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. 

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Meeting John Paul II

In October of the Jubilee Year 2000, a World Mission Congress was held in Rome. Hundreds of missionaries and mission educators from around the world gathered in the Eternal City to celebrate the fundamental call of all Christians: to be the soul in the body of the world. To breathe a spirit of peace and humanity in an age increasingly foreign to kindness and selfless love. I was part of a delegation of over 20 young adults from across the USA. 

The Congress closed on World Mission Sunday, October 22, with a Jubilee Mass celebrated by Pope John Paul II. As a remembrance of those first missionaries, the Twelve Apostles, twelve men and women were chosen to receive a new commission for a New Evangelization. We received a simple cross, woven by missionary sisters, from Pope John Paul II himself, and he commissioned us "to bring Jesus back to your country." I was given the amazing and unexpected grace to be selected as one of those twelve souls, representing the United States of America!

That moment of kneeling before the Vicar of Christ on earth, before a man so many already considered a saint, an intellectual giant and a philosopher whose insights would be talked about and explored centuries from now, will never fade from my memory. There at the feet of St. John Paul II, the prayers and songs of over 80,000 people behind us in St. Peter's Square billowed up and over us, like a surging and powerful tide of convicted joy. 

Since that day I've tried to make it my goal to simply "bring Jesus back" to the world; one word, one step, one moment at a time, but I'm realizing it's more "letting Him be" than it is me doing anything.

This New Evangelization is more about seeing Him everywhere than it is about saying things everywhere. He lives. He moves. And in us He shares His being, so generously. We simply need to receive that truth. May the same fire that fueled John Paul also fill our hearts! And on this anniversary of his death, may he continue to pray for us! And inspire us to take up our own crosses, our own challenges, and not be afraid!

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

The Conscious Uncoupling of Love from Sacrifice

Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin, whom I do not know personally and don't have any authority or desire to judge, having their own back-stories, needs, and wounds (just like me!), are “consciously uncoupling" from their marriage. 

This phrase I feel I can objectively judge. 'Cause it's goofy. 

Their advisors, Dr. Habib Sadeghi and Dr. Sherry Sami, are telling them lovely things like the following to anesthetize the event of a divorce lest it sound and feel like they are in fact divorcing:

"To change the concept of divorce, we need to release the belief structures we have around marriage that create rigidity in our thought process. The belief structure is the all-or-nothing idea that when we marry, it’s for life."

Yes, God forbid we have rigidity in this life, something like a promise or vow for instance that would be our best word that we will stay, remain faithful, stick to the beloved like in that movie The Notebook. Seriously, rigidity is for things like concrete, not people! People mustn't be rigid. They should be more like... Jello. 

"The truth is," the love doctors continued, "the only thing any of us have is today. Beyond that, there are no guarantees. The idea of being married to one person for life is too much pressure for anyone."

Narrative Note: You are not reading the Onion. People with doctorates wrote that bit. 

So to be married to one person for life is "too much pressure"..... Can someone please tell Danny and Annie that they totally, and selfishly, wasted their lives on each other, when they could have wasted it on more people than just each other? 

"A conscious uncoupling is the ability to understand that every irritation and argument was a signal to look inside ourselves... If we can remain conscious of this during our uncoupling, we will understand it’s how we relate to ourselves internally as we go through an experience that’s the real issue, not what’s actually happening."

You mean actually happening with that other human person in the room who is your God-given guide and helper to unselfishness and love through self-forgetfulness? Ah yes, the quintessence of narcissism. "Wait, who are you? What are you doing in the story of my life? Have this person removed immediately!" 

Let me give this diseased flow of verbiage a B16 shot: "Love is... a journey, an ongoing exodus out of the closed inward-looking self towards its liberation through self-giving, and thus towards authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God: “Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it” (Lk 17:33) - Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 6

I don't know the situation of Gwyneth and Chris, but I know the situation in the modern world regarding love and marriage, and it stinks. The divorce rate is roughly 52%. Now more than ever is when we need an amazing witness to faithfulness, self-sacrifice, and self-giving love. 

