Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Tomb of Jesus - No Bones About It

How many people are deeply grounded in their faith today? I say "grounded" meaning educated in matters of faith, well versed in the Scriptures, Early Church Fathers, Ecclesial History? How many at least know to reach for the Catechism when a question arises? Not many, it would seem. I say this not in a condescending way. We're not all called to be teachers, scholars, canon lawyers. And the truth is, we don't need degrees in theology to have faith (thank God). But we are, all of us, called to be witnesses... we are called to receive the gift of faith.

We should all "be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope..." (1 Peter 3:15). Especially, I would add, in the wake of recent findings claiming to have found the One Whom the Bible said "is no longer here."

So, we should talk about this at the water coolers and through the Internet and at dinner tables. The key here, as St. Peter cautioned, is to do it "with gentleness and reverence." I must admit I had my "cranky pants" on yesterday, for so many it seems were either distracted, confused, defensive, perplexed, or exultant at the recent announcement of a supposed find that will "shake the core of Christianity."

In the words of the late, great Pope John Paul II, we must "chill."

"You Catholics are just scared it might be true!"

Well, no. I'm just annoyed at the lack of originality in the claims, which if really investigated, hold no water. I'm still a little sarcastic today because the media never seems to consider, with everything else it's willing to consider (Jesus was a woman, Jesus was an alien, Jesus was a magician, Jesus never existed, Jesus was married and had children, thanks Anthony Sacramone!), the fact that Jesus might NOT be in that tomb and might really be the Son of God! What if He really did it? Really rose from the dead? Not "spiritually" but completely! Body and soul! What then CNN?

So we believers get a little annoyed. Just as St. Paul had his cranky pants on when he wrote "O stupid Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?.... Are you so stupid? ... Did you experience so many things in vain?" (Of course he had a cranky toga I guess, not cranky pants. Hey, when we're pants invented anyway?)

Catholics and other orthodox Christians believe that Jesus really did it. He rose in His BODY to save us from our sins. Now, why is this so key? I'll tell ya later. I have to go to work, dang it!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

And Now for Some Real History...

Wow there's been alot of words spit out about the tomb of Jesus in the last 72 hours. Here's some more. It's about the Holy Sepulchre, previously known as the tomb of Jesus.

From New Advent:
Holy Sepulchre refers to the tomb in which the Body of Jesus Christ was laid after His death upon the Cross. The Evangelists tell us that it was Joseph of Arimathea's own new monument, which he had hewn out of a rock, and that it was closed by a great stone rolled to the door (Matthew 27:60; Mark 15:46; Luke 23:53). It was in a garden in the place of the Crucifixion, and was nigh to the Cross (John 19:41, 42) which was erected outside the walls of Jerusalem, in the place called Calvary (Matthew 27:32; Mark 15:20; John 19:17; cf. Hebrews 13:12), but close to the city (John 19:20) and by a street (Matthew 27:39; Mark 15:29)..... read more here

Getting Rid of Jesus - Part 2

Jesus Family Tomb Believed Found
Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News

Feb. 25, 2007 — New scientific evidence, including DNA analysis conducted at one of the world's foremost molecular genetics laboratories, as well as studies by leading scholars, suggests a 2,000-year-old Jerusalem tomb could have once held the remains of Jesus of Nazareth and his family. The findings also suggest that Jesus and Mary Magdalene might have produced a son named Judah. The DNA findings, alongside statistical conclusions made about the artifacts — originally excavated in 1980 — open a potentially significant chapter in Biblical archaeological history.

Potentially significant? Yes, I would say "yes, that would be potentially significant."

Let's see what St. Paul says about this stuff: "If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then empty is our preaching; empty, too, your faith." (that's the potentially significant part) "...For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins." (1 Corinthians 13-17)

I don't know about you, but I don't want to be still in my sins. I don't like my sins. I don't think you want to be stuck in your sins with no power to escape either.

Back to this news bit about "Jesus' Tomb"

A documentary presenting the evidence, "The Lost Tomb of Jesus," will premiere on the Discovery Channel on March 4 at 9 p.m. EST. On their website, they post some murky "theological considerations" that try to wiggle through this pretty controversial piece:

From the Discovery Channel - Resurrection:
It is a matter of Christian faith that Jesus of Nazareth was resurrected from the dead three days after his crucifixion circa 30 C.E. This is a central tenet of Christian theology, repeated in all four Gospels. The Lost Tomb of Jesus does not challenge this belief.

(ok, how's that work)

In the Gospel of Matthew (28:12) it states that a rumor was circulating in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. This story holds that Jesus' body was moved by his disciples from the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, where he was temporarily buried. Ostensibly, his remains were taken to a permanent family tomb. Though Matthew calls this rumor a lie circulated by the high priests, it appears in his Gospel as one of the stories surrounding Jesus’ disappearance from the initial tomb where he was buried.
Even if Jesus' body was moved from one tomb to another, however, that does not mean that he could not have been resurrected from the second tomb. Belief in the resurrection is based not on which tomb he was buried in, but on alleged sightings of Jesus that occurred after his burial and documented in the Gospels.

