Thursday, December 31, 2009

Last Post of the Year

What a year - disappointment on a personal level, yet the opening of unexpected doors for sharing the Faith (and the grace to take it as it comes). At the end of the year I have to thank the Lord for His Love - faithful, long-suffering, thoughtful, words can't do justice. And I have to thank the Lord for ministering to me through His Mother Mary, for giving me to her and her to me. In 2010, I want to look more like Mary and Joseph, so that I can ultimately look more like Jesus. And may Brennan and Lily have a ton of fun on this journey.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

"Holy" Obedience?

I am a big, big fan of The Daily Gospel apostolate out of New Hope, Kentucky. Every morning they greet me with the day's readings as well as Gospel commentary from one of the saints or a successor of Peter, and I tip my hat to them for the commentary they selected for the Feast of the Holy Family. They allowed St. Anthony of Padua to give me some much needed illumination.

You see, about a year ago one of my closest friends started reading Mother Teresa, Come Be My Light. My friend, who is Lutheran, soon asked me if I could explain something to her: it seemed very strange that Mother Teresa, who God was clearly speaking to and giving a mission, would have to go and receive permission to undertake the work from her religious superiors. At first her superiors made her delay. Why would Teresa submit to that, when she knew God was speaking to her?

What a fantastic question! Looking back, my response was alright. I talked about how it was a mark of humility, and a safeguard against being deceived, to submit inspirations and private revelations to those God has allowed to assume roles of authority within a religious body. I also shared how, in private revelations to nuns and religious brothers, Jesus often instructs the recipients that they must always submit themselves to their religious superiors, even when it means delaying His requested action. These nuns and brothers took a vow of obedience when they entered their respective orders, and the Lord insists that it be adhered to. But what I failed to point out, the very heart of the matter, was what St. Anthony of Padua saw in the Gospel read for the Feast of the Holy Family! Jesus was twelve years old and stayed behind in Jerusalem following a family trip there, without notifying his parents. After three days of frantic searching Mary and Joseph finally found Him in the Temple:
"Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously." And he said to them, "How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" And they did not understand the saying which he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man. (Luke 2:48-52)

St. Anthony's commentary here is just gorgeous:
«He was subject to them.» With these words let all pride dissolve, all rigidness crumble, all disobedience submit. «He was subject to them.» Who? In brief, he who created all things from nothing; he who, as Isaiah says, «has cupped in his hand the waters of the sea and marked off the heavens with a span; who has held in a measure the dust of the earth, weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance» (40,12)...This is he who, great and powerful though he be, was subject. And subject to whom? To a workman and a poor young maid ... So no longer hesitate to obey or be submissive ...
There are people of wisdom within religious orders but it is by means of simple men that God brought them there. God chose the foolish and weak, the lowly and ignorant to bring together those who were wise, powerful and of noble birth through them, «so that no human being might boast in itself» (cf. 1 Cor. 1,26-29) but in him who came down, who came to Nazareth, and who was subject.

Our obedience is a participation in the very obedience of Jesus! The Father's Revelation in Person, made His plans subject to "a workman and a poor young maid." So whenever one of us submits ourselves to the decisions of our bishop or the disciplines (traditions) of the Church as opposed to our own personal "inspirations," it is Jesus' obedience that we are tapping into; and that is life's very goal! We've heard time and again that the Church is the Family of God. In truth, it is the Family of Nazareth thrown open to the entire world. And those God places in leadership may not be the smartest, or the most "charismatic," or the most plugged-in as to what He wants to accomplish in the moment; but they are to be obeyed, because doing so places us firmly in the One Who obeyed "a workman and a poor young maid."

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Eucharist, Mary, and Redemptive Suffering

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Colossians 1:24).

Redemptive suffering. It is that mysterious but incredible reality that the suffering God allows into our lives, when accepted and lived with trust in His Love for us, become an actual participation in the sufferings of the Crucified, allowing us to be formed more truly His image - the very goal of our Faith! And, as Paul said above, because we are “members of one another” (Rom.12:5; Eph.5:25), this grace is of benefit not just to us, but to the entire Body. This teaching, far from casting aspersions on the efficacy of Jesus’sacrifice, proclaims its superabundance. We believe that His sacrifice redeems us so profoundly that it transforms us from mere creatures of God into sons and daughters. It transforms us into cells of Jesus’ Mystical Body, inserting us into the Life, death, resurrection, and ascension of the only Son! This reality is there in the theology of Paul, and unpacked for us in the teaching of the saints and doctors. What I’d never recognized before though, was how it was contained in Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist.

When we start to meditate on that Fifth Luminous Mystery, we naturally hear His words, “This is My Body …This is My Blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” And in a moment of grace, we’re reminded where Jesus took His Body and Blood from – His Mother Mary. Jesus clothed Himself with her flesh, her blood, and offered Himself to the Father “in” them. That is the mystery of redemptive suffering that the Lord wants to continue in you and me - to clothe Himself with our very persons and lift our sufferings up into His own, making them part of His eternal offering to the Father (Heb.9:14). As with Mary, He requires our consent to bring about this supernatural reality, “I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

We see Mary, fully engaged in this Mystery, there at the foot of her Son’s Cross. Which of us parents haven’t imagined looking up and seeing our own children hanging there in the sun - their bodies ripped, blood flowing down their limbs, suffocating under their own weight. It is the most monstrous suffering imaginable, but God allowed it into the life of His beloved Mary. Her Son was dying to redeem the world, and her heart was pierced right along with His (Jn.19:34; Lk.2:35). Jesus was suffering there before her eyes, in the flesh He took from her; but through the chords of grace He was suffering in and through her person, gazing up at Him, as well. Through it all, the Holy Spirit maintained Mary in her fiat. The mystery of redemptive suffering spoken of by Paul in Colossians 1:24 is graphically manifested by Mary at the Cross.

