Category Archives: Inspiration

Attending my First Illegal Mass

mass

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.

rosary

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


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

be strong

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


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


Uncontrolled Anger & Stryper

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You lie in the graveyard,

you’re rotting away.

— B***hole Surfers, “Graveyard”

Well, my friendship with Shiela is officially over. We totally ignore each other in the halls at work now. I started it and she followed suit.

I can’t express how angry it makes me feel. I got home today and felt like going out somewhere just to physically bully someone. I want so badly to verbally abuse Shiela, maybe ask her how the wine tastes in her coffee tumbler. I’m even thinking about telling her supervisor that she drinks at work. But then I think, What can she get me on? There’s got to be something bad that she knows about me. My gosh, we were best buddies for over a year.

I’ve been extra angry and depressed at home especially. I actually hosted Sheila at my house a few weeks ago and waited on her hand and foot. I served her (frozen) vegan pizza and her favorite wine, pinot grigio. I even gave her a pillow and covered her with a blanket when she passed out on my floor.

Those days are over. And I cannot accept it.

Luckily, last Friday was the CD release date for my favorite Christian rock band Stryper. It helped somewhat listening to the words this past weekend (especially since I skipped Mass).

These lyrics from “Sorry” especially spoke to me:

Sorry

It doesn’t always make it starry

Maybe next time be more charming

so you don’t have to say sorry

I should have treated her with kid gloves at all times instead of texting her something that was “questionable” (see previous posts).

How was I to know how sensitive she was?

I pray that I’ll awake from my coma and start to enjoy life again. I pray that I can love Shiela even after what she did to me. It’s so hard but I’m trying.

~t


Living Our Lives For Christ

What makes a person happy? What makes life worth living?

Is it money? Fame? Popularity? Career success?

We all know the answer: not at all. There is only one thing – or one person, to be more exact – that can make us happy, and that’s Our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is the only way to understand what the women described below decided to do. Even with worldly success, they gave it all up to follow Christ in a more focused way in the religious life.

Of course, you can follow Jesus without joining a religious order. Some of us are called to go into business, to work in the entertainment industry, to have families, etc. But some are called to the radical religious life – and they remind us of what’s really the most important.

 

olalla

olalla nun

Olalla as a nun

Olalla Oliveros was a successful Spanish model, starring in movies and advertisements throughout the country and the world.

Then she visited Fatima, Portugal, the site of the famous Marian apparition to three children there in 1917, and had what she later described as an “earthquake experience.” She says she received in her mind the image of herself dressed as a nun, something she said she initially found absurd.

But she couldn’t get the image out of her mind. She eventually concluded that Jesus was calling her to give up her glamorous life and become a nun.

“The Lord is never wrong,” she said. “He asked if I will follow him, and I could not refuse.”

She is now a member of the semi-cloistered Order of Saint Michael.

 

 

amada

Amada Rosa Pérez was one of Colombia’s most successful models before she disappeared from the public eye. Then years later, she re-emerged to explain her absence: she had had a religious conversion and was working with a Marian religious community (though she had not become a nun).

At the height of her career, she was diagnosed with a disease that made her lose part of her hearing. The diagnosis led her to question her lifestyle:

“I felt disappointed, unsatisfied, directionless, submerged in fleeting pleasures… I always sought answers and the world never gave them to me.”

Now, she regularly goes to Mass, goes to confession, prays the rosary, and prays the Divine Mercy Chaplet.

“Before I was always in a hurry, stressed out, and got upset easily. Now I live in peace, the world doesn’t appeal to me, I enjoy every moment the Lord gives me.”

She also has re-evaluated what it really means to be a “model”:

“Being a model means being a benchmark, someone whose beliefs are worthy of being imitated, and I grew tired of being a model of superficiality. I grew tired of a world of lies, appearances, falsity, hypocrisy and deception, a society full of anti-values that exalts violence, adultery, drugs, alcohol, fighting, and a world that exalts riches, pleasure, sexual immorality and fraud.

“I want to be a model that promotes the true dignity of women and not their being used for commercial purposes.”

These wonderful ladies ought to be an inspiration for the rest of us. No, you don’t have to become a nun or a priest to follow Christ to the best of your ability. All you need is a heart for God and He will do the rest, blessing you along the way and growing you into the man or woman that He envisions you to be.

We all have the same potential, so let’s strive to live a life of faith through action. If you indeed take that step, God will bless you beyond comprehension.

~t

(via ChurchPOP)

 


Rainbows & Unicorns: The Formula for Perfect Blog Posts

rainbow_unicorn_by_iridalaoi-d6djq2a

No, I haven’t lost my mind.

I came across this Bible passage on someone else’s blog recently:

Let us not become weary in doing good,

for at the proper time we will reap a harvest

if we do not give up.  (Galatians 6:9)

It is an incredibly inspiring verse, enough so that it made me meditate on each word and phrase — something I rarely do these days.

Then I started thinking: What a fine blog post this would make. Throw in a nice, warm piece of Scripture, add some inspiring words (maybe from my therapist), and, presto, a blog post is born.

Not to make light of Sacred Scripture or anything, but, to me, there’s definitely more to it than that. People can express themselves in any way that they see fit. I’ve noticed that my posts tend to hover around the darkish portions of life, completely negating the original intent of my blog which is to inspire and prayerfully help others grow closer to God.

Why do you hover and brood over dark things, Topaz? Well, because that’s life. That’s all. A lot of things complicate my life and I suppose they make me who I am and make me write about what I do.

Heck, I started this blog post to discuss how banal so many blogs out there are. A lot of them are like Facebook updates or sprinkled with memes that wreak of generic spirituality and inspiration.

I guess another reason I’ve decided to write this is because today is my oldest son’s birthday (and I’m relieved to say that he’s still in elementary school — they grow up so fast). I wanted to be a tad bit encouraging in honor of him.

I’m not particularly depressed right now. However, my buspirone and trifluoperazine are making me pretty dang sleepy. I was about to collapse on my bed after getting home from work until my wife told me to do something fun. I guess writing blog posts is considered fun. (Like most things, I find writing hard to do, like a chore that I need to get done but I keep putting it off.)

So, hopefully, the Scripture will inspire you and that you’ll have a good day.

I can honestly say that at this moment I’m glad to be alive.

~t