Monday, November 24, 2014

U2?


If you've had your finger on the pulse of our culture in the last few years, then you've certainly become aware of one particular movement, a certain throb in the veins of the zeitgeist as it flows through the muscles of the news and media outlets that surround us; it’s a fixation on homosexuality.

We have been inundated of late by politics, popular music, film, television, and even the world of business and finance with anything and everything “gay.” The scope indeed seems all encompassing, from an official proclamation from the President in 2009 declaring June to be "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month” to the most recent announcement of Apple's CEO Tim Cook on Oct. 30: "I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.”

Just a few weeks ago, U2 released the cover art for their new album, Songs of Innocence (pictured above). The image is one of two shirtless men in an intimate embrace, with an older man’s head close to the waist of the younger, pressing his cheek against his stomach.

When I first laid eyes on it, as it scrolled through the carousel of album covers in the iTunes store on my computer, I had an immediate and involuntary response. “You too?” I shook my head, as other images flanking the U2 album, appeared. Many were of nearly naked women, or bare-chested men, in hyper-sexualized positions.

St. John Paul II in his Theology of the Body invited us into a mature attentiveness to those “immediate and involuntary responses” that come to us from the stimuli of our everyday encounters with people. He says we must “distinguish between what, on the one hand, makes up the manifold richness of masculinity and femininity in the signs that spring from their perennial call and creative attraction and what, on the other hand, bears only the sign of concupiscence (lust).” (TOB 48:4)

Mindful of my immediate response to the cover of the U2 album, Songs of Innocence, I set out on a little research and dug deeper. I discovered the two men were, in fact, father and son. The older man is Larry Mullen Jr, U2’s drummer, and the younger man, who bears a shining cross around his neck, is his son. I recalled again the name of the album, Songs of Innocence. In all honesty, I felt both manipulated by the media for having conditioned me to expect such intimacy to be eroticized, and also ashamed of my own accusatory look.

Back to St. John Paul II. “… Although within certain limits these variants and nuances of inner movements of the “heart” can be confused with each other, it should nonetheless be said that the inner man is called by Christ to reach a more mature and complete evaluation that allows him to distinguish and judge the various movements of his own heart. One should add that this task can be carried out and that it is truly worthy of man.” (TOB 48:4)

Let’s return to the stimulus that started this whole reflection. Same sex attraction and homosexuality have indeed become a dominating topic in the culture today. I think many people who don’t experience same sex attraction have their our own knee-jerk reactions that could be summed up in two ways; the “concerned” and “conservative” believer might draw back from discussions on homosexual inclinations and cling to the objective truth in Scripture and Tradition and approach no further. A “progressive” or “liberal” person might accept another’s subjective feelings (and any subsequent actions coming from them) as personal goods for them and so stand off from any judgement or condemnation. In a certain sense, they also keep their distance. But what do we make of these two reactions? Does either actually help man to reach that “more mature and complete evaluation that allows him to distinguish and judge the various movements of his own heart”? Do either of these responses press in beyond one’s desires to the core identity of the person? Are we defined by our desires or by our decisions?

In the midst of the seemingly endless spotlighting of all things “gay”, I know there is another way that goes deeper than the mere acceptance of our desires; a third way. A chaste, “attraction” to someone of the same sex, to be clear, can be a beautiful thing. It’s called friendship. It is in fact foundational for all of us to enter into and experience this gift. It’s an intimacy that doesn’t require the joining of bodies to facilitate the joining of hearts. Deeper still, it is equally and even more foundational that the fundamental embrace, that of a father and a son, be experienced anew. St. John Paul II wrote that the “ultimate purpose of mission is to enable people to share in the communion which exists between the Father and the Son.” (St. John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, 23)

The intimate bond between a father and a son is the penultimate encounter that prefigures our ultimate embrace by the Heavenly Father. U2’s latest album cover, in capturing this connection, has offered us a very provocative image. It can serve as a kind of litmus test to the interior reactions in our hearts. What is our response to this image? What desires are stirred in us? What decisions must we make to begin the road home?

"And I'm a long way from your hill on Calvary
And I'm a long way from where I was, where I need to be…"
- U2, Song for Someone




____________________________

Originally posted on the TOBI blog!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Brittany Maynard and the Way of the Cross

Brittany Maynard was a 29 year old woman who, on Sunday, November 2, 2014, decided to take her own life before a terminal brain cancer took it first. She became a kind of heroine of "the right to die” movement, and has been praised by an astounding number of people from across the globe for the “courageous” way in which she took charge of her life, and died the way she wanted to die.

The picture most often connected with Brittany’s story (above) captures her in a seemingly shining moment of life; happy, a beaming smile, cuddling her dog, relaxing in a deckchair under the sun. 

In addition to leaving behind a husband and some extended family members, she also left the world with this assemblage of final words from her Facebook account:

“Goodbye to all my dear friends and family that I love. Today is the day I have chosen to pass away with dignity in the face of my terminal illness, this terrible brain cancer that has taken so much from me … but would have taken so much more. The world is a beautiful place, travel has been my greatest teacher, my close friends and folks are the greatest givers. I even have a ring of support around my bed as I type… It is people who pause to appreciate life and give thanks who are happiest. If we change our thoughts, we change our world! Love and peace to you all… Goodbye world. Spread good energy. Pay it forward!”

Then Brittany took her meds and slipped away. Before the loss of control of her bodily functions, before the awkwardness of being carted around in a wheelchair, before the embarrassment of having her bedpan changed, of being washed and groomed each day by hands other than her own, she escaped. The burning fire of human suffering would not touch her. She would not taste again that childlike dependence that illness and disease thrust into our freedom and independence. Only that beaming picture of Brittany, healthy and strong, would remain. She took control.

