Tag Archives: Catholicism

Not a Wasted Decision

Gilbert and his Novitiate Spiritual Director, 2003

Gilbert and his Novitiate Spiritual Director, 2003

How funny things don’t always work out as you planned them to be; but there has been many gifts in all that I did not plan.

It was 10 years ago that I began my novitiate experience.  When I entered the novitiate, I thought nothing of it at first.  The novitiate is a place for a person to seriously take the next step towards becoming a “Religious,” that is someone who serves the Catholic church through a dedicated life of prayer, service, and who will live in community with other Religious.

I was told of my acceptance as a novice at a party only for Religious.  They were celebrating one of the Saints that founded their community, St. Ignatius of Loyola.  When I was told, I didn’t think I was going to be rejected, so I did lack surprise and even a little enthusiasm.  “Are you excited?” the Religious in charge of vocations asked me.  “Oh, sure!” I hastily replied, “I’m glad to start this next part of my journey.”  We looked at each other for a couple of moments, we smiled, and then parted ways.  I didn’t call anyone immediately.  Yet, I did tell people at the party, and they congratulated me.  My parents got the news when they came to pick me up.  “Wow,” and, “That’s wonderful,” were the main comments I remembered.  Everyone seemed happy, but as I said, I wasn’t overwhelmed with excitement.

I remember my enthusiasm shooting up as the week before I moved into the Novitiate began.  I had both happiness and nervousness.  I was sure I was doing the right thing for myself, renouncing any opportunity to be married in the future, but also knowing that the novitiate was still a trial time to really live out a Religious lifestyle so that in two years, I would make a proper discernment about whether to continue, or to do something other than the priesthood.

I remember also that very moment when my family and select friends said good-bye to me, and left the party that celebrated my moving-in day.  I remember watching them leave, and finally saying to myself, “Wow, this is it.”  Finally, I felt a sense of awe at the decision I had made.

It was only as I lived my first month at the novitiate that I started realizing how hard it was to live with men, be surround by men, and be constructively criticized by men.  I was well aware of the sacrifices needed to live such a lifestyle, but I didn’t know how much growth I needed in humility and courage to become a priest.

I definitely thought it was supposed to be a cakewalk if it was meant to be.

We were a group of six who entered in 2003.

We were a group of six who entered in 2003.

I wrote about all this as one of my first journal entries in a leather-bound book I finally used up.  It took 10 years to use all of it.  I had stopped journaling often since I was writing in other ways: lengthy email updates to friends and family, writing reflections about books, and even writing letters to friends I had made across the Nation.

That was August 30, 2003.  Since then, I have done many different things, and most of them not what I intended.  The biggest change in events was my departure from the novitiate after one year, and eventually joining l’Arche in a very full-fledged way.

But it has been helpful to remember my “Entrance Day.”  It reminds me of the hurt I went through most of my time at the novitiate, and how much I felt abandoned by God.  I remember the fantasies of love that started to plague me as if I was smitten with a curse.  I remember feeling lonely amid a community.

It’s after all that pain that now I see the truth.  I now understand that God never abandoned me, nor did God want me to ditch loving companionships with women.  But there is a difference between falling in love and having a respectful relationship, and objectifying love as if it was a “cure-all” to natural passions.  I was lonely because I was choosing to distance myself from others, not letting the other men help me nor allowing my experiences to help them.

I would not change the course of events of my past.  My prayer life has forever been affected with depth since my time in the novitiate.  I believe that it wasn’t so much that my idea of becoming a priest was not meant to be.  It’s more telling about the graciousness of God in allowing things to always work out for the better because I’m cared for.  Maybe I was supposed to try harder to be humble, or grow deeper in courage, yet I am now where I am because I have said yes to dancing with God.  Sometimes I wanted to lead the dance, but the best parts of the dance in my life have surely been when I decided HE could lead instead.

New Year’s Resolution: Read more small books

I started this resolution actually during Christmas when I decided to read A Franciscan Christmas. I found the book to be simple, profound, and short. It was great for someone who hardly makes time to read!

Now I decided that if I was going to read more in this year, I needed to focus on reading short stories, or short books. Because some reading is much much better than no reading. Don’t get me wrong, I do read interesting articles passed on to me or something I might have come across. I will share those articles with all of you as well.

In the meantime, below is my review of another great small book that I reviewed on the awesome “goodreads” community.

