Attending my First Illegal Mass

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An illegal Mass at an undisclosed location in the Middle East

I just got back from a business trip in an undisclosed location in the Middle East. It was supposed to last six months, but I had some medical issues that prevented me from finishing my mission, so I ended up coming back home after only two months.

In the region where I was living and working, any religion other than Islam is strictly forbidden. This not only includes, for example, Christian services and Mass, but also contraband items such as Bibles, rosaries, crosses, crucifixes, and images of Jesus and the saints.

To be honest, I wasn’t aware of the underground Masses in the city where I was staying. My purpose for being there was for my job. In my free time, my plan was to see the local sights and enjoy myself, taking a break from church since it was “illegal.”

However, something inside of me (the Holy Spirit) prompted me to search out one of the illegal Masses held every Friday. They’re held on Fridays because that’s the Muslim holy day; Sunday is the first day of the work week in Muslim countries, and, thus, is just an ordinary day.

After gaining the pertinent information, I showed up at the designated meeting place. I can’t go into details, but when I walked into this nondescript room, I was suddenly in the middle of a makeshift Catholic chapel! It was amazing.

About 20 to 30 people milled about, chatting and waiting for Mass to begin. Most of the parishioners were from the Philippines (a lot of workers in the Middle East are from the Philippines). I saw an African man in black jeans and a black hoodie in the back. It turns out that he was the priest! I watched as he opened a portable closet in the back of the room and put on borrowed purple vestments.

I was told that any religious contraband brought into the country could be punishable by death, so, needless to say, I left everything at home in the U.S. I didn’t even try to smuggle in my St. Jude holy card that I always keep in my wallet.

Before Mass, the priest, who had come from a different Middle Eastern country where Christianity was legal, began distributing little pouches. He gave me one, and, sure enough, there were little handmade rosaries inside. He risked a lot by bringing them into the country.

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Contraband:  a simple handmade rosary in a patriotic pouch

I was so happy to be holding a rosary! I guess the little “America” pouches were part of the plan to conceal the contraband.

Also before Mass, a Filipino couple were handing out booklets that were given out during the Papal Mass in Abu Dhabi earlier that month. I was now holding a piece of history. I could have kicked myself for not seeking out Mass sooner.

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From the Papal Mass held in Abu Dhabi in early February, 2019

As soon as Mass was over, the priest took off his borrowed vestments, returned them to the portable closet, and all the parishioners began taking down statues and other objects used during Mass. They hid them in other portable closets and locked them up.

I was truly blessed. A wonderful couple invited me to breakfast at a nearby restaurant along with some other parishioners and the priest. Father (I forgot his name) had to catch a flight back to Kuwait later that day, but that didn’t stop all of us from having some amazing fellowship.

The nice couple, Margaret and Stan (not their real names) filled me in on the underground Masses during breakfast. Apparently, in the city where we were, Catholics (mainly Filipinos) meet for church at a different house each week in order to evade the authorities. Margaret said that, a few weeks ago, the police were tipped off and were waiting outside a house where the Catholics were supposed to gather that week. They all got arrested, thrown in jail, and were finally deported. Their livelihoods were destroyed since they would never be allowed back into the country again.

Margaret also told me that at the particular congregation where we had just attended, a priest is only able to come once a month. The other times, a lay leader reads Scripture and distributes the consecrated hosts to the people.

I was humbled beyond belief. Here I was, a rich American by their standards, able to return to my country whenever I wanted, able to practice my faith in big fancy churches.

Needless to say, I haven’t missed a Mass since I’ve returned to the U.S.

Please pray for persecuted Christians not only in the Middle east but all over the world. They are risking their lives for something that you and I take for granted every Sunday.

