Gratitude, the primacy of grace, and the existence of God

It may not be a universal thing, but to paraphrase GK Chesterton, atheists find themselves in a dilemma when they find themselves overflowing with gratitude for existence but having no one to thank for it. if somebody is grateful for something, they are grateful to somebody. Nobody can be grateful to themselves for a gift. Neither can anyone be grateful to the “universe,” because that too is a gift which presupposes a gift giver. Moreover, if somebody thinks that nature is itself is the gift giver, that person is referring to nature as a person, using nature as a euphemism for God. I heard the story of an atheist who cried, “thank you,” out of  a surge of wonder and awe over a beautiful sunset – – in that moment she ceased to be an atheist.

Ultimately, everything, all the blessings that we have received come from Almighty God. The next breath we take is a gift. Even the power by which we do good works is a gift – – all is grace. All begins and ends with the grace of God. Grace comes first, God always takes the initiative in reaching out towards us and we respond. He thirsts for our love and so generously makes known the his love towards us; we respond to that love with our love. This is the model for prayer outlined in the Catechism.

This Thanksgiving (and Indeed, every day) I have a lot to be grateful for. Just to be alive, number one. The mercy of God always taking me back even after a relapse  (which should be avoided)—And for keeping me from even worse sin, by his grace. His willingness to transforming into an image of his Son. To have a loving family and friends who support me and make life more pleasant. The list goes on, this is just the beginning. I think of the New York Times best-selling book, “One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are” by Ann Voscamp, in which the author makes such a a list.

In short, gratitude makes us happier. We have an innate desire to give thanks. It is right and just that we do so. Where is this gratitude to be directed if, ultimately, not to God?

Rising Up…


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…

Reflections on Saint Luke and his Gospel

17th-century unknown painters - St Luke the Apostle and Evangelist - WGA23506.jpg
Unknown Icon Painter, Russian (2nd half of 17th century)Web Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork, Public Domain, Link

We do well to think about St. Luke’s Gospel on his Feast Day.  St. Luke, said to have been an artist who painted or wrote the first icon of the Blessed Virgin, paints a portrait of Jesus Christ as the Merciful Savior. At the outset, Jesus is described as the One who comes “in the tender compassion of Our God… to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet in the way of peace.” He comes to those most in need of his mercy, to the poor and humble, to the lost, and the forgotten.

Jesus comes to the poor as one who is poor. God becomes for our sakes. He embraces the poverty of the family is born into–when he is presented in the Temple there is no mention of a lamb but turtle doves and pigeons, the offering of those who could not afford. The infancy/childhood narrative that only St. Luke’s provides ends with the Holy Family living in unassuming Nazareth. Later, in the Gospel according to St. Luke, Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus is recounted, as well as the parable of the good Samaritan, bringing attention to those in need.

Jesus comes for the spiritually poor, sick, and needy as well. When 12-year-old Jesus is “lost,” with he’s in solidarity all those who are lost. He comes to seek the lost, the ones who “dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.” Jesus is the shepherd who leaves the 99 in search for the one stray lamb. In Luke’s Gospel, he tells the parable of the prodigal son–which is really about the prodigal Father who lavishes mercy on sinners. Throughout the Gospel, we see Jesus as the Good Samaritan, ostracized by some of his own, taking the place of the man in the ditch. He is the Divine Physician who comes to bind our wounds by becoming wounded and bound in swaddling burial cloths.

These are things that stand out to me in the Gospel of Luke. I can’t fail to notice that Luke was a physician, the only New Testament writer who mentions that Jesus’ sweat falls to the ground as drops of blood (a real medical condition called hematidrosis: of being under extreme duress to the point that capillaries burst and mingle with sweat). And Luke is the only one who records the event of the Road to Emmaus. It’s one of my favorite accounts of the Resurrection: the Resurrected I started to walks alongside two of his disciples who are so traumatized by the events of Good Friday that they fail to recognize him. Jesus makes as if he doesn’t know what has happened, then he proceeds to reveal himself in the Scriptures and in the “breaking of the bread.”This is a masterfully written outline of the Holy Mass.

It’s also interesting that St. Luke mentions that Our Lady kept “all these things in her heart.” After her heart was pierced by the lance–and then given the great joy of seeing her resurrected Son–she revealed what was on her heart to the very early Church. There was no way for St. Luke to know about the conception, birth, and childhood of Christ unless this information was shared with him by Mary herself. Maybe she related these details to him while he painted her image.

As an artist, I feel that it’s fitting for me to take the time to write about Saint Luke, patron of artists, on his Feast Day. And it’s about time that I stop being lazy and start posting again.

St. Luke, pray for us.

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?

Thoughts on Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith

Since today is May 4, Star Wars day, I thought I’d share something I wrote after seeing episode 3 after it came out:

I saw Star Wars Ep. III last Saturday… After watching Revenge of the Sith you’re really feeling the sense of what is meant by “A New Hope” The movie was really intense and dark. It was an insightful look into good and evil, sin and even fallen human nature (with limits). I thought it was the most intelligent movie of the whole series [of crappy prequels].

[In one of the beginning scenes, Anakin has a dream in which Padme dies in childbirth. Eventually, fear gets the better of him and leads him into bargaining with Darth Sidious/Palpatine who claims that he has the power to prevent this vision from becoming reality.] Fear leads to the dark side. Yoda was right… “ Fear is the chief activator of our faults,” I heard a priest say once. Anakin is so gripped by the fear of loss and suffering that his fears are realized by his own doing! Instead of trusting and confiding in the Jedi council for help, he trusted in the deceitful promises of Palpatine. Sounds a lot like Adam giving in to the false promises of the serpent.

When Anakin gives in to the temptation of joining the dark side, a ripple effect of destruction ensues wiping out all but 2 Jedi––and the Sith get a foothold. Mortal sin [ravages] the entire Mystical Body [leaving nothing but destruction and sadness in its wake].

Palpatine refers to the Jedi way as “narrow and dogmatic” and believes that there is a broader view of the force. That kind of spoke to me of the heterodox mentality. “Liberal Catholicism” [which holds the view that truth can be open to interpretation, fluid, relative] is a path to the dark side. Contrast this with Kenobi’s line that only the Sith deals in absolutes which is itself ironically an absolute statement––George Lucas seems to be confused as to which side of the Force deals in objective truth and which side deals in relativism.

[in the final moments,] as Anakin and Obi-wan battle in the lava pit, in a last attempt to bring [the former] back, Obi-wan warns,”the sith are evil!” Anakin responds, “to me, the Jedi are evil!” Obi-wan: “then you are lost!” [And indeed, Anakin proceeds to lose his humanity and completely transforms into Darth Vader.]

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness

–Is 5:20

Here are some lessons [that I took away from the film]: never take too much stock in dreams; “be not afraid! just believe,” [because fear and mistrust are the beginnings of a catastrophic fall;] satan is always about death, never life; don’t try to reason with the deceiver; sin disfigures.

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.