Friday, December 24, 2010

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: A Reflection and Review

Narnia.... the very word holds a power over countless readers. With it comes a thirst for adventure, a return to youth, and a longing to peer over the world's edge into “Aslan's Country.” Now with the release of the third film based on the Narnia series, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, another generation is getting a chance to step through that magical Wardrobe and into the Realm of Infinite Possibilites.

In the Beginning was a Word…

C.S. Lewis' epic series of seven books, The Chronicles of Narnia, began their publication in the 1950's, with a succeeding volume nearly every year until 1956. Like his contemporary, and close friend for decades, J.R.R. Tolkien (author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings), the germination for this wildly successful series began quite simply with a word... or an image to be exact.

“It all began with images; a faun carrying an umbrella, a queen on a sledge, a magnificent lion. At first there wasn't anything Christian about them; that element pushed itself in of its own accord.” (C.S. Lewis, Of Other Worlds)

Both Lewis and Tolkien were deep and committed Christians, (Tolkien a Catholic) and this faith of theirs breathed its life into their work – for Lewis in a slightly more obvious way, like a road marked with lettered signs. For Tolkien the gospel was so deeply embedded in it, the signs are in the very leaves, trees, language, and longing of Middle-Earth. He said afterwards that The Lord of the Rings was a “profoundly religious and Catholic work” though not intentionally in the writing.

So where does Lewis’s sea journey on The Voyage of the Dawn Treader take us this time? Well, back into the Mystery of course. The mystery of myth, and the fantastical freedom of fantasy. For many, however, this journey is not an easy one. So often it’s called a tale for children. But buried in the pages (and now the celluloid) of the Narnian stories is something meant to wake up us adults too. There’s something essential for all of us to hear in Aslan’s whispers. Shakespeare’s Hamlet said it best: “There are more things in Heaven and earth, Horatio, then are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

C. S. Lewis used myth-making as a tool to slip certain realities in past our more “adult” logic and reason, when we aren’t quite expecting it. He called it “smuggling theology.”

When Lewis was asked what The Dawn Treader was all about, he simply said “the spiritual life.” I’d like to highlight a few scenes from the film version in this review that capture this inner journey, and let it be known, in the language of the blogosphere, there are spoiler alerts!

The first page of Lewis’s Dawn Treader introduces us to just one of the characters who needs to work on his spiritual life, and the first line of the book says it all: "There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it."

Eustace is a boy who acts like a stuffy adult. I think Lewis’ point here is to take us stuffy adults and get us to act as little children by the end of our reading! For Eustace, the greatest annoyance of having his Pevensie cousins stay at his home is their nonsensical talk of this “make believe” land of Narnia. Reality for Master Scrubb is that which can be weighed, categorized, dissected, and stuck with a pin upon his insect board. It lies, essentially, in what he can control. Sound familiar?

In Eustace, Lewis is highlighting the arrogance of modern reductionism that says a thing is simply that which is quantifiable. Is it efficient, productive, does it contribute to the collective? This modern philosophy hates superfluous exuberance and above all mystery. Strip it down to its essential use! Don’t look any further! After gazing upon a rather life-like painting of the sea (that Eustace hates and the Pevensies love) and having it actually come to life and draw Eustace and his cousins into its watery mystery, Eustace starts to come undone. Talk about a baptism of fire!

In Narnia, however, Eustace continues to be his own self-absorbed problem, and this reaches a climax when he abandons his shipmates and gathers a pile of tempting gold into his pockets. He is still thinking quantifiably! But he has a qualifiable change after turning into the very thing his hoarding thoughts have imaged: Eustace becomes a dragon.

Here is one of the films finest renditions of Lewis’s classic tale, and it strikes a powerful chord for the viewer - we who have our own struggle with pride, self-sufficiency, and greed. Eustace cannot rid himself of this hardened shell of dragon skin, only Aslan can. I believe the Great Lion only appears three times in the film, and this is one of them. With glowing slashes, Eustace the Dragon is struck again and again by the Lion, until he is stripped of the old scales of sin and replenished with a new heart, in a stunning return to his own skin; a mortal boy again. The book has him plunged in water to make clear the baptism Eustace undergoes to change his heart. The film has him reformed on the edge of the sea.

Lucy, played with pristine innocence and charm once again by British actress Georgie Henley, has grown up a bit. The struggle in her “spiritual life” is in owning her own dignity and self-worth. She struggles with the desire to be as  beautiful as her older sister, Susan, to the point of nearly losing herself in the process. It’s a powerful lesson, and watching the film, my wife and I were so grateful knowing that there were countless young girls watching and hearing the truth that they are beautiful, not by comparison with their older sisters but in being who they are. A candid scene shows Lucy beside a young troubled refugee girl, who is inspired by Lucy’s bravery. “When I grow up, I want to be just like you,” she says. Ah, Lucy’s response sets her heart aright, and Lucy’s own trajectory towards wholeness as well! “When you grow up,” she tells the child “you should be just like you!”

Edmund, played by actor Skandar Keynes, first appeared in The Lion , the Witch, and the Wardrobe. He was a dark and conniving youth, now he’s come of age. He is valiant and fearless, though still a bit unsteady under the weight of his older brother Peter (who also only appears briefly in the film).

