Monday, December 26, 2016

How to Make a Return on our Gifts this Christmas?

Though the bills may still need to be paid, at least the shopping is complete :)
Here's an inspiring 3-minute video reminder of what Christmas means moving forward:
The Jesus Memo!


We have celebrated Jesus' birth again this year, in the hopes of opening the door of our hearts to Christ in new ways. We have tried to offer the beloved Son the best of ourselves, in the hopes that he will multiply our meager gifts and talents for the greater glory of his Father and our Father.

But what should we do about all the extra stuff that has accumulated once again?  How might we make a "return" on our gifts this Christmas season?

What if we clear out something old to make room for each new item?  St. Vincent de Paul stores and customers would certainly be grateful!

Might it be possible to re-gift a new but not necessary item in a suitable and discreet way, of course--in the hopes of turning the treasure shared into an even greater gift for those who are in desperate need?  Not the kind of re-gifting that can hurt feelings or prove embarrassing, but a re-directing to a worthy cause.

In perfect time for the Christmas season wrap-up, Catholic Relief Services has prepared an invitation to Donate to Iraqi Families and Syrian Refugees.

What if we translate ten percent of the gift cards we received toward a donation for those who face brutal conditions at this very moment?  Or how about re-calibrating some of our returns and store credits to help cover regular weekly expenses, and then translating at least a portion into help for families in dire need?

To do so need not mean that we feel guilty for our surfeit.  On the contrary, it would be to recognize the fact that "Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more" (Lk 12:48).

To do so would also become a small step toward breaking the cycle of violence and desperation.  It would help demonstrate that we "got" the Jesus Memo!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Christ+Mass = Meaning

Gift. Sacrifice. Offering. 

If you're looking for meaning in your life, then you're looking for Christ.  But Christ is not some figment of our imaginations, some mythological figure who responds to the "moralistic therapeutic deism" of the day (C. Smith).

Rather, Jesus Christ is the one who has ushered into human history the fullness of meaning, which hinges on three interwoven experiences:

1) Gift. The indwelling of Eternity in time begins ever so gradually, and then arrives all of a sudden. God's self-donation is anticipated by his promises to the chosen people, but manages to arrive unexpectedly.

The breakthrough of the Infinite into the finite emerges in a seemingly insignificant experience at an apparently uneventful moment of human history. A mother gives birth in transit; a faithful husband does the best he can; a newborn Son settles into a make-shift crib. To those who lack eyes to see, the presence of Meaning itself might be almost too commonplace to notice.

The Christ Child arrives as eternal and infinite Love in the flesh.  Divine Life itself, the perfection of Self-giving, makes a Self-donation to the Virgin Mother. The Creator entrusts everything to one of his own creatures.  This event stands as a scandal to philosophers, and an impossibility for the religions of the world, but the God of Jesus Christ responds to the eternal and infinite longing of the human heart by freely entering into it and taking it up.

2) Sacrifice.  From the first visits of the heavenly messengers, Mary and Joseph know that Jesus "will save his people from their sins" (Mt 1:21), and "of his kingdom there will be no end" (Lk 1:33). Love enters the world destined to exit via self-sacrifice, but this self-emptying will open the door for an endless new beginning. The fullness of existence reveals itself as other-centered and finds itself by losing itself for the Other.

At every Mass, but especially this Christmas, let's look for new ways to enter into this dynamic of self-giving and self-sacrificing love.

3) Offering.  The call of Chirst+Mass is to spiritually place all that we have received and all that remains of our short time on earth at the foot of the Child's manger and the God-Man's altar.  It is an invitation to enter into the dynamic of Trinitarian Love by offering our very selves to the divine Communion of Persons.

Eternal Life and Infinite Love are destined to be poured out as gifts for the sake of the whole world. This is the drama to which Christ and Christmas--indeed, every Mass--invites us. What do we have to lose, that we haven't already received?


In our quest to draw closer to Christ and so find meaning everywhere, let us respond with shepherds, angels, and saints: "Glory to God in the highest"!

Monday, December 12, 2016

What if Catholics Stood United Against All Violence?

Gun violence. Public executions and drive-by shootings of gang members and innocent by-standers. Premeditated massacres of school children, college students, co-workers, movie-goers, etc. A necessary corollary of the Second Amendment and an unavoidable consequence of protecting civil liberties, according to some.

How far would Catholics be willing to go to
address this pressing social and cultural issue?

Violence in utero. Private decisions of often vulnerable and isolated mothers. Premeditated termination of unborn human lives, and an emotionally searing experience for hundreds of thousands of women each year. A necessary corollary of Supreme Court decisions and protection of women's reproductive rights, according to some.

What are Catholics willing to do to help address
what Mother Teresa called this "greatest destroyer of peace"?

Some Catholics have taken the stance that "I'm personally opposed to abortion, but women have a right to choose...", and yet they often claim to be concerned about other forms of senseless suffering. Likewise, some Catholics have taken the stance that "I support the Constitution, and we're safer if people have a right to bear arms...", and yet they often claim to be concerned about the relentless attacks on human life before birth.

