Monday, December 30, 2013

Persons of the Year


Wasn't it incredible to see how much more attention Pope Francis received thanks to being named Time "Person of the Year"?  As if the walking face of the new evangelization doesn't already draw the eyes of the world with some new gesture of love each week, the secular press continues flocking to Francis.  They seem intrigued by the new light which he continues shining on old problems.

Perhaps one of the main reasons Time chose him was the simple fact that Pope Francis continues to be one of the best conversation starters as we head into 2014:  Isn't it fun to ask people what they think about the new pope, and then to sit back and see where the conversation leads?!

One theme which often emerges, however implicitly, is the sense that Francis is so different from his predecessor, Pope Benedict.  If our only categories of thought are "liberal" or "conservative," they certainly seem like a story of contrasts:  The "little poor man" following in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi, the Latin American herald of compassion, turns the Church onto dramatic new paths (hello "liberal" pope!); meanwhile his predecessor, the erudite European defender of Church dogma, retreats into the annals of history (farewell "conservative" pope!).  But perhaps both Benedict and Francis have challenged us to search for a new, more "catholic" perspective on life--beyond the tired alternatives of left or right, progressive or conservative.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Birth of God in History

 
 
Given the Mystery before which we kneel, perhaps words should cede to silence--clamor give way to contemplation. 
 
God who IS, and who has already been incarnate in the womb of the Blessed Virgin for nine months, enters into the transient world of human history.  Being itself experiences becoming.  The divine Artist enter into the canvas of his own creation.  The Author and Director of Life becomes the protagonist in his own divine drama. 
 
The birth of Jesus speaks of something utterly unique and unrepeatable--inconceivable, really.  Except for this fact:  God so loved the world that he did indeed conceive such a marvelous plan: "Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God" (Lk 1:35).
 
A precious commentary by Oswald Chambers puts it thus:  "Jesus Christ was born into this world, not from it.  He did not evolve out of history; he came into history from the outside.  Jesus Christ is not the best human being, he is a Being who cannot be accounted for by the human race at all.  He is not man becoming God, but God Incarnate, God coming into human flesh, coming into it from outside.  His life is the Highest and the Holiest entering in at the Lowliest door." 
 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Signs of the Season

www.CRS.org
Advent is a time to renew our awareness of the countless ways that God discloses himself through signs, great and small.  In the events and moments and seeming coincidences of our daily lives, God charts a personalized plan for each of our lives.

But sometimes it is difficult to read God's signs.  Upon first glance, they can seem accidental, even obscure or irrelevant.  When we have eyes to see, however, everything fits together according to God's will.  The question is whether we will attune our vision to the most essential details of our daily lives.  After all, God's signs are usually small--like a grain of wheat fallen to the ground, or a "bump" in the womb of a young mother.

As we celebrate the fact that almighty God humbled himself to become one of us, let's remember that Jesus chooses to unite himself in a special way with the weak and the poor.  Our Lord centralizes the marginalized, even as he marginalizes those in central power (for their own good, of course). 

Let's remember that his Presence is a sign of hope for the least, and a cause of celebration for those of humble heart.  Thus, after Elizabeth rejoices at Mary's visitation, the Blessed Virgin sings out her praise of the Lord:

Monday, December 9, 2013

Light in the Darkness

 
Flickering candles guide our journey
through a sometimes shadowy season of Advent.

"The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom should I fear?" (Ps 27:1).

The darkness lurks, and yet flees the approaching Light.

"The true light, which enlightens everyone,
was coming into the world."
(Jn 1:9)
 
Like a spark from a flint, an uncreated burst of Energy enters time-- 
 a spark destined to be extinguished and then rise as a flaming furnace of Mercy.

"A light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel" (Lk 3:11b).

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Joy of the Gospel

"What I am trying to express here has a programmatic significance
and important consequences.
I hope that all communities will devote the necessary effort
to advancing along the path of a pastoral and missionary conversion
which cannot leave things as they presently are.
‘Mere administration’ can no longer be enough.
Throughout the world, let us be ‘permanently in a state of mission’."

(EG, n. 25)
 
 
 
Whose world couldn't use more joy?!  And who hasn't had the sense that the Church, the mystical body of Christ in the world, "cannot leave things as they presently are"?
 
Although it is book-length and will take a commitment, lay men and women everywhere should consider diving into the full text of Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel.  At this point, I've only finished the first 1/3, but its precious and often pointed commentary, written in a swashbuckling style, offers gems like these:
  • Christ's joy in us: "The Gospel, radiant with the glory of Christ's cross, constantly invites us to rejoice" (n. 5).
  • The missionaries to the margins: "Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the 'peripheries' in need of the light of the Gospel" (n. 20).
  • The totality of the Christian message: "Before all else, the Gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us, to see God in others and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others" (n. 39). 
  • A missionary heart: "never closes itself off, never retreats into its own security, never opts for rigidity and defensiveness...it always does what good it can, even if in the process, its shoes get soiled by the mud of the street" (n. 45).
  • Going forth to offer everyone the life of Christ: "I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and clinging to its own security" (n. 49).

Monday, November 25, 2013

Encountering Jesus Daily

Now that the Year of Faith has come to a close, it's fitting to return to one of the fundamental issues it addressed regarding the new evangelization--that is, fostering a living relationship with Jesus.

While Catholics rightly focus on listening to the Word of God in Scriptures and receiving Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, we often forget to emphasize the importance of our personal prayer life as a place of encounter with the Risen Lord.  Indeed, if you're like me, you might even find yourself muttering the early plea of the disciples, "Lord, teach us how to pray"!

