Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Certainty We Joyfully Await

There I sat, waiting. I was in a strange place (by this, I mean a restaurant I don’t normally go to), waiting for a teen I did not know very well. The teen was only a few minutes late, but those few minutes taught me a great deal about waiting and about certainty.

As the clock ticked past 4pm, and I sat staring at the parking lot from inside – coffee in hand – my thought process shifted from “I’m looking forward to this meeting,” to a series of doubt-filled questions:

-Am I in the right place?
-We said 4pm, right?
-I wonder if this meeting will happen.

The moment I saw the teen walk across the parking lot, the doubt subsided and we ended up having an enjoyable conversation.

What I’ve just described is a fairly typical (unless I’m abnormal, which could be the case) human experience – one of uncertainty. The most important point is not our ability to very quickly slide into the shadow of doubt cast by uncertainty, but the strong desire we truly have for certainty.

This afternoon coffee meeting is analogous to my life as a whole…and quite possibly yours as well. I have a real longing for truth and certainty. I can strain, and pine, and doubt, and ask a million questions, but until the truth walks across that parking lot, until it breaks into my life, I ultimately remain uncertain.

Insert Christ Here.

This is quite literally how the certainty of Christ comes into our uncertain lives. He surprises us, but the surprise brings peace and understanding. “Christ came that we might have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn. 10:10). Christ came that we might have certainty – certainty about who we are and that we are loved in the midst of this mysterious thing called life. This is the power and essence of the Christian Event.

Think of the encounter the old man Simeon had with Christ at the temple. Here he is, an old man, who had been promised he would see the Messiah. But he’s old, and getting older. We can imagine his thoughts, “Lord, I’m going to die soon. Is this really going to happen?” But it does happen. “Lord, let your servant go in peace, your Word has been fulfilled. My own eyes have seen the salvation you have prepared in the sight of your people. A light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.”

Your Word has been fulfilled. I have seen your salvation. You are the light of truth, the light of revelation.

O holy night
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world, in sin and error pining
Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.

He appears! He comes and because He, the spoken Word of the Creator, comes, we can know ourselves and our worth. This is the certainty we long for: to know that we are loved and have the capacity to love in return. And not only to love our fellow brothers and sisters, but God.

Christ, Certainty broke into the lives of the apostles, of John, Andrew, Peter. He broke into the lives of the woman at the well, Zacchaeus, and even Pontius Pilate. He comes to us because we cannot attain the full certainty we want on our own. People have tried for thousands of years. The answer to the problem is Christ. He is extraneous to us. He comes from outside, yet He wants to be one with you and I.

“Certainty comes as a result of a life lived within the Church.” Luigi Giussani

Why? The Church makes Christ known. It is through the Church that the resurrected Christ can still be encountered today…

Check out this quote from Lorenzo Albacete:

“To believe that one becomes a Christian through the proper philosophy, theology, spirituality, morality, or cultural project, is a presumption; it is to see our efforts as the cause of our belonging to Christ. Instead, 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.”

“The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come, namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.” (Gaudium et Spes 22)

And so it is with great expectation that we joyfully await our encounter with the certainty of Christ, both now and at our final judgment.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Fall 2011

At the Dec. 11 Youth Night I promised a blog post that would recap the semester.  I will now deliver!

The Light Shines in the Darkness...

We opened our semester with a high-energy Kickoff that celebrated our 25th year of Youth Ministry at the Parish, and introduced our theme for 2011-2012:  "The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (Jn. 1:5).  This theme centers upon a personal encounter with Christ, the Light of Life.  This encounter is really an invitation into a relationship that illumines, awakens, and renews one's humanity.  The light of Christ really can change your life...and it really does cut through the darkness of fear, doubt and sin....but only if one allows it to.

Where do we encounter this light?  Through the Church.  Christ is alive and well (thanks to the resurrection!) and he can be encountered today, just as he was encountered 2000 years ago, through the Church - her witnesses, words and Sacraments.

In an attempt to grow in this relationship with Christ, and as witnesses within the Church, we looked primarily at our words, the words we said at Mass, and the Word made flesh and encountered in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

John 6 lays out Jesus' insistence upon the Bread of Life being one and the same with his flesh.  As the crowds begin to realize that he is speaking literally, they walk.  Will we?  Read more about this Youth Night HERE.

Each Mass opens with a time of preparation, called the Liturgy of the Word.  We are preparing ourselves for a real encounter with Christ, the Light of Life, in the Eucharist.  The Church looks to Christ's walk on the Road to Emmaus as a pedagogical example - and fashions the liturgy as such.  Christ breaks open the words of Scripture in light of the saving action that happens at Calvary.  Then, he breaks the bread and gives it.  The Word of God in Scripture is encountered in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.  The Word of God in Scripture prepares our minds and hearts for receiving Christ, the true Bread of Life, in the Eucharist.

From this point, we launched into the nitty-gritty elements of the Mass itself.  We used the New Translation as a catalyst for our understanding.  The words to the New Translation are a bit loftier - they better signify the transcendent realities of the Mass - through which we are invited into a deeper understanding.  Our Catechetical Mass helped in this regard, as we took a slow stroll through every element of the Mass and had our questions answered.

We wrapped up the semester by turning to Mary, the first disciple.  Through her faith, humility, obedience, and receptivity, Mary received God's Word and goes forth as a disciple to proclaim that Word.  So too, we receive the Word of God (by listening to the Scriptures and in the Eucharist) and are literally sent ("Go forth!") to be witnesses to the Light, after each and every Mass.

I can't forget to just mention our big events this semester:  Credo, Fall Retreat - Into the Darkness You Shine, Run, Jump,-n-Play, and Ice Skating! 

The Word that we receive in the Eucharist also shines light into our lives.  This semester, we specifically looked at the words we use...whether in daily life, or when utilizing social media.  You can access both of these talks below:

 ...and the darkness has not overcome it.  