If Catholics stood united against all violence, couldn't a broad coalition of Catholic congressional leaders--and countless other persons of good will--build consensus for reasonable restrictions to both guns and abortions? Rather than vacuously repeating tired catch phrases about a "right to choose" and a "right to bear arms," Catholics could help lead a peace-building effort, one reasonable step at a time.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Watching for Christ this Advent

The brief reflection below is from Bl. John Henry Newman
(Sermon, "Watching," 1838)

"Do you know the feeling...of expecting a friend, expecting him to come and he delays? Do you know what it is to be in unpleasant company, and to wish for the time to pass away, and the hour strike when you may be at liberty? Do you know what it is to be in anxiety lest something should happen which may happen or may not, or to be in suspense about some important event, which makes your heart beat when you are reminded of it, and of which you think the first thing in the morning?

"Do you know what it is to have a friend in a distant country, to expect news of him, and to wonder from day to day what he is now doing, and whether he is well?...To watch for Christ is a feeling such as these.

"He watches for Christ, who has a sensitive, eager, apprehensive mind; who is awake, alive, quick-sighted, zealous in seeking and honoring him; who looks out for him in all that happens, and who would not be surprised, who would not be over-agitated or overwhelmed, if he found that he was coming at once."

Monday, November 28, 2016

Hearing the Gospel Anew this Advent

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

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

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

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

Following the Forerunner

Let me reflect you, Divine Friend,
From mother's womb to destined end.
Your Presence, Lord, provides the balm
To bring my heart true peace and calm.

The Word of God shall be my bread:
Please fill my soul, expel all dread.
Prophetic Psalms of deep desire
Now fuel my heart with holy fire.

River Jordan flows as a sign,
God's stance toward creatures proves benign.
No longer crushed by wounds and pain,
My soul inherits endless gain.

Love divine, "from the beginning,"
  Transforms death from loss to winning.
Fidelity, my one concern:
 The path to Love for which I yearn! 

Monday, November 21, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

But the Church is a living organism marked by both continuity and change: Bl. John Henry Newman's example of the stream which deepens and widens over time to become a great river both maintains its original identity and exhibits new characteristics down the line. Here are a few examples of Pope Francis' beautiful reflection on "Love Made Fruitful" (AL, ch. 5) both delivering timeless insights from the treasury of the deposit of faith, and doing so in refreshingly accessible ways:
  • "Love always gives life." (n. 165)
  • "Each child has a place in God's heart from all eternity; once he or she is conceived, the Creator's eternal dream comes true. Let us pause to think of the great value of that embryo from the moment of conception. We need to see it with the eyes of God, who always looks beyond mere appearances." (n. 168)
  • "'Mothers are the strongest antidote to the spread of self-centered individualism...It is they who testify to the beauty of life'....Dear mothers: thank you! Thank you for what you are in your family and for what you give to the Church and the world." (n. 174)
  • "God sets the father in the family so that by the gifts of his masculinity he can be 'close to his wife and share everything, joy and sorrow, hope and hardship'...To be a father who is always present. When I say 'present', I do not mean 'controlling'. Fathers who are too controlling overshadow their children, they don't let them develop." (n. 177)
  • "Adoption is a very generous way to become parents....Those who accept the challenge of adopting and accepting someone unconditionally and gratuitously become channels of god's love." (n. 179)
  • "Just as God asks us to be his means of hearing the cry of the poor, so too he wants us to hear the cry of the elderly...We must reawaken the collective sense of gratitude, of appreciation, of hospitality, which makes the elderly feel like a living part of the community." (n. 191)

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

Onward and upward!

Monday, November 14, 2016

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

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

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

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



Monday, November 7, 2016

Cubs Nation as a Foreshadowing of Christ's Kingdom?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 31, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 24, 2016

Interfaith Leaders Call on President and Congress to Reject Biased Religious Liberty Report

In case the real and present threats to religious freedom are being under-reported by the secular media, here is an update about an inspired and inspiring response by interfaith leaders:

In addition, the following link provides the full statement from religious leaders across the country; the Open Letter to President Obama, Senator Hatch and Speaker Ryan addresses the ominous statements from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Patron of the U.S., pray for us-- 


Monday, October 17, 2016

JP2: We Love You!

Whether it's Homer's Odyssey, Dante's Divine Comedy, Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, or McMurtry's Lonesome Dove, epic stories are able to speak to people in a variety of different ways, at different stages of their own life journeys.

So what are some of your favorite moments from the epic life of St. John Paul II? If you're like me, perhaps some of these highlights may continue to inspire you:
  • A host of dramatic new initiatives, such as: bringing the Papacy to the people, through countless visits to countries around the world; initiating World Youth Days; expanding his beloved Holy Rosary to include the Luminous Mysteries; forging new paths toward ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue; instituting Divine Mercy Sunday and globalizing this powerful devotion.
  • A mountain of magisterial insights, including: A Catechism for the ages, to provide a foundation upon which future generations could stand firm; dozens of encyclicals and apostolic exhortations inspired by God's revelation of the dignity of the human person in and through Jesus Christ; a Theology of the Body for a world in which human sexuality has come unhinged.
  • A witness of personal holiness, at the service of the Church in the world: From deep devotion to Christ's presence in the Eucharist, through total consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary, to the daily recognition of God's merciful love poured out in Confession, this holy Holy Father maintained the prayer life of a mystic amid the most active service to the Church and the world.