The following letter from Mother Teresa to her Missionaries of Charity--written on March 25, 1993--sheds much light on the living relationship which Jesus longs to have with each of us.  It speaks to the kind of simple, yet really real, prayer life that the Lord wants from each of us.  When I saw this, it felt like Mother Teresa was writing it just for me; maybe it will strike you the same way:
 
Jesus wants me to tell you again...how much love He has for each one of you--
beyond all you can imagine. 
I worry some of you still have not really met Jesus--
one to one--you and Jesus alone. 
We may spend time in chapel--
but have you seen with the eyes of your soul how He looks at you with love? 
Do you really know the living Jesus--
not from books but from being with Him in your heart? 
Have you heard the loving words He speaks to you? 
Ask for the grace, He is longing to give it. 
Until you can hear Jesus in the silence of your own heart,
you will not be able to hear Him saying "I thirst" in the hearts of the poor. 
Never give up this daily intimate contact with Jesus as the real living person--
not just the idea. 
How can we last even one day without hearing Jesus say 'I love you'--impossible. 
Our soul needs that as much as the body needs to breathe the air. 
If not, prayer is dead--meditation only thinking. 
Jesus wants you each to hear Him--speaking in the silence of your heart.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Testimony about "End Times"



If the third time is actually the charm, then here it is.  Within the last several weeks, I have twice seen the following quote from then-Cardinal Wojtyla. The first was as the Magnificat's meditation on John Paul II's feast day; the second was during last week's dramatic address by Archbishop Vigano, the pope's official representative in the U.S., at the annual meeting of the U.S. bishops. 

The full text of the Papal Nuncio's Comments provide additional insights and challenges--including a call for nay-sayers to respect and accept the way that Pope Francis is choosing to exercise the office of the papacy.  But here is the immediate context and commentary for the prophetic claim of Wojtyla at an address during the Eucharistic Congress in 1976:

We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has ever experienced. I do not think that the wide circle of the American Society, or the whole wide circle of the Christian Community realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-church, between the gospel and the anti-gospel, between Christ and the antichrist. The confrontation lies within the plans of Divine Providence. It is, therefore, in God's Plan, and it must be a trial which the Church must take up, and face courageously... 

Monday, November 11, 2013

The "Maybes" of Redefining Marriage

 
"Who am I to judge?"

This now famous question from Pope Francis simultaneously encouraged and shocked many.  Shouldn't we all want people who experience same-sex attractions to be treated with dignity and respect?  But why would the pope, of all people, speak so non-judgmentally about persons with same sex attractions? 

The Holy Father was reminding us that we are all sinners in need of God's saving mercy, and he was also calling us all to a deeper, more authentic respect for all of our fellow brothers and sisters.  But was the pope advocating "marriage equality" as a logical next step? 

Illinois legislators recently voted to change the legal definition of marriage in the Land of Lincoln, and some of them cited Pope Francis as part of the explanation for their actions.  Lost in the discussion was a less well known but very relevant quote from Cardinal Bergoglio shortly before he became Pope Francis--that is, comments made in 2010 when he fought to defend marriage from being redefined in Argentina:
 
“In the coming weeks, the Argentine people will face a situation whose outcome can seriously harm the family…At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother and children. At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts.”

Cardinal Bergoglio continued: “Let us not be naive: this is not simply a political struggle, but it is an attempt to destroy God’s plan. It is not just a bill (a mere instrument) but a ‘move’ of the father of lies who seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.”

Monday, November 4, 2013

Keep the Faith--Live Forever

 
"Whoever loves me will keep my word,
    and my Father will love him,
    and we will come to him
    and make our dwelling with him."
                  (Jn 14:23)
One of my regular routines when I taught high school religion classes was the daily "closing ceremony":  After we wrapped up the lesson for the day, I would pause somewhat dramatically and ask the class, "What are you going to do on your journey home?!?"  And they were programmed to shout out, "Keep the faith!"
 
I'm not sure whether the students completely understood my intention.  Basically, my hope and prayer was that the Holy Spirit would work on their hearts to inspire them to know, love and live the fullness of the faith.  It seems to me that the Year of Faith was something akin to this.  As part of the "closing ceremonies" of his pontificate, Pope Benedict wanted to leave us with an inspiring gift, in the hopes that we would keep on keeping the faith in our respective journeys of life.
 
Even the logo for the Year helps reinforce the message:  The boat, representing the Church, sails along the sea with the cross of Christ as it's mast; the sails billow under the steady breeze of the Holy Spirit, in signs which form the trigram of Christ (IHS); in the background of the sails we see the sun, which also suggests the ever-present gift of the Blessed Sacrament.  It's as if the graphic artist wanted to remind us that we are a people on a journey.  The question is whether we will let the mystery of Christ's cross guide our voyage home, whether we will allow the Holy Spirit propel us onward, and whether we will open ourselves to the guiding light of the Eucharist.
 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Three Thoughts for Family Life

One of my best friends regularly reads these reflections, gives me periodic feedback, and often forwards them to others.  But he recently admitted that, "When I see Everyday Evangelization in my email, my first thought is, 'Oh, no, here comes Dave telling me something else I should be working on'."  Ouch!

If these reflections ever strike you that way, please accept my apologies!  A quote from Flannery O'Connor captures my experience of blogging: She said, "I write because I don't know what I think until I read what I say." These postings have been a helpful way for me to work out some things for own faith journey, and I hope an invitation for you to find ways to become an "everyday evangelizer" in your journey.

So please take the "three thoughts" below in this spirit.  These are areas which have been helpful for my own family--and which we continue to work on.  Thanks to one of the wonderful Nashville Dominican Sisters who invited me to speak to her school families on the topic, I was forced to think about what advice I'd give about family life.  Here it is:

Monday, October 21, 2013

One Family in Mission

 
Don't you love the image of being part of "one family in mission"?  It's a place belonging, with a purpose; it's a chance to be mission-driven, without having to drive alone.

This theme serves as the guiding vision, as well as the web address (www.onefamilyinmission.org), for the Pontifical Mission Societies in the U.S.  Maybe you already know of their wonderful work.  Or maybe you heard this phrase or recently saw the poster above, since the Church dedicates the third Sunday of October to the theme. 

Ultimately, the question of World Mission Sunday is a question about Jesus:  Is he still relevant and necessary?  Does he really need to be the center of people's lives--of my life?  And is there any other way to bring the authentic Peace and Joy and Hope for which the human person longs?  Is there any other fully-human answer to life's ultimate questions--why are we here, what's the purpose of my life, and how can I experience true love?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Pope Francis and Consecration

As part of my mother's birthday extravaganza this summer, my sister-in-law had neon orange t-shirts made, with "Rettapalooza" emblazoned on the front.  (Retta is what the grand kids call our dear Loretta June.)  As our entire clan was shuffling through the airport wearing the t-shirts, someone approached my witty wife and asked, "What is Rettapalooza?"  Without breaking stride, Tracy responded, "It's a movement!"

