Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

30 September 2012

Forty Hours Devotion!

to the

Sunday, 30 September
Monday, 01 October
Tuesday, 02 October
Adoration from 8am to 7pm each day
Sermon and Benediction at 7pm each day

Preached by
Fr. Brian M. Miller
Assistant Pastor, Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena, Allentown

29 September 2012

This Week in Catholic Liturgy: "She's Got The Look"

The Church (as One Body and as many members) looks inward, to detect whatever must be cut off or plucked out; she looks outward, to discover and attend to human need in its myriad forms; and she looks upward, to the ever-present Source of her strength.

            Jesus seems to tolerate the idea that people not in the fold of the Church are doing many good things out there in His Name.  While Jesus established the Catholic Church as the visible, reliable means of salvation in the world, Catholics do not have the monopoly on grace and good works.  But in another place Jesus says, “To whom much is given, much is expected” (Lk 12:48).  Through the Sacred Liturgy, Catholics have the opportunity to encounter the Blessed Trinity in Word and Sacrament; in our doctrines, we have come to know the Truth that sets us free (Jn 8:32); our moral teachings offer a sure pattern for living according to the mind and heart of Christ; and we can never exhaust the 2,000 year legacy of Christian prayer in the lives of the saints.  How good we have it!  The actions of gratitude are the best response to the blessings of our holy faith.
We Catholics draw breath in a rich atmosphere.  We’d be most foolish to walk through life holding our nose, suffocating ourselves.  Jesus directs us to do whatever is necessary to draw most deeply from the wellsprings of grace.  If any sinful practice or attitude persists in us, it has to go.  We want to surrender all that hinders the fullness of life that the Lord desires for us, His beloved children.  In addition, we must strive to be a good example to the impressionable and unformed.  Recently I saw a plaque that said, “People who complain about this new generation must ask who formed them”…or who didn’t form them!  The truth is, one way or another, we are all forming others and being formed at the same time.
Ten years ago when the clergy abuse scandal first broke out, Catholics (and priests in particular) had to take their licks for failing to protect the little ones.  We had the immediate fallout, and since then, we’ve embarked upon the rebuilding of trust.  We’d be foolish to say that everything’s been A-OK; and we’ve also had to admit, rather recently, that the sixth commandment isn’t the only one violated in the abuse of power.  It’s easy for me to judge and tsk-tsk, but it always brings me back to the mirror, where the Lord calls me to take stock with honesty and confidence in His mercy, and to move forward with the next right choice.
The Christian life is far more than avoiding trouble, of course; it is an adventure in self-giving love.  It is taking opportunities to breathe in the mercies of our Savior by asking forgiveness for our sins, by forgiving others’ offenses, by becoming aware of God’s presence in times of activity and times of silence, by attending to others in their needs…and yes, by turning talk into action!  We have the heritage of our Catholic faith, the devotion of Our Lady and all the angels and saints; we are never alone.  So with confidence let us look inward to discover both what we must discard and what we should retain; let us look outward to the needs all around us; and let us look upward for God’s grace to sustain us in this adventure.

26 September 2012

Reading "The Wreck," Stanzas 2-3

Our consideration of "The Wreck of the Deutschland" continues with the second stanza:

I did say yes
            O at lightning and lashed rod;        10
        Thou heardst me truer than tongue confess
            Thy terror, O Christ, O God;
    Thou knowest the walls, altar and hour and night:
    The swoon of a heart that the sweep and the hurl of thee trod
        Hard down with a horror of height:        15
And the midriff astrain with leaning of, laced with fire of stress.

Hopkins recalls his conversion to Catholicism as a tumultuous event ("lightning and lashed rod," "terror," an event that set his heart reeling.  Its effects were physical; he was apparently "bent out of shape."  Swoon, sweep and hurl suggest the violence of a shipwreck, to which the reader will be treated in due time.

"I did say yes"; "Thou heardst me"; "Thou knowest": While in the throes of a difficult time one may look back trustingly or ruefully at the moment of decision--whether the exchange of marital vows, the ordination candidate's folded hands inside those of his ordaining prelate, or whatever may apply.  Hopkins reaffirms his conversion, calling upon God to witness to the truth of his offering.

There seems to be a tension between the forcefulness of God's action within Hopkins and the freedom in which Hopkins assented to that action.  As ever, the Catholic "both/and" stance is the way to go.  At no point would one imagine Hopkins (or any convert/"revert") claiming to be forced into it.  The impulse to respond in concert with the Holy Spirit is strong, yet never assertive beyond one's ability to refuse.  "You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped" (Jer 20:7).

