Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Sacramental Vision

With Christians, a poetical view of things is a duty. We are bid to color all things with hues of faith, to see a divine meaning in every event. 
- John Cardinal Newman

This quote of Cardinal Newman's reveals the key for the interpretation of all reality. We are a mysterious harmony of flesh and spirit. We are not merely of this earth, but have, as it were, one foot in eternity. We are in fact, an embodied thirst for the Infinite! This truth explains the ache we feel in the face of beauty, or creation, of music, love, and even suffering and death. It defines the pull in our hearts for immortality. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, "Genuine beauty... gives man a healthy ‘shock’, it draws him out of himself, wrenches him away... from being content with the humdrum – it even makes him suffer, piercing him like a dart, but in so doing it ‘reawakens’ him, opening afresh the eyes of his heart and mind, giving him wings, carrying him aloft.”
- Pope Benedict XVI

This poetical view, this vision that pierces through flesh and bone to reveal the spirit, this is the lens through which we are called to perceive the world! It is a specifically Catholic vision, a sacramental vision; it shows us that the things we can se, and smell, and taste and touch are in a certain sense sacramental signs, visible realities housing invisible truths. In a certain sense, everything is a sacrament. Nature itself is a book that speaks of God. Shakespeare once wrote that we should "find tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything."

The truth about God "breathes" through creation, for He made it, and most of all through the creation of man and woman, made for life-giving love in the image of the Trinity. The body is a sacrament that proclaims the Mystery of God! It speaks, and our spiritual life, which animates and is knit inextricably to our physical life, is crowned with the gifts of intellect and will. But our reason and so much of what it gathers from the senses is like a rocket that can propel us only so high. Like a trapeze artist letting go, faith grasps our hands from above when reason can barely touch the fingertips. This is the path of the human person: to harmonize both faith and reason. To look with human eyes, to scrutinize with our intellect, and using reason like a launchpad, to leap into Love. 

This is a journey, as Pope Francis alludes to in his recent work, Laudato Si: “The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face. The ideal is not only to pass from the exterior to the interior to discover the action of God in the soul, but also to discover God in all things.”

The temptation today, as it always has been, is to divorce the marriage of the invisible and the visible. To close the door to the Other World and simply grasp and gather to ourselves what we can for the here and now, because, as they say "You can't take it with you." But a sacramental vision would assert  that, if it's God you are seeing through it all, you CAN take it (or better, Him) with you! As Venerable Fulton J. Sheen once wrote, "To materialists this world is opaque like a curtain; nothing can be seen through it. A mountain is just a mountain, a sunset just a sunset; but to poets, artists, and saints, the world is transparent like a window pane - it tells of something beyond... a mountain tells of the Power of God, the sunset of His Beauty, and the snowflake of His Purity.”

The poetical view is the wholistic view. It is harmony. It is not a reduction, a less than, but an illumination, a more than. We see more than what meets the eye! As Pope Benedict XVI says, "Parables interpret the simple world of everyday life in order to show how a transcendence... occurs in it.... Reality itself is a parable. Hence, it is only by way of parable that the nature of the world and of man himself is made known to us."

Let us pray for those with only a singular view; the tunnel vision of the terrorist, the ego of the angry evolutionist, the clouded view of the creationist. And for all of us who feel that we cannot hold the tension of two, and so resort to violence to make a point. For violence is a clear sign that reason has been abandoned. May God give us His peace and make us sensitive to His quiet whispers through all creation

"Whoever wants to become a Christian must first become a poet…”
- St. Porphyrios of Kavsokalyvia

Monday, June 12, 2017

Soul Meets Body

If they knew how big they’d become on the music scene, lead singer Ben Gibbard of the band “Death Cab for Cutie” once confessed, they would’ve thought twice about picking that obscure name. In these days of an even deeper obscurity over what gender we identify as, I’d like to reflect on one of my favorite DCFC’s songs “Soul Meets Body.”