In a climatic showdown with a massive sea-serpent (parents, the movie has some dark moments for smaller children), Edmund confronts his old weakness again. The director has the White Witch return in the form of temptation, which is an innovation that really does add a connecting thread to the films. The Witch promises to make him a man, even a king to rule beside her. In one swift stroke, Edmund Pevensie dismisses that empty promise and shows that he already is a man in risking his life defending his friends.

There are some alterations and omissions in moving from book to film, and some of them lose some of the hints and homage made to Christ so clear in Lewis’s words. Aside from that, I just missed Aslan. But truth be told, in the spiritual life, as in the Dawn Treader, there is not always the consolation of His Presence.

A good friend of mine, pointed out that this story is not so much about the enemy on the outside as in the previous books/films. Now it is the enemy on the inside. In those interior struggles, when we feel most alone in the castle of the heart, the Great Lion still walks those halls. Patiently He waits for our yes to His invitation. And the journey begins anew!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


I find this to be hilarious and refreshing in its simplicity. Who knew it could be so easy!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Train Attraction

If you are anywhere near or around or in the proximity of Flemington, NJ, in the near future, I feel you are morally and aesthetically obliged to visit Northlandz Trains. Watch this video of our first stop there a few weeks ago and you'll see why. Absolutely amazing stuff!!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Glass Half Full

I love this holy feast of Mary's Immaculate Conception, but I don't like the negative vibe I'm feeling today, listening to some of the prayers and reflections today on Our Sweet Mary. It's all this "sinless perfection" language. I think it makes Mary untouchable, and even a bit un-human. I hope you're not offended. Stay with me!

I remember as a kid hearing the method for determining if you are an optimist or a pessimist. Look at a glass of water. Describe it. Is it half full, or half empty?

Maybe we should be talking about Our Lady as more grace-full than sin-less. It feels more optimistic and realistic. Talk of sinlessness and perfection can sound so... unreachable. I know Mary is immaculate (without stain) but I don't know if she ever spilled anything on her clothes. I bet she did. I almost hope so, in a weird way. One of my favorite scenes from the greatest film of all time, The Passion of the Christ, shows Mary, as a young mother, leaping up and spilling dinner in an attempt to catch a falling Christ (who also surely must have stumbled more than three times in his via dolorosa of toddlerhood). He became one of us "in all things, except sin" - and that all things encompasses a whole bunch of things, doesn't it?

We can trick ourselves in our defining of terms like perfect. Does it mean that everything a perfect person does is flawless? They never burp, blunder, or bite off more spaghetti than they can chew? No awkwardly loud sneezes? That occassional snort in the middle of a really good laugh? Does it mean they sort of float around never touching the earth, that they are perpetually solemn, always using perfect punctuation, dotting their i's and crossing their t's?

Hmmm. I like to think of Mary as full of grace, always YES, loving and serving, open-eyed and receiving Love as it tumbled down from the Heavens towards her with as much passion as the Passion of a Good Friday. I don't like thinking of Mary as just "sinless." That's like looking at celibacy and saying "Oh, that means you can't have sex." Well, yes, but what can you have? God. Love. Union with not just one but every heart fashioned in the image of God, and the Universe as a present from a Loving and Divine Spouse to boot! How's that grab ya?

Mary's Immaculate Conception means, ultimately, that in her, God gave us a fresh start; a new beginning, a New Eve to be the Mother of All the Living Children, washed clean in the waters of Baptism. She was fully human, fully alive, all woman, and the joyful cry of her Magnificat speaks volumes about her exuberant spirit and radical passion for the Living God. There's nothing stoic, disincarnate, or stuffy there! In fact, in her heart, I'd dare to say there is an overflowing excess of love.

Oh Mary, give us a taste of that Fullness you received, into your very body! Open us up to the wonders of His Passion for us! Make us hungry for this Fullness! For the hungry He fills with good things, and the rich He sends away empty.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The Little Drummer Boy Returns!

This kid has the music in him! This was the first sitting ever at his cousin's drum set. Watch how he rests the sticks after playing. A natural!!

Monday, December 06, 2010

Saved from a Train

This is video footage of a man being saved literally at the last second from an oncoming train in Madrid. A drunken man staggered off the ledge into the tracks, and an incredible off duty policeman is the only one brave (or crazy enough) to leap onto the tracks to rescue him. PS - my colleague Theresa who told me about this noticed the policeman never shows his face in the retelling of the story. Humility and courage! What a winning combination!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

STOP, LOOK, LISTEN: A Christmas Reflection

STOP, LOOK, LISTEN: Rediscovering the Wonder of Christmas. Join Bill Donaghy for an evening of inspiration and reflection on the scandalously beautiful miracle that took place on the first Christmas! 

 St. George Parish, 15 Lamont Ave., Glenolden, PA  
Monday, Dec. 6 @ 7:00pm

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Holy Spirit and Babies

I was driving to give a talk a couple of weeks ago on Marriage, Family, and the Sacraments, praying and preparing as the road zoomed below. I was pondering on just how these three things relate when I got zapped by the following thought...

Catholics say every Sunday in the Apostle's Creed that the Holy Spirit "proceeds from the Father and the Son." The Holy Spirit is the Eternal Fruit of the Love-Gift between the two Divine Persons of the Father and the Son. 

