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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