Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Meeting the Mother of God IV: Marian Dogmas and Devotions

During the summer while I was in Washington, DC. I remember going through the art galleries. Somehow, I always thought to myself, why do the Madonna paintings always seem to put Mary, instead of the Christ child at the center of attention? Shouldn’t Jesus be the one whom we fix our eyes on?

All these doctrines and devotions to the Virgin Mother, some of them sound pretty excessive. Allow me to quote to you de Ligouri:

Shall we scruple to ask her to save us, when “the way to salvation is open to none otherwise than through Mary.”

“Many things,” says Nicephorus, “are asked from God, and are not granted: they are asked from Mary, and are obtained.”

At the commands of Mary all obey—even God.”

How shall I resolve this internal cognitive dissonance?

Let me tell you this story:

“You mean I have to believe in all these doctrines to be a good faithful Catholic?” I wondered to myself when the RCIA class was learning about the communion of saints, the Angels, and the Blessed Virgin Mary.

For example, the dogma of Mary’s bodily assumption into heaven, at best, only spoken of metaphorically in the Scriptures (Rev. xii 1-6). On face-value, the doctrine definitely looks repugnant to the Scriptures.

The Immaculate Conception: the dogma that Mary was conceived without original sin and that she is sinless. Scripture seems to also point in the other direction (Rom. 3:23).

I was still learning how to be Catholic at that time. I was also learning how to read Scriptures again. I had remind myself that the Epistles were written mainly to sort out disputes, encourage and exhort the Christian faithful. It was not written to contain all the doctrines necessary for the faith of the Church. Allow me to digress. When the Apostles preached the Gospel, they handed over the living faith to the believers. Then they arranged the worship, the other doctrines and practices to the Church. That’s why St. Paul says, “Hold fast to the traditions I have handed over to you.” Part of these traditions are ones about Mary. You can also find references in the Scriptures about the Marian dogmas as well. You see, it’s not Scripture alone, neither is it Tradition alone.

I think by that time I already implicitly accepted the dogmas; I just needed reasons for doing so. My reason for joining the Catholic Church, which is another blog in of itself, is for the unity of the Church. It’s about submitting to the rightful interpreter of the Holy Scriptures and preacher of the Gospel. So here I was, thinking again that my 22 year old self knew more than the 2,000 year old Catholic Church.

As I was going through the arguments with the Marian doctrines with my sponsor, Dr. Budziszewski, a sort of lightbulb suddenly lit in my mind, except it wasn’t my own idea. I swear to you, the thought just popped into my mind, and I just blurted out the questions, “Why all these dogmas? Why does the Church has to pronounce these doctrines on Mary rather than just focusing on Christ alone? I mean, what do these doctrines do to help us come closer to Christ?” And that’s it! That’s what these doctrines are for. They help us come closer to Christ. The purpose of understanding Mary is to understand Christ.

And that’s how one should see the theology of the Church. Every theological doctrine the Catholic Church holds fast to is Christological in nature. They point us to Christ. And next time, the last installment of this series will be on exactly how Mary has helped me come closer to Christ.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Meeting the Mother of God, Part III: Defending Mary

By the fall semester of my senior year in college, I decided I was going to be received into the Catholic Church at the Great Vigil of Easter 2009. At the time I still had some qualms about the place of Mary in the Church. Catholics don't worship Mary, but why do they show her so much devotion? If you can pray to Jesus, where's the need to ask Mary for her intercessions?

One weekend, I visited my parents' church. By that time, I already made my decision. I attended the English-speaking service there. While I was listening, the speaker Carl made this claim, "You guys, we have a whole religion of Roman Catholicism that worships Mary." Interesting, I thought. Let's talk to him afterward.

After the service, I asked him about it, and informed him that Catholics don't worship Mary. Carl said, "Oh yes they do. I am a former Catholic." That definitely disoriented me. Huh? Okay, maybe I need to do my research further on the Catholic Church.

We had a little talk, about praying to Mary and he made the claim that prayer is worship, therefore, praying to Mary is worshiping her. We didn't have much time to talk, but he asked for my e-mail address so that we could dialogue further on what Catholics believe.

A couple months later, Carl e-mailed me on Mary, citing Vatican II documents and the Catechism.

I tried replying as charitably as I could. At this point, several e-mails have been exchanged. And I was already received and confirmed in the Catholic Church. I began to suspect that Carl's intention in our e-mail conversations were not to understand what Catholics believe, but to show me that I am in error. I told him, "I don't know if the purpose of your e-mails is to call me back into the Protestant fold or for your own understanding of the Catholic faith. If it is to re-convert me, please do stop. I am firm in my decision, the Catholic Church has been as the source and summit of my walk in Christ through the Holy Communion. I was received into the Church this past Easter. If it is to come to a better understanding of what Catholics believe, I would then be delighted to continue our conversation."