Next semester we will take steps to walk in the light, to follow Christ, to live in the light.  We'll do this by examining the relationship that we have with Christ.  All relationships, even the most loving ones, demand certain things in order for them to bear fruit.  Our relationship with God is the same.  The morality proposed by the Church ought not be viewed as a list of heavy demands placed upon us.  Nor should they/the Church be viewed as an oppressive authority.  The morality of the Church is actually quite reasonable.  It is one that centers around the Christian event - the relationship with the Person of Christ.  We will explore this relationship and the call to achieve greatness (not mediocrity) next get excited!

May the Light of Christ break into our lives once again this Christmas, and may our ongoing conversion draw us deeper and deeper into the Mystery of God.   Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Soft Spot Heart Beat

Baby's have soft spots in their skulls.  Those of you who have younger siblings, or children yourself may recall that first moment of passing your fingers over a baby's head only to encounter a -sink hole.  This may have caused you to wig out a little bit, or perhaps throw up in your mouth a little bit.  And rightfully so.

It is weird, sick and intriguing all at once. 

The soft spots, properly called "fontanels" exist because the bones in the skull are not yet fused together, which allows flexibility during the birthing process.  This fusion happens between 12-18 months. 

Here's a somewhat lame video explaining this phenomenon:

What is really remarkable to me, is not that finding the soft spot is freaking, or even that it exists in the first place.  Instead, it is the fact that you can view the baby's pulse by looking at his/her head.  Watch closely:

I gawked for a while at my baby's soft spot the other day, watching it beat, and I was gently reminded through the observation that we really are mind/heart creatures.  The fullest expression of the human being is a life lived within this unity:  reason and affection. 

Now, the soft-spot analogy limps quite a bit, but its implications are worth some pondering. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Calling All Witnesses

In a recent address, the Pope had the following exhortation for members of the lay faithful:

The man who reawakens in himself the question of God opens himself to hope, trustworthy hope, which makes it worth his while to take on the effort of journey in the present (cf. Spe Salvi, 1).

How can the question of God be reawakened so as to make it the fundamental question? Dear friends, if it is true that “being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a Person” (Deus Caritas Est, 1), the question of God is reawakened by the encounter with those who have the gift of faith, with those who have a vital relationship with the Lord.  God is known through men and women who know him–the road to Him passes, concretely, thorough those who have met Him.  Here your role as lay faithful is particularly important. […]You are called to offer a transparent witness of the relevance of the question of God in all fields of thought and action. In the family, in work, in politics, and in economics, contemporary man needs to see with his own eyes and touch with his own hands how, with God or without God, everything changes.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Can we ignore practical thought for just a minute?

At a Steubenville Youth Conference a few years ago, Jim Beckman, a fairly well-known Youth Minister from Denver, was speaking about a crazy family vacation he had recently experienced.  More specifically, he was relating the story of the car ride to Omaha.  In short, it was nuts.  His kids were going bonkers and the trip ended up taking about twice as long as it should have.

He arrived in Omaha completely frustrated and begging God for an answer to why things were so difficult and when God would make himself known during their time together as a family.  Jim then shared the answer to his prayer, which he heard quite clearly - "You missed it."  God had been present the entire time - in the craziness of the journey, in the joy, in the tears,  in the agonizing pain of hours on the road.  Jim had missed God's presence in his circumstance.  As a result of looking at nothing other than the final destination, Jim had become angry, impatient and probably a little sinful.

This story is a microcosm of life that many of us can relate to.  

We simply cannot miss Christ in our midst because we are so focused upon some temporal destiny.  I am speaking directly to all of the Seniors who are scrambling to meet application deadlines this week, but the message applies to all of us. Let me elaborate just a bit.

Last week I was enjoying breakfast with my wife at one of the greatest diners in all the land - Rosie's in Tiffin, OH.  Rosie's does a wonderful job with in creating a hole-in-the-wall atmosphere coupled nicely with greasy, hot breakfast food.  My clothes smelled like a diner for days...but, I digress.

At breakfast, I noticed an advertisement by a financial investment company that read:

-When you retire, you'll have the right to:
  1. Start a second career doing something you enjoy. 
  2. Spend more time with your family.
  3. Plan a beach vacation for the dead of winter.
  4. __________________________________?
This list, 4 bullet points, illustrates perfectly this sort of limitation of desire and freedom that the modern climate (focused upon material success and production) has placed upon human beings.

Why must we wait until retirement to have a career we actually enjoy?  Why does work trump family all of the time?  Do we lack the complete creativity and desire for recreation that making a trip to the beach during the winter can only happen during retirement?  This really seems like a ridiculous way to approach the rest of your lives.

Now, I realize that I'm pushing this advertisement to its logical limits, but the points remain valid.  Are you  going to live your lives constrained by what the dominant culture declares you must do in order to be successful and "materially happy"?  Or, are you going to free your heart and allow it to pursue something you love and enjoy, work that will give your life great meaning and purpose?  Will you set clear priorities and place God first, followed by your family, and then your work?

This "Bill of Rights" need not be limited to retirement.  Let's truly live this journey called life - it doesn't begin at age 65.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Chaput and the Gospel of Life

I've done a poor job of posting this month.  My apologies.  I do hope that all of you had a great Thanksgiving!

Several weeks ago, Archbishop Chaput gave an address at the University of Pennsylvania.  You can access the text HERE.  My comments follow.

Chaput does a nice job here, working through the philosophical fallout that got us to this position.  He moves from the shredding of traditional moral principles, objective Truth and pursuit of a universal good, and into the new position of dominance science has attained.  But, science without morality is destructive.  His quote from Postman is fantastic.  This relationship (or lack thereof) between morality and science is brought up in a different light at the very end of his article - "Laws without morals are useless."  The emptying that Chaput brings up in the first point is present throughout the article. 