Of course, the very effort to list a few favorite moments only calls to the countless other scenes left off the list!  From the prophetic opening words of his papacy, "Be not afraid," through the courageous way he embraced his final months of suffering, JP2 managed to remind us that the Lord is always near when we take up our daily Crosses.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Ten Tips on "Love in Marriage" (AL, Ch. 4)

Has any Scripture been read more often at weddings than 1 Corinthians 13

Brides and Grooms dare to remind themselves that, if they do not have love, they will become resounding gongs or clashing cymbals. They turn to the Apostle Paul for inspired words to describe the love to which they aspire. The love for which they long is:
  • Patient and kind, not jealous or boastful or rude;
  • Generous, not irritable or resentful;
  • It forgives and rejoices in the other;
  • It bears, believes, hopes, and endures all things.

At the heart of Pope Francis' powerful reflection on Christian marriage, we find a beautiful meditation on Paul's poetic passage (AL, nn. 90-119). Let's ask for the grace to appreciate love in marriage as Holy Father Francis does:

  1. Love is patient; it "does not act on impulse and avoids giving offense" (n. 91). It is a covenantal love which never allows itself to be used or abused, but which compassionately accepts the other person as he or she is.
  2. Love is kind, at the service of others, because it means "to do good" to the other; it embodies "the nobility and grandeur of spending ourselves unstintingly, without asking to be repaid, purely for the pleasure of giving and serving" (n. 94).
  3.  Love is not jealous, or envious, of the other person's good fortune. "True love values the other person's achievements," Pope Francis reminds us, "It does not see him or her as a threat" (n. 95).
  4. Love is not boastful, nor does it tend toward vainglory; it avoids being "haughty, pedantic and somewhat pushy" (n. 97). Love should never become "puffed up" with its own knowledge or power. "In family life, the logic of domination and competition about who is the most intelligent or powerful destroys love" (n. 98).
  5. Love is not rude, or impolite, or harsh, or abrasive, or rigid (n. 99). Pope Francis offers the practical advice that "To be open to a genuine encounter with others, a 'kind look' is essential....In our families, we must learn to imitate Jesus’ own gentleness in our way of speaking to one another" (n. 100).
  6. Love is generous because "love can transcend and overflow the demands of justice, 'expecting nothing in return'" (n. 102).
  7. Love is not irritable or resentful; rather, it uproots hostility and resentment. Like a good Papa, Francis advises that a family never let the day end without making peace: "Just a little caress, no words are necessary" (n. 104).
  8. Love forgives, since it seeks to understand the weaknesses of others and even excuse them. How is this possible?  "All this assumes that we ourselves have had the experience of being forgiven by God, justified by his grace and not by our own merits.We have known a love that is prior to any of our own efforts, a love that constantly opens doors, promotes and encourages " (n. 108).
  9. Love rejoices with others--rejoices in the right--rather than secretly rejoicing in the failure of others. "If we fail to learn how to rejoice in the well-being of others, and focus primarily on our own needs, we condemn ourselves to a joyless existence" (n. 110).
  10. Love bears, believes, hopes, and endures all things: "Here we see clearly the counter-cultural power of a love that is able to face whatever might threaten it" (n. 111)! This includes holding one's tongue, trusting and setting others free, being transformed by Christ's resurrection, and standing ready to confront any challenge.
Love never gives up, Pope Francis reminds us, and "In family life, we need to cultivate that strength of love which can help us fight every evil threatening it" (n. 119).

Viva la famiglia!

Monday, October 3, 2016

What if Catholics "Took a Knee" to Defend Life?

USCCB's 2016 Respect Life Program

Abortion is sucking the life out of our country.  Everyone knows it--even those who try to act like it empowers women.

Of course, abortion literally sucks new life out of the womb, but it also sucks the power to protect and defend the innocent from vulnerable mothers in need of support.  Abortion also sucks murder off the streets and into the medical marketplace, as doctors become agents of death rather than life--in many cases with the support of governmental tax dollars.

Each year the Catholic Church devotes the Marian month of October to the theme of respect for human life, and the abortion issue again threatens to suck the life out of a politically divided body of Catholics in the U.S.  The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, along with countless individual Bishops and courageous priests, will again devote considerable energy trying to help Catholics confront the uniquely sinister reality of abortion in our country and around the world.

But this "original violence" is no mere political issue about which people can simply agree to disagree; it will continue to haunt us as a nation, unless and until it is uprooted.

The respect life message is simple: Love is what all human beings desire, and the rules of Love clearly call us to stand with and for Life.  If we traffic in death, we forfeit the right to tell anyone else that they cannot kill.

What if Catholics actually dared to defend life?  What if we got on our knees publicly and prayed in reparation for the ways that we have been complicit with the abortion industry?  What if we apologized for helping perpetuate the myth that contraception will solve the abortion problem--for abandoning couples who have seen contraception fail and for leaving them feeling trapped in an "unwanted pregnancy"?  What if we asked for mercy for not doing more to help?