When I watched Brittany’s final video, and looked at that beautiful face in the photograph, another face came to mind for me. It was a face of pain from the winter of 2005; another person with a debilitating disease who appeared on our screens, in our newspapers, on the internet. This was a sorrowful face, drooling, having lost control of his bodily functions. I saw the awkwardness of his being carted around in a wheelchair. He was washed and groomed each day by hands other than his own. He was St. John Paul II.  

I remember in those days, voices calling out for him to step away, to retire, to let go, to stop the pain, or at least spare us all of having to witness it. Many wondered why he persisted in that public display. Why does he allow himself to appear so broken, so dependent, so weak on the world’s stage? 

Decades before his decline, in his Theology of the Body, St. John Paul II wrote “These reflections do not include many problems that, with regard to their object, belong to the theology of the body (as, for example, the problem of suffering and death, so important in the biblical message)” (TOB 133:1). How prophetic that those reflections would be written on the very parchment of his flesh in those final days? It would be his very body, broken and carrying the weight of the world that would teach us about the mystery of suffering and how it should be lived? That via dolorosa was his final homily. At St. John Paul II’s bedside, a friend by the name of Cardinal Ratzinger told a gathering of concerned souls, ”The Pope is fully in control of the Church and is now governing it from his bed of pain.”

There is so much here. Concepts and ideas that are fundamental to the human project, to our deepest identity. The problem of evil, of human suffering, of freedom and of purpose. We ask ourselves what good is suffering? Is it useless? Is it an evil to be avoided at all costs? Can it actually be escaped? And would that escape be a worthy path for the human heart? For the follower of Christ, human life is fully revealed in Christ, who Himself entered our pain and did not disdain it. He came to soak up that suffering, that very sting of death and nail it to the tree. Isn’t this via crucis, then, the very way we also must walk, taking up our cross daily to follow Him?

"I have meditated on all this and thought it through again during my stay in the hospital... I realized that I must lead the Church of Christ into the third millennium with prayer and through various activities, but I have also seen that it is not enough. It is also necessary to lead by suffering.... The Pope must suffer, so that the world may see that there is a higher gospel, as it were, the gospel of suffering, by which the future is prepared..."
- St. John Paul II

Suffering is an unavoidable reality. In a fallen world, it may well be the very chisel with which we are sculpted into the sons and daughters of the Father. Suffering knocks away our arrogance, our pride, and it teaches us, purifies us, reminds us of our need for others, and of our radical dependence on the Divine Healer.

Every single human person suffers. We can either repress it and try to run away from this consuming fire or we can enter into it like the three young men in the Book of Daniel. It is here, it is part of human life, and if God allows it then it must have a purpose. According to St. John Paul II, this man who had quite his fair share of suffering in life, that purpose is one we cannot afford to lose.

“Suffering is present in the world in order to release love, in order to give birth to works of love towards one’s neighbor, in order to transform the whole of human civilization into a ‘civilization of love.’ ”
- St. John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris, 30

The mystery of suffering. The incapacitating power of it astounds and confounds us. It's power makes us powerless. But in that powerlessness, we can learn that childlike dependence on God and others that is literally a prerequisite to the glory to come in Heaven! If we open our hearts to this mystery and ask what is has to teach us, then that power of love will become our own. The floodgates of grace will be unlocked by our open hearts, our prayer and our sacrifice. Untold riches can flood the world. We have seen all of this before. Christ led the way for us. He is the Way! He is the Suffering Servant. So rather than run from this fire of suffering, let us with the Son of Man enter into it. This is truly the only way through it. The path to Easter Joy is through the sorrow of our own Good Friday.

“Nightmares evaporate like mist in sunshine, fears dissolve and suffering vanishes when the whole human being becomes praise and trust, expectation and hope. This is the strength of prayer when it is pure, intense, and total abandonment to God our provident Redeemer.”
- St. John Paul II, General Audience, July 10, 2002


For the soul of Brittany Maynard, and for all of the souls of the departed, that the blood and water of Divine Mercy might cleanse and wash over them all, let us pray!

________________________________

First published at www.TOBinstitute.org

Monday, November 03, 2014

The Humanum Series... Coming Mid-November

LOST and Found in Heaven


 
"Brothers and sisters: You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God..."
- St. Paul, Ephesians 2:19

Sometimes, when I'm boarding a plane to somewhere, I have this strange recurring thought; what if this trip turned into an episode of LOST?

Remember ABC's smash hit series about a motley bunch of airline passengers from all walks of life and all manner of back stories, who find themselves stranded on a "deserted" island? We learned as the series progressed about all of the baggage (no pun intended) that these passengers brought with them. Soon enough, original sin reared its ugly head in that island paradise and fear, and fighting, and grasping was par for every episode.

In the fifth episode of Season 1, Jack Shephard, one of the leaders quelled an uproar among the survivors with what became an iconic line for the entire series:

“If we can't live together, we're gonna die alone."

If this isn't the perennial challenge for humanity in every age, I don't know what is! But how can it be that such an incongruous gaggle of people as we could ever live as one? Can we ever find unity? We, like the characters in LOST, have so much baggage! Pope Francis has a thought in his apostolic exhortation that I believe is perfect for our age, and offers a challenge through the words of our spiritual shepherd not unlike the words of Jack Shephard.
"Appearances notwithstanding, every person is immensely holy and deserves our love... We achieve fulfilment when we break down walls and our heart is filled with faces and names!"
- Pope Francis, Joy of the Gospel, #274

On Saturday, November 1, we celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints. Now if this isn't the perennial challenge for humanity in every age! To see, to know, to be the communion God dreamed us to be "in the beginning." And it's possible in and through and by the power of Love. To enable this connection, we have to face the right direction. It's not an inward looking gaze, myopic, me-centered on only my survival. The way up to Heaven, to this holy communion of saints, starts with a gaze out of "the closed, inward looking self" as Pope Benedict put it, through love! For we all know the famous line that "no man is an island", especially the LOST fans. Every man and woman is called to the mainland, to that blessed country where we will know and be known, see and be seen, and we will let go of all of that baggage that we've borne for so long. And enter, unencumbered, the Great Dance...

