Monday, November 13, 2017

This Invitation Requires a Timely RSVP

The Wedding at Cana by Veronese

Life is choices.  Ultimately, the Lord of heaven and earth allows each of us the freedom to choose whether we will attend the eternal wedding feast.

The Bridegroom will be there, of course, surrounded by all those who were wise enough to accept the invitation.  The celebration will roll on and on.  Like a wonderful family reunion, brothers and sisters of all generations will gather around the Father's banquet table.

The only requirement for admission is our personal RSVP: In French, "répondez s'il vous plaît," literally means "Respond if it pleases you."  So the only question is whether it pleases us to accept the invitation or not.

No one else can answer the question for us.  No one can sign our name on the response card.  We are given a certain number of earthly days to accept or reject the invitation, but the clock is ticking.

At a certain point, if we dally too long, the Wedding Feast will go on without us.  If we ignore or disregard the invitation, the Bridegroom will respect our freedom and will have no alternative but to leave us on the outside looking in.  If we arrive late and knock on the door, His seemingly harsh words--"I do not know you"--will simply echo and confirm the "It does not please me to attend" which our lukewarm lack of response had previously indicated.

* * *

However, if it does please us to accept the invitation, we will enter into the most perfect of celebrations.  Face-to-face fellowship with our favorite patron saints and intercessors, as well as reunion with all of our loved ones who wisely kept the oil of faith burning in their lamps.  In the Father's house there are many rooms, indeed, and there is an "open table" for each of us. 

All of the glimpses of peace and joy we have experienced here on earth will open onto the total fulfillment of all our desires at this wedding feast.  Our hearts will overflow with the love shared by the Bridegroom and his bride.

But the request for an RSVP from the Bridegroom has a due date.  We may have until the 11th hour of our life to utter our "yes."  However, as an old joke painfully points out, some of us may well die at 10:30.

The party inside will be utterly glorious, whereas outside there will be only wailing and grinding of teeth.  Isn't this the "acceptable time" to embrace the "day of salvation" once and for all (2 Cor 6:2b)?!

Monday, October 30, 2017

All Our Favorite Saints and Holy Souls

"Death comes for us all, even for kings it comes."

+St. Thomas More, from A Man for All Seasons

Catholics celebrate All Saints Day to remind ourselves that we are not alone.  The journey is not too difficult.  Our deeply desired destiny does not exceed our grasp.

We have not only a "cloud of witnesses" cheering us on, but also a cohort of patron saints assisting our charge onward and upward.

So who is on your A-team?  If you had to choose your top five canonized saints, who would they be and why?  Perhaps they have changed over the course of your ongoing conversion to Christ--according to the different ages and stages of your life. Or maybe you have realized their fidelity to you, even when you have grown lax or lukewarm on your journey Home.

It's good to name and invoke our spiritual friends, to trust that they walk with us, and to open our eyes to the ways that they intervene for us right now, on behalf of our eternal forever.

Catholics celebrate All Souls Day to remind ourselves of those loved ones--friends and family members--through whom the love of Christ has shone into our lives.  

The Light of the World is reflected everywhere that the grace of Baptism has made a soul holy.  The Love of God reverberates in every human heart, created in the image and likeness of Trinitarian Love.  Therefore, every glimpse of light and love here below should help open our eyes to the fullness of life for which we were made.

Can you name those Holy Souls, now headed home to God, who have most deeply touched your life?  Can you see in them an image of the Risen Lord drawing near to you, much as he did with the two travelers on the Road to Emmaus?

The heroic and everyday virtue in your favorite Holy Souls are sign posts on the Christian path of discipleship.  Whether it's your grandfather's kindness, or your aunt's passion for justice; whether it's your childhood friend's grit and heroic perseverance, or your neighbor's piety: The people who have left an impact on us have done so to the extent that they were pencils in the very hand of God.

We need to picture our all-time list of Holy Souls and then become like them--for the sake of all those we meet.  This is how usher in the Kingdom of God which is already at hand.

This is our prayer :)

Monday, October 23, 2017

Repaying to God What Belongs to God

"If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences,
it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength,
light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ,
without a community of faith to support them,
without meaning and a goal in life."

(The Joy of the Gospel, n. 49)

It disturbs me
that Jesus bled to death while nailed to a tree,
and yet we think that life is about trying to be a nice person.