Whoa... If that sounds way too abstract, Augustine in the fourth century gave us a helpful image in saying that the Divine Love in the Trinity is "enfleshed" in the human love of Lover, Beloved, and the Love between the two. This image blossoms beautifully in Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body in our own time. Stay with me friends while I try and work this out!

The Father loves the Son eternally. The Son receives that Love forever, and forever returns that Love. Since the Gift of Love is Eternal, the Fruit of that Love is in itself Eternal! In fact, it is a whole and distinct Person! The Holy Spirit. Anyone ever in love can attest to this Third Party, this seemingly separate and distinct ocean of Love in which the Two suddenly find themselves immersed in right up to their hearts. In vernacular terms, and here quoting Schoolhouse Rock "A man and a woman had a little baby.... yes they did. They had Three-ee-ee in the family. That's a magic number."

Now to get to the thought that zapped me on the turnpike heading west... The Holy Spirit, the Eternal Fruit of the Love between the Father and Son, we believe, is God operating in our hearts, moving us, inspiring us to Love, and Goodness, and Beauty, because that's what Love does. The Holy Spirit makes us holy, if we allow Him into our hearts, minds, and bodiesJust so, the Fruit of the Love of the earthly Lover and Beloved (baby!) makes us holy. Babies are like the Holy Spirit.... in the flesh! THAT'S IT! Huh?

A child coming forth from the beloved and the lover, a husband and wife, becomes the operative agent in our hearts, making us holy and whole. Children, like the Holy Spirit, break us and remake us. They bring us out of ourselves, they push us out into the deep where we never thought we could go, and they are the "occasion of grace" that can make us saints. 

So the new revelation in the spiritual life of our little family is to say "Come Holy Spirit! Speak to us, Your servants are listening" as we discern in the cries, laughter, smiles, gurgles, giggles, and yes, the poopie diapers of this domestic church, just what is the Holy Spirit of our children teaching us? 

For the family, holiness and the path to perfection are ever-present. The bells of the monasteries summoning us to prayer are the bellows of the baby crying out "Change me Dada!" And shouldn't my prayer to God be the very same thing? "Come Holy Spirit! Change me!"

Saturday, November 06, 2010

A Must Read for EVERYONE

Is Abortion and Hormonal Contraception a Prescription for Breast Cancer?

By Jenn Giroux CINCINNATI, Ohio,
OCT. 29, 2010 (

Everywhere I looked this month I saw a pink ribbon. It was on my dry cleaning bag, grocery bag, coffee cup, mail catalogs, receipts, billboards it goes on and on. Don't get me wrong. I love the color pink, and breast cancer prevention and finding a cure is critical to women today. However, I also love the truth. That is why October 2010 is a good time to take Breast Cancer Awareness Month to a whole new level with some facts which can lead to both the physical and spiritual health of women in America and across the world. We live in the world of media messaging where the one with the most money and the loudest message wins the day. What is the "Race for the Cure"? Why are we not being told the truth about the real risks and prevention for breast cancer?

According to the SEER data at the National Cancer Institute, there has been a 400% increase in noninvasive -- or "in situ" (in the same place) -- breast cancer in pre-menopausal women since 1975. How do abortion, hormone replacement therapy, and hormonal contraception factor into the equation?

For years, abortion, hormonal replacement therapy and hormonal contraception have been largely ignored by most of the medical community and the media in general as significant risk factors for breast cancer. However, studies have consistently concluded that breast cancer risk increases as a result of these three factors. Researchers in Iran have published results of a new study showing that women who have had an abortion face a 193% increased risk of breast cancer. This has to do with the interruption of breast tissue development during pregnancy. It is important to note that this (and other studies like it) have nothing to do with a person's belief in abortion. It has everything to do with the scientifically undeniable development and growth of breast tissue within a woman's body.

There are many other studies that have been published as well that confirm that abortion presents increased risk to women for breast cancer, and that confirm that carrying a baby to full term provides a natural protection to the mother if the pregnancy is not unnaturally interrupted. For years, doctors have been prescribing hormone replacement therapy for women who experience hot flashes and periods of sweating in menopause. The widespread belief was that these hormones would not only reduce a woman's risk for heart disease but also keep her "youthful, sexy, and healthy."

This week the New York Times reported that studies have now confirmed that taking these hormones not only increases breast cancer risk, but "also make it more likely that the cancer will be advanced and deadly" (New York Times, Oct. 19, 2010). This revelation, finally being recognized by the mainstream medical community and media, makes our final topic on hormonal contraception downright frightening. Obstetricians and gynecologists across the country freely encourage long-term use of hormonal contraception such as "the Pill," the intrauterine device (IUD) Mirena, NuvaRing, Yaz, Yasmin, and all forms of emergency contraception without giving adequate attention to the short- and long-term side effects.
Pediatricians have also joined in on this by encouraging mothers to place their young daughters on "the Pill" to help with acne or to relieve monthly menstrual cramps. Recently, a college student shared with me that inside her dorm, cell phones go off in the early morning hours as a reminder to the girls to take their birth control pills. This was at a Catholic college.
The number of young women on "the Pill" is alarming. Have these girls been told that "the Pill" has been classified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency on Research for Cancer, a research arm of the World Health Organization? Are women in general being informed that any form of hormonal (estrogen-progestin combination) birth control (including "the Pill," the patch, Depo-Provera, Norplant, Ortho Vera Patch, or any others on the market) are actually increasing risk for breast, cervical, and liver cancer?

