The Light Still Shines

Just a view short weeks ago, it started looking kind of grim outside, at least here in the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia) and in other parts of the country and world where it is obvious that winter is coming. Well, it’s here, Yesterday was the longest, and darkest day of the year… the winter solstice, the 1st day of winter. The trees are withered and lifeless, and the grass is no longer green. Although it may seem to be a morbid way of putting it, nature has painted a portrait of death outside. And it’s in this environment that Advent comes along to bring to mind the fact that all things will end. Just as the universe had a beginning, so to it will have an end as science attests. But Advent is a time of hope––at the end of all things, Christ comes again and ushers in a new, transformed creation where all things will be well and it will be all sunshine all the time––beyond time. At the beginning of Advent, the Church has us think about this so that we can be prepared for the last things, and the end of our lives in this present state. But it’s time for hope, because the end brings Jesus along with it. In the final stage of Advent (today is the final day of Advent)  as Christmas approaches, joy is in order: we are entering into the event of the birth of Our Lord and Savior. Either way, Jesus is coming and he comes to bring peace and joy into our lives.

It may be dark outside, but tomorrow the Sun of Justice will arise with healing in his rays. The Light will shine in our darkness.

Maybe it’s an overreaction but the last few days of my life have been kind of dark. Prompted by pain I’ve been having for a while, I thought that a new wheelchair with comfortable seating would help. Well, in the process I also opted for a better way to control my wheelchair instead of a standard joystick because of the progressive weakening of my hand and arm. it was just suggested to me that I use a head controller– but I brushed the idea aside because, well, I can still use my hand and arm and I was managing to drive my wheelchair fairly well. Because the ATP (adaptive technology professional) from the wheelchair company kept insisting that it would work better for me, I  gave in and bit the bullet so to speak. It’s left a bitter taste in my mouth.  I got the new wheelchair about 2 weeks ago and it’s been a difficult trial for me— i struggle to drive the thing with my head and have come to realize that using my hand was a whole lot better.  A representative from the wheelchair company actually agreed with me that I was struggling more than I had to in order to drive straight with the head array— basically a headrest with sensors built into it— I lean on it with my head and “tell” the chair which way to go. I kept hitting the doorframe of my room. Yes, it requires practice but it seems to me that driving in tight corners will always require assistance. There is a joystick in the back of the chair for this. The chair will actually make me more dependent, not less. The vendor said he would make modifications for a  joystick. But spacing must be just right for me to drive. The trouble with new wheelchairs is that they are different and require adjustment, even if the standard joystick will be there. Anyway, I’m waiting for this to happen after Christmas, and so the chair is sitting in the living room as an eyesore. Every time I look at it I get the sense that I was better off with the old chair in which I’m currently sitting in. To be sure, the new one is more comfortable.

Life is up-and-down, just when you get the hang of something, when you are used to carry a cross,  another difficulty comes to take its place. There are always things to be grateful for, but  still, we all struggle with hardships and inconveniences that come along. This past weekend after Sunday Mass, I got to talk to Sister Mary of the Sisters of Life. It was good to talk to her. She encouraged me and basically reminded me that I give hope to others who are suffering because I know what it is to suffer.  This is why, she told me, that I should continue writing on this blog and offer encouragement through it. Then I realized that I was not alone in my trials— Jesus knows what it is to suffer and is with us in our suffering. He lived our life. And this is Christmas. God enters into our world, to be with us, to experience everything we go through so we wouldn’t be alone. Whether we know it or not, we’ve been longing for him. Christ is the longing of every human heart. God himself leaps down from his heavenly throne, compelled by love because the one who loves is never content to be more than an arms length away from the beloved.  How unbelievably merciful is the Creator of the universe… he doesn’t leave us to our devices, he leaps from his throne above the heavens to come down to us, to lift us up out of the mire of our misery. So, while suffering through hurts,  it’s a bit easier to endure. There is hope— because the light shines in the darkness and he can never be extinguished.

Please keep me in your thoughts and prayers, dear reader. And I will do the same for you.  Merry Christmas!

