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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Watching Star Wars... Catholic-ly

I was at work one day recently, and amidst my staring at Excel formulas, I had a random idea hit me like a stray blaster bolt.

Perhaps it’s because of my subconscious excitement of Star Wars Episode VII coming out later this year and my general nerdy Catholic mind that allowed such a thought to float across my mind like a Jawa Sandcrawler.

I’ve been trying to come up with a way to engage my fellow young adult Catholics, and I seemed to have been blindsided by the answer. I had this crazy idea. An idea that seemed brilliant as Tatooine’s two suns.

What if…just what if…I could host Star Wars-watching parties! And not just watch Star Wars, but attempt to extract Catholic themes from the movies and discuss! And nerd out!

Now, I realize that Star Wars is totally not meant to be an exposition of Catholic dogma, doctrine, and discipline. Far from it, actually. But what I love about being Catholic is that it is universal and universally applicable. Part of where I’m at in my Catholic faith and spirituality is seeing it in everything.  How does my Catholic faith play into everything that I’m already into? Particularly, in this case, the nerdy things I’m into? Can I put on a Catholic lens and see Catholic themes in things that aren't even Catholic? That's been my constant reflection in these here recent times.

I bought the Blu-Ray set of all six episodes over a year ago and have since watched Episodes I-IV on my own. And I also got into The Clone Wars on Netflix. Allowing my Catholic nerdiness to collide with my Star Wars nerdiness allowed me to pick up on Catholic themes whether intentional or not. Ugh, Anakin Skywalker is such rich content. Much themes. Wow. Just even the first three Episodes had some good stuff to think about and relate to Catholicism! I wish I had written it all down!

Of course, one thing I also love about being Catholic is the community in Christ. We, as human beings, are made to be in community with each other, and I find this truth to be lived out well through most excellent Catholic examples.  Because of this, I decided that I shouldn't watch Star Wars Catholic-ly by my lonesome with cold beverage in one hand and lightsaber with the other anymore. And that's why I decided to shoot first and host such kind of Star Wars watching parties with my fellow Catholic young adults. Sometimes you just gotta let crazy Wookie ideas win, ya know?

I’ve already hosted two of these Star Wars watching parties. I’ll be hosting these once a month until Episode VII comes out this December! The first one ended up being a small gathering, and the second one had more of a crowd.  In both cases, we had some good and fruitful discussions extracting Catholic themes from The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. I think the popular feedback from this past gathering is that Episode III will be overflowing with things to discuss largely in part due to Anakin Skywalker. O_O

I look forward to the coming months in preparation for Episode VII (edit: super nerd-tastic-ful-ness-ly)! But even more joyfuly...I look forward to engage and build community with my fellow young adult Catholic Star Wars nerds and nerd-converts!

But first, a selfie with a religious sister (a Daughter of St. Paul--the social media nuns!) and Darth Vader.

MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU!!!!! (...and also with you!!! (because "and with your spirit" is actually more rightly ordered towards the ordained, only))
- JD

I Just Hit Someone meme // Star Wars 7 News
LEGO Jawa Sandcrawler //
Tatooine's Two Suns // Lightyears Blog at CNN
Sr. Helena Burns with Darth Vader // Sacred Heart Radio

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Flying Without Entitlement

I’ve mentioned or hinted at in the past that I’m an American Airlines kid. My dad has been with the company for over 25 years now. One of the benefits of being a family member of someone who works for the airlines is that we get flying benefits.  Yes, that means we get to "fly free", but not as a ticketed passenger. If you don’t know, there are two ways to fly. You can purchase a ticket, which pretty much guarantees you a seat on an airplane or you can fly standby, which means you only get a seat on the airplane if there’s an open seat.

Flying standby means you get put on the standby list. Passengers on the standby list don’t get processed on a "first come first serve" basis exactly, but rather by priority. There are different levels of priorities that passengers can have, and usually passengers using rewards programs, passengers with emergencies, passengers who got bumped from previous flights, etc. tend to get higher priorities. On the other hand, people flying standby with employee flight benefits are on the lower end. And since I’m over the set age for a family member for American Airlines, I have to fly at the lowest priority AND it costs money (at severe discount, and it docks off that price from my dad’s pay check). The nice thing is…aiming for first/business class seats cost just as much as a coach class seat. So clearly I try to aim high.

(I will say as an aside, you don’t need to have flight benefits to fly standby)

For 95% of my life, I’ve been flying standby because of my dad’s flight benefits. We’re always one of the last passengers to board the plane, we’re always getting bumped from flight to flight, and there were a few times where we have had to sleep at the airport terminal overnight because we couldn’t catch a flight. Crazy.

Even Tom Hanks has to do it for certain movie roles
In the past several months, I’ve had multiple trips to Japan. Fortunately, my company pays for my tickets and my project gives my team and I permission to get Business Class tickets. It’s a weird feeling for me to be a ticketed passenger. And boarding first because of Business Class and rewards status. And use of the nice lounges. It’s really nice to be able to experience the other side of flying with these business trips.

You see, what prompted me to write this blog post is a particular comment that another passenger made. I was settling into my Business Class seat on a flight home from Narita (NRT) back in May. Because Business Class gets to board before the Economy Class passengers, I basically get to see everyone else pass me as I’m settling in. I was just sitting reading my book as I heard a passenger say to another, in a sort of sassy and snarky way:
“Wow look at these seats, man. Our seats suck in the back. Look at all these special people with their special seats."
I didn’t look up from my book, but that comment kind of rubbed me the wrong way. I wasn’t offended or anything.

