Saturday, December 29, 2007

Good Talk and the Goal of Art

One of my favorite Christmas traditions, after a short night of sleep, staying up into the wee hours with my wife's family in NY state, nestled in that warm house in the cold, quiet of Montgomery, are my late morning talks with my father-in-law.

It's St. Stephen's Day, December 26, and like clockwork, I go for coffee and donuts (vanilla iced with sprinkles for the womenfolk) and make it back just as he stirs (the ladies won't be up for another hour). Then the talk begins, slow and rambling at first, like a rain stream. Then a clear path is cut by a strong river of serious thought, as we sip our coffee and look out on Eager Road.

Our topics string together like a strand of lights, the classic bulbs, big, bright, and heavy-laden. Then we sit back and watch the glow before the Christmas tree, from the couches in the living room. Our thoughts launch out and hover in the air - on music, books, theology, faith, the world as it is... as it was.... as it should be.

This morning we strayed into talk of classic films, Orson Welles, and Gregory Peck, Paul Scofield and their work. "When a person gives themselves so completely to their passion, be it art, film, etc., what happens to their heart? Can you lose yourself in a negative sense? Where does the personality go when you have not given yourself to another person, but to a performance?"

I mentioned a thought of Michelangelo's I had once read years ago: "Painting and sculpture can never satisfy the soul attuned to the Divine." It could be said for any of the arts.

We wondered about so many actors and actresses, musicians, and artists, brilliant in their work, whose personal lives often seem to be fractured. There is a sadness that often surfaces in their interviews and in talk shows. Is it because they have given their hearts away to a thing - a craft, cause, creation - before they even knew what their hearts were made for? I think we can lose ourselves in our own creations and in doing so forget the Creator. But what's the line, the distinction that must be made? Can both be done?

I remember sitting on the edge of a decision once, back in the early 90's. I was wrapping up my associates degree in visual arts. A choice had to be made: give myself to this art completely, or turn in the road, to who knows where?

I felt it in the heart, this choice. It was like standing on the edge of a precipice, feeling the rush of adrenaline. Feeling almost it seemed, hands willing to grasp my heart, and others waiting to hold it. That was a key distinction.

I chose to withdraw from that fall into the life of an artist, at least the life I was seeing lived by the contemporaries around me. Something seemed off. In the immortal words of Han Solo, I had "a really bad feeling" about it, as though living as an artist (in the secular mold) would have to mean living for art's sake alone. As though I'd lose myself to this amorphous "spirit of art" and the self would be forsaken. I had studied the modern masters and seen it myself... in Picasso, Van Gogh, Gauguin.

"Painting and sculpture can never satisfy the soul attuned to the Divine."

We so often trace the image, sketch the shadows cast by the Hand of God, and become enamored with it. But we're made for more. I think the total gift of self is meant for a Person, not a pop culture, or a "philosophy." The path to God (and to our truest selves) is indeed a path of self-giving. The leap of Jesus was the greatest self-emptying the world has ever known, but He did it for us, for men and women, for each individual heart that beats in the human race.

In his giving, Michelangelo gave us so much. In the moving, living, work and sweat of artists, poets, actors, and writers, we get great glimmers of truth and beauty. But we must never stop there. We've got to keep reaching out, yearning for that Face the reflection of which even now seems so overwhelming to our senses.

"Too late have I loved you, O Beauty of ancient days, yet ever new! Too late have I loved you! And behold, you were within, and I abroad, and there I searched for you; I was deformed, plunging amid those fair forms, which you had made. You were with me, but I was not with you. Things held me far from you - things which, if they were not in you, were not at all. You called, and shouted, and burst my deafness. You flashed and shone, and scattered my blindness. You breathed odors and I drew in breath - and I pant for you. I tasted, and I hunger and thirst. You touched me, and I burned for your peace."

- St. Augustine, Confessions

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Christmas House

Do you get all goosey when you see Inflatable Christmas Lawn Art? Does the glow of lights on an otherwise drab house set your heart pumping? Do you find yourself driving the long way home from work in the winter just to catch some extra yuletide wattage? Well we've got the house for you! Getting there is a real journey, but for those intoxicated by Christmas lights and 6 foot Frostys, you can't beat the "CHRISTMAS HOUSE."

It's nestled, oddly enough, on a dark street in a quiet little town called Washingtonville, NY. The house to the left has a porchlight and a wreath, the neighbor to the right is cloaked in shadowy shrubs. But it would take a city of Wal-Marts to beat out the brightness of the CHRISTMAS HOUSE!

And that's just the outside of the house... Every room inside is loaded to the gills with Christmas doodads and whatzits. Classic stuff too; trains, little villages, a hall of thematic trees like the Irish Tree, the Sports Tree, the Penguin Tree, and... the Creepy Singing Tree Which Has Lips and Big Eyes (my personal favorite. I'm not going to explain it to you. Just go! You'll find it downstairs and to the right. Or should I say, it will find you!)

Yesterday, before heading home from NY, my wife, myself, and a bunch of the family made a pilgrimage to this mecca of music and lights. It's open from December 20 to the 30th, from 7pm to 9pm, so time is running out if you want to make the trip!

The CHRISTMAS HOUSE: It's mind-boggling, it's sensory overload, it's Christmas on steroids! The Palmer family will greet you, dressed all in North Pole attire. And donations are gratefully accepted to help offset the electric bill, which I would guess is somewhere between $139,082 a day!

PS - the CHRISTMAS HOUSE happens to be a beautiful family tradition for many in the area and beyond, dedicated to the memory of Christopher Palmer, who LOVED Christmas like craaaaazy, as you'll see. Check out a rough little snatch of video I took below...



video

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Scandalous Love

For a little reflection this Christmas Eve, I'd like to direct our eyes to some achingly beautiful, wonderfully scandalous passages in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Here's a book that I think is too often passed over as heady, theologically dense, or something only for CCD teachers, sisters, priests, academics or theology students to ponder. But the Catechism is for believers, all believers, to leap into, pour over, pray over, and chew on as an essential part of one spiritually nutritious breakfast! The word catechism comes from the Greek root meaning simply "an echo." And that's all it is - an echo of the Truth and Beauty and Goodness of salvation given to us in the Bible. So here we go... chew slowly and enjoy!

SWEET EXCERPTS FROM ARTICLE 3, Paragraph 1.

457 "Sick, our nature demanded to be healed; fallen, to be raised up; dead, to rise again... Closed in the darkness, it was necessary to bring us the light; captives, we awaited a Savior... Are these things minor or insignificant? Did they not move God to descend to human nature and visit it, since humanity was in so miserable and unhappy a state?"
- St. Gregory of Nyssa

"For the Son of God became man so that we might become God."
- St. Athanasius

458 The Word became flesh so that thus we might know God's love: "In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him." "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."

461 Taking up St. John's expression, "The Word became flesh", the Church calls "Incarnation" the fact that the Son of God assumed a human nature in order to accomplish our salvation in it. In a hymn cited by St. Paul, the Church sings the mystery of the Incarnation: "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross."

Friday, December 21, 2007

Finally! The Hobbit is Coming to the Movies!

