Monday, June 30, 2008

The Symmetry of Penance

Do our failings ever "just go away," just disappear, without our ever having to address them?

On the night before Jesus died, as He was being interrogated by the high priest, Peter was outside in the courtyard, warming himself at a charcoal fire with the high priest's servants and officers. That charcoal fire was the setting for Peter's three denials (Jn.18:17-18, 25-27).

It was no coincidence then when Jesus, after His resurrection, invited Peter around another charcoal fire, and asked him three times whether he loved Him (Jn.21:9-17). Cruel on Jesus' part? No, He loved Peter. He had already forgiven him for his denials. This was part of Peter's healing from his sin - a penance.

Penance is meant to undo the damage of ours sin. The scene of Peter's denial is recreated, and his professions of love put in place of the denials; there is symmetry. In our own lives we rarely see it as perfectly as in Peter's, but it is a reality; and if we try to avoid it we are hindering our own progress. Think about it: which of our problems really "just go away?" Isn't there always a need to turn and confront them? Don't we have to deal with our failings and make amends before we can truly move on? God has forgiven us, but there is still a need to deal with the consequences of our sins.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Weekend Reading

Peter said [to the man crippled from birth], "I have no silver and gold, but I give you what I have; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk." And Peter took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up he stood and walked. (Acts of the Apostles 3:6-8)

Atrophied, shriveled legs grown and strengthened because of Peter's faith that the Lord had given him a word to speak? What do I have to give? What is it that the Holy Spirit has given me that I am giving away? What am I holding back? I'm serious; I really want to know. I'm asking God. The former gives me reasons to be thankful to Him, and the latter expectation for the future.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Farewell to "The Big Show"

Just heard that Archbishop Raymond Burke is leaving the Archdiocese of St. Louis for the Vatican. Upon reflection, I realized that he is the Church's equivalent to the ECW wrestler, The Big Show. Few delivereth the smack-down with the frequency of the Archbishop. He took tough stands, knowing he would be hated for it. That's guts.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Fessing Up

I just went to Confession this morning. From 9 to 10 a.m., my pastor and I talked. No, "talked" doesn't begin to capture it: In the presence of Jesus, I let it all hang out - all of my garbage, my struggles - and my pastor reflected back to me what he "heard the Holy Spirit addressing" in my life. Those were his words, his description of "spiritual direction" (very cool).

Have you been to Confession lately? It had been a number of months for me. (Oh, you haven't been in a year? 20 years? More? You're not going to shock God, and you aren't going to shock the priest either; they'll be grateful you're there!) This was the ministry that Jesus entrusted to the Apostles and their successors on the night of His Resurrection, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23). It's all about our healing. That's what the Apostle James taught the Church:

"Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him...the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed." (James 5:14-16)

So GO - God has a gift that He wants you to come claim. Find the hope and healing you need. It's not a "magical" fix, but the strength that comes from knowing we are loved and supported no matter how we have fallen in the past. God Himself is present and He longs to give us the strength to do better than we have, to live past our failings.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Hard to Imagine the Afterlife?

I know. St. Paul had the same problem though, “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:10). Right now our knowledge of God is conceptual, we use analogies from this created world to speak of the Totally Other: “now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face…[we] shall understand fully, even as we have been fully understood” (1 Cor. 13:12). Don’t take this “darkness of faith” too hard though –we’ve all been through it before; and it turned out great.

None of us remember our first 40-or-so weeks, but they were lived in complete darkness. Our entire world was that wet, increasingly-cramped space inside our mom's womb. And we couldn’t even begin to imagine that there was this entire world, entire planet, awaiting us outside. We lived beneath our mother’s heart, exposed to its constant rhythm, and yet we had never seen her face! We had grown to recognize her voice, but we hadn’t developed to the point of understanding any of her words. And birth – talk about TRAUMA! All of that amniotic fluid we’ve been swimming in, gone in an instant; our heads compacted and squeezed through the birth canal; the light; the cold; that humiliating slap on the ass! But we finally entered the real world, finally got that chance to see mom face-to-face, to eat through our mouths instead of our belly buttons, and a million other experiences that we’re impossible to conceive of from the darkness of the womb.

