Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Raising of the Cross

This early 17th century baroque piece, The Raising of the Cross by the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens, is a dynamic whirlwind of emotion and energy. The central panel draws us in with its dramatic diagonal slant. The artist has Christ's body gleam, rippling with strength and power, even in this moment of supreme weakness (for "power is made perfect in weakness" as St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12). Gathered about the Savior is a host of men, equally virile, lifting the Cross high, like a flag of victory over a field where much blood has been spilled. It is the field of the world, and the fight lies within each one of us... "The 'heart' has become a battlefield between love and concupiscence" (TOB, 32:3).

The side panels show us the weeping women on the left, and on the right, Roman soldiers carrying out their duty. With the lens of the Theology of the Body, however, we see much more. The feminine panel glows with warmth, fragile beauty, and heartfelt concern. They are moved by the pathos of the Christ deeply. They receive it, feel it, internalize it. The masculine panel is bristling with raw energy, banners clap in a storm wind, sun and moon wrestle in the clouds as an apocalyptic eclipse ensues. But mirroring the outstretched hand of Michelangelo's Adam, who clearly influenced Rubens in this work, we see a man yearning, reaching out to touch that redemptive gift of the Christ as he is lifted up. We all must pine for him, for he is our peace! May all men and women appropriate this great gift of the Christ! And like the figures of Our Lady and St. John, situated on the "feminine" side, let us recall that, before the Lord, all our hearts are called to the feminine first. To receive, to take within, then to bring forth again in fruitful, faithful, self-giving love!
"And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all unto me." (John 12:32)

Originally published for the Theology of the Body Institute newsletter, September 2012.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Overwhelmed Parents Prayer for Peace

OK. Deep breath.... pray!

Oh Father, Son, Spirit, Three-fold Family from Whom all families are founded...

Help us this day to rejoice in the chaos that is our family. To enter intentionally into the endless mystery of the exhausting energy and tempestuous roller coaster ride of our children’s emotions, all raw and real; primordial mixtures of humanity and divinity, wonder and awe, awful and angry, tender and tactile as newborn bliss breaking into each moment with passion. 
Let us abide in this place of grace, touched by greasy hands, constant calls, clinging and crying. For in this place You have placed us, Father and Mother, to mother and father, in patience and with peace, as much as we can gather.
For to You, we, father, mother, are as such, the same: crying, grasping, needing to be clean again; not wanting to be alone, to be filled, fed and led by You, Our Father Who is in Heaven. 
So bless our family, these tired hearts and tiny hands, and help us all. Give us this day the daily bread of patience and peace, for this time shall pass, and these little ones and we will be weathered by greater storms than these, and grow wiser we pray, and they will need us, and we each other, even more than now. So we cling to You, Oh Sweet Father, Son, and Spirit of Love.
May we live and breathe and find our being in You, God of the Raw, and Reckless, Blindingly Beautiful Creator of the Universe. May we find You in these Gifts, in this Present, in these miracles, all. May we find Your Peace, not apart from this Holy Hurricane of family life, seeking outside a solitary shelter, but may we dance in the very Center of this Holy Communion of Persons, in the Eye of this Sanctifying Storm, this Holy Place, where saints may be formed, and the dross of our sin and weakness burned away, till only gold remains. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

My Heart And My Flesh Cry Out

When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together... And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were.
- Acts 2:1

This is one of my favorite works by the painter affectionately known as El Greco, The Greek (Domenikos Theotokopoulos). Simply called “The Pentecost” it is an oil on canvas, painted in the 16th century and housed in the Museo del Prado, in Madrid. El Greco came to Italy just about the time Michelangelo was dying, and the Greek is famous, or infamous, for later criticizing the work of the world’s best known artist. In a wave of artistic prudery, Pope Pius V threatened to destroy Michelangelo’s Last Judgement, streaming as it is with naked bodies of the redeemed and the damned. (Let’s recall that a later pope, our beloved John Paul II, called the Sistine Chapel a “shrine to the theology of the body”!). El Greco supposedly claimed he could paint it over again if such a thing happened, and he would do it in a more Christian, appropriate manner. The painters of Italy apparently drove El Greco out for his arrogance, and he never set up shop in Rome again. 

Perhaps El Greco, painting in an almost iconic fashion in the Greek tradition, did err on the side of prudery, but his gifts still shine. His figures are “spiritualized” in a rapturous swirl, as if the Spirit has wooed them and coaxes them up and out of themselves. The Spirit calls them beyond themselves, into a field of infinite possibilities and adventures. Such is the attraction of the fire above their heads in this work, that they flutter upwards like moths to flame. We too would be swept up if not for the anchoring gaze of one of the Apostles, who eyes lock in on us, the viewers. We are left to wonder who it is... Thomas, Peter, one of the James's? In our contemplation this month, let’s allow this work to draw us up into the Spirit’s embrace, but recall this lesson of art history about El Greco and Michelangelo. We are to be humble, and to remember our vocation is not to become angels, pure spirits without bodies, as if the flesh is a weight that hinders the spirit. But we are called to be divinized, body-persons in whom the angels rejoice for the wonders of God written out in our flesh. 

For more on that glorious vision of the human body, see Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Mexico, Volcanos, and the Scope of Human Love

It was a grace last week to travel to Mexico and share Pope John Paul II's teaching on "human love in the divine plan." This teaching commonly called a theology of the body has been interpreted by some as a teaching specifically intended for the married, as it touches so beautifully on the relationship between spouses and the intimacy of human love. But I spoke last week in Mexico to over 120 consecrated women... Women who have freely chosen to sacrifice the intimacy of married affection, children, and all the "joys" the catechism says God gives spouses "as a foretaste of Heaven" for something more (CCC 1642). So what did this "Theology of the Body" have to say to them? Everything.

