Friday, January 21, 2022

Conversion of St. Paul

The story of St. Paul's conversion is a very powerful one. Many Christians refer to the fact that God can melt anyone's heart, even when that person is a great persecutor of Christians. While many debate what St. Paul had actually seen and experienced when he had his encounter with Christ, including the secular world who claim that it was an experience based on guilt or possibly a heat stroke. Still, there is something to be said about a man who turned away from his life of privilege in order to join the movement that he once persecuted. 

In looking at the theological significance of this event it comes down to the reality of what it means to encounter Christ. For St. Paul, it was on the road to Damascus but what is it like for each of us while we walk to our own Damascus. We often hear the stories of those who come from other faiths and their conversion to Catholicism.  Many of them have beautiful stories of how they came to their decision.  But what about those who were born into the faith?  Can they have a conversion story?

Many cradle Catholics are more “culturally Catholic”, practicing the faith without an understanding of the deep-seeded truths within the rituals or prayers,  A 2015 study by PEW Research found that more than half of Catholics born into the faith leave the Church with only a handful coming back.  Another study found that only about one-third of Catholics actually believe in Transubstantiation, that the bread and the wine actually become the Body and Blood of Christ during Consecration. 

Faith is an internal journey, often marred by the struggles we each encounter or even just the day-to-day distractions that pull us away from maintaining our relationship with God.  The issue with Catholicism is it is not a faith that will seek you, you must seek the faith yourself by delving into your interior being.  It takes work, and just like it says in the letter of James “For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”

The word conversion comes from the Latin convertÄ•re meaning “to turn around”, a change in direction.  For cradle Catholics, this conversion can go one of several ways.  Some become atheists, completely abandoning the idea of a faith practice. Some maintain some agnosticism, where they don’t fully believe but don’t disbelieve in God.  Others convert to other denominations of Christianity.  But there are those who actually grasp their Catholicism, rediscovering their faith in a whole new light and go from being culturally Catholic to a faithful Catholic.  There is a transition period that varies in length, for some it’s weeks, others it’s months, and for many others it may take years. 

Each being raised in the faith, partaking in the practices and rituals, neither author of this blog understood the deeper meanings, the why behind the faith and its practices, they just knew the how. Now they reflect on their own conversion stories

 

“Yes, Lord” – Carlos’s story

I was born and raised in the faith, which was why it was always close to me in one way or another. Therefore, my conversion was not so much me discovering the truth of Jesus Christ as taught by the Roman Catholic Church but in the feeling of change during those moments of saying yes to the Lord. This is why I appreciate the Church's teaching on how conversion is a lifelong process as this has certainly been a part of my faith journey. 

With that being said, I would like to share three significant moments in my life that have brought me to where I am today. Yes, I am still a student of the faith and I relish the idea of having to spend the rest of my life growing as a Catholic, but these moments helped define me in a way that allowed me to arrive to the place where I belong, which is right here and right now. 

My parents made the decision to put me in Catholic school when I was about to start high school. It was not something I appreciated at the time having to start over and leaving friends and acquaintances I’d known since preschool.  However, I did appreciate the fact that it was a campus that I was familiar with: St. Anthony High School in Long Beach, CA. My father worked there for many years and remained until he retired years after I completed my high school studies. 

I did not have the highest grades, nor was I the most vocal, but there was something about these classes that really made me think about my faith. In fact, it was as early as my freshmen year when I first contemplated the idea of being a theology teacher. The seed had been planted. 

Drumming is one of my passions, and I began college at at El Camino Community College in Torrance, California as a music major.  In my second year, I befriended many devout Christians who challenged me as a Catholic.  I don't know if this was a coincidence or God keeping an eye on me due to the fact that I was already performing in night clubs.  Many of my evangelical friends asked a lot of intriguing questions, and I often felt unqualified to answer them.  This led me to ask my father to take me to a couple of Catholic bookstores so I could get pick up some books that really explained the faith.

The light of Spirit not only shone on me, but it also illuminated the faith that was in my heart. Now I had a deeper understanding of the things that I had believed and done all my life, and was now I was able to go back to school and explain my Catholic beliefs to my peers. Aside from that, I was now able to say that I was now Catholic because I choose to be and not just because I was raised in the faith. How important was this to me? Within a couple of years when I was not studying at Cal State Long Beach I would eventually change my major from Music to Religious Studies. 

Fast forward to 2021. I was an experienced veteran teacher, had already co-founded HCD, published author while still working as a professional musician. Everything seemed to be going really well. My faith was a part of my livelihood and right there hovering over me, keeping me out of trouble. But was that enough? Is that how a Catholic is supposed to live? Is it a day job at work and Mass on the weekends or was I supposed to do more? 