"...The core of all being, the inmost secret of all reality, is the divine communion."- Pope Francis, Lumen Fidei, 45 

So to the heavenly "cloud of witnesses" of every age, to all you holy men and women, pray for us!


______________________________________________
First published at the Theology of the Body Institute blog

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Saving Iraq

The following is a heart-felt letter from a dear friend of our family, Mother Olga Yaqob. Please read, make any I effort you can to assist, and share with as many people as you can to help these poor souls at this horrific hour of their crucifixion. 
_____________________________

“We are one human family whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological  differences. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, wherever they may be.”
- USCCB on Solidarity

Dear Brother and Sisters,
Peace and blessing to you. I pray this letter finds you all well. First, I wanted to take this time to express my deep gratitude to you, your families, your parishes and your communities for your care and prayerful support for the people of Iraq, who have suffered such a catastrophic tragedy in recent weeks. 

Second, inspired by today’s request from Pope Francis: “I ask all Catholic parishes and communities to offer a special prayer this weekend for Iraqi Christians,” I thought to ask for your assistance through prayers and, if it’s possible, through sharing this email with others.  Saint John Paul II said on December 30, 1987, “The ‘evil mechanisms’ and ‘structures of sin’ can be overcome only through the exercise of the human and Christian solidarity to which the Church calls us and which she tirelessly promotes. Only in this way can such positive energies be fully released for the benefit of development and peace.” 

It is my prayer and hope that our spiritual communion in praying for those who are suffering will become a seed of solidarity that, hopefully, one day, will grow into a more peaceful world for generations to come. 

As a servant of God and His people, I have served the Iraqi people from a very young age all through four wars. In those years, inspired by the teaching of Blessed Charles de Foucauld on universal brotherhood, I made an effort to learn four other local languages besides my Aramaic native language in order to be of service to all: Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, Chaldeans, and Armenians. Given the large percentage of Muslim communities in Iraq, I also chose to study Islam according to the tradition of both Shias and Sunnis, for two years so as to be of service to them. Through those years of serving in various villages and among many different ethnic groups and tribes, I became a strong believer of the power of solidarity that creates a bridge for healing and reconciliation.

The devastating reality of the last month and a half in Iraq stirred up in my heart the old memories from my homeland. In the last few weeks, despite the darkness of hatred, revenge, persecution, humiliation and death, I could not let go of the hope that the light of healing, reconciliation, human respect and honor of each others’ religion and tradition, that I saw for decades of growing up in a land that is made up of all these tribes, ethnic groups, and religious communities, would not be extinguished.  It was my confidence in this hope that led me to reach out to most of you, other religious and humanitarian organizations, and most of all, to have a daily contact with the Catholic leaders in Iraq.

These are some of the ways that we, together, can help build solidarity for peace:

1) Prayer: Yesterday, August 8th, the USCCB invited all the Catholic Dioceses in America to pray in a special way for peace in Iraq on August 17th. I was moved to tears of gratitude on behalf of all my beloved people in Iraq.

2) Raising awareness of people around us about the truth of this tragedy. Invite people to stay connected and informed. You are welcome to share the videos and the article below to help people be aware of the suffering that is taking place in Iraq.  

A 14-minute interview on EWTN:

A 9-minute video that I put together as a tribute for the Iraqi people:

An interview article by Our Sunday Visitor Catholic newspaper:

2) Donations. I'm sure there are many good organizations that are trying to help. One of them is Catholic Relief Services, who has already established a special fund for Iraq. http://emergencies.crs.org/iraqi-families-flee-from-violence/

Though I consider myself like a small voice crying in the wilderness of so much pain, I am confident that “the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” This light of my hope has never diminished because of each one of you, your powerful prayers and spiritual support to the people of Iraq, and your leadership in raising awareness about the need to pray for peace. 
With the assurance of my daily prayers for you and your loved ones I conclude my letter of gratitude to all of you and all the other American Bishops with the words of a traditional hymn (A Song of Peace):“May truth and freedom come to every nation;
may peace abound where strife has raged so long;
that each may seek to love and build together,
a world united, righting every wrong;
a world united in its love for freedom,
proclaiming peace together in one song.”

Gratefully yours in the Sacred Hearts of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,

Mother Olga of the Sacred Heart, mother servant of the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth
Let us live for God alone, 

love Jesus without limit and 
“cry the Gospel with our whole life.” 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

7 Reasons Why Theology of the Body Must be at the Center of the World Meeting of Families

1. St. John Paul II's Theology of the Body offers the most comprehensive understanding of our creation as male and female and our call to the life-giving communion of persons known as the family. 

2. It was the first major catecheses of the Bishop of Rome, John Paul II, shepherd of the universal Church, and one he slowly unpacked over a five year period at the beginning of his pontificate with incredible precision and passion.

3. The assassination attempt on St. John Paul II took place in the middle of those catecheses. That's got to mean something.

4. The theme for the World Meeting of Families is "Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive!" The Theology of the Body's central theme, which runs like a ribbon through all of his other work, is the family, as St. John Paul II wrote in his Letter to Families, 19; "The Church cannot therefore be understood as the Mystical Body of Christ... unless we keep in mind the "great mystery" involved in the creation of man as male and female and the vocation of both to conjugal love, to fatherhood and to motherhood."

5. The Theology of the Body reveals how masculinity and femininity are "not only a source of fruitfulness and of procreation, as in the whole natural order," but contain "the power to express love: precisely that love in which the human person becomes gift and - through this gift - fulfills the very meaning of his being and existence." (St. John Paul II, TOB, Jan. 16, 1980)  Wow, I'd recommend reading that one again.


6. St. John Paul II once whispered to a friend at a meal that if he were remembered at all, he wanted to be remembered as the Pope of the Family, and the World Meeting of Families was in fact his idea starting back in 1992.