His response was uncharitable as it was ill-informed, "it is my firm conviction to help those who have been deceived by other religions. You talk so highly about the Roman Catholic Church... I am concerned for your soul, not your affiliation with another church over your church... I pray that you are truly saved, but an exaltation of a person or persons to the same degree as Christ will not save. We must worship and follow Jesus the Jew, the Messiah that came and saved us."

As it was explained in previous blogs, Catholics have devotions to the Mother of God, but we do not worship her. We do not give her total homage of who we are.

When we make statements of offense, to break down arguments, it causes the other side to come to the defense of what they consider good, sacred, or true. Carl’s last e-mail placed me on the fast-track to my relationship with the Virgin Mother: by looking up arguments in support of Marian doctrines, by praying with her and through her to the Gate of Life, in meditating upon her role in God’s plan of salvation. And Carl’s e-mail was what pushed me into loving Mary more.

Next week: Marian Devotions

Friday, June 11, 2010

Meeting the Mother of God, Part II: Mary and Worship

The summer after my sophomore year, before I left for Scotland, my sister Tammy and Dad and I were eating Dim-Sum. I quietly said, “I’ve been thinking about Catholicism.”

Dad said, “Một điều về người Công giáo là họ thờ thần tượng.”

“No they don’t,” I objected right away. “They don’t worship idols.”

I supposed my Dad was keen on not getting into a debate or argument with me, so he brushed off my interest by saying I’m probably interested in Catholicism because of some girl.

Now that ticked me off a bit more, to say that my spiritual and intellectual pursuits were motivated by base passions. I didn’t reply to what he said.

But statues and idols. Dad did have a good point. If you ask me, I never thought Catholics worship idols. Never. Maybe because I never saw Catholics parading around with statues of Mary and throwing garlands around her, or that I never saw them bowing down and kissing the statues that I never thought them worshiping the statues.

When I was in Sunday School, somewhere in elementary school, the teacher explained that Catholics pray to Mary and she prays to Jesus. In the evangelical mind, prayer and daily devotions is probably the most spiritual thing you can do. Coming to know Jesus as one’s personal Lord and Saviour effects one’s salvation. So we thought, “If we can pray to Jesus, why do we need to go to Mary in the first place?” I guessed the matter was framed as a salvation question. Catholics pray to Mary so they could get saved. We pray to Jesus so that we could saved. We just streamlined the process.

That lesson in Sunday school is probably the few times in my childhood I learned about Catholicism. Notice there was something I didn’t learn. I didn’t learn that Catholics worship Mary. So when I came to mature later in my walk with God, I did not see Catholics as Mary-worshippers.

So when I was in Dr. Budziszewski’s office in my sophomore year, his explanation of the different attitudes of reverence and worship made sense to me. Soli Deo Gloria. To God alone be the glory. Only God is given worship. All others, saints, etc. are only given reverence and veneration. That was a very Oriental outlook to me. Filial piety. Respect for one’s own parents and ancestors. Very American too. We honor the fallen soldiers, the national leaders in great times of crisis. No one would claim we worship Lincoln or Washington because we built monuments and memorials for them.

Back to Dad. The Ten Commandments puts an injunction for the Israelites: “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.” Quite clear to me. And yet, what is an idol? Are photographs included? How bout videos? They’re images too. Not a couple chapters later do we see God commanding the Israelites to make an statues of Cherubim for the Ark of the Covenant. In my mind, I thought, if Catholics don’t think they are worshiping idols, then they probably aren’t. If one subjectively think he’s withholding the total devotion of his self, then there must be something else going on here. Maybe a cultural difference of honor and veneration.

Although, there is room for error. One could think he doesn’t worship Money, but in fact slaves away his life to the devotion of Money. Do Catholics do that? Do they put all their hope, all their trust, their life in the hands of Mary? Well, in the sense I used the first example of money, no. But for now on, as I explored Catholicism further on, I worked from the assumption of charity: give the Catholic the benefit of the doubt, maybe he doesn’t worship Mary. But let’s see how these strange forms of devotion make sense with this.

A couple years later, I was in RCIA. I had a chat with my Deacon and his wife about Mary and worship. The Deacon’s wife was a bit steamed about accusations of Catholics worshiping Mary, so she said, “There is a very well known Protestant who loved Mary very much. He prayed to her daily. His name is Martin Luther.” Well. That put a stopper to my thoughts. The Deacon was gentler, “No, we don’t worship Mary. In fact, we kick people out of the Church for doing that. They’re called pagans.”

