Monday, December 28, 2015

Celebrating Silver: Sealed with Surprises, Gifted with Grace

Twenty-five years ago, the “ask” to senior prom wasn’t as creative as it is these days.  Nor was the typical marriage proposal!

Maybe it was just us and our otherwise knuckle-headed friends, but there were few elaborately planned and extravagantly executed proposals. It was typically a matter of picking the right time and place and then hoping for the best.

Our not-so-clever engagement involved a decent dinner out (“Hyde Park’s Answer to the California Fern Bar”?!).  The evening started with my uncharacteristically pushy request for a back corner table, followed by awkward small talk, and then a nervous toast after Tracy had had enough to eat and before my dinner had gone completely cold.  In other words, strategic thinking at its best :) 

The toast was simple, but in its own way perhaps prophetic:

“To the surprise of the Sacraments, and a lifetime of adventures in grace.”   

In some ways, the marriage proposal managed to surprise both of us; since we were among the first of our friends to get married, it probably came as a surprise to many others as well.  Since cell phones were not yet legion, we had to scurry back to a land-line in order to share our joy with family and friends across the country.

Central New Jersey at the end of December may not seem like a destination wedding by today’s standards, but it was absolutely magical.  Aunts and Uncles who had never ventured near NYC flew in through a snowstorm.  The quiet parish church was packed, and it somehow felt like there was a heavenly host of helpers joining us through the ceremony.  Immediately after we had exchanged our vows, Tracy’s legendary sigh (or was it a gasp?!) brought down the house.

At the reception, two memorable toasts reiterated themes from the powerful homily at the wedding, reminding us: 1) the main work of a husband and wife is to help each other get to Heaven; 2) from those who have been given much, much will be expected.  A vocation to Christian love is serious business, we were reminded.  But we were young and so took the challenge as an exhortation.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Why a Child with Many Names is Much Loved

One of my mother's favorite sayings is that "a child with many names is much loved".  Why is this the case?  Because mom says so, of course!

Why it may be true that we created nicknames for all of our high school and college buddies as some odd sign of affection, there may be other reasons why this Child has so many names. Holy Mother Church spends the seven days leading up to Christmas Eve by sharing ancient titles for our coming Lord, as if the Christ Child is supposed to be most loved. After all, this Child offers a path by which all children can receive the gift of supernatural adoption; he invites people everywhere to the liberating life of spiritual childhood--radical trust in the love of a Father who calls each of us by name.

From December 17th-23rd, these "O Antiphons" are used as the Gospel acclamation at daily Mass and as the Magnificat antiphon in evening prayer. These names offer us different glimpses into the multifaceted identity of the Lord of Lords.

As you reflect on the list below, consider whether there is one that speaks to your heart at this point of your faith journey.  Perhaps it is one that reminds you of a familiar line from a classic Advent hymn; perhaps it is one that offers a renewed perspective on the Promised One, whose path to meet us was prepared from the beginning of time: 

Monday, December 14, 2015

How Christ's Church of Mercy Opens the Door

Opening a Holy Door for the Father of Mercy

A merciless paganism coerces people into its way of life.
A church without mercy "meets people where they are"
but fails to lead them where they really want to be.
Christ's Church of Mercy opens the door to a fresh start,
even when people feel stuck,
inviting them to a new Way, Truth, and Life.

A merciless paganism insists that we live in a gray, colorless world.
A church without mercy embraces “living in the gray”
but fails to help people see that the Light still shines in the darkness.
Christ's Church of Mercy opens the door to the full spectrum of beauty,
often shrouded in a dreary world,
giving people hope for the coming Kingdom.

A merciless paganism glorifies perfect people and disposes of the rest.
A church without mercy reassures people that "nobody’s perfect"
but fails to help them realize that everybody’s perfectible.
Christ's Church of Mercy opens the door to heavenly perfection,
hand-made for the imperfect,
giving thanks to the One for whom nothing is impossible.

A merciless paganism judges people, not actions.
A church without mercy fears sounding "judgmental"
but thereby acts in complicity with sin.
Christ's Church of Mercy opens the door to distancing sinners from their sins,
even the most egregious,
showing that God's gratuitous grace can make all things new.

A merciless paganism preaches self first,
others next (when convenient), and god third (whatever that means).
A church without mercy affirms trying to be good to others and self
but not for the greater glory of God.
Christ's Church of Mercy opens the door to putting First Things first,
even when they are not politically convenient,
affirming God's presence in and through our works of mercy.

A merciless paganism claims that revenge is justice.
A church without mercy thinks a Year of Mercy is just and right
but hopes it doesn’t require personal and communal conversion.
Christ's Church of Mercy opens the door to Justice in the flesh,
even as the answer to our deepest longings,
recognizing that God became human so that human beings might become divine.

A merciless paganism champions a fatherless world.
A church without mercy doesn't mention the Father for fear of offending
but doesn't fear offending the Father.
Christ's Church of Mercy opens the door to a hero's welcome Home,
even after years of wandering,
rejoicing in the tender embrace of Jesus' Abba, our dear Papa.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Pray for Us!

St. Maximilian Kolbe had a world-changing devotion to the Blessed Mother under the title she herself disclosed at Lourdes, "I am the Immaculate Conception." As founder of the "Militia of the Immaculata," he envisioned a spiritual army of faithful sons and daughters who would lead the whole world to Jesus through the intercession of their Immaculate Mother.

Here is Kolbe's prayer to Mary Immaculate on the patronal feast day of the United States--and the day Pope Francis has chosen to open wide the holy doors of St. Peter's Basilica for the start of the Jubilee Year of Mercy:

"I greet you, ever-blessed Virgin,
Mother of God, throne of grace, miracle of almighty power!
I greet you, sanctuary of the most Holy Trinity and Queen of the universe,
Mother of mercy and refuge of sinners!
Most loving Mother,
attracted by your beauty and sweetness and by your tender compassion,
I confidently turn to you and beg of you to obtain for me of your dear son
the favor I request in this prayer (here mention your request).

Obtain for me also, Queen of Heaven,
the most lively contrition for my many sins
and the grace to imitate closely those virtues which you practiced so faithfully
especially humility, purity, and obedience.
Above all I beg you to be my mother and protectress,
to receive me into the number of your devoted children,
and to guide me from your high throne of glory.
Do not reject my petitions, Mother of mercy!
Have pity on me, and do not abandon me during life
or at the moment of my death.

Daughter of the Eternal Father,
Mother of the Eternal Son,
Spouse of the Holy Spirit,
Temple of the adorable Trinity,
pray for me.

Immaculate and tender Heart of Mary,
refuge of the needy and hope of sinners,
filled with the most lively respect, love, and gratitude,
I devote myself forever to your service,
and I offer you my heart with all that I am and all that belongs to me.

