Sight, Sound and Beyond

Archive for the ‘Spirituality’ Category

Sofia

“Do you think she is in heaven?” My mother asked me a couple months ago.  She was referring to her 12 year old West Highland White Terrier who passed away due to the presence of a brain tumor.  I was on vacation with my friend Mary when Sofia took a turn for the worse.  Sofia had suffered from terrible seizures, and by the time my parents got her to the vet to be put down, she was barely conscious.

The last I had seen her she was in pretty good spirits.  I was not aware that she had a brain tumor.  I had left for vacation when the vet gave the diagnosis to my parents.   Imagine my surprise when I found out was going on.  The evening before I had found out the news of her passing, I had a very vivid dream about her.  I saw her coming toward me, and she was happy.  I took it as a message from God that she was fine and living happily with Him.  I believe that God takes pleasure in living with his creatures, even a small dog like Sofia.

But of course all kinds of theological questions came to mind, which resulted in me feeling very anxious.  Does Sofia still exist?  Is she totally gone?  St. Thomas Acquaints, a theologian and Doctor of the Church, would say that Sofia’s soul ceased to exist after physical death because only human beings have immortal souls.

I was so confused and anxious that I emailed a priest that used to minister at my home parish.  He assured me that God does not eternally destroy that which He creates.  I know that God doesn’t eternally destroy what he creates, but is that the same thing as allowing what he creates to go out of existence?

Many Catholics have told me that Heaven is only for human beings.  It has been said to me: “Jesus did not die for our pets”, “Animals do not have free will” or “Animals are not capable of love.”  A lot of these things are hard for me to swallow.  I get mixed answers because the truth is that no one really knows.  Even The Catechism of the Catholic Church does not provide an answer.

I know that animals are not human beings and are not created in the image and likeness of God, but they were still created by God and God said they were good right?  The issue I have is not whether or not I will see Sofia in heaven, but whether or Sofia even still exists.  The thought of her being lost forever is quite upsetting.  It is not so much that I must see her again, but rather to have the assurance that she still happily still lives on in the presence of her Creator.  It is one thing to not see your dog and It is a completely different thing to never see your dog and to be told she no longer exists.  Do you see the difference?

I was not Sofia’s favorite human.  My mother was.  They had a special relationship, and Sofia was her little buddy.  I have fond memories of the two of them watching TV together on the couch.  Even though I was not Sofia’s favorite human, I still loved her.  After all, I was a part of her life.  I enjoyed sitting next to her and petting her and giving her belly rubs.  I would take her for walks outside and keep her company when my mother wasn’t home.  Sofia had a fiery personality.  Some moments she was stubborn and tough as nails but that would change and she would reveal her happy playful side.  She loved to run around and look out the window.  She especially enjoyed playing with my nieces and nephew.

When my mother asked if Sofia is in heaven, I had to answer as best as I could.  Remember, I am not a Doctor of the Church, and I don’t have any degrees in Catholic theology.  I didn’t even attend Catholic school so what can I possibly know?  I am as clueless as they come.

I believe it is very possible that Sofia is in Heaven and that she is with God.  The whole of creation is a family.  Yes, we are children of God, but the rest of creation is still part of God’s family as well.  Maybe we could view them as God’s extended family.   We all have our immediate families yes?  We also have extended relatives.  Perhaps God’s family is much like that.  We are his children and are members of His immediate family, but our non human brethren is still family too.  Perhaps the animals are like adoptive “nieces” and “nephews.”  Whatever the case may be, God is the creator of all living things and all the living creatures are His.

Another possibility is Sofia could be part of the New Earth which will come about after the final judgment.  Sofia lived the way a dog should live during her time spent on Earth.  Perhaps after the resurrection she could continue to live out her earthly existence.  One thing is for certain: God doesn’t have limits.  If he can create the universe and the world out of nothing, He can certainly recreate a creature that once existed.  Perhaps Sofia doesn’t have an immortal soul likes humans do, but God could recreate her one way or another if He wills it.

Many will say that animals do not know God.  Sofia lived among humans who love God.  I believe that my mother helped Sofia come to know God at some level.  How?  Well, my mother took care of her and loved her just as God loves and cares for us.   C.S. Lewis adopts a similar view, which is discussed in his book titled The Problem of Pain.

If, nevertheless, the strong conviction which we have of a real, though doubtless rudimentary, selfhood in the higher animals, and specially in those we tame, is not an illusion, their destiny demands a somewhat deeper consideration … Man was appointed by God to have dominion over the beasts, and everything a man does to an animal is either a lawful exercise, or a sacrilegious abuse, of an authority by Divine right. The tame animal is therefore, in the deepest sense, the only ‘natural’ animal – the only one we see occupying the place it was made to occupy, and it is on the tame animal that we must base all our doctrine of beasts. Now it will be seen that, in so far as the tame animal has a real self or personality, it owes this almost entirely to its master.

