A reflection on seeking one’s vocation

Ok…still lagging on the Lenten practice post, but I have been drafting it, I promise!

Anyways, people in my life are aware to a varying extent (read: not at all to fairly knowledgeable) of my search for my vocation. The idea of a vocation is not very well understood, so here’s a definition from Dictionary.com:

vo·ca·tion [voh-key-shuhn] – noun

1. a particular occupation, business, or profession; calling.

2. a strong impulse or inclination to follow a particular activity or career.

3. a divine call to God’s service or to the Christian life.

4. a function or station in life to which one is called by God: the religious vocation; the vocation of marriage.

The story of my on-going vocation search is a winding one, best left for another post (or two, or three…or more?), but for the purpose of this post, it is sufficient to say that my search has been one of joy and excitement and growth in my desire to know, love, and serve God in this life and be with Him forever in the next. At other times (for example, lately), I feel a sense of tension, disappointment, confusion, even spiritual desolation.

At times like these, I revisit this reflection from Blessed John Cardinal Newman that I ran into a while ago and copied down into my travel notebook. If you’ve ever felt a sense of tension over what you’re doing with your life, where you’re going…or to what God is calling you, I hope you find this as helpful as I do:

“God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in the chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it if I do but keep His Commandments. Therefore, I will trust Him; whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.”

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A Story about Finding God on the Streets of Disney Life – Part 2

If you missed out on the first part of this story, you can see my previous blog post here: http://wp.me/p2eERS-1q

So, the question is, why spend my time writing not just one, but two entire posts about seeing that girl at Disney California Adventure who had, as my friend puts it, a “winsome-gaze-as-though-looking-for-a-prince” while singing along to Disney film clips? And another question is, don’t you have better things to do with your time?

Well, the answer to the latter question is that today is my regular Friday off work, and I already went to Mass to receive Jesus in Word and Sacrament…so no, I don’t really 😛

The answer to the former question (the more important one, duh) is this: after spending time reliving the experience in my imagination, and meditating on it, and talking it over with God, here’s what I ended up with: “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts!” (Psalm 84)

The fact is, I don’t really remember what she looked like anymore: her physical features, what she was wearing…I honestly don’t remember most of it, except that she was average height with dark hair, and I thought at first glance that she was kinda cute. But though my physical eyes barely noticed her that first time, the Eyes of my Heart, once opened that second time, was instantly drawn to something much deeper: a window into her inner being that showed her inner Beauty!

Classical philosophers Plato and Aristotle, and one of my favorite saints of the Middle Ages, St. Thomas Aquinas, all agreed that the Trancendentals, Goodness, Truth, and Beauty, are all infinite in nature, and that man naturally desires all three. These infinities, Christian theology declares, are God himself. If a hardened atheist were to actively pursue just one of these three, that pursuit would eventually lead him (or her) to the Maker.

Quite sadly though, contemporary culture has lost its appreciation of the Trancendentals and has cut them way short of their objective infinite natures: namely, that Goodness is subjective (what’s immoral to you is good to me), Truth is relative (if I don’t think it’s true, then it’s not), and Beauty is reduced to a simple expression of self and personal taste (don’t judge, just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s not attractive).

On a less philosophical level, in our fallen world, the relationship between men and women has likewise been cut short of its full meaning by mainstream culture and media: we are bombarded with an obsession with physical appearance and sex. As evidence, I present the song “Sexy and I Know It” by LMFAO: is it a satire? Possibly? Well…if you think about it…maybe?…it’s probably a toss-up. Now don’t misunderstand: our bodies and sex are gifts from God, and even more than that, in the right context, actually reveal to us an even deeper knowledge of God himself…no, really, I kid you not! Even more amazing: the Church actually teaches this! *GASP* You want proof? Try reading up on works regarding Blessed Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

I could go on and on about this, but the point I want to make is this: what the culture has done is try to separate our bodies and the physical realities of sex from the fullness of our humanity, from the connections to our inner-most being of our hearts, minds, and souls…and from God himself, who created all this, and created all of it good, in the first place! This has caused so much harm to men and women and how we relate to each other…and some of us don’t even know it. 😦 One of the worst parts of this is that it has damaged both men and women’s ability to recognize the fullness and infiniteness that is Beauty. As tempted as I am to keep going on this track, I will save this for another time.

