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

30 April 2013

New Media, New Discoveries

You may have seen the picture that circulated during the recent conclave that elected Pope Francis:
Credit: The Sacred Page
Even if this is photoshopped ("doctored up," we used to say), it nonetheless conveys the media saturation that began during the Benedictine Pontificate.  In the current Franciscan Pontificate, we get to read summaries of the Bishop of Rome's daily homilies (like this one from the Fifth Sunday of Easter, during which he confirmed 44 people).  To paraphrase one Reverend Blogger I know, we are fortunate to receive daily homily hints from this Pope, since he offers Holy Mass six hours ahead of us and papal proceedings are so promptly published.  Moreover, Francis has continued his predecessor's Twitter account, which he updates several times a week.  Several Facebook tribute pages are in force; I know not about other social media, as I don't participate in any others yet.

Consider this regular feature on a favorite media clearinghouse, Big Pulpit:
and this smart sidebar on another go-to place, New Advent:

From every side we now receive regular exposure to Catholic quotations: fun-size portions of profound and holy persons whose writings, until recently, we had to patiently plow and sift through.  Who knows whether the new media are feeding and enabling our shorter attention spans, or the media purveyors are simply capitalizing upon, making the best of, our mental frailties?

I have in mind a quotation from the saint whom the Church celebrates on 29 April, Saint Catharine of Siena--first as it is found on Goodreads, and then among the social network postings of yet another Reverend Blogger I know.

On Goodreads“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire."
As Fr. F. reports: "If you were what you ought to be, you would set a fire, not just here, but in all of Italy."

Se sarete quello che dovete essere, metterete fuoco in tutta Italia, non tanto costì.

Although the first version is inaccurate, it is eminently quotable.  It reminds of St. Francis de Sales' chestnut, "Be who you are and be that well."  As featured on posters, social network profiles, and, I'll bet, in select tattoo parlors.  Perhaps Angelina Jolie will sport it someday, though only in Latin.
According to Fr. F., whom I thank for this lead, the full version comes from a letter St. Catharine wrote to Stefano di Corrado Maconi, a young man who eventually would lead the Carthusian Order.  His authenticity will have far-reaching effects, extending beyond his own consecrated context.

That's how Carthusians roll: as the Cross of Christ remains firmly rooted while the earth spins 'round (cf. their motto, stat crux dum volvitur orbis, another suggestion for Ms. Jolie), so will this particular holy man's steadfast embrace of his path ripple forth in unforeseen directions.  From the particular to the universal we can reason, rightly enough, that the determination with which everyone embarks on his or her own spiritual endeavor will ignite the world.

Artists, pick up your ink-searing pens!
This is also a plug for the kind of edification that comes from personal notes, whether they be written on stationery or on a Facebook wall.  We all have smiled upon seeing a letter in our inbox (it helped get me through the seminary).  "Pay it forward," as they say!
"What you ought to be" is "who God meant you to be."  To borrow a snippet of fundamental moral theology, the ought flows from the is.  Put simply, from our human nature we learn how we are supposed to act.  In broader, vocational terms: the divine intention for our lives determines us (God's will is going to be done), although--o magnum mysterium!--we cooperate in that determination by our free decisions.

I can appreciate why St. Catharine was writing in the second person: first, she was addressing someone; and in the process she was challenging the young man to be concerned with the divine intention for his life.  The man's personal search alone would manifest that intention clearly, as if, upon reading Catharine's letter, he asked, "Well, what do You mean me to be, Lord?" and then, he took the next right step.  As for him, so for us.

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This is all testimony to the great power of the Internet and social networking for good.  Make use of it!

28 April 2013

Extreme Makeover: Interior Edition (Repentance and Charity)