What Lewis suggests here is that we human beings are able to make known to our animal companions a certain sense of self.  Thus, it is through their relationships with human beings that animals can enter into heaven.  It sounds quite similar to how it is through our relationship with Jesus Christ that we human beings can enter into eternity with God.

C.S. Lewis concludes.

“And in this way it seems to me possible that certain animals may have an immortality, not in themselves, but in the immortality of their masters,”

I would also like to add that Animals also live in the present moment.  They are not stuck in the past or worrying about the future the way human beings do.  Because of our preoccupation with the past and future, we often miss out on the present.  Animals are always in the present moment, and to be in the present moment is to truly be in the presences of God.  After all, God is the great I Am, not the the great I Was or the great I Will Be right?

I do not have all the answers, but I have written another post related to this topic called Animals in Heaven, One Catholic’s Perspective.  I know many will disagree with me, especially those with strong backgrounds in Catholic theology or those who had the privilege to receive a catholic education, but my wish is not so much so see Sofia in Heaven (she probably would have little interest in seeing me anyways).  My wish is that Sofia be with God in Heaven where she will be most happy and free from suffering.

And so I end by leaving you with the following advice: If you have lost an animal in your lifetime, or if you worry what will become of your beloved animal friend after his or her physical death, do not pray that he or she will enter into heaven so that you can see them again, but pray that they may enter Heaven for so that they can live on with God.  While we may love them dearly, no one is a better lover than God.  If you love anyone, whether it be a another human being or a small creature like a small dog like Sofia, pray that at that moment of death, he or she will be reunited with the greatest love of all: their Creator, who is love itself.  After all, it is because of God that we all love in the first place.

 

The Tortoise

I have a confession to make.  I get a bit intimidated when I meet people who are younger than I am and are more successful than I am.  Yup, there you have it.  I will often meet someone younger than I am that has an amazing career, their own home, their own family, etc.  Feelings of inadequacy will often creep in and I will feel like an epic failure.

As you may already know, I was a late bloomer.  I started Kindergarten at the age of 6 instead of the typical age of 5.  Therefore I was the oldest in my class.  I was the oldest, but you would have never guessed it because I was behind on so many levels, especially socially.  My classmates in many ways were light years ahead of me.  Everything came so easily to them whereas I always felt like everything was a challenge.  Even, my own older siblings reached all their miles stones before I ever did.  I often felt quite defeated being the youngest child since both of my sisters were always such tough acts to follow.  I always thought that in time I would catch up with everybody and have my glory day when I could say: “At last, I have gotten further in life than expected.”

There is an old Italian proverb that goes like this:

Chi va piano va sano e va lontano.  Chi va forte va alla morte!

This translate to:

The one who goes slow, goes safely thus far.  The one who goes fast will die.

I often repeat this proverb to myself when I find myself falling behind in life.  It reminds me of the story of the Tortoise and the Hare.  The hare was quick, but he was overly confident and fell asleep during his race against the tortoise.  As a result, the tortoise crossed the finish line first.   The story encourages one to believe that everything adds up in the end.  As you can guess, I truly identify with the tortoise because I move through life quite slowly.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I would not say that my entire life has been a complete failure.  Sure, it took me a bit longer than most to achieve things, but I got there eventually.  I may not have had numerous successes in my life like my contemporaries, but the successes that I have had, I attribute to the Lord.  For example, it is because of God that I stuck with music for most of my life.  Ironically, it was actually more difficult to quit making music than to continue doing so.  If that is not divine intervention, I don’t know what is.  Furthermore, I believe that God wanted me to be a musician to bring people closer to Him.  There is something about the arts that can take one to a new world of discovery.

So how does a tortoise like myself experience and view the world.  Well, when you move at a slow steady pace in life, you are better able to understand the world in a different way.  I have learned a lot by watching others pass by.  Let’s just say that as a tortoise you have time to think a lot because it takes long for you to reach your true destination.  If you are wondering where I am going, don’t ask.  I don’t really know.  I am just trying to follow where the Lord leads me, but often times it’s not very clear to me if I am actually following Him.

I often strive to live my life with as much detachment from the world as possible, focusing as much as I can on the wonderful living creations that God made.  I have found that attachment to man-made things has been the root cause of much of my own suffering in life.  1 John 2: 15-17 states

Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world.   And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.

I try to live life keeping my eyes toward God and heaven, but all too often I fall and become distracted with things of the world.  I see the many hares speeding by me and I think to myself, “Aw man, they are so far ahead of me.”  They are certainly doing great things and receiving recognition.

