Not The Average Joe

Today, March 19th, is the Super Solemnity of Saint Joseph, the Most Chaste Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary (phew, long title!), aka: a well-deserved break from Lent! That’s right boys and girls, today is a solemnity, which means it’s a little oasis from your Lenten penances. It’s also my patronal feast day, so I thought I’d write a post for this occasion and share some art from Daniel Mitsui:

[Feel free to click the artwork to see more about it at the artist’s site.]

The artwork above depicts St. Joseph’s second dream from the Archangel Gabriel, telling him to take Mary and Baby Jesus into exile… into Egypt to escape the murderous Herod (Matthew 2: 13-23). St. Joseph had three such dreams in all, and I’d invite you to check your copy of the Gospel of Matthew to see what I mean.

Which then brings me to why St. Joseph is not your average Joe. Instead, St. Joseph was an intense man of love, made even more intense because his beloved was the stunning and gorgeous Virgin Mary. In fact, as Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said:

“When a man loves a woman, he has to become worthy of her. The higher her virtue, the more noble her character, the more devoted she is to truth, justice, goodness, the more a man has to aspire to be worthy of her. The history of civilization could actually be written in terms of the level of its women.”

In other words, the woman inspires the man on how to love her and others. In many ways, the woman’s beauty shows her man a glimpse of how ravishing her Creator is. The woman’s wisdom, intuition, faith, dignity, reverence and steadfastness hints at the level of wisdom, intuition, faith, dignity and steadfastness that the man needs to have in order to impress her. She sets the standards, and if he loves her, then he will rise.

And Mary’s standards were sky high. She was good enough for God to want her to be His mother, and her goodness inspired Joseph’s goodness. So here we see a chain: God inspired Mary, and Mary inspired Joseph. And if this logic led to the holiest of families, then we can conclude:

Ladies, get close to Jesus! Be inspired by God, be filled with the Holy Spirit, inspire the gentlemen in your lives to rise to higher standards. Don’t settle for wimps or pimps, don’t settle for idiots or cowards. Don’t settle for an average Joe. Be truly beloved.

Gentlemen, get out there and meet women who have high standards! Ask the Lord to give you the strength to rise to those heights… to the heights of being lifted on a cross and willing to die for your bride. Don’t live a wimpy or pimpy lifestyle, don’t be an idiot or a coward. Don’t be an average Joe. Be a true lover.

Now, since Mary was unaffected by Original Sin [by the Lord’s gift of immaculate conception], and since sin causes all ugliness, then we can say that Mary was truly and totally beautiful, through and through. In our fallen world, we’re always tempted to lust after the beautiful, to take it and possess it. This is a selfish thing to do, because beauty is meant to inspire us to be beautiful, and to praise the Creator of that beauty!

So for St. Joseph, I imagine devils constantly tried to tempt him to lust after his super beautiful bride, tried to make him use Mary, abuse her beauty and take advantage of her. But it never happened. He was her most chaste spouse, and for that he is known as the Terror of Demons. Joseph terrified and terrorizes demons because he never fell for their greatest temptations to lust, and so he was above their power. And whoever is above their power is close to Christ.

That brings me to my last point: what do I do with beautiful women? Do I fall for temptation and lust? Well, I used to. For a long time, and for most of my life, that’s all I did. But five years ago I started seeing beautiful women differently. Now, a woman’s beauty prompts me to pray for her. The beauty of women who demons wanted me to lust after now actually inspires me to pray — beauty turned my weakness into strength: beauty saved the beast. In fact, the more captivating a woman is, the more I thank and praise God for her beauty! I ask God to protect her from lust, especially from mine, and I beg God to crown her a saint in Heaven! I ask Mary to keep her safe and beautiful, I ask any saint I can think of to watch over her, and on and on and on I pray and praise.

And in this small way I try to imitate St. Joseph. I want to be a terror of demons, a most chaste spouse.

Because I don’t ever want to be an average Joe.

