Category Archives: Sunday Musings

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


New Q&A Section: Is It Hard Being a Catholic While Suffering from Mental Health?

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Someone emailed me at my address recently (thepsychword@gmail.com). They asked a simple question: Is it hard for you to be a Catholic and to also suffer from mental illness?

First off, I would say to read some of my earlier blog posts in order to get a gist of my answer.

However, yes, it is difficult at times. But at other times it’s quite easy and even fun.

For instance, we just got a new priest at our parish. The former one retired. He was from Mexico, and he could hardly be understood. He let everything go in the Mass: bad music, no crucifix above the altar, clapping during Mass, etc.

Fortunately, our new priest, a much younger Hispanic man (I live in San Antonio, Texas, so, as I’m an “Anglo,” I’m in the minority), is a great homilist and is taking great measures to add more reverence to the Mass.

I guess I digressed, but oh well.

Having a new priest breathe new life into out parish makes me very happy. I am also going to be a catechist (teacher) on Tuesday nights to second graders! I am extremely excited to get out of my comfort zone by doing this.

Yes, I still have my struggles when I do not feel like praying or even opening my Bible. However, I have to fight through it. A lot of times I’m unsuccessful, though.

But, as they say, making the effort is half the battle.

Or, what usually happens is that I slide by until I feel that drive again.I know this isn’t the best advice and I’m probably not the best example for all of you, but, hey, I’m human and suffering with depression and bipolar personality.

I hope this is a good enough answer for you. It’s Sunday night, and I wanted to get this response posted for you, dear inquirer and reader.

Have an incredible week, everyone! I’ll try to as well. It’s a lot of up and down for me. Pray for me as I pray for all of you.

Also, keep the questions coming. You can drop me a line at thepsychword@gmail.com.

~t


Sunday Musings: The End of Our Lives

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Next Sunday is a solemnity called Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe (colloquially known as Christ the King). It is the end of the Church’s liturgical calendar and is a time to reflect on the end of our lives on earth and on the second coming of Christ. (The priest in my old parish once called it “a funeral of sorts — our funerals.”)

Today’s scripture readings reflect and foreshadow these events. Daniel 12: 1-3 says:

At that time your people shall escape,

everyone who is found written in the book.

In Mark 13: 24-32, Jesus says:

In those days after the tribulation,

the sun will be darkened,

and the moon will not give its light…

He will send out the angels

and gather his elect from the four winds…

The priest at Mass this morning talked about how we should get rid of sinful habits in our lives so that we will be prepared to die and face the Lord. He also talked about the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and the attacks in 2001 on the Twin Towers in New York.

“Do you think anyone was thinking: ‘I’m prepared to meet my Maker’? Probably no one.”

We all have daily struggles. Sometimes it’s hard to stay positive amid all the stress and hardships of daily life. I know it is for me. However, we must hold to the promise that awaits us. This will get us through the tough times. As the adage goes:

Those who persevere through a storm often find a rainbow.

So, in conclusion: Am I ready to meet my Maker if I should die today?

Are you?

~t


Sunday Musings: All Saints Day

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This is a section entitled Sunday Musings. It consists of thoughts, observations, and experiences that I have during or immediately after Sunday Mass. It is a semi-regular feature; I will update it on Sundays as I feel inspired to do so.

About a month ago, I was reading an excellent book called Rediscovering Catholicism by Matthew Kelly. (I highly recommend this book to Catholics as well as people curious about or interested in the faith. It is changing my life chapter by chapter.)

The writer suggests taking notes at Mass each Sunday. Before Mass begins, he says to pray the following:

God, show me one way in this Mass that I can be a better version of myself this week.

This prayer and my notes have helped me tremendously. This morning God revealed to me that I need to strive harder to be a saint (which all Christians already are); but, I need to look to the canonized saints from history, ones whose lives were filled with Godly virtues, to do my best for God each and every day.

Give it a try!

~t

 

 


Not-So-Holy Family

Wikimedia Commons

In the Catholic tradition, today is the Solemnity of the Holy Family. This morning at Mass, the homily really struck me; the Spirit called me higher in my own life: fatherhood, marriage, my responsibility as the head of the family, and so on.

During the homily and after, not once did I try and justify myself. Normally I would only pick and choose what to apply to my own situation, in my mind knowing that my wife is a non-believer and that’s why my kids are not being raised in the Catholic faith.

On the contrary.

Amen, I was saying to myself, listening to the points that were being driven home by the priest. I’m gonna start getting my kids involved in my parish. I’m gonna live out my faith to the very best of my ability so my wife will see the Holy Spirit in me.

All these are good things, right?

Well, before I even walked through the door after getting home from Mass, my wife blurted, “You need to fix the refrigerator ASAP. It’s not cooling properly. Call your brother.”

I always go to my younger brother for any handyman-related problem. A firefighter/paramedic, he has that manly “gift” that somehow bypassed me.

Before I called him, I took a drink of bottled water from the fridge. It seemed cold enough. Then I opened the freezer and took out one of those plastic bricks that substitutes for ice in our cooler when we go on picnics. “It looks like it’s working.”

That set my wife off the deep end.

So there I was in a yelling match with her while the kids were in the very next room playing. You’re really putting today’s homily into practice, I kept thinking to myself.

Without playing the blame game, let’s just say that I could have prevented the huge argument.

A heart check from God? Probably. It really sucks, though. What sucks most is that I haven’t seemed to learn anything from our 12+ years together.

Like the rock band Extreme lamented in the 90s: “Am I ever gonna change?”

~t

 


Sunday Musings: Weekend Campout

 

Credit: Microsoft images

A few weeks ago, my sons and I had the opportunity to go on a weekend father-and-son campout with my parish youth group.

Surprisingly, my wife didn’t object when I asked her if I could start taking our sons to a Sunday afternoon youth group. At first our kids didn’t quite fit in since they’re not being raised in the most Catholic of households. Before bed, my kids and I pray the Hail Mary, and we read a Bible story each night in my oldest son’s My Little Bible.

With this being my very first outdoor Mass, and having to corral my two muddy little boys through the whole thing, I thought that it would make for some Sunday musings.

 

1. Watching Clark Kent Change into Superman

I thought it was cool that the two young priests put on their vestments among us since there was no sacristy at the campgrounds. It was kind of like a behind-the-scenes moment that I probably won’t see very often.

 

2. The “Choir”

Mothers and daughters, how we missed you.

 

3. The Spirit of God Was Alive and Well

Missals being blown off the lectern, altar cloth billowing in the wind, ball caps flying across the seats. Oh, and the now-infamous highlight of the Mass for the kids: watching some poor family’s tent being blown into the lake directly behind the altar.

 

4. A Scary Cave Experience

The homily was really gripping. The Gospel text was John 9:1-41 which was about Jesus healing a man who was born blind. The priest, a native of Arkansas, shared a personal account of exploring some of the state’s many underground caverns.

He described one cave as a five-level maze. Sure enough, his helmet light wasn’t fully charged, and it died at the wrong time. I wouldn’t want to imagine the fright as he tried to find his way out of the total darkness. Eventually, he saw a tiny speck of daylight far off into the distance. Relief flooded over him as he made his way to the light.

Needless to say, it put the Gospel reading into full perspective for me. You know, “blind but now I see” and all that.

 

5. Feeding Frenzy

No tabernacle = nowhere to place the Eucharist after Mass. I suppose the priests erred on the side of caution, because after communion, both of them stood at the altar for a very long time consuming all the leftover hosts. I bet there were a hundred extras that had to be consumed before Mass could continue. Talk about an awkward moment.

~t