(OK, there's loads of twisted speculation there)

It is also a matter of Christian faith that after his resurrection, Jesus ascended to heaven. Some Christians believe that this was a spiritual ascension, i.e., his mortal remains were left behind.

(Who? Wha'? What Christians are these?)

Other Christians believe that he ascended
with his body to heaven. If Jesus’ mortal remains have been found, this would contradict the idea of a physical ascension but not the idea of a spiritual ascension. The latter is consistent with Christian theology."

(Uh... no, that would NOT be consistent with Christian theology even a little bit.)

This is fun. We're talking about Jesus in the media again! I haven't had so much fun defending Crucified Love since the DaVinci Code! Remember that one?

Tomorrow's post we will unpack why it is so KEY that Jesus REALLY physically rose from the dead, and how that rising in His BODY is what saves us, remakes us, redeems, and resurrects us. It's all about the BODY, America. It's all about the BODY! I'll share my favorite John Updike poem too. Who's excited out there? I'm excited! This is what it's all about! I wish we had cable so we could watch the Discovery Channel. No I don't.

"The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried."
- G. K. Chesterton

Spoon Trick

Brilliant and rustic slide guitar piece. From a film called Karoo Kitaar Blues that traces the almost forgotten folk music of remote regions of South Africa. Songwriter David Kramer and slide guitarist Hannes Coetzee move throughout the film, into the rugged landscape of Namaqualand and the Great Karoo weaving music and interviews with a host of violinists, guitarists, piano accordionists and mouth organ players who play what Kramer calls the Karoo Blues. This South African man above may not have been born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but he sure can play guitar with that spoon... in his mouth.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Getting Rid of Jesus

Oh boy, I'll be blogging on this some more, but the quick "heads up" if you haven't already heard... The producer of the epic blockbuster Titanic, James Cameron and his director, Simcha Jacobovici, are making a movie that claims Jesus didn't rise from the dead. Yup. The film proposes that his burial cave was discovered just outside of Jerusalem. Here's my favorite part; Jesus had a son with Mary Magdelene. No way!

World, please hearken to this bit of a blog.

It's all been tried before. In Matthew's gospel, immediately following the most incredible event in human history, greedy, arrogant people who'd rather be gods than have a God to obey, tried to get rid of Jesus:

"And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them. They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me." While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had happened. They assembled with the elders and took counsel; then they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, telling them, "You are to say, 'His disciples came by night and stole him while we were asleep.' And if this gets to the ears of the governor, we will satisfy (him) and keep you out of trouble." The soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has circulated among the Jews to the present (day)."
- Matthew 28:4-16

Why? Why didn't they embrace the possibility that all of our dreams, hopes, and desires that death be conquered and suffering triumphed over could be true? Why the cover-up, the fear, the conspiracy theories?! Why press on in the vain attempt to save ourselves? Stay tuned, there's alot more to unpack in this one!

"Yes Virginia, There is a Devil."

Wow. An intense gospel for this first Sunday of Lent. If we let ourselves really hear this one, picturing this encounter between the Son of God and the Prince of Darkness, it should give us chills.

But I suppose these Boogie Man stories about the Devil are just stories, aren't they? I mean, the Devil? Come on, it's 2007! A red cape, horns, pitchfork, sinister laugh.... Haven't we decided that the temptation of Jesus was really just a psychosomatic projection of the inner doubt in his messianic identity? A hallucinogenic epiphenominalism brought on by the desert heat and a lack of nutrients?

For many of us living in this pluralistic society, where we're encouraged to paint our own truth and happiness in shades of moral grey, this showdown between good and evil is a bold black and white. The devil is real? Are you serious? Yes, the Church teaches.... very.

The temptation of Jesus by Lucifer in Luke 4:1-13 gives us a much needed dose of reality, supernatural reality. It's actually key to a right understanding of ourselves and the universe. The existence of Satan, his very entrance right at the dawn of creation, adds a crucial piece to the jigsaw puzzle of our broken humanity. It puts forth an answer to the problem of evil, shedding light on other questions about who we are and what makes us tick, why there's suffering in the world, and why bad things happen to good (and bad) people.

"Evil is still terribly present to us today. We witness manifestations of evil that often exceed our ability to understand; we are deeply disturbed and speechless when faced with certain events reported by the news. The consoling message that flows from the reflections we have made thus far is that there is in our midst one who is "stronger" than evil."

So said Fr. Cantalamessa just yesterday in Rome, where he serves as the Pope's official preacher and retreat master to the curia. He continues in his homily on this Sunday's gospel: "Some people experience in their lives or in their homes the presence of evil that seems to be diabolical in origin. Sometimes it certainly is - we know of the spread of satanic sects and rites in our society, especially among young people - but it is difficult in particular cases to determine whether we are truly dealing with Satan or with pathological disturbances. Fortunately, we do not have to be certain of the causes. The thing to do is to cling to Christ in faith, to call on his name, and to participate in the sacraments."

Jesus always had His eyes on the prize in Luke's gospel. He always turned His gaze to the Father. That's the answer for us regarding all temptation to selfishness and to evil; look to God, for our lives only make sense in light of Him Who is our origin, He Who is All Good. And we need to acknowledge too that there is a battle going on, a war within our hearts. We'll get no where in the struggle to be saints if we ignore the fact that there is a struggle. There is an enemy. And the man-made wars in our world pale in comparison to this war. The stakes are higher when immortal souls are on the line.