And let's be extremely cautious of any philosophy that seeks to "uncouple" love from sacrifice. That's like "uncoupling" Christ from the Cross. They are and always will be one. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

"I am a Sinner" - Pope Francis

The Pope was at a penance service in Rome recently, and after a reflection, when he was to be moved to a prearranged spot by the master of ceremonies, in typical Francis-style, he thwarted their plans and went to a "common" priest (as one news article said) and confessed his sins. I love it. He's driving the Swiss Guards crazy. 

It's like Bob Dylan sang, "You may be an ambassador to England or France. You may like to gamble, you might like to dance.... But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed. You're gonna have to serve somebody..."

By the way, whose feet will he be washing this Holy Thursday, I wonder. "You might be the Vicar of Christ, under all those heavenly lights, but you're gonna have to serve somebody (as He has served us.)"

But Pope Francis is all over service. His life echoes his namesake's St. Francis of Assisi, who once said "Preach the gospel always, and when necessary use words." Our beloved Holy Father is saying through his actions, confession is vitally important. Everybody needs it. It's an encounter with the living Christ. Just do it. 

Urge all souls to trust in the unfathomable abyss of My mercy, because I want to save them all. On the cross, the fountain of My mercy was opened wide by the lance for all souls - no one have I excluded!
- St. Faustina, Divine Mercy in my Soul

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Jesus Gets His Hands Dirty

Back in the mid-1990's, before the internet ruined our lives (I'm kidding. Kidding) I was in the seminary, discerning a possible call to the priesthood. 

They were amazing years, and gave me a solid faith formation, an opportunity to come to know the beautiful heart of the Church from a unique and powerful perspective, and a chance for a brotherhood that in many ways continues today with both brothers who discerned out, like me, and were called to marriage, and those brothers who are now my "fathers" through the gift of priesthood. 

But some things in my seminary experience drove me nuts. Like the guy whom we will call "Brad."

"Brad" had it all laid out. His future was bright. A priestly vocation stocked with the highest of creature comforts. If that sounds bizzare wait for the next line which he actually said out loud. "These hands were made for chalices not callouses." 

Uh. What?

Praise God he was weeded out by the formation team, and I do pray he is happy now and has submitted to the action of the Holy Spirit Who would rightly flush all such nonsensical thoughts and earthly attachments from his head and make a selfless man out of him. 

Chalices not callouses? Have you read the gospels? Have you thought of the life of Jesus as he worked under that scolding hot Palestinian sun? For 18 years! As a blue collar worker, a "tekton" or carpenter/stone mason?

Why else would Jesus call us the salt of the earth? He was the salt of the earth. Poor, humble, hard at work to provide for his mother. And in today's gospel, Jesus gets his hands dirty once again. Sorry "Brad", but he makes mud. He sacramentalizes the earth with his spit. It's true. 

"While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes, and said to the blind man, "Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” - which means Sent. So the blind man went and washed, and came back able to see."
- John 9

Now there's manly. There's a man willing to speak the language of his people; in fact to speak the language of each unique person. The man born blind needed that extra stage. That preparation time to receive and revere the full weight of the glory of sight. 

So all of us must be willing to stick our hands in the mud and mess of life too. To get the callouses that come from our hands at work in the fields of the Lord. 

Our distance from the daily grind of the common man, the poor and the suffering never brought a soul closer to God. It's the descent in humility that prepares our hearts best for the final ascent into glory. 

Pope Francis said, on the plane after World Youth Day this past summer:
"I want to tell you something. What is it that I expect as a consequence of World Youth Day? I want a mess. We knew that in Rio there would be great disorder, but I want trouble in the dioceses! ... I want to see the church get closer to the people. I want to get rid of clericalism, the mundane, this closing ourselves off within ourselves, in our parishes, schools or structures. Because these need to get out!"

