Monday, March 31, 2014

"I am a Sinner" - Pope Francis

The Pope was at a penance service in Rome recently, and after a reflection, when he was to be moved to a prearranged spot by the master of ceremonies, in typical Francis-style, he thwarted their plans and went to a "common" priest (as one news article said) and confessed his sins. I love it. He's driving the Swiss Guards crazy. 

It's like Bob Dylan sang, "You may be an ambassador to England or France. You may like to gamble, you might like to dance.... But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed. You're gonna have to serve somebody..."

By the way, whose feet will he be washing this Holy Thursday, I wonder. "You might be the Vicar of Christ, under all those heavenly lights, but you're gonna have to serve somebody (as He has served us.)"

But Pope Francis is all over service. His life echoes his namesake's St. Francis of Assisi, who once said "Preach the gospel always, and when necessary use words." Our beloved Holy Father is saying through his actions, confession is vitally important. Everybody needs it. It's an encounter with the living Christ. Just do it. 

Urge all souls to trust in the unfathomable abyss of My mercy, because I want to save them all. On the cross, the fountain of My mercy was opened wide by the lance for all souls - no one have I excluded!
- St. Faustina, Divine Mercy in my Soul

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Jesus Gets His Hands Dirty

Back in the mid-1990's, before the internet ruined our lives (I'm kidding. Kidding) I was in the seminary, discerning a possible call to the priesthood. 

They were amazing years, and gave me a solid faith formation, an opportunity to come to know the beautiful heart of the Church from a unique and powerful perspective, and a chance for a brotherhood that in many ways continues today with both brothers who discerned out, like me, and were called to marriage, and those brothers who are now my "fathers" through the gift of priesthood. 

But some things in my seminary experience drove me nuts. Like the guy whom we will call "Brad."

"Brad" had it all laid out. His future was bright. A priestly vocation stocked with the highest of creature comforts. If that sounds bizzare wait for the next line which he actually said out loud. "These hands were made for chalices not callouses." 

Uh. What?

Praise God he was weeded out by the formation team, and I do pray he is happy now and has submitted to the action of the Holy Spirit Who would rightly flush all such nonsensical thoughts and earthly attachments from his head and make a selfless man out of him. 

Chalices not callouses? Have you read the gospels? Have you thought of the life of Jesus as he worked under that scolding hot Palestinian sun? For 18 years! As a blue collar worker, a "tekton" or carpenter/stone mason?

Why else would Jesus call us the salt of the earth? He was the salt of the earth. Poor, humble, hard at work to provide for his mother. And in today's gospel, Jesus gets his hands dirty once again. Sorry "Brad", but he makes mud. He sacramentalizes the earth with his spit. It's true. 

"While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes, and said to the blind man, "Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” - which means Sent. So the blind man went and washed, and came back able to see."
- John 9

Now there's manly. There's a man willing to speak the language of his people; in fact to speak the language of each unique person. The man born blind needed that extra stage. That preparation time to receive and revere the full weight of the glory of sight. 

So all of us must be willing to stick our hands in the mud and mess of life too. To get the callouses that come from our hands at work in the fields of the Lord. 

Our distance from the daily grind of the common man, the poor and the suffering never brought a soul closer to God. It's the descent in humility that prepares our hearts best for the final ascent into glory. 

Pope Francis said, on the plane after World Youth Day this past summer:
"I want to tell you something. What is it that I expect as a consequence of World Youth Day? I want a mess. We knew that in Rio there would be great disorder, but I want trouble in the dioceses! ... I want to see the church get closer to the people. I want to get rid of clericalism, the mundane, this closing ourselves off within ourselves, in our parishes, schools or structures. Because these need to get out!"

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Man is What He Sees

"More necessary than fasting from food today is fasting from images. We live in a civilization of images; we have become devourers of images. Through television, internet, the press, advertising, we let a flood of images enter us... Many of them are unhealthy, they engender violence and malice, they do nothing other than incite the worst instincts we bear within us. They are made expressly to seduce... Feuerback, a materialist philosopher, said: “Man is what he eats”; today, perhaps we should say: “man is what he sees.”

- Fr. Cantalamessa, Lenten Homily 1, 2014

Friday, March 28, 2014

Choices with Bastille, To Kill a King, Emily Wood and Friends

Watch this beautiful work. I absolutely love the way it unfurls, like a quilt woven of gifted and musical passion. It's a slow build, with wonderfully talented bands, vocalists, and soloists appearing and adding their own layer of rhythm or melody as the song literally moves through a grassy stretch of earth and trees. As harmonious and whole as it is musically, culminating in a vast and soothing choral that woos the listener at the end, the piece is a sad one. To use John Paul II's meditation on historical man, who is wounded by sin and left hungry for meaning, it is the quintessential ache of being utterly unfulfilled by another human being. 

There's a melancholy in the heart when we realize this truth: that no human person, no earthly experience can totally fulfill the heart. We try to fill it, we stumble, we sometimes fall. But we are flawed, fractured by our original sin, and we must face it. 