For an excellent article on the Problem of Evil, read Peter Kreeft's short essay.

To read Fr. Cantalamessa's entire homily on, visit here.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

It's Time for the Spiritual Olympics!

(The sound of trumpets, booming drums...)

In a world locked in laziness, on a people weighed down by cookies and creme-filled donuts, a light of hope dawns. Yes, it's LENT, otherwise known as... the Spiritual Olympics!

That's right America! The 40 days of You-Know-What are glaring up at us from our crumb-covered, soda-stained desktop calendars. The opening ceremonies have already begun, we've been stamped (on the forehead) and now we have complete access to the Olympic stadium. Here are some suggestions on how to secure a * medal for yourself:

It's basic but bold. Try cutting some of those ties, those seemingly thin cords that might actually be holding you prisoner to yourself. Is it always ME first? Do I ALWAYS have to put in my opinion, seeming to listen to others but actually just waiting until they're done talking so I can talk?

Try letting go of the preciousssss, the one thing you feel you're entitled to every day without thinking. Unplug it, turn it off, clear it away. (Is it TV? Constantly checking e-mail? A latest news fixation? Radio crowding out the silence?)

Now we're talking... If you want this Spiritual Olympiad to be a real life-changer, then step up to the plate for this one. In the midst of all of the activity of this season, the "stuff" we hope to work on, the extra prayers, stations of the cross, fasting, blah blah blah, this one shines above the rest. The secret to getting the GOLD? Do nothing. Stop. Surrender. Put your hands up in the air and let yourself become vulnerable before the Mystery of God. Be open and barren as a desert. This is the toughest event by far; the great emptying of self. The letting go, even of the idea of doing lots of good things. In the words of the late, great Pope John Paul II, "Ours is a time of continual movement which often leads to restlessness, with the risk of "doing for the sake of doing". We must resist this temptation by trying "to be" before trying "to do". " (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 15)

You may get the jitters for a time, but hang in there. The desert of Lent is detox for the soul. It's main purpose is to allow us to finally loosen our tightened fists and let Love in. “From the point of view of the Christian faith, man comes in the profoundest sense to himself not through what he does but through what he accepts. He must wait for the gift of love, and love can only be received as a gift... And one cannot become wholly man in any other way than by being loved, by letting oneself be loved..."
- Pope Benedict XVI

So there it is. The greatest challenge in this season is for us to be able to say to God, not "Look what I have done for You!" but to say with Mary "Be it done unto me according to your word."

Happy Lent!

* DISCLAIMER: None of the dynamic Lenten Olympic events listed above would be possible without the sweet influx of grace. We can't do it alone, but God won't save us alone either. It's the Catholic combo of a grace-inspiring, person-perspiring, human-divine collaboration. Grace inflates, inundates, inspires and builds on our human nature. God takes our yes (and even our half-hearted maybe) and makes it something extraordinary.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Just Passin' Through - Ash Wednesday Meditation

It's not by coincidence that our ancestors in the faith were a Pilgrim People, wandering for 40 years through the Sinai Peninsula. Their journey through the desert, both literal and historical, is relevant to us today, as a parable that's allegorical.

All of life is a kind of purification; a breaking of the self that's meant to blossom into selflessness, a stripping away of all encumbrances. Life is meant to be a walk that turns into a run, the crossing over of a Red Sea of suffering and slavery to a new birth; it's a darkened and dangerous path that breaks open into fertile fields of supernatural milk and honey.

As the great sculptor Michelangelo once said, "beauty is the purgation of superfluities." The desert has a way of cleansing us of excess clutter. We must travel light or trudge behind! The nomadic life and the daily manna of the Children of Israel are all reminders for us not to settle down in this world. Even the Presence of God, the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, was always on the move, never stagnant. Today the very word we use to describe ourselves as members of a parish, "parishioners," retains that ancient meaning of movement and unsettledness: "paroikos" is the Greek word that translates as pilgrim and\or exile. We're strangers in a strange land, or at least we should feel so.

Enter the Evil One....

If the truth about our destiny is that we are meant to pass through this world on the way to the next, what would the devil's strategy be? To nail us down to earth, of course! Cut the strings to Heaven. To cloud the mind of any metaphor, musing, or memory of that Other World and get us down to the serious business of busyness here and now. Such was the advice given by Screwtape, C.S. Lewis' senior devil who trains his nephew in the art of tempting humans (read the book "Screwtape Letters" for some amazing insights into these murky waters).

"Prosperity knits a man to the world," says the demon, "He feels that he is ‘finding his place in it,’ while really it is finding its place in him. His increasing reputation, his widening circle of acquaintances, his sense of importance, the growing pressure of absorbing and agreeable work, build up in him a sense of being really at home on Earth, which is just what we want."

The Antidote

In short, the key in life is to "keep on keepin' on." Walk the walk! When the fiery serpents bit the People in the wilderness, it was because they stopped walking and started whining. If we are to remember our destiny, keep a clear head about us, and not settle too deeply into the soil of this world, we should keep our minds on things of heaven. We should look up! Look to those things that are above, as St. Paul says. The Devil hates that, hates every breeze that flows from heaven.

