Category Archives: Uncategorized Blazes

Rising Up…

This

Ever since I came back home from the hospital, I’ve been noticing of the top of the persimmon tree peering through the living room window. About 5-6 weeks ago, it was practically dead. The branches looked like sharp and pointy sticks—like thorns. It was a powerful reminder of the crown of thorns that was forced onto the head of Jesus… that’s what they looked like. The image helped me to enter into a prayerful state during the last days of Lent and Holy Week. Eventually, I could see signs of life appear on those branches,  small green buds. Now, the tree is all green and vibrant (spring is finally here).

The same dead tree is now alive, a sign of Easter—the Resurrection of Christ: the reason for my hope, for my supernatural outlook.

On Easter Sunday, I woke up feeling a sense of peace and joy. I had especially been looking forward to Easter after such a physically and psychologically difficult draining time. The Easter season is my favorite time of year—I think that the song, most famously sung by Andy Williams, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year,” should have been about Easter. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead gives me the concrete hope that I too can live forever and ultimately rise bodily after the Good Friday of life. One day—the eternal day—I will not merely walk, I will fly.

Easter ( Pentecost) is the culmination of everything Jesus was born to do—to bring sinners like me into union with God. He destroyed sin and death, robbing them of power. Jesus Christ is the Sign of Jonah: he entered the belly of the beast and killed it from the inside out, death swallowed up Life and spit it out. I think it’s really fitting that Easter fell on April Fools’ Day this year because the Crucifixion of Jesus and his Resurrection, the Paschal Mystery, fooled the devil and brought about his complete defeat. Easter marks the greatest joke God pulled on his enemies and ours.

There are so many proofs for the Resurrection of Christ, the one that my mind immediately goes to is that the Apostles and early Christians of Rome, “the belly of the beast,” readily went to their deaths for this.  They knew Jesus lives, that he was Divine, that he had the power to raise them up because he overcame death. And within around 200 years, the once-pagan Rome came to embrace Christianity.

While I  felt so joyful during the first two weeks Easter, knowing that one day all the pain and difficulties will fade away and give way to everlasting happiness, it was harder to experience it as all this stuff was thrown at me, especially a threat of losing home nursing care… fighting to keep it, etc. Life is full of so many problems, setbacks, separations, pain—just suffering. Doesn’t make sense!  At the beginning of my recovery from pneumonia, I used to wonder why God just didn’t end it for me in the hospital, it would’ve been so much easier (it doesn’t work like that, the struggle makes stronger like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis! And then it hits me, “I could have died—”

“But I’m alive!”

So many people have been telling me how good it is to see me, that I look and sound much better than I was. All I can do is be grateful and trust (how can i not!?) that God is working through it all…  All I can do is do everything I can, with his help, to do good, to love as he did… AIl I can do is hold on the hope of The Resurrection, to be the sheep of the Good Shepherd who himself became a sheep and walked through the valley of the shadow of death before us, trampling it down, making a way for us to pass through. With him at our side, the whole time, Christ leads me) into the green pastures beside the restful waters—and my cup will (does, even now) overflow.

United to the branch, from the seed that fell to the ground and died, Jesus who lives forever, we will share in his Resurrection in full. May we bear an abundant harvest in the meantime, believing that all things work for good for those who love him.

Where I’ve been, and what I’ve learned (A Lenten journey)

These past few days and weeks have been quite an experience. It all started sometime in late January…  I was hospitalized with aspiration pneumonia, for 40 days. 40. The season of Lent had begun when I came home. A Dominican friar who came to visit me in the ICU Jokingly remarked that had already fulfilled my share of Lenten penance! But as Easter hadn’t arrived yet— it’s almost here— there was a bit more in store!

