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Showing posts from March, 2014

"I am a Sinner" - Pope Francis

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The Pope was at a penance service in Rome recently, and after a reflection, when he was to be moved to a prearranged spot by the master of ceremonies, in typical Francis-style, he thwarted their plans and went to a "common" priest (as one news article said) and confessed his sins. I love it. He's driving the Swiss Guards crazy. 
It's like Bob Dylan sang, "You may be an ambassador to England or France. You may like to gamble, you might like to dance.... But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed. You're gonna have to serve somebody..."
By the way, whose feet will he be washing this Holy Thursday, I wonder. "You might be the Vicar of Christ, under all those heavenly lights, but you're gonna have to serve somebody (as He has served us.)"
But Pope Francis is all over service. His life echoes his namesake's St. Francis of Assisi, who once said "Preach the gospel always, and when necessary use words." Our beloved Holy Fat…

Jesus Gets His Hands Dirty

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Back in the mid-1990's, before the internet ruined our lives (I'm kidding. Kidding) I was in the seminary, discerning a possible call to the priesthood. 
They were amazing years, and gave me a solid faith formation, an opportunity to come to know the beautiful heart of the Church from a unique and powerful perspective, and a chance for a brotherhood that in many ways continues today with both brothers who discerned out, like me, and were called to marriage, and those brothers who are now my "fathers" through the gift of priesthood. 
But some things in my seminary experience drove me nuts. Like the guy whom we will call "Brad."
"Brad" had it all laid out. His future was bright. A priestly vocation stocked with the highest of creature comforts. If that sounds bizzare wait for the next line which he actually said out loud. "These hands were made for chalices not callouses." 
Uh. What?
Praise God he was weeded out by the formation team, and I do …

Man is What He Sees

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"More necessary than fasting from food today is fasting from images. We live in a civilization of images; we have become devourers of images. Through television, internet, the press, advertising, we let a flood of images enter us... Many of them are unhealthy, they engender violence and malice, they do nothing other than incite the worst instincts we bear within us. They are made expressly to seduce... Feuerback, a materialist philosopher, said: “Man is what he eats”; today, perhaps we should say: “man is what he sees.”
- Fr. Cantalamessa, Lenten Homily 1, 2014

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

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Watch this beautiful work. I absolutely love the way it unfurls, like a quilt woven of gifted and musical passion. It's a slow build, with wonderfully talented bands, vocalists, and soloists appearing and adding their own layer of rhythm or melody as the song literally moves through a grassy stretch of earth and trees. As harmonious and whole as it is musically, culminating in a vast and soothing choral that woos the listener at the end, the piece is a sad one. To use John Paul II's meditation on historical man, who is wounded by sin and left hungry for meaning, it is the quintessential ache of being utterly unfulfilled by another human being. 
There's a melancholy in the heart when we realize this truth: that no human person, no earthly experience can totally fulfill the heart. We try to fill it, we stumble, we sometimes fall. But we are flawed, fractured by our original sin, and we must face it. 
I have the same choices As you do As you do When you fall Fall like I knew yo…

Love is Not Hate

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"When you speak all these words to them, they will not listen to you either; when you call to them, they will not answer you. Say to them: This is the nation that does not listen to the voice of the LORD, its God, or take correction..."
- Jeremiah 7
There is an utter simplicity to every waking moment of ours that can truly prepare the way towards happiness or misery, trust and hope, or fog and confusion. It lies in the posture of openness... of receptivity. We say yes or we say no. It's encoded within the moral law. Inescapable. Powerfully purposeful. It is that solid foundation Thoreau wrote about many years ago when he spoke of shoving down ones boots through all of the many layers of opinion and agenda, politics and double-speak until we hit rock bottom. We then choose truth or we don't.
These are harsh words, as strong and biting as a winter wind, because they expose us in all of our utterly naked dependence on God. The truth is I we did not, nor could we ever, crea…