"Even if we contrive to keep them ignorant of explicit religion," Screwtape continues, "the incalculable winds of fantasy and music and poetry — the mere face of a girl, the song of a bird, or the sight of a horizon — are always blowing our whole structure away... The Enemy, having oddly destined these mere animals to life in His own eternal world, has guarded them pretty effectively from the danger of feeling at home anywhere else. That is why we must wish for long life to our patients; seventy years is not a day too much for the difficult task of unraveling their souls from heaven and building up a firm attachment to the Earth..."

Let's take fair warning from these words. Let's look up! Keep moving! Never settle only for earth when heaven is offered! Look up and see your redemption near at hand in every sweet sacrament and sign here below; in music, poetry, prayers and the people who point us up! But don't stop just yet. The journey of Lent is about reading the signs rightly, and nothing says "Home" but Heaven.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Fat Tuesday and Stuff

A wee bit of Catholic Trivia from the folks at American Catholic:

"Mardi Gras... has grown in popularity in recent years as a raucous, sometimes hedonistic event. But its roots lie in the Christian calendar, as the "last hurrah" before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. That's why the enormous party in New Orleans, for example, ends abruptly at midnight on Tuesday, with battalions of streetsweepers pushing the crowds out of the French Quarter towards home.

Mardi Gras literally means "Fat Tuesday" in French. The name comes from the tradition of slaughtering and feasting upon a fattened calf on the last day of Carnival.... Carnival comes from the Latin words carne vale, meaning "farewell to the flesh."

The day is also known as Shrove Tuesday (from "to shrive," or hear confessions), Pancake Tuesday and fetter Dienstag. The custom of making pancakes comes from the need to use up fat, eggs and dairy before the fasting and abstinence of Lent begins."

Tomorrow begins our Spiritual Olympics! So buck up, America! Here we go! Farewell french fries! Ciao chocolate! Auf weidersehen Pepsi! Hello holy discipline! Let's get spiritually toned up!

Monday, February 19, 2007

From the Inside Lookin' Out

With all the words thrown around about the relevance of the Church today, who knows what faith is really all about? And where will the clearest picture come from that allows others to make a full ascent? Von Balthasar nails it in the quote below; demonstrating the fact that Christianity can only be fully understood (as much as the Mystery of a Person can be understood) from the "inside" - from the vantage point of the person who has entered beyond the veil in the relationship with Jesus. All other assessments, insights, and impressions are as clear as a call made from a balcony seat when the play is as tight as an inch.

"Christian truth... can be discerned only from within, in being carried out in faith and action, not from outside, from a box seat in the theater. Nor by a partial identification (with the reservations that implies), but only out of a total, universal, and, therefore, catholic identification with God's ways in the flesh."
- Fr. Hans Urs Von Balthasar

So if we want to know what faith in Jesus looks like, we should put our faith in Jesus. We should take the leap. Make the plunge. Dive in head first, by an act of the will, and heart too, by an act of love.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Polar Bear Plunge of 2007


It's 2:23pm and the insanity is already over. We just witnessed hundreds of people of all ages and in various costumes (like Scottish Braveheart look-a-likes, clowns, M&Ms, astronauts, a Chinese Dragon, etc) run willingly into the freezing waters of the Atlantic ocean.

That was crazy fun! Maybe next year we'll get enough courage to come down here again and... watch people jump in... again.

Safety First? Nah… How About Jesus?

I was in a unique meeting last week with a handful of faith-filled souls; we were discerning what to do with an issue that's weighed down with debt, filled with a foggy future, and stymied by staffing problems. There was lots of concerned talk, lots of questions, and then... there was prayer.

We had reached a point where our words ran dry, when suddenly God opened up the floodgates of grace. We said, "Come, Lord Jesus!" And He came. It was like the dam bursting and the clear water of the Entwash flowing in over the failed machinery of Isengard. The last ten minutes of that meeting was something so invigorating, so refreshing, that it made me deeply sad to think of the times I've failed to let Him in, how many times we as a Church have kept Him out.

It's ironic, I know, to keep from a meeting the very One Whose Name you are working in. But in our blindness we can block the influx of grace, the flow of the Spirit, the fire of the New that can rekindle our Old. Why do we do this? Why block out Life? I think it's because we want to be in control. We want everything to be "safe." We confidently assert that "we are Church," and we've got an image to protect, forgetting that our Leader was almost reckless in His trust of the Father, and Jesus couldn't have cared less about His image. It became in fact a blood-stained, thorn-crowned, ridiculed Face. But who wants that image in today's world!

I've been in meetings before that played it safe; meetings that began with "prayer" but only as a formality; a dry, sterile blurb before we started our business. Some of those meetings never seemed open to the possibility of Life; they were "protected" gatherings whose minutes revealed that people did in fact come together, but never seemed to yield any fruit.

Last week's meeting was a reckless embrace of the Spirit. We all felt the rush of the Divine, a great rumbling that filled the place where we were gathered. It seemed to give a new direction to our thoughts, opening up new doors in the mind and heart. This seems to me to be the posture that Pope John Paul II was trying to lead us into in the last few years of his beautiful life. It's the posture of receptivity; the radical dependence of the Bride Church waiting to receive the gift of the Bridegroom. And when He comes, to let Him in, let Him lead us in the great dance that is "new in ardour, methods and expressions" - this is the New Evangelization.