I came to know the Deacon and his wife on a personal level by then. The kindness they showed me secured my trust and respect in what they had to say. It kept me to graciously accept their arguments, critically examine them, yet still in charity. That Catholics don’t worship Mary I began to assent to. I’ll tell you more next time about what sped the process up.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Meeting the Mother of God, Part I

This is the first in a five-part series on my personal encounter and relationship with the Mother of God.

When I was younger, I only thought of the Virgin Mary here and there. She didn’t really stand out in the Bible as other people did. First, people like David, Moses and Daniel were more active, more prominent in my eyes. Second, being a guy, I didn’t really pay attention to women of faith in the Scriptures. Third and last, bluntly said, Mary just doesn’t stand out in the Bible; you don’t see her doing anything glorious, anything that shows glory like Deborah or the wicked Jezebel. I’ll comment on that later on in my story.

A lot of time, Catholics don’t realize how hard it is for other Christians of Protestant traditions to swallow Marian dogma, doctrines, and devotions. Very hard for me to swallow. Here’s my account of how I eventually did. The stories will contain holes, due to space, due to my inability to remember every detail. One day, the Holy Spirit will remind me of that little, tiny, detail that made all the difference to the story’s conclusion. I’ll tell you more about that in the life of the world to come. : ) For now, please do forgive me, if I left out the part you played, or made it hard to understand the psychology of my journey.

Where to begin? Let’s start in March 26, 1998. I was only eleven years old. My sister Tammy and I were at St. Luke’s hospital. My little sister was about to be born that night. Tammy and I were in the waiting room. There was a Hispanic couple there. Being arrogant as I probably am today, I asked them if they were Catholics. They affirmed so. Then I went to challenge them on the doctrine of Mary being the Mother of God. Boy, would you look at that, an eleven year old boy thinks he knows more than the whole two-thousand year old Catholic Church, thinks Catholics are in error for saying that God has a mother.  The Hispanic couple was polite. They tried to explain that Mary is the mother of Jesus, and Jesus is God, therefore, Mary is the mother of God. My eleven-year-old mind could not understand it. How can a human give birth to God? God is eternal, Mary isn’t.

Fast forward to spring 2008, my junior year, I spent some time reading Pope Benedict XVI’s Encyclical Spe Salvi, “In Hope We are Saved.” At the end of the letter, Benedict spoke of Mary, the star of hope, the one who guides us to hope. I didn’t finish reading that part. Call me close-minded, but I just thought to myself, “oh, that’s just Catholic speak,” so I just skipped that part.

A couple days later, I went to see my old professor, Dr. B. I told him I read Spe Salvi. Then I told him about my concerns on Mary toward the end. I didn’t verbalize it, and I still don’t think I can today. It was just an uneasy feeling. Let me try my best here: The Catholic Church emphasizes on the unity of all Christians under one roof, namely, the Catholic Church. Why put a foot down on divisive Marian doctrines like the fact that she was conceived without sin or that she went to Heaven (both body and soul) or calling her with these fancy titles like Mother of God or Holy Queen of Heaven? Would not more Christians be united if it were not for these doctrines?

Dr. Budziszewski explained to me what “Mother of God” meant. Its meaning was to affirm the divinity of Christ. Jesus is both fully God and fully Man. Budziszewski knew what I was thinking already. “It does not mean that Mary gave Jesus His divine nature,” he said. In the same way a mother doesn’t give her child his soul.

My objection? Well, “Mother of God” is misleading. Perhaps, the professor thought, but it's a misunderstanding the Catholic Church can deal with. I don’t think fast on my feet, so I brought up other objections, titles like Redemptrix or Mediatrix. This one Professor B. agreed with me. In the English language, it would sound like Mary is equal to the Son by being a co-mediator or co-redeemer.

I wasn’t looking for an argument when I stepped into Dr. B’s office, but he said, “I didn’t bring this up; you did, but I tried explaining the best I could the Catholic Church’s teachings.”

Fine with me. I had to go. Running late for the next class. So I said my good-byes and left.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Forgiving others

When a friend hurts his friend, it causes a chasm between them. The sacred trust in the bond of love is no longer there. Nearly all actions are marked with suspicion and doubt. And forgiveness. Forgiveness requires not just canceling debts, it calls for a restoration of the relationship. And that's something I find impossible to do at times. See, with an enemy, you can just call a truce or agree to a prisoner exchange. For a friend, you're expected to not only surrender, but also to trade and sing the same patriotic songs with them as well. Maybe that's why the Reconstruction left a terrible taste to the South.