Those days in the hospital were a difficult time. They drained liters of fluid from my lungs. I would have been released sooner as the great doctors and nurses, as well as CNAs took great care of me. And how can I forget the fact that my parents drove 30 to 40 minutes to Georgetown University Hospital, back and forth, every single day. Also, my sister came from Philly to be with me. And then, of course, I had so many extended family members and friends come to visit. Surely, that would help the healing process… But it wasn’t that easy! While I was there in the hospital, I went into what they called ICU Delirium.

I basically went a little crazy from being laid up in bed and from the strong medication. Sometimes I would imagine crazy things, hallucinate, and say all kinds of things I wouldn’t normally say or even dream of saying to people. Even when I came home, I had all these strange memories, feelings, and all sorts of frightening, nightmarish dreams. I thought that people were out to get me and that they were all the devil in disguise. To my embarrassment, I even acted like they were. Anyway, because of the delirium, I couldn’t do the swallow test to see if I could safely eat without aspirating my food. That set things back. I was given a feeding tube, which had some complications.

So now, I’m getting better, I’m cleared to have liquids and puréed foods. The next step would be the swallow test at the hospital. Making progress. Something else happened though, sometime when I was delirious, probably at home, I broke my arm somehow… I guess a nurse pulled my arm the wrong way? Don’t know exactly when it happened but I had been complaining of serious pain. So… Lent really continued for me beyond the hospital, haha.

In spite of it all, I feel that God is sustaining me. It’s just a piece of his Cross that he is sharing with me. Jesus is here with me even though it’s hard to see sometimes. I have learned again how much God loves me personally, as he does each person reading this. I have experienced it through the great outpouring of love that I’ve received. Friends have been visiting, telling me that they are with me; family members have been coming to help, bringing food so that my mom does not have to cook; my sister and the Sisters of Life keep sending me letters and notes and cards reminding me that God loves me very much and that my suffering endears me to him, providing a means of union with him. It is all the voice of God speaking to me. He speaks, we just need to listen.

It is still difficult. Sometimes I wonder. I wonder, “why suffering.”  Jesus has transformed it… But, “Really, Jesus, you would be willing to suffer to show us that you are with us in our suffering, Father, you would allow the heinous crucifixion to take place to bring about a greater good… For my sake?” Jesus died such a humiliating death, for me, for my sins and yours. The only words that I can say are, “thank you.” But why suffering at all? It is an occasion of love, the means of expressing love, showing it concretely… And, interestingly, it is the occasion of receiving love.

While I struggle, and life is difficult— and yes it’s difficult, today I got the message that the division of nursing services of the state of Maryland will not grant me the 4 hours from the 16 that I was originally receiving and need  (my medical needs necessitate even more)— the Cross of Jesus Christ, my Savior and Life-Giver, is my hope. Through  Good Friday comes Easter Sunday… Easter is coming…  Lent is giving way to Easter… Finally and definitively…

The Star of the New Evangelization

(vector image I made last year)

I love all of the approved Marian apparitions, especially the main three, but I think that Our Lady of Guadalupe makes me the happiest. It is probably the great tenderness of her face and her words to St. Juan Diego that I especially love:

[D]o not be troubled or weighed down with grief. Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle? In the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?”

Who can resist the love of a mother? It was ultimately Our Lady who won over the Aztec Empire to the  Sacred Heart of her Son.  An estimated 9 million people embraced Christianity within 10 years.  This was a feat that the Spanish conquistadors could never have hoped to accomplish. The Blessed Virgin doesn’t make use of our pathetic arms and instruments of war, rather she wields the weapons of peace and love. She appeared as an Aztec, spoke in Nahuatl, and utilized familiar symbols and customs.

There’s so much dehumanization in our world today,  whether it be through abortion,  human trafficking, racism, or injustice towards undocumented immigrants. Laws, politics, and cultural “warmongering” can only do so much, but love––this is secret. We should all try it sometime.

I have given some thought to the fact that it is difficult, if not practically impossible, to argue with love, with goodness and beauty. This is the way that Our Lady teaches. it’s no wonder that she is called the Star of the Evangelization. May she guide us all to the One True Light.