It troubles my conscience
that we know our deepest identity lies in being children of our heavenly Father,
and yet we allow the world to indoctrinate us with inane alternatives.

It disturbs me
that so many people live in such existential misery here and now,
and yet we hesitate to share the Good News they long to hear.

It troubles my conscience
that so many Christians have heard Jesus' words, "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life,"
and then we quickly convince ourselves that there are lots of ways to the Father,
lots of truths, and lots of lives worth leading.
It disturbs me
that so many Catholics yawn their way through the miracle of the Mass,
and that even more are too busy with trivialities to be present to the Presence.

It troubles my conscience
that we are so eager to give so much to the various Caesars of our day,
and yet so willing to give so little to the God of all eternity.

World Mission Sunday is a poignant reminder that, when we meet our Maker, He will ask:  "Where are all of my children you were supposed to help bring home?"   Let's pray that we will be instruments of God's grace who help others live in friendship with Jesus Christ, with a community of faith to support them, with meaning and a goal in life--


Monday, October 16, 2017

A Proposal to Reduce Gun Violence and Womb Violence

If Catholics stood united in defending human dignity,
they could significantly impact the unfettered rights
demanded by both the pro-gun and the pro-abortion lobbies.

Neither the NRA nor NARAL will like this idea.  Catholics whose deepest allegiance lies with their preferred political party, rather than with principles of Catholic social teaching, will not appreciate it either.

But sometimes consensus-building and meaningful collaboration requires looking at old problems with fresh eyes. With the blood of our brothers and sisters continuing to cry out from the ground (Gen 4:10), isn't it time for some bold new beginnings?

Recent polls have shown an increasing openness to introducing reasonable limits to the "right to choose" both to abort the unborn and to bear arms: 81% of Americans favor restricting abortion to the first trimester, and 55% of Americans say that laws on gun sales should be more strict than they are now

If liberals who are opposed to "gun violence" really want to see reasonable restrictions on the right to bear arms, then they should be willing to accept reasonable restrictions on the violent act of abortion.  Likewise, if conservatives who are opposed to "womb violence" really want to see reasonable restrictions on abortion rights, then they should be willing to accept reasonable restrictions on gun ownership.

American Catholics are uniquely poised to be able to increase respect for human dignity by providing a united front in this two-pronged strategy.  Of course, to be consistently "pro-life" would require overcoming internecine culture wars--as well as pushing back against these two well funded and ideologically intransigent forces in the political American landscape.  Here are a few examples of how the potential compromises might play out:

  • Ban abortions after the first twelve weeks of pregnancy, AND ban the sale of assault weapons, bump stock and semi-automatic firearms.
  • Require parental notification for parents of minors seeking abortions, AND require a more uniform and rigorous process for background checks for all gun purchases.
  • Create an informed consent process which includes access to ultrasound images for all first-trimester abortions, AND create a meaningful process for tracking fire arm purchases which would include a national data base.

Mother Teresa famously asked "if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?"  The now canonized saint of Calcutta famously added that "we must give until it hurts," and so these parallel questions seem to follow: If conservative Catholics refuse to limit their rights to gun ownership, how can they tell other people that they should not have unfettered rights to abortion? If liberal Catholics refuse reasonable restrictions on abortion, how can they tell other people that they have to limit their rights to bear arms?

Of course, owning a gun and procuring an abortion are not morally equivalent acts. They are, however, equally divisive political topics these days.  Isn't this all the more reason to find common ground for political collaboration?

After all, "compromise" need not be a word connoting weakness or absence of principles; it could suggest "making a promise with others" in order to promote the common good and respect human life.

Monday, October 9, 2017

What Really Happens at Mass?

It’s such a simple question, and yet where should a committed Catholic begin, if asked to respond? 

It depends on the audience, of course, but in one way or another an adequate response would include a few most basic elements. Check out the three themes below, and consider what else should be included on the list:

1.      Heaven touches Earth, once again.

Whether it is an intimate gathering in a small chapel or a papal event celebrated with millions, the Mass invites us to celebrate with a “cloud of witnesses.”  All the angels and saints gather with Christ’s body on earth, the Church, and we are invited to participate in the eternal worship and praise of the Father, in the Son, with the Holy Spirit.