 The sad reality is that any woman who takes a hormonal contraceptive for four years prior to her first full-term pregnancy increases her risk for breast cancer by 52%. It is worth noting that this same research arm of the World Health Organization also places "the Pill" in the same category with asbestos and cigarettes. The difference is the dose So, you may ask, what is the difference between the hormones that are given to women during menopause, which cause deadly breast cancer, and the hormones that are given to young women in the form of "the Pill"? The answer is shocking. The hormones in the drugs are the same. The only difference is in the dose that is given to the younger women and girls. It is necessary to give a much higher dose than that given in hormone replacement therapy because younger women have active, healthy ovaries. Does this give better context to the 400% increase in "in situ" breast cancer in pre-menopausal women since 1975?

In order to silence the public discussion of the harms of contraception we have often been told that we are pushing our "Catholic" views on women. This has effectively kept many health care providers and pro-life groups silent on this issue. Do you know what has nothing to do with being Catholic? Experiencing breast cancer in your 30s, having a stroke in college, or having an undetected and sudden blood clot that results in permanent health damage or death are life-threatening side effects that visit women of all faiths. Women deserve to know the truth. They have been failed by physicians in not being warned of the physical damage that they are doing to their bodies, and they have been failed by their priests in not being warned of the spiritual damage that they are doing to their souls.

The New York Times article on Oct. 19 published information by "The Journal of the American Medical Association" that is a real breakthrough and victory for women's health. The exposure of this important medical information further reveals the outrage of Komen for the Cure giving $7.5 million back to Planned Parenthood in 2009. This was money from trustful donors who were unaware that they, indeed, gave to a cause working against the cure of breast cancer. Clearly, both abortion and hormonal contraception, a huge source of Planned Parenthood's income, are contributing risk factors for breast cancer. October 2010 is the time to recognize the seamless pink ribbon that connects breast cancer with abortion, hormonal contraception and hormone replacement therapy. It is only then that we can get on with true prevention and, God willing, finish the race for the truth, which will then pave the path for the cure.

Jenn Giroux is the executive director of HLI America, a program of Human Life International. She is a registered nurse, wife, and mother of nine. She and her husband, Dan, live with their family in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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Thursday, October 28, 2010


I stumbled on this song today after a friend posted another song by Brooke Fraser on my Facebook wall. "Shadowfeet" is an incredible song, and a powerful myriad of faces appears in this video to help in the singing! Ah humanity, all of us so different, and all of us so alike in our yearning for the Infinite One Who alone can satisfy!


Walking,stumbling on these shadowfeet
toward home,a land that i've never seen
I am changing: less and less asleep
made of different stuff than when i began
and i have sensed it all along
fast approaching is the day

When the world has fallen out from under me
I'll be found in you, still standing
when the sky rolls up and mountains fall on their knees
when time and space are through
I'll be found in you

Theres distraction buzzing in my head
saying in the shadows it's easier to stay
but I've heard rumours of true reality
whispers of a well-lit way

You make all things new

When the world has fallen out from under me
I'll be found in you, still standing
Every fear and accusation under my feet
when time and space are through
I'll be found in you

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Breathing Gold

These fall days are ridiculously busy with family life, teaching, prepping, grading, planning, but just 5 minutes under golden trees like this is like time spent in Lothlorien, where time ceases to move at its normal tick. What is it about beauty and things natural that stops the infernal tick of time, or at least seriously delays it for awhile? Don't miss this holy season! Get out there under some trees for a spell! And let them cast their spell over you!

Monday, October 25, 2010

I first heard Eva Cassidy's angelic voice in 1996, the year she died. At the age of 33, cancer took her away. Her voice was little known outside of the DC area, where she sang in jazz and blues clubs. But now her gifts are reaching the world. I don't know how old she is in this heart-breaking rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, but by her look, it appears she already has the cancer.

This song takes on a whole new weight of sorrow, fragile beauty, and glory should that be the case. I hope you are ready for this! And for a search for more of Eva's music! She is a gift, and her voice still echoes in the world!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Leather Goods and Phenomenology

Rebecca and I were watching a show on last night, squeezed in between Clare's brief nap and before the Boy's first waking of the night, when this Louis Vuitton commercial came on. It was captivating, and I immediately thought of Pope John Paul II. It was not because he wore leather goods.

This short clip is a perfect illustration of a philosophy that formed John Paul's thought; phenomenological personalism. Wazzat?

Phenomenology is the study of what things, people, experiences do to us. How they impress themselves upon our hearts as realities in themselves. This is a receptive way of living and growing, as opposed to a grasping, ladder-climbing, crush all enemies approach. We knock and seek and look, and behold the Door is opened unto us. We receive, we don't demand. We say "may it be done unto us according to His Word," according to Life's unfolding myriad of graces, the dark as well as the light, and see how all can lead to wholeness, to His Face.

I could watch this video all day. It's beautifully rendered, intimate and soaked with a reverent beauty, a holy longing, and shows us our hearts on a Road seeking shelter. May we all find it, the Way, the Truth, and the Life that we are destined for!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Resurrection Day

From the tomb of the earth life has emerged! And the world weeps and watches. From the womb of the earth, men are born again, made new, promises made, and loved ones embraced as if for the first time.