Monday, September 26, 2016

What is Meditating on Christ?

Bl. John Henry Newman, pray for us!

“What is meditating on Christ?  It is simply this,
thinking habitually and constantly of Him
and of His deeds and sufferings. 

“It is to have Him before our minds
as One whom we may contemplate, worship, and address
when we are at home and abroad,
when we are working, or walking, or at rest,
when we are alone, and again, when we are in company;
this is meditating.

“And by this, and nothing short of this,
will our hearts come to feel as they ought. 
We have stony hearts, hearts as hard as the highways;
the history of Christ makes no impression on them.

“And yet, if we would be saved,
we must have tender, sensitive, living hearts;
our hearts must be broken up like ground and dug,
and watered, and tended, and cultivated,
till they become as gardens, gardens of Eden, acceptable to our God,
gardens in which the Lord God may walk and dwell.”

+Blessed John Henry Newman

Monday, September 19, 2016

Looking to Jesus: The Vocation of the Family (AL, Ch. 3)

Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation on Marriage and Family

How many times does the Holy Father use the word "tenderness" throughout chapter three of The Joy of Love?  Enough to focus our attention on the interpretive lens he wants us to use when thinking about Christian teaching on marriage and the family:

"The mystery of the Christian family
can be fully understood only in light of
the Father's infinite love revealed in Christ,
who gave himself up for our sake
and who continues to dwell in our midst."
(AL, n. 59)

This Trinitarian tenderness stands at the heart of the Church's vision for marriage.  The gift of the Son continues to flow through the outpouring of the Spirit in the spousal covenant of marriage, now redeemed and restored by Jesus (nn. 62-63).

The Trinitarian roots of marriage and family also shines forth in Pope Francis' reminder that "The family is the image of God, who is a communion of persons" (n. 71). Thus, the Sacrament of Marriage draws husband and wife into communion not only with each other, but also with the Lord: 

"In accepting each other, and with Christ's grace,
the engaged couple promise each other total self-giving,
faithfulness and openness to new life...
The sacrament is not a 'thing' or a 'power,'
for in it Christ himself 'now encounters Christian spouses...
He dwells with them, gives them the strength
to take up their crosses and so follow him,
to rise after they have fallen,
to forgive one another, to bear one another's burdens'."

(n. 73)

Needless to say, Pope Francis is not some out-of touch idealist. He is painfully aware of the "imperfection" and "complexity of various situations." He responds, therefore, in the most really-real way possible--that is, by emphasizing the always-greater reality of God's grace: "Seeing things with the eyes of Christ inspires the Church's pastoral care for the faithful who are living together, or are only married civilly, or are divorced and remarried. Following this divine pedagogy, the Church...seeks the grace of conversion for them; the encourages them to do good, to take loving care of each other and to serve the community in which they live and work" (n. 78). 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Fifteen Years Later...

Everyone who is old enough remembers where they were fifteen years ago on 9/11.  For those who lost family members or friends, for those who were eyewitnesses, for those who were among the first responders...the day is literally and figuratively seared in their hearts.

With so many reflections and remembrances to ponder, perhaps our most patriotic gesture in commemorating this tragic day is to keep the survivors and the family members of victims in our prayers.


For some reason, this year's anniversary brought out a host of new questions: What if I were among those who called out sick that day and didn't go into work at the World Trade Center?  What if someone else on my team had volunteered to make a sales call in my place, or delivered the food order to help simplify my route, and so my life was spared?

What if someone had led me out of the building, and I know that I could have never done it by myself? It seems that fifteen years would feel like the blink of an eye. I would like to think that my gratitude would still be overwhelming--and that in some meaningful way I would try to honor the memory of whomever had played such a role in saving my life.

I wonder if such a thought experiment could help me grow in a deeper appreciation of Jesus' gift of self on the Cross.  If I put myself in Barabbas' place, recognizing that I was the guilty one somehow set free, might I  appreciate that Innocent One was on Calvary that day instead of me?  If I put myself in the Beloved Disciple's place, might I begin to see the Scriptures being fulfilled before my own eyes:

"...he was pierced for our sins, crushed for our iniquity.
He bore the punishment that makes us whole,
by his wounds we were healed." (Is 53:5)

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Only Adequate Response amid Political and Cultural Confusion

“Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses
than to teachers,
and if he does listen to teachers,
it is because they are witnesses.”

(Bl. Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, n. 41)

Chas Fagan's St. Teresa of Kolkata

The witness of our newest St. Teresa is simple but provocative: It was the decision to do little things with great love--for the Lord's beloved least, those who are most undesirable and most unwanted.

The great love with which Mother Teresa rattled the world was simply a matter of willing the good of those who are most in need.  It was a matter of loving those who are most Other, those who are most despised, those who are most easily dismissed and discarded.

This is the answer in a world seemingly turned upside down and inside out.  It is the necessary and sufficient Response to increasing turmoil; it is the only way to right-size the disorders of our day. 

Indeed, the way of self-sacrificing love changes everything it touches.  It provides a piercing new perspective on those whom we may have previously feared or written off or ignored.

