Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Talking with Teens about Love and Life

My guest for tonight's radio show was Jason Evert, author and national speaker on topics of chastity, true love and the Catholic Faith. He earned a master's degree in Theology, and undergraduate degrees in Counseling and Theology, with a minor in Philosophy at Franciscan University of Steubenville. He is the author of the books If You Really Loved Me, Answering Jehovah's Witnesses, Love, Sex, and Babies, and Pure Love, which challenges young people to embrace the virtue of chastity. Jason speaks to thousands of people every year, answering questions about Catholicism from people around the world. He lives in California with his wife Crystalina and their three children.


www.catholic.com (click on seminars and find Jason Evert)
www.pureloveclub.com (for Catholics)
www.pureloveclub.net (for public schools)

Hear Jason speak through free audio downloads by clicking here.
The podcast of this episode is available here!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Carry On

I remember stumbling onto the works of Hieronymus Bosch, a 16th century painter, for the first time when I was studying art. I thought he was nuts. It was his famous painting "The Garden of Earthly Delights." Like a flash forward to a Tim Burton film or a Dr. Suess story gone bad, it was filled with bizarre contraptions, creepy creatures, and disfigured figures; surreal and completely unlike anything of his own era.

Then I found his painting pictured here; Christ carrying the Cross. Some of the same Boschian faces are back, but now they are juxtaposed with the serene face of Christ. His eyes are closed, He leans forward on His via dolorosa, His way of sorrows. Anger and rage swell around his peaceful, almost contemplative face. Screaming, laughing, conniving faces swirl in a sea of torment around Him. But He presses on. It is captivating. And in this cauldron of humanity, only one other face seems to mark the gravity of the moment, to be awake and aware of the redemption so near at hand. A woman, modest, pure, who has placed herself in the eye of the storm with Him Who walks towards the Hill of Calvary. She too has eyes closed in meditation and holds open for all to see (who dare to look) the veil that captured His Face.

In the film The Passion of the Christ, the scene of Jesus carrying His Cross becomes, in a sense, the climax of the entire story. It's here where a verse from Revelation comes tumbling in, seemingly out of place and enigmatic to the core. Jesus meets a Woman, His Mother, on the way. Only they seem to feel the full weight of this moment, where the problem of evil, of suffering, of injustice, and all the sorrows of humanity are met head on. This is what God does in Jesus: looks Death square in the eye. Did you think He came to tell us to be nice to everybody?

In this one moment the only One Who could give an answer to the mysterium iniquitatis, the mystery of evil, is the God Who became Man, and He says to the Woman: "Behold, I make all things new."

Now that's power. He doesn't come to erase our mistakes, or eradicate humanity's gift of freedom, or even to pat us on the back and say it's OK now. He comes to redeem our sins, to redirect our passions by His Passion, to remake the mold of what a Man should be and what a Woman should be in the face of sorrow and sin. The image, the posture, the position is.... cruciform. Arms outstretched, leaving the center wide-open, the heart vulnerable to the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune." We can take down Suffering by suffering, destroy Death with the death to self. If we let sorrow bite us and break us and then get up again and carry on, then Death, where is your sting?

Can we do this today? Can we look our suffering in the eye (and we know exactly where it is) and pick it up? Walk with it? Take it through the crowded streets of our life and bear it peacefully? Some see Christians as escapists, looking for a way out of meaninglessness and clutching at a crutch for comfort. Please look at a crucifix. Christians are the real realists. We are the ones called to name it, claim it and meet it head on. To take life in all its manifold complexity into the heart and there let His grace transform it.

So let's carry on... Victory awaits beyond this Hill of Sorrows!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Down by the Water

Thanks to the generosity of a friend of Reb's, we're by the sea, in Avalon, as we were a year ago this time. And it's beautiful: quiet, empty streets, soft, salty breeze, and a massive, billowing, breathing ocean so close it's ominous. Beautifully ominous.