Pope Benedict is moving to this rhythm as well; he has been for years. Let's hearken to the voice of this shepherd and follow his lead:

"The more administrative machinery we construct, be it the most modern, the less place there is for the Spirit, the less place there is for the Lord, and the less freedom there is. It is my opinion that we ought to begin an unsparing examination of conscience on this point at all levels in the Church."
- Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, from his book Called to Communion

May the Bride Church be filled with this spirit of Fearless Love and Radical Trust at all levels and in every gathering of Her children! Come, Lord Jesus!

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Best Worst Coffee in Avalon

Providence and the wonderful generosity of a friend have conspired! Rebecca and I find ourselves in a wonderful shorehouse in Avalon, NJ for a nice long weekend.

So what if it's 19 degrees and a ghost town down here. It's kinda neat to see the seagulls sitting on the ice of the bay saying "What the?"

Rebecca says they could make a movie about the Rapture down here. It would be just us, cruising down Dune Drive past the salt water taffy shops and Irish flags hanging stiffly from vacant porches. The world around us sucked up into eternity! Abandoned beach balls roll down the boardwalk, brushing past our frigid feet. Us and Mr. Brady, that is.

Yes, he was the only other human I encountered this morning in my desperate search for coffee (except for the roofers working on these Avalonian mansions, but they're more like SUPERhumans - who else could smack nails into shingles in wind chills like this?)

Mr. Brady has a little shop on Dune Drive. His was the only one open this morning. "Brady's: Home of the Humongous Hoagie" - the sign caught my eye. I walked in and there he was, back to the door, fiddling with some plastic bags. "Coffee?" I mumbled prayerfully. "Not yet... Only takes two minutes."

So that was nice of him. I waited for about 10 minutes, and it was nasty coffee. But who cares. I met another PERSON, who makes humongous hoagies, and likes jazz, even though the CD kept skipping in the store. It was the best worst coffee I've ever had.

Well, after that encounter we discovered other humanoid creatures. After an expensive breakfast\lunch at Uncle Bill's Pancake House, we headed to town. To our great joy we learned from somebody at the deli that tomorrow, Saturday, Feb. 17, at 12pm in Sea Isle City, the most AMAZINGLY RIDICULOUS event is going to occur....

Hundreds of people are going to jump into the freezing waters of the Atlantic ocean, on purpose!

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Don't Look Back.....

I first caught this on television about 16 years ago. There was a special on Van Morrison and he was singing with some of the all time musical greats. This scene always moved me. (Thanks YouTube! With all of the garbage, there comes an occasional treasure like this!). Listen to the tapping of Van's foot on the wide wooden boards of a dock on a lake somewhere in Louisiana. This is pure music; unplugged and slow-cooked, and NOT in a hurry. It reaches a crescendo when Van belts out his verses. Watch his intensity and reverent admiration for the Man of the Blues, John Lee Hooker. It's starts off low, and raises the volume. Enjoy the super close ups of these traditionally self-conscious and shy performers. Priceless!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Do You Love Me?

Ah, Valentine's Day! The Feast of Love! (Actually, the official Feast of Love is April 5th this year)

I love Love. It's an amazing thing. Think about it. In the midst of our massive cacophony of greed and exploitation, through the flying pieces of broken hearts rent by violence and hatred exploding off of nearly every page of the news today, still there comes, like a soft whispered wind through the leaves, Love. Even when our heads are buried deep in material pleasures and we're wrestling like Laocoön with the serpents of lust, Love knocks softly at the door of our hearts. And we know Who it is.

For me, Love and a day like today that celebrates Love is a proof for the existence of God. After all, isn't it always something above us, something we yearn for, look for, pray for, and thirst after? Love is something we believe will complete us, fill and fulfill us.

Even in our music, Love is "up where we belong, where eagles fly on a mountain high." It comes from the heavens, and falls down from the stars. What is this crazy little thing called "Love?" It's immaterial, unpredictable, you can't touch it, taste it, smell it, weigh it out or calculate its impact on your heart (or head). It simply is.... it moves in and through us, draws us up and out of ourselves. It shakes and breaks and remakes our hearts. Over and over again...

Real Love is not of this world. It takes us out of this world, even if just for a few rapturous moments, and we taste eternity. And then Life, in all its muddy messiness, suddenly makes sense.

"Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it.”
- Pope John Paul II

Yes, Love is a pretty fantastic gift, except when it's not opened. Then Love stinks. It withers. It doesn't work its magic. Or rather, we who refused to let it in wither, spoil and fade. We become like the flower that refused water or the lungs that refused to breathe. Now why would we do such a foolish thing as to reject Love? Well, we believe we have a better deal. Real Love costs us. It means admitting we need it, it asks for vulnerability and nakedness and trust. And those are precious pearls to ask of a human heart that's always seeking security. We'll settle for less. We'll take the rose minus the thorns.

Valentine's Day is sweet, glittery, and wrapped in bright paper.
God's Love can be raw, barren as a desert, and is always wrapped in suffering.

