Friday, May 31, 2013

God's Temple - A Mobile Home?

A few months back I caught Peggy Bowes on Relevant Radio, fielding questions about The Rosary Workout.  One of the callers was concerned that Peggy's combining of the Rosary with walking and running was irreverent, that the Rosary should be prayed while one was stationary, stilled both interiorly and exteriorly.  Peggy's response, which I really enjoyed, appealed to the example of the Blessed Mother herself:  Luke's Gospel tells us how following the Annunciation "Mary rose and went with haste into the hill country of Judah" (Lk.1:39), to visit Elizabeth.  Isn't it natural to assume that Mary prayed as she trekked the over 75 miles from Nazareth to the outskirts of Jerusalem?  Of course it is.  And not only was Mary speaking to God; she was also meditating on Scripture - look at how quickly the words of the Old Testament (1 Sam.2:1-8) leapt to her lips when she met Elizabeth and burst into the Magnificat (Lk.1:46-55).  Prayer and meditation upon Scripture - that's the Rosary - and our Blessed Mother was engaged in it while on a 75 mile hike!  I ask you to keep Peggy's insights in mind as you continue to read.

After Mass this morning I remained seated, directing my gaze at the Tabernacle and praying.  "Lord, thank You for coming into me.  I can't believe that You have made me Your tabernacle too, and that You're coming with me as I visit my family this afternoon, as I head to work tomorrow . . . Lord, You've made my body a mobile Temple, a mobile home."  And then the connections started coming fast and furious:  God had dwelt with Israel for 400 years before Solomon built Him a stationary Temple of stone - and He was a God on the move.  His dwelling throughout those 400 years was a series of tents known as the Tabernacle.  When God picked up and moved, Israel packed up the Tabernacle and set off through the desert following Him.  The Ark of the Covenant, God's Old Testament throne, was even equipped with poles so that the priests could carry it.

Luke brought Tabernacle and Ark imagery together in the way he worded his narratives of the Annunciation and visitation of Mary to Elizabeth (Ex.40:34 and Lk.1:35; 2 Sam.6:2-16 and Lk.1:39-56).  Yes, in the Visitation Mary acted as Jesus' mobile home - the Tabernacle and Ark of the New Covenant.  You and I continue this awesome reality.  We bodily carry Jesus' presence into our homes, workplaces, etc.  That is our impetus in taking care of our bodies - giving them the right fuel, keeping them as agile as possible, and with sufficient strength to perform acts of love (e.g., helping your best friend move, throwing your kids up over your head).

Our Lord Jesus is of course the greatest example of this.  Tramping across Galilee, the Decapolis, and Judea, up on the mountains and out in the desert - He was a Temple on the move!  Like our Lord, the day will come when our bodies will finally yield to death, when we will find ourselves on a Cross, a bed of pain.  At that moment we will unite our agony and the failure of our bodies to His sacrifice.  (And like Him, we will one day receive them back, glorified, in the Resurrection.)  In anticipation of our Passover from the present order we daily offer our bodies in service to the Father, just as Jesus did - as Temples on the move.  We train our bodies (1 Cor.9:27) and through them offer ourselves as "living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God."  It is through the body that we Christians offer our "spiritual worship" (Rom.12:1).

Friday, May 24, 2013

How Could Jesus Say, "My Burden is Light"?

"Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."  (Matthew 11:28-30)

I have read those words many times over the past 25 years, but they really caught my attention the other night.  "What do you mean Lord?  How could Your yoke be easy and your burden light?  You had the weight of the entire world on your shoulders ... What is Your 'yoke'?  Is it Your Cross, the Cross that we are supposed to take up and follow after You?"

And then I started to think about what was most important to Jesus.  His total focus, in everything He did, was pleasing His Father.  Yes, ultimately that meant accepting the Cross onto His shoulders; but doing the will of the Father was the yoke He bore every day of His life.  And He didn't consider it a burden.  (Rather, He spoke of it as being energizing.)  Jesus did have great responsibility - saving the human race - but His mind wasn't pulled here and there, anxious about what had to be done.  No, in each moment, His goal was the same - doing what He knew the Father wanted Him to do.  

I would wager that in the vast, vast majority of situations we encounter each day, we know how God wants us to act - we know the commandments, have heard or read enough Scripture and Church teaching to have an intuitive understanding of right and wrong.  Much of our anxiety probably stems from knowing God's will, but trying to justify going the other way.  Jesus didn't have that.  His yoke was easy and His burden light; He wants the same for us.  "What would the Lord want me to do?  ...  Alright, here we go."

