Jul 042018
 

At Mass this morning, three of my parish priests were there. One priest was the former long time pastor of the parish, now retired. Our current pastor. Plus our “baby” priest who was ordained recently and I had not yet seen at Mass.

The former pastor is a bit of a character and a pretty funny guy, but his homily concentrated on thankfulness for this country but also on religious liberty and threats to it in regards to abortion and so-called same-sex marriage. Our current pastor seems to have a much more serious bent, but one that I appreciate in his devotion. I have only heard anecdotally about the new priest and his deliberate taking his time in praying the Mass.

Where I go to daily Mass we started to have a Deacon doing most of the homilies. I noticed he had no wedding ring and sure enough it turns out he is a transitional Deacon. I have been quite enjoying his homilies which invoke St. Thomas Aquinas, St. John of the Cross, and with dwelling on the Beatific Vision.

So this got me thinking about generations of priests and future priests where I have a visible timeline while going to Mass. A tiny segment of the timeline of the effects of Apostolic Succession, especially with another former pastor of my parish now being a Bishop.

Apr 162018
 

As a pessimistic-optimist I was pretty skeptical about the Christ Renews His Parish Men’s Retreat. Thought it would be rather gimmicky team building.

Glad I was wrong. The witnessing by people telling their life stories was pretty powerful and the camaraderie was excellent. Pretty much impressed by this 36 hour retreat.

The range in ages of people there really ran the gamut. From 17 on up. Regardless of age it was men trying to take the next step in their faith lives. Just super impressed by the people I met.

I’m the type of introvert that does fine in group settings – especially as the class clown or jester in my case.

I mainly went to this retreat since I am trying to step out of my self-imposed isolation. Mostly I am fine just sitting at home reading. I keep myself amused. Not exactly the recipe for stepping out with the Gospel acclamation. So becoming active in my parish beyond attending Mass was my goal. I knew I needed community life because keeping to myself I have a fool as a companion.

Jan 012018
 

On social media I quipped:

I told 2017 “Come at me bro”. It did. Not saying anything to 2018.

I am fairly happy to see 2017 go as it was a rather rough year for me. Transitions both good and bad.

A year ago I had no idea that my wife was in her final weeks of life. She was originally diagnosed with cancer in December of 2013. While the cancer was treatable, she refused any treatment. This was mostly due to some bad experiences in hospitals and that she was super-sensitive to many drugs. She was more afraid of chemotherapy than the cancer itself. This was despite all the encouragement we gave her to help her over this. I talked to a priest about this and he related similar stories for me regarding people who refused treatment, especially among Filipinos.

At the time they said without treatment she would only survive a year to a year and a half. So at the two year mark with no outward signs of it getting worse, I had some hope that she might survive this. As three years went by with no exterior effects that hope grew. What I did not know at the time as we entered that new year, was that she was hiding increasing pain. This soon became apparent in the final two weeks of her life. That last week being spent in the hospice with here where our children and myself stayed with her.

So I deal with a lot of guilt concerning what might have happened if she had received treatment. After 36 years of marriage there is a palpable absence in my life. Generally I don’t tend towards depression but I keep being reminded that I am not as stoic as I think I am.

This led to another change. Making burial arrangements I found that a parish near me had a mausoleum and that this was the only parish with it’s own cemetery. This cemetery is located directly behind a historic wooden Catholic church. They have daily Mass there and the Latin Mass on Sundays. When my wife was alive she preferred to go to Mass at different parishes each week. I am more of a creature of habit and prefer something steadier. So I started attending the Latin Mass and afterwards walking to where my wife is entombed and to pray the Divine Mercy chaplet.

So I have become much more familiar with the Latin Mass this year and really enjoy it. I have traditionalist tendencies, but am not a jerk about it. I also go to daily Mass, which is the Ordinary Form. Besides the Latin Mass on Sunday, I have recently taken to going to the Vigil Mass in the parish I was received into the Church. This leads to a liturgical Deja Vu, since Christ the King is celebrated at different time in the Ordinary and Extraordinary Form.