7. See reasons 1-6 above.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Let Us Make God in Our Image, After Our Likeness 'Cause It'd Be Awesome

This might hurt your brain, but stay with me friends.

Imagine if he came the way we wanted him to? Imagine if Jesus answered the problem of evil with a punch rather than his paschal mystery?

He would've kicked the devil's butt. He would've been ripped, with muscles on top of his muscles. A combination of brains and brawn. Bolder than Bourne, slicker than Spider-Man, more convicted than Captain America and every move in slo-mo. The lance set to pierce his heart on the Cross would've bounced off and snapped like a toothpick! Nothing would break him. He'd have busted up the Romans and religious leaders in a Divine Smackdown the likes of which the world had never seen!

"Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?" (Luke 9:54)

"Yes, I do. Let's kick some taḥat!" (Luke 9:55, revised)

Yes, if God were made in man's image... we'd all be wowed, then bored to tears. 

"That was awesome! What else is on?”

I saw the latest X-Men film this weekend, and it was awesome. Don't get me wrong, Rebecca and I will be watching this chain of films until we're 90 (because they'll still be making this franchise when we're 90)! Lots of fun, lots of flash and fireworks, classic good versus evil (though the characters are getting morally foggier these days, aren't they?) and then the credits rolled. Fade to black until another new translation of the same old, same old throws its glowing flashes on our sedentary faces. (There was a remarkable and refreshing gem in this X-Men film though.... wait for it ;)

Last night's movie, scheduled as a 9:10 viewing, didn't actually start until about 9:30. It was preceded by 20 minutes of previews. Most of these were coming attractions for the same perennial distractions. Stuff blowing up, slow motion acrobatics, killing, fighting, quelling evil forces with opposite force, which then ushers in a fragile peace until the sequel. Now, what I find reassuring as a "theological anthropologist" (my unofficial job title) is the recognition that bad needs to be broken. We must fight evil and rescue that which is good. This is a theme so deeply engrained in our stories. But "making right" has a better word and a more effective one than the firing of bullets; it's redemption. 


This word changes everything. and it all goes back to that paradigm shift when Christ first hit our "fault line" with the tectonic shift of gratuitous grace. Those aftershocks still reverberate throughout human history, backwards and forwards. Our realignment comes now by our allowing ourselves to be set into this new geographic configuration by faith, not fists. Retaliation and redemption are two very different answers to the problem of evil.

Point is this: There must be a fight. There will be blood. There must be. To quote the Princess Bride for the thirteenth time on this blog, "Life is pain... anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something." But it's all about what we do with the blood and pain and suffering that comes from that first punch. 

The amount of blood and violence and suffering in our blockbuster movies today is staggering, but honestly it's no more staggering than the battles and death in the Bible, especially, uh, the crucifixion. In this latest X-Men film, however, a powerful twist enters in and truly redeems suffering in a beautiful way.


In a climactic scene (slight spoiler alert here) between young Charles Xavier and old Charles Xavier, we receive a pearl of wisdom on how to treat our "enemy"... how to open up to a peace that just might have the power to stick, finally, after so much fighting; 




"The greatest gift we have is to bear their pain without breaking and it comes from your most human part, hope." 
- Charles Xavier


Wow. The scene has so much more to it, but I want you to go and taste it for yourself.

So back to Jesus... who is the quintessence of this kind of compassion (which means to suffer with).

Recall he came the way the Father wanted him to. He answered the problem of evil not with a punch, but with his paschal mystery. He took the punch, and let it penetrate him (literally in fact break him), through and through. "Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave... becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross." (Philippians 2:7-8)

This is the "movie" that continues to truly move me. And with an ever building sense of joy and Easter hope, all the while trying to unite my own personal small bit of suffering to his, I'm looking forward to the sequel!

"In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.”
- John 16:33

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

To Be Inspired and Inflamed

video

This July 9-11, there will be a gathering in historic Philadelphia, PA, of renowned experts and enthusiasts on the incredible thought of St. John Paul II. He devoted the first major teaching project of his pontificate – 129 short talks between September of 1979 and November of 1984 – to providing a profoundly beautiful vision of human embodiment and erotic love. He gave this project the working title “Theology of the Body.” Far from being a footnote in the Christian life, the way we understand the body and the sexual relationship “concerns the whole Bible” (TOB 69:8). It plunges us into “the perspective of the whole Gospel, of the whole teaching, even more, of the whole mission of Christ” (TOB 49:3). Christ’s mission, according to the spousal analogy of the Scriptures, is to “marry” us. He invites us to live with him in an eternal life-giving union of love. The repercussions of this teaching, in essence of the Gospel itself, are boundless, touching every person in every walk of life with the positive, hope-filled joy of the Gospel that truly sets women and men free to love. Our three days together in July includes:

• More than 30 seminars, roundtable discussions, expert panels and keynotes;

• Sharing and collaboration between key Theology of the Body leaders, catechists, Church leaders and teachers from around the country;

• Catholic vendors specializing in Theology of the Body-related products;

• Two breakfasts, a luncheon, two dinners, and a special awards presentation;

• Eucharistic adoration, reconciliation, and daily Mass celebrated at the Basilica Cathedral of SS Peter and Paul

- See more at: http://tobcongress.com/program/#sthash.I6PmyrLb.dpuf


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Pope Saint and Fatima


Taken from Jason Evert's excellent new book, St. John Paul the Great: His Five Loves


"May 13, 1981 was a typical Wednesday in the Vatican. As was his custom, John Paul invited guests for lunch, hosting the renowned French geneticist Jerome Lejeune and his wife to discuss Natural Family Planning and other pro-life matters. After the usual course of afternoon meetings and prayer, he descended to Saint Peter's Square to participate in his weekly Wednesday audience with the faithful. He was approaching the halfway mark of his lectures on the Theology of the Body.


