Tag Archives: Mass

11 Things I Learned From the Ordination and Installation Mass for the New Bishop of Fort Worth

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend the ordination and installation of Bishop Michael Olson over in Fort Worth. I didn’t merely attend: I volunteered with other Knights of Columbus members as security personnel. FWPD made their presence known on the outside of the convention center. However, the diocese didn’t want any demonstrators to interrupt the proceedings or to desecrate the Eucharist, so some of us volunteered inside.

As an “insider” during this historic event — a new bishop isn’t ordained and installed in one’s region very often — I wanted to share 11 things that I learned from working behind-the-scenes at this event.

1. Priests are not always serious

Maybe it’s because I’m a fairly recent convert, but I’ve never seen priests joke around with and make goofy faces at each other. Just before the procession into the arena began, a priest came up to me at the entrance and said comically, “Run away! This is your last chance!” Scared the heck outta me, actually.

2. Seminarians are just regular college guys…

As I “guarded” the seminarians (young men who are studying to become priests) before the procession, they were a bunch of giggling chatterboxes. A priest had to yell at them to settle down, and the young men’s faces displayed the same embarrassed satisfaction that I often see on my six-year-old’s. Boys will be boys.

3. …who love their Starbucks as much as the rest of us

I mean, man, do those guys slug down the lattes. It wasn’t a question of how many were seen with the white cups and the green logo; rather, I had to ask myself how many didn’t have one. But, hey, as long as it’s consumed one hour before communion, right?

4. We are not alone

By this, I mean the Knights of Columbus. One of my security duties was to guard the vesting rooms that contained the personal belongings of the clergy and choir. I saw the vesting room for the Order of Malta which was pretty cool. Even more cool was to see the room for the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. Granted, the Knights of Columbus outnumbered these other group 10 to 1, but I hadn’t realized that there were other Catholic fraternal orders out there and that we were all unified with one common purpose.

5. Catholic schools are definitely not dying out

Since teaching in Japan, I had never seen so many young people in school uniforms! It seemed like most of them had volunteered to give directions to people: Everywhere I went, about two students were assigned to every single door in the convention center… and the place was HUGE.

6. Standing for eight straight hours isn’t always a bad thing

I think the secret is to keep busy. I was surprised to know that, while stuffing my hungry face with cheese and crackers during the reception, it was nearly 6:00 pm. Time really does fly when you’re having fun.

7. 15,000 Catholics in one place does not always result in alcohol

I have to admit, I was ready for an ice-cold beer by the end of my duties. Making a quick dash to the reception hall before anyone else (Transporting gifts for the bishop was my excuse!), I quickly scanned the gigantic hall for any sign of beer or wine. Nothing! (The lemonade did hit the spot, though.)

8. If a behind-the-scenes meeting is scheduled for 1:00, it really means 12:30

I was supposed to help guard the priests as they offered communion to the masses. The meeting was at 1:00. I arrived at 12:51. On a tight schedule, I suppose I was considered late. Everything happens for a reason is what they say. I was able to greet members of the procession as they made their way to the arena entrance, though. So, the awesome photo below wouldn’t exist had I been earlier to the meeting.

Lots of bishops!

9. Volunteering makes you feel great

My mind was occupied and my schedule was packed. Somehow, though, I felt like a million bucks. I’ve never been one to show off or to draw attention to myself. But, somehow, being engaged in an activity (church; K of C) that I really enjoyed did wonders for my mind. It said, “I enjoy this and I’m having fun. You’re not gonna take that away from me, Mind.”

Try it! You don’t have to be “religious” to volunteer. Seek out a local food bank or homeless shelter. Opportunities to serve are all around us. By helping others, you help yourself feel good. It’s a win-win.

10. An ordinary convention center can be temporarily converted into a cathedral

11. Alternate versions of the trendy 13.1 and 26.2 car stickers do exist

I saw a car in the parking garage with this sticker on the back. I’m a serious fuddy-duddy who never smiles, but this made me LOL. A refreshing sight since every other car (seemingly) has the real versions.

