with my fellow pilgrims from SEAS and STA and 3.5+ million others. I now have a better idea of what it means to be part of the universal Church united in Christ like I expected I would. And I definitely had all these bonus experiences like seeing Pope Francis in unique ways, making friends with people from all over the globe and so much more. Man, I feel like I could blog a lot about my experiences.


...I did. maybe I blogged nearly every night/early morning of our trip to Rio on behalf of my group, including the pre-Rio retreat that we had. It also served as a way to let our family and friends know that we didn't get caught in Brazilian riots or other perilous foreign affairs.

Here's the link: (or if you're already on this SEAS/STA blog and seeing this post being cross-listed...then...this is awkward)

Whew. This was a long blog post.

Can't wait to do it again! #Krakow2016
- JD

Narwhals // "Narwhal tracking project helps chart species' future", X-Ray Mag
Fr. Zoltan Lendvai // Day In Photos, NY Post
Bl. Pope John Paul II // Papal Pose for Photographers, Tradition In Action

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Beauty in America's Got Talent

I've been reflecting on beauty moreso than usual lately. I won't get into why...but...just know that I am.'s always interesting to see how we react and respond to beauty. Truly, if man and woman encounter objective beauty, there's a certain stirring from within that tends towards something infinite. Perhaps a sense of wonder and awe and the desire to be consumed by that beauty.

So, to help illustrate that, I found an example from a popular TV show, America's Got Talent.

This unassuming group pretty much surprised everyone with their singing. Notice that their skillful melodic harmonies evokes a sense of awe, wonder, and surprise from the judges and the audience to the point that the audience even gives a standing ovation even though they aren't even done with their audition! And wow, even Howard Stern looks on and listens with a smile!

We respond in a good way whenever we have a true encounter with beauty. Sure, the song they performed is in Latin, but they do it so. freakin'. well! And that, in and of itself, is beautiful.

And you know what? This is totally Catholic. Anything that is Good, True, and Beautiful? That becomes inherently Catholic even though it might not be explicitly Catholic.

Here's the YouTube video I saw that inspired me to write this post:

Beauty with a beat.
- JD

Forte - Pie Jesu // Rickey

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

This Religious Sister Has Got Kicks!

In my continual love of Catholic nuns and religious sisters... enter: Sister Linda Sim.

From The Straits Times:
When Sister Linda Sim was growing up, all she wanted to do was serve the nation. In the 1970's, she applied to the Singapore Armed Forces to be a front-line soldier, but was told women could take up only clerical positions. The Singapore Police Force also turned her down as she was too petite. Undeterred, the gutsy woman took up taekwondo and eventually earned a black belt. Then she heard her religious calling.
Read more and watch a 48 Singporean second video here. Especially note how she puts those TKD skillz to use!

It becomes fascinating the types of skills and gifts people bring to their religious vocations...and how they're able to use those skills and gifts in the service of others and the Church. Perhaps pursuing the religious life is not a renunciation of one's past life, but a fuller expression of it.

I like this because A) Catholic religious sister and B) we share that commonality of having a black belt in Tae Kwon Do.

Dat's what's kickin',
- JD

Sister Linda Kim // Desmond Lim, The Straits Times

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Singing to Jesus...Literally

I think every Christian can understand the idea of singing to and for Jesus.  Through song we praise and worship our Lord and Savior. Walk into any Christian church on a Sunday and you'll find the congregation (and choirs, if applicable...though usual) singing hymns and songs praising the glory of God.

And praise God that we're able to hear such songs outside the walls of our churches. One of the ways we can do that is through the radio. I know of several Christian/family radio stations here in north Texas. Obviously, in order to fill the air waves with Christian need Christian music artists.  And I'm sure we can list all our favorites!

From what it seems like to me (and I could be wrong), a lot of Christian music artists also double as worship leaders.  And by "worship leader" I mean they lead congregations/groups of people in worship of our Lord through song whether they're singing/playing solo or with a band.

Thank goodness we have such people who help us focus our minds and hearts towards the Lord through praising and worshipping in song! And oftentimes, we, the congregation, really feel the power of praise in song. Like, it gives more sense of legitimacy and intention in our prayer through song. St. Augustine is often quoted in saying:
He who sings well, prays twice.
(though apparently he didn't really say that exactly, but...that's a famous mis-quote).

So if Christian music artists and worship leaders help bring our focus and attention towards God through song, and then there's that whole Gospel-according-to-Matthew idea about Jesus being present whenever two or more are gathered in His name...then yes, combining these two help bridge our prayers to Jesus, Who is present because two or more are gathered (unless our churches consist of only 1, =P).

Now, I have to ask the awkward question...

What would it look like if I were to take a famous Christian artist/worship leader leading a large congregation, and place that artist/worship leader, hypothetically, in front of Jesus Himself? Like, Himself in the flesh. Like, able to reach out and touch. Would the focus of the Christian music artist/worship leader be different? Would we, the congregation, have a different, perhaps more profound, sense of our praise and worship knowing that Jesus is truly there in front us?

(you can fast forward to ~4:20 for the song to start...the first 4 minutes are exactly what the big screens of Copacabana Beach were showing so you'll see what I could only see during Saturday night's vigil of World Youth Day...Pope Francis had asked for silence...after that, some brief reflections in different languages...then Matt Maher sings)

I think that YouTube video helps answer that awkward question.

So yeah, I was there on the beach! So was Jesus. So was Pope Francis. So was Matt Maher. So were 3+ million of my fellow Catholic brothers and sisters. I think the lyrics of Matt Maher's "Lord I Need You" really resonated with a lot of us that night since Jesus was truly present in the Eucharist, and we all recognized the necessity of God in our lives. And looking at various comments on YouTube videos after the seems as though this was many people's favorite moment/song through all of World Youth Day. And I agree!