On Sunday, October 13th, Pope Francis consecrated the entire world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  Around the world--including in the Diocese of Joliet--countless Bishops consecrated their dioceses to the Immaculate Heart as well.  I was reminded, once again, that the Church is not some arcane institution:  It's a movement.  Moreover, it's a movement big enough to wrap its arms around the whole world.

For those who have been "reading" Pope Francis as a Holy Father intent on breaking from tradition and leading the Church down a radically new path, this day of consecration must have been befuddling.  After all, if Francis is just reaffirming the common secular virtues of our day (e.g., tolerance, empathy, simple living, etc.), such traditional piety must seem unnecessary or irrelevant. 

But what if Pope Francis is best understood in terms of creative continuity with the great tradition of the Church, rather than discontinuity?  What if our temptation to resort to worldly labels--such as, liberal or conservative, progressive or traditionalist--simply don't fit?  Another way to put it is to ask whether our new Holy Father is best understood not in terms of an either/or, but a both/and.  As the Gospel puts it, what if “every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old” (Mt 13:52)? 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Be Prepared--Heaven Can't Wait

"All the way
to heaven
is heaven,
because Jesus said,
"I am the Way."
+ St. Catherine
of Siena

What if heaven is not just some far-off destination?  What if heaven is not just a distant goal which we wish upon our departed loved ones?  Indeed, what it it's as close as the palm of our hand?

The kingdom of heaven proclaimed by Jesus has very little to do with the "somewhere, over the rainbow" perspective which we so often defines conventional wisdom about heaven.  In fact, the Gospels recount over and over again the NOW of eternal life:  It is today; it is this present moment. It is among us; it is at hand.

And this NOW reaches out to each of us each day, as the Risen Lord quietly asks, "But who do you say that I am?"  He invites us to become more alert to--more conscious of--the signs of the kingdom of heaven in our midst. 

The question of "being prepared" is first and foremost not a matter of trying to make it to heaven after we die, but it is about embracing the gift of God's life in our hearts--right now.  It is a question of whether we will see the face of Christ in those with whom we live and move and have our being--today.  It is a question of whether we will listen for the still, small voice of the Lord, who whispers words of affection in our hearts--from moment to moment. 

But if your life is like mine, it might not always seem so heavenly.  The rush of activity, the frantic pace of post-modern life, or the crush of daily duties can leave us feeling like little grapes in the proverbial wine press.  Perhaps even in such experiences, however, we can still catch a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven.  After all, though the Lord wants to transform us from mere grapes off the vine into the finest of wine.  The idea of God "writing straight with crooked lines" suggests that the Lord finds a way to use the prodding and poking and pressing of our daily difficulties to turn us into the priceless vintage we were created to be.  Here and now.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Welcoming the Foreigner

"Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?" (Mt 25:37-39)
 

 
Jesus will not be checking for "proper" documentation when he comes to judge the nations.  He will, however, be checking our hearts and reviewing our concrete actions regarding the questions listed above.  Without a doubt, he will also welcome to his table those whom the world considers "least."

In a recent press conference, Pope Francis went so far as to say that human mobility "finds its apex in Jesus the Savior, a foreigner in the world of men, who continues his work of salvation through the foreigners of today, migrants and refugees."  Christ is the Foreigner of foreigners.  Whatever we do--or don't do--for migrants and refugees, we do unto the Lord himself.
 
With this simple truth in mind, the U.S. Bishops are once again calling for meaningful and just immigration reform in our nation.  This calendar of events provides a glimpse of initiatives during the next month--opportunities designed to help transform minds and hearts on this all too divisive issue.  The "Justice for Immigrants" effort also includes a very straightforward postcard campaign, as a means of taking action on behalf of these modern-day "strangers" who are hungry and thirsty and often imprisoned.
 

Monday, September 23, 2013

A Walking Parable

A parable has a way of capturing one's imagination.  It speaks to both mind and heart; it can both confound and console its listeners.  A really good parable is also capable of provoking much reflection and discussion.

Since he became the 266th pope in the history of the Catholic Church--and the first Holy Father named Francis--, this successor of St. Peter has taught as much through his actions as through his words.  His papacy has been like a gradually unfolding parable, played out on the global stage.  And after his recent interview, there seems to be no better conversation starter than the question, "So what do you make of Pope Francis?"

As a walking parable, Pope Francis has embodied and enacted the basic proclamation of the Good News:  Jesus reveals the merciful love of God and reaches out to save each of us.  But, perhaps most helpfully for a post-modern world, Pope Francis has started his proclamation of this world-changing reality not with dogmas or doctrines but with his own personal experience of encountering Christ in and through the Church.  Indeed, the Holy Father has been "leading with mercy" in order that we might experience what he personally knows to be true:  We have a Heavenly Father who loves us more than we could ever imagine. 

Ultimately, however, a parable is designed to reveal not only deep truths such as these, but also the heart and mind of the listener.  Pope Francis is thus inviting each of us to identify where we need ongoing conversion in our own lives--that is, where we need to grow and where we need to become more merciful, more other-centered. 

So, what did you hear in the Pope Francis interview that inspired you?  What did you hear that challenged you?  What line did you like the best, and which line would you like to ask a follow-up question about?   Which section jumped out for you, or most surprised you?  (And remember, if you write him a letter regarding the interview, Pope Francis might just pick up the phone and call you with a response, since he'd reinstated "pope calls"!) 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Falling in Love

Do you remember what you did on September 12th, 2001?  Most Americans spent at least part of the day praying, and many attended a church service.  When I saw the Gospel reading for Mass this September 12th, I was immediately reminded of being at Mass on 9/12/11 and being dumbstruck when the Gospel was proclaimed.

As you may know, the readings for Ordinary Time follow a three year cycle.  In 2001, as in 2013--, the Gospel at daily Mass centered on Luke, and September 12th reading was from Luke 6:27ff:

Jesus said to his disciples:
"To you who hear I say,
love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who mistreat you.
To the person who strikes you on one cheek,
offer the other one as well..."
 
What are we supposed to make of these word--on the day after 9/11, no less?  What how do we understand Jesus' hardest of teachings in the face of rouge regimes or terrorists intent on destroying innocent life?  It is natural to want to defend life, to seek justice, and perhaps even to desire revenge.  It is clearly supernatural to respond with love and blessings and prayers and the other, un-struck cheek.
 
