Friday, December 24, 2010

The (Re)invasion

Tonight we celebrate a very special night two thousand years ago (give or take a few), when God fulfilled his ancient promise of promises, to send a Savior, a Redeemer who would break the bonds of sin and death wrought by humanity's disobedience and call all things, renewed and restored, back to himself.  We celebrate the night when, through the cooperation of a humble virgin, he made good on His promise.  And, true to form, he did it in a way almost unimaginable.  (I love how our Father so often works in ways that literally blow our minds).  He didn't just send anyone, he sent his only Son, his splendor and Word, through whom all of creation came into being, into time and history history.  He sent the God-man, the King of Kings, among us as a completely vulnerable infant, to be greeted only by the company of shepherds and their flocks.

He sent a baby, and in the birth of that baby, the God-man, the invasion began.  Or, better, the re-invasion.  The Son became man to teach us how to live as sons of the Father, and to send us forth with a mission to continue His work.  We are the guerrilla, re-invasion force, Baptized and sent to operate "behind enemy lines" in a world that continues to reject him, as he promised us it would.

Tonight, as Christians we pause to remember.  We remember and thank the Father for keeping his promise and sending us the greatest gift of all, a perpetual gift that all of mankind, through all time, has longed for.  Instead of abandoning us to our just fate of eternal damnation, out of unfathomable love he gave us the equally unfathomable gift of Jesus Christ.

A very happy, holy, blessed and merry Christmas to all.  May the peace of the newborn Christ be with you and yours through Christmas season and into the New Year.

+AMDG+

Monday, December 20, 2010

Be A Hero

Being a hero doesn't always mean going forth to give our lives valiantly and gallantly for a cause, including the cause of the faith.  A few of us may be called to that, and stand as noble examples of living the faith, but they are the exception.  The vast majority of heroes--saints--are people who have lead quiet and persistent struggles, day in and day out, for their love of our Lord and against the evil forces that seek to drown out we who are his love and light to the world.

For all who are weary, take heart.  Step out again today, and continue doing what you're doing.  Be a hero.






This program is from RealCatholicTV.com
 
+AMDG+

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Baptists' Doubt

I generally try to refrain from commenting on the Sunday Gospel readings in my posts; I've always felt that was better left to the homilists, our priests, to proclaim from the pulpit as they are ordained to do.  But today I could not help but share some thoughts on today's Gospel passage, that contains such a striking and representative dialogue between John the Baptist and the Messiah, the Christ whose coming it was his mission to announce.

The passage, Matthew 11:2-11, opens with John, from behind prison bars, posing a very direct question to the Christ, "Are you really he who is to come, or shall we look for another?"  Put a bit more plainly, John, who leapt in Elizabeth's womb at the sound of Mary's greeting as she carried the Savior of the world (Luke 1:44), is now faced with a twinge of doubt.  He is essentially asking the same question that everyone who dares to call themselves a Christian must ask of Christ at some point, and that more than likely we ask multiple times throughout our lives: Are you really who you say you are, the Messiah, the Holy One of God?

John's doubt, just like our doubt, is never a bad thing in and of itself.  God encourages us to question him, to seek him out, because it is only in doing so that we look beyond ourselves and come to know him more deeply.  It is our attitude that determines whether the doubt is ultimately an avenue to spiritual fruit--salvation--or destruction.  More on that in a second...

First, let's briefly examine Jesus' response.  Far from rebuking John's questioning, he uses it as an opportunity to reaffirm John as the one who was prophesied from of old to herald the coming of God in the flesh (Isaiah 40:3).  In doing so, he accomplishes two very specific things, which he also seeks to accomplish in each and every one of us if we are truly open to his will.

First, he quells John's doubt and offers him the satisfaction from despair, that his life and suffering have not been in vain.  Isn't that what we all long for, reassurance that all of the hardships we face in this life, especially the ones that come because we are striving to live an authentic Christian life, are not in vain?  Although Christ may not always give us the comfort of feeling that we are living and suffering for a purpose, he gives us something much more important than feeling:  he gives us fact.  He gives Himself, the Truth incarnate, as an assurance (see my previous post about fact vs. feelings).  He gives us the Eucharist, a blessing beyond compare that not even the Baptist himself was able to partake of during his life and mission on Earth ("yet he who is least in the kingdom of Heaven is greater than he").

Second, in reaffirming John's mission, he also, in a roundabout way, confirms his own identity as the Savior, the God-Man who a fallen world has longed for since the first sin.  He brings everything back to himself, because ultimately it is only in him that anything has purpose and meaning.  Apart from him our lives are purposeless; apart from him we can do nothing (cf John 15:5).

Ultimately, within our dialogue with Christ, our attitude and openness to his reply is the avenue that allows his salvation to take effect in our lives.  Either we end up closed like the Pharisees, with an agenda of constantly trying to trap Jesus in his own words and refusing to surrender their own self-centered view, or we end up like John here.  Like him, like the Samaritan woman at the well, and like the many other saints who have asked openly and honestly, who have sought to know God as he his, not as we would make him to be, and to live according to the Truth of his reply, if we are open to him the kingdom that he has promised will become our inheritance.  Christ stands always at the door, ready to answer "anyone who has ears to hear."  Let us, like John, ask humbly and honestly, and be willing to receive him regardless of the consequences, because we know that the eternal consequence that he has promised for those who love him are far beyond anything we could ever imagine.

+AMDG+

Sunday, December 5, 2010

In Eager Anticipation

I've had to take a few weeks' break from blogging to focus on other goings-on in life: end-of-year wrap-ups at work, final exams, etc.  Thanks for continuing to visit and read; there will be much more to follow in the weeks and months ahead as the Christmas vacation period opens up free time to be able to catch up with friends and family and--of course--to slow down life enough to actually reflect and write on the the year that has passed, and what lies ahead for the future.

That leads me to something I've become more convicted of in the past few years: the importance of actually celebrating Advent.  As a kid, I remember feeling like Advent was just four weeks that we just needed to get through to make it to Christmas.  All I could think about was gifts, gifts, gifts, with only half a thought (if that) to the greatest gift of all whose arrival we were preparing to celebrate: Jesus Christ.

The culture today seems to have that same attitude.  After Thanksgiving (or even before Thanksgiving), Christmas decorations are up, and the only reason not to skip straight through to December 25 is because there is so much shopping to be done, Christmas cards to be sent, and other things that drive us into busyness.  It is so easy to forget that Christmas doesn't start until the vigil on December 24, and this year lasts for over two weeks, until the Baptism of the Lord on January 9, 2011.  By the time that rolls around, most will already be well into the "Christmas burnout" period.  It shouldn't be that way.

Catholic News Agency featured an interview with Bishop Wester of the Diocese of Salt Lake City, who has encouraged the Catholics in his diocese to take a step back and remain silent in eager expectation of the Lord's  arrival, rather than give into the hurriedness of a culture who only gives his coming a passing thought:

Catholics urged to hold off on Christmas celebrations until Dec. 24

Bishop Wester's comments and pastoral direction should resonate with every Catholic, and every Christian for that matter.  Let's step back and celebrate Christ's birth with his Church, not with the culture.

