Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Bottom Line

I was praying while driving back to the house this afternoon - feeling down about events this past year. "God, this can't be Your will...Well, it's obviously Your will to allow it...so I guess passing through this IS Your will...But when are You going to set things right?" And suddenly the "ground" under me was a bit more solid. Because if it is within His will, then there isn't failure; it's not the end of the story. He didn't give me any indication how or when He would bring something of value out of this; but the realization that this was within His permissive will made a difference.

The second movement in my prayer had to do with the thoughts that have come to me repeatedly these past weeks: "Give up. Stop struggling like this. Why do you 'stay'?" And the answer that came from within, very matter-of-factly, was "Because He wants me to." No emotion to it, no passion in it. At the deepest part of me though, there He is. He is my reason for being...I love Him. And its not flowery; there's no sweetness right now. But there is commitment - there is Love. I feel frazzled and so self-centered with all my concerns, but somehow the Holy Spirit has managed to plant this seed deep down, to lay this foundation. Isn't this exactly what St. Paul wrote about though? "The love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit" (Romans 5:5). What MERCY - God enabling us to Love Him! If He hadn't, a weak heart like mine would have given out long ago.

My prayer for us in this new year - "God, let this foundation You laid in us through Baptism endure. Clear away whatever we've built on it that isn't of You. Let us have the peace of trusting in You, trusting in this good future You have planned."

"Suit Up!"

While I've been on Christmas break, I've spent some time catching up on How I Met Your Mother. Barney would drive that Escalade I wrote about in my last post!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

"SIN ROX"

I was actually behind an Escalade with that license plate the other day! About 10% of my brain was offended, but the other 90% gave way to laughter. It was just so cartoonish - it raised "piss on" decals to the level of a quip from Mark Twain! Who but a cartoon villain actually goes around praising sin?

A second's reflection told me that he wasn't praising "sin" like the Nazi's extermination of six million Jews though. No, he was celebrating the "naughty," fun things we do - like getting blitzed and hooking up with a hot stranger for the night. 'Cause dude, that ROCKS! Ooh, but what if another dude got blitzed and hooked up with your little sister for the night? Would that rock? If you're human at all, I hope you'll say "no." But then...it'd be a total bummer if you had to rethink a vanity plate that rox as hard as yours.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

New Website

Just wanted to put it out there that I'm in the process of creating a new website, Explaining Christianity.com. In a few months time my first book, The God Who is Love: Explaining Christianity From Its Center, will be published; and this is the site that will allow people to look at excerpts, read endorsements, and even download a free copy. The book will be offered in paperback through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-A-Million, etc.; but I don't want price to stand in anyone's way. The site isn't ready to allow downloads yet, but please check out its layout and let me know what you think. And hey - MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Hot N Cold

"Someone call the doctor
Got a case of a love bipolar...
'Cause you're hot then you're cold
You're yes then you're no
You're in and you're out
You're up and you're down
You're wrong when it's right ..."

Katy Perry's lyrics always give me something to think about. (My first post was a reflection on her "I Kissed a Girl.") This evening I find them to be a perfect segue for discussing those words from Jesus two posts back, ""I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth" (Revelation 3:15-16). Everyone holds up signs reading "John 3:16;" but why not Revelation 3:16? I ask that rhetorically. It's easy to see why not - most Christians prefer a caricature of Jesus to the actual Person recorded for us in Scripture. We prefer an imaginary Jesus, who forgives our failings but makes no demands. The imaginary Jesus never gets upset - unless it's at religious bullies, and they've got it coming, don't they? He came to relieve suffering (because pain, not separation from God, is the ultimate evil) and to teach us that if we'll just be "tolerant" enough of everyone else's opinion (translation = truth does not exist in fact, but is what we individually believe it to be), peace will finally come.

That is NOT the Person we find in the New Testament - or in any kind of historical research on Jesus of Nazareth. "Caricature Jesus" isn't the type of guy that gets nailed to a Cross! (And calls his followers to join him.) The real Jesus is a passionate lover, who forces us to make a decision, "He who is not with Me, is against me" (Matthew 12:30); "Do not think I have come to bring peace to the earth, but the sword" (Matthew 10:34). No, not a sword of physical violence, but of Truth/Reality:

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 12:12-13)

Jesus is like the doctor who has to tell the patient he has cancer; hiding the gravity of the situation, denying the need for aggressive treatment, wouldn't be doing the patient justice.

Recently, a friend of mine (also Catholic) got very excited when she found out I had a blog. I don't think that excitement lasted very long though; when we next spoke she diplomatically told me, "I don't agree with you on many things." She didn't elaborate; and my sense was that it wasn't the right moment to ask her to either. From little things she's shared in the past though, I fear her disagreement has to do with Jesus' s teachings regarding sexuality; and that makes me terribly sad. We are supposed to be in a real, life-giving relationship with Jesus of Nazareth, our brother and God. We can't pick and choose what parts of His message we are going to live by. That's like picking which part of the marriage vow you're going to honor. Oh, plenty of people try to do it...and thus our 50% divorce rate. Hot or cold - thinking that you can exist as "lukewarm" is self-deception. I'm not saying this as someone looking down from a summit; I think I've blogged enough about going to Confession to prove that that isn't the point. Christianity is Life-giving, it gives Divine Life; but only when we fully surrender ourselves to Jesus. We come, broken as we are, sinful as we are, and allow Him to embrace us - embracing Him in turn. We ask for, and receive, the help of His Holy Spirit. And then we have the ability to Love and Live the Reality, the Life that Jesus (the real Jesus) proclaimed!

If you're reading this, please pray for me. Please pray for my friend too - a beautiful, smart, young woman looking for her heart's passion.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Very Sad, Very Timely

I woke up this morning, thought back over the past evening I had spent in front of the television, and felt sad. Many choices were made yesterday; we've made it clear what we as a people value most, and what – no, who – we are willing to sacrifice in a blind attempt to ensure a more comfortable future. Words from the Gospel of Luke came immediately to mind, and the thought that we can now substitute the names of many other cities for that of Jerusalem:
As Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city, He wept over it…“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes…I tell you, you will not see Me again until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord’…because you did not recognize the time of your visitation, of God’s coming to you.” (Luke 13:34-35; 19:41-44)
We sow the wind and reap…
Last year, on the 35th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision, Barack Obama, our newly elected president released the following statement:
Thirty-five years after the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, it's never been more important to protect a woman's right to choose. Last year, the Supreme Court decided by a vote of 5-4 to uphold the Federal [Partial Birth] Abortion Ban, and in doing so undermined an important principle of Roe v. Wade: that we must always protect women's health. With one more vacancy on the Supreme Court, we could be looking at a majority hostile to a women's fundamental right to choose for the first time since Roe v. Wade. The next president may be asked to nominate that Supreme Court justice. That is what is at stake in this election.
Throughout my career, I've been a consistent and strong supporter of reproductive justice, and have consistently had a 100% pro-choice rating with Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America.
When South Dakota passed a law banning all abortions in a direct effort to have Roe overruled, I was the only candidate for President to raise money to help the citizens of South Dakota repeal that law. When anti-choice protesters blocked the opening of an Illinois Planned Parenthood clinic in a community where affordable health care is in short supply, I was the only candidate for President who spoke out against it. And I will continue to defend this right by passing the Freedom of Choice Act as president.
He was simply reiterating a promise he made to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, six months before, when on July 17, 2007, he said, ”The first thing I'd do, as president, is sign the Freedom of Choice Act. That's the first thing that I'd do."

