Sunday, July 8, 2012

Ah! It's been so long!


The school year is over, I have moved from the concrete jungle they call New York City to Champaign, IL for 5 weeks of training, and now onto Crested Butte, CO for a week of vacation with my family and my teammate, Leah.  I got out of the city just in time, for I'm sure if I hadn't left when I did, I would have turned into a nut.  A crazy nut.  But now, after 8 weeks of being away... I'm almost starting to miss Manhattan.  Whaaat?

What a year!  God is doing so much at Columbia!  Some highlights:
  • 10 girls strengthened their relationship with Christ through my weekly Bible Studies.
  • Two girls, Rosie and Annabelle, grew deeper in their faith and began learning how to share their faith with others through weekly mentorship.
  • One student went to Confession and began coming to Mass again after 3 years of not practicing the faith.
  • A group of 16 students and missionaries encountered Christ in the poor and vulnerable on a mission trip to Haiti.  One of those students entered the Catholic Church at Easter.
  • 9 students were equipped with tools and strategies for sharing their faith with their peers at college through participating in a national FOCUS Student Leadership Summit.
  • One student, after being resistant to idea that the Catholic Church holds the fullness of Truth, has decided to become confirmed in the Church this year!
  • Countless other stories of Christ touching people’s lives through me and my work with FOCUS.
And I'm pretty sure God did even more in my heart!  I'm very excited about next year - Leah and Michael will be staying at Columbia with me, and I will take on the position of Team Director (eek!  pray for me!!).  We will also be welcoming Niru, our new teammate!

The new Team Columbia!
Below is a short video Michael made a of some highlights of our team this past year... it's pretty great.

Now, it's time to do some fundraising!  Pray for us!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Sometimes there is just so much to say that you can't even begin to say it.  And it is all so good, or so bad, or so important, or so deep, or so mushed together in your mind that putting it into words seems quite far from possible and not appealing in the least.

But here is goes.  My mushy thoughts spewed out through my fingers.

The Lord loves me so much.  Everything He does is a desperate act through which He hopes to catch my attention.  And He loves you so much.  And He loves that man on the subway I was sitting next to today as I prayed my rosary, and the one singing to the entire train car just to get a couple cents, and the student I had dinner with.  He loves them so much.  He wants to use me to love them, but I don't let Him.  Lord, You want me to talk to this random dude with unkempt hair and a mean-looking New York demeanor?  He'll think I'm a freak.  I'd rather just secretly pray my rosary, thanks.

No.  No!  No no no!  I let it pass.  That opportunity to bring Him into the world.  To be like Mary for just one moment.  To allow Him to love others and to love me.  And why?  WHY?  Why did I let it pass?

Because I am weak.

So, so weak.

Bah.  But this is where we come back to the part about how much He loves me, because even when I fail, He still loves me and offers me a way to share in His life and allows me to enter into His Trinitarian relationship.  He gives me the chance to run to Him, and lean on Him, to unite myself to Him.  All this, still available, even when I FAIL Him.  Wow how little my love is compared to His.  Or rather, how great His love is compared to everything.

Monday, April 9, 2012


"Whenever we come together to listen to the Word of God, what we are seeking at bottom is not mental information or moral instruction or even a sentimental influence that will make us "feel" the presence and goodness of God.  What we seek with all our soul, rather, is the possibility of opening ourselves up in prayer to God's transforming action.  Whether we are fully conscious of it or not, in other words, we desire a change of life, a conversion from what we presently are to a more precise embodiment of the likeness of Christ at the center of our being, radiating our from us through all our thoughts, words, and actions.  This is why the life of contemplation is the boldest and most adventuresome of undertakings, for what could be more radical, more truly earth-shattering, than the willingness to be dismantled and created anew, not once or twice in a lifetime, but day after day?  'If any one is in Christ, he is a new creation' (2 Corinthians 5:17)."
 -Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, The Way of the Disciple, pg 18

HAPPY EASTER!!  He is risen!  Alleluia!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Stations in the Village

Yesterday was Good Friday.  I spent the day at St. Patrick's Cathedral at a three-hour long reflection on the seven last words of Christ with Father Robert Barron followed by a Good Friday Liturgy with Cardinal Dolan (I love living in New York!).

The coolest part of the day was still to come, though.  The Vocations department for Archdiocese organized a Stations of the Cross through the southern part of Manhattan.  On a Friday night that is nothing special to someone who isn't Christian, it must have been strange to outsiders to see a large group of people led by a guy in a purple cape and a crucifix, singing hymns of praise in Latin, while walking through the streets of one of the most liberal areas of one of the most liberal cities in the world.

But that's exactly what we did.  We made our way from church to church or landmark to landmark, stopping at each to pray and reflect on a different moment in Christ's passion or pray a decade of the rosary.  It took four hours, concluding finally at 1am, and we must have walked about 6-8 miles, but it was awesome.

On a street corner in Greenwich Village, by NYU

Washington Square Park

Some people supported what we were doing, some people didn't, but most just stared for a second and then ignored us.

The hardest moment for me what at the very beginning - our first stop.  When the organizers originally planned the route a few years ago, they made this the first stop, not knowing it was directly in front of Planned Parenthood.  In the past, people have thrown eggs at the group from their windows above, but this year that didn't happen.  Instead, as we were singing, a woman started screaming at us our her window- not profanities, but rather something much sadder, and very true.  "Jesus. forgave. everyone!" she pleaded.  Everyone.  She screamed it over and over and over and over again.  She is so right.  And it pained me so much to hear her anger and sadness geared toward us, and to know how wrong her impression of us was, but not be able to make it right.