Accept this offering, sweet Queen of Heaven and earth,
and obtain for me of your dear Son, Jesus Christ,
the favors I ask through this prayer.
Obtain for me also a tender, generous, constant love of God,
perfect submission to his adorable will,
the true spirit of a Christian,
and the grace of final perseverance.

Monday, November 30, 2015

What an Advent-ure in Divine Mercy Looks Like

How might this Advent be different from all the rest?

With the prospect of World War III smoldering in Syria, with a global crisis of political and economic refugees, with natural disasters and relentless persecution of Christians in various parts of the world, with terrorist activity and fear-mongering run amok, it does not seem too far fetched for the Son of Man to say that "People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world" (Lk 21:26).

Then there is the inner turmoil, of course: Am I just going through the same old motions as in years past?  To paraphrase St. Paul, do I keep failing to do the good I want to do, and yet continue saying and doing the evil I do not want (Rom 7:19)?  Will this year just be business as usual, or will I allow God's grace to translate the tired story lines of my life into a new script, so I can play the role he needs me to play?

Perhaps the sense of urgency this Advent comes from Pope Francis' gift to the Church and world--the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.  Maybe this is the opportunity we need personally and collectively to admit that we cannot save ourselves.  Maybe this is our chance to confess that we are powerless in the face of worldly dominions, whether they be the "technocratic paradigm" identified by Holy Father Francis, or the nihilistic machinations of religious and secular extremists.

The Good News remains unchanging yet paradoxical: Our only hope lies in God's powerless love.  In both his birth and his death, Jesus is the Vulnerable One whose self gift "gives heart to the wretched" (miseris cor dare in Latin ["misericordia"]; mercy in English).  This year's Advent-ure and Jubilee call us to a deeper experience of God's self-emptying presence, which creates our hearts anew.

The Lord stands at the door and knocks, inviting us to a fresh start, offering a new beginning, providing us with a clean slate.  Dare we pray that he make us the people of mercy which our weary and wretched world needs?  If so, consider one of the following paths for embracing the joy of the Season and the peace of the Year:

Monday, November 23, 2015

"Viva Cristo Rey!"

Each liturgical year concludes on this potentially vexing note: the celebration of "Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe."

Why this focus on Lordship and Kingship?  What relevance does this really have to those of us living in post-monarchical and democratic times?  Three important movements in the Gospel passage for Christ the King Sunday point toward responses to such questions (Jn 18:33b-37):

  • "Are you the King of the Jews?"  In different ways, and at different times in our lives, we all stand like Pilate in judgment of Jesus.  If he really is the Anointed One who fulfills God's promises to his chosen people, then my lordship over my own life must come to an end.  My plans, my will, my autonomy, my almighty self must submit to Christ's kingship.  Otherwise I, like Pilate, will have to eliminate him.  There is no neutral middle ground, no path of compromise: I either join forces with those in a permanent state of insurrection, or I bow down in the presence of the King.
  • "My kingdom does not belong to this world."  If we would be his followers, Jesus calls each of us to abandon the illusions to grandeur presented by this world.  God or mammon?  Christ compels a choice.  Nations and multinational corporations typically present a facade of benevolence even as they trample weaker competitors under foot.  History is replete with earthly kingdoms which have risen and fallen; their thirst for wealth and power and honor and pleasure defined them for a time, and then fueled their demise.  The kingdom of God, however, refocuses us on the eternal in our midst, paradoxically liberating us to attend to the temporal needs of those nearby.  No more wars, no more fighting to maintain status or status quo, no more striving for domination.  An other-worldly Dominion has arrived and beckons us to help transform earth into the image of heaven.

Monday, November 16, 2015

How to Topple Terrorism

The human heart longs for a way to make sense of the senseless. We desire meaning and order, even in the face of a barbaric nihilism and more senseless bloodshed.

In the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris, many people are wondering what to do--both personally and collectively. As Christians, we know that the powers of this world have already been defeated and that the kingdom of God is already among us, though it has clearly not yet been brought to completion. As Americans, we also know that radical Islamists consider us the enemy. So how ought we respond to calculating murderers who seem intent on trying to trigger World War III?

If we want to respond effectively to terrorism, here are four essential next steps:

  1. Pray for the terrorists. What if every Catholic in the world offered one Rosary per week for the conversion of radical Islam? If Christians around the world committed to saying the Lord's prayer once a day for someone in danger of being seduced by Islamist ideologies, wouldn't minds and hearts change?

    After all, as difficult as it may sound, there is still only one way to break the cycle of violence: "love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you" (Lk 6:27-28).
  2. Expose the terrorists' ideologies. Wouldn't radical Islam be surprised to learn that their ideology has more in common with radical secularism than with true religion? Both the Islamist and the secular ideologies pledge total allegiance to their respective amoral visions of life. Both see themselves as the "end" of human history. Both are comfortable coercing the consciences of those who disagree with their truth claims, and both blithely justify using various forms of violence to achieve their goals and maintain their lifestyles.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Jesus' Merciful Gestures

"Merciful like the Father"
The Jubilee Year of Mercy ultimately proposes very personal questions: Will I allow the crucified and risen Lord to carry me home to the Father?  Am I willing to look upon my neighbor, in turn, with the same merciful gaze with which Jesus looks upon me?

To become merciful requires that we first acknowledge and accept the mercy which the Lord continues to shower upon us. It means that we must let Jesus' story become our story or, rather, we must let our life story be taken up into his.

One way to do this is to notice how various moments in the life of Jesus shed light on our daily life experiences. Though there are countless moments we might focus on, here are five gestures from John's Gospel to launch us into this great moment of mercy:
  • "Jesus made a whip out of cords..." (Jn 2:15): Jesus wants our hearts to become his temple, and yet I am beset by a spirit of worldliness. I find myself unprepared to have the Lord enter under my roof--and unable to clean my own house. Whether it be pleasure, power, honor, or riches which have made my heart a marketplace, Jesus enters with authority to drive out all obstacles: "Zeal for your house will consume me". Divine mercy never leaves us to our own devices, and therefore calls us to have such zeal for the souls of others.

