The Most Difficult Conversation I Had On Independence Day

One of my good friends recently got accepted into Texas A&M’s nursing school (whoop!), so her family threw a going-away party for her. A substantial handful of fellow friends, catechists, and people from my parish came to celebrate. Even one of our priests participated in the celebration! This party was dual-purpose because it also happened to be on July 4th.  Obviously there was launching of fireworks! I found out our priest really, really likes fireworks…

#PyroPriests #RomanCollar #RomanCannons

At some point during the evening, I was catching up with the husband of one of my fellow adult volunteers with a good seminarian friend. For this blog post, let the husband’s name be Alfonso. I haven’t really interacted with him beyond brief small talk in the past, usually in youth ministry/parish event contexts. Because he knows of my involvement at the parish, I think it was natural for Alfonso to ask about my non-church life. Ya know, life and work. I started talking about work because of his questions. Obviously, talking about aerospace-related things oftentimes lead to military talk. I mentioned something about news regarding the Marines.

Now, Alfonso has a son who is in the Marines so the conversation went that direction. His son was indirectly one of my youth in the youth group as well as a peer of my seminarian friend. I naturally had to ask Alfonso how his son is doing and where he’s stationed now. He started giving updates. Alfonso then mentioned that he should be home for Christmas after being gone for a long while!

…before he’s shipped off to Iraq in January.

When Alfonso was describing how his son will be deployed to Iraq, I could begin to sense the fear in his voice. With everything going on in the Middle East right now, it’s understandable and a hard reality to face. All three of us dwelled on the inherent dangers and the reality of death. We had some awkward silence, which I broke by mentioning how his son’s faith, or at least caring about his faith, increased when he went into the Marines. Back in high school, he was one of those punk kids that treated his Catholic faith in a superficial way. But that seemed to have changed somewhat since becoming a marine as I learned from talking to his mom every so often.

Alfonso mentioned that Marine culture isn’t very conducive to cultivate one’s faith. Despite that, his son seems to hang onto his faith better compared to his Marine buddies. In our conversations about the reality of death, Alfonso mentioned that when it comes down to it, “there are no atheists in the trenches.” Alfonso, my seminarian bro, and I all recognized the notion of the importance of what’s next after passing away.

When we were talking about the very real possibility that his son may be killed in action, Alfonso started tearing up. That was the most difficult part of this conversation. I nearly started tearing up myself seeing Alfonso’s great love for his son and very real fear of the very real notion of his son’s death.

Through the awkward silences, wetting of the eyes, and dwelling on the thought, I ended the conversation by offering to pray for his son and his family. Likewise, the seminarian did as well.

Praise God that all three of us are Catholic (and the Marine, too). Because of our Catholic faith, I know that we’re equipped to handle the reality of death. It absolutely sucks to confront, it’s difficult to come to terms with it, but it is a reality we all must face one day.

Please pray for Alfonso and his family and for the protection of their Marine in body and soul—St. Michael the Archangel, our defender in battle and protection against the devil, pray for us!

One of my favorite Instagrams for #100picsofbeauty

St. Martin of Tours, patron saint of soldiers and bishop of Tours, pray for us!

-JD

St. Martin splitting his cloak for a beggar // Sacred Art Series Blog

An Instance When the Christian Cross Isn’t Practical

This was back in April and written as such.


As I’m currently typing this out, I’m 6000+ miles away from home eating breakfast at a really nice hotel in the middle of Japan. I’ll be going to Mass here in a few hours.

I’ve already been here for two weeks!

In my own desires and pursuit of Catholic nerdiness, I’ve sought Catholic churches nearby. The cathedral of this diocese is a solid 35 minute walk from my hotel, and I just recently found a mission church by the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart that is only 25 minutes walk away.

In my brief Googling about Japan, I learned that Japan is only about 1% Christian.

First of all, I find it remarkable then that I was able to find two Catholic churches nearby! I would think that because the percentage of Christianity is so minuscule here that I would find difficulty in finding any Christian church much less a Catholic one.

However, in my excursions around the city in search of foods and Pokemon or on my commute to work, I see a surprisingly frequent sight: the cross. Not just any kind of cross but the Christian cross.

Totally a wedding venue…with reception hall…as viewed from my 20+ story hotel room.

It turns out that most of these establishments that display a Christian cross are actually not Christian churches, but rather wedding chapels. Apparently “Western-style” weddings are a popular thing here, but “Western-style” also seems to be synonymous with “Christian-style”. With the population being 1% Christian, I begin to wonder how sincere to the Christian tradition these Western weddings are.

Now, I don’t know the reasons for this and why Japanese couples are into Western-style weddings that are similar to a typical Christian wedding. I’m sure that would be a fascinating anthropological and historical pursuit that I’ll probably pick up some other time.

