Poem for My Married Friends

Author’s Note: Written in Summer 2013 as a wedding present for my friend and her new husband.

Poem for My Married Friends

My prayer for you, dear friends, is this:
That you may share in wedded bliss
While holding fast to Faith and Love,
Sharing below the Lord above.
Through trials and blessings the same,
May you ne’er fail to call His Name
While loving your companion true
In all struggles, both old and new.
I pray that this new family
Should be like God–The One And Three,
Who Is and Was and Is To Be–
In knowledge, love, and kind duty.
The Psalmist’s words, for you I pray:
“May they guard you in all your ways.”

Poem on St. Catherine of Siena

“To set the world on fire,

The soul rising up to God

Needs to proclaim the Lord’s Truth,

And not be silent through fear.

Without God’s great endurance,

Nothing worthy can be done.

For Love as Virtue is fire—

Hungered for, nourishing life—

To work the wonders of God

Among His priceless people.

God’s all comes from Virtue Love

To save us through His Certain,

Victorious Forgiveness.

Love Uncreated prospers

In Man’s Soul; the Soul, In Him.

For His Beloved Servants,

Every place is the right place;

And every time, the right time

To give such pleasing wisdom,

To see the Life of His Grace,

And lean against Christ Crossèd.

Father, give these Souls Yourself;

Let them be whom You Have Made

So they may set all ablaze.”

All these were her prayers and words

For her beloved brethren;

To the Heavenly Bridegroom,

And His weak but chosen Bride.

Her faith staved off the maelstrom,

Her hope kept the sails aloft,

Her love helped preserve His Ship.

O Lovely Caterina,

Always pray for us, His Ship;

By the Angels’ Orchestra,

His Saints’ Heavenly Chorus,

And Our Church’s Passing Song—

May your name be ever blest.

Lord, may it be so. Amen.

—In May Two-Thousand Thirteen

Musing on 1 Cor 9:24-27

Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified. –1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Cinderella.

Every March in the United States, this word gets thrown around continually and casually.

We all know what it means — the “Cinderella” team — the underdogs who proved themselves to everyone; the team no one believed in; the ones whom no one gave a second thought to; the team that everyone glazed over while filling out their brackets. “Oh an 11-seed? They’re going down in the first round, for sure.”

This year, I’ve had the privilege to watch my hometown team, the Wichita State Shockers, become the Cinderella of the 2013 NCAA Championship Tournament. A nine-seeded team that beat four teams — including the two best in its region — on its way to the Final Four.

Yes, we all love those underdog stories, don’t we? We latch on to movies like Seabiscuit, Glory Road, We Are Marshall, Cinderella Man, Miracle, and Cool Runnings (which are all based on true stories, by the way). Why? Because we love to see those teams, those players who weren’t the best still succeed, even when all the odds were stacked against them.

They take a stand for themselves — they prove to everyone that they’re worth something, that they shouldn’t be underestimated, that they shouldn’t be counted out.

We love underdog stories, because the idea of an ‘underdog’ is based on prejudice. “Oh, this team has more money, a better coach, more talented players, a tougher schedule — so, they’re definitely going to beat this second-rate team of schmucks, no problem. Right?”

The idea of an underdog also is based on empathy — we don’t like it when other people underestimate us, and count us out. So, when we see another underdog succeed, it gives us hope. The ‘little guy’ can win, even when the world is stacked against him. David can beat Goliath, and he does.

So life is for us Christians. We are the underdogs; we have the disadvantage, seemingly, against all that we try to combat — the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Think about it.

Everyday, we wake up to our ongoing struggles against all of our erring brothers and sisters, who pressure us (sometimes with good intentions) into joining their escapades with “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll” — of rejecting our religion, our relationship with God simply to do what everyone is doing. We wake up to our own bodily desires, which were created good, but have been deformed through our own sinful nature, our predisposition to sin. We continue to pervert those gifts which God created good, because we believe that they will give us pleasure. And, lastly, and most frighteningly, we wake up everyday to combat all the demons of Hell, who have retained their angelic powers and use them to tempt us away from God — to give into our societal pressures, to give in to our own bodily desires, etc.

So, not only is the world against us, but the flesh and the devil, too!

How then — you might ask — can we possibly win?

And I would reply: How can we possibly lose?

We’re the underdogs! Our life as Christians is a classic underdog story. We win as any other longshot, counted-out team does: through Faith.

For athletes, it is faith in themselves, in their coach, in their teammates. For us, it is Faith in Our God, in our Church, in the Lord’s plan for us.