Stanza three:

 The frown of his face
            Before me, the hurtle of hell
        Behind, where, where was a, where was a place?
            I whirled out wings that spell        20
    And fled with a fling of the heart to the heart of the Host.
    My heart, but you were dovewinged, I can tell,
        Carrier-witted, I am bold to boast,
To flash from the flame to the flame then, tower from the grace to the grace.

I can imagine this act of faith taking place during nocturnal Eucharistic Adoration ("altar and hour and night," st. 2), where the worshipper is drawn, moth-like, toward the "Living Flame of Love" of which St. John of the Cross sang.

Hopkins stammers to acknowledge his "Catch-22" situation, in which neither fight nor flight suffice.
"I whirled out wings that spell": read during that spell (the fretful time in which he considers himself trapped by "the frown of his [God's] face before" and "the hurtle of hell behind" him).  Like his mentor John Henry Newman, he is not simply fleeing from Anglicanism, but flying to Catholicism.

He describes his surrender as "a fling of the heart to the heart of the Host."  This description of his conversion is not as dramatic as stanza 2 with its talk of a "midriff astrain."  With the swift determination of a carrier pigeon or a dove, he instinctively pursued his Pursuer.

"From the flame to the flame": I do not know if there is any literary dependence or homage in this observation, but fellow Anglican Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888-1965) seemed to draw upon several of Hopkins' images in the fourth section of "Little Gidding" (1942), the last of Eliot's Four Quartets:

The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre
To be redeemed from fire by fire.

Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
intolerable shirt of flame
human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.

"Pyre or pyre"--As for Hopkins, so for Eliot and for all of us: what choice does there seem to be?  A monumental one.  The fire of heaven or the fire of hell; and if heaven, even the way-station Purgatory is traditionally described as flagrant.  This befits the human heart, made for experiencing depth and intensity.

So if we are looking to escape the fire of purification and transformation, there is no "place" ahead or behind for us to go.  There is only inward.  Perhaps we can think of divine love as an inevitable, "intolerable shirt of flame" that we wear on the inside, that we can comfortably remove no more than our own skin.  Our heart, also on the inside, knows where to go: to the heart of the Host (the hostia is the "victim," the Whole-Burnt Offering for our salvation).

25 September 2012

Cows in Pick-Up Trucks: 2012 Women's Day of Spirtuality: "Faith & Feminin...

Here is an advertisement from a blogging HGA parishioner, a member of the Bishop's Commission for Women, for the Diocesan-sponsored Women's Day of Spirituality.  Please consider this event, Catholic women; Catholic men, please pray for its success.

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Keeping the Body Together

I link the patient reader to Msgr. Charles Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington for a Q&A session on Reverence for Remains and Neglect of Sunday Mass.  Another four-bagger for one of my favorite blogging clergy.  I'd like to write like him when I grow up.

I was given the opportunity to address the matter of Sunday Mass very recently, when a penitent sought clarification because another person had misinformed that it was not a mortal sin.

A standard text in support of the gravity of Mass-missing is Hebrews 10:25, "We should not absent ourselves from the assembly, as some do, but encourage one another; and this all the more because you see that the Day draws near."  The very act of showing up brings joy and encouragement to fellow Catholics (and to priests!).  By being present to the Presence of Christ (in its various manifestations--the Eucharist, the Word, the Celebrant, and fellow members of the Assembly), we tell each other that Mass is worth Christ's sufferings and our efforts.  It is also important to hold up the neglect of Mass to the light of "the Day" that is drawing near: the "Day of the Lord" especially attested throughout the prophetic literature, when YHWH will vanquish His enemies.  While there is no official list of divine enemies, we must imagine that God is not pleased with persons who mindfully and willfully absent themselves from His Sacrificial Banquet without good reason.

My first treat to the rationale of a Synaxis-Shirker came when I was a guest CCD teacher in 2001.  A first-grader guilelessly told the class that her father didn't take the family to Sunday Mass because he works hard all week and deserves to rest on the weekends.  It took me aback.  Unfortunately I had no rapid retort to render to this deadbeat dad.  Just now (for the first time, I confess) I prayed that he may repent and return to Mass with his family in tow.  We dare hope that it has already happened.

One blogger offers a perspective on the various ways people absent themselves from the assembly, focusing mostly on "empty suits" who are nominally present for the Liturgy.

In short: How can this Sweet Mystery of Life not be worth our time and attention?!

