What to pray for in Lourdes.

Dear friends,

As I prepare to go to Lourdes, France for this once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage, there are about 10,000 things running through my mind as far as intentions to pray for while I’m there. As some know, this pilgrimage is through the Order of Malta (link to their website here) and is all expenses paid. I had to travel down to Houston for an interview and after that was selected to go on this pilgrimage. I asked Fr. Thomas Esposito to be my travel companion, and we are all set to leave on May 3. Here’s a taste of what awaits us:

Lourdes procession

lourdes_136788

Lourdes grotto

We’re beyond excited — it’s almost too good to be true!

Getting down to the real reason we’re going though, these amazing sights pale in comparison to the grace that is to be found at Lourdes. This pilgrimage will be an opportunity to thank God for what he has done for me and pray that his blessings are used to bring him glory. It will be centered on an increase in faith, not just for myself, but for everyone whose prayer intentions I bring with me. Saint Bernadette herself said that it is not the Lourdes water itself that heals people, but the faith that they have when drinking it or washing in it.

It takes a great deal of faith to not get depressed and angry when dealing with a serious or chronic illness. I know so many people struggling with what I was two years ago, end-stage cystic fibrosis, who are in desperate need of a double lung transplant, and I know of others who already got their transplant and are in serious rejection. There are many others who, like myself, are doing fantastic after transplant, but could still use some prayers for continued health. When you find out that you have Advanced Late-Stage Lyme disease or have a debilitating stroke, how do you reconcile something like that with God’s will? It can be incredibly difficult when you are very vulnerable and not in control of your own life to see the greater plan of God in all of it. Too many people harbor an intense anger at God, and have an overwhelming feeling that what they are suffering in the present moment is entirely and utterly useless. But as the great Archbishop Fulton Sheen says, “There’s nothing more tragic in all of the world than wasted pain.” (link to the full quote here) As I have blogged about before, pain and suffering are like graphite that is just waiting to be turned into diamonds. What do graphite and diamonds have in common? They’re both made up of pure carbon. All life on earth is based on chains of carbon molecules — without carbon’s unique properties, life on earth would not be possible. Suffering comes in all kinds of unique ways, and is a universal part of life, so when life hands you a lump of graphite, and it will, turn it into diamonds by offering it to God!

What did we just celebrate yesterday? Good Friday, when the most pain that has ever been endured by a human being (the Passion of Jesus Christ) was turned into eternal salvation for all human beings. Diamonds to me represent the eternal value of suffering, and the sometimes incomprehensible plan that God has when he sends us suffering. He wants us to let it sanctify us and make us holy! Diamonds are brilliant and enduring, and they not only let light shine through them, but refract it and create a beautiful glimmer and shine. Graphite, on the other hand, is suffering without God. It is dull, ugly, black, and depressing. In this analogy, diamonds really are forever!

If anyone would like me to present their petitions to Our Lady at the grotto in Lourdes, feel free to message me! Thank you all for the prayers, I will certainly try to pray for everyone who is doing the same for me, and for anyone else I can think of. God bless you all!

This is the air I breathe.

I haven’t blogged in about 9 months, and as I sit here in my Dad’s library, checking fantasy football scores and eating a ham and cheese sandwich, my soul is overflowing with gratitude to God. I just have to get it out and share it!

So, this December 15th will be one and a half years since transplant! Praise God! To echo Mary’s words at the Visitation, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…” I have come an incredibly long way from not feeling like I have the stamina to walk five blocks to Main Street, or being reliant on machines to keep my 30% lung function from dipping to deadly and life-threatening levels. My adventures this past year include hiking up and sprinting to the top of a 13,161 foot mountain and taking a 6 day road trip to California, stopping at the Grand Canyon and other National Parks along the way. Just typing that feels awesome. I haven’t been this consistently healthy since I was about 13 years old. It almost scares me to consider just how well I have done and continue to do. Do I deserve this? I don’t know. But I do know that God wants me to enjoy every breath of it, and never take it for granted.

This cold and rainy Saturday I had the opportunity to attend a one-day retreat in Dallas at St. Thomas Aquinas Church, and in the adoration segment of the retreat, I heard a song that I’d never heard before. The lyrics go something like this:

“This is the air I breathe
This is the air I breathe
Your holy presence living in me

This is my daily bread
This is my daily bread
Your very word spoken to me

And I, I’m desperate for you
And I, I’m lost without you…”

Before the adoration and music started, we were instructed by one of the priests to meditate on the moment when Jesus calls out to Simon Peter, telling him to “cast out into the deep.” We were told to hold ourselves in an open posture, arms uncrossed and spread out, and allow ourselves to be fully open to God’s call in our own lives to “cast out into the deep.” As I did that, I had a profound experience of God’s love.