You know I love the Lord of the Rings, so let me quote to you what Frodo says at the end of the trilogy: "How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand... there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep, that have taken hold." Frodo Baggins describes exactly how I'm feeling right now. Some friends' actions seem like betrayal, malice, neglect, etc. Maybe to the point where I just don't want to see their faces anymore. Maybe to the point where I wouldn't even pay my last respects to their funerals. Okay, I'm overreacting here. But sometimes, do you ever question whether it's morally justifiable to break, intentionally, a friendship because it's too hard to love in return, too hard to forgive for the mistakes made, and too hard to give unconditionally? 

Didn't Christ command us to love them though, even our enemies? Yes, Jesus did ask us to love, and he showed us how. When I think of my friends' mistakes against me, it angers me, upsets me, but when I then turn to Christ, to his Cross, it puts things into perspective. Peter's absence wasn't just cowardice; it was betrayal. He didn't just shied away from the scene, he denied Him. And yet, Jesus said to him, "take care of my sheep."

Dear Lord, grant me the grace to forgive my friends, to love them, and keep on praying for them. Purge me of the anger and resentment I have left of my hurts and heal my broken heart. Amen.

St. John, patron of friendships, pray for me.

Monday, March 22, 2010

"The Church always looks better from the inside."

About exactly a year ago, after Stations of the Cross, on Friday, a couple friends and I went out for drinks. We ended up going to Dulce Vita, a little place that serves gelato. Ok.. nevermind the details, I just wanted to orient you to setting.

Michael and I were both candidates at the time, ready to be received into full communion with the Catholic Church. We were with Janice and Janet, both already in full communion with the Church. Janice said something very profound that night, something I won't ever forget.

She mentioned a saint, some person's name I don't recall, said that if you look at the Cathedral, it looks quite ugly and horrific on the outside, with dark and foreboding windows, (at least to that effect). But when you come inside, you see the light shining through the stained glass windows, the beauty of the architecture, the reverence of the lay faithful. It's the same way with the Mystical Body of Christ. On the outside, the Catholic Church looks quite strange and foreboding, but there's a difference in perspective when you're in the inside.

Coincidentally, or not, a good friend of mine and I went out for burgers yesterday. He mentioned visiting a historic Catholic church in New Orleans. "It didn't live up to its expectations. You could see the rust coming down from the windows and it's unfortunate that we were unable to come inside to take a look."

To that I remarked, "The Church always looks better from the inside." I wasn't joking and I wasn't speaking just literally either.

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote in his Eucharistic Hymn, Pange Lingua, usually sung on Holy Thursday,

Very bread his Flesh to be;
Man in wine Christ's Blood partaketh:
And if senses fail to see,
Faith alone the true heart waketh
To behold the mystery.

Yes, precisely that. Only the eyes of faith show the gates of the Church. In order to understand the simple truths the Church teaches, in order to see Light, there are some things you just gotta take as an assumption for it to work. Faith alone, sola fide, opens the Door. Come on in, "come and see," "taste and see," the Church always looks better from the inside.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Dream I Had: Saying Mass

I had a really unusual dream last night. I was celebrating High Solemn Mass in Latin at Westminster Cathedral in London.

When I woke up and remembered what I had dreamed, I kept saying to myself... "Not a sign, not a sign!"

Journal Reflection

I wrote this journal reflection after praying the Rosary at St. Mary Cathedral this past Tuesday. Hope it's not too personal for y'all.

February 23, 2010 Tuesday
First week of Lent, Feast of St. Polycarp

...Though my eyes see with discernment You have given me, who can dare gaze upon Your Face and Your mighty arms of holy love, yet You have revealed Your Love, Yourself, Your Face to us, Lord. You gave us the picture of Your love when You leapt down from heaven and grabbed my flailing arms, mired in sin and dirt, and You washed me by Your water and Your Spirit. You anointed my head with sweet fragrant oil and You took me to Your table, put me at Your right hand and bade me to eat Your Most Holy Body. And though I kept running away from Your table, as a child would run when he is filled, still You called me, bid me tender and wiped my face by the sweat of Your brow. You did take care of me, O God, and I cared not. Teach me then, to love You, to draw near each day to You and to cherish You in my heart, as You cherish me in Yours.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

For Alex

Today, I want to talk about my friend Alex. In elementary school, Alex was my best friend. He’s the kind of guy who’s one of the cooler kids in the class, but hangs out with everyone, including the dorkier ones, like me. Why do I say that I’m one of the more nerdy and dorky kids? When you’re in kindergarten or first grade with glasses, still with an unsure grasp of English, pants that flood, and sometimes socks that don’t match, well.. you get the picture.

