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!

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!" ...