         Jesus has just broken the news to His disciples that He will not remain forever with them as they currently perceive and understand Him.  He is pointing to His Ascension and to the sending of the Holy Spirit, which the Church will celebrate in the coming weeks.  For now, the disciples need a pattern for living, and they’ve got it: As I have loved you, love one another.  By observing this pattern, Jesus assures them of His continued presence and activity.  For three years they have been observing Him at work and prayer.  Having received from Him the commission of sacrificial service, and soon to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit for the remission of sins, Jesus’ disciples can assure the world that He will not abandon it.  In fact, love for one another will be the single most convincing sign that Christ and His Church are right and necessary.
         By the same token, sacrificial love also proves to be a burden of sorts.  Paul and Barnabas warn the fledgling Church that “many trials” await them.  Prayer, fasting, and mutual encouragement are the prescription that will sustain the Church through these trials, to the point that people will continue to join her ranks.  The trials that seem so burdensome actually attract people to the Church and to the God who infuses her with His own life.
         Once again, the Book of Revelation describes for us the triumph of the Church in spousal imagery: at the end of days she appears “as a bride adorned for her husband.”  Trials will have become a thing of the past: “no more death or mourning, wailing or pain” will beset this dearly bought Bride.  The work of the Trinity is universal restoration of the human race from within.  By the Incarnation of the Son, humanity is wed to divinity, giving humanity a more-than-merely-cosmetic improvement.
         And we could use one, all right!  A country that harbors those who would destroy the innocent, that is moving toward the wholesale endorsement of same-sex marriage and forced contraception, whose president is thanking, and invoking God’s blessing upon, Planned Parenthood: We could use a more-than-merely-cosmetic improvement.  And you know well that “there’s smoke in every kitchen”: everyone experiences the effects of sin and selfishness in their family lives.
But it is all too easy to avoid making the fearsome but crucial journey within.  Jesus’ “new commandment” to love as He loves, reinforces our absolute need for His help.  The Catechism notes: “It is impossible to keep the Lord’s commandment by imitating the divine model from outside; there has to be a vital participation, coming from the depths of the heart, in the holiness and the mercy and the love of our God” (2842).  The Sacraments of Holy Eucharist and Reconciliation purify and nourish our hearts to accomplish God’s will by being attentive to our own weaknesses and offering generous encouragement to our fellows.  Who knows precisely how this sacrificial path will contribute to the “new heaven and new earth,” the adornment of the redeemed Bride of the Lamb!

26 April 2013

One Oath, One Law, One Liturgy

As the Chartering Organization Representative for our parish Boy Scout units, I subscribe to Scouting magazine.  In the most recent hard-copy issue, I read that, as of 2015, all BSA programs (Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, and Venturing Crew) will be using the same Oath and Law, namely the one used by the Boy Scouts.  According to Bob Scott, senior innovation manager for the BSA, this initiative has been undertaken in order to standardize the language that expresses the organizational mission.

The decision was finalized last October, but the magazine has waited until the current issue to publicize it.  True to the modern M.O., the news was announced in a more timely fashion, specifically on the day of the decision, on Scouting's official adult blog.  The combox hosted an conversation about the changes; it reflected a diversity of opinions which, according to Mr. Scott, have been giving way to consensus.

And life involves contention.
Said Heraclitus, Πόλεμος πάντων μὲν πατήρ ἐστί ("Strife is the father of all things").
The decision was made after considerable reflection and consultation.  Mr. Scott compared it to the Pledge of Allegiance, which first-graders continue to recite without likely understanding its lofty concepts.  It will fall to individual scouting units to engage in age-appropriate conversations about the concepts.

The Church's liturgy permits certain adaptations for congregations mostly made up of children, such as  hymnody and approved renderings of Holy Scripture.  In the second edition of the revised Roman Missal, we had three Eucharistic Prayers for Masses with Children.  These have been omitted in the recent edition.  I have heard that new Eucharistic Prayers were still on the drawing board, but I am not certain of their existence, let alone a prospective date of release.

As with the Church, I imagine that many members of scouting would have preferred to "leave well enough alone," while others would consider the current verbiage variations not to be "well enough."  Whether there has been a significant contingent eager for change in this matter, I do not know.

My investment in Scouting is not nearly as deep as my investment in the Church, but I recognize the positive influence that both bodies intend for, and enjoy among, their constituencies.  Both aim to form bodies and spirits fit for participation in the greater community.  The language used in corporate rituals has a formative impact upon the community.  While higher-level language may be lost upon many young listeners, it may well inspire the curious ones among them to seek deeper understanding.  That was the effect of the Sacred Liturgy upon me when I was young; and to think that the language has been kicked up a few notches since then!

Now I may have been a different case--a curious one, for sure--but I never complained about an inability to understand what I was hearing in the Liturgy.  That doesn't mean I actually understood it all, or fully understand it yet; but when it comes to the Church--a divine and human institution--I tend to yield to the wisdom of the words and of their origin, eager to grow in understanding and appreciation of both.