It is very easy to view success through the eyes of the world when it comes at you from every angle.  Our culture is filled with celebrities who flaunt their wealth and talk about their million dollar contracts.  I am surrounded by people who are advancing in their careers or maybe even the founder and president of their own business.  All around me I hear of people buying houses, getting promoted, making more money, getting married, having children, etc. These things are obviously not bad in themselves.  In fact these are good things.  However, it seems that we celebrate what a person gains rather than what a person gives.  If a person has a spouse and children, they are viewed as successful compared to the single person who tries to make a difference in his or own community.  A person who has their own home is viewed as successful compared to the person who lives with parents or other family members.  A person who makes $120,000 a year is viewed as more successful than the person who makes a fraction of that, and a person is who is loved by the world is viewed as more successful than a person who is after God’s heart.

Since a young age, I was unintentionally taught that to gain is to be successful.  If you get good grades in school you are successful.  If you make friends you are considered successful and the more friends the better.  I can still remember my Sweet 16.  It consisted of me and two friends, not a real sweet sixteen like both my older sisters had.  My oldest sister had 35 friends at her party.  My other sister had 75.  Because of my lack of friends, I felt rather pathetic and had no desire to even think of having a Sweet 16 party.  However my two friends took it upon themselves to throw me a little surprise party to celebrate my 16th birthday.

Once I entered the work force the notion became this: the more money you earn, the more successful you are.  If you have people working under you, you are even more successful.  Then, there is the relationship status.  When people hear you are single, they think there must something wrong with you.  In my case, people either thought I was gay or entering religious life.  I must confess that even in my own family I often feel inadequate because I am the only child of my parents who is not married with children.  I just have two birds that most people could care less about.

Because of both my sisters and their marriages, my parents have grandchildren.  I have not added to the family at all unless you count my two 13 year old birds, but it is not the same obviously.  About a year ago, I recall a woman speaking to another woman about her children: “They are all married, thank God.”  Hearing that remark was quite hurtful to me.  If that is what makes a child successful in their parents’ eyes then I must be a huge disappointment to mine.  Not only am I not married, but I am totally fine without ever getting married.  My biggest focus in life is getting with God and improving my spiritual life.  I believe that God is the only source of true happiness and success.  To love and live in relationship with God is to gain everything.   To the world I may appear to not have much, but in my heart of hearts I know I am very rich.

The one thing that the tortoise had in the story that I wish I had was self confidence.  Despite being ridiculed by the hare for his slowness, he still maintained focus on the goal.  He accepted himself as he was and possessed much wisdom and mental strength.  How I wish I could be like that.  If there is anything I wish God to give me, I wish to gain is the wisdom and mental strength that the tortoise possessed in that story.   Perhaps someday, I will experience such a moment.  I sure hope so, but perhaps the greatest moment that I can wish to experience is that moment I leave this world and come face to face with almighty God.  How I wish to cross that finish line and enter into Heaven with Him for all eternity, and as I enter that wonderful kingdom of pure love and bliss, how awesome it would be to hear our Lord  say something like: “Well done my good and faithful daughter.  Welcome home!”

 

 

A Reluctant Organist

unnamedIf you asked me ten years ago if I would ever consider learning to play the organ I would probably say, “Nope.”  For the last couple months, I have been pondering the idea, and with the help of a fellow choir member and colleague, I found someone who was willing to teach me.  I am schedule to have my firt lesson a week from tomorrow.

How did all this happen?  Well, after our church music director got a job closer to home, the choir scrambled to find someone who could fill in until our pastor could hire a permanent replacement.  After playing a few masses on piano at my church and even playing a mass on Christmas Eve with another parish at Westchester Department of Correction, my interest in playing music at church became even stronger.  There was one problem.  I didn’t know how to play the organ, and the more I thought about it, the more curious I became.  Could I actually learn to play?

Once I began considering the idea of learning to play the organ, my mind began to attack me with negative thoughts.

Are you kidding?  At your age?  You’re too old to learn a second instrument!

As a classically trained musician, I have often heard it said that to be a good musician on any instrument, it is best to start very young.  Most accomplished pianists begin their piano studies between the ages of 3 and 5.  I was 8 years old when I started, and according to classical standards, that is considered to be over the hill unless you happen to be a genius.  In case you are wondering, I am not a genius.

Now here I am at 35 years of age wanting to learn the organ.  Besides learning to play on at least two manuals (keyboards), I would be required to play on a pedal keyboard using my feet.  P.S. I am not the most well-coordinated person.  If you don’t believe me, you should check me out when I am out on the dance floor.  I may enjoy shaking a tail feather, but I don’t know if others enjoy watching me do so.