And what is the Freedom of Choice Act? California Senator Barbara Boxer, co-sponser of the bill, had earlier released a statement explaining that:
The Freedom of Choice Act supercedes any law, regulation or local ordinance that impinges on a woman’s right to choose. That means a poor woman cannot be denied the use of Medicaid if she chooses to have an abortion…abortions cannot be prohibited at public hospitals, giving women more choices than private clinics...we respect a woman’s ability to make her own decisions, and don’t force women to attend anti-choice propaganda lectures, which submits women to misleading information, the purpose of which is to discourage abortion. This means that women serving in our country in the military overseas would be able to afford safe abortions that can be performed in a military hospital.
Tax money, state and federal, would be mandated to fund abortions. Ask God to have mercy on us - that this be a campaign promise that our new president fails to keep; we already have too much blood on our hands.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Gag Reflex

Papal infallibility = God's Gag Reflex. Irreverent of me? Don't cry "blasphemy" just yet; all will be explained.

That picture is awesome though. Must...look...away...to begin writing. Alright, lets establish what the Church means by papal infallibility. Bottom line - the pope is protected from teaching something that is false, WHEN a very specific set of criteria is met:
  1. He speaks as the Successor of Peter, Head of the Apostles
  2. upon a matter of faith or morals,
  3. with the intention of instructing the entire Church
So the Catholic Church is NOT claiming that the Pope:
  • is infallible when he reflects on the readings during a Sunday homily
  • speaks infallibly on matters of science, mathematics, economic policy, politics, etc.
  • will speak out when he should (cowardice could keep him from speaking at all)
  • will enunciate the truth as clearly as is possible
  • doesn't sin (that would be impeccability, not infalliblity; and the Church has NEVER claimed impeccability for the Pope.)
The Church's ONLY claim regarding papal infallibility is that when three criteria are met, God will RESTRAIN the Pope from saying something FALSE. (Yeah, when I called it the "Divine Gag Reflex," I was talking about a different kind of "gag" - the kind you stuff in a mouth. I know, I'm horrible. Got you reading though, didn't I?) Infallibility is a completely negative gift; God will not allow the Pope to insert something false into the official body of Truth entrusted by Jesus to the Church. God would "reflexively" act to stop such an attempt.

Where do we Catholics come up with this belief? Like everything else, we trace it back to Jesus. He made some pretty startling promises to those Apostles:
“He who hears you hears Me, and he who rejects you rejects Me” (Luke 10:16)
"[The Holy Spirit] will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. . .He will guide you into all the truth” (John 14:26; 16:13)
Paul the Apostle, knowing Jesus' teaching, and himself moved by the Holy Spirit, wrote of "the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). WOW - Jesus' intent was for the Church to be the place that the world could turn to hear the Truth, to get a reality check. And what measures did He, does He, take to guarantee this?

He called a fisherman named Simon, and after changing his name to Peter (Rock), Jesus told him, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). The Jewish mind of the first century, hearing those words, would have immediately shot back to the Israelite monarchy. Jesus was adopting the terminology used to refer to the Master of the Palace, or vizier - what we today would call the "Prime Minister." He was second in command after the king (2 Kings 18:18; 15:5), and as such held "the keys of the kingdom." Flip to Isaiah 22:21-23 and examine how Jesus made use of the same vocabulary in speaking to Simon-Peter.

Jesus, in announcing the Kingdom of God, was announcing that all of the promises God had made to King David about an everlasting kingdom, were about to be fulfilled. Jesus, the descendant of David, was the long-awaited Messiah; and He was renewing Israel. Israel had begun with the 12 sons of Jacob - its renewal with the 12 Apostles of King (Christ) Jesus. And Peter was to be the Prime Minister, using the power of the keys to bind God's people to Truth and the way of Love. It would be meaningless to speak of the authority of other ministers to bind and loose apart from their unity with Peter. Jesus' purpose wasn't to make Peter some type of dictator in regard to the other Apostles; in Christ’s Kingdom the greatest is meant to serve the rest. Part of Peter's service, and that of the Popes who have succeeded him in office, is to speak the final word when matters are in dispute, thus maintaining the unity of the Church/Kingdom. This service is especially important when the ones arguing are fellow shepherds.

And so we have Jesus' words to Peter, "You are Rock, and on this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matt.16:17-19). What is the power of hell? Deception. The devil deceives; that's always been his M.O. And to combat this Jesus gave Peter the keys - authority to speak out, definitively binding the Church to Truth and loosing it from deception.

Now, Jesus can't mean that Peter gets to flip a coin, decide what is true, and God will magically rearrange spiritual and temporal realities to make it so. God isn't manipulated! No, Peter is simply a minister in Another's Kingdom. Peter speaks to the Church and world on behalf of the King (Who has ascended into Heaven). To use the power of the keys demands a reflexive action on God's part - "gagging" Peter, preventing him in some way, if he ever attempted to teach something that was false. At the same time, when God allows Peter to teach the Church, He expects it to be adhered to. Ignoring Peter? Well, remember what Jesus had said, "“He who hears you hears Me, and he who rejects you rejects Me” (Luke 10:16). Whenever the pope speaks in his official capacity (remember those 3 criteria I started with?) as Successor to Peter, Prime Minister of the Kingdom, the same is true.

Oh hey, I do recall Jesus talking about having a gag reflex - yes, a true, biological gag reflex. After His resurrection He told the Apostle John to write a letter to the church in Laodicea, "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth" (Revelation 3:15-16).

Hey, three shout-outs before I wrap up. First, to Strunk - did you notice that I used your word "irreverent?" Second, to Pete for his encouragement and prayers. And third, to Duran Duran for their song The Reflex. I think we can all agree that that's a gift that keeps on giving.

Monday, November 3, 2008

"I Love It When a Plan Comes Together"

Powerful words, from one of our nation’s greatest (and least appreciated) heroes. I had a couple of moments this weekend when things seemed to click together, and I couldn’t help but feel like I’m getting a glimpse of Someone’s plan:

First, I'm sure you’ve noticed how Catholics often follow their praying of the Our Father, or Lord’s Prayer, with the Hail Mary. What caught my attention was how theologically profound that is. In the Our Father we petition God for everything that we will need during this day: that His way of doing things spreads through our lives and throughout the whole earth; that we be able to forgive those who have hurt us; and that we be protected from evil. And then in the Hail Mary we turn to the person who opened herself to receive these blessings like no other! With real excitement we can pray, “Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee! Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus!” Excitement – because in Mary we see what happens when we pray the Our Father from the depths of our heart. As John Paul II pointed out, the Hail Mary is a Christ-centered prayer; it’s all about what God did, in her! And we want the miracle of the incarnation to continue, for us to give flesh and bone to God the Son. Really, isn’t that what we’re asking for each time we pray the Our Father, for us, for every human being, to be remade in Jesus’ image? And each time we finish the Hail Mary, we ask her to pray for this too, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of death.”