As a result of this "moral emptying," man's life loses its transcendent value, and life becomes mechanistic and defined by utilitarian standards.  And, the constitution begins to float on air...protecting who exactly?  Protecting what?  An empty good?  A people without meaning or essential value?  JP II touches on this in Evangelium Vitae:

Man is no longer able to see himself as "mysteriously different" from other earthly creatures; he regards himself merely as one more living being, as an organism which, at most, has reached a high stage of perfection.  Enclosed in the narrow horizon of this physical nature, he is somehow reduced to being "a thing," and no longer grasps the "transcendent" character of his "existence as man."  He no longer considers life as a splendid gift from God, something "sacred," entrusted to his responsibility, and thus also to his loving care and "veneration." 
Recognizing once again the tremendous value of human existence, rooted in a spirit of wonder, seems to put man back into his proper place of exercising a true reason (as opposed to the limited one we often employ) and true freedom (as opposed to the false notion of autonomy we hold in its place).  From this renewed understanding, Chaput's fourth point makes sense - the reasonableness of the pro-life position.  He quotes from Bonhoeffer:

“Destruction of the embryo in the mother’s womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed on this nascent life. To raise the question whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life. And that is nothing but murder.”
Bonhoeffer's line of thinking, is echoed by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in its document Declaration on Procured Abortion: 

What is at stake is so important that, from the standpoint of moral obligation, the mere probability that a human person is involved would suffice to justify an absolutely clear prohibition aimed at killing a human embryo.

These lines from the CDF, and the ones above from Bonhoeffer, only make sense in light of this renewed vision, this sort of resurrection of proper philosophy about man and his place in the universe.  But, much work remains to bring about this type of renewal.  Chaput provides us with an outline, a road map, and in his typical fashion, he seeks to send us out on a mission to uphold and proclaim truth, which in this case really is the Gospel of Life.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Joe Pa Commentary

Right now, you can't go far online without running into something about the Penn State drama.

Read up on it here.

I want to briefly touch on two points that the media may never make explicit.  

  1. The universal moral norm.  It seems to be widely accepted that any action done to or infringement upon the innocence of a child is morally unacceptable behavior - at least in the West.  I find this to be a reassuring fact, one pointing to some sense of an objective truth and its need to be upheld.  The truth is one that the good of the innocence of a child is valuable, and that no human being should ever be subject to violation of basic rights.  Any sense of a moral standard that is so widely upheld (just read the scathing articles about the so-called "monsters" in administrative positions at Penn State) is cause for hope in a time of slippery-sloped relativistic ethics.  
  2. The media does not present any sort of truly just solution.  Yesterday, the articles simply cried out for Joe Paterno to be fired.  And, eventually he was, along with the university president.  But, now what?  Has the situation all of a sudden become justified, and everyone can move on feeling okay?  Certainly, the firing may move us in that direction, but it is a feeble solution, or superficial statement at best.  We need to move in a direction of serious questioning.  Why does this sort of crime happen?  What does it teach us about our humanity?  What does this situation teach us about justice?  What is justice?  
Slowly coming to grasp answers to these questions will lead us further into the truths of this situation, hopefully pointing us (as individuals, a country, etc.) to as satisfying a solution as is humanly possible.  Let's not stop at the surface - at the headlines, and scathing remarks about "monsters."  Let's move to a true understanding of this situation, which has to take into account all of its factors and causes.

At the same time, let's take a moment to applaud humanity for its ability to agree upon and uphold a universal moral truth.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Will Not Lose

Yesterday's Gospel contained a really profound line from John 6:  "I will not lose anything of what he gave me."  Here, Jesus is speaking to the crowds about his Father. 

After reading this, I had breakfast with my wife and our children.  I was struck by our 2-year-old as she insistently asked for grapefruit.  My wife would cut out a piece, and put it in her bowl.  Rather than waiting for the bowl to fill up, our 2-year-old would pull the bowl back, consume the piece and then ask for more. 

"I will not lose anything of what he gave me."

I've seen her do this before.  She will consume even the smallest morsel, then ask for more.  I find this contradictory to how I live my life, and my relationship with the Father.  See, I approach it in a much more adult fashion.  When I ask God for something, I want it all handed to me on a platter as it looks in my imagination.  Nice.  Neat.  Tidy.  Consequently, I find myself impatient and dissatisfied quite often. 

The approach my daughter takes is insightful.  She asks for what she wants (often to the point of incessant begging), receives it in her hands/bowl, and shoves it into her mouth.  She will be completely satisfied with one piece as she consumes it, so as to not lose what she was just given, and then ask for more. 

"I will not lose anything of what he gave me."

How would my life be different if I took in, consumed, what appears to be piecemeal of what I really want?  Instead of waiting and wishing and growing impatient, I would gratefully accept, and consume that which is given to me - I would not lose any part of it waiting around for the whole thing to magically show up.  This position is much more childlike, accepting and receiving with open hands, taking it in, and yet never being satisfied...always hoping or longing for more of the Good.

"I will not lose anything of what he gave me." 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Not a Bad First Attempt: Word World Talk

So, here we have our first attempt at recording a Youth Night talk.  I struggled to find a free web host that could support the file size, so I did this the cheap way and made a Youtube video instead of a formal podcast.  Maybe we'll have better luck next time. 

You'll also notice that the sound fades in and out depending upon where I was standing at the time.  Wear ear buds and set aside a half hour and you might be able to hear the entire talk! 

Monday, October 31, 2011

A Bit on Halloween

Surprise: Halloween’s Not a Pagan Festival After All
The holiday and its customs are completely Christian, and some are uniquely American.
by: Father Augustine Thompson, O.P.
Excerpted from Catholic Parent magazine in 2000.