~t

(photos by Topaz)


Clawing Your Way Out of Hell

Blackshear-T-Forgiven-AP-Signed

Credit: Thomas Blackshear

It has been a tough week. Trying to regain my faith, I listened to a talk given by a Catholic speaker named Matthew Kelly entitled “Becoming the Best Version of Yourself.”

One thing that really struck me was when Matthew spoke about how predictable human nature is. To illustrate his point, Matthew encouraged everyone in the audience to buy a journal and take it to Mass every Sunday. Before Mass, write at the top of the page: What is God Going to Say to Me This Morning?

Listen to the music. Hear the Scriptures being read. Open your heart to the prayers. Meditate on the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. In some way, God will speak to you. When He does, write it down.

Then Matthew drove his point home: We will bring the journal to Mass the following week, write in it, decide that we don’t want anyone to read our private thoughts, and hide it in an old drawer. Days, months, and years go by. One day we happen to find the journal in the old drawer, rip out the two pages of notes that are no longer important to us, and then use the journal for something else.

In other words, without changing our habits, we will end up stuck in the same sinful life, never to break free.

The inspirational men and women of history had great habits. That’s what separates them from the rest of us.

I have found myself trapped in this disheartening cycle recently. On my way to work this morning, I couldn’t even bring myself to talk to God in spontaneous prayer. Instead, I prayed the Our Father and the Hail Mary (one example of how recited prayers are effective — They are good to fall back on when we just can’t bring ourselves to talk to God).

Listening to the motivational talk on the CD helped. An image ran through my mind afterward: the wonderful painting called Forgiven by Thomas Blackshear (see top of post). I used to see this painting in all the Christian bookstores that I once strolled through. I remember thinking once, Wow. How religious is that! before turning away to look through the bargain bin.

The image of that painting, Jesus holding up an exhausted, hurting young man who is clutching a spike and mallet, burned itself into my mind. That man is me. I’m tired. I’m knee-deep in sin. I’m emotionally drained. It all made perfect sense. It’s funny how we don’t realize the obvious until we are broken-down and ready to give up.

When we find ourselves at the bottom of a muddy pit of despair, there are only but two choices to make: resign ourselves to our “fate” or begin the arduous process of climbing out, inch by agonizing inch. Staying the same may be comfortable, but if we really want a fulfilling life and to get close to God again, we must make every effort. As the saying goes, If you want to see a rainbow, you have to persevere through a storm.

A friend of mine shared a very powerful verse with me recently from Proverbs: Though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again. (Pr 24:16)

There is a movie called Any Given Sunday starring Al Pacino as the head coach of a once-great professional (American) football team that is struggling with low morale and internal dissension. In the locker room right before a playoff game, the coach pours out his heart in one of my favorite inspirational speeches in a movie.

The transcript of the pre-game pep talk is below:

I don’t know what to say really.

Three minutes to the biggest battle of our professional lives

all comes down to today.

 

Now, either we heal as a team,

or we’re gonna crumble.

 

Inch by inch, play by play, ’til we’re finished.

 

We’re in hell right now, gentlemen. Believe me.

 

And, we can stay here and get the **** kicked out of us,

Or we can fight our way back into the light.

 

We can climb out of hell. One inch at a time.

 

Now, I can’t do it for you. I’m too old.

 

I look around. I see these young faces and I think:

I made every wrong choice a middle-aged man can make.

 

I ****** away all my money, believe it or not.

I chased off anyone who’s ever loved me.

And lately, I can’t even stand the face I see in the mirror.

 

You know, when you get old in life, things get taken from you.

That’s part of life.

But, you only learn that when you start losing stuff.

 

You find out life is this game of inches. So is football.

Because in either game, life or football,

the margin for error is so small.

 

I mean, one half step too late or too early,

and you don’t quite make it.

One half second too slow, too fast,

you don’t quite catch it.

 

The inches we need are everywhere around us.

They’re in every break of the game.

Every minute, every second.

 

On this team, we fight for that inch.

On this team, we tear ourselves and everyone else around us to pieces for that inch.

