*BEST OF DTB #261* The Catholic Defender: The SSG Cardenas Story

Posted by John Benko - March 31st, 2013

It was spring/summer of 2006, I was relatively new to my unit as the Medical Platoon Sergeant. At this time I received a new Soldier, PVT Cardenas, a very young 17 year old new recruit.

I placed him in support of B Company, 2-5 CAV. with the B Company line medics.

PVT Cardenas would be given the responsibility of taking care of his Platoon of Cavalry Soldiers.

This is a very important role to keep your Soldiers medically qualified to deploy at any given time. This includes insuring that their shots are all up to date, recorded in the MEPROS, and medical records.

They have to train their Combat Life Savers ensuring that they are within standards, they must remain proficient in their medical skills.

They are the subject matter experts the Platoon Leader and Platoon Sergeant depends upon. It is a great responsibility for anyone to assume.

We deployed to Iraq in October 2006 and PVT Cardenas was the youngest Soldier I took to Iraq.

This was a 15 month deployment as we would not return to the United States until after the middle of January, 2008.

During this time, PVT Cardenas would earn his promotion to SPC, E-4, as he did very well under a hostile environment.

 He served at a very small JSS (Joint Security Station) that our Battalion strengthened and fortified.

There was a lot of enemy contact and all my Medics performed brilliantly. They saved a lot of lives as did all my Medics.

When the opportunity arose, I encouraged my Soldiers to depend on God, to trust in Him to help them, along with their training. It is important to hold firmly your faith in such places.

PVT Cardenas was no exception, he was raised Protestant, and I knew his wife and family were culturally Catholic.

In 2009, our unit would redeploy back to Iraq for another 12 months and this time, SPC Cardenas was dedicated in studying the Catholic Faith.

We would get together when the opportunity was there, we were both at JSS Sader City, which was a very dangerous place to be.

 I had medics at JSS UR, FORD, Comanche, War Eagle, and other places in our operations of theater.

The Platoons would constantly be out on missions so it was difficult for much organization there. We did the best that we could. I would bring SPC Cardenas up for promotion to Sergeant and so he went before the Board and did excellent getting a high score.

Upon returning from this deployment, SPC P Cardenas would PCS out of the Unit and transfer out to another Station in San Antonio Texas.

I would go to the Fort Hood Medical Hospital and finish out my 26 year career there.

Throughout this time, I always encouraged him to excel in his military career as I did with all my Soldiers, but most importantly, I encouraged him to continue his journey to the Catholic Faith.

This past year, I was honored to Sponsor SSG Cardenas into the Catholic Faith this past Easter Vigil, March 30, 2013 (San Antonio Texas).

He was able to share with me his success being recognized as NCO of the Year at his Unit/Station.

What an honor this is and another one I am most proud of. Like a Father, I have had one Soldier recognized nationally as Soldier of the Year by the USO, celebrated in Washington D.C. and another one earning the “Daisey Award” which is rare for a lower enlisted to earn.

SSG Cardenas is certainly in that company of great Soldiers I have had the opportunity to lead and serve with.

Not only did SSG Cardenas receive the Sacramental Grand Slam, Baptism. Confirmation, and God be praised, Holy Communion, his wife was confirmed along with him! What a great blessing for the Cardenas family and what an honor for me to Sponsor SSG Cardenas.


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*BEST OF DTB #260* The Catholic Defender: The Cup Of Salvation

Posted by John Benko - March 31st, 2013

The Bible (Psalms 116:12) asked the very most important question, “How shall I make a return to the LORD for all the good he has done for me?”

The answer might surprise you, but how many of us over look the answer?

Is it that all we need do is make a decision to make amends?

Do we simply need to say a “sinner’s prayer”?

Do we simply find a “bible” church? What is the answer coming from the Bible?

“The cup of salvation I will take up, and I will call upon the name of the LORD.”

“The cup of salvation will I take up…” This is very important. St Paul refers to this “cup of salvation” as the “cup of blessing”, which was the third cup in the Jewish Passover meal.

It has now become the “cup of salvation” in the new and everlasting Covenant.

Consider James 5:19-20, “My brothers, if anyone among you should stray from the truth and someone bring him back, he should know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” 

This Prodigal Son will receive the “cup of salvation” once again after being restored to the fullness of truth. Consider Psalms 23:5-6, “You set the table before me as my enemies watch; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” There is a connection between the table of the Lord and the cup of salvation.