The Theology of the Body holds within it the full truth and meaning of sexuality and therefore conjugal and consecrated love. After all, it is a reflection rooted in Scripture offered by a celibate man and priest of God, Pope John Paul II, grounded in his prayerful dialogue with those celibate, married or aspiring to marriage over the course of his entire life. It is an understanding of human love in the Divine plan; in other words, it is Christianity reloaded, and reincarnated for the modern world. It's not something new, as much as it's something renewed for modern man. In essence, it addresses the human ache for the infinite, and in this regard can speak volumes to the hearts of every man and woman on the planet; single, married, celibate, widowed, divorced, disenchanted and dysfunctional (which is actually all of us).

Fr. Cantalamessa once wrote... "The primary object of our eros, of our search, desire, attraction, passion must be Christ." 

 The God-given desire for intimacy, expressed so beautifully in the marital embrace is really a kind of foreshadowing of a Love that will and already can fill every hole in the heart. Ask any married person and in all honesty they should answer you that their spouse isn't their savior. We really can't, in our fallenness and imperfection, fully "complete each other." We must look for a Higher Love, one that can flood every human vessel with Divine Mercy. A Love which can lead us up and out of ourselves, through others to the Source of all Love. Think how often human couples speak of "falling in love" as if it actually is a separate reality, distinct from the two of them. And marital love not only can create a third person, but it truly IS the presence of a Third Person. Love is the Holy Spirit, Eternal Bond of the Father and the Son! Love is truly a Trinity. And the Catechism again reveals to us this connection of the human to the Divine: God has revealed his innermost secret: God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange. - CCC, 221

In Mexico, we pondered these truths, in a beautiful retreat center, nestled in a mountainous gap between two massive volcanos. One was aptly named for a warrior (still actively spewing plumes of ash like a smokey sword into the sky) and the other called the "Sleeping Maiden" - the warrior's treasured beloved, a reclining snow-covered range of mountain peaks. In their shadows, we pondered the significance of masculinity and femininity in the world. We saw just as the ancient indigenous of the region did in those mountains, something cosmic in man and woman, something that earthly signs were here to point towards. In our separate and distinct vocations, we taught each other and learned from each other. I prayed that my marriage witnessed the tenderness and service needed to make love present in the family. And for me, I learned from these beautiful, consecrated spouses of Christ, that my married love must open itself to the tenderness and service poured out in the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Such is the sweet complimentarity of the calls to conjugal and consecrated love. One day when the Spirit comes to flood the world again and return us all to the Father, we shall all be wrapped up in that heavenly embrace where "totality embraces totality." (Pope Benedict XVI) And in Heaven it is said that all men and women will "rejoice one day with your Beloved, in a happiness and rapture that can never end." (St. Teresa of Avila)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Mystical Body Of Christ: Sacred Art and the Theology of the Body

This masterpiece is one of surrealist Salvador Dali’s best known works. Completed in 1955, "The Sacrament of the Last Supper" was commissioned by art collector Chester Dale. It is a shimmering, symmetrical feast of translucence, crisp edges and imposing angles. In the fashion of one of his inspirations, Leonardo da Vinci’s own Last Supper, Dali has Christ positioned in the center of the painting so that our eyes, while free to explore the air of reverence surrounding Him, are always drawn back to Christ in the end.

The Apostles appear around him as if in adoration, cloaked in glimmering robes, heads bowed. The bread and wine appear set in a triangular formation, pointing off center to the place where Christ’s side will be pierced by a soldier’s lance. Above and embracing the entire scene is another body, massive, encompassing the whole celebration. This is the feast of the Body of Christ, and the Theology of His Body has become, to the utter amazement of the cloaked men around Him, the gateway to Infinity. Wrapped in contemplation, we can imagine them, like us, pondering this mystery. Jesus’s very chest is now translucent; it has become a portal allowing us access to the Father! Dali has the enigmatic symbol of this journey of faith well represented; a boat appears waiting for us, behind or perhaps through the Heart of Christ.

In this holy season, this Easter season now dawning in the month of April, we are invited to see with this new light. A divine and diaphanous light has now penetrated and permeated into the cracks and dark spaces of each and every human experience. If we choose to turn our faces towards Him, open these spaces before Him, He will fill us up with that same light. Let us heed the words of Blessed John Paul II:

“To contemplate the face of Christ, and to contemplate it with Mary, is the “program” which I have set before the Church at the dawn of the third millennium, summoning her to put out into the deep on the sea of history with the enthusiasm of the new evangelization.” - Ecclesia de Eucharistia, #6 

And in this post-resurrection feast of love and light, in the breaking of this bread, we will truly see “each other, as if through the mystery of creation, man and woman see each other even more fully and distinctly than through the sense of sight itself...” (Blessed John Paul II, TOB, Jan. 2, 1980)

Originally published for the Theology of the Body Institute April 2012 newsletter.

Touched by Touch

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? 
- C.S. Lewis 
How many times in your life have you heard people say “Everything happens for a reason”? Countless times, I’m sure. 

People say it when something goes wrong, like the untimely death of a child or in the case of a person diagnosed with cancer. “Everything happens for a reason.”

But many struggle with this cold assessment of events that cut us to the core. “God’s will” they’ll say. But what a seemingly cruel force to be at work in the universe flicking switches in people’s lives that say “off” and “on.” Good luck, bad luck. Blessed, cursed.

