Monday, February 15, 2010

A Techno-Fast for Lent!

"Hi, my name is Bill, and I'm a technoholic."
"Hiiii Biiiill...."
I grab my cell phone between 6 and 12 times an hour to send or receive a text, e-mail, update/check Facebook, or to micro-blog through Twitter.
I have ten pages of apps on my iPhone, from the Mass readings to the Church Fathers, CNN to Craig's List, and games galore. I listen to music on the way to work, at school, and on occasional walks around campus. At home, Apple TV allows us to stream our music and photos over the television, and surf YouTube as well. I have taken well over 10,000 pictures since I got the iPhone nearly three years ago. I love to blog, and listen to podcasts. And I need to let it go.
A man is enslaved to whatever he cannot part with that is less than himself.
- George MacDonald
Let me say straight away that it is good. The wonders we have created by our hands... amazing! But what is the one thing necessary in this life? What is the summum bonum that the saints and mystics have pointed to and that to which the dying man reaches while lying in his bed at the end of his days? Tools of communication, or a deeper Communion?
At the end of the day, it's all about relationships, isn't it? And as much as these tools can help facilitate communication and convenience (trust me, I am their biggest fan) they cannot replace the warm face before me, my wife and son, the students I am privileged to guide, the person on the street, the cashier at the grocery store. Flesh and blood, immortal souls each with their own story. Fr. Benedict Groeschel once said "Forget the TV... give me a person any day. People interest me!"
I was talking to a good friend today who, coincidentally, is also fasting from technology for Lent. We're excited about this 40 Day Dare. "It's all about silence this Lent for me" he said.
God speaks in silence. Silence is His native tongue. The world, the stars, the flowers move in silence. I have opened myself up to too much noise. I feel myself slipping sometimes, reaching into my pocket for that phone, checking it incessantly, like the Ring.... the Precious!
"I feel like butter scraped over too much bread.... I need a holiday! I want to see mountains again, Gandalf. Mountains!"
- Bilbo Baggins, Lord of the Rings
Can you become possessed by your possessions? Can the device made to serve you become your master? The mystics say that slavery is to give yourself to anything less than God. To make anything other than God your god is to become a slave to that thing. So I'm signing off for awhile, to "front only the essential facts of life." My plan is to drink the coffee slowly and attentively, to read Louis de Montfort, Teresa of Avila, and John of the Cross. To spend more time before the Tabernacle than a computer screen. To give time to God and family and others, not in splintered, fragmented bytes but in a whole-hearted, long and loving gaze.
So into the desert we go! Off the grid for 40 days! See you on the other side!

Looking Up

It's exhausting to hear, night after night and day after day, of the countless stories of war, and death, violence, and poverty that circle our globe like a dark cloud. Yet, still, we persist in our efforts to "make the world a better place." Don't we? The human spirit still longs for communion, even when so many things reach in to tear it apart. We yearn for harmony even when so much discord fills our ears. We seek love, even when faced with so much hatred and indifference.
So what are we doing wrong? When will we get it right? When will peace become a reality? Will there ever really be "united nations"? In the eyes of our Holy Father, Benedict XVI, the answer is... never. All of our work is in vain.
"Will it ever be possible to obtain this brotherhood by human effort alone? As society becomes ever more globalized, it makes us neighbors but does not make us brothers. Reason, by itself, is capable of grasping the equality between men and of giving stability to their civic coexistence, but it cannot establish fraternity. This originates in a transcendent vocation from God the Father, who loved us first..." (Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 11)
It's really a simple truth, and logic would lead us to it if we could just step outside of ourselves and away from the din of the modern world for a time. Have we forgotten that we are not the Creator, but the creature in this vast and beautiful universe? Have we forgotten our ultimate destiny, of which the restlessness within us is always a reminder? Man is not "a lost atom in a random universe: he is God's creature, whom God chose to endow with an immortal soul and whom he has always loved." (CV 29)
Pope Benedict XVI's letter Caritas in Veritate has its feet on the ground and its heart in the heavens. It speaks to the men and women of our time, gripped by an economic crisis, split apart by the digital divide of rich and poor, and smothered under the blanket of consumerism with a message that is practical and powerful; Look up.
Only through an encounter with God are we able to see in the other something more than just another creature, to recognize the divine image in the other, thus truly coming to discover him or her and to mature in a love that “becomes concern and care for the other.”
- CV 11
Our consumer culture is bent on clipping our wings and drawing the curtain over our more transcendent desires. But in so doing, it has created a vacuum, and we are suffocating. Men and women have a desire for the Infinite stamped within them; we are searching for the More we are made for our whole life long. We often try to plug finite shapes into that Infinite hole in our hearts, but it never satisfies. The false idols of our ancestors are no different for us in this 21st century. The cult of the Golden Calf in its thirst for wealth, sex, and power has many if not more devotees today. Worse still, we seek to create our own laws to justify our greed. From the heights of our court system come absurdities like the following:
"At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life." - Planned Parenthood of Southeastern PA v. Casey (1992)
In the end, is our dignity defined by ourselves? Should we design our own way of envisioning the world and each other? Must we reach out and grasp at it for it to be realized? Sounds stunningly familiar.... "You shall be like gods..." said the Serpent who was once an Angel. Bishop Fulton Sheen used to call this old errors with new labels. As we advance as a people, many things have stayed sadly the same. One of the them is our stubbornness and pride. But finding the Truth remains our highest call. Benedict, our German Shepherd, is doing his best to lead this confused flock into those greener pastures where true liberty spills its life-giving waters.