One of the times that I was most aware of this experience was several years ago at the annual pilgrimage to Washington, DC, for the March for Life. First there was the Vigil Mass for Life at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception; it was a “high” Mass with a 45-minute procession, incense and traditional hymns, and thousands of reverent pilgrims. Then the very next morning, we celebrated an equally stunning Mass at the nearby Verizon Center—this time, with praise and worship music, and a “youth rally” kind of feel.

Each of these events felt like there was so much more going on.  One of the high school students described it best on our bus ride home when he said, “Those Masses were the most joyful and the most peaceful I’ve ever felt in my life.”  Sure signs of the Holy Spirit at work!

2.      The Holy Spirit re-presents Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.

When Jesus said to the Apostles—and to us—“Do this in memory of me”, the context and message was obvious: Passover meal; “memory” as “memorial”; making oneself present at the event. In prayer, when I try to picture myself present at Jesus’ crucifixion, it is hard to imagine making it to the foot of the Cross with the Blessed Mother, Mary Magdalene and the beloved disciple. 

However, I am able to see myself present in the crowd, listening to Jesus’ last words. I can even imagine myself as one of the other apostles who initially fled after Jesus’ arrest, but then circle back incognito to draw closer to the Sacrifice:
  • “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” seems to be directed right at me. 
  • “Today, you will be with me in paradise” sounds like the answer to the prayer I long to hear.
  • “Behold, your son; behold, your mother” provides a glimmer of hope and hint of a path forward amid the devastation.
  • "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” seems to say even more about me than about Jesus’ intimate relationship with the Father. 
  • “I thirst” makes me long to do something, anything, for the Lord. 
  • “It is complete” hints at Jesus’ intentionality and reminds me of Jesus’ mysterious words and actions at the Last Supper. 
  • "Father, into your hands, I commend my Spirit” seems to sum up Jesus’ whole life—“being for” the Father. 

3.      We encounter the real presence of Jesus in the most unique way.

Finally, and ultimately, there is the matter of the transformation of bread and wine before our very eyes. Eucharistic Adoration has helped deepen my experience of the Mass, and frequent participation in the Mass has helped me appreciate the ongoing presence of our Risen Lord in tabernacles and monstrances around the world.

Why? Because in the Eucharist I experience a peace which the world cannot give. I have experienced the Lord’s joy has filling me, so that my joy is complete. And I have seen the slow but steady transforming power of the Eucharist in my own life!

Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us—

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Only Way to Overcome the Enemy Which is Us

"Have in you the same attitude
that is also in Christ Jesus."
(Phil 2:5)

With cities and streets turned into killing fields, it is time we confront life's great "either/or" decision.  Either we adopt a radically different mindset, embrace a profound metanoia, literally the "new mind" of Christ; or we accept the inevitable consequences of our worldly mentality which is rooted in slavery to self and the relentless drive to impose one's will upon others.

"Though he was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not regard equality with God something to be grasped" (Phil 2:6). Grasping at equality with God is one way to define original sin. It also helps us see what the sin of idolatry looks like today: We set ourselves up as gods who have to power to decide when life begins and when life ends, whose lives are worthy to be lived and whose deserve to be eliminated.

"Rather he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness..." (Phil 2:7)  The Law of Love alone provides an antidote.  It guarantees that we fulfill ourselves only by pouring ourselves out on behalf of others. To put on the mind of Christ means that we look at life through the eyes of those who are suffering and those who are powerless, rather than through the eyes of those who must dominate and enslave others in order to feel more free.

"And found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Phil 2:8).  The worldly mindset sees only "kill or be killed," and thus the cycles of violence swirl on.  The "will to power" is not just a quaint tag line of nihilists and anarchists, but it also includes the justification of "preemptive" strikes against anyone we fear. Christian humility accepts the fact that death is swallowed up by the Cross of Christ. It knows that obedience to the will of the Father never includes the killing or the silencing or the shaming of another.

"Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name" (Phil 2:9). Whenever the name of my country comes first, or the name of my tribe, or the name of my political party or my cause--we can rest assured that slavery to self has a strong grip on us. The only antidote is to name the temptation for what it is, a spirit of self-absorbed worldliness, and then to cast it out in the name of Jesus.