After I started to attend the Latin Mass I was asked to join the choir. This was rather remarkable since this was a result of them hearing me singing, and asking me despite this. Now I do love to sing and spent four years in High School choir. Still I know my limitations and while I have a decent voice,I definitely don’t have perfect pitch. Very imperfect pitch. So I have spent some time last year practicing, and this year will be the same. I also started to teach myself piano as an aid to this. I have greatly enjoyed singing with the Latin Mass choir, but struggle with the chant. At least my Latin pronunciation is improved.

I also joined a local chapter of Saint Paul Street Evangelization (SPSE). I had heard of them from Catholic Answers Live and it sounded like a structured way I could evangelize. As a bit of an introvert I had plenty of excuses why I was not doing my bit in the Gospel call. My wife prayed for me for years and was instrumental in my conversion and so after her death I felt I should be doing the same. I am still humbled to find myself a believing Catholic and really want to share that joy. My outings with SPSE have been wonderful. When I heard them on Catholic Answers Live they explained their non-confrontational approach as they were there to hand out rosaries, medals, brochures and to answer people’s questions. We set up our stand by the beach and it is very positive experience just talking to people. People either are or are not interested, and most people not interested are not jerks about it. I am hoping to do more of this, this year.

First outing

Another major change for me was my weight. I have always struggled with my weight and have gained and lost significant amounts over the years. A couple of years ago I reached 290. I needed a consistent approach that I could make into a habit. The first thing that became an important part of solving this was getting an Apple Watch about two and a half years ago. It tracks calories, heart rate, and daily exercise. Three rings are used to show daily progress. So this was my daily impetus to walk and exercise. I hated the idea of not filling out the rings each day, so this was enough of a mental trick to keep me going. Consistent exercise did lead to me dropping about fifty pounds, but I was pretty much staying at the same weight.

Me at 290 Pounds

Last January I read posts on Facebook by Jimmy Akin on intermittent fasting, which his doctor had suggested to him. For him this took the path of eating just one meal a day that was mostly low carb. I had already started the practice of fasting on Fridays, so I knew this was doable. To start with I just cut out all snacking and just having lunch and dinner. Transitioning to only eating dinner was easier than I could have suspected, but this was mixed in with the time my wife was in hospice and in the aftermath. During the work week I stopped coming home for lunch and so this helped. The most counterintuitive part of intermittent fasting is that you are not hungry and that your body quickly adjusts. At least for me this was true and there is nothing that is the same for everybody when it comes to diet and exercise.

As far as exercise goes I started by doing more walking. At work I took walking breaks. This year those walking breaks turned into a praying the Rosary while walking and then at 3:00 P.M. praying the Divine Mercy chaplet while walking. At first I thought of this as killing two birds with one stone. I quickly realized that walking while praying was very beneficial in reducing distractions for me. Prayer could actually break out among the distractions. Originally I was also spending an hour on a Exercycle while reading. This year I bought a bike and started doing daily rides in my neighborhood and elsewhere. These daily rides are now about 14.5 miles each day with 20 or more miles on weekends.

As a result I lost 88 pounds this year with 142 pounds lost overall in the last two and a half years. This is to the point where I have been holding steady at around 148 pounds. It still freaks me out to be buying size small shirts. Despite having lost the amount of weight I desired, I am too aware of my previous losses and gains. So I am maintaining the same level of daily exercise along with intermittent fasting most days. As for diet I pretty much follow low carb where mostly I stay away from sugar and breads. This works for me, especially as I have found many substitute ways to cook low carb meals that doesn’t leave me craving previous favorite foods.

Jimmy Akin did an hour show on Catholic Answers Live about intermittent fasting and his experience. What he had to say parallels my own experience as he also lost significant amounts of weight from first low carb and then intermittent fasting. “When you Fast”. He provides the necessary caveats. As he mentions there is spiritual side to fasting, even intermittent fasting for weight loss.

Me recently in my Pints with Aquinas shirt

There have been some other difficulties this year which I will not go into. Although one major difficulty is showing fruit of becoming more positive. I ask for prayers for this special intention. There are some things I am hoping to come about in 2018. Time will tell. What I do know is I don’t know where I would be without my Catholic faith.

Dec 182017
 

When I was an atheist I had a very utilitarian view of things. For example I thought that all government buildings and interiors should be just purpose driven with no view to design. That the interiors should be focused on maintainability and not beauty or even government office idea of beauty. Living on multiple Aircraft Carriers I felt the practical aesthetic of gray bulkheads with visible wiring was how everything should be. It annoyed me that so much effort was wasted on waxing floors and such to make a pretty warship.