Turns out that was just the warm-up; we’re still in utero, and the REAL world awaiting us "outside" remains inconceivable. We’re going to get the chance to enter it though; and just like before, we don’t have a clue when. This time around though, we get to participate in our own growth process. Each "yes" to God allows our spiritual "organs" to develop a bit more. If we haven't come to full term when the moment of birth arrives though, God has a top-notch NICU experience planned for us (the Church calls it purgatory; 1 Cor.3:10-15). Listen to the Apostle John:

"Beloved we are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when [Jesus] appears we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure." (1 John 3:1-3)

St. Francis of Assisi was right on, "It is in dying that we are born to eternal life."

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Jack Black at my Grocery Store!

Well, he had that Jack Black physique (not that I'm knocking Jack's bod - notice I haven't provided a picture of myself here). The kids and I were sitting in the car, motor running, waiting for my wife to grab two items. And out of Shop'N'Save's front door came Jack Black, escorted by a security guard! The security guard (SG from here on) was pushing him from behind, when Jack spun around and began to shove back. SG grabbed him by the wrist and said something; Jack felt the need to strike him. (I'm sure it was called for, but I still thought it was pretty awesome that I already had the car running.) So SG went for pepper spray - yowza! Jack wasn't deterred; he swung again. SG had him by the t-shirt at this point, but Jack wriggled out of it pretty quickly. (Are you getting this kids? This isn't that play wrestling like in Nacho Libre.) SG pepper sprayed him a second time! Jack broke free and, I kid you not, sprinted like Carl Lewis toward an eight foot fence and EFFORTLESSLY cleared it. (If this is any preview of the 2008 Olympics, the U.S. is going to kick ass.) Twenty seconds after this all occured my wife exited the front of the store, oblivious to what had just happened.

The moral of the story? Don't waste time in the grocery store - you never know what you're missing in the parking lot.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Disappointment that is OPUS DEI

I'm about a quarter of the way through John Allen's Opus Dei: An Objective Look Behind the Myths and Reality of the Most Controversial Force in the Catholic Church. Allen is the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter as well as a Vatican analyst for CNN and NPR, and the book comes highly recommend - which is why I am so crushed.

Opus Dei employs no assassins - NONE, albino or otherwise! All I'm hearing is this rhetoric about our whole lives (work, family, play, study, entertainment, formal prayer) forming a unity, all of it being an opportunity to unite ourselves with God. That's all fine...eerily familiar (New Testament?) I'm too crushed to even dwell on that though. So much promise...

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Cinderella and...the Devil!

I was laying in front of the t.v., watching Cinderella (shut up) with my daughter, when I heard our heroine address the household cat as, "Lucifer." I know, I know - the name of the Devil! Or is it? (That's right, I am convinced that there is a Devil; but if you're looking for the skinny on why you're going to have to wait until I get a larger piece I've written online; I can't reinvent that wheel.)

I started scanning my memory for different Scriptural mentions of Satan (a name which means adversary), or the Devil (deceiver), but I couldn't recall anyplace where this fallen angel was actually referred to by the name Lucifer. The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) use the term Beelzebul, but again, that is a title meaning "lord of the flies" (death). So when did Christians start referring to the Devil by the name Lucifer, and more importantly, why?

Well, a couple of minutes of research in the Catholic Encyclopedia (online at told me that lucifer is simply Latin for "brilliant light." It was applied to the Devil because of St. Jerome's Latin translation (about 400 A.D.) of Isaiah 14:12-15:

How are you fallen from heaven, O Day Star [Lucifer], son of Dawn!
How are you cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low!
You said in your heart, "I will ascend to heaven; above the stars
of God. I will set my throne on high...I will make myself like the
Most High."
But you were brought down to Sheol, to the depth of the Pit.