Perhaps the standardization of the Scout Oath and Law will prompt the younger boys to "seek the things that are above" (Col 3:1).  I acknowledge the temptation to doubt that today's children are concerned about such things.  Let the flourishing of the BSA and the Church testify to the urgent yet perennial hope that wisdom must never die.

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We will soon see the influence of the collaborative process on another pressing concern for the BSA: the conscious admission of same-sex attracted (SSA) scouts and leaders.  The current organization-wide review and revision process will culminate in a decision during its National Annual Meeting (22-24 May).  The Scouting blog has revealed the organization's proposed resolution to admit SSA youths to their units while continuing to ban SSA adults from leadership roles.  (The combox for this post has nearly four times the number of comments on the subject of the unified oath; as of this writing, the score is 1,151 to 316.  This reflects a similar preference among many Catholics for discussing "hot-button" moral topics over liturgical and doctrinal ones.)
In the media statement that accompanies the blog post, the BSA states: "The proposed resolution also reinforces that Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting."  Good to know.  I was just about to add, "Hard to enforce," but the statement contains nothing to enforce and the BSA (given the current climate and the sensitivity of the issue) won't likely attempt any enforcement.  The Church, for her part, doesn't have any sort of "police" either, when it comes to people's personal religious and moral conduct.  Because so much is left to the individual conscience, conscience formation remains vitally important.

Unlike the BSA, the Catholic Church is not a democracy.  Like his successors, the current pope will not (cannot!) make changes simply to suit modern sensibilities.  A great many "policies" are rooted in the divine law and/or natural moral law, which cannot change.  Practices that originate in ecclesiastical law may in fact be mutable, but very little in the Church admits of rapid review and revision; moreover, the process of review and revision does not hold everyone's opinion with equal weight.

23 April 2013

Bring Back the Morning Offering!

This post from the blog "Ascending Mount Carmel" was worth the read, because it reminded me of a prayer I learned in seventh grade (the year I began Catholic school), to wit, the "Morning Offering."
O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer You my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day: for all the intentions of Your Sacred Heart, in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world, in reparation for all my sins, for the intentions of all my associates, and in particular, for the intentions recommended this month by our Holy Father.
From memory...BAM!   I can remember this prayer, first learned 25 years ago at St. Clair Catholic, but I can't remember to lock doors.  In this and other respects I have a sort of patron in Woody Allen: “How can I believe in God when just last week I got my tongue caught in the roller of an electric typewriter?”

The obsessive-compulsive conscientious fact checker in me consulted a search engine, whose first, appropriate, yield was EWTN.  Its version of the MO explains "associates" as "relatives and friends" and omits "recommended this month."  I respectfully disagree with these modifications, although my memorized version, it turns out, isn't the official one either.

"This month"?  What's that about, anyhow?  Glad you asked.  The Apostleship of Prayer is a Catholic prayer movement founded in 1844 by the Society of Jesus.  Its aim is to involve more and more people in the Church's missionary activity through prayer.  Each year the AoP issues the Pope's monthly prayer intentions--one general and one missionary.  The AoP website also offers rather helpful reflections on the intentions.  And this page offers several variations on the MO that were, until now, unfamiliar to me.

I like the version that includes "my work, my prayers, my apostolic efforts."  But here as always when it comes to prayer, the formula is subordinate to the recollection (attentiveness) and the discipline (fidelity) with which we pray.

Mr. Liske of AMC cites the Ignatian and Salesian endorsement of praise and contrition as dual bookends for the day.  Hans Urs Von Balthasar (S.J.) wrote a book entitled "Truth is Symphonic."  I've never read it, but I like to cite the phrase whenever people of different stripes agree on fundamental realities.  Jesus said that the agreement of two people on any matter merits the Father's attention (cf. Mt 18:19).  In today's polarized society, concord is a hot commodity!

Perhaps the Patient Reader would agree with me that some form of morning offering, conducted faithfully and attentively, would serve the Church well.  Simple and direct is the way to connect.