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Man is What He Sees

"More necessary than fasting from food today is fasting from images. We live in a civilization of images; we have become devourers of images. Through television, internet, the press, advertising, we let a flood of images enter us... Many of them are unhealthy, they engender violence and malice, they do nothing other than incite the worst instincts we bear within us. They are made expressly to seduce... Feuerback, a materialist philosopher, said: “Man is what he eats”; today, perhaps we should say: “man is what he sees.”

- Fr. Cantalamessa, Lenten Homily 1, 2014

Friday, March 28, 2014

Choices with Bastille, To Kill a King, Emily Wood and Friends

Watch this beautiful work. I absolutely love the way it unfurls, like a quilt woven of gifted and musical passion. It's a slow build, with wonderfully talented bands, vocalists, and soloists appearing and adding their own layer of rhythm or melody as the song literally moves through a grassy stretch of earth and trees. As harmonious and whole as it is musically, culminating in a vast and soothing choral that woos the listener at the end, the piece is a sad one. To use John Paul II's meditation on historical man, who is wounded by sin and left hungry for meaning, it is the quintessential ache of being utterly unfulfilled by another human being. 

There's a melancholy in the heart when we realize this truth: that no human person, no earthly experience can totally fulfill the heart. We try to fill it, we stumble, we sometimes fall. But we are flawed, fractured by our original sin, and we must face it. 

I have the same choices
As you do
As you do
When you fall
Fall like I knew you would
Lead me down down down
Lead me down

As the song sinks into these "choices" that lead down down down, the music still lifts us up. It seems to say that no relationship, no romance can be completely devoid of the hope that springs eternal. 

He's on your doorstep
He's laden with flowers
This garden is freezing teasing
You're leaving me for hours

A song like this for me, pulled and put together as it is from so many bands and gifted young musicians is hope enough. There seems to be a sweet return to music that's soul-crafted, experiential, more real than our techno-pop that tends to dominate. I hope you enjoy the music!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Love is Not Hate

"When you speak all these words to them, they will not listen to you either; when you call to them, they will not answer you. Say to them: This is the nation that does not listen to the voice of the LORD, its God, or take correction..."
- Jeremiah 7

There is an utter simplicity to every waking moment of ours that can truly prepare the way towards happiness or misery, trust and hope, or fog and confusion. It lies in the posture of openness... of receptivity. We say yes or we say no. It's encoded within the moral law. Inescapable. Powerfully purposeful. It is that solid foundation Thoreau wrote about many years ago when he spoke of shoving down ones boots through all of the many layers of opinion and agenda, politics and double-speak until we hit rock bottom. We then choose truth or we don't.

These are harsh words, as strong and biting as a winter wind, because they expose us in all of our utterly naked dependence on God. The truth is I we did not, nor could we ever, create ourselves or the vast framework of reality in which we live and breathe and have our being. So in the end, this simplicity of the truth must either be listened to or ignored. "Do this. Don't do that" always sounds off in the depths of our being. The words of the Lord above flowing through Jeremiah are of course just as applicable to us now as they were for his ancient audience. Either a thing is true or it isn't. We accept it or we reject it. 

Case in point; less than a week ago, the incredibly gifted Sr. Jane Dominic of Aquinas College in Nashville, Tennessee gave a talk at a high school in Charlotte, North Carolina on masculinity and femininity and the wonderful and illuminating differences between them. She spoke a truth ancient and ever new. She then extrapolated near the end on the disorder of homosexuality in the sphere of this masculine/feminine sexual expression of love. As can be seen in any of her online video teachings, (available through the Newman Connection YouTube channel) Sr. Jane delivers the Faith with love, mercy, and compassion. But it was met last Friday with anger, hate, and a student (and parent) led online complaint with over 2000 signatures (as this article attests, some names are fabricated, some authentic)

This was a Catholic High School with a Catholic nun presenting, and arranged by a Catholic Chaplain (a good friend of mine and an amazing and faithful priest by the way) with a mostly Catholic audience of students and teachers. And yet, reportedly, there was a firestorm of reactions.

sample of comments from the www.change.org online complaint: 

"There was absolutely nothing positive that came out of the nun's mouth that day. I'm upset that the school had to be subjected to such ignorance."