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Either Embryos Have Human Dignity, or It's All Just a Sham

We speak of human beings having innate dignity, and that innate dignity being the basis for human rights; but then we pretend that embryos do not share that dignity and are not entitled to the same rights as are those who have been born.

And that is absolutely nuts!  Seriously, think it through:

For someone to make the claim that human beings have dignity, while simultaneously claiming that embryos do not have dignity and innate rights, they have to hold that human beings only obtain dignity when they have reached a certain level of physical or cognitive development.

But if that is true then there is really no such thing as "innate dignity" - a dignity that we humans have simply as a result of existence (which science recognizes as beginning at conception).  Rather, human dignity is a human construct - an idea that we came up with, and which we are able to apply or deny to whomever we wish.

And if that is the case, then Martin Luther King, Jr.'s whole argument for civil rights was baseless, and the atrocities committed by Adolph Hitler completely justifiable.  If human dignity is not real - if it wasn't granted to us the nanosecond that we came into existence - then that is the reality

But we can't have it both ways, not logically.  Either human dignity is real, or it is an illusion.  If real, then we recognize the dignity and right to life of the unborn.  If not, then we admit that we have no innate dignity either; and we can be disposed of however the most powerful among us decides - and that isn't wrong; it's just the way the universe works.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

THE OFFICE's Michael Scott & IVF (or, When Ignorance Seems Like Bliss)

Well, tonight is the finale of The Office.  And with that in mind, I thought I would share this vintage post:

What Office fan doesn't love Michael? He has a heart of gold but is completely clueless as to the inappropriateness of his comments or how the world truly functions. My biggest laughs come when Michael makes a comment and the camera pans to Jim - eyes wide in disbelief. But we love Michael; we know he doesn't say or do anything with malicious intent (except to Tobey). We have to admit, however, that his behavior, no matter how well-intentioned, handicaps him in the "real world."  He is starving for real intimacy.

It struck me while laying in bed last night that, from God's perspective, our world must look like a bunch of Michaels running around. We have so many behaviors in our culture - behaviors engaged in with no realization they are at odds they with the "real world" of God and His Kingdom. Let me throw one out there for consideration: IVF, or in vitro fertilization. It's a fairly common procedure nowadays, engaged in by loving husbands and wives struggling against infertility and desperate to welcome a biological child of their own into the world. (Talk about hearts of gold.) Doctors remove eggs and sperm cells from the couple, and successfully combine them in the laboratory; fertilization takes place and new human lives begin!

But not every new embryo, new life, is implanted in its mother's womb. Several "extra" embroys are created in the process ... and frozen. In the United States alone we have hundreds of thousands of frozen embryos - human beings in suspended animation! (And if not frozen, simply destroyed.) Those are our children, as surely as the ones who are carried to term.  It is a staggering realization. IVF begins with good intentions but in the real world, that of God's Kingdom, saints and angels watch in disbelief.

What can we do? Love, love each other. We in our culture act from ignorance, not malice. And when we discover God's vision, discover the real world, we have to look for opportunities to respectfully open others' eyes. We Christians aren't in the condemnation business; we're supposed to help bring fullness of life - succesful relationships with God and others and within ourselves. That means overcoming ignorance, both our own and others (through reason, Scripture and the teachings of the Church), and the false "bliss" that comes with it.

"That's what she said."
Yes Michael, She (the Church) said it long before I did (1 Peter 3:15). I just thought it bore repeating.

You can find a more developed post I wrote on IVF here.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Between Ascenion & Pentecost - Were the Apostles Praying the Rosary?

It sounds like a ridiculous question for me to pose. It's common knowledge that the Rosary didn't take shape for at least another thousand years! Upon reflection however, I hope you will agree that the the "soul" of the Rosary was always present in the Apostles' prayer.

Jesus' instruction at the time of His ascension was, "not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father...before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit." And the Apostles did just that: "All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren" (Acts 1:4-5, 14). That was how they spent the nine days between Jesus' ascension and the descent of the Spirit on Pentecost.

