Saturday, October 30, 2010
Friday, October 29, 2010
In addition to Halloween calling to mind the necessity to live genuinely in all areas of life (see previous post), these days from Oct. 31-Nov. 2 remind us of our death (remember that you are dust...), not to be depressing, but hopeful.
The Carthusian monks, who remained in silence nearly the entire year, used to greet each other by saying, "Frater momento mori," which is Latin for, "Brother, remember thy death." I was going to type up a reflection on this, but I stumbled across one by a priest in St. Paul who studied at the same Carthusian Monastery I did in college. His name is Fr. James Adams and here is his excerpt:
"As a student in college, I was blessed to study at the Austrian campus of Franciscan University of Steubenville. This European setting is in a 14th Century Carthusian monastery nestled in the foothills of the Austrian Alps. Upon arrival, our director of the program there guided us through the place and explained as we entered to second courtyard: “Not a single word was ever spoken in this courtyard for hundreds of years. The monks would gather once a year to meet and they would simply say to each other: “Frater, memento mori!” (“Brother, remember your death!”)
"Why are we so into death (that is, accepting it as it naturally comes) as followers of Christ? Because we are so into LIFE!!! Just as our Savior was born to die, so you and I who follow him in this life are here to die to sin and its effects and live for God. The death of our mortal body (which none of us can escape) is the ultimate consequence of sin (Romans 6:23). Because Jesus comes in the incarnation and through his Church to take away sin by his death, we can face our death here head on. It is what happens after to grave that calls our attention as believers. We are given the precious gift of our immortal soul that will live forever and ever. Each soul has a free will to choose our destiny: God or being without him. What a gift! What a responsibility!"
Thursday, October 28, 2010
The more realistic question for us to ask is who would Bruce Wayne be without Batman.
I say this because when the alter ego takes on Superhero, he or she steps outside of reality and becomes something other. This reminds me of Halloween growing up as a kid. I would get so excited to "become" someone else (usually Boomer Esiason) for those couple hours of trick-or-treating. Yet, there would always be this relief when I could take the costume off and just be myself.
Maybe you've experienced that feeling around Halloween as well.
Maybe you've experienced this feeling in daily life.
Too often we wear a mask, or multiple masks. Batman doesn't allow Bruce Wayne to fully become Bruce Wayne. He is this sort of half-person who is always torn between living a somewhat-normal life and dealing with the troubles of Gotham City in relation to his tremendous bat powers. The masks we put on in certain situations, masks that cover our hurt, frustration, joy, pain, in short, our very selves, prevent us from experiencing "life to the full" (Jn. 10:10).
Life to the full is what we are promised and not being ourselves, fully ourselves, completely blocks us from the abundance that is offered.
Halloween is a great time to reflect on how you can be genuine in every circumstance, and to recall that there is only one Person who can give you the courage, strength, and healing, to take off the mask.
Monday, October 25, 2010
Upon my arrival home, I noticed a gigantic black spider in the garage in front of my car. It was huge and fast.
Being the man of the house, I always see the need to protect wife and child from such ugly foes. But, killing this beast was inconvenient for two reasons:
- There is a bunch of stuff in front of the car, and I didn't feel like moving all of it. Plus, the spider would've probably taken off at a great speed toward the dregs of my garage.
- Smashing it with my shoe would've been a huge, sick mess.
I give the little guy credit. He managed to dodge the stream several times, and once hit, he ran around like a madman, before flipping over to his back and curling up in a ball.
Spectracide works well in scenarios like this one.
The Christian Event
When I taught in Denver, I had many conversations with Mr. Lenzini, my mentor teacher. He introduced me to this text from Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete:
"We become Christians because the Incarnation happened in history, because the Paschal Mystery happened, because Pentecost happened, and because those events continue to happen in the world today. They happen now because they happened then and because the Church exists in the world as the life of a communion of persons created by these events, and making them present today through the sacraments.
"They happen because Christ has risen from the dead and can be encountered today with exactly the same results experienced by Andrew, James, John, Peter, Mary Magdalen, the Samaritan woman, the man born blind, Zaccheus, and the criminal at the cross next to His. Something happened to them. It was an event. The key to the Christian life, the point of departure, is not an intellectual or cultural proposal. It is this event."