So Close to Us

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"For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him?"
- Deuteronomy 4
A short reflection for now in this 40 Days of Blogging-palooza... On the Eucharist. 
I actually missed posting yesterday but had at least popped the above verse from yesterday's reading from Deuteronomy in here. It's got power. And as radical as the Jewish receptivity was to this unique, personal, intimate, monotheistic, and deeply monogamous revelation of God to them was, they had no idea just how close He wanted to come. 
The Jews were a joke to their generation, to the pagans surrounding them with their multiple, man made gods who had to be appeased or they'd punish. The Jews believed there was One God and He was more a Lover than a Master, more interested in virgin (or pure and whole) hearts than virgin sacrifices (though admittedly it took a few centuries for that to sink in!)
The Christians though, and the Word they received w…

From Eve's NO to Mary's YES

When I taught high school I tried to teach with visuals as much as possible; movie clips, sacred art, memes, intentional doodling in our notebooks, and then through what I call "theography." It's simply a way to capture the typology of the Old Testament in a graphical, tech savvy way. I use a stylus on the iPad and my favorite app was (and is) Paper by Fifty Three. 
The drawing above tried to capture the dichotomy of the two mothers of the human race, as well as that of the two fathers (or husbands perhaps fits better). 
Typology is an incredibly rich gift for interpreting and understanding Sacred Scripture, and it's as old as the Bible itself. It's essentially God's theography or "divine writing" found in water, rocks, trees, people, places, events. God uses everything in the world and every word of Scripture to speak to us. That's how He rolls, and the wrappings of HisTruth have multiple layers! I'd be continually surprised by my freshmen…

Singing the Song

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

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

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

What's sad is the age we live in which thinks that passion and purity are polar opposites. Watching Sr. Cristina sing her heart out (and boy she does) is really the purest of passions and the possible sign of an authentic and integrated self. 
There is something powerful about witnessing this kind of purified passion, one striped of all pretense and pomp. It sho…

A Messiah Walks into a Bar...

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

The well was also similar to the bar scene of today because, so often, relationships were born there. Think about it. Moses met Zipporah at a well. Isaac met Rebecca at a well. Jacob met Rachel at a well. And Jesus meets a Samaritan woman... (don't lose the marriage theme here) at a well. 
Problem: She was already married five times. She was presently living with, it would appear, soon to be husband number six. And suddenly there appears number Seven. Lucky her!

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

This woman was thirsty; and aren&…

The Conversion of Bilbo Baggins

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On a long drive this morning to NJ, after the girls fell into what I'd call a strategically placed nap, with only the Boy awake, I popped in my coveted Lord of the Rings audiobook and our feet took again to that Ancient Road that leads to the West. I was struck this time (I'm always struck when I read this masterpiece, by the way) at the sense of conversion and redemption it holds in its pages. Listen to the vulnerability of Mr. Baggins as he explains to Gandalf the hold the Ring of Power has over him and the confusion it engenders. 
Bilbo drew his hand over his eyes. 'I am sorry,' he said. 'But I felt so queer. And yet it would be a relief in a way not to be bothered with it any more. It has been so growing on my mind lately. Sometimes I have felt it was like an eye looking at me. And I am always wanting to put it on and disappear, don't you know; or wondering if it is safe, and pulling it out to make sure. I tried locking it up, but I found I couldn't res…

The Death of Marriage or the Death of Me?

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

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

Today I don't feel like doing anything I just wanna lay in my bed Don't feel like picking up my phone
So leave a message at the tone 'Cause today I swear I'm not doing anything. I'm gonna kick my feet up Then stare at the fan Turn the TV on, throw my hand in my pants Nobody's gonna tell me I can't. 
Really? That's it. 
Sad are the scenes of men in their thirties lining up for the next GTA series at the video game store, or the "boys" in their late twenties dressed down with their ball caps on backwards at the pubs, sitting be…

Obi-wan Kenobi and Padre Pio

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Consider the two men pictured here... They are both bearded, boss, bold in power, and beautifully humble. Perhaps you knew that already. Perhaps you've always known. Search your feelings, reader, you know it to be true! Ben Kenobi and Padre Pio. Yeeessss, your insight serves you well...

