Saint of the Month: St. Mark Ji Tianxiang

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Watching EWTN’s daily Mass with my Mom, we learned about an unique Saint with a profound story and witness. My monthly NFP update involves drug reactions; therefore, I decided to chose a saint of the month that lived heroic virtue in the face of unthinkable odds. St. Mark Ji Tianxiang died a martyr and an active opium addict. How does an active drug addict barred from the sacraments become a canonized saint? Heroic virtue.

A once respectable Chinese Christian with resources and educational advantages during 19th century China, Ji’s successful medical career including caring for the poor pro bono. He was a leader in the Chinese Christian community- respected and admired. He developed a volatile, painful stomach ailment which he self-treated with the treatment of the period- opium. This approved medical treatment turned into a full-fledged addiction. His life circumstances deteriorated under the weight of his addiction.

Ji fought against his addiction. He attended confession regularly. The cultural mindset and misunderstanding of the 19th century that drug addiction was not a disease but rather a lack of will caused his confessor to doubt his intention to sin no more and his resolve to repent (without the resolve to sin no more & repent the confession is invalid.) Since he kept confessing the same sin, the priest doubted his resolve to do better. After a few years, Ji’s confessor instructed him not to return until he could fulfill the requirements for confession. Drug abuse is sinful behavior, but drug abuse also is a complex disease of the mind and body. A concept unknown in the 19th century.

Ji didn’t abandon his faith. He couldn’t remain sober, but he could still be present with Our Lord. For 30 years (yes, you read that right) . . . 30 years Ji went to Mass unable to receive the sacraments due to his opium addiction. For 30 years, he prayed for a martyr’s death for he believed in that way only could he be saved.

The Boxer Rebellion of 1900 broke out. Chinese nationalists known as the Boxers, or the Militia United in Righteousness, expelled missionaries and persecuted Christians across China. Thirty-two thousand Chinese Christians and 200 foreign missionaries were killed. Ji and many of his village’s Christians, including his son, 6 grandkids, and 2 daughter-in-laws, were rounded up by authorities based on their Christian belief. Even while waiting in prison for their execution, Ji couldn’t break his addiction. Still, he was granted a heroic sense of perseverance.

Once taken to their place of execution, he begged his captures to execute him last so none of his family members would die alone. He stood beside all nine members of his family as they were beheaded. He went to his death singing the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He was canonized on October 1, 2000 by St. John Paul II.

St. Mark Ji Tianxiang is a beautiful witness to the profound mystery of God’s mercy and how our sufferings can be turned into something profoundly good. His testimony to unwavering perseverance in his faith should kindle a fire in all our hearts. His witness brings hope to those suffering from addictions. May we all rely and believe in Christ’s mercy like St. Mark Ji.

St. Mark Ji Tianxiang, pray for us.

Feast Day: July 9th

 

 

 

 

On the Christian Meaning of Suffering

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Photo Credit: Isaiah Eyre Photography

BE NOT AFRAID. I decided to return once more to the 1984 Apostolic Letter written by St. JP II titled Salvifici Doloris: On the Christian Meaning of Suffering that addressed the ever present question of suffering: why, what, and how? God transformed even something not part of His original design for humanity (suffering, pain, death, dying, etc.) into a means for transcendence: faith, hope, and charity.

We fear suffering. I can emphatically state in my greatest moments of suffering and the  suffering of my loved ones, I felt closest to heaven- the veil was lifted. Our suffering, united with Christ, can become salvific. “Suffering seems to be particularly essential to the nature of man. It is deep as man himself, precisely because in its own way that depth which is proper to man, and in its own way surpasses it. Suffering seems to belong to man’s transcendence: it is one of those points in which man is in a certain sense “destined” to go beyond himself (3).”

We fear weakness. Weakness means vulnerability & lack of control. Christ chooses weakness as the vehicle for salvation. “To Suffer means to become particularly susceptible, particularly open to the working of the salvific powers of God . . . In [Christ], God has confirmed his desire to act especially through suffering . . . and wishes to have his power known precisely in this weakness and emptying of self (74).”