Have a blessed second week of Advent.

+AMDG+

Monday, November 15, 2010

CCHD Questions Remain

Last year, we did not contribute to the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), whose collection is held the Sunday before Thanksgiving.  There were too many questions about contributions to organizations who either directly or by association were in opposition to the Church's moral teaching, including on issues like abortion and gay "marriage rights."

After viewing the spot below by RealCatholicTV and doing a little follow-on investigation of my own, we decided that we are not convinced that the bishops' report entitled "The Review and Renewal of The Catholic Campaign for Human Development As Accepted and Affirmed by the USCCB Administrative Committee" documents an investigation specific and thorough enough that we are comfortable contributing to the collection this year either.  Below is an email reply I sent out in response to an article that was sent to me in defense of the report.

Thanks for the forward. I appreciate that the committee has made a set of commitments to review and renewal, but I'm just not satisfied that those guiding principles have been followed up by a thorough, top-to-bottom and inside-out review (i.e. a full review of each and every organization receiving funds, including their significant associations).


Case in point, this Reform CCHD Now report, hot off the presses today, details line by line several questionable statements (to say the least) supporting "reproductive rights" made by the alliances that CIW, the group praised in CCHD's Review and Renewal Document, is an expressed member of.

http://www.reformcchdnow.com/RCNReport11-15-10.pdf

For the interest of time, Reform CCHD Now's summary:


"The simple fact is, the CCHD stated specifically in its Review and Renewal document that 'CCHD will not fund groups that are members of coalitions which have as part of their organizational purpose or coalition agenda, positions or actions that contradict fundamental Catholic moral and social teaching.' In conjunction with this declaration, CCHD propped up an organization that is doing exactly that. This glaring contradiction within its own renewal document casts serious doubt on CCHD’s ability to effectively implement the new guidelines."


Also, it raises a personal question for me that the Review and Renewal statement has been approved by the administrative committee, but not yet reviewed by the bishops themselves. Speaking for myself and myself only, a matter with the gravity of the Church potentially contributing millions of dollars in funds to groups or alliances that directly oppose the Church's moral teaching dserves the urgent attention of the bishops.


We, for one will withold contributions until evidence of a more thorough "cleaning house" has taken place.


In Christ,
JCM





This program is from RealCatholicTV.com
 
+AMDG+

Sunday, November 14, 2010

What's In A Name?

"And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every other name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."                                              -Philippians 2:8-10

I cringe whenever I hear the Lord's name taken in vain, especially when it's used in a negative or derisive manner.  It literally causes me physical pain, particularly on the occasion when it is I who let his name slip from my lips without respect and reverence.  The funny thing is, several years ago, if anyone else had told me they had a physical reaction, I would have been very likely to--at best--give a smirk of dismissal.  Sure, I knew that it was a Commandment, but certainly God would not strike me down for the simple act of letting an utterance carelessly slip from my lips, would he?

The answer is no, but for a very different reason than I used to think, but I'll get back to that in a second.

First, let's take a moment to think about the implication of what St. Paul described in the above passage from his Letter to the Philippians.  Imagine a name so powerful that every creature in heaven, on earth, and under the earth--indeed all of creation itself should bow at its mere utterance.  For all eternity, all of creation, led by the angels and the martyrs, falls down in worship before his throne, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!...To him who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might for ever and ever!" (Rev 5:12-13).  The wind and sea obey his commands (cf. Matthew 8:27), and even the demons who know their days to roam the earth are numbered cower in fear at the recognition of him (cf. Matthew 8:28-34).

The power of his name is not limited to situations of such large consequence.  Try speaking his name in the context of an everyday conversation.  Either it will cause an instantaneous bond, warmly and excitedly received (by fellow Christians), received with  inquisitiveness (by those seeking the Truth but who might not know that he is a person, Jesus Christ), or you will be flat out rejected and dismissed (by unbelievers).  The bottom line is that his name is divisive.  It knocks people out of their comfort zone.  Jesus came to forgive, surely, but also to eliminate the "middle ground."  It is so easy to forget that that the middle ground, in the scheme of eternity, will not exist for very much longer.  Our response to and use of the power of his name will leave us either in the first group or the last.

His name is also incredibly powerful with interior struggles against temptation and evil.  Try speaking and meditating on his name--only his name--when you encounter them.  Set your mental and spiritual focus on him, place yourself at the foot of his cross, and before very long the demons will not be able to stand it.  They cannot stand its power will flee in fear just as quickly as they came.

Back to the reason God will not strike us down.  We are not struck down because of the merciful power--or better the infinitely powerful mercy--of his name.  It is so easy to forget that even the slightest sin merits us being stricken and condemned.   But he, the name, stepped down into our time and took that death and condemnation on himself.  Because he is man, he could suffer for us what we deserved.  Because he is God, he could take it away our offense as if it had never existed.  To carry his mercy forward in time until he comes in glory at its end, he gave us the Sacraments, especially Reconciliation and the Eucharist, as concrete, tangible communicators of that grace and mercy.

So, when I hear that power of his name--the power to create, bless, unify his body, divide the wheat from chaff, forgive sins, and deliver our prayers to the Father--used so carelessly and nonchalantly, it hurts.  Let us pray for the grace that, for love of his heart that bleeds for us, it will hurt all the more.

Benedictus qui venit in nomine domini.

+AMDG+

Friday, November 5, 2010

Have things changed?

Fresh off the heels of an election that ushered in a change of  power in the House of Representatives (the branch of government that was designed by the founders to have the most power), I figured I'd take this Philosophy Friday--aka Philosophy weekend--to open up some discussion on a document that was literally revolutionary and changed the world, the Declaration of Independence.

First, the source:
IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776



The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America


When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.


He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:


For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:


For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:


For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.


We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.


— John Hancock


New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton

Massachusetts: John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry


Rhode Island: Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery

Connecticut: Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

New York: William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

New Jersey: Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark


Pennsylvania: Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross

Delaware: Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean

Maryland: Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton

Virginia: George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

North Carolina: William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

South Carolina: Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton
Georgia: Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton
This brief document, which was the culmination of literally centuries of political philosophy and historical shift away from the idea of the "divine right of kings," made some pretty bold and unambiguous statements about our rights as human beings and citizens, where those rights ultimately come from, and how England--specifically the king himself--had abrogated its ultimate responsibility as a government authority, to protect and safeguard the rights of men.

In the interest of generating a little discussion, I would like to pose the question:  Two hundred years later, have things changed?  Do the Declaration's assertions (elaborated on and codified in law by the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution) still apply, unchanged, today?  To be more specific, I guess I should ask, if our rights do not come from the "Creator" God that many in our society have rejected--or at least refuse to publicly acknowledge--as the ultimate grantor of rights, then where do they come from?  How can we determine them, and who serves as the ultimate arbiter as to which declared rights are valid and not valid?  How do we set a benchmark to know when those rights have been so egregiously violated, that there remains no choice other than "to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

I've been thinking about this a lot lately but, before I comment further, I would like to hear your thoughts.  Please share. I'd appreciate your frank and honest comments.