The Lord gives the best of himself, body, blood, soul, and divinity, so we can truly receive the “oil of gladness”.

Easter Vigil is a time of conversion, many are accepting the Lord as they come forward to receive the anointing of oil and the cup of salvation. The cup is very important during the passover meal. There were four cups used at different times during the passover. They represented the following:

1 The first cup of wine is called the cup of sanctification. It is to commemorate the promise: “I will bring you out.”

2 The second cup is called the cup of plagues – the plagues that came upon Egypt – and it relates to the second promise: “I will free you from being slaves.”

3 The third cup is called the cup of redemption, where God says: “I will redeem you.”

4 The fourth cup is called the cup of completion, where God says: “I will take you as my own people.”

Notice the third cup, “cup of redemption”, that this would be the main representation of Christ who is the redeemer of mankind, that is why St. Paul refers to this cup as the “cup of blessing”.  

It is this cup that is central to the Mass and our cup of salvation.

By receiving this cup, we renew the Covenant with the Lord and truly, our cup overflows.

Also notice the 4th cup, during the Last Supper, remember that Jesus did not offer the traditional 4th cup, but he saved it until the cross.

This is why the Mass is known as the “Sacrifice of the Mass”, because the Last Supper is tied into the Passion of Jesus and our redemption..

The cup of completion is taken literally by Jesus, “After this, aware that everything was now finished, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus said ‘I thirst.’ There was a vessel filled with common wine.  So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth.  When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.” (John 19:28-30)

The cup of salvation is for those who have found their salvation.  For those who have picked up their cross and follows Jesus.  For those who cry out to the Lord for mercy, the Lord hears the cry of the poor.


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*BEST OF DTB #259* Friday Quick Takes- Yes, I was there

Posted by John Benko - March 29th, 2013

Driving to work today, it should be no surprise the question ringing through my brain in song….
“Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”

That this song would be playing in my head on Good Friday morning seemed pretty close to following the predicted script. What I was not prepared for was to hear myself answer the question “Yes, , I was there”. I have to admit that the answer shook me to my core- shocked that I said it, shocked further that it is true. No, I have never been to Israel and I was born more than 1900 years after the Crucifixion. Nevertheless, there just isn’t any denying it- I was there.

— 1 —

I was there in the sin that condemned Him to death. The pride of the pharisees? Yep, that was mine. The sins of the flesh of Mary Magdalene? Mine too.

— 2 —

I was there. My name was Barabbas. I was the convicted criminal who was set free, an innocent man to die in my place.

— 3 —

I was there in Peter’s denial. By my deeds, have I denied Him. Not 3 times or even 3 x 1000 times but 3 x 1000 x 1000 times.

— 4 —

I was there. That was me who scourged Jesus unmercifully and spit on Him. Everytime I refused to receive His mercy, every time I reviled my brother, it was Jesus that I reviled.

— 5 —

My name was Simon and I grumbled bitterly when they made me help carry His Cross.

— 6 —

I was the bad thief who told Him that He can’t be God if He doesn’t remove my suffering.

— 7 — 
I was the centurion, standing in awe. Truly, this was the Son of God.
For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

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Friday quick takes- new beginnings.

Posted by John Benko - March 15th, 2013

— 1 —

More and more, I am finding that it is really OK to admit that I mess up a lot. Not that it is OK to mess up, mind you. I am just seeing that we have to strip away the protective layers and say “Jesus, I REALLY need you, Father, I REALLY need you, Holy Spirit I REALLY need you! I can’t do this on my own. I just can’t break my own will without your help.

— 2 —

My biological father is in heaven and now I have a new papa in Pope Francis. It is a time of new beginnings. I really think Pope Francis is going to be a transformational Pope.

— 3 —

My wife and I have come full circle. Long ago, I helped here come to know and understand what Catholics believe, now she is teaching me everything that that faith embodies- love, charity, patience and empathy. If all of you are getting tired of me praising here, you you have to find a way to deal with it because she is a rock to me. I did not think it was possible to love another person as much as I love her.

— 4 —

Shameless self promotion segment #1. On the Deeper Truth show tonight, our guest is John Haskell and he will tell a compelling story about fatherhood

— 5 —

Shameless self promotion #2. If you know anyone that needs a website done, we can do a really good job at a really fair price. Please pass along our link.