I don’t suppose there is a reader right now looking at these words who has not felt that knot in the center of their chest at some point in this life. Is there anyone who has not experienced first hand that suffocating “cloud of unknowing” the mystics speak of in their writings? I know we have, in the brief and incredibly heart-breaking experience of the life and death of our daughter Grace. She lived for just 10 hours, cradled in our arms and kissed by our family members over and over again until her tiny heart stopped beating. 

“Everything happens for a reason” they said, and “God has a plan.” A priest visiting the hospital, well meaning I suppose (but clueless nonetheless) coldly said to us “You’re young. You’ll have others.” We were stunned.

This question of a deeper meaning and plan in life remains at the heart of our post 9/11 world. It’s a world appearing at times as a tapestry of beauty, grace and serendipity, and yet when life takes a turn, it reveals tangled knots of senseless violence, suffering, and random accidents that defy any meaning or purpose or plan. Is there a connection? A reason? Is there an Author of this Play called Life or not? This ultimate question is taken up in a powerful new series called “Touch.” 

Kiefer Sutherland, the acclaimed star of the hit series “24”, returns to television as Martin Bohm. The show debuted in late January and at the writing of this review had only shown its pilot episode. The story revolves around Sutherland’s character, a widower and single father, and his young son Jake. Martin has had his share of tragedy - his wife was killed in the North Tower during the attacks of September 11, and he has spent the last decade frustrated by his inability to connect to his 11-year-old son (played by David Mazouz). Jake, for reasons as yet unknown, has never spoken a word. He reacts violently when touched, even by his own father, and the one thing that seems to consume his attention and time is numbers. The Fibonacci sequence to be exact. It’s the Golden Ratio, the mystical meandering set of integers that has mesmerized mathematicians, astronomers, artists, and naturalists for centuries, all the way back to the ancient Greeks some say. Young Jake has discovered the sequence on his own.

The numbers appear as patterns in nature from seashells to spiral galaxies, in pine cones and pineapples, sunflowers and in the design on the wings of dragonflies (for more on the Golden Ratio and what has been called “God’s Fingerprint,” you’ll just have to visit your local search engine and carve out three hours to explore. It is fascinating stuff). 

“Touch” posits the idea that Jake is a gifted child who can see these patterns in nature and how they spill into the affairs of men and women all over the globe. “The world is connected. But only his son sees how.” So runs the tag line for the series, and its first episode did not fail to impress. It was a pilot full of promise, and though it certainly has strong elements of sci-fi, it’s filled with so much heart. There are moments when you’ll need to turn off the disbelief that too often comes with years and let yourself believe. What we loved about the show was the harmonious blend of science and spirituality, and the diagnosis that our digital age, as amazing as it can be, still leaves a hollow space in the soul. As the voiceover from Jake says at the end of the pilot: 

“Today we'll send over 300 billion e-mails, 19 billion text messages. Yet we'll still feel alone. The average person will say 2250 words to 7.4 other individuals. Will these words be used to hurt or to heal?”

The Catholic author Caryll Houselander once wrote that “We are only syllables of the perfect Word.” The Church teaches us that we are part of the Mystical Body of Christ, spanning not only the globe but time and history as well. We are all connected, and we are all threads in this great tapestry of existence. Why some of those threads are dark and knotted, twisted and seemingly clashing with more pleasing colors remains a mystery. A mystery we certainly can’t untangle in this article. But this truth remains: The threads touch, and the tapestry hangs together, and the final work when the Master Weaver is through, I have no doubt, will leave us speechless in awe and wonder.
A show like “Touch” contains that yearning within it to find this communion that faith gives. In this age of Facebook and FaceTime, as wonderful as those tools can be, we know nothing can replace the real face of the loved ones around us. We crave that connection.

Today it takes no great stretch of the imagination to envisage the earth as an interconnected globe humming with electronic transmissions - a chattering planet nestled in the provident silence of space. The ethical question is whether this is contributing to authentic human development and helping individuals and peoples to be true to their transcendent destiny.

- Archbishop John Foley

“Touch” may be a show that gets us back in touch with that question again. By living the questions, we put ourselves on a quest. In light of our own sorrows as parents who have lost a child, we know the quest isn’t just a chase after numbers to help us make sense of it all, though there may be such comforts and “coincidences” (we had our share with our Gracie). No, we seek not numbers but a Name to make sense of it all. The Name means “God is with us” - and He entered into our mess, our fallen history, and He made it His Story. He confronted evil and suffering and he too lived the questions when He cried out on that Cross of contradiction “My God, My God, why have You abandoned me?” Psalm 22, which Jesus quoted, ends not in agony, however, but trust. His blood is now the silken red cord that ties all things together! By His wounds we are healed.

The pilot of “Touch” ended with Martin climbing a tower to a dark and rainy height where his son has placed himself, looking down on the pain around him. Martin cries out finally with understanding, “I can hear you now. I can hear you!” And for the first time the two embrace in a cathartic climax that had us weeping. I believe our pain and confusion in life will end in a similar embrace with Our God... in the embrace of a Father and Son with all of humanity. “The world is connected. But only His Son sees how.”

This article was originally published in Phaith Magazine, Archdiocese of Philadelphia, April Issue 2012

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Beyond the Blue

Welcome to "Beyond the Blue," one of my favorite new musical romps through the human experience by Josh Garrels, an incredibly gifted young man from Portland, Oregon. The lyrics hit the ground running and take you on a journey deep into the heart and through it beyond the blue! Enjoy!