He climbed aboard the Popemobile and crisscrossed through Saint Peter's Square, kissing babies and blessing the 20,000 pilgrims who had gathered to see him. At 5:17 P.M., moments after blessing a two-year-old girl and handing her back to her elated parents, blasts from a 9mm semiautomatic pistol rang out. Pigeons throughout the square scattered skyward as John Paul fell backward into the arms of his secretary, Monsignor Dziwisz.


One bullet fractured two bones in his left index finger and passed through his abdomen before exiting through his sacrum and coming to rest in the Popemobile. Another bullet grazed his right arm, and two American women in the crowd were injured. His assailant, Mehmet Ali Agća, was a trained twenty-three year-old Turkish gunman who had been incarcerated for murdering a journalist. Three days before the Pope's visit to Turkey in 1979, Agća escaped from an Istanbul prison and sent a letter to the Turkish newspaper Milliyet, stating that if the papal visit is not canceled, "I will without doubt kill the Pope-Chief. This is the sole motive for my escape from prison."


Although the Istanbul daily paper printed the letter on its front page, John Paul moved ahead with his plans and safely made his apostolic pilgrimage. However, Agća was determined to follow through on his threat. He arrived in Rome two years later, on May 9, and stayed at the Pensione Isa hotel, a fifteen-minute walk from the Vatican. Over the next few days, he examined Saint Peter's Square and developed his strategy for murdering the pontiff. After the assassination attempt, police searched his room and discovered a note that declared, "I have killed the Pope."


After the gunshots were fired, the Popemobile fled the scene and John Paul was transferred into the familiar ambulance. Dziwisz climbed beside him and could hear him praying, "O Maria, Madonna! Maria, Madonna! Mary, my Mother..."


In Saint Peter's Square, as the faithful were praying for his survival, a group of Polish pilgrims took an icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa and placed it beside the empty seat that the Holy Father would have sat upon during his audience. A gust of wind blew it over, and a bystander noticed the inscription on the back of the image, which had been written days or weeks earlier: "May Our Lady protect the Holy Father from Evil."


After healing, John Paul desired to express his thanks to the Virgin Mary for protecting his life. He took one of the bullets that struck him and gave it to the bishop of Fatima, who placed it among the gems in the crown of the statue of Our Lady of Fatima.


Several biographers have noted that it was a perfect fit. Uno Zani explained, "To everyone's surprise, it was not even necessary to make a place for it, because there was already a hole in the crown into which the bullet fit perfectly, as if it had been designed that way." 

In Saint Peter's Square, he installed a mosaic icon of the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child, overlooking the Papal Apartments, with the words of his motto, Totus Tuus, inscribed beneath it. The image was installed in remembrance of the assassination attempt, but it also filled a need that the Pope realized before the attempt on his life occurred: of all the statues that surround Saint Peter's Square, there wasn't a single image of the Blessed Mother."

- Jason Evert, St. John Paul the Great: His Five Loves

Saturday, April 19, 2014

When God Sleeps

Epic fail. It didn't work. He's dead at only 33. His own disowned him. Betrayed, his friends abandoned him. What a waste. Everything the Lord did in his life on earth was meant to be a kind of catechism for us. His every divine word but also his divine actions were an answer to the mystery of human life for us; after all, he came to teach us how to live. "Jesus Christ fully reveals man to himself, and makes his supreme calling clear." (Gaudium et Spes, 22) The birth in poverty. Jesus the toddler. Jesus the teenager. The blue collar work. The callused hands. The hidden years, all 18 of them. The lack of formal "education" and having anything written down for posterity. Then the false accusations. The criminal's death. The awkward silence of Holy Saturday. But we know now he was waiting. In silence. For a Jew, three days meant the soul had definitely left the body. He was dead. The "prayers" of the embalming perfumes set in, and soaked his dead flesh in the darkness of that tomb. One hundred pounds of oils the gospel said, enough for a kings burial. But a waste. Spilled over a dead man. Sealed and scented by no one. 
Have we felt the silence of Holy Saturday in our lives? The cold echo of prayers places in tombs? Have we learned nothing from the God of parables? The seed must die, buried in the dank earth, and wait. Time must tick. The Lord will respond in his time, not ours. The key is, keep showing up. Stay awake even when it seems Christ himself cannot "watch one hour with you." This tomb of hollow prayers must be visited. We must go through the motions, as it were, even when it appears as if death, silence, failure is all there is. Stay awake even when God sleeps. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Naked Christ

"It's scandalous to see this nearly naked Christ," some critics said, as the story goes, when an initial draft of Ford Madox Brown's Christ Washing the Feet of Peter was viewed. Brown lived through the majority of the 19th century as an English painter in a Victorian climate, where the sight of a woman's ankle might be seen as improper. It's ironic to think that those whom Christ stripped himself to serve would be scandalized, not by his act of love, but by his physical appearance. When Peter was scandalized, it was because of his interior unworthiness. The Victorians were shocked by his exterior "impropriety."   
What does this tell us? It tells us that we have issues, in every time and place, with the realm of sexuality and the body. Deeper still, with the realm of trust and vulnerability, of which nakedness is the physical sign. Nakedness is a spousal call to see the other, to enter into the vulnerable mystery of the other.  And it tells us that the Messiah, the Heavenly Bridegroom, will do anything to get our attention. He will play the fool, he will strip down and serve, he'll make himself that vulnerable. And he'll also make it clear that he wants us to see him, to know him. He will reveal himself to us, in all of the vulnerability of a lover to his beloved bride. He wants to come close. So close to us. 

I wonder how the Victorians would've reacted to the true history of Roman crucifixtion. The victims were too often left naked on those crosses, shamed and publicly humiliated. But for Jesus, as Augustine tells us, this was the moment where the cross turned into a "marriage bed." The cross is the crux where all horizontal earthly love meets the power of the vertical love of a God that rushed down in love to be with us! And this perfect love has no fear! Like the first Adam in the beginning, Christ the second Adam is "naked without shame" and he like Adam was called to "cleave to his wife, so the two could become one flesh"... 