Just heard on Fr. Roderick's podcast "Daily Breakfast." An agreement has been made between New Line Cinema, MGM, and director Peter Jackson! There will be 2 separate Hobbit films, filming begins next year! More later!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Seeing and Serving Christ in the Poor

My guest tonight was Katie Sullivan, Director of the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry, which serves our suffering brothers and sisters in three locations: Kensington in Northeast Philadelphia, PA, Wilmington, Delaware, and Camden, NJ.

"The Franciscan Volunteer Ministry is a group of lay men and women, living in community, who dedicate themselves to ministry in the Church in collaboration with the Franciscans of Holy Name Province. Based on the Gospel message to express love in action, it provides an environment that fosters service to the marginalized, personal and interpersonal development, spiritual growth, and an active prayer life."

We had a great conversation on Katie's own journey to join in the mission of the Franciscans, as well as sending out a challenging message for all of us to live the Gospel in a new and radical way. The podcast of our show will be up by the weekend!

Here is the list of needs for St. Francis Inn that Katie mentioned on the air:

GENERAL NEEDS
- prayers
- toilet paper
- tea bags
- sugar

PERSONAL ITEMS
- mini deodorants
- prayers
- mini lotions
- toothbrushes
- toothpaste

WINTER NEEDS
- prayers
- men's wool hats and gloves
- stretchy gloves (one size fits all)
- thermal underwear
- prayers
- blankets/sleeping bags
- hoodies (hooded sweatshirts)
- lotion again
- and prayers!

Here's the website again for the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry!

I Love Darkness

I've always loved darkness. The crisp, cold dark of winter, the thick, warm darkness of sleep, the pre-dawn darkness that shrouds the morning. Sound creepy? Nah... it's creative. Think about it. All things good, true, and worthy of our contemplation spring from darkness.

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss...

It seems darkness is the prerequisite of light. The very stars we love to count sprang from the dark womb of the universe. The flowers and trees we marvel over were born in the seed crushing stillness under the earth; in the wet, dark fodder of fecundity that lies beneath our feet.

Our lives began in darkness. We squirmed and struggled, wound and wrapped up in tiny balls of pulsating blood, brain, bone and tissue, and spirit breathed fresh into that darkness from God, in the wombs of our mothers. Our spiritual birth comes so often from the darkness of doubt and of fear, leaping up from the great Whys we shout up to Heaven throughout our lives, from the darkest of moments. Light and clarity come into the tangled shadows of our own minds, our own clumsy attempts to move about in darkness.

St. John of the Cross once said "If a man wishes to be sure of the road he treads on, he must close his eyes and walk in the dark."

Abraham moved in the darkness.
Jacob wrestled in the darkness.
Joseph looked up from a darkened cistern.
Perhaps Moses saw that Burning Bush because of the darkness that surrounded it?

Mary was overshadowed....
Joseph dreamed in the darkness.
Jesus sweat blood in the shadows of Gethsemane, and died under the cover of clouds on the darkest of days.

The singer-songwriter Nichole Nordeman sings "Maybe I'd see much better by closing my eyes."

Maybe in these dark, quiet December days, we'd do well to have a night unplugged, and move away from the tinsel and the lights, the malls and the Christmas movies, just for a night. And for a time, just sit in the dark. In the deep cold stillness like the cave in Bethlehem, where Love came wrapped in shadows. The Love that is the Light of the World.

When You Gotta Go....

I was perusing through a closet for something the other day and found an old sketchbook of mine from art school. This is a cartoon I did around Christmas, circa 1990! I call it "When You Gotta Go, You Gotta Go."

I suppose it was a remnant of one of my deepest childhood questions on the plausibility of Santa and his ability to make it round the globe without a pit stop. Other thoughts considered the possibility of built-in plumbing on the sleigh, but I won't bore you with those blueprints...

Sunday, December 16, 2007

White Christmas

Oh you just can't beat Bing Crosby's voice in this classic.... it's like butta'!!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Thanks a Million (I mean.... 20,000)!

It was on December 12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, that I put a hit counter on my blog. I'm pleased to say that in the year that has passed since then, (and we'll round off the hits in that first half a year without a counter) there have been over 20,000 visitors to The Heart of Things Blog!! Woohoo! So thanks for stopping by, for passing stuff on, and for the sporadic comments. They are always welcome!

'DA PLANS...

Teaching keeps me pretty busy, but I am hoping to publish a book soon (soon meaning "before death") encapsulating the most reflective of these reflections... skipping the random allusions to YouTube videos, cheese, and HomeStarRunner... well, maybe we'll keep the silly stuff in there for good measure.

Would you read a book like this? With a few hundred one to two page reflections on God, Life, and Everything in Between? I hope so. I figure that's what I like; short and sweet, but meaty enough to get me through the day. The podcast is coming along, with a few bugs to work out still. It's basically a kicked up version of the Radio Show I do each week at In His Sign Network. Maybe when there's time, I can get the new idea for a podcast out there. It's gonna be called "The Good Stuff" - movies, music, poems, books, the stuff that just drips of Beauty, Truth, Goodness, Action, Adventure, the whole dang drama of being human!

There have been a few additions to the blog: I have a couple web albums if you scroll down and look on the right column. One is pics from the trips I used to make to the missions, the other is a collection of masterpieces of sacred art. And at the podcast site, I've just uploaded a page called "Theophanies" - a collection of close ups of creation. I hope to keep adding to it! And maybe pick up a better camera with more megapixels. Those pics were taken with a Canon A510 - 3.5 megapixel camera.

Here's a little video I took at Malvern yesterday; as the ice covered trees started to melt, the water sounded like music.

video

Random Stuff I've Been Meaning to Share

1. iPods are amazing.
2. Podcasts are FREE... and amazing.

What's an iPod? Well, officially, an iPod is a portable media player (music, videos, movies, even photos) designed by Apple and about the size of a pack of gum. It was first launched on October 23, 2001. I have a video iPod that now holds EVERYTHING... family photos, music from Springsteen to Mozart, John Cougar to the Crouching Tiger soundtrack! Talks by Peter Kreeft, Bishop Sheen, Scott Hahn, Christoher West, Scripture readings, episodes of Lost, Scrubs, the Office! Gregorian Chant, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Barry Manilow (yes, real men listen to Barry!), U2, Dave Wilcox, Greg Brown, Charlie Brown Christmas Album, Movie sound bytes that make me laugh, and... and.... lots of stuff! Like podcasts....

What's a podcast?
A podcast is like a broadcast, only one that you the listener can actually control. You can pick it, play it, pause it, or peruse it at your leisure. You can listen to a podcast just like you listen to your music on an iPod or Zune or MP3 player, or even on your computer at home (you don't need an iPod to listen to a podcast!)

Podcasts come in boatloads of different shapes and sizes. And a great place to find them is at iTunes, which ANYONE can download for free from Apple (even if you own a PC and not a Mac).
Here are some categories of podcasts:

Arts, Business, Comedy, Education, Games and Hobbies, Government and Organizations, Health, Kids and Family, Music, News and Politics, Religion and Spirituality, Science and Medicine, Society and Culture, Sports and Recreation, Technology, TV and Film.