+ + + + +

On the subject of reserved, scattered, or divided cremains: this is part of the foreseen fallout of the permission of cremation.  It has become another way for Catholics to join the mainstream population's adventures in creative disposal--to imitate their favorite celebrity by becoming a shower of shavings over Vegas or the Atlantic, or perhaps to be fired from a cannon at Gettysburg or Ringling Bros.

You may know of the proscribed practice of retaining small portions of the deceased.  Because Aunt Matilda is portioned into loverly crystal reliquaries, we must have here a preemptive canonization (already conducted in many homilies).  Soon enough, a speck will be attached to her remembrance cards.  This seems like little more than a lucrative scheme for the death industry, ever interested in giving the people what (who!) they want.

Placing the intact urn into the ground or a mausoleum niche brings closure to the bereaved, a sense of assurance that their loved one has a final resting place where he or she can await the Great Harvest, and where survivors may gather to recollect themselves in view of their own mortality.  Perhaps the most conspicuous feature of a tombstone should be a mirror.

22 September 2012

What Can (Should) We Do For You?

Ryan Eggenberger has written this piece to present what young Catholics legitimately need and expect from their priests.

Often I reflect upon the situations that my generation and younger are experiencing, their "skill-set" and "ill-set," their gifts and crosses (received and chosen).  Ryan clearly recognizes himself as part of a minority--faithful Catholics under 40 (maybe he is under 30, I don't know).  We want the exception to become the norm!  What are we priests willing to do about it?

Enter Ryan's posting.  Consider whether you, patient reader, are interested in these things.  Consider whether your brother or sister, niece or nephew, son or daughter, grandson or granddaughter, wants these things.  And be not afraid.  Nil desperandum!

This Week in Catholic Liturgy: Warm Reception

St. James warns against the foul spirit that spawns all manner of conflict in our world: jealousy and selfish ambition; unchecked passions and the "relationships" that ensue.  Jesus suggests that we should adopt the manner of children in order to be most receptive to His Kingdom.  Since parents often determine that their unruly children need a "time-out," maybe it's time for us to have one.  We need to be still and think about what we've done, to consider whether there's a better way...and, for that matter, a better goal.

20 September 2012

The Pope in Lebanon and the Reflections of one "Youth"

In his recent journeys to Lebanon, Pope Benedict XVI addressed the young people of Lebanon.  Of course, when it comes to matters of faith and morals, what he says to the Lebanese applies just as well to youth around the globe.  You may read the full text or you may read the excerpt provided by Mr. Palmo of Whispers in the Loggia, which prompted me to make this post.

I have included some excerpts that caught my eye, along with some personal commentary.

You have a special place in my heart and in the whole Church, because the Church is always young! The Church trusts you. She counts on you! Be young in the Church! Be young with the Church! The Church needs your enthusiasm and your creativity! Youth is the time when we aspire to great ideals, when we study and train for our future work. All this is important and it takes time. Seek beauty and strive for goodness! Bear witness to the grandeur and the dignity of your body which “is for the Lord” (1 Cor 6:13b). Be thoughtful, upright and pure of heart! In the words of Blessed John Paul II, I say to you: “Do not be afraid! Open the doors of your minds and hearts to Christ!” An encounter with Jesus “gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (Deus Caritas Est, 1). In Christ you will find the strength and courage to advance along the paths of life, and to overcome difficulties and suffering. In him you will find the source of joy. Christ says to you: سَلامي أُعطيكُم – My peace I give to you! (Jn 14:27). This is the true revolution brought by Christ: that of love.
The Pope is 85 years old.  He has been a priest as long as my mother has been alive.  He remembers what it was like to have all his vigor (though his mental and spiritual vigor have not abated, not unlike his predecessor of blessed memory).  He is in a unique position to share personal and ecclesial admiration for young people.  They have so much ahead of them and so much currently in their hands, so we are rightly concerned for their welfare.  We are concerned for the Church and the society that depends on their creativity, patience, and labor.

If Pope Benedict could be called a "one-trick pony," his emphasis on the personal encounter with Christ would so qualify him.  This encounter gives meaning and motion to the theological endeavor, to liturgical participation, and to moral living.  Is there any better endeavor for young and old alike?

The Holy Father's use of the word "revolution" ought not be lost on us.  Since biblical times, this part of the world has been fraught with violence.  Futility be damned, the Pope has called East and West to mutual love.  "With a little child to guide them" (Isa 11:6), the citizens of the 21st century will aspire to peaceful unity.