I love this text, and actually have it posted in my office above the computer, because it reminds me of two very important things:
- The Christian Event (Christ's Incarnation, Passion, Death, and Resurrection) happened in history. These events changed the course of history. One man changed the course of history. This is an undeniable fact that I need to seriously consider. As Advent approaches, I hope each of us keep this profound fact, this event (an event is a true experience when it changes you - we have many events in our lives, but rarely enter into them, and thus are rarely changed, or experience conversion within our circumstances) at the center of our thoughts. The Incarnation transforms the way we understand God's love, teaches us how to be human, shows us where holiness lies, and how to become "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4).
- Christ is present today. He rose from the dead. Is it possible to wrap our minds around what that means? Not sure, but it's worthy of our lifelong effort. He died. He was gone. Buried even. Done. Christ's triumph over death (the death of the soul - hell - is sin's ultimate victory) is not even comparable to the biggest sports comebacks that leave me unable to sleep after they happen. And, due to the Resurrection, He is alive! He is present in our lives now. We know this through the Church, the sacraments, and the witness of those who are clearly animated by Someone much bigger than themselves.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Some of you may have read, or have at least heard of Cardinal Ratzinger's book entitled Truth and Tolerance. I will have you know that I have not yet read this book, though I did just place a hold on it at the library. But, I'm actually happy that I'm tackling this question first on my own, basing it solely upon my reason and experiences. Only after I've attempted to draw a conclusion based upon these criteria, I will check out Ratzinger's book and see if his reflections mesh with mine.
I remember coming to the realization the summer before teaching in Denver, that the meaning of life consists in coming to understand the Truth. Why? Because only Truth can satisfy, and when we are satisfied, we are happy, we are full. This realization, then, called me to literally be willing to give up everything for the truth. If my life has meaning and is satisfied by Truth, then that Truth is worth everything, even my reputation, even my preconceived thoughts about the way things are, even my life.
This pining for Truth is within all of us. It was within me prior to that summer...but I hadn't done the work. Many of us are too lazy to do the active searching, and so we sit around complaining of our boredom.
Now, the search for Truth is based upon experience. Why would I believe something if I can't actually experience it, or if it isn't reasonable? I can believe in the moon, not because I've been there, but because I can see it. I can believe in the sun, because I can see it and feel it. I can believe China exists, not because I've ever been there, but because I see reasonable proof (that I can experience) such as friends who have vacationed there, people I know from China, and of course, Google maps.
Every human heart has the same longings.
That is a bold statement. I didn't believe it at first, until I started paying attention to intimate conversations I was having with people and to, believe it or not, ancient mythology. I was blown away as I was learning and teaching about the Greeks and Romans that they wanted the same things I did. These ancient peoples yearned for Truth, understanding, justice, goodness, beauty, love. My students started picking up on this as well. If human beings, each of which is completely unique and unrepeatable, have the same core desires, there must be a singular Source of satisfaction. I'd liken this to the fact that all humans experience a real desire for food, called hunger, and there is actually food that nourishes and satisfies. The same can be said for all of the other natural desires that all humans experience (notice that word again).
I spent most of my life searching for goodness, beauty, love, understanding, and nothing satisfied. It was as if I was insatiably hungry, and kept eating shards of steel. As if I was indulging in everything that attracted my senses. None of these were very satisfying and the longing persisted.
Here, my search led me to Christ, whom I had left behind back in Junior High. Could Christ actually satisfy my longings? Could He be Truth itself?
This is the moment of conversion...admitting that all of your failed attempts and flings to satisfy did not succeed in converging your entire being onto that point of satisfaction, of happiness.
As I've asked this question since that awakening in college, and continue to ask this question on the journey, Christ continues to answer. Nothing, no one, no situation, no earthly thing (not even marriage, the best Thanksgiving dinner, or most incredible Halloween haul) has satisfied my longings as Christ does when I allow Him to (because Christ respects our freedom). No living being has gone to the depths of my sorrow (Mt. 27:46) or the heights of my joy (Lk. 3:22) as completely as Christ has. Nothing has pierced my heart, torn down my idol of moralism, or changed my entire manner of living, of seeing, as Christ has. Nothing has brought peace so completely as Christ has. No one has been as alive as the only Person in the history of the world who conquered death itself and lives now (Mt. 28:20)!
The craziest thing is, other people have experienced this as well.
And this makes sense to me because the human heart is one and the same. Every human being, throughout the course of history, across every continent, longs for the same satisfaction. Any genre, any type of literature for thousands of years teaches us this.
Christ satisfies the human heart. Of this I am convicted, based upon my search and experience.
But not everyone is, which is where tolerance comes in to play.
Not everyone believes that Christ is the Answer. But, nearly everyone would agree, if you can have an intimate enough conversation or dive into the thoughts of a character in a book, on the universal longings of the human heart.