Train yourself for devotion; for, while physical training is of limited value, devotion is valuable in every respect, since it holds a promise of life both for the present and for the future. This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance. For this we toil and struggle, because we have set our hope on the living God, who is the savior of all, especially of those who believe. Command and teach these things. –1 Timothy 4:7-11

So, like those athletes — those dark horses, who find themselves down at halftime to the best team in the league — we draw on four components of our Christian faith to “run the race so as to win” so that we might win our “imperishable crown” :

HEART

We could also call this passion or desire. Think of those athletes when they say they give “110%” to their sport, to their team, etc. Let us think of HEART as that ability to give of yourself for your Teammates, for your Coach — in good times, in bad; in everyday practice, in a clutch championship game; always. I often see athletes use the Twitter hashtag #NoDaysOff.

Our Faith, our life of training for devotion, must be the same way. These athlete have such commitment and passion for their sport, their team, their way of life. Why can’t we do the same? We must have HEART — passion in our Faith, desire to live for Christ — to “win” in our lives of Faith.

SKILL

No basketball team is going to win in any game, let alone against the overall No. 1 seed, unless the players know the fundamentals. Many coaches describe this as “Basketball IQ.” Sure, sometimes a victory comes down to talent and talent disparity between one team and its opponent; but, as any basketball fan knows, talent doesn’t count for much if the talented players don’t have a high Basketball IQ — if they make bad passes, if they commit stupid fools, if they travel or carry the ball.

In our faith lives, we have something similar: we have four gifts of the Holy Spirit: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, and Knowledge.You can be a good Christian — you can have all the passion to be like Christ in the world — but how can you be like Him if you don’t know Him? If you’re not open to the Holy Spirit? If you have no fundamental knowledge of the Faith — of sin, of right and wrong?

Just as an athlete has to know his sport — know its rules, its strategies, its speed, its techniques, its competition — so, too, do we have to know our Faith. But, beyond that, we have to live it out. We cannot simply draw up the plays, but we must execute them as well. As St. Paul says to the Corinthians, No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified. (1Cor 9:27)

FOCUS

I didn’t know what better word to sum up this idea. I see those athletes who, in a critical game, do something wrong — they do something really stupid: commit a bad foul, turn over the ball, drop the baton, miss a block, etc.

And we sports fans scream and holler at our televisions “What the heck was that? How could you be so stupid?” But, then later, and sometimes not even one minute later, that same player does something awesome — intercepts the ball, breaks a record, or makes a huge shot. And you wonder “How can he be so bad one minute, and so good the next?” Because of focus — of that ability to “shake off” the bad and focus on the good. We Christians must do the same.

Sometimes we mess up. We sin; we fall away from God; we stumble in our lives of prayer and/or ministry. We do something stupid. But, we cannot be discouraged. Because, like that player, if we only focus on the bad, we cannot move forward and do the good. We will be stuck in an endless mental loop of “What if?” We will be focused on the past, instead of on the present and the future.

Yes, we need to correct our mistakes, but we also need to forgive ourselves (and our Teammates) when we mess up, when we do something stupid. We must have that persevering mercy for ourselves and others — we must have that resolution to forgive our mistakes, to sin no more, and to continue on our journey of Faith.

To be good Christians — to be like Christ– we must correct our faults, and focus on our ongoing mission of sharing Christ’s Gospel with others through our prayer and our example.

Think of it this way: at the end of a game, do people remember that you had 29 points, or that you committed four fouls?

SPIRIT

Lastly, a true underdog has to have spirit. Again, I don’t know how else to describe this idea of a ‘spirited’ competitor in one word. But, I recognize those dark horse athletes who look their much bigger, more talented, better coached opponents in the eyes and (through their body language) tell them: “I am not afraid of you.”

That indomitable spirit, that courage, to never back down and to never give up. That spunk, that grit, that determination to keep fighting — and to keep fighting with everything you’ve got until the clock expires. To fight nobly; to compete with dignity.

Win with humility, and lose with dignity, as my bishop once told my high school’s football team.

And, so we as Christians must do the same.

We should not be afraid to go toe-to-toe with the world, the flesh, and the devil. Because, weak though we are, we have the Grace of the Father, the Strength of the Son, the Gifts of the Holy Spirit to fuel us for our daily bouts against our three challenging opponents.

But, we cannot back down. We must have courage, fortitude, to keep running the race with faith in God and in His Love and Faith in us. We Christians must recognize that Christ’s grace is sufficient enough for us — He will get us through any fight, so long as we have faith in Him.