I don’t see any romance in pain, and I don’t desire it; but part of reality is recognizing that God allows me to pass through it. It is not an end in itself, but a potentially powerful means: “For Jesus’ sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil.3:8-11). So I need to call out for the grace to unite my sufferings to those of Jesus, to allow Him to lift me up toward His Father, “This is My Body…This is My Blood.” I need to pray each day for the grace to persevere through suffering; Jesus told us the stakes are high, “Because wickedness is multiplied, most men’s love will grow cold. But he who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt.24:12-13).

“O Jesus living in Mary,
come and live in Thy servants,
In the Spirit of Thy holiness,
In the fullness of Thy might,
In the truth of Thy virtues
In the communion of Thy mysteries,
Subdue every hostile power
In Thy Spirit, for the glory of the Father. Amen.”

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Am I not here, who is your Mother?

I think those words of our Lady to St. Juan Diego, and through him to us, are some of the most beautiful in history. I just renewed my consecration to Jesus, through the heart of Mary, this past week and wanted to share a thought that struck me in that regard. Before I come to it though, I need to lay a bit of groundwork:

What does it mean to be consecrated to Jesus through Mary? St. Louis De Montfort wrote the book on the subject. It is popularly known as True Devotion to Mary. De Montfort himself though, spoke of the devotion to Mary he prescribed as being "a perfect consecration to Jesus Christ." As difficult as this may be for some Christian brothers and sisters to understand, that is Marian devotion's raison d'etre. What De Montfort espoused was entrusting ourselves to Jesus' Mother, our Mother, totally and completely. We ask the Holy Spirit to knit our souls together, so that the grace that was in her, will be participated in by us as well. Sounds heretical? It sounded very foreign to me too, but after years of looking at it and seeing its fruits in others, such as John Paul II, I espouse it as well.

The Apostles themselves gave us the doctrinal foundations! Listen to this beautiful image given us by the Apostle Peter, "Come to Jesus, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God's sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:4-5). The Apostle Paul developed it further, teaching that "we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another" (Romans 12:5). In being fused to Jesus, we find ourselves then, at the level of the soul, mysteriously joined to one another. As a result, Paul could teach that "If one member of the Body suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together" (1 Cor.12:26); and could even claim, "in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church" (Colossians 1:24).

And so, the grace that is in one member of the Body can be of benefit to all. And who received the grace to love Jesus with a perfectly pure heart from the moment of conception? Who was a disciple to Him like no one else in the cosmos? Our Mother Mary! As the angel Gabriel said, she is the "Kecharitomene," the one who is "completely filled" with God's grace. She is the Church's ultimate success story, God's greatest masterpiece of grace! Now that's the living stone that I want to be fitted to, the cell of the Body that I want to be functioning alongside. The grace that God gave her disposed her to overcome every difficulty and give herself to Him without reserve, so that the Holy Spirit could fashion Jesus within her. I want that grace that God poured into Mary, to yield to Him as she did! My soul, of itself, is still so underdeveloped, has so many impediments that prevent the Holy Spirit from moving it the way He wishes.

Do you remember your Old Testament? The great prophet Elijah told his pupil Elisha to ask a favor of him before he (Elijah) was assumed into heaven. Elisha's request? "I pray you, let me inherit a double share of your spirit" (2 Kings 2:9). And that was exactly what Elisha got! Well, there's no way we can receive a "double" portion of the grace Mary did - since as Mother of the Incarnate Word she received more than all of the angles and saints put together! - but she and the Holy Spirit sure want us to participate in it! They want us to tap into it to accelerate our spiritual growth. Again, as Paul said, "we are members of one another." To share in the grace given to Mary's soul is to make ourselves ever more docile instruments of the Holy Spirit, more perfect disciples of Christ Jesus! And this brings me back to that thought I was struck by earlier this week:

I was meditating on the third Luminous Mystery, Jesus' Proclamation of the Kingdom. My mind turned to that episode when Jesus was preaching, and He was told that His Mother and family were outside. He looked at those sitting around Him and said, "Here are my mother and my brethren! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother" (Matt.12:49-50). I've always understood Jesus to be saying that we are to share in the mission of His Mother, the mission of doing God's will by giving Him our flesh and allowing Him to "enter the world" through us. And that's true. But for the first time, I recognized Jesus' words as having a deep fulfillment in this idea of being consecrated to Him through spiritual union with Mary. It is "common" to think of ourselves as Jesus' brothers and sisters, but mother strikes us a bit strange. Not when we conceive of it as our souls being knit to Mary's by the Holy Spirit though. Not when we understand it as being allowed to share in that beautiful grace that was hers - becoming completely fluid in the Hands of the Spirit, so that He can form Christ Jesus in our souls as He did within the womb of Mary.

We become completely Mary's (as Jesus did in the Incarnation), so that we may become more perfectly Jesus'. Our Lady stands before us today as she did Juan Diego, "Am I not here, who is your Mother?"

Quite an honor: This entry was re-printed by Catholic Exchange on Dec.17th.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Joanna - What the WHAT?

