Monday, March 31, 2008

The Real Jesus

The song is by "downhere" and the video from Kelly Wicoff, who packs a powerful lesson in the images she chooses...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Tonight's Radio Show - Theology of the Body for Teens

Tonight's guest on the Heart of Things radio show is Brian Butler, co-author of the new Theology of the Body for Teens program.

From the TOB for Teens website:

A New Language for a New Generation
"Theology of the Body for Teens presents the two hottest topics on the planet - God and sex - and "marries" them through Pope John Paul II's compelling vision for love and life. Using a great mix of stories, real-life examples, activities, prayers, and references to the culture that teens understand, Theology of the Body for Teens answers the questions teens have about their own bodies, issues on sexual morality, and how they were uniquely created for greatness."

Theology of the Body for Teens answers questions such as:

• Why did God give us our sexual desires?
• What is the difference between love and lust?
• Can Christ bring healing to me if I’ve already “messed up”?
• How far is “too far”?
• How can teens remain pure in our oversexed culture?
• Is there any hope for overcoming lust and pornography?

Click here to learn more about Theology of the Body for Teens.
For more on Brian's ministry, visit the Dumb Ox Productions website here!
The podcast of my interview with Brian should be up by this Thursday!


He Is Risen!

Seven Stanzas at Easter by John Updike

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells' dissolution did not reverse, the molecules reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that - pierced - died, withered, paused, and then regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor, analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck's quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.
- John Updike

Saturday, March 22, 2008

God Sleeps in the Womb of the Earth

Yesterday Christ died. He said "It is finished," and He gave up His spirit. The great Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Alpha and the Omega, the Morning Star was Himself extinguished by the Darkness.

So now we wait, and weep, and wonder. Has Death won? Is faith just a futile attempt to hold off the inevitable night, like a match lit for a brief moment, surrounded by impenetrable shadow, for a few seconds of illumination, until all is night? We wonder if there's more. We wait, we watch, like Mary by the tomb.

I see her sitting there, still stunned by the events of that Dark Friday, a whole cut into her heart, scraped clean. Open hands, cupped, lying on her lap, still breathing out the sweet smell of myrhh and oils from the Jewish burial custom. She stares blankly over the distance between the shade of an olive tree and the Roman guards moving about their watch, mumbling in a language she doesn't know. She is there keeping vigil, but she is not there. She is nowhere, she is no one. Her thoughts can only find rest on a few random phrases of His, like a bird alighting on swaying reeds.

"Destroy this temple.... And I will raise it up."
"Just as the seed falls to the earth and dies, so must the Son of Man...."
"I am the Resurrection and the Life..."

But then the winds of memory and sorrow and unspeakable torture blow through her mind again, and the bird of her heart must fly away, for this wind is too strong. After all, she saw His broken body, washed those wounds with His Mother. She saw the marks, the gaping hole in His chest. "It is finished," she whispers to the wind. And her tears drop into the dusty earth.

But Holy Saturday is a day pregnant with possibility....

"Just as the seed falls to the earth and dies, so must the Son of Man...."

Yesterday, Words that can remake the world were spoken, dropped from the mouth of Jesus like seeds full of paradoxical promise. They were spoken the night before as well, at a supper His heart longed to celebrate. These Words convey to the human heart the very secret of human life, the way to the truth of who we are and what we can become. These Words and only these Words, like a magic spell, can rebuild the shattered Dream of Eden, and create a Civilization of Life and Love. These Words have unspeakable power in them.

"This is My Body, given up for you.... Take and eat, take and drink."

To the barren fields of fallen man, the God-Man has given His body as grain. To the earth that has shared in our sorrow, drink. Where thorns and thistles grew now the seed in the blood of Jesus flows. In the dark womb of the earth, He lies broken, sleeps, and germinates, sending out the small, green shoots of promise...And with Mary, we watch and wait for Morning.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Passion Reflection #3 - Veronica's Veil

(Kindnesses small as seeds can stand as long as mountains, and be remembered until the end of an age... Such is the motion of a woman's veil, cupped in trembling hands upon the Face of the Man of Sorrows).

She stood out in a crowd.
It was the eyes above all
A stream of compassion
That flowed through the wall
Of hatred and anger
Jealousy and fear
Veronica saw Suffering
and dared to draw near.

Here the drama unfolded that has since been remembered, through time and through tales her act has engendered the same look, the same leap
Out of self, out to others,
To the small and the sorrowful, to the least of our brothers.

