11-26-14

Oh wow… it’s been a long time since I’ve written a blog post. I know that this is not an excuse but I have been struggling with feelings of inadequacy and negativity stemming from a false self perception, and because feelings can sometimes be more debilitating than a physical disability, they’ve kept me away from writing publicly. No matter though, i believe that it is something of a Divine mandate to continue writing—and if it is, God will give me the strength to do this. My confidence lies in Him. Huh–just writing those lines were actually kinda therapeutic. I think that of the best way to combat the fear of writing is to write. So… I will do my best to continue with this blog.

I’ve come to understand that my life was not given to me to keep to myself, and in gratitude for the gift of life, I will make the best use of it. On this eve of Thanksgiving, I’m reminded that we need to share the gifts that we been given for the greater good of our fellow brothers and sisters, especially those who are hurting. We have to speak out on the plight of those who suffer so as sympathize them…because every life matters. I especially think of the family of Michael Brown and the people of Ferguson, Missouri. There is need for healing, forgiveness, and understanding in the face of the shooting death of young Mike Brown. He did not deserve to die like that. There is also need for finding solutions to prevent things like this from ever happening again. Racism is very much still alive. I don’t pretend to have solutions, although body cameras could go a long way in presenting irrefutable truth. I pray for the binding of our woundedness to the One who heals us by his own wounds.

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and Peace in the Middle East

Today in the Catholic Church, we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Mount Carmel is a fertile mountain range near the city of Haifa, Israel. Back in the Old Testament, the prophet Elijah prayed on the mountain for an end to a massive drought. As he prayed, a small raincloud appeared on the horizon. And the rain fell and watered the parched earth. Hundreds of years later, a group of hermits flowing in the footsteps of Elijah became Christians and settled on the mountain. These hermits had a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary who they felt that Elijah’s clout symbolized because she was the one to bring Christ down to earth like rain upon the parched ground: “O that thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down…” (Isaiah 64:1). The hermits continued to have followers and came to be known as Carmelites (of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel.) The Carmelite friars and nuns can now be found all over the world, including Mount Carmel.

On this day I can not help but think of the conflict in the Holy Land, the land of Christ, the land of Mount Carmel. May peace come down like rain to water the hearts of hardened souls that instigate violence. I know that the Pope and many people are thinking along the same lines today. Just this past May the Pope was in Israel and Palestine calling for peace with the practical step of a 2 state solution. He prayed at the wall of separation in the West Bank where Palestinian Christian youths spray-painted heartfelt pleas for help to Pope Francis. Providentially, the graffiti remained on the wall when the Pope intentionally stopped there. That was one of the most memorable scenes of his visit. The Holy Father made the point of visiting the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, as well.

I was hopeful for the prospect of the institution of a two-state solution (where all are free to exist) when the Pope invited Presidents Abbas and Peres to the Vatican. I was hopeful when they accepted the invitation and prayed for peace at the Vatican in June, on Pentecost Sunday. I’m still hopeful even though extreme violence has broken out once again, the killings of innocent youth, the rockets that send residents fleeing from their homes, in which they lived for generations. We cannot lose sight of the fact that “Peace is Possible,” as the late Mattie Stepanek believed with all his being. The Palestinian Christians certainly believe in the possibility of peace—at the Papal Mass in Bethlehem, the celestial refrain heard by shepherds 2000 years ago was repeated several times: “Peace to all people of good will.”

We entrust the future of our human family to Mary Most Holy, that new horizons may open in our world, with the promise of fraternity, solidarity and peace.” (Pope’s Regina Coeli Address in Manger Square, Bethlehem, May 26, 2014). Through the prayers of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and the Divine Mercy of her Son, the Prince of Peace, may this peace come quickly! God be with the people of Gaza in their time of need.

American Futbol

As can be expected, I’m really excited about tomorrow’s game—err, match between USA and Germany. We have to win or at least draw. I’m thinking we got this. Team USA’s been showing up, fighting pretty hard, hamstring injury and broken nose to prove it. No bite marks though because Uruguay wasn’t in our group. But i digress. This past Sunday, we went after Portugal and would have won if there were no such thing as added time. Jones, Dempsey, and Howard saved the day though. Sidenote: at least two of the aforementioned are Catholic. Anyway, I’m really digging the World Cup and I’m beginning to think that football– soccer— is just as exciting as American football–handball?

Power in the Blood

June 3 is the day on which the Catholic Church commemorates St. Charles Lwanga and the martyrs of Uganda. In the 1880s in Uganda, then known as Buganda, 22 Catholic converts were put to death by King Mwanda. While Mwanga was initially tolerant of Christianity and Christians in his land, he began persecuting them and putting them to death. He had made homosexual advances to the young pages of his court. When they refused to give in to his desires, he became enraged and had them put to death. The thing that enraged him the most was that these new Christians were steadfast in their faith with all its moral implications.