The shadow of the Cross falls across the path of our pleasures. And it's almost as if we become Peter then - moving with Our Lord through miracles and multitudes, wonders and words of peace for a time, until suffering rears it's mysterious thorn-crowned head. When we hear the truth about Love spoken by the mystics, that whatever happened to Jesus must also happen to us, we recoil in horror. "God forbid that anything should happen to you, Master!" said Simon Peter, not knowing that our sins have a price tag. Only Crucified Love can close that deal.

"The Son of Man must be handed over to those who will crucify him..."

When Simon Peter rejected Jesus, I think it was utterly a rejection of the Cross. We don't like pain, pain hurts. Can't Love win in some other way? Just forgive us, shed a single tear and the world will be redeemed! Why this Heart wreathed in flames and thorns, pierced and open and bleeding for all to see? When we see this Sacred Heart, we are tempted to back away, claiming not to know the Man. Then we try to warm ourselves by the dying embers of our man-made fires. Welcome to our world, huddled together in the frosty courtyard of our selfishness while Christ is led into His prison of Love.

But this Love is always looking back for us, turning around, peering through the lattices that we've put up. Peter found this Love again, or it found him, sitting by the coals of another fire, on the shores of the sea after the Resurrection. And the Voice of tender love whispered "Do you love me?" We are Peter too and we can hear these words if we listen. And through hot tears and a lump in our throats we can say with him "You know all things. Lord. You know that I love you."

Then we get up and try to love again...


Well, we've let our students go at noon today due to the SNOW... or should I say, they let US go at noon today. We all know it's the teachers who are more excited about these frosted flakes of freedom. Come on! We're the ones up late checking the Doppler 7500's and prowling around the Weather websites, ravenously seeking those satellite images of whiteness hovering happily over our little piece of academia.

But I made it look good in the classroom this morning. I contained my inner joy at leaving early. I held fast during my last period. My infamous Yellow Group tried so hard to give up ("Mr. Donaghy, we're leaving early... we should just play a game." "Yeah, we should watch a movie." "Mr. Donaghy, I have to call my mom." "Mr. Donaghy, this is ridiculous...") but we pressed on, and in my heart, I knew it was ridiculous. Hah! But I laughed in the face of ridiculousness! I hushed and mushed this team of adolescent sled dogs (it's an analogy, they're really great kids!) through the snow, through the book of Joshua, through the period of the Judges, Samson and Delilah, and a couple of other notes which I know they will always remember and treasure close to their hearts. I think it's up to two or three inches out there. Sweet! Hey, it's over! I don't even remember what I was saying! Let's go home!

Oooh, maybe I'll build a biblically inspired Snowman? Jobab son of Cush, or maybe Nebuchadnezzar.... Og the King of Bashan? So many possibilities! Woohoo!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Theology of the Body in 60 Seconds or Less

I'm preparing for a talk in Kalida, Ohio set for tomorrow on the Theology of the Body. So tonight I'll be sitting on the plane for a few hours, yippee!

Who knows, maybe some fellow traveler will look over at me reading a large book with Michelangelo's Creation of Adam on its cover, as they pass the thimble full of ginger ale and the nano-sized bag of pretzels (are pretzels still legal on planes?). Maybe they'll ask "Tall man, what are you reading?" And I could say something like "It's Pope John Paul II's theological reflection on embodiment, conjugal love and the escatological realization of humanity."

But I won't say that. I'll say "It's called the Theology of the Body... it's about God, sex, and the meaning of life."

"God, sex, and the meaning of life?" Now the strangers' brow may wrinkle, the eyebrows lift, but I got 'em. I just dropped the 3 biggies that every human heart has an abiding interest in. The curious traveler might step further into this mystery... "What's that about?" And for a brief window of time, a window in their mind will be open and ready. I will be challenged to slip in the truth of this incredible teaching of Pope John Paul II's before it's too late and they turn back to their Diet Pepsi.

So here's my soundbyte on the TOB, sandwiched into 60 seconds or less:

"Well basically it's a reflection on what it means to be human, male and female. Where did we come from and where are we going? It looks at the two greatest questions we can ask; "Who am I? And Who is God?" The starting point for getting to the answers is us. It looks at the human body not just as a biological organism, but as a theological reality. What is it about us that makes us so restless in this world, different from the animals, always hungry, always searching for More? And then it looks at love as a lead into the answer. It says that in our call to communion with each other as man and woman, in human love, there is something of the Divine, something touching on the Infinite. All human love is a sign, an icon, a pointer to Something Beyond ourselves.... and that's pretty exciting."

If the person keeps looking at me like a little kid watching the stars (the way I did when I first heard this teaching) I'll continue with "God has stamped right in our bodies a mystery that reveals Who He is! You see, a man is called to be a gift, in his very body, for the woman. And the woman is called to receive this gift right in her very body as woman. And this beautiful coming together of husband and wife creates new life! And the union, as beautiful, powerful, and wonderful as it can be, is really just the first sparks of the Love that we are made for beyond this world. The Church says that in the joys of their love, God gives spouses a foretaste of the joys of Heaven. Did you ever hear that one in Sunday School?"