"We are disgusted by the message this talk portrayed and in NO way support it or anyone who presents such twisted and offensive information." 

"This was a poorly veiled attempt to present hate propaganda disguised as something to do with our faith based education." 

"I believe the students of CCHS are far more intelligent than the group behind this "presentation" and saw it for what it was... garbage."

Wow. Now watch Sr. Jane Dominic for a few moments in ANY of the videos she has posted here. And here below is a three minute sample...

What a bunch of garbage right? This content truly has no place in a Catholic school! It's hate propaganda! OK, my brain hurts. Ladies and gentlemen, sanity has indeed left the building.

"When you speak all these words to them, they will not listen to you either; when you call to them, they will not answer you."
- Jeremiah 7

We are strangers in a strange land. Perhaps the best thing to do is just keep listening to the anger, digging in deeper to see what lies beneath it, then spending time before the Great Mystery of the God Who made us, made each of us unrepeatable and unique, receiving that Truth, that reality, and letting it get into our hearts and form us. We have to become so one with this Word of love and truth that no matter the hate we will face it with Love. For Love is the only answer. 

Sr. Jane Dominic, Fr. Matthew Kauth (the school chaplain), Pope Francis and every single faithful and properly formed Catholic on the planet loves every single unrepeatable and unique human person on the planet. In our sexually confusing times, amidst the incredible fallout of the pornographic revolution, where organizations like Planned Parenthood are miseducating our kids (see this piece of actual garbage) the words of Sr. Jane and the light flowing from Blessed John Paul II's Theology of the Body and the compassion and clarity of Pope Francis's words are exactly what we do need in schools. God help us, God bless Charlotte Catholic High School. God bless the young, the confused, the abused, the seekers and the searchers. God bless us everyone!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

So Close to Us

"For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him?"

- Deuteronomy 4

A short reflection for now in this 40 Days of Blogging-palooza... On the Eucharist. 

I actually missed posting yesterday but had at least popped the above verse from yesterday's reading from Deuteronomy in here. It's got power. And as radical as the Jewish receptivity was to this unique, personal, intimate, monotheistic, and deeply monogamous revelation of God to them was, they had no idea just how close He wanted to come. 

The Jews were a joke to their generation, to the pagans surrounding them with their multiple, man made gods who had to be appeased or they'd punish. The Jews believed there was One God and He was more a Lover than a Master, more interested in virgin (or pure and whole) hearts than virgin sacrifices (though admittedly it took a few centuries for that to sink in!)

The Christians though, and the Word they received was far more scandalous. God wants to literally come into our hearts, not just "move" them from afar by His Majesty and Power. He is such a Lover (Love Itself, as St. John would reveal) that He was willing to strip Himself down for us, leave the heavens, become a man and further still become man's food. He'd devised a way to really enter hearts, through our lips. As our food. 

I'll stop there. It's enough to confound angels and send St. Joseph of Cupertino levitating above the church pews (please google him). Let's pray on this. Better still let's become the prey of this Divine Lover who even today wants to consummate His immense love for us at the altar of the Mass. 

"For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him?"
- Deuteronomy 4

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

From Eve's NO to Mary's YES

When I taught high school I tried to teach with visuals as much as possible; movie clips, sacred art, memes, intentional doodling in our notebooks, and then through what I call "theography." It's simply a way to capture the typology of the Old Testament in a graphical, tech savvy way. I use a stylus on the iPad and my favorite app was (and is) Paper by Fifty Three. 

The drawing above tried to capture the dichotomy of the two mothers of the human race, as well as that of the two fathers (or husbands perhaps fits better). 

Typology is an incredibly rich gift for interpreting and understanding Sacred Scripture, and it's as old as the Bible itself. It's essentially God's theography or "divine writing" found in water, rocks, trees, people, places, events. God uses everything in the world and every word of Scripture to speak to us. That's how He rolls, and the wrappings of HisTruth have multiple layers! I'd be continually surprised by my freshmen each year as they discovered new "gems" in our Biblical Studies classes. 