All Saints Day ’17: the Diversity of Saints

There are so many different Saints from so many different backgrounds and walks of life. This is captured in the first reading from today’s Solemnity of All Saints. It’s from the book of Revelation. St. John describes what he saw in a vision of the heavenly reality:

“I had a vision of a great multitude,
which no one could count,
From every nation, race, people, and tongue.
They stood before the throne and before the Lamb,
wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.”

A great multitude, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. Every one on this earth is called to be a Saint. In fact, it is required, canonized or not, in order to enter heaven.

The diversity of Saints spans a spectrum of different vocations, charisms, and states of life. The Holy Spirit, the Saint-maker, bestows differing gifts to members of the one Church. Just as a physical body has unique members that have different functions so too does the Mystical Body of Christ, the Catholic Church, have distinct members that carry out all sorts of different functions. This is the creative genius of God.

I once heard a priest give this analogy: imagine an immense Gothic cathedral with a bright stained glass window. The rays of the sun pour through the panes of glass, illuminating it. And the window casts down colors of all sorts. This is what God does. One baptism, several manifestations, the graces are unique to each and every individual person. God loves variety. St. Benedict is not St. Francis, St. Monica is not like St. Bernadette, neither is St. Paul Miki like St. Charles Lwanga.

There is much more that could be said about today but this will have to suffice!

St. John Paul II and Hip-Hop

 Today is the Feast day of St. John Paul the Great. It’s the day that he was elected in 1978. In his honor, I offer the following blog post that I wrote last year.

Back when I was in high school, the student radio station entertained us every day during lunch. The music spanned several genres and provided a whole lot more variety than the food could ever hope to. It was in those days that I began to enjoy listening to hip-hop. Eventually, A Tribe Called Quest, Gang Starr, and the Wu-Tang Clan filled a void that a lack of friends left in me. My appreciation for hip-hop grew and evolved in the years that followed the more I was exposed to it. I have to say that I learned a lot about the culture and art form thanks to the Internet. Speaking of which, I recently saw a video of a 16-year-old emcee with a very impressive vocabulary and amazing rhyming talent. He certainly stands out in stark contrast with the unintelligible garbage out there today that passes for music.

I am aware of just how much of an impact that hip-hop had on me. It’s really given me an understanding of the power of words and of language. To me, as a visual artist, writing––if it’s good––can be described as painting with words. Writers like CS Lewis, GK Chesterton, and JRR Tolkien come to mind. In large part, my growing aptitude for writing, something that I have to keep working on, has been greatly influenced by hip-hop. Like all forms of communication, hip-hop has the ability to convey truth or error. Admittedly, many errors have been transmitted through hip-hop, sadly by some of the most gifted of lyricists. All of this has been on my mind lately as I’ve been reading the book Witness to Hope by George Weigel, the biography of Pope St. John Paul II.

In the 1st few chapters that I’ve read of Witness to Hope, I’ve learned some things about the late great Pope that I hadn’t really known before. I knew that when he was growing up in Poland, literature, and drama were taught and relished as cultural treasures. Karol Wojtyła saw the theater as a means of cultural resistance as the Nazis sought to destroy Polish culture and assimilate the country. What I didn’t know was that he actually studied language and linguistics and aspired to be a philologist. I guess that makes a lot of sense because the man seemed to be fluent in several languages and wrote a lot of books and encyclicals. One of his mentors was a man who saw the spoken word as a transmitter of truth, who is ultimately the Word of God. The actor’s role was to almost make himself invisible and allow the power of the truth that he was at the service of, take the front and center stage.

 The Pope’s words were powerful. I was always edified by the things he said and wrote, and because of him, I have been following the words of Pope Benedict –– who wrote prodigiously, and the words of Pope Francis. I think it must have been very difficult for Pope John Paul II, towards the end of his life when he was unable to speak. But just seeing him spoke volumes to me. I understood redemptive suffering because of his witness, a witness that made his apostolic letter on redemptive suffering all the more credible.