+ + + + +

The frustrations of the present moment must not lead you to take refuge in parallel worlds like those, for example, of the various narcotics or the bleak world of pornography. As for social networks, they are interesting but they can quite easily lead to addiction and confusion between the real and the virtual. Look for relationships of genuine, uplifting friendship. Find ways to give meaning and depth to your lives; fight superficiality and mindless consumption! You face another temptation, too: that of money, the tyrannical idol which blinds to the point of stifling the person at the heart. The examples being held up all around you are not always the best. Many people have forgotten Christ’s warning that one cannot serve both God and mammon (cf. Lk 16:13). Seek out good teachers, spiritual masters, who will be able to guide you along the path to maturity, leaving behind all that is illusory, garish and deceptive.
When I decided to begin this blog and, more recently, to return to Facebook, I realized that a "parallel world" was not what I wanted to enter.  The Holy Father notes how strong are the temptations to "a-void-ance" through addictive practices and substances, including the use of technology; to which I would add the debilitating attitudes that effectively ignore the Providence of God in our lives.

The Pope knows well that young people have a difficult time processing and transcending "the frustrations of the present moment."  Oftentimes those frustrations are the flint that ignites the mound of wounds and sins.  Many of us just don't know how to deal with life as it is, or become consumed with lesser things to the neglect of charity and prayer.

I am grateful for the "good teachers" and "spiritual masters" who share real time with me on a regular basis.  They are channels of the Lord's wisdom and mercy that help me to live as the Lord desires.  I am also grateful for the opportunities that He has given me to be a teacher and guide for others.  

The greater part of the spiritual life is maturity, the gaining of the divine perspective in our relationships and our daily situations; inspiring people to better things by our example and words; asking for and accepting help.  In the academic and spiritual fishbowl of the seminary, that sort of maturity wasn't easy for me to embrace.  I make no judgment upon the seminary, the diocese, or anyone else involved in my formation process.  Like my parents, they did the best they could with the material they were given.  Slowly I am coming to recognize that they did all right; but thank God for God--and for His emissaries along the way.

* * * * *

19 September 2012

The Decision and the Details

Blogger Simcha Fisher treats the subject of one's vocation ("first earthly obligation") and the life-long realities involved: prayer, common sense, decision.

18 September 2012

Reading "The Wreck," Stanza 1

Much as an eager Bible reader starts at Genesis 1:1, unknowingly planning sabotage around Numbers 4:12, even so do I begin my treatment of Hopkins by considering his signature work, Wreck of the Deutschland.

This "signature" is not the "X" of an illiterate; rather it has all the flourish of a John Hancock.  I have long identified with our poet as a sucker for punishment, sincerely motivated by--or at  least intrigued by--divine love.

One of the chief features in GMH's poetry is the use of what he called "sprung rhythm", imitative of natural speech.  Hopkins did not equate sprung rhythm with "free verse" because he used a definite pattern of feet per line, evident throughout "Wreck."  Stressed syllables matter most.

(For a scanned version of the Wreck, kindly seek other shores.)

  THOU mastering me
            God! giver of breath and bread;
        World’s strand, sway of the sea;
            Lord of living and dead;
    Thou hast bound bones and veins in me, fastened me flesh,
    And after it almost unmade, what with dread,
        Thy doing: and dost thou touch me afresh?
Over again I feel thy finger and find thee.

The very first line fittingly presents the dual poles of concern in the speaker's life: God and the self.  I am reminded of the incipit of a prayer of Augustine:
Domine Iesu, noverim me, noverim Te. 
Lord Jesus, that I may know myself, that I may know You.
Consciousness of one's self as always dwelling in God, steeped in Him as a teabag in water.  But who is who?  Perhaps God is the teabag, and everything of Him is to enrich and enflavor us.  Or He is the water, the atmosphere that draws out from us "our best and worst" and provides the medium for our true usefulness and flourishing.  Either way, the result is meant to be savored, consumed.

The connective tissue of God and self, the participle "mastering"--is in the present progressive: ongoing, current action.  Hopkins seemed to experience God (and the disciple's discipline) in terms demanding--nay, violent; nay, (curiously) loving--as the poem will unfurl.  The writer makes God the first and last subject of this work's sentences, addressing Him in the reverent Thou that Buber and others will adopt in time.

"Thou mastering me" could be hyphenated, to form an adjective: GMH describes God as the One who habitually and entirely demands personal subjection.  The relationship of Hopkins to God is established straightaway, forcefully.