I can easily tolerate those who have not come to believe that Christ is the Truth, if there is a genuine searching of the human heart for a fulfillment of desire. And in almost every case, there is. Occasionally one will come across a person who is so closed, or bound by preconception, that he or she will not even be open to listening. And, as I understand tolerance, I, in continuing the journey of questioning in order to understand Truth and seeking meaning in life, must be open to listening to those who have beliefs that differ from my own. My pursuit of Truth requires such a humility. As I continue to grow in this virtue of tolerance, and actually tolerate what others believe, I should find that my understanding of Truth becomes clearer and that my conviction grows.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Friday, October 15, 2010
I will arrive at Starbucks for a meeting and the teens will already be loitering, taking up space at the shop without having made a purchase. Now, I can understand why this would happen. Teens don't have that much money, and if they do, they probably don't want to spend it on coffee at a Youth Group planning session. There are much better things to spend money on, such as movies, silly bandz, Star Crunch and Monster. Nevertheless, I'm instantly embarrassed by the situation, and immediately feel obliged to purchase something.
The problem here is that I'm not into the artistic, caramel-drizzled coffee treats, iced and with a splash of whipped cream. I like a straightforward drink, so I go with a regular coffee every time. This is also the cheapest thing on the menu, which works out twice over.
Once I have my loitering panacea, I breathe easy and spend the remainder of the meeting with the teens huddled around two tables, for two hours, staring at the centerpiece drink.
Starbucks recently caught on to the brilliance of my plan and sought to strike me down. It happened like this:
I walk to the counter right before our meeting is about to start and, listen to this, I say, "Tall Pike Please."
Here you'll notice my conversion to speaking Starbucks, my familiarity with the abbreviation of the name Pike Place Roast (their daily brew), and my good manners. Quite a bit happening in three words.
The proper response by the lady working the register is, "Would you like room for cream?"
I respond, "Yes, please." Again, notice the manners.
Then she struck me down. "That'll be $1.95."
At this point it was too late for me, as I had already practically thrown my debit card to her out of habit. My head started spinning.
"Did I say Tall"?
"A Tall is supposed to only be $1.50."
"Maybe I didn't say Pike."
"Why am I being punished?"
"I only purchase to prevent full-fledged loitering."
"Did I say Tall?"
"How much does a bag of this stuff cost...oh, only $9.95."
"This cup of coffee is costing me $2!"
After the card swipe, the proper question for the register-lady to ask is if I'd like my receipt.
Normally I respond "No," while smiling, but that night I went with the affirmative to see if it did indeed confirm doom.
$1.95 for a small cup of coffee with room for cream, that's a 30% price increase.
This traumatic experience reminds me of a similar one from a couple years ago. I found this really cheap dry cleaner in Denver. $1 per shirt. $2 per pant. That is a good deal. But, once I moved out of my original housing situation with some friends, and into my apartment, that particular cleaner was over 5 miles away.
Just up the street I saw the sign for Paradise Cleaners and thought it was time check into a new place.
So I dropped by without placing a call in advance.
It had a much nicer storefront than the place I had been going and a friendly lady at the desk (this place was so nice that you couldn't even see the giant spinny machine track rack things that deliver the clothing by number). She kindly took my two pairs of pants and said they'd be ready for pickup the next day.
At this point I finally asked how much pants cost.
"$6. And $17 if they are silk."
Now, keep in mind that I've already handed her the pants to be dry cleaned. What can I do in a situation like that, other than say "Thanks" in a cheerful voice and scurry away in full knowledge that I just made the worst decision of my new adult life.
I drove with Katie back to our apartment asking the same two questions repeatedly:
- Did she really say $17?
- Are my pants made of silk?
I was sick to my stomach.
I called Paradise Cleaners and the kind lady answered the phone. In a small, shriveled voice I asked her how much silk pants cost to have dry cleaned.
In a smaller voice I whispered that I had just dropped two pairs of pants off and no longer wanted to use their service.
Sprinting to my car, I realized that I had just stood up to The Man.
The lady had my pants waiting at the front counter. I thanked her and drove the five miles to my cheap cleaner.
"$4.25 with tax."
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
The following question comes from the Question Box and can be answered with Theological reflection/study or through personal experience. I ask that our posts do not turn into an intense argument with personal attacks (as is illustrated below).
Here's the question:
What does it mean to say that God is unchanging?
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Last week, Fr. Keller talked about the beginning of Mass…which was interesting, yes, but what really stood out to me was what he said about when we begin Mass.
