for the sake of sanity, prayer

January 31, 2012

One of the little blessings I’ve had throughout my life is that I’ve always gone to school with a chapel nearby.

At St. Philomena Elementary, I always liked to visit the Blessed Sacrament across the street for a couple of minutes after school.  At Loyola High School, I attended a short 20-minute mass offered everyday before class.  And at Notre Dame, I’m supremely blessed — everyone is — to have a chapel in the dorm.  (And I’m even more blessed that my dorm is one of the few on campus that celebrates mass in an orthodox fashion).

Especially in my freshman year, Little Flower Chapel in Morrissey was my safe haven — a place that offered stability and calm, where I could relax, think, and know that God was listening.  And when life got busy after freshman year — well, at least I had the Grotto, the place from which I believe grace flows most on campus.  With how crazy life gets at Notre Dame sometimes, I seriously believe that it’s the Grotto that kept me sane.  It was the Grotto that gave me perspective.  It was the Grotto where I was reassured that our Lady and our Lord are watching over everyone who walks the grounds of Notre Dame.

If there’s one place I miss most while I’m in Rome, it’s the Grotto.  I also miss daily mass, and I miss simply having a place where I can sit down, unwind, and reflect.  Maybe that’s why I’ve been a tad bewildered these days and why I’ve been getting left behind…I don’t take time to thank God and put things into perspective anymore, so I’m living life wandering aimlessly about, trying to find direction that only daily prayer and reflection can offer.

I discovered that there’s a chapel just on the corner of my program’s building here in Rome that offers daily mass at 6:30pm every night.  I think it’s time I start going.

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To close, some words on the Grotto from Tom Dooley, engraved on the hearts of every Notre Dame student:

But just now. . . and just so many times, how I long for the Grotto. Away from the Grotto Dooley just prays. But at the Grotto, especially now when there must be snow everywhere and the lake is ice glass and that triangular fountain on the left is frozen solid and all the priests are bundled in their too-large too-long old black coats and the students wear snow boots. . . . if I could go to the Grotto now then I think I could sing inside. I could be full of faith and poetry and loveliness and know more beauty, tenderness and compassion. . . .


The Self-Sacrificial Nature of Being Catholic

November 14, 2011

People have told me before that I’m one of the happiest kids they know:  I get excited easily and love to share that excitement with others; to them, I just seem to have a profound joy for life.

Which is weird because, to be honest, I don’t think I focus on being happy at all.  What defines me, I think, is that I really love to make other people happy.  Not in the cheap sense.  I don’t lie, for example, to make people feel good about themselves, and I won’t go out of my way to bring a temporary happiness or, worse, an illusion of happiness.

But I like to help others find meaning in life.  I don’t mean this in a cocky or pretentious way; I’m not saying I have divine knowledge or inspiration.  But I do like to make people feel special…I like playing a part in helping them find their place in the world.  Some of the most meaningful moments for me is when I talk to friends about finding direction — whether it be deciding a major, or how to approach relationships, or how to live life to the benefit of others.  Equally as meaningful for me, though, is simply having a short conversation with someone I don’t know well — showing him or her that I care.

I love to help people realize that they have a place in the world, that there’s a higher purpose in life, and that God’s always there for them.  Because ultimately, I think that’s what makes people happy.  And when I focus on other people’s happiness, I often find that I myself am happy.

I’m writing this post now because I’ve been focusing a lot on my own happiness recently.  I keep asking myself, “What do I want?”  and “What can I do to get what I want?”  But in doing so, I find myself dissatisfied, uncomfortable, and, yes, unhappy.  And it makes me feel wholly out of character.  When I’m focusing on me, I am no longer me.

All this stems from my Catholic values.  The nature of being Catholic, I think, is a willingness to give oneself to others.  The Catholic mission is dedicating yourself to God and bringing God to those around you.  When we focus on that — when we focus on bringing to others the Happiness that is God — we ourselves will be happy.  Because we will be doing what God made us to do.