Like Peter then, we must loosen our grip, let the blood flow back into our clenched knuckles and allow The Lord to love us. Totally, humbly, wholly His Way. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Clarity of Christ, the Muddiness of Man

"So Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.”"
- John 13

When I was "discerning" my vocation I was an expert in mental gymnastics. I could think myself into a million different moves, different scenarios, in and out of twists and turns, yet ironically ending up in the same place every time. In my starting position, on the mat. 

Gathering information is great. We all need to do a little recon now and then in life before a major leap. Like Caleb and Joshua in the book of Numbers, we gather our intel on our expedition into Canaan. But when they reported their findings, and spoke with their own clarity about the move (essentially they were the only ones saying "Let's do this!"), the muddiness of mental gymnastics began. The others spread discouraging reports "Well, uh, they're uh... giants. They'll eat us. Yeah. We need to reconsider this."

"Caleb, however, quieted the people before Moses and said, “We ought to go up and seize the land, for we can certainly prevail over it.” 
- Numbers 14

"So Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.”"
- John 13

We can be our own worst enemy. Fear can sap the strongest heart. When we know the good, we ought to do the good rather than rationalize ourselves into a little corner of inaction. (PS - I really stink at this, which is why I'm writing about it right now.) This Holy Week the Passion dawns in its perennial newness, in deep blood-red hues spreading over the weak world. 

What shall we do as the great God descends? Run and hide? Deny even knowing him? Or follow along in his footprints like the beloved disciple? Time is of the essence. The hour is at hand. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Our Tangible God


As Passion Week continues to unfold, let's pay attention to the exquisite details of the gospels: the whole drama of emotion, the full gamut of fear and faith, cowardice and conviction. This is the long awaited confrontation of the incarnate God and His rebellious creatures. This is the centerpiece of the triptych of human history: our redemption pulsating like a jewel of red fire between the two pillars of our origin in grace and our destiny. Our challenge is to stand in the gap, allowing Our Lord to right our wrongs in and through His sacred flesh. His body and soul. 

"Our culture has lost its sense of God’s tangible presence and activity in our world. We think that God is to be found in the beyond, on another level of reality, far removed from our everyday relationships. But if this were the case, if God could not act in the world, his love would not be truly powerful, truly real, and thus not even true, a love capable of delivering the bliss that it promises. It would make no difference at all whether we believed in him or not. Christians, on the contrary, profess their faith in God’s tangible and powerful love which really does act in history and determines its final destiny: a love that can be encountered, a love fully revealed in Christ’s passion, death and resurrection."
- Pope Francis, Lumen Fidei, 17

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Perfecting Our Passion


Today the Passion narrative was read at Mass for this Palm or Passion Sunday. My thoughts always turn to those brilliant scenes in the film of the century, The Passion of the Christ. This still frame takes place in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus, Peter, James and John spend an anxious hour of prayer, anticipating a new Passover. Temple guards approach with weapons and lights. Masterly woven together, three figures move past each other like dark threads in the cloak of the night: Peter, Judas, and a temple guard. Peter stands still, Judas is retreating, and the temple guard is pressing forward to lay hands on the Christ, the Son of God. All three have a passion that intertwines their destiny, but it's misdirected so that the result will be a frayed and inconsistent stitch.  

Judas' passion is for money (we know he stole from the communal stash), for success, and for the earthly power and authority he thinks Jesus can win for this rugged band of fisherman. 

The temple guard's passion is for peace and for order, but he will stop at nothing, not even innocence, to keep the Pharisees in control and the Jewish subculture alive under the shadow of the Romans. 

Peter's passion is purest but falters in the end. Why? Why deny him? Why run? Was he relying on his own strength? 

Only Jesus has a Passion that can carry him all the way to the conflagration of the cross, there to be lifted up to draw all men to himself. This is the proper goal of passion; the perfection of passion. This is what will be unravelled again this Holy Week for the world to see. For Christians hearts to meditate on. Passion must lead out and beyond, beyond ourselves, beyond petty pleasures. Passion must take us to the fires of Heaven, even as it passes first through the fires of suffering and death here below. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Stretching Our Hearts


Pope Benedict once wrote that "Man was created for greatness - for God himself; he was created to be filled by God. But his heart is too small for the greatness to which it is destined. It must be stretched. (St. Augustine said) “By delaying [his gift], God strengthens our desire; through desire he enlarges our soul and by expanding it he increases its capacity [for receiving him]”. Augustine refers to Saint Paul, who speaks of himself as straining forward to the things that are to come. He then uses a very beautiful image to describe this process of enlargement and preparation of the human heart. “Suppose that God wishes to fill you with honey [a symbol of God's tenderness and goodness]; but if you are full of vinegar, where will you put the honey?" The vessel, that is your heart, must first be enlarged and then cleansed, freed from the vinegar and its taste."


"This requires hard work and is painful, but in this way alone do we become suited to that for which we are destined. Even if Augustine speaks directly only of our capacity for God, it is nevertheless clear that through this effort by which we are freed from vinegar and the taste of vinegar, not only are we made free for God, but we also become open to others. It is only by becoming children of God, that we can be with our common Father."

And that's the path of sanctification. The journey of holiness. The life of prayer. 

"To pray is not to step outside history and withdraw to our own private corner of happiness. When we pray properly we undergo a process of inner purification which opens us up to God and thus to our fellow human beings as well." (Pope Benedict)

Friday, April 11, 2014

Unconnected Instants


We just left a wonderful little soirée for my mum, who just completed a whopping 32 years working for Deborah Heart & Lung Center in historic Browns Mills, NJ! An incredible achievement in this age of restlessness. The crowds of friends who came out to celebrate her showed gratitude and love for that dedication, and I saw some faces I haven't seen in decades. Some of them 30 years! (including the babysitter whom I once shot rubber bands at from the hallway, in my PJs, 'cause she brought her boyfriend). 