21 April 2013

The Liturgy: Heaven On Earth

The Easter season is a fifty-day reminder of how good the Church has it.  At this and every Mass we participate in the liturgy of heaven.  Hear how the Book of Revelation describes that liturgy.  The Father is seated upon His throne.  The Lamb is present: the crucified and risen Christ, the Priest who offers and the Victim who is offered.  The Holy Spirit is the life-giving stream that flows from the throne, often depicted in seven rivulets that are the Sacraments.  Standing around the Trinitarian throne are all the heavenly powers, the four living beings who embody all creation, the twenty-four elders who symbolize the Old and New Covenants, and the 144,000 who epitomize the New People of God.  Notable among the sacred throng are the martyrs, Mary, the Bride of the Lamb, and those whom John described as the “great multitude, which no one could count,” clad in white robes and holding palm branches.  Having survived “the time of great distress” (otherwise known as “life”), the multitude unceasingly worships God and enjoys His protection, consolation, and nourishment.

That is the Church’s situation here and now, if we but awaken ourselves to it and strive to live in it—both in the current context of the sacred liturgy and in the mission field that we know as the home, the workplace, the school, or any other wayside shrine that God enlivens when we bring Him there.  But we can’t become the light to the Gentiles and the instrument of salvation unless we bring ourselves here, to “charge and sync” ourselves with the Source of our power: God’s Word, God’s Bread, and God’s Company.  Here is where we receive and affirm our deepest identity in Christ.  Here is where all creation finds its origin and purpose.  Here is heaven on earth!

Now, I’d have my head in the sand if I figured that all of you are totally on board with this idea.  Maybe in theory the world of time is shot through with eternity, but the events of the past week, in Boston and elsewhere, look like scathing evidence to the contrary.  And you could share with me some reasons why your lives don’t resemble the heavenly liturgy.  Me too.

It is important to remember that the Act of Faith, like every other human choice, is an act of the will that relies upon the information presented to it by the intellect.  Our aversion to suffering is natural, but it  cannot deter us from confessing the goodness of God in salvation history and in our own lives.  While there is no pat answer to the mystery of moral and physical evil, the Catechism reminds us that “God in His almighty providence can bring a good from the consequences of an evil, even a moral evil, caused by His creatures,” for Christ’s glorification and man’s redemption came about precisely by His Passion and Death (312).

All praise and thanksgiving to God for the sacred Liturgy, in which we raise up all joys and sufferings in union with our Redeemer, who in return, gives us His very Self to sustain us along life’s journey, awaiting His full coming in glory and our life in His tender embrace!

19 April 2013

Covenant or Convenience?

Same-sex marriage has gained vehement support in recent months.  Respect for the actual Sacrament has been diminishing for decades among the general population.  Some would argue the correlation of these two realities, while others would contend that there is no necessary connection.  In either case, Church and society alike have taken marriage for granted for too long, and it shows.

All of this has prompted a renewed reverence for the divine intention for human love.  The term covenant is an apt description for sacramental marriage.  It comes from the Latin convenire, "to come together."  This term has been preferred to contract, which ecclesiastical authors had been using from the days of Pius XI with his landmark encyclical Casti Connubii (1930).  In one form or another, the word contract appeared 22 times in translation.  It derives from contrahere, "to draw together," suggesting a sense of involuntariness foreign to contemporary practices and sensibilities.  The days of arranged marriage are past us, for the most part.  We don't "contract" marriage, we "contract" disease!

Social networks have been playing a major role in promoting ideas and causes in ways that catch the eye and get people thinking.   I offer this chart for your reflection.

Source: Facebook community "God is the author of marriage"  
While the word convenient also derives from convenire, let's not bicker and argue: we typically employ convenient in situations of practicality and ease, while covenant, its comelier cousin, is associated with deliberation (a staple in situations where practicality might suggest an easier, softer way).

Most of these categories are cut-and-dried, admitting of little wiggle room.  Individual spouses and marriages may tend to think and/or behave predominantly in one or another direction.  Thank God for opportunities to awaken to the need for change, which can occur before the breaking point.

God, the Author of marriage, is also the Author of Holy Orders, whereby men are privileged to participate in the Church's evangelical, sacramental, and pastoral ministry as "other Christs."  This, too, is a share in covenant love, in many respects; above all, because "God is faithful" (1 Cor 1:9).  The Church needs priests who are secure in their relationship with the Lord, and readily available for their people's spiritual needs.