From their album, Codes and Keys, released in May 2011, “Soul Meets Body” soars as an achingly beautiful song with echoes of the original plan of God for humanity, despite Gibbard’s apparent religious “wound” in other songs of the band. It begins…

I want to live where soul meets body and let the sun wrap its arms around me and bathe my skin in water cool and cleansing and feel, feel what its like to be new

I always thrill at the hearing of songs like this in popular music, from bands not necessarily religious. It points to that universal thirst for a harmony between flesh and spirit that can be found everywhere, in everything. Musicians today are scratching out their notes in the cynicism of a post-Christian age, amid scandals and hypocrisy, and even radical doubts and attacks on not only God’s identity but now our very own. In this quest for meaning, I find a certain raw sincerity in Death Cab for Cutie (DCFC). It shows us that nothing can snuff out the desire for the truth about God and man, not even a poor first experience of religion, or the scandalous example of some believers. It seems a wound from the past shaped lead singer Gibbard’s vision of the Catholic faith he was raised in. It’s revealed in the song “I Will Follow You Into the Dark”:

In Catholic school as vicious as Roman rule I got my knuckles bruised by a lady in black and I held my tongue as she told me “Son, fear is the heart of love” So I never went back

This experience is beyond tragic, since we know St. John tells us “perfect love casts out all fear.” (1 John 4:18) The wounds of an earthly father can change our view of the Heavenly Father. The sins of a school master can alter our knowing the love of the Divine Master. I wonder how effective this teaching of fear of punishment might be for the young as an introduction to God. Yet it seems to be a part of our pedagogy, individually and universally. Dr. Karl Stern, a Jewish psychoanalyst who converted to Catholicism once wrote: “The child receives, even before any formal moral training, a kind of ‘natural’ premoral formation. Its first encounter with a world of regulations is predominantly negative. The world of the forbidden precedes the world of the ideal. The very first regulatory education, such as training for order and cleanliness, warning against the handling of breakable objects and so on, may signify to the child an initiation into dread. Even under the most favourable circumstances the child gets to know the ‘Don’t’ associated with the first notion of punishment and reward, of retaliation and pardon, before a positive ideal, a ‘Do!’, can develop… It is the same in the child’s life as in the history of human society. Something analogous also exists on the level of the historical drama of salvation.” (Stern, Flight from Woman, 1965)

Now ponder this thought of Pope Benedict XVI: "Our first experience of God is so important; we either experience Him as the police guard ready to punish or as creative love that awaits.” Creative love is what we long for, and in fact it’s what God wants to pour out over our hearts through the Church’s sacraments. Sadly for many of us, the individual pieces of the conduit this truth can flow through (namely fallen human beings) can often limit or even obstruct that flow of truth. But that’s our fallen human nature, not the Divine water of grace (which by the way, always finds a way in). Gibbard sings that he “never went back” to the Catholic Church (he refers to himself as an “indoctrinated Catholic even though I haven’t been to church of my own volition in 10 or 15 years now.” But not going back doesn’t mean he’s not in some way moving forward in his quest for the truth of who we are. The French philosopher Simone Weil wrote that even when we run away from Christ, if it’s toward what we consider true, we run in fact straight into His arms!

Now away from the personal to the more culturally expansive seeking for healing in our world today. Our gender dysphoric age gives us an ever-expanding list of letters with which to identify. LGBTTQQFAGPBDSM and the list goes on, becoming every day increasingly more and more obfuscating. Recall Jesus asking the possessed man his name and the man replied “Legion is my name. There are many of us.” (Mark 5:9) This fracturing of our personhood, soul from body, is nothing new. It’s simply an attempt to cloak our ever present wound; the age-old identity crisis we’ve suffered from since the Fall in Eden. We are a splintered race, racing along, seeking reunion, and communion, of our hearts, minds, and bodies. Our identity has been disintegrated and our hearts dispossessed of the integral truth of what it means to be human, soul and body. But we must keep digging, seeking our original face. The ancients termed it fides quarens intellectum – faith seeking understanding. And we do this together as the song sings, for we need a reunion of not only soul and body, but of person to person, and God and humanity:

And I cannot guess what we’ll discover when we turn the dirt with our palms cupped like shovels but I know our filthy hands can wash one another’s and not one speck will remain

This digging deep into life’s experiences, and origins, can reveal hidden treasures. In the music video for “Soul Meets Body”, which I highly recommend watching (, we see a host of musical notes peeping out of the earth from a darkened forest floor as Ben Gibbard walks past. He meets his band in a little cabin and they play their song. We watch the notes rise up from the ground and through the canopy of trees, over forest and field, past houses and towns and cities, to the sea.

Listening to the ache for meaning can itself reveal to us the meaning. If we listen to the Music that made the world and follow those first two notes, the masculine and the feminine, that first came together to form the song that is our own personal life, our story, we see, hear and experience our place in the Song. The Song is the vocation of the human person, synthesized in St. John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio: “God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and thus the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion. Love is therefore the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.” (FC, 11)

Caryll Houselander wrote “We are all syllables of the Perfect Word.” We are more than a single letter, we are the beginning of an utterance of a Fullness, a fullness we are already but not yet experiencing. So let’s keep going, aching, coming to terms with the truth that we are made for the other. Ultimately, our utterances must keep going up, into that Perfect Word Who encompasses and surrounds and unites all of us! In His Love that satisfies that original harmony between soul and body, the spiritual and the material, man and woman, and all of humanity is realized. There is a Creative Love that awaits in the Heart of Jesus, in the ocean of His mercy. Yes, even despite the oil spills of humanity’s sins, He’ll wash one another in this mercy, “and not one speck will remain.”