Alright - that's the only part of Joanna Krupa's new PETA ad that I can show here: She's using angel's wings to hover above a bunch of dogs, covering her naked body with a crucifix. Her reaction when told that the Catholic League is up-in-arms about the shot?
"As a practicing Catholic, I am shocked that the Catholic League is speaking out against my PETA ads, which I am very proud of ... I'm doing what the Catholic Church should be doing, working to stop senseless suffering of animals, the most defenseless of God's creation."
Well, so long as she's a practicing Catholic...this really doesn't require any further comment from me.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

It's all in Your perspective

"You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives." (Luke 21:16-19)

The Lord Jesus - talking to his apostles about what lies ahead in their mission. The Lord Jesus - talking to you and me. Thanks Lord for putting it in perspective for me. I can be put to death, but you will raise me up; in being put to death, not a single hair will be lost, because you will give it back to me. I have to stand in awe that Jesus can bring us to this kind of vision of life and world, to see and have conviction about what are eyes don't register. That's gift, pure and simple. Have a good Thanksgiving everybody.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

That's GROSS Lord!

Today's gospel reading and Jesus manner of healing this hearing impaired man always catches my attention:
He took him off by himself away from the crowd. He put his finger into the man's ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, "Ephphatha!" (that is, "Be opened!") And (immediately) the man's ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly.
I gotta tell ya, as a speech-language therapist who has worked with the hearing impaired, if I caught wind of any of my colleagues doing this, I'd feel duty bound to contact the state licensing board. Combine that with the fact that I've always been a bit of a germ-freak, and you can understand my discomfort.
God didn't ask my opinion on the matter though (and frankly, I have no indication that He is going to start), but He's been in my life long enough for me to realize that's best. The way Jesus lived His life is a corrective to my own. God's not freaked out by things like saliva and ear wax - even if they contain bacteria. Jesus, literally, wasn't afraid to get His hands dirty. Unlike me, He didn't think of it as "dirty," or uncomfortable, or a bother. (I know there are a lot of moms and dads out there who can relate to this.) He takes hold of us human beings, with our imperfect and unsanitized bodies, just as we are. And He loves us - absolutely and unconditionally. And He touches us to communicate health - to our hearts and minds, and one day, ultimately, to our bodies as well.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Incarnation & Pentecost

Another brilliant insight from Monsignor Cirrincione: Mary acted as Mother, in birthing the Church on Pentecost. Just as Jesus' physical body was formed in her virginal womb through the power of the Holy Spirit, so too we find her joined in prayer with the Apostles on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came in power to form Jesus' Mystical Body, the Church.

Sunday, August 2, 2009


I just spent the past 105 minutes watching this so that you wouldn't have to - although it's hard to call it vicarious suffering when you have a sweet fro like that to look at.

"Our Father Who art in Heaven - Stay There!"

I came across that line yesterday in Monsignor Joseph Cirrincione's little book, St. Joseph, Fatima, and Fatherhood. He felt that it was the way many of us pray the Our Father in the depths of our hearts. We are Christian in name but secular in lifestyle. God has His place in our lives, but He isn't our Life. And when we live in this way we rob ourselves of experiencing God as Father, as the one who loves us and raises us up to understand how the world really works and helps train us to make a contribution to it.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

It Is What It Is

Sadness, frustration, thankfulness, awe - quite the jumble as I begin to write. My subject? Truth (reality, objective truth, morality). The impetus? People I love. First, there was the email exchange between myself and a Catholic friend struggling with Confession. In the course of things she shared how, at least at this point in her life, Catholicism was not the "end all be all," and that she believed religion was a solution to many people's problems, but that it could be any religion. (I'm really honored that she shared this with me, given my "militant" reputation.) The second thing that inspired this blog was a Catholic friend on Facebook posting her "yes" vote in a poll on gay adoption. Why should these things, these "stances," bother me? Why can't I just roll with the punches and be like, "Hey, what's right for me might not be right for you." You know, if we were talking about what we like on a pizza or which Lethal Weapon movie kicked more ass, I could - honestly, I really could. But when it comes to Faith these things hit me hard. It's personal.

And doesn't faith have to be? For Christians faith isn't the adherence to a list of propositions; it's union with a Person. I can't think of any other world religion whose founder claimed, "I am the Truth." The identity of Jesus, that is the ground of Christianity, its reason d'etre: God, the ground of all reality, our Creator, became a man - a human being who spoke to us and taught us what life is to be. When we adhere to any moral truth, we are in some sense grabbing hold of the Truth, of God's Revelation in Person, Jesus! But isn't the converse also true then - that when we deny the Truth, we are in some sense denying Jesus? And that's serious: "Whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 10:33). I don't want to see anyone I love - no, I don't want to see anyone period - doing that! Yet, there is this mistaken idea permeating our culture, and the Christians who live in it, that to voice disagreement with another's moral choices - or worse yet, to speak of "sin" - is, quite ironically, the most heinous of sins, intolerance!

But can we honestly think that we are more loving, more tolerant, than Jesus? More than the Apostle Paul? The same person who wrote
Love is patient. Love is is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrong but rejoices in the right...Love endures all things. Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:4-6)
also wrote, and in the very same letter no less,
Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor [practicing] homosexuals, nor thieves, nor drunkards, nor revilers will inherit the kingdom of heaven. (1 Cor.6:9-10).
I like the way Fr. John Corapi puts it, "Truth isn't conservative or liberal, left or right. It is what it is, and you're either in it or you're out of it." Tolerance is no "gag order." Tolerance IS NOT holding all views as equally valid - it is the ability to tolerate, to peacefully coexist with, those whose beliefs differ or conflict with yours!