We claw with our fingernails for that inch!

 

Because we know, when we add up all those inches,

that’s gonna make the ******* difference between winning and losing!

 

Between living and dying!

 

I’ll tell you this: In any fight,

it’s the guy who’s willing to die

who’s gonna win that inch.

 

And I know, if I’m gonna have any life anymore,

it’s because I’m still willing to fight and die for that inch

because that’s what living is!

The six inches in front of your face.

 

Now, I can’t make you do it.

You gotta look at the guy next to you.

Look into his eyes!

 

Now, I think you’re gonna see a guy who will go that inch with you.

You’re gonna see a guy who will sacrifice himself for this team

because he knows when it comes down to it,

you’re gonna do the same for him.

 

That’s a team, gentlemen.

 

And, either we heal – now – as a team,

or we will die as individuals.

 

That’s football, guys.

That’s all it is.

 

Now, what are you gonna do?

Here is the video clip of the speech (Warning: Some strong language):

~t


Pride Comes Before a Fall

Credit: David Lazar

The title of this post is a common saying. It’s so common that a lot of people don’t know that it’s from the Bible (Proverbs 16:18). For instance, this online dictionary doesn’t mention any biblical source: It’s merely referred to as an idiom in the English language.

All of the verses in the Book of Proverbs are awesome, and we need to apply them to our lives. However, verse 18 of chapter 16 (“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall”) is one that I consider extremely important — a key in maintaining my faith and humility in order to stay close to God.

A minister at a certain Protestant-based church that I used to attend taught me the acronym KISS. No, the minister wasn’t a fan of the rock group of the same name (at least not that I knew of). It stands for “keep it simple, stupid.” Now, stupid isn’t a very polite word. We don’t let our kids say it. However, I’ve heard variations of it at work and even in my parish such as “keep it simple, silly” or “keep it short and simple.” (The latter sort of adds more meaning to it, so I don’t particularly like that one. But if you do, then that’s totally cool.)

I’m mentioning all this because “pride comes before a fall” is one of those wise sayings in the Bible that is in line with the KISS philosophy. And, wouldn’t you know it, those are the things that I tend to forget all about when push comes to shove in my spiritual life.

I’ve been doing well (i.e. abstaining from mortal sin, praying, going to Mass every Sunday, et cetera). So well that I actually thought that I was invincible against certain types of sin: lust, anger, and gossip to name a few.

I was under an illusion. The Evil One is always at work, scheming up ways to destroy us (1 Peter 5:8). Spiritual warfare rages on every day, every hour, every minute. Angels and demons are going head-to-head right now all around me as I type (and all around you as you’re reading). This Present Darkness is a good book that illustrates this biblical concept.

I’ve finished the first week of the fall semester at my job, and, while it was hectic, things went fairly well. I didn’t realize that my prayer time was going downhill. I had been praying a little less than usual, but my heart wasn’t in it. I was still in the mindset, though, that I was winning the battle against the darkness; never mind the fact that I was becoming more susceptible to temptation and outright sin.

If you’ve kept up with my posts, you’ll know that my wife is basically a non-practicing Buddhist/Shintoist (I’ll let you think on that for a second). She’s cool with my being Catholic. The only issue that we stay away from is abortion; although we agree to disagree on this subject, it still comes up from time to time. So, like the bumper sticker says, we “coexist.”

Anyway, we were driving to the park this morning, and my wife, Ayako, was telling me about a recent situation she had with a Christian friend named Molly. They were standing near a pond, and Molly told her son to get away from the edge because she didn’t want him to fall in. Her son said, “I won’t fall in.”

Ayako tried to remember what Molly said in reply. “She said something like ‘If you’re too confident, you’ll fall in too easily’ I think.”

After a moment, I said, “Oh, you mean ‘pride comes before a fall.'”

“Yes! How did you know?”

“Because it’s from the Bible. It’s really famous.” I changed the subject to something else, quickly forgetting about that verse from Proverbs.

Little did I know that God was giving me one last chance to repent before He would humble me.