This was one of those things I think I believed without believing. I felt it was a natural outgrowth of my worldview and thus took precedence over my own thoughts. I thought I had to choose practicality over beauty with no intersection of the two.

It was only later did I realize that not only did I not believe this, but that in actuality I reviled this viewpoint. It’s amazing what you can teach yourself to believe without believing.

I was thinking about all of this as I was decorating my house for Christmas. I have spent a good amount of time decorating despite the fact that I am now the only recipient of the fruits of that work. When my wife was alive, I certainly took pleasure in decorating and seeing her reaction. Now I just luxuriate in the beauty of the decorations and any design put into them.

This is something more than just nostalgia regarding previous Christmases. As a kid I also loved to decorate and to be creative in making my own decorations. I loved to make custom ribbons and ornaments. I had not philosophical underpinnings regarding how these creative acts were part of something more. I just knew that there was some transcendental aspect to this even I would not have described it that way.

I still don’t have the words really to describe this. The pleasure I receive in decorating and then living among the fruits of it. This has only been amplified for me as the theological underpinnings regarding most of the decorations brings these symbols to life. As I dwell on the incarnation and the facts of our redemption. The Hallmark view of Christmas and family were just the fumes of Christmas I lived on for years. Now I know something deeper, but still find it easy to get lost in the sentimental. So I try to develop gratitude regarding the great mystery of the incarnation. To let the symbolic take me far as it can go and to enter into something deeper.

Dec 042017
 

When a patient is suffering a life-threatening condition and is rushed to the hospital, doctors are supposed to do everything in their power to save a life. That’s how it works most of the time anyway, but when an unconscious elderly man showed up in the emergency room with “Do Not Resuscitate” tattooed across his chest, medical staff were left struggling to decide what to do.

The case, which is detailed in a recent installment of the New England Journal of Medicine, centers around an unresponsive diabetic patient who arrived at a Florida hospital with an elevated blood-alcohol level. University of Miami doctors began working to save his life immediately, but were taken aback by the words they saw written below the man’s collarbone.

In many states, including Florida, any individual of sound mind can choose to meet their maker and forego medical treatment in the event of a life-threatening accident, illness, or ailment. Individuals choose that route for a variety of reasons, including religious beliefs, the desire to avoid being dependent on machine-aided life support, and even due to the potential burden of surviving the ordeal and being left with a mountain of medical debt. Unfortunately, a tattoo isn’t exactly a legal document, and doctors were left with an ethical conundrum.

Was the tattoo just a joke? Or perhaps a decision he had made in his youth which he had since changed his mind about? The staff had no way of knowing, and the unresponsive patient obviously couldn’t clear things up for them. At least one prior case of a “Do Not Resuscitate” tattoo, the man’s life was saved when the doctors ignored the message, and the patient later explained that the tattoo was merely a joke that he didn’t think anyone would take seriously.

Source

This got me thinking about what I would want as a tattoo that provided doctors information about treatment. Especially as I had a bit of a scare recently when a dog ran out in front of my bicycle and I was thrown head first. Lost consciousness and somehow managed walking my bike home with no memory of this. Spent less than a day in the hospital, and although being rather banged up with some internal bleeding initially, I am fine now.

My inclination would not be for “Do Not Resuscitate”, but more of a worry towards being denied proper care. In this age it seems to me that we need to worry more about lack of proper care as the whole Terri Shiavo episode is indelibly etched in my memory. So if I was going to get a tattoo it would be along the lines of not denying me food an water.

Something along this line.

Sure there are distinctions to be made concerning ordinary and extraordinary care. Still getting a tattoo is unlikely for me. After all I have been to Hong Kong four times in various states of inebriation without getting a tattoo, so I am pretty sure I am immune.

Apr 042017
 

I had previously mentioned that I joined a local group of St Paul Street Evangelization. On April 1st our first outing as a group was to Jacksonville Beach, Fl.

The parish sponsoring us is St Paul’s and is only two blocks from the public access to the beach. This can be confusing referring to St. Paul’s St Paul Street Evangelization. Our local team though is made up of a variety of people from multiple parishes in the Diocese of St. Augustine.