  • "Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger..." (Jn 8:6): Jesus wants us to be less concerned about the sins of others and more alert to our own need of God's grace. The line in the sand here redirects my eyes from my neighbor's bad decisions to my own. If I am humble enough to read the word which the Lord writes on the ground regarding the state of my own soul, if I am not so sanctimonious as to demand both condemnation for others and leniency for myself, then I might stand with the woman long enough to hear Jesus' healing words spoken to both of us: "Go, [and] from now on do not sin any more". Divine mercy is a "performative" utterance--it empowers us to be who God wills us to be.
  • "Jesus spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva..." (Jn 9:6): Jesus does not want us to wander blindly any longer, or to feel that our "issues" are somehow tied to being unworthy of him. Here the Lord's spittle is enough to open the eyes of the man blind from birth. This is good news, indeed, regarding all of those seemingly ancient wounds and dysfunctions which continue to burden me. The Light of the world wants to help me re-envision everything, so my response can be like the man's: "I was blind and now I see"! Divine mercy is recreating the whole world; in the process, we who were formerly blind get sent into the world with authentic sympathy and understanding for those who still long to see.

Monday, November 2, 2015

A Synod for Sinners, for Jesus, and for Pharisees

In terms of your own "everyday evangelization," what uplifting or challenging talking points caught your ear at the recent Synod on the Family? 

For better or for worse, we've never had as much real-time information regarding how the Church discerns the movement of the Holy Spirit, in light of of both changing historical contexts and unchanging divine revelation. (Can you imagine the ancient Roman media's coverage of the Trinitarian and Christological controversies of the 4th and 5th centuries?!) While we await Pope Francis' final word on the Synod, please consider these brief comments on three different perspectives in relation to your own ongoing reflection:

  • A Synod for Sinners: Anyone who has experienced true mercy knows that it hinges on being forgiven or spared precisely when it is undeserved. Jesus knows our brokenness and need for healing far better than we do, and he reaches out to grab us by the hand, even while we are still sinners ("I did not come to call the righteous but sinners" [Mk 2:17]. Yet he also knows that the "I'm OK, you're OK approach" to life is neither truthful nor merciful. The Lord does not walk the earth in order to reassure the forsaken that being abandoned is just fine; rather, he lets himself be nailed to a tree out of solidarity with those who are lost, thereby transforming us into adopted sons and daughters. Truth and Mercy stretch out their arms together to embrace the whole world, although the Savior is humble enough to allow us sinners the freedom to accept or reject the gift.

  • A Synod for Jesus: For the Church not to teach what Jesus himself has revealed would be to contradict her divine mission; it would be tantamount to treason, akin to the treachery of Judas, selling out the Lord once again. After all, Jesus shocks the disciples by teaching about marriage from the perspective of our original innocence, beginning with the beginning in mind ("Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so" [Mt 19:8]). He bewilders them by both praising and counter-culturally modelling a life of celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom (Mt 19:12), even as he invites them to open their hearts God's beautiful vision of marriage. From the perspective of self-giving love, renouncing one good for the sake of an even greater good helps give witness to the proper ordering of human life.

Monday, October 26, 2015

A Timeless Prayer for Life

A marvelous Marian month devoted to respect for all human life, October invites us to recommit ourselves to the cause of Life.

Twenty years ago, St. John Paul II concluded his encyclical letter The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae) with the prayer below. As poignant as ever, it may sound eerily similar to some of the themes proposed by Pope Francis in Praise Be to You (Laudato Si'); after all, the Holy Spirit is always young!

O Mary,
bright dawn of the new world,
Mother of the living,
to you do we entrust the cause of life
Look down, O Mother,
upon the vast numbers
of babies not allowed to be born,
of the poor whose lives are made difficult,
of men and women
who are victims of brutal violence,
of the elderly and the sick killed
by indifference or out of misguided mercy.

Grant that all who believe in your Son
may proclaim the Gospel of life
with honesty and love
to the people of our time.

Obtain for them the grace
to accept that Gospel
as a gift ever new,
the joy of celebrating it with gratitude
throughout their lives
and the courage to bear witness to it
resolutely, in order to build,
together with all people of good will,
the civilization of truth and love,
to the praise and glory of God,
the Creator and lover of life.

+St. John Paul II, pray for us!

P.S. Check out the following resources from the USCCB, if you're interested in praying for life year-round.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Lean into Laudato Si'--11.1.15

Subscribe to Read Laudato Si'--one-paragraph-per-day
If Holy Father Francis called the home phone, it would be awfully hard not to answer.  Well, in his new encyclical, Laudato Si' ("On Care for our Common Home"), Pope Francis comes calling, knocking and perhaps even pleading for some response!

Laudato Si' is literally a magisterial synthesis of the Church's social teaching--including insights from St. John XXIII, Bl. Paul VI, St. John Paul II, and our humble Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI.  Perhaps as importantly, it is an impassioned invitation from Pope Francis to engage in meaningful dialogue about the social and environmental challenges we face as a human family.

Now that his apostolic visit to the U.S. has passed, and as we await the final drama from the synod on the family to unfold, the question becomes whether we will open our hearts to the message which Pope Francis repeats throughout Laudato Si': everything is connected; everything is connected; everything is interconnected....

Will we stretch ourselves beyond the divisive categories of "right vs. left", "liberal vs. conservative", "progressive vs. traditionalist"?  Will we at least listen to the Holy Father's own words, rather than the countless talking heads and media moguls who long use catch phrases for their own devices?

Whether or not you have already read the document, please consider joining hundreds of brothers and sisters around the country in a simple but steady meditation on the pope's encyclical:  Read one paragraph-per-day from Laudato Si' starting Sunday, November 1, 2015.  A blog entitled has recently concluded the daily dissemination of the pope's document on the New Evangelization will soon shift to sharing Laudato Si'. (Those already subscribed to "A Joy" will be automatically enrolled for the new encyclical, while new subscribers are invited to enroll by using the "follow by email" feature.)

Just as St. Francis of Assisi became who he was created to be through a radical imitation of the poverty, penance and peace of Jesus, so Pope Francis has become the global bridge-builder through a total commitment to the Gospel.  Praise be to you, O Lord, for the gift of this moment in human history--and for the opportunity to engage the fullness of the Christian faith as it is articulated in the Holy Father's new encyclical!

So, spread the word to family and friends on your contact list(s); share the idea on social media or at the coffee shop :)  The Holy Father has provided a non-threatening conversation starter for anyone who cares about the future of our common home, so let's share the good news!

Finally, here are a few resources related to the encyclical:

St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us!

Monday, October 12, 2015

7 Steps to Stopping the Senseless Violence

7)  Without exception, look upon all people with a merciful gaze.  "For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you" (Mt 7:2).  We know how much mercy means to us when we receive it, so shouldn't we be more willing to show it?

6)  Start seeing all violence as senseless.  A spade is still a spade, and violence is still violence, even if it serves my self-interest or appeases my thirst for vengeance.  Christ exhorts us to resist violence non-violently, in order to break the vicious cycle.