Now Christians, if you hold a view that directly contradicts God's; then can't you see where, logically, you are in the wrong? Christianity is a "revealed" religion - God is coming from the "outside," and speaking His Truth quite clearly. You're free to deny it - God gives you that right and will be tolerant of your choice; but, to a greater or lesser degree, you won't be in union with Him. And as we saw Paul say above, "Do not be deceived..." We didn't create this universe, and we don't get to decide what is right and wrong - those things were established by the same One Who instituted gravity and decreed that two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen combine to make water. Denying this reality doesn't make one enlightened or original - it was humanity's first sin (Genesis 3:4-5), older than recorded history and at the root of every evil perpetrated.

Catholicism, as a list of tenets and "religious" practices, may not feel like your "end all, be all," the most important facet of your life - but I would suggest that is because you're not taking it personally. (Ah, see how I'm weaving that back in?) Is there an institutional side? Yes. Will you find creeps mixed in with the "institution"? Yes - and right from the start Jesus told us we would (the Church is like a net containing both good and bad fish [Matt.13:47-48], a field containing both wheat and cockle [Matt.13:24-30] - and will be so until the Final Judgment). And yet, Jesus is at work within the Church. Because not only is it institution, it is His BRIDE, He has made it His very BODY. Despite its sinful members, Jesus has preserved it as the "pillar and foundation of truth" (1 Tim.3:15). Despite its sinful members, it is the only place where Jesus comes to give us His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the Eucharist! And if that isn't our "end all, be all;" then I have no idea what else could be.

This Sunday's second reading seems like the perfect way to end:
You must no longer live as the Gentiles (pagans) do, in the futility of their minds; they are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart; they have become callous and have given themselves up to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of uncleanness. You did not so learn Christ! - assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus"
(Paul's Letter to the Ephesians, 4:17-21)
And it isn't hard. Open up your Catechism, or go to it online, where you can search any topic you want. Read that Bible. And remember, it IS personal - because Truth is a Person; and we Christians either love and accept Him, on His terms, or we are rejecting Him.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Positivity and Manure

Heard a great homily by Fr. Jack Shuler about our orientation as disciples - whether our eyes are full of hope and fixed on Jesus or on the negative things all around us. There were two brothers, one the epitome of positivity and the other of negativity. Their father, hoping to help each of them look at the world a bit more realistically, thought long and hard about what he would give each of them for Christmas. When Christmas morning finally arrived, the father watched expectantly as his pessimistic son opened his gift - a brand new, top-of-the-line, Rolex Watch. The father expected joy, but the pessimistic son was downcast. He immediately handed it back to his father, "I can't accept this. It's too much; knowing my luck I'll break it by this evening." The father turned to watch his starry-eyed, positive son unwrap his gift...a piece of manure. The father was taken aback when the boy started hopping up and down in excitement, "Dad, I can't believe it! Where's the pony?"

Man, I like that. What an awesome way to see the difficulties and sufferings we deal with - precursors to something awesome.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Unscientific Thoughts on Confession

I'm telling you up front, this isn't a scientifically verifiable observation or even anything remotely like it - just something that struck me:
The Sacrament of Reconciliation, or Confession, is a sacrament that has fallen into general disuse over the past 40 years - almost simultaneously with the loss of stigma surrounding seeking help from a counselor/therapist. Why is it that we American Catholics will "bear our souls" in therapy but not in the confessional? It's interesting to me. The other thing that strikes me is that when I watch the news, it seems like our society is struggling with more and more dysfunction, like we're "upping the ante" every year. Granted, there are obviously a myriad of other factors that went into making today's society. But one of are most frequent solutions to human behavior today is to recommend therapy. Well, we've got more therapy...but simultaneously more dysfunction. Less Confession, more dysfunction.

What is it that Confession brings to the table that therapy doesn't? (And I'm not knocking counseling/therapy - valid discipline, good tools - I highly recommend it.) But Faith tells me that at root, humanity's problem is spiritual. And while therapy can be good, it's not a sacrament - it can't cut through feelings and thought patterns to make a change directly in the soul. Applying only natural means, in the hopes of curing a supernatural problem, has to end in futility. Confession requires that we recognize that there is such a thing as sin...does the world know what that is anymore?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sunday Snippets -- a Catholic Carnival

Offering for Sunday, August 9, 2009: It Is What It Is

Suffering = Hope

Romans 5:3-4 has been brought to my attention in two different books this week, and if that doesn't make it bloggable, I don't know what does. Fr. Charles Arminjon was the first to bring it up, footnoting it as a reference, to his attention getting statement that if we suffer, then we have great reason to hope in God. Lets read those verses in their entirety:
We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.
Yep, Arminjon got it right: God allows us suffering, to call forth the image of His Son in us, and that gives us reason to hope that we will be confirmed in His Life eternally. We find this same idea in the Epistle to the Hebrews too:
It is for discipline that you have to endure...For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it...God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children, and not sons (12:7,11,8)
Discipline in which all have participated? That's right, ALL:
Although he was a Son, Jesus learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him...About this we have much to say which is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing (Hebrews 5:8-11).
Touche, oh writer of Hebrews! Suffering, not perfectly understood yet endured, while living our lives with faithfulness to God's will is redemptive! What does that mean for the person going through an unwanted divorce? For the person laid up in the hospital? For the child whose father yells too much? Whatever the difficulty, our lives have to be lived in union with Jesus - we have to try as hard as we can to manifest Jesus' words and behavior in the midst of the suffering. I started this reflection with Romans 5:3-4. Let me recap it, but carry on through verse 5, because it is the key:
Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us!
It's not about our endurance, our strength - it's about God's! We Catholics know we're not saved by faith alone, but we do rely on God's grace alone to carry us through to Heaven. ("Christ in you, the hope of glory." Colossians 1:27) Our hope isn't in ourselves, but in Jesus. Like Paul, we accept our share in "Jesus' sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible [we] may attain the resurrection from the dead" (Philippians 3:11).