To ease the world's wounds is the saint's vocation.
To make a veil of the heart and the mind is our mission.
To catch tears and calm fears turns our pride to submission.
And in every small act of mercy or compassion,
His Face shines again from the servant-heart's passion.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Passion Reflection #2 - Peter and the Battle of Prayer

What a scene the Passion of the Christ begins with; tension, fear, foreboding from the first few seconds of the film.

On the night Jesus was handed over, he made his way to the Garden of Gethsemane, taking with him his three closest friends; Peter, James, and John.

How beautiful that Our Lord has these levels of intimacy; the family friends of Bethany, the Twelve, and these three men who have walked with him now from the beginning. (What are the levels of intimacy in your life? Do you have a trinity of souls to share your sorrows with? Two friends? Even one is a tremendous blessing).

But in the mystical, moist night air of the Garden of Olives, Christ is alone. His friends sleep while he burns in the fires of sorrow. Pressed down by the weight of the world's sin, he is living out in his body what the name of this place embodies; Gethsemane is a Hebrew word meaning "olive press." Jesus is fully man, and fully God, and he knows what is coming. Yet blood flows from his anxiety. His capillaries break under the anguish and strain of what lies ahead. But not only blood; the sweet oil of mercy flows out. Oil rich enough to light the lamps of countless souls for a billion centuries.

Torches appear in the murky shadows. Peter awakens and comes to Our Lord. But he has not prayed, he has not been pressed. He is not ready for this encounter. His reaction to Jesus' arrest will be reprimanded by the Prince of Peace; "Put away your sword, Peter. For those who live by the sword, die by the sword."

Bishop Fulton Sheen once spoke of this moment of Peter's. Without that solitary encounter with God, that quiet communion with Him in prayer, we do not receive His oil to light our lamps. We are operating on our own devices. We move out of our own initiative, rather than by the spark of the Holy Spirit's.

Peter has been sleeping while Christ has been praying. If he had been in communion with the Lord, "watched one hour with him," what might have happened?

So for us.... What fuel are we running on? What impels us to do the things we do? Is it coming out of that stillness we have spent in the Garden of Prayer, or from somewhere else? Perhaps from our own busyness, our own agenda, our foot in the door and last word opinion?

Step into His stillness then. Sit and pray in this Garden of Shadows and watch one hour with Him. Let Him tell you when the time is right for action.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Passion Reflection #1 - From Palms to Poison

(The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson's blockbuster movie from 2004 focusing on the last 12 hours of the life of Christ, will be the source for this week's meditations. If you haven't seen the film yet.... shame on you. It's a priceless work of art).

SNAPSHOT:
There's a scene in the movie where Jesus first takes up his Cross, and in those first few steps, surrounded by a swirling, spitting, angry mob, we see his eyes, swollen and bloodied, looking out to see palm branches being laid at his feet. For just a few seconds, we see what he saw just five days before. Palms laid out before a King. Cheers and cloaks and green palms falling before the grey, stiff ears of the colt He's riding. Then, in a flash, we're back to the painful, poisonous glare of the crowds.

Five days. Just five short days was all the difference there was between praise and utter rejection. How fickle we can be. "How torturous is the human heart, who can understand it," one of the prophets once wrote.
The crowds quickly turn, like leaves in the wind, blowing from one side of the street to the other. No rhyme, no reason. The powers that be, the molders and shapers of the thought of the masses have declared that Jesus is no longer "in." Jesus is "out." And so he is.

I wonder if they ever talked to Jesus? Did they ever look for Him for themselves? Actually seek Him out? Or was the connection merely based on hearsay...

"They" say he's the Messiah.
"They" say he's John the Baptist.
He gave us bread and fish and miracles.

It's easy to go with the flow, to talk "about" Jesus and the Church at the watercoolers and in the cafeterias of the world. It's harder to talk "to" Jesus. To get beyond the shallow surface. To look him in the eye and ask him "Who are you?" And to wait for the answer.

We are too often like animals; we find safety in numbers. We give in to the herd instinct. Afraid of the great dark, cold, alone of standing up for someone, we huddle up in the warmth of compromise and comfortability. We'd rather "read the Times than read the eternities," and trust the most untrustworthy source for giving us the truth about anything (or anyone): the media monster.

But there were some in that crowd on that via dolorosa, that Walk that Remade the World, that stood out, and stood up for him. Unlike the faceless, nameless crowd, we remember them... Veronica, Simon, Mary, John.

The question for us today is the same as it was then, when the palms that praise are turned to poisonous accusation and bitterness: Where will we stand?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Going Up....