We’ve all heard the allegations: Halloween is a pagan rite dating back to some pre-Christian festival among the Celtic Druids that escaped Church suppression.  Even today modern pagans and witches continue to celebrate this ancient festival.  If you let your kids go trick-or-treating, they will be worshiping the devil and pagan gods.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  The origins of Halloween are, in fact, very Christian and rather American.  Halloween falls on October 31 because of a pope, and its observances are the result of medieval Catholic piety.

It’s true that the ancient Celts of Ireland and Britain celebrated a minor festival on October 31 – as they did on the last day of most other months of the year.  However, Halloween falls on the last day of October because the Feast of All Saints, or “All Hallows,” falls on November 1.  The feast in honor of all the saints in heaven used to be celebrated on May 13, but Pope Gregory III (d. 741) moved it to November 1, the dedication day of All Saints Chapel in St. Peter’s at Rome.  Later, in the 840s, Pope Gregory IV commanded that All Saints be observed everywhere.  And so the holy day spread to Ireland.

The day before was the feast’s evening vigil, “All Hallows Even,” or “Hallowe’en.”  In those days Halloween didn’t have any special significance for Christians or for long-dead Celtic pagans.

In 998, St. Odilo, the abbot of the powerful monastery of Cluny in southern France, added a celebration on November 2.  This was a day of prayer for the souls of all the faithful departed.  This feast, called All Souls Day, spread from France to the rest of Europe.

So now the Church had feasts for all those in heaven and all those in purgatory.  What about those in the other place?  It seems Irish Catholic peasants wondered about the unfortunate souls in hell.  After all, if the souls in hell are left out when we celebrate those in heaven and purgatory, they might be unhappy enough to cause trouble.  So it became customary to bang pots and pans on All Hallows Even to let the damned know they were not forgotten.  Thus, in Ireland at least, all the dead came to be remembered – even if the clergy were not terribly sympathetic to Halloween and never allowed All Damned Day into the Church calendar.

But that still isn’t our celebration of Halloween.  Our traditions on this holiday center on dressing up in fanciful costumes, which isn’t Irish at all.  Rather, this custom arose in France during the 14th and 15th centuries.  Late medieval Europe was hit by repeated outbreaks of the bubonic plague – the Black Death – and it lost about half its population.  It is not surprising that Catholics became more concerned about the afterlife.

More Masses were said on All Souls Day, and artistic representations were devised to remind everyone of their own mortality.  We know these representations as the danse macabre, or “dance of death,” which was commonly painted on the walls of cemeteries and shows the devil leading a daisy chain of people – popes, kings, ladies, knights, monks, peasants, lepers, etc. – into the tomb.  Sometimes the dance was presented on All Souls Day itself as a living tableau with people dressed up in the garb of various states of life.

But the French dressed up on All Souls, not Halloween; and the Irish, who had Halloween, did not dress up.  How the two became mingled probably happened first in the British colonies of North America during the 1700s, when Irish and French Catholics began to intermarry.  The Irish focus on hell gave the French masquerades an even more macabre twist.

But as every young ghoul knows, dressing up isn’t the point; the point is getting as many goodies as possible.  Where on earth did “trick or treat” come in?

“Treat or treat” is perhaps the oddest and most American addition to Halloween and is the unwilling contribution of English Catholics.

During the penal period of the 1500s to the 1700s in England, Catholics had no legal rights.  They could not hold office and were subject to fines, jail and heavy taxes.  It was a capital offense to say Mass, and hundreds of priests were martyred.

Occasionally, English Catholics resisted, sometimes foolishly.  One of the most foolish acts of resistance was a plot to blow up the Protestant King James I and his Parliament with gunpowder.  This was supposed to trigger a Catholic uprising against the oppressors.  The ill-conceived Gunpowder Plot was foiled on November 5, 1605, when the man guarding the gunpowder, a reckless convert named Guy Fawkes, was captured and arrested.  He was hanged; the plot fizzled.

November 5, Guy Fawkes Day, became a great celebration in England, and so it remains.  During the penal periods, bands of revelers would put on masks and visit local Catholics in the dead of night, demanding beer and cakes for their celebration: trick or treat!

Guy Fawkes Day arrived in the American colonies with the first English settlers.  But by the time of the American Revolution, old King James and Guy Fawkes had pretty much been forgotten.  Trick or treat, though, was too much fun to give up, so eventually it moved to October 31, the day of the Irish-French masquerade.  And in America, trick or treat wasn’t limited to Catholics.

The mixture of various immigrant traditions we know as Halloween had become a fixture in the United States by the early 1800s.  To this day, it remains unknown in Europe, even in the countries from which some of the customs originated.

But what about witches?  Well, they are one of the last additions.  The greeting card industry added them in the late 1800s.  Halloween was already “ghoulish,” so why not give witches a place on greeting cards?  The Halloween card failed (although it has seen a recent resurgence in popularity), but the witches stayed.

So too, in the late 1800s, ill-informed folklorists introduced the jack-o’-lantern.  They thought that Halloween was Druidic and pagan in origin.  Lamps made from turnips (not pumpkins) had been part of ancient Celtic harvest festivals, so they were translated to the American Halloween celebration.

The next time someone claims that Halloween is a cruel trick to lure your children into devil worship, I suggest you tell them the real origin of All Hallows Even and invite them to discover its Christian significance, along with the two greater and more important Catholic festivals that follow it.

Father Augustine Thompson, O.P., was an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia when he wrote this; he is now Professor of History at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology for the Dominican Province of the Holy Name.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Fall Retreat Reflections: Breaking Into the Darkness

I was doing some reading the other day and came across a few quotes that correspond to our experience on Fall Retreat.  The first is from Von Balthasar:

"Man's alienation from God has so buried in oblivion so many of man's own deepest aspects [of being, that veneration of self, that true self-awareness] that these can be brought up again into the light of memory and human self-understanding only through God's Incarnation."

