Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sex and a seismic shift: how badly we (all) understand the Church's teaching on contraception

The ticker on the bottom of the news broadcast caught my eye: "...seismic shift in Catholic Church teaching...."

Were Pope Benedict's words regarding condom use published in Ignatius Press' "Light of the World" a seismic shift in Church teaching? Or does the fact that many perceive it to be a seismic shift betray that many people--in the secular media as well as normal Church-going Catholics--don׳t have a properly nuanced understanding of the Church's teaching? I think it's the latter.

Here's why. Many think that the Church's teaching on contraception or artifical birth control can be summed up this way: "The use of artificial contraception is evil, always. Don't do it, ever."

But this isn't what the Catholic Church teaches, either in Humanae Vitae or in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Holy Father is revealing that many people don't understand the teaching. Before these brass tacks, here is a telling story, somewhat self-incriminating.

I was sitting in a seminary classroom in a moral theology class several years ago. The professor--a faithful, orthodox, and good priest and theologian--asked us, his class of eager and zealous seminarians, this hypothetical:

A band of violent guerrilla soldiers attack a small village in Africa. It is very likely that they will attack and perhaps rape members of a women's religious order, young nuns in their 20's, and 30's. Assuming that the nuns cannot escape this terrible situation, is it morally permissible for the nuns to take the "pill" or to demand that their attackers wear condoms, in order to prevent conception?

By a show of hands, almost the entire class said that the nuns would not be morally permitted to do this. We thought we were boldly and bravely supporting the Church's teaching.

The professor was totally shocked. Almost speechless. I was shocked that he was shocked. Either the entire class was wrong, or he, a professor with a pontifical doctorate, was wrong.
Stumbling to find words, he asked some students to defend their view, and the answer came back: "Artifical birth control is always intrinisically evil. The unitive and procreative elements of sex can never be separated. Sexual intercourse must always be open to life."

Then he said something that shocked us in its simplicity and its power to illuminate this issue: "Gentlemen, the Catholic Church teaches that intentional sterilization is always intrinsically evil when performed before, during, or after the conjugal act."

He pointed out the obvious fact that Humanae Vitae addresses the regulation of births within marriage. The Church's concern is to protect the dignity of the conjugal act, which is the marital act between a husband and a wife. The Church has no interest, from a moral or spiritual perspective, of protecting the "dignity" of other forms of sexual intercourse, whether fornication, homosexual acts, rape, incest, prostitution, etc. For illustration, look up "contraception" in the Catechism's index and it reads: "see Marriage: purpose of". When the Church considers the moral issue of contraception, she does so within the context of marriage.

Back to my seminary classroom-full of shocked theologians. In our zeal to protect the Church's black and white teaching on contraception with respect to the marital act, we had actually distorted it by hastily misapplying it to de-humanizing forms of sexual expression.

Many have pointed out that the Pope was, in "Light of the World," speaking about the hypothetical case of a male prostitute, so that the Church's teaching on contraception would still univocally apply to any heterosexual sexual encounter. While there is a distinction between the depravities of these homosexual "relations" and heterosexual intercourse, this is not the fundamental issue here.

For example, some translations of the Pope's words refer to the hypothetical prostitute as "he" and some as "she". Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi reported, "I asked the Holy Father if there was a serious distinction in the choice of male instead of female, and he said, 'No.'"

The key distinction, then, is not the between homosexual and heterosexual sex; it is between marital and non-marital sex. Why? Because the Church never separates the unitive and procreative elements of the conjugal/marital act. The unitive component demands marriage; the procreative component demands marriage. Sexual intercourse is too intimately linked to love and life for it to be employed anywhere except the humanizing structure of marriage.

If you lose one dimension (the procreative or the unitive), you've already lost the other, and you no longer are dealing with the conjugal act. A prostitute, a rapist, and even--brace yourself--a cohabitating and fornicating engaged couple are all incapable of the conjugal act because they are not married. In these we're dealing with sexual encounters of varying degrees of brokenness and disorder. Into these situations, the Church--embodied by the Pope's recent beautiful fatherly comments--speaks words of compassion and, at least as importantly, conversion.