When the piano player started playing and singing this song, my ears perked up. It is strikingly simple in its message. For me it was the perfect adoration song, because as you sit there and look lovingly on the almighty God of the universe in the Blessed Sacrament, everything else melts away. You are in His holy presence, and you are hearing Him speak words of love directly to your soul. That is a taste of what heaven is. You realize that this all-knowing, all-powerful God has a burning desire for you to be a saint. There is no time for an off-day or only going half way in your spiritual life. He wants you to pray for others and to be His voice and His hands to others, especially the weak and vulnerable. He doesn’t demand that you be perfect, only that you strive to be. And that is a terrifying and humbling challenge to accept. To “cast out into the deep” means being aware of His presence in yourself and in others at all times. To love with your whole heart, whole mind, and whole soulnothing held back. And it all starts with humbly accepting his grace as a gift, and doing your best to give it back.

One of my many faults is sometimes falling into apathy, a laziness in my spiritual life, and laziness in general. But He demands more. He wants me to breathe in His grace, and exhale His love with an urgency for saving souls. That should be the air that we breathe. Freely given grace and unconditional love. It’s not always going to be a bed of roses — it’s going to hurt. It’s going to demand sacrifice. But it’s why we exist. To know, love, and serve God in expectation of eternal life with Him.

It’s not a coincidence that I had this profound adoration experience. This past Tuesday I started praying the Rosary nightly, as well as a novena to St. Therese. Novenas and rosaries will do amazing things for your soul and your relationship with God, and I highly recommend them. I am reminded as I write this of what St. Therese of Lisieux said of her own vocation to love, “I understood that LOVE COMPRISED ALL VOCATIONS, THAT IT EMBRACED ALL TIMES AND PLACES…IN A WORD, THAT IT WAS ETERNAL! ….O Jesus, my Love…my vocation, at last I have found it…MY VOCATION IS LOVE!”

May we all learn to love as intensely and sincerely as she did, especially in the small things of life, and never forget to give all the glory to God!

9 month update

It’s been waaaay too long since I have blogged! An update is long overdue. First off, I want to say that I’m doing fantastic health-wise. I’m constantly eating, so I’ve gained some weight and I’m currently up to 145 lbs. I’ve grown fat and happy, as my Dad likes to say. My lungs are as powerful as ever. The FEV1 on my spirometry tests still registers at 4.14 liters, meaning that I can exhale 4.14 liters of air in one second after taking the deepest breath possible and blowing out as hard as I can. A normal 23 year old with no health problems could exhale about 4.25 liters in one second, so I am roughly at 97.4% percentage-wise. I truly have an awesome pair of breathers. When I go on walks with my parents and my niece Christiana, its customary that I race Christiana home, starting at the end of our block. It’s about 100 meters, and I can all-out sprint the entire way with no problem. It’s so exhilarating to all-out sprint! The feeling of having air rush all the way up from the bottom of my lungs with no wheezing or obstruction is such a blessing.

Pretty much the opposite of Murphy’s Law (anything that can go wrong, will go wrong) has been the case during my transplant and the (almost) 9 months since. Everything has gone right. March 15th will be 9 months, and so I’ll have to celebrate my health somehow, maybe with another blog post with a video of me sprinting and running? I don’t know.

I have two part-time jobs, both pretty low-profile data entry jobs. One is at the Cistercian Abbey library, and the other is at the company that my brother and sister work at called Varidesk. They are perfect for my current schedule (I still have a lot of doctor’s appointments) and they have been a perfect way to ease back into normal life.

I am scheduled for a bronchoscopy (fairly routine procedure for post-transplant patients) on March 15th so they can check out my lungs and make sure everything is as expected. Please pray that it goes well! Thank you!

St. Therese strikes again

Roses

St. Thérèse is so awesome. Tonight, I got this text from a totally random number. After a few back and forth messages, I learned that Brenda (the lady who drew this) draws to give glory to God and to show that her Parkinson’s disease will never take away her God-given talent. She drew this free-hand and “accidentally” sent it to me. I think St. John Paul II (who had Parkinson’s) and St. Thérèse may be trying to tell me something…that heaven is always watching! It even has a ’65’ in the area code. 65 roses, anyone?!

