Monday, November 28, 2016

Hearing the Gospel Anew this Advent

We all have a mission in life. But how many people do you know who live their lives on a mission?

Many people pray that the Lord will reveal to them their mission--the basic contours of doing God's will in their daily lives. But how many people pray that the Lord will set them on fire like a modern-day John the Baptist?

In the readings from Mass for the first two Sundays of Advent, the living Word of God hammers home the theme of awareness and readiness: "Stay awake"; "Be prepared"; "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand"; and "Prepare the way of the Lord." Dare we pray for a new mission-awareness this Advent?  Dare we ask for the grace to share the zeal of John the Baptist?

Jesus said "Among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist"; may the following Baptist-inspired prayer help prompt us along the path of becoming "the least in the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 11:11):

A Prayer of the Forerunner
My life shall reflect yours, Divine Friend,
From mother's womb to destined end.
Your Presence, Lord, provides the balm
To bring my heart its peace, its joy, its calm.

The Word of God shall be my bread,
To fill my soul and expel all dread.
In prophecies and Psalms full of patient longing
You help me discern paths of deeper belonging.

The River Jordan shall be a sign transformed,
The Creator's bond with his creatures now publicly performed.
No longer an isolated soul crushed by wounds and pain,
I glimpse an inheritance of everlasting gain.

Your merciful love reveals truths "from the beginning,"
And a new way of life morphs defeat into winning.
Fidelity to the Father becomes my only concern,
A new heart burns within me--for Love it does yearn. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

"Love Made Fruitful" (AL, ch. 5)

The mainstream media would have us believe that Pope Francis is just another valiant "liberal" fighting to help modernize the Catholic Church. This narrative guides much of what goes reported--and unreported--in secular media outlets each week.

But is Pope Francis really just trying to subvert Church teachings on human sexuality, marriage and family in order that they might better reflect the conventional wisdom of the world? Chapter 5 of Amoris Laetitia contradicts such narratives.  Indeed, the reading of The Joy of Love which best fits the facts would be that Pope Francis continues to lead with both the fullness of the Catholic faith and the beauty of a Catholic world view (re)proposed in rapidly changing contexts.

Indeed, the Holy Father seems to be holding fast to the classic Catholic "both/and" approach: The Church's mission is both to maintain fidelity to God's revealed truths in the Church's Scripture and Tradition, and to engage the hearts of seekers everywhere by creatively highlighting the implications of such a vision of human existence. Pope Francis embodies both creative missionary outreach and fidelity to the Gospel. (Check out Bishop Barron's brilliant 9-minute commentary on Amoris.)

For the mainstream media, creative fidelity would be oxymoronic because being "creative" typically means freeing oneself from fidelity to the tradition that has preceded the present day. From a secular perspective, being creative implies changing not maintaining. This "either/or" mentality of worldly thought can see only the binary choice between sameness or difference.

But the Church is a living organism marked by both continuity and change: Bl. John Henry Newman's example of the stream which deepens and widens over time to become a great river both maintains its original identity and exhibits new characteristics down the line. Here are a few examples of Pope Francis' beautiful reflection on "Love Made Fruitful" (AL, ch. 5) both delivering timeless insights from the treasury of the deposit of faith, and doing so in refreshingly accessible ways:
  • "Love always gives life." (n. 165)

  • "Each child has a place in God's heart from all eternity; once he or she is conceived, the Creator's eternal dream comes true. Let us pause to think of the great value of that embryo from the moment of conception. We need to see it with the eyes of God, who always looks beyond mere appearances." (n. 168)

  • "'Mothers are the strongest antidote to the spread of self-centered individualism...It is they who testify to the beauty of life'....Dear mothers: thank you! Thank you for what you are in your family and for what you give to the Church and the world." (n. 174)

  • "God sets the father in the family so that by the gifts of his masculinity he can be 'close to his wife and share everything, joy and sorrow, hope and hardship'...To be a father who is always present. When I say 'present', I do not mean 'controlling'. Fathers who are too controlling overshadow their children, they don't let them develop." (n. 177)

  • "Adoption is a very generous way to become parents....Those who accept the challenge of adopting and accepting someone unconditionally and gratuitously become channels of god's love." (n. 179)

  • "Just as god asks us to be his means of hearing the cry of the poor, so too he wants us to hear the cry of the elderly...We must reawaken the collective sense of gratitude, of appreciation, of hospitality, which makes the elderly feel like a living part of the community." (n. 191)

In the closing chapters of The Joy of Love, Pope Francis emphasizes both that he is not changing Church doctrine and that the Church needs new pastoral responses which will bring the light of the Gospel to people on the peripheries.