The second thing that clicked with me had to do with incense. No, not that cutesy stuff from Bed, Bath & Beyond - I’m talkin’ ole-school, briquette in a censer, incense. You see, on special feast days, like this past Sunday’s All Souls Day, the priest incenses the gifts to be offered in the Eucharist. (It’s a very hip practice, going back to the Israelites’ wandering in the desert. The Book of Revelation shows the saints in Heaven offering incense to God – and then identifies that incense as our prayers [Rev.5:8]!) What finally caught my attention this past weekend though was how the priest didn’t just incense the bread and wine; he came around to the front of the altar and swung the incense out over the congregation as well. YES - we are part of the offering; we are to be transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. The transformation that takes place on the altar, occurs SO THAT we may be transformed. We (our thoughts, words, actions, our very beings) are to be made part of Jesus’ Love and response to the Father.

In writing this, I realize that both of the above realizations are actually only one - examples of the Gospel in miniature: “We live in Jesus and He in us; Heaven can begin right here and now.”

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Can I Get a "What What"?

"Raisin' da roof" I always love All Saints Day - giving props to our awesome older brothers and sisters. Once upon a time I felt differently, worried that honoring the saints took something away from the honor I was supposed to be giving to God alone. I realize now, however, that nothing could be farther from the truth. Let me explain:

I could stare at my two kids all day; their mom and I see them as the two most beautiful creatures, both inside and out, on the face of the entire earth. And nothing makes us happier than when someone else notices that beauty and pays them a compliment. I think that every parent has the same experience - and we feel this way because we have been made in the "image and likeness" of our common parent, God (Genesis 1:26) ! God loves it when the beauty of His children is recognized and honored. First, because, as members of His Family, doing so means that we are loving our own brothers and sisters (what parent doesn't love that?); and second, because we recognize that everything we see in the saints has God for its source. (Just like when someone "oohs and ahs" over a famous painting; in truth, they're praising not the art, but the artist).

My own prayer last night focused on the second aspect, "Lord, I am amazed by the purity and strength you poured into the Blessed Mother; the love, humility, and responsibility you filled Joseph with; the humility and simplicity of your daughter Therese..."

Hey- as I was writing this I just received a call that my pregnant sister-in-law is in the hospital. Please stop and say a prayer for your sister Becky...AND why not go ahead and ask our older siblings in heaven to do the same? Word.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The "Fire" of Hell?

To fully appreciate this post, you really need to have read the one just prior (or "below it," in the world of blogs). That said, I'm jumping in.

Several years ago, I heard Dr. Scott Hahn speculate on the fire of hell; and while this isn't what you'd call de fide doctrine, I think many people might benefit from his thoughts. Hahn branched off from what we've already looked at concerning the "fire of purgatory," that it is a transformative encounter with God Himself (Hebrews 12:29, 1 Cor.3:12-15) - the touch of God burning away whatever sin and imperfection keeps us from full participation in His Divine Life. We ourselves are set aflame with this Divine Life; we dwell in the All Consuming Fire, and He dwells in us! Hahn asks if the Fire of Hell could be the same Fire, God - but as He is experienced by a person who refuses Him entry, refuses to be taken up into Divine Life? Keeping God only at the "surface" of their being, they experience Him as "Fire," but refuse the transformative nature of His embrace.

You see, each of us, at every moment, are held in existence by nothing but God's will. That's the corollary truth to having been called into existence from nothing; if we ever ceased to be part of God's will, we would simply unravel. (Wow - that makes sitting on the couch and watching the tube seem pretty spiritual - never mind something as glorious as Bridget cramming that whole White Castle into her mouth). Every being has to be held in existence by Him - there can't be a being who is completely free of His "touch," not even the devil himself. But for one who refuses to be in relationship with Him, this touch would be agonizing. It's like the child, absolutely starving, who stubbornly refuses every bite of food his mother puts before him. He screams and protests, "It's not the food I want," refusing his mother's attempts to explain that it's what his constitution needs. Unwilling to violate her child, she won't shove her fist down his throat and deposit the food in his gullet. Her love for him forces her to let him be, to writhe and protest - becoming ever more angered by her looks of concern.

No one "goes" to hell by accident. It's a choice; a stubborn refusal to accept our place in God's Family. Instead of living within the parameters our Father established for us - established because He created us, and knows what we need far better than we do - we dig in our heels and choose what is incompatible with Divine Life. St. Paul gives a list of such behaviors, 1 Corinthians 6:9. If we choose these over God, and refuse to reorient ourselves, God will not force us to receive Him. He respects our freedom so much that He allows us to keep Him at bay, to create our own experience of hell.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Fire of "Twilight"

Well, the fourth book in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight- series actually, Breaking Dawn. That’s right, I too partook of the forbidden fruit (note the cover art). I really enjoyed reading these books, and there’s a lot that could be said from the faith-angle; but tonight I’m sticking with the themes of fire and the resurrection/glorified body.


SPOILERS ABOUND – you have been warned.
In book four, Bella finally became the bloodsucker she’d always hoped to be. These aren’t your run-of-the-mill, B-movie bloodsuckers though. The vampires of Twilight, while being blood-drinkers, are creatures of light. That’s right – in sunlight they become luminous; like a diamond, their skin refracts light. But I digress. The agent of Bella’s transformation was venom from the teeth of her beloved, very-pretty-yet-masculine-vampire Edward.
What I found so fascinating was the way the venom worked: it coursed through Bella’s body, an unseen, transforming fire. She felt as if she had been taken out of time; nothing existed but the fire. Her weakness and imperfections were re-cast as the fire methodically worked its way through her, the flames finally drawing in to focus upon her heart. And then she awoke, as if seeing reality for the first time.

That’s purgatory – an encounter with “God, [Who] is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). It can take place completely in this life, or it can be finished after our death; it all depends on how much we cooperate in the process. Two blogs back, I referenced 1 Peter 1:7, where we’re given the image of God refining us like gold in fire. He visits us in trials, allowing them to bring imperfections to the surface. And then with God’s grace we deal with them. We allow the Holy Spirit, often imaged by fire, to purify and transform us. God has to “pry us open” and deal with what we keep hidden in the depths of our souls. Jesus was adamant that “from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man” (Mark 7:21-23). When we shed our bodies at death do the impurities, the imperfections in our capacity to love, just disappear? If they are in the heart, and we take that with us, then no – and thus the need for an encounter with the fire of God’s Love after death. The Apostle Paul spoke of such a purification accompanying our judgment, “the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).