Back to the story: what I encountered in that moment, when I truly saw that girl, was a glimpse into the Beauty held within her heart, mind, and soul; a Beauty far beyond the physical “sexiness” prized by this culture; a Beauty of her own unique self; a Beauty that radiated from the inside out…a Beauty that revealed the Creator himself because Beauty is the Creator himself. As St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 6:19 “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” I think the answer is that we forget this a lot, and even more so, we forget that other people are temples of the Holy Spirit also.

Eventually (inevitably?) I made the blunder of pointing her out to my friend, which resulted in her continually encouraging (pestering?) me to talk to her, as well as several “match-making” inside jokes, which are still on-going. 😛 According to said friend, that girl actually passed by me outside of the Animation Building without me noticing and, paraphrasing my friend, “looked at you for a good 2 seconds with a slight lingering gaze of interest…perhaps longing? *wink wink, nudge nudge*” 😉

And no, I never did try to talk to her: what does one say in a moment of being overwhelmed by Beauty? Odds are that I’ll never run into her again in this life, but if we both make it up to heaven one day (in my case, I’ve got a long ways to go!), I would tell her this: Thank you for unknowingly sharing a tiny bit of your Beauty with me that day, because just by being you, you revealed God to me. And…you gave me enough to write two entire blog posts 😉 (hey, being dead is no excuse for losing my sense of humor!)

And to my Heavenly Father (and yours!), “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts!” AMEN!

A Story about Finding God on the Streets of Disney Life – Part 1

I’m dodging the Lenten practices post again, haha. But this time it’s because I want to share a story of something that happened to me recently, which you may find amusing, possibly cute, but perhaps thoughtful as well.

As most of my friends and acquaintances know, I’m a very big Disneyland fan (being fairly tall, that’s both a literal and figurative statement). 😛 There are many interesting layers as to why that is, but I’ll save that for another time. Anyways, recently I went to Disneyland to hang out with a couple of friends who shall remain nameless, but will no doubt find the retelling of this story amusing, and could probably throw in a few extra details as well. Since we’re all AP holders, it was one of those kick-back-and-relax evenings at the parks: instead of rushing to get through as many attractions as we could, the night was pretty chill, eating dinner at a sit-down place, visiting rides with short lines, including cramming my long legs into a friggin’ teacup >.<

At some point in the evening, we went to one of my favorite low-key places in the Disney California Adventure: the Disney Animation building. The Animation Courtyard is a great place to hang out and enjoy clips from various Disney and Pixar animated films, which also include original character sketches, music, and lighting effects. The building also hosts the Disney Animation Academy, where artists teach you how to draw some of Disney’s most popular animated characters. We got there and found out that the “class” had already started, so it’d be 15 minutes to the next one; so ok, cool, the Animation Courtyard is probably the best place to wait for anything anyways 😀

So we’re hanging out, enjoying our favorite animated clips, music, and songs. Personally, one of my other favorite activities to do there is people-watch (actually, this is true wherever I go), and on that end there was a lot of interesting things to see: a guy making a silly dance video with his friends, a mom running after her toddler, a dad holding his baby and moving to the music. In the visual and audial symphony of it all, I barely noticed a fairly pretty young woman, maybe early 20s, step into the courtyard. I give her a quick glance, think that it’s a bit odd to see a girl by herself at Disney, then go back to watching clips (or other people, I forget).

A few minutes later, as I’m glancing around the room again, and I notice that young woman again, and this time she’s singing to the song currently playing, and very much “in character” (that kind of starry-eyed expression that certain Disney songs have the power to invoke) …and it’s hard to describe what went through my mind, but it was like I was actually seeing her for the first time, as though something in me had registered something that I hadn’t noticed before. “I wondered why I didn’t see it there before!” (Beauty and the Beast reference). In that single moment, she became that girl, and from that time on, until we entered the Animation Academy, I would try to distract myself by looking at other people, the screens, my phone…something else…anything else…but my eyes would always return to take just another glance at that girl.

