Sunday, January 31, 2010

Newt Knees and Easter Gifts

My sister-in-law Amy is one crafty gal. You can check out her skills through, the homemade crafty people's domain! Her "current obsession" is wool and needlefelting. Look at these little chickies emerging from their woolen wombs! What a great gift idea! (I'm not being paid for this advertisment... unless homemade jams or dandelion wine counts?)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What Must I Do?

Two weeks after the tragedy of the earthquake in Haiti, and people of good will are still wondering "What more can we do for Haiti?"
Many of us realize that there will be no real change in Haiti so long as the gifts sent are merely cash or the construction of a new infrastructure. Haiti needs more. Haiti needs our hearts. Haiti needs communion with the community of the world. Haiti must not again be forsaken. We must see in Haiti's brokenness an opportunity for togetherness.
We must do for the least of our brothers and sisters as if we were doing for Jesus Himself. For Jesus is truly among us, in the "distressing disguise of the poor."
For many too, I think, another question is rising out of the smoke and dust of this tragedy; "Where is God in all of this?" I believe the answer is not up in the clouds... God is in Haiti. Again, since Jesus has entered our world, our world is not the same. The Author has entered his own pages. He has bound Himself to the paper and ink of our history through the Incarnation of the Son of God. So where is God in all of this unimaginable suffering? He is at its heart, for He has already suffered unimaginably.
I don't believe God is simply looking down from Heaven. I believe He is also looking out from the rubble. God is on the Cross where He has been hanging for centuries.
"So where are we in all of this?" I think the first place to start is at the foot of this Cross, looking on Haiti who has been pierced, hands and feet and side... head crowned with thorns, and in seeing let us believe! Let us hold Haiti like the Pieta...
God is in Haiti. And He is calling out to us...
"Come, all you who pass by the way, look and see whether there is any suffering like my suffering..."
- Lamentations 1:12
Where is God? He is in our suffering, He is really in it. And so now none of it should go to waste. Not a drop of it, for it's mixed with our blood, sweat, and tears. As the priest prays in the Mass, "By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the Divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity."
May this God of blood, sweat, and tears bless the blood, sweat, and tears of Haiti, and of all the generous men and women who are now lending a hand to a suffering people.
"For we are like olives, only when we are crushed do we yield what is best in us."
- Talmud

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Some Pictures from the March for Life

Click to enlarge!
It was such a blessing this year for my wife and I to bring our little boy to the March for Life in our nation's capitol. And this year's numbers were incredible; over 300,000! All of us from all over the country, different colors, different creeds, all in support of the dignity of human life, born and unborn, womb to tomb. The Boy and his sign got lots of smiles and oooos and ahhhs. He even marched a few steps! As always, the mass media either completely ignored or grossly misrepresented the March for Life this year. For the most accurate coverage and for links to the mainstream media's poor reporting, read this article!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Heart for Haiti

I was in Haiti in 2002, driving through the rubble of the streets of Cite Soleil with a missionary priest named Fr. Tom Hagan (you can read an update of his experiences here). It looked as if an earthquake had already struck the land, and that was almost 8 years ago.
Why Haiti? Why so much sorrow and pain?
Something I can't stop thinking about in my pondering of what's happened is the thought that Haiti is the broken body of Christ. More than a thought, it's the realization that Haiti is the broken body of Christ.
Haiti is like the youngest of Jacob's sons, sold into bondage at the hands of jealous, greedy brothers. Haiti is the Suffering Servant in the Prophet Isaiah, whose back has been whipped in its sad history of slavery, and its beard plucked by the grasping hands of countries stripping its once fertile land of resources. Haiti is "making up for the things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ," in the mysterious words of St. Paul. Haiti is a never-ending Passion Play.
If we believe that God came into our world out of love to take on our sorrows, than we can see God in Haiti. Mother Teresa always said that Jesus is in the distressing disguise of the poor.
God has come into our world, become one of us, become all of us. He doesn't wear humanity over His Divinity like a robe that He casts off in the end. Jesus has married Divinity to humanity forever, world without end! Jesus is in every suffering, He has already suffered and he suffers still in everyone who suffers. Jesus is in Haiti.
At the Hands Together house in Port au Prince, where I stayed a few days with Fr. Tom, one of the most memorable sights was of the tabernacle in his little chapel. At first it caught me off guard. It looked like an old shoe box, or a pile of garbage. But a lamp burned beside it, and a Real Presence was there, in the midst of the slums of Cite Soleil.
Then Father explained, Jesus dwells with his people, and Jesus has become one of his own. So for the poor who live in cardboard homes, reinforced with sheet metal and tin, Jesus has a home of the same material. The Blessed Eucharist is there, in poverty, just as our brothers and sisters, made in God's image, are there in the garbage and in the desolation of the poorest country in the western hemisphere.
Let us pray that Haiti, like Jesus, will return to the Land of the Living, rise from the darkness of the grave, and that we, brothers and sisters throughout the world, will continue to rise up and be present at this tomb. That we lend hearts and hands to this land of brave men and women, suffering souls who have suffered long and hard.
To view the faces and places (and some rough video)
of my time in Haiti, click here.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Avatar (or Pocahontas in Space): A Reflection