And this brings me to my next point – Bella’s new vampiric life as an image of resurrection and the glorification of the body. I was struck by how similar this “new” Bella was to the risen Jesus. First, there’s the subtlety of the body – to think is to move; there’s no more friction between mind (spirit) and matter. Bella’s senses are sharpened and integrated by a new mental agility – she recognizes beauty even in whirling specks of dust. The speed with which she moves reminds me of Jesus, appearing and disappearing as He chose. And then there’s Bella’s changed appearance – even her own father needed reassurance that it was really her. We see something similar in the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection. He appeared and spoke with people who had known Him in his former life; but they didn’t recognize Him, until He desired them to (Luke 24:16; John 20:14). The prior form is there, but it has been changed. The beauty of the soul, and the beauty of God within the human soul, must show through the body in a new way. The ability to disclose ourselves to another must become dependent on something more than our appearance registering with their ocular nerve and cerebral cortex. (There’s mystery here to be sure – can’t wait to discover the answer!)

The other thing that strikes me is how Bella’s metamorphosis allows her to interact with Edward on a completely different level. It wasn’t until Bella was transformed that she could really engage Edward physically. They had married, and they had consummated that union; but Edward was always having to hold back, unable to unleash the full force of his passion because Bella was simply too fragile to handle it. There’s something to be said there about our relationship with God. In the beginning, He may seem to treat us with kid gloves. But as we progress, as we begin to mature, He begins calling us to embrace more and more of the Cross – for virtue to grow and be solidified through trial. When we read the saints, we catch glimpses of how each step on the road to Heaven brought deeper, more intense experiences of God’s presence. Like Bella, they found themselves bruised at times – but they “hardened” (becoming, in fact, more and more tender) and able to engage God as slightly more mature children. Their vision is sharpened, and they see the world a bit more clearly – sharing the gaze of its Maker. Don’t you get the feeling that when Mother Teresa looked at a street in Calcutta, she saw something there that escapes you and I? Rest assured, now that her transformation is complete, she sees even more.

By our being fused to the humanity of Jesus, we "participate in the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4) ! Saints have used the image of a piece of iron, plunged into a fire: even though it remains iron, it takes on the "nature," the characteristics and properties of the fire - its heat and color. Jesus has opened up a new way of being human. Listen to how St. Paul describes Jesus' Church, His Spouse; she is "the fullness of Him Who fills the universe" (Ephesians 1:23). The Church, joined eternally to Jesus, is "Christ come to full stature" (Ephesians 4:13). In Jesus, we will be engulfed in God's Fiery Love, in God Himself! "Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Jesus appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is" (1 John 3:2).

Now, still to consider: Why does our agnostic vampire, Edward, have such strong convictions about right and wrong, virtue and vice?

NOTE: A slightly adapted form of this post appeared on Catholic Exchange, Dec.26th, 2009.


Talk About the Wonder of Creation!

Earlier tonight, I witnessed my co-worker Bridget stuff an entire White Castle into her mouth. It was glorious...and I am renewed.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

"Duh"

"Behold this Heart, which has loved men so much..."
-Jesus, in an apparition to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1675)

I've thought about Jesus' Heart quite a bit over the past year and a half, but I never really looked at it - thus the name of this post.

I finally did while praying the Rosary (the Sorrowful mysteries) on the way to work. I saw It in my mind's eye as a real human heart, bearing the wounds of the Passion: the bleeding gouge from the spear, the crown of thorns encircling and digging into it, and the Cross "planted" in its center. But I knew that this heart continued to beat, and was
on Fire, with Divine Love.

This heart beats - like yours, like mine. Suffering is not the last word - "Love" is. Suffering just brings It into stark relief.

"How Far We've Come"















What a great song:
"I believe the world is burning to the ground
Oh well I guess we're gonna find out
Let's see how far we've come (right now)
Let's see how far we've come
Well I, believe, it all, is coming to an end
Oh well, I guess, we're gonna pretend,
Let's see how far we've come (oh yeah)
Let's see how far we've come"

It's truly apocalyptic; it's about "revealing," about pulling back the curtain to see what's really taking place. And that's what we Christians get with suffering. (No, I'm not done with that theme yet.) God is all about using the things that go wrong in this world, to the benefit of His Beloved. It's when things fall apart, when we're stripped bare, that we found out who we really are. Do you keep your kind tone with the kids when you're head is throbbing? Do you fight to overturn Roe vs. Wade, even when it means electing someone who might cripple your family budget even more? Do you still love and desire good for your spouse (angry and hurt as you might be) when they demand a "no fault" divorce? Is God still an "Awesome God" when your body is riddled with cancer?

It's easy to have Faith when everything is going well -but Faith is proved, and reinforced, and deepened when we live it in the midst of suffering. To be real, it has to be lived! And living it gives a union with God, even now, that carries us through. Give these verses a couple of minutes:

Jesus in John 16:33, "In this world YOU WILL HAVE TROUBLE. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

1 Peter 1:6-9, "For a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith - of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire - may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls."

James 1:2-5, "Consider it pure joy my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him."

Friday, October 24, 2008

E.R. Stat !

Kickin' it old school in the picture department. It really struck me that for a Christian suffering can be like open heart surgery. Like a rib spreader, it can be God's way of opening us up, making us take a look and address what we've turned a blind eye to.
Like Emeril with a "BAM!" the Old Testament's Book of Sirach just puts it out there, the fact that we WILL suffer: "My son, when you come to serve the LORD, prepare yourself for trials...Cling to him, forsake him not; thus will your future be great. Accept whatever befalls you, in crushing misfortune be patient. For in fire gold is tested, and worthy men in the crucible of humiliation. Trust God and he will help you; make straight your ways and hope in him" (Sirach 2:1-6).

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Hitting the Jackpot

I went to Confession a while back, and I had what I can only describe as an awesome time preparing for it. I KNOW - I never have that experience either!

There was one thing that I wasn't sure how to get out, and after mentally trying various ways to phrase the sin, the thought came to me, "Ask the Holy Spirit how He wants you to say it." So I did...and then a brief, honest way to confess the sin took shape in my head. My anxiety evaporated. And when I hopped in the shower and started to get ready to go, I found myself talking to the Lord and thinking about the things that were going on in my life.

There's a whole lot that I don't talk about in this blog; objectively speaking I'm probably going through the most difficult struggle of my life. Something I never dreamed could happen, suddenly is; and the outcome is completely beyond my control. The thing is though, I'm not being crushed by it. I say this as someone who has struggled with clinical depression before; it seems like I should be coming apart emotionally, but I'm not. It bowled me over to realize how gracious and generous God had been, how much He had to be doing in my soul to keep me together. As bad as things have gotten on the outside, a calmness - a joy even - is there in my center. I have moments, periods, of sadness and anger. I'm not in denial about anything; but there isn't the depression I would expect.

When I talked with my confessor, sharing my sins as well as the struggle I'm passing through right now, he too had the same sense - that God is just being so incredibly loving and faithful. If feelings of sadness or anger catch up with me, then God will let it happen when I'm able to turn and deal with them. I'm writing about this, because chances are that you need to know that there is nothing that God won't stand with you - no, IN you - as you pass through it. I've always doubted those infomercials where someone comes on and says, "If it worked for me, it can work for anyone;" but from the bottom of my heart, I'm saying it now.