Remember St. Paul and his struggles, as he describes them in 2 Corinthians:

Therefore, that I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong. –2Cor 12:7-10

IN CONCLUSION

“…the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize… They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.”

So, brothers and sisters, we must allow the Spirit of God — the Spirit of Courageous ‘Spunk,’ shall we say — to dwell within us.

These four things — Heart, Skill, Focus, and Spirit — are the four qualities, the four ‘virtues’ that any true underdog must have to succeed in his endeavors, no matter how insurmountable they may seem.

Whether in sports or our lives of Faith, we underdogs must hold fast to these four things to win — we must hold fast to these gifts that God has given us. We must strengthen our passion for Him (Heart); we must learn about Him (Skill); we must learn to forgive like Him (Focus); and we must have the courage to face our enemies head-on (Spirit).

For, while our enemies might scoff and underestimate us and our Gifts — Our Faith in God — we should not. Because we are the underdogs, and God willing, we will be victorious in our struggles. We will “run so as to win.”

After all, what better underdog story is there than the seemingly ordinary Man Who died… only to conquer Sin and Death, and rise Victorious from the grave?

Amen. Alleluia, Alleluia!

Musing on the Resurrection

UPDATE ON “NOT IN INK” : The Lord is Risen! Alleluia, Alleluia! Truly, He is Risen! Alleluia, Alleluia! I hope everyone is having a wonderful Easter Monday, or as it is called in Italy, “Pasqueta” — or “Little Easter.” I apologize that I wasn’t able to update you all with too many meditations/musings during Holy Week, but I hope you all liked the Good Friday meditation on the Centurion. If you haven’t read it yet, check it out.

Because these (somewhat daily) meditations/musings were part of my Lenten regiment, I won’t be updating the blog as often. But, I would like to continue updating it with musings and meditations. My goal right now is to post something for you lovely readers maybe once or twice a week.

Please continue to read the blog, and pray for me and my family. I am praying for all of you, and I wish you the greatest and most blessed joys of the Easter season! Thanks!

A Musing on the Resurrection

As He was going [to Jerusalem]… the whole crowd of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the miracles which they had seen, shouting: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord; Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!” –Luke 19:36-40

Yesterday, on my way home from Easter Sunday Mass, I was — as is my Easter tradition — jammin’ out to Ron Kenoly, a 90s Christian/Gospel artist. The last song on the album is called “Ain’t Gonna Let No Rock.”

Of course, as it is Easter, I thought of the story of the women disciples finding the tomb empty on the first day of the week:

Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave. And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. –Matthew 28:1-4

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might come and anoint Him. Very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. They were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” Looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away, although it was extremely large. –Mark 16:1-5

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. –Luke 24:1-3

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. –John 20:1

All four Gospels speak of a body-less tomb, and each four remark that the stone was rolled away — the tomb was unsealed. Death was conquered! Christ was victorious!

Now remember Jesus’ words on His entrance to Jerusalem: “If (my disciples) keep quiet, even the stones will cry out!”

After Jesus’ death and burial on Good Friday, the disciples were silent. Judas had killed himself; Peter had denied Jesus; all of the 12 Apostles except John had abandoned Him after He was arrested in the Garden. Their Master and Teacher was dead — cold, executed, and defeated. They did not remember what He had told them. They were in mourning.

But, while they kept their silence, even the stones — or at least, one large stone in particular, cried out. Maybe its voice was not heard. But, its presence was known all the same, because every Christian knows the story of the stone that was rolled away, of the tomb that was empty.

Can you imagine what that stone would have said, if it could cry out? What mysteries it would have told?

The stone was, in an essence, the first to see and hear the Gospel, the Good News — that Christ is risen from the grave! It was, alongside the angel, the first herald of His Resurrection!

That stone, if it had a soul, if it had a voice, would have proclaimed the Gospel message to those women who came weeping and mourning to the tomb that Sunday morning. It would have told them immediately Who Had Risen; it would have turned their tears into shouts of joy!

And, so we must do the same. We are an Easter people, and “Alleluia” is our song! Our God Lives! He has conquered sin and death, and has risen from the grave!

God did not give that stone a voice, yet it proclaimed the Good News all the same!

Shouldn’t we then proclaim the Good News — the Joy of the Resurrected Lord — all the louder? All the more clearly? For indeed, God has given us tongues to proclaim, and hands to share the Good News with our Brothers and Sisters in the Lord!

For while the stone in front of the tomb may have been the first herald of the Resurrection, we should not let it be the last! We cannot be quiet and timid like the disciples; we should not be afraid or unbelieving of the Easter message, as they were at first.