I'm heading north to see the family today. Dad, Sean, Amy, Ella and Seamus. I haven't been to Maine since who knows, last winter? Ah Spring Break! A week off from Malvern and two from Immaculata U! I can't wait to see the family, though I wish Rebecca were with me. She's got to work. I'll stay up north until Holy Thursday.

I decided on a train for this trip. It's cheaper than flying, and less hassle than driving, and the vistas are much better. They say you see more walking than you do in a car, and you see more in a train than you do in a plane. It's getting me ready for Maine, whose motto is "Life in the slow lane."

So the train is snaking along the coast of Connecticut right now, and I'm seeing some beautiful scenes along the way. What a treasure the sea is. Just the sight of water tranquilizes! Even the little Pakistani brothers who've been squealing and fighting since Philadelphia are wrapped in stillness right now, gazing at the big pool of silvery light outside our windows. And the college kid beside me, reading a textbook and plugged into his iPhone keeps looking up and out at the sea.



It's been an intense week at Malvern, watching the Passion of the Christ film with my boys (5 viewings for me, all day, all week, with all of my classes!). Whew.... Spiritually and emotionally exhausting. St. Alphonsus Liguori said the best practice towards becoming a saint is to meditate on the Lord's Passion every day. Hmmm... Maybe I took it a little too far? (I'll be blogging about the Passion film next week. I've seen it 20 times and I really believe it's a work of genius).

So I'm ready for some wilderness; some walks in the woods on Dad's property, and Sean's too. He's got a stream of silver that slides through a grove of old growth pine and oak. Lucky! And I know we'll go down to the sea on Sunday after Mass. To the Rockland Jetty after breakfast. Smell the salt sea, watch the gulls swing and wheel through that cold northern air.

Ah Maine! "The way life should be."

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Catholic Blog Awards... anyone?

One Week Left
Hello readers of my blog! I just discovered this poll, so sorry for the late notice. Please consider tossing up a vote for me if you feel this blog is worthy! Thanks! You can vote here.

From the Catholic Blog Awards site:
"This is just a quick reminder that voting will end on Monday, March 17 at Noon."

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Holy Spirit Has Ninja Moves

As I sat in the old "prayer chair" this morning and cracked open "Big Red" (the affectionate name I've given the lectionary of Mass readings Mrs. Reid bought me in memory of her husband about 11 years ago), I was struck by today's gospel in two places and rendered powerless, like when a Ninja hits two pressure points on your body and you freeze in mid-kick.

THE FIRST
Jesus said... "You belong to this world, but I do not belong to this world."

Whoa. He was talking about sin, saying it locks you down, blocks you in, closes off your vision of the starry sky and the home our hearts are always secretly longing for. Sin says it doesn't exist. But Jesus hints at the fact that this Place does in fact exist. In fact, it's where He came from. So the lens with which I see, blurred, cracked, and smudged up by my selfishness, got a little tweaking. The Holy Spirit blew the dust off of it, washed it up, first removing the lens cap, of course, that I sometimes forget to take off of the Camera of Life and I was able to see again... those clear, wide open vistas. And I discovered his hand reaching down to take me to that Other World. Jesus is a trail-blazer, and he cuts a mean path through some of the darkest, most tangled up knots and thorns we've ever seen.

THE SECOND SWEET NINJA MOVE
"...what I heard from him I tell the world."

This was more subtle. Jesus hears from the Father.... He's always tuned in. He only says what is being said to him. He is like a viaduct that lets the Truth flow down, like a channel of pure waters that freshens up our stagnant world. So in our journey to that Other World, I can trust he's got a clear signal. He's getting orders from on high and he's going to share them with me. And of course, to keep the way open and the waters flowing, I need to say the same... "what I heard from him I tell the world."

Monday, March 10, 2008

Fr. Barron on the Lord of the Rings

I stumbled on these gems the other day. Great insights on the foundations of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, which Tolkien himself called "a profoundly religious and Catholic work." Enjoy! (for more of Fr. Barron's insights on a host of stuff, click 'dis.)

Friday, March 07, 2008

The Wound of Our Indifference

The other day a student of mine asked "What do you think would happen if Jesus came back today? Would people still follow him?" We had a little discussion about it, and this poem popped into my head. I first stumbled onto it through a tape I had of Bishop Fulton Sheen; he read it in the middle of a talk he was giving.

Indifference
by G. A. Studdert-Kennedy


When Jesus came to Golgotha,
They hanged Him on a tree,
They drove great nails through hands and feet,
And made a Calvary.
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns,
Red were His wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days,
And human flesh was cheap.