So, in honor of St. Teresa of Kolkata, perhaps we might consider naming those whom are the least in the world as we see it today.  Are they: 
  • immigrants and refugees?  
  • the elderly or the unborn or the incarcerated?  
  • the unemployed or the underemployed?
  • the homeless or the home-bound? 
  • those trying to survive in violent neighborhoods or in failing schools?
  • the disabled or those with special needs of any kind?
  • addicts of all kinds?
If we actually dared to identify those most in danger of being dismissed as "unclean" or "unworthy," then we would be poised to find some small thing to do on their behalf.  If we could do just one small thing with great love, we would walk the path of Mother Teresa, sharing the love of Jesus with those on the margins.

Perhaps it would be praying for our these little ones of the Lord--it's a spiritual work of mercy, after all.  Perhaps it would be finding some way to learn more about their perspective or their challenges, to find points of contact where we might make some small gesture of solidarity on their behalf.

Isn't it time to take measure of our love?  If it is to be truly Christian love, then it cannot stop with our family and friends. Indeed, to paraphrase a quote from St. Francis de Sales, one which Mother Teresa seemed to embody: "The measure of love is to will the good of the Other, without measure."

St. Teresa of Kolkata, pray for us!

P.S. Mark your calendars for Friday, 9.9.16, and join Catholics around the U.S. in a small gesture filled with great love--a National Day of Prayer for peace in our communities!

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Passion of John the Baptist

Caravaggio's "Salome with the Head of John the Baptist"

"Amen, I say to you, among those born of women
there has been none greater than John the Baptist..."

(Mt 11:11a)

The question for John centered on God's revealed plan for marriage and family. The Baptist saw the situation clearly, and he courageously followed his convictions from prison to the platter.  There was no "personally opposed but..." for this very public figure.

Yet how would a post-modern and allegedly pluralistic people view this story?  Might they ask whether John went to his gruesome death needlessly?  Might they wonder whether he was simply out of touch with the times, or whether he was just too outspoken about his private opinions?

Even more dramatically, by today's standards might people view the Baptist as being guilty of judging Herod and Herodias--and, therefore, rightly condemned for such "hate speech"?

And what about the fact that Jesus praised John for such an intransigent and seemingly intolerant stance? Did Jesus himself have the whole marriage thing wrong?  By today's standards many people might wonder how the "Face of the Father's Mercy," as Pope Francis describes the Lord Jesus, could be so harsh as to say, "Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others...Whoever can accept this ought to accept it" (Mt 19:12). 

According to the deconstructive claim of radical secularism, the only truth about marriage is that there is no truth about marriage.  If the reality of marriage is not something given, then it must be  something determined by those in power.  Marriage and family become whatever the Herods and Herodiases of our time say they are.  Anyone who dares to challenge this so-called new normal--with questions such as "Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’"? (Mt 19:4)--must be silenced.


The obvious challenge for Christians of the 21st century remains the same as the one which the Baptist confronted:  How to speak the truth with love?  John clearly struck a chord with Herod, who used to like to listen to him, even though the Baptist perplexed him.  John was unafraid of the fact that darkness always strives to swallow up the light; he knew that the only constructive stance against injustice is to dissent.  Complicity with a lie only perpetuates the silencing of truth. 

John was able to speak with love of the one who is Love by rooting his life in the simple Christ-centered prayer: "He must increase; I must decrease" (Jn 3:30).

The question of our day regarding marriage and family: Whenever our moment(s) of Christian witness may arrive, will we have the courage of the Baptist to protect and promote God's beautiful vision for human love?  Will allow our worldly desires to decrease so that the very presence of the Lord might increase in our minds and hearts?

If so, then we may well find ourselves sharing in the passion of John the Baptist--served up on some proverbial platter.  But we will have the joy of hearing these reassuring words from the Lord:

"...yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he" (Mt 11:11b).

Monday, August 22, 2016

Praying for a Gratitude Attitude

Good and Loving God...

A gift is neither earned nor guaranteed;
help me embrace each day as your gift to me.

"All good giving and every perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of lights"
(Jas 1:17);
prompt me to pause and offer a Pater noster at the first signs of light.

Your grace and blessings come in disguise throughout my daily life;
surprise me with your presence where I would least expect it.

Asking for eyes to see and ears to hear gives me a heart to love;
ensure that my love never looks, sounds or feels ungrateful.

Ingratitude is the aboriginal temptation from the ultimate Ingrate;
may the Queen whose soul "proclaims the greatness of the Lord"
crush its callous head. 

Heavenly gifts to which I cling soon shrivel up
like yesterday's manna in the desert;
empower me to cheerfully give away all I've received.

Giving thanks conduces to thanksgiving;
remind me that the perfect act of thanksgiving
is one offered with and through Jesus in the Eucharist.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit...

Monday, August 15, 2016

NOVENA FOR OUR NATION: Help Change the World

When children are anxious or afraid, when they feel threatened either from without or within, they naturally turn to their mother for encouragement, guidance and protection.