So "word up" to Fr. Charles Arminjon for his pithy little, "suffering = reason to hope." There's a whole lot of Scripture and theology squeezed into that little equation. You know, another gal you might have heard of was pretty fond of this same book by Arminjon, Therese Martin... St. Therese of Lisieux. She read it at 15 and referred to it as "one of the greatest graces of my life." Not a bad endorsement.

Monday, July 13, 2009

B.A. Baracus Award

And the B.A. Baracus Award for 2009 goes to Benedict XVI, for his presentation of the Church's most recent document on bioethics, Dignitas Personae, to Barack Obama! You da man Benedict,
you DA MAN!

(Note: Referring to Benedict as "da man" is in no way a slight to Josh Huddleston, whose "da man"-ness is firmly in place and apparent to all.)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

John Paul and the Sacred Heart

For the past couple of weeks I've been reading from a book put out in 1992 by Our Sunday Visitor, Pope John Paul II Prays the Litany of the Sacred Heart. It's a powerful little book, the reflections of the Pope upon the 33 invocations of this profound, but often neglected (in my own case), prayer. Allow me to share just a few lines from over 80 pages of the Pope's insights:
Heart of Jesus, sacred temple of God, have mercy on us.
"The Heart of the Man Jesus Christ is therefore, in the trinitarian sense, the "temple of God": it is the interior temple of the Son who is united with the Father in the Holy Spirit by means of the unity of the divinity. How inscrutable is the mystery of this Heart which is the "temple of God" and the "tabernacle of the Most High." (p.33)
Heart of Jesus, burning furnace of charity, have mercy on us.
"The burning furnace gradually expends itself. The Heart of Jesus, on the other hand, is an inextinguishable furnace. In this it resembles the "burning bush" in the Book of Exodus...In fact, the love which burns in the Heart of Jesus is above all the Holy Spirit, in which the God-Son is united eternally with the Father."

Sacred Heart of Jesus, make our hearts like unto Yours. Amen.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Creed & Mysteries

Just noticed something this morning: the correlation between the words of the Creed and the Rosary's Glorious Mysteries.

"I believe in the Holy Spirit" - Descent of the Spirit at Pentecost
"...the resurrection of the dead" - Mary's assumption into Heaven
"...and the life of the world to come" - Mary's coronation

Friday, July 3, 2009

I Got Schooled

Sure did - by an elderly gentelman walking into Mass. He was ahead of me, but I caught up to him quickly; he had stopped to rest on his cane for a moment. I didn't want to insult him in any way, but I felt I should stop and ask if he needed a hand getting inside. He pulled an electrolarynx from his pocket and used it to tell me, with a smile, "No, I'm fine. I just need to take a moment." The image of him struggling to make it to a weekday Mass impressed me a great deal though. Most mornings, I can't make it because of work or activities with the kids...but on the mornings that I am free, why don't I always get there? Jesus is there, anxious to be with me - me! And I have something more important to do? I've got to get my head on straight.

Doubting Thomas, or Grieving Thomas?

In the Catholic Church, today is the Feast of Thomas the Apostle. Thomas, of course, has come down to us in history as "Doubting Thomas," the skeptic among the Apostles, because of his statement "I will never believe [He has been raised] without probing the nailprints in His hands" (John 20:25). When I heard the account read again at this morning's Mass though, skepticism wasn't what I heard in Thomas' voice - it was grief.

Two days before, from afar, Thomas had witnessed Jesus' crucifixion. The man on whom he had pinned all of his hopes for the future was brutally murdered in front of him! Instead of God's kingdom breaking in and setting the world aright, Thomas saw it all destroyed. So when the other Apostles started telling stories about Jesus being raised from the dead, Thomas couldn't just grab onto it. Thomas was in shambles at that point - no, the only thing that could restore his hope was to lay his hands on the Body that had been tortured and killed. The Lord left Thomas in that darkness for another week, but at the time God perceived to be best, Jesus did come to him, "Take your finger and examine my hands. Put your hand into my side. Do not persist in your unbelief but believe!" (John 20:27).

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

"We're Not Worthy!"

That line was going through my head last night. I haven't posted a blog in quite awhile - getting that book out to the public has taken a lot of time, on top of just being a dad. This past weekend was a good one for the book though. A positive review on Catholic Exchange sold some paperback copies as well as generated emails requesting PDFs in places as far away as Perth, Australia, and Lisbon, Portugal! I was happy, but much to my surprise, a bit scared too. It hit me: "Who am I to speak about Jesus? I have so far to go in being a worthy representative. What if someone who reads the book meets me down the line and thinks, 'Him - he wrote this?'"
All I can really say is: Lord, I really want this book to be a tool in Your Hands, a help in opening others' eyes to all that You have for them. Just please don't let me be a stumbling block on anyone's road to You.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Science & Faith - No Conflict

Although I have always enjoyed it, these past few years, I've been reading even more on the "relationship" between science and faith. I guess I've been spurred on by the new wave of atheism that has made its way to bookstore shelves (think Richard Dawkins' God Delusion for starters). Just recently I read a great anecdote by the Brit, G.K. Chesterton:
I remember once arguing with an honest young atheist, who was very much shocked at my disputing some of the assumptions which were absolute sanctities to him...and he at length fell back upon this question, which he delivered with an honourable heat of defiance and indignation: "Well, can you tell me any man of intellect, great in science or philosophy, who accepted the miraculous?" I said, "With pleasure. Descartes, Dr. Johnson, Newton, Faraday, Newman, Gladstone, Pasteur, Browning, Brunetiere - as many more as you please." To which that admirable young man made this astonishing reply - "Oh, but of course they had to say that; they were Christians." First he challenged me to find a black swan, and then he ruled out all my swans because they were black. The fact that all these great intellects had come to the Christian view was somehow or other a proof either that they were not great intellectuals or that they had not really come to that view.