Throughout CV, the Holy Father quotes from his predecessor Pope Paul VI: “There is no true humanism but that which is open to the Absolute, and is conscious of a vocation which gives human life its true meaning” (Populorum Progressio). According to Benedict XVI, this act of "looking up" to the Absolute is exactly what ennobles man and gives him his truest identity. Man cannot be reduced to mere biological material or to a faceless "cog in the machine" of human progress and development. Rather, men and women stand at the crossroads between the material and the spiritual realms. Looking up we see that we alone are the voice of all creation, and we alone can "speak" on the natural world's behalf. This is the general invitation in CV; for man to humbly accept his place in the universe as creature, but to rise up and recognize at the same time that man is the pinnacle of creation! The Pope states in CV18: "...the humility of those who accept a vocation is transformed into true autonomy, because it sets them free." This freedom on our part plants our feet squarely on the ground where man encounters man; in the family, at church, in the marketplace, and the meeting spaces of the world. In the face to face encounter of every day life, love must be lived in truth, and that truth is ultimately this: God is our Father and we are His Children, and the human family is called to come home to Him, drawing in love our brothers and sisters along the way. "The Christian vocation to this development therefore applies to both the natural plane and the supernatural plane; which is why, “when God is eclipsed, our ability to recognize the natural order, purpose and the ‘good' begins to wane.” (CV 18)

Pope Benedict's words are refreshingly simple, and as clear as the Gospel message to "love one another." His invitation to "look up" is a challenge to view the world and each other once again as a pure gift, not something to be grasped and used and then cast aside.

Charity in truth places man before the astonishing experience of gift. Gratuitousness is present in our lives in many different forms, which often go unrecognized because of a purely consumerist and utilitarian view of life. The human being is made for gift, which expresses and makes present his transcendent dimension. Sometimes modern man is wrongly convinced that he is the sole author of himself, his life and society. This is a presumption that follows from being selfishly closed in upon himself... (CV 34)
Pope Paul VI noted in his work that “the world is in trouble because of the lack of thinking” (Populorum Progressio 85). Thinking, pondering, and making space within us for that deep and loving gaze at reality is essential if we are to discern our purpose and place in the world. Benedict's encyclical invites us into this wonderful and forgotten art of contemplation. As the holy season of Lent dawns upon us again, perhaps we should allow ourselves this time for peaceful reflection on those deeper questions of our existence, our purpose, and our call to authentic human development. With the help of the Holy Spirit, perhaps we will see things, all things, in a new light. Maybe our darkness is simply the edge of night, and the sun will soon rise over the human family. I believe with the help of Pope Benedict's words, things are definitely looking up.