The "Giver of breath and bread": such a Being is worthy of Hopkins' subjection, for He is responsible for respiration and nutrition.  Perhaps they'd call this a "hendiadys," a literary device for expressing one reality (the totality of existence) through two items.

How intricately described is the process of creation, simplistic in its components (bones, veins, flesh)!

And how easily His creations can be unraveled!  "Almost unmade" (GMH's scansion calls for accents on the first syllables of each word): It calls to mind the permission that God gave to Satan with respect to His servant Job: "Behold, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand upon his person" (1:12).  Hopkins speaks from the vantage point of a survivor...but his strife may not be o'er.  The same contact ("thy finger") that created him in love, nearly destroyed him once; and now it threatens a repeat performance--whether to recreate, rescind, or both.  Historically, the tempest and the shipwreck are "Thy doing," but the term is subject to untold expansion (what is somehow not His doing?).

In faith we await a time when we can speak freely and gratefully of current treacheries, the better able to see the Lord's providential direction at work throughout.

15 September 2012

Satanic Verses

            “Get thee behind me, Satan!”  This phrase isn’t meant just for the waiter who is carrying the dessert tray.  To tie it to the first reading [24th Sun in OT, Cycle B, 9/15-16/2012]: Somebody out there must have accidentally misread Isaiah’s line, “My face I did not shield from buffets and spitting” to read “[buf-fayz].” People who shield themselves from [buf-fayz] would also be likely to quote Our Lord in the context of the dessert tray.  (But it's all about choices!)  
            There is a fascination today with the demonic.  The marketplace of opinions rivals any superstore; so it’s best to go to the Catechism, which I’d liken to the store’s courtesy desk (why wander around the aisles for hours?).  Paragraph 391 of the Catechism states that “Satan was at first a good angel, made by God,” but, like the other angels in that league, “they became evil by their own doing.”  They chose contrary to the divine will with complete freedom and understanding.  
            In paragraph 395, we are reminded that Satan is “powerful from the fact that he is pure spirit, but still a creature.”  By nature, angels are spiritual beings; they have no body, no outward form, except for their appearances to human beings.  Whenever the authors of Scripture have described angels, especially in the apocalyptic literature (e.g. Revelation and portions of the prophets), they seem rather fantastical.  Rightly so, for they are radically different from us!  What’s important is that Satan and his associates are not on par with God.  As crafty as they are, they are no match for God and His Kingdom.  Their best and only strategy is to tempt individuals to deviate from the Way of Christ—to disobey the Commandments, to minimize or ignore the Beatitudes, and to doubt the convictions of their own properly formed conscience.
            Consider the startling rebuke that Jesus gave to Peter.  Jesus revealed the divine plan to the disciples: He told them of His Passion, Death, and Resurrection.  It said He “began to teach them,” so we may suppose either that the disclosure mentioned in Mark 8:31 wasn’t the very first, or that He had been talking about it for some time.  Whether Peter’s rebuke was knee-jerk or the fruit of reflection is not clear.  The Greek verbs are in tenses that suggest a gradual, non-specific disclosure.  In any case, Jesus was forming their consciences in how His life would end and what it was for; and Peter would have none of it. 
Both Jesus’ and Peter’s rebukes were strong.  Peter adopted a more discreet manner, perhaps out of consideration for a Guy who was just talking crazy, or perhaps because everyone else was buying it except Peter.  Maybe he doubted Jesus’ credibility, or was embarrassed because, as far as he could tell, everyone else believed Him.  Maybe that’s why, in 8:38 (not in the reading), Jesus would warn the disciples about being ashamed of Him and His words in time, promising an equal response from the Son of Man in eternity.
             When Jesus rebukes Peter, He turns to look at the other disciples.  It’s as if Jesus wants them all to hear the content and tone of His words, and probably to make an example of Peter.  The moniker “Satan” takes us back to the book of Job, where the character is a regular in the heavenly court and not a denizen of damnation.  He acts as an advocate for rebellion, to fabricate for Job a situation that might prompt him to question God’s goodness.  God seems to be complicit in the Adversary’s actions.  Indeed, the word Satan sometimes was used even of human beings who incite evil.  But in a later location, I Chronicles, we begin to find the understanding that God is not responsible for evil, which mindset carries over into the time of Jesus.  That is why He definitely considers Peter an “outsider” to the Truth in this scene.
            Jesus clearly affirms that the Messiah must conduct Himself on the Father’s terms, and not on Peter’s.  Otherwise put, "His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts" (Isa 55:8-9).  Once he was informed of the Truth, Peter was out of line to entertain doubts.  Unlike Jesus in the desert and in Gethsemane, Peter had not subjected his human hesitation to what he knew to be true.  The initial difficulties that human beings have are normal; what we do with them is crucial.  Do we keep mulling them over in our heads to the point of mental stupor, or do we reaffirm the faith we have received?  If we are not certain of the truth, do we investigate—by asking someone whose opinion we trust or by consulting a reliable text or a website?  When we have a genuine difficulty the first line of action is always to pursue the Truth.  Once we are convinced of the Truth, the discussion is finished—unless we start it up again.
With the power and wisdom of God, and only so, we can face the confrontations and difficulties of each day.  By lovingly and persistently subjecting our minds and wills to the Lord, we gain true understanding and true freedom, and Satan is no match for us.