So I walked this morning by the sea, and took this picture with the sweet new Blackberry phone, camera, web browser, electric shaver device I recently purchased (and I hope this pic shows up for you). I love the solitude of Avalon in February! Time for deep thoughts as deep as the sea itself. Here's a little Wordsworth I always remember in the face of this majesty:

"It is a beauteous evening, calm and free; The holy time is quiet as a nun Breathless with adoration; the broad sun Is sinking down in its tranquillity; The gentleness of heaven is on the sea: Listen! the mighty Being is awake, And doth with his eternal motion make A sound like thunder -everlastingly. Dear child! dear girl! that walkest with me here, If thou appear untouched by solemn thought Thy nature is not therefore less divine: Thou liest in Abraham's bosom all the year, And worshipp'st at the Temple's inner shrine, God being with thee when we know it not."

- William Wordsworth, By the Sea

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless handheld

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Evangelization is Crazy Stuff

We’re going to talk about a scary word today. At least it seems scary to some people: EVANGELIZATION

Just saying the word can perhaps cause two spontaneous images to pop into the minds of many:
rock star preachers in pin-striped suits who seem really ticked.
2. nicely dressed folks knocking on doors on Saturday mornings. These are pretty extreme. Neither are very appealing. The first is too imposing, the second is too... inviting. Uncomfortably inviting.

I think the spin doctors of the media culture like to paint evangelizing Christians as nice but nerdy solicitors leaving something in our door rather than as Navy Seals saving us from drowning. The funny thing is, evangelization is more akin to the Navy Seal than to the nice guy.

Many Catholics are painted as people leading lives of quiet desperation, doing lots of spiritual gymnastics, surrounded by their statues and stained glass rather than as walking tabernacles bringing Jesus into the dreary workplace, malls of mediocrity, and money-hungry marketplaces of the world to shake them all out of their complacency.

I think we have no idea what evangelization really is anymore. We live in such a pluralistic society. Anything and everything goes in the spheres of values and beliefs, paths to peace and self-contentment.... "as long as it makes you happy." But what does that mean? Happiness?

We all know what sadness is. And we know what bad news is. It nearly suffocates us if we watch the news for more than 15 minutes, or read the first five pages of the newspaper. But the root meaning of evangelization is that in the midst of all this bad news there has come "good news." Would you like some?

There were these 12 guys once. They had a real paradigm shift and left their jobs when they met this "evangelist" who claimed to have "good news" in the midst of the world's perennial bad news. He was an itinerant preacher who didn't have a cent to his name. They walked all over the place. Talk about getting out of your comfort zone! Then he died, tragically. The government didn't like him, so they grabbed him right in front of their eyes and had him beaten senseless, publicly mocked, and brutally murdered. The end.

They didn't know what to do next, so they ran away. They locked themselves up in a little apartment in the city and waited for the craziness to settle. Maybe in a year or two they could move on, start a new life somewhere, who knows. So much for that "good news" about the meaning of life and hope and forgiveness. Then when they least expected it, and reportedly they were NOT expecting it, he shows up again. Whoa.... He says the bad news is over. In fact, if you trust him, there is no such thing as bad news anymore... ever. This blows them away, completely.

Then a couple of weeks later, a wind from Heaven blows into their nostrils, and with the animating spirit that filled the lungs of Adam, the first man, they get up, get fruitful and multiply, evangelizing like crazy. People thought they were drunk they were so dang happy. They were arrested, beaten up, persecuted. They didn't care. They kept talking about this thing that happened. It was the man they followed. He wasn't dead after all. He somehow came back from the dead. This "good news" was so good, they kept talking about it for the rest of their lives.