I have the same choices
As you do
As you do
When you fall
Fall like I knew you would
Lead me down down down
Lead me down

As the song sinks into these "choices" that lead down down down, the music still lifts us up. It seems to say that no relationship, no romance can be completely devoid of the hope that springs eternal. 

He's on your doorstep
He's laden with flowers
This garden is freezing teasing
You're leaving me for hours

A song like this for me, pulled and put together as it is from so many bands and gifted young musicians is hope enough. There seems to be a sweet return to music that's soul-crafted, experiential, more real than our techno-pop that tends to dominate. I hope you enjoy the music!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Love is Not Hate

"When you speak all these words to them, they will not listen to you either; when you call to them, they will not answer you. Say to them: This is the nation that does not listen to the voice of the LORD, its God, or take correction..."
- Jeremiah 7

There is an utter simplicity to every waking moment of ours that can truly prepare the way towards happiness or misery, trust and hope, or fog and confusion. It lies in the posture of openness... of receptivity. We say yes or we say no. It's encoded within the moral law. Inescapable. Powerfully purposeful. It is that solid foundation Thoreau wrote about many years ago when he spoke of shoving down ones boots through all of the many layers of opinion and agenda, politics and double-speak until we hit rock bottom. We then choose truth or we don't.

These are harsh words, as strong and biting as a winter wind, because they expose us in all of our utterly naked dependence on God. The truth is I we did not, nor could we ever, create ourselves or the vast framework of reality in which we live and breathe and have our being. So in the end, this simplicity of the truth must either be listened to or ignored. "Do this. Don't do that" always sounds off in the depths of our being. The words of the Lord above flowing through Jeremiah are of course just as applicable to us now as they were for his ancient audience. Either a thing is true or it isn't. We accept it or we reject it. 

Case in point; less than a week ago, the incredibly gifted Sr. Jane Dominic of Aquinas College in Nashville, Tennessee gave a talk at a high school in Charlotte, North Carolina on masculinity and femininity and the wonderful and illuminating differences between them. She spoke a truth ancient and ever new. She then extrapolated near the end on the disorder of homosexuality in the sphere of this masculine/feminine sexual expression of love. As can be seen in any of her online video teachings, (available through the Newman Connection YouTube channel) Sr. Jane delivers the Faith with love, mercy, and compassion. But it was met last Friday with anger, hate, and a student (and parent) led online complaint with over 2000 signatures (as this article attests, some names are fabricated, some authentic)

This was a Catholic High School with a Catholic nun presenting, and arranged by a Catholic Chaplain (a good friend of mine and an amazing and faithful priest by the way) with a mostly Catholic audience of students and teachers. And yet, reportedly, there was a firestorm of reactions.

sample of comments from the online complaint: 

"There was absolutely nothing positive that came out of the nun's mouth that day. I'm upset that the school had to be subjected to such ignorance."

"We are disgusted by the message this talk portrayed and in NO way support it or anyone who presents such twisted and offensive information." 

"This was a poorly veiled attempt to present hate propaganda disguised as something to do with our faith based education." 

"I believe the students of CCHS are far more intelligent than the group behind this "presentation" and saw it for what it was... garbage."

Wow. Now watch Sr. Jane Dominic for a few moments in ANY of the videos she has posted here. And here below is a three minute sample...

What a bunch of garbage right? This content truly has no place in a Catholic school! It's hate propaganda! OK, my brain hurts. Ladies and gentlemen, sanity has indeed left the building.

"When you speak all these words to them, they will not listen to you either; when you call to them, they will not answer you."
- Jeremiah 7

We are strangers in a strange land. Perhaps the best thing to do is just keep listening to the anger, digging in deeper to see what lies beneath it, then spending time before the Great Mystery of the God Who made us, made each of us unrepeatable and unique, receiving that Truth, that reality, and letting it get into our hearts and form us. We have to become so one with this Word of love and truth that no matter the hate we will face it with Love. For Love is the only answer. 

Sr. Jane Dominic, Fr. Matthew Kauth (the school chaplain), Pope Francis and every single faithful and properly formed Catholic on the planet loves every single unrepeatable and unique human person on the planet. In our sexually confusing times, amidst the incredible fallout of the pornographic revolution, where organizations like Planned Parenthood are miseducating our kids (see this piece of actual garbage) the words of Sr. Jane and the light flowing from Blessed John Paul II's Theology of the Body and the compassion and clarity of Pope Francis's words are exactly what we do need in schools. God help us, God bless Charlotte Catholic High School. God bless the young, the confused, the abused, the seekers and the searchers. God bless us everyone!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

So Close to Us

"For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him?"

- Deuteronomy 4

A short reflection for now in this 40 Days of Blogging-palooza... On the Eucharist. 

I actually missed posting yesterday but had at least popped the above verse from yesterday's reading from Deuteronomy in here. It's got power. And as radical as the Jewish receptivity was to this unique, personal, intimate, monotheistic, and deeply monogamous revelation of God to them was, they had no idea just how close He wanted to come. 