And here are some of my favorites:

Daily Breakfast, voted the #1 Catholic podcast with Fr. Roderick, a priest of Holland. It's a 30 minute mix of theology and technology, music, movies, TV series, history, health, inspiration and more!

Catholic in a Small Town, a fun, lighthearted podcast from Mac and Katherine, a young Catholic couple from a small town in Georgia, talking about movies, entertainment, family, Catholic Stuff, and parenting.... pretty much everything!

Pray-as-You-Go, a new prayer session is produced (roughly) every day, lasting between ten and thirteen minutes, it combines music, scripture and some questions for reflection.

Meditations from Carmel, brought to you from the Order of Carmel Discalced Secular at the Carmel of St. Joseph in St. Louis, Missouri. "As Carmelites living in the world, we listen to hear the whisper of God in the silence of our hearts. We seek Him, who we know loves us, and contemplate His wonders."

CoffeeBreak Spanish, aimed at total beginners, learn a wee bit of Spanish with your latte from two Scottish podcasters! How cool is it to learn Spanish with a Scottish accent, I ask ye?

Then there's Fr. Roderick's "Godspeed" video podcasts, the Discovery Channel, National Geographic Short Videos of octopus eating sharks and stuff like that. I mean seriously, is this not cool beyond words?

SO... WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE PODCASTS?

Share the wealth! Post a comment below!

New Narnia Trailer is Out!

The new trailer for the next Narnia movie, Prince Caspian is out! Have a look! May 16 is the release date...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Baby in a Box...

A POWERFUL little video from InsideCatholic.com to prepare our hearts for the Right to Life March in D.C. next month. Please be sure to pass this link along! Beautiful... and subtle in its efforts to lead us to the truth about Life.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Grace Upon Grace

Well, I'm blogging while my Immaculata students take their final exam. Is that irresponsible? Heck no, 'cause they're a group of amazing young people who can take a test despite the feverish click and clak of these keyboard keys! Yeah!

It's been an awesome experience, teaching at a University level this semester. And the provident convenience of Immaculata U. being just 7 minutes and 32 seconds from Malvern Prep was another convenience. I'm looking forward to next semester already, though the Christmas break will be nice.

This was a course on Marriage and Family, with a strong emphasis on the Theology of the Body. We read the thoughts of Pope John Paul II, Mary Healy, Christopher West, we critically watched film clips, listened to popular music, and had discussions on the meaning of being human, the reason we are alive, the battle between love and lust. What better way to spend a Tuesday night from 7:15 to 9:45 I ask you!? To be honest, being home with Rebecca would have been better, but she has been amazingly supportive and so encouraging of me in this vocation of teaching. And despite the long nights, I'M LOVING IT! When you find your passion, your passion finds a way. And teaching theology, gazing wide-eyed into the Mystery of Mysteries Who is not a dry dogma or a program but a Person, is my passion!

What will it be like in 10 years, 20? I feel I'm just a baby teacher in many ways. But the Truth and the Goodness and the Beauty are what lead me on. In the words of one of our Malvern teachers, Mike Rawlings (whom I believe is quoting Alison King) a good teacher is not a "Sage on the Stage, but a Guide by the Side." That's what I hope to be more and more.

Nothin' Says Christmas Like an Archway Cookie!

I'm serious. (And I promise to post a more substantial reflection soon, not that enough of these cookies aren't substantial. Just been real busy with teaching, grading, podcasting, blah, blah!) We ran a few errands Saturday after a beautiful Mass on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. As I zipped through the aisles of Acme, seeking out the 2% milk (though I'm partial to the scandalously retro Whole Milk; feels rebellious just typing it!) I passed by a display of Archway cookies. This was an almost religious experience for me. I don't know why but I often forget about my friends at Archway throughout the rest of the year. Well, once in the middle of summer I had a craving for those massive iced oatmeal cookies and some cold milk. Wow. So if you're out and about this season, look for the "cashew nougat cookie-ball looking things" - they are amazing!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

An O'Henry Christmas - Review

"The poorer you are the more Christmas does for you."
- O.P.

The little stage in Lansdowne's 20th Century Club is intimate; a theater in the round, and all of us gather 'round a cluster of crates and a barrel lit within with faux fire. But the real warmth comes from the characters that soon appear; Marguerite, Agnes, Fran, Grover, Hal, Dinty, Guido the cop, and finally, the master storyteller - O.P. In their rags and wrinkled suits, they are the poor, and it's Christmas Eve, and this is where they'll hold their vigil. It's Howard Burman's play, "An O. Henry Christmas," playing this weekend and next in Lansdowne, PA (details following).

On a railroad spur, on the tattered fringes of New York City, 1893, a group of homeless souls carrying nothing but their own mental baggage, have clustered about this fire seeking its heat for their bodies and, perhaps subconsciously, some warmth for their souls. Suddenly, a stranger appears. In an exchange for food, "O.P." offers to entertain with a series of cryptic yet charming tales, each taking flesh in the characters gathered about the fire. The stories are some classic gems of author O. Henry, including "The Last Leaf" and "The Gift of the Magi." Grace pours out in the telling, and somehow by the end of that cold night, a new fire burns in each person's heart.
The actors are well cast, the laughs come steadily, and yet surrounding it all, and in fact in the middle of it all, burns a powerful message. It's voiced in the words of O.P. and then made flesh in the character of Marguerite. O.P. whispers to Dinty, the cynical, literally "starving" artist who sees nothing but misery in life, "You've got a choice you know. You can choose to see the flower or the manure in which it's growing."

This philosophy, these hopeful stories, these little acts of kindness performed by the homeless players (more and more willingly as the night goes on!), are taken in all the while like a slow and steady drip from a heavenly IV into the dying veins of Marguerite. She is a woman of the streets, who now lies quietly on an old mattress, dying a slow death of her own choosing. We meet her early on, but she, like us, is a silent witness, for the most part, to the events of the night. She has lost the will to live and has projected her very last hours onto an old dying vine. With every veined leaf that falls, more life seeps from her own. We watch as the tales of O.P. and the enthusiasm of her friends try valiantly to cut the webs of her melancholy like swords. But this play holds a two-edged sword, and we are soberly reminded that real love comes at a price.

_________________________________

An O'Henry Christmas" opens at Celebration Theater on November 30th. Jack Roe as "O.P" spins a tale to down-and-out travelers Amanda Williamson and Rebecca Donaghy in Celebration Theater's "An O'Henry Christmas".

The show runs through December 16 in Lansdowne at the 20th Century Club on 84 S. Lansdowne Avenue.

Blogging, Believing, and the Blessed Mother - An Interview with Mark Shea

This week's show was an interview with Mark Shea, a popular Catholic writer, speaker, and blogger. In addition to being co-author of the smash bestseller A Guide to the Passion: 100 Questions About The Passion of the Christ, he is also the author of The Da Vinci Deception: 100 Questions About the Facts and Fiction of The Da Vinci Code (Ascension), Making Senses Out of Scripture: Reading the Bible as the First Christians Did (Basilica), By What Authority?: An Evangelical Discovers Catholic Tradition (Our Sunday Visitor) and This is My Body: An Evangelical Discovers the Real Presence (Christendom Press) An award-winning columnist, he contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register.