One miner said, "There were not 33 men down there. There were 33 men and God."

As the world watched the events in Chile, did we see the sacramental connections? Did we feel the Hand seeking us out in our dark tombs of cold rock and emptiness? Did we recall that God has been there, done that? That He entered that cavernous place and in his own burial in the womb of the world, He filled it with grace? And rose again! There is a dank, barren place that our radical individualism has placed us in, and it doesn't keep the heart warm, doesn't fill us.

We're made for the arms of others, for the embrace that melts the cold, for the light of human eyes that shatters the shadows of solitude, and fear, and isolation. Viva Chile! for your determination and passion for the lives of these men, showing us through this tragedy that life counts, every life. For teaching us to hope beyond hope. For reminding us of the truth that alone can satisfy: that we are made for each other, that the hollow places of the human heart, like the mines, should be filled with love, of God and neighbor. Love fills the void in every human heart, love fills the mines that greed burrows through, love brings to light all that is buried in darkness. Love conquers all!

Monday, October 04, 2010

One Plus One is One

The same Love, the one Love
that filled the heart of Francis, with joy
that guided the eyes of Teresa, to the poor
that fed the mind of Thomas, with wisdom
that gave Philip his laughter, for sorrow is a passing cloud
and Edith her conviction
and Maximilian his courage
and Therese her smile
is the one Love, the same Love
that looks at you and I

and knocks soft upon our hearts
and seeks and hopes to find
the one thing, the same thing
of us as of them:
an open door
to enter as a Guest
and let fall from arms immeasurable
gifts innumerable.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Little Flowers

Today is a great feast; it's the Feast of Littleness. The Feast of the Ordinary and the Celebration of the Common. This is the feast celebrating a little French girl, Thérèse, who was little known in her day, did not travel too much, performed no miracles, made no marvelous journeys to faraway missions, and from roughly her 15th to her 24th year, was "hidden" in a cloister from the eyes of the world. She died in just as much obscurity from tuberculosis before her 25th birthday. Little though she was, however, she possessed a heart that was aflame with love. In fact, she herself once wrote that love was to be her very life, her vocation!

Small though it seemed in her time and place, we know this fire had a way of being seen and felt. Darkness cannot overcome it. The smallest spark can still be seen in the deepest darkness. Today, I wonder if a Catholic church exists that does not have an image, icon, pamphlet, or prayer of St. Therese in it. That's the paradox of humility; that she who humbled herself would be so exalted. God makes big with our little. And all that is needed to become a great saint, as Therese was found of saying, is not much time, but much love.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

TOB Testimony - Vocation as Gift: Ride the Wave By Bob Angel

This is the testimony of a friend of mine who attended a TOB course this summer. Powerful stuff! You can finish the article through the link below...


The word “vocation” sometimes makes me hyperventilate. But let me back up for a quick moment—my name is Bob; I am a Florida native currently studying for the priesthood for the Diocese of St. Petersburg. I worked for the fire department of Tampa after finishing my studies at the University of Florida, all the while dating and discerning what God willed for my life. I struggled with the notion that, as a sexual being, God would ask me to lay down my masculinity to serve others. I resisted this call for many years, fighting God's current and selfishly hurting many women by my indecision, before finally relinquishing control and entering the seminary.

Having just finished my first year of studies, I still found myself wrestling with that big question of purpose and trying to find God's will for my life. The recent death of my uncle (by his own hand) further fueled the internal frustration and weighed down heavily on any spiritual progress I had made. As men, we are often called to be stoic in the face of such pain and “muscle through” times of emotional grief. Confounded with God's apparent silence and the suppressed sorrow of my uncle's suicide, I came into the “TOB 1: Head and Heart Immersion Course” with a heavy heart. Little did I know that one of the best weeks of my life lay before me.

Read the rest of the article by Bob here.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Bye Bye Binky

"If you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you.... get more balloons."

Thursday, September 02, 2010

BABIES to the Rescue!