Beyond the Blue 

Stand on the shores of a site unseen
The substance of this dwells in me
Cause my natural eyes only go skin deep
But the eye’s of my heart anchor the sea
Plumbing the depths to the place in between
The tangible world and the land of a dreams
Because everything ain’t quite it seems
There’s more beneath the appearance of things
A beggar could be king within the shadows, Of a wing

And wisdom will honor everyone who will learn
To listen, to love, and to pray and discern
And to do the right thing even when it burns
And to live in the light through treacherous turns
A man is weak, but the spirit yearns
To keep on course from the bow to the stern
And throw overboard every selfish concern
That tries to work for what can’t be earned
Sometimes the only way to return is to go,
Where the winds will take you

Read the rest here!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Everything is Holy Now

This painting by John David Waterhouse may not seem like "sacred art" at first glance. There are no angels, no bearded prophets, no sign or symbol of the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary, or Christ Himself. But look again.
"We are bid to color all things with hues of faith, to see a divine meaning in every event" wrote Blessed John Henry Newman. 
Since the Word became flesh, "every thing is holy now," sang the artist Peter Mayer. 
This image captivated me when I first saw it, as many images do from this school of painters known as the Pre-Raphaelites. It's called "Boreas," named for the Greek god of the north wind. But where is he? Look again. We see the evidence of his presence in the billowing folds of the young maiden's veil. We feel his weight leaning on the trees and the thick grass at her feet. He is literally everywhere, enveloping her, thick as the painted strokes on the canvas and at the same time just as fluid. 
Every ancient myth holds a glimmer of the gospel. The truth that God desires an intimate union with us has always shimmered along the thin webs of history, spanning the millennia and traversing all histories and cultures. Perhaps Boreas was a precursor of the Holy Spirit, coming in the warm breath of spring to the tender heart of Mary, initiating, offering, invigorating. 
Overshadowed by this Wind from Heaven, the woman covers herself. Perhaps she is awestruck, not by the force of the wind but by its chaste passion for her and its potential fruitfulness and life-changing power. Should she turn? Should she face that flow of power, open her heart and let Him fill her? Where will this wind take her should she open the sails of her soul to its power? We know the answer Mary gave and the path her life took. But when the Wind of the Spirit blows upon me, where will I turn? In what direction will I be taken?

Originally written for the TOB Institute Newsletter

Diamonds in the Rough

Teaching teenagers is FUN. By fun I mean Frustrating, Unbelievably taxing, and No where I'd rather be. After all, it's the front lines. It's mission territory! And the grace and privilege of playing a part in forming young hearts in Christ is a treasure beyond words. Even when the treasures are diamonds in the rough.  
Back to the frustrating and taxing part. A high school teacher gets to empathize with the ancient prophets quite often. We feel like Jeremiah for instance, who was largely ignored in his instructions to the People. We say the same thing a thousand times. We "invite" the students to read the directions we so lovingly place at the top of the test, but alas, they often fail to see it. We'd love to give them more freedom, but too often it gets abused and we're forced to "take them by the hand" as God did in this Sunday's reading from Jeremiah. When the young "break the covenant" in the classroom we have to show ourselves the master, as in this first reading. Trust me, I'd rather have them drawn to the beauty of truth, and carried on the sweet aroma of Christ, than drag them along by the threat of "yes, this is on the test." 
But such is the human condition; we are out of sync. We're off key. Original Sin has caused the strings of our souls to go flat or sharp, and we need them to be tuned. That means we've got to be stretched (or loosened). We need music lessons again, because we've forgotten the original notes. It may take hours and hours of pounding those keys and getting our fingers calloused by playing the chords of the virtues over and over until they come as second nature to us. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews sees even Jesus, who was clearly without sin, as undergoing this stretching in order to teach us: "Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered." 
Maybe that's why St. Augustine called this life a "gymnasium of desire." It's a real workout! I learn in every lesson I teach how I am called to be purified as well. One of the best lessons ever taught was by the outdoor classroom teacher, John the Baptist: "He must increase, I must decrease." 
The Gospel this past Sunday from John 12 echoes this theme of self-sacrifice and self-discipline. It's the lesson of Lent, essentially; "Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat." Wow, so that's it then, and no escaping it? "Is THAT gonna be on the test?" Oh yes, friends, it's the final exam. But don't look at it that way; like it's just work. It's the art of virtue. Imagine the magic that can happen when we learn our lessons well and listen to the Master. Sweet music! Music that swells up from within, inspired thoughts, incredible symphonies of virtue and holiness! Jeremiah foretold this day! "No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives how to know the LORD. All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the LORD..."

Friday, March 23, 2012

Choosing this Movie is Choosing LIFE!

October Baby
"The best pro-life movie ever made!"
Dr. Richard Land, ERLC

"It's a beautiful story that will open doors, eyes and hearts."
Pat Layton, author of Surrendering the Secret

"What a remarkable movie."
Charmaine Yoest, Americans United for Life

"POWERFUL! OUTSTANDING! I was not prepared for the impact this movie would have on me."
Dr. Dennis Rainey, FamilyLife Today

"I always say that you do yourself a favor when you forgive. This film is a great reminder of this."
Joyce Meyer, Bible Teacher and Bestselling Author

"A great film with a great message!"
Alex Kendrick, Courageous 

"October Baby is a powerful story proving what we all know—that every life is indeed beautiful."
Melinda Delahoyde, Care Net

"October Baby not only has a beautiful message, it is beautifully made."
Karen Garnett, Catholic Pro-Life Committee

"In today's society with so many kids growing up without purpose, this film captures the essence of the importance of every person's life."
Carey Casey, National Center for Fathering

"October Baby will change you ... just open your heart." 
Judie Brown, American Life League

Let People Know That You Stand for Life
See October Baby THIS Weekend!

