Friday, September 7, 2012


I love my father very much.

When I was 18, I sliced my right index finger open while cleaning the meat slicer at my dad's restaurant, the Madison Diner, the best restaurant this side of the Pacific.
My first thought was, "Will I ever be able to play guitar the same again?"
My dad half-led/half-dragged me to the van, put my seat-belt on because my hands were busy holding a rag on my finger, and drove me to Jewish hospital. He kept telling me to put pressure on it the whole ride, but didn't hesitate to remind me, "You'll never do that again."
While in the hospital, I was still distressed over the possible loss of my ability to play guitar. But my dad reminded me, "We've all done it. I've done it, your Gido's done it, your uncles have done'll heal."

This June, I celebrated the first-year anniversary since the incident. It's been a crazy year since then.
I enrolled in a seminary (not just any seminar, Bishop Simon Brute College Seminary) around that time, and left for that seminary in the fall. I left behind many people that I loved.
While there, I began to discern whether priesthood or marriage was God's call for me in life. However, I also suffered from what I believed to be major homesickness.
It wasn't.
I had left behind every one that I loved. I left my friends, my family, my way of life. I didn't even play guitar very often any more. Something in me was changing. I was growing more and more afraid. Of failing. Of dying. Of growing old and having nothing to show for it.

And then it happened.
I came home for Christmas break, and I began to believe that I would not be going back to seminary. What ensued was a series of talks between my father and I about my life decisions and my choice to live. I told him that I didn't think I physically had the strength to go back and endure another semester. I told him I didn't think I could make it that long.
He told me I didn't have to. I just had to make it the next day.

When mountain climbers become so exhausted and tired that they feel like they can't make it to the top, they find a rock or a crevase and they tell themselves, "I can make it to that rock." Then, when they reach that rock, they tell themselves, "I can make it to that next rock." And rock by rock, they make it to the top.

After telling me this, my dad pointed to the signs on the highway where we were driving. "See, you can just say, 'I'll make it to that next exit sign.' And then when you reach it, you can point to the next sign and say, 'I'll make it to that next sign.' Then when you reach where you were trying to go, you'll know that you made it."

See, that's what manhood's about. It's not about climbing mountains. It's about reaching the next rock.

Since leaving the seminary in January, I have had many trials. I had to experience life working full-time in the very same restaurant that nearly took my finger. I had to endure the loss of some of the people closest to me. I've had to watch as my friends left for college, while I stayed behind. But God blessed me with a friend who has become even more than that to me now. A friend I had once hurt. But this friend forgave me, and with that forgiveness came great love.
This friend I believe to be a lifelong companion, some one to have and hold and forgive and care for in the same way that she has loved, forgiven, and cared for me.
And this spring, I wrote that girl a song. On my guitar. With all ten fingers.
I have healed from my wounds. And I'll never do that again.

I do not know if this is God's path for me now. I do not know if this is the end I will meet. I do not know if I can reach the mountain top.

But I do know that I can make it to that rock.
I do know that I can play guitar with my right index finger. (I'm typing with it now.)
I do know that I can be a man like my father is.
And I want to be.
I believe God is calling me to this life.

I love my father very much.

I love my girlfriend very much.

And I love my life very, very much.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Glories of Easter: Part II

The second thing I would like to discuss is one that I was taught in Freshman year of highschool.

In the Gospel of Matthew, it is written: "About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" (which means "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?") (Matthew 27:46)

Is Jesus Christ, the Son of God and God Himself, the mighty Prince of Peace and King of Heaven and Earth, really just a man? Just a man who is crying out in pain to His Father in frustration and agony?

That's honestly what I used to think. And then I saw this:

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.[b]

It is the beginning of the 22nd Psalm. Jesus is not just crying out to His Father, but to His people. He is reminding the Jewish people of the passage with which they are all, as good and faithful Jews, familiar. Within the Psalm, this is also said:

3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the one Israel praises.[c]
4 In you our ancestors put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.
5 To you they cried out and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

Christ is telling His people that their prayers have been answered, and that He is their salvation.

6 But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
8 “He trusts in the LORD,” they say,
“let the LORD rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.”