The push away from God, which has become more and more apparent in recent years, and into his own projects has shifted man and woman's view from one capable of looking up to see the heights of humanity and down to fathom its lows, to one focused in a purely horizontal fashion - that which lies in the pleasures and desires on earth.  Into this sort of doldrum existence we often find ourselves (it seems like its symptoms are boredom and self-centeredness) the Incarnation shines light and reveals to man and woman what they were really created for.

The second quote is from Fr. Giussani, an Italian priest who passed away several years ago:

"The Christian something new, extraneous, which comes from outside and therefore is something unthinkable, that canned be supposed, that cannot be traced back to any reconstruction of our own, but that breaks in on life...This encounter opens my eyes to myself, spurs on an unveiling of me, shows that it corresponds to what I am: it makes me aware of what I am, of what I want, because it makes me understand that what it brings is just what I want, that it corresponds to what I am."

Monday, October 24, 2011

Fall Retreat Reflections: Fundamental Decision

Note:  I hope to post a few reflections from our Fall Retreat experience this year.  Below is the first installment. 

“We have come to believe in God's love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (Deus Caritas Est). 

These words from Pope Benedict sum up the experience of our Fall Retreat:  Into the Darkness You Shine.  We have come to believe in God’s love – that light that shines into the darkness of our brokenness, the pain from the hurt we’ve experienced, the parts of our humanity dead from sin.  God’s love for us is light, and in Him, there is life. 

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn. 8:12).

We have come to believe in God’s love.  This is indeed a fundamental decision that must change everything.  The decision to believe in a personal God, intimately involved in my existence, who longs to be in relationship with me, so much so that he sends his only begotten Son to take on man’s flesh as a sacrifice of redemption is in itself an event.  The essence of Christianity is not rules and regulations, holy days of obligation, commands, lofty and abstract ideas, but a living and breathing relationship with a God who manifested his love for humanity in the Incarnation, Death and Resurrection of His Son.  A relationship with Christ changes everything – it is a fundamental decision. 

It’s remarkable how fundamental it really is.  Life, in itself, thrusts us into the midst of relationships.  We are inextricably bound up within them – family, friends, relatives, etc.  In our most natural form, we are made for and are dependent upon human relationships.  It is not coincidental that God meets us within this experience of humanity and calls us into relationship.  The relationship with God is fundamental in precisely this fashion.  It is a relationship with the Mystery in whom I have my being and dependence.  Recognition of this Mystery, of this personal God, changes everything – not unlike a romantic relationship, or a beautiful friendship that demands everything, including change.  Yet, the demands are submitted to freely, and bring about greater freedom. 

The encounter with Christ fully awakens my humanity.  The light of truth permeates my entire being, and makes life fully life.  This Light makes man fully man. 

In the midst of the 60 people mysteriously gathered together for the weekend – people of completely different backgrounds, different ages, desires, hopes, thoughts, pasts – Jesus Christ was present.  He presented himself as one to be encountered.  He shined his light into the dark places of our lives.  He called each of us out of the darkness and into his marvelous light. 
This experience is a great example of the Church.  The Church is the place where Christ becomes present for us today.  What is present in the Church is nothing other than the dynamic relationship of a God in love with his children.  This Presence is alive and made known through a cloud of witnesses – a group to which we are all called, a group that makes the light of Christ a lived experience in the world. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Light vs. Darkness Theme in The Office

As a fan of The Office, I have picked up on quite a nice theme...especially as we approach Fall Retreat.  Over the 7+ seasons the show has existed, the one consistent thread has been the battle between Dwight and Jim.  And, Jim always has the upper hand. 

While I really do love Dwight and his eccentricities, and would love a Dwight bobble-head to go along with my Benedict XVI bobble, his belief that he is a dark, diabolic mastermind pushes him over-the-top.  Occasionally his plans work out, and it appears that malice and darkness will win in this prank war between Jim and Dwight. 

Jim.  What do you say about Jim?  He is reasonable, fairly helpful, and has romantically captivated the hearts of viewers through his relationship with Pam...or, has at least captivated the heart as much as a viewer of a mockumentary wants.  He is your stereotypical good guy.   He represents the light, and he somehow always has the upper hand on Dwight.  It simply is that way, and would seemingly be wrong any other way. 

The light vs. darkness, goodness vs. evil theme has shown up often throughout history, art, music and TV.  It's everywhere, even in the office. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Essence of the New Evangelization

I came across this excerpt from Cardinal Raymond L. Burke on the New Evangelization.  It is from an address that he gave at the 129th Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus in early August.  The full text can be found here.

The Essence of the New Evangelization
What is the essence of the new evangelization to which the Church in America and indeed the universal Church is called? An extraordinary synthesis of the teaching of Blessed Pope John Paul II on the new evangelization is found in his Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, “At the Close of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000.” In the face of the grave situation of the world today, we are, Blessed Pope John Paul II reminded us, like the first disciples who, after hearing Saint Peter’s Pentecost discourse, asked him: “What must we do?”12  Even as the first disciples faced a pagan world which had not even heard of our Lord Jesus Christ, so, we, too face a culture which is forgetful of God and hostile to His Law written upon every human heart.
Before the great challenge of our time, Blessed Pope John Paul cautioned us that we will not save ourselves and our world by discovering “some magic formula” or by “inventing a new programme.”13  In unmistakable terms, he declared:
No, we shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person, and the assurance which he gives us: I am with you. 14
He reminded us that the programme by which we are to address effectively the great spiritual challenges of our time is, in the end, Jesus Christ alive for us in the Church.15  In short, the program leading to freedom and happiness is, for each of us, the holiness of life in Christ, in accord with our state in life and with careful attention to our “time and culture.”