Enter your zip code to find the closest theater to you

American Family AssociationBethany Christian ServicesCarenetCWAFamily LifeFocus on the FamilyHeartbeatHope For Orphans
NCFF Option LineStudents For Life of AmericaThe Hope Line

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Talk on Heaven Tonight Promises to Disappoint

But come anyway!!

I realize that "eye has not seen and ear has not heard what God has prepared for those who love Him" but we can sure speculate about it! Come join us at 7pm tonight, Wednesday, March 21:

St. Charles Borromeo Parish
3422 Dennison Avenue
Drexel Hill, PA 19026
Rectory (610) 623-3800

Ponder the deep thoughts of saints and mystics, philosophers, and dreamers. Bring your own questions and an open heart and mind! With the help of reason, revelation, and searching our own heart's deepest desires, we'll seek to answer questions like:

1. Is Heaven really real?
2. Will we know each other in the next world?
3. Will we have bodies in Heaven?
4. What will Heaven be like? What will we do "up there"?
5. Most importantly, how do we get there?

We should be meeting in the church basement, which is not as uncomfortable as it sounds, really. Bring a friend! Bring an atheist friend and get bonus points! In the meantime, ponder this:

The big, blazing, terrible truth about man is that he has a heaven-sized hole in his heart, and nothing else can fill it. We pass our lives trying to fill the Grand Canyon with marbles. As Augustine said: "Thou hast made us for thyself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee."
- Dr. Peter Kreeft

Monday, March 12, 2012

ONCE Upon a Time...

...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

Once upon a time.... is the phrase that begins a whole host of fantastic tales and stories so many of us have grown up hearing. Still today in 2012, these age old stories of princesses and fairy godmothers, castles and kings, dragons and dark lords can capture our imaginations.

Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis, the famed screenwriters of the hit series LOST, had an idea for a show called Once Upon a Time back in 2004, before teaming up with the writing staff of LOST. They let it germinate for awhile, however, until the stranded souls of Oceanic Flight 815 found their way home. That series ended and their new project is now off and running.

Once Upon a Time (appearing on ABC) centers around the conviction of a young boy named Henry. He believes that Storybrooke, the mysterious town he lives in, has actually been cursed by an evil Queen. She has sent an entire enchanted land full of fairytale characters to this world to rob them of their “happy endings.” Only young Henry and the Queen (who happens to be Henry’s adoptive mother and the mayor of Storybrooke) appear to know the truth. The Queen’s name in the real world is Regina, a nice touch for those who remember their Latin.

“The curse is that we’ve forgotten who we are, and who we love, and what makes us happy,” says actress Ginnifer Goodwin, who plays Snow White in the blessed world and Sr. Mary Margaret in the cursed world. As the series progresses, we meet all sorts of characters cursed with this allegorical amnesia. Prince Charming, Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Gepetto, even Jiminy Cricket! There is a dark and brooding Mr. Gold as well, whose true past tells us he is Rumplestiltskin (My wife and I suspect he remembers more than most and just might be vying for power with the Queen).

Little Henry, played by Jared Gilmore, is the hero of the tale, doing his best to wake people up to the curse and to remembering who they truly are. He slipped out of Storybrooke to find his biological mother Emma back with him. Henry’s mysterious book of Fairy Tales holds the life story on everyone. It revealed to him that Emma is the only one who can break the Queen’s spell. What’s Emma’s backstory? She is the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, of course, who escaped in a magic craft seconds before the curse was unleashed so many years ago.

When Emma comes to Storybrooke, she is cynical and a bit hardened by life. But in seeing the loveless relationship the Mayor has with Henry, and the suffocating control she holds over the town, Emma decides to stay. With that, the curse already starts unravelling - the town clock tower ticks for the first time any character can remember. It froze at 8:15 (LOST fans got a little wink at that one).

Each episode of Once Upon a Time is a classic tale of good and evil, of selfless acts and selfish pride. Every week we’re given more layers of depth to the Land of Make Believe that really do make us believe again. With flashes from the present to the past via the characters back stories (again in classic LOST fashion), we see what hard choices were made and what chances for healing are possible in the real world.

It’s a tale for today, for so many of us have fallen under the spell of secularism and sin, and forgotten who we truly are.

In the episode “A Still, Small Voice,” a frustrated Dr. Archie Hopper, who is really Jiminy Cricket, asks Henry “Why do you think it’s so important that your fairy tale theory is true?” Henry replies, “Because this can’t be all there is...”

What a fantastic line, and how strongly it resounds in the Catholic heart. I believe if we are still enough, in the quiet, nostalgic moments, smelling a wood-fire or hearing geese sail overhead, we all have a sense of that Something More for which we are made. Like an ache in the chest it throbs. Like music it stirs worlds within us deeper than our reason is aware of, in realms richer than our daily rush could ever reach. Don’t good stories do this to us? Like the labels on the rearview glass in our cars, we know that “objects in mirror are closer than they appear.” Often we’re just overwhelmed by the possibility that Life, Death, Mystery, and our Mission can be as close as this, and even wilder and more mysterious than we ever imagined.