13 September 2012

"Know Your Role" in Vocational Discernment

The Divine Missionary(c) Josephite Fathers
You never know what you'll find among the articles left at the entrance to the Daily Mass Chapel.

The above holy card was one of the better finds in recent months.

As the caption mentions, the image was copyrighted by the Josephite Fathers in Baltimore.  This community of consecrated men (priests and brothers, in fact) are predominantly African-Americans who serve their fellow African-Americans.  (My introduction to this community came by way of Fr. Stephen F. Brett, one of our moral theology professors in the seminary.)  

I was moved by the image of a devout young man looking up to the Crucified Lord, Whose arm embraces him and Whose face looks upon him with serene confidence.

This image tells us how it is: Jesus really trusts us--and supports those who make it their business to  follow Him.  Jesus Himself is the "Divine Missionary" by nature, and we are by grace.  He is the divine Sender, we the divinely Sent.

On the reverse is a "Prayer to Know One's Vocation," which reads:

O my God, Thou Who art the God of wisdom and good counsel, Thou Who readest in my heart a sincere desire to please Thee alone and to direct myself in regard to my choice of a state of life, in conformity with Thy holy will in all things; by the intercession of the most holy Virgin, my Mother, and of my Patron Saints, grant me the grace to know that state of life which I ought to choose, and to embrace it when known, in order that thus I may seek Thy glory and increase it, work out my own salvation and deserve the heavenly reward which Thou hast promised to those who do Thy holy will.  Amen.

(Incidentally, the prayer carried an indulgence of 300 days according to the Raccolta.  The Church no longer treats indulgences in terms of days or quarantines, so we can presume that, if any indulgence is attached to this prayer anymore, it's "partial."  And that's quite fine with me.  I'll take what I can get.)

This prayer gives voice to the person who wants to know "what to do with (his or her) life."  The ordinary, post-modern presumption is that one's life choices are completely personal, autonomously considered, decided, and executed; unless, of course, one chooses to enlist outside advice, which must entail no obligation or expectation.  This applies not only to one's vocation (intentional celibacy with or without religious vows, marriage, or ordination) but also to one's profession or occupation, and everything else besides.

Pick up a holy card like this one and entertain for a moment that it's good for anything more than a toothpick, and you're asking for trouble...or, depending on your perspective, you're asking for help.

The young people of today would profit from vocational formation, at the heart of which is the "universal call to holiness" propounded by the Second Vatican Council.  God wants us to know Him personally, to recognize His interest in us, and to allow that interest to guide not only our daily conduct but also our weightier decisions.  From the universal call to holiness we discover that what we want to do with life is as important to God as it is to us.

Allow me, patient reader, a digression on "Stuff My Dad Used to Say": 
"I just want you to do something you enjoy, something moral."
Dad was a forklift operator for a textile plant, but he knew that his son had religious and academic interests.  He also instinctively knew that one should (or at least may) choose a life-task that accords with personal inclinations and aptitudes.
"Don't bust your [posterior] like I did.  You don't need to do that."
(I never realized until now that, in his own sweet way, he was giving me a compliment.  I further realize that I scarcely gave my father due credit for doing what he did: marrying my mother, siring and raising me as best as he could, providing for the family by honorable labor that he performed faithfully and well--all of which mattered to him as much as it did to God.)

Mary and my patron saints (especially Joseph, my father's name, my Confirmation name, and patron of the universal Church, families, and laborers) undoubtedly interceded for me in my vocational discernment.  So did the priests and people I knew in my parish as well as another local parish for which I played the organ.  They expressed enthusiasm for me and my priestly predilection, and supported me in varied ways throughout the process.  Given the absolute need and relative rarity of priestly/religious vocations, one can appreciate the motive for eager support, especially among faithful families and parishes.

