At night, as he sat in the dark listening to the sound of the turtle-dove in the trees, he felt the face of Christ looking intently at him. The clear blue eyes were gentle with compassion; the features were tranquil; it was a face filled with trust. ‘Lord, you will not cast us away any longer,’ he whispered, his eyes fixed upon that face. And then the answer seemed to come to his ears: ‘I will not abandon you.’ Bowing his head he strained his ears for the sound of that voice again; but the only thing he could hear was the singing of the turtle-dove. The darkness was thick and black. Yet the priest felt that for one instant his heart had been purified.
~ Shusaku Endo, Silence (an excerpt from Chapter 6)
In my last piece for this blog, I had very clearly stated that I was moving away from mainstream Christianity and “becoming” a deist. Here, I want to clarify further by what I had written and published a little over 2 months ago:
One sunny Friday back in April of this year, I did not expect to be welcomed again by the Roman Catholic students at UC Berkeley. But that is exactly what happened—not only did I feel welcomed by the group, the ladies tabling that day out on Sproul Plaza were amazed not only by how much knowledge of the Church and its teachings I have committed to memory; but also led to one of the girls (also my former classmate from 3 years prior) to exclaim that it was “a sign that God has appointed you to be here.”
Truer words had never been spoken, because within a matter of weeks, I started going back to Mass more, praying the Holy Rosary and even going to my first Confession.
But just when everything looked like rainbows and butterflies, tragedy struck home when our last male cat, Lennie, was seized by Animal Control authorities and euthanized on June 2, 2018.
Half a year has passed since then—and a righteous anger still burns within my heart. An anger that isn’t just about lashing out in explosive rage, but an anger that calls me to action—to stand up for my family’s pets, and to ask for vindication.
So when I heard that a good friend of mine recently passed away just over a month ago, that same grief and anger set in again—and believe me, these are emotions that are quite hard to process and shake off; if one can even call them so.
Therefore, I could sit here and compose a very sentimental eulogy for John—but I believe I have already partly done so on my Quora page. Instead, I want to pause for a mere moment and draw a comparison between John’s ambitions to evangelize and that of the life of the great saints honored in the Catholic Church: St. Sebastian.
For those who are not as familiar with this saint’s story, here is a YouTube video explaining some of the major events:
Now, I personally believe there are some parallels we could draw between St. Sebastian and John—aside from being shot with a multitude of arrows.
Back in his heyday, Sebastian was the captain of a Roman Army and a covert Christian. Because of his status in the military, he could easily hide his faith and fall in line with the Roman authorities and the gods and festivities that they honoured.
But sadly, Sebastian was inevitably exposed for being the true Christian he was, and he was ordered to be shot with arrows and left for dead—as a cruel example to deter any other Christians who were secretly closeted.
According to legend though, Sebastian lived through the arrows that skirmished and pierced his body—and was later rescued by St. Irene of Rome, who tended to his wounds. This would have been a happy ending for the valiant Christian captain if the story ended right here, right?
Well, as fate would have it, he was later captured a second time by the Romans and clubbed to death.
Although I am still on the long and winding journey to the (Roman) Catholic faith, I cannot help but continuously think how fitting St. Sebastian would be for my friend John. Today, the saint is considered to be a patron for athletes and the sick (and coincidentally, December 18th marks his feast day in the Eastern Orthodox churches).
In LGBTQ Christian circles, Sebastian is also venerated as a “masculine” icon for queer men because of his supposedly muscular and rugged physique.
In his life on Earth, John loved sports and the outdoors; this much I do know about him ever since we met at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK seven-and-a-half years ago. Moreover, during the one weekend where I got to bond with him, his humility really showed through as we talked about our families, similar cultural backgrounds—and how he could speak a bit of Mandarin, which was quite hilarious to my dad and I.
I’m not going to sugarcoat this: I still see John as an honourable brother figure, even as I am grieving for his soul—and now as a saint in the next life.
While his actions have been criticized heavily by the secular media over the last month, most news outlets tend to downplay or ridicule the one thing John was most passionate about: his faith for Christ.
Were it not for his unwavering faith and trust in Almighty God, who knows what or where he might be up to these days?
But despite the news—and the length of time it will take for all those were close to John in this life to process our grief—I rest my hope in the fact that his soul is now with the Lord, and that Christ and the angels have welcomed him into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Rest in peace, dear friend. Pray for me, and I will vice versa for you. Amen.
Happy 27th birthday as well!