We fear the acquisition of virtue. Striving is the key word when acquiring virtue. Virtue acquisition takes hard work and doesn’t always “pay-off” in this life. “Suffering contains a special call to virtue . . . and this is the virtue of perseverance in bearing whatever disturbs and causes harm. In doing this, the individual unleashes hope, which maintain him the conviction that suffering will not get the better of him, it will not deprive him of his dignity as a human being, a dignity liked to the awareness of the meaning of life (75).”

We fear purgation. Purgation leads to heaven. God calls you and I to redeem ourselves and the world in our little way. “The Gospel of suffering is being written unceasingly, and it speaks unceasingly the words of this strange paradox: the springs of divine power gush forth precisely in the midst of human weakness. . . The more a person is threatened by sin, the heavier the structure of sin in which today’s world brings with it, the greater the eloquence which human suffering possesses in itself (89).”

We fear true compassion. Our culture & society throws around the term compassion. What is compassion? Compassion comes from the Latin root com (with) and pati (suffer). Together compatior means “to suffer with.” Compassion means “to suffer with” another person. “We could say that suffering, which is present under so many different forms in our human world, is also present in order to unleash love in the human person, that unselfish gift of one “I” on behalf of other people, especially to those who suffer (92).”

In the Gospels, Jesus repeats dozens of times, “BE NOT AFRAID.” It’s time to let go of the fear associated with suffering, death, & dying. And focus on living. Life is beautiful in all its forms & functions. It’s time to relearn how to suffer with each other. In the words of a man who understood and lived suffering: “In the messianic programme of Christ, which is at the same time the programme of the Kingdom of God, suffering is present in the world in order to release love, in order to give birth to works of love towards neighbor, in order to transform the whole of human civilization into a “civilization of love (96).” Let us go forth and build a civilization of love . . .

Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Humanae Vitae: An Encyclical of Hope

 

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July 25, 2018 marks the 50th Anniversary of the prophetic and controversial Encyclical of Pope Paul VI Humanae Vitae or “On Human Life.”  Most people refer to his beautiful encyclical as the “contraception” encyclical. During a period of social, cultural, and religious turmoil surrounding the purpose and place of family, relationships, and procreation, Pope Paul VI released an reaffirmation of the truth: the Catholic Church would not support the use of artificial birth control or other reproductive technologies that could undermine family life and human dignity. But this was radical for the many influences adamant the Catholic Church would join their Protestant Christian brethren in accepting and normalizing artificial birth control.

What people miss by generalizing this prophetic document are the tenants of what eventually would be known as St. John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” or “Love and Responsibility.” This document expresses the profound nature of marriage between a man and woman, the marital embrace, and fruits of marital love. Love that is FREE, TOTAL, FAITHFUL, and FRUITFUL. After an exploration into love and marital love, Pope Paul VI warns of the dangers of artificial birth control and the consequences society would reap by accepting it. Towards the end of this document lies a call to action for medical practitioners and researches pleading for medical advancement regarding reproductive medicine, health, wellness. That is where my story with Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae most intimately begins.

Because of Humanae Vitae, we have the Pope Paul VI Institute and Creighton Natural Family Planning Method. We also benefit from NFP spin-offs like the Marquette Method. Because Pope Paul VI had divine inspiration and the guts to swim against the cultural tide, almost fifty years later, I had a fighting chance of health and wellness as a young woman in my mid-twenties. My friends have a fighting chance of healing from infertility. Or my mom from developing reproductive cancer. Or loved ones maintaining a pregnancy after miscarriages. One of the more hidden messages of Humanae Vitae is hope- hope in what seems like impossible odds.

Yes, this encyclical is an encyclical of love, but from that lesson in sometimes a very challenging and difficult school of love bears the fruit of other virtues such as faith and hope. Thinking about the past three years of my Naprotechnology treatment, though riddled with severe physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual pain, tears flow while I write this in gratitude and joy. I am beautifully broken and my journey of reproductive health and wellness is far from over. Amid the pain, suffering, and uncertainty, I found my dignity instead of loosing it.