First off, can we agree that the bustling world of Big People is very often a mess? I don't consider myself a pessimist, more like a hopeful realist, but I think we so-called adults can be too busy, too complicated, too angry, too focused on work, too focused on the weekend, too selfish, too serious... (or is this just my reflection in the mirror?). 
From whence shall come our help? To whom can we turn in this dark hour to save us from ourselves? How do we un-adult-erate the situation and get back to the simplicity of the "little children" who shall inherit the Kingdom? Do we look to the skies? Is it a bird, a plane, a self-help section? NO! Look down, it's a baby! It's time to obey those neighborhood street signs that command us to "Watch Children."
Recently, my wife and I adopted our second child, a beautiful baby girl. She was just two days old when we first laid eyes on her (and honestly we haven't taken our eyes away since!). Once again, God has given us the key for growing in holiness and happiness; a prolonged and profound dose of baby-gazing. This is what can save Planet Earth! I believe the remedy for war and terror lies in this simple act: that all men and women whose hearts are dark and angry, sullen or selfish, hurried or hollow, should hold newborns and contemplate life's fragile and superfluous beauty. Relish the gift. Receive the gift. That'll fix ya.
Last week, as if our little daughter wasn't enough of an elixir for wonderment, we rented a film we've been waiting to see called BABIES. It follows the lives of four very different families with four very similar infants from all over the globe, from birth to about the age of first steps. 
With a simple and minimalist manner, director Thomas Balmès lets us in on the precarious chain of events that turns babies into toddlers, from fumbling fists and bobbing heads, to learning to grasp, and play, giggle and crawl, to the final cinematic triumph of standing with the Big People. Throughout the film, we see essentially what babies see, having the camera cropped at that classic Charlie Brown height, where adults only appear as towering legs, and disembodied voices. 
We loved the movie BABIES, although at times we hated the seeming absence of adults in certain scenes - namely the ones in the open fields of Mongolia where little Bayar was crawling in between the gangly legs of goats and cows. Yes, we see the utter (no pun intended) vulnerability of these wee babes, but not just in the rural parts of the world, or the ancient ways of the Himba tribe living in their dirt floor huts with no water to wash their children. Even little Hattie, from San Francisco, has her own brush with a serious booboo at a local park. What was daddy thinking?
But BABIES isn’t all hair-raising thrills of course. It’s chock full of intimate scenes, little discoveries, and wide-eyed wonder. It brought to mind Chesterton’s thought that the “fascination of children lies in this: that with each of them all things are remade... that within every one of these heads there is a new universe, as new as it was on the seventh day of creation. In each of those orbs there is a new system of stars, new grass, new cities, a new sea...” (from the essay "In Defense of Baby Worship" 1903.)
Through Balmès’ vision, exempt of essentially any dialogue, we get a taste of that fascination again. But it might be tough for us Big Folk, used to explosions and fast-paced car chases. The film moves at a healthy crawl. This is good. We adults need to slow down. And we need to look up again too, like children. Though many of the shots are close-cropped, we often get big sky expanses that make us feel like the little ones again.
Though the “stars” of the films are the babies, (and shouldn’t they be in every family?), there are bonding moments in the movie between father and child, and mother and child especially. Readers should know this intimacy finds its purest expression in the breastfeeding scenes with Ponijao. Those sensitive to their older children seeing bare breasts supplying the gift of milk to their newborns might want to practice caution in viewing. I would say, though, to consider using it as a teaching moment for the little ones. Don’t we need a healthy and total vision of femininity and motherhood in our present pop culture, where the parts are so often accented that we lose the person? Here I think the Third World is way ahead of us. Here is the most ancient and beautiful bond being formed anew, and we are invited to drink it in just as well as the newborns.
I have discovered that BABIES, the film, and babies, the reality again in our home, have the potential to pull the selfless out of the selfish. When you become a Mommy or a Daddy, powers are unleashed that could not have been extracted in any other way, except perhaps through some great suffering or sacramental grace. It's amazing, exhausting, exhilarating.... "It is life nearest the bone where it is sweetest," wrote Thoreau. And looking at these little ones, we come to learn that’s really all we need. Life, as the film and our families proclaim, is good. Behold, it is very good.
I’ll close with the Top 10 Reasons Why Babies Will Save the Human Race:
10. Babies make adults talk to each other in parks, who normally might not give each other the time of day. Talking to people builds friendships, friendships build communities, communities build parks. Babies hang out in parks (and around and around we go!) 
9. Babies are utterly dependent on us, reminding us that we are utterly dependent on God. So we get a God’s Eye view of things for a spell; a little insight into what HE must be feeling for us. 

8. Babies learn everything from their parents, by watching, listening, studying, and looking up at Mommy and Daddy.... and so should we. Looking up at the world in wonder is always better than looking down on it as if you’ve conquered it. 
7. Babies are the greatest "man-made" creations in the universe; they shall grow up and outlive the stars, each in their own way altering the course of human history, each absolutely unique and unrepeatable. Wow. We need more babies!
6. Babies are completely innocent, regardless of the way they were conceived, and have no guile, no sarcasm, no agendas. They are pure as the driven snow, fresh as a sea breeze, vulnerable as a flower. We need more purity, sea breezes, and flowers in this world. 

5. Babies are meant to be the fruit of the loving marital embrace of a man and a woman; the word and act of their love becomes flesh! This human “trinity” of Lover, Beloved, and the Love between them is an icon of the Eternal Mystery of Who God is as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! It’s the Great Dance of Love transposed into time and space in human love!

4. Let’s just read #5 again because that was INTENSE.

3. Babies are aware of everything and everything amazes them: lights, noise, colors, tinfoil, keys. We could all stand to be amazed again by the ordinary things around us. 
2. Babies see the world as their playground, a wonderful gift made just for them. And so should we.
1. Dr. Peter Kreeft once said that God continues to make Himself present in two places - at the altar and in the womb. What more can we say? Let's reverence Him in this hidden places, and find ourselves born again!

Originally published in the Catholic Standard & Times

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Signs, Signs, Everywhere's Signs...

"... I have made you a sign for the house of Israel..." 
- Ezekiel 12

This morning's first reading at Mass was a bit... dark. The prophet Ezekiel was inspired to literally embody the exile that unfaithful Israel was about to become. He "shouldered the burden" and dug a hole in the wall of the city and escaped in the darkness of night to show the people where their sin was leading them. A sign in his very body of what was to come. God loves teaching us this way, through physical signs and symbols.

A few millennia away from Ezekiel's experience, sitting in the church pew, close to my wife, with a hand on our little boy's soft head of hair, I had a whole other train of thought start chugging down the tracks of my mind. 