BONUS: There’s been a bit of debate about whether St. Joseph was a young man or old and grandpa-like. Well, here’s the theory I stand by (best expressed by Fulton Sheen on page 96 of his “The World’s First Love“):

But when one searches for the reasons why Christian art should have pictured Joseph as aged, we discover that it was in order to better safeguard the virginity of Mary. Somehow, the assumption had crept in that senility was a better protector of virginity than adolescence. Art thus unconsciously made Joseph a spouse chaste and pure by age rather than virtue…To make Joseph appear pure only because his flesh had aged is like glorifying a mountain stream that has dried. The Church will not a ordain a man to the priesthood who has not his vital powers. She wants men who have something to tame, rather than those who are tame because they have no energy to be wild. It should be no different with God…Joseph was probably a young man, strong, virile, athletic, handsome, chaste, and disciplined; the kind of man one sees sometimes shepherding sheep, or piloting a plane, or working at a carpenter’s bench. Instead of being a man incapable of love, he must have been on fire with love….Instead, then, of being dried fruit to be served on the table of the king, he was rather a blossom filled with promise and power. He was not in the evening of life, but in its morning, bubbling over with energy, strength, and controlled passion.

And for more about St. Joseph’s age, his possible assumption, and other amazing things, check Dr. Taylor Marshall’s article here.

Beauty and the Beast and the Bible

BeautyBeastPosterLike most typical American kids, I grew up with Disney movies in my DVD collection. Some films are great, some were great, and some are just trash.

Beauty and the Beast (B&B) is great. I’m sure you already know that if you’ve seen it. But here are some details you may not have noticed:

——1) The prologue is narrated in stained-windows… stained-windows… reminds you of what? What kind of buildings have stained-windows? For what building was stained-glass invented for? If you said castles or palaces, then you’re partially correct. The answer: Christian Castles/Palaces — aka: churches.

——2) The Rose is the main motif in the movie, especially a rose that seems to countdown. If that doesn’t hint at the ROSARY (which is a bouquet of prayers we offer to Our Lord’s Blessed Mother), then I don’t know what does!

the-assumption-of-the-virgin-1670——3) Speaking of the Blessed Mother, what colors do Belle wear? Did you know that light blue and white are Marian colors? Notice that the majority of traditionally colored Mary statues and icons show her to be wearing blue and white.

——4) Shortly after we meet Belle, she stops where and sings to what? She stops at a fountain, and she tells a story in song to a little lamb. A fountain is like a well, and in Sacred Scripture, it’s typically the place a man and woman have a significant meeting (recall Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel, Moses and Zipporah, Jesus and the Samaritan Woman). Well, in B&B, we see Belle singing to the lamb: “She doesn’t discover that it’s HIM till chaper 3…”

This is significant because Jesus had to be revealed to the Samaritan Woman, had to be discovered. And three is a convenient number that not only rhymes, but symbolizes the third day after Jesus’ death — when His Resurrection is discovered by Mary Magdalene. Also, Jesus is the prince in disguise!

BelleLambAnd what does a lamb symbolize in Christianity? “Agnus Dei…” which means “Lamb of God…” which means Jesus.

And Belle is Mary, and Mary is the God-bearer, and God is love… so Belle carries love.

Betcha never connected that “Mary had a little lamb… little lamb… little lamb. Mary had a little lamb whose wool was white as snow” is talking about the Blessed Mother who has a Son who is innocent and pure.

And in B&B, everyone thinks Belle is such a strange, funny girl, such an odd girl unaware of her own beauty. Well, Mary is odd too! She was immaculately conceived, and no one else was. She would obviously have been singled out as exceptional and strange and completely oblivious to how beautiful she is (because of her humility). Oh, oh, oh! You don’t know you’re beautiful! Oh, oh, oh! That’s what makes you beautiful!

BeautyBeast——5) What about what causes the prince in B&B to be cursed? Wouldn’t that be the sin of pride? Being spoiled, selfish, unkind… and pride causes us to be isolated to the point that we curse ourselves. Pride was the Original Sin, and it caused us to be disfigured, naked, ashamed, lonely and doomed to die. And so after the prince commits this sin, he becomes a beast: ugly, naked, ashamed, lonely, and doomed to die.

——6) Our sin never affects us in isolation. Sin is like contagion: it spreads. And so Adam and Eve’s sin caused all of us and the rest of Creation to crash and burn. In B&B, the curse spreads throughout the castle, infects the servants, the forest, the world around the property. Sin is never personal; it affects everyone eventually.