+AMDG+

Thursday, October 28, 2010

AP Article: Catholic bloggers aim to purge dissenters

Don't know how I missed this article that came across the AP wires on Sunday, but it's well worth reading.  I guess we orthodox Catholic bloggers are starting to get notice, from outside the Church if not so much from within.

Catholic bloggers aim to purge dissenters

The article was fair, for the most part, with the exception of one word association that it could just as well have gone without.  Associating vocal and faithful Catholics with the Taliban may be how some view us--as intolerant radicals--but our tactics of communicating the Love and Truth of the Church couldn't be more different.  It left a very bad taste in my mouth.

But, for the rest of the article...

As Michael Voris pointed out in his commentary on yesterday's Vortex (video below; the article is centered around quotes and his efforts at RealCatholicTV), the vitriol expressed in the comments posted to some of the news outlets is breathtaking.  Still, it is hard to believe that there are as many who truly hate the Church as there are who hate what they misunderstand about her or who have had run-ins with heretical or less-than-charitable clergy or are downright confused by the false witness of less-than-faithful Catholics.  That's why it's up to us, faithful Catholics, to pray and to be about the work of the New Evangelization; to awaken our fellow Catholics from their slumber, to correct and admonish the "Catholics-in-name-only," without fear of the inevitable division it will cause, and to do exactly as Christ instructed us: to take the Love and Truth of his Gospel to the whole world and set hearts ablaze.

This program is from RealCatholicTV.com

+AMDG+

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Being, Not Doing

It seems like my planned "Philosophy Fridays" are turning more into "Philosophy weekends."  Life is making demands, but I'll try to do a better job of scheduling posts for the next week.  In the meantime, for this week I just wanted to share a little bit of a follow-up to my previous post about Abigail, A Father's Joy.

We've had her for six weeks now.  I can't believe time has gone by so quickly.  I have this secret hope that life will somehow slow down, that she won't grow up and take off into the world, but I've lived enough of life to know that just isn't the case.  If anything, it'll feel like it's continuing to speed up.

This little girl, who can't speak, has a very limited vocabulary for communicating her needs (i.e. crying), and cannot even regulate her own bodily functions, has taught me a very important lesson in those six weeks:  Life is about being, not doing.  What I mean by that is, we humans, created in the image and likeness of God, don't derive our inherent worth and dignity from anything that we think, say or do; we get it from who we are and how we were created, not by what we do.

In a strictly utilitarian sense, Abigail cannot do anything for us.  She cannot produce.  She cannot contribute any novel, creative thoughts or ideas, art, music, or feats of engineering.  She cannot serve others or make conscious acts of faith or love (at least, I don't think she can, but she has an uncanny way of staring longingly at the crucifix, and reminds me that I need to do more of that), and only now is she beginning to be able to express glimpses of pleasure.  All that she can do is communicate her needs, in complete dependency, and rely on us to figure out what she needs and provide for her.  The utilitarian mindset would argue that she does not give at least as much as she takes and therefore has no worth as a human being.

I knew that utilitarian worldview was completely wrong.  In her, I have been given an even deeper glimpse into just how evil and self-interested it is.  It is what leads many to believe that, until a child in the womb can experience consciousness, it is not a human being, or that an adult who, through illness or injury, is no longer able to "contribute" to society, ought to be able to end their own life or have someone else make the decision to do it for them.

Now, being a father--even for only six weeks--I have had the chance to see a little bit more deeply how our Father in Heaven sees us, and how he created us to see each other, as beings with infinite worth from conception until natural death.  Thank goodness His is not a utilitarian view; if it were, we would be seen as rebels, waging war against His kingdom in our sin, instead of loving and allowing Him to love us. As a saying I heard a few months ago goes, "There is a reason we are called human beings, not human doings."

We are created to live in a relationship of love from from the first moment of our existence in our mother's womb, until He decides that our time in this life has come to a close and sends his messenger to carry us before His throne.  Sometimes that relationship of love is only one way, from Father to child, and it is that love alone that brings us into and holds us in existence.  That's right, without God's constant love for us, we would cease to exist.  Thank  God--that His love is infinite and suffices, even when we cannot, or choose not to, return it.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, burning with the Father's love for us, have mercy on us when we fail to love as you have created us to love.


+AMDG+

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Thank You Archbishop Burke!

Finally, some words of crystal clarity, thrown down like a gauntlet by one of the highest officials in Rome (who, ironically, during his time as the Archbishop of St. Louis, was much-derided by Catholics of the more...how shall I say this...liberal bent). As the sitting Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, Archbishop Burke (Cardinal-designate Burke as of yesterday, to be installed November 20) holds the highest judicial authority in the Church after the Holy Father himself.  He delivered a keynote address to a major congress in Rome last week hosted by Human Life International, in which he derided so called "cafeteria Catholics" who give into the temptation "to view the magisterium in relation to his individualism and self-pursuit.He held nothing back, calling out first and foremost bishops who have given into such temptation and left their flock to be scattered by the wolves of a society that teaches us to "believe what is convenient and to reject what is difficult for us or which challenges us."


He also left no doubt about the hypocrisy of so-called Catholic politicians and others who publicly disobey and refuse to live according to the magisterium in every day life:


"We find self-professed Catholics, for example, who sustain and support the right of a woman to procure the death of the infant in her womb, or the right of two persons of the same sex to the recognition which the State gives to a man and a woman who have entered into marriage. It is not possible to be a practicing Catholic and to conduct oneself publicly in this manner.”


He lamented the scandal that it as wrought, "that many have become confused about 'the most basic truths,' namely the inviolable dignity of innocent human life from conception until natural death, and marriage of one man and one woman 'as the first and irreplaceable' source of life and society."


We have been looking for these words from Rome for a long time, since we are not hearing them from many of our own pulpits.  Even better that they should come from an American.


Read the article: A Plea for Life, Truth, and Obedience (Zenit.org)

+AMDG+

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Hearts According to God's Own

Yesterday was the feast of Saints Isaac Jogues, John de Brebeuf, and companions, French Jesuits who were martyred in the mid-17th Century while carrying the Gospel to the natives in the New World.  Last night as I was reading through the account of their missionary experiences, frought with pain, captivity, and frightful torture at the hands of the people who they came to bring the love of the Gospel to, I could not help but wonder:  what did these men possess that enabled them to endure such suffering and hardship, and to do it with such great joy?  They were willing to preach the Gospel and try to negotiate peace with a nation who came to despise them as sorcerers, and they returned literally again and again.

Contrast that with today, when we Catholics (myself included) are so hesitant to speak the name of Jesus and share Him with those around us who do not believe, for fear that we might be shunned socially, professionally, or worse by our own families.  Why?  What's holding us back?

Some members of the Church throughout the world face the same kind of suffering and "martyrdom of the red" today, where the Church is physically persecuted, but most of us do not face the threat of physical hardship for the faith.  Unfortunately, in many ways it seems the Church in America has allowed itself to be lulled into a hazy, sleepy faith, where many do not even know the faith, let alone being able to proclaim it.  We end up more bored in the presence of Christ than burning with grateful love for the fact that God himself came to live with us and share in our suffering and death so that we might be raised up into His eternal life.