I took 20 years of piano lessons, and it wasn’t until my mid 20s that I began to play at a pretty reasonable level.  How long would it take me to play at a decent level on the organ?  Would it seriously take me another 20 years?

I haven’t even started lessons yet, and I have already been faced with my fair share of challenges.  I thought finding a teacher would be one of the most difficult parts, but there was something even more challenging: getting access to an organ.  I didn’t get the green light from my own home parish, and once I informed my father about it he quoted Luke 4:24

No prophet is accepted in his hometown.

Finally after many emails and telephone calls, I finally cut a break with another parish in my neighboring town.  The music director there was a huge help, and through him I was able to gain access to the organ in their small chapel.  The chapel has less activity than their main church, so I would less likely be an intrusion on other people.  This chapel is actually closer to where I live than my actual home parish.

I do not know what the outcome of all this will be.  I have been told by a couple people that God is calling me to pursue this and to become a church organist.  So far, I am not feeling like that’s the case.  Now don’t get me wrong, I initially felt it when the idea first popped into my head, but the feeling only lasted for a few minutes.  My own mother was confused by my interest in becoming an organist and said:

I don’t understand why are you doing this.  Holy Rosary doesn’t need an organist.

She failed to see that this was something beyond Holy Rosary.  Besides, I wouldn’t say that I am Holy Rosary’s most popular choice for church musician (although the choir likes me yay!).  To be quite honest, I am the one that fills in when there is absolutely no one else available.  For example, I played piano at a healing mass once because none of the musicians from the folk group were able to attend.  It was summertime and people were away on vacation. Let me just say when I was asked to play, I was pretty excited and gave it my best effort.  Sure, I was the only person left in the pool of choices, but I still got the call!

Last Sunday, we had no organist to play for the 9:30am mass and so with only 15 minutes prior notice, I jumped in, hoped for a miracle and played the mass on piano.  I will add that before I arrived at the church, my mother gave me some of her useful advice:

Don’t interrupt the priest by coming in too early with the Sanctus.

She was referring to the last time I played at mass.  Before all the angels and saints could begin proclaiming God’s glory by saying “holy holy holy,” I had already gotten started.  I am thinking all of Heaven was like “Whoa!  Check out that anticipation on Earth right now!”  Either that or Heaven had a good chuckle.  Whatever it was, I hope, it to some extent, pleasing to the Lord.  Messing up in church is truly a humbling experience.  P.S. There were twice as many holies sung at that particular mass.  There’s your silver lining!

Anyway, my parents happened to be at the impromptu mass that took place this morning.  My mother said:

You did very well.  I didn’t hear any mistakes.

Well, I managed to fool her.  There were plenty of mistakes and thankfully, our Lord was very gracious in helping me cover them up.

As I bring this blog post to a close, I recall a phrase that someone very close to me said a couple weeks ago:

“Go where God leads you.”

Let’s see where He takes me.

Why We Feel Unloved

16830806_10155030232006624_849842294541958570_nA few weeks ago a friend posted on facebook about feeling unloved.  She has experienced much in her life and at that particular time felt that those around her, which included family and even her own therapist, had let her down.  Many comments were posted to her page reassuring her that she is loved.  I do not doubt she didn’t know she was loved.  In fact I am sure she rarely forgets, but isn’t it interesting how even when one is surrounded by family and friends he or she can feel unloved?

I can very much relate to feeling unloved.  It unfortunately a very familiar feeling that I have experience for much of my life that seems to go hand and hand with loneliness.  We all experience rejection in our lives, but most importantly, we also experience disappointment from those who supposedly love us.   We put our faith in another person and down the road they disappoint us and we are deeply hurt.  Because of our disappointments, we all yearn to feel loved.

I have learned that nothing in this world can being a person true and everlasting happiness.  This also means that we as human beings can never experience what it means to be a true giver and receiver of love.  Because we are imperfect, our love is imperfect and since we give imperfect love, we in turn receive imperfect love.  We try to seek perfection in people which is impossible.  No matter how hard we try, we will at some point be disappointed by others and we will also disappoint others as well.

If we ourselves are imperfect, how can we expect to find perfect and everlasting love in another imperfect human being?  The simple answer is that we can’t.  To experience true love, we must realize Who the real giver of true love is.

I wrote this following comment beneath my friend’s facebook status.

You feel unloved because no one in this world can love you perfectly. We are all finite creatures seeking the infinite, the divine, the eternal. We are all imperfect creatures and therefore not capable of loving perfectly. This is why we can never find happiness through another person. Only God is perfect and thus capable of perfect love. Therefore keep your eyes on God always for He is the true giver of perfect love and our only True Love.

