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Sunday, March 22, 2015

How A Single, Catholic Guy Knows He's On The Right Track

Back in January, I took a road trip. After three hours of riding on a sleepy charter bus, we finally made it to Austin, TX. I joined with 100 other people from my parish for the Texas Rally For Life. Pretty cool! We joined thousands of others from around Texas to rally for the pro-life cause. We had great speakers, and Abby Johnson MC'd. No big deal.

Before the march, we had some downtime after we arrived in Austin to relax and take a lunch break.

During this break, I was going around talking to various people being a social butterfly.

Ok, so Apu from The Simpsons is being a hummingbird here, but whatever. 
Not that I have any measure of popularity, but I suppose because I'm pretty involved at my parish, people know of me. Because of this, whenever they have a chance to talk to me, they want to know more about me. I found myself in such a conversation with a mom of one of my religious education students.

She asked me the usual questions. She asked me what I do for a living, the ministries that I'm involved with, and of course she asked about my marital status. When I told her that I'm single, she asked the next natural Catholic question in this Catholic context: do you want to be a priest?  I chuckled and answered no, but what she said next is what prompts me to write this blog post.

She said that she thinks that I would make an excellent priest or husband in the future.

This stuck with me the rest of the Austin trip. Why? Because I guess I needed to hear it. It's an affirmation that whatever I'm doing means I'm on some right track.

In our Catholic world, a vocation is a calling by the Lord to live out one’s life according to His will (His not mine) to a particular state in life. It is truly a calling and not an occupation. The primary vocations, or states in life, available to me are priesthood, marriage, and single life (which single life could also mean religious life in community like in a monastery). The most talked-about vocations are priesthood and marriage, with marriage being the more popular one.

And so for the mom to say that I would make an excellent priest or husband gave me pause because sometimes it’s easier for me think about it if the opinion is more one-sided. But to be considered excellent for both? Hmm.

I’ve heard it said before (I forget where) that a really good, awesome Catholic priest would also make a really good, awesome husband. Now, married priests and priestly husbands is a totally separate discussion which I won’t cover here, but both Catholic priests and husbands share a commonality— both are men! Not only both are men, but both are fathers. In each of these vocations, priesthood and marriage, the man is called to fatherhood in uniquely expressed ways. Fatherhood, to me, is the fullest expression of being a man.

So I took her compliment as a deeper affirmation that I'm living out an authentic masculinity that fits well with either of the two vocations. The commonality between a Catholic priest and a husband is the man and his call to fatherhood. His role as priest or husband doesn't make sense or cannot be lived in its fullness if he doesn't first live out his authentic masculinity.

It was a really nice compliment for me. It was something I needed to hear at the time. It helps me realize that I must be doing something right and that overcoming the struggles of living out authentic masculinity is worth it. Striving for an authentic manliness has been a constant reflection of mine since the end of college. I don’t think I’ve arrived, but I must be on the right track.

Now, time to dig deep, put on my archery mentality (whereby archery mentality focuses on what was done right to continue hitting the bullseye) and take note of what it is I'm doing to be the man God created me to be.

Please pray for me!

Pastor Lee // The Drop Box
Pope Francis celebrating Mass in the Sistine Chapel // BBC
Apu hummingbird gif // Giphy

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Not a review on "The Drop Box"

Sometimes I get the opportunity to watch special movie screenings. That's how I was able to see When The Game Stands Tall starring Jim Caviezel. Apparently a group of people from my parish is part of some program where they get to hear about different special movie screenings, typically films that are faith-based.  And that's how I got invited to watch The Drop Box.

They heard about the special 3-day screening for this movie and shared it with all. No amount of north Texas ice and snow stopped us from getting a pretty decent crowd to go see this movie. Fortunately, the night of our last major snow fall, all the snow earlier in the day had already melted. Just in time for the final day of this special screening!

I hadn't really heard about it until I got invited to this screening. I didn't even watch the trailer until the day I saw the movie. But when I saw the trailer, I knew that it would be a powerful film. It's actually less of a movie and more a documentary.

The Drop Box tells the story of a South Korean Christian pastor named Pastor Lee who created a baby drop box at his church so that mothers can anonymously drop off their baby.  From there, he makes sure the baby is taken care of and if possible, he adopts the baby as his own.