Of what did their prayer consist? Petition, combined with a great deal of meditation (the "soul" of the Rosary) - thinking and rethinking the things Jesus had said to them, the actions and miracles they witnessed, the meaning of His death, resurrection, and ascension. It consisted of reflecting upon Scripture; when Jesus appeared to them on the night of His resurrection, He had "opened their minds to understand the scriptures...the law of Moses, the prophets and the psalms" and how they had been fulfilled in Him (Luke 24:44-45). And this meditation was being done in the presence of Mary. She was engaged in it with them. As John Paul II pointed out so beautifully:

Mary lived with her eyes fixed on Christ, treasuring his every word: “She kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19; cf. 2:51). The memories of Jesus, impressed upon her heart, were always with her, leading her to reflect on the various moments of her life at her Son's side. In a way those memories were to be the “rosary” which she recited uninterruptedly throughout her earthly life (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 11).
The Apostles spent nine days engaged in this with her, making the Church's first novena. We can see the fruits that emerged - Peter's move to replace the office left vacant by Judas' defection emerged from his reflection upon the Psalms (Acts 1:20) and then the explosion of Scriptural insights he unleashed up the crowd at Pentecost! (Acts 2:16-41) Isn't it likely that the Holy Spirit had been bringing key points of that first sermon to Peter's consciousness throughout the nine days of prayer?

When we today pray the Rosary, when we recite the Hail Mary while meditating upon the events recounted in the gospels and Acts (the twenty Mysteries), we enter into the Apostles' experience. "With the Rosary, the Christian people sits at the school of Mary and is led to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ and to experience the depths of his love" (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 1). And by doing this regularly, daily, our souls grow and become progressively docile to the movement of the Holy Spirit. We receive not one, but several Pentecosts as our eyes open up onto new spiritual vistas and we find ourselves acting with a freedom and strength we imagined ourselves unable to attain. And rightly so - these things can only take root in souls that have been broken up and seeded, over time, through prayer. These souls are made ready for that moment when the Living Water rains down and causes the new life to burst forth out into the open.

We won't see Pentecost without it. Jesus knows how we are made, and He knows how to "remake" us in His image; that was why He sent the Apostles back to the upper room. They needed to spend that time in prayer, in meditation ... in the company of His Mother. My friends, almost two thousand years may have passed, but the prescription remains the same.

Today is the Memorial of Our Lady of Fatima, and I can't think of a better way to recognize it than honoring our Lady's request to pray the Rosary.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Want to Be a Saint? Think Like a MOM!

This post has been floating around in my head for awhile, and today being Mother's Day, it was exactly the push I needed to get it written.

In a previous post I reflected upon why we refer to God as "Father," instead of "Mother."  All of God’s actions come from “the outside” so to speak, and in this way are Fatherly.  The Church on the other hand – and the individual souls that make it up - is the  part of creation that has received God into itself and allowed him to bring forth new supernatural life.  In this analogy, whether biologically male or female, each human soul resembles the feminine.  This explains why Scripture refers to the Church as Christ’s Bride (Eph.5:22-23), and the Mother of the faithful (Rev.12:17).

Mary of Nazareth is where we see this reality most concretely.  She is the great image of the Church (see Lumen Gentium, 63-65).  Each of us is called to become pregnant with the Lord Jesus and give birth to Him in our lives.  The words spoken to Mary are spoken to our souls as well:  "you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son ... He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High"  And how is this possible?  "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God" (Lk. 2:35).

It occurs to me that if we want to become Saints, we have to think like a mom:
1.  Nothing is more important to a mom than the new life growing within her (Mk. 8:36).
2.  She would gratefully sacrifice her own life to save her child's (Mk. 8:35).
3.  Throughout pregnancy she follows her doctor's advice to the letter (James 1:21-25).   
4.  She doesn't let things that could harm the baby enter her body, even if she enjoyed them in the past - such as alcohol or caffeine (1 Cor. 9:24-27)
5.  Instead, she nurtures the new life within her by making sure to eat right (Jn. 6:56-57)

It's clearly not an exhaustive list; please feel free to make additions in the comments!  Happy Mother's Day.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Guest Post: St. Augustine on Jesus' Ascension (and Ours)

Peter Paul Rubens' St. Augustine
Today our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven; let our hearts ascend with him. Listen to the words of the Apostle: If you have risen with Christ, set your hearts on the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God; seek the things that are above, not the things that are on earth. For just as he remained with us even after his ascension, so we too are already in heaven with him, even though what is promised us has not yet been fulfilled in our bodies.

Christ is now exalted above the heavens, but he still suffers on earth all the pain that we, the members of his body, have to bear. He showed this when he cried out from above: Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? and when he said: I was hungry and you gave me food.

Why do we on earth not strive to find rest with him in heaven even now, through the faith, hope and love that unites us to him? While in heaven he is also with us; and we while on earth are with him. He is here with us by his divinity, his power and his love. We cannot be in heaven, as he is on earth, by divinity, but in him, we can be there by love.

He did not leave heaven when he came down to us; nor did he withdraw from us when he went up again into heaven. The fact that he was in heaven even while he was on earth is borne out by his own statement: No one has ever ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man, who is in heaven.