James Cameron's epic film Avatar is definitely worth seeing. It is a visual feast that makes Star Wars look like the dollar menu at a fast food chain. Avatar is imagination pushed to new heights. It's a journey into a strange new world that drips with as much intoxicating beauty as Eden must have before the Fall. This, I believe, is the film's greatest appeal.
Avatar gives us all a chance to play again; to get lost like kids in the middle of summer, when school seemed like it was light years away. Our seat in the theater becomes our personal "avatar," plugging us into Pandora, the alien world far, far away. And we drink in the elixir of its created beauty straight from the fountainhead. I don't remember being given an invitation to imagine like this since C.S. Lewis' Perelandra.
There's an innocence and a harmony in the alien race of the Na'vi that we all wish were our own. We hear an echo of what was perhaps our own story in the beginning, before Darkness fell on that First Day.
...But certainly there was an Eden on this very unhappy earth. We all long for it, and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most humane, is still soaked with the sense of 'exile.' - J.R.R. Tolkien
This glimpse of Eden, this visual feast and exhilarating exploration, is, again, the film's greatest attraction. But it may well be its only attraction. The story is nothing new. James Cameron, who reportedly has been brewing this cinematic potion for a dozen years now, has poured someone else's wine into new wineskins. Swirling the glass of Avatar and sniffing its scent, you catch whiffs of everything from The Mission to Return of the Jedi, Dances with Wolves to the Battle for Terra. Still, Avatar is overwhelmingly original in its unoriginality. As Steven Greydanus has said in his excellent review, "It is like everything and there is nothing like it."
Avatar is Pocahontas in Space.
Now that being said, the theme of civilized man meets savage and gets civilized by the savage is a powerful one, and worth repeating. It's a chance for introspection and self-examination; a culture clash and conversion opportunity worth reflecting over. There's also a "green" agenda in Avatar that's as prolific as weeds. Truth is though, we need to hear it. We've had a love/hate relationship with Creation since that Fall in Eden. It's time to make peace! I was refreshed and inspired by the harmony of the Na'vi with their world, and found it in harmony with what Pope Benedict XVI's been saying of late. That's right, even the Pope has "gone green." (Actually, the Church has called us to be so from the start):
Nature expresses a design of love and truth. It is prior to us, and it has been given to us by God as the setting for our life. Nature speaks to us of the Creator and his love for humanity. It is destined to be “recapitulated” in Christ at the end of time. Thus it too is a “vocation.” Nature is at our disposal not as “a heap of scattered refuse”, but as a gift of the Creator who has given it an inbuilt order...”
- Pope Benedict XVI (Caritas in Veritate, #48)
Did Avatar go a bit too far with this "green" agenda? Did the chanting, swaying to Mother Eywa scene push the envelope a little too forcefully? Yes, I think so. In a certain sense, I haven't seen that much "religion" in a blockbuster film since The Bells of St. Mary's. But scratch below the celluloid, and sprinkle a little holy water on the picture, and you see a yearning for communion. At the base of the Tree of Souls, we see a real sacramental expression of the Communion of Saints. The People were in touch with Divinity and with those who had died, their ancestors, through a real physical link. Isn't that what Catholics call Holy Communion? should also be stressed that it is contrary to authentic development to view nature as something more important than the human person. This position leads to attitudes of neo-paganism or a new pantheism — human salvation cannot come from nature alone, understood in a purely naturalistic sense. This having been said, it is also necessary to reject the opposite position, which aims at total technical dominion over nature, because the natural environment is more than raw material to be manipulated at our pleasure; it is a wondrous work of the Creator containing a “grammar” which sets forth ends and criteria for its wise use, not its reckless exploitation.
- Pope Benedict XVI (Caritas in Veritate, #48)
By far the best sacramental expression of a real sacrament in literature has been Tolkien's concept of the Elven lembas, a kind of bread that sustains and strengthens the hobbits for their journey through Mordor, the Black Land. Tolkien's mythology is full of such hints and glimmers of the gospel. Although Avatar never reaches the depths of Tolkien's classic, it at least gets us out to the sand bar. It's dialogue may be predictable and some of its characters shallow, but its vistas are wide and breathtaking nonetheless. It touches the hem of the garment of Beauty with both hands, and a real healing has taken effect. People can't stop talking about the riotous splendor and wonder of Pandora.
The value of the myth is that it takes all the things we know and restores to them the rich significance which has been hidden by the veil of familiarity... If you are tired of the real landscape, look at it in a mirror. By putting bread, gold, horse, apple, or the very roads into a myth, we do not retreat from reality: we rediscover it. As long as the story lingers in our mind, the real things are more themselves.
- C.S. Lewis, in a review of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings
Some say the film is controversial because it's promoting a kind of neo-paganism. Well, I don't think that kids are going to become Pandorans (although there is a tiny subculture of Jedi devotees, I've heard). But what's provocative is Jonah Goldberg's question, in his review of Avatar: "What would have been controversial is if - somehow - Cameron had made a movie in which the good guys accepted Jesus Christ into their hearts." Now that's controversial!
But Pandora is not the real world, the one Jesus redeemed. There is a Spirit on Pandora, or should I say in it. Yet even here, remembering this is science fiction, how different is Eywa, the All Mother, from C. S. Lewis's Perelandra? In this well loved Christian apologist's story, the planets were under the stewardship of the Oyarsa, great guardian spirits (some masculine, some feminine) that held things in motion. Tolkien's own mythology of Middle-Earth has the Ainur (some masculine, some feminine) as angelic shapers of the world that is called Arda. One distinction is clear though for both of these epic Christian storytellers; these gods and goddesses of Lewis and Tolkien are not God, but servants of the One. And that One is called Father; He sews the seed that is Life, and all creation receives it like a mother. This is the cosmic paradigm of the Great Dance we are invited to step into.
At the end of the day, Avatar is a movie, a trip to Never Never Land with glimmers of some transcendental truths drizzled over it like butter on popcorn. It's very tasty, but not something you'd have for dinner. Like so many things in this world, it's an appetizer, with little hints at what's to come. I think we should enjoy it.
At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in. When human souls have become as perfect in voluntary obedience as the inanimate creation is in its lifeless obedience, then they will put on its glory, or rather that greater glory of which Nature is only the first sketch.
- C.S. Lewis