Now, there’s a bit more to the story, but I’ll come back to it; instead I want to pose a few questions: what was it about that moment that drew my gaze? What did I notice then that I hadn’t noticed before? What is it about that experience that has caused my mind to drift back to it, again and again, day after day, during times of idleness (and I’ll be real, even when I’m busy)? For the love of God, Mary my Mother in Heaven, and all the angels and saints, what is it about that infinitesimal fraction of my life span that is driving me to spend time writing about it on this blog?!?

If you want to find the answers to these questions, stay tuned for my next post, coming soon! (a.k.a. this will be more readable if I break it into two parts) 😛

[edit:] here’s the link to part 2 http://wp.me/p2eERS-1R

One thing I am NOT giving up during Lent – my sense of humor

In my last post I promised to share some of the things I’ll be doing for Lent…but I ran into this article (see the link at the end) and thought I’d share something I’m not giving up during Lent – my sense of humor 😀

Yes, Lent is a time for reflection and penance, but that doesn’t mean you have to be dull and boring about it: Christianity is fundamentally a religion of hope and joy, because despite our sinfulness and our unworthiness, God loves us anyways! There is nothing we can do to earn more of his love, nor is there anything we can do to make him stop loving us. He continues to love us, provide for us, and give us opportunities to grow closer to him in this life so that we can prepare to be with him forever in the next! Jesus is our hope for everlasting life, the God who became man, who knows from experience the things we go through every day, what we struggle with, how we are tempted. And out of love for us He chose to suffer, die, and rise from the dead! Pope Benedict XVI titled one of his encyclicals “Spe Salvi” or “Saved in Hope,” and indeed, we are!

So yes, be reflective, do penance, return to God…but also be open to the experiences of hope and joy that God is offering you, right here, right now, and especially, right in front of your face 🙂

So in that spirit, I hope you enjoy a super-funny post from one of my favorite bloggers, Simcha Fisher:

http://www.ncregister.com/blog/simcha-fisher/a-non-catholics-guide-to-lenten-weirdness

It’s Ash Wednesday! Tips for a Productive Lent

Hello everyone, it’s Ash Wednesday! I went to Mass this morning at 6:15, and it was poppin’ for a weekday Mass, filled with folks who just couldn’t wait (like me) to receive the Eucharist and their ashes on their foreheads. It was pretty awesome!

In my last post, I promised to share some practical tips on making this Lenten season one of spiritual growth. But if you’re still unclear on what Lent is and why it’s important in the first place, check out that post a bit more and click some of the links.

So with that, let’s begin!

1. Lent is NOT just about giving up stuff or doing stuff for the sake of doing it. – During Lent, the question that often comes up in conversations is, “So what are you giving up for Lent?” But Lent isn’t fundamentally about “giving stuff up”; fasting (and more broadly, self-giving) is important, but it’s a means to an end, not the end itself. The purpose of Lent is to renew and deepen our personal relationship with God (and with his Church, which is the Body of Christ on earth). The pillars of Lent, which are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, are tools to help us in this purpose, to help us turn away from sin and grow closer to God.

2. Lent is NOT Catholic Weight Watchers! – if you’re giving up junk food, candy, ice cream, or other foods just because you need something to give up for Lent, and you think it’ll help you get that beach body…stop right now and read through point #1 again. And again. And again. Now rethink what you’re intending to give up, and why you’re intending to give it up, and move on to the next points 🙂

3. That being said, true fasting is an important spiritual practice. – Real fasting is not simply a physical act, but also an act of the mind, heart, and soul. The intent behind fasting and other forms of self-denial is to strengthen our wills by controlling the physical appetites of our bodies. Some of these appetites can be benign, but others can be sinful and harmful to our souls (think lust, gluttony, etc.). Fasting reminds us, as Jesus said, that man cannot live on bread alone; it reminds us that we are not solely defined by our physical aspect, but that we have mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of ourselves which also need care. Sometimes we get so distracted by physical wants and desires (as opposed to legitimate needs) that we lose sight of what is most important, which is God. For example, we know that living a healthy holistic lifestyle to help prevent illness and injury is a good thing, but going overboard over diet and exercise because you want that sexy beach body (and “benefits” associated with such…a matter for another day) might be a bit off track.