Sure enough, later in the day, my house of cards collapsed. I found myself plunged into various types of sin that, just a week ago, thought that I was above and too good for.

Broken and troubled, I turned to prayer. Not the superficial kind that I had been practicing, but the real, honest, gut-check kind.

I heard God’s whisper in my heart almost immediately: Pride comes before a fall.

Boy, does it.

How could I have been so bone-headed?

Because you’re human. Now get back up and continue the race.

I felt like I had finally pulled my head out of the ground where it had been stuck for the past few weeks. What an amazing feeling.

It’s even more amazing to be reminded about God’s love for us. He was giving me signs that I thought didn’t pertain to me. He allowed me to fall in order for me to learn my lesson. When I came to my senses, God was waiting with open arms.

In the Parable of the Lost Son, Jesus tells how God will always forgive us, no matter how badly we mess up (Luke 15:11-32). After the son squanders his inheritance and reaches rock bottom, he decides to go back to his father:

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’

~t


It Was a Good Week

Credit: Stock Free Images

…nobody I know got killed in South Central L.A.

                                                           –Ice Cube, “It Was a Good Day”

I really enjoy reading blogs. Not just the ones on WordPress, but in other regions of the blogosphere as well.

I have to admit, I am drawn to those that are humorous or that cheer me up. No offense to those who have dark, serious content (ahem); it appeals to a part of me for sure. The other part of me, though, really wants to feel good and smile sometimes (Yes, I have been known to smile from time to time.).

I was kicked to the curb recently by yet another psychiatrist who claimed that my particular health insurance was a “headache.” I’ve also been having lots of trouble adjusting to my new medication: I am constantly in a daze, and a few days ago I mistook a red traffic light for a four-way stop. Luckily my wife was beside me; without her scream, something terrible could have happened.

Back to the point of this post. I wanted to write about the positive things that have been going on in my life. God reminds me ever so often to count my blessings.

This was a good week. For one, I was off the whole week, my stretch of R & R before the fall semester begins later this month. My sons are still on summer break, so we’ve had a terrific time. Some of the highlights include: spending the day at a water park, one of the few places that all four of us really gel as a family — and where my wife and I laugh and play like kids; having an afternoon snackfest at Starbucks — another place where my wife and I forget our “problems” and chit-chat endlessly while sipping our Frappuccinos, our kids silent as they wolf down lemon pound cake and double fudge brownies; a trip to the aquarium (My sons are obsessed with sharks, so watching them squeal with delight made my wife and me extremely happy.); and yesterday I was able to attend church for the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary since I normally work until late at night on Thursdays.

Sure, there were moments when things weren’t “perfect,” but I chose not to dwell on those times. Plus, the enjoyable family time we had far outweighed the problems. I officially go back to work on Monday, so I still have a few days left of my break. I did have to take some naps in the middle of the day due to my medication, however; but, overall, it was a really good week.

Years ago, I attended a teaching conference in Seattle. The highlight of that weekend was visiting the cemetery where Bruce Lee and his son, Brandon, are buried. I went there as an excited tourist, snapping photos of the beautiful headstones, but I left in a much more somber mood after reading the inscription etched on Brandon’s grave:

Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even that. How many times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.

So, even if you’re going through a lot and there appears to be no light at the end of the tunnel, count your blessings. Savor every moment with loved ones. Find things that put a smile on your face. Because, in life, unexpected things happen.

~t


Getting Routed in Battle

Credit: thequickbrownfox

Grief wants only sleep.

No more battling demons

unless you’re dream knight.

                                        —Sr. Helena Burns, FSP

I wanted to use Sister’s haiku as the epigraph to this post because it sums up everything that happened to me over this past weekend.

During my darkest moments on Saturday, it explained everything; that “Aha!” moment when everything fits into place like in the movie Monster when Charlize Theron’s character finally sees the big picture while talking on the pay phone in jail.

I received quite a number of encouraging messages on Twitter (Yes, I know they’re called tweets, but messages sounds better) this past weekend. No, it’s not because I’m so popular. It’s because I was a victim of an ambush.