When Jesus came to Birmingham
They simply passed Him by,
They never hurt a hair of Him,
They only let Him die;
For men have grown more tender,
And they would not give Him pain,
They only just passed down the street,
And left Him in the rain.

Still Jesus cried, 'Forgive them,
For they know not what they do!
And still it rained the winter rain
That drenched Him through and through;
The crowd went home and left the streets
Without a soul to see,
And Jesus crouched against a wall
And cried for Calvary.

What a profoundly sad reality it is that today we have become so indifferent. So blaise. So removed from "encounters" that could bring us life. "No thanks... I'm fine. I don't know... nuthin'.... I don't care... either way.... whatever."
Ugh...

There's a passage in Revelation (I think) where God mourns this luke-warmness... "Would that you were hot or cold...." We're like Cream of Wheat these days that has sat on a shelf just a few minutes too long. In the immortal words of John Cougar Mellencamp, it's "beige to beige.... that's all there is these days." The culture's practice of "safe s_x" (and how sad is it that I have to bleep that so it can bypass certain filters) has turned into a contraceptive life in general! Contracepted relationships and endeavors, across the boards we hold back and do not commit with all of the heart and blood and passion that makes us human. So Jesus longs for Calvary, where there was passion and blood and heart.... His Sacred Heart.

If we saw Him would we pass Him by? He is right beside you now, and down the street and in the house and on the train.

A World Away - Interview with Todd Smith on the New Series

My guest in this episode is Todd Smith, the new author of the Quest of Dan Clay series. He resides in the Rocky Mountain region of Colorado, and works for the Archdiocese of Denver.

"Thirteen years ago, William Clay - then a mere child - disappeared from a nearby forest, never to be seen again. Only recently, his younger brother, Dan, acquired information on the forest fables from a questionable source. After analyzing fact and legend, Dan suspects that his brother may have fallen through a portal into a parallel world and is being held captive. Join Dan and three friends as they embark on an out-of-this-world journey where they are hunted by savage beasts along the footpath to a demonic castle..... Smith’s pages within are your passport to A World Away, where the unimaginable becomes reality, the unnatural becomes the norm, and the uninvited become fitting prey. " - from www.TatePublishing.com

To buy the book, call 1-888-361-9473 or visit http://www.tatepublishing.com/bookstore/book.php?w=978-1-6024732-5-6
You may also visit amazon.com here.

The podcast of this interview is up and ready at this link.
Pope John Paul II's Letter to Artists can be found here.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Faults and Flames and Forgiveness

I normally start my mornings at Malvern Prep with daily Mass (and I feel it when I don't). Typically, there are about six or seven of us, sometimes just three, with Fr. Baker offering up the Perfect Prayer. With such a small number of people, it's sometimes kind of "weird" giving the responses at Mass... you know what I mean?

Once in awhile you miss your cue, or a word is off, or your mind wanders and sometimes slips up without the blanket of hundreds of other voices covering over your own.

"...and also with you." (easy)

"... thanks be to God." (piece of cake)

"May the Lord accept this sacrifice at your hands, for the praise (glory?) and glory (praise?) of His Name, uh, for our good and ... for the good? of all His (the) Church... I think." (dang it)

One of the awkwardly beautiful parts of this daily Mass of sometimes just four souls (and all of Heaven of course, smiling at us in our awkwardness) is the Lamb of God sequence. I was contemplating it the other day. It was just before the Fire of Love descended from Heaven to consume our sins and set a flame like Prometheus in our hearts through the Eucharist, that me, Gary, and Fran said, three times...

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, grant us peace...

Three guys saying this three times in a big, mostly empty, chapel first thing in the morning. Sometimes it's muffled, sometimes robotic. But the other day it zapped me.

There's a scene from the movie Good Will Hunting where the therapist (Robin Williams) says something three times (and then keeps saying it) to the wounded soul of Will Hunting (Matt Damon). "It's not your fault," he whispers.

To this tough on the outside torn on the inside young man, abused as a youth, he speaks these words again and again:

It's not your fault.
It's not your fault.
It's not your fault.

And Will Hunting, at first, says simply "I know."

Then it gets awkward. The good doctor, himself a wounded healer, keeps saying it... It's not your fault. It's not your fault. It's not your fault. Resisting at first, then angry, Will finally collapses in his arms as the terrible weight of guilt and shame and rage and bitterness at the abuse he suffered as a child breaks over him like salty waves. It's a heart-breaking and beautiful scene.

Back to the Lamb of God...