I think this ache for meaning and a “happy ending” is what stirs up so many of these new shows, spinning off of the drama and intrigue and interconnected web of humanity that made the show LOST such an epic series. The series Once Upon a Time is another blaze on this trail into the meaning of life.

C.S. Lewis asks, in his 1955 review of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, “But why, if you have a serious comment to make on the real life of men, must you do it by talking about a phantasmagoric never-never-land of your own?” He continues: “Because one of the main things the author wants to say is that the real life of men is of that mythical and heroic quality.”

Enjoy the show if you have time, but more so, enjoy the story-time of your own life, written in grace and a heavenly magic so strong that no curse can break it. And in the true love of the Prince of Peace we shall all live... happily ever after.

Originally published in Phaith Magazine, March 2012

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

I Heart Ashes

Ash Wednesday. Yipee! Fasting, sacrificing, a crust of bread and a glass of water and the first day of giving stuff up... for 39 more days. Who's excited? (insert sound of crickets)

OK, let's be honest. No one really looks forward to a day of fasting and abstinence, especially from things like Taco Bell's new "Beefy Crunch Box." (I'm not making that up, it's real, and only $5 dollars, but not today friends, not today).

Fasting hurts. Fasting isn't fun, especially for we Americans who want everything fast. But if we're honest with ourselves, we know that a day like today (and a season like Lent) is absolutely essential for one reason: It shows us our addictions. It reveals the tiny strings or the thick cords that are binding us to things less than ourselves. And if we're bound to something less than ourselves, that means we are slaves to that thing.... and slavery isn't fun.

So let's do some introspection; let's look inside today and see what it is we feel we can't live without - a kind of food, drink, Facebook, TV show - and try living without it for a while. What happens? Do we get cranky, bitter, the shakes? These may be signs of withdrawal. That's telling us something invaluable. These things may be the chains restricting us from embracing and realizing our "natural greatness," in the words of Blessed John Paul II.

I suppose the defining question then is this: Do we want to be great? Do we want to be transformed? Do we want to be whole? Do we want to be holy?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Power and Purpose of Masculinity

I was invited to write a new pamphlet for Ascension Press's Theology of the Body series. Woohoo! Check it out here, and feel free to forward the link to your parish, pastor, deacon, seminarians, DRE, RCIA, CEO, bishop, cardinal, Men's Group, old high school buddies, college pals, every one of your Facebook friends, and... yeah. That should do it. It's time to man up America (for women's sake!)

What does it mean to be a real man? In this pamphlet, Bill Donaghy discusses the challenges men face in today's culture and the ways they are called to live. He outlines three male archetypes that provide a "blueprint" for living authentic masculinity. With energy and conviction, Donaghy applies the principal themes of the Theology of the Body to all men and husbands, fathers, brothers, sons, priests, enlightening man's deepest identity, and unique gift to the world.

Find it here:

Monday, February 06, 2012

The Marriage Made in Heaven: Soul Meets Body

Ignore for a moment the strange name of the band, Death Cab for Cutie. If they knew how big they’d become on the music scene, lead singer Ben Gibbard confessed, they would’ve thought twice about picking that obscure name anyway. ("Ben Gibbard - Interview". Time Out Chicago. August 24, 2011) In this month of Valentine’s where we seek the warmth of love amidst the cold of winter, I’d like to take a look at this band’s sweet song “Soul Meets Body” and their search for meaning in life.

As with everything in this blog that references pop culture and Catholicism, we sprinkle a little holy water on it and voila! We have something mystical. It’s not meant to be an imprimatur sanctioning the entire life and work of the artist. Reading the lyrics to the tunes he’s penned, Gibbard seems to be a struggling soul who vacillates between a great hope in love’s lasting power and the hollowness that sees this world as all there is. But in this struggle for meaning, so often, great beauty is born. 

From their album, Codes and Keys, released in May 2011, “Soul Meets Body” soars as an achingly beautiful song with echoes of the original plan of God for humanity. It pines for that original unity in which the world and all of us were intended to live, and from which we have all been sundered by sin.

I want to live where soul meets body and let the sun wrap its arms around me and bathe my skin in water cool and cleansing and feel, feel what its like to be new

I always thrill at the hearing of songs like this in popular music, from bands not necessarily religious. It points to that universal thirst for a harmony between flesh and spirit that can be found everywhere, in everything. Musicians today are scratching out their notes in the cynicism of a post-Christian age, amidst scandals and hypocrisy, and even radical doubts and attacks on the existence of God. Some are truly seeking a deeper meaning in things, looking for answers. I find Death Cab for Cutie more real than most in facing these deeper questions. 

As Catholics, we believe God stamped this thirst for healing and wholeness in the human heart to remind us of eternity, and nothing in this temporary world can totally quench that thirst. Nothing can snuff out the desire either, not even a poor first experience of religion, or the scandalous example of some believers. It seems a wound from the past shaped lead singer Gibbard’s vision of the Catholic faith he was raised in. It’s revealed in the song "I Will Follow You Into the Dark":

In Catholic school as vicious as Roman rule I got my knuckles bruised by a lady in black and I held my tongue as she told me "Son, fear is the heart of love" So I never went back 

This experience is beyond tragic, since we know St. John tells us “perfect love casts out all fear.” (1 John 4:18) The wounds of an earthly father can change our view of the Heavenly Father. The sins of a school master can alter our knowing the love of the Divine Master. I wonder how effective this teaching of fear of punishment might be for the young as an introduction to God. Hmm. Ponder this thought of Pope Benedict XVI:

Our first experience of God is so important; we either experience Him as the police guard ready to punish or as creative love that awaits.