Jesus and Mary: Finding Our Secret CenterJesus and Mary: Finding Our Secret Center by Henri J.M. Nouwen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is beautiful in its simplicity. There are two parts of this small book, the first being a sermon to priests on retreat…but the material is good food for thought for everyone who wants to deepen their relationship with Mary, Mother of God.

The second part is about Nouwen’s trip to Lourdes. It was great to walk with the author in his simple thought process. It was a short but very meaningful journey. I think it’s relatable if you have ever struggled with vocation(i.e. what you feel called to by God), feeling loved by God, or really felt a need for peace in your life.

It’s a book worth your slow reading, or during meditation.

View all my reviews

The Preference Test

(Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

I had the privilege to attend a beautiful and well-organized “Day of Faith” at the old Crystal Cathedral, now called ”Christ Cathedral” in Garden Grove, CA.  It was a day filled with public prayer, speakers, faith testimonies, and beautiful art of sight and sound.

Catholics can be one of the shyest types of religious people to share what their faith is all about to anyone.  One speaker, Fr. Peter John Cameron, encouraged Catholics to not be so shy during the “Year of Faith,” but instead invite people to experience the joy of believing.

He said that in some ways, just proving that “there is a God” is hard enough for Catholics.  Fr. Cameron proposed that maybe Catholics could use “the preference test” developed by another priest he knew.  The test is only six questions, and shows what Christians believe and gain by their faith in Jesus Christ.  It’s a test that asks the basic question: What would you prefer?  Forget what you think is true, what you believe, what you have been taught.  Answer the questions according to preference.

Preference Test:

Question 1: Which do you prefer to believe?

When someone you love dies, they are dead, and that’s it.  You will never see them again.

Or

When someone you love dies, they somehow live on, and you have the possibility of seeing them again because when you die somehow you will live on.

Question 2: Which do you prefer to believe?

Your limitless desire for happiness will be answered continually forever.

Or

Your desires will last for your biological life and then your desires and you will be destroyed by death.

Question 3: Which do you prefer to believe?

You are loved.

Or

You are not loved.

Question 4: Which do you prefer to believe?

There is a God who created all of reality and who loves you like a father and who wants you to exist.

Or

Life is accidental, outside of what you see and touch there is nothing that cares if you exist.

Question 5: Which do you prefer to believe?

Your value depends on your abilities.  People who have greater abilities than you are more valuable than you.  When you lose your abilities your value will diminish.

Or

Your value comes from the fact that there is a God who wants you to exist.  He loves you like a father, and so even when your abilities are not the best and when other people don’t think your valuable, He still loves and values you.

Question 6: Which do you prefer to believe?

God exists, but in this life, He can never be known.

Or

God exists and can be known and experienced in this life.

Christians have lots of good news to announce, more than what other philosophies, even other religions promote.  But the question is whether Christians can be clear and concise in their beliefs.  And one way to be clear is to present the good news in contrast with the underlining bad news of Agnosticism and Atheism.

Week of the Darkness versus the Light: Death

In honor of this week of Halloween, and remembering the departed, I will post about themes that deal with the battle of darkness versus light.  This post’s theme: death.

What I always find deeply ironic is how many Christians I know are afraid of death, or feel sorry for someone who has died.  Yet, there is a firm belief in Heaven.  So what gives?

Photo Credit: Wallpaper 4 God

There is a deep attachment to our world that is not conducive to what Christians have faith in.  Why would any Christian be worried about another Christian who has died?  The only good reason to be worried is the answer to this question:  will a person be granted access to Heaven, or has the person done unspeakable things and will go to hell for it?  This question is reason enough for worry, nonetheless, I don’t run into people who are concerned with it.  The concern about the dead tends to be placed about the tragedy over someone not living any longer, or the fact that we have to now live without the person.

These thoughts are not Christian.  What is Christian is the certitude that there is an afterlife.  It is Christian to hope that God’s mercy is deeper than anything we can imagine, and therefore, a soul does have a real chance of getting into heaven.  To help that soul reach it’s destination, we pray for the soul.

I am not arguing against sorrow and mourning.  In fact, I have seen how people have not properly recognized the importance of grieving.  I have noticed when people are not sympathetic enough.  They don’t offer consolation, but instead, empty statements.  “It’s okay, it was her time to go.”  “God works in mysterious ways.”  “Don’t cry, everything will be ok.”  Statements are not what people need in their time of distress.  Presence, listening, and crying along with someone are some of the supports people need.