And, get this: the people who listened and believed them got a blast of that same Wind from Heaven BAM! right into their old, selfish, sin-smoky lungs. Then the message spread like wildfire. And today, from the 12 (a new guy subbed in for Judas), we've got about 2,000,000,000 people in the world banking on this good news. That's roughly one-sixth of the world's population. Ridiculous, right? Well.... yeah. It's crazy. It's anything but a dull knock at your door, a nice philosophy to believe in, or a new flavor of ice cream to taste when you've had a bad day. This is everything we've ever wanted: a rescue, a romance, and a fairy tale that came true. The good news is that Death is no more, and the Door to Life has swung wide open. And God is crazy in love with us and not way off in space somewhere. He walked our earth and breathed our air and took away our sins and has sent us a million other love letters just waiting to be opened. Evangelize that!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Human Experience

In a certain sense, I think it's never been so easy to evangelize, share the Good News, because never before have we had such bad news. Never before have we strayed so far from our roots, from human dignity, from a sense of purpose and a sense of wonder. They say it's always darkest before the dawn, and in the midst of shadow even the tiniest spark burns like fire. When all around us rises a cacophony of lies and fear and deception, the truth suddenly stands out so clearly. It's like the move from a smoky, crowded room onto the porch where wind and rain catch us up in their wet and misty swirls. If we only knew the right words to speak to draw souls out of the noise and haste! What would it take to wake us up and return us to the essence of being human? A film like the Human Experience is so ripe for our times. In the words of Pope John Paul II: "Faced with the sacredness of life and of the human person, and before the marvels of the universe, wonder is the only appropriate attitude." - Pope John Paul II I think the boys from Brooklyn have done it again, and this is only my take from the trailer! I am eagerly awaiting this film, and from what I read on their site (Grassroots Films) it seems the screenings are winning people over as well. It can't come soon enough for me! From Grassroots Films of Brooklyn, New York comes THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE - the story of a band of brothers who travel the world in search of the answers to the burning questions: Who am I? Who is Man? Why do we search for meaning? Their journey brings them into the middle of the lives of the homeless on the streets of New York City, the orphans and disabled children of Peru, and the abandoned lepers in the forests of Ghana, Africa. What the young men discover changes them forever. Through one on one interviews and real life encounters, the brothers are awakened to the beauty of the human person and the resilience of the human spirit.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Take a Hike

"Moses does not encounter the living God at the mall. He finds Him (or is found by Him) somewhere out in the deserts of Sinai, a long way from the comforts of Egypt... Where did the great prophet Elijah go to recover his strength? To the wild. As did John the Baptist, and his cousin, Jesus, Who is led by the Spirit into the wilderness."
- John Eldredge

I think our ancestors in the faith were natural hikers, minus the fleece caps, "sport-grip" water bottles, and Velcro bootstraps (I bet they would've loved Velcro though). They were simply in their element under a star-crowded sky. The smell of a wood fire, the rich, damp earth, the swell of the grapevine, the crush of grain between the fingertips, the smell of wool, thin air rocky climbs up craggy hills, sand and rock and the salt sea: all these were not extravagances for them. It was simply life. And everything became their teacher.

But when is the last time we walked on grass? Touched the cool bark of a tree, moved off of the beaten path, got our shoes muddy? We can move about an entire day from concrete to asphalt, linoleum to the plush carpets of our living rooms and never once touch the earth. In the words of one of my freshmen students, "What up wit 'dat?"

If the earth is a kind of sacrament (and it is), and every living thing both its own reality and a glimmer of a mystery in the Mind of God (and they are, from flowers to rivers, our bodies to the swirling galaxies) then this distance we create is a kind of blockade, isn't it? We are closing our hearts to the fruitfulness of that (lower case) sacramental life. God comes to greet us in the wild, in the desert, in the stillness of the morning and the dark blanket of the night, and we close the door in the middle of His "hello."

"Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one, and come! For see, the winter is past, the rains are over and gone."

"Uh, but I'm not dressed for it. Actually, I'm kinda busy right now. I have... a meeting."

As Thoreau said, we need the tonic of wilderness. We need the desert desperately. We've grown soft like jelly and we've forgotten where we come from, and where we're going. We've settled into this world as the Hebrews did in Egypt, so that even when freedom calls, we prefer slavery. We need the same antidote to the poison of sin; detoxification, rehabilitation, the stripping away of superfluities. We need to take a hike.