Mark is know nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio and he is also a guest each Tuesday on "Heart, Mind, and Strength" radio with Dr. Gregory Popcak. He has also appeared numerous times on television to talk about the Catholic Faith.

In addition, Mark is a nationally known speaker on various issues in Catholic faith and life. Finally, Mark is Senior Content Editor for www.CatholicExchange.com. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.

You can listen to our conversation at the podcast here!

LINKS:
www.markshea.blogspot.com
www.CatholicExchange.com
www.catholic.com
www.homestarrunner.com

Friday, November 30, 2007

Saved in Hope - Pope's New Encyclical

Pope Benedict's new encyclical is here!

SOME QUICK GEMS FROM "SPE SALVI" -

"It is not science that redeems man: man is redeemed by love."

"Whoever is moved by love begins to perceive what “life” really is. He begins to perceive the meaning of the word of hope that we encountered in the Baptismal Rite: from faith I await “eternal life”—the true life which, whole and unthreatened, in all its fullness, is simply life."

"In our encounter with the God who in Christ has shown us his face and opened his heart be for us too not just "informative" but "performative" — that is to say, can it change our lives, so that we know we are redeemed through the hope that it expresses?"

"A first essential setting for learning hope is prayer. When no one listens to me any more, God still listens to me. When I can no longer talk to anyone or call upon anyone, I can always talk to God. When there is no longer anyone to help me deal with a need or expectation that goes beyond the human capacity for hope, he can help me. When I have been plunged into complete solitude ...; if I pray I am never totally alone."

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

This Golden Compass Points Due South

Ah, the compass. Even those of us who have never actually held one know instinctively that to do so would be a comforting thing, a reassuring thing, a good thing. Because in the event that we should become "lost" the compass would serve as a guide to getting us "found" again.

I love the fact that the needle of a compass points north. Well, not true north, they say, but pretty darn near true north. I love north. I love saying the word north! It reminds me of the high and lofty, the cold and unreachable, the North Star, the cap of the world, Mount Everest, stuff like that. Growing up, when July would roll around, my brother and I would always look forward to heading north to Maine. Once the old gray Chevy truck (affectionately known as the Babe) was loaded up, the very act of turning off of the back roads of Browns Mills and slipping onto the ramp that led to 95 North brought a certain rush of excitement. For us, heading north meant a journey into clarity, and a certain clearing of the head; to clearer paths of unspoiled wilderness and open fields.

But what happens when your compass is broken, or worse, the needle twisted, and the signs intentionally switched by another hand? What if 95 North read 95 South, and instead of the cool, clear, balsam-scented forests of New England, we ended up in the hot, swarmy, mosquito invested swamps of Florida! (no offense, Floridians. Hey, my Nana lives in Florida!)

Well, that would not be nice, now would it?

Enter, The Golden Compass. It's the first book of Philip Pullman’s trilogy “His Dark Materials” (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass). A slicked up movie version of The Golden Compass starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig is due for release on December 7th. What's it about? Well, think of the beauty and mystery and appeal of the Chronicles of Narnia and the Lord of the Rings as classic tales of good versus evil that lead us to God, to the True, the Good, and the Beautiful, and then turn it completely upside down.

Pullman is a militant atheist who has said “I hate the Narnia books, and I hate them with a deep and bitter passion. . . .” In the conclusion of the Chronicles of Narnia, when Aslan the Lion (the Christ figure) brings the true and faithful Narnians to Heaven, Pullman is repulsed and has called it “one of the most vile moments in the whole of children’s literature.” Narnia, and the Lord of the Rings he claims, are "propaganda in the service of a life-hating ideology.” He's also said “Harry Potter’s been taking all the flak. Meanwhile, I’ve been flying under the radar, saying things that are far more subversive than anything poor old Harry has said.”
OK then.

Tonight on the Heart of Things radio show (800AM or http://www.catholicinternetradio.com/) my guest will be Ms. Sandra Miesel. Sandra holds masters’ degrees in biochemistry and medieval history from the University of Illinois. She has written hundreds of articles for the Catholic press, chiefly on history, art, and hagiography. Outside the Catholic sphere, she has also written, analyzed, and edited fiction. We'll be talking about the ramifications of "The Golden Compass" from 5 to 6 pm tonight (EST).

If you are a parent, educator, believer in God, or just alive, please tune in, and pass it on! The show will be uploaded as a podcast by the week's end. My podcast is available through iTunes, or click the podcast link at http://www.missionmoment.org/

PS - Sandra Miesel has a brand new book coming out!

Pied Piper of Atheism: Philip Pullman and Children's Fantasy

You can pre-order it now at www.ignatius.com

Here's the write up from Ignatius:

"British author Philip Pullman is widely acclaimed by critics and readers for his best-selling, award-winning trilogy, His Dark Materials. But he has been criticized by some for attacking Christianity and promoting atheism. What is the truth about Pullman and his books? What does he believe about God, religion, the Catholic Church, and atheism? What does he hope his books will accomplish? Why does he express such strong disdain for the fiction of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien? Should children be reading the His Dark Materials trilogy, or watching the film version of The Golden Compass, the first book of the trilogy?

These are just some of the many important questions addressed by Pete Vere and Sandra Miesel in their accessible, concise, and thoroughly-researched analysis of Pullman's fiction and beliefs. The authors provide a literary critique of His Dark Materials and reveal the many premises, and often surprising literary and philosophical sources of that popular work, as well as explain the symbolism present throughout. They also compare Pullman's fiction to The Chronicles of Narnia, the Harry Potter books, and other famous works of children's fiction. And they examine the metaphysical premises and moral propositions found throughout His Dark Materials, and point out the many objectionable aspects of the books—including violence and sensuality—about which every concerned parent should know. Readers looking for a fair, firm, and non-sensational critique of His Dark Materials will find it in Pied Piper of Atheism."


Deer in the Fence

I was driving out of Malvern Retreat Center about two weeks ago, from a meeting that took me into the twilight time of the day, when a massive buck came leaping across the fields that buffer Malvern Prep's campus from the road. It was a powerful, agile creature, bounding like Mercury over the grass, and straight for my car. I was spellbound for a moment, then looking to my right, I saw traffic approaching. I honked my horn and they slowed. To the left, more cars were coming; they too saw the deer and soon a window was open for this beautiful creature to slip through. And slip it did.

At first it brought to mind the old Far Side cartoon "Nature Scenes We Rarely See" - where a beautiful buck is leaping over a fallen log with his antlers an inch from another tree branch (and we imagine the awkward pain of the next two seconds when the two meet). The grounds of the Retreat Center were surrounded by a high, green, chain link fence. The deer cut to the right away from my car and smacked right into the fence. Deer are color blind, I'm told, so perhaps the green of the fence blended in with the deep green woods of freedom beyond them.

Ouch.