I looked in the mirror....and with the help of ministry partner, I made a leap of faith. I let go of a big part of my life: performing in nightclubs and casinos. Yes, there are the occasional dinner gigs and time spent working on my own music but, it was time to focus more on my faith life, our ministry and giving more of my time to my family rather than thinking about how my working gigs were providing for my family or, admitting to myself that I not only enjoyed performing but that I was trying to let a part of my ego fill a void in my heart that only God could fill. 

How was this a conversion experience? I saw what God gave to me after trusting in Him. As soon as I took that leap of faith HCD got even busier. My family life improved. I was even more focused teaching my classes at work. And, in doing God's work my heart was filled by the Lord and it made me feel like a new man. Of course I am far from perfect but the newness I felt was this notion that I was on the right path, which was a path I could not find had I not made a big decision.  

Yes Lord, I trust in You. 

 

Listening to the Call – Angel’s story

You might ask how someone whose family went to Church every Sunday and went to Catholic school for twelve years felt they knew nothing of their own faith, but by the time I had graduated high school, I knew the basics and that was it.  I knew the prayers, I knew the responses to Mass so I didn’t look like a fool.  But how deep did I actually take the words of the prayers I recited?  I didn’t even know or understand where many of these prayers originated or what they meant.  But I memorized them, I knew how to behave in Church, when to sit, when to stand, when to kneel.  So how did I go from someone who knew the bare minimum to suddenly founding a ministry and teaching Catechism?

Firstly, being raised in a Catholic family and going to Catholic school for so long actually can, and hopefully does, instill some intrinsic values planted deep within.  But at the time I saw no value in my education and took theology classes for granted.  Once it went beyond memorizing the 10 Commandments and the words to the prayers, nothing stuck.  Years later, with what I have to do in ministry, I looked back and wished I had paid more attention in theology classes because it could have cut some time on my research, but I realized I just was not ready to take it in.

One of my earliest faith awakenings happened during my Confirmation 3-day retreat when I was 16.  It was an emotional experience, one that I had not expected.  I’ll be honest I did not find my catechists those two years very inspiring, but the sense of community I felt during those 3 days up on the snow-filled mountains with my peers and the all-powerful working Spirit ignited a fire in me.  I came down from that mountain on what I called a “Jesus high” which was only fueled by the Youth Day celebration the following week.  To be in an arena with thousands of other teenagers listening to stories and testimonies of hope, to be chanting and battling at each other “We love Jesus” as different groups went by, and to be singing along praising and worshipping God, it was awe-inspiring.  I did decide the following year to become a teacher’s aid, but due to the Catechist quitting, ended up teaching what I could.  Then life happened.

It did not occur to me when I started dating my husband how important it would be for me to have not just a life partner, but a partner in faith.  He was one of those who was “baptized Catholic” but only went to Church at Christmas and Easter, if he even went at all.  When I’d say let’s go to Church, we often found ourselves “too busy” at times to go.  Eventually I stopped going altogether.  I prayed the Rosary at family gatherings because I knew how.  But none of it felt like it meant anything.  Then one day, I drove by my Church, the one I was baptized, went to school, had my First Reconciliation and First Community, Confirmed and married at.  There was no Mass and it was empty, the lights were dimmed.  I was suddenly overcome with emotions and felt this sense of “I’ve come home.”  From then I began to go to Church more regularly again, often without my husband.

A friend of mine moved from Hawaii to Santa Monica to help start a Christian Church.  They had no one to do any music so she asked me if I’d help and sing.  At one point, I was going to 6 am Mass at my Catholic Church then going to the protestant church to help set up and sing.  It became too tiring and felt I was more useful at the other church, so I stopped going to my Catholic Masses, in my head thinking “I’m still praising God and going to church.”  Still, there was something missing.  Being part of it for a period of time, I could see why others would be drawn to this type of faith practice.  They knew how to appeal to your human desires.  But I often questioned what the pastors were preaching about abundance overflowing as they were talking about the riches and material goods.  Where was Jesus’ humility? Occasionally they would partake in their own communion, which I never felt right participating in.  I sometimes took the bread and the grape juice they handed me (they were pre-packaged in little plastic cups and containers) because I didn’t want to be rude, but I just held onto it without consuming it.  It felt wrong and I couldn’t understand why, but even then, there was this sense of greater meaning that I could fathom in the traditions held by the Church.