Through the lens of Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae, I’ve experienced a glimpse into the profound nature of my womanhood and femininity and even a deeper insight into masculinity and manhood. My medical treatment is filtered through the lens of Christ viewing me as a good and godly creation. Beautiful in His sight. All because one little man in a white cassock (and a few others) inspired by the Holy Spirit swam against the tide and upheld authentic love instead.

Pope Paul VI, please, pray for us! Amen.

 

 

 

Preparing Your Garden

I wanted to share some Lenten Inspiration. My theme for Lent this Year is preparing Your Garden for the Lord- weeding out vice and planting seeds of virtue. May your Lent be transformative and informative!

White Rose
Photo Credit: Isaiah Eyre Photography

In the cool of the day
You come and meet me
All the blue fades away
The stars are winking

Your love’s so strong
I can’t recall
What was this thing
They called the fall?

And You walk with me
You never leave
You’re making my heart a garden

Oh, why would I hide
Away from Your face
When the light of Your love
Illuminates?

Your hand in mine
A steady line
Drawn on my heart
And deep in my mind

And You walk with me
You never leave
You’re making my heart a garden

Do I Believe in the Impossible? Movie Review: Little Boy

Photo Credit: Little Boy (2015)
Photo Credit: Little Boy (2015)

Looking for an uplifting and touching yet authentic film? Then look no further than “Little Boy.”

What do mustard seeds, magicians, corporal works of mercy, and short stature have in common? Little Boy. Critics panned Alejandro Monteverde’s new WWII movie while viewers rated this movie well. Recently, the Huffington Post acclaimed this movie as the Best Family Film of the Year. After wanting to support and view this film, I finally did and aptly on Memorial Day weekend. Little Boy captures the 1940s Battle of the Home-front through the eyes of a precocious and precious boy whose diminutive stature earns him the title “Little Boy.” The film artfully captures the love of father and his child. A love many of us do not know or understand in an increasingly fatherless society. When the father (Michael Rapaport) joins the US army’s campaign/ defense of the Pacific, Little Boy’s (Jakob Salvati) love for his father prompts him to embark on a fantastical quest to bring his father home involving a magician (Ben Chaplain) and the magical power of belief. After Little Boy hears Fr. Crispin’s (Eduardo Verástegui) homily about mustard seed sized faith, the local pastor, Fr. Oliver (Tom Wilkenson,) gives Little Boy a prayer card of sorts listing the corporal works of mercy and another line item: Befriend the local Japanese resident, Hashimoto (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa.) Little Boy struggles with the prejudice in his town, family, and heart. Because even with the smallest ounce of hatred, great acts of faith cannot transpire. Do you believe he can do it?

Spoiler Alerts: Movie Specifics . . . 

At times, a blend between Secondhand Lions and Bedtime Stories, the movie involves flashes into a child’s imagination as Little Boy processes and copes with his wartime situation. The flashes to old west showdowns, high sea adventures, and samurai warriors reminds me of my childhood imagination. The artful manner in which the imaginative elements weave into the film juxtapose the alignment of Little Boy’s home-front challenges with flashes into his father’s life-threatening situations somewhere in the Pacific.

Why didn’t the critics like it?

1.) Little Boy performs amazing feats in the name of faith. “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20) What if people believed in God again? Heaven and hell? Angels and Saints? Performed works in His holy name: Moved mountains, banished demons, healed the sick, forgave sins? Transformed hearts and culture? This movie portrays faith that literally moves mountains and transforms hearts.

2.) Metaphysical intangibles drive the film. I remember reading in Fr. Robert Spitzer’s, S.J.. book “Healing the Culture” about how our modern culture has ceased believing in metaphysical intangibles. Lay terms: Modernity teaches people to believe in only what can be seen, felt, proven by the senses or scientific reasoning while the metaphysical no longer exists because “it” cannot be proven by above reasoning. The most powerful “things” that hold society together are not proven, quantifiable tangibles but metaphysical intangibles: love, faith, God, virtue, forgiveness, mercy, hope, etc.