— 6 —

This coming Easter Sunday (March 31) would have been my mom and dad’s 62nd anniversary. My dad died on February 25th. I am at a loss to figure out an appropriate way to commemorate this day. Any ideas?

— 7 — 
It was a lot easier to make it through these last few weeks with the love of family and friends. Let me give my heartfelt thanks and love to Don Hartley, Christie Martin, Margie Prox Sindelar, Ross Hoffman and Dr. Gregory Thompson. I really love you guys.
For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

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*BEST OF DTB #258* Habemus Papum!

Posted by John Benko - March 13th, 2013

We have a Pope! He is Francis the First and a first in many respects: the first Jesuit, the first Argentinian, and the first Pope from the Americas.

Please tune in tonight for the Podcast at 9 p.m. Eastern as we talk all things papal! All of us writers at Deeper Truth are all a-Google and will have much to share about today’s historic events.

Listen to internet radio with Deeper Truth on Blog Talk Radio

His bio taken from the Vatican Website


BERGOGLIO Card. Jorge Mario, S.I.

© www.catholicpressphoto.com
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J., Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, Ordinary for Eastern-rite faithful in Argentina who lack an Ordinary of their own rite, was born on 17 December 1936 in Buenos Aires. He was ordained for the Jesuits on 13 December 1969 during his theological studies at the Theological Faculty of San Miguel.
He was novice master in San Miguel, where he also taught theology. He was Provincial for Argentina (1973-1979) and rector of the Philosophical and Theological Faculty of San Miguel (1980-1986). After completing his doctoral dissertation in Germany, he served as a confessor and spiritual director in Córdoba.

On 20 May 1992 he was appointed titular Bishop of Auca and Auxiliary of Buenos Aires, receiving episcopal consecration on 27 June. On 3 June 1997 was appointed Coadjutor Archbishop of Buenos Aires and succeeded Cardinal Antonio Quarracino on 28 February 1998. He is also Ordinary for Eastern-rite faithful in Argentina who lack an Ordinary of their own rite.
Adjunct Relator General of the 10th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, October 2001.

He served as President of the Bishops’ Conference of Argentina from 8 November 2005 until 8 November 2011.

Created and proclaimed Cardinal by the Bl. John Paul II in the consistory of 21 February 2001, of the  Title of S. Roberto Bellarmino (St. Robert Bellarmine).
Member of:
  • Congregations: for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments; for the Clergy; for  Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life ;
  • Pontifical Council for the Family;
  • Pontifical Commission for Latin America.

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Quick takes Friday- "I miss you" edition

Posted by John Benko - March 8th, 2013

— 1 —

In my dream last night, I spoke to my father in heaven. No, not OUR Father in heaven but MY father whose life we celebrated yesterday in a memorial mass and military ceremony. He called me on the phone and we just chatted. It is surprising me more and more how real the concept of my dad in heaven is becoming. Not real in the sense that I doubted it but real in the sense that I can actually picture it.

— 2 —

What a model my dad gave us to follow. Through 14 months of agony, he kept putting my mom and his family first in his concern. It reminded me of the end of the papacy of John Paul II…and of Jesus Himself.

— 3 —

Years ago, when I was an angry and bitter adolescent, I uttered which were among the most hate-filled and caustic words of my life- to my mother, yet. I rashly predicted that I would not cry at my father’s funeral. Needless to say, I was unable to keep that promise. In fact, I didn’t come close to keeping it. Looking back at my father and myself, it is not just hard, but impossible, to reconcile that either of us were the same person in 2013 that we were in 1977. In fact, we weren’t. Call it what you want, I know that what happened to us was the Holy Spirit.

— 4 —

Want more proof that there is a God? All you have to do is look at the way my father’s diagnosis, last days and death united my family. Some say that a world with suffering cannot be a world with a merciful God but how unbearable would this world be without God and the love He inspires?

— 5 —

During a video tribute to my dad (made by my nephew), the song Que Sera Sera was played.It was one of my dad’s favorites and it rings so true. Whatever will be, will be. We no more control the future than the man on the moon. We do our best and hope for the best and God controls the rest.