We are at the threshold of "Good Shepherd Sunday," dedicated to prayer for vocations after the Chief Shepherd's own Heart.  May God bless all married couples, priests, and consecrated religious who strive to exemplify His covenant-love in their respective vocations.

15 April 2013

Where is God In The Boston Marathon Massacre?

After finishing a 13.1 mile run, I checked my phone to find multiple requests for "Prayers for Boston."  Scrolling further, I discovered the reason for the prayers: two explosions near the marathon finish line that have killed at least two and wounded at least twenty-three.  The explosions took place at about 2:50pm, during my run.  News is constantly being updated.

I thought immediately of Joe Muldowney, Schuylkill County native/resident and author of Running Shorts, the book and the blog.  In his blog, Joe has been sharing his excitement about today's event, as well as fond and foul memories of Bostons past (see the book for a more comprehensive treatment).  Joe has reported that he and his wife Crissy are indeed safe.  The blasts happened around the four-hour mark, but he probably finished at least a half-hour before that.  Of course, that doesn't obscure the gruesomeness of the bombing and the depravity of those responsible.

Based on my news feed alone, I attest that this disaster has galvanized the movement of prayers and kind thoughts.  Generous initiatives for blood donation, temporary shelter, and the like are now in force.    The goodness of humanity (whether the good people operate from a secular or sacred perspective) is refreshingly evident in the wake of tragedies.

Events like these also, and quite understandably, become the occasion for questioning the goodness and mercy of God.  I mean, one of the victims was an eight-year old boy!

I offer only one response to the questioners.  It is not quick and easy.  I offer the entire segment for your contemplation.  Perhaps in the future I can develop some ideas, but others can do it more skillfully.

The context is the Catechism of the Catholic Church's segment on creation--its origin and destiny, and the Providence that guides all things along the way.  Divine Guidance does not impede human freedom, which can be used for evil as readily as for good.  In the face of the Boston Marathon bombing and the myriad moral evils committed by nameless people and people we see in the mirror, the Catechism says:
309 If God the Father almighty, the Creator of the ordered and good world, cares for all his creatures, why does evil exist? To this question, as pressing as it is unavoidable and as painful as it is mysterious, no quick answer will suffice. Only Christian faith as a whole constitutes the answer to this question: the goodness of creation, the drama of sin and the patient love of God who comes to meet man by his covenants, the redemptive Incarnation of his Son, his gift of the Spirit, his gathering of the Church, the power of the sacraments and his call to a blessed life to which free creatures are invited to consent in advance, but from which, by a terrible mystery, they can also turn away in advance. There is not a single aspect of the Christian message that is not in part an answer to the question of evil.
310 But why did God not create a world so perfect that no evil could exist in it? With infinite power God could always create something better.174 But with infinite wisdom and goodness God freely willed to create a world "in a state of journeying" towards its ultimate perfection. In God's plan this process of becoming involves the appearance of certain beings and the disappearance of others, the existence of the more perfect alongside the less perfect, both constructive and destructive forces of nature. With physical good there exists also physical evil as long as creation has not reached perfection.175
311 Angels and men, as intelligent and free creatures, have to journey toward their ultimate destinies by their free choice and preferential love. They can therefore go astray. Indeed, they have sinned. Thus hasmoral evil, incommensurably more harmful than physical evil, entered the world. God is in no way, directly or indirectly, the cause of moral evil.176 He permits it, however, because he respects the freedom of his creatures and, mysteriously, knows how to derive good from it: For almighty God. . ., because he is supremely good, would never allow any evil whatsoever to exist in his works if he were not so all-powerful and good as to cause good to emerge from evil itself.177
312 In time we can discover that God in his almighty providence can bring a good from the consequences of an evil, even a moral evil, caused by his creatures: "It was not you", said Joseph to his brothers, "who sent me here, but God. . . You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive."178 From the greatest moral evil ever committed - the rejection and murder of God's only Son, caused by the sins of all men - God, by his grace that "abounded all the more",179 brought the greatest of goods: the glorification of Christ and our redemption. But for all that, evil never becomes a good.
313 "We know that in everything God works for good for those who love him."180 The constant witness of the saints confirms this truth: St. Catherine of Siena said to "those who are scandalized and rebel against what happens to them": "Everything comes from love, all is ordained for the salvation of man, God does nothing without this goal in mind."181
St. Thomas More, shortly before his martyrdom, consoled his daughter: "Nothing can come but that that God wills. And I make me very sure that whatsoever that be, seem it never so bad in sight, it shall indeed be the best."182  Dame Julian of Norwich: "Here I was taught by the grace of God that I should steadfastly keep me in the faith. . . and that at the same time I should take my stand on and earnestly believe in what Our Lord shewed in this time - that 'all manner [of] thing shall be well.'"183
314 We firmly believe that God is master of the world and of its history. But the ways of his providence are often unknown to us. Only at the end, when our partial knowledge ceases, when we see God "face to face",184 will we fully know the ways by which - even through the dramas of evil and sin - God has guided his creation to that definitive sabbath rest185 for which he created heaven and earth. 
Affirm with me the goodness of God, who, in ways we see and ways we may never fully comprehend this side of heaven, is present among and for His creation, loving it through its present trials. May the many good people out there respond with the Love that conquers sin, suffering, and death even as these realities persist in this world.