5)  Stop dissembling about our own forms of domestic and international violence.  "Death with dignity" and "assisted" suicide still involve killing, so that others no longer need to act with mercy; "collateral damage" still means the murder of innocent civilians; the "termination of an unwanted pregnancy" still entails the elimination of an unborn child of God.

4)  Reject state sponsored assassinations, torture, and preemptive military strikes.  If we cannot ourselves resist such crimes against humanity, how can we smugly condemn other nations or terrorist groups from doing the same to us?

3)  End the use of the death penalty.  If it is OK for the government to solve problems by resorting to capital punishment, even when bloodless means of protecting citizens clearly exist, then who is to tell civilians that they shouldn't do the same?  "You have been told, O mortal, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you: Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God" (Mic 6:8).

2)  Create meaningful compromise about rights which are meaningless without restrictions.  Just as the right to bear arms implies reasonable limits (machine guns, grenade throwers, nuclear weapons?!), so the right to privacy as the basis for legalized abortion implies a limit when another person's privacy is at stake.  Opponents of each want to impose reasonable restrictions on the other, so why not a political compromise as a step toward national healing?

1)  Start practicing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.  If we were busier feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, we would have fewer enemies; if we bore wrongs more patiently and prayed for the living and the dead, we would become the peacemakers which the world wearily awaits.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Flipping the Script on the Family

"Therefore it is the paradox of history that each generation is converted
by the saint who contradicts it most."
+G.K. Chesterton 

Pope Francis' visit to the U.S. was a call to conversion.  The aftershocks continue to reverberate, of course, and the Holy Father's opening homily has now launched the much anticipated Synod on "The Vocation and Mission of the Family and the Church in the Contemporary World".

But Pope Francis' incredible impact on the hearts of people from all walks of life is a testimony to the fact that there is something more at work here.  Something so much More.

There might be different ways to describe this reality, but the following sentences from the pope's apostolic exhortation on the new evangelization seem to capture what is going on here: "Christ’s resurrection is not an event of the past; it contains a vital power which has permeated this world... It is an irresistible force" (EG, n. 276). 

The witness of Pope Francis is a reminder to us that Christ is really risen.  His leadership as the successor of St. Peter is a humble invitation to allow the irresistible force of the Resurrection to transform all of our daily interactions--including our vision of the family.  Moreover, our Holy Father is showing us that holiness looks like something:  It looks like each of us becoming more Christ-like, letting Christ live and love in us.

The only long-term solution to today's suffocating secularism is to see the Christian family reclaim its central role as the "seminary of sanctity"--the place where seeds of selfless love are first sown.  So let's pray that the Synod on the Family turns out to be less a weary debate over the "new normal" of our often wounded or broken experiences of family life, and more a call to mobilize the family as the fundamental evangelizing unit of the Church in the world.

Monday, September 28, 2015

A Pilgrim's Impressions, A Papa's Promises

Having just returned from a grace-filled pilgrimage to the World Meeting of Families--
along with 25 courageous and holy souls from the Diocese of Joliet--
I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the beautiful visit of Pope Francis to the U.S. 
Here are a few impressions from our journey, for your consideration:

  • Not tourists, but pilgrims: Our plans, our wants, our routines, and our comforts are the whiny demands of tourists; His plans and His desires--which usually call us from our comfort zones--forge the adventurous path of pilgrims on a journey home to God.

  • Our Lady, Un-doer of Knots, Pray for us: Though the ancient enemy works to prevent us from receiving God's grace, the Blessed Virgin Mary has already crushed its head; she can un-tie anything that is bound and loosen anything that is tangled.

  • The Church in Africa and Asia: The light of Christ is shining brightly from these "developing" continents; former "mission territories" are now sending missionary disciples to the spiritually underdeveloped nations of the western world.

  • The Pope's speeches at the joint session of Congress and at Independence Hall: A modern-day Fisherman from Galilee walks into this present moment to remind our nation of its own past, so that we might reclaim a fully human future for our children and grandchildren.

  • Families from over 100 countries: A global world needs a global body of brothers and sisters to reach out to those who are being left behind by globalization itself; the Church exists to be this web of connections, fostering unity within diversity.

  • A papal "heart to heart" at a festival of families: A "father of many" speaks from the heart, especially to those who have wandered far from home or those who feel like orphans; he draws us all together as on precious family cherished by a heavenly Father.

  • A city transformed into a Cathedral: Many hundreds of thousands of hungry souls stand silently to hear the Word of God, to listen to a homily in Spanish from the first pope of the Americas, and to flock to receive the Bread of Life as if it were Jesus himself!

Who says miracles don't happen every day?  Who says that, even in 2015, people are not looking for Someone to unite us?  Papa Francesco knows that "our infinite sadness can only be cured by an infinite love" (EG, n. 265)--and that Jesus reveals the very face of such a Love.

Viva la Papa!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Are You Following Francis?!

Papal Visit 2015

"I like that face." Fans of It's a Wonderful Life will recall that Clarence Oddbody, the angel-second-class, makes this famous remark about the film's protagonist, George Bailey.

Well, how about the face above?!

I know a number of people who say that they just love Pope Francis' face, his smile, his expressions.  Whatever "It" is, he's got It.  People with the eyes to see recognize that there is something real and warm and welcoming here.

As with our recent run of holy Holy Fathers, it makes me wonder: When we look at the face of Francis, might we also be catching a glimpse of the face of Another?  During this week of the pope's high-profile "face time" in D.C., NYC, and Philly, keep your eyes open for favorite moments within the barrage of video footage and photos of Pope Francis.  And keep your heart open for signs of the Holy Spirit at work throughout this Apostolic visit.


Following Francis can be as easy as joining 7 million others who are tracking him on Twitter @pontifex :)  But, ultimately, it will require opening our minds and hearts to hear the fullness of the Gospel Pope Francis is proclaiming, as he the successor of Peter the fisherman.

By process of elimination, the question of whether we are following Francis seems to be this:  If it's not the Holy Father, who or what are we following?! Considering the various lame alternatives--the empty promises of the world, the flesh and the devil--whom else would we follow other than Jesus in the footsteps of Francis?  St. Peter himself summed it up pretty well when he said to Jesus, "Master, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life" (Jn 6:68).

Monday, September 14, 2015

Don't Look Away, Don't Blink

It can be hard to gaze upon the Crucified Christ, let alone not avert our eyes when he gazes back at us.  It may be even harder to look into the face of Our Lady of Sorrows; it's much easier to look away.

With only a week to go until Pope Francis arrives, I wonder whether Catholics in the U.S. will have the courage to look him in the eye.  After all, it will be very tempting to selectively choose what already fits with our political or economic (self)interests, and then collectively ignore anything that challenges our personal or cultural status quo.