3.) Depicts the need for virtuous living that changes hearts, minds, and culture. Virtue, let alone heroic virtue, is considered an outdated concept. Little Boy hones virtue by performing Corporal Works of Mercy. As Catholic Christians, we believe our actions flow from the the salvific gift of faith. We strive to perform even the smallest acts of faith with great love transforming even the most menial task.

  • Feed the hungry- invites a friend over/ Hashimoto
  • Give drink to the thirsty- gives Hashimoto a soda
  • Clothe the naked- knits a baby sweater for an expectant mother
  • Shelter the homeless- gives pajamas & bedding to employee that works for father’s garage
  • Visit the sick- visits injured veteran in hospital
  • Visit the imprisoned- visits his brother Landon (David Henrie) in jail
  • Bury the dead- his father

4.) Little Boy’s acts of faith come into fruition only after “burying” his father. I loved the ending of this film, but the ending highlights that prayers and petitions will be answered in accordance with God’s will. After undergoing the heart-wrenching reality of burying their father presumed dead, Mrs. Busbee (Emily Watson) & sons discover that their husband and father was misidentified and lives. They are reunited with their father. Little Boy’s goal accomplished. However, the reality of severe physical and psychological trauma are etched upon Mr. Busbee’s face. The journey only begins for the Busbee family. Another invitation to grow in heroic virtue, develop faith the size of the mustard seed, and believe in the metaphysical intangibles of love, hope, and faith.

Congratulations, to the members of the Latino/ Hispanic film community for producing an inspiring and touching film that challenges us all to develop faith the size of the mustard seed, embrace virtue, and believe in the metaphysical intangibles of faith, love, and hope despite adversity.

*Originally posted on Blessed&Beloved Blog.

An Honest Letter About Creighton NFP

PSALM 73 (1)Dear Creighton Model:

You totally kicked me in the keister. Learning about you has been one of the most rewarding and challenging experiences of my life. The more I learn the more that learning curve and the knowledge acquired affirms and heightens my belief that there IS A GOD, and I’m not God.

Wholly smokes! My body is complex, intricate, and beautiful. My reproductive system is like the almost nigh unbreakable encryption machine Enigma and Creighton the machine that broke Enigma. The point being is that the code can be broken and interpreted even if it seems rather complex and overwhelming at times. As a woman, I am fearfully and wonderfully made. When my system is working in harmony, it’s like the restored, gleaming Sistine Chapel. When my reproductive tract falls into discord, it’s like the Sistine Chapel with loin clothes added and years of grime and gunk covering the paintings. Being a woman is always beautiful, but sometimes that vision is easier to recognize some days than others.

When I started pulling out my hair over “essential sameness” and yellow stickers, you never failed to frustrate me even more. I thought I might go insane comparing today to yesterday, two days ago, three days ago, one week ago, etc. But after beating my head against the wall, I’m eternally grateful God lifted me up and gave me the strength to tackle “essential sameness” mastery. Now I feel accomplished and knowledgeable and  . . . well humble too. Essential sameness is actually awesome.

When my naprotechnologist ordered the 25 day hormone assessment panel that involved blood draws on 10+ specific days of my cycle, I never imagined how involved the process would be. I underestimated the hours my Dad,  Mom, and I spent in the ER, outpatient clinic, or the hospital cafeteria waiting for the blood to be spun and processed. I never purchased dry ice before shipping the vials to Nebraska. Dry ice burns. Duly note. I promise I took Honors High School Chemistry.

When my napro doctor explained my test results and how multiple hormones weren’t just off but precipitously off, I felt cold and numb. Then I realized this knowledge helped explain the bizarre and taxing symptoms I felt. But a sense of hope surged that a treatment plan could heal the underlying issue(s).

When I picked up my first progesterone oil and inter-muscular injection needle set, I struggled to keep a straight face while the pharmacist explained injecting myself into the tush or thigh. The other part of me felt as though I had entered into an alternate reality. Really, God?