It seems to me that the only way this is possible is thanks to the gift of God's grace.  In other words, it is only by recognizing how deeply we have been loved, and are being loved, that we could ever respond in such a radical fashion.  In fact, I think that following Jesus through this very narrow gate is possible only if we have first fallen in love.

Monday, September 9, 2013

"I Thirst"

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta's Feast Day: September 5th
Last summer, my oldest daughter lived and worked with the Missionaries of Charity in Memphis.  My family and I had a chance to join the sisters for a Saturday morning Mass in their chapel, and it was a most memorable experience indeed!

As you may know, one of the trade-marks of the community founded by Mother Teresa is that, whenever they start a new outreach to the poorest of the poor, they adorn the walls of their chapel with Jesus' words from the cross:  "I thirst."  In fact, they paint them on the wall next to the Crucifix, and it seems as if Jesus is speaking these words all over again, day after day, here and now. 

The Sisters, of course, take Christ's words to heart in just this way.  After all, this was the pivotal insight of Mother Teresa's "call within a call"--her realization that Christ continues to thirst for our love, particularly through the cry of those who are most weak and vulnerable, those who are most marginalized.

In his recent encyclical, The Light of Faith, Pope Francis lifts up both Blessed Mother Teresa and Saint Francis of Assisi as exemplars of how the light of faith opens our eyes to the sufferings of this world.  He comments:

"In drawing near to the suffering, they were certainly not able to eliminate all their pain or to explain every evil.  Faith is not a light which scatter all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey.  To those who suffer, God does not provide arguments which explain everything; rather, his response is that of an accompanying presence, a history of goodness which touches every story of suffering and opens up a ray of light.  In Christ, God himself wishes to share this path with us and to offer us his gaze so that we might see the light within it." (n. 57)

Monday, September 2, 2013

Go Make Disciples--Mission Possible

 



As the Church's fourth and final characteristic professed in the Creed, "apostolic" points to a profound inner-dynamism at the heart of the Catholic faith:  The Church is, first and foremost, a movement
 
Pope Paul VI famously proclaimed, "The Church exists in order to evangelize," and Pope Francis has challenged Catholics to move beyond a "self-referential" faith.  Both of these successors of St. Peter understand that having a faith rooted in the authoritative teaching of the Apostles is necessary, but not sufficient.  A truly "apostolic" faith is one which responds to Christ's "sending forth" of the community of believers.  The Church evangelizes because, deep down, every human person longs to be evangelized.
 
So have you noticed this apostolic, mission-driven, quality of the Church during this Year of Faith?  We have seen our new Holy Father Francis personally challenging us to create a "culture of encounter" in response to a "culture of indifference."  We have seen Bishops across the country boldly promoting the new evangelization, as well as three million young adults flocking to World Youth Day.  And we have seen parishes and small Christian communities asking themselves how they can help people experience a sense of belonging, of meaning, and of authentic friendship. 
 
Three recent books strike related themes about how this mission can be possible for each of us personally, as well as for our parishes and for the Church universal:

Monday, August 26, 2013

Living Labor Day


So what will you be celebrating this Labor Day?  As the official closing long weekend of summer, it's clearly a time to be thankful for the special blessings we've enjoyed during this season of re-creation.  And, for teachers and students everywhere, it's a chance to take a deep breath before the long haul of the new school year hits full stride.

But Labor Day is also an opportunity to pause in gratitude for the gift of work.  For it is work which has the potential to help us forge fully human identities.  And it is work which has the capacity to hone our strengths into virtues, as well as to chisel away our weaknesses before they become vices.

In addition, Labor Day provides an opportunity to reflect on some of the pressing issues of our times--such as, economic immigrants, income inequalities, and global financial concerns.  Do I stand in communion with those who seek meaningful work and a living wage, or do I support power structures designed to maintain the status quo?  Do I cling to my comfortable lifestyle and rationalize protecting "my own," or am I open to working for justice for all of my brothers and sisters?

From the very beginning, the Church has stood in solidarity with the "least" and with those who are powerless in the eyes of the world.  In recent decades the Church has spoken on behalf of the rights of workers and has raised provocative questions about a global capitalism driven by the maximization of profit margins.  The Church does defend the right to private property, but frames it within the context of a universal destination of all goods--"the goods of creation are destined for the whole human race" (CCC, n. 2402).  Moreover, the Catechism emphasizes that "the universal destination of goods remains primordial" (n. 2403), and so "my" property is first and foremost not really mine.  On the contrary, I am the steward of gifts which should be used for the good of all.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Great "Both/And"

"Deep down, what do all human beings desire?"  At a recent in-service for Catholic school teachers, I asked this question and then waited not-so-patiently for someone to respond.  Just as I was about to jump back in with a follow-up question, a couple of teachers simultaneously shouted, "Love."

It's pretty hard to argue with that answer, isn't it?  We all desire to love and to be loved.  Indeed, Jesus became one with us, laid down his life, and then rose from the dead precisely to re-order our lives to Love. 

Yet the term love is so often misused or even abused, and Jesus' message is so often reduced to a warm fuzzy message--a variation of the Barney theme song.  So is love just a matter of doing what makes me feel good at any given moment, or is it about making a sincere gift of myself for the good of others?  Is it just a matter of pursuing my own self-interest, or does it involve willing what's in the best interest of others? 

The Doctrine of the Incarnation stands as a great safeguard against the trivialization of Christian love.  It is a sign pointing us toward the deeper truth of Trinitarian love which God has revealed in his Son.  As people who long to love and be loved, these sacred mysteries need to shape our view of the world, our attitudes and actions, and our experience of life itself.

But the reality of the Incarnation sets a seeming contradiction at the heart of our faith.  It challenges us to walk in the opaque light of mystery.  The Second Vatican Council speaks of Christ who, "by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear" (GS, n. 22).  The Creator comes as a creature and--simultaneously--reveals both who God is and who we are.

Monday, August 12, 2013

From Transfiguration to Assumption

In August, several key moments in the Church's liturgical calendar collide with tragic historical events from the 20th century--Eternity breaking forth into Time, on various levels.

Maybe you are better with dates than I am, but I never realized that the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on the very feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord.  On 6 August 1945, the world watched in horror as tens of thousands of innocent civilians lost their lives.  Natural forces were unhinged, and the terror of raw power was unleashed.