— 6 —

The Marine ceremony honoring my dad was beautiful. I was struck by one part. Here we are, in this pavilion, the chill in the air, everything around covered in a blanket of snow with these dignified marines before us unfurling Old Glory.  At the very instant they snapped the flag open, there was a sudden, long and unmistakeable gust of the wind. That happens a time or two in Scripture, as I recall, at moments of great significance.

— 7 — 
I was the person who gave the Eulogy at my father’s funeral yesterday. To my family and friends who don’t yet know that there is a God or aren’t sure He cares about you, all I can tell you is the truth. If you had visited me in the 1970s from the year 2013 to tell me the future, I would have had an easier time believing that we had taught pigs to fly than to believe that. God can reach you too and you truly can come to know Him but you have to be willing to try. Here is the speech I give. Some found inspiration in it. I humbly submit it if it helps anyone find hope.
For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

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*BEST OF DTB #257* A simple kind of man- RIP Dad

Posted by John Benko - March 7th, 2013

As many of you know, my father passed away on February 25th. It was way back in the fall that I asked my mother and brothers for the permission to say the eulogy. Today, my father’s memorial funeral mass took place followed by a military burial at Quantico National cemetery. It concluded with a bereavement luncheon where there was a slideshow and many family members spoke on his behalf. The speech I gave went through about a dozen revisions before I was happy with it. I include it below with thanks to all who supported my family during this time.


Today, my father will be honored by the military he so courageously served in and fought for in Korea and Vietnam.  No doubt, you will also hear from members of the Church and the Knights of Columbus who will talk about how much he did to serve the less fortunate. My brothers and other family members will almost assuredly talk about any number of wonderful and treasured memories of football and fishing and Christmas and marching bands.These are all very, very good things that should and will be talked about today.

One that sticks out in my mind is the day I saw my dad save a young boy from drowning. Another is the Christmas when he got me and two of my brothers BB guns. Dad, you gotta know that was a big mistake.

Nevertheless, I wish to honor my Dad today by talking about what he taught us about living.

Many of you know that I had a difficult relationship with my father growing up and you may be thinking that I am the last person who should be giving this speech. It’s a fair concern.
Let me just respond with the words of Thorton Wilder that “In the battle of love, only wounded soldiers can serve”. I love that quote. It really says it all. The greatest testament of the miracle of my reconciliation with my father was the size of the mountain and the strength of the love that moved it. I am here to testify about my father, the wounded warrior and mountain mover.


Yes, I do believe that pretending our home was always perfect would be an injustice to my Dad and to all of you. Like any home, we had good times and bad times. That is how life is lived-out in a fallen world. A life without struggles is a fantasy.

Yes, by all means today, remember and talk about the good times, the fun, the laughs and the celebrations. We should and do celebrate these things and hold them in our hearts. Yet, to appreciate the man is not to pretend away the bad times because the measure of the man is who he is in good times and bad. My words today are about far more than our triumphs and tragedies, they are about him. My dad met every day with the same grit, the same down home simplicity and the same corny jokes. 

My Dad was a great man and we want each person here to know how to honor him from this day forward. There was a time when I would have been shocked to hear myself say that but I came to understand it by living. One of his favorite expressions was “I’ve been down that road”. Well, Dad, now, so have I and you were right. Experience is a hard task-master.

We are all prodigal sons but the story of the prodigal son is not about the son, it is about the Father. Our earthly Father showed us a model of our heavenly Father- unchanging, real and forgiving. I, and my four prodigal brothers are proud to call this wonderful hard-headed man, Dad.

Another thing about the story of the prodigal son was that when he came to his senses, the family rejoiced and celebrated. We did the same. Our celebrations were usually held in the front yard with soda and bottled water and beer, and crabs or steaks. If it was a really special occasion, we had hot dogs. There was dad, through it all, the same awful jokes, the same antiquated clothes.

The prodigal son had to learn what the father already knew- that life isn’t about getting what you want, it’s about doing what you must. If you have love but lack things you may despair from time to time. However, if you have things but lack love, that despair will overtake you. Only God and Love can fill the longing in a man’s soul. Right now, Dad, my soul longs for you because I love you and that love motivates my will to walk on and live in your footsteps. You are here, right now, today, inside each of us.