And therefore I end by saying this: if perfect and eternal love is what you seek, you will never find it in this world for the world cannot offer such a thing.  Nothing in this world lasts forever.  You can only find true love in God, for He is the reason that we love and seek love in the first place.

 

 

Learning to Live

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Mary and Me at The QuickChek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning in Whitehouse Station, NJ

“You are crazy.  I don’t understand why you are doing this,” my mother commented.  She couldn’t understand why my best friend, Mary, and I were going on a hot air balloon ride.  She thought the whole idea was nuts and dangerous.  Mary and I thought the opposite.  It was something we wanted to do.  We both have a philosophy about living life to the fullest and trying new things.

Last Saturday, we had a ride of a lifetime at The QuickChek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning in Whitehouse Station, NJ.  We both agreed that we would definitely ride in a hot air balloon again.

My mother said the same thing to me a couple years ago as I was planning my trip to Israel.  I went with 15 other people, 9 of which were from my church.  My mother thought I was nuts.  She would constantly say one of the following phrases to me:

“Don’t get lost.”

“Don’t get shot.”

“Stay away from ISIS.”

My response probably didn’t calm her nerves either.  I would say:

“Mom, if I get killed, at least I will die in the same place where my Lord walked.  I can’t think of a better way to go.”

As I mentioned in a previous post, my 20s were a emotional rollercoaster.  My early 30s started of okay, but I didn’t begin to come out of my shell until my 33rd birthday.  I was on a mission, a mission to live and get out there.  I craved adventure and wanted to live life as I intended to live it and not how society expected me to live it.

Prior to my 20s I was a real nerd and bookworm.  Many people wish they tried harder in school.  My biggest regret was working too hard in school.  A couple years ago, I was talking to an high school student entering his senior year and I repeatedly told him, “Don’t be like me.  Don’t work too hard.  Have a good time and enjoy yourself.”

By the time I was halfway through high school my own mother was constantly saying to me: “Just aim for the 65.”  She saw how stressed and overly focused I was with my studies.  When your own parents tell you to not try so hard, you know something is up.  I wasn’t an exceptional student, either.  I didn’t take AP classes, nor was I in the honors program like both of my older sisters were.  I took my first and only honors class in my senior year, which was a year-long math course in pre calculus and calculus I.

Instead of taking AP classes, I took courses for college credit.  That was a smart move on my part because when I started my freshman year in college, I already had 9 college credits toward my degree, which went toward my general education requirements.

Anyway, back to the subject at hand.  Like many students, I fell for the old myth that you do well in school to get into college and go to college to get a good job.  Yeah, my first job out of college was in retail and I made less than minimum wage.  I remember feeling quite discouraged in my 20s because I was working jobs that didn’t require a degree.  Nowadays however, most jobs do require a degree because the college degree has become what the high school diploma was 50 years ago.  This is an unfortunate reality, especially when you consider the cost of a college education these days.

I graduated high school Magna Cum Laude.  I remember my cumulative GPA was like an 89.93 or something like that.  I remember being upset because it wasn’t a 90.  There were 147 graduates in my class and I was in the top quarter.  Not too shabby right?

I was quite proud of my academic achievements, but those hard-earned achievements came at a huge price: it nearly cost me my entire social life.  I didn’t do a lot of exciting things during my high school years.  Sure, I did extracurricular activities and visited prison (see  The Day I Visited Prison), but I rarely attended parties and on senior cut day, I attended all my classes.  My life was all about hard work and doing well in school.  My idea of a good time on a Friday night was doing math homework (Math was my absolute  favorite subject).  I felt that working hard would pay off in the long run.  It really didn’t because I missed out on so much.  I missed out on being a regular teenager with a social life, spending time with my friends that didn’t always include studying and doing homework.  To be completely honest, I did not enjoy my high school years at all.

Though I did enjoy most of my college studies, my habits were not much different from my high school ones.  I spent lots of time studying and practicing piano.  I had a full schedule and again, focused more on doing well.  Because I lived on campus, I was able to attend certain campus events and parties, but my main focus was to learn and do well.  For me it was less about the college experience and more about getting an education.  I think with most people it is the other way around.

Now at nearly 35 years of age, I seem to be making up for lost time.  The things I never would have done in my younger days, I am doing now.  I got out more and always keep busy outside of work.  My mother once told me that I live like a gypsy because I am always running around and doing different things, which include some traveling.  Outside of my church activities, I always make time for going out with and spending time friends.  I often go out on weeknights, which I never did as a high school student.