And yet, on that same day each year, the Church commemorates the experience of three humble disciples who glimpsed the glory of the supernatural reality which would ultimately change human history.  They looked upon Eternal Life, present in the temporal person of Jesus of Nazareth,  And they heard the voice from the heavens say, "This is my chosen Son; listen to him" (Lk 9:35).  Peter, James and John knew that they were in the presence of the Power who created the cosmos itself.

+++++++
The Transfiguration and the dropping of the Bomb confront us with a fundamental decision:  Will we choose a world view rooted in Eternity, or one tied only to Time?  In other words, will we embrace the eternal horizon which guided the first Christians, or will we choose the temporal horizon which is characteristic of all those who seek to build worldly empires? 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Think Globally, Act Locally


"That's a 'first-world' problem."  This helpful reminder has become one of my favorite phrases of late.  It's not only challenges me to put some of my own stress and anxiety into a broader context, but it also exhorts me to think more deeply about the real problems people face both in 'developed' nations and around the world.

We all hunger for a meaningful and rewarding life.  Yet isn't it so easy to get so caught up in the privileged quest for self-fulfillment that we overlook all those who simply go hungry each day?  We all thirst for truth and authenticity.  And yet isn't it difficult to remember the millions who simply thirst for clean drinking water? 

Mother Teresa famously named one of our real "'first-world' problems":  “The spiritual poverty of the Western World is much greater than the physical poverty of our people. You, in the West, have millions of people who suffer such terrible loneliness and emptiness. They feel unloved and unwanted. These people are not hungry in the physical sense, but they are in another way. They know they need something more than money, yet they don’t know what it is."

It's time to recommit to living out both the spiritual and the corporal works of mercy.  It's time to set aside some of our petty "'first-world' problems," which are so often accretions of our extreme materialism and individualism; it's time to confront our legitimate "'first-world' problems" and to expand our awareness of real human needs around the world.  In short, it's time to remember that "thinking globally and acting locally" should be woven into the fabric of a Catholic world view. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Belonging to Something Bigger

Though I love Chicago, I begrudgingly have to admit that New York sure feels like the "first city" of the world at this moment in history.  From its sheer size and pace of life, to its impact on global markets and the culture at large, the Apple truly is Big.

In a recent visit to New York, my wife and I were able to catch up with her wonderful family, who all live in the city.  We took walking tour through Times Square and made our own mini-pilgrimage to Saturday evening Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral.  Even though the Cathedral is undergoing major renovations--both interior and exterior--, it felt like we were entering one of the great Cathedrals of Europe.

At the end of Mass, as we walked out the center aisle, I was startled to notice that the main doors opened directly onto the figure of Atlas across the street in Rockefeller Plaza.  The juxtaposition of this sculpture opposite the great Cathedral made me feel sorry for the poor fella--bearing a weight that is just too much for him to handle.  I felt like calling out: "Don't worry, you don't have to go it alone!"

Of course, as a Christian I can say this with confidence:  We are never alone.  As disciples of Christ and members of his Church, we are part of a living body that transcends space and time.  Indeed, every time we walk into a Church building, however humble or grand it might be, we are immediately connected with hundreds of millions of Christians around the globe, not to mention billions of believers who have kept the faith for centuries.  We are supported in our earthly journeys by a "cloud of witnesses," the Communion of Saints, who are much closer to us than we could ever imagine.

Monday, July 22, 2013

An Open (Love) Letter


 
Given the ongoing political and social questions concerning human sexuality,
a recurring thought has crossed my mind:
“What would I like to say to my children, God-children, nieces and nephews
about human sexuality, love and life?"....
 

Dear Fab Five, Super Seven, and Elite Eighteen,

Most of you have now entered your adolescent and teenage years (though a few of you will have to read this at some point down the road, and one of you is already a noble twenty-something!).  I wanted to use the occasion of Natural Family Planning Awareness Week as a springboard to write to you about some very important matters.

As you know, God created us male and female.  It is part of his plan "from the beginning," as Jesus himself liked to say.  And yet we live in a time when there are a lot of questions about human sexuality.  Fortunately, Bl. John Paul II has left us a beautiful teaching entitled the “Theology of the Body.”  As some of you already know, the theology of the body provides a profound response to all of the deepest questions about love and human sexuality; I hope you'll have a chance to explore it in the near future.

In the meantime, I'd like to share a "super seven" list of insights on these topics.  These have been very helpful in the development of my own understanding of what it means to live the Christian life:

Monday, July 15, 2013

Surviving a Tsunami

Ever feel as if you were living in the midst of a "tsunami of secularism" (to coin Cardinal Wuerl's phrase)?  Ever feel battered or beaten down or even swept away by a world which seems less and less open to beauty and truth and goodness?

Maybe it's just me, but sometimes it seems like we are awash in indifference to what's really Real.  It seems like we are surfing on a wave of meaninglessness, with its inevitable undertow of emptiness.  And sometimes I find it very difficult to reach out like a "Good Samaritan"--one who is moved with compassion, and one who puts mercy into action--in the face of so much cultural wreckage.  Sometimes I feel like I'm just in survival mode.

As a Christian, I know that my faith needs to be embodied in concrete acts of love, but I also know that my faith and my love must be rooted in hope.  So where do you see signs of hope amid the current cultural maelstrom?  What can help me remember that the ocean ultimately engulfs even the most mighty storm?

St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, emissary of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, once wrote:

Monday, July 1, 2013

Be Holy, Be Happy

Are you more drawn to "be holy," or to "be happy"?   Maybe it's just me, but it seems easier to talk about "being happy" than about "being holy."  The universal call to holiness, which has echoed from Christ himself through the Church's preaching of the Gospel down through the centuries, was particularly reinforced by the Second Vatican Council some 50 years ago.  And yet some kind of false modesty keeps us off the path of holiness.

It's so easy to lift the saints up on a pedestal, and then reassure ourselves that they were somehow more precious in God's eyes than we are.  Somehow it's comforting to remind ourselves that "no one's perfect," and yet we shy away from asking the Lord's help in making us perfectly who he wants us to be.  But what if the title above--July's theme for the Diocese of Joliet's ongoing celebration of the Year of Faith--suggests that there's an inextricable link between holiness and happiness?  In other words, what if being holy is the only path to true happiness?