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Helping Haiti

How you can help through a reliable and trusted source that is already and for over a decade on the ground, working in Haiti:
From Mike DeWine: "Our dear friends Father Tom Hagan and Doug Campbell run an organization called Hands Together. From scratch, they started a school, clinic, and feeding program in the poorest slum in Port-au-Prince – a place called Cite Soleil. Starting with just five classrooms, the school, named after our late daughter Becky, is now part of an 8 school complex that educates and feeds over 7,000 children each day. We received word that Father Tom and Doug are both alive. The schools have been damaged and Father Tom’s house was destroyed. We thank you for your prayers for them and for all of Haiti. People have been very generous. The immediate need is for monetary contributions. Hands Together’s resources will be quickly depleted as they help those most in need and start the rebuilding process." Should you wish to make a donation, please send it to Hands Together at P.O.Box 80985, Springfield, MA 01138. You may also make contributions on their website at

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Bible Smackdown - The Moses Edition

When Pope John Paul II called for a New Evangelization, he asked that it be "new in ardor, methods, and expressions." I hope this is what he meant... Bible Smackdown is one of my ridiculous attempts (and successes, mind you) at getting my students to read and know (and love I hope) the Bible - the people, places, events, and lessons to be learned in the Word. So enjoy this little "teaser trailer" of our last episode!
THE SKINNY: 1. There are three teams, electing one "Moses" each (beards and robes provided).
2. All the students compile trivia questions from the appropriate book(s) of the Bible, our notes, etc. I add a few of my own as well.
3. I ask a question of the prospective Moseses... ending with the sonorous "ding" of Tibetian chimes, and the points go to the first hand up with the correct answer!
Two heseds (Hebrew for 'mercy') are given a game, where a Moses can ask his team for help "remembering" his life story and God's work in it. THE PRIZE:
The winning team gets to skip a homework assignment the following week!