This simple reflection on death is more about recognizing how we understand it when we are not in distress.  Why would a Christian think it is sad for someone to pass on into the afterlife?  Is not the Christian message to the world that it is not trapped in a meaningless life cycle, but that we are given an opportunity to enter the Kingdom of Heaven through Christ?

Since there is an afterlife, Catholic theology promotes praying for those that have passed on as well as asking those who might be or certainly are in Heaven for help.  That only makes sense if we can communicate with the dead.  No, you don’t need to have supernatural powers or bust out magic to start talking to the dead.  Prayer is already that special way to connect with those that have transitioned from this physical reality to the spiritual.  It is that simple.  Just don’t believe your going to get any concrete communication back…after all, it would freak you out.

St. Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians, “O Death, where is your sting?”(1Cor 15:55)  In the letter to the Romans, he goes on to further explain this crucial soteriology (theory of salvation; Rom 6).  Christians do not need to fear death or be saddened by it.  It’s natural to feel that way, but alas, there is much to hope for!

Go, and celebrate with others this Good News: humanity no longer is a victim of death; death has been conquered, and we have the opportunity to make it a transitional event versus a final event of our life.

God our Father,
Your power brings us to birth,
Your providence guides our lives,
and by Your command we return to dust.

Lord, those who die still live in Your presence,
their lives change but do not end.
I pray in hope for my family,
relatives and friends,
and for all the dead known to You alone.

In company with Christ,
Who died and now lives,
may they rejoice in Your kingdom,
where all our tears are wiped away.
Unite us together again in one family,
to sing Your praise forever and ever.

Amen.

Week of the Darkness versus the Light: Exorcisms

Painting of Father General Saint Francis Borgi...

In honor of this week of Halloween, and remembering the departed, I will post about themes that deal with the battle of darkness versus light.  This post’s theme: exorcisms.

As I write this on Halloween night, I know there will be some who will enjoy the viewing of great horror movies dealing with exorcisms.  There is the classic, “The Exorcist,” and others will see newer stuff like “The Last Exorcism.”

Would you be scared to see an “exorcism” in real life?  Well, guess what?  You most likely already have…and if your Christian, you had one already done unto you!

The reality is that many terms, like “exorcism,” get their depth of meaning lost or warped with the trends of pop culture.  Exorcisms occur so that, “a person or object be protected against the power of the Evil One and withdrawn from his dominion.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1673)  The most popular exorcism done is called baptism.  A person getting baptized is being washed from previous influences of evil, from the bondage of original sin, and receives grace to withstand future temptation.

Ah, I already realize we can get deep.  But let’s make this brief.  Some points to understand: original sin’s harshest effect is the possibility of never entering heaven; evil exists in the world because people have free will to choose God or not; evil will always lurk around us until we die and transition from this physical reality to the spiritual reality.

These points make it clear of the usefulness of exorcisms, i.e. a formal ritual asking God to cleanse and protect a person or object.  Baptism is the main one that is practiced to help Christians become united to God (Romans 6:1-13), and gain the help they need (grace) to not easily fall into the temptation of evil.  But an exorcism would not take away temptation.  This is a burden we must pray against, and strengthen ourselves to dispel it lest it does win over our will.

God will not take away our free will.  An exorcism will not force us to have faith in God or God’s power.  This is important because a deep study of Jesus and his exorcisms in the Gospels will help us notice that so often people would be fearful or doubtful of the power of Jesus over demons, but those directly affected by the exorcism would be incredibly grateful.

So, the next time you see someone getting baptized, pray that you are inspired by the person’s willingness to say “yes” to the teachings of Jesus, and beware of believing that a baptism is magical and would make someone invincible over evil.

Since it is not easy to do this by our self, why not join a community of faith to help encourage you to keep the faith?

And now, an except from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, cited by paragraph number:

1673 When the Church asks publicly and authoritatively in the name of Jesus Christ that a person or object be protected against the power of the Evil One and withdrawn from his dominion, it is called exorcism. Jesus performed exorcisms and from him the Church has received the power and office of exorcizing. In a simple form, exorcism is performed at the celebration of Baptism. The solemn exorcism, called “a major exorcism,” can be performed only by a priest and with the permission of the bishop. The priest must proceed with prudence, strictly observing the rules established by the Church. Exorcism is directed at the expulsion of demons or to the liberation from demonic possession through the spiritual authority which Jesus entrusted to his Church. Illness, especially psychological illness, is a very different matter; treating this is the concern of medical science. Therefore, before an exorcism is performed, it is important to ascertain that one is dealing with the presence of the Evil One, and not an illness.