Every bad thing that happens to us will one day be reversed. I know that. Keeping that in mind, the only true tragedy is to go through this life without God's friendship. And I've got that - all of us can have that. And it's enough - way, way more than enough. It's Everything. And it can never be taken away from us, only surrendered.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Slap in the Face!

What else can you call it? He left without a word. Personally, I think it's pretty freakin' cool.

Those were my thoughts while praying the Rosary and meditating on Jesus' resurrection. I wanted to picture Him strolling through the door of the tomb victorious, but that isn't what the Gospels give us. No, the women were there to anoint His Body, the angel rolled away the stone...and nothing. It's like Death and the Grave weren't worthy enough foes to waste a second of His time gloating. Jesus was just gone - going about business (actually pronounced BID-nis) .

I remember listening to a sermon when I was a teenager. Our parish priest had visited the Holy Sepulcher years before, the church built over the site of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. He had gone expecting to "find the Lord" there, only to be bitterly disappointed. He bent down to gaze into the tomb...but felt nothing. And then the truth hit him - that tomb is the one place you won't find Him!

Note: No person was actually slapped in the writing of this blog, it was simply the goofiest pic I could find.

On the Altar

Right after speaking to that class on Sunday, I found myself at Mass. When our priest accepted the gifts at the offertory, placing them on the altar, I placed myself there with them, asking the Father to transform me too into Jesus' Body and Blood. St. Paul had told the early Church, "Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, for this is your spiritual worship" (Romans 12:1). The image that came to my mind though, in response my prayer, surprised me: I saw Jesus at the altar, holding me up above His head to His Father, saying, "This is My Body, this is My Blood." And it really made sense to me, how our lives, our sufferings, are a living, current participation in Jesus' Cross.

Ah, the Possibilities!

I was speaking to a group of people studying to enter the Catholic Church this past Sunday. I had been asked to speak about the Incarnation, God the Son becoming human. I love focusing upon the Lord's humanity. He's not a Hercules (a half god, half man), but a Person who is simultaneously 100% God, and 100% man. The two aren't melded together. His divinity doesn't swallow up His humanity, or allow Him to take any shortcuts. He grew and passed through all of the same stages as you and I. The ONLY, and I mean single, solitary difference between Him and every other one of us, is that His soul didn't know the brokeness of sin. John Paul II was fond of saying that Jesus shows us what it means to be human.

Consider what that means: His heart, soul, mind, and will were only human - filled with the Holy Spirit, but human - like yours and mine. So when we see Jesus loving and expending Himself in the Gospels, those are human actions that we are witnessing! Oh, they are elevated by Grace and enflamed by the Holy Spirit to be sure, and there's no deformity or tainting from sin - but they're performed in His human nature.

Salvation is to be caught up into the HUMANITY of Jesus Christ - for our brokeness to find healing in His wholeness. The Holy Spirit is meant to flow through our souls, breaking forth in actions and words, just as they did in Jesus. In Jesus, through Baptism and the other Sacraments, our human souls "partake in the divine nature."

I was struck this past weekend by the beauty of devotion to Jesus' Sacred Heart. It is His human heart that we are reverencing. His human heart - the perfect conduit of the fiery, Divine Love. And we are called to share in, to participate in, His Sacred Heart! This is what we see in the saints - Maximilian Kolbe giving his life in exchange for another prisoner's, Mother Teresa working away in the slums of Calcutta, and Gianna Molla's love for her patients and children. Those words Jesus spoke at the Last Supper are just waiting to be lived out, "Anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father" (John 14:12).

Friday, October 3, 2008

My Stint in the Can

Alright, my co-workers saw my post, "I'm Not Going to Jail," and decided that had I been incarcerated, the picture at right would be a fair representation of me. Maybe, maybe not. (Personally, I think I have better eyes.)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Just a Stretch of the Legs

Praying the Rosary on the way into work, something new caught my attention about Jesus' Transfiguration. You probably remember the event: While Jesus was at prayer on a mountaintop, Peter, James, and John witnessed Jesus become "more brilliant than the sun." Moses and Elijah appeared to Jesus, and the disciples could hear them discussing His "exodus." The scene culminated with a cloud overshadowing the mountain (as the Shekinah, or cloud of God's glory, had when Moses received the Law on Mount Sinai) and God the Father proclaiming, "This is My Beloved Son, listen to Him."

The new data that registered with me is actually preliminary to everything I just recounted: before the Apostles witnessed this, they had climbed a mountain! Traditionally, Mt. Tabor, pictured here, has been identified as the spot. (That little white dot at the top is a church, if that gives a better idea of the size.) I'm thinking that they had to exert themselves a bit to "get into position" for the Transfiguration.

And that got me thinking some about the energy we have to exert in our own lives. To make progress as Christians we have to work. God may have given us a new nature, but that doesn't mean its "second nature" yet.
Seriously though, think about your day so far. How many things can you think of that make you say, "Lord, I shouldn't have said that," or "I wish I'd done that?" I can sure think of a few. There's no reason to get disheartened though. When the Apostles were climbing that mountain they had to exert themselves...but Jesus was right there alongside them. The Lord was exerting Himself, as they were exerting themselves. And the same is true for us. We have to do the work, we have to make an honest, concentrated effort; but Jesus is right there alongside us - and thanks to His resurrection and ascension, in us - working to get us to that next level. Without Him its impossible; but with Him, there are no limits.

This is what the Church is talking about when it says that final salvation is the result of Faith and Works. We become the kind of creatures that can exist in Heaven because we've actively cooperated with God's activity within and through us. Maybe it's not appropriate to talk about Faith and Works as two separate activities; it's really one fluid movement, beginning in God. I may start using the term "faithwork" to describe it. Check out how the Apostle Paul spoke of it: "...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13). It's 100% God and, because of Grace and the Gift of the Holy Spirit, 100% us too! 
And like the Apostles, embracing Jesus' desire to get us to the "top of the mountain," leads to incredible realities. Like them, we get to pray alongside Jesus. And because of that, our prayer will change, will become more mature, will focus upon God's will instead of ours. We get to hear Moses (the Law) and Elijah (the Prophets) of the Old Covenant speaking to us as we study Scripture. Divine Light enables us to see things about ourselves and our situation that would have been impossible before.

And this pattern will be repeated again and again in our lives, as Jesus challenges us to follow Him from one peak to the next - until we're as high as we can possibly go. (They don't call it "Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem" for nothing [Hebrews 12:22].)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Single Most Important Word in Human History?

My vote is for "Mary," And here's why:
Mary [Magdalene] stood weeping outside the tomb...she turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus...Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rab-bo'ni!" (which means Teacher)" (John 20:11-16).

That one word, that simple speaking of Mary's name by the risen Jesus, did more to Magdalene, more to the world, than all other human actions rolled together - it was Jesus' revelation, His first announcement, that He had beaten death. And that is the hinge upon which hope, all true hope, for a future swings. Without it, what is the point in going on? No matter how good of a fight we put up, Death would still get the last word - that all powerful final word. Jesus changed it all though, turned despair on its head when He said, "Mary."