I said this about St. Thérèse before transplant: “Lung transplants were not even remotely possible in her day, but I have full confidence that she will be with me every step of the way, urging me to never lose the ardent desire to become a saint which she herself had until the day she died.”

She is most certainly with me and will continue to be.

200 meters

Try to run 200 meters with a nose clip and breathing through a straw. At the end when you are dizzy and exhausted, you will know what it’s like to have 20-30% lung power! You are out of breath like they were in the video pretty much all of the time. Exercising or even just walking up three flights of stairs is basically torture. Not to mention having to cough up thick mucus and wheezing like an 80 year old life-long smoker.

Thank God I am in the 80-90% range now. No more coughing, no more vest, no more nebulizers, no more oxygen, no more CPAP, no more lung infections, and no more PICC lines!

St. Germaine Cousin (Feast day: June 15)

GERMAINE-COUSIN

Young French female saints—they follow me everywhere! So I just recently looked up the most celebrated Saint of the day for my transplant day, June 15th, aka my “breathday”. It is Saint Germaine Cousin. She is similar to Saint Thérèse of Lisieux in that during her short life she was totally unknown except by family and a few townspeople, but now she is an international rockstar and has many devoted followers from her place in heaven. It turns out that my mom has had a painting of her hanging in our house since 1992, the year I was born! She just thought it was a nice picture of a shepherdess. I don’t think its a coincidence that I had my transplant on her feast day. Give this article a read and learn about this incredible little French saint!

http://www.olrl.org/lives/germaine.shtml

“The Catholic Church has offered innumerable examples of saints immersed hopelessly in the despairing squalor of sin, who suddenly pull themselves out on a sunbeam of grace and soar to the heights of genuine holiness. Saint Germaine, the subject of our story, however, never chose sin, yet was surrounded by the perfect climate (according to today’s standards) to excuse it.  She was unwanted, handicapped, abused, and neglected.  She had no self-esteem, was never sent to school; she was poor and she was hungry.  She died when she was twenty-two years old, all alone and in a barn.  Yet almost four hundred years after her death, books are still written about her and she is still prayed to.  There are churches named after her throughout the whole Christian world and people still make pilgrimages to her shrine in France.

What is the secret of Saint Germaine? She was truly a “victim of circumstance”.  But circumstances have two sides, just as when some people smell flowers and think of a funeral, others smell flowers and think of a spring garden.  Throughout life God strews our paths with sufficient graces for our eternal salvation.  It is up to each individual, however, to stoop down and pick them up.  They are the light spots between the clouds and they grow brighter as they are collected.  Saint Germaine is one of the many examples of saints who have surmounted the obstacles of life and soared to the heights of holiness.”

St. Germaine, pray for us!

The Sacred Lungs of Jesus

Jesus breathing on the Cross

“It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.” (Luke 23:44-46)


“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:19-23)


This is going to be my small, humble attempt at starting a new devotion in the Catholic Church—a devotion to the Sacred Lungs of Jesus, as silly as that sounds! We already have devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary, as well as lesser known ones to the Precious Blood, the Holy Face, and the Wounds of Jesus. Why not invoke his lungs?

After all, did Mary and Joseph not experience the full power of baby Jesus’ lungs as he cried and cried, like all babies do? Did Jesus not use his powerful lungs to preach to the masses and breathe the Holy Spirit on his Apostles? Did the lance that pierced his heart not also go through his lungs?

Some say that the phrase in Luke’s Gospel, “he breathed his last” was a foreshadowing of breathing the Holy Spirit on the Apostles or that this final exhalation was an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the whole world. In a sense, every breath that Jesus took was pure “Holy Spirit breath” because they are of one substance, but I think it is fair to say that the world received the Spirit in a more profound way at his moment of death.

Obviously, I am keenly aware of the blessing of having a great pair of lungs, so this devotion will be easy for me to put into practice. Most people take breathing for granted. As always, if we want to be humbled and take things less for granted, we should look to what Jesus did for us on the Cross. This detailed description Jesus’ Crucifixion and slow asphyxiation comes from an article called How Jesus Died for You.


Within a few minutes of being placed on the Cross, Jesus’ shoulders were dislocated. Minutes later Jesus’ elbows and wrists became dislocated. The result of these upper limb dislocations is that His arms were 9 inches longer than normal, as clearly shown on the Shroud of Turin.

In addition, the prophecy was fulfilled in Psalm 22:14, “I am poured out like water, and all My bones are out of joint.”