Another aspect of fasting is that these acts of self-denial bring us closer to Jesus, who made the ultimate act of sacrifice by giving up his life for the whole world. Giving up your favorite dessert might seem like nothing compared to that, but it does in fact move our wills closer to the will of Christ, which is one of self-giving love to others. On the other hand, giving up deeply ingrained unhealthy or sinful habits can be a major challenge that even more clearly helps you relate to the sacrifice the Jesus made for us, and if you choose to take that on, God will send you grace to help you through it.

So basically, it’s not as much what you give up that will help you grow spiritually, though that can be quite significant and challenging on its own; it’s why you give it up that makes a difference.

4. Don’t forget about prayer and almsgiving! – Prayer and almsgiving often times get neglected, but these also are opportunity to grow in relationship with God. Prayer is, quite simply, conversation with God, and all strong relationships have good communication. There are many ways we can pray, whether they’re the classic prayers you were taught when you were little, deep written reflections from spiritual writers, even casual conversation with God.

Another important aspect is almsgiving and works of charity, which helps to reconcile us to God in the people he created, our neighbors, especially those in need. In Matthew 25, Jesus tells us that whenever we give food and drink to the hungry and thirsty, welcome a stranger, give clothes to someone who doesn’t have them, visit and comfort the sick or imprisoned, we do it to him (he also reminds us that when we ignore the least of our neighbors, we ignore him). It is important to share the gifts that God has given to us with the people around us, not just our money, but also our time, and most especially our love. Mother Teresa once observed that the people in third world countries suffer from physical poverty, but those in developed nations tend to suffer from emotional poverty.

5. Today on Ash Wednesday, get your ashes as early in the day as you can. – You might be thinking to yourself, “What’s wrong with you? People would be staring at me all day! So not down for that! And didn’t Jesus say something about anointing your head and washing your face when you fast so that no one knows what you’re doing but God?” But here’s a few reasons why you should:

5A. In Matthew 6, Jesus does say that…but if you read the entire chapter, we see that what Jesus is instructing us to do is to not to act like the hypocrites, i.e. to perform public religious acts specifically to get the attention and recognition of others. Just as I’ve been saying all along with this post, it’s not just about doing, it’s about the intentions we hold in the depths of our hearts.

5B. It serves as a reminder to the Catholics (and Christians, as some denominations also celebrate Ash Wednesday) you see today that today’s a good day to go to Church and receive their ashes. Seriously, we all get busy and forget important things in our daily lives, so having reminders are very helpful. Plus, think of it as your act of charity for the day! 🙂

5C. It’s good for your humility – Yes, people may look at you funny, and maybe even point (people have done this to me today). But if we get caught up in our appearances and what other people think about us, we don’t have time to serve God and the people around us.

5D. It presents the opportunity to allow Jesus to use you to share your faith with others – as a whole, Catholics tend to be pretty lousy about sharing our faith, often using the cop-out by quoting St. Francis (but not really, as he never actually wrote it) “Preach the gospel, and use words if necessary.” But in 1 Peter 3:13-17, the first pope, St. Peter, tells us that we always need to be prepared to give an explanation for the reason for our hope, Jesus Christ. While we wear the ashes that reflect our inward penitence today, there will be people who ask us why we do it. You might be worried about not knowing what to say, or how to say it, so this might be a whispering from the Holy Spirit that you need to study up a bit on what the Church teaches. But also keep in mind what Jesus tells us in Luke 12:11-12, that we don’t need to worry about what to say because the Holy Spirit will teach us what needs to be said. So be courageous, be studious, and do not be afraid!

6. And finally, absolutely THE MOST IMPORTANT BIT OF ADVICE: take time to reflect on your life, on your relationship with God, and most importantly the times you chose to turn away from God by choosing to sin. Then get your butt to Confession. – If you ignore everything else that I write, please please at least consider this one! Whether you’re a regular at the confession line or you haven’t gone in months/years/decades, now is the time to go. Scripture tells us that “the wages of sin is death.” A sin is an action, a lack of action, or a thought that violates God’s law and therefore damages our relationship not just with God, but with the people around us, even sins you commit that you think people don’t know about. But God, even though we choose to turn away from him, chooses to continue to love us, want what is best for us, and offers us the opportunity to be reconciled to him through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Jesus, while on earth, gave his Apostles his authority to forgive sins, and the successors to the Apostles, the bishops, and the men who assist them as priests, offer us this chance, so take Jesus up on the offer!