The Jews were a joke to their generation, to the pagans surrounding them with their multiple, man made gods who had to be appeased or they'd punish. The Jews believed there was One God and He was more a Lover than a Master, more interested in virgin (or pure and whole) hearts than virgin sacrifices (though admittedly it took a few centuries for that to sink in!)

The Christians though, and the Word they received was far more scandalous. God wants to literally come into our hearts, not just "move" them from afar by His Majesty and Power. He is such a Lover (Love Itself, as St. John would reveal) that He was willing to strip Himself down for us, leave the heavens, become a man and further still become man's food. He'd devised a way to really enter hearts, through our lips. As our food. 

I'll stop there. It's enough to confound angels and send St. Joseph of Cupertino levitating above the church pews (please google him). Let's pray on this. Better still let's become the prey of this Divine Lover who even today wants to consummate His immense love for us at the altar of the Mass. 

"For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him?"
- Deuteronomy 4

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

From Eve's NO to Mary's YES

When I taught high school I tried to teach with visuals as much as possible; movie clips, sacred art, memes, intentional doodling in our notebooks, and then through what I call "theography." It's simply a way to capture the typology of the Old Testament in a graphical, tech savvy way. I use a stylus on the iPad and my favorite app was (and is) Paper by Fifty Three. 

The drawing above tried to capture the dichotomy of the two mothers of the human race, as well as that of the two fathers (or husbands perhaps fits better). 

Typology is an incredibly rich gift for interpreting and understanding Sacred Scripture, and it's as old as the Bible itself. It's essentially God's theography or "divine writing" found in water, rocks, trees, people, places, events. God uses everything in the world and every word of Scripture to speak to us. That's how He rolls, and the wrappings of HisTruth have multiple layers! I'd be continually surprised by my freshmen each year as they discovered new "gems" in our Biblical Studies classes. 

Today is the awesome feast of the Annunciation. The dawn of salvation is breaking over the humble heart of the Virgin of Nazareth, and the angels await her answer with bated breath. When her yes comes it continues to echo throughout her entire life right up until the end. And at that foot of the cross, the yes  again unlocks power. Tremendous power is unleashed by Mary's yes that unravels the sin of the first and of subsequent women throughout history whose yes was repressed, or locked up out of fear of all the yes would entail. 

Christ too unleashes power. His yes fills in the hollow silence that Adam gave when put to the test. 

May we sons and daughters of Eve and of Mary, of Adam and of Christ truly tap into that yes. May it unleash power too for us. The power of His redemption!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Singing the Song

"Why was there a sexual revolution? Because Christians stopped singing the Song of Songs."
- Christopher West

Sr. Cristina Scuccia is an Ursuline nun from Sicily. She is also a powerhouse vocalist and contestant on Italy's version of The Voice, a clever musical talent show where judges judge solely by what their ears are picking up. In this case, they picked a consecrated woman in full habit. 

So passion meets purity. And this seeming contradiction is the exact kind of cultural contraband the media loves to feed off of. A nun belting out an Alicia Keyes tune on stage? Scandalous. Does the Vatican know about this? 

What's sad is the age we live in which thinks that passion and purity are polar opposites. Watching Sr. Cristina sing her heart out (and boy she does) is really the purest of passions and the possible sign of an authentic and integrated self. 

There is something powerful about witnessing this kind of purified passion, one striped of all pretense and pomp. It shoots straight up and hits the clouds, leaving a tiny place through which graces can fall down. During Sr. Cristina's performance on The Voice, one hit Italian rapper J-Ax right in the eyes. As Sister brought her notes to a climactic close, it was clear he was visibly and perhaps spiritually moved. 

Perhaps her witness to the integration of passion and purity will begin a healing for him? Maybe the impressions he's always had of nuns, priests, Catholics, and Church in general have been of prohibition and prudery? Well, may this be the beginning of the end of that way of thinking. She chose him as her voice coach. And something tells me that this little sister knows something about how grace works. 

"Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet. It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but “by attraction”.
- Pope Francis, Joy of the Gospel, 15

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Messiah Walks into a Bar...

Well, that's what the well was, essentially, in the ancient world. A bar. A meeting place. "A watering hole", literally. A place where "everybody knows your name..." A place where everything and probably everyone was talked about. And in today's gospel, Jesus goes there. 

The well was also similar to the bar scene of today because, so often, relationships were born there. Think about it. Moses met Zipporah at a well. Isaac met Rebecca at a well. Jacob met Rachel at a well. And Jesus meets a Samaritan woman... (don't lose the marriage theme here) at a well. 

Problem: She was already married five times. She was presently living with, it would appear, soon to be husband number six. And suddenly there appears number Seven. Lucky her!

The number seven in biblical language and numerology stands for completion, or perfection. The Seventh Day is the Sabbath. The perfect day for rest and contemplation.... and for union with God.