The things I do for Christ, like spending part of the day at the beach on an absolutely beautiful and sunny afternoon.

I compare this to the travails of St. Paul (that name is coming up a lot).

Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked. I spent a night and a day in the open sea.

So as an introvert I certainly had trepidations about evangelizing in the way of St Paul Street Evangelization, although their approach makes it easier. People there were actually very decent about getting offers for a free Rosary. Even the ones not interested at all were polite about it. I think a saw a rather confused face from one man wearing an obviously Evangelical t-shirt, but he was still pleasant in his refusal.

We should have had EMT’s out with us for anybody fainting from seeing Catholics evangelizing. For the most part I hung back while more extroverted members of the team approached people. Giving me a change to pray for those being interacted with. Plus I could enter conversations at times regarding areas I was confident talking about. Having listened to thousands of hours of Catholic radio I can finally make use of that. It was all very enjoyable and even relaxing. Time went pretty quick for the three hours we were out there.

It was great getting to know some of the other members of the team. Quite varied in experience and thankfully many of them are very outgoing approaching people with seeming ease. Especially impressed with Deacon Ed who leads the team. It is just great seeing Catholics out there doing this and I can hardly believe I am one of them.

If you are thinking you want to do more to evangelize in a non-pressure way – I highly recommend St Paul Street Evangelization. In the five short years they have been around they have really grown.

First outing

(I’m the guy second over from the left)

There are additional pictures at the Jacksonville Beach St Paul Street Evangelization blog for our team.

By the way, today is my anniversary as a Catholic. Where have those 18 years gone? So when do I start the part about growing in holiness?

“You have no idea how much nastier I would be if I was not Catholic. Without supernatural aid I would hardly be a human being.” – Evelyn Waugh

Mar 232017
 

With the recent death of my wife I am of course dealing with a lot of changes. All the patterns of everyday life in 36 years of marriage have been totally disrupted. While I am thankful for my faith in dealing with my grief, it still must be dealt with. The waves of sadness that hit me suddenly are mostly surprise attacks. Still I am dealing with it the best I can in prayer.

One of my early thoughts going through this process was that I wanted to live a life worthy of her. She who had toiled for years praying for her hardened atheist husband. After being married so long I think it can be rather easy to be set adrift. Still my faith anchors me and helps me from making of fool of myself – or at least more of a fool of myself.

Of those changes one was to commit to Daily Mass. My work hours are flexible so I searched through MassTimes.org looking for an early Mass that I could go to and still get to work somewhat early. Not many to choose from with that criteria and ended up with one at 7:00 A.M. that was only a little off my route. This was much earlier than I wanted. Still I have now managed a routine of getting ready in the morning in 15 minutes to be on my way. So despite waking up much earlier than I wanted, this is so worth it to start my day this way.

The second change I wanted to effect was to get involved in evangelization. That the faith my wife had given me should be multiplied. In the past I have made plenty of excuses regarding this. I felt like Moses telling God about how he wasn’t good talking to people. I am a bit of a gregarious introvert. I do love people, but tend to myself. I do better in larger groups than smaller ones like many class clowns.

Over the last couple of years I have been hearing more and more regarding St. Paul Street Evangelization. The more I heard the more I thought that just possible I could fit in doing this. There non-confrontational approach of handing out Rosaries, Miraculous Medals, etc – while listening to people and answering questions appealed to me. A group setting where you have several people involved and people praying for you when you talk to someone.

So I decided to reach out to them to find if there was a chapter near me. Turns out there was one – one that was just forming. So last Saturday I met with this group in their first meeting. An interesting range of people led by a Deacon obviously on fire for the faith. The parish he belongs to is providing all the materials needed. So next Saturday will be our first experience of setting out a table and following the charism of St. Paul Street Evangelization. The parish sponsoring this is right off the beach and so there will be a lot of foot traffic where we will be setting up.

Another change is becoming more involved in parish life. My wife liked going to different parishes each week. She disliked going to the same place over an over. My tendencies are different as have no problem with routine. Although going to all these different parishes did give me a snapshot regarding liturgical worship in my diocese and that generally things are improving in this regard. My first thought was to be involved in the parish where I first came into the Church. A downtown Jacksonville church that is now a Basilica. A really beautiful church with a solid pastor.

