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!

Welcome, Papa Francesco!

My dear readers,

Viva il papa – Papa Francesco! Today, the cardinals of the Catholic Church elected Cardinal Bergoglio of Argentina to be the next pope.

I was planning to post my musing on the Holy Spirit today; but in lieu of that, I would like to encourage everyone to read my previous musing on Pope Benedict and his successor (Pope Francis I)!

Again, my apologies to my non-Catholic readers, but today the world has experienced such great joy and prayer that I believe it transcends religious differences. So, let us rejoice in the Lord and those shepherds whom He has chosen to lead us!

Let us pray for all of our religious leaders today (especially our new Pope, Francis I!) I shall pray for your ‘shepherds,’ ministers and pastors, as I ask that you please pray for mine.

And, please check back here tomorrow for the musing on the Holy Spirit! I promise I will post it.

Thank you, and I am praying for you all!

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Good evening.

You all know that the duty of the Conclave was to give a bishop to Rome. It seems that my brother Cardinals have come almost to the ends of the earth to get him… but here we are. I thank you for the welcome that has come from the diocesan community of Rome.

First of all I would say a prayer for our Bishop Emeritus Benedict XVI. Let us all pray together for him, that the Lord bless him and Our Lady protect him...

And now let us begin this journey, the Bishop and people, this journey of the Church of Rome which presides in charity over all the Churches, a journey of brotherhood in love, of mutual trust. Let us always pray for one another. Let us pray for the whole world that there might be a great sense of brotherhood . My hope is that this journey of the Church that we begin today, together with help of my Cardinal Vicar, be fruitful for the evangelization of this beautiful city.

And now I would like to give the blessing, but first I want to ask you a favor. Before the bishop blesses the people I ask that you would pray to the Lord to bless me – the prayer of the people for their Bishop. Let us say this prayer – your prayer for me – in silence.

I will now give my blessing to you and to the whole world, to all men and women of good will

Brothers and sisters, I am leaving you. Thank you for your welcome. Pray for me. We will see one another soon. Tomorrow I want to go to pray the Madonna, that she may protect Rome.

Good night and sleep well!

–Pope Francis I (Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio), March 13, 2013

Talk: “Signs and Sacraments” (Part 4)

Author’s Note: This the final part of a resource talk that I gave on a retreat in 2011; the topic for the talk, which is a combination of my personal testimony and Church teachings, was on “Signs and Sacraments.” The talk will be posted in four consecutive parts. The retreat that I gave the talk at focuses on “Community” and strengthening our community as a Church through our shared love and service of Christ.

If you need a refresher, read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

HOLY COMMUNION

I just wanted to touch very briefly on the Eucharist. I want to stress the importance of the reality of the Eucharist. What seems to be bread and wine isn’t just a symbol of Christ’s love and sacrifice… it isn’t just a symbol of His body and blood. It IS His Body and Blood. When the priest raises the host up and validly says the words of consecration, it is no longer bread, even though it has the appearance of bread. But the reality of it has changed entirely, even though its resemblance hasn’t. People who come out of the Holy Water font aren’t any different physically than when they went in (other than being wet). But, they’re completely different interiorly because they have been purified of their original sin.

Think of it this way: the True Presence of Christ’s Body and Blood has been masked and disguised as mere bread and wine so that we can unrestrainedly partake of the full sacrament. Just imagine if you went up to the minister in the communion line and he handed you a literal piece of Christ’s flesh. Well, I don’t know about you, but I would freak out! I would be in such awe, such reverence, and wonderment that I couldn’t partake of it. I would feel so unworthy. But, there is no difference except that the Eucharist does not appear to be flesh and blood, but it is. Otherwise, we might be unwilling to take it, right? Christ did that for our sake.

Jesus said to them, ’Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life with in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.’” –John 6:53-57

Does that make sense? It is not a representation of Christ’s sacrifice, but a re-presentation of His Sacrifice! That is why the Eucharist is so important; because it’s not just a symbol, but it’s a reality.