We all watched from our cars as its beautiful body crumpled to the grassy shoulder. Then to our amazement, it jumped again, and again... and again, each time launching itself back into the fence with no success. I found myself cheering him on... "Look over here! You're so close! Freedom is just 20 feet away!" Finally, after what seemed like a dozen attempts, the deer 's own body weight managed to tear away the bottom of the fence and it slowly edged through it backwards, unravelling its antlers from the chain links in a slow and painful twisting movement. Once free of the fence, it simply turned and jumped again, this time into the clear air and off into the deep woods.

Crazy.

It was a couple of days later that the image came back to me. I was thinking of a friend who was in the midst of a real crisis, and I felt again like I was sitting in my safe and secure car, observing something of great power, beauty and freedom suddenly caught up in anxiety, pain and confusion. All I could do was watch, wait, listen.... and point to the freedom just 20 feet away. I was removed, could see more clearly, could see the range of colors that offer through contrast a greater clarity. Even though the path to freedom and to open fields seemed so close, I could only pray and point to it. We can no more force others to choose (a contradiction) than I could have picked up that deer and set him onto the open path. That move would have damaged us both.

How quickly life can turn us into those tangled knots, dark places, and seemingly unsurmountable walls. And we leap again and again into the knot, into the darkness, into the mess of it all for we cannot see beyond it. But I know we're made for open fields; we are meant to be free. Even in the midst of what seems insurmountable, inescapable, even life-threatening, there is hope. And we can find it, sometimes by passing through the pain and darkness, sometimes around it. But the deer could not see this, reason it out, step back, breathe, or pray in the middle of its crisis. It couldn't make an act of faith that this struggle would work out either. But we can step back, pray, sit with the Mystery.... listen. And we should in every and all circumstances as we make our way through this world.

What fence of fear or confusion or dread has locked you in? What boundaries are you seeking to go beyond? What comfort zone is He calling you out of and beyond? And which side of that fence offers you true freedom?

To find the mystery there must be patience, interior purification, silence, waiting....
-Pope John Paul II

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Zapped!

Wednesday before the Thanksgiving holiday found me in Wawa (our convenience store/deli) this morning. I was preparing meself a wee cup of Kona coffee (it's some kinda Hawaiian blend, a little nutty flavor, my favorite), when I heard a song playing through the store. I had never heard it before, but instantly knew I loved it. You know what I'm talking about? I didn't know the artist or even the words, it was playing so low. But I instantly knew it was one of my songs.

You know what I mean. It had that melody, the kind that speaks in my native tongue, that language that needs no parsing and no tense. It is always Now. Always Then. Always shimmering with the possibility of What Will Be.

As far as I'm concerned, good music is an invitation to contemplation. It's a kind of sacramental, wrapping truth and beauty in melodic clothes.

So I stood there as the three people ahead of me had their stuff rung up; bagel, pack of gum, milk, coffee. And all the while I was getting zapped in the middle of a busy morning at Wawa. That music was like a sniper, hitting my heart in the midst of a crowded place, and it can us too in busy streets, in the deserts of solitude, in wide open fields of the soul where we are alone, in the wind over the water of the ocean of our being. What a power it has to strike us down, melt the heart, fire it up, send it hurtling through our days with new insights, new vision, new energy.

"Music is the language of Heaven."
- Peter Kreeft


---------------------------------
From the Road! Sunday, Nov. 25, 2007

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless handheld

Thursday, November 22, 2007

August Rush Movie - Lookin' Good!

"It's all around us... only some of us can hear it." "Only some of us are listening." Wow, movie trailers are so often high octane, high adrenaline and packed with emotion. Perhaps that's why I LOVE THEM! This looks like a film with a powerful message. Just heard of it today and I'm looking forward to seeing it! Here's the official website.

CRITICAL WEEKEND FOR CATHOLIC FILMMAKERS

This is a special request from Catholic Exchange.

Keep One in Theaters, Get the Other into Every Catholic Home

www.bellathemovie.com

www.championsoffaith.com


Thanksgiving Weekend is a critical weekend for two sets of Catholic filmmakers. While the team at Metanoia Films appeals to Catholics to keep Bella in theaters this coming weekend, the filmmakers at Catholic Exchange appeal for a blockbuster response to our multi-award winning DVD, Champions of Faith: Baseball.

Just as important as ticket sales for theatrical releases, DVD sales support and sustain films released straight to video and in this instance will enable Catholic Exchange to create more films featuring cultural icons who embrace and affirm our beloved Catholic faith.

Call 1.877.263.1263 if you'd like to order. Here's sampling of the reviews for Champions of Faith:

"A nine-inning faith classic!"
– Bishop Ignatius Catanello, Archdiocese of Brooklyn

"A great testimony to how rich our lives can be when filled with faith ."
– Dennis Heaney, President, The Christophers

"A healthy reminder that men of character do still play the game."
– Russell Shaw

"Anyone with a spiritual bent is sure to be moved by the experiences of these men."
– United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Film and Television 

There is nothing more inspirational than to see and hear superstar athletes at the top of their game talking about something greater than winning the World Series or being named a Major League All-Star — that is, their faith in God, devotion to the Blessed Mother and love for Christ in the Eucharist. For the first time, there is a tool available to hand to those people in your life who are the most difficult to speak with about God. Champions of Faith is that tool.

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless handheld

Thursday, November 15, 2007

My Wife the Actress!!

Rebecca auditioned a couple of months ago in our local community theater, and POW! she got the role of a dying woman wearing a plaid scarf! How cool is that! Here's the write-up from the theater's website, cut and pasted for your viewing pleasure! __________________________________________ "An O'Henry Christmas" opens at Celebration Theater on November 30th.

Jack Rowe as "O.P" spins a tale to down-and-out travelers Amanda Williamson and Rebecca Donaghy (woohoo! emphasis added) in Celebration Theater's "An O'Henry Christmas". The show opens November 30 and runs thru December 16 in Lansdowne at the 20th Century Club on 84 S. Lansdowne Avenue. The story takes place on Christmas Eve, 1893, when a mysterious storyteller enters an abandoned railroad spur on the outskirts of New York City and joins a rag-tag group of seemingly lost souls. In exchange for food, " O.P." entertains his new friends with a series of charming tales that transform them into characters in stories by O. Henry, including "The Last Leaf" and "The Gift of the Magi." In the process, he rekindles their holiday spirit and gives them new hope for their future. With grace, humor, and a touch of the fantastic, An O. Henry Christmas makes for delightful holiday entertainment. For more information go to www.celebrationtheater.com or call 610 259-1800.

November 30 - December 16, 2007 | Buy Tickets

  • Performance times (Fri & Sat 7:30 & Sun at 6:30pm)
  • Friday Nov 30th will feature a Wine and Cheese Reception before the performance for an additional $5 per ticket

The Red Pill or the Blue Pill?

The Matrix was a film trilogy that captivated many (including me!) a few years back, by tapping into the deepest questions we have as humans: Why are we here? Is there more than just this life? What is the Truth of our origins? Where can I find it?