14 April 2013


On my social network news feed, a friend spoke of the current flare-up of Aurora Borealis (which I might be missing by writing this post), rueing her inability to get out of her head "that stupid Flock of Seagulls song lyric."  To wit:

I responded by citing the only song reference to Aurora Borealis that I knew of (although, when I listened to the above piece, I recognized it), namely the stellar standard "Midnight Sun."  Lady Ella's version is among the better ones out there:

I declared Fitzgerald the undisputed champion in this undeclared competition.  After the final bell and the ringside announcement, I leave the replay and post factum judgment to you, patient reader.

Substitute nearly any songster/songstress' version, and there would be no change in the verdict.  How about Carmen McRae?  Hers was the first rendition I knew, so there will always be a soft spot for it.

I take that back: June Christy's was the first version I heard, and I prefer it above the others:

Hope I catch some of the star show.

13 April 2013

The Majestic And The Mundane

I don't get caught up in the strange symbols and events found in the book of Revelation and other apocalyptic literature in the Bible.  Given the panoramic view of the Scriptures (Hebrew and Christian, considered discretely and taken together) as the story of God's love affair with the human race, we may understand the apocalyptic literature as the sort of talk in which passionate lovers are known to engage. Yes, some Biblical love-talk resembles the Song of Songs with its playfulness and intensity; or it may display the purity of commitment that Ruth has for her mother-in-law Naomi.  Then there is the splendor of the heavenly synaxis, where the angels, saints, and all creatures unite:
Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing.
To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever.  Amen.
The life of heaven traditionally has been known as the "Beatific Vision."  At first hearing one wonders whether everyone and everything will be gathered in a huge Imax theater where the Trinity is repeatedly playing.  To an overstimulated, media-saturated people that sounds rather boring!  Even to those who are more accustomed to quiet contemplation and reasoned discourse, this is an inadequate understanding of the Life of All Living.

There's nothing wrong with the term "Beatific Vision" as such, but it merits deeper consideration of "vision."  Here it's not an activity of sedate spectators, but rather the interior electricity of persons connected to the Source and to each other.  It defies description, as Saint Paul has noted: "What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Cor 2:9).  The greatness of the Mystery of Faith cannot be sufficiently impressed upon us.

I don't personally think much about the itinerary of heaven, about who or what will be there.  I hope that doesn't betray a lack of concern about the blessings of this life.  If anything I try to be more conscious of the present moment as a "lower-case r" revelation of God's life.  Existence within the Trinitarian Embrace begins now, even as we trudge along with daily activities: apostolic fishing, dining, dressing, conversing, teaching and learning, witnessing: the actions mentioned in the First Reading and the Gospel account.

Heaven will resemble earthly life in that God is always the Center.  The Church is the Body gathered in mutual divine adoration, the end of all worthy conversation.  Like Peter, we need to hear ourselves engaging in praise, expressing the love that God's grace, and our repentance, purifies (in prayer, I often use Peter's simple words: "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you").  We also need to hear Jesus' reminder that the manner of our life ought to glorify God, especially when it comes to the acceptance of earthly trials.  The business of tending the flock happens in the midst of those trials; by no means is it a tidy process.

And yet this life is all suffused with heaven.  We are treated to the sneak previews of the hymns around the throne not as a tease, but as a pattern for our present praise.