But here in Japan, seeing the cross around town like that doesn’t necessarily mean Christianity. Most likely it’s a wedding venue that does Western-style weddings. Any hint of Christianity beyond that based on symbols is probably merely for the look and the feels, but doesn’t necessarily get to the heart of Christian tradition and worship. In other words, it’s superficial and nothing more beyond the symbol itself. Which stinks when I’m trying to find somewhere to pray without having to buy a wedding package, haha.

So I take comfort in the Catholic churches that I’ve found nearby. Within is not only the Christian cross, but the crucifix. Behold, the man–the man on the cross. And that’s what makes the crucifix a practical symbol of what is indeed Christian. Particularly…Catholic. Here in Japan, I can know with reasonable confidence that the place I’m at can trace its tradition and motivations to something truly Christian. I mean, come on, the crucifix has Jesus on it. It cannot be argued that it would be for anything else. It is not as easily hijacked for other purposes.

I have a thing for Benedictine crucifixes (distinguished by the Benedictine medal). This is the one I wear.

In today’s world, I’m caring more and more that Christianity not be hijacked for other intentions than what Christ Himself, and the authority He Himself gave to His apostles, intends.

St. Francis Xavier, one of the first missionaries to Japan, pray for us!
– JD

PS Of course, there’s also the bonus of the Blessed Sacrament being truly present in a Catholic church. ^_^v

“I want grandchildren.”

It was a very long week at work in Japan. Stress, lots of work to do, deadlines. You know, just another week.

So when it came time to finally leave on Friday, I was ready to take a nap in my 30-minute taxi ride from work back to my hotel.

Alas, it was not to be so.

In all my trips to Japan so far, I’ve had a good handful of taxi drivers. Some repeated. Some terribly slow. Some terribly fast. Some using their phones to translate their Japanese to English just to tell me the traffic is “slow as molasses”. One really attractive Japanese woman who drove like a maniac, cutting everyone off, and probably bringing dishonor to everyone’s families. But this particular Friday commute home, my taxi driver actually spoke decent English!

Because he was able to speak English, he initiated small conversations. You know, apart from me telling him, “go to this hotel using the expressway and exit here.”  He asked me how long I was staying in Japan and what I do. Stuff like that. Then silence for a while.

He then asked me for permission to ask me how old I am. I laughed and told him my age. He then proceeded to tell me that his son is also the same age as I am. And that his son got married only two months ago.

We were stopped in traffic so then he kind of turns around to say that he wants grandchildren. I could see the smile on his face. From the joy I saw in his face, I could tell that it was such a sincere, genuine desire amplified by Japanese pride in family and progeny. A certain pride and desire that seems to be diminishing back home in the United States.

I affirmed him saying that yeah, I hope he gets to have grandchildren soon!  More small talk, and we arrived at my hotel.

As I’m writing this blog post, this moment with the English-speaking taxi driver happened just yesterday. I’ve reflected on it some since then.

This desire to have grandkids, through the example of my taxi driver, speaks of a love that is fruitful. A love so profound that when husband and wife come together, it can result in Another. And the cycle goes on. And on. And on. And on. And I got a practical taste of that which is so good, so true, and so beautiful in the simple desire of my taxi driver.

This resonates with me. A lot, actually. I think of all the times that I hang out and pray with the elderly in nursing homes as well as my own grandparents at home, now that they’re back from the Philippines.  They’re always so proud to have grandkids.

So as for me…yeah. God-willing, I want grandchildren too some day.

– JD

Toyota Crown Japanese Taxi // Integrity Exports
Japanese grandfather // Grandparents.com

Not A Review On Reading The Hunger Games

On my last trip to Japan back in May, I decided to cough up the $12 to buy The Hunger Games for my Kindle. All three! This is my first time reading through the books, and my only exposure to Panem and its grotesque entertainment of having kids kill each other in the arena have been through the movies that have been released in the past few years.

Actually, watching the movies has been the primary motivation for me to read the books. Oh sure! Many of you have recommended to me that I should read the books as they are excellent. So when I was preparing for my last business trip, I decided that it would be a good thing to have while sitting around during travel. Airport lounges, airplanes, trains, oh my! (And as a bit of a sidenote…reading The Hunger Games was also one of my New Year’s Goals-Not-Resolutions). I got through a bunch of chapters on my 3-hour train rides:

Non-bullet trains and The Hunger Games. #JapanMay

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It took me a little while to get used to Suzanne Collins’ writing style. After having read Tolkien’s eloquence in The Lord of the Rings, Collins’ incomplete sentences and stream of consciousness-ish style was kind of jarring for me. But I eventually figured out that her writing style for The Hunger Games pointed to something very important, which prompts me to write this not-review.

I don’t want to get bogged down by English IV AP literary analysis, but I realized that the book was written with Katniss Everdeen as the narrator. She’s the one telling her story as it happens. Hence, I can understand why sometimes the sentences and things seem choppy, pointed, and sometimes representative of how I blog. Haha. As I was reading through the three books, I discovered something profound that didn’t come across as effectively in the movies as it does while reading.