St. Charles Lwanga and his fellow martyrs marched bravely and to their deaths in the sight of the missionaries who brought them to faith in Jesus Christ. These saints of Uganda believed that they would see the white Fathers again one day. The living blood of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit pulsated within them and they went forth victorious. However, (as Father Barron observes in the video below),  the martyrdom of the Christians, in the eyes of many onlookers, must have seemed to be the end of Christianity in Uganda. But the irony, the divine paradox, is  that the more the Church is persecuted, the more She grows. As the early Christian writer Tertullian once said, “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Christians.” Because there is  power in the Blood.

St. Charles Lwanga and Companions, Holy Martyrs of Uganda, pray for us!

Every morning is like a mini Easter

Last night I experienced one of those dreams in which you’re aware that you’re sleeping and can almost see yourself. It was a kind of scary deep sleep that I wanted to wake up from but just could not. I felt as if I were dead–sleeping as dead as a log, as they say. The experience made me grateful to open my eyes to the light of day this morning. And it got me thinking… going to bed at night and waking up in the morning is symbolic of death and resurrection.

I don’t really want to be morbid or anything but sleep kind of does resemble death in a way because you are resting so passively. This is why death is spoken of as falling asleep. But taking the metaphor the other way around means there is a waking up from death. Interesting. It makes sense then that New Testament writers referred to the dead as those who have fallen asleep. They were writing from the perspective of hope in Jesus Christ who is the Resurrection and the Life. It was Jesus himself who pointed out that death is essentially falling asleep. before he raised a 12-year-old girl from death to life by essentially telling her to wake up, he reassured her family that she was merely sleeping.

When Jesus’ hour to be put to death arrived, St. John noted that it was night. He contrasts that with the fact that Jesus rose from the dead on the morning of the first day. Death has its hour of night while Resurrection has its day. In Jesus Christ, death (the separation of immortal soul from body, causing the latter to decay) has been reduced to sleep—a sleep from which we have the real hope of waking up with resurrected bodies (soul reuniting to body, causing it to become incorruptible)! I look forward to that day, the eternal day that never ends. Until then, may every sunrise serve as a reminder.

Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5). 

Good Friday is the Ultimate Contradiction

Here’s a post I wrote for Signs of Contradiction:

Today is the ultimate contradiction. It’s Good Friday. Why good? Why isn’t it called bad? How can we possibly say that the day on which a man whom we believe to be God in the flesh, was nailed–impaled through the wrists and feet with spikes–to a cruciform piece of wood standing vertically above the ground, was good? After 3 hours of excruciating pain, involving pushing up on his nerve pierced wounds in order to breathe, he died. Doesn’t sound good at all does it? Sounds like the triumph of darkness–how is this Friday “good” by any stretch of the imagination?

And then, another question arises. Why would God undergo such suffering at the hands of the wicked? Those who saw the disfigured man hanging from the accursed tree must have thought to themselves, “surely he wasn’t who he said he was, otherwise he could be delivered from this.” They voiced their objections with the taunting words, “If he is the Son of God, let him come down from the cross.” It was bad enough for a prophet of God to die like that, but God himself? Crucifixion was the sign of total and utter defeat. Is it fitting for a powerful God to subject himself to such humiliation and torture, and at the hands of his own creatures? He worked miracles, they said it was by the power of demons. He preached love and mercy, he was hated and nailed to a cross. By all standards, the Good Friday event seems to be a complete failure.

But out of darkness comes the great dawn, out of the pain of childbirth comes the joy of a child come into the world. Why did God allow the worst evil, deicide, the murder of God Himself, to occur? In order to bring a greater good out of it. On the Cross, Jesus took sin and death upon himself, and by doing so, did away with them. Because it was God who died on Good Friday, death died. If death could dare to swallow up Life Himself, only one thing could happen: death would be destroyed from the inside out. It sounds like a contradiction to say that God died, and yet that’s exactly what happened. To be sure, God always existed. However, because Jesus Christ is God-made-man, God experienced death. Jesus absorbed death and hatred with his love and life. So, out of the worst thing that ever happened came the best thing that ever happened. No longer can we say, “does God know what it’s like for me to suffer?” And that’s why it is called Good Friday.

Is it weakness on the part of God to descend to the depths of human misery? Quite the opposite. Good Friday is the sign of God’s Almighty Power. As the Servant of God, Bishop Fulton Sheen once said (and I paraphrase), “It is human to come down from the cross, but it is Divine to hang there.”