Unfortunately, as the series moved forward, it became a tangled cacophony of too many philosophies and theologies. In the end, it was just another brand of gnosticism wrapped in shiny 20th century special effects (oh but what sweet special effects!)

Despite the philosophical fogginess in these films, there were some incredible "teaching" moments. One of my favorites happens in the initial conversation between Neo (the Chosen One who slowly discovers his purpose) and Morpheus (the sage character who leads Neo out of the darkness of deception).

Morpheus: ... Let me tell you why you're here. You're here because you know something. What you know, you can't explain. But you feel it. You felt it your entire life. That there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's there. Like a splinter in your mind - driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I'm talking about?

Neo: The Matrix?

Morpheus: Do you want to know what it is? (Neo nods his head.)

Morpheus: The Matrix is everywhere, it is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window, or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, or when go to church or when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.

Neo: What truth?

Morpheus: That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else, you were born into bondage, born inside a prison that you cannot smell, taste, or touch. A prison for your mind. (long pause, sighs) Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself. This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. (In his left hand, Morpheus shows a blue pill.)

Morpheus: You take the blue pill and the story ends. You wake in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. (A red pill is shown in his other hand) You take the red pill and you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes. (Long pause; Neo begins to reach for the red pill) Remember -- all I am offering is the truth, nothing more. (Neo takes the red pill and swallows it with a glass of water)


Glimmers of the Truth on the silver screen?

No doubt.

Isn't there, for all of us, an inherent sense of something being "off" in the world, in our own hearts, in our relationships. Something we can't seem to name exactly... but we know it's there...

"But you feel it. You felt it your entire life."

We should ask ourselves "Is this how it's always been? Should we ever expect Something More?"

"Like everyone else, you were born into bondage, born inside a prison...."

Original Sin. The break in our origins as persons made to give but given in to grasp at the gifts and promises God wants to give us. But our culture is constantly tossing the wool over our eyes, filtering values, watering down truth, trying to erase our memories of that Original Grace, that Garden, that peace and love that runs deeper than lust. In the words of Pope John Paul II, it's the "heritage of our hearts" and it has real "salvific power."

In other words, it can save us. It can liberate us from the prison of sin. But it's not in a pill we can take, or a program we can attend, or even in a self-help section at the bookstore. It pours out freely from the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit.

But it is the self that must seek the help, must look up, look out of the stony place in the heart and beg for the chisel and the hammer that can break us and set us free.

So we do have to make a choice. And therein lies our greatest power, our deepest identity. We are free to choose. And here is the other favorite scene of mine, taken from the final installment of the Matrix Trilogy; there is an epic battle at the film's conclusion where Neo must face Agent Smith and defeat him. Neo is beaten down, nearly destroyed and seemingly the odds are against him. Smith stands over him in what looks like the moment that will end all things.

Agent Smith: Why, Mr. Anderson? Why do you do it? Why get up? Why keep fighting? Do you believe you're fighting for something? For more that your survival? Can you tell me what it is? Do you even know? Is it freedom? Or truth? Perhaps peace? Yes? No? Could it be for love? Illusions, Mr. Anderson. Vagaries of perception. The temporary constructs of a feeble human intellect trying desperately to justify an existence that is without meaning or purpose... You must be able to see it, Mr. Anderson. You must know it by now. You can't win. It's pointless to keep fighting. Why, Mr. Anderson? Why? Why do you persist?

Neo: Because I choose to.


What will we choose today in the many encounters we'll experience? Will we reach out of the prison of the self, the lens of lust and grasping and egocentricity that we've been told is the only reality? Or will we dig deeper into that heritage of our hearts, that Original Innocence God created us in? Will we choose to reach up and out and into the Other? Into the New Grace that streams down from the Cross?

He has the power to take us out of ourselves.... finally. Do we believe?

"Remember -- all I am offering is the truth, nothing more."

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Mother Teresa - Saint of Darkness

This week on the Heart of Things Radio Show, my guest is the co-founder of Mother Teresa’s priestly order, Fr. Joseph Langford.

He began his long association with Mother Teresa while studying theology in Rome. In 1983, she invited him to be the co-founder
of her priests’ community, the Missionaries of Charity Fathers. He resides at the community’s motherhouse in Tijuana, Mexico. We'll discuss his new book "Mother Teresa: In the Shadow of Our Lady."

"In recent weeks, the once-private, inner thoughts of Mother Teresa have been at the center of media attention… and scrutiny. Thanks to thirty thousand pages of documents gathered for her canonization and most recently the public release of her personal correspondence to her confessors, the Nobel Prize winning Catholic nun - admired for her work among the poor - has been the subject of critical debate. Did Mother Teresa believe in God? Was she in torment over a loss of faith? Did she cease to pray? Was she a hypocrite? These questions and more are on the lips of the world’s most vocal mouthpieces, from atheists to theologians and everyone in between. In an extraordinary new book published by Our Sunday Visitor, Fr. Joseph Langford, founder with Mother Teresa of her religious community of priests, will help us understand even more about the beloved “Mother” of Calcutta in his insightful revelations about the truth of her interior life. We’ll learn that the only shadow on Mother Teresa’s life that we need to care about is the one cast by Mary, the “Mother” of Nazareth. Fr. Langford candidly proves in Mother Teresa: In the Shadow of Our Lady, that “to attempt to describe Mother Teresa in a few broad strokes by holding up one or another aspect of her life or work without reference to the whole is to fail to grasp who she was.”

- Our Sunday Visitor


Date: Wednesday, November 14
Time: 5pm to 6pm EST @ 800 AM (southeastern PA, NJ, DE, parts of MD)
or live via http://www.catholicinternetradio.com/

To call into the show with your thoughts or questions in the Philadelphia region: 610-527-2906 or outside the Philadelphia region, call toll free: 888-343-2484

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Fire, Frost and Gold

This is the season! Even in the rush to work, I'm sure you've been captured by the beauty in the fields, the forests, the city blocks lucky enough to have even a few trees. They are passing through their death throes, shuffling off in a blaze of glory their leafy cloaks... and lifting up their branches to embrace the winter chill.

It's beyond beautiful.

So yesterday morning on the way to work, I stashed the camera, and as I pulled onto Malvern's campus, the sun peeked up from the eastern rim of the sky and poured out fire on the sleepy earth. I took a few pics beside the edge of Black Friar Pond. The page to view them is here. Enjoy! And keep your cameras ready.... this weekend looks like the peak!

Zoom Zoom!







Woohoo! My brother-in-law Tim Byrons was mentioned in the BMW Car Club of America Show in Stowe, Vermont! They gave his car a nice shoutout on the webpage here. Go Tim!

FROM THE SITE
Amongst the other notables:

- A Malaga 1973 3.0CS with 7,500 original miles owned by a reclusive collector who graciously allowed it out to visit (but not play) with a number of other picture-perfect CS coupes.

- Tim Byron’s spectacular 1988 635CSi.

- Dave Haviland’s time warp 1952 Azure Blue performance-tuned Beetle.