"That at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth" (Phil 2:10). Whether people "take a knee" in the name of defending liberty and protesting racial injustices, or whether people protest the taking of a knee in the name of love of country, it must be done out of a pure intention to put God first, others second and self third. Otherwise, it will merely perpetuate the worldly cycles of division and hatred and--ultimately--death. Ongoing Christian conversion of heart and mind "takes a knee" at the name of Jesus precisely because he alone reveals the way to the Father, which is the path of humility and obedience.

"And every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil 2:11). We have seen the enemy, indeed, but we praise God that he has shown us the Way forward-- so that the cycles of worldly violence, domination and condemnation might be broken once and for all.

Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us!

Monday, September 25, 2017

A Relatable Face of Holiness for Today

St. Vincent de Paul
Holiness looks like something. But is it possible that a 17th Century priest could speak to 21st Century questions about the meaning and purpose of life?

Known as the "Apostle of Charity" and "Father of the Poor," St. Vincent contributed to the internal reform of the Church in France through a simple formula: the faithful preaching of the Gospel; the intentional gathering of disciples of Jesus for meaningful Christian community and mutual support; and the radical commitment to serving the needs of the poor and the marginalized.

Faithful preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ--both in words and in actions--is the necessary starting point for a life of holiness. It not only comforts wounded sinners but also exhorts them to ongoing conversion of heart.  Faithful preaching of the Gospel resists the reduction of Christianity to a mere reflection of worldly wisdom or a mere repetition of universal religious claims--as if the Incarnation of God happens anywhere else but in Jesus Christ.

Meaningful Christian community and mutual support allows real relationships to flourish. This is the context in which people can let themselves be vulnerable and open their hearts to God's transforming grace. This is the place where authentic diversity of personalities and opinions can be held in tension, out of mutual respect. The human person is made for relationship with God, which sin has wounded and the grace of Christ has repaired, but it must be lived out in concrete, interpersonal relationships.

Radical commitment to serving the needs of the poor and the marginalized may be St. Vincent's most enduring legacy, and this may be the easiest point of entry for 21st Century Christians.  St. Vincent's Daughters of Charity, which he co-founded, and his Vincentian priests continue their work today. His designation as patron saint of all charitable societies keeps his smiling presence front-and-center for all who would serve the least, in the name of Jesus. But his abiding relevance for today might just be his simple, direct, hands-on approach to helping the people God placed right in front of him each day.

Notwithstanding heroic moments of Christian witness and/or martyrdom, most moments of holiness resemble small acts of kindness, offered out of love. This is because holiness looks like Someone--Jesus Christ--whose face we glimpse when we encounter the least and whose work continues in and through us when we serve those in need.

May St. Vincent intercede on our behalf that we might find everyday ways to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the ill, and visit the imprisoned (Mt 25:35-36)!

Monday, September 18, 2017

Embracing an Evangelizing Catechesis

USCCB Catechetical Sunday Resources

It all starts with a joke: The junior high teacher asks the class, "Who can explain the difference between ignorance and indifference?"  After a long, awkward silence, a weary student responds, "I don't know, and I don't care."  Exactly!

The old educational adage is that students will never care how much the teacher knows until they know how much the teacher cares. In terms of teaching the Catholic faith, people will never care to learn more until they experience why they should care.

An evangelizing catechesis starts with helping people care. It begins with the awareness that, before we can hand on what we have received from the Apostles, we need to help people hear and respond to the Good News of Jesus--personally. We need to return to the basic proclamation of the Gospel, the Kerygma, so that baptized Catholics might encounter the life-changing revelation anew--personally.

An evangelizing catechesis helps people move from caring into life-long learning.  Once people care about how the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ directly impacts them, they care to embrace ongoing conversion of heart and thus walk the path of missionary discipleship.