“I think you can’t really be happy, if you are just trying to be happy. The key to happiness is to dedicate yourself to something greater than yourself, and to find a cause that is worthy of all your devotion.” (Cardinal Avery Dulles, SJ)


5 Non-Religious Books to Make You a Better Catholic

September 9, 2011

St. Justin Martyr proclaimed that aspects of Truth can be found in the philosophies of even the pagans.  Indeed, in my own experience, my greatest understanding of Church teachings and values have come from non-Catholic — even non-religious — sources.

Below is a list of 5 books that, I think, have really made me into a better and prouder Catholic.  I also write this post to encourage you, too, to seek Truth even where Truth is not obviously manifested; St. Ignatius of Loyola urged us to find God in all things.  As we know, God can make Himself be known in the most unexpected of ways.

 

1)  Virgil’s Aeneid
The Ancient Roman nationalistic epic that immortalizes the Trojan Aeneas’ journey to fulfill his destinyPutting aside personal desire and doubts, Aeneas trusts in Fate and in pietas (duty to family, country, and the gods) and founds a new nation in Italy, a nation whose fame will be limited by the stars: Rome.

Everyone has an ideal, a comfort, a belief that drives them through life.  For me, it is my trust in God’s Providence.  The Aeneid really propagates the idea that there is a divine plan for us.  Even when we suffer, even when we are confused, we should have the humility to let go of our own ambitions and hesitations and allow Providence to take us where we’re meant to be.

The Catholic Church teaches that God puts us in certain situations for a reason.  He gives us certain talents, surrounds us with certain people, gives us certain duties because He wants us to do something with them.  This is the idea of Providence, and if we only use our free will to submit to God’s will, we can truly find who we are.

2) Keiichi Sigsawa’s Kino no Tabi
Novel series turned anime—follows Kino and her motorcycle Hermes as they travel from city to city.  Through her travels Kino sees how man destroys himself.  But she also finds beauty in the world, and she learns.  That’s why she keeps traveling.

This novel taught me to really reflect on my experiences and to learn from them.  As Catholics we are called to live in the world and do good works, but we are also called to withdraw into quiet contemplation and prayer every once in a while.  Kino no Tabi really gave me a joy in doing this.  Whenever I meet someone, whenever I experience something, I always take some time to ponder why.

3)  Beaumarchais’ The Figaro Trilogy
Three plays that celebrate the virtue and wit of the common man and woman against the foolishness and follies of the aristocracy.  Beaumarchais was a liberal, and The Figaro Trilogy became a precursor to the French Revolution.

What makes the Figaro Trilogy ironic is that though it helped fuel the French Revolution, which is oft-characterized by its venomous anti-Catholicism,  it yet promotes one of the hallmark virtues of the Catholic Church:  Forgiveness.  Two plays in the Trilogy — “The Marriage of Figaro” and “The Guilty Mother”–explore the truth that the ones we love most are the ones who hurt us the most.  Yet we are always called to forgive, because ultimately forgiving and being together is more worth it than being vengefully bitter.

As Catholics we too are called to forgive each other.  And while the Church always holds us to high moral standards, She is also extremely generous in Her forgiveness. As the deathbed convert Oscar Wilde aptly stated:  The Catholic Church “is for saints and sinners alone.”

4)  Plato’s Republic
The Good, and how to find it in your soul and in society.

Written in the 4th century BC, this book obviously predates any sort of Christian institution.  Yet throughout its history, the Catholic Church has looked to Plato as a model for finding God.  For me, the Republic has served as a sort of guide.  I need to find God with my whole being, but only after I subjugate my passions and will to my conscience.  The Republic has also taught me that if one has truly ordered his/her soul well, the Good will show in his/her works and actions.

5)  HW Crocker III’s The Old Limey
The Old Limey follows the adventures of an old British general as he seeks his kidnapped goddaughter in the streets of LA.  He is hopelessly lost in the heroic idealism and glories of Britain’s past, which, set against the backdrop of the modernistic, materialistic, and pragmatic Southern California, looks ridiculously yet entertainingly absurd.