These words are explained by our oneness with Christ, for he is our head and we are his body. No one ascended into heaven except Christ because we also are Christ: he is the Son of Man by his union with us, and we by our union with him are the sons of God. So the Apostle says: Just as the human body, which has many members, is a unity, because all the different members make one body, so is it also with Christ. He too has many members, but one body.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Hard to Imagine the Afterlife?

With my last post being on Hell and mortal sin, I felt the need to revisit a post about Heaven:
 "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 butt! 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)
The Prayer of St. Francis is right on the money, "It is in dying that we are born to eternal life."

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

That Scared the Hell Out of Me!

Even 20 years later, this is still embarrassing for me to recount:  

I was probably 17 years old.  When I became conscious I was in complete darkness, the pitch-black.  I had no idea where I was.  I pulled myself up on my knees and started groping with my hands, but they didn’t make contact with anything.  The only sound I could hear was my own breathing.   “Where am I?  Hello … HELLO ...”  
Nothing.  I felt absolute terror as the realization seized me that I was alone – utterly ALONE.  I don’t know how my mind jumped to it, but my next thought was, “I am dead; I'm in Hell!”  Alone, isolated – forever.  Without any forethought, I found myself screaming, “Help!  HELP me!  HEEEEELLLP me!”

The darkness and isolation was suddenly invaded by a thud and burst of light on my left -- my younger brother was silhouetted in the doorway of my bedroom, "Shane, what's wrong?"

Overwhelmed by embarrassment and adrenaline I shouted "Get out!" and threw myself back down on the bed.  (Talk about no good deed going unpunished!)  Snapped back to reality, I layed in the darkness of my basement-level bedroom - embarrassed but grateful.  "I'm not in Hell; I'm not in Hell.  Thank you God."

There it is - not the most embarrassing moment of my life, but hands-down the most frightening.  For the span of almost a minute I thought I would spend eternity alone; and there couldn't possibly be anything worse.  Most people are familiar with Jesus likening of Hell to the valley where trash was burned outside Jerusalem (Gehenna; see Mt. 5:22, 29; 10:28; 18:9; 23:33), but my understanding of Hell has clearly been shaped by another image used by Jesus - that of being "thrown into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Mt. 8:12). 

My understanding of Heaven and Hell is grounded in that of relationship.  If I am united to God at the moment that my connection to this world is severed, then I will enjoy Him forever.  But if I am spiritually at a distance from God then once this world melts away ... I will be forever cut off.  I psychologically tasted that for a minute, and it was the most horrific experience of my life.

The reality is though, mortal (deadly) sin completely forces the life of God from our souls.  We can choose actions that, if we were to die without repenting, would leave us adrift forever.  What kind of sins are considered mortal?  St. Paul gave two lists, not meant to be exhaustive, in the New Testament.  As I look at them, objectively speaking, I think we as a culture should be concerned:

1 Corinthians 6:9-11
Galatians 5:19-21
Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived, neither the:
The acts of the flesh are obvious:
  • sexually immoral
  • idolaters
  • adulterers
  • men who have sex with men
  • thieves
  • the greedy
  • drunkards
  • slanderers,
  • nor swindlers
  • sexual immorality
  • impurity
  • debauchery
  • idolatry
  • witchcraft
  • hatred
  • discord
  • jealousy
  • fits of rage
  • selfish ambition
  • dissensions
  • factions
  • envy
  • drunkenness
  • orgies
will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified …
I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Think about our divorce and remarriage rates – even among Christians  –  and listen to Jesus, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Lk.16:18).  (Read about annulments here) Or consider what we choose for entertainment and the topic of conversation and recall Jesus teaching, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt.5:28).

Think about what is commonplace in our culture as you read these words from the Didache, Christianity's first catechism (written circa 70-120 A.D.), “You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not seduce boys. You shall not commit fornication. You shall not steal. You shall not practice magic. You shall not use potions [probably a reference to contraceptive potions]. You shall not procure abortion, nor destroy a newborn child.”


So long as we are on this earth, we can turn back to God - the infinite source of life, Who loves us -  and we can be forgiven and renewed.  Mortal sin and the Hell that puts us in jeopardy of is nothing to flirt with.  If you find yourself engaging in any of the behaviors listed above, then please stop.  If you find yourself encouraging or enabling loved ones to live a life apart from God, then that must stop too.  "But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea" (Mt.18:6).

Nothing in this world can compete with living as a friend of God, and nothing in this world is worth the lonely agony of Hell.  Come on, let some good come out of me telling that embarrassing story!