But it gave me pause to think about the circumstances at which I’m able to have such special seats. I mean, honestly…it’s my job that pays for this kind of seat. There’s nothing that I’ve done to merit that I need to have Business Class seats. On top of that, I absolutely had no idea at the beginning of the year (or even when I started my job with this new team that I didn’t put myself in) that I would get to travel to Japan as frequently as I already have.  In other words, I didn’t place myself in this position to be able to have a Business Class seat. It’s very much a nice-to-have.

So that passenger’s comment made me think about how grateful I am to have this opportunity to fly this way. And I would be just as content flying on +12-hour flights in Economy Class (via standby, and I’ve done it before for trips to the Philippines).

I actually really like flying standby almost moreso than flying with Business Class tickets. It’s very, very adventurous because it is so uncertain sometimes. Each time I fly standby and am able to get a seat on a plane, I can’t help but feel grateful for the ticket and to get on a plane.

Lol, there was this one time that I went to Connecticut for a dear friend’s wedding. On the way back, I couldn’t catch a plane home. So I did some research for flights available to me as a standby and invented my itinerary as I went. In the end, I flew from Connecticut to Chicago to Arkansas. Then I spent the night in Arkansas (yay Kayak-ing up a hotel and car rental) and took the first flight out from Arkansas to home Monday morning.  You see, if I were a ticketed passenger, i would’ve never gone that route! And I’ve never been to Chicago and Arkansas until that point!

I also really like flying standby because I fly without entitlement. I’m often the last passenger on the plane. Use of Admiral’s Clubs and lounges are not included as I’m not a member or have a ticketed business class ticket. I don’t earn miles. I often get the least ideal of seats when I finally get on the plane. There’s always the uncertainty of being able to even get on a plane. Just to get the ticket to get on is good enough, and that’s what’s worth the sufferings of travel. Everything else is a bonus! I don’t need or deserve hot mixed nuts, complimentary alcohol, gourmet meals at all, choice of gourmet meals, seats that lie flat, a mattress I can put on top of my lie-flat seat, complimentary use of an airline-provided cardigan to wear while on board in case I get cold, airport lounge access because of Business Class tickets, priority boarding and luggage check-in, complimentary use of noise-canceling headphones, 13”+ widescreens for my seat, and the list goes on.

I’m not entitled to the things that are available to me as a ticketed (and Business Class) passenger. But they are available to me because of my current blessed and fortunate circumstances that I didn’t purposefully put myself in.

And because I’m not entitled, I am more fully aware of my sense of gratitude for these opportunities.

That awkward moment when I apparently hit Platinum and get to board the plane first! the very back. And here I am working on this very blog post.

The Terminal // Blog -

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Most Difficult Conversation I Had On Independence Day

One of my good friends recently got accepted into Texas A&M’s nursing school (whoop!), so her family threw a going-away party for her. A substantial handful of fellow friends, catechists, and people from my parish came to celebrate. Even one of our priests participated in the celebration! This party was dual-purpose because it also happened to be on July 4th.  Obviously there was launching of fireworks! I found out our priest really, really likes fireworks...

#PyroPriests #RomanCollar #RomanCannons
At some point during the evening, I was catching up with the husband of one of my fellow adult volunteers with a good seminarian friend. For this blog post, let the husband’s name be Alfonso. I haven’t really interacted with him beyond brief small talk in the past, usually in youth ministry/parish event contexts. Because he knows of my involvement at the parish, I think it was natural for Alfonso to ask about my non-church life. Ya know, life and work. I started talking about work because of his questions. Obviously, talking about aerospace-related things oftentimes lead to military talk. I mentioned something about news regarding the Marines.

Now, Alfonso has a son who is in the Marines so the conversation went that direction. His son was indirectly one of my youth in the youth group as well as a peer of my seminarian friend. I naturally had to ask Alfonso how his son is doing and where he’s stationed now. He started giving updates. Alfonso then mentioned that he should be home for Christmas after being gone for a long while!

...before he’s shipped off to Iraq in January.

When Alfonso was describing how his son will be deployed to Iraq, I could begin to sense the fear in his voice. With everything going on in the Middle East right now, it’s understandable and a hard reality to face. All three of us dwelled on the inherent dangers and the reality of death. We had some awkward silence, which I broke by mentioning how his son’s faith, or at least caring about his faith, increased when he went into the Marines. Back in high school, he was one of those punk kids that treated his Catholic faith in a superficial way. But that seemed to have changed somewhat since becoming a marine as I learned from talking to his mom every so often.

Alfonso mentioned that Marine culture isn’t very conducive to cultivate one’s faith. Despite that, his son seems to hang onto his faith better compared to his Marine buddies. In our conversations about the reality of death, Alfonso mentioned that when it comes down to it, “there are no atheists in the trenches.” Alfonso, my seminarian bro, and I all recognized the notion of the importance of what’s next after passing away.

When we were talking about the very real possibility that his son may be killed in action, Alfonso started tearing up. That was the most difficult part of this conversation. I nearly started tearing up myself seeing Alfonso’s great love for his son and very real fear of the very real notion of his son’s death.

Through the awkward silences, wetting of the eyes, and dwelling on the thought, I ended the conversation by offering to pray for his son and his family. Likewise, the seminarian did as well.

Praise God that all three of us are Catholic (and the Marine, too). Because of our Catholic faith, I know that we’re equipped to handle the reality of death. It absolutely sucks to confront, it’s difficult to come to terms with it, but it is a reality we all must face one day.

Please pray for Alfonso and his family and for the protection of their Marine in body and soul—St. Michael the Archangel, our defender in battle and protection against the devil, pray for us!

One of my favorite Instagrams for #100picsofbeauty

St. Martin of Tours, patron saint of soldiers and bishop of Tours, pray for us!


St. Martin splitting his cloak for a beggar // Sacred Art Series Blog