In the past, Catholics would get to Mass early, and there would be some one leading prayer by reading the Psalms aloud, and other people would join in by reading the Psalms and praying them. The reading of the Psalms was used to set the mood of prayer and to put you in the presence of God.
So, why did we stop doing this? Why don’t we do it on our own? Why don’t I do it on my own? Why don’t I spend all of Sunday morning before Mass in prayer, at home, or at least get to Church earlier to spend some time in prayer and preparing myself for Mass? Really! I am almost angry about the lack of preparation before Mass in the Church today.
For my First Holy Eucharist, my entire family (parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins,) made me a scrapbook with pictures from their First Eucharist and a short story of what they remember. My Sittie and Gido (Arabic for grandmother and grandfather respectively) both had to fast from midnight until they received the Eucharist, and had to wake up extra early to walk to church. My Nana helped her mother to make her dress, which was the habit of Saint Rosa de Lima but in all white. She made her First Eucharist on December 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and her father’s birthday. To this day, it remains one of the most important days of her year.
We receive that same Eucharist…the Eucharist that deserves our entirety…every time we attend Mass. It is the single greatest thing on this Earth. Literally. It’s the ultimate question. What is the greatest thing ever? The Eucharist. But we prepare more for a highschool dance than we do for Mass. We probably have spent more time watching television or a movie or any other media interaction than we ever have in prayer, let alone in prayer preparing for Mass.
But why? Why would we do that?
Because God made us to.
If He had wanted us to spend all or even a quarter of our life in prayer, worshipping Him and giving Him praise, He would have just saved every one a whole lot of trouble and made us angels. That’s what angels do. They’re the next closest thing to perfect. They need nothing else but God. They want nothing else but God. But we’re not angels. We’re not perfect. (You listening, Fr. Michael?) And that’s okay because we’re not supposed to be.
We’re supposed to be human. As imperfect, as incompetent, as deep in sin and doubt all the days of our earthly lives as we are, God made us to be. So that when we sin, when we fall, or when we simply don’t pray or prepare for Mass, God can give us the grace we need to rise and glorify Him. If it wasn’t difficult to prepare for Mass, we would never understand how incredible Mass is.
Let us all pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance in our prayer and for strength that we might be able to prepare for Mass as the Mass truly deserves.
“Lord, teach us how to pray.”
Monday, October 11, 2010
Living the faith in the moment, witnessing to the love of Christ in our daily lives, requires work. The work is awareness. We must continually learn and re-learn how to be aware of Christ's presence in our lives and to move. Every human relationship is a movement, it is a journey. The same holds true for the relationship with Christ. It is a journey and it is one that you must move upon, because God respects our freedom so much. He never imposes, or forces you to move. He invites, encourages and affirms our movement toward Himself. This means, the ball is really in our court. We must decide if we are willing to move, to work, to be aware of his presence, not only during those mountaintop spiritual experiences, but on the ordinary journey of life.
This work reminds me of the journey of the Road to Emmaus. This painting was completed in 1516-17 by Altobello Melone. You can learn about it at the National Gallery site.
You can check out the Going Deeper handout for the week, here. This was a homily given by Pope John Paul II during WYD in Toronto.
“You must have initiative; you must take initiative so that your life be a relationship with God."
Fr. Luigi Giussani
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
"The Catholic Church has always offered and still offers to the sacrament of the Eucharist the cult of adoration, not only during Mass, but also outside of it, reserving the consecrated hosts with the utmost care, exposing them to the solemn veneration of the faithful, and carrying them in procession" (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1378).
This Sunday, St. Gertrude High School Youth Ministry will have its first Adoration Night of the year. The video highlights the power of the exposed Eucharist, and the CCC points to the tradition of Eucharistic Adoration in the Church. Adoration is, in short, an extension of the Mass. That which we adore, we receive, we eat.
I'd like to point out two simple things to help with our understanding of Adoration:
- Genesis 2:9 says, "And out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food." Notice the syntax here. The verse first says the tree and fruit of the tree is pleasant to the sight. It is worthy of being adored. It is beautiful to behold. The verse follows immediately with "and good for food." That which is adored is good to eat, it gives us life. These two statements go hand-in-hand.
- I will now attempt an Adoration analogy to help it make further sense. Without fail, Thanksgiving happens every year (and the Lions lose). On that day, I stand around a table heaping with beautifully delicious-looking food and pray with my family (while drooling and seriously thinking about drinking the gravy!). That time of prayer is a time of adoration of, and deep gratitude for, what I am about to receive. Eucharistic Adoration is much the same. We look at the beauty of the Bread of Life and long to partake in the Banquet.