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Happy Preach to Your Pets Day!

October 4 - Memorial of St. Francis Assisi

St. Francis, the founder of the Franciscan order, has an incredible story - one that includes, but far surpasses his love of creation/animals.  Francis had a hardcore conversion, did hardcore work for the poor, practiced hardcore penance, and had a hardcore relationship with the Lord.  So, let's look beyond the blessings of animals, the cute garden statues and your forever suppressed desire to speak with animals.

It's been 5 years since my semester abroad (Gaming, Austria - notice the mountain scape at the top of this page), and during that semester I said one prayer more than any other:  "Who are you, Lord, and who am I?"  St. Francis used to pray this often, as recounted by one of his fellow brothers, who would wake in the middle of the night to find Francis in prayer.

I was moved during my time abroad, and still am today, by the simplicity of this petition.  Lord, reveal your face to me, and as you reveal yourself, may I come to know myself.  What a request!

This petition has a fantastic amount of humility welling up inside of it - Francis recognized the dependence of his being on God, and found freedom within this.  He found the freedom to know God and to know himself - and not be afraid of all of himself.   Fr. Giussani says in The Religious Sense:

"So here is the paradox:  freedom is dependence upon God.  It is a paradox, but it is absolutely clear.  The human being - the concrete human person, me, you - once we were not, now we are, and tomorrow we will no longer be:  thus we depend."

St. Francis' petition strikes the core of my human situation - because I depend, the more I come to know my Source, the more I come to know myself.  As I come to recognize myself, I see more clearly the Image in which I was created.  Looking elsewhere is futile.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Apostles, Martyrdom and Our Lives

Today, the Dominicans celebrated the feast of St. Lorenzo Ruiz and the Japanese martyrs.  During Mass, I spent a lot of time reflecting upon martyrdom.  I'd like to share some of those reflections here:

The Apostles were some of the first martyrs and those who were closest to Jesus.  But, Jesus died. 

If that was it, if that was how the story really ended and their was no resurrection, why would they die for this man?  People die, or sacrifice themselves, for others who are living.  The man who pushes the lady out of the way of the oncoming car, only to take the fall himself.  The person who takes the bullet for somebody else.  These people are giving up their lives for actually living people.  Hmmm...any insight into the reality and power of the Resurrection? 

Now, people will also give up their lives for a truth or (political) ideals.  We see our troops doing this all around the world - sacrificing themselves for the good of our freedom as a country.  They sacrifice their lives for something greater than themselves.  Again, this point provides some insight into why the martyrs did what they did.  They died for God, for Truth bigger than themselves. 

I'm also confident that the Apostles weren't crazy or mentally ill.  They knew what they were doing, spoke well, reasoned well, led the Church in her infancy, and dealt reasonably with all the issues that come with infancy! 

People may fight or play a sports game in honor of a dead/dying person.  Still, one fights or plays to win.  Fighting to die doesn't make sense.  I was thinking of the end of Braveheart as the men are lined up once again for battle, only this time, William Wallace is already dead.  They do not lay down their lives for Wallace.  They fight and are willing to lay down their lives for Freedom (which is exactly the belief Wallace laid out for them earlier in the movie). 

This martyrdom point seems very curious.  I believe it speaks strongly of a Presence - a real, living Presence.  A Presence greater than myself - a Truth worth dying for. 

How much grace and faith it must take to be a martyr. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Monday, September 19, 2011

Youth Night Recap: Thanksgiving - Sept. 18

I'll do my best to keep up with recap posts from our Youth Nights during the year.  Hopefully it helps out if somebody misses a meeting, or wants to revisit what we talked about.

The word Eucharist comes from the Greek eukharistia, which means "thanksgiving, gratitude." 

We opened with a short talk on a Thanksgiving holiday I experienced in Austria while studying abroad.  You see, Thanksgiving there was arguably the most homesick time for all of the college students.  One had to come face-to-face with the years he or she had spent with friends and family for that holiday, and the realization that it would not be happening this year.  The school came to the rescue by proposing a Thanksgiving feast that would be "just like home." 

It was far from it. 

"At home," turkey is not delivered with fireworks, I receive generous portions of stuffing and gravy (nothing of the like in Austria), I watch football, talk to family, and sleep all day.  One turkey for 150+ people didn't go very far.  So, most of us had to settle for a processed turkey-loaf with little pieces of pulverized veggie wedged inside.  Then, we danced - Thanksgiving Ball style...which was code for "Austrian dancing.:  Here, men in short shorts taught us a few native jigs, and the festivities of the night took over. 

In the end, that Thanksgiving in Austria was nothing like what I had originally expected - which, I was told would be something  like what I experience "at home" - instead it was quite different, more energetic, and ultimately very satisfying.  I learned that things don't always fit the mold of my expectations; and if I'm open to the difference, I can actually enjoy the experience.  But, we have to be open to the differences.

A similar thing happens in John 6.  The crowd of Jews (many of which were Jesus' own disciples), approached Jesus and asked for a sign.  They wanted him to give them manna from heaven.  See, they knew what manna was, what it looked like, how it happened that their ancestors got it, etc.  In short, they wanted a replicated sign - not unlike my desire for a replicated Thanksgiving.  They wanted it nicely sliced, easy-to-handle and pre-packaged (they wanted Wonder Bread).  Jesus transcended their desire for a sign.  Here's how it breaks down:

  • John 6:28-35 - I am the Bread of Life.
    • Jesus calls himself the Bread of Life come down from heaven.  The Jews murmur, and believe he is speaking metaphorically.  
  • John 6:47-52 - The Bread is my flesh. 
    • Jesus takes another step, declaring that this bread is his flesh.  The crowd begins to understand that he is speaking literally.  They question him - how can this be? 
  • John 6:53-57 - Eat my flesh and drink my blood to have life.
    • In order to have life within, partake in this food and drink.  
    • Note the word choice in v. 57 - Jesus uses the word "feeds."  This comes from the Greek word for chewing/gnawing.  He was speaking literally to them - the difference between me saying "I want to eat that hamburger," and somebody looking at a little baby and saying, "I just want to eat him/her up!"  
  • John 6:60-70 - The words I have spoken are spirit and life. 
    • Jesus challenges the crowd of his disciples to see with eyes of the spirit, not carnally.  
    • These were disciples who had walked with him and had surely witnessed his miracles.  But, they were not willing to follow when they could not see the miracle happen physically before them.  They did not have eyes of faith.  
    • After the crowds depart because of the difficulty of Jesus' teaching, Jesus does not go after them - they had made a free decision, they were not confused.  Instead, he turns to those closest to him and asks a question (one that ought to cut us to the heart, one that demands an answer), "Do you also want to leave?"  
      • Simon Peter answers, "Master, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God."  
      • This is a truly beautiful response, as Peter looks out at all he had experienced before encountering Christ.  Everything pales in comparison.  With Christ there is Life, and Peter professes his faith here. 
        • I would argue that Peter's position is one of faith in Christ, and Thanksgiving before his life-source. 
 Our small group session revisited these passages, and dug deeper with questions like:  Why do the crowds leave?  Why does Jesus not correct himself, or soften the point?  What stands out about Simon Peter's response? 

We believe that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist - not merely a symbol.  Think about what difference it makes - based upon your daily experience - when somebody is really present before you, as opposed to a video chat, like Skype.  What difference does real presence make? 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

How We Listen to Music

I will start off by stating that I believe music (itself) is good, and that listening to it is a great exercise of the mind and heart.  I also think it is good that we now have instant access to whatever type of music we want, whenever we want it (iTunes, pandora, youtube, etc.).  This latter point only becomes annoying when I am trying to run events or get somebody's attention, and he or she refuses to take the earbuds out. 

So, for as much good as our instant access to music has brought about, it is interesting to reflect upon the quasi-negative effect. 

Music, most of the time, and for many of us, is a largely individualized affair.  I have my playlists, and my iPod and none of this touches you.  Again, for the most part (though not all of the time), this seems to be the case.  My music is for my ears.  But, what did people do before the mp3, the CD, the cassette, the 8-track player, the record, the radio, the phonograph? 

They listened to music live, as a group, at concerts.  Music was something shared by all.  It was meant to be communal - insightful and life-giving to the whole. 

I'm not so sure we fully understand this nowadays, though we get glimpses of it:  at concerts, at sporting events, religious events, and when you rock out to a song with your friends in the car. 

We are communal creatures.  Music is typically made in community and for community.  We ought to keep this in mind as we become more and more tempted to isolate ourselves in individualism and iPod-ism. 

I've always been struck by the sense of isolation portrayed by these silhouette dancers.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Social Network: Recap

Here is the talk from last night's meeting:

When we take a step back and observe ourselves in action (both online and in real life), what do we find?

I believe we come to understand that our desires are ultimate true and good - these are desires for love and affirmation.  The question we all have to grapple with is if the ways we pursue affirmation and love are actually satisfying (namely comparing ourselves to others, putting on false fronts to "fit in" or "feel accepted," etc.).

The final portion of our meeting last night sent the teens back into their small groups (they were split into groups by their high schools).  Here, they grappled with questions like:  Why is it difficult to live your faith in school?  How can this small group go out as light into the darkness?  What commitment can you make with one another as a sign of your commitment to Christ?

I pray the teens follow through on their commitments.  I heard about some pretty cool stuff from Core Team afterward.  Some of the commitments were:

  • Praying for everyone in the small group at noon each day this week.
  • Attending Mass together at school once a week.
  • Attending Communion service at school once a month. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

My Top-Siders

Last year, my wife informed me that it was time to get rid of my juvenile, college Sketchers.  So, she had her mom by me some Sperry Top-Siders. 

A few tears were shed, then I moved on. 

That was in April. 

I guess I never really wore the Sperry's in rainy weather, until this week.  I think Tropical Storm Lee might be passing through, the last couple of days have been a drizzle.  Everything outside is cold, damp and gray.  And, I've been wearing my Sperry Top-Siders. 

Yesterday, my feet were completely soaked.  I thought it was a fluke, like I walked in a big puddle or something without realizing it.  But that was not the case. 

Today, we've had nothing but a fine mist all day in Cincinnati.  The ground is wet, but no big puddles - and my feet are wet. 

I recalled, about an hour ago, that the box my Top-Siders came in said something like, "Get Wet."  Cute, right?  They're boating shoes, so haha, right, I'll get them wet next time I'm on a boat (which is practically never).  Turns out, this tagline from Sperry is a real command, and my shoes literally take whatever water is on the ground and splash it up on my shoes.  I saw this happening. 

As I walked across the parking lot, I stared at my feet the whole time, watching the big, rubber, clown-like shoe-bottoms slap the water up on the fronts of my shoes.  Now, my socks are quite wet, and I'm wondering why Sperry wanted this to happen to me. 

These pics illustrate my cause for frustration:

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Spiritual Equinox: Fact or Fiction?

I was reading Magnificat this morning and came across this article by Fr. James Sullivan.  I passed him later today in the hallway at work, and asked permission to post the article. Here you go! 

Spiritual Equinox: Fact or Fiction?

On the twenty-third day of this month, there will be the same amount of daylight as there is night.  This is called the autumnal equinox, when the axis rotation of the earth around the sun makes this possible twice yearly.  In the spiritual life we are often faced with the darkness of our lives (the night) and the refulgence of Christ’s life (the day).  We may even be tempted to think that a good balance of both is normal, even to be perfectly balanced as the equinox is.