Resolved…

To continue blogging for the foreseeable future. I have been preoccupied with many things, including the last session of philosophy 101 and I hope to share what I’ve been thinking very soon.  Please excuse the sporadic posts… I will work on being consistent with my writing. But I have to cut this particular post short as Holy Week begins tomorrow…

Christmas in March

The climatic destruction of the ring that held the world in its enslaving grip is one of my favorite passages of the Lord of the Rings. JRR Tolkien sets it up beautifully: while the evil forger of the ring, Sauron, literally had his eye on the powerful and mighty of the world, he failed to detect the lowly hobbit making his way to the back entrance to Mordor, to the fires of Mount Doom. He certainly did not suspect that such a humble creature could bring about the downfall of his kingdom. It’s a great story that retells an even greater story. There is something especially striking that Tolkien chose March 25 as the day the ring was destroyed and the power of darkness was conquered.

For the early Christians, March 25 was understood to be the day of the crucifixion. The humility of God on a Cross brought about Satan’s ultimate defeat, catching him unaware. Christ destroyed the power of death represented by the ring, by taking it upon himself. It could not be more fitting than for the event of Redemption, the deliverance of the universe, to take place during the spring equinox, when winter’s days are numbered. March 25 marks the coming of light. That’s why it was also understood to be the day that marked the conception of Jesus Christ.

Today is the day that led up to Christmas. It’s Christmas in March. God became man in the womb of a humble woman, respecting her free will and cooperation, for a purpose unlike that of the pleasure seeking gods of the ancient Greeks or other civilizations. God became man in order to make man become like God. That is what is behind today’s Solemnity of the Annunciation.

Blogger for the National Catholic Register, Simcha Fisher highlights the connection between the Lord of the Rngs and March 25, emphasizing the heroic yes of the Blessed Virgin Mary that made Redemption possible:

http://www.ncregister.com/blog/simcha-fisher/mary-as-hero

Paralympics Going Strong

Photo highlights from the 2014 Winter Paralympics

I’m not too sure if many people know that athletes from around the world are still competing in Sochi, Russia. The Paralympics, featuring international athletes with various disabilities, is going on right now and you know that I’m watching. The Paralympics always run parallel to the Summer and Winter Olympics and take place in the same host country. Ever since I heard commentators and saw commercials mentioning the Paralympics, I’ve been looking forward to catching them on TV. While they are almost exclusively limited to the NBCSN cable satellite channel, I’m glad that the Paralympic events are finally being shown on TV in the United States. I really hope that NBC gets it right next time so that more people can actually watch them.

Yesterday afternoon, I watched ice sled hockey. It was a great game! USA beat the Canadians in the semifinals and have a shot at the gold medal! If we win, it will more than make up for the Olympic men’s and women’s hockey teams losing to Canada. I usually don’t watch hockey but I make an exception for the Olympics of course. Fascinating sport, ice sled hockey. Seems more dangerous than regular hockey. Players, with amputations and other lower extremity disabilities, use sleds with skates and hockey sticks that also work as paddles to steer the sleds. I’m really impressed by the adaptive equipment used in the Paralympics. For skiing events like cross-country, biathlon, and slalom,  there are races tailored for athletes who sit on these awesome things called “sit-skis.”  And then for curling— yes, there is such a thing as wheelchair curling, don’t ask me why—pool-cue-like sticks are used to launch the stones onto the targets wherever they are, if they actually exist.

Anyway, I enjoy watching the Paralympic events and I am continually inspired by the strength and determination of those who participate in them. One of the members of the sled hockey team, Rico Roman, is especially inspiring to me. He is a war veteran who lost a leg because of an IED. When he was recovering, somebody asked him if he would like to play hockey. Roman was not a fan but eventually began playing anyway. I think it’s pretty awesome that he recovered and learned to make the best of his situation, picking up a new skill in the process. There is a commercial in which she is featured offering encouragement to athletes to train for the Paralympics: “Before you can run, you will learn how to walk, again,” and that even though it seems almost impossible, a “longshot,”  one can become the greatest in one’s sport through a perseverance that never stops going forward.  And ultimately, in the process, such an effort will bring about a realization that everything, breathing, still being alive, has been a longshot. I can certainly attest to that. 

The 2014 Paralympic Winter Games will conclude at the closing ceremonies on Sunday. But before that, the sled hockey final between USA and Russia will be on Saturday at noon. (You can see it live streaming here).

Update:

Congrats Team USA on the gold medal victory in sled hockey! Well played!

Happy Woman’s Day!

To all the members of fairer sex reading this blog, I just want to you wish you a very happy woman’s day! I have to admit that I didn’t even know there was such a thing as an international women’s day until recently when one of my nurses mentioned that it was celebrated in Africa. It’s definitely worth dedicating every March 8 to acknowledge and celebrate the contribution that women throughout the world make by their very existence. While I could probably do a better job of it, I appreciate each and every woman in my life, from my mother, to my sister, to my closest relatives, to my friends, to my nurses. They all make like more pleasant. Where would I be without them? Of course, without my mom, the answer would be…nowhere. She is a straight up heroic and generous woman, as anyone who knows her will readily attest.

We need to acknowledge and respect women for sure.  There is more I want to say, but I’ll leave it there for now.