It is obvious that they have mocked and despised the Christ. But remember specifically the words of the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders:

“He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” (Matthew 27:42-43)

Their words are prophesied by David in the psalm.

The psalm goes on to describe many great evils. One of these sections talks about dryness of mouth which, when seen in the light of Jesus’ words from the cross “I’m thirsty,” is revealed to be, in no way, coincidental. As we continue to read the psalm, we arrive at this point:

16 Dogs surround me,
a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce[e] my hands and my feet.
17 All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
18 They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.

Recall the scene in Matthew:

When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. (Matthew 27:35)

Again, the psalm is prophetic of Christ’s crucifixion.

Matthew, who wrote his Gospel with the Jewish people as his audience, knew to highlight the elements of the prophetic psalm that were fulfilled in Christ’s crucifixion. There are no coincidences in the Scriptures.

The psalm is a truly beautiful one, and I encourage you to read the entire thing. But here is just a snippet of the ending:

23 You who fear the LORD, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.

25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you[f] I will fulfill my vows.
26 The poor will eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the LORD will praise him—
may your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the LORD,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
28 for dominion belongs to the LORD
and he rules over the nations.

29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
those who cannot keep themselves alive.
30 Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.
31 They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!

Finally, I would just like to end with an interesting tidbit of information that is unique to this year and something I found on my very own.

In Catholic tradition, the number 8 is symbolic of resurrection and renewal.

Easter falls this year on April 8.

God Bless you all this Holy Week!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Glories of Easter: Part I

This blog post will discuss some of the more fascinating aspects of Holy Week that are not commonly known.

Something that I recently fell upon while reading Pope Benedict XVI's book, "Jesus of Nazareth: Volume 1" is the historical value of the Biblical figure Barabbas. In all of the Gospels, Barabbas appears during the trial of Jesus Christ when Pontius Pilate allows the Jewish crowd to select one prisoner to set free. They choose Barabbas, and Christ is sent to be crucified. What most people don't realize is that Barabbas was not just some common thief or troublemaker.
The very name "Barabbas" comes from the Hebrew "bar-Abbas" meaning "son of the Father." This "son of the Father" was believed to be the Messiah, declaring war against the Roman occupation of Jerusalem and leading the Jewish militant against Rome. The Jews had traditionally believed for years that the Messiah would be a militant warrior, a rebel, overthrowing the oppression of foreign rule and creating a new political kingdom. When Jesus came and preached His message of faith, hope, and love, as well as a new Kingdom of God that did not reside in the strength of men, many Jews were disappointed to hear it. So, they turned to Barabbas as their leader, believing him to be the true Messiah. It is an interesting contrast from the true Messiah who stood directly beside Barabbas and willingly accepted His death, necessary to found the true Kingdom of Jerusalem.
An interesting thought. But more to come.

Friday, March 30, 2012

I Am A Catholic: Ridicule Me

Washington D.C. played the host of last week's "Reason Rally" on March 24, 2012. The Rally gathered atheists and agnostics from around the nation. Its sole purpose: to mock religion and its beliefs.
Headlining the rally was Richard Dawkins, a renowned British anti-religious advocate. The following paragraph is a part of his speech to a reported 20,000 people on the National Mall (significantly around 180,000
people less than are present for the March for Life, a significantly less publicized national event.)

“Religion makes specific claims about the universe which need to be substantiated, and need to be challenged – and if necessary, need to be ridiculed with contempt.”

Later, he told the crowd to ask a religious person to express their faith, saying:

“For example, if they say they're Catholic: Do you really believe, that when a priest blesses a wafer, it turns into the body of Christ? Are you seriously telling me you believe that? Are you seriously saying that wine turns into blood?”

“Mock them,” he told the crowd. “Ridicule them! In public!”