After Jesus’ wrists, elbows, and shoulders were dislocated, the weight of His body on his upper limbs caused traction forces on the Pectoralis Major muscles of His chest wall.

These traction forces caused His rib cage to be pulled upwards and outwards, in a most unnatural state. His chest wall was permanently in a position of maximal respiratory inspiration. In order to exhale, Jesus was physiologically required to force His body.

In order to breathe out, Jesus had to push down on the nails in His feet to raise His body, and allow His rib cage to move downwards and inwards to expire air from His lungs.

His lungs were in a resting position of constant maximum inspiration. Crucifixion is a medical catastrophe.

The problem was that Jesus could not easily push down on the nails in His feet because the muscles of His legs, bent at 45 degrees, were extremely fatigued, in severe cramp, and in an anatomically compromised position.

 Unlike all Hollywood movies about the Crucifixion, the victim was extremely active. The crucified victim was physiologically forced to move up and down the cross, a distance of about 12 inches, in order to breathe.

The process of respiration caused excruciating pain, mixed with the absolute terror of asphyxiation.

As the six hours of the Crucifixion wore on, Jesus was less and less able to bear His weight on His legs, as His thigh and calf muscles became increasingly exhausted. There was increasing dislocation of His wrists, elbows and shoulders, and further elevation of His chest wall, making His breathing more and more difficult. Within minutes of crucifixion Jesus became severely dyspnoeic (short of breath).

The movements became less frequent as Jesus became increasingly exhausted, but the terror of imminent death by asphyxiation forced Him to continue in His efforts to breathe.

Because Jesus could not maintain adequate ventilation of His lungs, He was now in a state of hypo-ventilation (inadequate ventilation).

His blood oxygen level began to fall, and He developed Hypoxia (low blood oxygen). In addition, because of His restricted respiratory movements, His blood carbon dioxide (CO2) level began to rise, a condition known as Hypercapnia.

This rising CO2 level stimulated His heart to beat faster in order to increase the delivery of oxygen, and the removal of CO2.

The Respiratory Center in Jesus’ brain sent urgent messages to his lungs to breathe faster, and Jesus began to pant.

Jesus’ physiological reflexes demanded that He took deeper breaths, and He involuntarily moved up and down the Cross much faster, despite the excruciating pain. The agonizing movements spontaneously started several times a minute, to the delight of the crowd who jeered Him, the Roman soldiers, and the Sanhedrin.

However, due to the nailing of Jesus to the Cross and His increasing exhaustion, He was unable to provide more oxygen to His oxygen starved body.

The twin forces of Hypoxia (too little oxygen) and Hypercapnia (too much CO2) caused His heart to beat faster and faster, and Jesus developed Tachycardia (abnormally fast heart rate).

Jesus’ heart beat faster and faster, and His pulse rate was probably about 220 beats/ minute, the maximum normally sustainable.

Jesus’ lungs probably began to fill up with Pulmonary Oedema (excessive fluid).

This only served to exacerbate His breathing, which was already severely compromised.

Jesus was in Heart Failure and Respiratory Failure.


I remember not too fondly having experienced many of these respiratory symptoms first hand in the ER and ICU after collapsed lungs, pleurisy, and pneumonia. Let me tell you, it is extremely scary. It’s some of the worst pain that a human can experience, because every breath is agonizingly painful. It envelops your whole body and you can’t ignore it even for a second.

Think about how ridiculously hard it was for Jesus to speak from the Cross in that state, much less speak words of forgiveness and love. To his last breath he used his lungs to console and teach others. His example should make us watch what we say, especially when we are cranky or don’t feel particularly good.

A devotion to the Sacred Lungs could be used in a lot of different circumstances. If you had to make an important speech, preach to a congregation, be a lector at Mass, or have a major role in a play or musical, invoking the Sacred Lungs would be a perfect way to ensure that everything you said was guided by the Holy Spirit. Also, while playing any kind of sport, having clear, strong lungs is crucial for oxygenating your muscles and keeping a clear head. Perhaps praying to the Sacred Lungs could ensure that your breathing while you play sports remains calm and unhindered!

The devotion could also be a great source of comfort for those who have very bad lung capacity as I did (it is amazing to type DID and not DO). Anyone with severe COPD, emphysema, cystic fibrosis, pulmonary hypertension, asthma, etc. could look to his fluid-filled, barely working lungs on the Cross and see a familiar agony.

Jesus on the Cross

Perhaps this devotion will take off and become widespread, perhaps not, but either way, I know I will be using it!

Sacred Lungs of Jesus, may we have recourse to you!