"I have made you a sign..."

The summer has allowed me to go, most days, to daily Mass with my family. I'd heard it from Rebecca but now I see how others love to watch our little boy - quite literally the "MASScot" of St. Charles parish. Playing with his books, begging for goldfish, and pointing to Father at the altar (affectionately referred to as "ZAH!"), he brings loads of smiles to the retirees, young couples, and rosary ladies (glue of the Church, seriously) who attend Mass with us.

"I have made you a sign."

It's easy to see that little squirt as a sign of God's love in the world. Any child still dripping with the waters of Baptism seems still in communion with the angels, don't they? But then I thought of Rebecca this morning, and myself, and our son. And the thoughts got bigger. We must all become like little children.... magnets of joy, wonder, trust, and love for others to see. We are a family. We are a sign. A sign in our very bodies of what is to come. And what is that, you ask? LOVE, BLISS, COMMUNION... THE ONENESS. A unity in distinction, three persons in one family. Sound familiar? Whoa. I got schooled by the Holy Spirit, once again. "ZAH!"

An examination of conscience kicked in.... What is the language of my body saying in that pew, in this place, in the grocery store, at the bank, the mall, the many places where we live and move and make our living? Eyes are seeing us.... this little family. Are we a sign of what is to come? We are called to be! Are we in love?

The history of mankind, the history of salvation, passes by way of the family... The family is placed at the center of the great struggle between good and evil, between life and death, between love and all that is opposed to love.
- Pope John Paul II 

I've seen and heard (and been) the counter-sign often enough. Visit a department store at a peak hour or sale and you'll hear all manner of unlove, non-bliss, disunion and indifference in families. With bitterness, division, fracture, and a radical individualism, we can become rotted out building blocks for a culture not long for this world. How can any society stand on such tremulous ground? This is starting to sound as dark as that first reading from Ezekiel this morning... In this present darkness, the faithful family does seem to be exiled!

Hmmm. Well, it's always darkest before the dawn, they say. And such darkness has a way of highlighting the light. Goodness, patience, charity, and basic human kindness have never shown so bright as now, when their absence can seem so mainstream. We have to pray that the morning star still rises in our hearts. And look for grace in the right place. We personally need to get our butts to Mass as often as possible. For into darkness we might go, but for the grace of God poured out on that altar, and deep into the heart of every child who believes. God help us!
To the family is entrusted the task of striving, first and foremost, to unleash the forces of good...
- Pope John Paul II

Monday, August 09, 2010

Into the Light

These are the final days before our little boy becomes a big brother. Another little life is coming our way! Another life that almost wasn't.

Several months ago, a young woman entered a Planned Parenthood center intending to have an abortion, but someone, some word, some inspiration, got her to get out. So right now, somewhere a little unborn heart is still beating, and maybe the pace has quickened as this week that little life is due to enter into the light of day. This child is even now taking in those final nutrients, that viaticum for his or her departure from a life in the womb to the next life, here and now. Praise God!

We are overwhelmed again at the fragility of life, at this new baby moving in that hallowed place that too often has become a place of terror through abortion. This new unrepeatable, inviolable little life is moving, and little does this little one know how he or she is moving us! These last few months a day hasn't passed without a prayer for the birth mother's peace and health and our little guy's new sibling. At Grace during dinner when we mention the baby, he gets a joyous little smile as seen here... in Exhibit A:


As for the Boy Wonder (adopted nearly two years ago!), we're treasuring these final days with him as a solo artist. This week he makes the journey into "Big Brotherhood."

We know things will change. The "appointed little king" as his name translates, will suddenly have a co-king, or queen! It's no longer just his universe in which to reign supreme. And we will have our hearts broken again at newborn beauty. How can we love this third (remembering our Gracie in Heaven) as much as the first? Good words have come from family and friends to help us along. 

"Don't worry, you don't have to share the love like splitting it in half. The love just multiplies!" Amen to that! 

So we've sanitized everything again with anti-allergen spray, bought more Dreft laundry detergent, installed another car seat, and we're getting ready for less than 4 hours of steady sleep a night (we get 4.5 now
if we're lucky).

Ah parenthood! The great gift of God that can pull us out of ourselves and bring us to our true selves. It just takes a lot of giving, forgiving, humor, and help from above. And coffee of course. Goood coffee. Lots of coffee...

Monday, August 02, 2010

A MOE Abundant Life

Last week was nearly a "grace overload" for the Donaghys. While we stayed at Normandy Farm Conference Center for the Theology of the Body Congress (which was incredibly inspiring) we had the pleasure of hosting the Missionaries of the Eucharist at our humble abode.

From the very first night (when all 12 of us stayed under one roof) these young missionaries filled our house with prayer. The MOEs, as they are affectionately called, are a traveling band of young people (some post college, some teenagers) who spend every summer "walking from Lewiston, Maine to Washington, DC to proclaim the beauty of the Catholic faith to everyone we meet, specifically through the Theology of the Body." 

They stay with host families, in church basements, school halls, anywhere they can rest their heads. And they'll talk to anyone; businessmen, families, kids, drug addicts, homeless men and women, the lonely and forgotten, and the young and materialistic. Everyone on the road for these young people is just another Jesus they haven't met yet.