Abandoned babies are a growing problem in Korea, but oftentimes they don't survive after being abandoned out in the elements. The documentary highlights this unfortunate backdrop. Mothers abandon their baby because they feel that they cannot take care of the child, or they would bring great shame upon themselves because of their difficult circumstances such as pregnant but not married, unwanted children, the baby has a disability, friends at school ridiculing, family disowning, etc. Really sad stories.

But The Drop Box isn't necessarily about Pastor Lee. Yes, it tells his story and his motivations for doing the work, but it also highlights the stories of the children that get dropped off in the baby drop box. Many of these children have pretty serious disabilities like Down Syndrome, physical deformations, mental illness, etc.

This movie was a challenge to watch. Not because it showed graphic scenes or gross medical things, but because it really showed the love that Pastor Lee has for these children when everyone else gave up on them. And that's beautiful. I mean, the middle-aged man sitting on my right was sobbing the whole time, and the woman next to me admitted after the movie that she tried not to "ugly cry" the whole time. As for me, yeah, I totally wept too.

After watching this movie, after seeing the work that Pastor Lee does, after learning the stories of many of the kids with special needs that he and his wife adopted, I left the movie questioning where I am in my Christian faith.

But in a good way.

Here are some themes that stuck out to me:

Capacity and Depth of Love
Seeing Pastor Lee totally give of himself as a father for these abandoned children really shows his vast capacity to love. His own son is severely disabled and requires a lot of attention, but somehow Pastor Lee is able to give each child the tender love and care they need. Late nights, lots of children crying, and all the usual beautiful burdens of raising children. He and his family currently takes care of 15 children that came to him via the drop box. 15. Children.  And always open to more. Crazy.

My primary sentiment after watching the movie was being in awe of Pastor Lee's capacity and depth of love. I mean, clearly no normal human being is able to do the work he does without such a heart as he has, but truly the only reason he does is because of his Christian faith and love of God.

Not only was I in awe of his capacity to love, but it really made me think about my own capacity and depth of love. Do I love others enough as they deserve? Do I love even those that were rejected by the world? Can I give more? Can I love more?

Recognizing the dignity of others
With all the crazy things happening in this world, I'd say that a major cause of our problems in humanity stems from our inability to recognize the inherent dignity of others. And that's what makes watching The Drop Box so cool! It's because Pastor Lee shows us by his example what it looks like to recognize the dignity of each baby, no matter their circumstances or shortcomings. I mean, the man truly loves each child as his own, and through the eyes of fatherhood is Pastor Lee able to recognize the dignity of these little ones.

One of the things I love about being Catholic is that it really teaches me to recognize the dignity of others, even if they don't recognize it themselves or in others. Seeing Pastor Lee work with these children and raising them as his own made me reflect on how I view others. These children were abandoned because they were too much of a burden, but they deserve dignity and love like any other children.

Do I view others as a burden to myself, or do I recognize their dignity?

The film highlighted some of the necessary work that Pastor Lee has to do.  I have a lot of friends who have recently had their own kids, and it's fascinating to me the work and sacrifice it takes to raise kids. Honestly, sometimes I have IM conversations at work about baby diarrhea.

It requires a certain kind of humility and love to endure these sufferings. What surprised me is that Pastor Lee is elderly yet despite all the difficulties, the late nights, and the challenges of raising children with special needs, he serves and loves those children without complaint. It takes great humility to do the work he does.

Do I consider the needs of others before my own needs? Do I do what needs to be done even if I don't feel like it?

Life Lessons
The Pastor Lee quote pictured above really sticks out to me. He was talking about how he loves kids with special needs because they teach him how to love. They teach him many things. He learns more from them than they learn from Pastor Lee.

That made me go whoa. Whereas most people see kids with special needs or even kids in general as burdens, it's cool to hear how Pastor Lee admits that these children teaches him many life lessons, perhaps even more than he teaches them life lessons.

What can I learn more about the beauty, truth, and goodness of life in those that I encounter?