It would do us well to rediscover the stories of many of the martyrs and tell them to our children, but first and most especially to meditate on what their lives and deaths point us to: the love Christ poured out for us (literally) in His passion, death, and Resurrection.  Let us pray for the reality of that burning love to be driven deep into our hearts and light them on fire.  Let the words of Saint John de Brebeuf in a letter he wrote encouraging would-be French missionaries to come to the New World, ring just as true to us today, as we are faced with a "brave new world" of radical secularism and indifference:

"We have learned that the salvation of many innocent souls, washed and whitened by the Blood of the Son of God, is stirring deeply the hearts of many men, inflaming them with fresh desires to leave Old France and come to the New.  May God be forever blessed!  By this means he has showed us that he has finally opened up to these tribes the depths of his infinite mercy.  Far be it from me to chill the ardor of the generous resolutions of those noble souls who aspire to become missionaries.  Theirs are hearts according to God's own, and we are eagerly awaiting for them...
It is true that "love is strong as death" (Sg 8:6); that the love of God has power to do what death does--that is, detach us entirely from creatures and even from ourselves!...
When you reach the land of the Hurons, you will indeed find our hearts full of love.  We will receive you with open arms as we would an angel from paradise."
 Saint John de Brebeuf (+1649)
+AMDG+

 

Monday, October 18, 2010

Dr Alveda King's Blog

My apologies for not having much time to type out a good post lately.  However, I did want to point you all to a new blog that I can't believe it's taken me this long to come across.  Dr. Alveda King, neice of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is a staunch pro-life advocate and associate of Priests for Life.  Her blog highlights the abortion struggle as exactly what it is, a civil rights issue.  No, more than that: the civil rights issue.  Until we right this wrong of millions of unborn children being ripped (literally) from what ought to be the safest place to begin growing, until we stop denying the most innocent and voiceless among us the most fundamental right to live and exist as the human being that they are, all other "rights" and policy issues ought to pale in comparison.  We cannot get them right until we get this one right.  God does not compromise in creating life, so we cannot compromise in protecting it.

+AMDG+

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Fact and Feelings: Objective Truth vs Subjective Experience (Part 2)

Last week's post addressed the question posed by Pontius Pilate of Christ, What is truth?

The question that flows from that, even if we accept that there is objective truth, is, How can we know the truth when we find it?  Can we rely on our consciences, our "moral compasses," so to speak, to tell us when we have found it?

Well, first the short answer: no, we can't.  Our compasses have been contaminated and no longer reliably point toward north.

Of course that answer deserves some explanation.  Our intellects have been darkened and wills weakened by original sin to the point that they are unreliable when it comes to identifying truth on our own.  In fact, not only are we not able to recognize truth on our own, we also cannot accurately tell how far from the truth we have strayed (i.e. we cannot even recognize the existence or degree of our own sin).  This is a concept that is largely lost on our society today, which tends to discount the possibility of sin altogether and explain our suffering under the human condition "as merely a developmental flaw, a psychological weakness, a mistake, or the necessary consequence of an inadequate social structure, etc." (CCC 387).

Saint Augustine, in his Confessions, admitted that even once he recognized and conceded that there was evil, he could not discern where it came from.  This "mystery of lawlessness" as he referred to it, was only resolved by his conversion to the "mystery of faith."

So then, if we cannot recognize our own sin, what good is our conscience?  Doesn't it play a role?  Isn't our ultimate responsibility not to violate our conscience?

I tend to think of our conscience as being like one of those old cassette tapes (you remember those, don't you?).  The quality of the recording depended on two things: the quality of the cassette receiving the recording, and the clarity with which the original recording was transmitted to it.  In the same way, our consciences are only as good as we allow them to be by: (1) disposing ourselves--through an attitude of humility and obedience--to the source of truth and the grace by which we receive it; and (2) Seeking out that authentic truth as He has revealed himself to us, and not as we would intend him to be.  Just like a cassette tape whose fidelity quickly fades when it is re-recorded from itself or other tapes instead of the master, so it is with our consciences; their fidelity quickly fades when not frequently and properly oriented to the source of righteousness and goodness.

So, yes we do have a grave responsibility not to sin by violating our conscience, but that is only half of the equation.  The other half lies in our responsibility to form our consciences to be like the mind of Christ; in other words to have no tolerance to what he has defined as sin and to act as he has commanded us to act.

Then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger explained this idea in his essay, Conscience and Truth, which is included in the compilation Values in A Time of Upheaval:

It is true on this level of judgment (conscientia in the narrower sense) that an erring conscience obligates.  The rational tradition of Scholasticism makes this proposition absolutely clear. As Paul had affirmed (Rom 14:23), no one may act against his own convictions.  But the fact that one's conviction is naturally binding at the moment one acts does not mean a canonization of subjectivity.  One who follows the conviction at which he has arrived, never incurs guilt.  Indeed, one must follow such a conviction.  But guilt may very well consist in arriving at such perverse convictions by trampling down the protest made by the anamnesis of one's true being.  The guilt would then like on a deeper level, not in the act itself, but in that neglect of my own being that has dulled me to the voice of truth and made me deaf to what it says within me.

So, the ability to recognize the truth and live according to it--wisdom--is not something that comes organically from within us, at least in our fallen state.  Rather it has existed from the beginning of creation (cf Proverbs 8:22-36) and is given to us as a gift, to correct, untwist, and reorient us back to the purpose for which we were created, to know, love, and serve God.  To go with the early compass analogy, the grace and gift of wisdom frees our compasses to swing back toward north, so that we are able to live lives oriented toward the Truth--toward Christ--and not toward ourselves and society.  It cannot be obtained by grasping at it, only by submitting ourselves to His loving authority, as has been handed down to us in His Church.  Then we are able to do as St. Paul commends us in his Second Letter to the Thessalonians, To avoid the deception of the "man of lawlessness" (cf 2 Thess 2:3-10) and to "stand firm and hold fast to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter" (2 Thess 2:15).


+AMDG+

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Guardian Angels

(I intended to write this post yesterday, on the Feast of the Guardian Angels, but as frequently happens the busyness of the weekend catch-up got in the way.  The good thing about feast days is they are celebrations and reminders, not due dates of prayer.  So, better late than never.)

When was the last time you prayed to your guardian angel?  Or to your spouse's and childrens' guardian angels, in thanksgiving and acknowledgement of carrying on their protection and guidance (especially spiritual protection) where you cannot?  When was the list time you were still in adoration, either at mass or Adoration (with a capital "A"), praying consciously the perpetual prayer of worship offered by the four living creatures of Revelation 4:8, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!"


I found myself asking those questions as I thought about the feast yesterday.  My answer: not enough.