And we'll see where it goes from there...

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Smells and Bells and Stuff Like That

OK America, I know you've seen 'em. And I think it's time we talked about this.

They're all the rage in churches these days. According to Abbott Church Supplies, they're "authentic, safe, and convenient." And they cost about $2890 for a set of 40. They're electric candles. That's right. ELECTRIC CANDLES.

A few years ago, someone felt that we should no longer waste time and money on real candles in our churches because they discovered that candles...

1. burn down, and then you have to buy more
2. require expensive matches
3. make fire, which, as helpful as it's been for humanity in the last ten millennia, is downright dangerous

This is the 21st century. You want to light a candle and offer up a prayer? Plug it in! Flick the little switch to symbolize your aspirations before the altar. It's that simple! No fuss, no muss! (Just add a prayer that there's not a power outage, because "poof" there goes your intentions).

Now it may seem that I have my "cranky pants" on about this issue. I know. But mostly, I'm befuddled. Who encouraged Electric Candle Inventor Guy by buying his product!? Now any pastor of a church reading this who has a handy set of votive techno candles is probably upset with me right now. Yes, I know. Real candles do occasionally cause fires. Insurance is pricey. But uh... I think in our effort to be "safe" and "secure" we're missing out on a real sacramental moment. Ponder this from the Catechism:

"As a being at once body and spirit, man expresses and perceives spiritual realities through physical signs and symbols."
(CCC, n. 1146).

Remember the old days (for me this was the glorious 1970's and 80's) walking into a church and getting smacked in the nose with the warm, beeswaxy smell of the Holy? And if you were lucky enough to have a church that had adoration from time to time, the sweet smell of incense still hung in the air like a veil to the Holy of Holies. I realized I was on holy ground. The very air was different. This wasn't my house, this was God's House, and He was happy to have me over. The flickering candles and the incense and the cool water in a marble basin and the wood varnish of those ancient pews and the scent of Murphy's Oil and the sunlight streaming through the stained glass all spoke a word. All whispered words that lifted my mind to the Word, that pointed my heart to the Other Who had descended into our midst. It was He Who took on the physical sign of a body, of flesh and blood.

Walking into a church today that has electric candles always gives me the creeps. It feels like that cold, clean, antispetic feeling of a hospital:
sterile, neat, boring...

I say bring on the danger of real candles! Give us the real with all of the risk involved!
That's all I have to say about that... Next time I'll share MY brilliant idea to reinstate the sacramental experience:

The "Scratch and Sniff" Bible! Think of the possibilities!!

Monday, February 05, 2007

This Week's Mission Moment

I love it when one of pop culture's idols turns into an icon of something more. When a transfusion of the gospel slips into the mainstream of the media. I believe it happens more frequently than we know, it just gets unplugged so quickly by the media monster that we miss it. Wouldn't it be great if we could nail that moment down, capture the conversation, image or incident? Welcome to this week's Mission Moment, captured in full in this linked article by Christopher West!

"In a book-long interview with Michka Assayas, Bono reflects at length on his unconventional Christian convictions. And Assayas simply cannot understand how the world’s biggest rock star could believe Jesus is the Son of God. Nor can he understand how Bono has remained faithful to his wife of twenty-five years...." (read more)

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Bobby McFerrin at His Best.....

Kind of a DEAD audience, huh? Wake up to the wonder of it all people!

On Tarantulas, the Missions, and Distractions in Prayer

I was visiting a missionary sister in a poor barrio called Los Alcarrizos in the Dominican Republic in the summer of 2000. Sister "Anita" (aka Sr. Ann Joyce-Peters) is like a superhero; Mother Teresa and Wonder Woman wrapped up in one. She works with the Haitian migrant workers, the poorest of the poor, in a batey on the fringes of a sugarcane plantation. And she is loved deeply by those whom she serves.

I had the chance to visit the batey a couple of times, getting there via "motorcycle taxi." (Imagine 3 people on a vehicle the size of a moped. The driver, Sister Anita, and me. Hilarious, death-defying, and the only way to experience life in the DR).

In her house, where she lives with an occasional missionary volunteer, other sisters, or just local helpers, she hosts a prayer night for the neighborhood. Once a week or so, a dozen people show up to read scripture or a reflection, or maybe to pray the Liturgy of the Hours.

One of the days I was there, we gathered out on the back patio beneath the bouganbilia, in the still very warm air that was filled with a host of fragrances, just as the sun was sliding past the branches of the coconut trees. There is nothing so powerful as to pray the psalms in the midst of a mission country. Suddenly you feel, as you hear words about the cry of the poor and a longing for freedom from the oppressor, that the ink on these pages is still wet. It's like time travel.

That night, as the prayers rolled from English to Spanish to Creole to French, and the palm trees started whispering their dark secrets, I noticed a massive black tarantula crawling up from the shadows on the plaster half-wall just beyond our prayer circle.

Oh boy.

Now, our thoughts can take us to a million places when we're trying to focus on the Lord; bills to be paid, errands we forgot to make, why mosquitos exist... The saints tell us to let them pass, like static on the radio as you go under the bridge. We're human! We're bombarded by stimuli constantly through our senses. It's natural to get pulled here and there when we stop and try to think One Thing. Just try not to focus on the static. Note it, acknowledge it before the Lord, and let it pass. Offer all of it up to Him and ask for the grace to see through distractions, as through raindrops on the windshield as we move towards our destination. If we fixate on the rain-spattered windshield, we can drive right off the road.