Allow me recount some stories about Alex:

Alex is a selfless person. Why do I say that? Well, he shared his toys with everyone. Back in first grade, Power Rangers was a huge deal. And of course, Power Ranger toys were the thing to have back then. And he shared his Power Ranger toys, the Putty-men and the other Rangers. It makes me smile when I think of it.

Alex is a person of deep reflection. One of the things I distinctly remember was a conversation I had with Alex in the lunch line, in the cafeteria. We were in first grade. Alex and I were talking about God. We were speculating on His nature, whether or not God exists, etc. Now of course Alex and I didn’t talk like theologians and philosophers; we had to use the terms and language we were familiar with in order to convey those ideas. So Alex said, “God isn’t just here or there,”pointing in different directions, “but He’s everywhere.” I don’t know what it was, but it made a deep impression upon me. I think you can see now where my inquisitive nature and the reason why I like to reflect upon things come from.

What other cool things about Alex can I say? He’s a great artist. Alex, do you remember the Top Dawg pictures you drew? I wish I still had that copy of the one you gave me after we left Carmichael Elementary. And I suppose that in itself made another impact on me. I rarely throw away anything given by a friend. Which is another reason why my room is so cluttered with miscellaneous things.

Here is a boy, now he’s a man, of an outstanding character, of deep reflection, and of an amazing artistic talent. Needless to say, Alex and I played together in recess, sat next to each other in class, (4th grade, Ms. Pedigree's), and shared ideas with each other. It took me years to learn what it means to be a good friend, and it will take me many more years to be a good friend, but at least I got a good example of such a friend so early in my life.

With my life, I promise, I will be praying for you, Alex. Maybe one day we can meet again and catch-up from where we left off.

Dream I Had: I am Your servant, Lord, I am Your servant, the son of Your handmaid.

Wednesday, last week.

I had the most wonderful dream ever! And, I'll tell you, I usually remember my dreams, and there has been some pretty wild ones out there.

I at adoration one evening at a church. For my non-Catholic Christian friends and readers, adoration is an event where you adore Christ in the exposition of His Eucharistic Body. In the most mystical experience, I felt the urge not only to kneel before Christ, but to lay myself flat down before Him. So I laid myself prostrate before God. It was in the evening and the walls of the church darkened.

And I continued lying there, praying, and begging the Lord to reveal Himself to me. And I was there for until I fell asleep. When I awoke in my sleep, the priest, Father Albert, admonished me for leaving the Body of Christ unattended. And then I told him about how I was in adoration before, and asked for his forgiveness and pardon. So then he told me, "Your faith has been sanctified." I don't know what that means, but when I went back to sleep in my dream, I was able to sleep peacefully after that.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

True Beauty II

Life as a bookseller, or at least this bookseller, gives me little time to read any books, at least to the extent I'd like to read.

One of my favorite poems ended with these particular lines, thought-provoking, yet peaceful, calming, a fresh breeze of air.

Here my exalted vision lost its power.
But now my will and my desire, like wheels revolving
with an even motion, were turning with
the Love that moves the sun and all the other stars.
--Dante Alighieri, Paradiso, Canto XXXIII, 143-145

For those of you who don't know my favorite epic poem, Dante's Comedy stands out among all others. I have searched for beauty, for love, for happiness. Now I, like Dante, have found it. Found it I have, but like many others on the journey, we only know we've came a bit later than what we have liked.

So late have I found it. Augustine of Hippo says it better than me. Let me remind you of my first love. Here's what he said:

Late have I loved Thee, O Beauty so ancient and so new; late have I loved Thee!

For behold Thou wert within me, and I outside; and I sought Thee outside and in my unloveliness fell upon those lovely things that Thou hast made. Thou wert with me and I was not with Thee. I was kept from Thee by those things, yet had they not been in Thee, they would not been at all.

Thou didst call and cry to me and break open my deafness: 

and Thou didst send forth Thy beams and shine upon me and chase away my blindness: 

Thou didst breathe fragrance upon me, and I drew in my breath and do now pant for Thee: 

I tasted Thee, and now hunger and thirst for Thee: 

Thou didst touched me, and I have burned for Thy peace.

--St. Augustine, Confessions, Book Ten, XXVIII

Editor's note: For the relationship between fire, rest and peace, see XIII.9.10. It is appropriate that what is arguably the most beatiful passage of the Confessions is a summary of the effects of Divine Beauty on Augustine's soul. The earlier tension between spirit and flesh is dissolved in the higher eros of love for God, while the five bodily senses now act as lenses into the supernatural object of our longing.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

My Point Exactly! II

For Diem

Diem is probably the first girl I met in my class. Or at least the first one I remember. I met her in first grade. She and this other girl, (named Danielle, and that’s the only thing I remember about her) were the only Asian girls in the class.