Eventually I stopped going but would still visit on occasion as the people there became friends.  On one such occasion, they were doing communion and the pastor made the comment “It’s not like the Catholics who just do it as a ritual” immediately before he read the exact same passages from Luke that our priests recite during Consecration.  He knew I was there and that I had never renounced my Catholic faith. What was his purpose? Was he trying to “enlighten” me in the ways that their form of Christianity was better or more meaningful?  Whatever it was had the opposite effect.  It compelled me to become even more Catholic in my beliefs than before. For the first time in my life, I felt a sense of “loyalty” to my faith and this need to defend it.

Fast forward to two kids in Catholic school, it was here that I learned the value of my Catholic education really held.  My little 5-year-old kindergartener is laying in his toddler bed and says, “Mommy, let’s pray.”  I’ve said in previous blogs how my children pushed me to become a better Catholic.  It was then that I realized I could not just live my faith in the privacy of my own locked door or when I’m in Church.  I had to live it in every aspect, becoming the example my children needed.

For years, there was a gnawing within me that there was more that I could do. The real turning point, though, was in 2018 when Carlos and I began to talk about our ministry and what we wanted to show the world: the value of each person from the moment of their creation.  It was then that I also felt the calling to go back and teach Catechism.  While doing the Stations of the Cross during Lent that year, there was a strong urge to return to teaching, strong enough that I was driven to tears thinking of it.  I did not have to act upon it myself but was asked to do it and I said yes.  Ministry pushed me even deeper into my faith, and for the first time in my life, I was truly hungry to know more and look beyond what was written on the page.  Friends told me they could see a difference, even in my outlook on God’s will and on people.  It seeped into everything I did, even the way I practice medicine.  All the experiences I had since starting our ministry pushed me into a deeper reverence. 

I also realized what was missing when the other church tried to offer me communion.  It was merely an earthly symbol, regular bread and grape juice, not the Consecrated Host. In other words, it was not the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.  I gained the confidence to fight for the values I hold, particularly the pro-life issues, because I was thrown into the deep end and forced to look beyond my own fears and speak what I felt was guided by the Spirit in order to evangelize to others.  Things I used to fear, I no longer feared, even something as small as being in the dark.  Because I am finally confident in the Lord’s presence within me.

What is even more affirming is the way my family has changed.  My children are not afraid to show me their faith and love for Jesus.  They talk to me about what they learn in religion class, and know that they can ask me questions about the faith. My husband now joins us every Sunday for Mass, and is more willing than he was before to take the children the times I am not with them.  He does pay attention to the sermons and asks questions.  He has yet to go on his own, but I am grateful that he no longer resists and is an active participant when he is there.

Having answered His call has definitely shown me the challenges I face.  The more faithful I became, the greater the challenges.  Many of them were emotional ones.  But if there is one thing I believe now more than ever, it’s that the Lord always puts us where we need to be.

Conclusion

Faith is an individualized journey affected by many outside factors.  It requires an internal reflection and with an outward expression.  We often encounter moments that can either make us or break us, allowing ourselves to be defeated or to rise to His call, and we have a choice as to the outcome.  Our destination is to get closer and closer to God, to do His will and to find our place in His kingdom both in heaven and on earth.  When we do, we can see the positive effects it has, not only on ourselves, but on those we love around us.  As we see the example in the example of St. Paul, we don’t have to be born saintly.  It takes a willing change in our hearts to answer His call to greatness.




Angelica Delallana

Board-Certified Family Nurse Practitioner
Fertility Care Practitioner Intern and NaPro Technology Medical Consultant Intern with the St. Paul VI Institute
Confirmation Catechist
Co-Founder of Humana Corpus Dignitate

Carlos Solorzano

BA & MA in Religious Studies from Cal State Long Beach
Certified Through the Theology of the Body Institute
Co-Founder of Humana Corpus Dignitate

https://www.hcdtalks.com/    

 

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Encouraging the Miracle Our Children Already Are - Mary's example at the Wedding of Cana

Parents always want the best for their children.  Before having kids, we dream of what being a parent would entail, imagining what our kids would be like.  Many of us have dreams at the moment our children are born, holding them in our arms for the first time, admiring the miracle that brought them into this world then flashing forward in our minds.  But reality can often hit us in ways that we never imagined.  From congenital anomalies, to learning disabilities, to behavioral issues, to social anxiety, chronic illnesses.  A whole slew of issues that none of us had ever imagined going through before becoming a parent.  It can be overwhelming, often making us wonder if we were the cause of our child's ailments/sufferings.  We question if we're even good enough to care for such a child.  The greatest challenge for some is fully accepting who our children are for themselves and finding ways for them to flourish within their limitations.  It is not a easy road, but there is one person we can turn to for guidance: our Blessed Mother.