I admit that I wondered whether people's approval might have fostered in me an expectation (real or imagined) that I should continue to the altar, much as I suppose some people could develop an internalized impetus toward marriage, whether to a particular individual or in general.  Solid emotional and spiritual formation will help a person to sift through those understandable concerns--better sooner than later, so as to minimize post-decisional drama.

Freedom is key in the choice of one's vocation.  The last several popes have spoken to people obsessed with their autonomy by reminding them that freedom is for something: it has a purpose outside of our self-determination.  Recent authors have noted the difference between saying "This is my body" at the altar of self-interest, and saying "This is my body" at the altar of self-sacrifice.

All sorts of attachments can whittle away at one's freedom like a fine-grade sandpaper.  We readily acknowledge the effects of addictive substances or processes; but an undue regard for the opinion of family, friends, and society is just as insidiously harmful to the developing moral agent and, a fortiori, to the process of vocational discernment.

The weak or nonexistent pursuit of holiness in the family may be the greatest liability for one who is choosing a life-state.  The child who had little exposure to prayer as personal communication with an interested God won't readily acknowledge God's interests in his or her life, let alone seek them.  A friend of mine says that he grew up with the idea that God takes care of only the big stuff.  For many years he would pray: "You take care of the movement of the planets, weather, etc.; I'll handle the rest, thank You very much."  Perhaps most people say such things not so much with their lips as with their actions.  Sometimes this attitude takes root despite a family's best efforts; we know well of parents who lament their children's apparent nonchalance toward divine things.  Remember the wife of Patritius.

Not only do we wish to exercise our vocational decision with freedom and intelligence, but we also want to have the best possible motives.  The purification of motives, I also concede, is an arduous process, which isn't often completed by the point of decision (e.g. marital or religious vows).  The above-quoted prayer reminds us that God's children seek to know His intentions for our lives:

(1) So that the world may acknowledge God's existence and nature in all its radiance, which many neither know nor care to know.  The more God's glory is known and sought in this world, the more disposed people will be to "let Him in" on their lives; in a strange (though not necessarily perceptible) turn, it may begin to seem that He's the One letting us in on our lives!

(2) So that we may promote our eternal welfare.  This is the greatest privilege that God gives to human beings: by the proper channeling of our freedom, understanding, and passion, we get to cooperate in the renewal of our own selves and our associates.

Pray for an authentic renewal of a religious and spiritual sense among our youth.  There is Someone outside themselves who wishes to make missionaries of them.  He "cares enough to send the very best" into the world--to send them as well-formed and eager disciples.

God Is Still Speaking

I took this picture in our Daily Mass Chapel, where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed most Thursdays from after the 7:30am Mass to 10pm.

(And in case you were interested, our annual Forty Hours Devotions are taking place Sunday, 31 Sept through Tuesday, 2 Oct.)

By the look of the microphone position, you might think that Jesus has the mike. The United Church of Christ likes to say, "God is still speaking; listen". For Catholics, His preeminent mode of Self-Disclosure is the Liturgy of which the Eucharist is the principal fruit.

12 September 2012

A Day In the Life

First, a word of thanks to the reader who recommended me to Catholic superblogger Mark Shea ("Catholic and Loving It").  His posting has garnered some more "followers" for SH.  Cheers, Mark!  Keep up the good work!

I heard the Confessions of our grade school students today.  Last night was the opening night of our public schoolers' Religious Education program.  Several times a week I am encountering brand-new or recently registered parishioners, someone who would like to sponsor a person for Baptism or Confirmation, a family who would like their child baptized, a parishioner in the hospital whom I might otherwise not see.

Are these shipwracks or harvests?

Lord, help me to manifest Your charity and truth to every person and in every situation.  Uproot from me the cynicism that hinders conversion (the other person's, and my own).  Help me to see and to show plentiful opportunities for growth.  Thank you for making me a new creation, and for enabling me to play a part in Your saving work.

Off to the hospital, then back for the sacramental preparation of a young adult.

This is the Life.

11 September 2012

Were I come o'er again it should be this

On the eleventh anniversary of terrorist attacks upon American soil, I join the throng in thanking God for all who have served, are serving, will or would serve our country as a member of the military, police, firefighting, or emergency medicine fields.