Since his election as pope in 2013, evidence of this dynamic has been legion (the pun is not intentional but may be fitting).  A recent and ongoing example of this "look away" dynamic centers on Pope Francis' new environmental encyclical.

Political liberals have lauded Laudato Si', even as they continue to ignore the Holy Father's relentless promotion of so-called "social issues" such as marriage and family, religious liberty and protection of those who are most vulnerable.  Political conservatives, on the other hand, seem intent on finding ways to dismiss this encyclical, even as they cheer Pope Francis' rejection of gender theory and his critique of the "ideological colonization" of families.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Laboring against Nationalism this Patriot Day

With Labor Day falling as late as possible this September, our shortened holiday work week closes with Patriot Day this Friday the 11th.

This week of national holidays raises a question: Can you still remember where you were on September 11, 2001?  A fantastic four-minute clip from invites us to reflect on and remember the devastation of that day:  "9/11: On That Day"; it reminds us that faith, hope and love are still the most fully human ways to move forward, even in the face of intentional evil.

As with all suffering, the September 11th experience brought with it the paradoxical potential for God's grace to deliver an even greater good.  Whether it was a call to conversion, deeply felt by so many, or an opportunity to comfort those mourning and in a state of shock, 9/11/2001 saw the United States pull together in many important ways.  The world as a whole seemed to feel our pain, and signs of sincere compassion abounded.

Fourteen years later, the juxtaposition of a week book-ended by both Labor Day and Patriot Day seems to raise another question: What have we been working for as a nation since 2001?  Have we been laboring to ensure that our country is more deeply committed to the common good, to just treatment of the most vulnerable--particularly children and the elderly--and to solidarity with all people?  These are the traits of a healthy love of country, an authentic patriotism.  This is the work which would honor those who died on 9/11.

Alternatively, we should ask whether our efforts to work together out of a sincere love of country have been threatened by a not-so-subtle nationalism.  Has this seductive ideology convinced us that our country and its agendas are of paramount importance?  It may take the form of "American exceptionalism", or of old-fashioned "isolationism".  It may be matter of sacrificing those who are most needy, or of imposing the will of the most powerful.  It may be the justification of our "preemptive" acts of violence, or it may be the passive refusal to assistance to those in need--for lack of compelling self-interest.

Monday, August 31, 2015

What Does Preparing for a Papal Visit Look Like?

If you received news that Pope Francis was going to visit your home, would your preparations include some vacuuming and light dusting? In my house, it might also include some fresh paint in the living room and an industrial carpet cleaner!

So what should our spiritual preparations look like as we count down to the Holy Father's visit to the U.S.? It's great to envision Pope Francis enjoying a cheese steak in Philly, or looping around DC's beltway in the pope mobile, or smiling as the faithful snap "selfies" in Times Square. But what else might we do to make September's Apostolic Visit as grace-filled as possible?

Here are a couple suggestions, following the lead of Francis himself:

  • Embrace the "World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation". Now that Papa Francesco has claimed September 1st as an annual day of prayer for all of creation, isn't it time to explore what "going green" and following Christ might have in common? In Laudato Si', Holy Father Francis writes that "the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she 'groans in travail' (Rom 8:22)" (n. 2).

  • Sign the petition to support the Pope's call for a human ecology. Contrary to the impression given by those who want to drive a wedge of discontinuity between the Pope and his predecessors, the Holy Father's new encyclical explicitly builds upon the foundation laid by St. John XXIII, Bl. Paul VI, St. John Paul II, and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Using John Paul's luminous phrase, "human ecology", Francis quotes Benedict's insight that "the deterioration of nature is closely connected to the culture which shapes human coexistence" (LS, n. 6). The myth of limitless human freedom has damaged both the natural and the social environments; concerted action on many different fronts can alone counteract such destruction.

Monday, August 24, 2015

"I am a link in a chain"

So, what does "everyday evangelization" look like in your life?

Over the past few years, for me, it has been a matter of first letting myself be evangelized.  That is, it has been a process of opening myself to a deeper encounter with the basic proclamation of the Gospel as Good News--both for me personally and for the whole world.

Throughout the past couple of years, "everyday evangelization" has also been closely tied to a prayer written by Bl. John Henry Newman:

God has create me to do Him some definite service;
He has committed some work to me
which He has not committed to another.

I have my mission--
I may never know it in this life,
but I shall be told it in the next.

I am a link in a chain,
a bond of connection between persons.
He has not created me for naught.

I shall do good.  I shall do His work.
I shall be an angel of peace,
a preacher of truth in my own place while not intending it--
if I do but keep His Commandments...

It seems that the idea of being a "link in a chain" fits nicely with "everyday evangelization," since I typically envision the people with whom I am directly connected--such as my amazing family, wonderful friends, and committed colleagues.  Their inspiring influence helps bond me more closely to the Church, supporting and encouraging me.

However, the phrase in the prayer that "I may never know it in this life" has slowly started to gnaw at me in recent months: What if the chain of connections is not as linear as I tend to imagine?  What if it turns out that God has created each of us to have countless connections, in so many different directions that it is beyond our capacity to fully understand? What if I'm a link in a chain that's shaped more like a net or a web than a few simple straight lines?

Monday, August 17, 2015

God's Gumption and the Assumption

Given the fact of our God's game-changing Incarnation,
Mary's Assumption is Love's logical implication.
The audacity of Spirit taking on human flesh
has transformed the way heaven and earth intermesh.
A sacramental cosmos unfolded in Mary's dear baby--
The Infinite disclosed in the finite--no if, but, or maybe.
Having taken on a body, the Son would thus suffer;
witnesses probed transformed wounds directly, without any buffer.
Disciples still reverence Christ's empty tomb, long since grown cold,
and we honor earthly remains from our saints of old.
Yet no burial place or relics of Mary exist,
her singular life was clearly destined not to desist.

The body, it turns out, is no mere shell to discard,
but the key to expressing our soul's eternal regard.

Neither a gnostic escapism from some meaningless realm,
nor reductive materialism with a godless helm.

Rather, earth enters Heaven when Christ goes to the Father;
first-fruits will soon follow when he repatriates our Mother.
Their glory will be ours if confidently we do trust
that the spark of divine life shines through this earthly dust.
So why does the Creator yearn for our creaturely presence?
  Triune Love is Integration and Communion in essence.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Ego-Drama or Theo-Drama?

" [means] that we allow ourselves to be parted
from that narrow view directed toward our own ego
and that we begin to move out from our own self,
in order to be there for others."

+Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)

So, what's the story of your life?  Or, perhaps more pointedly, how do you frame the story of your life? 

In the Ego-drama, my life is all about me.  I am the author of the screen play.  I have the lead role; I also produce and direct the show.  Or, to use the image from Mark 4:35-41 depicted above, I am the captain of my own boat, and my fate is in my own hands.