What’s your favorite memory of her?
We were at the neighborhood swimming pool. We were in first grade, or around there, at the time. And I think she thought that I didn’t know how to hold my breath underwater. So she proceeded to teach me. I guess I was being a gentleman, and went along with it. So she told me to take my hand and pinch my nose and hold it while I go underwater. Then she said, “Ready, 1, 2, 3!” And being me of course, I went underwater without holding my nose, just to show her I know how to hold my breath. 

Most awkward moment?
Fourth grade, we were in homeroom. It was morning before classes. So I went to sit next to her. Then this black kid came up and sat next to us and asked us, “Are y’all boyfriend and girlfriend?” And I said, “No, we’re just friends.” He didn’t believe me; he asked the same question to her. And she said, “Nope, we’re friends.”

What do you see her doing in 10 years?
Anything but nail and beauty salons. I remember back in middle school, my mom used to work at my aunt’s retail store that sells nail beauty products and supplies for other stores. Then one day, I remember her coming in. Based on this observation, her family is probably involved in the beauty industry, and I can’t imagine her taking it on.

Anything else?
Diem is one of the nicest girls I’ve met in elementary school. From the times playing during recess to participating in other activities at school, it was a blast. And I’m thankful I still hold the memories.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Frodo the Nine-Fingered and Samwise the Brave

Listen to this song while you read:

I love watching epic movies, and my favorite movie series is the Lord of the Rings. The Lord of the Rings speaks to me as a person. It portrays courage in the face of adversity, friendship in the pit of the Enemy, love in the jaws of death.

I love JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings so much because it follows that same tradition of literature: the epic journey. We're all on a journey, aren't we? We all have that same one destination toward happiness, don't we? We are Odysseus in the Odyssey, Aeneas in the Aeneid, and Dante in his Comedy. And the best one of them all: Jesus on the way to His Cross. For me, it's the Lord of the Rings: Frodo to Mount Doom.

I see my in Frodo Baggins: small, weak, afraid, perhaps destined for great things, but still unsure. And yet, in the stillness, the center of the storm, the silence comes. Where art thou, o Friend of old?

One of my good friends from high school actually saw me as Samwise Gamgee. That is very comforting. "It's me. It's your Sam. Don't you know me?" There are countless scenes in the movie where I could say, "Man, if I had a friend like that..." But you know what? I do have a friend like that. A friend who sticks closer than a brother. I talk to him, I see her, I share stories with them. This Friend lives in all my friends. My future series on my friends will be precisely on that. And I hope you see the good things that have helped changed my life because of what you have done.

Oh yea, following below is one of my favorite scenes. I would be lying if I denied that I didn't shed tears at this scene sometimes. Unfortunately, the embedding is disallowed. So here's the link:


Oh yea, in other unrelated news: the word "unfriend" is now in the Oxford English Dictionary. What a shame..

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

For Johnny

In elementary school, there are two guys who were my best friends. And, I’m proud to say, they’re still my friends today. I’m going to write about them in the order I met them.

Johnny and I were friends since, literally, the first week of school. We met in pre-kindergarten. Johnny was also, by pure coincidence, is a Roman Catholic. Growing up in a Protestant home, I only heard of the things they do, such as praying/worshipping Mary and other idols. Well, in my view at the time, at least they still got Jesus, so it couldn’t be as bad as the other religions.

I guess it was my friendship with Johnny that always prevented me from becoming a full-on anti-Catholic. And looking back, it was my friendships with worshippers of other faiths throughout my life that kept me from being uncharitable toward their religion. As early at the age of 8, I was already exploring what other religions taught. But before I get into that, this post is about Johnny.

One of the most ridiculous memories I have of Johnny was him making a clown out of himself; and a particular memory of pre-k stand out as he placed a toy on his head as a hat. He made look cool to be the class clown. He was the equalizer in the class. There wasn’t anyone in the class too cool or too socially awkward for him to be friends with. This particular gift of self-deprecation, it seems to me, allowed for our friendship to be restored after its estrangement.

As a rule, my series on my friends will be nothing but positive things about them. Last August, my sister took me to visit the University of Houston campus. As I went to see some old friends, like Kristine and Chris, they invited me to come to Mass with them at the UH Catholic Newman Center. I obliged.

Johnny and I hadn’t seen each other since 7th grade. We were enemies at the time. And I mean the full sense of the word enemy. It’s part of the reason why I went to alternative school, but I won’t tell you about that now, that’s another story. Over nine long years before Johnny and I were reconciled again, and you know why it was possible? I’ll tell you why.