The Old Limey is actually written by a solid Catholic, H.W. Crocker III, yet it has no explicit Catholic message.  The Old Limey is brilliant because it is essentially a modern Don Quixote.  Don Quixote and Nigel Haversham both live and fight for ideals that their modern worlds have discounted.  As Catholics it is easy to feel like them:  The world is always telling the Church to modernize and progress, yet the Church continues to stay true to her teaching and values.  The Old Limey inspired me to really hold true to and fight for Catholic ideals, with the singular devotion of an old Spanish knight or British general.


Does Christ live only in the hearts of the poor?

July 8, 2011

So because of my horrid hour-long commute to and from downtown Los Angeles for my summer job, I’ve been able to tune into the radio news a lot more.  I’ve been particularly intrigued by the debt limit talks — not just because I’m feeding my new interest in economics, but mainly because I’m fascinated by Obama’s antagonization and even demonization of the rich.


Skip to 1:40 to get to what I’m talking about.

According to Obama, because some people get rich — hedge fund managers, corporate jet owners, oil and gas companies — other people suffer, from the student who can’t go to college and the medical researcher who can’t cure cancer to the seniors who have to pay more for Medicare.  (And to Obama, it’s the government’s responsibility to tax the rich to correct these wrongs.)

The antagonization of the rich is really nothing new.  With our elementary logic and imaginations, we almost automatically  perceive rich people to be selfish, self-indulgent, and self-entitled and poor people to be selfless, hard-working, and virtuous.  The rich prey on the poor; it’s common sense Darwinism.  Take Publius Clodius Pulcher, who built his political career on inciting the impoverished masses against the wealthy aristocracy.  Also take the book Radical Compassion (which I had to read for a Portland service immersion last winter), whose basic thesis was that the Catholic Church can be truly Christian only when it rejects everything else except the hearts of the poor, because that is where Christ lives.

But this antagonization of the rich and idealization of the poor doesn’t work.  (For one thing, if the rich are subject to certain vices, so, too, are the poor to their own.  But that’s another discussion.)  As Catholics, as Christians, we’re  called to love.  But I find that the attack on wealth is motivated not by justice, but by jealousy — and as such it inspires not justice, but jealousy.  And I think it all too much betrays a lack of trust in God.  It betrays a lack of trust in the truth that God can sanctify all things, including wealth.

One of the most compelling novels I have read (Brideshead Revisited) includes this quote from an aristocratic woman:

“It used to worry me, and I thought it was wrong to have so many beautiful things when others had nothing.  Now I realize that it is possible for the rich to sin by coveting the privileges of the poor.  The poor have always been the favorites of God and his saints, but I believe that it is one of the special achievements of Grace to sanctify the whole of life, riches included.”

God is present not just amongst the poor.  He can be present anywhere.

Consider how the wealthy are able to provide jobs (and thus impart wealth) to the poor.  Consider the example of rich bankers in Ancient Rome who, when the Senate House burned down in 53 B.C., saved the rest of the City from the fire by hiring on-the-spot firefighters — out of the “self-interest” of wanting to save their financial records.  Consider, too, this youtube video posted by a facebook friend, which states that the wealthy are basically the “test-market” for any product before it is perfected and made available to the greater public.

They didn’t intend it, but good still was produced.  These are acts of self-interest, and yet they somehow benefit everybody. These are just examples of how God can sanctify wealth; these are examples of how God can live amongst the wealthy, too.  And these examples don’t even take into account the instances of sincere altruism by those who have the money — scholarship founders who provide inner-city students with the opportunity of private school, for example.  Lots of good can come from the wealthy — whether intended or not.  God brings out the good either way.

Christ can live in the hearts of the poor.  But every good Catholic — every good Christian — should remember that Christ, in His infinite goodness, can live in the hearts of anyone.  Rich people included.