When the storms of life blow up, I am sometimes surprised that they don't exactly fit with the script I've imagined.  There's always my crew to blame, of course, or the "god" of my own making, against whom I can rant.  But such intrusive realities ultimately threaten my world view, and nothing is more important than me defending my place in my drama.

In the Theo-drama, on the contrary, others take center stage.  The entire production, in fact, abounds with a depth and a meaningfulness because the story is not dominated by my pride, my self-aggrandizement, my agenda. When properly framed in such a theological perspective, my life is really a matter of playing an essential part in a story that's larger than life itself. 

Rather than succumbing to illusions of total control, I navigate my way into the Theo-drama by humbly saying "Yes" to the role for which I was quite literally born.  I embrace the fact the "my boat" is not really mine, but is on loan for a few scenes.  I open my eyes to the fact that the Captain is always on board, and all is well, even though I cannot foresee the resolution of the final scene.

Monday, August 3, 2015

How to Beat the Sunday Night Blues
One of my great friends, with whom I taught for a number of years, used to describe the summer months in the following terms:  June is Friday; July is Saturday; August is Sunday night.

Maybe it's natural for students everywhere (as well as teachers!) to dread the end of summer and to be wary of the approaching school year.  But why does Sunday night seem to stymie the hearts of workers everywhere?  And as Christians, how might we begin to beat the Sunday night blues?

Here are a few strategies to help make the Lord's Day one of peace and joy:
  • Make Saturday a "work" day.  Rather than a being on a 7-day-per-week treadmill, wouldn't it be nice to shrink the work week by one seventh and thereby etch out a legitimate day of rest? Maybe it's just me, but whenever I let a Saturday waste away, I find myself slammed on Sunday.  Whenever I take care of chores or errands or catch-up work on Saturday, however, then Sunday plays out much more pleasantly.
  • Enjoy special foods.  St. Teresa of Avila once said that, to make a good retreat, one needs to eat well, sleep well and pray well.  When God made keeping the Sabbath Day holy one of the Ten Commandments, don't you think he had something like this in mind?  The old-fashioned idea of visiting family or friends on Sunday fits naturally with serving up some of our favorite foods.

Monday, July 27, 2015

An All-Season Love

Summer love makes all the headlines and captures the imagination of song writers.  But an all-season love is what people deeply desire. 

Each season brings its own unique flavor of love, of course.  Summer love is about energy and light.  Autumn love is a matter of reaping the harvest that’s been sown.  Winter love involves a hunkering-down and a tending of the fires.  Spring love rekindles and renews.

But an all-season love delivers the faithfulness and constancy needed in each passing season.  It gives witness to the supra-seasonal fidelity of the Lord, whose own love is mediated in and through the phases of our lives.

An all-season love knows that changes are not always linear and sequential. Sometimes they even seem to spiral in and through each other, according to some predestined double-helix design.

An all-season love speaks not only to passion and purpose, but also to desolation and even death itself.  More than merely riding the swells of a stormy sea, or grasping white-knuckled in the face of life's vicissitudes, an all-season love provides the baseline and the underlying rhythm which provides stability amid the daily fluctuations on our journey home.

An all-season love perdures because it alone is eternal.  It is the alternative to the using and the abandoning of worldly desires.  An all-season love saves us from being chewed up and discarded like last year's mulched leaves.

An all all-season love sees itself not in terms of choosing, but in having first been chosen.  It is defined not by its own thinking and acting, but by its primary stance of receiving and responding to the other. 

While a seasonal love is by definition a passing fancy of some sort, an all-season love embraces the gift of existence itself.  It breathes a quiet "Amen" to L. Guissani's insight, "I am because I am loved."

Monday, July 20, 2015

5 Steps to an Ecological Conversion

Laudato Si'
“'The external deserts in the world are growing,
because the internal deserts have become so vast'.
For this reason, the ecological crisis is also a summons to profound interior conversion.
It must be said that some committed and prayerful Christians,
with the excuse of realism and pragmatism,
tend to ridicule expressions of concern for the environment.
Others are passive; they choose not to change their habits and thus become inconsistent.
So what they all need is an 'ecological conversion',
whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident
in their relationship with the world around them.
Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue;
it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience."
LS, n. 217)
Is Pope Francis stretching the sometimes rigid boundaries of his brothers and sisters in Christ?  Or is he striking a bold new path between various extreme positions regarding care for our common home? Thankfully, the answer is "yes" and "yes". 
Of course, allowing ourselves to be stretched or daring to head down a bold new path is never a painless process. Here are five steps to begin that journey:
  1. Begin with an examination of conscience--both personally and collectively.  Have I ridiculed environmental issues because they don't fit neatly within my current political or economic opinions?  Have I ignored an authentic "human ecology" which is intrinsic to real concern for the environment, e.g., by embracing political positions which support the destruction of the innocent or the harvesting of human life itself?  Have we been passive participants in our tired cycle of over-consumption, complicit contributors to what Pope Francis calls our "throw-away" culture?

  2. Look for daily ways to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle :)  In one way or another, we have all been seduced by "the omnipresent technocratic paradigm and the cult of unlimited human power, the rise of a relativism which sees everything as irrelevant unless it serves one's own immediate interests" (LS, n. 122).  Dare I identify one area of my life where I could cut some consumption?  Might I look for ways to repair older items rather than just replacing them?  Could we dramatically cut the demand for sweatshop labor if we were bold enough to shop for second hand clothes?  Finally, if the mere act of recycling bottles, cans, and paper products has seemed like a bridge too far, might I start with this small step across a new bridge to a fresh start?

Monday, July 13, 2015

Ex-Apes or Artists?

G.K. Chesterton
Would Chesterton have been amused, outraged, or wearied by the sign I recently passed on a college campus? It promoted a lecture about human beings under the title of "ex-apes," alleging to address new insights about our understanding of evolutionary processes.

In a brilliant chapter of The Everlasting Man entitled "Man in the Cave", Chesterton lays out a withering critique of theories which want to reduce the human person to not much more than a mere beast.  This "Apostle of Common Sense" roots his reasoning not on mere hypotheses, however, but firmly in the facts. 