In literature, when you see people eating together, it shows a pretty big deal. Because when people are breaking bread, it means they’re not busy breaking heads. So, as I pretty much expected, Johnny was at the Mass too. And there was no way, absolutely no way, I could have gone to receive Christ in the Eucharist at the Holy Mass with a grudge on the side. “Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Another thing, small thing, I would like to point out is: during the intercession, one of the staff workers at the Newman Center asked for prayers for the recent late Ted Kennedy. And in my mind revolted! Prayer for him! But that’s what we’re supposed to do isn’t it. Pray for your enemies. That day, it was an uneventful day for me mostly, but it was probably one of the most grace-filled days as it re-oriented me to see where I am and where I am not. Again, that’s another blog to be written.

For me to be friends with Johnny again, it’s an honor. For me to be in the Catholic family with Johnny, it’s a grace.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Only Yourself, Lord

Over the past summer, I read this book by Peter Kreeft called Three Philosophies of Life: Ecclesiastes: Life as Vanity, Job: Life as Suffering, Song of Songs: Life as Love.

One of my most adored passages in the book inspired me as I read what it means to deal with the problem of God. You see, that God exists presents a big problem. It's probably even bigger than the notion that evil exists.

The problem of God in the Job isn't whether or not God exists. Only atheists or agnostics would have that problem. It's not about who or what God is in Himself. Only philosophers or theologians would have that problem. The problem is this: Who is God to me? What difference does He makes in MY life? Where the heck are YOU, O GOD?

The previous sentences may sound like borderline blasphemy to the audience. But it is truthfully said, "God, where are you in my life?" The lived life and its testament tells us this: God exists, but we now know this, He's not here. He doesn't care for us. He has abandoned us.

And for a long time, that resonates with me. I call out to You, but You don't answer me. Job even claims that if Job was in a fair law suit against God, he would win! But, since God is omnipotent, God would win, he would win not because He's right, but because He is powerful. And to me, that strikes me as a tyrannical God. One who is no loving Father, only a taskmaster.

Job, in his agony, still holds faith and hope in this seemingly tyrannical God, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him." (Job 13:15). Wow. What kind of faith is that? I think I know why Job answered it that way. I know now. Because to hear of God, to have Him punish you, is better than for Him to abandon you. The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference.

But in the end, it wasn't the pious and orthodox friends who God approved of. It was Job. God said Job spoke truthfully. Job sticks to God. He keeps his passion, his fire, his intimacy. His words do not accurately reflect God's image, but they reflect his heart. And that's what counts. You gotta be true to yourself. Who cares what others think? Who cares if you got the right words down or not? (Here I interject, I care, but I care only to its own extent).

This is why Job questions God the way he does. To be in a relationship with an infinite being, means to be in an infinite relationship with Him. It's everything or nothing. You can't be lukewarm with God. You can't have this "Jesus is my homeboy" mentality. And Job feels let down. He thinks that God didn't come through on His end of the bargain. And for Job, that means that God is nothing. "Job stays married to God and throws dishes at him." His three friends are just roommates with God. The family that fights together, stays together.

The most important lesson in Job is the practice of the presence of God. That's why it's so important for Catholics to go to daily Mass, to attend adoration, to fall on your knees before the Almighty God, hidden beneath the veils of the Blessed Sacrament. And that's why it's so important for Christians to be in the living relationship with Christ, to keep their spiritual practices of prayer, daily meditation and spiritual songs.

Job finally answers in the end, "I have heard of You with the hearing of my ears, but now my eye sees You." This is the most important verse in Job. This is the solution to the problem. This is the answer to every longing heart's question. To know God is better than to hear of Him. Let me say that again, To know God is better than to hear of Him.

Let's say you have a boyfriend in some distant country. He write letters, and you read his love-letters. They are all well and good. But to see his face, to be held in his embrace is infinitely better than hearing of him and of his work. You will have no more questions after you get this Answer. Your soul, your life, you, will be contented and satisfied. No, even more than that, you will overflow with joy and an abundance of life. I know, because it happened to me. I know, because even though times like these suck, it's not so much that I'm holding on to God, it's Him holding me.

So I leave with my favorite passage from Peter Kreeft's book:

"The greatest question ever asked and the greatest answer ever given, in my opinion, are in an incident near the end of the life of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Thomas was alone in the chapel, he thought (but his friend Reginald was watching and swore under oath that he saw and heard these events), and praying before the altar. A voice came from the mouth of Christ on the crucifix: "You have written well of me, Thomas. What will you have as a reward?"

"It is the same question with which Jesus began his public ministry, "What do you want?" (Jn 1:38).