This is why Jesus gives us his Mother as our mother.  This is also why Holy Mother Church gives us devotional opportunities to help transform both our own hearts and the culture in which we live.  Please consider joining prayerful souls across the country in response to the following invitation:

Cardinal Burke Calls our Nation to Pray 54 Day Rosary Novena

“There is no doubt that our beloved nation is in one of the worst crises which it has ever experienced, a profound moral crisis which generates division on all levels and results in an ever-greater more pervasive violence and killing. For Roman Catholics, who have always been known for their faith-filled patriotism, the first response to this crisis is fervent prayer and, in particular, prayer through the intercession of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, Mary Immaculate who is also the patroness of our nation.

"One of the most powerful prayers which is ours in the Church is, in fact, the Holy Rosary. I think, for instance, of the Battle of Lepanto and the victory which was won on October 7, 1571, over the Saracens who were bent on conquering Christian Europe. Let us now turn to the powerful prayer of the Holy Rosary, asking Mary Immaculate to intercede with Our Lord to bring healing to our nation and to inspire in her citizens the holiness of life which alone can transform our nation.

"I wholeheartedly endorse the Novena for Our Nation (Starting August 15) and the Rosary Rally on October 7th next, the 445thanniversary of the Battle of Lepanto. I urge as many as are able to participate in these great spiritual works for the sake of our entire nation. In a special way, as the spiritual advisor to the Holy League, I urge all members of the Holy League to give strong leadership in this great campaign of prayer for our nation.”
+His Eminence, Cardinal Raymond Burke
For for information, go to

Monday, August 8, 2016


"The first effect of not believing in God
is that you lose your common sense."

+G.K. Chesterton

Chesterton may not have known about social-media-generated movements, but he certainly understood that being Catholic means being in touch with reality.

When people live their lives as if God does not exist, they embrace a "practical" atheism. This denial that we live and move and have our being in the presence of God results in the erosion of common sense. Life itself quickly becomes confused and confusing.  Witness some of the mounting evidence of today's common senselessness:

* We condemn others for solving problems by resorting to murder, yet we condone our own summary executions via drone strikes.

* We proclaim ourselves to be the "land of the free," but the federal government tries to coerce the Little Sisters of the Poor to pay for contraceptives and abortion services against their well-formed consciences.

* We think that any combination or constellation of adults has a right to have a child by any and all means, but by no means do children have a right to both a father and a mother.

* When civil and cultural powers-that-be claim that kids don't need mothers and fathers, governmental agencies then act like they don't need mothers and fathers to raise these same kids.

* We embrace an atheistic anthropology which insists that the unchangeable reality of being born either male or female is malleable, and that the malleable feelings people have about their respective genders are unchangeable.

* We act like tolerance is the only moral absolute, but we condone bullying and intolerance of all kinds toward anyone who disagrees with the frantic redefinition of gender.

* We allow the ACLU to act like people have a constitutional right to use whatever bathrooms or locker rooms they feel like using, even as it ignores the fact that the free exercise of religion is the first of our nation's civil liberties.

Catholic common sense helps us see the world as it is, and ourselves as we are.  It helps us ask the right questions, such as this one from St. Paul,"Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?" (1 Cor 7:19)

Monday, August 1, 2016

"The Experiences and Challenges of Families" (AL, Ch. 2)
"The welfare of the family is decisive for the future
of the world and of the Church."
(AL, n. 31)

Have you been worried that Pope Francis is out of touch with the "real world" problems that confront--and often divide--families?  If so, then the second chapter of Amoris Laetitia should help ease your concerns.

Entitled "The experiences and challenges of families," this chapter addresses a wide array of challenges and questions. Here is a brief sampling of three fundamental issues:
1. Extreme individualism "which weakens family bonds and ends up considering each member of the family as an isolated unit, leading in some cases to the idea that one's personality is shaped by his or her desires, which are considered absolute" (AL, n. 33).

What if my family is not all about me?  With his now typical flair, Pope Francis warns about thinking of the family as a "way station, helpful when convenient"; he knows that "it is easy nowadays to confuse genuine freedom with the idea that each individual can act arbitrarily, as if there were no truths, values and principles to provide guidance, and everything were possible and permissible" (AL, n. 34).  In the face of this persistent threat, the pope calls Christians to present the deeper, more meaningful motivations for choosing marriage and family.

True freedom is expressed only through an authentic gift of self: only those who lose themselves for the sake of Christ and his Gospel will find themselves.

2. Openness to grace is the key to understanding and living family life, rather than just "stressing the doctrinal, bioethical and moral issues" (AL, n. 37). Christ does not propose an impossible ideal.  Rather, He offers the necessary and sufficient strength to make the ideal become the real. 

So, what if living the Christian life is possible only with the help of God's grace? Trust in God's grace alone can reform and transform my conscience. Christians need to "present marriage more as a dynamic path to personal development and fulfillment than as a lifelong burden" (AL, n. 37). After all, God's grace breaks the bonds of narcissism, which "makes people incapable of looking beyond themselves, beyond their own desires and needs" (AL, n. 39).

As St. Paul recounts for us, Christ's grace is sufficient, for in our weakness his power reaches perfection.