Just as the fact that there is something rather than nothing should compel us to look for answers outside of the closed-system of our physical world, so the fact that the first human beings painted pictures on the walls of caves should point us toward the deeper mystery which it reveals.  After all, a merely materialistic view of evolutionary processes cannot account for this quantum leap forward among all living beings.  Here's G.K.'s brilliant commentary for your enjoyment and reflection:

"...That is the simplest lesson to learn in the cavern of the colored pictures; only it is too simple to be learnt. It is the simple truth that man does differ from the brutes in kind not in degree; and the proof of it is here; that it sounds like a truism to say that the most primitive man drew a picture of a monkey and that it sounds like a joke to say that the most intelligent monkey drew a picture of a man. Something of division and disproportion has appeared; and it is unique. Art is the signature of man.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Fertile Soil

If my soul were fertile soil,
I would commit to regular weeding.
I would remember to water
and would look forward to pruning.
If my soul were fertile soil,
I would worry less about other people's gardens.
I would celebrate my successes
and would frequently ask for advice.
If my soul were fertile soil,
I would trust that the fruit to come in due season.
I would be grateful for both sun and rain
and would value the seasons of life.
If my soul were fertile soil,
I would share my harvest with many friends and neighbors.
I would want not, would fear not,
and would compost regularly.
If every soul is fertile soil,
it is because the Gardener specializes in redressing dense underbrush
and toxicity and desertification.
If no plot of land is too exhausted to be renewed,
it is because humble souls are willing to cooperate
with the tireless work of the Gardener.

Thank God for the Gardener,
and for the chance to annex our small plots of land onto his expanding new Eden!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Obergefell and a Tale of Three Cities

(Washington, D.C., 2015)  Nietzsche rules!  Through a narrow majority ruling of the high court, the "will to power" carries the day throughout the USA:  Marriage is no longer something, but is anything those in power want it to be.
The Court's decision implies that children no longer need to be bound together with their mother and father; despite sociological and psychological evidence to the contrary, society as a whole must now say that any combination of partners can do an equally effective job raising children.  Thus, the re-defining has more in common with un-defining:  What once was something, and now is anything the powerful want it to be, in reality has thus become nothing.  Marriage and family have effectively been de-constructed.

"Equality," reduced to mere "sameness," requires the elimination of anything that suggests difference.  "Love," reduced to mere sexual attractions and desires, demands the social acceptance of any and all sexual behavior, even as it denies the possibility of chaste friendships rooted in mutual affection.  A politically correct version of "inclusion" ultimately requires intolerance toward anyone who appears to be "exclusive."

Thus the Obergefell decision looks eerily analogous to previous Supreme Court decisions which attempted to re-define reality--e.g., "human beings" in a way that excluded African Americans (Dred Scott), or  "choice" in a way that included a right to kill the unborn (Roe v. Wade).  The least and the powerless suffer at the hands of the prevailing whims of those in power.  Presumably, this decision also lays a legal foundation for preventing future "discrimination" against polyamorous or incestuous relationships.  After all, how can the state deny equal treatment to those who demand it?

Of course, it remains to be seen whether the deconstructive force of the "will to power" can provide the peace and joy and hope which eluded Nietzsche himself. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

A Man for This Season

St. Thomas More
As prayer, penance and study continue during this year's Fortnight for Freedom, St. Thomas More again looms large.

Check out this three-minute scene from the 1966 Academy Award winning film, A Man for All Seasons: Having been convicted of treason and sentenced to death--despite an absence of evidence--Sir Thomas More is allowed one final statement before the court.  Such moments of Christian witness speak to truths which precede and supersede the authority of any civil state.

Finally, here is an additional pearl from Robert Bolt's original play, A Man for All Seasons:

 “If we lived in a State where virtue was profitable,
common sense would make us good, and greed would make us saintly.
And we'd live like animals or angels in the happy land that needs no heroes.
But since in fact we see that avarice, anger, envy, pride, sloth, lust and stupidity
commonly profit far beyond humility, chastity, fortitude, justice and thought,
and we have to choose, to be human at all...
why then perhaps we must stand fast a little
--even at the risk of being heroes.” 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Reframing Fathers and Fortnights

As a society, we celebrate what we value, and we protect what we celebrate.

This week commences with both our national observance of Father's Day and with the kick off of the 2015 Fortnight for Freedom, whose theme is "Freedom to Bear Witness."  Whether or not we will continue to protect and celebrate these social values remains to be seen, of course.  But the coinciding of our traditional celebration of fathers and our recently rediscovered appreciation of religious freedom invites us to consider how we might look at each with fresh eyes.

Why Fathers Matter

If there were times in human history when the role of fathers was overplayed, it is safe to say that we are in an epoch where the pendulum has swung to the other extreme.  Brought on in large part by the failures of fathers themselves, of course, there are some people who would probably like to dispense with this annual theme day.  Given all of the pain and suffering caused by bad fathers, some might even claim that a fatherless world would be more civilized.

Of course, sociological evidence points to the contrary: Despite the often heroic efforts of mothers and grandmothers, when fathers abandon their families, the children suffer.  They are more vulnerable to predators of all sorts; they are more susceptible to "high risk" behaviors.

So, what positive differences can and should fathers make?  Fathers should stand ready to protect the physical and emotional well-being of their children.  They should provide appropriate opportunities for "going forth" into the world, while always offering a safe-haven and refuge for the children when they return.

They should stand ready to help their children learn both their true identity and their ultimate destiny. Fathers should help their children resist the temptations of the day--be it a view of freedom uprooted from reality, a pagan perspective on the human body, or the "idolatry of money" identified by Pope Francis.

Unlike dead-beat dads who generate new life only to abandon it, real fathers should love their children with a healthy indifference--that is, with an openness to the mystery of who the child will become, without a need to control or manipulate him or her.
Why Religious Freedom Matters

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Only Sadness in Life

Kevin Hansen (1982-2015)
Stalin's cynical adage may be accurate--"the death of one is a tragedy; the death of millions is a statistic"--, but sometimes the death of one can seem even more tragic than usual.

Perhaps it's a shocking traffic accident.  Perhaps it's a devastating heart attack or stroke.  But when a seemingly healthy 33 year-old man leaves work at the end of the week and is dead in seven days, it is hard for family and friends not to be shocked.  When the 33 year-old is a theology teacher at a Catholic high school, the shock waves reverberate to wide circles of former and current students, as well as to grateful parents and families. 

However, when the 33 year-old himself has spent his relatively short life giving to others with passion and purpose, and when his family responds with the witness of a Catholic faith deeply lived, the seeming tragedy begins to look more like the Paschal Mystery played out once again.  Indeed, when Jesus Christ is the Person who motivates both the gift of self and the courage of the grieving family, the dying seems to somehow already imply a rising.  The loss seems somehow laced with a promise. 

In a funeral filled with memorable moments which still inspire conversation months later, the family of Kevin Hansen and his school community were able to point to some of his favorite sayings and quotes.  Mr. Hansen, as he was respectfully and affectionately called, sprinkled the walls of his classroom with the slogans he wanted his students to embody.  They ring out like mission statements for life:  "Doing the right thing is still right, even if no one else is doing it"; "doing the wrong thing is still wrong, even if everyone else is doing it."