But there are exceptions to this technique...

There are distractions in prayer, and there are DISTRACTIONS in prayer. Big black tarantulas are capital "D" distractions, as St. Theresa of Avila notes in her classic work the Interior Castle (well, she would have noted it if she lived in the Dominican Republic).

Back to a Patio in Los Alcarrizos...

As this creature of darkness (sorry spider lovers but I've been conditioned by the system) made its way up the wall, pulling me and many others away from the rhythm of prayer, an old woman slowly lifted herself up from her bench and walked over to the wall. She picked up a small brick on the way, and WHAMMO!... she hurled it at the tarantula with laser precision! Returning to her seat, she picked up her prayer book and the people said "AMEN!"

I sat back and smiled. Life in the batey; where the women are strong and prayer is a battle. And you sleep with one eye open.


"The great figures of prayer of the Old Covenant before Christ, as well as the Mother of God, the saints, and he himself, all teach us this: prayer is a battle. Against whom? Against ourselves and against the wiles of the tempter who does all he can to turn man away from prayer, away from union with God."

- Catechism, Section 2725

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Inspired by Caffeine and Irish Soda Bread

My in-laws have descended for a visit from NY! We had a wonderful dinner at Romarco's last night (deep fried zucchini spears, nice!), rented the Illusionist (very good, creepy, and we love Paul Giamatti) and now morning is breaking.

I'm always up before everyone else. What can I say? The morning is the divine hour! It's the hour of awakening. And this morning is particularly crisp; sharp and bright as linen. Her face is freshly washed and she's got her blue dress on again, and no cloudy look to obscure that sunny smile.

I was just tossing up some morning prayer with a little coffee and some of my mother-in-law's famous and ridiculously delicious Irish Soda Bread, looking out our little window just above the front door, when I spied the old pine in the neighbour's yard. He filled the tiny pane of glass, waving his green good morning to the day. And this old swatch of a poem came back to me:

"Two men looked out through prison bars; one saw mud, the other stars."

I thought to myself, "Self, imagine if some alien force suddenly barged in while the house slept peacefully upstairs, wantonly destroying my Irish soda bread, spilling my coffee, and whisking me away to confine me to a place where a little window was my only glimpse of the Outside? Would I appreciate it? Would it be like a viaduct of grace and a reminder of what reality is, what freedom is, and that "above all shadows rides the sun"? Did I make this coffee too strong this morning or what?"

Ah the thoughts that come to me while sipping the sweet, dark nectar of the Bean. I love you Maxwell House, right to the last drop!

Friday, February 02, 2007

Another Poem

To be lost
To step away
into unplugged and mapless places

Away from the security of comfort
and into the deep Unknown

From the deadening buzz of lights, signals, arrows, bells, beeps
Into the Great Silence, into mist and shadow
Into the gnarled darkness of woods and the wet bark of trees

We should go
We should stand again beneath (at last beneath)
towering trees

To listen, to wait
for the creak of their bones

To see if we might find
In the soft whisper of branches
In the solemn cracks of old trees bones
A secret

Older than we are
Older than our generation
And our father's generation

A secret

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Happy Birthday Encyclical Letter of Pope Benedict!

I just read Amy Welborn's post on this happy fact (actually Pope Benedict's first letter was penned on Christmas Day, 2005, but we got it in print later). Here's a couple cool facts about it:

"It's been just over a year since its release, yet Pope Benedict XVI's first Encyclical letter continues to be a best seller. According to the Rome-based ANSA news agency the Pontiff’s profound discussion of human and divine love is proving to be one of the most commercially successful doctrinal tracts ever written by a Pope. The 72-page document, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), has been reprinted three times in the German Pope's own language, three times in Spanish and sold almost 1.5 million copies in Italian. Its success has also meant that, for the first time in modern history, the Latin version of a papal document has had to be reprinted. The initial run of 1,000 copies sold out in two months."
- from Amy's blog "Open Book"

And here's a couple of highlights from the Pope's letter itself, God is Love:

"God does not demand of us a feeling which we ourselves are incapable of producing. He loves us, he makes us see and experience his love, and since he has “loved us first”, love can also blossom as a response within us." (DC, 17)

"In the gradual unfolding of this encounter, it is clearly revealed that love is not merely a sentiment. Sentiments come and go. A sentiment can be a marvellous first spark, but it is not the fullness of love. Earlier we spoke of the process of purification and maturation by which eros comes fully into its own, becomes love in the full meaning of the word." (DC, 17)

"God has made himself visible: in Jesus we are able to see the Father (cf.
Jn 14:9). Indeed, God is visible in a number of ways. In the love-story recounted by the Bible, he comes towards us, he seeks to win our hearts, all the way to the Last Supper, to the piercing of his heart on the Cross..."

Talking to Your Little Ones About the Big Topic of Sex

A much repeated sentence we hear at our Theology of the Body retreats and courses is "I wish I heard this when I was younger!" ...