To be holy is to be fully alive.  Perhaps we have a more immediate experience of the converse: To be un-holy brings pain and misery to ourselves (and others!).  Sin fails to deliver on its false promises of power, pleasure and prestige, and we find ourselves less than fully alive--always seeking another "hit" of whatever false god we're bowing to.  So to be holy is to die to sin; it is to live with and in and through Christ.  To be holy is to embrace the path of ongoing conversion of heart, which alone will help us "enter through the narrow gate" (Mt 7:12). 

During the month of July, the Church's Sunday liturgies lift up consecutive passages from Luke's Gospel, in order to illuminate the path of daily discipleship and authentic human freedom:

Monday, June 24, 2013

Summer Vacation: Co-incidences or God-incedences?

Van Gogh's "Sower"
You gotta love summer!  School children certainly know how to rejoice at the arrival of summer vacation.  But even for those of us who are on twelve-month schedules, isn't it nice to have those change-of-pace experiences which come with summer?

Maybe it's cookouts with neighbors or family reunions; perhaps it's a weekend away or traveling through a new part of the country.  Regardless of where summer leads us, it tends to be a time for connecting with people and places and events that are outside of our regular workaday routine.

For a 9-5 office-jockey kind of person, I've been blessed with a fantastically frantic month of June: From a 25th college reunion (as Bob Sieger put it so well, "It seems like yesterday, but it was long ago..."!), to a rare out-of-town meeting for work, from an incredible family celebration of my mother's 70th birthday, to an imminent reunion with my wife's family on the east coast, this summer has led me literally all over the map. 

I've been struck by the seemingly chance encounters, the apparently random conversations, and the otherwise unusual opportunities which these summer excursions have brought about.  Here are a couple of examples:

Monday, June 17, 2013

A Fortnight for Christ and for All


St. Thomas More, Patron of Religious Liberty
"An unjust law is no law at all." In their bold document calling for a wholehearted defense of religious freedom, entitled Our First, Most Cherished Liberty, the U.S. Bishops hammer on this quote from Martin Luther King (who himself was citing St. Augustine).  And for the second year in a row, from June 21st through July 4th, Christians of all denominations, believers of all creeds, and all people of good-will are going to be reflecting on why unjust laws must be opposed. 

But what's really going on here?  Many people are confused about just how important this moment is, and what's really at stake.  Many people continue to think in terms of the increasingly irrelevant categories of "liberal" or "conservative," and so they don't know what to make of this question of religious liberty.  The right to follow one's conscience and not be coerced by federal or state governments is neither a "liberal" nor a "conservative" issue.  It is a Christian issue and a human issue.

The U.S. Bishops' Conference has assembled a remarkable array of resources--from  piercing commentaries to bulletin inserts, from in-depth analysis of the threats posed by the HHS mandate to resources for prayer and action.  They have done this neither as liberals nor as conservatives, but in the phrase coined by George Weigel, as "Evangelical Catholics."

There is clearly a great opportunity for public witness here in our country, and Evangelical Catholics seek to collaborate with anyone who cares about authentic human freedom--in the face of cynical wolves who have tried to "divide and conquer" the Christian community.  A brilliant passage from Weigel's Evangelical Catholicism speaks to what is really at stake, and Who is really at work:

Monday, June 10, 2013

Jesus' Most Revolutionary Teachings

An authentic revolution turns the world not just upside down, but inside out.  And Jesus remains the greatest and only authentic revolutionary in human history: Transforming the cosmos, one heart at a time; offering everyone the Most, starting with the least.  Revealing that Love does indeed make the world go around, even while liberating human love from its narcissistic tendencies.

Jesus is the only Messenger who was also the Message. He not only taught but brought the Kingdom of heaven.  After all, what could be more transformative than the ineffable and omnipotent God speaking to us in words we could understand?  What could have a greater potential to change the world than Eternal Life itself walking among us as a mortal man?  The beloved disciple concludes his Gospel with this remarkable testimony, "There are also so many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not thin the whole world would contain the books that would be written" (Jn 21:25).

So if you had to identify a list of Jesus' most revolutionary teachings, what would they be?  In other words, which words of the Word made flesh would you want to make sure that your children or grandchildren knew?  If you had a few minutes to explain to someone why you follow this Jesus, which of his words would you reference?  There is no one correct answer to this question, of course, but here's a preliminary list for your consideration:

Monday, June 3, 2013

Work, Pray, Love--"That all may be one"



In John 17, Jesus exhorts and beckons his followers to unity.  Three times Jesus prays to the Father for those who believe in him, "that all may be one."  And each time he adds the conditional clause, "even as we are one.Romano Guardini describes this “high priestly prayer” in dramatic terms:  “A hand reaches out from divine unity into the fallen world.  Possibly no other passage in Holy Scripture is so heavy with the sense of our plunge from grace as this.” 
 
Even as:  Should we say "ouch" or "amen"?!  Ouch because this profound prayer for Christian unity remains unanswered?  Ouch because the scandal of Christian disunity is an offense against the Communion of Persons we profess each time we baptize or bless ourselves in the name of the Most Holy Trinity?  Ouch because the Kingdom has yet to be born in my own heart? 
 
Or should we say Amen because we know that we can do nothing alone?  Amen because we are willing to pray, "I believe, Lord, help my unbelief," and "Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful..."?  Amen because we are willing to work, pray, and love "'that all may be one"?

Monday, May 27, 2013

Gospel Guidance on War and Peace


Servant of God, Dorothy Day
Each Memorial Day, we pause to honor those who have died in the service of our nation. It is an opportunity for our country to consider the cost of the freedoms we enjoy.  Perhaps it should also be a moment to reconsider the principles of the warfare we employ.

Since the time that Jesus spoke with an other-worldly authority, Christians have been forced to grapple with his radical non-violence:  “I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:44); “Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword (Mt 26:52).  Jesus was not na├»ve: He personally felt the violence of an unjust and fallen world.  And yet he made no easy compromises about using worldly power or resorting to violence.

Christians of the first centuries saw military service as incompatible with walking the path of Christian discipleship--not because they were unwilling to die in service to the empire, but because they were unwilling to kill for it.  From the time of St. Augustine on, however, the Church realized the necessary role of the state in protecting its citizens from aggressors, and Christians were allowed to help provide military defense of their fellow citizens.  Thus a theory of “just war” principles emerged, in an attempt to provide moral guidance to individuals and nations regarding how best to promote peace.  The theory was guided by the assumption that defending oneself and one's people from an aggressor is qualitatively different from being the aggressor, or from resorting to “pre-emptive” military strikes or "preventative warfare." 