"And the equally great answer Thomas gave to God, the answer that puts a lump in my throat and a bird in my heart every time I say it, was, "Only Yourself, Lord." The theologian who found thousands of answers--more answers, and more adequate answers, than any other theologian in history--wants only one thing, "the one thing needful" that Mary wanted and Jesus wanted Martha to want, (Lk 10:42): Himself. 

"That is why even Job is satisfied. He did not get what he thought he wanted, but he got what he really wanted. He did not get what his head and his consciousness thought they wanted, but he got what his heart and his deep unconscious knew they wanted, the thing we all want. We cannot help it: God made us that way. Only one key fits that lock; only one Romeo satisfies that Juliet. "Deep calls unto deep"--only infinity can marry infinity.

"The Beatific Vision that awaits all believers in Heaven is granted to Job for a moment on earth."

The peace of our Lord, His glorious presence, be with you all. Come, Lord Jesus, come. Amen.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Do Not Be Afraid

Massachusetts recently voted to elect the pro-abortion Scott Brown for the United States Senate. Although politics usually angers or bores me, this certainly looks like Washington is in for another shake-up. Senator-elect Brown has made health-care his primary issue as he pledged to be the "41st Senator" to vote against the health-care bill.

For those of you who don't keep up with politics, it means that President Obama and the Democrats will suffer a tremendous setback to their agenda as they will fail to implement their signature issue.

Speaking of health-care insurance, and this also seems appropriate as our prayers go out to those suffering in Haiti, especially after the aftershock today, my favorite theologian has this tidbit to say:

"This world of ours is a world of fear: the fear of misery and poverty, the fear of illness and suffering, the fear of solitude, the fear of death. We have in this world a widely developed insurance system; it is good that it exists. But we know that at the moment of deep suffering, at the moment of the ultimate loneliness of death, no insurance policy will be able to protect us. The only valid insurance in those moments is the one that comes to us from the Lord, who also assures us: "Do not fear, I am always with you." We can fall, but in the end we fall into God's hands, and God's hands are good hands."
-Pope Benedict XVI
Homily, December 18, 2005

Also, I plan on doing a blog series profiling all the closest friends I have, from the time I started in elementary school. To meet that criterion, they have been a significant part in my life, or building toward that goal. Let me know what you think. I promise I'll say nothing but good things about you. ;)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Lord's Baptism

Today the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church in the United States celebrates the Lord's Baptism.

One of the things that helped open my eyes to the claims of the Church was the clarity and theological depth Joseph Ratzinger has. Now Pope Benedict XVI, his own personal book , Jesus of Nazareth, helped me in my own spiritual walk with Christ, and ultimately, His Church. The rest will be a quotation from Benedict's book on the Lord's Baptism.

Starting with the paragraph on "The actual ritual of Baptism symbolizes this." Too bad the publishers cut out the good part on Eastern iconography. Let me know if you want the missing pages.

Christmas Season

Today is the last day of the Christmas celebration. Tomorrow we start Ordinary Time until Lent begins. What does that mean? Eat all the meat you can (with moderation, of course) till Ash Wednesday!

What does Christmas mean? Where did it's origins come from? The first Christian celebrations began with Easter, with the Resurrection of our Lord, not His Birth, according to the flesh. Benedict XVI said, "Because of this the most ancient feast of Christianity is not Christmas, but Easter: The resurrection of Christ is at the base of Christian faith; it is at the base of the proclamation of the Gospel and gives birth to the Church. Therefore to be Christians means to live in the mode of Easter, connecting ourselves to the dynamic that comes from baptism, which brings death to sin to live with God (cf. Romans 6:4)."

Hippolytus of Rome first made mentioned that Christ was born on December 25th. The point of the day was more theological rather than historical. Bible scholars recognize that on this day was celebrated the Dedication of the Temple of Jerusalem, instituted by Judas Maccabeus in 164 B.C.. The concurrence of dates would come to mean that with Jesus, appearing as light of God in the night, advent of God to this earth, the consecration of the temple is truly fulfilled.

A lot of people thinks that Christmas came from pagan origins. That may be true, but as the celebrated Calvinist Abraham Kuyper said, "All truth is God's truth." (I'm sure loads others said the same thing, just easy reference). Where there are good things in culture, it belongs to Christianity. Where there are anything admirable, noble, of excellence, it's in the dominion of Christendom.

Benedict XVI explained, "Within Christianity, the feast of Christmas took on a definite form in the fourth century, when it took the place of the Roman feast of “sol invictus,” the invincible sun. Thus was shown that the birth of Christ is the victory of true light over the darkness of evil and sin."