CONCLUSION

So, before I close, I just wanted to stress two key things. Basically, if you forget everything else from this talk (which I know you all will), I ask that you remember these two things:

  1. Always have a reverence for the sacraments. Perhaps you don’t understand all of them. Maybe you were sitting there this whole time thinking, “What on earth is she talking about?” Don’t worry, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Also, receive the sacraments as much as you can. Right now, most of us can receive Communion and Confession on a regular basis, so I encourage you to do so. And also, if you know anyone who’s going through RCIA right now or going to get married or ordained soon, I ask you to support them and pray for them.
  2. Signs… Yes. Those things I talked about way back at the beginning of this talk. Remember the Totus Tuus phamplet? Ok, sometimes those things happen. Sometimes God sends you big neon signs telling you what to do. But, most of the time, He doesn’t. Most of the time, you have to find the sign in your heart. Trust me, you know more than you’re willing to admit that you do. And I just wanted to ask to everyone to always act on those signs, whether physical or interior.

I taught my kids this summer the four things you need to discern God’s will for you (write these down): PSSGF. Prayer, Sacraments!!!, Scripture, and Good Friends. So, remember those four things. Always remember, signs are a gift from God. So, always thank God for them. Thank God for his grace. Thank God for his Sacraments. Amen? Amen!

If you’d like to read the talk in its entirety, the Word Document is here: Signs and Sacraments.

Talk: “Signs and Sacraments” (Part 3)

Author’s Note: This the third part of a resource talk that I gave on a retreat in 2011; the topic for the talk, which is a combination of my personal testimony and Church teachings, was on “Signs and Sacraments.” The talk will be posted in four consecutive parts. The retreat that I gave the talk at focuses on “Community” and strengthening our community as a Church through our shared love and service of Christ.

If you need a refresher, read Part 1 and Part 2.

CONFIRMATION

I don’t know how many of you have been to an Easter Vigil service, but I hope you all go at some time in your life. Yes, it can be long, but it is the most beautiful liturgy I know. And, afterward, there’s usually a huge reception with lots of food. It’s a great way to break that Lenten fast!

But, in the liturgy of the Easter Vigil, the catechumens will be baptized, and then the candidates and catechumens will come forward before the priest to be confirmed. It’s really neat to go straight from the baptisms to the confirmations, because, according to the Catechism, “by the sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptized] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed.”(1285)

The two biggest signs of Confirmation are the laying on of hands and the chrism oil. Now, when I was confirmed four years ago, the Bishop was joking, “Gee! Wouldn’t that be cool if the Holy Spirit descended upon us tonight like it did on the disciples in the Upper Room? I bet more than a few heads would catch on fire with all of the hairspray we have in here!” Fortunately, that did not happen.

But, the laying on of hands is a sign of invocation. Has anyone seen people praying with their arms up like this? They’re invoking the Holy Spirit. Well, in Confirmation, the Bishop is doing the same thing, but in a more formal and sacramental way. He, as an apostolic successor, is invoking the Holy Spirit to descend upon the candidates and to seal them with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.

And at Confirmation, Sacred Chrism is used again. The Catechism says that the reason for the Sacred Chrism is to highlight “the name ‘Christian,’ which means ‘anointed’ and derives from that of Christ himself whom God ‘anointed with the Holy Spirit.’ The term Confirmation suggests that this sacrament both confirms and strengthens baptismal grace.” (1289)

And later in the Catechism, it adds, It is fitting to consider the sign of anointing and what it signifies and imprints: a spiritual seal.” (1293) The Chrism seals in us the seeds of grace and spiritual gifts that were given to us through Baptism. Now, we are sent out, strengthened by this Seal of Anointing, to share in Christ’s mission of prayer and evangelization.

35723502Check back tomorrow for the last part of the “Signs and Sacraments” talk!