It's easy to forget about them sometimes, since they operate mostly invisibly and imperceptibly.  Nonetheless, the reality remains: our loving Father has appointed these spiritual "bodyguards" (I guess "spirit-guards" would be the proper term) to carry out the same promise of protection he made to the Isrealites as he led them out of Egypt:

"Behold I will send my angel, who shall go before thee, and keep thee in thy journey, and bring thee into the place that I have prepared. Take notice of him, and hear his voice" (Exodus 23; capitulum ad Laudes).

And so, perpetually, day and night, as our guides and co-servants of the Lord, they carry out their three-fold office: (1) to praise God, (2) to act as his messengers, and (3) to watch over us mortal men during our exile on earth.


So, just a friendly reminder: take a minute before you start your day, and at its end, to spend some time in conversation with your angel and the angels of the ones you love.  It'll be a minute (or two or three) well spent.



Angel of God, my guardian dear
To whom God's love commits me here
Ever this day be at my side
To light and guard,
To rule and guide.  Amen.

+AMDG+

Friday, October 1, 2010

Fact and Feelings: Objective Truth vs Subjective Experience (Part 1)


Welcome to the first installment of "Philosophy Fridays!"  In the interest of all of our very precious blog time, let's get right down to it.


"What is truth?" Pontius Pilate's words as recounted by St. John (18:36) tell us just as much about the man who asked them, and are just as much a searching of his own troubled heart, as they are about the God-man, Jesus Christ, who stood accused before him.  Pilate, in his questioning of the accused and the accusers (the Jews), became even more troubled when, after he had Christ scourged, found out exactly why the Jews were so violently adamant about having this seemingly innocent man not only scourged and publicly humiliated but executed in a way reserved for the most horrible of criminals: crucifixion; "by that law he ought to die, because he has made himself the Son of God. When Pilate heard these words he was even more afraid" (John 19:7-8).

In a way, Pilate's searching and questioning are a microcosm of the great question of the broken human condition:  What is truth?  Where can we find it?  How do we know it when we find it?  These are the the great questions that philosophers and theologians have pondered for the entirety of recorded human history.  In today's world, sadly, it seems that we have become surrounded by so many distractions and "creature comforts" that many are numbed by the droning on of everyday life and do not even bother to ask the questions any more.  Where we do, just as many others have become convinced by what Pope Benedict XVI has referred to as the "dictatorship of relativism," that truth is whatever we experience and believe it to be, and changes just as fluidly as societal norms.  When that happens, we begin to put feelings and sensory experiences above the truth that they are meant to point us toward.  Our feelings and experiences begin to take the place of faith and become idols in themselves, to the point that fact and truth become like flags waving in the wind instead of a firm foundation. This topic, the meeting of subjective experience with the objective, unchanging Truth that was at the heart of Pilate's question, is what I'll start on here and get more into in the weeks ahead.

Catholic Professor and Theologian Peter Kreeft, in his recent book Jesus Shock, retells a story by the Chinese Christian writer Watchman Nee that I think captures the properly ordered relationship between fact, faith, and feelings and what happens when that relationship gets out of whack:


Fact, Faith, and Feeling are three men walking on a wall.  Fact goes first, Faith second, and Feeling third.  As long as Faith keeps his eyes ahead on Fact, all three stay on the wall and make progress.  But as soon as Faith takes his eyes off Fact and turns around to see how Feeling is doing, Faith falls off the wall, and Feeling follows, while Fact walks on.
"The point is obvious," Kreeft adds, "the object of our faith is not feeling but fact, not subjective experience but objective truth." That, in a nutshell, is what it's all about.

Whether it is pop psychology, science, or what I like to call "feel good faith," the world offers so many ways (and so-called experts) to boost that subjective experience by giving us temporary, here-and-now answers, but do any of them ultimately satisfy our deepest longing for that eternal, outside-ourselves Truth?

Well, let's look at it with another analogy.  Imagine a play.  The key actors, in the hundredth or two hundredth casting and finding themselves somewhat removed from the original casting of the play, begin to wonder what the point of the play was in the first place.  Why was it written?  What message was it meant to convey? In other words, what is the point?  Assuming the playwright/producer/director is still alive and very much active in the play, although not in a way that the actors can explicitly perceive, wouldn't it make sense for the actors to take those questions to him?  What if they didn't?  What if they instead began to ask the question of each other (through speculation), of the set (nature), or even of the script (history) that has been lined out, crossed through, and highlighted in odd places by previous performers?  Could they reliably turn to any of these sources for the answer to the question that only the author himself can answer?

That turning inward and refusal to take the question to the author (and take his word for it--literally, since he sent his Word to us in the flesh) is exactly what we do when we refuse to take our longing to God and instead fill the desire that he leaves with other "stuff."  We substitute our own limited experience, perceptions, thoughts, etc. that leave us unsatisfied--our "truth"--for the Truth that never fails to satisfy.

Pilate probably didn't realize that the question he asked, he may as well have asked on behalf of an entire human race desperate to know the Truth.  He probably also didn't realize that the Truth was right there, standing right before him, who had already declared that "I am the way, and the truth, and the life..." (John 14:6).  His question had already been answered, and in a manner so generously, infinitely inconceivable that it could only be perceived with the eyes of faith and not feelings or the senses.

To be continued in Part Two.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Coming This Friday...

I've been thinking for some time now that it's about high time I wrote a series, and it just so happens there's been one topic bugging me that would be perfectly suited for it.


If you can't tell from my previous posts, I have a sort of love-hate relationship with news.  I love knowing what's going on in the world.  On the other hand, I can't stand the media, or at least how they tend to sensationalize everything into 5-minute (or less) sound bytes, like bubble gum for our brains.  Then, I pick up a book from any of the great Catholic thinkers, from the Church fathers to St. Augustine to St. Thomas Aquinas, right up to our modern-day popes, John Paul the Great and Benedict XVI and think, "Why in the world do I even bother to turn the TV on."  Seriously, it's like a war going on in my brain.  It's like soup and sandwich vs Snickers...both sound so good but only one is really satisfying.

So, I'm making a commitment to pick the good books up (Scripture and the Catechism being tops among them) and do some mental and spiritual weightlifting.   After all, it beats real weightlifting any day of the week.  No excuses, no holds barred, it's time to dig in.
So, starting this Friday, I'd like to introduce my first series...Philosophy Fridays.

The first topic?  One that I think needs to be discussed more today: Fact and Feelings: Orienting Objective Truth and Subjective Experience.

Please drop in when you can, subscribe if you'd like, and, by all means, leave feedback.

God bless you and I'll see you Friday!

AMDG

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Fear Not!

Yesterday while flipping through the channels as a self-reward for completing a homework assignment, I stumbled upon an episode of Archbishop Fulton Sheen's "Life is Worth Living" series on EWTN.  I'm not an EWTN watcher and although I've heard of his series, I'd never taken the time to seek out and watch them.  That might change now.  Once I got past the antiquated black-and-white, the immediate realization came to mind: this man was a master communicator, and his message was crystal clear.  My DVR is set to record the series now.

Archbishop Sheen's message in the episode that was a topic that I am trying to make into a four letter word: FEAR.