 I hope that people continue to read the thought of this great man. To bring this post to a close, my mind goes to his letter to artists. St. John Paul II encouraged artists to make beautiful art through which to win souls. Art reaches souls in a way that words cannot…so anyway, this is where I should bust out some dope rhymes in honor of today’s Saint, but seeing as I can’t, I’ll post something by someone more qualified…

A Personal Update

I recently posted a Facebook update having to do with my personal life, and I’m so pleased to be able to share it with you, my blog audience….

Exciting news to announce…I can no longer keep secret:

A few months ago, a friend tried to hook me up. He said her name was Alexa. He kept telling me about her. She sounded so amazing to me, with qualities I found attractive. I had some reservations at 1st. Eventually, I relented and decided that I would give her a shot. Why not? After having spent some time getting to know Alexa, wow, I can say that I’m really impressed. She’s all that, forreal. I’m so grateful to my friend for introducing me to her. We really hit it off.

I’m quite taken by her. She lights up when I speak to her and she sweetly responds with that charming voice of hers. Alexa understands me without judging me and I can be myself with her. My parents seem to love her too. They tell me she’s just right for me. And I think so too. I love everything about her. Alexa is a dream come true!

How many of you have an Amazon Echo device w/ Alexa and what skills have you enabled?

The life-changing walk

Easter Reflections on this past Sunday’ Readings at Mass:

Zünd Gang nach Emmaus 1877.jpg
By Robert Zündjoyfulheart ; upload Dezember 2008 ; upload by Adrian Michael, Public Domain, Link

It was impossible for Christ to be held by death because Christ is life. How can life be held by death? The joke is on death, death thought it had the upper hand in swallowing up Jesus… but it didn’t perceive the sign of Jonah! Instead, “death was swallowed up in victory.” Jesus destroyed death by being consumed by it. In the Eucharist, we receive the antidote to death, we receive the resurrected and living One— the Resurrection and the Life Himself.

They were downcast… perhaps this is why they recognize him. Sometimes sadness weighs down so heavily upon us that we seem to lose the sight of God. But he’s there nonetheless.

Even though we may not perceive it, Jesus comes to walk beside us.

The disciples were going the wrong way––away from Jerusalem. We may be going in the wrong direction, but Jesus comes to meet us where we are in order to steer us in the right direction. This is the reality of, the genius behind, the Incarnation… he meets us where we are.

Jesus explained the Scriptures to them… ultimately, Old Testament only makes sense in and through Jesus. Hearing the Scriptures and their explanation––this is the Liturgy of the word.

Jesus made as if he would leave the disciples but he did not because they invited him in…

Stay with us… they were miles away from Jerusalem and it was late. Even though he disappeared, he remained with them. This is the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The whole account of the road to Emmaus is the pattern of the Mass.

They were miles away and it would have been quite dark by the time they would have reached. And yet they were not afraid… since they encountered Jesus and he lit the fire in them… the light from the fire that was burning in their hearts from hearing the Word break open the word.

They recognized him in the breaking of bread… they recognized him in the bread. They didn’t recognize him when he was walking alongside them as they walked the road to Emmaus.

After hearing the gospel and receiving the Gospel, literally and concretely in the Eucharist, we’re fully disposed to spread the gospel, unafraid of the darkness. I had never thought of it, but it is so true: that very evening, the 2 disciples immediately returned to Jerusalem.

I had never thought of it, but it is so true: that very evening, the 2 disciples immediately returned to Jerusalem.

Because the light is with them.

On the Scripture Readings we had in Lent

During the past few Sundays of Lent, the Church, being an extension of Christ, has ventured into the desert in the footsteps of her spouse. And as a result, I’ve contemplated the cohesive illustration painted by the Sunday Mass readings which Holy Mother Church has offered.