This woman was thirsty; and aren't we all? We thirst for so much more than the bar scene, the water cooler gossip, the Friday night lights, sexual encounters without consequences, pay checks without a deeper purpose in life. "Everybody's working for the weekend" sang Loverboy, but what are we living for? What deep down are we truly thirsting for? 

"In truth, we all thirst for the infinite: for an infinite freedom, for happiness without limits," wrote our Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI. Where do we look? Can we really find it in the stagnant little pools of our own creation, or is it rather in the billows and breakers of the sea of love gushing from Him, the Source of Love at the heart of the world?

The real beauty of this gospel for me is not the thirsty soul but the thirsty Savior. Yes, Jesus is thirsty too. He longs for our hearts, our restless, ridiculous, clueless hearts. He waits for us. He waits behind bars (and sometimes in them), behind the latticework of the structures that we hide behind, in every place and space of every nook and cranny, He waits. Tenderly. 

He knows us so well. He simply wants us to know ourselves too. And how deeply we are loved. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Conversion of Bilbo Baggins

On a long drive this morning to NJ, after the girls fell into what I'd call a strategically placed nap, with only the Boy awake, I popped in my coveted Lord of the Rings audiobook and our feet took again to that Ancient Road that leads to the West. I was struck this time (I'm always struck when I read this masterpiece, by the way) at the sense of conversion and redemption it holds in its pages. Listen to the vulnerability of Mr. Baggins as he explains to Gandalf the hold the Ring of Power has over him and the confusion it engenders. 

Bilbo drew his hand over his eyes. 'I am sorry,' he said. 'But I felt so queer. And yet it would be a relief in a way not to be bothered with it any more. It has been so growing on my mind lately. Sometimes I have felt it was like an eye looking at me. And I am always wanting to put it on and disappear, don't you know; or wondering if it is safe, and pulling it out to make sure. I tried locking it up, but I found I couldn't rest without it in my pocket. I don't know why. And I don't seem able to make up my mind.' 
      'Then trust mine,' said Gandalf. 'It is quite made up. Go away and leave it behind. Stop possessing it. Give it to Frodo, and I will look after him.' 
       Bilbo stood for a moment tense and undecided. Presently he sighed. 'All right,' he said with an effort. 'I will.'
- Fellowship of the Ring, pg. 34, J.R.R. Tolkien

Lent is about letting go of the little rings of power that keep us circumscribed unto ourselves, always circling, never breaking out in linear paths to our great potential. Lent is about our being stripped, emptied of the clutter of the self-conscious life (which is different from the self-aware life) Lent is a chance to clear out the closet of self-importance, pride, egoism, and the endless desire to possess and covet things, which itself is a twisted desire for self-possession. 

But we cannot, as Mr. Baggins could not, do this work alone. We need that supernatural power of grace to assist us, inspire us, and allow us to let go of our addictions. For Bilbo it was the Wizard Gandalf. For Christians, it is The Lord. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Death of Marriage or the Death of Me?

I met this young man a few months ago on a flight to give a talk in the Midwest. Ironically, my talk was on marriage and family and the inherent call within each to "man up" or "woman up" respectively. I asked him if he really believed the sad vibe his shirt was proclaiming. "Nah," he said. "I just wear it for the attention." Really?

Here's a couple of verses from a Bruno Mars song:

Today I don't feel like doing anything
I just wanna lay in my bed
Don't feel like picking up my phone

So leave a message at the tone
'Cause today I swear I'm not doing anything.
I'm gonna kick my feet up
Then stare at the fan
Turn the TV on, throw my hand in my pants
Nobody's gonna tell me I can't. 

Really? That's it. 

Sad are the scenes of men in their thirties lining up for the next GTA series at the video game store, or the "boys" in their late twenties dressed down with their ball caps on backwards at the pubs, sitting beside their girlfriends (who clearly put a lot more time and thought into dressing up for the evening). 

But back to the t-shirt graphic. The man is sad, the woman glad. The game is over. But what game is that?

I know you ladies have your flaws but I'm a guy and one who took too long discerning what to make of my life, so I'll say it plain. I can say it now, fully aware of my many flaws but with ten years on the other side of the altar: we need to man up. The sad face comes when we cling to what we think will bring us joy and retract from what we think will take away our freedom. Like the rich young man, I think many of us men are turning away sad from this invitation to a new life because we fear to let go of our many possessions. 

Marriage can turn self-centered boys into selfless men. Marriage invites men to realize finally and fundamentally their greatest potential and their masculine genius: the call to become a gift. A total Braveheart stretched on the rack, Man of Steel pierced in the chest with Kryptonite, muddy mess of a man whose best work pants have spaghetti sauce on them. Ah, but these are glory scars. Especially the sausage grease on the dress shirt. Classic. 