That's right, the other four-letter word.  The one we think about so much, but may never talk about or face head-on.  Archbishop Sheen opened by referencing a 1927 speech by Joseph Stalin on the coexistence of Communism and Capitalism in the 20th Century.  His initial point was as provocative then as it is now, and caught my attention:

Deep down, any desire for "coexistence" and "world peace," that is not rooted in genuine love and God's plan as revealed in Christ, ultimately stems from a source other than God: fear.  That fear takes two forms: first, psychological fear, created by the tensions that exist between men because of our sinful nature, and second, the concrete, physical fear of suffering or death.  Both of those fears have been present throughout human history since the fall; in the 1950's they were manifested by the looming threat of nuclear war, which the fear of MAD (mutually assured destruction) ultimately kept at bay.  Today, terrorism and economic uncertainty lead us to fear the unknown and unknowable future.

Archbishop Sheen pointed out the fact that we are fed an almost constant diet of fear, particularly in the media.  We are literally taught to live in fear: fear of serious illness or injury and the effects it might have, fear of losing a job or not making the next promotion, fear of losing a loved one who is close to us, even fear of not looking "good enough" or "fitting into the right crowd."  This list is endless, but you get the point.  There is a fine line that legitimate concerns and responsibilities in life cross to become fears that define the way we live.  That line is Christ.

By a quick count, we are commanded explitily not to fear or live in anxiety at least half a dozen times in the New Testament alone (Mt 10:26-28, Lk 12:7, Mt 14:27, Mk 5:36, Rev 1:17 & 2:10), and dozens of other times implicitly using the negative examples of people who lived in fear.  Probably the most famous issuance of this command was Matthew's account of Christ walking on the water toward the Apostles, whose boat is being tossed about by the stormy sea: "Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid" (Matthew 14:27).  The Apostle Paul likewise cautions us in his letter to the Philippians, "Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:6; emphasis mine).  I emphasize the anything and everything because Jesus' command, and Paul's exhortation in support of it, are given as absolutes.  There are no exceptions.  There are no ifs, and, or buts.

The world offers us many temporary antidotes to our fear: everything from better medication and medical care, to the latest safety gadets and techniques, psychotherapy and meditation, better and more efficient ways of communicating, etc.  Each of those has their place and is none is bad in and of itself, but where they become dangerous is when we begin to put our ultimate trust in stuff--in the "expert advice"--instead of in our loving Father.  In fact as we see so much in our secularized world today, they can lead to a self-reliance and reliance on governmental and socio-economic structures to the exclusion of God.  Ironically, society makes us a promise that ultimately only God can make: that, if we trust it (instead of Him), everything in the end will be okay.  Worldly fear ultimately leads us to distrust a perfect, all-powerful and unconditionally loving Father in favor of our own limited, broken, and fallible human will and intellect.

But the Father has given us a cure for our fear, and for everything else that wears us down and divides us: love.  For "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear."  (1 John 4:18)  That perfect love is not some abstract, intangible idea as we would imagine it.  It is the limitless but very tangible love that is a person, Jesus Christ.  That is a whole post in itself, so more on that for a later time. 

Archbishop Sheen ended the episode by contrasting two images, a pyramid and a healthy, flourishing tree, to illustrate the difference between false, man-made peace, and the peace of God.  Society (without God) establishes itself like a pyramid, trying to dictate its utopian notion of a peace from above.  As history has proven, that system does not work and is doomed to fail because true peace that only comes as a byproduct of love and trust, does not take hold.  True peace grows much more like a tree, where the individual members (you and I) are roots watered and sustained by love--first of God, then of neighbor as self--and strengthened by the concrete morality that is rooted obedience to his Commandments.  Those roots grow and feed a healthy society, which ultimately reaches skyward and points toward the eternal Kingdom of Heaven.

Jesus taught us perfectly what it means to trust the Father, and lived what he taught to the death.  Living without fear does not mean that we will not undergo trial and suffering, only that if we join it with the suffering of his passion and crucifixion, we have the Resurrection as a promise that he will bring us through all of it and into eternal glory.  For "the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Romans 8:18).  I don't know about you, but that sounds much better than just a few decades (if we're lucky) of being comfortably okay.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Father's Joy

Last week, after four years of hoping, praying, and longing for a child, our fourth adoption attempt went through and we brought home a baby girl.  Even better, at the last minute the birth mom changed her mind about the adoption being closed and asked if we could come to the hospital just a few hours after she was born.

Immediately we realized...we hadn't chosen a name!  We had thrown a few ideas back and forth but, for whatever reason (at least a sense of guardedness on my part), we had narrowed it down to three but had not really prayed about it.  That all changed the moment she locked eyes with me that night.  Lauren says that my face lit up like a Christmas tree.  I won't deny it.

Our friend Lisa, who we've found has some prophetic dreams when it comes to names, mentioned the name Abigail a few weeks before, but we honestly had not considered it as a biblical or saint name (which we wanted to stick to).  The next morning, before we left for the hospital to spend more time with our daughter-to-be, Lauren searched "girl's names in the bible" and the first name returned was--you guessed it--Abigail.

Of course!  How had we forgotten it? Abigail was David's first wife, to whom he proposed marriage after she intervened to stay his anger by offering him the hospitality that her husband Nabal (Hebrew for "fool") had obstinately refused.  (Nabal died shortly afterward).  At their first encounter, she fell at David's feet, taking her husband's blame upon herself and begging David's forgiveness:


As she fell at his feet she said: "My lord, let the blame be mine. Please let your handmaid speak to you, and listen to the words of your handmaid....Now, therefore, my lord, as the LORD lives, and as you live, it is the LORD who has kept you from shedding blood and from avenging yourself personally. May your enemies and those who seek to harm my lord become as Nabal!Accept this present, then, which your maidservant has brought for my lord, and let it be given to the young men who follow my lord. Please forgive the transgression of your handmaid, for the LORD shall certainly establish a lasting dynasty for my lord, because your lordship is fighting the battles of the LORD, and there is no evil to be found in you your whole life long. If anyone rises to pursue you and to seek your life, may the life of my lord be bound in the bundle of the living in the care of the LORD your God; but may he hurl out the lives of your enemies as from the hollow of a sling. And when the LORD carries out for my lord the promise of success he has made concerning you, and appoints you as commander over Israel, you shall not have this as a qualm or burden on your conscience, my lord, for having shed innocent blood or for having avenged yourself personally. When the LORD confers this benefit on your lordship, remember your handmaid." (1 Samuel 24, 26-31)

David, struck by her bold yet humble intervention, praised her, saying:

"Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who sent you to meet me today. Blessed be your good judgment and blessed be you yourself, who this day have prevented me from shedding blood and from avenging myself personally. Otherwise, as the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, who has restrained me from harming you, if you had not come so promptly to meet me, by dawn Nabal would not have had a single man or boy left alive." (1 Samuel 25:32-24)
Wow!  So Abigial is described as "intelligent and attractive," and praised and blessed by David for her good judgement.  I like that.

To top it all off, the meaning of her name, in Hebrew "A father's joy," could not describe better what she has become to us.  Despite the sleepless nights, and many frustrations of parenting a newborn for the first time (which are lessons in and of themselves; more on that in a later post), as well as the unknowingness of an unfinalized adoption, we are filled with such great joy at this child that the Lord has given to us.

