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

FacebookTwitterPinterestYoutubeIn Theaters March 23

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

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!" ...