Perhaps most inspiring of the featured quotes was a line from a French novelist and poet, Leon Bloy:  "There is only one real sadness in the end, not to have been a saint."

Mr. Hansen certainly knew that no one is perfect, but he reminded his students that everyone is perfectible.  He pointed students and colleagues toward life's immediate and ultimate goal: Being holy, that is, perfectly who God created us to be.  Faith in a God of infinite Love should not dissolve into banalities, but should open us to the Lord's transforming grace, so that we become today who God wants us to be for eternity. 

A living faith in the living God should look differently from a lifeless faith in the empty idols of our age.  A saint lives differently here and now, as well as forever.  A saint sidesteps the sadness of life by helping others find joy even amid great sadness.  A saint inspires us not to hope too small.

Sometimes the "death of one" reminds us that we should all go into the ground like a grain of wheat, which is destined to bear much fruit.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

"Yes" to Persons, "No" to Ideologies--Part II

Don't we all want to say a more sincere "Yes" to every person we meet?  The desire to welcome, to respect and to value is rooted deep within the human heart.  Part I of this reflection on the question of redefining marriage attempted to speak to this urgent issue--particularly to the Christian message that every person's deepest identity comes, first and foremost, from being a beloved son or daughter of our heavenly Father. 

Some people feel that questioning the movement to redefine marriage is disrespectful toward those homosexual couples who are in committed relationships raising children.  If you feel this way, please consider the deeper "Yes" articulated in the following column, "Dear Justice Kennedy: A Open Letter from the Child of a Loving Gay Parent."  For those who dare to forge ahead on this topic, however, the comments below argue that our acceptance of persons must proceed hand-in-hand with our resistance to ideologies.

"No" to Sex and Gender Ideologies

Even as we meet individual people where they are, Christians need to see today's prevailing "gender theory" for what it is--namely, an ideology which must be resisted.

If it were a theory, the prevailing views on sex and gender would be open to exploration, rational discussion, and assessment in light of all available data.  We would be able to admit that contraception has failed on a social level--that is, failed to deliver what it once promised (fewer children born out of wedlock, fewer abortions, lower rates of sexually transmitted diseases, stronger marriages, etc.).  We would be able to have honest discussions about whether or not children need a mother and a father.

However, given the way that "gender theory" continues to manifest itself, Christians must engage in a clarification of thought about these emotionally-charged topics.  After all, an ideology seeks to impose its will on others.  It takes partial insights and makes them absolute.  It seeks to silence any objections, and it smothers all inconvenient facts.

So, if today's so-called "gender theory" wants to show that it is not an ideology, it will have to reconsider its answers to questions such as the following:

Monday, May 25, 2015

"Yes" to Persons, "No" to Ideologies-- Part I


The recent "Yes" vote to redefine marriage in Ireland reminds me of a line uttered by a former theology professor regarding the abortion debate:  A Roman Catholic nun, she summarized her own confusion about the issue by asking, "Who could be against life--and who could be against choice?"

Analogously, the dilemma of our day seems to be, "Who could be against marriage--and who could be against equality?"  To stand against choice or against equality seems at best ignorant and at worst bigoted.  To say "yes" to redefining marriage seems the loving, affirming and inclusive option.  After all, if marriage is such a good thing, then how can it be denied to anyone who wants to pursue it--on whatever terms they set? 

Like abortion rights advocates before them who introduced their campaign as a "women's issue" and ultimately attempted to translate it into a civil liberties and human rights issue, those who champion the redefinition of marriage have much emotional momentum directed on a similar social and political trajectory.  The "Yes" vote in Ireland, along with the arguments leading up to the impending U.S. Supreme Court decision, may also confirm an instinct that others have voiced:  Christians have lost the capacity to speak convincingly in the face of prevailing sex and gender theories. 

Whether we have misread the signs of the times or misunderstood the logical implications of the sexual revolution as they continue playing out, somehow we seem to have failed to give witness to the deeper "Yes" about the human person.  Perhaps our own complicity with a culture of contraception and sterilization have paved the way for a world of sex without children and children without sex.  Perhaps the tragic saga of priest sex abuse has paralyzed us, since the vast majority of crimes were homosexual acts with post-pubescent boys.

Perhaps our own efforts to reject problematic ideas with which we disagree have been interpreted as a dismissal of persons with same-sex attractions.  Perhaps our attempts to embrace persons with same-sex attractions led us to make too many compromises with an uncompromising gay culture.  Whatever the fault lines have been, shame on us for not yet having found the proper footing to address this challenge. 

After all, Jesus' timeless teaching about marriage still stands: Marriage is something which precedes and pre-dates human society, and marriage is not for everyone.  Indeed, perhaps the Lord's analysis of the three groups who are not meant for marriage should be revisited in light of current cultural questions:
“Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives,
but from the beginning it was not so....
Not all can accept [this] word, but only those to whom that is granted. Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so;
some, because they were made so by others;
some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.
Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”

(Mt 19:8-12)  

Monday, May 18, 2015

Commenced and Commissioned

Holy Spirit window in St. Peter's Basilica

Is it just a coincidence that the month of May delivers not only glorious graduations but also Pentecost as promised? 

Every farewell kiss suggests a fresh start.
Every closing chapter opens its own sequel.

The rite of passage which is a graduation carries with it the promise and the hope of something more.  Though commencement exercises imply change and uncertainty, people with a purpose can stride forward in confidence and trust thanks to divine providence.  Courageous Christians can freely will God's Will for each unfolding stage of life's journey, saying "Yes" to the plan of the Master.

Every movement forward points Somewhere.
Every mission originates in Someone and brings its own Somehow.

The commencing of this season hearkens to Jesus' sending of the Apostles: "Go out into the whole world and proclaim the Good News".  He promises not to leave them alone, of course, but guarantees the Advocate, the Spirit of truth, who leads his friends to all truth.

Every sending forth is always a sending with.
Every sending with is always a sending for.

When commencements become commissions, they open our eyes to the prayer of "epiclesis" in the Mass--the great "invocation" or "calling down from on high" of the Holy Spirit.  As the gifts on the altar are transformed before the eyes of witnesses, so those who embrace their emerging futures become the persons the world needs them to be; they are made whole and holy, by accepting the Spirit who bonds Father to Son.

Every movement forward in the Spirit manifests itself as mission.
Every mission descends upon Christ's disciples like the dewfall.

May the pivotal "Omega points" in our earthly pilgrimage always help us embrace the awaiting "Alpha opportunities," and may these various new beginnings bring us closer to the Beginning who is himself our ultimate End--

Come Holy Spirit,