My mom's an amazing lady. And she has a heart of gold. And she so deserves this time of rest. I don't want to say she'll keep busy, because that's a thing we often say in a negative way as if the silence after leaving the working world is a scary thing that one has to incessantly fill lest we feel alone. No. Mom will fill it quite adequately, I'm sure, with good, creative, reflective rest and fruitful human activity. 

Now a quick jump to a divergent strain of thought that's full of irony. I know I'm a total Catholic Nerd because I'm always thinking about these things... and I'm certain it must come off as snobby at some level. Annoying even. But let me be the gadfly of this age of technolatry. I'm simultaneously one of its victims. 

In the bar, called "The Recovery" there were over 40 screens of varying sports, news, and other shows. Yes, 40. 

At our table, at one point, 4 out of 6 people were looking at their little baby smart phone screens. 

I'm just saying. It's interesting. It took me off on a different train and I drew my wife Rebecca along with me to see the view. 

J.R.R. Tolkien wouldn't sit in a pub that was playing a wireless radio because he felt it should be a place for human interaction. Faces and names. I think he would have called in the Ents to "release the River" on this place. 

Once man has lost the fundamental orientation which unifies his existence, he breaks down into the multiplicity of his desires; in refusing to await the time of promise, his life-story disintegrates into a myriad of unconnected instants. 
- Pope Francis, Lumen Fidei, 13

Again, this may be a strange juxtaposition of things. A retirement party in a place of endless sensory overload. But then again, maybe not. We must find peace in the eye of the storm. We must be recollected in the restlessness of modern life. Mom's good at that. She was on the move and didn't sit long tonight. But the beauty was in her connections with those faces and names. "I have to mingle," she said. "I should see more people." 

Amen mum! So should we all!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

“Santo Subito!”

The average wait to see him was 13 hours. The line was over 3 miles long. Over 150 cardinals concelebrated, 700 archbishops and bishops were present, and 3,000 priests participated.

It was the largest gathering of statesmen in human history. It was the first time an Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Church had attended a papal funeral since the Great Schism of 1054. 159 foreign delegations were in attendance, as were 10 kings, 5 queens, 3 princes, 59 heads of state, 17 prime ministers, 10 presidents, 8 vice presidents, 12 foreign ministers, 24 ambassadors, general directors, secretary generals or presidents of international organizations, 23 delegations of Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox Churches, 8 Churches or ecclesial communities, international Christian organizations, and Jewish delegations.

More than 3 million pilgrims came together in Rome for the funeral of Blessed John Paul II on April 8, 2005.* And the people cried “Santo subito!”

Loosely translated, it means “saint him now!” The process for beatification however could not, as it was written then, begin for at least another 5 years. Then add the further study of his writings and letters, a massive volume of work to be sure, and the wait for Heaven's signature in the form of a supernatural sign or miracle through John Paul's intercession. Was this cry for canonization coming, as some believed, too fast? Was this pressure from the faithful crying out “santo subito” unwarranted?

It's often recalled when someone is in the midst of a struggle or crisis that “pressure makes diamonds.” Tremendous heat and tremendous pressure, applied to carbon deep in the heart of the earth will create exquisite, nearly unbreakable gemstones. God seems to have imprinted in so many physical realities and natural processes, lessons in matters of the human spirit; perfect parallels that can illuminate human life through a close examination of the biological. There are parables impregnated into the very fabric of the world if we allow ourselves to see them, and to hear them.


When one looks at the multi-faceted life and unbreakable character of Karol Wojtyla, the future St. Pope John Paul II, it would seem the pressures that surrounded him must have been nearly beyond comprehension; an unequaled intensity forged his character as surely as the carbon is heated and crushed by the primordial weight of the world. These pressures have created for us, and for Heaven, a gem of astounding beauty. The early suffering of losing his mother, brother, and father before the age of 21 might have been enough to crack a more fragile heart, but for young Karol it created early on a true sensitivity, and a tender affection for the Mother of God to whom he turned more deeply in prayer. The demonic fire of the Nazi regime, which ensnared many of his peers and close friends, literally forced him into an underground theater to act and to perform the noble qualities of his Polish heritage. That pressure gave him a deep loyalty to his native soil, which later would expand into a powerful respect and connection with the soil of other lands. He was known for kissing the ground as an act of respect and gratitude whenever he stepped off the airplane in his trips around the world. When the communist regime took over and applied pressure on his priesthood, it only served to create a body connected in deeper solidarity. In one of the many powerful scenes of his 27 year papacy, tear gas was thrown to break up the masses gathered outdoors for Holy Mass. As the panic mounted, a monsignor beside him whispered that he should perhaps take his leave before things became more violent. With unbreakable resolve, he halted, and full voice cried out to the crowd and to the gathering darkness, “Love is stronger! Love…is…stronger!”

To the end, this unbreakable quality in John Paul II would remain. He would, with a diamond's brilliance, catch the light of the Son and illuminate the places he would travel, and he would travel until the end. Only death, it would seem, could break him. And even there, he seemed not to yield, not to be crushed utterly but to rise again for another day. That final day, the one on which he would hand over his spirit and return to the Father's House would be the Feast of Divine Mercy. Like his Lord and Savior, he would hold out until that final piercing, when the rock would be struck and blood and water flow out.

This April 27, 2014, is another Divine Mercy Sunday. It has only been 9 years since his passing; a novena of years in which the Universal Church has been waiting, praying, hoping. And now we can all cry out anew, “Santo subito!”The day has come, and he wears the crown of everlasting splendor, and its light shines from the communion of saints on us all!

"You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, sardius, topaz, and diamond…On the day that you were created they were prepared…you were on the holy mountain of God; in the midst of the stones of fire you walked. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created…"
- Ezekiel 28:13-14


________________________
* Statistics taken from CNA

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

"You are Trying to Kill Me"

"But now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God..."
- John 8:40

I've always been fascinated by the two extreme reactions of people towards Jesus: adoration or desecration. Absolute wonder and awe that sought only to touch his hands or a blinding rage-filled hate that would drive a nail through them. 