Maybe marriage is actually, in a certain sense, the end of a game. The game of solitaire. And it's the beginning of a life, and it's a wonderful life. A wonderful life indeed!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Obi-wan Kenobi and Padre Pio

Consider the two men pictured here... They are both bearded, boss, bold in power, and beautifully humble. Perhaps you knew that already. Perhaps you've always known. Search your feelings, reader, you know it to be true! Ben Kenobi and Padre Pio. Yeeessss, your insight serves you well...

And it gets better. They are also each completely Catholic. Did you know that Alec Guinness, after playing the role of Fr. Brown, G.K. Chesterton's crime-solving cleric, had a conversion experience and entered the Catholic Church? (Read this inspiring article for more details on that one!)

An excerpt from the author Rita Reichardt: "Guinness was received into the Catholic Church by the bishop of Portsmouth, and while he was in Sri Lanka making The Bridge over the River Kwai, his wife surprised him by also converting. As is often the case with new converts, he felt periods of deep peace punctuated by physical delight. He recounts once running like a madman to visit the Blessed Sacrament in a little nondescript church. Reflecting on that episode, he wrote, "If religion meant anything at all it meant that the whole man worshiped, mind and body alike . . . There was some reassurance when I discovered that the good, brilliant, acutely sane Ronald Knox had found himself running, on several occasions, to visit the Blessed Sacrament." 

Wow. The force was strong in this one. Impressive.... most impressive. May we have just as much a fire in our hearts for the Lord of Lords as Sir Alec Guinness! 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

St. Joseph and the Crisis in Fatherhood

Two things always drive me nuts in the often gilded but not always accurate hagiography concerning St. Joseph; 1. When he's pictured as a 97 year old man, 2. When he's referred to as the "foster-father" of Jesus. Let's focus on the second for now.

"In this family, Joseph is the father: his fatherhood is not one that derives from begetting offspring; but neither is it an "apparent" or merely "substitute" fatherhood. Rather, it is one that fully shares in authentic human fatherhood and the mission of a father in the family."
- Blessed John Paul II, Redemptoris Custos, 21 

What a comfort this quote is for an adoptive father's heart. We all feel it deeply, we know it intrinsically. The children we adopt are our own, they become our own, and we are owned by them... we are their fathers. No other labels, tags, or adjectives are necessary. This truth, echoed by our Blessed John Paul in his exposition on St. Joseph, is essential to understanding true fatherhood today, even as it suffers so many diabolical attacks. 

People of Faith propose that the “Father from whom all fatherhood on earth is named” has stamped something of His essence into our very existence (cf. Eph 3:14-15 (Blessed John Paul II, Letter to Families, 15). Fatherhood, and motherhood, is deeper than biology. Too often, we find men who are in fact biological fathers, but fall terribly short of the vocation and vision of what authentic fatherhood truly is! Scratch the surface of the crisis in biological fatherhood, the father wound, the absentee father, the weak or the dominating father wound, and it will reveal an even deeper hole in the realm of spiritual fatherhood. 

In his catechesis on the human person, the Theology of the Body, Blessed John Paul II writes that “Christian celibacy (in which Joseph gave himself to God and his bride, Mary) “must lead in its normal development to ‘fatherhood’ or ‘motherhood’ in the spiritual sense... in a way analogous to conjugal love.... On its part, physical generation also fully corresponds to its meaning only if it is completed by fatherhood and motherhood in the spirit, whose expression and fruit is the whole educational work of the parents in regard to the children born of their... union.” (TOB 78:5)

Let's pray on this great feast of fatherhood for a renewed vision and application of the truth of what being father means; to guard and protect, to care for and cultivate the gift of femininity and new life. This is our task, our privilege. And Joseph teaches us this in every action and decision he made for the Holy Family. St. Joseph, Patron and Guardian of the Universal Church, pray for us!!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Sacred Art and the Human Heart

I had a wonderful meeting with the Irish sculptor Dony Macmanus today in Manhattan. A dream of mine to create a course on the Theology of the Body and Sacred Art is starting to take shape as sure as this master forms his works in clay and stone. I know this work needs a solid foundation and thought Dony would be the perfect person with whom to connect for ideas. He has been creating deeply moving work for well over a decade; sculpted pieces, busts and bronze figures and altarpieces (and occasional paintings as well). For most of that time, the fire behind it all has been Blessed John Paul II's Christian anthropology or vision of man and woman, made in the Divine image; the Theology of the Body. Dony discovered the teaching through the comments of a priest visiting him in his studio in 1999, in the middle of his creation of a figure of Christ crucified. Dony was intent on showing the reality of the incarnation of Jesus, building up his sculpture from the very bones of the Word made flesh, adding musculature, sinew and skin, layer on layer. A profoundly prayerful experience. After discovering the Pope's TOB, his work took flight, and through teaching his art in the transcendent light of the TOB, he has been able to draw others deeper into the Word made flesh. Conversions are happening in the studio! Conversions among young artists though contact with the beauty of the human form and the Beauty in Whose Image this form is fashioned. 

