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!