God gives us people to love and things to use, not people to use and things to love.
My Dad understood this and that is why his family always came before himself. He always sacrificed for us and for others and gave everything he had. The precious memories and moments of happiness we experience are not because of the places we go and the things we do. They do not live in the pictures or the videos we take. The experiences live in our hearts and in our minds and in our very souls because of the people who animated those experiences. The love of family is the fire that ignites them and brings them to life. The spark of family that you lit, Dad, is a roaring flame living on in all of us.

Fishing and camping and cookouts and volleyball games are our treasured memories……and I have the broken fingers to prove it.

It has been said that “He who dies with the most toys wins”. Dad, you taught us that he who lives and dies with the most principles wins. A clear conscience trumps a fat wallet and you won’t find a rich man in twenty with a satisfied mind.

I’m certain I heard that somewhere.

To honor you, Dad, is to honor the most real and simple man we ever knew. You despised pretense, you hated fakeness. When it came to Al Benko, what you saw is what you got.  A man that was not changed by the world. Wearied by the world? Yes. Beaten down by the world? Absolutely. Changed by it? No.

Some people develop layers. My Dad did not have any layers. Nobody ever said “I wonder what he is thinking”.

In a world full of modern marketing, my dad was a throwback. You might have wondered if he was frozen in 1958 because there he was, as he was, caring not how fast the world was turning as long his tomatoes were ripe, or the Redskins were beating the Cowboys. I find myself hoping very anxiously that someone saved his horseradish recipe.


Was my Dad perfect? No. Raise your hand if you are perfect.  A view of a life has to be the long view and not a snapshot of either a man’s best day or his worst day. True, I will think of him every time it is Father’s day, every time the Fighting Irish take the field and everytime I see someone wearing untied combat boots with no socks but I will let the rest of you catalog the days of his life, I want to talk about his purpose in life.

There were certain principles he sought to instill in us . Those principles are what live on today, and for the next generation and the next after that. We did not lose my Dad on February 25th, the day we lose those principles will be the day we lose my Dad.

The family is what he always sought above anything else in this world. The good times we had were embodied in the simple things and the bad times we had were borne with patience.  Families go through trials and tribulations and I don’t bring that up to dwell on the bad. Far from it. The reason I bring it up is because it was from the tough times that I learned the most valuable lessons from my dad and I think the rest of my family would agree. 

You didn’t lie to improve your lot in life and you didn’t steal either. Respect, honor and integrity were not optional. There was no discussion to be had on the matter. In the Benko home, right was right and wrong was wrong and that was just all there was to it.

 I never saw my Dad cheat a man out of a penny, not one time. He took up his cross every day, soldiered on and lived by his principles.

He endured more than his fair share of disappointment and family strife. If we want to honor this man, we must acknowledge these things, not to dwell on them but to profit from what he taught us during those times. If we can have the courage to do that, we can at last be able to stand in awe at this mountain of a man.

If I had to give a one word eulogy today, If I had to sum up my Father’s entire life in a single word, that word would be perseverance.

The real measure of this man is a man that NEVER gave up, that NEVER quit. I know. I stand with each one of you today, with Joy in my heart! Love and Joy for a man who was all about family. I know my Dad made peace with his family and peace with God before he left this world and those two things- and nothing else- are what truly matter.

I do not know how my Dad would rank in the world’s estimation, but that doesn’t concern me anymore than it concerned him.  My father taught us that honesty and integrity were the bedrock principles of what life is really about. This, and the faith my mother instilled in me are the two biggest treasures of my life.

These were the simple things that brought simple joy to a simple life. I long for those simpler days. I’m guessing some of you do as well. These were the days before I-Phones and Facebook when my Dad would fire up the old wood stove with 30 people in the house. For those of you who don’t know, some people put a log on the fire, my Dad would put the whole tree. His strategy was to make it 72 upstairs by making it 120 downstairs.

What should we take from today? First, to my mom, let me pledge the devotion of all the brothers and the rest of the Benko clan. We pledge to you the same unshakable devotion that Dad gave to you. You are the matriarch of this family and we love you with all our hearts.

To all the rest of you, here is how I think you should honor this man. Be real as he was real. Be honest as he was honest. Act with integrity as he acted with integrity and, most of all…MOST OF ALL forgive, as he forgave. Forgive anyone who needs your forgiveness. That is what he would want.

Learn from his lesson and understand that we are all in this together. We are each imperfect individually but together, we are a legacy.  Forgive. That is how to honor him.

Thanks Dad, for showing us the way (point to the sky).


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