As a soldier — all Christians are soldiers by the way — I found myself traveling along the battlefield called Earth without my sword and shield.

That’s pretty stupid, Topaz.

Yeah, you’re right. It was stupid. And careless.

Satan is the commander of the opposition forces, and they are legion. As you might recall from a previous post of mine, I believe that God has put it on my heart to start a recovery/accountability group at my parish that specifically deals with men who struggle with pornography.

Now, picture Al Capone’s crime syndicate in your mind. Well, if a small band of vigilantes were to try and expose a drug trafficking ring of theirs, um…

You can imagine the swift, deadly response. Those vigilantes had better be ready for a counterattack or else.

That was my situation this past weekend. As I stated, I have been (smugly) targeting Satan and his demons by attempting to create a program that would help men leave the bondage of a very destructive type of sin. Porn is such a lucrative moneymaker for the Dark One. My problem was, after announcing myself and my intentions to the enemy, like an idiot, I traveled around without my small band of warriors — heck, even without any weapons or defense.

I underestimated the enemy while overestimating my own faith and strength like a glory-seeker.

I was like, “Oh, look at me! Satan and his demons are gonna be running scared because I’m attacking his stronghold!”

The enemy is very intelligent and a master at guerrilla tactics.

I was driving along by myself this past Saturday when, from out of nowhere, I happened upon a certain temptation that hit me so hard, it was like getting struck with 50,000 volts from a Taser gun. My whole body went into shock, and I could no longer think straight. This all happened within an instant. I’m lucky that I didn’t have a car accident.

I won’t go into any more details, but it was akin to a recovering alcoholic who has been clean for several months and suddenly walks by a bar that is giving away free beer samples out front.

As you can imagine, the demons blindsided me, and I crumpled miserably. The rest of the day I was out of commission, ready to throw in the towel. Not just with the recovery group, but with the Church and my faith in general. I had fallen and couldn’t stand up. I was finished.

The next morning, instead of getting ready for 8:30 Mass, I was on the sofa, surfing the ‘net on my iPad. “Aren’t you going to church? You’ll be late,” my non-Catholic/non-Christian wife said.

“I’m not going today. It’s okay; no one will miss me.”

Do not underestimate petite Japanese women.

“You WILL go. Get. Up. Now.”

Maybe she knew that I needed some cheering up, or maybe she needed some time alone from my grumpiness. I didn’t ask, but I’d like to think that God was actually picking me up through her. God works in mysterious ways. We all know the cliché. He even works through individuals who don’t even believe in Him. Now that is amazing.

I didn’t want to be at Mass, but my Tiger Mother wife had forced me to go. I was miserable while I sneaked in during the Gospel reading and grabbed a seat in the very back. I remained in this emotional state until I uttered these words with the priest during Mass:

Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.

The floodgates were opened, and I couldn’t stop from crying my eyes out. The rest of my day was transformed. God had heard my pleading and worked a miracle!

For lunch, our kids wanted to go to McDonald’s to get more Despicable Me 2 Happy Meal toys (even though they haven’t seen either of the movies yet). By chance, some friends of mine happened to be there as well: a fellow Knight of Columbus and his wife, a strong Catholic who happens to be from Asia. I have always wanted my wife to have some quality time with her, but with their schedules, it was always impossible.

Although a different nationality from my friend, my wife was excited to talk with someone who was actually from the same continent (Yes, Asia is vast and diverse, but in a place like Texas, my wife gets excited when she sees anyone who resembles an Asian).

They had a great chat about God and Chinese cuisine, and I was able to spend some time with a fellow parishioner and Knight. Our kids were more than pleased because, thanks to the nice cashier, they ended up getting two Happy Meal toys each instead of one.

By the end of last summer, I was thankful to be alive. By the end of this past weekend, I was thankful to be standing on my own two feet, clad in shiny new armor of God that I truly didn’t deserve.

So:

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)

Yeah, especially if you’re lobbing Molotov cocktails into his command center.