Such servants deserve our respect for their steadfastness.  To them I dedicate Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem "The Soldier":

YES. Why do we áll, seeing of a soldier, bless him? bless
Our redcoats, our tars? Both these being, the greater part,
But frail clay, nay but foul clay. Here it is: the heart,
Since, proud, it calls the calling manly, gives a guess
That, hopes that, makesbelieve, the men must be no less;        5
It fancies, feigns, deems, dears the artist after his art;
And fain will find as sterling all as all is smart,
And scarlet wear the spirit of wár thére express.
Mark Christ our King. He knows war, served this soldiering through;
He of all can handle a rope best. There he bides in bliss        10
Now, and séeing somewhére some mán do all that man can do,
For love he leans forth, needs his neck must fall on, kiss,
And cry ‘O Christ-done deed! So God-made-flesh does too:
Were I come o’er again’ cries Christ ‘it should be this’.

The yearning for a hero is universal and profound.  When heroism takes flesh, ceasing to be a mere idea--when we witness heroism in a particular person--our hearts instinctively look upward, as if to make an act of faith in humanity and humanity's God.

Like Hopkins, my aptitude rested not in any of the above, but in service of an overtly religious sort.  As a member of St. Clair's Junior Ambulance Corps in 8th grade, I gained particular respect for the fields of emergency medicine and firefighting.  While many kids persevered in the Corps to the point of becoming an EMT, Paramedic, Nurse, and/or Firefighter, I left after gaining certification in Basic First Aid.  But I got to remain involved in the lives of many of those good people by assisting in or officiating at their weddings, baptizing some of their children, and, alas, burying the spouse of one.

Praise God for the work of our "first responders"--for whoever responds expertly, promptly, and thoughtfully to someone in need.  Such transactions are thoroughly incarnational, for God finds flesh in every player.  As Our Lord has told us, these servants will be blessed to hear His consoling reminder at the end of days: You did it to Me.

10 September 2012

THIS is the Real Thing

Thanks to a reader for this link, "The Chalice, the Pepsi Can, and Sexuality."

(I forgot that I can embed the video:)

"Nobody will choose their proper vocation if they do not see themselves as sacred."
"What do You want of me, if this is how You created me?"

This realization of self as precious-because-made-in-God's-image was not fully present in me when I was ordained, nor was it fully present when I applied to the seminary.  It remains an area for continued growth.

Underlying one will find a tendency to extreme thinking: "If I do not accept this proposition 100%, I am not accepting it at all, and therefore am unfit for a vocation."  A rather high bar to set for my oneself, don't you think?

How many current spouses (that's a vocation, yo) can say that they had accepted themselves as God's Image by the time they got to the altar?

How many people's struggles in this regard manifest themselves as so many different attachments: alcohol, food, sex, spending, work, _______?

How many persons find a way to the altar (as spouses, religious, or priests) with some sort of attachment?  Perhaps they deny it, or are not yet able to see it; perhaps their spouse is in the same position--either seeing or ignoring--yet chooses them anyhow!

Faith is saying, "I can't see it, but You claim to have created me in Your Image, to have thought enough of me to suffer and die for me; so, OK.  Have it Your Way" and then Faith is living with that acceptance in the forefront--wherever it takes you.

A life of faith is an effervescent life.

08 September 2012

What's Important About "Porta Fidei"

I should be embarrassed to say that I only recently read "Porta Fidei," the Apostolic Letter proclaiming the Year of Faith which begins next month.  Perhaps a few salient points will help us to understand the value of this "acceptable time."

  • Previous generations took for granted the reality of faith and the values that derive from faith.  Many people are desert-dwellers, unknowingly yearning for the life that Christ alone can give.
  • A prayerful return to the texts of the Second Vatican Council, as well as a summons to profound conversion and joyful witness, are sorely needed.
  • The whole Church is called to a faith more deeply "professed, celebrated, lived, and prayed" (note the fourfold participles are the pillars of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, whose promulgation almost 20 years ago was at once a fruit of Vatican II and an impetus for the Year of Faith).
  • We focus on the objective content of faith and the subjective act of faith--there is the faith that we are taught, that we celebrate, etc; and there is our personal assent to God.
  • We must note the darker chapters in the history of salvation.  These serve as further stimuli to conversion and faith in the Savior.  He continues to work by the transforming power of His Passion, Death, and Resurrection, with the cooperation of Mary, the Apostles, the Martyrs, the Consecrated and Lay Faithful.
  • Faith expresses itself through charitable action.  We recognize Jesus in the people we serve, and thus we strengthen our commitment to serve Him in them, despite any discouragement in the face of evil.
As our parish and diocese offer special events for this Year of Faith, we will keep you informed.