~t


Sunday Musings: Hurting My Children

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  • I leave for the Middle East in four days. I will be gone for most of next year.
  • I was in a road rage incident with my two sons yesterday. My 12 year old was begging me to stop, but I didn’t listen to him. I didn’t stop until I rammed into the car that had made me angry. The police came, and I was in trouble. Luckily it won’t affect my business trip.
  • This is not how I wanted my kids to remember me. My oldest isn’t even talking to me.
  • Today is the fourth Sunday in Advent. I went to Mass to beg God’s forgiveness. The four Advent candles were lit in front of the altar, reminding me that God’s forgiveness is complete.
  • I tried to make sense of the readings. Hebrews 10:5-10 says Jesus overcame the power of evil that separates us from God. He became our bridge back to God when we fall into evil.
  • I got up and left before communion. I couldn’t stand it anymore. On my way out, I prayed in front of the statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe. She was looking down at me as I asked her to pray for my forgiveness. I touched her cloak before I got up and left.
  • I can’t forgive myself.

~t


I Won’t Be Back For A While

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I’m gonna take a holiday,
Be somewhere far away,
I won’t be back for a while,
For a long long time.

— Hanoi Rocks, “Oriental Beat”

Topaz has been doing better. Back in July, his supervisor (who is also his friend), challenged him to remember this single word: believe. Topaz made a poster with that single word for his office wall at work.

In autumn of this year, Topaz volunteered and was selected at his job for a very long business trip to the Middle East. He can’t be any more specific than this. This has shown that Topaz has been growing and overcoming his mental health issues (with the help of medication of course).

Topaz isn’t healed, nor has he “arrived.” He is simply trying harder and doing better than he has in years. He praises God for this. Through His help, Topaz has become more self-reliant and confident in his abilities.

Will this very long assignment halfway around the world change him more? Perhaps. We will just have to check in later and find out.

Today happens to be the third Sunday in Advent. Topaz was especially struck by this reading. It is Philippians 4:4-7:

Brothers and sisters:
Rejoice in the Lord always.
I shall say it again: rejoice!
Your kindness should be known to all.
The Lord is near.
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Topaz has a long, exciting journey ahead of him. He will keep you updated (he doesn’t post very often though).

~t


To The Fearful of Heart: Be Strong and Do Not Fear

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I’ve been having a hard time lately. My wife and I are to the point where we actually hate each other and are bringing up divorce. My faith is at an all-time low, and I have no friends to talk to.

We bought our dream home last year, and now it looks like we’ll have to sell it and get two apartments: one for me and one for her and the kids. I honestly can’t afford two apartments plus child support on my salary, so she will have to get a job before any of this happens.

I’ve been thinking about suicide again. I know I’d be able to see my sons anytime, but it wouldn’t be the same.

I’m not being recognized at my job no matter how hard I work…

Et cetera, et cetera.

So what did I do yesterday morning? I went to Mass. Every nerve in my body said No! Stay in bed and pout.

But I refused to listen.

I prayed on the way, God, please give me a jolt of the Holy Spirit and show me what to do about everything. My life is a mess. It’s too hard to go on.

I’ve asked God to show me certain things about myself during Mass, and he always has.

This time I was desperate. I was at the end of my rope. Actually I still am.

The first reading during Mass was God’s answer to my prayer. It was Isaiah 35:4-7:

Say to the fearful of heart:

Be strong, do not fear!

Here is your God,

he comes with vindication;

With divine recompense

he comes to save you.

Then the eyes of the blind shall see,

and the ears of the deaf be opened;

Then the lame shall leap like a stag,

and the mute tongue sing for joy.

For waters will burst forth in the wilderness,

and streams in the Arabah.

The burning sands will become pools,

and the thirsty ground, springs of water.

The first two lines spoke to my heart. My heart is full of fear. However, God says to be strong and not be afraid. He doesn’t say that He will do these things for me; rather, I need to make the decision to be strong and stop being afraid.

It gave me peace and hope. Later that day, my son was scheduled to sell popcorn for the Boy Scouts in front of a supermarket. I went with him, and we ended up having a good time.

Normally I hate Sundays because it’s like I’m just waiting around for Monday morning to come. But it was a good day.

Then at 8:00 last night my wife and I ended up fighting again.

I want to lie right now and say that I kept that Bible verse close to my heart for the rest of the day, but I really didn’t. I ended up forgetting about it.

But the good thing about God is that we can repent and believe again.

Then I went to work this morning to find out that I was passed over for a promotion for no apparent reason. So I forgot about the verse yet again.

But now I’m sharing it with you. Hopefully you’ll remember it.