An evangelizing catechesis is rooted in the first announcement or kerygma. In the words of Pope Francis (EG, n. 164):
  • "In catechesis too, we have rediscovered the fundamental role of the first announcement or kerygma, which needs to be the center of all evangelizing activity and all efforts at Church renewal. The kerygma is trinitarian. The fire of the Spirit is given in the form of tongues and leads us to believe in Jesus Christ who, by his death and resurrection, reveals and communicates to us the Father’s infinite mercy. On the lips of the catechist the first proclamation must ring out over and over: 'Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.' This first proclamation is called 'first' not because it exists at the beginning and can then be forgotten or replaced by other more important things. It is first in a qualitative sense because it is the principal proclamation, the one which we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at every level and moment..."
An evangelizing catechesis compels a response. Indeed, the more I open myself to embrace the message that Jesus loves me personally, that he gave his life to save me personally, and that he is living at my side each day, the more I want to learn about Him. Likewise, the more I learn about Jesus Christ, the more I am drawn into friendship with Him and so drawn into the mystery of Trinitarian love--into the very relationship of the Son with the Father through the gift of the Spirit.

In the 2017 Prayer for Catechists from the U.S. Bishops, we ask that the Church's heroic and evangelizing catechists might help more people care to know the Truth which alone sets them free:

O God, our Heavenly Father, you have
given us the gift of these catechists to be
heralds of the Gospel to our parish family.
We lift them up to you in thanksgiving
and intercede for them concerning their
hopes and needs.

May we be attentive to the presence of
your Word in them, a Word that lifts up
and affirms, calls forth and challenges, is
compassionate and consoles.

We pray that our parish family will always
be blessed with those who have responded to
the call to share in Christ's prophetic mission
as catechists. May we too be open to the
universal call to service that Christ addresses
to all of his disciples, contributing our gifts to
the communion of faith, the Church.
We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen!

Monday, September 11, 2017

A Fatima Centennial Self-Evaluation

What if the Blessed Virgin Mary asked me
to pray the Rosary every day?

The Mother of God's message at Fatima was meant to be personal. Not just for the three shepherd children to whom she appeared over a six-month period in 1917--the long-suffering St. Lucia and her recently canonized cousins, Jacinta and Francisco--but for me and for you.

So, here's a spiritual "gut check": How would you rate your level of knowledge and commitment on the following Fatima spectrum?

Novice                                   Intermediate                                       Advanced
Aware                                       Fairly Familiar              Well-versed in the details
Not so interested
                 Open to the implications                   Deeply devoted

If you are somewhere between a 1.0 and a 2.5, check out the brief overview below which outlines Our Lady's maternal messages at Fatima (and if you're closer to a 3.0, enjoy thinking about all the other key details we might include, given the 100 years of Fatima)! But wherever we might fall on the spectrum, this very public 20th-century miracle should provoke some deeper self-reflection during this centennial year.

Four Fatima-related questions for ongoing self-assessment:

  1. Do I believe that Heaven is closer than imaginable? Jesus wants us to embrace his Mother as our Mother, and she always stands ready to intercede on our behalf. Isn't Fatima's evidence of Mary's ongoing maternal concern enough to open my eyes to life's deeper realities?

  2. Do I believe that Hell is a real possibility? Presumption is still a sin, and assuming that all will be saved is just as problematic as thinking we can know who might be damned. Dorothy Day said that we only love God as much as the person we love the least. Isn't it time to consider whether I actually hope for the salvation of those whom I love the least--and whether I am actively concerned for those who are clearly very far away from God?

  3. Do I understand why and how my sacrifices might contribute to the salvation of souls? The Law of Love revealed on the Cross shows us that it is in self-giving that we find self-fulfillment; it is in self-emptying that others are raised up. Isn't it time to start offering my daily sufferings and sacrifices for the salvation of souls?

  4. Do I believe that praying the Rosary each day can change the world?  Twenty minutes is easily gobbled up skimming social media, surfing the internet, or vegging out in front of some show. Isn't it time to plan how/when I can commit to a daily Rosary--in the car, during a daily walk, or before resorting to screen time? 