I hope this was helpful to you! If you just can’t get enough and you’re looking for even more practical advice on Lent, check out this article by Deacon Bickerstaff:

http://www.integratedcatholiclife.org/2012/02/deacon-bickerstaff-practical-advice-for-lent/

In my next post or two, I’ll share some of my personal plans for Lent, especially because I’ll need your help with one of them. Have a blessed Lenten season!

Ash Wednesday, Lent, and why I’ll have dirt on my forehead tomorrow =)

As I said in my previous post, tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent. You may have noticed Catholic friends on Facebook or Twitter puzzling out what they want to “give up” for Lent, or reminding themselves to receive ashes at church tomorrow. Actually, you may even have noticed your friends list noticeably decreasing, which probably means you have some friends giving up Facebook for Lent 😛 But what is Lent, and why do we do this stuff?

Lent is the liturgical season in the Catholic Church that is penitential in character and serves to prepare the faithful for they mysteries of Holy Week, which culminate in the memorial of Jesus’s suffering and death on the Cross for everyone’s sins (Good Friday) and his resurrection on Easter Sunday, which offers us the promise of everlasting life with him. Lent is a time for personal reflection on our relationship with God, especially on our sinfulness, in which we willingly choose to distance ourselves from God. It is a time for reconciliation to God, especially via the Sacrament of Confession, which in turn leads to a renewal in our spiritual lives. Lent is traditionally lived out in practical ways by taking on practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving or charity.

If you’ve looked around the Catholic blogosphere, you’ve probably already found a lot of articles written on Ash Wednesday and Lent, so instead of elaborating on my own, I’ll share a few good links here for you to check out:

http://marysaggies.blogspot.com/2012/02/5-simple-ways-to-share-your-catholic.html – This is a post from the blog Aggie Catholics which shares 5 simple ways to share the Catholic faith tomorrow.

http://www.ignitumtoday.com/2012/02/21/this-lent-let-yourself-be-loved/ – This post on the social network Ignitum Today reminds us not to allow ourselves to wallow in the misery of our sinfulness, but rather to reach out and accept the mercy, forgiveness, and healing that God continually offers us, so that we can live our lives in true joy.

http://wdtprs.com/blog/2012/02/ash-wednesday-fasting-abstaining-and-you/ – On Father Z’s blog, he reminds us of the practical definitions and requirements of the Church in regards to fasting (Ash Wednesday and Good Friday) and abstinence from meat (Ash Wednesday and all Fridays of Lent).

http://www.catholic.org/clife/lent/story.php?id=44865 – Deacon Keith Fournier gives a detailed explanation of Lent: what the season is and why we do what we do.

http://lifeteen.com/why-do-catholics-put-ashes-on-our-heads-on-ash-wednesday/ – Mark Hart offers the explanation of why I’m gonna have dirt on my forehead tomorrow 🙂

In my next post, I’ll offer a few tips and tricks of my own regarding Lent, and perhaps share a couple of my own personal practices that I’ve chosen for this year.

Welcome to my new blog!

Hi everyone, and welcome to my brand new blog! If you didn’t know, today is Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), which makes tomorrow Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, which is the penitential liturgical season which prepares us for Holy Week, which recalls the suffering and death of Jesus Christ on the cross on Good Friday, and culminates in Easter Sunday, celebrating Jesus’s resurrection from the dead, giving the faithful hope in eternal life with him. Traditionally during Lent, one takes up practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving (charity) to help grow in our personal relationship with God.

I’ll talk more about Lent in the next post, but one of things I’ve chosen to do this year is start up this blog as a tool to help me better witness to Christ and fulfill his command to spread the Gospel as a part of the Church he founded on Earth. The Catholic Church has placed an emphasis on the New Evangelization, first articulated by Blessed Pope John Paul II, which means finding new, creative, and inspiring ways to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In keeping with this missionary spirit, I’ll be sharing interesting articles that I come across as well as some of my own writings and reflections, which hopefully lead you (and me!) to greater relationship with Christ and his Church. I hope this blog is a helpful resource to you, but even more so, I hope that it honors and glorifies God. As the Jesuits say, Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam! (For the Greater Glory of God!)