Let us reflect on what transpired at the Wedding of Cana, the moment of Jesus' first miracle prompted by His Mother. She made her request knowing who He was and all that He could do. She also knew of the impact His miracle would have on his followers along with those who would witness this first sign. Most people focus on everything from Jesus addressing Mary as Woman, the significance of the wine or the reason why this happened at a wedding banquet. Our focus is going to be the confidence Mary had in Jesus knowing what He could do when it came to changing water into wine. This was a mother who not only knew her child, but accepted who He was and encouraged Him to do what He was called for even before He felt He was ready showing her belief in Him.

Both of us are hit hard by such an idea due to the fact that we have sons on the autism spectrum. For years, many would ask such parents if your child as Asperger's Syndrome with the assumption that each child had a specific condition. Today, this language is no longer used because the idea is to identify the child for who they are and where they fit on the spectrum. There are certainly specific traits that such children demonstrate in their day to day activities but again, there is always an intention for the professionals to know the child for their unique characteristics.  The second reading today, the second Sunday of Ordinary time, says it in the letter to the Corinthians: “There are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.”

Despite the number of tests medical professionals perform, there are persons’ whose observations are very important in assessment, diagnosis and care planning, whether it is for physical ailments and disabilities, mental health ones, learning disabilities, behavioral concerns, emotional ones or any other issues a child may be going through: the parents'. No one knows a child like their mother and father.  No battery of tests can ever truly determine the nuances in our children's strengths or areas of improvement.  Most especially, no test can ever diagnose the greatness of their hearts.

It couldn't have been easy for our Blessed Mother.  How many of us look back at old photos of our children, hoping and wishing they would stop growing?  At each stage of their lives, we begin to loosen the reigns, allow them room to grow and be who they are.  But that doesn't mean we don't pine for the days they would just fall asleep on our chest and be in our arms.  By asking Jesus to perform this miracle, she essentially was saying, "Son, I believe in you.  I believe in what you could do.  I accept who you are. I love you for who you are.  I'm willing to let go so you can do what God called you to do."  She proved this even more by telling the servants at the wedding “Do what he tells you.”  She did not try and control the situation herself, but trusted in what Jesus could do.  And rather than the wedding party seeming to follow the traditional norm, the best wine was given last.  Our children who do not follow the norm of growth and development, of average milestones, they have a very special gift that when it manifests can be the greatest gift, and we have to trust that it is there within them, and that it will bless us and touch our lives in a way that we could never have imagined.

From a Christian perspective, this should make us reflect on the passage from Isaiah 43:1: I have called you by name. Our God is a God of love who wants to know each of us as the individual that He created out of love. This was best demonstrated in the coming of Jesus Christ not only as one of us but to also teach us of the kind of relationship that God wants with all of us, a personal one (Romans 8:15 & Galatians 4:6). He has extended the invitation for us to go to Him in prayer and to love Him through our faith life and by loving our neighbor. This can also be done through our struggles when we take them to Him in prayer and allow Him to offer the graces that we need at that moment.


We can deduce that having Jesus as a son very likely challenged Mary's faith.  Knowing, from the moment of His conception, who she was carrying, it's a great weight and burden.  How could she not feel the challenge to do all she could to make sure that Jesus "advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man" (Lk 2:52)?  When we teach our children at a young age who God truly is, we can begin to see faith through their eyes.  The gift of the innocent love for God can motivate us, and should motivate us, to love God more so that we can be better examples of that same faith to our children.  As it was through Mary's faith that she believed in her child, it is through faith that we should believe in our own.

But another challenge that plagues most parents in today's society and economy are the normal day-to-day barriers that get in the way. The Church teaches that the parents are the primary educator of the child. However, this is changing  as more and more children are having to turn to teachers, coaches and other adult mentors for the guidance that they should be getting from their parents. While, such love and generosity is appreciated it still does not remove the reality of a parent being absent either physically or psychologically. We sometimes justify our absence with the idea that we are providing for our families. While that is true, it is only providing the basic necessities needed for physical survival, but not necessarily the love, support and personal attention needed by our children to grow.  Often with this busy lifestyle, parents become mentally removed from the presence of their children that they lose sight of who their children truly are. Children need their parents and we have to find ways to better balance our lives so that we can physically provide for our children while still giving the emotional support that they need.