 A brief review of Mary's messages during the six Fatima apparitions:

  • "I come from Heaven" (5-13-17): Announced by a flash of supernatural light, the Blessed Mother asks the three children whether they will bear the sufferings that God sends them in atonement for the sins that offend God and for the conversion of sinners. She promises that the grace of God will strengthen them, and asks them to pray the Rosary every day to bring peace to the world.
  • "The Fatima Prayer" & Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary (6-13-17): The beautiful Lady returns as promised, shares the prayer which is now included at the end of each decade of the Rosary (see below), and again urges the three children to pray the Rosary every day. The Blessed Mother also asks the children to promote devotion to her Immaculate Heart, as a path to lead the whole world back to God.
  • The Vision of Hell and the Three Secrets (7-13-17): With reassurances that Heaven is their destiny, reminders of daily Rosaries, and the prediction of an October miracle, Our Lady proceeded to shock Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta with a vision of eternal damnation. She then commented: "You have seen hell, where the souls of poor sinners go. It is to save them that God wants to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If you do what I tell you, many souls will be saved, and there will be peace." In addition, the Blessed Mother shared the secrets of the message of Fatima, whose drama would unfold in the decades that followed--including the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart.
  • Delayed Visit & Promise of Basilica on the Site (8-19-17): Growing pressure from arrogant atheists and secular obstructionists caused increasing problems for the three children, and a local political figure prevented them from keeping their monthly appointment on the 13th. However, the Blessed Mother greeted the children a few days later with this message: "Pray, pray very much. Make sacrifices for sinners. Many souls go to hell, because no one is willing to help them with sacrifice."
  • Prediction of Future Visions (9-13-17): With crowds continuing to grow, the Blessed Mother's message once again focused on making sacrifices and praying the Rosary. She also promised the children that, one month later on her final visit, they would have a vision of Our Lord, Our Lady of Sorrows and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, and St. Joseph with the Child Jesus.
  • Miracle of the Sun Witnessed by at least 70,000 People (10-13-17): The children saw the visions promised in September; the massive crowd saw the rain stop, the skies open, and the sun become a whirling dervish. Even as many of the hardened cynics and skeptics feared the end of the world, the Blessed Mother reassured the children that the war would end soon. Perhaps the most stunning evidence of this supernatural occurrence was the fact that all who were present admitted that the "miracle of the sun" had dried their previously rain-soaked clothes and shoes.

    After revealing herself to be Our Lady of the Rosary, the Virgin Mary also told the children: "People must amend their lives and ask pardon for their sins. They must not offend our Lord any more, for He is already too much offended!"

A Closing Fatima Prayer:

Let's pray that we continue advancing along the spectrum of Fatima devotion, as we move ever closer to our personal and communal judgment days: "O my Jesus, forgive us our sins; save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those who are most in need of your mercy."

Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us--

P.S. Don't miss the Holy Father's announcement of a plenary indulgence through the end of this liturgical year.

Monday, September 4, 2017

A Litany of Laboring Love


For all those laboring to recover from Hurricane Harvey,
Christ hear us.

For all those laboring to help others find meaningful work,
Christ hear us.

For all those laboring build a more just society,
Christ hear us.

For all those laboring to bring new life into the world,
Christ hear us.

For all those laboring to exercise responsible dominion over creation,
Christ hear us.

For all those laboring to care for the infirm and the elderly,
Christ hear us.

For all those laboring to create grace-filled Christian families,
Christ hear us.

For all those laboring to serve the Lord in the least,
Christ hear us.

For all those laboring to build bridges of trust and solidarity,
Christ hear us.

For all those laboring to bring peace amid senseless strife,
Christ hear us.

For all those laboring to offer up their sufferings for the salvation of souls,
Christ hear us.

For all those laboring to seek first the Kingdom of God,
Christ hear us, Christ graciously hear us.

Most Holy Trinity, laboring to draw all people into the eternal exchange of Love,
Have mercy on us!

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Truth, Beauty, and Goodness of God's Creation

"Even before revealing himself to man in words of truth,
God reveals himself to him through the universal language of creation,
the work of his Word, of his wisdom:
the order and harmony of the cosmos--
which both the child and the scientist discover--
'from the greatness and beauty of created things comes
a corresponding perception of their Creator,'
'for the author of beauty created them' (Wis 13:3,5)."

What if we encounter almighty God--who IS Truth and Beauty and Goodness--in our everyday experiences of truth, beauty and goodness?  

Reflecting on St. Francis of Assisi's profound communion with God's creation, St. Bonaventure maintained that we have the capacity to see "vestiges" or "traces" of God's Trinitarian Presence throughout the cosmos. Francis didn't love creation in a pantheistic way, as if the created order was divine in and of itself, but he affirmed its deepest dignity as a mirror in which we gaze upon the very wisdom of God.  St. Francis' sacramental world view enabled him to encounter the Supernatural in and through the natural order.