Monday, October 4, 2010
Now, on to part 3!
This reflection is brought to you by Anna.
The Mass is our participation in God's saving work. That's awesome! - but it's also way to important to make up as we go along. Thus, we have the missal which spells out exactly how we are supposed to say and do when we celebrate Mass.
So why the new translation of the Missal? In short, the last translation of the Missal lost much of the simple beauty and exalted language of the original Latin. The idea was to simplify it because average Joe and Mary Catholic can't understand this "exalted language". But wait a minute. The Mass is about God, after all, it is Heaven on earth. We can't perfectly understand God so we won't ever really understand the Mass. In addition, Joe and Mary Catholic are a little smarter than presumed. People are tired of "watered down" religion. We want the whole undisguised truth, the tradition that has been handed down from Jesus to the apostles to the Church today. People leave the Church because they don't understand the Mass. Perhaps the new translation will help awaken Catholics to the reality of the Mass - Heaven on earth and a participation in the saving work of God.
Friday, October 1, 2010
St. Thérèse is a fantastic model and patron for us.
This Sunday we're going to be talking about loving our neighbors, those closest to us. St. Thérèse spent her 24 years doing exactly this. She's the patron of missionaries, though she never left the convent! Her patronage highlights the importance of Christ's command to "love thy neighbor;" it also strengthens us to witness to Christ's love to the people we encounter everyday.
The whole "love thy neighbor" theme became especially important to me during my freshman year of college at John Carroll University. Here, I got involved with a local outreach called the Labre Project. For the first time in my life, reaching out to my neighbors became significant. Meeting the people in Cleveland, in my hometown during that year of school, where they were, seeing their conditions and forming friendships with them was simple and profound. What we were doing in Cleveland was much more than passing out food, because relationship transcends physical condition.
When I transferred to Franciscan, I hoped to replicate my experiences in Cleveland.
If any of you have ever been to Steubenville, you know it to be all things "Rust Belt." If poverty reigns, drugs reign supreme. Homelessness, violence, vandalism, arson, prostitution. All have consumed the once-glorious downtown area. LAMP Ministries runs a soup kitchen out of the Cathedral basement in the downtown area. I signed up to help out almost as soon as I arrived, and was blown away in my conversations with the poor about the conditions of the small town.
The Beauty of Relationship
I met Tony at LAMP one morning in the Fall of 2005. He was a middle-aged man of Hispanic decent who looked far older than his years. A mental illness and family break-up left him on the streets of San Diego at a young age. Eventually, drug addiction took hold and he somehow ended up in Steubenville with his wife, Pam, and some friends. When I encountered Tony, he was living in an abandoned downtown building, and was struggling with alcoholism and drug addiction. An unoccupied, abandoned building is a nice find for a homeless man. It is so hard for me to imagine what it would be like to have been without a roof over my head, a place of to call my own, for so long that the shelter of a dilapidated building would cause me great joy. But, such was Tony's demeanor. His biggest problem now was not having a sleeping bag.
So, Katie and I picked up one at Walmart, and met him at the post office to deliver it. This was the beginning of our friendship.
During our time in Steubenville, we met frequently with Tony and Pam. We'd bring socks, clothes and some food, but most of all, we brought ourselves...fellowship. This was the most important thing for Tony.
While we were there, Tony continued to struggle with drugs. At one point, he took himself off of his schizophrenia medication and committed a crime that landed him in jail for over a year. Somehow, in the midst of addiction, his struggle to find a place to lay his head, and time in jail, we were always able to keep tabs on where he was.
At almost the exact same time as our wedding, back in December of 2008, Tony and Pam flew back out to California. Tony and his brother reconciled their differences, and his brother bought them one-way tickets to San Diego. Now, they live on some land about 45 minutes from town, surrounded by mountains and the beauty of nature. Typically they say that changing your environment, or escaping your old environment, doesn't help you to break addictions. But it has for Tony and Pam. No drugs, no alcohol, no violence.
I thought it would be cool to share this story because it highlights the "love your neighbor" point. Tony and I just ran into each other at a soup kitchen, but reaching out, the effort on both sides, to understand the other and to seek a friendship, has made this more than a random encounter that you forget about the next day. Every week when we talk with Pam and Tony on the phone, we're reminded of the ways God has been present and used us in this friendship. We're also reminded of how much God has taught us through Tony and Pam.