3. Ideological colonization.  What if "rights" and "equality" are being used as powerful weapons to deconstruct marriage and family? Just as the old-fashioned colonization involved a take-over, a redefining of the rules of engagement, and a coerced complicity with the new world order, so the contemporary colonization proceeds apace.

In the words of Pope Francis, an ideology of gender "denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family....Consequently, human identity becomes the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time" (AL, n. 56). As created beings, we ought to accept our existence as a gift.  This includes accepting the fact that "biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated" (AL, n. 56).

This is not a matter of "judging" people, of course, but a matter of exposing and resisting "ideologies that attempt to sunder what are inseparable aspects of reality" (AL, n. 56).

Finally, even though this chapter addresses a number of other challenges, Pope Francis concludes by reminding us that "We should not be trapped into wasting our energy in doleful laments, but rather seek new forms of missionary creativity" (n. 57).  Amen, Papa Francesco!

For the sake of the world and of the Church, let's pray that the Holy Family continues to intercede on behalf of families everywhere--


P.S. If you're looking for a simple plan to connect Pope Francis' thoughts about marriage and the family, consider subscribing to read one-paragraph-per-day; just click on the link, enter your email, accept the confirmation :)

Monday, July 25, 2016

Out of Africa: Christ Continues to Speak

A recent family mission trip to Malawi, the "Warm Heart of Africa," opened my eyes to the beauty of a youthful Catholic Church.

A youthful Church dares to keep itself attuned to the voice of Christ; it is more interested in leading others to the fullness of life than in making accommodations with a post-modern culture. A youthful Church may experience growing pains, but it trusts in Jesus' promised Advocate--and in its supernatural mission.

As with any authentic mission experience, this was more of a pilgrimage than an outreach--a journey forth from a Land of Libertine Comfort Zones, into a Land Alive to the Presence of God Among Us.

When my parents first traveled to the Namitembo Mission a number of years ago, they were deeply moved by the joyfulness and generosity of the people. They were also edified by the Malawian reverence for the Mass and by the multi-part harmony of the hymns--accompanied with drums and shakers (My father even predicted that the music in heaven would be sung in Chichewa!)

I was struck by the experience of praying in communion with the one holy catholic and apostolic Church, while in a small village somewhere in southeast Africa. Novices from burgeoning communities of women religious; seminarians from vibrant centers of formation; families making sacrificial offerings at festive Sunday celebrations: This Church is no self-referential community focused on getting its needs met. They are a people on the move, Spirit-filled evangelizers indeed.

The Church in Malawi is a Christ-centered community which celebrates Mother and Child and which sees suffering in light of the Paschal Mystery. It is a People of God clearly rooted in familial relationships, even while this people recognizes their deepest identity as adopted siblings of the Father whom Jesus came to reveal.

The Church in Malawi continues to touch minds and hearts through education, resisting the neocolonialism of the West which insists on tying economic development to an atheistic anthropology. Like the Church universal, the Church in Malawi stands committed to solidarity with the people rather than to slavery to anonymous cultural forces and powerful ideologies.

The Church in Malawi seems to embody Jesus' simple saying: "The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed."  From humble beginnings not so long ago, through sacrificial giving of selfless missionaries, the beauty of God's self-revelation in Jesus has begun to bear much fruit.  I pray that the small seed planted by my family at the St. Joseph Center in the Thyolo region of Malawi will continue to germinate and flower.

The vibrant voice of Christ himself continues to speak through the Church in Malawi. A people attuned to beauty and goodness and truth can still recognize that He alone makes all things new. 

Our Lady of Africa, pray for us--

P.S. The U.S. Bishops continue to promote this Solidarity Fund for the Church in Africa, as a way to contribute to helping our brothers and sisters begin meeting their many needs.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Our Struggle is Not with Flesh and Blood

"For our struggle is not with flesh and blood
but with the principalities, with the powers,
with the world rulers of this present darkness,
with the evil spirits in the heavens."

(Eph 6:12)

What if meaninglessness is the root cause of our world's senseless and spiraling violence?  

"Right and wrong" have been uprooted from reality by the principalities, powers and world rulers of this present darkness. A chasm has opened up on all fronts. It is a void, a black hole, a vacuum which strives to swallow everything in its path.

The name of this abyss is absolute freedom--a liberty disconnected from reality. We may think it our own freedom, or we may consider it a capricious will from on high, but its seductive appeal is easy enough to grasp. And its logical implications are now playing themselves out.

After all, when each person is absolutely free to determine the meaning of one's own existence, a collision of conflicting freedoms becomes inevitable. When people feel justified in causing carnage to achieve some allegedly noble ends, the "means" have ensured the emptiness of the effort. 

When we define reality based on how we feel, and when we try to redefine what is based on how we wish things were, then we make ourselves impotent masters of a universe without order. We unleash the whirlwind of anarchy. We allow the arbitrary to become absolute.

In this context, the logic of Islamic jihadists and domestic terrorists thus looks shockingly similar to those who think that they can defeat violence with violence. This seems to be the only way to resolve the clash of conflicting freedoms. It looks like the only way to bring order into an ocean of emptiness. Evil spirits everywhere hiss, "might makes right," and there seems to be no alternative world view.