Today is the awesome feast of the Annunciation. The dawn of salvation is breaking over the humble heart of the Virgin of Nazareth, and the angels await her answer with bated breath. When her yes comes it continues to echo throughout her entire life right up until the end. And at that foot of the cross, the yes  again unlocks power. Tremendous power is unleashed by Mary's yes that unravels the sin of the first and of subsequent women throughout history whose yes was repressed, or locked up out of fear of all the yes would entail. 

Christ too unleashes power. His yes fills in the hollow silence that Adam gave when put to the test. 

May we sons and daughters of Eve and of Mary, of Adam and of Christ truly tap into that yes. May it unleash power too for us. The power of His redemption!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Singing the Song

"Why was there a sexual revolution? Because Christians stopped singing the Song of Songs."
- Christopher West

Sr. Cristina Scuccia is an Ursuline nun from Sicily. She is also a powerhouse vocalist and contestant on Italy's version of The Voice, a clever musical talent show where judges judge solely by what their ears are picking up. In this case, they picked a consecrated woman in full habit. 

So passion meets purity. And this seeming contradiction is the exact kind of cultural contraband the media loves to feed off of. A nun belting out an Alicia Keyes tune on stage? Scandalous. Does the Vatican know about this? 

What's sad is the age we live in which thinks that passion and purity are polar opposites. Watching Sr. Cristina sing her heart out (and boy she does) is really the purest of passions and the possible sign of an authentic and integrated self. 

There is something powerful about witnessing this kind of purified passion, one striped of all pretense and pomp. It shoots straight up and hits the clouds, leaving a tiny place through which graces can fall down. During Sr. Cristina's performance on The Voice, one hit Italian rapper J-Ax right in the eyes. As Sister brought her notes to a climactic close, it was clear he was visibly and perhaps spiritually moved. 

Perhaps her witness to the integration of passion and purity will begin a healing for him? Maybe the impressions he's always had of nuns, priests, Catholics, and Church in general have been of prohibition and prudery? Well, may this be the beginning of the end of that way of thinking. She chose him as her voice coach. And something tells me that this little sister knows something about how grace works. 

"Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet. It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but “by attraction”.
- Pope Francis, Joy of the Gospel, 15

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Messiah Walks into a Bar...

Well, that's what the well was, essentially, in the ancient world. A bar. A meeting place. "A watering hole", literally. A place where "everybody knows your name..." A place where everything and probably everyone was talked about. And in today's gospel, Jesus goes there. 

The well was also similar to the bar scene of today because, so often, relationships were born there. Think about it. Moses met Zipporah at a well. Isaac met Rebecca at a well. Jacob met Rachel at a well. And Jesus meets a Samaritan woman... (don't lose the marriage theme here) at a well. 

Problem: She was already married five times. She was presently living with, it would appear, soon to be husband number six. And suddenly there appears number Seven. Lucky her!

The number seven in biblical language and numerology stands for completion, or perfection. The Seventh Day is the Sabbath. The perfect day for rest and contemplation.... and for union with God.

This woman was thirsty; and aren't we all? We thirst for so much more than the bar scene, the water cooler gossip, the Friday night lights, sexual encounters without consequences, pay checks without a deeper purpose in life. "Everybody's working for the weekend" sang Loverboy, but what are we living for? What deep down are we truly thirsting for? 

"In truth, we all thirst for the infinite: for an infinite freedom, for happiness without limits," wrote our Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI. Where do we look? Can we really find it in the stagnant little pools of our own creation, or is it rather in the billows and breakers of the sea of love gushing from Him, the Source of Love at the heart of the world?

The real beauty of this gospel for me is not the thirsty soul but the thirsty Savior. Yes, Jesus is thirsty too. He longs for our hearts, our restless, ridiculous, clueless hearts. He waits for us. He waits behind bars (and sometimes in them), behind the latticework of the structures that we hide behind, in every place and space of every nook and cranny, He waits. Tenderly. 