For, if we do, even the stones will cry out instead. And, as Ron Kenoly says, “I ain’t gonna let no rock out-praise me!”

Let us continue our Christian mission of proclaiming the Gospel — the Good News — so that we may make Christ’s presence among us known throughout all the world.

For, we are an Easter people, and “Alleluia” is our song!

THE LORD IS RISEN, ALLELUIA, ALLELUIA! TRULY HE IS RISEN, ALLELUIA, ALLELUIA!

Meditation on the Centurion for Good Friday

Author’s Note: This meditation was written on Good Friday, March 21, 2008.

A Meditation on the Centurion: For Good Friday

I had heard many thing about the man Jesus of Nazareth — I had heard stories of his miracles, how he healed the lame, cured the blind, cast out demons, and even raised the dead! I thought nothing of it — I know it was people making falsehoods to entertain themselves.

But today, I met Him! I met Jesus of Nazareth!

I helped crucify Him…

The day began like any other. We were brought three criminals to execute on Golgotha — one of them was Jesus.

I saw Him from a distance. He looking like a walking, often stumbling, wound. He wore a cap of thorns on His head, and I saw the scourge marks on His body. He was completely covered in blood. I wondered how He had strength to move — for I knew it must have been extremely painful to make any kind of motion. They had forced a man to help carry His cross, because He was too weak to do it all by Himself, and they did not want Him to die on the way.

They brought Him before me. I didn’t even think. I just did what I had always done.

First, I stripped Him of His robes. He did not cry out, but he winced from the pain. All the wounds on His back had been reopened, and He began to bleed profusely.

Most prisoners are very reluctant to be executed. Sometimes, I literally have had to thrown them down upon their cross.

But He — ever so humbly, ever so patiently — slowly laid Himself down upon the hard wood.

Then, I knew I would have to nail Him. I was surprised at His countenance — it was filled with blood and sweat. I could tell He was in complete agony, but there was something more to it. There was a loving gaze in His eyes, beneath the blood.

I wondered at what His crime was — what was it they had convicted Him of… that He deserved to die in this manner.

But then, caught in my reverie, I heard the people and my fellow soldiers yelling at me, “Nail Him! Crucify Him!”

I head the other prisoners being nailed to their crosses — they cried out in pain, but the people simply laughed at their suffering.

So, with the nail and hammer in hand, I stretched out His right arm upon the beam. I looked at Him —

Our eyes met.

I cannot describe what I felt. I knew in that instant that there was something different about this man — something… extraordinary.

He looked at me, and seeing the nails in my hand, He nodded His head and closed His eyes.

My heart was racing — my hands were now shaking so badly that I could hardly hold the nail on His wrist.

I couldn’t stop — I had to do it. The voices of the crowd had drowned away in my mind — and I could only think of Him.

I raised my arm and hoped that I would hit the nail. I closed my eyes — I didn’t want to look.

Bang!

I opened my eyes — the hammer had hit — the nail had pierced. His wrist was now covered in blood.

I repeated my movements — I hit the nail again and again. Each time it drove deeper into His flesh — but He did not cry out.

He only winced with pain.

After the nail had pierced completely, I ordered my fellow soldiers to nail His other hand and feet.

I did not desire to nail Him again.

Again, He was nailed, and I could only watch as the other soldiers mocked Him and spat on Him as He was being nailed to the cross. The spectators did not help either — they shouted at Jesus and insulted Him as He laid there motionlessly.

Then, a sign came. A fellow soldier brought it forward. It said: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

“What is that?” I asked the other soldier.

He merely snickered and replied, “His title…”

The soldier took the sign to the head of the cross.

“Hail, King of the Jews,” he laughed, as he nailed it above the criminal’s head. Then, he spat in Jesus’ face.

I almost could not look — it was too gruesome.

Then, they lifted Him up. I helped to put the cross in its correct post — I did not want it falling over. I could not bear that!

So, He hung there —- Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.

Many of the Jewish priests and religious leaders came and mocked Him. They told Him to come down from the cross if He truly was the Son of God.

Then, I heard Him cry out —

“Father, Forgive Them, For They Know Not What They Do.”

It was too much — I tried to hold back the tears.

I did not know who this man was — but I knew He was innocent of any crime.

He hung there for three hours — form midday until three in the afternoon. Some of the other soldiers cast lots for His clothes, but I did not want to.

Finally, He said —

“I Thirst.”

I immediately took a sponge, soaked it in some of my wine, put it on a reed, and pressed it to His lips.

I wanted to do anything to help ease the pain — even if only for a moment.