Life is short and I don’t want to miss out on enjoying life like I did in my younger years.  I don’t want to reach the end of my life with a bunch of regrets like “I wish I didn’t work as hard,” or “I wish I wasn’t so serious all the time.”  I find that the older I get, the less I focus on how much I own, but rather what wonderful experiences I have had.  I focus less on what I have learned from books and more on what I have learned from my actual life experiences.  Most importantly, I don’t care so much about making a lot of money, but rather making a lot of wonderful memories.

We all are doing to die someday.  When I lie on my deathbed, I am not going to think about what kind of house I lived in, how much money I had, what kind of job positions I held, or how well I did in school.  I am going to think about the many experiences I have had and the people with whom I shared them.  Memories come from life experiences and I want to have plenty of happy ones.  Some experiences may just happen to us, but we can create our own experiences, too.  Aristotle once said:

“Memory is the scribe of the soul.”

And so I leave you with one question, what do you want to be written in your soul?

A Prisoner of the Mind

PrisonCell

“Are you scared?” a co-worker asked me.  I had just had two biopsies taken from my left breast.

Here is a little background:  I have dense, cystic breasts, and since I was about 30 years old, I have been going for routine ultra sounds to monitor them and make sure there were no suspicious changes.

Two weeks ago, I was told that two of the nodules (small lumps) in my left breast had grown and that I needed to have a biopsy taken from each of them to confirm that they were not cancerous.  I had read that most biopsies come back normal, so I wasn’t too concerned and the doctor didn’t seem too worried either.  However, even if something was wrong, I knew it could be caught early because of the close monitoring.  I go for bilateral ultrasounds on my breasts every six months.

When I was asked if was scared, I answered honestly, “No,” and went into my logical reasoning.  To the average person it would seem a bit strange that I wasn’t scared.  My mother had a biopsy done a few years ago and she was very anxious until the results came back.  Thankfully, they came back benign.

So why the heck was I so calm? The answer lies inside my head.  What I mean by that is that while my body had some things that were in question, it paled in comparison to what routinely goes on inside my mind.  My mind is a bully and likes to hold me hostage with its nagging thoughts and negative energy.  Before the biopsy, my mind was still chatting and being a bit obnoxious.  It wasn’t until a few days ago, that I realized how antagonizing and aggressive my pesky mind can be.

Here is a little more about me that you may not know.  Since my mid teens, I have battled depression and anxiety and wasn’t officially diagnosed until the age of 21 when I suffered a overgenerous breakdown.  Thanks be to God, I am in a much better place now, but my 20s were really rough.  My mind was a real, bad bully, constantly spitting out negative thoughts, which, led to self harm and my contemplation of suicide.  I believed that I was better off dead, so when I say the mind is a bully, I know firsthand.

Now let’s get back to the biopsy.  If I had it my way, I would have gone to the biopsy alone, but because I am not able to drive, and didn’t know exactly when I would get finished, I decided to have my mother be my ride rather than arranging for ParaTransit to take me to and from the appointment.

The night before the biopsy my thoughts were like this:

“I know I am going to be totally awake for this, but man, I wish they could give me a little Valium or something to relax me because I don’t want to be totally conscious.  If I am totally conscious I may cry and I don’t want them to see me cry.”

It is really interesting that I have had had 9 surgeries in my lifetime, one of which saved my life (my appendix burst in ’96).  However, still to this day I am not a fan of needles and watching any kind of medical procedures being done.  I get a little queasy at the sight of blood.

My prayer to God that night went like this:

“Lord, I am putting this in your hands.  Whatever happens, happens, and we will get through it together, but I have one favor to ask: Please help me to remain tough during this thing.  Don’t allow me to get all wimpy.  I really don’t want to cry.  I don’t like to cry in front of people.”

Well, it is a good thing my mother took me to my appointment because when I arrived the next morning for my appointment, the radiology department was at least 30 minutes behind schedule, which meant that I would be leaving my appointment at least 30 minutes later.  Of course I felt bad that she would be staying there at least 30 minutes longer, though.   She sat in the back of the waiting room with my father.  Yes, I forgot to mention that earlier that morning my father was in the vicinity of the area for a doctor appointment.  After his appointment finished, he arrived just as my mother and I entered the radiology department.  I sat toward the front of the waiting room so that I would have no trouble hearing my name being called.  The whole time I was sitting and waiting, my mind was talking a mile a minute.

“I can’t believe both your parents are with you at your age.”

“You should have just went by yourself.  You are 35 years old, not 10.  No one your age would have a parent take them.”

“You shouldn’t have let your parents come.  They have better things that they could be doing.”

“You are such a pain in the ass.”