And I do believe it’s true that there are roads left in both of our shoes but if the silence takes you then I hope it takes me too. So brown eyes I hold you near cause you’re the only song I want to hear. A melody softly soaring through my atmosphere… Where soul meets body…

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Apocalypse: A Love Story

Apocalypse. Yes, it’s a strong word that for most people might bring to mind images of burned out buildings, empty streets, and the dark underbellies of storm clouds ribbed with flashes of lightning. Dirty little remnants of humanity lie huddled in farmhouses or patches of woods while zombies and armed zealots roam the cities with torches, turning over cars, punishing and pillaging anyone in their path. That’s pretty intense stuff, and might even remind you of the aftermath of the equally intense election this week in America. But it doesn’t quite capture the original meaning of the word apocalypse. It’s actually born from the Greek word “apokaluptein” which means to uncover, or reveal.

Now about that election. The recent shift in leadership in our country is certainly having apocalyptic effects, in this more ancient sense of the word. Much has been uncovered, and revealed: lots of raw emotions have simmered to the surface. As such, this rising is potentially good, for as Pope Francis recently said in his Joy of Love exhortation (directed to married couples, but we’ll direct it to all here) “Desires, feelings, emotions, what the ancients called ‘the passions’, all have an important place in (life). They are awakened whenever ‘another’ becomes present and part of a person’s life. It is characteristic of all living beings to reach out to other things, and this tendency always has basic affective signs: pleasure or pain, joy or sadness, tenderness or fear. They ground the most elementary psychological activity. Human beings live on this earth, and all that they do and seek is fraught with passion.” (Pope Francis, The Joy of Love, 143)

Now the bigger question is, what do we do with this passion? Eros, the Greek for passion, at its deepest level, is that “inner power that ‘attracts’ man to the true, the good, and the beautiful.” (St. John Paul II, TOB 47:5) But we’ve seen some pretty violent passion this week that’s neither good nor beautiful, from burning flags and effigies, to shouting hate and writing obscenities on walls and monuments, t-shirts and placards. But in the wise words of St. John Paul II, if man stops here at an undisciplined passion, he “does not experience that fullness of ‘eros,’ which implies the upward impulse of the human spirit toward what is true, good, and beautiful…” (TOB 48:1) St. John Paul II when on to propose that when a person can set their passion “into the whole of the spirit’s deepest energies, it can also become a creative force; in this case, however, it must undergo a radical transformation” (TOB 39:2).

It has become abundantly and “apocalyptically” revealed that America is a land of passionate people. At the heart of this passion is a desire for something good; a desire for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” in the words of our Declaration of Independence. This is our story, our history, and it is in the truest and deepest sense a love story. I believe that’s what this American “Apocalypse” is uncovering, and revealing, and purifying in us all. Our call to love our neighbor as ourselves. It brings to mind the passage from Luke 2:34-35, if I might tweak a few words, “Behold, this (election) is destined for the fall and rise of many in (America), and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” At the heart of every one of us lies this question, “Do I love my neighbor?” Do I even know them?

I suggest then that we allow this piercing of our hearts to uncover our deepest feelings, our passions and that we go deep within, with Christ, back to our roots, back to this simple and yet multifaceted question of love. We the people are called to this depth, so that our life and our loves can rise to the heights. And to those inalienable rights we hold to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and each are deserving first of our love and kindness.

Here are a few things I’ll be implementing in the coming years as the leadership shifts in these United States of America:
1. I will rekindle my love for this beautiful country, from sea to shining sea. I will celebrate the wonderful, dazzling natural diversity of these 50 states, celebrating the gift of it all in every season and teaching my children to do so as well. I will love this land without exploitation.

2. I will rekindle my love for every person I encounter, face to face, allowing a race, color and creed that is different from my own to teach me, to reveal to me the beauty of the human heart in its search for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I will love my neighbor without qualification.

3. I will deepen my prayer for our leaders, national and local, political and ecclesial, not succumbing to bitterness or cynicism but to becoming better and more respectful of the office despite any deficiency in their actions. “I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:1–2).