BeautyBeastBalcony——7) And only what can redeem Beast and his servants? Only if he truly loves and is truly loved in return, right? And doesn’t Belle bear that love? She’s the one to break the spell… she must give her love to him, must give her word to him. Notice later in the film that it’s only when Belle says she loves him is the curse busted. This is so symbolic of Mary’s fiat to the Archangel Gabriel, when she said “let it be…”

——8) At the ball, notice the colors of Belle’s gown: yellow and white. Those are the colors of Mother Church, the Bride of Christ, the redeemed. The colors of the Vatican flag hint at this.

PiercedSide——9) When Gaston (whatta jerk…) attacks Beast, where does he stab him? In the side! The right side! Take a look at any crucifix and you’ll see that’s exactly where Jesus was pierced (John 19:34).

——10) Then, when Beast dies in Belle’s arms… it looks a lot like the Pieta.

——11) And earlier when Beast released Belle after the ball, he in effect accepted sin (the curse) and death. Recall Beast’s response when his servants warn him of the mob’s approach: “It doesn’t  matter, just let them come.” This is a bit similar to when Jesus accepted our sin (though he was sinless) and accepted His impending death, even death on a cross.

——12) But true love breaks the spell (remember that God is love). After Mary gives her fiat, God is allowed to intervene (allowed to love) at the ground level of our humanity to redeem us through the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus. And in B&B, after Belle’s fiat, we see Beast rise from the dead in glorious light. His body shines forth as a glorified body. This is totally an allegory in the movie for the Resurrection of Christ!BelleLoves

——13) And Beast’s salvation also saves the whole castle (transforms all the gargoyle’s too!), all his servants and the world around him.

——Bonus) Beast can be seen as a Christ figure, in that Jesus is also known as the Lion of Judah, an idea that C.S. Lewis used when writing the character Aslan in his Chronicles of Narnia.

Aslan

So there you have it, 13 or so details I noticed one day while re-watching this classic.

——BONUS) Found out recently via a comment below that the Prince’s name is actually Adam (thanks Anh-Thu!)! This further adds to Biblical symbolism, since the New Adam (Jesus) and the New Eve (Mary) in a perfect way undo the sin of the first Adam and Eve. We see this played out in Beauty and the Beast because Adam (the Prince) becomes a new man at the end (a new Adam), undoing the past sin (most importantly with the love and help of Belle [who can be seen as a type of Mary, a new Eve.]).

——BONUS 2) Here, we see an even deeper connection with points 5 and 6 above. Now that we know the Beast symbolizes Adam, we also can see how similar their reaction to sin is. After the Original Adam sinned, he felt great shame, thought himself ugly and hid himself. So too does the Beast do this!

——BONUS 3) That’s right, it gets better! According to the film’s plot summary, the beggar visits the Prince on CHRISTMAS EVE. Now, this definitely makes me recall that on the First Christmas Eve, Mary and Joseph [and the unborn Jesus] were beggars trying to find a place to stay. The people they asked turned them away, not knowing the beauty of the Holy Family and that someone very powerful, special and beautiful was hidden within the Holy Couple: Jesus.

Godzilla and the True God

Godzilla 2014The turf of my childhood has a Godzilla-sized shape carved into it. In fact, when I was a first-grader, I was so obsessed about the radioactive beast that I made a shrine for him one day atop my dresser — complete with train wreck, car in mouth and hand, and ocean surf at his feet! The water leaked and blistered the wood finish of course, and Mom made me take it down, but my fanhood stayed with me. Everything had to be Godzilla! It got to the point that even my humble little computer teacher in Catholic school became uncomfortable whenever I said Godzilla since it seemed to him to mock the name of the True God.

So when I found out there was another effort to remake the classic (my favorite was Godzilla 1985), it was difficult to pass up the film on the big screen.

And if you didn’t notice, I’m the most scrupulous film viewer I know. Mix that movie-scrupulosity with my super-serious-Catholicity and whaddya get? Well… let me show you with a screenshot:

[Click image for better view]

[Click image for better view. Elle Brody is played by Elizabeth Olsen.]

And I’m pretty sure my working knowledge of Catholic iconography is decent. Anyway, what’s an overt Catholic medal doing on the necklace of a summer blockbuster’s actress?