While the movie is not overtly pro-life in terms of the movement, it still has a very pro-life message. The pro-life message resonates through the very example of Pastor Lee in his depth of love for these adopted children, recognizing their dignity, and serving them with humility. Perhaps that's why abortion is a thing in our country because we don't recognize that we have the capacity to love greatly, we don't recognize the inherent dignity of our fellow people, and we're not willing to have the humility necessary to love others authentically with self-sacrificial, life-giving love. So, it was entirely refreshing to learn about Pastor Lee and his work because it is work that goes unnoticed, and we can learn a lot from his example.

How can I engage in further pro-life work in addition to what I'm already doing?

I really wanted to have a small group discussion right there in the middle of the theater hallway after the movie because the entire movie is a beautiful nugget at which to continue to chew on. What does it mean now that I've seen it? How have I changed because of this film? How shall I respond?

Pondering this, I will. And I'm totally getting the DVD/Blu-ray.
- JD

PS After the movie, they played a pre-recorded screening event for the movie to give further background, insight, and shameless plugs for ministries that help out families. In it, they talked to the director of the movie. I just wanted to mention that he felt intrigued to do this movie because he saw a headline in the L.A. Times (this one), and he needed something for the Sundance Film Festival. He actually spent time in South Korea helping Pastor Lee and the kids, and because of that time spent with him and filming, he converted to Christianity. That's awesome! One does not simply engage in works of mercy and not feel the Holy Spirit's tug on the heart to discover the source of the beauty, goodness, and truth in serving abandoned kids with special needs. Please pray for him!

Pictures //

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Sociohorticulture and Beauty

During my senior year of college, I took a Sociohorticulture class. Sociohorticulture examines how horticultural practices and plants can be beneficial for the human experience because of the relationship between the two. Really fascinating, and it's surprising how impactful plants can be. Yes, yes, I have college credit for such a class. Plants don't fly, but aerospace engineering majors need their elective credits.

When I initially drafted this blog post, I was on a snowboarding trip with some friends. This trip was part of the reason why I went on an unannounced blog break. I thoroughly enjoyed myself since I've never been snowboarding before (or snow sports in general), and it was definitely an adventure!

But, even as I had fun on the trip, I had a ton of things that I'm thinking about. I mean, beyond this trip I was preparing for a multitude of important obligations, and life in general has been particularly stressful.

And so, as we traversed from our lodging to the ski resort and vice versa, it gave me some time to look out the window and reflect on all the things occupying my mind, whether for worse or better.

Praise God that the views right outisde of the car window were that of the wilds and lightly settled areas of southern Colorado! Forests, mountains, blue skies, oh my! And even alpacas?! Cool.

It made me think back to my Sociohorticulture class. There I learned that seeing scenes of nature can provide a calming effect to help with stress as well as helping with focus. Seeing the mountains of majesty covered in forests against a backdrop of blue, clear skies definitely helped me be less stressed about all the things. It was quite nice. I sort of yearned to view such views because it helped put my mind at ease or at least distracted me from focusing on negatives.

But wait. There's more.

I'm Catholic.

Digging deeper into my faith has helped me appreciate encountering beauty, especially such beautiful scenes here in Colorado.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches me in paragraph 2500 that
"Truth is beautiful in itself...but truth can also find other complementary forms of human expression, above all when it is a matter of evoking what is beyond words: the depths of the human heart, the exaltations of the soul, the mystery of God. Even before revealing himself to man in words of truth, God reveals himself to him through the universal language of creation, the work of his Word, of his wisdom: the order and harmony of the cosmos-which both the child and scientist discover-"from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator," "for the author of beauty created them."
In addition to the sociohorticulture benefits, seeing the beauty of Colorado definitely had its taste of the divine because it is His creation.

Why is that helpful for me? Because a majority of my interior struggles (which I won't divulge here at this time) deal with a self-centered attitude. Marvelling at Colorado's beauty reminds me that such a thing is only possible because of God, who is the author of beauty. Acknowledging the source of beauty I encountered really reminded me to put things in perspective that God is greater than me. Even if all the things I'm worried and concerned about seems to not be working in the way I want, just to have these opportunities of encountering beauty in nature to acknowledge divine perspective is calming despite all the stress I'm dealing with.  It takes a certain trust of God's love, mercy, and will to be okay in these beautiful encounters pointing towards the divine.

Total trust in God? Something I still struggle with.
- JD