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Tenacious D

No, not the homies pictured at right. I'm talking about Death, the ultimate tenacious "D." You see, I realize that I'm a bit strange because I don't experience much sadness when someone passes. Yes, I KNOW - I sound horrible, even to myself. I do experience very strong emotions...but rarely in response to death. I was reflecting upon my strangeness over the weekend, and came up with the following explanation, a mini-essay if you will:

"My grieving usually involves, not death, but the tough things that precede death - pain and struggle with illness, catastrophes of life, relationship difficulties, living with the consequences of poor choices, people's struggles with addictions, etc. Someone's death, their absence from my daily life, doesn't affect me in the same way. And I guess that is for a number of reasons:

"I usually still speak to these people (although no, I don't hear them answering back!) I ask them to pray for me, and I pray for them - that their experience of purgatory is brief, or not necessary at all. I realize that, in God, they can understand my love for them and the motivations for my actions (good and bad) much better than I can myself. If there was anything I didn't feel able to say to them in life, for whatever reason, those restrictions aren't there anymore. They're free of the pains and struggles I mentioned in the paragraph above. There is also the recognition that, for all of the theological study I've done, these people have leaped beyond me in the twinkling of an eye. I also hope to be able to spend a literal eternity with them. I guess for all of these reasons, death doesn't sadden me all that much. If I feared that a person I loved was totally resisting God's attempts to work in his/her life though, then that passing would make me sad; there is something far worse than earthly death out there.

"My discomfort with my own death centers around the unknown: will there be a great deal of pain beforehand? When my time comes, will I be living as God's child; or will I have chosen something incompatible with Him? (I'm very aware of my ability to sin, how feeble I really am when it comes to virtue; so I have to stay on my guard.)"

Note: This is my second post with a photo of Jack Black. Forget my views on death; what does that say about me?

Friday, September 5, 2008

I'm Not Going to Jail - Thank You, God!

Alright, maybe I'm exaggerating a little. I'll tell the story and you can decide for yourself:

Two weeks ago, I got an e-mail from a local marketing research company, asking if I wanted to earn $85 for chewing gum and answering questions about the aforementioned experience. (No, I kid you not - this is totally legit. And if they start paying people to take naps, I will quit my day job.) So I happily agreed to do it, thinking that I was finally going to be able to squirrel something away towards the kids' Christmas presents.

Well, this past Monday evening we got around to opening some mail that had been sitting on the counter: a camera had caught me running a red light (I didn't remember it at the time, but it's hard to argue with photographic evidence), and I would need to pay the $100 fine within seven days. Mind you, it will be 14 days until the next paycheck - and my family LITERALLY lives paycheck to paycheck. (Just part of the glitz and glamour of working in education.) I didn't want to be driving around for a week with that outstanding fine...couldn't I have been arrested?

But that's not even an issue now, because the Lord allowed me to spend the past two evenings reading a good book as I chewed different gums and periodically stopped to rate them! No, I can't put that money back towards Christmas presents; but He gave me what I need for the present moment. How amazing of Him - looking into my future, seeing the need that would arise, and arranging the circumstances to have it met at just the right moment.

And isn't that what Jesus taught us to pray for, "Father, give us this day our daily bread?" He rarely sends it a moment before the deadline, but He sends it.
Objection: "There have been a lot of things I've needed, that I've begged the Lord to send me; but they never came."
FAITH's Answer: "Then what you were asking for, was not what you actually needed, what you couldn't go without. And the fact that you're here to voice the objection demonstrates the truth of this answer. You've had your daily bread."

With all the struggles that we face, we have so much more to be grateful to God for. It's little events like "not going to jail" that bring it home to me. Mind you, that's not to say that God won't someday bring me to the point where I could survive a stint in the can...and then...this blog will have a whole host of new happenings to reflect upon - time in the yard, shivs, gang signs, cavity searches, digging an escape tunnel, etc., etc.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

"90210" and the Number of the Beast

It has been right there in front of me for years: if you subtract 89,544 from 90210, you get 666, the Book of Revelation ’s “number of the beast."

Nah, I’m not that far gone. I just couldn’t let the return, nay - the rebirth, of 90210 pass without comment. And while there are many avenues that we could explore, the fact that there were numbers in the title made it a great vehicle for discussing gematria.

That’s right, gematria. You see, the Hebrew, Greek and Latin alphabets have a number associated with each letter, and gematria is the“science” of discovering the hidden meanings of words by studying and comparing their numerical values. It most likely began with the Greeks, but is best known due to its use by Jewish rabbis. The author of the Gospel According to Matthew employs it for his Jewish readers when recounting Jesus’ genealogy, breaking it into three groups of 14. That was the numerical value of David in Hebrew, and thus a very cool way for Matthew to “double-up” on his proclamation that Jesus is the messianic descendant of King David.

Anyone who has watched The Omen or listened to metal is familiar with the best known example of gematria in Scripture; it comes from the Book of Revelation, or Apocalypse. The author, John, describes a highly symbolic vision of the persecution to be suffered by the Church. It speaks of two beasts, the first of which is generally understood as antichrist. It had seven heads (one of which was wounded) and was given the throne of “the dragon,” or Satan. John then goes on to identify the beast for his readers: “This calls for wisdom: let him who has understanding reckon the number of the beast, for it is a human number, its number is six hundred and sixty-six” (Revelation 13:18).

When we interpret these images in the context of first-century Christianity, we arrive at a pretty likely candidate for the beast: Nero Caesar. Consider the following: Nero was the first Roman Emperor to persecute Christians; Peter and Paul were martyred under his reign. Nero died by a self-inflicted wound to the throat (the Beast with a mortal head wound?) And whose name, when written in Hebrew, has the numerical value 666? That’s right - Nero Caesar. In fact, early Latin manuscripts of The Book of Revelation exist in which the verse reads 616 instead of 666. When the name Nero Caesar is written in Greek, 616 is its value. The early Church, believing it understood John’s code, made the adjustment when additional copies of the book were made in Greek.

Chapter 17 of Revelation gives us additional reasons to identity the beast with the Roman Emporers, personified by Nero at the time of the work’s composition. We’re told that the beast’s “seven heads are seven hills…they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he comes he must remain only a little while” (17:9-10). Rome is a city on seven hills and five emperors had preceded Nero; he was the last of the royal blood-line. With his suicide the empire was plunged into civil war as competitors vied for the throne. Galba succeeded Nero but was assassinated six months later, making him the seventh king, who “must remain only a little while” (17:10). Only Vespasian’s ascendancy to the throne returned stability to the empire; the “mortal wound” inflicted by Nero’s suicide “was healed, and the whole earth followed the beast with wonder” (13:3).

Reading Revelation in the historical context of the early Church makes sense to me. It doesn’t rob the book of its prophetic character either. Prophecy isn’t mainly about predicting the future; it is God giving His people a reality check. (So please, please, don't try reading this book with a newspaper in the other hand!) In this case He reminds us that even when the Church on earth looks like its being crushed, Jesus is still Lord of the situation; He will bring deliverance to His holy ones and rule the Earth as her King. Whenever the Church finds herself persecuted, under the gun, martyred - Revelation is God’s word addressed to that situation. The Roman Empire did fall; its former capitol is now the center of Christ’s Universal (Catholic) Church!