Enter Lent...

OK, so we can't pack up and head to Sinai, or the Sahara, or the wilds of Northern Maine (dang it), but we can enter Lent. We can get up early and walk, pray, sit in the stillness as the morning pours liquid gold on the world and listen.... There is as much if not more of a wilderness in the hollow of our hearts that needs exploring, and we've crammed it full of busyness and noise and "responsibilities."

Lent is about finding our hearts again in that wilderness, and it's often only in the wilderness that we can find them. In the cold clear light, in the arid places, in the quiet stretch of the mind apart from the noise and haste of civilization. Lent is about being driven out of our comfortability, into the mud and briars and wild tangled vines and into the woods where the hermit thrush sings and mystery moves in shadow.

So let today be the first step into that desert... unplugged, stripped, silent, watchful. What mysteries will be revealed? What signs will we see? What superfluities will we let go of on this journey? And where will we find ourselves in 40 days?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

No Greater Love: The True Story of Fr. John Wessel

“More and more, I realize that love is the only thing that truly matters in life – to love and to be kind to one another.”
– Karin M. Burke

My guest tonight was Karin Burke. Her book on the life and death of a New Jersey priest is an inspiring story of faithfulness and sacrifice. No Greater Love: The True Story of Fr. John Wessel is available through Xlibris.com.

"Father John P. Wessel was a priest well loved by parishioners of St. Joseph Church, Toms River, New Jersey. He had been serving the parish for only three months when his life was forcefully snatched from him by a gunshot from one distraught member of his flock – a young Vietnam War veteran whom, with priestly concern, he was attempting to assist. The shooting occurred on December 17, 1971. Gravely wounded, Father Wessel died nine days later on December 26, 1971. He was only 32 years old. Thirty-six years since the fatal shooting of Father Wessel, his memory is still very much alive among those whose lives he has touched."

You can read more by clicking here, or to order the book call 1.888.795.4274

Sunday, February 03, 2008

You Might be One Holy Harmonica

When I was a kid, Dad would occasionally pull out his $5.00 harmonica and play us a tune; some rousing Irish jig or lullaby or Red River Valley. We thought it was pretty cool, and I guess that's what stirred me into playing the Irish tinwhistle.

Now as a kid, these two instruments, I have to confess, seemed to me more like glorified kazoos than orchestral implements. But then I heard Paddy Maloney play the tinwhistle, and that $7.00 piece of metal and plastic took me to the Aran Islands and beyond... to Tir na Nog.... to windswept rocks and crying gulls.

There's a line from Shakespeare that has a character pondering the power of the violin.... "Strange", he muses, "that sheep's guts should hail men's souls from their bodies."

Amen to that!

Now as a Catholic, I have daily encounters with ordinary stuff (water, wine, bread, oil) that's been supercharged and divinized by the God Who took on our flesh and became one of us. So it's not a puzzle for me to see melody flow through the muddy hands, and music from the makings of wood and steel, brass and pipes. It's incarnational! But a harmonica?

Enter Buddy Greene. He plays the harmonica like you've never seen. Now if he can play music like that through a little piece of camp fire chotsky, what wonders can God do through ridiculous me? The catch is... I have to let Him pick me up and send His Holy Spirit whistling through.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Carved in Ethereal Realms

Carved in ethereal realms
Unique as a human soul
Tumbling through empty skies
They come.

Beauty hidden from our eyes
Resting on frozen slopes where no one walks
Deep as a pirate's jeweled treasures
Sharp as diamonds, glistening with promise
They rest.

Will we pass them by?
Will any eye stop to wonder
at these hand-carved theophanies?

Will the warmth of a human heart stop to see
take and treasure, imbibe their beauty?

For these little ones are ours to treasure
to take and see in their individuality
wondering which is me
Sharp as diamonds
glistening with promise.


Nature is full of genius, full of the divinity;
so that not a snowflake escapes its fashioning hand.
- Henry David Thoreau

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!" ...