I took that quotation from Dale Ahlquist's Common Sense 101: Lessons From G.K. Chesterton. As my pal Kevin says, there was "plenty of grist there for my mill." (Readers, do yourselves a favor and visit Dr. Kevin Vost's website.) And while I'm at it, let me throw out a few more excellent reads on faith and science:

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


When I was praying the Rosary this evening I was really struck by the final mystery, the Coronation of Mary. Raised up to Heaven, as we all hope to be some day, she received her crown - "Well done good and faithful servant."

In a strict sense though, what had Mary done to warrant a crown? She did exactly what God had asked of her. But didn't she owe Him that, as a creature to her Creator? Yes, in strict justice she did. But this is where we see the abundant, and utterly gratuitous Love of God. He freely chose to raise up that humble creature, and to count her as his partner in redemption! And as a loving, cooperative partner and daughter, He lavishes honors upon her!

And that is what is awaiting us too! As Paul said, "Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing" (2 Timothy 4:8).

Freaking Me Out

So I came home today and flipped on the television. I start flipping channels and, hey - that's Jon Bon Jovi sitting next to Oprah. That I had to see. They were talking about the inauguration. Hey, there's Forest Whittaker too. I left the show on in the background as I started the computer and logged on to check my e-mail.

I heard them as they spoke about how our new president's attitude of hope and public displays of affection for his wife had already begun our country's "healing process." PDA and national healing? Jon, don't you go giving love a bad name! My next thought was, "People, you've got to put the brakes on. Your expectations are just too high; no man can live up to them." Just then I spotted an e-mail from my buddy Pete, directing me to the White House's site, where President Obama's team had laid out his social agenda:

Gay Rights
  • Support Full Civil Unions and Federal Rights for LGBT Couples...
  • Oppose a Constitutional Ban on Same-Sex Marriage: President Obama voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2006 which would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman and prevented judicial extension of marriage-like rights to same-sex or other unmarried couples.
  • Expand Adoption Rights: President Obama believes that we must ensure adoption rights for all couples and individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation. He thinks that a child will benefit from a healthy and loving home, whether the parents are gay or not.
  • Promote AIDS Prevention: ...The President will support common sense approaches including age-appropriate sex education that includes information about contraception, combating infection within our prison population through education and contraception, and distributing contraceptives through our public health system. The President also supports lifting the federal ban on needle exchange, which could dramatically reduce rates of infection among drug users. President Obama has also been willing to confront the stigma -- too often tied to homophobia -- that continues to surround HIV/AIDS.
Embryonic Stem Cells and Abortion
  • Supporting Stem Cell Research: President Obama and Vice President Biden believe that we owe it to the American public to explore the potential of stem cells to treat the millions of people suffering from debilitating and life-threatening diseases. Obama is a co-sponsor of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007, which will allow research of human embryonic stem cells derived from embryos donated (with consent) from in vitro fertilization clinics. These embryos must be deemed in excess and created based solely for the purpose of fertility treatment.
  • Supports a Woman's Right to Choose: President Obama understands that abortion is a divisive issue, and respects those who disagree with him. However, he has been a consistent champion of reproductive choice and will make preserving women's rights under Roe v. Wade a priority in his Adminstration. He opposes any constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's decision in that case.
  • Preventing Unintended Pregnancy: President Obama was an original co-sponsor of legislation to expand access to contraception, health information, and preventive services to help reduce unintended pregnancies. Introduced in January 2007, the Prevention First Act will increase funding for family planning and comprehensive sex education that teaches both abstinence and safe sex methods. The Act will also end insurance discrimination against contraception, improve awareness about emergency contraception, and provide compassionate assistance to rape victims.
What good things are we expecting President Obama to accomplish, that they can outweigh this social agenda coming to fruition?
And when Jesus drew near and saw Jerusalem he wept over it, saying, "Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes" (Luke 19:41-42).

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Chuck It

I don't know, we've been talking about Jesus made sense to me.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Jesus' Baptism

Alright, I'm recycling material here; but as I said, I love thinking about the mysteries surrounding Jesus' baptism. Here's a link to an excerpt from Chapter 3 of The God Who is Love: Explaining Christianity From Its Center; just jump ahead to pages three and four.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Jesus' Prayer

My Protestant brothers and sisters refer to the Our Father as The Lord's Prayer, Jesus' prayer. Reflecting upon Jesus' Baptism, it strikes me as a wonderful insight.

How natural for those words to have been on Jesus' lips as went down into the water:
Our Father, Who art in heaven, holy be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread.
The prayer of the Messiah, as he takes up His office before the world. And then the second half of the prayer - offered by One Who was perfectly sinless, but the representative of a sinful race:
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
The Love of Jesus for us - Our Father...give us our daily bread...forgive us. Thank You God! What else can we feel at this moment besides gratitude and awe?

Lookin' Up

I love this Feast Day, the celebration of Jesus' Baptism (brace yourself, I feel multiple posts coming on). Listen to how Mark tells it:
Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. Immediately on coming up out of the water he saw the sky rent in two and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. Then a voice came from the heavens, "You are my beloved Son. On you my favor rests." (Mark 1:9-11)
Why is it that it feels so natural to look up when we pray? Even Jesus did it on occasion (John 11:41), and He was in a position to know that Heaven isn't physically above "the heavens"! So what's the deal? Highly visual moments like Jesus' baptism and ascension remind us that Heaven is a "higher level" of being, but again; why the physicality of looking toward the sky?