Our own glimpses of God's glory in and through nature are like detecting the fingerprints of the Creator in his creation. Such experiences of the truth and beauty and goodness of creation are not mere matters of taste, as today's prevailing relativism claims with ironic and absolute certainty. When we find ourselves touched by an overwhelming sense of the order and harmony of the cosmos--the unfolding miracle of new life in the womb; the power of the sea, or the majesty of the mountaintop; the preternatural dance of darkness during a total eclipse of the sun--we rightly sense that we are apprehending something More
Such moments of wonder are not mere matters of opinion. They are the perception of a reality which expresses itself through nature, even as it transcends the physical world. Individual human souls may have different sensibilities or capabilities to notice and appreciate these experiences, but all persons are capable of discovering truth, goodness and beauty. We may prefer a sunrise to a sunset, but we dare not deny that they are both literally awesome.  

The question, however, is what we make of these experiences. To perceive the truth that "everything is connected....everything is interconnected" (Pope Francis) should lead us to marvel at the beauty of creation's language. But it should also compel us to protect and defend the goodness which overflows from God through his created order.

Since Holy Father Francis has designated September 1st as the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, we might consider acting on these insights in one of the following ways:
  • Resisting the "throwaway culture" (Pope Francis) and rejecting products and practices which contribute to a toxic environment.
  • Exploring deeper issues about climate change through resources from organizations like the Catholic Climate Covenant.
  • Praying that we might personally and collectively have the mind to know, the heart to love, and the hands to serve God in and through our care of creation.

Finally, as the revealed Word of God reiterates, let us not fail to marvel at the Truth and Beauty and Goodness who is the source of all our everyday experiences of these three transcendental attributes of the Lord God:

"In the beginning was the Word....
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be."
John 1:1,3

"He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation.
For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth,
the visible and the invisible...
all things were created through him and for him.
He is before all things,
and in him all things hold together."

Colossians 1:15-17

Monday, August 21, 2017

America's Original Wound and Ongoing Eclipse of Human Dignity

Gordon, an ex-slave, from Wikipedia

Some scars never go away.

With our nation once again reeling from a violent eruption of heinous and explicit racism, a number of people have raised related questions about the way that unconscious and implicit racism continues to shape the current cultural landscape.

If humanistic luminaries like our nation's founders could be blind to their own denial of basic human rights to black citizens, and if highly educated judges and legislators could support institutional segregation for decades, how likely is it that 21st century Americans are without our own racial blind spots? Isn't the probability very high that this era has its own social and cultural structures of sin that impact all of us?

These are not comfortable questions for cocktail-hour conversations, of course. They are matters for deep reflection about our most basic presuppositions, which routinely go unexamined. They are also questions that often leave people thinking, "I don't know where to begin with that..."

Here's a starting point, a must-read for anyone who dares to delve more deeply into questions of institutional and structural racism: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in a Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander.

The importance of this book cannot be overstated, just as its provocative thesis cannot be easily digested: Alexander argues that the "war on drugs"--promoted by Republican and Democratic presidents alike, and propped up by a number of shocking Supreme Court decisions--is the vehicle of ongoing racism in our times. It is a machine which has targeted and incarcerated black men at outrageously disproportionate levels, and it leaves a devastating swath of convicted felons in its wake who have no hope of re-integration into society. Somehow the author manages to address what seems like all conceivable counter-arguments, even demonstrating the essential role played both by the myth of colorblindness and by black exceptionalism (e.g., the election of an African-American president).

Just as Original Sin left the human race with a weakened will and darkened intellect, so today's racial structures of sin continue to compromise and implicate us all. Statues and monuments may remind us of past structures of sin, but debates about where they belong might just be a distraction from addressing current racial inequities. With a targeted minority--black men--continuing to suffer mind-boggling levels of felony convictions, it seems that the least we can do is to begin seeing the unconscious and implicit mechanisms at work today.

Ultimately, of course, only a Wounded Healer can save us from the mess in which we are living. Yet he needs us to be his agents in this noble mission. The Lord knows we did not choose to be born into this particular system, but he also knows that we can choose whether or not we perceive the reality. And we can decide how to begin tending to the wounds.