We selected her middle name, Chiara, in honor of Blessed Chiara "Luce" Badano, a beautiful and inspirational modern-day young woman who was filled with the light of Christ, so much that she was given the nickname of "Light" despite all of her suffering and early death at 18 from a rare form of bone cancer.   Her name has returned to us several times over the past year, since Lauren first heard of her while we were touring Italy, and she is being beatified today in Rome with great celebration.

Our child, Abgail Chiara, who does not yet know how much she is loved, has become her father's joy.

Blessed Chiara, Pray for us!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Heroes

Pope Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Ratzinger) commented in his 1997 book Salt of the Earth,

Maybe we are facing a new and different kind of epoch in the Church's history, where Christianity will again be characterized more by the mustard seed, where it will exist in small, seemingly insignificant groups that nonetheless live an intense struggle against evil and bring good into the world--that let God in.
I have had the sense for some time now that a phenomenon is taking place within the Church.  That sense has emerged over the past year or so, as my wife and I have been drawn deeper and deeper into our faith and have been brought together so many Catholic friends who are engaged in living the "intense struggle against evil" that the Holy Father spoke about.  In every case, an almost instantaneous bond is formed, created by the realization that we are both living for the same end--the coming of God's Kingdom--by hunkering down and refusing to let the culture of death and influence our daily lives or proclamation of the Truth.  We will not, we cannot, allow the subtle lies of its author to undermine our commitment to obedience to the One who gave his life for our salvation, and to teach us how radically we are to obey and love.

Of course none of us is perfect, and the perspective is not meant to be a judgment on those who call themselves Catholic and Christian.  But at the same time, to deny a sentiment that is shared by so many trusted friends who live lives of faithful prayer and frequent, joyful reception of the Sacraments, seems that it would be a denial of the reality that our culture tries its hardest to sweep under the rug.  It has become so real that I find myself asking more and more, what is to come of this separation arising in the Church?  Is the phenomenon of faithful Catholics who seek to worship and evangelize--to live their Catholicism as the identity and center of their lives and not just as a comforting accessory--being shunned by other, selective and "liberal" Catholics, including those in positions of authority in the Church.  Is this the beginning of a new and different kind of "mustard seed" faithfulness?

It is no surprise that Michael Voris, who travels from coast to coast giving retreats and speaking to Catholics, has encountered the same sentiment, which he captured in a Vortex spot this past week.






This program is from RealCatholicTV.com
 
If it is indeed the case, let it be our living prayer that the Church and our culture would be renewed from the inside out, that the salt of our lives would bring the wonderful flavor of life, love and authentic joy that comes from living according to the Father's will, back into our society and into the world.  Let us be instruments of what the Holy Father has called the "New Evangelization," and renew each other and be renewed by the Sacraments to live according to our high calling.  Let us live as we hope to die and spend eternal life, as saints and heroes.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Lost and Found

Every so often, circumstances in life converge to create a state where it starts to feel as though we're being more dragged along for the ride than everything being under control.  Commitments, expectations at work, and all the other details of life begin to crowd in to the point where other, ultimately more important and necessary things--like our relationship and communication with God--start to get inched to the wayside.  When Christ and our relationship with him start to slip from the center toward the periphery, it is inevitable that we will substitute ourselves, and all the baggage we carry with us.  That is when things start to go awry.

I didn't realize it until this past week, but that is exactly what has been happening to me these last few weeks and months.   The details began to creep in--slowly, one by one, almost impercebtibly--to the point that my relationship with God, and with my wife, and general order in life, began to suffer.  It happens once in a while, and I usually rely on her to let me know (as she so gracefully does) that my "stress index" has increased to the point that I need to step back, take a spiritual and mental breather, and recage priorities.

Ultimately, I needed to do what all of us so often need to, to let go of my grasp on life.  I needed to feel God's presence again, not just in a superficial, sentimental way, but with that deep, peaceful command that comes when we let the one whose voice calmed the raging sea take control: "Take courage.  It is I."  I needed to recover daily time with him that I had started to let other things cut into.  I needed to be still and know that he is God.

The best place to recover this peace was--you guessed it--Confession and Eucharistic Adoration.  So we went and, true to form, Christ was right where he promised to be and always is, with us here and now, and forever.  Even more, as they usually do during Adoration, his words (today's reading from Luke 15) cut right to the quick of what I was experiencing.  Jesus' use of the the three parables of loss--the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son--opened my eyes to the fact that I had, in fact, been losing touch with him.  As he spoke to me through his words to the Pharisees and Scribes, the truth of the experience became crystal clear:

Our loss, or being lost, is just as often a "slow fade" from remaining centered on Him as it is a catastrophic fall into serious sin.

Whether or not we like it, Satan knows us.  He knows that if Plan A, to convince us that God doesn't exist, and Plan B, to swindle us into destruction through serious sin, both fail, he can always resort to Plan C, to lure us slowly away from Christ and pull our gaze off of Him using the details and anxieties of everyday life, however innocent and well-meaning they may be.  He does it impercebtibly, hoping that we will not notice until Christ has been edged out of our life entirely and all that's left of our relationship with him is an empty, nostalgic memory.  Either way, we fall precisely into the original sin that he lured Adam and Eve into in the garden, to start to seize control of our lives instead of allowing God to remain in the driver's seat and clinging with love and adoration to his plan for our life and salvation. Even though none of the details that pulled us away from him may be evil in itself, they can lead us directly into violation of the First Commandment: "I am the Lord your God.  You shall have no other Gods besides me." That includes work, school, and anything else that we allow to take the place that is rightfully his.

But, thankfully, God allows us to feel the "righteous anxiety" that comes when we lose our focus on him and on submitting ourselves in obedience to his will.  He gives us the grace to sense the chaos that slowly but surely ensues, in hopes that we will repent.  Even more than that, like the Father of the lost son, he stands always there with open arms, present in the Sacrament of the Altar, waiting for us to return to his arms and into joy, love, and peace that passes all understanding.

Lord, do not let us be lost by having our eyes drawn away from you.  Help us to keep our gaze always fixed on your cross, that we may live all aspects of our life with an awareness of its power and of the eternal life that you have destined us for through your death and Resurrection.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Guest Post: The Myth of Church and State

I was honored two days ago when my wife asked if I would contribute to her Marriage Mondays series.  I decided to write a few comments on the separation of church and state, and how the sentiment expressed by the Founding Fathers in the wording of the First Amendment has been twisted and pulled to an anti-religious (especially anti-Christian) extreme.  Please visit her blog, Magnify the Lord With Me, for the original posting of my commentary, and check out her other material while you're there.

Lauren's "Marriage Mondays" posts have done a great job of capturing the secular arguments for maintaining the societal standard of marriage as being between one man and one woman. Thanks Lauren! As I was reading through them, I couldn’t help but notice that several folks have posted comments to the effect that we need to maintain the “wall of separation between church and state” with regard to marriage. She has invited me to do a guest post to address this issue.
MYTH: Church (religion) and state must be kept completely separate. Anyone who holds to the traditional standard as a matter of religious conviction should not seek to impose the traditional standard on the rest of a society.