Extra! Extra! Extraordinary Blessings Available NOW!

Yes, the Catholic Church still promotes “plenary indulgences” and “partial indulgences.”  These are special blessings that the authority of the Catholic Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, bestow upon its followers.  These are not just any blessings, but a type of blessing that actually lessens or eliminates time in purgatory!

Okay, what if you’re not into purgatory or ranking blessings?  Well, bare with me.

The Catholic Church ranks blessings according to their hardship and their intention.  Sure it’s great if you prayed to God every night.  That is a blessing.  But imagine saying a prayer every night for 28 to 30 minutes, and doing that for some months….even for some years!! Isn’t that person gaining more spiritual benefit than the one who is just going to “say a quicky” before bedtime?

And there are blessings for those who decide to study the bible, or make a pilgrimage, or pray for those that have died, etc, etc.  Prayer helps a person be in touch with The Divine.  The type of prayer does matter because it’s like eating.  Certain foods are needed to gain different types of vitamins.  So as much as you may want to live off of pancakes and milk, a lack of vegetables will harm you down the line.  This is the same with prayer.  A person who sticks to only one type of prayer, like maybe a routine of reading the bible 15 minutes and then saying an “Our Father”, will miss out on the richness of other types of prayer, like community prayer and meditative prayer to name two other types.

So, check out this list, and try some of it yourself.  Even if you’re not Catholic, you will gain something out of the experience of prayer, because God bestows blessings on all people who will try to communicate with The Holy One.

Plenary Indulgences (aka Prayer Practices) for Year of Faith:

(Catholic note: A Catholic earning indulgences also needs to be truly penitent, go to Confession in a timely manner, receive the Eucharist afterwards, and pray thinking about the Pope’s needs and intentions for the Catholic Church and the world, which this webpage is helpful.)

  1. Listen to 3 sermons or lectures about the documents of Vatican 2, or the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
  2. Do a pilgrimage to a cathedral, or to catacombs, holy sites and take part in a sacred celebration or say a specially thought out and designed prayer at that site in honor of the pilgrimage completed.
  3. Visit a baptism font, or the place where you were baptized and renew your baptismal promises.

Here’s the article I got this info from: Vatican Announces Plenary Indulgence for Year of Faith |Blogs | NCRegister.com.

Vatican 2: An Update or A Total Revision of Catholic Faith?

Vatican II @50 years (Oct. 2012)I was very fortunate to attend at Loyola Marymount University the first session of eight that looks into the effects of Vatican II in the Catholic Church.  I know V2 was a huge catalyst of change in a variety of areas of Catholic life.  From what I hear, there was a rail where people would come up to and wait kneeling to receive communion, and that nuns and priests would be the ones to teach religion.  That is far from the case now.  And believe me, there are more changes that came that I just take for granted as I say to myself, “We always did it this way.”

The session (or symposium, to use the proper academic term) was helpful in that it summarized what some of the key themes were; it delved into naming some of the struggles that the “laity” or “people in the pews” had during the changes after V2; and it presented the effects of V2 on the Latin American Catholic Church and Asian Catholic Church.

Yet one issue that the presenters discussed was whether V2 was a progressive occurrence, or an event that was only restating in different terms what the Catholics always held to believe in.  It’s a sharp contrast of “either/or” mentality.

The speakers said, “It’s a council of both/and,” not “either/or.”

As my title suggests, there are many who see V2 as a “total reform” of Catholicism.  And there are others who suggest that the reforms were too radical, and that V2 was merely updating how we think of certain theological ideas, but wasn’t intended to change the Catholic culture as what has happened since then.

Yet, going back to the response of the speakers, there is more depth given to the work of V2 if it viewed as a council that was both total reform and an updating of Catholicism.  It was a council that restated the traditions in different terms, and a council that sought to replace theological ideas that were not faithful to basic Christian principles.

Think of it as the CD industry and the MP3 industry.  There was a “total reform” in that CDs were no longer needed.  Yet, in the bigger picture, it was also keeping to same goal: delivering music to the consumer.  I’m sure there are debates about this as well, but my point stands: CDs were overhauled with MP3 downloads, but it was still the same thing: a method of delivering music.

My great hope is that people will use the “Year of Faith” as a time of reflecting in small groups over documents of Vatican 2.  And anyone not Catholic can take part in the same exercise by reviewing important writings from theologians that have affected their particular faith affiliation.

Education is the best remedy for confusion and division of people due to misinterpretations.