~t


An Antisocial Outcast in God’s Temple

Today is Sunday, so that means 8:30am Mass! Ask any Christian, and they will say that Sunday is their favorite day of the week: Mass/service, fellowship, hanging out, lunch together…

Unfortunately, I can’t relate.

Don’t get me wrong; I go to weekly Mass and my soul actively participates in worshiping God. It is an exhilarating, mystical experience. By the end of Mass, I sometimes have tears of joy and gratitude streaming down my face.

And then…

I go home.

Believe me, I want to hang around afterwards and chit-chat with people; laughing and smiling is good for the soul. I just have trouble making my body… um, do that.

During the Mass, there is a moment when we greet and shake hands with parishioners around us (No, it’s not some awkward trend that happens only in Evangelical churches). I know exactly when it is coming: shortly after the Our Father and before the consecration of the Eucharist. Since I know when it’s going to take place (think of Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day), I dread the moment and wonder each time how I will manage to get through it. Will someone ignore me? Will a husband smooch his wife and then turn to someone else, leaving me out (not that I want to be smooched)? Or will an old woman scowl at me while offering a limp hand?

“I knew this was gonna happen.”

Last week, I have to confess that I did something different for the first time and unbecoming of a Catholic and Knight: During the meet-and-greet part, I clasped my hands in prayer, bowed my head, and shut my eyes tightly. I could hear the greetings die down, so I knew when to open my eyes again and rejoin the Mass.

I know. That was bad. I won’t do that again. Luckily I wasn’t wearing my white K of C name badge. Just like people who put the Christian fish symbol on their car: They are expected to be polite drivers. If not, then it’s full-on scandal mode featured on the nightly news or something.

Right after Mass (*not during), I retreated to the safety of my car and tweeted about how lonely I always feel sitting by myself each week. I even try to avoid smiling at kids in front rows who turn around to look at me, afraid that I would be seen as a pedophile (you know, big tall nerdy guy sitting all alone in church, smiling at kids). (I am not a pedophile by the way.) (Man, I just realized I use a lot of parentheses.)

I mentioned in my tweet that I wished our parish had a section of pews where solo churchgoers could sit; we would feel more secure perhaps. Well, Topaz, um… Why don’t you go sit by someone who is alone?! Duh! Because it’s hard, and I am afraid that they would consider that a weird request: “Hi. I don’t want to look like an idiot, so can I sit by you?”

Anyway, this wonderful Twitter follower of mine responded with: “Jesus was alone in the garden while He struggled with his emotions. Lean on Him.” Wow. That is awesome.

I immediately went back into the chapel (the church was emptied out by this point) and knelt in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I spent some good time there before the tabernacle in the semi-dark chamber lit by gorgeous white candles along the walls with the single red one that symbolizes the presence of Christ.

God always speaks to me in some way — usually in a barely-audible whisper that comes from the far reaches of my soul. He told me basically to take my beatings as I go. He reminded me that, in just a few hours, I would be going over to the grand knight’s house to prepare the food for our pool party to honor the altar servers in the parish. Then God reminded me again — I’m such a blockhead — that I needed to get going because, being the council youth director, I was the one leading this whole event and I had work to do.

(By the way, I didn’t become the K of C council youth director and an officer because I’m so awesome. It’s because nobody else wanted the job.)

So, in essence, God’s reply to my loneliness and anxiety was to get over it and focus on others. Later in the day, when the pool party was in full swing without any major disasters going on, I thanked God for helping me through yet another episode of my depression and anxiety.

So, this Sunday turned out to be the best day of my week. Not because I’m such an important Super Christian ™ and born to mingle, but because I remained faithful through all the pain and torment of my illness.

Hopefully all of you reading this had a good day. If not, there’s always tomorrow.

I am not a trained psychologist or therapist, but if you feel all alone and need someone to talk to who understands, please leave me a message or contact me at: thepsychword@gmail.com. Seriously.

~topaz

*I sometimes think people are blatantly texting or surfing the ‘net on their smartphones, but they could be following the order of the Mass and the readings instead. So it’s probably not the best idea to assume they are the bane of your existence.