In truth though, as Saint John reminds us in his First Letter: “God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all” (1:5).  Sin has no real place in our life yet often enough we find its presence real enough to drag us deeper into darkness.   Christ proclaimed Himself to be the light of the world and that means most especially that He is the light of my world, of your world, of my life, of your life.  It is not a balance of light and dark but only the fullness of light.

And that is why even in the night of our sin, we continue to turn again to Christ.  He is the eternal day which has no equinox.  “Darkness is not dark for you, and night shines as the day” (Psalm 139:12).

Fr. J. M. Sullivan, O.P., serves as Novice Master for the Dominican Province of Saint Joseph at Saint Gertrude Priory in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Kickoff Recap: Part II - Plus a note on the theme.

I just threw together more footage from Kickoff.  This is from our second game - the one with Marshmallow Fluff.  Check it out: 

Fr. Albert did some great work on the camera to catch all of the cheating.  There are also a lot of shots of scavenging. 

At the end of the evening, we passed out our t-shirt for the year.  I'm quite pleased with the design. 

Our theme for the year is from John 1:5, which says, "The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not over come it." 

Light always conquers darkness in our experience here on earth.  If I'm sitting in a dark room in my house, and open the door to a lighted room, that light instantly pierces the darkness of the room I'm standing in.  It conquers it - and really, it appears to cut right through it.  This provides us with a fantastic image to reflect upon throughout the year.  Are we willing to open that door to our hearts (and however much darkness lies in there) and allow the Light of Christ in?  Are we open to conversion and healing, and the "light of light?"  Are we tired of walking in darkness? 

These are the questions that will drive the work we do this year, as we continue this process of metanoia, change, transformation, conversion - literally converging all of my self, my life upon the Light. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Kickoff Recap

We opened the Youth Ministry year on Sunday with a huge crowd of teens in the Parish Center.  We enjoyed some cake and socializing, before a few introductions and the Rules Video:

Then, we played games.  First up was "The Great Banana Race."  I enjoyed watching this because bananas were flying all over the gym and exploding on the floor.  Then, something amazing happened...something I've always wanted to see - somebody took a banana to the face.  It was just as hilarious as I imagined it would be.  Check it out:

This was my first attempt at video editing.  More to come on Kickoff soon.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Kickoff Sneak Peek

For those of you who follow this blog regularly, I thought I'd provide you with a little peek into Sunday's Kickoff.

The evening will open with cake - we are celebrating 25 years of Youth Ministry at the parish.  Naturally, this must be done in style, so 3 huge sheet cakes have been ordered.  Fantastic!

The beloved "Rules Video" will be shown before the evening's games and activities, all of which involve fruit in some fashion.

We'll wrap up the evening with the unveiling of our theme ("The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."  Jn. 1:5), and the distribution of our t-shirt for 2011-2012.

Tell your friends; it's going to be a good time.  Woot!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

This Bites

Recently, my wife took our daughter to the grocery store - a routine trip that is becoming increasingly more like an excursion.

As my wife pulled into the checkout lane - after 9 potty stops and continuous attempts in preventing our daughter from climbing out of the little plastic car attached to the front of the cart - our almost-two-year-old reached out and grabbed a pack of Rolos from the rack.

Then, without hesitating, she bit into them - and victoriously yelled, "MINE!"

I think this is a much better way to shop.  I plan to employ her methods next time I go to the store. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Quick Note on Media Coverage

Many of you were probably aware that World Youth Day was happening in Madrid, Spain last week.  The Pope and over one million (one of our teens said the estimated attendance was actually 2.5 million) young people from all around the world gathered to celebrate Catholicism.  To me, any time one million people meet up in one place, at one time, for one thing, something newsworthy is happening.

I kept up with the WYD events through various Catholic media outlets, and was not terribly surprised to find no mention of it when I made my daily CNN news-check.  I did get curious to know just how deep into the CNN site I would have to dig to locate anything about the Pope and the youth.


One had to move from the main page to the "World" tab.  From there, scroll down to the bottom of the page and locate the Europe section.  Here, there is a tiny link with a brief overview about World Youth Day.

This, to me, serves as an important reminder for all of us how limiting the "powers that be" really are and how much influence these "powers" have in determining what is news/important and what isn't.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Freedom From - Freedom For (part II)

My wife and I were reflecting upon the 10 Commandments and Jesus' "greatest commandment" a few days ago.  The reflection follows closely in line with my previous post, and may shed some additional light upon those thoughts.

Check out Matthew 22:34-40 -

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them [a scholar of the law] tested him by asking, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

Note that Jesus sums up the first 3 commandments in one sentence, and the 7 remaining commandments with "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 

The 10 Commandments, many of which begin in the negative (Thou shalt not), are necessary to achieve a freedom from sin.  Following the law achieves this.  But, Jesus is proposing something greater than the moralism that had become of the "law and the prophets."

He begins by cutting to the heart of what it means to be human - "You shall love."  Do what you were created to do!

Here, Jesus answers the "why?" surrounding the 10 Commandments.  Why deal with all of these negative commands?  For the positive reason that you were created to love God (which is a proper response for all that is given), neighbor and self.  You were called to love the gift that is your life - perfect love casts out all fear.  Indeed, this requires the purgation and freeing yourself from sin through grace, but it makes so much more sense, and is much more meaningful in the positive light. 

Jesus' response in the Gospel of Matthew pushes us to the proper place before the commandments - a place in which we have an answer to the "why?" behind the law.  For this reason, I often quote Pope Benedict XVI in the beginning of his first encyclical Deus Caritas Est: 

"We have come to believe in God's love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction."

It is within the encounter, within the new relationship of the human heart with Christ that the freedom for life leads the conversion from sin.  Without the relationship, the commandments seem limiting, negative and difficult.