A king unlike any other.

Last week, I watched “The Great Dictator,” a film written and directed by Charlie Chaplin. Well-known for his silent films, the comic actor speaks for the first time in this political satire revolving around World War II. Chaplin plays the 2 main characters, an unnamed Jewish barber and a dictator named Hynkel, a parody Hitler. The humble barber stands up to Hynkel’s injustice and becomes a wanted man. Throughout the movie we see the contrast in personalities between the characters who look alike. [Spoiler alert:] Eventually, towards the end of the movie, the 2 men are mistaken for each other: the dictator ends up in jail while the barber finds himself having to give a speech to the warring nation. The barber reluctantly goes up to the microphone, and starts off by saying that he doesn’t want to rule over anyone, he just wants to help everyone. Suddenly, before he knows it, he goes into a powerful address about the state of humanity due to the hardness of hearts and the thirst for power that leads to hate, and how meaningful life becomes when it is lived for others. I think that the whole movie was made just for that one scene decrying machine hearts and minds—its a scene thats viral on YouTube or Facebook because it rings true to this day.  It was recently mentioned by rapper Mos Def in an interview.

Obviously, the message from “The Great Dictator” is especially relevant today in light of recent violence all over the world, in Lebanon, France, Kenya, and Nigeria, not to mention Iraq and Syria. “ISIS” and Boko Haram persecute and murder human beings, distorting religion and dehumanizing themselves in the process. People persecute and destroy their own brothers and sisters, because their machine hearts and minds fail to see human dignity. They are all tyrants who seek to dominate and subjugate, like the imitation Nazis in “The Great Dictator.” They need to regain their long-lost humanity by replacing their brutality and hatred with kindness and love.  And we shouldn’t think that we don’t need to change ourselves— the barber’s admonition is for all of us. Every last one of us must be the change that we wish to see in the world. We need to look out for one another and strive to make the world a better place in which to live. The transformation of society begins when love rules hearts. That is the only power that should dominate our lives. That brings me to the point of this post.

This past Sunday was the Solemnity of Christ the King. The kingdom of Jesus Christ is not of this world— he is a king unlike the kings and rulers of this earth. His kingship is one of love and mercy.  Jesus Christ laid aside his heavenly crown and took upon a crown of thorns, he stepped down from his celestial throne and ascended the throne of the cross. Kings don’t usually love their subjects with a self sacrificial love.  Jesus Christ is a king who serves, who lays his life down freely so that his people can be free, truly free every sense of the word. His dominion is not one of domination and subjugation. He doesn’t take our free will away or force us to serve him. If we choose to serve this King, our lives will change. He is the King of hearts and he wishes to reign in hearts. And if the Prince of Peace, the very source of love is enthroned in hearts, they would no longer be machine hearts, hearts of violence and hate.The more hearts that allow him to reign within, the more society itself changes, the more love reigns over society. The kingdom of Jesus Christ is what this world needs now more than ever before. “Thy Kingdom come!”

The truth about the devil

In his preface to the Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis writes that, “There are 2 equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. one is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.” I’m halfway through reading the book and its a very interesting read. The Letters is a collection of letters from an uncle devil to his nephew instructing him how to tempt his “patient” to go to hell through subtle snares and traps. It’s a very clever and creative look into the spiritual life through the other side. The preface statement gets at the way we human beings can fall into extremes regarding the devil, both of which equally please him.

Many people, especially on this day, Halloween, have been deceived into thinking that the devil has more power than he actually does. Halloween by the way is not the “devil’s birthday” contrary to what some actually think! It comes from the Vigil of All Saints Day, as I’ve written before somewhere on this blog, but has gotten mixed up with a unfortunate resurgence in paganism with its harvest festivals and with commercialization––the selling of candy and costumes. Anyway, on this day, there is this kind of crazy fascination with the demonic. There are so many horror movies out there, some of which have a lot of truth to them, but kind of get people to relish in the glorification of evil. This is the excessive and unhealthy interest that CS Lewis is referring to. An example would be the showing of an exorcism on live TV, something that goes against the legitimate ministry of exorcising people possessed by the devil––it’s not something to be televised. Another example would be those ghost hunting shows and stuff like that. And then there are those who actually worship the devil and carry out satanic rituals.