Well, everything that goes into a shot of any film means that the director approved of it. Everything in every scene cost work and money to put there, and producers and directors won’t waste time and money making sure things show up on a frame, unless they want it to. So the fact that this medal is blatantly focused in on, with the shot resting on Elle and with her medal clearly noticeable, one has to think either: (a) Elizabeth Olsen insisted on wearing the medal and director Gareth Edwards approved of it, or (b) director Gareth Edwards insisted the medal be part of the actress’ costume, and Elizabeth didn’t object. Other than those two paths of thought, anything else is a stretch…

HALO jumpersBut then there was the scene of the military personnel preparing for the now-famous HALO jump scene. Just before their jump, we hear a Christian praying to God, thanking the Lord Jesus for allowing him and the other men to serve others with their lives. Now that is pretty obvious that there is a Christian presence to this film — a presence I definitely did not expect but was pleasantly surprised by. After all, these scenes both vindicated me that Godzilla is not a mockery of the True God.

Anyway, just wanted to point out those God-fearing tidbits in Godzilla. If you do decide to give it two hours of your time, know that it’s definitely a fun flick with a big emphasis on mothers and fathers and their children, on husbands and wives and their faithful marriages, and of course on the king of the monsters. Gojira!

Yuna Kim Taught Me How to Pray

After I saw her, I was never afraid again.

Yuna Kim

She is Yuna Kim, South Korea’s most popular celebrity/athlete/pop icon/etc. I knew nothing about her until she demolished her competition at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada.

And she demolished with grace! After earning her gold medal (and South Korea’s first gold in skating ever), the sports channel showed a montage of athletes in various states of competition and ecstatic victory. But for Miss Kim, I saw something that made me scour the internet for an explanation. I was confused when I saw:

As she skated onto the ice for her final program, she made the Sign of the Cross, clasped her hands together, bowed her head, and prayed.

There she was: on Olympic ice, before dozens of HD cameras broadcasting to billions of TVs, LCDs, smartphones, before millions of her adoring fans (especially the boys — duh) at home and around the world. And there she was, praying in public.

She was so humble about it, that you’d almost miss it! Unless she actually prays this way before her every skate. WHICH SHE DOES.

And it occurred to me, that if Yuna Kim could be that devoted to Christ before the world’s gaze, then what reason do I have for cowering? What reason do I have to be afraid of praying before others? Who was watching me? Do I have dozens of cameras broadcasting my public prayer around the planet? Do I have millions of fans ready to judge my next move? Does anyone care what Evan does?

No.

And even if they do care, I’m not about to let Yuna pray alone.

P.S. after investigating the internet, I found out that Miss Kim had decided to be baptized Catholic in 2008 as Stella Yuna Kim, named after the Blessed Virgin Mary – Star of the Sea. In a world like today, deciding to be Catholic takes guts and grace. Seriously.

P.P.S. My personal favorite Yuna Kim skate (trust me, you gotta see this):

Keep an eye out for Yuna in February during the 2014 Sochi Olympics!

Happy New Year!

Sochi 2014

[See the next posts about Yuna Kim here (The Forbidden Christian) and here (A Meme for the Queen)!, and my interview on CNA!]

Meeting Maria

QueenMotherIt was during my discernment year. I promised God if He helped me get my English degree, that I would set aside one whole year to see what my vocation was.

So at the end of the discernment year, in May 2011, I went on an eight-day Silent Retreat. I remember the morning of May 15th: thunderstorming. I woke up and was immediately tempted: “Evan, you don’t have to go to this retreat. You’re holy enough. You make your holy hours regularly, you pray often, you do so much good… just stay home and keep doing those things. You don’t need to go into this storm…”

But I sat up in bed and remembered, “But I told so many people I would be going… I told the priest, my parents, my siblings and friends… I’ll just go. For them.”

So I set out and drove two hours through downpour. It would end up raining for five out of the eight days.

When I arrived, the staff gave me orientation: the retreat house was in the woods, away from the main road, surrounded by trees, gardens and a pond. Inside the house, the bedrooms were each dedicated to a saint. One was for St. Anthony, another for St. Therese de Lisieux, one for St. Joseph. and the last one for St. Mary. I was given St. Joseph’s room and altogether, there were enough bedrooms for six other retreatants. That’s when the lady told me: “But you’re the only one who signed up for this week. You’ll have the whole house to yourself!”