Since last August, you and I embarked on a long and arduous journey. We knew it wouldn’t be easy when we started as a naive Creighton newbie 10 months ago. I realize now some woman have less complicated cycles and others make ours seem manageable. This recognition has taught me humility. I’ve learned a new language about how to express an intricate part of being a woman and relating to a man. Trust me. My conversations with my special man friend are epic. This method teaches perseverance and endurance. You have taught me ownership of my body, pride of ownership. Pride in all its wonder and awe. Pride also in its flaws and complications. Creighton, you teach me lessons each day. The most important lesson learned thus far is to see myself as God sees me. Beautiful. Whole. Enough. Fearfully and Wonderfully Made. Made in His Image.

With All Respect and Admiration,

Hannah

P.S. Thank you for kicking my keister. Now simmer down a little, please. Jesus, I trust in you.

 

Who’s On First? Reclaiming the Kiss

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Photo Credit: Courtney Carmody/Flickr

Most individuals can hardly imagine a world where couples save their first kiss for their wedding day. Others find the sentiment sweet but unreasonable. Others mock the awkwardness or imperfectness of a public first kiss.

Deep down, I think those people are unsatisfied, restless, possibly jealous, because they desire something greater, whether they realize it or not. Deep in the fiber of our created being made in the image and likeness of God, we are hardwired for something greater, purer, and more loving. Not just earthly love but a reflection of Trinitarian love. When ladies {& men,} including myself, fall away from our divine purpose, a restlessness develops.

I’m not condemning people who kiss before they marry nor advocating waiting until your wedding day. A couple that waits for their wedding day to share their first kiss is no less holy or holier than a couple that shares in that intimacy before marriage. Love is a choice. How we love or fail to love is a choice too. 1 Corinthians 6:19: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you . . . you are not your own.” Reminding ourselves that we are tabernacles of the Holy Spirit provides ample guidance in sexual morality for now.

And I certainly agree kisses are given away far too liberally today, even for free. It’s a first date? Kiss him. It’s not even a date? Kiss him. I don’t know if he is the “right” one? Kiss him. Because I kissed him I know he isn’t the right one because where was the magic, the spark, the Joie de vivre! When in doubt, our culture says, kiss him!

Instead, I challenge, when in doubt, don’t kiss him. When not in doubt, consider waiting with him.

God created our capacity and desire to kiss on the lips. Since it’s a gateway intimacy, kissing can lead to babies and bonding. Kissing isn’t evil, but certainly can be a near occasion for sin. Every moment of our day is watched, guided, and protected by the Holy Trinity and Mother Mary. When you and I share certain intimacies, a whole celestial audience roots for us. Thank goodness, they remain beside us when we need grace and mercy too. There are many ways to express affection. Sometimes, those intimate expressions feel more satisfying, loving, and purer than a kiss on the lips. My personal favorite is a simple kiss on the forehead. I’m a hopeless romantic, but in my defense, a simple forehead kiss expresses respect, dignity, security, intimacy, hope, etc. The list goes on.

Each couple is unique. Respect and challenge each other to find creative alternatives to kissing on the lips, making out on the couch, etc. In my experience, you both will develop a broader capacity for expressing affection and love that will engender greater dignity and respect for each other.

I once desired to save my first kiss for the man I married on our wedding day. Will the first kiss I ever participated in be saved for my future husband? No. But can I still respect myself and the men in my lives? Yes. Someday, I may find a man I’ll share a first kiss that is pure, simple, and loving because deep down, in my heavenly core, I will know he respects me and I him enough to bring each other closer to Christ out of love and not fear or objectification until death do us part. Together he and I will make a choice. But I leave that in Christ, Mother Mary, and St. Joseph’s capable hands. Until then, I chose to be renewed in Christ.

Nowadays, I reserve my kisses. The kissing bank is shut until a further trust and commitment deposit is made!

Ladies {& Men,} remember your dignity and his dignity the next time you consider sharing a kiss on the lips. This intimate gesture should draw you closer to Christ and your vocation. If not, remember your kiss deserves no less!

St. Joseph, pray for us!