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!"

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Rosary & Hostage Rescue

I kid you not. Fifteen hostages were just freed in the country of Columbia; and the hostages and President Alvaro Uribe, who directed the rescue operation, are all publically thanking the Lord for hearing the Blessed Virgin Mary's intercession on their behalf! Throughout their captivity the hostages invoked our Lady's prayers by praying the Rosary. Listen to this quote from the article I read:

Former presidential candidate, Ingrid Betancourt, who was among those rescued and in the past had said she was a non-practicing Catholic, told reporters her rescue was a miracle of the Virgin Mary. “I am convinced this is a miracle of the Virgin Mary,” she said. “To me it is clear she has had a hand in all of this,” Betancourt said after six years in captivity.

Amazing. I love this quote from President Uribe, "[the rescue operation] was guided in every way by the light of the Holy Spirit, the protection of our Lord and the Virgin Mary.” Oh, and not a single shot was fired! May God continue to bring good things about for our Columbian brothers and sisters.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Right in Front of Me

I hadn't prayed my daily rosary yet, so at about 9 p.m. this past Saturday, I ran up to the perpetual adoration chapel on my street. For those who may be unfamiliar with "perpetual adoration," it simply means that the Eucharist is exposed there on the altar, 24 hours a day, and kept company by one or more members of the parish. The Eucharist is displayed in a monstrance (you can see the white Host in the middle), as in this picture.

As I began praying the rosary, I meditated on Jesus' resurrection, picturing Mary Magdalen there at His tomb and hearing Jesus call her name. And the truth bowled me over me once again - the Risen One is right in front of me! What looks like a wafer of bread is Jesus of Nazareth; it's really Him - Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. There I was, meditating on His resurrection right there in His very presence - not just a vague spiritual presence, but one that I could physically locate and gaze upon!

We can see this truth foreshadowed in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament, and then proclaimed in the four Gospels, the letters of Paul, and the Apocalypse. If I was only allowed to point to one passage though, it would be Jesus' words in John's Gospel, "The bread which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh...he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life...For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink" (John 6:51,54-55).

This is the reason I'm so excited to be just another Catholic - because at every Mass I kneel before, and then receive into me, the Lord of the Universe. I have the opportunity to renew our union again and again. Everytime the Eucharist is celebrated, time and space are folded; and we unite ourselves with Jesus' passage to the Father through His death, resurrection, and ascension!

Benedict XVI

To know him is to love him. How can I not get behind a shepherd like this? If there was a bratwurst in that other hand, I would move to Rome.
Oh yeah, he's also a terrific preacher/teacher. Have you read his Jesus of Nazareth yet? Treat yourself; it immediately went into my Top Five. Incredible insights and scholarship, but in language accessible to all.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Why am I Getting in Shape? T.A.

That's right, Thomas Aquinas. I've meant to write this post since I started blogging and just never seemed to get to it. I started reading Aquinas just before Easter though, and he inspired me to get up on that exercise horse again - and stay with it for over three months now. What did Thomas remind me of? Hylomorphism.

Aquinas borrowed Aristotle's description of human nature, a composite of body and spirit. It's not that we are souls in bodies; we are souls and bodies. (Why else will Jesus reunite our souls and bodies when He comes again? The souls in Heaven, even though united to God, are still "incomplete" - still not the finished product God has planned!) And hylomorphism is a tremendously biblical idea, running throughout the Hebrew Scripture, or Old Testament.

When we concentrate on our "spiritual lives," deepening our prayer and overcoming sins, it can be really easy to forget that we are our body. God expects us to take care of our whole person, not just half. And Aquinas is right there with modern medicine, speaking of the mind and body's influence on each other; health or illness in one impacts the other. It's one of those things that we realize, but we like to push to the side: it hurts to work out, and I want another plate of pizza. But our bodies show forth our spirits; and my spirit - big on gluttony and laziness and low on the virtues of temperance and fortitude - has been causing a bloated body. And that bloated body doesn't want to be outside playing in the yard with the kids, or doing much of anything really.

So I started walking two miles on my lunch hour, and then a couple of weeks back, cutting out seconds at mealtime, and now weight lifting (high intensity training will get results and only take 20 min. out of my week). Most importantly though, I pray. I've had so many false starts in my life that I'm keenly aware of my need for God's help to make virtue grow in my soul. I feel a little closer to Jesus the carpenter too, to the Jesus who walked back and forth over Palestine.

During this journey, quite by "accident," I came across a book by Dr. Kevin Vost, just written in 2007, which addresses aerobic exercise, weight lifting, and diet, showing the correlation between the thought of Thomas Aquinas and modern sports physiology! Now don't you more conservative folks out there be shocked by the cover - I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Of Dung and Divinization

Yes, that is cow dung - a nice, juicy pile. It's my symbol for all of the difficulties we deal with, from ourselves and others. I don't know anyone who likes feces, who would want to decorate their homes with it; but it's choice fertilizer. And as such, we can't do without it: it feeds the crops, which feed us and the livestock (that also, by the way, feeds us). I was reading a relfection in The Imitation of Christ when my mind turned to this topic:

We should regard contradictions as the trials by which God would prove and purify our love. If all persons had the consideration for us which our self-love desires, and which it often induces us to believe we deserve, we would entertain only a natural regard for our neighbor...a species of gratitude purely human...But God would have us everywhere meet with and suffer contradictions, disappointments, and opposition to our designs, from those with whom we live, that we might love them solely for His sake, and because He so ordained.

Happy the soul which tribulation tries, and temptation purifies, as gold is tried and purified in the fire! It thus becomes worthy of acceptance with God, for IT IS AFTER GOD'S OWN HEART!

The intra- and interpersonal trials we face are a continual invitation to hit our knees and ask God to enflame us with a Divine Love for others, to Love because we are of Love. We have "been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable" (1 Peter 1:23), "and made partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4). That's right - we fragile human beings are called to complete immersion and cooperation in Jesus' Life with the Father and world. United to Jesus, the Holy Spirit flows through us in acts of love. That's what the Church has called divinization, deification, or theosis. And the conflicts we experience call us to show forth this Divine Love, to live a life that reaches beyond this world, even as it is firmly anchored in this world. That dung we're dealing with - it's meant to be fertilizer.