By the way, this "narrow" application of the Church's prohibition of contraception within marriage does not, on my reading, necessarily promote or prohibit any kind of sexual morality for non-marital sex acts. In other words, the Church isn't all that interested in how people can best fornicate, or how they can employ prostitutes with the least amount of damage. Jesus didn't argue with the Pharisees about details regarding the disorder of divorce, and the Church doesn't legislate details over sex that takes place outside of marriage, either. She calls us to conversion.

For the record, did the Pope say that condom use outside the marital act is morally justifiable, to prevent AIDS, for example? No, he didn't. (He said it may be a "first step in the direction of a moralization" but not a "moral solution.")

Did the Pope say that condom use is a good, practical solution to spreading STDs and unwanted pregnancies? No, he didn't. Not even close. Look carefully at his words in the new book. Dr Janet Smith has a good piece on it at:

Unlike my moral theology professor from years back, I doubt that the Holy Father is shocked at the prevading ignorance on this issue, whether within the ranks of the secular media or well-intentioned Catholics. He's way too smart far that.
If this little flare-up of press gets people to crack open their Catechisms or to read Humanae Vitae in order to investigate this issue for themselves, perhaps many will come to understand the clear, beautiful, humanizing, and unchanging teaching of the Catholic Church which forbids the intentional sterilization of the conjugal act.

That would be a seismic shift indeed.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Maggies place video

Here's my video from my running the maggies place run. Enjoy.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Is single life a vocation?

I recently exhorted a group of young adults to be open to discovering their vocations (see the previous post--it's from a modified homily, actually). I specifically mentioned priesthood, marriage, consecrated religious life.

The next morning I received a very thoughtful, fair, and clear email from a young adult at the Newman Center in which she expressed the following concerns, which my homily had brought up by omission. She wrote (by the way, she gave me permission to use excepts) that I "neglected one other vocational state: Single, just single; i.e., not called to marriage and not called to be a religious brother or sister, or third order whatever."

In her opinion, Catholic singles are the "forgotten vocation."

She went on to explain that, in her view, "the great majority of Catholics view all single people as in tension; i.e., trying to decide whether to choose the married life or to choose the priesthood/religious life."

And more, that "It never occurs to them that a single man or women might not be trying to decide anything. They’ve already chosen to be single."

The bottom line for my friendly and concerned interlocutor seems to be expressed when she writes: "it would be nice if the Catholic community at large, both priests and laity, recognized that the unconsecrated, unattached single life is a legitimate vocation too."

How would you respond to these comments? Can single life be dubbed a "vocation" in the same way as marriage, priesthood, and consecrated life?

Here's three elements of a good response.

1) Baptism is the fundamental "vocation" of each Christian, a consecration to be priest, prophet, and king through union with Christ. It is has a nuptial significance already, oriented as it is to completion (i.e., full initiation) by Holy Communion. From this perspective, there is no such thing as an "unattached" or "single" Christian.

This means priests and consecrated religious are not a special "caste" of those called to holiness and lay people are the lowly second-class citizens called to spiritual mediocrity. Why not? Because they are all baptized, and therefore consecrated to God.

Nonetheless, priesthood and marriage constitute two unique consecrations at the service of Communion in the Church. Far from downplaying baptismal dignity, these actually highlight it in specific ways.

2) To remain unmarried for the Lord is, in some sense, preferable and normative, in a symbolic though not statistical way. Recall that St Paul says in I Cor 34: "An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord's affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit." So in a way my friend is dead right: no one should be shocked at the unmarried status of Christian women, assuming that her virginity helps her to be concerned about the Lord's affairs, i.e., as we would say, living out her baptismal promises.

This "preferable" or "normative" dimension of Christian virginity we see in St Paul does not mean that a majority of Christians are to remain unmarried; rather, it points to the profound and thorough "texture" of baptismal, and in fact all authentic Christian, spirituality. Hey, we belong to the Lord, married or unmarried. Once in awhile I like to remind people of the radicality of Jesus Christ by saying something like, "If you've met Jesus Christ, how can you possibly think about any body else?" It gets the point across...even if it's totally unnuanced. All this being said, I'd gently offer one corrective to my emailing friend:

3) Virginity, to be properly ordered "to the Lord," benefits greatly from, and perhaps is ordered to, an ecclesial form.