- A bevy of Bimmers, Porsches, Mercedes, Audis, VWs. The senior BMW present was Frank Bombardier’s red 1958 Isetta 300.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Answering Atheism

My guest last night on the Heart of Things radio show was Tom Hoopes, executive editor of the National Catholic Register. We spoke of contemporary waves of Atheism in the cultural spotlight, from Richard Dawkins to the Golden Compass. Here are some resources, and the podcast will be uploaded soon for your listening pleasure!

RESOURCES MENTIONED
Answering Atheism
Turkey Day Apologetics (coming to National Catholic Register soon!)
Married (with a lot) of Children by Tom Hoopes
Apostles to the Slavs - Pope John Paul II

OUR CLOSING SONG
Ginny Owens - I am Nothing

Monday, November 05, 2007

A Drop of Morning Dew

video "Before the LORD the whole universe is as a grain from a balance or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth." - Wisdom 11:22. Rebecca and I went to the 8:30 at Holy Cross this weekend. We needed to get an early start to the day! This church has a massive stained glass window just behind the altar. It's actually an entire scene (the morning of the Resurrection) with three basic panels capturing different moments from that immortal Morning. I found myself drifting into it during the Mass. The reading was from Wisdom 11. Sometimes a line from Scripture can just take you places... "For you love all things that are..... And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you? But you spare all things, because they are yours, O LORD and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things!" The video embedded above was taken a couple weekends ago in NY at the in-laws. Again, I was heading out the door to Mass and captured by the soft fragility of beauty. That thought from the book of Wisdom - about God's "imperishable spirit... in all things" - has been sticking with me this week. Despite the rush and the frenetic pace and the noise and the busyness we subject ourselves too, His imperishable spirit is in all things.... Even though we brush past beauty a thousand times a day.... His imperishable spirit is in all things... ALL things.... So I find myself this week drifting back to those spots of time, flashes of light where He was and where I knew He was and sometimes where I did not see Him until just now. But His imperishable spirit is in all things... In the light on the horizon driving home from Grandma Donaghy's when I was a kid in the backseat. In the wet fields off of Sykesville Road, and in the white wings of the gulls hovering over the soil... In the music of my youth....in the games we made up, in the intoxicating freedom of riding our bikes all over Burlington County. In the smell of those Star Wars trading cards, the music of John Williams, the gilded edges of holy cards, the smell of my baseball glove, the walk of wonder to the parking lot under a starry sky after seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark for the first time. In the swimming hole at Rancocas Creek... in the card games with the guys on Jefferson Street, laughing... always laughing. His imperishable spirit is in all things... And there is nowhere where He is not, and in Him all things are. The universe is a sacrament, and in faith we can see Him, meet Him, love Him, as He comes to us streaming through the memories, and the moments that surround and shape us every single day.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Bella - A Review

There's been tons of talk lately in the press and Catholic circles about the new film "Bella." It won the Toronto Film Festival's People's Choice Award as well as the praise of our own Cardinal Rigali. Now with that kind of variety, this film is worth a look!

I saw it yesterday with our Head of School, Fr. Flynn, and 26 of the boys from Malvern Prep. And I loved it. I can't say enough about how refreshing it was to be served a banquet of real, virtuous love from the Big Screen as opposed to the usual dollar menu of vice, compromise, distorted sex and violence. Where other films would go when their lead characters are young, attractive, male and female.... the movie Bella halts. Instead, it opens up the possibility that there exists a deeper love, a purer love, a love that isn't just about jumping in the sack. Wow! Who knew?

And yet the love between Jose and Nina is real, gritty, painfully honest, and shows to what depths the human heart can go when we become truly naked before another person. Where other Hollywood love stories go in one night (often so predictably) Bella in one day and night goes infinitely beyond. This love is not skin deep, but dives into the painful heart of each person, into their fears and their regrets, and by facing those skeletons, the old bones are given new life.

The lead character Jose is the MAN. That's all I have to say. He is, like his name's sake St. Joseph, the guardian and protector of a woman in a very vulnerable place. And he shines, he soars! Even while carrying the burden of his own tragic past. Nina plays the fragile and sometimes angry heart that finds in the face of Pure Love, that her heart can be open to something more.

The scenes have a raw, gritty feel to them, like we're walking through NYC ourselves. The close-cropped shots of onions being cut and tomatoes tossed, of flame and bread and water and dancing feet and digging earth and planting trees all conveyed a sense of joy and a rhythm to life that I think our culture has forgotten exists. The character of Nina felt its beat in her heart after one beautiful evening meal with Jose's family. "Is it always like that?" she asks him as they walk towards the ocean. "So much joy? So much love?" Jose's humble eyes look down, "That's nothing. You should see it when we all get together on holidays."

I'm tempted to stop writing and just say go see the movie. Just go and receive it like a gift, with no idea of its contents. It's a journey into Life, and it's got all the beauty and the pain and the promise that God has growing in this garden we call earth. Ah the movie Bella, like Life.... what a beautiful choice!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Tonight's Radio Show - Interview with Author Joseph Pearce

"Joseph Pearce has written acclaimed biographies of Hilaire Belloc, Oscar Wilde, Roy Campbell, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, among many other works. He is currently editor of the Saint Austin Review and Writer in Residence and Associate Professor of Literature at Ave Maria University."

We'll be discussing his new book Small Is Still Beautiful

For a wonderful resource on Joseph, his life and his works, visit this Ignatius Insight link. Additional information about Joseph Pearce is available through Mars Hill Audio.

Ignatius Press books by Joseph Pearce:

Flowers of Heaven: One Thousand Years of Christian Verse (editor)
Literary Giants, Literary Catholics
Tolkien: Man and Myth
Old Thunder: A Life of Hilaire Belloc
Literary Converts
Tolkien: A Celebration
C.S. Lewis and the Catholic Church
Wisdom and Innocence: A Life of G. K. Chesterton
The Unmasking of Oscar Wilde

Friday, October 26, 2007

A New Podcast Episode is Up!

I've uploaded last week's interview with Christopher West, which was a powerful conversation on the Theology of the Body, human love, and insights into his new book The Love That Satisfies: Reflections on Eros and Agape. So feel free to tune in to my podcast site and listen via the computer, or subscribe through iTunes to download to your iPod! Woohoo!