But there is a different Way which could redeem human freedom itself. There is a  response to emptiness and hopelessness rooted in a deeper logic of reality itself. It requires opening ourselves to a piercing Presence which can transform the apparent absence of the moment.

This one credible response to meaninglessness and endless cycles of violence comes in the confounding shape of the Cross. Cruciform love delivers self-transformation, rather than mere self-actualization. Its stance is always other-centered, not self-centered. It manifests as self-giving, rather than self-seeking. 

Such love alone creates--even out of death and nothingness. "Therefore," St. Paul advises, "put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground" (Eph 6:13).

Monday, July 11, 2016

"In the Light of the Word" (AL, Ch. 1)

"Given the rich fruits of the two-year Synod process,
this Exhortation will treat, in different ways,
a wide variety of questions.
This explains its inevitable length.
Consequently, I do not recommend a rushed reading of the text.
The greatest benefit, for families themselves
and for those engaged in the family apostolate,
will come if each part is read patiently and carefully..."

+Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia [AL], (n. 7)

Pope Francis longs to speak heart-to-heart with "Phil and Frannie."  Phil and Frannie are regular "family folks"--our neighbors and relatives and old friends.  They are ourselves--men and women who are living and loving as best we can, given the messiness of our post-modern and increasingly post-Christian world.

As the comment above suggests, Holy Father Francis wants all of us regular (and "irregular"!) family folks to ponder his words.  To wrestle with them.  To open our hearts anew to the beauty of God's revelation about life and love.

It has been said that, as the family goes, so goes society.  We all come into being through a family, and these families serve as the fundamental building blocks of our local communities.  Some families of origin may be deeply flawed from the outset, of course; others may become so over time. Pope Francis knows that these things happen in a fallen world, and yet he wants Phils and Frannies around the world to hear the good news about marriage and family life...

This brief reflection will begin with some of Pope Francis' insights from Chapter 1 of Amoris Laetitia, entitled "In the Light of the Word." Let's reflect together in the way that Papa Francesco would like us to do so--that is, "patiently and carefully":
  • Pope Francis reminds us that Jesus reaffirmed the primordial plan revealed in Genesis, namely, that God created the human person in his very image--as a couple.  "Male and female": The difference makes all the difference; the complementarity makes the image complete.  The fruitfulness of the love between a man and a woman, which alone begets life, is "a true and living icon" of God's very being (AL, n. 11). 
  • Following St. John Paul II's lead, Pope Francis reiterates that "Our God in his deepest mystery is not solitude, but a family, for he has within himself fatherhood, sonship and the essence of the family, which is love.  That love, in the divine family is the Holy Spirit" (AL, n. 11). The family thus provides a living reflection of the mystery of the Trinity: difference embraced in unity; otherness accepted in communion.
  • The pope's meditation on Psalm 128 paints another portrait of the family, "where husband and wife are seated at table, children appear at their side 'like olive shoots'" (AL, n. 14). Parents provide a foundation so their children can become the "living stones" of new families; in this way, "succeeding generations can raise their song to the Lord" (AL, n. 16).
  • Pope Francis is not naive about the disintegrating impact of sin. He reassures us that "Jesus knows the anxieties and tensions experienced by families and he weaves them into his parables" (AL, n. 21). Suffering and violence run throughout the stories of the scriptures, and the Holy Father reminds us that "the word of God is not a series of abstract ideas but rather a source of comfort and companionship for every family that experiences difficulties or suffering" (AL, n. 22).  The Word of God reveals the goal of our journey: the fullness of Life, which conquers all suffering and death itself. 
Phil and Frannie may not know iconography, but they understand that a work of art reflects the genius of the artist.  They may not know what an olive plant looks like, but they understand that they are the fruit of parents, grandparents and generations of ancestors through whom the gift of love has flown. They may not be able to offer a philosophical critique of the culture's isolated individualism, but they know that real relationships are the stuff of life--and that these relationships overflow with new life.

Phil and Frannie don't need Ph.D.s to understand that marriage and family must be rooted in "the law of love and the gift of self for others" (AL, n. 27).  Indeed, they understand that Christian love is about laying down one's life for one's friends. Their personal experience has shown that love is a matter of mercy and forgiveness and--to use a favorite Pope Francis term--tenderness (AL, n. 28)!

God continues to communicate through families, and the families of so many Phils and Frannies provide images and reflections of the divine Trinity.  Imperfect and flawed though they may still be, family folks everywhere are "called to join in prayer, to read the word of God and to share in Eucharistic communion, and thus to grow in love and become ever more fully a temple which the Spirit dwells" (AL, n. 29).

In the weeks ahead, take some time to check out Chapter 1, and we will continue our journey into this magisterial teaching next month :)


P.S. Starting 8.1.16, we will be sharing Amoris Laetitiae one-paragraph-per-day through the following blog:  If you would like to subscribe to read this document in bite-sized chunks, just go to the "follow by email" tab to register (if you have previously subscribed to read Laudato Si' and Evangelii Gaudium, no need to re-subscribe--you are all set!).