This scene is especially striking to me because here we have a famous Christian music artist and worship leader on his knees facing Jesus literally and singing to Him literally...and focusing on Him literally...yet at the same time leading the 3+ million of us to do the same. At slightly higher elevation is Pope Francis, the successor of St. Peter, sitting and adoring in reverence with his helpers kneeling...all of them before Jesus elevated above everyone else.  Without a doubt, with everyone facing towards the Eucharist, the focus was definitely on Jesus. It makes it easier to worship and focus on our Lord when you can see Him. Even if I didn't know what was going see Matt Maher kneeling as if facing something (not the crowd)...I would begin to ask what it is exactly (or rather, who) he is facing and why?

Maybe the YouTube video doesn't convey the profoundness of singing this song to Jesus while kneeling...maybe this blog post doesn't even convey that...but, I assure you, as a first-hand eyewitness to these moments...this experience was profound but ... normal to me.

This was profound to me because I was sharing this moment with surrounded by, truly, the universal Church from all over the world. And to kneel there together adoring Christ, recognizing my need for Him...I couldn't help but be grateful for the gift of spending that hour adoring Him with humility. But this experience at World Youth Day was also normal for me because I'm a fan of Matt Maher, and I listen to his music often (maybe just a few days earlier I saw him live in concert in Rio de Janeiro). And I often go to adore Christ in the Eucharist on my own, usually after work or before/after Mass. And sometimes I go to Adoration where there is some sort of music leader leading adoration, praise, and worship. cool as it is do have Adoration done this way with song, with the Pope, with other people, etc... my favorite way to adore Christ is in silence, usually in an empty-but-open Catholic church.  There's a greater profoundness spending that time with Jesus truly present in the Eucharist when it is just Him and me in silence, free from the distractions of other noises and other people. And I mention this because I'm at a point in my journey of faith that I don't require music to be playing in order to praise and worship our Lord. And though Adoration is a form of worship of Jesus for us Catholics...I think it's important for us Catholics to know that Adoration is possible without all the bells and smells of a setting like this experience at World Youth Day or at retreats.

Anyway, don't get me wrong... it is still very much a good thing that our worship leaders and favorite Christian music artists, and choir ministers lead us in praise and worship of Jesus in our churches. But I think to do that before our Lord, truly present, brings about a deeper and more profound sense of focus and really helps us call to mind a deeper sense of why we even sing to Jesus in first place.

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You. Every hour I need You. My one defense, my righteousness. Oh God, how I need You.
- JD

Praise band from Hearts On Fire Rally 2009 // xuthiensun, Flickr

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Silence of Millions

Earlier in the evening while people were staking out spots on the beach
The night of the Prayer vigil at Copacabana Beach with Pope Francis was a crazy^3 time. Do recall that this was not Plan A to have it at the beach because Plan A involved a long trek to Guaratiba, which had flooded due to the week's rains. So, I'm sure Guaratiba had the capacity to handle millions of people, but Copacabana does not.

The purpose of Saturday night's Vigil during World Youth Day is to share some time in prayer together with everyone and the Pope. There was some sort of theatrical drama/ceremony involving St. Francis and the cross, followed by a talk by Pope Francis regarding that. But after that, he initiated Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, which in Catholic terms means to adore and worship Christ truly present in the Eucharist. Not just a mere symbol of Christ's body in the form of a wafer, but the very body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ under the appearance of bread. 

Apparently this night, there were 3+ million people
Because of our distance away from the stage/altar, we had to view what was going on the stage via big screens along Copacabana. We were between the last and second-to-last big screen. For whatever reason (due to me being distracted by the sights and sounds of the thousands around me, and the big screens not necessarily showing what was going on), I missed when Pope Francis exposed the Blessed Sacrament (Eucharist) in the monstrance. I didn't really get the hint until I started seeing a bunch of people around our camp kneeling, because that is the usual posture whenever Jesus first gets exposed for Adoration.

After seeing those around me kneeling, I knelt myself. It was cold and windy, but it felt comfortable to kneel supported by the sand underneath the tarp we laid out. Then the big screens started showing more frequently Pope Francis and his helpers kneeling before Jesus in silence. After a brief while, everyone I could see all around me was kneeling. Pope Francis asked for some moments of silence, and all conversations had stopped. No one really moved around. All were adoring Christ, even though we were multiple football fields away. 

The silence was loud, if that makes sense. Imagine the entirety of Copacabana Beach tightly packed with people...and all were in silent Adoration. The only sounds that I could hear were the crashing of the waves, and the rotors of an overhead helicopter or two. But other than that, no human voices could be heard. The silence was loud and profound to me. The silence seemed to expose the reality of this intimate moment between humans and Christ. This intimacy made for a legit, prayerful experience with a real, authentic encounter with Christ. And all this shared with others.

See, this is what's beautiful and awesome about being Catholic! We are united in the Eucharist, which is the source and summit of our faith. And to share these silent moments with our brothers and sisters gathered together from across the globe is an awe-inspiring expression of what it means to be Catholic. I felt joyful and peaceful to be here with all my bros and sistas in Christ with Christ! And like I normally do when in Adoration, I tried being intentional with my prayers consoled by the fact that yes, Jesus was right there on the beach.

Sure, the silence was eventually broken by the crowds in the streets because they didn't get the memo that we were in Adoration (hey, they couldn't see the screen). And yes, they continued the Holy Hour with reflections and reflection songs.

But in the small handful of moments in silence in Adoration there on Copacabana Beach last Saturday night, I remembered the reason why millions even gather for World Youth Day in the first place: to encounter Christ and His bride, the Church.

Having all sweetness within it,
- JD

View of Copacabana Beach on Saturday Night // Catholic News Agency, Facebook