On the other hand, there are a lot of people who don’t believe in the existence of the devil. Anyone who denies the supernatural and spiritual realities, especially materialists and atheists, falls into this kind of error. We’re talking about those who only believe what they can see in front of their own eyes, and only in things that can be measured, qualified, and observed, scientifically speaking. They, and others, may have the idea that the devil is a literary device or a kind of symbol for evil. The devil gets people lulled into thinking he doesn’t exist so that he can be more effective in bringing them over to his side and catch them unaware. One of the main characters in the movie The Usual Suspects, Verbal, refers to the devil when he talks about the shadowy criminal Keyser Soze whose existence is doubted: “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince the world he didn’t exist.” If you deny his existence, then you give him the power to work unoticed, slowly, until it’s too late, because he stuck up on you when you didn’t even know he was there. Subtlety is one of the main tactics he uses against souls according to Mr. Lewis.

The middle ground between preoccupation with the devil and denial of the devil is to be on guard against him as a malicious and highly intelligent creature and to know that he indeed is a creature, with limited power, and that Jesus Christ has already vanquished him.  When I was a kid, somebody gave us a ouija board… thankfully, I knew that it was nothing to play with and that it was a doorway to the demonic so we threw it out that night without opening it. I heard a priest recently quote an exorcist who was asked if the devil has more power today than he did before; he replied that he does not, but there are more doors being opened to him today. In other words, the devil is more active these days through people willingly giving in to him. And it’s not the sensationalistic means so much as the simple temptations that the devil uses. As the Screwtape Letters point out, the main forms of temptations are just to get people to commit serious sins and gradually numb their consciences–“the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” That’s why it’s so necessary to be on guard. “Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith…” (1 Peter 5:8-9). Ultimately though, the devil is a coward. He wants us to miss the mark so that we will not realize our full potential because he fears our true potential, which is to be Christ. Like Bruce Wayne’s dad says in Batman Begins, “they [the demons] are more afraid of you than you are of them.”

Again, Jesus Christ has already vanquished satan destroying his power along with that of sin and death. If Jesus Christ is the Light of the World, then Christians are supposed to be lights, exorcisms, to cast out the darkness. Just something I wanted to share today.

Back to the Present…

Great Scott! I can’t believe that its been months since I last posted… I hope I’m not too late and that I still have readers. Sometime in July I lost the domain name because I forgot to renew it! Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait 180 days to get it back. And now that it’s up again, I better make the most of it.

For right now I will end here.  And since October 21, 2015 is also the vigil of the feast day of Pope St. John Paul II, in addition to it being Back to the Future Day, I will share this quote of his, one of my favorites, from World Youth Day 2002, Toronto:

“We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.”

Whoa, pretty heavy stuff.

The Philosophy of Resurrection

In the online philosophy class I took last year, there was a concept, a great achievement of classical philosophy, that really struck me and drilled into my mind. Throughout these last few days of Easter, the idea has come up to the surface so I thought I’d write about it (and it’s about time that I write about something in this blog). It has to do with human nature and the importance of the soul–specifically, as it applies to life and death.  According to Aristotle, body and soul are two principles of one thing, forming a composite unity. He was onto something for sure. The philosopher reasoned that something that is alive has a soul animating it, causing it to live. In other words, the soul is the animating principle of every living creature. The soul is the form or “whatness” of a creature… it makes a creature what it is. For example, the form or soul of a pig is what makes a pig a pig. (My philosophy teacher raises pigs and has a blog called baconfromaco     ). Now, the separation of soul from the body of the creature–death––causes the creature to cease being what it is. A dead pig is no pig at all. It’s just a clump of dead cells, a rotting mass.