In a powerful section entitled “Safeguarding Peace,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church discusses war within the context of the fifth commandment’s prohibition of killing (CCC, 2302-17).  Two passages that seem particularly noteworthy today: 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Pentecosts of the Present Moment



“If you are what you should be,
you will set the whole world on fire.”
+St. Catherine of Siena





Do you know someone who is able to be really present to others?  Can you picture someone who is able to give his or her full attention to the task at hand?  It seems to me that this is part of the task and the challenge of living Pentecost: simply being where we are, and doing what God wants us to do.  Now.  In this place and time. 

It also seems that much of the Christian life mirrors the experience of the Apostles in the days after Pentecost.  Like the earliest Christians, we know that Christ is really risen.  We have experienced his living Presence, and we also know that we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit.  We understand the Lord Jesus' promise to never leave us alone.

But, as with the Apostles and first disciples, we recognize that the mission from the Lord Jesus is as undefined as it is daunting: "Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature" (Mk 16:15).  There is no road map.  There is no five year strategic plan, no specific strategies.  So, like the earliest Christians, we wake up each day and turn to prayer, to listen and wait for the prompting of the Spirit. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Beginning with the Beautiful

Pope Francis praying at the Basilica of St. Mary Major
In two memorable months, Pope Francis has managed to capture the minds and hearts of people around the world.  This is not meant to take anything away from the brilliant papacy of beloved Benedict XVI, who was like a "scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven...who brings forth from his storeroom both the new and the old" (Mt 13:52).   But our new Holy Father has managed to delight believers and non-believers alike with something more.  But what exactly is it?

From the moment he stepped onto the balcony of St. Peter's, Pope Francis has been leading neither with Goodness nor with Truth, but with the Beautiful. Goodness is able to compel those who share a core set of assumptions and recognize a fundamental natural law; Truth is able to convince those who assume that life is reasonable and inherently meaningful.  But, in a post-modern context in which these very presuppositions have been largely deconstructed, the Beautiful is able to cut through the clouded confusion and the arid ambiguity.  For the Beautiful speaks first to the heart, as opposed to the will or reason, and therefore is able to inspire changes in both action and thought.  

The very choice of Francis as his name hearkened back to one of the most beautiful of all the saints:  Francis, the little poor man, who so wanted to identify himself with the poverty of Christ that he literally gave himself away; Francis, the joy-filled lover of God's creation, who saw the Creator reflected in all creatures great and small; Francis, the living icon of Christ, who understood that the Christian life is fundamentally an imitation of Christ and so was graced with the very wounds of the Savior. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Say "Yes": Imitate the Saints

Our Lady of Fatima--5.13.13
"Life holds only one tragedy, ultimately:
not to have been a saint.”
-Charles Peguy
 
The month of May brings us to the midpoint of the Year of Faith.  Like being halfway through Lent, this is a chance to evaluate how our commitments to grow closer to the Lord are going--and whether we are willing to redouble our efforts for the second half of the Year.  The month of May also brings us a theme (in the title above) which might reignite the ongoing conversion and personal transformation God desires for each of us. 
 
So when you hear the word "Saint," what comes to mind?  If you're like me, then one of your first reactions is probably to say, "not me." But Peguy's insight clearly implies that becoming a saint is a real possibility for each of us.  More importantly, it looks like it is the one thing necessary-- otherwise there would be no tragedy in failing to hit the mark.  The Second Vatican Council repeatedly emphasized this with the phrase "the universal call to holiness" (cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 39):  Jesus' revelation is not just for an elite chosen few.  Rather, the Lord insisted, "Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him" (Jn 14:23).  The invitation is open to anyone who is willing to love him and keep his word.
 
So how about a little word association:  When you hear the word "Saint," do any of the following phrases come to mind, or are there any others you'd like to add to the list?  Saints are:

Monday, April 29, 2013

Christ and Questions of Marriage

The Marriage at Cana by Marten de Vos, c. 1596
Awkward.  For the past number of weeks, as Illinois has become another "battleground" state debating the redefinition of marriage, I've been trying to pull together some thoughts on the topic.  Is it just me, or do you also find it difficult to talk about this topic?  So many people know and love someone who has a same-sex attraction, and it is clearly a sensitive topic.  In addition, if religion and politics are the ultimate "No Nos" in polite social conversation, then what happens when we mix both of them together?  Someone is bound to be offended.  (If you're interested in a brief commentary about why these questions are so difficult to, check out Fr. Barron's two brief video clips on the breakdown of moral discourse and the importance of importance of raising questions about the nature of marriage.) 

Christo-centric questions.  In order to focus on the reality of marriage from a Christian perspective, let's begin by turning to the Person of Jesus Christ, on whom everything hinges:  Is he who he says he is?  And, if so, then what does he reveal about the reality of marriage?  And what implications does this have for us?

I.  Who is this Jesus?
 
Liar, Lunatic, or Lord.  As C.S. Lewis observed, Jesus of Nazareth was not just some really nice guy, some great moral teacher.  Rather, Jesus spoke with an audacity, an other-worldliness and an authority which force us to draw a different conclusion: he is either a deceiver, a madman, or the Eternal One who has entered time.  Among the countless almost-unbelievable statements he makes about himself, at one point Jesus goes so far as to say, “before Abraham came to be, I AM” (Jn 8:58).  Jesus claims to be Yahweh, the one true God, fully present in the flesh.
 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Carrying Us Through

Good Shepherd, circa 300 AD, Vatican Museum
Maybe it's just me but, after this past week, it seems like "Good Shepherd Sunday" came at just the right time.  There are just so many people who need to be picked up--in so many different ways.

How appropriate that the Easter season continues with this reassuring revelation of who Christ is for each of us. These times are so confused and confusing--so disturbed and disturbing--that it's hard not to wind up wandering around like wayward sheep.  It's hard not to be swayed and misled by the ideologies and ideologues of our times.  It's hard not to let evil drive us to fear and to teeter on the edges of despair.