The crowd cheered uproariously.
This is sad.
How can any one say that a person should be mocked and ridiculed simply because of their religious beliefs? How can people cheer for that?
When Mel Gibson publicly made comments that mocked and ridiculed the Jewish people, the media scolded him.
When troops in the United States army burned copies of the Qu'ran, President Barack Obama himself apologized to the Muslim religion.
When Richard Dawkins singles out the Catholic belief (no other religion is specifically mentioned throughout his speech) and calls for the American people to mock and ridicule the Catholic belief in the Eucharist and says it all on the National Mall, the very site where Dr. Martin Luther King called for equal treatment of all men, people cheered.
It reminds me of another famous speech in which a man called for the subhuman treatment of Jews in Germany. Many rallies were held on the site of this speech, and later, laws would be written in order to repress the Jewish people and would be named for the site. The Nuremberg Laws gave a legal definition of what a Jewish person was and then redefined rights for a Jewish person, who was considered a subhuman second-class citizen.
As many of you know, the Obama Administration has recently passed the Health and Human Services Mandate requiring all organizations, regardless of religious beliefs, to supply their employees with contraceptives. To the Catholic Church, this is a crucial blow to one of its beliefs. And although President Obama himself gave a speech promising to accommodate the beliefs of religion, the law has not been changed. I know; I have read the entire thing. The only change states that the insurance company will supply the contraceptives. However, this accommodation is flawed because the Catholic Church will still be paying for the insurance companies to provide contraceptives. It is a sneaky, bureaucratic method that breaks the second amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America and suspends the rights of Catholics across the nation.
The law will begin to be enforced in August of 2013. If, by that time, the law is not changed, then I will become a second-class citizen of the United States of America, suspended of my right to religious liberty; a right that is upheld by the same Constitution as an inalienable human right.
Reason can affirm this: The suspension of my inalienable human rights makes me subhuman.
I am a human.
I am an American.
I am a Catholic.
But for how much longer?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Round 3

I'm sure some of you were wondering about my post yesterday and how this had to do with anything that Above the Norm stands for, besides the obvious laugh or two. Even God enjoys a good laugh. And that's something I realized.
As I sat in the back, holding a gauze pad soaked in some dosage of chemicals to my head, I couldn't help but laugh. Here's why.
I love scars. I think they're cool. I have several noticeable ones.
The first one, chronologically, came when I was eight or nine years old and fell off a cliff I was climbing in a creek. Given, I was only about twelve feet off the ground, but I feel directly on my knee, splitting the skin in two places on a jagged rock.
The second one is actually less visible. When I was eleven, a frisbee hit me in the mouth and cracked a front tooth in half. The other half was replaced with plastic, and so the scar is more like an odd shading in the lower left half of my front tooth.
The third one is my right index finger which was sliced 9 centimeters deep by a meat slicer, and, due to a poor stitching job, remains quite disfigured.
And now, the fourth, being my head wound.
In between them lie many burn scars from flat-top grills, ovens, and frying oil, several cut scars from kitchen knives, and four small points in my left arm that are, ironically, match the position of four fork prongs...which, again ironically, was the weapon that inflicted them. (One of my best friends and one of the best drummers I know is somewhere laughing about a simple accident that has since become legendary.)
But what is my point?
We all have our scars. Some physical, some mental, some emotional. Some even spiritual. Most of us have some in all of these areas.
But that's only all the more reason to help each other heal from these scars, some of them still fresh enough to be called wounds. I know that whenever I've had wounds, my family and friends have been there to support me. And I've seen my family and friends support many others. I've seen my father support many of his friends who come into his restaurant, and they in turn support us. My father once told me that a man's character can never be replaced by money, which is why no man is ever forced into poverty, and that a man's character is always worth more than money, which is what makes a man rich. (Or, at least, something along those lines.)
I've seen some of the richest men in the world, and I have experienced their support, kindness, and ability to super-glue a man's head together. And I know my father is one of the richest men I've ever known because of this.
I laughed in that back room because I realized that while I was hurt, I was no longer hurting. Not really.
Christ had his scars. Many of them in his head, pierced not by window panes, but thorns. I have one piercing in my head; he had dozens. I have a cut in one finger; he had two holes in both hands. I think we often underestimate just how much the Son of God was scarred by our sins. But also underestimate His power to bestow upon all mankind the grace that is needed to support one another in both healing wounds of the past and protecting from wounds in the future.
May God bless and heal all of our scars, and may He grant us the grace to aid one another.