This is where it gets particularly interesting. Amazingly, some ancient philosophers were able to reason that the human soul is immortal, because of its unique powers of reasoning. Pythagoras, for whom the is named said that the human soul must be immortal because it can understand immaterial, unchanging mathematics. Herein lies the problem: the human soul can’t prevent body and soul from being ripped apart in death. But if it (the soul) were immortal, and it is, you would think that it could prevent this from happening or at least go on existing somewhere until it could be somehow reunited to the body, now decomposing, which it left. How is it that soul lives forever while the body doesn’t? Aristotle, although he believed that the soul had immaterial powers, couldn’t understand the immortality of soul–when the body ceases, so does the soul. A disembodied soul doesn’t make sense. The necessity of the resurrection of the body then is something that can be arrived at through good philosophy. But there is no evidence of this happening (or is there?) so philosophy (temporarily) comes to a screeching halt–or more accurately, a dead end (see what I just did there?).

Now this is where the divine revelation of Christianity comes in. The problem is solved because someone has indeed risen, his body reunited with his soul never to be separated again: Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead, as attested to by witnesses who saw him alive. Because of this historical reality, St. Thomas Aquinas and others are able to pick up where Aristotle left off! The immaterial soul of a human is immortal because it is possible for it to be reunited with the body, resurrected. Soon after the Resurrection of Christ, the good news reached the land of the philosophers who unknowingly longed to hear it. On one of his missionary journeys, the Apostle St. Paul found himself in Athens, Greece at the Areopagus, a renowned stomping ground and place of discussion for philosophers and seekers of knowledge. Being well educated in the rich Hellenistic culture of the Greco-Roman civilization in which he lived, St. Paul would have been acquainted with the ideas of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle and the writings of other such learned men, so he knew exactly how to tell them about the Resurrection.

While there, he observed the shrine dedicated to a whole pantheon of gods included one in particular to an unknown God. This unknown God was the one that St. Paul proclaimed to the Areopagus.  Interestingly, Socrates had been labeled an atheist because he reasoned that there  could only be one God rather than a plethora of gods locked in constant rivalry. Within the non-Christian Mediterranean world then, it was not a totally novel idea to believe in one God. St. Paul brought the attention of his hearers to this monument to the unknown, invisible God and made known to them that he was real, known by those to whom he revealed himself. And this God, St. Paul informed the Athenians, was ultimately the one the poet Epimenides actually referred to when he wrote the words “in him we live and move and have our being.”  it turned out that he wasn’t talking about Zeus. The Holy Spirit is the breath of life, the principle of reintegration of body and soul, Who animates the soul. In his power, the power of Jesus Christ and God the Father, Christ was raised from the dead. And he causes Christ to live in us,  thereby making us to be offspring of God (as another Greek writer, Aratus, wrote unknowingly) that we too may rise!  God is the one who can answer the philosophical dilemma of death with the bestowal of eternal life, the permanent restoration of body and soul. 


Following Jesus into the desert…

For 3 weeks now I haven’t been able to go to Sunday Mass because of the crappy winter weather. The week started off gloomy, cold, and icy, and the forecast for the next few days don’t look any better. Cabin fever’s setting in right about now. In times like these I am consoled by the thought that suffering, death, and all the difficulties of this present life will eventually come to an end. Spring, Easter, and the ultimate glorification of all things are coming soon. The Scripture Readings+Gospel for this 2nd Sunday of Lent serve as a reminder. Before going into his passion and death, Jesus takes his inner circle of disciples, Peter, James, and John up a mountain, Tabor, where he lets his divinity shine forth in all its glory. The luminous event on the mountaintop is provided to keep the disciples from losing heart when they see Jesus in pain and suffering when he’s in the dark valley of Gethsemane. Jesus took the occasion to inform the 3 that he would rise from the dead, indicating that Mount Tabor, not Calvary, would ultimately prevail.