"To admire the icons and the great masterpieces of Christian art in general, leads us on an inner way, a way of overcoming ourselves; thus in this purification of vision that is a purification of the heart, it reveals the beautiful to us, or at least a ray of it. In this way we are brought into contact with the power of the truth. I have often affirmed my conviction that the true apology of Christian faith, the most convincing demonstration of its truth against every denial, are the saints, and the beauty that the faith has generated... Today, for faith to grow, we must lead ourselves and the persons we meet to encounter the saints and to enter into contact with the Beautiful.
- Pope Benedict XVI, Message to Conmunion and Liberation, 2002

I'd encourage you to visit Dony's website (below) and pray for the success of his work, our TOB course, and for the hands and hearts of artists the world over. Their's is a vocation of beauty, leading others to beauty, through the beautiful. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Far and Away

"In the far reaches of the human heart there is a seed of desire and nostalgia for God."
- Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, 24

And when you're Irish it's multiplied a thousand times over. 

I've always had an ache, a pull at the heart that comes in sweet pangs of music, rain washed skies, scents and smells, tea, mince, the feel of old polished wooden boards, the yellowed pages of books I've loved, the sound of the tin whistle, the pipes, the loon's cry. Mountains. 

I think this ache is felt everywhere in the human race, but it seems to me (again, with my insider information) that the hearts of the Irish exude it. Perhaps beauty is the culprit? 

Beauty is the arrow of God sent to pierce mortal hearts. It's in the very lilt of the Celtic voice, the deep green quilts of turf that spill and spread themselves over the craggy climbs and cliffs of Ireland, and beauty dances with abandon in Erin's jigs and reels. She weeps in her dirges and airs. If we let ourselves feel this longing, this ache, it can take us to holy places. And holy faces too. To Jesus and Mary and the holy men and women of our race. 

"When men have a longing so great that it surpasses human nature and eagerly desire and are able to accomplish things beyond human thought, it is the Bridegroom who has smitten them with this longing. It is he who has sent a ray of his beauty into their eyes. The greatness of the wound already shows the arrow which has struck home, the longing indicates who has inflicted the wound."

- Nicholas Cabasilas, The Life in Christ, Second Book, 15, 14th century

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Face It or Fear It

If we are to continue in this Lenten journey with sincere hearts intent on deepening our relationship with God and not just keeping the rules or requirements of our faith, then we have to continue our efforts at this authentic "FaceTime" with God. And today, in the second Sunday of Lent, we get it. Oh boy do we get it. 

"Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun..."
- Matthew 17

What a heart-breaking, mind-blowing beauty must have overwhelmed these first century fishermen, standing before that Face. These blue-collar, blistered and hand-calloused men stood with their own weathered faces, creased by countless hours in the light of another sun. It's powerful light was merely the earthly antecedent and icon of the light of the Eternal Son whom they now beheld. 

Think of your own experiences with beauty. A walk in the woods, the piercing rays of a sunrise or sunset over water or mountain. Stepping into the splintered and multi-colored light from high windows, spilling over the marble floors of a great cathedral.... Better still, think of the faces that surround you every day. The unrepeatable people in your daily life. The faces and the names...

Thoreau once reflected in his meditations by the shores of Walden Pond, “To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face?”

Now multiply that ray of beauty to an infinite degree, one that never fades but only increases with each Eternal and Unfolding Now Moment. And this Face of God, this Jesus the Incarnate Son, knit forever to our humanity by His own, is madly in love with you. His Divine Gaze falls (and will fall for all eternity) on your own face, your human face, through and with His human eyes. It's insane, it's completely gratuitous, superabundant madness. It's crazy love.

"Look at Him looking at you," St. Teresa of Avila encourages us. This is Heaven.

In Pope Benedict's encyclical on the virtue of hope, Spe Salvi, he sends us into the fire and the light of this Beautiful Face:

"Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation “as through fire”. But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God."- Pope Benedict XVI, Saved in Hope, 47

Lord of Light, grant us the grace day by day to enter more deeply into this Your Holy Gaze, and not to fear this holy fire. There all can be made new. Let us not be afraid to see Your true Face, and in that light to finally see our own.

"Look to him and be radiant, and your faces may not blush for shame." 
- Psalm 34

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Be Perfect, But Not That Perfect

If you cherry-pick Matthew 5:48 off of the organically blossoming harmonious branch of the thoughts of Jesus on which it is found, you're toast. Your life is going to be a hard one, your family will suffer, your friends too. Perfect doesn't mean flawless. A perfect haircut. Perfect grammar. Something akin to the world of Gattaca, a powerful film with strong Brave New World allusions and genetically modified perfect and miserably boring people.

Today's verse from Matthew 5:48 reads "Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect." When we read that scripture in its proper context, however, we find where it flows from; a more wholistic and holy place - the love of others. 

So perfection in God's eyes means loving perfectly, totally; not being totally distanced from others in the attempt to be pure. 

Blessed John Paul II put it this way. “The perfection of the Christian life is measured, rather, by... love.” 