They sang Evening Prayer from the Church's Liturgy of the Hours, they goofed off with our little boy, they prayed grace reverently before we tore into those five delicious pizzas, they talked to us and to each other into the wee hours of the night on faith, and witness, sharing stories, and the power of God's love so needed in the modern world.

I remember Erin speaking of the "beautiful people" that she and another of the walkers met that day in the city of Philadelphia. They sounded like they were the ones being given so much in this walk of faith. What a tremendous gift and a comfort to know this much wonder, patience, and hope is in the hearts of these young people; it enriched us and it keeps enriching everyone they stay with. They are truly walking the walk!

For more info and to see if you can join them next summer for a part or all of the Walk, contact them here!

Expecting Grace

My wife posted a beautiful series of simple, a cappella songs she composed and sang for our little ones, loved and lost through miscarriage over the past seven years. There are special hymns for Grace Elizabeth, our precious daughter who lived just 10 hours in this world, and for our little boy who is almost and unbelievably two years old. I hope you can consider supporting her music, again, composed in the midst of our first steps with infertility, through the hidden gifts of the Snowflakes adoption program, and into the "cross walk" of our days with our unborn Grace.  She sings of the day Grace came, and returned to God, and she sings of the little Simon - our adopted baby boy - who came not a moment to soon to help us carry that cross. The link for the CD is here.

We pray for any and everyone ever touched by the pain of infertility, the loss of a child, and for those discerning adoption. Our full story of Grace is here, and we always welcome thoughts, questions, and comments on these most intimate of faith/life issues.

Peace and Prayers,
The Donaghys

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Congress Must Carry On!

Philadelphia Cardinal calls the Theology of the Body 'the curriculum for the Culture of Life'

Philadelphia Cardinal calls the Theology of the Body 'the curriculum for the Culture of Life'
Cardinal Justin Rigali calls for the National Theology of the Body Congress to become an on-going campaign of human and catechetical formation 
PHILADELPHIA, July 30 – Joined by more than 50 priests and two Bishops, Cardinal Justin Rigali delivered a powerful call to action to attendees of the first National Theology of the Body Congress. He urged, "This Congress must not end. The contribution of the speakers and participants, the fruits of the seminars, discussions, and artistic performances must advance still further. This Congress must become a campaign of human and catechetical formation." 
He called for the mining and proclamation of the rich content presented at the Congress "so that the next generation can continue to access and comprehend it."
The National Theology of the Body Congress organized and hosted by the Theology of the Body Institute drew attendees from 10 countries and 39 U.S. states. They represented 111 dioceses. Two bishops, more than 50 priests, six deacons and dozens of other religious were among the more-than 450 attendees. Because the Congress sold out very quickly the Theology of the Body Institute offered live streaming during the Congress that attracted online attendees from 17 U.S. states, and 10 countries on five continents. 
Cardinal Rigali, who also serves as the Episcopal Chairman of the Theology of the Body Institute, remarked on the great work of this inaugural event, which he noted as occurring exactly three decades after John Paul II introduced the theology of the body. "Today, this First National Congress on the Theology of the Body shows us that the catechesis given thirty years ago is now the curriculum of the Culture of Life," Cardinal Rigali said in his homily during the Mass this morning. The Cardinal went on further to say that the "teaching of John Paul II on the theology of the body must be further introduced into Pre-Cana programs, RCIA instruction, Natural Family Planning training, parish adult education programs, campus ministry programs, youth groups, homilies, and religious education among children and adolescents."
The Congress included keynote addresses, workshops and panel discussions featuring some of the most popular theology of the body lecturers and catechists in the world. 
"Being a participant at the National Theology of the Body Congress has been a complete and total blessing," Congress presenter and popular author and blogger Lisa Hendey said. "I feel honored to have been here and will go home inspired about further incorporating theology of the body teachings into my daily family life, my parish community and my work in support of Catholic moms."
Other presenters included Fr. Brian Bransfield, executive director of the United State Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) Secretariat for Evangelization and Catechesis; Dr. Michael Waldstein, the English translator of the Pope's Theology of the Body; Helen M. Alvaré, law professor at George Mason University; Fr. Robert M. Hogan, author of three books on the theology of the body and one of the first published authors on the catechesis of Venerable Pope John Paul II; ethicist and moral theologian Dr. Pia de Solenni; and many others. 
Reflecting on the Cardinal's words, Theology of the Body Institute Chairman, David Savage said, "The Cardinal's vision for this teaching fits completely within the mission of the Theology of the Body Institute. This Congress was designed to be a nexus for dialogue and discussion on exactly how we bring the theology of the body to the world. I believe we accomplished that and I am confident that the leadership who gathered here this week are going back to their dioceses around the world with a great commission that fits firmly within the Church's mission in the New Evangelization." 
In addition to more than three-dozen addresses, workshops and panel discussions, the Congress was the setting for an Awards Banquet, in which five honorees were acknowledged for their pioneering work in the theology of the body. Award recipients included Pauline Books and Media, Fr. Richard M. Hogan, Ann and Valentine Coelho; the Ruah Woods Education Center, and the Theology of the Body International Alliance.

For more information on the first National Theology of the Body Congress or the Theology of the Body Institute, please contact Christine Schicker with The Maximus Group at 404-610-8871.

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!" ...