And it gets better. They are also each completely Catholic. Did you know that Alec Guinness, after playing the role of Fr. Brown, G.K. Chesterton's crime-solving cleric, had a conversion experience and entered the Catholic Church? (Read this inspiring article for more details on that one!)
An excerpt from the author Rita Reichardt: "Guinness was received into the Catholic Church by the bishop of Portsmouth, and while he was in Sri Lanka making The Bridge over the River Kwai, his wife surprised him by also converting. As is often the case with new converts, he felt periods of deep peace punctuated by physical delight. He recounts once running like a madman to visit the Blessed Sacrament in…

St. Joseph and the Crisis in Fatherhood

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Two things always drive me nuts in the often gilded but not always accurate hagiography concerning St. Joseph; 1. When he's pictured as a 97 year old man, 2. When he's referred to as the "foster-father" of Jesus. Let's focus on the second for now.

"In this family, Joseph is the father: his fatherhood is not one that derives from begetting offspring; but neither is it an "apparent" or merely "substitute" fatherhood. Rather, it is one that fully shares in authentic human fatherhood and the mission of a father in the family." - Blessed John Paul II, Redemptoris Custos, 21
What a comfort this quote is for an adoptive father's heart. We all feel it deeply, we know it intrinsically. The children we adopt are our own, they become our own, and we are owned by them... we are their fathers. No other labels, tags, or adjectives are necessary. This truth, echoed by our Blessed John Paul in his exposition on St. Joseph, is essential to understan…

Sacred Art and the Human Heart

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I had a wonderful meeting with the Irish sculptor Dony Macmanus today in Manhattan. A dream of mine to create a course on the Theology of the Body and Sacred Art is starting to take shape as sure as this master forms his works in clay and stone. I know this work needs a solid foundation and thought Dony would be the perfect person with whom to connect for ideas. He has been creating deeply moving work for well over a decade; sculpted pieces, busts and bronze figures and altarpieces (and occasional paintings as well). For most of that time, the fire behind it all has been Blessed John Paul II's Christian anthropology or vision of man and woman, made in the Divine image; the Theology of the Body. Dony discovered the teaching through the comments of a priest visiting him in his studio in 1999, in the middle of his creation of a figure of Christ crucified. Dony was intent on showing the reality of the incarnation of Jesus, building up his sculpture from the very bones of the Word mad…

Far and Away

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"In the far reaches of the human heart there is a seed of desire and nostalgia for God." - Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, 24
And when you're Irish it's multiplied a thousand times over. 
I've always had an ache, a pull at the heart that comes in sweet pangs of music, rain washed skies, scents and smells, tea, mince, the feel of old polished wooden boards, the yellowed pages of books I've loved, the sound of the tin whistle, the pipes, the loon's cry. Mountains. 
I think this ache is felt everywhere in the human race, but it seems to me (again, with my insider information) that the hearts of the Irish exude it. Perhaps beauty is the culprit? 
Beauty is the arrow of God sent to pierce mortal hearts. It's in the very lilt of the Celtic voice, the deep green quilts of turf that spill and spread themselves over the craggy climbs and cliffs of Ireland, and beauty dances with abandon in Erin's jigs and reels. She weeps in her dirges and airs. If we le…

Face It or Fear It

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If we are to continue in this Lenten journey with sincere hearts intent on deepening our relationship with God and not just keeping the rules or requirements of our faith, then we have to continue our efforts at this authentic "FaceTime" with God. And today, in the second Sunday of Lent, we get it. Oh boy do we get it. 
"Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun..."
- Matthew 17
What a heart-breaking, mind-blowing beauty must have overwhelmed these first century fishermen, standing before that Face. These blue-collar, blistered and hand-calloused men stood with their own weathered faces, creased by countless hours in the light of another sun. It's powerful light was merely the earthly antecedent and icon of the light of the Eternal Son whom they now beheld. 

Think of your own experiences with beauty. A walk in the woods, the piercing rays of a sunri…

Be Perfect, But Not That Perfect

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If you cherry-pick Matthew 5:48 off of the organically blossoming harmonious branch of the thoughts of Jesus on which it is found, you're toast. Your life is going to be a hard one, your family will suffer, your friends too. Perfect doesn't mean flawless. A perfect haircut. Perfect grammar. Something akin to the world of Gattaca, a powerful film with strong Brave New World allusions and genetically modified perfect and miserably boring people.