Because the book is written from Katniss’ perspective, I got to know her inner thoughts, emotions, struggles, etc. While Jennifer Lawrence does effectively play the part of Katniss on screen, the movies still lack the intimate details of what Katniss is actually going through in her mind and heart.  In other words, reading the books opened up a new dimension to the Mockingjay saga by letting me know Katniss’ interior self.

You can read her like a book. Pun and reference totally intended.

Because of reading The Hunger Games and realizing how it invites me as the reader to an inside perspective of the mind and heart of Katniss Everdeen, I started thinking that we don’t generally experience each other’s interior selves. Like 95% of the time, I encounter a person’s exterior. From their exterior expression, I can begin to reason out their interior dispositions. The only way for us to know what we’re really thinking and feeling on the inside is to share it. Knowing the interior self can help answer the why for the exterior self. It begins to make sense to me why Katniss did the things she did because I know, from reading her like a book, what motivated her on the inside.

I also thought about Facebook. Far stretch from Panem, I know. There have been some instances whereby some of my Facebook friends got the very wrong idea of something I posted online (a very exterior thing) because they don’t know who I am and where I’m at interiorly. Granted, it doesn’t help that I’m sometimes purposely very cryptic and vague at times on Facebook. And at the same time I’m not one to share something directly from my interior self. I like the idea of giving a taste, but not the full entree. The Hunger Games was a smorgasbord of Katniss’ interior self. I’ll give an appetizer, but I don’t generally want to give you the adobo (Filipino dish). I suppose I’m reserved online because I’d rather that people spend the time to get to know me personally and in person before sharing my more inside self with them. Without knowing me on that level, I won’t make much sense online.

On a different note, to tie this notion of knowing the interior self to the Catholic faith, I think of the saints. By no means am I equating Katniss to a Catholic saint, but I’d like to have her as an analogy. She lets us, the readers, know what she’s feeling and thinking on the inside. Many saints’ written works provide a deep look into their motivations and interior lives as to why they are disciples of Christ. And for me, a journeying pilgrim towards Paradise, it’s fascinating and inspiring to read about the interior lives of the saints.  They’re all so unique, and some enduring even more grave things than having to kill others in government-mandated killing arenas.

I’ve attempted at reading St. Faustina’s diary. I couldn’t read it for too long as it is extremely substantial (not in quantity of words but in quality of depth) as she writes about her encounters with Christ and her sufferings. I’ve read bits and pieces of St. Therese’s autobiography through Vr. Fulton Sheen’s pen, and from those small chunks, I know there is something very substantial there too in The Little Flower’s words. And those are just two Catholic saints that I’ve merely scratched the surface of who they are in light of their relationship to Christ.

But it begs the question of what makes a saint… a saint? I don’t know for sure what that looks like exactly, but a good place to start is to read about their inner selves that they share in their own words. From there, I can work on my own interior life in God, inspired by those who have come before me, so that my exterior is an expression of that interior life in Christ. And to share that with others.

-JD

Mockingjay // The Hunger Games Wiki

She Stared Into My Soul

I entered in, and already there weren’t too many seats so I spent some time looking around. Spotting some familiar friends, I saw an empty seat and made the awkward gestures of “is that seat open?”. A quick nod, and I even more awkwardly climb over my friends to get to my seat.

Between my friends was actually a third.

There was one moment where she stared at me for a while, and I couldn’t help but stare back. A long stare.

I looked into her eyes.

She looked right back at me.

We shared a deep and profound moment. Maybe I had a deep and profound moment, though she probably didn’t comprehend it as such.

She wasn’t just looking at me. She wasn’t looking through me. She was looking at me. And she smiled.

In this deep and profound stare, I realized that I mattered to her, but not in the typical way people matter to others. As she looked at me, I knew it didn’t matter to her what my awesomeness and shortcomings are. She didn’t care.

As I looked at her, I realized what an amazing gift she is to be here staring right back at me.

She stared into my soul.  I stared into hers.

And it was amazingly awesome to just have that brief moment of profoundness.

After a few moments, she went on to her usual fidgeting, playing with her dad’s watchband, throwing her padded book at me, and snuggling in her mom’s arms. She didn’t even cry.

Here’s the context:
It was Palm Sunday, and I was running a little later than normal for being early to Mass. Because of that, and because of the increased attendance due to the significance of the day, I found it challenging to find an open seat in a pew. Luckily, I spotted my two friends and the empty seat next to them, and they had their 11-month old daughter with them.

She’s absolutely adorable! I’ve known her since she was a few months old in-utero.

(42) Week 15! 😀 #100picsofbeauty #livesonograms #overcomingchallenges

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This was a profoundly deep moment for me exchanging stares with her because how often do I get the chance to just really look at someone deeply and to be looked at similar way? It just made the moment so much sweeter because I know her parents love her so dearly, and I know of their struggles before having her.
And all this during Mass.
Awesome.
– JD