Both Scripture and Tradition give us reason to expect the Church to undergo another great persecution and face a definitive Antichrist before the Lord’s return. The symbols of Revelation may take on added significance at that time; it wouldn’t surprise me at all – Scripture’s Author is beyond time, and thus its applicability timeless as well.

And I’m going to be keeping that in my mind as I watch this new 90210….very, very carefully. You got that Dillon and Brandon? (I've always suspected that those sideburns held a message; I've just never been able to decipher it.) What? Dillon and Brandon aren't in the new series? Oh, just wait for "sweeps week" my friend. Both of these dudes have done movies for the Sci-Fi Channel; they're not above revisiting 90210.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Choice, Consequence, & Blessing

Just spoke to a friend and she was curious whether I was going to blog about Gov. Sarah Palin's 17-year-old daughter's pregnancy. The thought had never really occurred to me; it didn't seem like any of my business. My friend changed my mind when she told me how much media coverage it has generated; because I can't imagine what could justify that. What pregnant 17-year-old, with so much already on her mind, wants to be made a headline?

Is this supposed to be a scandal because Palin is a "conservative," running on "conservative family values?" Is anyone honestly asking if Palin encouraged her daughter to become pregnant at 17? Here's the newsflash: 17-year-olds make their own choices.
Objectively, the choice Gov. Palin's daughter and a young man made when they engaged in pre-marital sex was wrong, and there are many different facets as to why that is. The consequence of their choice was a pregnancy - a child. Now, talk about writing straight with crooked lines - God took their choice and has blessed the world with a new life, a brand new human being who can live eternally in the Trinity! And Gov. Palin's daughter gets that; she is carrying this child to term. It can be easy to be pro-life in the abstract; but that 17-year-old is being pro-life when it really counts, when it hurts. Let me hear a sound bite celebrating that!
Now, I'm sure she and her boyfriend realize that they should have waited, and regret the fact that they didn't. But I hope they also realize that God loves them and that He gave them the grace to accept the "consequence" of their choice, the BLESSING of a CHILD. And we need to keep this young family in our prayers, that they can be the kind of parents that Mary and Joseph were. (You remember Mary don't you, that 14 or 15-year-old girl who found herself pregnant out of wedlock?) God was with Mary and Joseph and things turned out pretty well (although it probably didn't look or smell like it would in that Bethlehem stable). I know the present situation is different, but God's desire to transform this young man and woman into successful parents and give their child a good home isn't. Oh yeah, and props to Barack Obama for telling the media to drop this "headline."

Monday, September 1, 2008

Enter the Octagon

Does anyone remember this movie from 1980? I was six when it came out and remember my next door neighbor bragging about how his dad had taken him to the theater to see it. I refer to it now because my friend Kathi Strunk (the person crazy enough to say, "Shane, you should start a blog") threw down the gauntlet, "When will Chuck Norris be making an appearance?" I KNOW - Strunk is outta control. I was stymied; how could I bring Chuck to bear on my contemplation of the Catholic Faith? Sure, there's the spiritual warfare aspect - but that's so played. Some other aspect of Chuck's mystique was needed. So I asked the Holy Spirit, and as I proceeded to think about Chuck, the phrase "Enter The Octagon" and this old movie popped into my head.

I realized that Chuck responded, in a highly metaphorical way...involving Ninjas, to the same call as each of the baptized. I've lost you?

Well, when you were baptized, chances are that the baptismal font was shaped like an octagon. You will see exceptions, but throughout history that has been the traditional shape. It goes back to a passage in the First Epistle of Peter: "God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you" (1 Peter 3:20-21)

Amazing - which of us attending a baptism ever stops to think about the significance of the font's octagonal shape, that it is a physical representation of the biblical word? Our Catholic Faith is filled with these kind of things though.

If you find yourself wanting to know more about how the Church's celebration of the Sacraments brings Scripture to life, allow me to point you toward Jean Danielou's classic, The Bible and the Liturgy. This insight about Baptism is the first of a thousand. Oh, and take a moment to reflect upon your own Baptism, when you "entered the octagon," by viewing this profound 1980, theatrical trailer. Just as the announcer says of Chuck, we too "find freedom only one way."

(Note: this trailer has no value other than the ultra-manly pics of Chuck Norris. It should not actually be used for mature theological reflection and is unsuitable for viewing by children.)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Puttin' on the Ritz

"Mommy, why are those men wearing dresses, but no other men wear dresses?" My friend Julie had that question put to her by her six-year-old, Kylie Jo, in reference to the clerical garb worn by priests and deacons. Julie threw the question my way, and cutting and pasting my response makes for an easy, yet fun, blog entry:

"Basically, those are the clothes that were worn by ancient Romans when they celebrated Mass. Just like we put on nice clothes to go to Mass, the priests and deacons put on nice clothes too - but clothes that were nice 1900 years ago. When we see those clothes, it reminds us that the priests and deacons of today are doing the same things as Jesus and His Apostles. Priests and deacons could celebrate Mass without them, but the clothes are a neat reminder that what we do at Mass is incredibly special. You might also want to explain that there ARE other men who wear dresses - and get on stage and sing Liza Minelli and Cher songs. And while what they're doing is 'special,' it's a very, VERY DIFFERENT kind of special. Nuff said."

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Non-practicing Catholic?

"Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what little he has will be taken from him" (Matthew 13:12). I went to morning Mass with the kids (who knew you could make three trips to the bathroom in 30 minutes?), and heard the priest apply this Gospel reading to our efforts to live out our Faith. And it got me thinking about so many of the people who are dear to me, who describe themselves as "non-practicing" Catholics. They talk to God, but don't attend Mass to enter into the Eucharistic prayer. Their hearts have retained so much of the Church's moral teaching, but in some instances the Church's voice (which in all actuality is Christ's) has come to be considered just one among many - and often enough an outmoded, guilting voice.

If the Church is meant to be Jesus' Family here on earth though, then what does being non-practicing mean? What would a non-practicing member of a typical American family look like? She would have grown up in the house with her brothers and sisters, but now she's got her own apartment. Even though she's just a couple of miles down the road, the only time she visits with Dad is over the phone. She misses the Sunday dinner every weekend - except for maybe at Christmas and Easter time. She's a good girl, with a good heart; but some of the small things she says has me worried that she's starting to believe the cultural hype. And I wonder how long this satellite can stay in orbit.

If you're reading this, and have been away from the Church for awhile, please come back. "Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what little he has will be taken away." That's not me, that's Jesus.

Monday, July 21, 2008

"Contraception? Oh, Come ON!"

That's the reaction I think most people have when they hear, yet again, that the Catholic Church opposes contraception. It seems like one of the stupidest positions you could take. I mean, the Catholic Church is the great enemy of abortion - and isn't contraception all about preventing the circumstances that lead to abortion?

Well lets start with what the Church means by "contraception." It is any act which intentional drives a wedge between the love-giving and life-giving aspects of sexual intercourse; it seeks to derail the natural procreative process with which God graced human nature. (This is a quantum leap from the legitimate method of postponing or avoiding additional pregnancies offered by natural family planning - a husband and wife using the latest medical information regarding the wife's fertile and infertile times to determine when intercourse will most likely result in conception.)