~t


Another Celebrity Suicide…

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Dear media: Stop giving out the suicide prevention hotline!

I saw the news this past week on my favorite music blog, MetalSucks, that yet another celebrity had succumbed to suicide. Her name is Jill Janus, and she was the singer for a metal band called Huntress. She was only 43.

I don’t expect many of you to know who she was. Heavy metal has so many subgenres that there are literally thousands of bands out there that are listened to by fans of this type of music.

Haters: Topaz, you’re just another hypocritical Catholic. Heavy metal is of the devil.

Topaz: Thank you for your free advice.

I’m writing this post because I’m saddened by another celebrity person taking their own life.

I’m saddened that the metal blog (where I first read the news) ended their article by saying something like, “Please, please. If you are having thoughts of suicide, please call this toll-free hotline: XXX-XXX-XXXX.”

I’m saddened by the comment section where quite a few people said things like Why didn’t she reach out for help? Why wasn’t she on medication? Why wasn’t she in therapy?

I’m saddened and angered by the ignorance of those “normal” people that just don’t get it.

They’ll never understand.

Because they’re not like “us.”

They don’t have the disease that is mental illness. Jill suffered from bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and dissociative identity disorder, according to a 2015 interview.

Am I against suicide hotlines? Sort of. They don’t work for me. I’ve used them several times.

Am I against medication and therapy? Of course not. I’m partaking in both.

What angers me is that people don’t realize that there are many instances where mentally ill people CANNOT reach out for help because they are too enshrouded in darkness. Their minds are telling them that there is no other option but death.

This is why I have attempted suicide more than once. Two of those times I passed the point of no return (only to miraculously end up alive).

With Jill, I don’t believe that she was always in that dark state where she couldn’t think clearly. I’m sure there were times when she was partying and having a great time, enjoying life.

So, since there will always be suicides because the disease of mental health is too overpowering at times, is there any hope for “us”?

Yes. I believe that we sufferers should seek treatment such as medication and therapy when we ARE in a right state of mind; don’t wait until it’s too late. If you suffer from any of these damn diseases (depression, bipolar disorder, etc.), go to a doctor before you slip and fall headfirst into the deep, dark pit.

Had Jill been on a regimen of medication and therapy, then I think she would still be alive today. Instead, the world has lost another talented individual, and her friends and family have lost someone very special.

In conclusion, don’t give out the suicide hotline to those who are not “normal.” Instead, grab them by the fricking hair, kicking and screaming, and drag them to the doctor! Check up on them several times a day! Watch them take their medication! Drive them to therapy!

Because a phone number isn’t gonna do a damn thing for someone who is already too far gone.

~t


Regret Is Eating Me Alive

galveston

Galveston Island, TX

I felt the need to write. I have started several novels over the years, one chronicling my suicide attempts and hospitalizations. I just can’t seem to make myself sit down and write them. That’s the problem.

So I have this blog. I sit myself down right now to write, but I don’t really have anything encouraging to say. Ha. That is usually followed by what turns out to be an encouraging post.

I started this blog in hopes of offering positivity to those who suffer mental illness among other things. The Catholic part comes from my faith tradition, which I am trying like mad to hold onto. (Most days I’m a religious hypocrite.)

I wanted my very own ministry (‘apostolate’ in Catholic terms), but it turned out that I’m just as broken, sinful, and run-down as the people whom I wanted to encourage.

So, here I am talking about how miserable I am. I suppose I could give a lesson on what not to do.

As a father and husband, I use my own dad as an example of what not to do. See, he was a real prick during my childhood. The problem is, I’m turning into him, whether I like it or not.

OK, here’s what not to do. This week we took a family vacation to Houston, about a three-hour car trip. See, I have a decent job, but we’re not exactly rollin’ in dough. So we went to Houston because there are fun things there for our kids like NASA, the beach, The USS Texas battleship, etc., etc.

Our friends go to Hawaii. Spain. The Bahamas. We go to friggin’ Houston. But I digress.

I got angry several times and my wife and I fought. I’m sure it hurt out two children.