This went on for a few minutes.  I was trying to prove to my mind that there were people who were my age and older who had at least one parent accompany them to a medical test like a biopsy.  I thought that my 50-year old cousin had his mother take him to and from his colonoscopy and endoscopy appointment, but when I asked my mother, she corrected me and said that it was his wife that took him.  Dang, I was out of luck.  I couldn’t think of anyone else.

Finally, my name was called and I went in.  I cracked a few jokes to lighten up the mood.  When I was asked if I knew how the procedure was going to go, I answered: “Oh yeah, I watched videos on YouTube.”

Both biopsies went fairly quickly and the doctor told me what she was doing as she was doing it.  I had a local anesthetic so I couldn’t feel any pain just pressure, but I looked away and kept my eyes closed the entire time.  “I don’t want to see anything,” I had told her before she got started.  The fact that I knew what was happening made me a little queasy.  Surprisingly, my mind was relatively quiet.  Sure it was thinking things like, “Is it done yet?” or “I am hungry,” but I had no annoying thoughts.

Last Friday, I received a phone call from the doctor with great news: both biopsies came back benign!

The moral of this story is to not tell you my biopsy experience, but to give you a glimpse of the mind and its influence.  In life we deal with both physical pain and emotional pain.  For whatever reason, I find emotional pain and problems that stem from the mind to be more difficult to deal with.  In many ways, it is easier to heal a physical wound than it is heal an emotional wound.  It is also difficult to overcome the bad habits of the mind.  My mind has an awful habit of putting me down and comparing me to other people.  As a result. I feel pretty badly about myself.

While I was sitting in that waiting room, I should have been thinking: “Wow, look how lucky and blessed I am!  Both my parent are here to support me while I get my biopsies.”  Instead my mind was spitting out all kind of negative thoughts and making me feel bad when I should have been thanking my lucky stars.  My parents were there for me and I was not able to see this reality for what it was because I had allowed that reality to become distorted.  This is what happens when you become a prisoner of the mind.  One is not able to see oneself and life very clearly.  That’s why when I pray I always ask God the following:

Help me to see myself as You see me, not as society sees me.

The mind is heavily influenced by our society and in case you have not noticed, our society is not in alignment with God.

The mind is very intelligent but that doesn’t mean it is right.  It is like the devil because it tells lies and convinces you of a reality that is completely false.  I believe that the devil and demonic forces influence the mind.  The mind breeds doubt and doubt is the enemy.

Sitting in that waiting room, my mind had convinced me that I was a loser, a wimp and a pain in the ass.  I had allowed it to bully me for a good 30 minutes, and I had allowed it to influence my opinion of myself.  I constantly have to remind myself that I am not my mind.  I am a soul, a spirit,  that was created by God.  For the reasons mentioned above, the mind can be very dangerous because it can destroy a soul if one allows it.  And now a quote from the ancient Chinese philosopher and writer, Lao Tzu:

“Watch your thoughts, they become words;
watch your words, they become actions;
watch your actions, they become habits;
watch your habits, they become character;
watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

Animals in Heaven, One Catholic’s Perspective

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St. Francis Preaching to the Birds – Gioto di Bondone (c.1267-1337)

“We were taught that animals don’t go to heaven because they don’t have souls, ” my mother once told me.  She and my father had attended at 12 years of Catholic School.  My father also continued on to attend a Catholic College.  Then there is me who attended Public School and attended regular college, so what do I know right?

As a Roman Catholic, one of the things I struggle with the question of whether or not animals are included in God’s plan of salvation.  In other words, do they go to heaven or do they cease to exist all together after physical death?  I have received mixed answers from various sources.  Some people have told me that animals do not have souls because they lack free will.  Some, like St Thomas Aquinas, have mentioned that while animals do have souls, their souls are not immortal.  Therefore, when they die, their souls die as well.  Then there are a couple priests who have told me that, yes, animals do go to heaven because God is Love and thus He would never destroy that which He creates.

The thought of animals, especially my two avian companions, ceasing to exist after physical death is an upsetting thought for me.  I don’t know why I am so sensitive about it.  I am probably the only Catholic who prays for animals.  Animals have been a great service to us, providing us with transportation, clothing and food.  I pray for them all because like us, they are God’s creatures too.  Whenever I learn of an an animal companion who has passed away, I pray he or she has been reunited with God in Heaven.

One friend once said something like, “Oh I understand why you feel this way.  It’s okay to love your birds.  After all, you don’t have children.”  Perhaps, if I were married with children, I might sing a different tune about animals right?  Nah, I doubt it.

Another friend of mine said: “Well, you believe that your birds go to Heaven because you can’t stand the thought of never seeing them again after they die.”  I have to admit, she was partially right, but my ideas are not purely based on emotional attachment.