10 April 2013

The Spice of Life

Today the eighth graders were subjected treated to a presentation on Saint Thomas Aquinas: his early life, his intellectual formation, and his contributions to Catholic thought.

I wish I had my phone so that I could take a picture of the whiteboard to show you, patient readers, all that we talked about.  Reconstruction from memory is fairly reliable: Thomas' noble birth, his family's distaste for his vocation to the Dominicans (his parents imprisoned him for 15 months in a futile attempt to dissuade him), his education under St. Albert the Great, the compilation of the Catena Aurea, the Summa Contra Gentiles and the Summa Theologiae, and especially the mihi videtur ut palea incident of 1273.  You know that one, where a spiritual experience moved Thomas to stop writing because it all seemed to him "like straw."  And his obedience to the Pope who had asked him to travel to the Council of Lyons as a theological expert...which he never got to do, because he died en route.

Boy, you're gonna carry that weight a long time
The presentation seemed to go well.  It helped that the teacher was in the room, and many of the students just had gym class, which tuckered them out.  Before I left the classroom, one of the boys came up to me and asked me some questions about the origin of my interest in the priesthood, and what I was like at their age.  Encounters like that are what it's all about.  I suspect that not so many priests get to chat with kids, because we're afraid, or "too busy," or whatever.  How else will they learn what a priest is like, so that they might possibly consider themselves as potential candidates?

From there it was off to the Seniors Club meeting, where my ministry includes pulling the winning tickets for the 50/50 raffle, being an occasional musical act, and catching up with people whom I have visited in the hospital, or whose spouses I've buried since coming to this parish a little over five years ago.  To think that I left last month's meeting to watch the election of the Pope with a few elderly parishioners!

Add to that a handful of phone calls, hospital visits, and some clerical work (in the other, more typical sense: reorganizing instructional materials), and seal it with a kiss (the 7:30am Mass), and you have a day in the life of a parish priest.

The variety of people and circumstances in the diocesan priesthood was a major selling point for me, not to mention the idea that the priests I knew were wise, intelligent, humorous, considerate, and happy men...all the qualities I wanted for myself.

If I can exercise most of those qualities most of the time, for God's glory and for the good of souls, bueno!

08 April 2013

A Love-Hate Relationship

A tip of the biretta to Arleen Spenceley over at Ignitum Today for her recent article, entitled "People Who Hate Chastity Secretly Love It."

First, a word from the source's mouth: "Ignitum Today provides Catholic perspectives on every topic that matters to young adults--life, religion, relationships, and entertainment."  Originally it styled itself as the "Social Network of the JPII and BXVI Generation"; but what to do, with the election of Pope Francis?  Add to the Alphabet Soup?  Their response:

If you can't read this, you may no longer be a "young adult."
The "New Evangelization Generation."  I like!  Depending on the standard used, the Reverend Blogger may no longer qualify as a young adult, either.  Because my greatest aspiration from an early age was "to be older," it doesn't much matter to me.  But my qualification for the N.E.G. is clear, insofar as I had just turned two when JPII was elected.  He's the pope of my youth and early priesthood.  I got to meet him in January of 2003, six months before my ordination, when several dozen of us spent a fortnight in the Eternal City.  Two years later, as a young priest and high school chaplain, I prepared to "meet" Papa Bene alongside a million or so young people who would gather in Cologne for World Youth Day.  Pope Benedict's age was no impediment to our affections, as his predecessor gracefully permitted us to accompany him through his physical decline, all the way to the Father's House.  Benedict has not exactly deprived us of that chance, but we must accompany him from afar, respectful of the low profile that he is keeping for the sake of his successor and for the good governance of the Church.

The N.E.G. moniker is most appropriate because JPII and his successors have alerted the Church to a "springtime of evangelization," already underway around the globe.  Many young people are getting excited about Catholic doctrine and liturgy.  They are eagerly pursuing God's pursuit of them in daily prayer, and channeling their altruism into ardent sacrifice.

And they are being challenged by the Church's moral teaching...but are more up to the challenge than many people think.  Ms. Spenceley's article aptly demonstrates as much.

She quotes Karol Wojtyla (JPII)'s epic tome Love and Responsibility, where resistance to chastity is located in, of all things, resentment.  Chastity is resisted because it is hated, and it is hated because it is hard.  As for resentment, the future pope traces it to "an erroneous and distorted sense of values...a lack of objectivity in judgment and evaluation," ultimately because of "weakness of the will."

