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!


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


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.