Creative love is what we long for, and in fact it’s what God wants to pour out over our hearts through the Church’s sacraments. Sadly for some, individual pieces of the conduit this truth can flow through (namely human beings) can be a bit... rusty. But that’s our fallen human nature, not the Divine water of grace. Gibbard sings that he “never went back” to the Catholic Church (he refers to himself as an “indoctrinated Catholic even though I haven't been to church of my own volition in 10 or 15 years now." - September 3, 2010) But not going back doesn’t mean he’s not moving forward. Back to the tune of Soul Meets Body:

And I cannot guess what we'll discover when we turn the dirt with our palms cupped like shovels but I know our filthy hands can wash one another’s and not one speck will remain

We must keep digging. This digging deep into life’s experiences can reveal hidden treasures. Listening to the ache for meaning can itself give us meaning. I believe the key here is the element of the journey. The ancients termed it fides quarens intellectum - faith seeking understanding. And we do this together as the song sings, for we need a reunion of not only soul and body, but of person to person, and God and humanity;

And I do believe it’s true that there are roads left in both of our shoes but if the silence takes you then I hope it takes me too. So brown eyes I hold you near cause you’re the only song I want to hear. A melody softly soaring through my atmosphere... Where soul meets body...

For all those seeking a love that satisfies and that original harmony between soul and body, the spiritual and the material, man and woman, there is a melody playing. It’s the Song of Songs. It’s the Creative Love that awaits in the Heart of Jesus, in the ocean of His mercy. Yes, even despite the oil spills of humanity’s sins. He’ll wash one another in this mercy, and not one speck will remain!

In the music video for the song, which I highly recommend watching (below) we see a host of musical notes peeping out of a darkened forest floor as Ben Gibbard walks past. He meets his band in a little cabin and they play their song. We watch the notes rise up through the canopy of trees, over forest and field, past houses and towns and cities, to the sea. Some notes are detained, caught and even captured along the way. But a remnant make it through all obstacles. Those musical notes are each of us willing to seek and hopeful to find. We sing and cry out to the sea to “bathe my skin in water cool and cleansing. And feel, feel what its like to be new...”

Let us pray for a refreshing look at the waters of our baptism. The sea of grace is there for us, and we must swim it!

“Put out into the deep on the sea of history with the enthusiasm of the new evangelization."
- Blessed John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 6

Originally published in Phaith Magazine, February 2012

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Illuminated Scripture Projects 2012

My students did a fantastic job on their Psalms Project! I heard one even started taking his notes in biology class in calligraphy. Haha! Mission accomplished!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Why I Love Being a Catholic Teacher

I absolutely love being a Catholic educator and I cannot imagine teaching in any other realm, or in any other light than that of the Sanctuary Lamp, nestled near the Altar of God.

For me, it means Jesus is close at hand. It means the Master is just a heartbeat away, and He is the heart of my classroom. For me, being a Catholic educator means exactly the opposite of what some might imagine teaching religion to be (religio means "binding"). I AM FREE.

I am free to think, to question, to seek and to explore the universe God made and to find the truth of things and the inexhaustible mystery of things. I can live and move and have my being in a relationship that God has joined and no one can tear asunder: the marriage of faith and reason, biology and theology, heaven and earth, at once the mathematically measurable and the mysterious. 

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and science... It is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute a truly religious attitude.” 

- Albert Einstein
As a Catholic teacher... 

I am free to inject into my words the beliefs of my heart. I can let the light of the name through Whom all things were made, JESUS, shine throughout the work of my classroom and not fearfully hide it under a basket. My Catholic faith takes me out of the present Dark Ages that divorce God and Science. In the world of Catholic education, they are still happily married.

In a noisy age full of distortion and media deception, my work can be a subtle kind of inceptionLike Leonardo DiCaprio in the film Inception, I am planting the seed of a thought into all of my students that they are called to greatness. A greatness not only in this world... in any field they choose, but beyond the rim of this world, in everlasting relationships expanding towards an eternal horizon.

I can tell you without hindrance that life is not just about acquiring facts but more importantly friendships. We are destined to be a communion of saints burning with the desire to know not only the world in which we live but the Word in Whom and through Whom all things were made.

I can be holistic in this call to holiness, weaving the threads of all things sacred and secular into the tapestry of my classroom, never divorcing what God has joined. Since the WORD became flesh and dwells among us.... everything is holy now.

I love being a Catholic educator because here I can “speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth..." so thank You, God.

But there are many false images of what Catholic education looks like in the media. Played to death is the idea that the Church hates and fears science, that it is outdated, antiquated, and always belated when it comes to new discoveries. This is a lie pure and simple. 

The Catholic vision is not to be confused with a rigid, fundamentalist, creationist view of the world so often ridiculed in the media. I’d like to shine some light on the lies and dispel the shadows:

Science was actually born in the Church, as was the concept of education as we know it today, the idea of the university.

Some Fun Facts (taken from the work of Ben Wiker and Jonathan Wright)

Fr. Giambattista Riccioli was the first person to measure the rate of acceleration of a freely falling body. 

Fr. Athanasius Kircher has been called the father of Egyptology. 

Fr. Roger Boscovich has been called the father of modern atomic theory. Copernicus the astronomer was a Catholic, and later in life it is thought that he was ordained a priest and actually administered a diocese. 

Gregor Mendel, an Augustinian monk, is hailed as the father of modern genetics.

 Lazzaro Spallanzani, one of the greatest biologists of the eighteenth century, was a Catholic priest.