First published in The Publican

To get this article in print along with more quality writing from local Philadelphia authors, visit here for more information.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Theology of the Body Retreat - Feb 19-21

I'll be giving a Theology of the Body Retreat from Friday to Sunday, Feb. 19-21, 2010, at the Villa Maria Guadalupe Retreat Center in Stamford, Connecticut. It's a beautifully restored mansion now dedicated for prayer and reflection, hosted by the wonderful Sisters of Life. You can register online here, or contact the Sisters directly for more information:
Sisters of Life Villa Maria Guadalupe 159 Sky Meadow Dr. Stamford, CT 06903 203.329.1492 fax: 203.329.1495

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The March for Life Cover Up 2010

Every year we see the same thing happen, or should I say don't see? The mass media, for whatever reason, refuses to report on the Annual March for Life in our nation's capital. Estimates approaching half a million people from every faith, every age (though mostly young) and from states across America come to walk, pray, sing, and share their passion for Life and the dignity of all, from womb to tomb. What could be so threatening about that? Why does this lead otherwise respectable newscasters and journalists to present complete distortions and out right lies, or turn their gaze elsewhere while we March for Life?
I challenge the news media to objectively report on this March next year. The quotes in this video are from some of the biggest names in the news. They have failed miserably and should publicly apologize for their ridiculous and intentional ignorance.
America has spoken, open the window and take a look. His Truth is marching on...

Monday, February 08, 2010

Oprah Meets the Sisters.... of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist

Special Media Announcement from Maximus Group
Tune in to the Oprah Winfrey Show tomorrow (Check your local listings) for her interview with Four Sisters from the Dominican Sisters of Mary. Tomorrow is the 13th anniversary of the founding of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. The Sisters were asked to participate in a show on religious life to speak about a hidden life that many people might never experience.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

National Theology of the Body Congress! Save the Date!


The Theology of the Body Institute announces the National Theology of the Body Congress — the most expansive and comprehensive gathering of Theology of the Body experts and enthusiasts ever assembled. This unprecedented three-day event includes:
  • More than 35 seminars, roundtable discussions, expert panels and keynote addresses featuring leading experts discussing a wide array of Theology of the Body-related themes and topics;
  • Networking with key Theology of the Body leaders, catechists, Church leaders and teachers from around the country;
  • Exposure to an array of Catholic vendors specializing in Theology of the Body-related products and services.
Experience the most expansive gathering of Theology of the Body experts and educators in the history of this extraordinary teaching.


Justin Cardinal Rigali Fr. Brian Bransfield Fr. Thomas Loya Sr. Helena Burns F.S.P. Dr. Janet Smith Katrina Zeno Christopher West Glenn Stanton Dr. Pia de Solenni Fr. Richard Hogan Bill Donaghy Damon Owens Dr. Gregory Popcak Dr. Michael Waldstein Monica Ashour Anastasia Northrup Jake Samour and more!
Register Awards Sponsor

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Getting LOST

It's just fun. You're at the Jersey Shore in August, just a kid, and you're big enough to be out in the surf, and a big 'ole wave rises up, and you see hordes of kids and adults to the right and left jumping up and down, getting ready to ride that thing when it billows and breaks over them. Such a feeling is sweeping the nation right now with the debut of the final season of the television series LOST. What is it about this ridiculously complex show that has captivated so many? I think two things - the Humanity and the Divinity. Let me 'esplain. THE HUMANITY LOST has an unparalleled cast of characters, each of them as unique as the next. The cross-section of humanity in this series is impressive to say the least. It traverses the globe, it splashes a host of colors on its palate, and gives us a taste of as many languages. It makes Gilligan's Island look like vanilla pudding (come to think of it...)
LOST is all of us and all of us are LOST. Each of us too seeks a way off of the tiny island of ourselves and into the mysterious ocean of the Other.