This means that “perfection is possible and accessible to every human being, whether in a ‘religious institute’ or in the ‘world.’”  In fact, a person who does not live in “the state of perfection” can nonetheless “reach a higher degree of perfection... than a person who lives in the ‘state of perfection’ with a lesser degree of love” (TOB 78:3). 

And perfect love, St. John tells us, casts out all fear. What a sweet and liberating thought. What a freedom awaits the person who embraces the authentic Christian life! 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Which Marriage are You Called To?

This week I've been co-teaching with Fr. Brett Brannen a course on the Theology of the Body designed specifically for priests. It's been such a blessed experience as a married man to enter into the great gift and mystery of this equally spousal call for men to love and serve their bride, the Church (which is made up of each and every one of the laity). 

Each of us in our own way, as we've been reflecting, is called to become a gift, a spousal gift in and through our masculinity, for a bride. Fr. Brett likes to ask young men who are discerning a call to priesthood with a question, and it's not "Are you called to priesthood or married life" but rather "Which marriage are you called to?"

Each vocation reminds us of the spousal call - each contains the call to be a free, total, faithful, and fruitful gift in seed form - single, married, consecrated or ordained for the Kingdom. And the marriage we are all oriented towards, ultimately, is in Paradise. There the hole in the human heart will be filled. So let's pray for our fathers, all of them, that their gift might bear fruit in this world and in the next!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Faces and Names

want to begin today's 40 Days of Blogging post with an extended thought by Pope Francis, interspersed with the captivating photography of Lee Jeffries, the man whose tender images of homeless souls from around the planet continues to inspire me in this year's Lenten journey. To put it bluntly, I'm getting schooled by both of these men. Francis calls me to look up and truly see others - to learn their "faces and names" - and Lee offers them to me, in all of their gritty and gripping power. 

"If we are to share our lives with others and generously give of ourselves, we also have to realize that every person is worthy of our giving. Not for their physical appearance, their abilities, their language, their way of thinking, or for any satisfaction that we might receive, but rather because they are God’s handiwork, his creation..."

"God created that person in his image, and he or she reflects something of God’s glory. Every human being is the object of God’s infinite tenderness, and he himself is present in their lives..."

"Jesus offered his precious blood on the cross for that person. Appearances notwithstanding, every person is immensely holy and deserves our love..."

"Consequently, if I can help at least one person to have a better life, that already justifies the offering of my life..."

"It is a wonderful thing to be God’s faithful people. We achieve fulfilment when we break down walls and our heart is filled with faces and names!"
- Pope Francis, Joy of the Gospel, #274

Lent is, in many ways, a symbol of our entire earthly pilgrimage. It's our movement through history, our personal one with all of its ups and downs, its fog and its light, and that of the whole human family. Lent gives us a lens, a wider scope of vision, inviting us to see the whole picture of our existence, our dreams, desires, our aches and longings for intimacy, and our often futile attempts to fulfill these desires on our own. That's why we fast. We fast during Lent to focus more clearly on this desires. 

If we truly fast, allowing ourselves to be stripped so that God's glance can "pierce our naked hearts" then these hollows make us hunger for faces and names. Faces and names that we can say we know, intimately, and whom we can say know us. For when Easter breaks like match-fire over this our dark history, when that Resurrection Day finally dawns, this is all that will really matter, isn't it? The faces we met, the names we came to know and learn by heart. 

When Lord, did we see You cold and hungry? Ah, there all along! In the faces and names that were surrounding me... And all of these now sing as a great cloud of witnesses...

We are made for one another. 
We are meant for one another. 

To see more of Lee Jeffries work, visit:

To read more of Pope Francis's Joy of the Gospel, visit:

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Enduring the Glance

I had FaceTime with my daughter Clare today. As you can see in the screenshot above, she OWNS FaceTime. She literally IS FaceTime. 

There's something so beautiful about children at this age (she's 3). There's an intensity and an exuberant joy in everything. It comes beaming from those eyes like barbed lightning. Those all expressive eyes! It got me thinking about this incredible insight from Von Balthasar that I've been meditating on this Lent:

"Holiness consists in enduring God's glance.  It may appear mere passivity to withstand the look of an eye; but everyone knows how much exertion is required when this occurs in an essential encounter. Our glances mostly brush by each other indirectly, or they turn quickly away, or they give themselves not personally but only socially.  So too do we constantly flee form God into a distance that is theoretical, rhetorical, sentimental, aesthetic, or most frequently, pious. Or we flee from him to external works. And yet, the best thing would be to surrender one's naked heart to the fire of this all-penetrating glance. The heart would then itself have to catch fire... it would be yielding, declaring oneself beaten, capitulating, entrusting oneself, casting oneself into him."

What an incredibly insightful thought. And then it gets even better!