In the sciences it was the Jesuit order in particular who stand out as pioneers; there are some 35 craters on the moon named after Jesuit scientists and mathematicians.

 By the eighteenth century, they had contributed "to the development of pendulum clocks, pantographs, barometers, reflecting telescopes and microscopes, to scientific fields as various as magnetism, optics and electricity. They observed, in some cases before anyone else, the colored bands on Jupiter's surface, the Andromeda nebula and Saturn's rings. 

They theorized about the circulation of the blood, the theoretical possibility of flight, the way the moon effected the tides, and the wave-like nature of light. Star maps of the southern hemisphere, symbolic logic, flood-control measures on the Po and Adige rivers, introducing plus and minus signs into Italian mathematics..." - Jonathan Wright, The Jesuits, 2004, p. 189

"In January 1933, the Belgian mathematician and Catholic priest Georges Lemaitre traveled with Albert Einstein to California for a series of seminars. After the Belgian detailed his Big Bang theory, Einstein stood up applauded, and said, “This is the most beautiful and satisfactory explanation of creation to which I have ever listened.”

 (from this excellent article)
During this Catholic Schools Week, I want to invite all of us to meditate on a quote from Blessed John Paul II that I’ve often shared with my own students: “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth - in a word, to know himself - so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.”

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Illuminated Scripture Project 2012

Just a little teaser trailer for the Illuminated Scripture Project my freshmen do each year. A look back to the beauty and brilliance of the so called "Dark Ages" when words were Light and Treasure, and well worth our time illuminating. This is a great project for teenage boys, especially the freshmen level. They are bursting with the desire to excel and impress, they have incredible energy flowing through them, and they love to doodle. It's a match made in Heaven! Doodling for the Divine! I'll post their work in a subsequent video.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Clarity of Clare

Every parent should consider their child a gift and a miracle, because every human life is an unrepeatable, absolutely incredible, physical manifestation of God's image and His love in this world. Our daughter Clare is a miracle because of that truth; but there's something even more miraculous about her story that merits repeating. In this month of January, when hundreds of thousands will travel to our nation's capitol, mourning 39 years of the legality of abortion in America, we need the clarity and light Clare brings us even more. Clare is an abortion holocaust survivor.

Before we knew she existed, our future adopted daughter was in a Planned Parenthood, in utero, having her life scheduled to be “terminated.” Through a miracle of grace, a technician let the sound of baby Clare's heartbeat resound in that clinical room of torture (This is not the current practice of Planned Parenthood, but there appears to be some current legislation urging this form of prenatal monitoring to be law). On hearing the rapid and muffled tones of that little heartbeat, Clare's birth mother changed her mind about the abortion, got up, and left America's leading abortion provider.

Walking across the street, she found a similar place for all intents and purposes; a crisis pregnancy center for women offering help and resources. But rather than a place of sacrilege against new life, this was a sanctuary for life. A tapestry of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of the Unborn, greets the women as they enter. They are offered the truth about their options as well as support systems to see them through their pregnancy and beyond.

Having already adopted our beautiful son with a slightly similar story of survival, my wife and I received a call and a question from our friends at the center: “There's another baby whose mother wants to form an adoption plan. The story is complicated. Are you open?” We took about 4 seconds to make our decision. Thought process: You said baby. We're open.

We were on pins and needles the whole pregnancy. We prayed for the health and stability of the birth mother, knowing she was a soul in difficult straits. At one point in the pregnancy, Clare's birth mom threatened to break her water. She was nearly undone by anxiety and from an attempt to hide her pregnancy from everyone. We felt deeply the vulnerability and fragility of our future daughter's life. As Pope Benedict XVI once said, “How can it be that the most wondrous and sacred human space - the womb - has become a place of unutterable violence?” And all the while little Clare was forming in the warm darkness of the womb, oblivious to how close she came to never seeing the light of day.

And then the day came.

Our friend from the pregnancy center who took over support for Clare and her birth mother was at the mother's bedside at the hospital. There were complications; the labor wasn't progressing and the possibility of a c-section was looming. The birth mother was rejecting this plan, angry and eager to leave quickly after birth. It was at this moment that our friend, nearby and whispering the Divine Mercy chaplet just at the hour of Mercy, saw things turn around. Clare was born in the normal course, healthy and strong. Perhaps overwhelmed by the power this precious life would have over her heart, or simply in an anguished attempt to return to the life she knew before, the birth mother refused to know the sex of the baby she had just brought into the world. As was her stated desire, she never held or even looked upon Clare. Instead, our friend cradled her, singing Hail Mary's to her and telling her how much she was already loved, already so cherished by Jesus and by a mommy and daddy close by. She said over and over again, “You are full of grace.”

On the third day of her life, she came to us. It was Sunday, August 15, the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady. An uncommon and soft rain was falling that summer day (just another sign of grace) and it commingled with our tears of joy. Holding her was unreal. Miracle of miracles! We chose the name Clare, a name that means bright or clear, and for the year and half she has been with us, she has been just that. Quick to laugh, to smile, to let wonder and awe at little things overwhelm her. She has been capturing hearts just like ours with her sweet charms - at church, the mall, the grocery store. With every compliment on her beauty, like the Ancient Mariner, we feel compelled to tell her tale. We still thank God for her birth mother, and continue to pray for her - she chose Life and we are forever blessed by her choice. As for Clare, she is living proof that Life is good, and that Life will win. That clarity and light breaks into this world for us every time she smiles, and with every precious beat of her heart. The heart that, in fact, saved her.

The YouTube video of her story is here:

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!" ...