Here, the tides have turned. Standing there in the chapel, we come to a realization that it is, in fact, our fault. It's because of me and my family tree that Love was crucified on a tree. And we need to own that fact. That's why every Mass starts off with the penitential rite. I have sinned! I messed up! Throughout my life I've added many a sour note to the symphony of God's original plan, and sometimes it's led many a fellow musician into discord and dissonance. So we take the time to look at this scribbled parchment and we turn it over to the Master Composer. And get this.... He rewrites it all.... using our notes (I love how He does that!). They are transformed, washed clean in the blood of the Lamb in a beautiful paradoxical spin cycle that can only be done by the Whirlwind of Love that is the Trinity. He takes away the sour notes of the world, the wounds and weeping and grants us peace. "By our very wounds we are healed," so the Talmud tells us.

It's unbelievable. I think that's why we need to say it three times.... he takes away our sins, and the sins of the world. He grants us peace. And we collapse into His Heart at the great and intimate encounter that is the Eucharist... and every morning we get to stand in that Flame of Love, to consume and be consumed, and all our faults and failings become the kindling for that Fire of Mercy.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Is God a Big Meanie... or Something Else?

I don't know why but it seems so many of us still hold a 7th grade image of God in our minds. Maybe it comes from the misconception that Christianity is "all about rules and commandments and this is a sin and that's a sin and man, what's left... GOSH!" (insert Napoleon Dynamite accent).

Remember the movie Pleasantville that showed sin as being the great liberator, the thing that brings fun and color and woohoo! to life where the boring, rigid, dress pants wearing self-righteous only see black and white? Ugh... what a twisted movie. As twisted as sin.

Ooo there it is! Sin... that nasty three letter word is the quick answer as to why we have to struggle and work and sweat it out to get the true image of God back into our cloudy heads. Sin has distorted our vision; it tricks us into choosing lust for a pleasure over the love that we know really satisfies. It's that slippery slope that always and everywhere puts me first instead of the Other, like kids pushing around for "first" on the sliding board of life.

The scandalously beautiful truth of God as a Lover, as the Youth of Eternal Summers and the Ancient of Days (you go Van Morrison), has still not taken root and traveled deep into our hearts. WHY?

A COUPLE OF GUESSES

#1. LAZINESS..... You see, rules are easy to follow, easy to break, easy to water down, and build back up again. But when someone says "I love you" right in your face.... ooooo. We have to respond in a whole different way. It's become personal. I have to get up off of the couch and do something, be someone... for someone other than me.

#2. FEAR..... What is the first thing Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden when they broke off their personal covenant relationship with God? They were afraid, so they hid themselves. Sin tells us that people are only out to do one of two things to me: manipulate or dominate. They can't honestly be thinking only of my happiness, can they?


"Hark! my lover - here he comes springing across the mountains, leaping across the hills. My lover is like a gazelle or a young stag. Here he stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows, peering through the lattices."
- Song of Songs 2:8-9

Maybe all along God has been peering out at us, not to check up on us and see if we've screwed it up yet so He can toss some lighting bolt of suffering at us, but He's looking through the lattices of the walls we've built up like a Romeo looking for his Juliet...

In the Christian tradition, the Song of Songs (the book that's right smack dab in the middle of the whole Bible) has been interpreted not just as love poetry between a bride and groom, but as the ultimate Love Song between Christ and the Church. The saints and mystics saw it more as the union between Christ and
me. Where the two become one flesh, where Divinity marries humanity! It was their favorite book.

"O my dove in the clefts of the rock, in the secret recesses of the cliff,
Let me see you, let me hear your voice,
For your voice is sweet, and you are lovely."

Don't we all, tough guys to tenderfoots, sweethearts to the old and soured, wooed and wounded hearts, all long for this kind of love? This intimacy? To love this way and to be loved?

"On my bed at night I sought him whom my heart loves - I sought him but I did not find him. I will rise then and go about the city; in the streets and crossings I will seek Him whom my heart loves."

Are we afraid of what we might find? Are we too lazy to make the move into this dark night? Perhaps God is bigger than the Big Judge with the Book of Rules we once envisioned Him to be. Perhaps God is less a featureless cloud of bright and biblical proportions and more like the Love in our dreams and our quiet walks and wanderings on the way home from school, down the empty alleys from the pub, the club, and the movie halls where we paint our dreams in high density and shocking intensity. Maybe God's love is bigger than we can possibly ask or imagine.

If we seek, we will find.

"Have you seen him whom my heart loves? I had hardly left them when I found him whom my heart loves. I took hold of him and would not let him go..."