catholicism Archives - The Jose Vilson


Cesar Chavez Day Google Doodle

I’m Feeling Lucky

Dear critics of Google’s choice for their Google Doodle of the Day:

What part of “serving the poor” is not aligned with today, a celebration of Jesus’ renewal and purpose in life?

In no way am I saying Cesar Chavez is Jesus, but are Chavez’s (and Dolores Huerta, by the way) works not aligned with the auspices of serving the poor and helping the needy? While Jesus worked with the Peters and Josephs in his congregation, Cesar worked with the Jesuses, Joses, and Pedros in the fields of California’s wine gardens in his day, but that’s besides the point.

Because I’m a Catholic of Jesuit upbringing, let me pull out my handy-dandy Bible and give you a few quotes from the New Testament to jog your memory:

Luke 4:16-21. And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read… “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He appointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the LORD… Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Luke 6:20-21. Blessed are you who are poor, for yours in the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.

James 2:5. Did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?

Shall I continue?

Luke 14:12-14. “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and repayment come to you. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Luke 12:44. “Sell your possessions and give alms; make yourselves purses which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near, nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

I love Luke. Not the rapper, but the writer of the Gospel. OK, OK, one more.

In those days, when there was a very great multitude, and they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to himself, and said to them, “I have compassion on the multitude, because they have stayed with me now three days, and have nothing to eat. If I send them away fasting to their home, they will faint on the way, for some of them have come a long way.”

His disciples answered him, “From where could one satisfy these people with bread here in a deserted place?” He asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.”

He commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground, and he took the seven loaves. Having given thanks, he broke them, and gave them to his disciples to serve, and they served the multitude. They had a few small fish. Having blessed them, he said to serve these also. They ate, and were filled. They took up seven baskets of broken pieces that were left over. Those who had eaten were about four thousand. Then he sent them away.

Immediately he entered into the boat with his disciples, and came into the region of Dalmanutha. The Pharisees came out and began to question him, seeking from him a sign from heaven, and testing him. He sighed deeply in his spirit, and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Most certainly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation.” He left them, and again entering into the boat, departed to the other side.

Mark 8:1-13

You’re here trying to make the case that Easter isn’t Cesar Chavez’s day when Chavez’s general body of work suggests that he had a similar understanding Jesus did almost two thousand years ago.

Pope Francis washed the feet of twelve detainees, including two women, at the collective gasp of laymen and the nods of millions of us who get it. But it comforts you to know that Jesus lives 2000 years ago, and that no one can replicate his work or ever will unless He comes back. Thus, Pope Francis didn’t get the direct approval from Jesus, so we can’t tell whether Jesus actually approves of what Pope Francis did.

Except that, on a day like Easter, it behooved him to dedicate himself to the people he’s been charged with helping from their squalor. Similar to what Chavez did.

May God find renewal for you today. In Jesus’ name. This I believe.

Jose, for today …

*** thank you to these sites for their help ***


On My Preconceived Notions about Muslims. [A True Story]

by Jose Vilson on August 25, 2010

in Jose

Malcolm X in Africa, 1964

“You’re a Muslim now? Bullshit.”

“Nah, man, I’m on my dean. It’s great. I have a Muslim name and everything. It’s awoken me from inside, and it feels so different.”

Aquiles sits there, detailing his new views on the world, reformed after converting to Islam after having been a wavering devout Catholic for the 21 years prior to this undertaking. He tells me that his mornings are filled with Arabic chants and nights in meditations. He sees that nations can’t separate church from state, and that women and men shouldn’t date, but get to know each other for a while before getting married. My face shifts from a jocular disbelief to a nodding respect. Chris, in his jovial nature, says, “It’s cool, but he’s always playing that [chant] tape! EVERY MORNING!” We laugh.

Oswego was a place where I’d seen people drink mystery liquids from unsanitary coolers, meet face-to-face (and much closer) with some of the most attractive and vivacious Latina women I’d seen in my entire life, and mock demons with the amount of smoke that blew from nostril, ear, and mouth. From the few visits to Oswego in my time at Syracuse, I couldn’t have imagined he’s find Islam. Kids from the hood don’t find Islam. They either go from Catholicism to another Christian denomination or to agnosticism. They feel inundated with rosaries and sacraments that the guilt for not fulfilling their obligations turns to bitterness or they try to align their beliefs with their current lifestyles (and not vice-versa).

Plus, the only Muslims we ever ran into run the overpriced delis, the falafel place spots scattered around the neighborhood, and the garment and carpeting spots all across Orchard St. Often, the more ignorant ones would call them “habibis” and wonder aloud what’s hiding in their turbans, enlikening them to Toad from Mario Bros. Our own ignorance about them was the confluence of these influences, never having to take into consideration that Muslims, like Catholics and Jews who occupied the Lower East Side like us, just wanted their space to call their own.

Fortunately for those of us who went to college, we were thrown into an environment where our preconceived notions about everyone went out the window. Some of our notions about the way a normal (read: white) student lived stuck like a stereotype, but most of them made no sense in the face of the people I had to talk to on a daily basis. Plus, our curricula from years before never taught us much about Mohandas Gandhi, Malcolm X, or the real Martin Luther King Jr., and how religion didn’t mean they couldn’t speak up and out. Or speak.

He keeps saying the word Muslim with an ‘s’ and not the lazy ‘z’ American culture uses. It’s easy enough to adopt, so I took it on, just like one of my friends back in Syracuse took the ‘o’ out of G-d as a sign of respect for the indispensable spirit of G-d. As we’re driving back to my dorm, I think back to this transformation, and it stuck with me through the year. My advisor screwed me over, so I had to take a couple of extra summer classes to complete my computer science major. The Physics II class was compulsory, but Religion 101 should have been.