Other considerations came into play though. After my wife died I scrambled to find a place for her to be interned. I found that a parish within easy driving distance to me was the only one with their own graveyard. So she is interned there in a Mausoleum. Since we were not members of this parish, the costs were increased. Later as I realized I wanted to be buried there next to her I decided that this parish would be my home. The main church is very large seating around 4,500. They also still maintain their historic church completed in 1883. This wooden building is situated in front of the cemetery where my wife is. They have the Traditional Latin Mass on Sundays so this is where I go. After Mass it is a short walk to visit my wife and pray the Divine Mercy. I love going to the TLM on Sundays, but also love the Daily Masses I go to in the Ordinary Form.

So those are just some of the changes I am going through. So any prayers you can send my way I would appreciate.

Mar 062017
 

Some years ago I came across a story about Trappist Caskets where the monks of New Melleray Abbey in Iowa build hand-crafter caskets. This appealed to me in several ways. That they are hand-crafted, affordable, and that the effort supports Trappist monks. So I had told my wife this is what I wanted to buried in.

When we were staying at the hospice they gave us various materials including for funeral planning. Up to that point I really had not given any thought to this. Really I didn’t want to think about this at all. Still I realized that I had to deal with this. So I remembered the story about Trappist Caskets and called them to order one. I felt pretty creepy calling them about this since my wife was still alive at the time. When my wife died two days later, they were able to ship it to the funeral home in two days.

At her funeral Mass when I saw this casket I was pleased about the quality of the woodwork. Talk about mixed-feelings though. It is hard to appreciate the craftsmanship of something holding your wife’s body.

Still I did appreciate their customer service and how easy the process was. So I plan on setting up an ordering of one for myself. Just thinking about this is just so Lenten – Memento mori.

I was thinking about all this when I saw this recent post at Crux Loving Memory: Handcrafted Caskets Memorialize with Meaning. This was actually labeled as SPONSORED CONTENT so is a case of an advertisement disguised as an article. Still it does give some idea about them.

Feb 262017
 

If during the TLM you setup a projector to show a video of the Bishop’s Annual Stewardship Appeal, you should at least use a film projector for the correct ambiance. Perhaps some grainy black and white footage.

Oh and why do parishes think a video is a substitute for the homily? Seems like every year they treat it as such. I realize they do this because of time, but that doesn’t make it right. A shortened homily would at least make sense, no homily at all makes no sense.

Plus the Liturgy of Filling out the Form with more detail than the GIRM has got to go. Especially handing out forms and no writing implements. It always makes me feel like being in a captured audience and being guilt into contributing. I have no problem contributing, just with the clumsy attempts to make me do so.

Feb 212017
 

On Jan 29th my wife, Socorro Miller, passed away due to complications from cancer.

Socorro Miller

I can hardly write how devastated I am from losing her. After over 36 years of marriage I am certainly struggling day-to-day. I thank God for my faith and that she was the instrumental cause God used in my conversion. She was a women of prayer day in and day out despite all those years when I held her faith in little regard. In my then atheistic pride her faith was something I had to put up with. To the end she never wavered in her faith or her prayers. In those final days when she could hardly communicate – she was still making the sign of the cross.

Towards the end she was taken into a hospice to help to manage the pain. Our two children and myself basically lived in the same room at the hospice with her. This was extremely difficult for us to watch her rapid decline, but still we had to be there for her – who had always been there for us. I have often heard how compassion means to “suffer with” and this lesson was drilled into us.

By whatever confluence of events my children and I were awake and in conversation when she passed not long after 3:00 AM on a Sunday.

Socorro and I in 1980

She was first diagnosed a little over three years ago. Not long after that we made a visit to the Philippines to see her family.

Here she us with her two surviving sisters Rosario and Digna along with her brother Rudy – who died not long after this.

For myself I have some head-knowledge about the faith. An intellectual assent to the Church’s teachings. Still this has actualized some of that into a more lived experience. The Glorious Mysteries now have more depth for me. The Communion of Saints is becoming more real to me. I know she is praying for me as I pray for her.

I was super thankful that at her funeral Mass that the priest preached the faith of the Church. That our prayers for her must continue on. In the turmoil in the aftermath of this, I pray that I will live a life worthy of her.

So dear readers I ask that you pray for her and for my family.