He knows us so well. He simply wants us to know ourselves too. And how deeply we are loved. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Conversion of Bilbo Baggins

On a long drive this morning to NJ, after the girls fell into what I'd call a strategically placed nap, with only the Boy awake, I popped in my coveted Lord of the Rings audiobook and our feet took again to that Ancient Road that leads to the West. I was struck this time (I'm always struck when I read this masterpiece, by the way) at the sense of conversion and redemption it holds in its pages. Listen to the vulnerability of Mr. Baggins as he explains to Gandalf the hold the Ring of Power has over him and the confusion it engenders. 

Bilbo drew his hand over his eyes. 'I am sorry,' he said. 'But I felt so queer. And yet it would be a relief in a way not to be bothered with it any more. It has been so growing on my mind lately. Sometimes I have felt it was like an eye looking at me. And I am always wanting to put it on and disappear, don't you know; or wondering if it is safe, and pulling it out to make sure. I tried locking it up, but I found I couldn't rest without it in my pocket. I don't know why. And I don't seem able to make up my mind.' 
      'Then trust mine,' said Gandalf. 'It is quite made up. Go away and leave it behind. Stop possessing it. Give it to Frodo, and I will look after him.' 
       Bilbo stood for a moment tense and undecided. Presently he sighed. 'All right,' he said with an effort. 'I will.'
- Fellowship of the Ring, pg. 34, J.R.R. Tolkien

Lent is about letting go of the little rings of power that keep us circumscribed unto ourselves, always circling, never breaking out in linear paths to our great potential. Lent is about our being stripped, emptied of the clutter of the self-conscious life (which is different from the self-aware life) Lent is a chance to clear out the closet of self-importance, pride, egoism, and the endless desire to possess and covet things, which itself is a twisted desire for self-possession. 

But we cannot, as Mr. Baggins could not, do this work alone. We need that supernatural power of grace to assist us, inspire us, and allow us to let go of our addictions. For Bilbo it was the Wizard Gandalf. For Christians, it is The Lord. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Death of Marriage or the Death of Me?

I met this young man a few months ago on a flight to give a talk in the Midwest. Ironically, my talk was on marriage and family and the inherent call within each to "man up" or "woman up" respectively. I asked him if he really believed the sad vibe his shirt was proclaiming. "Nah," he said. "I just wear it for the attention." Really?

Here's a couple of verses from a Bruno Mars song:

Today I don't feel like doing anything
I just wanna lay in my bed
Don't feel like picking up my phone

So leave a message at the tone
'Cause today I swear I'm not doing anything.
I'm gonna kick my feet up
Then stare at the fan
Turn the TV on, throw my hand in my pants
Nobody's gonna tell me I can't. 

Really? That's it. 

Sad are the scenes of men in their thirties lining up for the next GTA series at the video game store, or the "boys" in their late twenties dressed down with their ball caps on backwards at the pubs, sitting beside their girlfriends (who clearly put a lot more time and thought into dressing up for the evening). 

But back to the t-shirt graphic. The man is sad, the woman glad. The game is over. But what game is that?

I know you ladies have your flaws but I'm a guy and one who took too long discerning what to make of my life, so I'll say it plain. I can say it now, fully aware of my many flaws but with ten years on the other side of the altar: we need to man up. The sad face comes when we cling to what we think will bring us joy and retract from what we think will take away our freedom. Like the rich young man, I think many of us men are turning away sad from this invitation to a new life because we fear to let go of our many possessions. 

Marriage can turn self-centered boys into selfless men. Marriage invites men to realize finally and fundamentally their greatest potential and their masculine genius: the call to become a gift. A total Braveheart stretched on the rack, Man of Steel pierced in the chest with Kryptonite, muddy mess of a man whose best work pants have spaghetti sauce on them. Ah, but these are glory scars. Especially the sausage grease on the dress shirt. Classic. 

Maybe marriage is actually, in a certain sense, the end of a game. The game of solitaire. And it's the beginning of a life, and it's a wonderful life. A wonderful life indeed!