Everything that Christ Jesus does is ordered to the restoration of humanity. The light with which he is clothed in is what Adam lost. We were created to participate in the divine nature. Jesus came to make that possible again. During Lent we follow him into the desert where he spent 40 days and was tempted by Satan from the outside. He submitted to being tempted because we experience temptation outwardly as well is inwardly. Because he overcame the ordeal, we too can overcome it in him. The desert  or wilderness is where Adam and Eve were exiled from the garden so that’s where Jesus the Word goes to make it accessible again, if we  listen to him. He left Paradise and entered a desert so that Man could exit the desert and enter Paradise.  Our world enveloped in the darkness of persecution and suffering desperately needs the Light of Resurrection. That’s why we follow him into the desert for 40 days.

Beloved Specks of Dust

The other day I was reading a Buzzfeed article with images that illustrate the Earth’s place in the the universe. When compared to the size of the sun, our planet looks like a little rock. When compared to the size of the largest star in the Milky Way, the sun looks like a little rock. Zooming out even further, the largest star becomes a obscure dot. As the Milky Way and the other galaxies get progressively smaller until the known universe is mapped out (thanks to the Hubble Telescope), the Earth seems hopelessly insignificant. I have to admit that I was initially scandalized and scared out of my wits by seeing these images. How is it that God is mindful of us? How can we humans understand our place in the universe without feeling totally lost? We’re all smaller than specks of dust–practically nothing at all.

The fact of the matter is that we really are dust and ashes, something that Ash Wednesday  consistently reminds us of. “Remember that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return.” It seems to me that the immensity of the cosmos serves to back this up. Just as we cannot fully comprehend the universe, we cannot fully comprehend the Creator of it. We are finite beings after all, and God is infinite. We shouldn’t expect to take it all in. I think that God wants us to know how small we really are in the grand design of things so that we might learn to be dependent on him and his providence. The earth being small compared to the rest of the universe is exactly in keeping with the ways of God–He chooses the weak and makes it/them strong: “It was not because you are more numerous than all the peoples that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you; for you are really the smallest of all peoples. It was because the Lord loved you…” (Deuteronomy 7:7–8).

And that brings me back to my experience in Lourdes (last week was the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes). Thats where I began to learn that God is ever mindful of me, as he was with St. Bernadette, even though it might be difficult to perceive it at times. He loves me in my weakness and littleness. Just because the universe is so vast doesn’t mean that he somehow loses track of us or that we’re invisible to him. It is true that we are nothing but dust blowing in the wind–but God chooses to make something out of nothing. We were loved into existence. Lent is the opportunity to encounter this love and to be mindful of him by emptying ourselves of self love. Lent is for ramping up what Christians should be doing anyway, the disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are about going out of ourselves to love God and neighbor–I think especially of the victims of ISIS at this time. Life was breathed into dust for a reason–to be loved and to love…

Groundhog Day and the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

Jour de la marmotte -- Groundhog DayThis past February 2nd was Groundhog Day here in the United States. Every winter, people look to a subterranean tunnel dweller to tell them what they hope to hear— that the warmth of spring will soon be upon them.  Unfortunately for them, the groundhog, I believe his name is Phil, saw his shadow on Monday, indicating that there will be 6 more weeks of winter. Thankfully, I don’t put much stock in such predictions––what do groundhogs know anyway. If meteorologists can’t make accurate forecasts, I don’t expect these furry rodent-like creatures to make them. Speaking of Groundhog Day, that is one of my favorite movies on Netflix instant streaming. It’s directed by the late Harold Ramis and stars Bill Murray as an arrogant weatherman, appropriately named Phil. Phil finds himself stuck in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania (the small town known for the groundhog ritual) on February 2, due to a blizzard that he doesn’t forecast. After checking in to a hotel for the night, he wakes up to the fact that it is February 2 again. Soon, Phil discovers that he is doomed to repeat Groundhog Day over and over and over again. [Spoilers below] 

What would you do if you had to relive the same day in a perpetual loop? How would you live it? That’s the basic premise behind the movie. Through much of the movie, Phil, like his namesake, is scared of his own shadow. After several failed suicide attempts, Phil resigns himself to his fate and decides to make the best of his situation. He sets about learning as much as he can about the attractive new weather lady (Andie McDowell) and finding ways of winning her over, but not before pursuing much more selfish goals. In the process of repetitions, Phil embarks on a journey of self-improvement, and lives February 2 to its full potential. It’s a very creative twist of a film and while it falls under the genre of comedy, many sci-fi movies such as Edge of Tomorrow are modeled after it. Sorry about the mild spoilers.