Onward and upward!

Monday, November 14, 2016

How to Close out Election '16 and the Year of Mercy

With our nation clearly divided on far too many levels, let's pause to appreciate the fact that Christian hope lies neither in political parties, nor in governmental programs and economic policies. 

"Our help is the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth" (Ps 124:8).

With the Jubilee Year of Mercy drawing to a close, let's join with Pope Francis and missionaries of mercy everywhere to pray for ongoing personal conversion and societal transformation through the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ:



Monday, November 7, 2016

Cubs Nation as a Foreshadowing of Christ's Kingdom?

As Election 2016 grinds to its inevitable conclusion, isn't it great to be able to enjoy a a story of hope fulfilled and real-life redemption?!  The dramatic transition for long-suffering chumps into World Series Champs is the stuff of fairy tales--a journey of ebullient post-exiles who return to claim a glory they've never known.

Granted, this might sound a bit melodramatic, but what if sports can occasionally rise above being a mere metaphor for life? What if we can--on occasion--glean reminders of deeper realities through improbable moments like the Cubs' 2016 run?  For example:
  • "Lovable losers" no more: When the object of the game is winning, then losing is the equivalent to death. Decades upon decades of death make losers lovable only in the eyes of their enemies.  Haters certainly hate, and they also scoff, scoff, scoff.

    But today the Cubs Nation rejoices and is glad because it finally knows from personal experience that life (W) has triumphed over death (L)-- :)
  • Plaything of dark forces no more: Endless streams of black cats and billy goats--vexing hexes and confounding hoaxes--can lead players and fans to hope too small. Their fight can be too feeble because the battle is already conceded. The powers of evil can seem at least as strong as the force of good, and darkness can easily become a more compelling story-line.

    But the Cubs Nation now knows that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness shall not overcome it-- :)

  • Pretenders and chokers no more: Flailing and fallen heroes can contribute to a seemingly endless cycle of failure. Success can seem like something promised only to others. Fans can be tempted not to truly love, in order to brace themselves for the inevitable sting of loss.

    But the Cubs Nation has now seen that even the most surprising players, at the most unexpected moments, can have the strength for everything through the grace of the One who empowers them-- :)
  • Yuppie-insiders and band-wagoners no more: With Wrigley Field easily dismissed as a mere museum, along with its claim to being one of the world's greatest beer gardens, it might be tempting to ignore the Cubs Nation as pseudo fans. In a divide-and-conquer political, cultural and economic landscape, there are many who want to put the experience of Cubs fans into a small box which would be all-too-easy to dismiss.

    But the reality of the millions of fans at the championship parade proved otherwise: many came from the east and from the west, from all walks of life, from all races and nations, to join together as one-- :)

Monday, October 31, 2016

A Gift for All Saints and All Souls who Experience Same-Sex Attractions

Whether we realize it or not, every baptized Catholic knows someone who experiences same-sex attractions.  Whether it is public knowledge or not, every faithful Christian likely loves some saint or holy soul who has experienced a homosexual orientation and/or attractions.

These are just a couple good reasons why everyone should know about the Courage Apostolate--as well as the EnCourage Chapters, for family members of those who experience same-sex attractions.

The Courage Apostolate is a movement whose voice is often ignored because it doesn't fit convenient narratives. In an either/or world it's difficult to find a tertium quid, a third path, which embraces the Catholic both/and vision.  Courage manages to uphold both the dignity of every human person, and fidelity to the deepest longings of the human heart--both the inherent worth of people understood as children of a loving Father, and fidelity to the fullness of God's self-revelation in Jesus.

Is the Catholic Church really bigoted against those who experience same-sex attractions? Are human beings really defined by their sexual attractions?  Is their a deeper, common longing of the human heart which Jesus alone fulfills? The Courage Apostolate addresses these questions and many more in a variety of ways.

In striking ways, a beautiful film from Courage entitled Desire of the Everlasting Hills opens the window into the lived reality of men and women who experience same-sex attractions. Through the compelling witness stories of three holy souls of humble heart, this sixty-minute movie invites renewed reflection and more meaningful discussion of today's pressing questions.

The world certainly needs to hear an authentically Catholic expression of the call to holiness and mission. And Catholics need to hear about a path to embracing our brothers and sisters who experience same-sex attractions--a path which avoids the false poles of either condemnation or accommodation. 

Enjoy it, and then share it with all those future saints and holy souls longing for more!