In the context of Isaiah, these words are addressed to the King of Babylon who would answer to the Lord for his proud behavior and crimes against the nations. Christians have seen the words as being applicable to the Devil as well though - the "power behind the throne" of Babylon you could say. (As an aside, this same principle has been employed when reading the prophet Ezekiel's words to the King of Tyre, "You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering...You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till iniquity was found in I cast you as a profane thing from the mount of God." Ezekiel 28:12-16)

Long story short, Lucifer is not the Devil's proper name. It's a title, just like the other terms used to identify this fallen angel. Given that, I think it was a great name for Cinderella's cat; and my daughter and I were both glad when that thing bought it in the end.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Why call it "Just a Catholic"?

Because that's what I am, just a Catholic, just one of the hundreds of millions. I don't hold a Master's Degree in Theology, although once upon a timie I took a couple of classes toward one. I'm not formally connected to any religious order or renewal movement (nor do I feel called to one) within the Church, although I have been influenced by many. Since I was 13 years old though, my life has been animated by Jesus of Nazareth; and ever so steadily He unfolded the beauty of Catholicism to me. And thus I find myself, a day-in and day-out Catholic going to work and struggling to be a decent husband and father. That's what God has called me to; that's what my Father wants from me. God, give me the Grace to give it to You.

Monday, June 9, 2008

"I Kissed A Girl (and I Liked It)"

So I was sitting at a stoplight the other day - windows down, radio way up, cruising through the pre-sets. Finally...fantastic beat, enjoyable female voice; I proceeded to jam. Wait, what was that? Como say, "What?"
"I kissed a girl and I liked it
The taste of her cherry chapstick
I kissed a girl just to try it
I hope my boyfriend don't mind it
It felt so wrong
It felt so right...
Us girls we are so magical
Soft skin, red lips, so kissable
Hard to resist so touchable
Too good to deny it
Ain't no big deal, it's innocent"
A little research on YouTube later that night told me the song was from Katy Perry's album, Just One of the Boys.

Now I'm right there with Katy - to a point. I too have kissed girls, and really, really liked it. But I'm a dude, and Katy, as you can see, is an attractive, young lady. I think it's a mistake for her to be kissing girls, experimentally or in any other way.

You probably knew I was going to say that though - I mean, the blog is "Just a Catholic"; and it's common knowledge that, at least historically, Christians have believed homosexual behavior to be a sexual sin. The crazy thing is though, even though I "tow the party line," I don't consider myself a homophobe, bigoted jackass, or "hater." And if you'll give me a moment or two I'll explain why:

First, just because we human beings have the ability to do something, it doesn't mean we should. That goes for everything from the use of nuclear weapons, to girls kissing girls, to purchasing a Kenny G album. Seriously, all of us agree that there are some actions human beings shouldn't perform - murder immediately comes to mind as a universal. I can't think of a culture that celebrates theft, treason, betrayal, or slander either. Now I'm not trying to equate homosexual activity with the malevolent sentiments accompanying any of those activities; I simply want to remind you that objecting to certain behaviors is a trait common to all of us.

I'll continue by saying that each of us have struggles, and some much more than others, with strong impulses and inclinations. During my day job I work with young people who have autism and other developmental disorders. I see some strong sensory needs and some very startling attempts to have them met- tactile input sought through slapping your teacher or oral-motor sensation through licking your neighbor's corduroy pants. The overwhelming urge is there; the child didn't choose it, and he/she shouldn't be looked down upon for it. At the same time, however, those are behaviors not deemed acceptable, and we look for ways to help the child meet his/her needs in a different way. Myself, I have seen some of the people I love most struggle with clinical depression. I've seen them not want to get out of bed, to dread living through the next day; and yet, despite those incredibly strong emotions they had the conviction that they had go on, that their lives were a gift from God and that however bleak it appeared, they didn't have the right to end them. And thank God they didn't!

So coming at the issue of homosexuality, or any issue for that matter, as a Christian, I begin with the conviction that we have a Father in Heaven with loving, and specific, desires for His children. We can recognize many of these desires by looking at the moral norms common across the entire globe, engraved upon our hearts you could say. There are a number of moral issues however, where God's will seems murky to us - and many of these seem to cluster around how we express ourselves sexually. I don't think we should be surprised by this - the intensely physical and emotional nature of the act is intoxicating; it's very easy to become confused, to begin following our own impulses and inclinations instead of God's.