Jesus died to forgive everyone.  We were standing there last night to condemn, but rather to ask that He do just that.  That He have mercy on those who have had abortions and to heal them.

My heart broke a little at that moment.  How much misconception there is out there about the Church and what She stands for.  I hope I can do my part now and always to make it right, at least a little.

There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Mission in Haiti

Last week I went to Haiti.

the streets of Port-au-Prince

In fact, my whole team came with me, as well as our chaplain, 5 Columbia students, and 6 students from other universities, including my brother.

our group at the airport
We spent the week working with an order of Italian priests called the Scalibrinis.  They have established a complex about 7 miles east of Port-au-Prince that contains a seminary for about 300 young men, a school for hundreds of kids, a bread factory run by Haitians who can then sell the bread in the city, a site where houses are being constructed for displaced people to live in (the Haitians have also been employed to build these), a medical clinic, and a physical therapy clinic.  We got to help out with all of those.

helping out with one of the construction projects
getting to pray in the archbishop's private chapel
 The Archbishop of Port-au-Prince was also temporarily living on the premises, since his residence was destroyed in the quake.  The former archbishop actually died in his home and is buried there at the Scalibrini's, along with his former secretary, who was at the Cathedral when it collapsed on him.  One of the priests told us an amazing story about him: he remained alive for seven days after the quake, stuck in the rubble, speaking with those who were trying to get him out.  When they finally reached him a week later, though, he had passed away.  When they uncovered him, he was found clasping a rosary in one hand, and the Eucharist in the other.  Wow.  What an incredible testament of faith, huh?

One of the coolest parts of the trip was the opportunities God gave us to interact with the local people.  Even though most of them did not speak English, we were still able to communicate.  I even got to use some French!

hanging out with some kids after playing soccer

One of the days, we had the privilege of being invited to visit the Papal Nuncio (the ambassador to the Vatican).

Justin with the Nuncio (he is a Bishop originally from the Philippines)

 He lives on a hill that overlooks the city.  From his home we could see the massive amount of destruction and poverty.  Parts of the city that had nothing in them before the earthquake are now filled with tents or small houses made of cardboard.

We also drove around and saw the Cathedral that collapsed, as well as the President's palace and some of the tent cities that have since been set up to house people.

The President's Palace
a tent city
The Cathedral

The last day we were there, we got to work with the Missionaries of Charity in a clinic they run for malnourished children.  It was a terribly heart-breaking experience, as all we could do was hold these teeny children and pray for them.

Overall, the Lord challenged me to search for Him in every moment of every day, in the mundane and in the incredible, in the poor and in the privileged.  He challenged me to trust Him and demonstrated that He is always working.  He always does more for me than I expect from Him and surprises me every day with His love.

It was a beautiful trip, and I am thankful for all the work the Lord did in the hearts of my team and our students.  Please pray for a continual conversion of heart for each of the students, and that we may continue to learn from the experience!

my team is awesome, and I am so thankful for them

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The paradoxes of Christianity

Christianity is kind of crazy.

Don't believe me?  Just read the Beatitudes.  The meek shall inherit the earth.  Huh?  The meek?  Yeah, them.

Jesus tells us:
Become a slave to find freedom.
Die to be born anew.
Suffer to find deeper joy.
Give yourself away to be full.
Find joy in persecution.


But really, it's not weird.  It's just greater than me and you and greater than human instinct and desire and wisdom.  It's beautiful, really, what the Lord does:

For since in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom, it was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith. (1 Corinthians 1:21)

He makes worldly wisdom worthless, so that man should not boast.  He makes His wisdom (the cross) seem foolish so that faith is necessary to believe.

And St. Paul gets it.  He says, For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with the wisdom of human eloquence, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning (1 Corinthians 1:17).  The Cross of Christ speaks for itself.  No need for fancy rhetoric or eloquent wording.  It's quite easy to get caught up in that stuff, though, especially here in the Ivy Leagues.  Blah.

For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2: 2)

Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.  Nothing else matters if not for Him.  And because of Him, we can find joy in suffering, we can find freedom in conforming (to His will), we can find new life in death to ourselves.

Thank you, Jesus!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Happy Lent!

Why happy Lent?  Because, as St. Paul says: now is the day of salvation.  Woohoo!

So many Catholics come to Ash Wednesday Mass!  It's wonderful!  It's even more than usually come to Sunday Mass.  I'm not quite sure why it's that way.  But it's an amazing opportunity for us as missionaries to reach out to those who may not be practicing regularly.  Father Dan gave a killer homily in which he invited people to restore and rekindle their relationship with God.  He echoed the words of St. Paul in the second reading: We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

Ash Wednesday is not even a Holy Day of Obligation, yet it seems like the chapel is overflowing with people.  And it's the only time of the year that, for the rest of day, you're walking around with a very obvious mark on your forehead.  You're basically waving a sign around that says, "I'm Catholic".

Ergo, we decided to take advantage of this opportunity.  The team, my disciple Rosie, and I made it a point to meet every ash-marked student on Columbia's campus we could find.  We got to introduce ourselves in a pretty natural way, let them know we are available to them as support, and even invite a few people to Bible study!  It was fun.

I pray that you really dive into this Lenten season and accept the forgiveness the Lord offers all those who call upon Him!