A beautiful excerpt from the Pope's encyclical:
"Nowadays Christianity of the past is often criticized as having been opposed to the body; and it is quite true that tendencies of this sort have always existed. Yet the contemporary way of exalting the body is deceptive. Eros, reduced to pure “sex”, has become a commodity, a mere “thing” to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity. This is hardly man's great “yes” to the body... The apparent exaltation of the body can quickly turn into a hatred of bodiliness. Christian faith, on the other hand, has always considered man a unity in duality, a reality in which spirit and matter compenetrate, and in which each is brought to a new nobility. True, eros tends to rise “in ecstasy” towards the Divine, to lead us beyond ourselves; yet for this very reason it calls for a path of ascent, renunciation, purification and healing."
- Pope Benedict XVI, in Deus Caritas Est, n.2

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Lost in Love: The Trinity and the Human Person

Eternal Trinity... mystery deep as the sea, You could give me no greater gift than the gift of Yourself. For You are a fire ever burning and never consumed, which itself consumes all the selfish love that fills my being... - Saint Catherine of Siena I always get a little annoyed when a priest or deacon gets skittish about preaching on the Trinity, and jokes about how confusing the Trinity is, saying things like "When I'm through preaching on the Trinity, you'll probably be more confused than you are now!" And everyone sort of chuckles in that soft church laugh/chuckle kind of way. Then we buck up for a homily that anesthetizes more than it obfuscates (oh man would my old English teacher be proud of me for that line!) But is the Trinity some sort of Divine Puzzle? Did God reveal Himself to us as some sort of enigmatic algebraic equation that only Einsteins could figure out? Or is it perhaps that our approach, our trying to "grasp" this 1 + 1 + 1 = 1 formula is all wrong? HUSH IN THE PRESENCE OF THIS MYSTERY The Trinity is not a puzzle, but Persons. Not a problem to be solved but a Mystery of Love in Whom by grace we can swim! "Thanks to the Holy Spirit, who helps us to understand the words of Jesus and guides us into all the truth, believers can know, so to speak, the intimacy of God himself, discovering that he is not infinite solitude, but communion of light and love, life given and received in an eternal dialogue between the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit - lover, beloved and love, to recall St. Augustine." - Pope Benedict XVI (Angelus, June 11, 2006, www.Zenit.org) God peeled back the blue sky and sent the Spirit to hover over His Son in the waters of the Jordan and spoke from up above to welcome us into this Great Mystery of Who God Is. And the image of Three Persons as One Communion of Love is not far from us, or foreign to our minds. It's stamped right in our bodies, in the love of husband and wife, and in the fruit that proceeds from the man and wife in the beauty and overflowing love of New Life! Allow me to quote at length from the MAN: "For him who has faith, the whole universe speaks of God one and triune. From interstellar space to microscopic particles, all that exists refers to a being who communicates himself in the multiplicity and variety of the elements, as in an immense symphony. All beings are ordered according to a harmonic dynamism, which we can call, analogically, "love." But only in the human person, free and rational, this dynamism becomes spiritual, a responsible love, as response to God and to one's neighbor in a sincere gift of self. In this love the human being finds his truth and happiness." YES!! "Among the different analogies of the ineffable mystery of God one and triune, which believers have the capacity to perceive, I would like to mention the family. It is called to be a community of love and life, in which differences must come together to become a "parable of communion."' - Pope Benedict Great food for thought in these days of sexual confusion, marital conflict, divorce and fracture. Let's remember who we are, and that we are made for Communion. A Communion with the very Triune, Familial Heart of the Living God, Who is Love. In giving ourselves, body and soul, in our own masculinity and femininity to this Mystery, we will truly find ourselves!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Dumbledore is Gay - A Catholic Response

Well, this is interesting news.

According to a CNN article posted today, the world famous British author J.K. Rowling, while wrapping up a brief "Open Book Tour" of the U.S., was asked by a young fan whether Dumbledore, the old wizard mentor of Harry Potter, finds "true love."

"Dumbledore is gay," the author responded.

Gasps and claps erupted in the audience. Huh?
OK... is that a yes or a no?

Amidst the shock and applause that fanned out over the fans at that sitting, I wonder if anyone saw the irony here. The hollow space of the unanswered question. Now with the ripples and the waves on the water caused by this comment, will we ever get to see the answer reflected?

Rowling was said to have regarded her Harry Potter series as a "prolonged argument for tolerance" and urged her fans to "question authority."

Oh boy...

But I'd like the answer to the question about finding "true love."

Dumbledore is gay? What does this mean? How will this effect the young readers across the planet who have looked on Dumbledore as a kind of grandpa, a type of Ben Kenobi guiding Luke in his decisions for a new generation? Will this give them light and clarity about their own life's direction (because good stories should do that; lead us to the light and not to fog.)

What is homosexuality? Let's reflect....

The Potter series, already a wee bit muddy with its dabbling in magic (although I feel the series ended on a very clear note with the triumph of good), has added another big question mark into its pages. Our sexual identity. I thought it was a story of good and evil, of courage and bravery in the face of tyranny and deceit? I guess there's more to this book than its cover?

PONDER THIS...

Our culture is in the midst of a sexual crisis. What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be a woman? Are there distinctions, differences? Are they merely biological? Can they be manipulated, conditioned? Can we decide to alter, recreate, refashion our bodies the way we want to? Is our sexual identity as male and female just like parts that can be replaced or rearranged?

Or is there something more than just biology about our bodies? Is there a theology? Something cosmic, something spiritual, something distinct in our creation as male AND female? Is there something complimentary in the very universe that echoes a Masculine and Feminine? It seems that every culture and every religion since the beginning has seen in earth and sky, seed and sower, flower and bee, a great truth manifested for us.

What is that truth? That the very difference between man and woman is literally what unites us together. Our sexual difference is literally what brings LIFE into the world.

Now let's look at Dumbledore, the homosexual wizard. This is where it gets "muddy." And bear with me, but I have to mention the "S word" really quickly: SIN. I know, I know, it's really out of date. Speaking of SIN today is like referring to pimples as carbuncles, or to CD players as gramophones. But SIN was a very popular word once and helped us to diagnose heaps of problems in the culture and inside our own messed up hearts too! And naming and claiming SIN helped us get the remedy too, like an antidote to poison.

So what is SIN? It's greek root means to miss the mark, like when an archer's arrow misses the bull's eye. Sin is a distortion, a bending of the good, a twisting of the original design to make it fit in our own little pocket. Some may not like to hear this, but homosexual acts are sinful. And like any sin, it's a seeking after what's deemed a Good. It just misses the mark.

Do homosexuals love one another (even wizards?); they can absolutely love one another. But there's love for all, and then there's the sexual expression of love meant for man and woman as part of God's plan for bringing LIFE into the world. Is homosexual love in this sense even possible? No. The very act itself is a forcing, an act that even biologically doesn't work. No word, no agenda, no person can change that or should try to. Does this mean that people with homosexual inclinations are evil and are going to Hell? Hell no.

It simply means that we are living in confusing times. It means that all of us are still looking for Love, still peering out through foggy, distorted lenses that haven't been set right since the Fall, when our first parents, Adam and Eve, reached out to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and decided that they would rather make up the rules for themselves. That's what SIN is at the end of the day. SIN says "I don't trust this plan of love. I want it another way."

This is a hard teaching, I know. It's difficult especially for those suffering from strong, often overpowering, emotions towards same-sex attraction. And there's no magic wand of wood that can make it go away in an instant. But we're not bound by SIN anymore. The Wood of the Cross can set this right, can re-order our hearts, can lead us to Life! The Serpent in the Tree of the Garden had twisted its roots and its fruit has deceived us. But the Tree of the Cross has the figure of a Man upon it. And He says, "This is my Body, given up for you. Take and eat, and you will have Life." And the Church, the Bride of Christ, says, "Amen!"

Therein is the answer to the question of finding "true love." It's there at the foot of the Cross that our love can be remade, our hearts refashioned! May He turn our water into wine, and fill us with His Love!

Now that's magic.

Soul Meets Body

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