The Body of Christ

monstrance

Howdy everyone! I’m still doing fantastic and enjoying life very much now that I can breathe. I did a six-minute walk test at my first pulmonary rehab today and I shattered their previous record of 2200 feet. I did 2800 feet and jogged the last minute and a half. The physical therapist was in tears and said, “This is why I became a therapist.” Praise God!

I wanted to take this blog post to reflect on something that has been bouncing around in my head ever since I got my brand new breathers, and that is the simple fact that the risen body of Jesus still had its scars from the Crucifixion. It is a beautiful and perplexing fact. Why would Jesus allow himself to keep the permanent reminders of his torture and death? It’s an important question, because after all, this is the same body that we receive in the Eucharist—the risen, mystical body. St. Thomas Aquinas reflects on the same thing in his Summa Theologica, question 54, The quality of Christ rising again:

Article 4. Whether Christ’s body ought to have risen with its scars?

Objection 1. It would seem that Christ’s body ought not to have risen with its scars. For it is written (1 Corinthians 15:52): “The dead shall rise incorrupt.” But scars and wounds imply corruption and defect. Therefore it was not fitting for Christ, the author of the resurrection, to rise again with scars.

Objection 2. Further, Christ’s body rose entire, as stated above (Article 3). But open scars are opposed to bodily integrity, since they interfere with the continuity of the tissue. It does not therefore seem fitting for the open wounds to remain in Christ’s body; although the traces of the wounds might remain, which would satisfy the beholder; thus it was that Thomas believed, to whom it was said: “Because thou hast seen Me, Thomas, thou hast believed” (John 20:29).

Objection 3. Further, Damascene says (De Fide Orth. iv) that “some things are truly said of Christ after the Resurrection, which He did not have from nature but from special dispensation, such as the scars, in order to make it sure that it was the body which had suffered that rose again.” Now when the cause ceases, the effect ceases. Therefore it seems that when the disciples were assured of the Resurrection, He bore the scars no longer. But it ill became the unchangeableness of His glory that He should assume anything which was not to remain in Him for ever. Consequently, it seems that He ought not at His Resurrection to have resumed a body with scars.

I answer that, it was fitting for Christ’s soul at His Resurrection to resume the body with its scars. In the first place, for Christ’s own glory. For Bede says in Luke 24:40 that He kept His scars not from inability to heal them, “but to wear them as an everlasting trophy of His victory.” Hence Augustine says (De Civ. Dei xxii): “Perhaps in that kingdom we shall see on the bodies of the Martyrs the traces of the wounds which they bore for Christ’s name: because it will not be a deformity, but a dignity in them; and a certain kind of beauty will shine in them, in the body, though not of the body.” Secondly, to confirm the hearts of the disciples as to “the faith in His Resurrection” (Bede, on Luke 24:40). Thirdly, “that when He pleads for us with the Father, He may always show the manner of death He endured for us” (Bede, on Luke 24:40). Fourthly, “that He may convince those redeemed in His blood, how mercifully they have been helped, as He exposes before them the traces of the same death” (Bede, on Luke 24:40). Lastly, “that in the Judgment-day He may upbraid them with their just condemnation” (Bede, on Luke 24:40). Hence, as Augustine says (De Symb. ii): “Christ knew why He kept the scars in His body. For, as He showed them to Thomas who would not believe except he handled and saw them, so will He show His wounds to His enemies, so that He who is the Truth may convict them, saying: ‘Behold the man whom you crucified; see the wounds you inflicted; recognize the side you pierced, since it was opened by you and for you, yet you would not enter.'”

Leave it to Thomas Aquinas to give 5 compelling reasons for Christ keeping his scars. He clarifies further but I didn’t want to post the entire argument.

My scars have become my badges of honor and glory, thanks to Jesus. Not many people get to experience what I have in the past few months, and maybe that’s a good thing. It all happened so fast and it’s such a unique experience. I’m certain that this transplant is a privilege that I get to experience, instead of an ordeal that I have to go through.  As Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” It is a privilege for everyone to be able to live by faith in the Son of God, but the line that is really sticking with me is “the life I now live in the flesh.” In the Eucharist, we receive the flesh and blood of the risen Jesus, a flesh and blood that was in a glorified state and not bound by the laws of nature. While the Eucharist keeps my soul alive, another human being’s mortal flesh keeps my body alive. My body is, in a sense, glorified from what it was just a few months ago—scars and all. I haven’t felt this good in mind, body, and soul in probably 10 years. All I can say is thank you, Jesus!