BUST: The Founding Fathers were not ignorant or simple men. They were geniuses, the most highly respected and innovative doctors, farmers, and lawyers of their time. They were steeped in philosophy, history, and natural law, and drew from this enormous perspective and wealth of knowledge in their drafting of the founding documents (Declaration of Independence and Constitution). Although they came from many different faith backgrounds, almost to a tee they acknowledged and revered the authority of the “Creator God” of the Judeo-Christian faith tradition and the fact that the entire system of Western legal and political thought rested firmly on the foundation of this faith tradition.

A few more details…

Alexis de Tocqueville, in his 1837 novel “Democracy in America,” noted that the strength and “verve” that pulsed so strong in the young country’s veins was due to its strong moral identity, based primary on the tenets of Christianity and Christian morality. He recognized that the churches played a critical role in informing American’s consciences, but also made an ominous prediction that, when the fervor faded with time, the strong and thriving society would descend into a relativistic, anti-religious (especially anti-Catholic and anti-Christian) state the likes of which had recently given rise to the Jacobin regime and the French Revolution.
While the First Amendment (wisely) forbade the establishment of any particular religion as the “official” religion of the new Republic, it also respected the right of citizens to live (not just to worship but to live) their faith, which includes the right to speak, act and vote—to carry out all aspects of living—according to their faith-informed consciences.
If we push the “Creator God” and the unchanging Natural Law that he has stamped as his sort of “fingerprint” on creation to the wayside, the only alternative is a descent into a state of being where fallen, sinful humanity attempts to make up or change the rules for itself, as popular opinion dictates. Man begins—as he has so many times in the past—to try to arbitrarily engineer the political and legal systems to codify his own happiness as an end in itself, rather than as paths to a just society as the Creator has defined it. He begins to “grasp” at happiness and a twisted sense of justice, rather than accepting the standard that has been laid down since the beginning of time. Isn’t that precisely the sin that the serpent tempted Adam and Eve to in the garden, that they did not need God and could make up the rules for themselves?
The Founding Fathers were well aware of this tendency, of its historical consequences (descent into tyranny with relativism as the societal standard). It is, in large part, why they went through such painful deliberations to carefully craft an intricate system of checks and balances.

So how does this all relate to marriage? Going a step beyond the secular arguments that Lauren has presented for preserving the traditional view of marriage, faithful Jews and Christians—anyone who reads Scripture without a personal agenda—cannot brush aside the role of God’s design for human freedom and justice in a thriving society. That includes his design for the relationship that is intended to be the foundation of society: marriage. He has laid out the standard in rather explicit terms, beginning with Genesis 2:24, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.” From the very beginning, he has stressed the importance of the “one body” or “one flesh” union as the foundational relationship, while also carefully and several times condemning, under both the Old and New Covenants, what we might today describe as “alternatives” (Genesis 19:5-8, Leviticus 18:22-23 & 20:13, 1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Timothy 1:9-10, Romans 1:26-27). He was also very meticulous in providing us examples of what happens when we ignore him. Let’s just say they do not end well.

Lauren, thanks for inviting me to chime in on the debate, and thank you all for reading if you’ve made it this far. Lauren will go into some more detail next week about the Natural Law and what its implications are for we who are stewards of God’s creation, especially with regard to marriage. In the meantime, I’d greatly appreciate your thoughts and comments.

God Bless and Keep You.

CACG Closes Up Shop--At Least for Now

More good news on the pro-life front.  We are making short strides in turning around the culture of death, but there is still MUCH work to be done, including the continued exposure politicians and political activists who falsely claim to be faithful Cathlolics.

Washington D.C., Sep 4, 2010 / 10:01 am (CNA).- A member of the advisory board for the group Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good (CACG) confirmed to CNA on Friday that the organization had closed its offices, ceased the majority of its activities and that staff members had moved on to other jobs.


Catholics in Alliance was accused by bishops and laity of identifying Catholic social teaching with the concerns and agenda of a single political party, and criticized for neglecting the importance of issues such as abortion.

Dr. Liza Cahill of Boston University, a member of CACG's advisory board, explained to CNA in a e-mail that the group "did not cease to exist but did close its offices and most operations. It is in a holding pattern and staff have gone into positions at similar organizations."

CNA confirmed that the group's phone number has been disconnected, with “no further information” provided by the phone company. CACG's former executive director, Alexia Kelley, was named to a position at the Department of Health and Human Services in June 2009. The group's spokesman John Gehring also recently left CACG, according to his current employer Faith in Public Life.

Attempts by CNA to contact CACG's interim executive director, Vicky Kovari, did not result in any response. Although Catholics in Alliance's website remains online, it lists no current staff, and its last blog entry is from June.

CACG became embroiled in a number of controversies that surrounded the 2008 election of Barack Obama and his subsequent presidency. The group strongly supported the passage of national health care legislation that was criticized by the nation's Catholic bishops for lacking conscience provisions and possibly opening the door to federal funding of abortion.

Archbishop Charles Chaput criticized CACG and similar groups in a 2008 speech, saying that in spite of their concerns for social justice, these groups had ultimately harmed both society and the Church.

Such groups, the archbishop explained, typically “seek to 'get beyond' abortion” as a politically divisive issue, “or economically reduce the number of abortions, or create a better society where abortion won’t be necessary.” But these strategies, the archbishop charged, “involve a misuse of the seamless garment imagery in Catholic social teaching,” demoting the issue of an individual's right to life in favor of “other important but less foundational social issues.”

CNA encountered some difficulties in attempting to ascertain the present status of CACG, particularly in seeking clarification from Chris Korzen, Executive Director of Catholics United.

CNA approached Korzen because he not only co-authored a book with the founder of Catholics in Alliance, but was on the group's payroll as a full-time employee in 2007.

Korzen, however, would not answer questions about the status of Catholics in Alliance, and instead chose to respond to inquiries by asking CNA a series of unrelated questions.

“Can you tell me what the relationship is between CNA and EWTN?” he asked, ignoring a direct question as to whether Catholics in Alliance was now defunct. “What is the relationship between CNA and the Archdiocese of Denver?”

Eventually, Korzen explained his refusal to answer questions about Catholics in Alliance by saying: "It occurs to me that we've never exactly been clear on who you guys are and what your real motivations are. So we're not going to be able to answer any questions until we get some more clarity.”

The director of Catholics United also insisted he was “separate from Catholics in Alliance, so I really can't speak for them anyway.” Korzen received $84,821 in compensation for full-time work for CACG in 2007. In 2008, he explained to Anne Hendershott in a piece for the Catholic Advocate that Catholics United does the “edgier” work.

Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good's current president, Morna Murray, will make an appearance this Sunday on "This Is America With Dennis Wholey." The program runs on WHUT, a Washington D.C. public television station, and will air at 6 p.m. Eastern. Murray will be accompanied by the National Education Association's Dennis Van Roekel and American Federation of Teachers' Randi Weingarten.

Click here for the original article at CNA.