1st Week:

Adam and Eve were exiled out of the garden paradise of Eden, into the wilderness or desert. Jesus leaves the Paradise of heaven and enters the desert wilderness to bring mankind back to its original state. For 40 days, Jesus is in the desert praying and fasting. If food symbolizes the cause of the fall, it is fitting that fastiom food should remedy it. The gates of heaven were closed off due to the original sin, Jesus comes to open them.

The Old Testament nation of Israel was supposed to act as a corporate “son of God,” to make reparation for the sin of Adam, who was 1st given the title of “son of God.” But the Israelites, after being called out of Egypt, failed their 40 days of testing in the desert.  At the heart of every sin and temptation is a willful and obstinate doubt in the Providence of God, a chosen disbelief in the goodness of God. So it was with Adam, and so it was with Israel. The Israelites failed to come through with the obedience, trust, and gratitude necessary to make up for the disobedience, mistrust, and ingratitude of Adam. Jesus, being the Divine Son of God and perfect man, passes where the Israelites fail and thereby steers humanity in the right direction.

The Israelites doubted God’s ability to feed them, quench their thirst, give them whatever they needed, and bring them to the place he promised. That’s a basic overview.  The law stated in the book of Deuteronomy rebukes the people for their lack of trust. Jesus quotes from it 3 times and fulfills it in place of the people of the old covenant.

 2nd week:

The account of the Transfiguration. Jesus shows the 3 core disciples a glimpse of his divinity. This is a preview of humanity perfected, which will be fully realized at the resurrection. Moses appears. Jesus is the new Moses who leads all humanity into freedom from the slavery of sin and death. He is the one who Moses mentioned when he said that God would raise up a prophet like him; he says that the people should listen to him. God says that the people should listen to him. The whole Old Testament story is one of exodus and exile: Jesus comes to usher in the definitive exodus, thus breaking the cycle. Jesus is the new Elijah. He prophesies the glorified and fully divinized state of humanity.

 3rd weeK:

The Samaritan woman represents all humanity, We’re broken, hurting, and lonely having gone through a number of relationships, from looking for love in all the wrong places… and the one we are with is not the God who can fulfill us. Israel was the bride and God the bridegroom on the pages of the prophetic, and wisdom books of the Old Testament. The woman had 5 husbands, +1, plus Jesus equals 7, the number of perfection.

Oncewe find Jesus, we want to go and tell everyone, as the woman did. Jesusthirsts to bethirsted for… we thirst for forfulfillment. Boththirsts are met in this account…neitherone leaves with a single drop of water. And Jesus is no longer physically hungry, having become satisfied with the will of the Father.

4th and 5th weeks:

A lesser miracle and a greater one … the healing of the man born blind and the rising from the dead ofLazarus were intended to get the people to believe that Jesus was who he said he was. The authorities failed to believe. Jesus gavethe ultimate proofs…a Gentile sees andbelieves, the death and resurrection of Jesus is the greatest miracle possible…  and it is what we are entering into this week…

Lord,  may we be given the sight we need.

In Solidarity with Emmanuel, God-with-us

It’s the most wonderful time of the year and I’m not feeling it. While many people here in the United States have been celebrating Christmas since Thanksgiving, under the commonly used (and often over-used) term, “holiday(s),” I’ve been struggling to live Advent. Now that Christmas is tomorrow, I still feel unprepared.

For the past 2 Advent seasons, I’ve had difficulties that tend to divert my attention away from full, prayerful, conscious preparation. Last year, it was a new power wheelchair that I couldn’t use––and still can’t use, current whereabouts unknown. This year, the issue is having nursing hours cut by 4. It’s not easy dealing with the situation––by the time I’m in the wheelchair, it’s practically time for the nurses to leave. Along with that, one of my best nurses is away for a while and may be going back to school soon. All of the events of the past a few days and weeks have caused me to become uneasy, anxious, and a little sad.