Aside from February 2nd being Groundhog Day, it’s also the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple. This Catholic and Orthodox Feast Day is traditionally the final culmination of the Christmas Season, or Christmas revisited, the 40th day after Christmas. Yeah, we really do our best to try to hold on to Christmas for as long as possible. The origin of the Presentation: According to the Jewish custom, spelled out in the Old Testament, firstborn male children were consecrated, set apart, to God and had to be bought back or redeemed via animal sacrifice ( look for the reason for God to ask for the practice of ritual sacrifice in a future post).  At the same time, the mother had to go through a ritual purification Simeon beholds his Salvationbecause childbirth rendered her sacred. In the case of Jesus and Mary these things were technically unnecessary; what with one of them being God and the other the Mother of God! Anyway, the Presentation of Jesus has special significance because it marks the day when the Temple’s Lord was found physically and substantially within it. The One long hoped-for made his appearance to deliver people out of the shadow and gloom of sin and death.

Better than Groundhog Day, the Presentation of Christ in the Temple in Jerusalem marks the fact that the cold of winter really is coming to an end, because the Light has come into the world and the darkness cannot ever hope to snuff it out. Jesus seeks out hearts to be enthroned in so that he can enable them to live to their full potential.


On the recent abuses of religion and speech, and the tragic losses of life

In the past few years, months, weeks, and days, we’ve been hearing a lot more about horrific persecution taking place around the world by terrorists in the name of religion. It’s not religion by itself but people who pervert religion to suit their own twisted agendas. And perhaps they do actually find some kind of justification within their understanding of their own religious tradition. No matter what though, as Pope Francis pointed out in-flight to the Philippines, killing in the name of God is not right, it is an aberration.”

The Pope also went on to say that “provoking and insulting other people’s faith is not right” either. Freedom of speech exists for the sake of the common good. The right to freedom of speech is ordered to that purpose. Just because people are free to say whatever they want even at the expense of offending others, doesn’t mean they should. I get that satire can serve to bring attention to problems by poking fun at them but it can easily be misunderstood and taken way too far, denigrating people and what they hold dear in the process. Freedom of speech and freedom of religion have to do with the dignity of every human person. However, both of these rights can be abused and distorted. And when that happens, human beings are trampled on.

Killling those responsible for publishing offending material that offends religious sensibilities is an extremely unreasonable and disproportionate response. That goes without saying. It’s understandable and Noble to want to stand up for your religion and your faith in God when it is attacked but there are peaceful ways of going about it.

My thoughts and prayers go out to all the victims of those who twist religion, in France, Belgium, Iraq, Nigeria, and Niger, and everywhere where persecution persists.

Merry new year…

During these past days of Christmas I’ve been conscious of the state of poverty to which God has lowered himself. In Jesus Christ, God has plunged down into the depths of our misery and brokenness to be in solidarity with us and to enable us to transcend it. This is the mystery of Bethlehem. And what has helped me enter into it is the busy-ness of this season. While it is a time of joy, I’m sensing a kind of melancholy and emptiness. Even though I’m surrounded by family, I am aware of the loneliness that so often comes with having a physical disability such as mine. And so I am comforted by the realization that I am not alone in this state of poverty… that God assumed the nature of a helpless infant lying in a feeding trough surrounded by stinky animals in cold damp cave. It’s the tears of the Child that move me the most. He accompanies us in our misery and weeps with us. For so many around the world  the entry point for Christmas this year has been suffering. But the Light shines in that cave and the darkness cannot overcome it. The Christmas lights that linger on hint at that.

Jesus comes to me as one who is poor. I have nothing to offer him but my poverty. In his drawing near to me may I draw near to him throughout this new year.

May everybody reading this have a happy, bright 2015. Peace.


(I hope to get back to writing a new post at least once a week)