There seems to be this Western cultural amnesia that EVERY form of Christianity was morally opposed to contraception up until 1930 (not to mention non-Christians such as Gandhi and Sigmund Freud). That was the year that the Anglican Church decided that it was permissible in some cases, but emphatically warned against recourse to contraception because of "selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience." From there it was a snowball effect, one Christian body after another abandoning its historic position (Martin Luther had gone so far as to claim that contraception was, "far more atrocious than incest and adultery,"and John Calvin that it "kills the son, which could be expected, before he is born." WOW - have you ever heard a Catholic theologian take it that far?) By 1968, the Catholic Church stood alone; that was the year Pope Paul VI issued his encyclical Humanae Vitae, and reiterated this element of classic, orthodox Christianity - this truth engrained in the natural order. And he predicted that if the Truth was ignored, there would be dire consequences. (Sound kind of like Moses? the Old Testament prophets? Jesus? Paul?)

Now, today's subject is owed to an article I just read by Christopher West over at the Catholic Exchange website (I'm there everyday), that demonstrates the connection between our culture's embrace of a contraceptive mindset and the explosion of "adultery, divorce, premarital sex, STD’s, out-of-wedlock births, abortion, fatherless children, homosexuality," etc . (Chris has some fantastic books out there - but I digress.) I just want to quote from his article, because I can't say it better myself; and I know Chris would want me to pass the info along:

"What’s the connection with contraception? While today’s societal chaos is certainly complex, the following demonstrates the 'inner logic' of contraception’s contribution. People are often tempted to do things they shouldn’t do. Deterrents within nature itself and within society help to curb these temptations and maintain order. For example, what would happen to the crime rate in a given society if jail terms suddenly ceased?

"Apply the same logic to sex. People throughout history have been tempted to commit adultery. It’s nothing new. However, one of the main deterrents from succumbing to the temptation has been the fear of pregnancy. What would happen if this natural deterrent were taken away? As history demonstrates, rates of adultery would skyrocket. What’s one of the main causes of divorce? Adultery. Apply the same logic to pre-marital sex. Such behavior has, indeed, skyrocketed. Premarital sex, as a kind of 'adultery in advance,' is also a prime indicator of future marital breakdown.

"It gets worse. Since no method of contraception is 100% effective, an increase in adultery and pre-marital sex will inevitably lead to an increase in 'unwanted pregnancies.' What’s next? So many people think contraception is the solution to the abortion problem. Take a deeper look and you’ll see that that’s like throwing gasoline on a fire to try to put it out. In the final analysis, there is only one reason we have abortion - because men and women are having sex without being “open to life.” If this mentality is at the root of abortion, contraception does nothing but foster and afford this mentality.

"Not everyone will resort to abortion of course. Some will choose adoption. Other mothers (most) will raise these children by themselves. Hence the number of children who grow up without a father (which has already been increased by the rise in divorce) will be compounded...

"What about homosexuality? Our culture is impotent to resist the 'gay agenda' because we have already accepted its basic premise with contraception — the reduction of sex to the exchange of pleasure. When openness to life is no longer an intrinsic part of the sexual equation, why does sexual behavior have to be with the opposite sex?" [End extended quotation from Chis West]

DUDE! All I can say after that is, "Contraception? Oh, COME ON! Can't you see where that has led us?"

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Truth is Out There


Providentially, my desire to address the issue of "moral relativity" coincides with the return of the X-Files to the big screen; and their slogan "The Truth is OUT THERE," captures my sentiments perfectly. You see, Truth, Reality, isn't something that we create within ourselves; it exists independently of us. Moral truth, the right or wrong of an action, exists independently of us. Classic example - the Nazi extermination of European Jews was wrong independent of the Nazis' recognition of the fact. No matter how justified a Nazi may have felt in his heart, no matter how much the Nazi party agreed within their own little "cultural niche," what they did was OBJECTIVELY wrong.

Now the Nazis are about the most extreme example I could give, but they establish the truth of what I'm saying beyond a shadow of a doubt: our only two choices are to agree that there is an objective moral order out there that says genocide is wrong, OR we have to say that the Nazis were justified in following their own moral compass and killing six million Jews. There is no third option. We're either human beings, or monsters. We're Mulder, or we're the Cigarette-Smoking-Man. Either Truth is out there, or anything goes.
And this need to choose doesn't hold for just the example of the Nazis; it's universally applicable: pedophelia, abortion, pre-marital sex, same-sex marriage, taking towels from hotel rooms, fudging income tax returns, polygamist compounds, etc., etc. No matter how attractive or convenient a behavior might be, or how strong an impulse we feel interiorly to engage in it, there is a standard outside of us that we are called to adhere to. The Truth is out there, and if we are to maintain our humanity, we have to seek it out and then live by it. And if we don't want to see our own culture further deteriorate, we have to help our loved ones come to this realization as well. "It's not right for me, but it might be for you; who am I to say?" is as great a threat to humanity as the Nazis were. They were an enemy we could galvanize against, but moral relativism slowly rots us from the inside out - and in the name of something as virtuous as tolerance.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

God Save the King!


How many times does an American actually get to say that? I mean it though. St. Louis has been taking a beating - Ford, Chrysler, Burke, and now Anheuser-Busch? If AB is bought out, just dam up the Mississippi, level the Arch, and move on to greener pastures my friends!

Friday, July 11, 2008

"Woman, behold, your son!"

Gazing down at her from the cross, gasping for air, Jesus spoke those words to His mother, shifting his gaze to the Apostle John. And to John, "Behold, your mother!" (John 19:26-27)

The most intense moments of Jesus' life, the culmination of His earthly life and mission, of our redemption - and He used a portion of those precious moments to establish a relationship between His mother and His disciples! It's true. As the Gospel goes on to tell us, "And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home" (John 19:27). That action is to be repeated by each of us. Why would I, why would the Catholic Church, make this claim, extending it from John to the entire Church? Well, because that's what John taught.

Both the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation, or Apocalypse, ultimately stem from that apostle; we can see this in the recurring themes: the Lamb of God, wedding feast, living water, the Woman (Jesus addressed Mary as "Woman" in John 2:4 as well as at the cross). Listen to the Book of Revelation: "And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars...she brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne" (Revelation 12:1,5). A few verses later we are told of "the rest of her offspring, those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus" (Rev.12:17). That's us my friends -as soon as we were fused to Jesus in baptism, we became children of His mother Mary! She beholds each of us in her Son Jesus!

And she loves us with a mother's heart, a heart that feels each of our pains, just as it felt every thorn that pressed into Jesus' head - she had been warned, gently prepared for this reality, through prophecy when Jesus was only an infant (Luke 2:35). She is thinking of us right now. What prayer do you need her to join you in bringing before Jesus? That's what the saints in heaven do you know (see Revelation 5:8). Listen to Jesus, speaking to each of us from the cross, "Behold, your mother!"