My own theory? I'll warn you; it's not very complex...I think it has to do with little children looking and reaching up toward their parents. It's such a natural, and universal, gesture, a child's reaching out and up to his/her loving provider and protector. I think that this is tranferred to our interactions with God, quite naturally, and quite appropriately. He is our Father!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Can't Say It Any Better!

Last year I signed up at Daily Gospel to receive an e-mail with the day's gospel reading and commentary. And this morning, this is what I found, a reflection on Jesus' Incarnation:

Saint Augustine (354-430), Bishop of Hippo (North Africa) and Doctor of the Church
Sermon 194, 11th sermon on the Nativity of the Lord

"This joy of mine has been made complete"
Listen, children of light: you who have been adopted for the Kingdom of God; listen, my dearest brethren; listen and exult for joy in the Lord, you just, for «praise from the upright is fitting» (Ps 33,1). Listen to what you already know; reflect on what you have heard; love what you believe; proclaim what you love!...

Christ is born, God from his Father, man through his mother. He was born from his Father's immortality and his mother's virginity. From the Father without the aid of a mother; from the mother without that of a father. From his Father without time; from his mother without seed. According to his Father he is the principle of life; according to his mother, the ending of death. According to his Father he was born to determine the order of days; according to his mother, to consecrate the day that is here.

He sent John the Baptist before him, causing him to be born when the days were beginning to decrease, while he himself was born when the days began to grow in length, thus prefiguring John's own words: «He must increase, I must decrease». For indeed, human life must grow weaker in itself but stronger in Jesus Christ «so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised» (2Cor 5,15), and so that each one of us might repeat those words of the apostle Paul: «Yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me» (Gal 2,20).

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Shackin' Up

Recently, a couple of friends at work were very excited by this book, The Shack, and were curious what I would think of it. It took about as month for me to get to it, but I finally did. Sad to say, I didn't enjoy it as much as they had. The premise was promising enough: a man grieving the murder of his young daugher spends a weekend in a shack, conversing with the three Persons of the Trinity. And I must say, the book does some things very well, probably the most important being its presentation of God as a Being of infinite tenderness, Who continually pours Himself out to His human creatures. Because of that, one of my friends described the book as "life changing." Now that's fantastic - God using this book to increase her understanding of how perfect His love for her is and that Christianity is a RELATIONSHIP, not a list of arbitrary rules or rituals to be performed. (Not to say that "rules" and "rituals" aren't a part of every relationship though. You've been to a birthday party, right? Cake, singing, make wish, blow out candles, can't tell wish, cut cake, etc.)

I did feel like there was a distortion, however, in the image The Shack gives of God and the definitive image we find in the Jesus of the Gospels. I felt I was looking at a caricature. God IS all Love, but that Love is perfectly one with His justice and holiness (aka, "total otherness"). In an infinite Being these qualities aren't contradictions. I couldn't see the God of The Shack ever recommending excommunication as an act of Love, but that is what the Jesus of the Gospels advised the Apostles:
If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault...If he will not listen, take one or two others along...If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth is bound in heaven. (Matthew 18:15-17)

And the Apostles took Jesus at His word, as can be seen from the Apostle Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians:
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you...A man has his father's wife...Shouldn't you have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this?...When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that his sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord. (1 Cor.5:1-12)

That's right, put him outside the assembly - treat him as if dead, because spiritually he is. Does it look intolerant on the part of Jesus, of Paul? It's TOUGH LOVE, and it's meant to be medicinal. It is a last-ditch effort to wake the offender to how destructive his behavior is, and that if it isn't changed, it can cost him his soul. The Church would be supremely unloving if it failed to intervene. (It strikes me as funny that a psychologist can use this technique, call it an "intervention," and receive accolades; but when a bishop does the same, calling it "excommunication," he's despised.)

This leads into what I consider The Shack's largest deficiency - its conception of the Church. The author, William P. Young, clearly recognizes the spiritual reality of the Church; I liked the visionary image he used of Jesus standing at the center of the Communion of Saints - that heaven and earth are bound together in Christ. What Young doesn't grasp though, is how the Church can be both spiritual and material, simultaneously. (It's a both/and thing, not an either/or - as are the Sacraments and the Incarnation itself!) It leads Mr. Young to break with the four gospels, creating this exchange between the characters of Mack and Jesus:
"You're not too fond of religion and institutions?" Mack said, not sure if he was asking a question or making an observation.
"I don't create institutions - never have, never will."
"What about the institution of marriage?"
"Marriage is not an institution. It's a relationship." Jesus paused, his voice steady and patient. "Like I said, I don't create institutions; that's an occupation for those who want to play God. So no, I'm not too big on religion." Jesus said a little sarcastically, "and not very fond of politics or economics either." Jesus' visage darkened noticeably. "And why should I be? They are the man-created trinity of terrors that ravages the earth and deceives those I care about. What mental turmoil and anxiety does any human face that is not related to one of those three?"

Whoa, whoa, whoa. There's Young's either/or slant; and it's unwarranted. Lets take economics. Now honestly, can't there be both good and bad economics? And marriage, of course it's a relationship. But there are legally-binding vows taken before witnesses, joint property, responsibilities, custody of children...I don't know, sounds like there's a formal/institutional side to me.