This is one of the reasons we Christians believe God spoke to the world through the prophets of Israel, even going so far as to become one of us. He came to cut through the confusion that arises from our impulses and inclinations, whatever their root - genetic, environmental, psychological, social, etc. - and make clear His intentions for us. He spoke with compassion for our condition, compassion for our struggles; but He did not mitigate the Truth. Part of that truth is that homosexual behavior is wrong. Those struggling with same-sex attraction are not helped when we Christians adopt an attitude of, "It's not right for me, but who am I to say for you?" In the midst of depression my loved ones wouldn't have been helped by my saying "Intentionally ending my life isn't right for me, but who am I to say for you?" No, their lives were preserved because of a truth, a conviction, that transcended their psychological bent (and genetic predisposition to depression, in many cases).

When Jesus told His disciples, "Judge not, lest you be judged" (Matthew 7:1), He wasn't telling them to withhold judgment as to whether a behavior was right or wrong in God's eyes. That ignores the entire rest of the Sermon on the Mount (three chapters in length); that type of interpretation is a complete betrayal of the context. Jesus' very next words were, "For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged...You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye" (Matt.7:2-5). In other words, if you want to see our Father's will spread through this earth, you have to begin by letting His Truth transform you; only then can you bring it to your brothers and sisters out of a desire for their well-being, instead of from some false sense of moral superiority.

And what is this Truth that we Christians should bring to our brothers and sisters struggling with same-sex attraction? We find it in those first pages of Genesis, in the creation stories God delivered to the world through Israel:

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness..." So God created man in his own image...male and female He created them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply" (Gen.1:26-28).
Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed (Gen.2:24-25).

The one God (Who is a plurality of Father, Son, and Spirit) created the sexual union of man and woman - a oneness that brings forth a new, third life - to mirror His own inner Life! Human sexual love reflects the Trinity; it is an integral part of the claim that humanity is in God's image! And this inner life of God consists in a love that is freely given, eternally faithful, and overflows with Life. As it is in Heaven, so should it be on earth; that is God's intention for us. So if you're a Christian walking around with the idea that "sex is dirty," drop it. That wasn't the teaching of the Old Testament, of Jesus, or His Church. If you got that idea from a minister or a devout family member, you've been misled.

But homosexual acts do not have a place in God's plan. The male and female complementarity is completely absent, as is the possibility for new life, a child, to emerge from the union. God's plan has been written into our biological makeup; reproduction is possible only through the union of male and female gametes.

If one wants to come at the matter from an evolutionary standpoint, I think one has to recognize that homosexual sex is aberrant. Natural selection favors those traits which aid an organism to survive and pass those traits onto offspring. In nature's book sex is solely about reproduction; impulses and urges are simply a means to an end. Homosexual sex has quite an enemy in natural selection!

Homosexual acts are in conflict then with God's intention for us, both as reflected in biology and special revelation (through Judaism and Christianity). Up until 1973, the American Psychiatric Association recognized homosexual attraction as a disorder. Our brothers and sisters struggling with same-sex attraction, no matter its origin (whether it be genetic, environmental, etc.), are experiencing a struggle that the majority of us do not. The 1994, Catechism of the Catholic Church expressed it well:

They do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's cross the difficulties they may encounter
in their condition

These brothers and sisters need Truth, not saccharine -coated crap that "I'm o.k., and you're o.k." No, we are all members of a fallen race. I need God's grace, and His people's help and encouragement, to keep moving forward under my own crosses, and people facing same-sex attraction need those same supports to move forward in life despite the sexual impulses and temptations they face. For our culture, and especially the Christians within it, to say otherwise is a betrayal of our call to speak the truth in love.

Let me point you toward some groups helping those with same-sex
Courage Community

National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality

And Katy Perry my friend, I like your sound; but out of love I'm telling you that I disagree with your lyrics. Will you give what I've written a little thought? Please? Alright, I'm taking your silence as a maybe. God bless.