"It would be childlike loving, since for children the glance of the father is not painful: with wide-open eyes they look into his. Little Thérèse - great little Thérèse - could do it. Augustine's formula on the essence of eternity: videntem videre - ‘to look at him who is looking at you.’"
- Hans Urs Von Balthasar, The Grain of Wheat

I think our earthly life is a practice for this eternal "FaceTime" with the God of Beauty. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Way to Be as Happy as Pharrell Williams (actually happier)

The ancients knew we were made for it, we moderns are constantly seeking it: Happiness. It's often associated with peace, rest, contentment, or completion. It's the nunc dimittis we all hope to whisper at the end of our day. No matter who you are, where you are, it appears as the Lode Star for all human activity and is the final sentence when the conversation is ending and the decisions have been determined.... "Well, as long as it makes you... happy."

We are often deceived into thinking this peace or happiness can be crafted by us. That we can "make it happen." But when the word is "baptized" or completed, it's spelled beatitude or blessedness. This blessedness is a gift. It is "bestowed" upon the heart as a gift, not as something we manufacture. 

But let's just cut to the chase. How do we get there? How can we prepare the soil of our hearts for the seed of happiness? Here are three ways to "get happy."

1. Stop trying to be happy. 
2. Stop chasing after things to make you happy. 
3. Just be..... and you will be happy. 

I'm thinking you're thinking this is too simplistic, but it is. Thank God. 

Ultimately, when all's said and done, this maddening, swirling, sometimes beautiful, often times busted up enigma we call human life is simple; it's either a yes, or it's a no. It's a humble, gracious, Job-like "Thank You Lord for everything You've done for me!" or a stubborn, restless, job like "Now everything's up to me!" With the first path, He Who is Love, not happiness, is the goal, and happiness is the fruit of that encounter. In the second way, happiness, not He, is the goal, and there is actually seldom any substantial encounter at all. One way is totally receptive in all things to the Love of the Other, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to death so us part. The other attempt at happiness is  deceptive for the love is turned towards myself. My contentment, my completion. My needs. 

Opening Door #1, that is to the Other, means we become more conscious of ourselves, of others, of the Great Mystery, and we realize we are here solely to love. We see complications melt away and learn to live each present moment as a gift. We don't try to manufacture joy the way we once did, with elaborate schemes, or expensive trips, or restless amd fruitiness encounters. 

Door #2 opens not into the Grand Ballroom of a Wedding Feast but into a closed in closet of our own small pleasures and plans. 

So to be happy, stop trying so hard. Looking so hard. Cramming things into the God-shaped hole in your heart expecting them to "make you happy." That's not how it happens. Open the door to Love. Or rather, let Love open the door and come to you. For He has yearned long to share a meal with you. To share Himself with you. 

Now "clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do..."

Monday, March 10, 2014

Strangers in Paradise?

I read the first couple of lines from today's gospel (Matthew 25) and, for a moment, could get no further.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne,and all the nations will be assembled before him."
In the end, the final consummation, with the closing of one seemingly massive book of history, and before the opening of Another Book which will in fact be the Beginning of All Things, we will find all of humanity and all of the angels (an immense mass of trillions and trillions of persons) gathered before the Word Made Flesh. Not a single person that ever existed will be excluded, human or angelic. You and I are included in the mix.

You and I, and your entire family tree, and mine, and the cashier at the grocery store, and the girl you had a crush on in the 8th grade, and Adolf Hitler, and your Guardian Angel, and Brad Pitt and that homeless lady you always felt uncomfortable passing on the way to the office, and St. Ignatius of Loyola, and well, you get the idea. Wow. A total reckoning. A total and definitive conglomeration of the unique and unrepeatable personal mysteries that we all are.... gathered before the Divine Heart from whence our essences we first came forth.

But at this final gathering, as seen in the gospel of today, this crowd seemed, if I might say... a little... clueless.
‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world."
Huh? Why? How?
"For I was hungry and you gave me food,I was thirsty and you gave me drink,a stranger and you welcomed me..."
What? "Lord, when did we see you... Hungry. Thirsty. Naked. Locked up. Alone. Isolated. Ill. Aching for intimacy?"

When you saw another, you saw Me.

Wait, whaaaat.... YOU were in our mix? Here? Beside us... all along? I thought You were in the clouds, in my mind, in my "spiritual life" but what? You were mixed up in it all? In the blood, sweat and tears? The pots and pans, the dark nights, the bright mornings, the magnificent joys and the mediocrity? You? Here?

Yes. Where else would I be? Where else would Love desire to dwell than with the Beloved?

I discovered a man named Lee Jeffries this morning. He is a photographer who has given us a beautiful and sometimes disturbing window into the reality of the God Who is in our mix, of the naked, poor, broken, bruised and beautiful God Who is among us through his visual meditations. Find his work here. And may the portal he has opened up through his camera lens fill in the rest of these words. May the fruit of your meditation blossom into a new way of seeing today.... of seeing everyone. It's preparation for that final gathering, it's the social before we enter the Main Hall where the Feast and the Dance begins. So let's introduce ourselves to one another now. There can't be any strangers in Paradise.

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!" ...