In the same vein, it has become quite fashionable to pit "religion" against "having a personal relationship with God." I did it myself for several years, and in public talks no less! "I'm a spiritual person, not religious. Religion is about binding us to certain practices, but spirituality is the living out of a relationship." What God finally opened my eyes to, however, was that these things aren't mutually exclusive; they're meant to fit like hand-in-glove. Jesus Himself, bound us to certain practices: "This is My Body; this is My Blood. Do this in remembrance of Me." He bound us to the practice of confessing our sins when He told the Apostles, "If you forgive anyone their sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven" (John 20:23). The Sacraments are Exhibit-A that practices/rituals can be filled with all the spiritual power we can imagine (and then some)! Granted, a man can come forward to receive Communion without the least thought that he is about to receive the God-man (His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity) into himself - just as another man can take a stranger back to his bed for the night, without the least appreciation for the magnitude of the sexual act. The second man's failure to engage in sex the way God intended, and to reap the intimacy it was created to enhance, doesn't lead us to label sex "meaningless." The same goes for religion: just because we are surrounded by Catholics and other Christians who have never grasped the power inherent in the Sacraments, Scripture, or life within the Church, it doesn't mean these are lacking in power. Spiritual blindness has kept us living in poverty, unable to see the million dollars lying on the kitchen table!

When we turn from religious ritual to religious leadership, the same is true. There are good and bad shepherds out there; it doesn't negate the need for shepherding though. It doesn't negate the fact that Jesus established a Church, with visible leaders, for that very purpose. We could look at Scriptural citations and historical studies illustrating it until we went cross-eyed; glancing up above at the quotations of Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5 above should suffice though. And what we see when we reflect on those passages is how "institution" can be the very vehicle of relationship! God works, God speaks to us, through the leaders of His Church. The Incarnation is continued as Jesus makes use of the pope and bishops, members along with all of us in His Mystical Body, to speak His Word. Our religion isn't just citing passages from a holy book, trying to shoe-horn all of the modern world's questions so that they match "old" answers. No, it is bringing our confusion and questions to God, and allowing the Holy Spirit to breathe through Scripture and Tradition, illuminating the minds of the Apostles' successors as they formulate responses that are ever-faithful to the past, but capable of speaking to new situations. (You might want to glance at my last post where I touched on the Church's opposition to in vitro fertilization.)

The sinfulness of Christian ministers doesn't negate this either, anymore than Judas' betrayal negated the role of the Twelve. After Judas' defection and suicide, another was appointed to his office (Acts of the Apostles 1:20). The Truth and Power within our Faith isn't undone by human failings; our God, dwelling within His Church, is way too powerful. I've got to go with St. Irenaeus on this one. As a disciple of Bishop Polycarp (himself, a disciple of the Apostle John) Irenaeus was in a much better position than we in the 20th century, on the other side of the world, to know what Jesus had communicated to the Apostles. In 180 A.D., Irenaeus wrote, "Where the Church is there is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God, there the Church and every grace."

So, can I recommend The Shack? In my own life God has made use of materials that were less than perfect to help me along; the book Joshua, with a message similar to The Shack's, is an example. That said, there are other books that can be of a lot more benefit, C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity for starters. A good rule of thumb: (With the exception of the Bible itself) If it's palatable enough that it has made it onto a shelf at Wal-Mart, then whatever good points it has, it probably isn't the Gospel as preached by Jesus and the Apostles.

Sunday, January 4, 2009


12 Days of Christmas, 12 months of the year, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 Tribes of Israel, 12 sons of Jacob the patriarch, 12 Apostles...

I was thinking about Pentecost last night (a.k.a. "meditating on the mystery of Pentecost"), trying to come at it from a different angle. I always envision Mary and the Apostles, but there were over a hundred other people gathered in that upper room (Acts 1:15)! So I imagined the reaction of that crowded room, experiencing the release of the Holy Spirit in charisms like tongues and prophecy. They were excited, prayer pouring out their hearts to God in charismatic prayer. Inevitably though, their eyes turned toward the Apostles, "the Twelve" as they were known in the early Church.

It was only natural that they should look to them for guidance in that moment. Let me explain: The nation of Israel, its 12 tribes, were descended from the 12 sons of Jacob (grandson of Abraham). Those 12 were the fathers of the nation. So for Jesus to single out 12 of His disciples to form an inner circle, to be "Apostles"or those "sent," it would have been recognized as monumental. Jesus, the Messiah, was appointing them as the foundation of His renewed Israel. They would be the fathers of the nation! Of course all of the disciples gathered on Pentecost would have turned their eyes to them.

Fathers of the nation. This truth is transmitted by us every time we refer to a priest, bishop, or pope as father. At ordination they were entrusted with the task of making present the fatherly care of the The Twelve. Putting it like that, I need to pray for them more - that's gotta be one tough job. Come Holy Spirit!

Post #50 - With Many Thanks to Kathi

50 posts - I never knew I had it in me. Once again I have to say "thank you" to my friend Kathi Strunk, who encouraged me to start not only a blog but a website. Her advice was nothing short of prophetic. That's right, I used the "p" word.

I'm not talking the Nostradamus-looking-in-a-bowl-of-oil type prophet (I'd be very weary of them), but the baptized-Christian-type. All of us have been called to share in the prophetic ministry of Jesus Christ. We exercise it in very intentional ways - taking hard stands, calling people back to their senses, reminding loved ones of God's Truth when they've gotten things all jumbled up. But I'm convinced that we often exercise it in very unintentional ways as well - when we speak and act from love.

And that's my friend Kathi; she comes from love. I see her going out of her way to develop relationships with the kids at our school and to give them little nudges in new and exciting directions. Wow, as I wrote that, it struck me as an apt description of her influence on me. Here's to Kathi!