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.