Psalm 127:3 speaks of the value of children and this is a mindset that Jesus would have grown up with. That and the love and support he would have received from Mary and Joseph. Parents always speak of their own struggles and the gift they feel when they receive guidance from other adults who have experienced these same struggles. Taking these struggles to prayer is not only a way to empower our parenting skills but another way for us to grow closer to Christ in our own relationship with Him. Further, this is something parents can share with their children who should also be encouraged to pursue their own relationship with the Lord.

Mary had faith in who Jesus was, hope that He could help those in need with the gifts that she could see in him and unconditional love for her son.  Let us learn to have the same faith, hope and love in our own children, building on their strengths, helping them through their weaknesses, and allowing them to flourish with the unique gifts that they have to share to the world.




Angelica Delallana

Board-Certified Family Nurse Practitioner
Fertility Care Practitioner Intern and NaPro Technology Medical Consultant Intern with the St. Paul VI Institute
Confirmation Catechist
Co-Founder of Humana Corpus Dignitate

Carlos Solorzano

BA & MA in Religious Studies from Cal State Long Beach
Certified Through the Theology of the Body Institute
Co-Founder of Humana Corpus Dignitate

https://www.hcdtalks.com/    

 

Friday, January 7, 2022

May the Dove Descend Upon You

 "On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him  And a voice came from the heavens, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."
- Mark 1:10-11

    Imagine going in for a procedure and the doctor telling you "I haven't been trained as a surgeon and I just got whatever tools I could get my hands on for your procedure, but I'll do my best to save your life."  It's not going to give you confidence in the doctor, nor is that doctor going to feel confident in what he is doing.  You're very likely to leave without getting anything done, afraid to place your life in their hands.  Going into anything without guidance, training, or the proper tools we need makes it difficult to properly endure and complete any task proficiently.  Although some may be able to figure it out, it's not without mistakes, failures, trial and error that we learn the right way to do something.  We falter, some give up.  There is frustration and anger and the insecurity of not knowing whether or not we are even capable.  Our spirituality is no different

    Jesus' baptism was revelatory as it was the moment He became known to the world.  He was baptized by John in the Jordan River, the gates of heaven were opened, and the Spirit came down like a dove.  It was only after His baptism that Jesus began His ministry; driven into the desert to fast and was tempted by the devil, gained His first disciples, began preaching in Galilee, performed His first miracle at the wedding in Cana, and exorcised one possessed evil.  Let us think for a moment, though.  

    John himself felt that he was "not worthy to carry" or "loosen the thongs of his sandals".  He questioned Jesus saying "I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?"  Yet, Jesus chose to be Baptized, allowing the gates of heaven be opened and the Holy Spirit to descend upon Him.  If Jesus, who it was revealed in this moment as the Son of God, needed the Holy Spirit upon Him to start His mission, what more do we need the Spirit within us, guiding us, giving us the tools to overcome the adversity of the world we live in, especially during these trying times?

    The word baptism comes from the Greek baptizein which means to "immerse" or "plunge" (CCC 1214). We are plunged and buried in the death of Christ and born into the a new life, regenerated and renewed by the Holy Spirit. Jesus himself was reborn into a new life, leaving behind the home He had always known and going on His mission set forth by His Father in heaven. 

    With anything in life, there are challenges.  Jesus was not freed from the challenges and the burdens.  In fact His were greater than the weight we carry ourselves.   From being rejected in his own homeland, the temptations of the devil, the challenges and questionings he faced repeatedly during His earthly ministry, to the betrayal, the false accusations, the torture, the mockery, the denial, until His death.  All of that He endured with the Spirit within Him.
 
    This is best stated by Cale Clarke in the article where he shows how baptism is in fact more than just for the forgiveness of sins: 

    Christian baptism is of course greater than John’s baptism, even as Jesus himself is far greater than John (Matt. 3:14, John 3:30). Christian baptism not only forgives sins, but infuses the life of God into the soul, making us God’s children. And the origin of this sacrament is Jesus’ own baptism. Jesus had no need to be cleansed by the waters of baptism, for he had no sins to be washed away. Rather, he sanctified the waters by his descent into them.

    We as Christians are also not freed from the burdens and challenges.  Sometimes we feel it even more because we can see the truths of the pains of the world through our spiritual eyes.  But when we allow the Spirit to descend upon us, and when we open our own hearts and minds to it, we are given the tools we need to face these challenges and overcome the burdens.  What are these tools?  We are given wisdom, counsel, knowledge, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord.  In other words: the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  God has  wrapped them in the most beautiful wrapping paper: they are wrapped within us. But how many of us open ourselves to these gifts, look back at them and even use them?  It is our choice to utilize the gifts God has graced us with in our own Baptism, allowing ourselves to be infused with the same spirit that descended upon our Savior.