I went into the class hoping to learn a little something about every religion, touching upon the Bhagavad Gita, the all-too-familiar Old and New Testament, and read a little from other religions that never get discussed like santeria and vodun (or voodoo for some of you). Our final project pushed me from intrigue to elation. We had to choose one religion different from our own and go to one of their gatherings. I quickly chose Islam because of my friend Aquiles’ conversion, but also because I had a few friends going and they’d show me the ropes. Plus, it was within walking distance of the dorm I stayed in.

I remember waking up that morning to a dreary but temperate day, pensive about this new experience that I couldn’t understand. I’m hoping bricks don’t fall from the sky, or my heart doesn’t light ablaze from stepping into the mosque. I laughed a bit. After a bit of breakfast, I walk with my sandals to the place. As the people converge, I notice Aquiles walking into the mosque as well. I give him the usual pound, excited to see him. I tell him I need to concentrate, though, so we can’t do what we often did at masses years back.

This isn’t years back, though. I’m a much different person, a man with a keen eye for beauty. As I walk in, I’m asked to remove all my footwear and leave it in an open space. The New Yorker in me is skeptical and hopes he’s not walking barefoot back. “Alll riiight.” I sit on the floor, close enough to the imam that I could understand what he’s saying, but far enough so that I wouldn’t embarrass myself. The next hour felt like 20 minutes. In the middle of this teachings, I felt the winds caress my insides, my mind rinsed from the dead brain cells accumulated from a tumultuous spring and summer. None of it mattered. Black, White, and Arab men all bowing together, humming together, and breathing together, just like Malcolm said after his Hajj to Mecca.

I returned to class that week to recant my experience in that mosque, with Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists, and atheists reconvened and religiously confused. It’s probably the first time in years I’d had such a captive audience. The last time was actually as cantor for my choir in one of my high school’s Masses. I tried to take the magic I felt and put it in a jar so I could hand that in with my paper, but everyone in the class felt it, too, or at least I think so. I didn’t take off my shoes, either. I emphasized the ‘s’ in Islam.  And I flirted with the idea of dropping Catholicism right then and there for this profound experience I had there.

I never did. Which is all to the good. Because it’s important that members of every religion practice religious respect, tolerance, and consciousness, even when we disagree with the Higher Being they believe in. America’s relationship with ideas outside of the white, upper-middle-to-rich, Protestant-or-at-least-Christian male experience have equal parts ignorance and stupidity. Peace doesn’t work without fighting, but it has to be the right type of fight.

It’s not about the lesser jihad (warfare), but the greater jihad (spiritual self-perfection).

Jose, who encourages you also to go to a service than your own …


On the 1st Day of Christmas …

by Jose Vilson on December 24, 2007

My Christmas CardI got a gift from my stepfather. It’s weird because frankly I don’t expect anything from him and never have, but indeed I have this wrapped present in front of me, and it’s been sitting there waiting for my approval. I wonder what it is now that I’ve waited this long to lay waste to its wrappings. Certainly, that’s a different tone than has been set in this household for quite some time. While I don’t want to divulge too much of my history, I will say that the nights of loud salsa, rum aura, and angry family members hopefully is a thing of the past, and that has everything to do with me.

See, the problem with Christmas is that, as a child, I was always and forever entitled, hoping this ginormous White dude would suddenly appear in my hallway and slide a gift under my Christmas tree … or two, or three. And then I started noticing that I didn’t have a chimney from which Santa could climb down like in the commercials I saw on Fox Saturday morning. These images conflicted with what I learned about the Season of Giving through my Saturday Catholic classes and my Catholic education. Then, I noticed less presents and less family time. And of course, we had next to nothing, so every time I did get something for Christmas, I was ever grateful …

Until I was 13 when I got my Super Nintendo (I can’t believe it’s been 16 years since I got it). I was such an ungrateful little one. I immediately connected it, and didn’t thank my mom until it was a little too late. For 10 years afterwards, we’ve had oscillating success with this holiday, and ever since then, I’ve been trying to rebuild what I want from my family. Not so much from my stepfather’s side, who seems to have sealed its own fate, but my mom’s side. At the very least, the set of cousins and brothers we have in that collective could form some sort of bond, and maybe we’d get a little snowfall in the process.

After getting my first salaried job as a teacher, I decided to make that particular Christmas the one I forgave everything and everyone for. I kid you not, I gave gifts like I had lost my mind. I started saying grace, which is weird since I don’t really believe in any religion per se. I started to actually have serious conversations with my other family members, at least the younger generation. I started to feel like I had a family again, and this time, it was a feeling I didn’t want to let go of.

Now, that energy has been transmuted back into my elders, and that’s really what these holidays should be about. What’s the point of going to services and masses when the temple inside your home’s a wreck? My spirit replenished and refocused, I can celebrate togetherness all year round, with a special day to keep me on track …

On the 1st Day of Christmas, G_d gave to me
12 gifts from my kids
11 pieces of chocolate
10 comfy sweaters
9 pounds from my fam
8 drinks to choose from
7 calls from my friends
6 plates of good food
4 people in this house
3 happy males
2 brothers sleeping
and 1 writer spreading the peace …

jose, who’s about as happy as he’s been for any holiday …



October 7, 2007

Imagine there’s no Heaven It’s easy if you try No hell below us Above us only sky Imagine all the people Living for today … Field Negro’s contemplations about religion, Lupe Fiasco, my grandfather’s memorial service, and other personal issues really had me thinking about the positions I’m taking in worldly issues. It made me […]

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Walk On Water

September 6, 2007 Jose

When it comes to my principles, I didn’t tell them who I quoted from, but I had a discussion around them. What’s great about these principles is that I get to discuss them while secretly learning more about who they are as people and as students. I tested their ability to follow procedures and respect […]

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