Wow. All to myself. And here’s the routine:

  • 8:00am: Wake up, wash up, exercise.
  • 9:00am: Meet with the spiritual director, Father Dennis Brown, a priest of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary. He would guide me through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius for about 30-45 minutes, asking about my thoughts, concerns, hopes, etc. Very good priest he was, I will never forget him and will be indebted to him for a long time.
  • 10:00am: Mass. And it was just me and the priest. You can say that I really learned the responses of the Mass after that, and picked up some Latin too!
  • And after Mass, I was on my own. I wouldn’t see Fr. Dennis or anyone else until the next morning. It was up to me to keep up with the prayers and spiritual exercises.

But I constantly felt exhausted, constantly tempted to sleep away the entire retreat. The rainy weather made it worse. Every day was overcast, grey, and dark.

On my first whole day, I kept feeling paranoid. The silence made me start wondering about my thoughts… yes – I started thinking about my thoughts. I also had a strange experience: to help remind me of how much I need God, I would hold my breath while silently praying the Our Father. The prayer isn’t long, so this wasn’t difficult to do. The point: I rely on God for everything, including my next breath of air. If I finish this prayer and there’s no air, well… then God took it away.

So I started this prayer habit. I’ve never had breathing problems, and the first few times I did this was easy. But during the middle of the day on Tuesday – I blacked out. While kneeling before the tabernacle in prayer, I saw the ground rush up at me, over and over, but I never collapsed. It felt like my head was being jerked around, then I saw nothing. When I opened my eyes, I was perfectly fine and kneeling where I had been. Very strange…

Then came Wednesday, the 18th of May. I was wrapping up my morning spiritual exercises (and they ARE exercises… very tough and rigorous). The rain had finally let up outside, and I decided to go for a walk in the garden. I pulled out the Divine Mercy Chaplet and prayed. Around 4:00pm, I felt very tired again and decided to finish the prayer and take a nap. As I was going to my bedroom, I passed by the room dedicated to the Virgin Mary. I thought, “Well fine, I’ll pay the Queen a visit. Why not?”

When I entered her room, I couldn’t move. I didn’t want to. Our Lady’s picture on the wall, I first saw it during orientation on Sunday, but it was not the same anymore. It was much more beautiful. The picture did not physically change, but my response to it changed… I felt her presence: a warm embrace, very peaceful, tender and gentle. I heard her voice touch my heart:

“Evan, my child… I love you. Why are you so anxious? So worried? Am I not yours? I will take care of you. I am your mother.” (Like St. Juan Diego’s encounter with Our Lady of Guadalupe!)

FernandoSayanPoloGuada2

And my worries disappeared. I felt safe. I felt guided. I stood there gazing at Mary for fifteen minutes, and I didn’t want to leave the room. I wanted to stay with her. But I knew I couldn’t just stay in the room forever, so I took the picture off the wall, embraced it and carried her into the chapel. I rearranged the furniture so that I could kneel at Mary’s feet while praying to Jesus in the Tabernacle.

That’s when the retreat changed. It became easy, sweet, and so productive. I read Scripture, but Our Queen was reading it to me! She helped me see myself in the stories: especially the Wedding at Cana (Not only do whatever He tells you, but also when He tells you…). She helped me examine my deepest conscience, and she dug up the secrets I buried so long ago that I even forgot them. But she didn’t embarrass me! She was so tender. It was so easy to talk with her, so easy to love her, so easy to let her love me.

Lovable.

I found out later that the day this happened was also Pope John Paul II’s birthday. I realized he must’ve asked Our Lady to pay her poor child a visit.

But since then, my devotion to Mary began. Before I met her, I didn’t really know her, and really didn’t think about her (I went into this retreat without anything Marian on my mind!). I was sometimes even annoyed by how much attention she got from others. But now I know… now I get why she’s so beloved. She is so beautiful. Now I’m a believer too. And now I’m convinced that she’s real. How can you deny someone exists if you’ve met them? And if Mary is real and alive, then so are the other saints, and if they are real, then the Church is real. It is true! Then God is real. This is all for real.

And every time I share this experience, I know the Queen is listening, making sure I don’t skip any details I should share. There are some personal things I leave out, but if you want to know, just ask me. I’ll be glad to share it in a more private way.

“Oh Mary,

conceived without sin,

pray for us who have recourse to thee.”

050_Coronation_of_Mary_detailHappy Coronation-of-Mary-as-Queen-of-Heaven-&-Earth Day!