For the past five seasons, we've been trying to find out who the survivors are and why they are so connected to each other - the doctor, convict, con-artist, sailor, former child soldier, beauty queen, rock star, unwed mom, married couple, and Hurley (I love Hurley). We've joined this motley crew of Oceanic 815 on a journey into their own memories as dense as the jungle that surrounds them, and vicariously we've been invited to do the same. LOST is a mass of humanity, each with their own story of wounds and regrets, of shining moments too, of heroic choices and self-sacrifice, all seeking answers, just like us. It's humanity seeking Divinity; the Mystery of All Mysteries that shapes our very existence. But what they find on the island is never just a simple answer. It's simply more questions.... just like us. THE DIVINITY The Synchronicity, the Smoke Monster, the Time Travel, the Healing Powers of the Island are all ultimately mysteries. I think this may be the dividing line between those who love LOST and those who hate it. (There's really no in between is there?) In the realm of the Divine, mysteries can only be experienced, not fully explained. Some of us are captivated by this, like John Locke. In season 2, when he is face to "face" with the Mysterious Smoke Monster, he cries out... "It's beautiful." Others among us are frustrated by this, like Jack Sheppard. The last thing he would call this Mystery is beautiful. Jack doesn't want to feel the Mystery, he wants to fix it. This "Cloud of Unknowing" either makes us cough in confusion or cry out in admiration. Throughout the show, just when we think we might have a firm grasp on something or someone, it slips away. But don't we always keep watching? Do we really want to know, or is it enough to see here and now "through a glass darkly"? The charm, I think, of LOST lies in this mystery. It's exciting to see a glimmer of the Unexplained in television again. For such is life. Mystery upon mystery as we grow older and older, circling about the island of our own personal enigmas and with each passing turn, seeing perhaps a Hand at work, guiding us to some place, unravelling the knot in our minds and hearts as we live each day in its turn. The Christian comfort here is that the Hand guiding us in real life is not so fallible or fallen as a Benjamin Linus (man, he's evil), or Charles Whitmore (man, he's... I'm not sure yet) but this Hand is Good. And it's a pierced hand that knows the enigma of human suffering. OK, buckle up. We're making our approach. Flight attendants prepare for landing. Be sure to keep your seat in an upright position and store all carry on luggage securely. This could be a bumpy reentry! Who's knows where (or when) we'll end up tonight!!

Monday, February 01, 2010

It Ain't Easy Being Green... Or Is It?

Kermit the Frog used to sing, "It ain't easy being green" but today, in our eco-conscious climate, it seems being "green" has never been easier. It's a regular agenda, and not just from the crunchy cons, or the liberal left. Enter Pope Benedict:
Contemplating the beauty of creation inspires us to recognize the love of the Creator, that Love which “moves the sun and the other stars”.... It is imperative that mankind renew and strengthen “that covenant between human beings and the environment, which should mirror the creative love of God, from whom we come and towards whom we are journeying. - Pope Benedict XVI
A Covenant with Creation? For Catholics, this whole Green Movement isn't just a passing fad. It was part of our marching orders way back in Eden; "Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over all living things." For most of our subsequent story, sadly, that call to stewardship, harmony, fecundity, and dominion, has decayed into a twisted domination. The word subdue meant to remember our headship as human persons and not fall into the trap of idolatry (the earth becoming an idol). But we went too far and laid waste to the land, like little Saurons creating our own little Mordors over and over again. In the Holy Father's Message for the Celebration of the World Day for Peace, given just a few weeks ago as we entered into the year of Our Lord 2010, he called attention to the pure gift of the environment we so often take for granted, saying:
"Many people experience peace and tranquillity, renewal and reinvigoration, when they come into close contact with the beauty and harmony of nature. There exists a certain reciprocity: as we care for creation, we realize that God, through creation, cares for us."
That's a uniquely Catholic vision... a sacramental vision. God, through creation, cares for us. The stuff of the earth, the swirl of molecules, the dance of matter, the splendid mosaic of earth and sky and water; all of this grand display is a storybook for us. God speaks through it all! What a wonderful thing. Everything is full of His wonders. A line from a Peter Mayer song comes to mind; "This morning outside I stood, saw a little red-winged bird, shining like a burning bush, singing like a Scripture verse. Made me want to bow my head... everything is holy now." I think a good dose of the natural world does wonders for the soul, especially in these days when it seems only the latest gadget is capable of instilling wonder and "magic." Granted, we have some amazing works to ponder, but none are so magical as those that flow right from the Mind of God. Who can fashion a single seed, pregnant with the uniqueness of a rose, a giant Redwood, a human life? Only God. What a wonderful world! Great and wonderful are Your works O Lord! Let's give them a second look, a long and penetrating gaze, and drink in the gratuitous beauty that God filled them with. For this cup overflows just for us!

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!" ...