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Saint du Jour - The Porter of Paradise

How often do we stop and really look at one another? How often do we really listen to each other’s stories, as opposed to waiting for them to stop talking so we can “one up” them? Do we notice the face of the person at the pharmacy, the Wawa cashier, the drive-thru window as we drive through our lives at often break-neck speeds? Our fast-paced culture is almost conditioning us to miss many face to face encounters, and many souls are slipping through the cracks. Enter Blessed André Bessette, born in 1845 near Montreal, Canada. His story as it pans out would appear to be one of total insignificance. He could have gone unnoticed, could have felt unwanted, lost in the shuffle, just another number… but it was not so. André is the voice of the Invisible Man, he is the shadow cast by the little ones who seemingly don’t matter in this culture. The eighth of 12 children, he was weak and sickly from birth. When both parents had died, he was adopted at age 12, worked as a farmhand, then slipped into a variety of unsuccessful trade careers: shoemaker, baker, blacksmith. He was a factory worker in the US during the Civil War. At 25, André tried to enter the Congregation of the Holy Cross. He was rejected at first because of his poor health, but at the request of a kind Bishop Bourget, he was finally received into the Order. He was given the obscure job of doorkeeper at Notre Dame College in Montreal (with some additional duties). “When I joined this community,” André once said, “the superiors showed me the door, and I remained 40 years.” A listening heart, a prayerful demeanor, and a deep compassion for all he encountered at that door is what changed things. André had a strong devotion to St. Joseph and would visit the sick, applying oil for healing to their bodies. When an epidemic exploded at a local college, he nursed the infirm. Not one person died in his care. A stream of sick people began to move towards his door, and soon it became a gushing river of souls. “I do not cure,” he said. “St. Joseph cures.” At the end of his life, four secretaries were hired to handle the 80,000 letters he received every year! André saw people by the hundreds and he listened. He was a magnet whose holiness and compassion were the main attraction. With 65,000,000 Catholics in the USA alone, what would happen if just a handful of us had that listening heart? That attentiveness to the needs and the experiences and the stories and the sad news and the joyful news of the other? What if we really looked and listened, like the children’s books always told us? What would we see? André, the 8th child in a dozen, the weak one, the uneducated porter who held the door open for people, died at the ripe old age of 92. And I’m sure at his death a Door was opened for him. The Door to Paradise. Blessed André Bessette, pray for us, and at our death, may we see you at your post again, with the light of the Son streaming through that Open Door that leads into Life Eternal!

Saturday, January 02, 2010

The Human Experience: A Review

A young man is tucked in the back seat of a car, looking up and often out the window. He is reflecting on his life, his experiences, his hopes and frustrations. Outside the world blurs past. Jeff is searching for meaning, for purpose. He is on a journey, and we the viewers are invited to join him.
I recently attended one of the many screenings of Grassroots Films new work "The Human Experience." I've been waiting a long time for this one, ever since I caught the trailer a few years back and saw viewings popping up across the country. It was well worth the wait.
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.
The story unfolded with a gritty, youthful sincerity and passion that only the boys from Brooklyn could execute. This gave the film a fresh quality, and the feeling that we were tagging along on their quest. They asked the same questions we all ask (or once asked before the cloudy air of cynicism breathed into our days; Why am I here? Where am I going? Is there any point to this life, any meaning in the movement of my heart through it all?
They come to their conclusions, though, in a way many of us, I would suppose, do not; by engaging the questions head on (or should I say heart?) These are men of action, and this is the charm of it all. They move through the questions, literally. And with each encounter they come a few steps closer to the answers. The film is Catholic and catholic - with touches of the particular Faith and universal motions that will attract any heart searching for the truth of the human experience.
Keep your eyes open for its release in theaters. This is the hope, that these screenings will build a strong interest and allow for it to hit the big screen. God knows we could use a human touch in cinema today, and an honest inquiry into the mystery of who we are. The Human Experience does just that, and we should all.... experience it!

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!" ...