Today's verse from Matthew 5:48 reads "Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect." When we read that scripture in its proper context, however, we find where it flows from; a more wholistic and holy place - the love of others. 
So perfection in God's eyes means loving perfectly, totally; not being totally distanced from others in the attempt to be pure. 
Blessed John Paul II put it this way. “The perfection of the Christian life is measured, rather, by... love.” 
This means that “perfection is possible and accessi…

Which Marriage are You Called To?

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This week I've been co-teaching with Fr. Brett Brannen a course on the Theology of the Body designed specifically for priests. It's been such a blessed experience as a married man to enter into the great gift and mystery of this equally spousal call for men to love and serve their bride, the Church (which is made up of each and every one of the laity). 
Each of us in our own way, as we've been reflecting, is called to become a gift, a spousal gift in and through our masculinity, for a bride. Fr. Brett likes to ask young men who are discerning a call to priesthood with a question, and it's not "Are you called to priesthood or married life" but rather "Which marriage are you called to?"
Each vocation reminds us of the spousal call - each contains the call to be a free, total, faithful, and fruitful gift in seed form - single, married, consecrated or ordained for the Kingdom. And the marriage we are all oriented towards, ultimately, is in Paradise. There…

Faces and Names

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I want to begin today's 40 Days of Blogging post with an extended thought by Pope Francis, interspersed with the captivating photography of Lee Jeffries, the man whose tender images of homeless souls from around the planet continues to inspire me in this year's Lenten journey. To put it bluntly, I'm getting schooled by both of these men. Francis calls me to look up and truly see others - to learn their "faces and names" - and Lee offers them to me, in all of their gritty and gripping power. 

"If we are to share our lives with others and generously give of ourselves, we also have to realize that every person is worthy of our giving. Not for their physical appearance, their abilities, their language, their way of thinking, or for any satisfaction that we might receive, but rather because they are God’s handiwork, his creation..."

"God created that person in his image, and he or she reflects something of God’s glory. Every human being is the object o…

Enduring the Glance

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I had FaceTime with my daughter Clare today. As you can see in the screenshot above, she OWNS FaceTime. She literally IS FaceTime. 
There's something so beautiful about children at this age (she's 3). There's an intensity and an exuberant joy in everything. It comes beaming from those eyes like barbed lightning. Those all expressive eyes! It got me thinking about this incredible insight from Von Balthasar that I've been meditating on this Lent:
"Holiness consists in enduring God's glance.  It may appear mere passivity to withstand the look of an eye; but everyone knows how much exertion is required when this occurs in an essential encounter. Our glances mostly brush by each other indirectly, or they turn quickly away, or they give themselves not personally but only socially.  So too do we constantly flee form God into a distance that is theoretical, rhetorical, sentimental, aesthetic, or most frequently, pious. Or we flee from him to external works. And yet, …

The Way to Be as Happy as Pharrell Williams (actually happier)

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The ancients knew we were made for it, we moderns are constantly seeking it: Happiness. It's often associated with peace, rest, contentment, or completion. It's the nunc dimittis we all hope to whisper at the end of our day. No matter who you are, where you are, it appears as the Lode Star for all human activity and is the final sentence when the conversation is ending and the decisions have been determined.... "Well, as long as it makes you... happy."
We are often deceived into thinking this peace or happiness can be crafted by us. That we can "make it happen." But when the word is "baptized" or completed, it's spelled beatitude or blessedness. This blessedness is a gift. It is "bestowed" upon the heart as a gift, not as something we manufacture. 
But let's just cut to the chase. How do we get there? How can we prepare the soil of our hearts for the seed of happiness? Here are three ways to "get happy."
1. Stop trying to …

Strangers in Paradise?

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I read the first couple of lines from today's gospel (Matthew 25) and, for a moment, could get no further.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne,and all the nations will be assembled before him." In the end, the final consummation, with the closing of one seemingly massive book of history, and before the opening of Another Book which will in fact be the Beginning of All Things, we will find all of humanity and all of the angels (an immense mass of trillions and trillions of persons) gathered before the Word Made Flesh. Not a single person that ever existed will be excluded, human or angelic. You and I are included in the mix.

You and I, and your entire family tree, and mine, and the cashier at the grocery store, and the girl you had a crush on in the 8th grade, and Adolf Hitler, and your Guardian Angel, and Brad Pitt and that homeless lady you always felt uncomfortable passing on the way to the office, and S…