The pain that some experience during this time of year is something, i can relate to. I’m facing the reality of my own brokenness, dependency, and helplessness. And maybe that’s a good thing, maybe it’s an entry point into the very meaning of Christmas…

Jesus Christ, God–made–man, sees my poverty and meets me there. He was not born in a resplendent palace, he wasn’t born in a kingly household––he was born in poverty, in a lowly stable, a cave, a feeding trough for animals. There wasn’t even room for him in the inn! (“He came to his own and was not received by his own,” is one of the saddest statements in the New Testament.) Who was he revealed to, at the outset? Not to the ruling class. Poor shepherds. These were people who practically lived outdoors and smelled like sheep. Outcasts.

And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

–Luke 2:10-Luke 2:12 RSV

The poor baby in the cave was a sign to the shepherds, a sign that God was with them, quite literally. But he’s not just a sign for them but for all. God is for us, he is with us in our poverty. I think of him saying to me, personally:

“Look at me, see how small I have become for love of you. Do not be afraid to approach me. Yes, you are helpless and dependent––I too was dependent, unable to move, wrapped in swaddling bands. I had to be clothed and fed and carried (by my mother who took such good care of me).”

When we think about the suffering of Christ, we usually focus in on the cross–rightly so. But Jesus suffered in Bethlehem as well. God, He who is all sufficient in and of himself, became poor for our sakes. He who is limitless was constrained, exposed to the cold, prickly straw, stinking stable. He united himself with our humanity so that we could be united to his divinity.

Adoración de los pastores (Murillo)

During these past few Christmas seasons, I’ve found myself relating more to the shepherds, the animals, the straw in the manger. At the same time, I can unite myself to that little child shivering in the cold––I can identify with him who 1st identified with me. God became poor. He who created the entire universe! He entered into my poverty. He entered into my loneliness and fear so that I wouldn’t feel alone or afraid. All he wants in return is to be loved, because, who doesn’t love a baby? (Sadly there are some who don’t.) He wants to be loved, often in and through the defenseless, the poor, and the forgotten.

Again, He manifested Himself as poor to the poor shepherds, as a sign to them.

The point of all my disjointed rambling is that God is with us, he knows what we go through because he chose to go through it himself. He is in solidarity with us, and we with him if we so consciously choose. By acknowledging our weakness, we identify with the suffering infant of Bethlehem who suffers in order to identify with us. God is with us. Are we with him? We can console that Child in the manger—He who became man, limiting Himself to be in solidarity with us. Making another’s suffering one’s own—this is a definition of mercy… taking another’s suffering into one heart… a heart for the miserable. And if we get this we get what Christmas is really all about.

Merry Christmas!

Movie blurb: St. Vincent (2014)

I’ve always been meaning to post movie reviews. For a long time, I’ve been writing a few words about movies I’ve seen. Unfortunately, these few lines (written quickly for Facebook, etc.) usually do not develop into full-fledged pieces that treat movies in depth. But something is always better than nothing so I have decided to go ahead and post the little that I do have.

This is the 1st of my “movie blurbs.”

I watched the 2014 movie St. Vincent, starring Bill Murray. It’s about a cranky old bum of a man who finds himself having to look after the new neighbor lady’s son, the kind of kid who gets picked on, every afternoon after school. As you might imagine, an unlikely friendship develops.The man is very flawed, fallen, and broken: he lies, he cheats, he gambles, and he sometimes lives with a prostitute. He is a very public sinner but the kid sees more in him. Maybe he sees what the man can be. In this regard, I think he’s a lot like Jesus—he looks beyond us, beyond our sins, and gives us the real possibility of becoming a Saint. We can transform and become “the best version of ourselves” if someone believes that we are inherently good, capable of goodness. Anyway, yeah, it’s a great movie. Comedy–not those trashy kinds of movies—but funny and entertaining with a purpose. You might want to read about the content 1st (PG-13 stuff)–that’s what I do anyway. Check it out on Netflix streaming.