Reading The New Jim Crow would be a great place to start.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Max-imizing Each Moment

Maximilian Kolbe

St. Maximilian Kolbe heroically stepped forward to accept a death sentence in the place of another prisoner at Auschwitz. What prepared him for such a moment, and what might we learn from his example?

There could be no ultimate gift of self
without a lifetime of giving of oneself.

There could be no heroic taking-the-place-of-another
without a lifetime of standing for-and-with others.

There could be no act of perfect courage
without a lifetime of courageous daily actions.

There could be no "yes" to self-sacrificing Love
without a lifetime of sacrificing one's lesser loves.

There could be no laying down one's life
without a lifetime of taking up one's cross.

There could be no "Martyr of Charity"
without a lifetime of dying to love of self.

There could be no explanation like Kolbe's "I am a Catholic priest"
without a lifetime of proudly professing one's Catholic faith.
There could be no allowing another person to live on one's own borrowed time
without a lifetime of sharing a New Life borrowed from Another.

May the witness of Max Kolbe, the patron patron saint of media communications, political prisoners, families, drug addicts, and the pro-life movement, help us walk in friendship with Jesus and our Immaculate Mother each day--


Monday, July 31, 2017

"Lord, teach us how to pray..." (Lk 11:1)

After observing the depth, the faithfulness and the fruitfulness of Jesus' prayer, the disciples couldn't help but ask: How can we pray like you, Lord (so we can be more like you)?

Jesus does not get into practical strategies--e.g., posture or breathing techniques or meditation mantras--but he gets really real.  His answer is that we need to enter into his prayer, into his lived relationship with the Father, through his Holy Spirit.

The Lord's Prayer is a summary of the Gospel because it draws us into the mystery of Our Father's personal quest for an intimate relationship with each of his created sons and daughters.  In and through his un-created Son, by the power of his proceeding Spirit, the Father seeks to draw each of us into intimacy with the Blessed Trinity's eternal exchange of Love.

But we are practical people with many day-to-day concerns--not unlike the first disciples (!)--and so we want to know what this lesson on prayer means for us right now.  Here are seven suggestions, following the seven petitions of the Lord's Prayer:

  • (Re)Claim and (Re)Frame our lives in terms of relationship with our eternal Father. When we pray that the Father's name be holy, "we are immersed in the innermost mystery of his Godhead and the drama of the salvation of our humanity" (CCC, n. 2801).  Because the Father is perfect and holy, Jesus wants us to let his image and likeness shine through our lives.
  • Walk in the presence of the Father, who IS in heaven and who IS close to us wherever we are. This is what it means to ask that his Kingdom come; this is why Jesus proclaimed that "The kingdom of God is at hand" (Mk 1:15). Heaven contains the earth as the soul contains the body.
  •  Will the Will of the Father, in matters great and small. Holiness looks like something--conforming my will the the Will of the Father.  And it looks like Someone--Jesus--who lived 30 years of ordinary life and 3 years of extraordinary ministry simply willing the Father's Will, moment-to-moment.
  • Eat and drink giving thanks to the Father (particularly at his eucharistic table)! To resist the myth of our own self-sufficiency and our own self-made-ness, perhaps there is no better place to start than looking at every drop and morsel we consume as signs of affection from the Father: "all good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights" (Jas 1:17).
  • Forgive with the prodigal and gratuitous love of the Father. We must redirect those who have hurt us, so that they stop their bad behavior and so that relationships might be restored.  But this requires that we remember how much we have already been forgiven: "Merciful and gracious is the LORD, slow to anger, abounding in kindness" (Ps 103:8).
  • Cast out temptations in the name of Jesus, the Father's beloved. The father of lies will not rest until he has drawn us from the embrace of our heavenly Father. Temptations are guaranteed until the end of time, but we resist their control when we name them and dismiss them by invoking Jesus' authoritative name and example, "Get away, Satan" (Mt 4:10).
  • Trust that it pleases the Father to deliver us from every evil: Even before Jesus put evil to death on the Cross, he invited his followers to walk as he walked, with utter assurance in this promise: "Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom" (Lk 12:32).

In sum, Jesus teaches us how to pray by inviting us into his own prayer, into his inner life. We simply need to live from this mystery "in a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God"; after all, as the Catechism succinctly notes, "This relationship is prayer" (CCC, n. 2558).