But somehow in these alienated and alienating times, we sense that this bucolic image speaks to our deepest needs.  With the Psalmist, we long to cry out, "The Lord is my shepherd...Even though I walk through the dark valley, I shall not fear" (Ps 23:1,4).  The Good Shepherd speaks to a time of darkness because it points us toward an even more penetrating light, a Person who will care for each of us individually.

Indeed, the Gospel's revelation of the Good Shepherd makes sense only in the light of the Resurrection.  "Jesus said: 'My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me" (Jn 10:27).  But how could he dare to call us his sheep and identify himself as our shepherd, unless he were willing to lay down his life for us--as any good shepherd would?  And how could we hear his voice and follow him, here and now, unless he has already conquered death?

So this week, let's lift up in prayer anyone we know who needs to meet the Good Shepherd--those people who are longing for Christ to carry them on his shoulders to greener pastures.  Some people are victims of evil directly willed by others; others find themselves beaten down by structural sins; and many people suffer from the consequences of their own bad decisions.  But, regardless of what is dragging us down, we are all offered the same "lift" from the Lord.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Living the Resurrected Life

Supper at Emmaus, Caravaggio
Who has been the biggest "difference maker" in the development of your Christian faith?  As you call that person to mind, ask yourself what it is about this person that has inspired you to follow Christ more wholeheartedly.

We all know people who just seem more fully alive--people who encourage us to become a better version of ourselves.  If we have had the eyes to notice them, we have also met people who understand the real meaning of life; they make others feel more valuable, more worthwhile, and more loved. 

Yes, we all know people who just seem to have something more about them.  But what is it?  Do they know how to live in the present moment?  Have they mastered the apprenticeship of putting others before themselves?  Have they purified not only their actions but also their intentions?  Perhaps they are marked by a special kindness or gentleness, a distinctive joyfulness or generosity.  Perhaps they practice a patience or perseverance that seems otherworldly.  

My wager is that the people who we most admire are walking revelations of the "resurrected life" which Christ offers to each of us, each and every day.  My guess is that our heroes in the faith have already started to let the living Word of God transform their daily lives.  Here and now, the Risen Lord is waiting to give us a share in the glorified reality for which we were created, and many people begin to tap into this fullness in the everyday details of their lives.  St. Therese of Lisieux was able to boldly predict that she would "spend her heaven doing good on earth" precisely because she was already spending her earth doing the good of heaven.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Encountering Divine Mercy




 
Why is it so tempting to hold other people in their sins?  Why is it so hard to move beyond the the evil that we sometimes witness or experience?  We long for revenge when we are hurt; we hold a grudge for a cutting comment; we condone capital punishment as a "solution" for violent crime; we cheer the state-sponsored assassination of terrorists.  It seems like we are almost instinctively drawn to a base belief in "karma"--that is, people should get what they deserve. 

The reality of the Resurrection turns all of our natural inclinations upside down.  It "supernaturalizes" our attitude about everything.  We start to realize that freedom can prevail over slavery to past sins.  We see that nobody has to be stuck with what they "deserve," and that everybody is offered a fresh start.  We understand that God's grace conquers the cycles of karma. This is not to say that there is no more justice or that there are no consequences for evil.  But Christ challenges us not to treat others the way they have treated us, lest we become what is the worst in them.  He also calls us to repent from our own self-love and to take concrete steps toward living for others.

Throughout the Resurrection appearances, Christ repeatedly says, "Peace be with you."  He also asks, "Why are you troubled?" (Lk 24:38).  He knows first-hand that the world can be a brutal place.  He had just experienced the worst of all evils, and yet he explained that the Messiah endured this in order "that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations" (Lk 24:47).

This is Good News, indeed.  None of us would ever want to be judged by the worst of our words or actions--not to mention treated accordingly.  And all of us long, deep down, to be forgiven for our past transgressions.  If you have been touched by God's grace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, you have a first-hand understanding that "Countless people whose sins have been forgiven have realized that they have received a share in the vitality of the Resurrection from the dead" (Hans Urs von Balthasar).  Indeed, though we might naturally desire to "pay it back" when others hurt us, our deeper "supernatural" hope is to have Someone "pay if forward" for us. 
 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Proclaim the Risen Christ--"My Lord and my God"!

Caravaggio's "Incredulity of Thomas"

We all "get" Good Friday.  One way or another, being human means that betrayal and abandonment, pain and death will eventually come our way.  St. Thomas certainly "got" Good Friday; he witnessed the suffering and torture of Innocence itself, and he experienced the crushing of Hope.
 
And we all know that Holy Saturday follows Good Friday.  That is, there seems to be only silence--the tomb seems to have triumphed.  It feels like Evil stands victorious once again, Life loses again, and Death has the last laugh.  Again.  St. Thomas definitely knew what it meant to be crushed and devastated and despondent.
 
But the question is whether we let ourselves "get to" the Resurrection.  In other words, do we allow ourselves to stay stuck on Holy Saturday, or do we open ourselves to the surprise and wonder of Easter Sunday?  We live in times defined by the shadow of Holy Saturday.  Profound suffering is all around us and perhaps even threatens to swallow us personally.  There seem to be no answers, only questions, and so we look for ways to ease the pain.  We get tempted to reduce reality to what we can see and touch.  We start to live by materialistic mottoes and self-centered slogans:   "Life is hard, so I need to make myself as 'happy' as I can be"; "Life is about the 'survival of the fittest,' so whoever has the most toys wins"; "God is dead, so let's eat, drink and be merry while we can."  Without a doubt, St. Thomas felt such meaninglessness and emptiness.
 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Making a Holy Week: Top Ten Tips

"View from the Cross" (James Tissot)
Here are ten tips for entering more deeply Holy Week and/or for making any given week more holy: 
 
10.  Rediscover Reconciliation--embrace this great Sacrament of healing. 
 
Why is it so easy to say "nobody's perfect,"
and yet so hard to confess that I have sinned?
 
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be satisfied" (Mt 5:6).
 
 
9. Wash Someone's Feet--gratuitously take on a "dirty job."
 
How much humility is required to do some work that seems "beneath" us?
 
"If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet,
you ought to wash one another's feet" (Jn 13:14).
 
 
8. Become an Agent of Mercy--forgive someone who doesn't deserve it.
 
How can we pray the Our Father without trembling at the conditional clasue, 
"as we forgive"?
 
"Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful" (Lk 6:36).