Now we’re back home. This evening I drove my two sons to their friend’s house for a sleepover. They had their little bags packed with all of their pool gear, swim wear, and change of clothes. On the drive there, I yelled at my youngest son for something really stupid. This was just before we arrived at their friend’s house. I didn’t apologize. I’m sure I hurt my son and put a damper on things.

Here it is, Friday night. My favorite day of the week. And I feel like crap. I’m fighting severe depression even though I took my meds for the evening. I feel guilt weighing me down like barbells on my shoulders.

On top of that, I’ve been stealing from my own mom. I use her credit card at will. She is retired by the way. She tells me to stop, but I don’t. My sister gets involved and texts me angrily. I take offense and delete her number. I even unfriend her from Facebook.

My life sucks now.

And now I sit here on this Friday night, pouring out my guilt and screw-ups on this blog. I could be partying (yeah, right) or enjoying a good movie. My wife is in her room, not to be bothered (ugh).

I decided to look through the Bible for passages about regret. I pored over lots of passages. One I found shows the nature of God (Genesis 6:6):

And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him to His heart.

This shows that God experiences regret. I think of myself in this Genesis passage, and then I think that God has every right to strike me down and send me to hell where I belong.

Then I read this passage from 2 Corinthians 7:10:

For Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.

How do we get to the point of having Godly grief? I sure wish I knew. At least this is a compass setting for me. It’s something I can pray for, because I have no clue how to achieve it.

Tonight I cut up my mom’s credit card information. It’s a start, right? We have to start somewhere.

Baby steps. Hey, whatever it takes, my friend. Baby steps are alright.

Whatever is holding you down at this time, take baby steps to improve your situation. That’s what I’m doing.

Overeating? Eat a little less. Bad father? Give your kid a hug. Bad husband? Clean the kitchen. Missing too much work (like I am)? Take it one day at a time. I will be there Monday. 

You get the idea.

Now, I’m going to go salvage the rest of my Friday night.

~t


Blessed Are The Misfits

hansen

Let’s see. How can I sit down right now and write an encouraging blog post for you? As you know, I’m not the most encouraging blogger. I kinda suck.

Anyway, I’ve been reading a book. Actually I’ve read it, but I’m reading it again. That’s how good it is. The book is Blessed Are The Misfits: Great News for Believers Who Are Introverts, Spiritual Strugglers, or Just Feel Like They’re Missing Something. For short, I just call it Blessed Are The Misfits. You can tell from the title just what kind of book it is.

I won’t get into the details too much, but it is a perfect book for someone like me. The author, Brant Hansen, spends time describing how introverts and “weirdos” like he and I don’t really fit into the whole Church culture. (He’s coming from a Protestant viewpoint by the way.)

What I like is how he says that, even though we don’t fit in or aren’t “fired up” to share Jesus with people, we as Christians still have an obligation to love people.

To love people.

This is super hard for me because I generally don’t care much for humans. I have to work with them and teach them, but that doesn’t mean I like them.

Topaz, how can you call yourself a Catholic when you hate people?!

I try to love them. I also fall short a heck of a lot. That’s where God’s grace and effort on my part come in. Here is an excerpt from the book:

I know I don’t fit in. But I also know I’m supposed to love people, even those who will never, ever understand me and don’t even want to.

Obviously he’s talking about the “popular kids.” You know. The happy cliques, the look-at-me types, the ones who I went to school with, and the ones who I have to work with. (Nope. The popular cliquish people are also found in jobs in the adult world. It doesn’t end in high school. *eye roll*)

Hansen says at the end of an early chapter:

He [Jesus] knows this world is both cruel and inhospitable to Him and His people. But He told us God “so loves” it anyway.

He even plans to rescue it.

This is what I get from everything so far: I don’t have to force myself to become an extrovert in order to be the best Christian I can be. I just have to deny myself and try and love people. Because Jesus loved people. He still does. He even loves the people on heavy metal blogs and websites that talk about how they hate Him and that the Church He founded is a pile of garbage that we don’t need. (It breaks my heart, but I still visit those metal blogs and sites because, well, I love metal.)

Anyway, I hope you got something out of this post today. If not, then just remember to love people because God loves people. Even if it’s the hardest thing you’ve ever tried to do. And try to love the misfit types and “different” types too. Because God does.

~t