The Garden of Eden

In the bible, there are examples of God’s love for animals.  In the book of Genesis, God created everything: time, space, land and sea, vegetation, birds, sea creatures, land animals and human beings.  God created everything and everything was good.  Why was it good?  Everything was good because God created it.  It was not something that to be earned.  Prior to the fall of our parents, Adam and Eve, everyone lived in perfect communion with God.  You could say that all living creatures were in a perfect state of grace where there was no separation between God and them.  It is quite beautiful to think about, but this paradise didn’t last long.  After the fall of our parents,  the world became cursed and evil began to spread.  Thus we human beings became separated from God.

I imagine Heaven to be an extension of the Garden of Eden, which was meant to be an eternal paradise for God to live among all creation in perfect harmony.   If this is how it was in the beginning, why would God not want to include all creation in His kingdom yet to come?  The book of Revelations tells us that there will be a New Heaven and a New Earth.  Surely at the very least, our non human brethren would be included in the New Earth.  Wouldn’t you think?

Noah’s Ark

Everyone is familiar with the story of Noah, the guy that was chosen by God to build an ark or large boat for his family and himself to escape the great flood that God was going to send in response to humanity’s wickedness.  Because of Noah’s righteousness, He and his family would be spared.  Oh and wait, quite a few others were spared as well.  Who else came along for the ride in Noah’s ark?  Animals of course.  Remember that?  God told Noah to gather two of every kind.  This is quite interesting don’t you think?  God can create anything out of nothing.  I mean that’s how the earth came about right?  He could have easily told Noah to forget about the animals and just gather his family.  I mean after the flood ended, God could just recreate new animals right?  Why would God include the animals to be part of Noah’s ark?

This story illustrate God’s mercy and saving power for not just human beings but for all creation.  God is a lover of all creation.  His love is inclusive, not exclusive.

Someone once told me that animals reflect the innocence of God.  Sure, they don’t have a free will as we human beings do, but animals have something that we as human beings lack: the ability to live in the present moment.  Animals don’t fret about the future or get stuck in the past the way we do.  They live completely in the present moment and to continuously live in the present moment is to truly be in the presence of God.

St. Francis of Assisi

Why did St Francis address animals as his brothers and sisters?  Why did he treat them with such respect?  St. Francis viewed animals as part of God’s family.  He said of animals:

“Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission — to be of service to them wherever they require it.”

It is his love and respect for animals that makes him one of my favorite saints.

I had Sunny and Nikki blessed the day prior to the feast of St Francis to confirm their membership of God’s Family.  I got a lot of laughs from people but it felt like the right thing to do.   To learn more about Sunny and Nikki’s blessing read “To Bless or Not to Bless”

Why Do I Want Sunny and NIkki to Go to Heaven?

When you love someone, even a small bird whose head is smaller than your eyeball, you want only the best for him or her.  Many cannot understand what it means to love a small creature like a small parrot.  It is really not that much different from loving a human being.  Sure they do not have our intelligence, but they have the integrity, innocence and curiosity of young children.  Living with Sunny and Nikki is like living with two permanent two-year-old children!

Sunny and Nikki will both be 13 years old next year, and I love them more now than I did when I first adopted them.   I often include them in some of my spiritual practices, which include reading passages from the bible.  This probably sounds ridiculous to many, but in Chapter 16, verse 15 in Mark’s Gospel Jesus did say:

“Go into all the world and proclaim the good news] to the whole creation.”

Well, the last I checked, the whole of creation included birds.

Anyway, I digress from the question at hand.  Why do I want Sunny and Nikki to go to Heaven?  I want the best for them, and what could be better than to be in eternal and perfect communion with God?

My wish for the girls going to heaven does not primarily stem from my wish for them to be with me, but rather to be well taken care of by God and be included in His plan of salvation.  I have had dreams about what it will be like after I die.  The dream is set in the future, and I do get to heaven.  In the dreams I do see those who have gone before me: family, friends and the animals I have known and loved.  For a short moment I see the girls.  All my loved ones are there, but they are not the main focus.  My main focus is being with God, the source of all Good and who is Love.  I believe that when we go to Heaven it will be exactly like attending Mass.  We will be in attendance as one family, which includes the angels, saints, and our non human brethren, but our focus will be on the one who has created us.  He is the reason that we love in the first place.

At the end of the musical, Les Misérables, a memorable line is sung:

“To love another person is to see the face of God.”

To love anyone, including something as small as bird is to know the love of God.  Like animals, we human beings are creatures.  We are all of God’s creatures and compared to His infinite power and love, we are but a speck of dust, but like I love two little birds, God loves all his creatures both great and small.

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