"It's too difficult [weakness of will].  I can't do this [sloth].  This sucks [resentment]."  Sound familiar?

The component called "sloth" is sadness at the difficulty of attaining the good.  Even amid the resentment, there is a modicum of reverence for the value that one appears to be rejecting.  The goodness of those who genuinely strive to live a chaste life; the truth of the value of a chaste life and the incontrovertible evidence of the chaste; the fascinating beauty of the chaste: these can be torture for the willfully unchaste to behold, for it seems to them that they can worship only from afar.

Appropriately, then, did I encounter this post on Divine Mercy Sunday.  What better time than the Present to hear the full truth about human sexuality!  Though at first it be a cross, yet it leads to resurrection.  "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ" (Eph 2:13).

Be assured: sexual integrity is not easy for anyone, regardless of his or her state in life.  The rejection of chastity, indeed the pursuit of its opposite (dis-integration!), underlies much of the sadness, anger, and fear in this world.  The fallout of unchastity is all around us, all within us.  But the seeds of new life are sown in the Paschal Mystery that we are now (and always) celebrating.  The same mystery is renewed in each day's perseverance in chastity, and in every repentance from unchastity.

To be part of the "New Evangelization Generation" one doesn't have to be young; one has only to think and pray young.  And, perhaps, to speak young, by joyfully witnessing to the reality and relevance of the Faith through good old-fashioned conversation and good newfangled social media.  Every age has contended with chastity, and I believe that this generation will strive to witness to purer, deeper, truer love.
Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us, so that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy Will, which is love and mercy itself.  (Our Lord to St. Faustina, Diary, 950)

07 April 2013

Reconciliation: The Church's Vital Sign

One thread that runs through today’s readings is vitality.  After His resurrection Jesus appears to the Church as one who, despite all appearances, has all power over sin, suffering, and death.  In Revelation, He claims to “hold the keys to death and the netherworld.”  That is authority!  While death seems all around us, and threatens to take us in time, Jesus has co-opted the end of earthly life into His victory.  Physical death thus becomes the gateway to everlasting life.  As a venerable Christmas hymn declares, “Now ye need not fear the grave: Jesus Christ is born to save!”
When Saint John first witnessed the Lord’s bold proclamation, he says that he “fell at his feet as though dead.”  Jesus stretches out His right hand and picks him up.  As material and spiritual beings, we hear today about other examples of how spiritual vitality is conveyed in ways accessible to the senses.  Jesus conveys the Holy Spirit of forgiveness and healing by breathing on the apostles as they gather in the upper room.  Later, the sick congregate around the apostles in the hopes that Peter would pass by them—that, maybe, just being in his presence would do something for them.  All of this supports the Church’s sacraments as tangible vehicles of the divine life, powered by His Word and operated by His ministers.
Today we advert to Reconciliation, to Sacramental Penance, as the ordinary means of forgiving serious sin and remitting its due punishment for the next world.  Jesus told the apostles, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”  He wouldn’t have said that unless He thereby invested the apostles with that sacred power.  To this day people approach the precious court of divine mercy in order to unburden themselves of whatever inhibits their growth in holiness, whatever cuts them off from God and others. 

As an authorized agent of the Holy Trinity, the priest forgives sins and liberates souls for sacrificial, Christian love.  He takes them, as it were, by the right—absolving— hand and raises them up.  By coming to meet the Lord with genuine contrition and deliberate intention, the forgiven penitent comes to share in the vitality of the Lord’s Resurrection in a way that transcends our frail and deceptive senses.  Like Saint John we can stand up and resolutely return to life with a new approach, although it requires our prayerful vigilance.

The abiding offer of divine mercy exhorts us to place our sins with humble confidence in the Lord’s open side, to let them there, and to life the new life of grace.  Don’t let any fears hold you back from a good Confession, whether weeks, months, or years have passed since the last one.  Second only to the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Reconciliation is the reason for my existence.  And that’s not just because I’m a priest.  Are you not all partakers in the priesthood by virtue of your Baptism?  Then you, too, live to offer yourselves to the Father in union with the Son; you, too, live to repent of your sins and to embark upon a daily voyage of prayer and sacrifice.  Through this belief, may you have life in His Name!