Some of the people nearby said He was calling for Elijah, one of the Jewish prophets. I took no notice. I only wanted to help Him.

Finally, His hour came! I marveled at how He had managed to live so long, considering all of the blood He had lost and the suffering He had endured.

He lifted His head — raised His eyes to Heaven and said —

“It Is Finished! Father, Into Your Hands, I Commend My Spirit.”

Then, he bowed His head and died.

At that moment, I knew — I understood who He was.

“Truly,” I said aloud, “this man was the Son of God!”

Some of my companions were going to rebuke me, but there was too much chaos.

Apparently, the curtain of the Jewish temple had split in two, and the Jewish leaders were in frenzy.

We were ordered to break the prisoners’ legs so they could die quickly.

One of the soldiers was going to break Jesus’ legs, but I told him, “No! He is already dead!”

The soldier looked at me in disbelief, so I took up my spear and pierced Jesus’ side.

Immediately, water and blood came flowing out.

And everyone was now convinced that Jesus had already died.

Most of the people left — some went away wailing and beating their breasts.

But — a small group came forward. There were several women and three men. One of the women said to me, gently touching my hand —

“Will you please,” she whispered with tears in her eyes, “help us take my Son down?”

She lifted her eyes to Jesus, and I knew she was His Mother.

I wanted to comfort her in her sorrow — to console her — but I could only agree to help. To do whatever I could for her and for Him.

Two of the men helped me take His body down, while the third supported His Mother. I gently took out the nails that had pierced His hands and feet, and the men placed Jesus’ body in His Mother’s arms.

Whatever heart I had left broke at that moment.

I saw the Mother gently hold and rock the bruised and beaten body of her Son — just as a young mother would hold and rock her newborn baby. She held Him tightly and her tears fell upon His blood-covered face.

Then, with all of the motherly tenderness in the world, she kissed His forehead and pressed Him close to her heart.

Her soft fingers wrapped around His head, and she slowly lifted the cap of thorns out of His wounded skull.

As she placed it beside her, I saw that some of the thorns had pierced her gentle fingers, and her hands were now covered with blood.

The men finally convinced her to let them bury Him. She simply nodded her head at their request, and relinquished her Son’s body to their devoted arms.

I watched quietly as they carried Him off to a nearby tomb. I wished to follow them — or, at least, return to the city.

But, I could not.

His Sacrifice has left me too humble to move.

Short Story: “Ecce Homo” (Part 6)

Short Story: “Ecce Homo” (Part 5)

Author’s Note: This short story was written in 2010 or 2011, and is dedicated to my friend F.S.B. The story is titled “Ecce Homo: A Calling.” This is the final part of six parts, which will be posted each Monday of Lent. The previously posted parts of the story are on this Word Document.

(From Part 5) The man stretched out his hand, and the boy took it. And as the man let go, the boy realized the man had put something in his hand.

The man smiled and reassured him: “But, it’s nice to have some direction, too.”

“But, what am I supposed to do?”

END OF PART 5; PART 6 BEGINS HERE

“Well, son: First, you need to go home and get some rest. After that, think about what I told you, what you felt. Consider what you’re being called to. But don’t worry, the right people will get in touch with you soon enough.

“But most importantly, you need to change: change your lifestyle, change your attitude, change the way you think about things; because you can never go back to how it was before, no matter how much you try. From now on, it only gets harder, not easier.”

The boy hesitated, but the man reached out and pulled him into a reassuring embrace and told him, “I believe in you.”

Then, just as quickly, the man let go, but the boy didn’t want to leave his presence. He felt a new life, a new breath, circulating through his body. It was a driving wind that filled his entire being, constantly propelling him forward; and now, he didn’t want to let it go.

“Minute’s up. I need to go,” the bus driver said.

The boy was reluctant, but the man nodded reassuringly and told him, “‘The great work begins.’”

So, the student climbed into the bus and showed the bus driver his pass. She was a little perturbed with him for making her linger, but she could tell by his wet clothes that he had been waiting a while. So, she said nothing.

She did, however, address the man outside, “Are you coming too?”

“No,” the man told her.

The boy turned around and looked back out, “What? Aren’t you coming?”

“Don’t worry. I’ll be in touch.”

“I know, but I thought—“

“—Son,” it was the only time the man had ever interrupted him throughout the entire conversation.  “I wasn’t waiting for a bus…I was waiting for you.”

Then, as the bus doors closed, the boy saw the man smile and open his right hand. Unconsciously, he did the same and realized, for the first time, the gift the man had given him.