4. I will rededicate myself to becoming the best husband and father I can be, knowing that when I am right with God, my wife and my children in this most basic project of the family, that power is released into the wider world. “When things go well between man and woman, the world and history also go well.” (Pope Francis)

I pray you have a blessed Apocalypse, and may God bless America!

Thursday, September 15, 2016


(This post is just a little sampling of Bill’s upcoming TOB Congress talk entitled “The Beautiful Mess of the Family”)

The altar bells had rung, drawing our eyes to the moment of consecration. Their pristine tones reverberated throughout the stone nave of our parish church where the silent faithful gathered to receive the Bread of Heaven. For a moment, even our pew, nestled full of our four children (ages 7, 5, 3, and 8 months) with my beautiful wife, was uncommonly still; hushed as if by the unseen wind of angels coming to adore the King of Kings Who even now was descending upon the altar. Then, at the exact moment of the elevation of the sacred host and the powerful proclamation of those words that have traversed the globe and keep the earth spinning on its axis now for 2000 years, “This is My Body…,” my five year old whispered in my ear, “I have to go potty.”

Talk about a convergence of cosmic proportions! A psychosomatic synchronicity of the human and the divine! Now some might call this a distraction from the highpoint of the Mass. But for those who know the wondrous ramifications of a study of the theology of the body, this was in fact an attraction for me to ponder the mind-boggling kenosis of Christ in His Incarnation! Yes, I’m serious.
This is my body…. I have to go potty.

As we fumbled out of the pew, past the other siblings, and the smiling older couple who shared our row (smiling, for they knew all too well this trek to the latrine after raising their own kids), I pondered the humility of the Most High God. He Who is Eternally Three did in fact in His body have to go number one. Now I don’t mean to sound in any way disrespectful or irreverent, and I fully realize that this all too human activity is one that we all exercise in private. But what struck me in that Mass, in that simultaneous instant of the bread becoming His Sacred Body and my daughter needing to relieve hers, was just that. How human it was. How humbling. And none of this was beneath Him Who made the stars in all their splendor. This daily ritual of ours was also routine for Him. He took it upon himself, the fullness of our humanity. Every part of it. The humility of our God here is truly staggering.

Throughout the Church’s history, men and women have grappled with the greatness of the mystery of the hypostatic union – the Divine Person of Christ having two natures. Many have overemphasized his divinity at the expense of his humanity, ending with overly spiritualized images of Jesus. Some in fact were heretical, gnostic notions like him never leaving footprints when he walked, or not blinking… ever. See the gnostic text Acts of John for those ghostly thoughts. According to the gnostic Apocalypse of Peter, the real Jesus didn’t die on the cross but hovered over it laughing at those thinking he was dying below (By the way, these gnostic – meaning secret knowledge – texts came centuries after the true gospels and only used the Apostle’s names to give authenticity to their claims).

These superhuman (or we might say inhuman) images of Jesus however do linger even in the most faithful of hearts to this day. How many of us still find it hard to imagine that he laughed out loud, ate spicy food, drank wine, relieved himself, had an occasionally scruffy and tangled beard, and certainly smelled after a hard day’s work under that Nazarene sun? But he did. Jesus most certainly did, or our faith in the Incarnation is in vain!

Our adorable Savior had a certain odor all his own. A unique pattern of freckles on his tanned and muscular forearms. A fingerprint that was and is forever only his. Jesus had a distinct color in the iris of his eyes. He had to trim his fingernails. When the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, walking his fields and taking in the fragrance of the flowers he made, I’m certain he occasionally sneezed. And sneezed in a way unique to him, just as we all do!

We shall one day behold all of these idiosyncrasies of the Incarnate Word. And he will gaze upon ours, and we will gaze for all eternity upon each others. All of us and each of us in this beautiful mess of the human family. What wonders! And all of this became my meditation that day in the middle of Mass, as I stumbled back into the pew with my little one, and nestled into the midst of the rest of our family. Wait, did we wash our hands?

Bill Donaghy has spoken internationally on faith and the New Evangelization since 1999. Through his work with the Pontifical Mission Societies, Bill gave hundreds of talks on the spirituality of mission to young people throughout the greater Philadelphia area and beyond, creating a teaching and speaking ministry known as He holds an Associates Degree in Visual Arts, a Bachelors in Philosophy and a Masters in Systematic Theology. In addition to his full-time work for the Theology of the Body Institute, Bill teaches at Immaculata University. He and his wife, Rebecca, live outside of Philadelphia, PA with their four children.

The Sacramental Vision

With Christians, a poetical view of things is a duty. We are bid to color all things with hues of faith, to see a divine meaning in every ...