Dr. Peter Kreeft wrote in his stellar book Jesus Shock:
"Those who meet Jesus always experience either joy or its opposites, either foretastes of Heaven or foretastes of Hell. Not everyone who meets Jesus is pleased, and not everyone is happy, but everyone is shocked." 

I've been following the Sr. Jane Dominic ordeal with a similar fascination. This dear sister came and proclaimed a truth about human sexuality in light of the plan of God for our joy. It was a young audience at Charlotte Catholic High School and time was very limited for such an intense topic. Granted, it needed time to breathe, time for questions and exploration, and that's been acknowledged. But a truth was spoken. And like the finger of a physician it touched a wound, and an angry body had a knee-jerk reaction. According to the comments and the news reports, no one seemed interested in the veracity of the studies Sr. Jane cited regarding the homosexual lifestyle. No one wanted a discussion and/or revelation that would have treated that wound or sought to address it at a subsequent meeting. They seemed only interested in silencing this Catholic nun, and letting it be known that they felt (they felt) that the Church should change it's teaching. 

I found it so providential that the first reading at Mass later that week (after the mob at CCHS) was from Wisdom 2: 

To us he is the censure of our thoughts; 
merely to see him is a hardship for us,
Because his life is not like that of others,
and different are his ways.
He judges us debased;
he holds aloof from our paths as from things impure.
He calls blest the destiny of the just
and boasts that God is his Father.

Just something to consider in this whole debate, this whole decision about speaking, teaching, living the Catholic faith in its fullness: If we want to really love Jesus, this shocking Jesus who could "bash" Pharisees and bedazzle prostitutes, trash temple money-changers and touch tenderly the blistered wounds of beggars, than what happened to Jesus must necessarily happen to us. 

“If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first... If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you..."
- John 15:18-20

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Why Jesus Lets Us Die

In an incredible gospel story for this Fifth Sunday of Lent, Jesus allows his friend to die, then begin to decompose in a tomb for nearly a week, before he takes any action. Why?

The story builds with a momentous slowness, layered with a variety of characters, details, and all of the pathos, anxieties, and questions that human suffering punches into the heart when death occurs. But Jesus stays right where he is, for two more days. He does nothing. Removed from the situation. Why? It's certainly not apathy. It's not laziness. I think it's Divine Mercy.

"Lord, if you had only been here."
"He healed others, why not his friend?"
"See how he loved him."
"Lord, surely there will be a stench."

Imagine how Jesus must have felt taking all of that in; all the doubt, fear, misplaced pity, and the ignorance of his true identity and power. But he takes it all in, and on himself, allowing the crushing weight of death to sink into his own heart, his listeners, his followers. "And Jesus wept." He invites them to feel. Makes them enter into the cold hollows of a rock hewn tomb, to sit and to wait in that place. 

Jesus allows Lazarus to die. God's permissive will allows so many of us to die, to be in periods of darkness, and to even dwell in those foul tombs where there seems to be absolutely no light, and no hope. But again, it's his Mercy. We are taken down to the depths so that we might realize our utter dependence on Him, our infinite thirst for Him. To see His glory. 

We have to die. We have to be laid in that tomb of our weakness and inadequacy. And then from the other side, from the light of a clear day whose timing He alone knows, from the beaming face of the Son, who is the light and the resurrection, He speaks. "Lazarus, come out!" 

And we rise. 

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Countdown to Canonization!


The great approaches! Come over to @TOBinstitute and follow our Countdown to Canonization pics as the day approaches!


"You Fill Up My Senses"


"God wants to reach us where we are, beginning with our senses, for it is he who created them and implanted them in us as our road to him... Like the sage in the parable, God never tires of bringing out of the treasure of his own Being (for what other treasure does God have?) the most unexpected gifts, whether in gold, stone, or humble wood."
- Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Holy Parenthood!!

In the midst of this morning's whirlwind of activities in preparation for a "normal" day, as Seth obsessed about his cars, delayed brushing his teeth, taking his inhaler, and eating "at least three grapes", Clare went from sweet to sour in seconds over which coat to wear, finally screeching both "I can do it ma'SELF!!!!" and "Do it FOR meeeeee!!!" and Sheila climbed up on top of the Cinderella chair and pulled down and scattered across the floor the "secret-box-for-tiny-toys-that-Sheila-could-swallow", I had this thought: 

If the morning ritual of preparing children for the day were fully embraced by moms and dads and lived with the heroic virtue it calls for, then all of purgatory could be emptied, our own hearts instantly sanctified (a kind of microwaveable mysticism), the eschaton hastened and salvation history brought to an abrupt but happy close in a matter of minutes. There. Done. Kick in the Nunc Dimittis chant cause this saint-making job is over! 

But alas, the scripture sayeth that the just man falls seven times a day, and daddy just lost it thrice in the last five minutes. Well, it's a process right, not a project ;)

My sister in law Christine, mommy to five, has a little plaque in her house that reads, "Cleaning the house while the kids are still growing is like shoveling snow while it's still snowing." 

Process. Journey. Stages through the ages of purification. Learning how to roll with it is the key; to roll with the often hilariously abrupt mood changes, likes and dislikes, emotions and attitudes. I think, and I might be totally off on this because I'm typing while holding Sheila who won't fall asleep, but I think its about letting go of our own control, saying less, being more.... Not expecting checks in little boxes that make one feel "successful" (checks in mailboxes are most welcome, however). 

Dr. Peter Kreeft nailed it when he said "The family is God's school of saint-making... You can't have a family and be selfish." Mommyhood and daddyhood are absolutely awful if you are trying to put your comfort first. Death traps, honestly. Children will and must destroy you, then remake you into one awesome unselfish person. Thank God. Anyone who imagines it's anything else is about to get grape jelly on their dress shirt.