I don't want to sell short the spontaneous reactions that my friend received from average Catholics. She wrote: "it would be nice if the Catholic community at large, both priests and laity, recognized that the unconsecrated, unattached single life is a legitimate vocation too."

Would it be nice? Perhaps what causes some hesitation in Catholics in general toward easy recognition that the unattached single life is a vocation is just that--its unattached. Sure, it's "attached" to Jesus, interiorly, spiritually. But as Catholics we are used to (rightly, I think) the invisible becoming visible, the interior becoming exterior. If you are attached to Jesus, you want to show it--and our instinct is to show it (the attachment to Christ) in some form in the Church.

The Church document which addresses this is Vita Consecrata. It says in paragraph 7:

7. It is a source of joy and hope to witness in our time a new flowering of the ancient Order of Virgins, known in Christian communities ever since apostolic times. Consecrated by the diocesan Bishop, these women acquire a particular link with the Church, which they are committed to serve while remaining in the world. Either alone or in association with others, they constitute a special eschatological image of the Heavenly Bride and of the life to come when the Church will at last fully live her love for Christ the Bridegroom.

If priests or lay people raise eyebrows at the validity of "single vocations," perhaps it is because they simply don't see the "witness" aspect, linked as it is to the public, ecclesial consecration of the diocesan Bishop. Note that this allows the single woman to "acquire a particular link with the Church, which they are committed to serve...." This is huge. It resolves the tension, to some degree. Because after all, as Pope JP II reminded us, every man is called to be a husband and father and every woman a wife and mother, physically, spiritually, or both. Everyone is called to love, to "lay down their lives for their friends." This requires commitment; it demands attachment.

Granted, we can always grow in our appreciation for the dignity of any baptized person, and be sensitive to those who feel "left out" of more popularly understood forms of consecration. But I wonder if we also need to remind folks who have discerned an authentic call to permanent virginity outside of priesthood and religious life that the Church has a place which may be for them, and that they are not forgotten: the ancient, and now newly growing, Order of Virgins.

Monday, October 25, 2010

An Icon of Life: Two men going up to the temple

Throughout the long and rich Catholic spiritual tradition there are any number of images to describe the “work” of the spiritual life. Dante’s Divine Comedy, Thomas Merton’s Seven Story Mountain, and St Theresa of Avila’s Interior Castle all come to mind. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus gives a number of parables which provide tightly-packed images of what He Himself does in human souls, and how we respond, and what the great consequences are.

The parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector is one of these tightly packed images, reflecting three basic moves of the spiritual life, the life of a disciple of Christ. Using and modifying Fr Barron’s three steps (from his excellent “Three Paths of Holiness” DVD—did you see it on WGN recently?), I’d like to look at this parable as a picture of these three steps. Here’s how I see the three basic moves of the spiritual life:

1) Turn to the Lord. 2) Know you’re a sinner. 3) Find your mission.

The first one: turn to the Lord. This is the most foundational move of our hearts, the most necessary. It’s the dirt floor. This is where we “turn”, spiritually, interiorly, from all the good things in our life—including our very life itself—to God who is, even now, creating me, loving me, giving rise to my very existence. In the early centuries of the Church, there was a public call to prayer: “Conversi ad dominum!” Turn to the Lord!

We see this move on display in the two men in the gospel today, the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Both “went up to the temple to pray.” What they do physically—physically turning to Jerusalem, to the Temple, the physical place where the Most High dwelt—we are called to continuously do spiritually, just we physically turn to the altar at Mass. This is the deep meaning of our prayer at Mass, when the priest says, “Lift up you hearts,” and we respond “We lift them up to the Lord.” Life with the Holy Trinity is our origin and goal: at this moment we offer our free “yes” to this “direction.” We must strive to turn to the Lord, interiorly, at every moment of our lives.

The second move: know you’re a sinner. Think of the tax collector in the gospel today. He doesn’t even lift his eyes to heaven, says Jesus, yet he says, “O God, have mercy on me a sinner.” Now having turned interiorly to the Lord, the pure Light of God, he sees clearly where he is off, where there are smudges on the windshield. But he has learned a new way of seeing, a vision which sees not only his sinfulness, but God’s mercy and power to heal, implied in his unlimited confidence to proclaim his sinfulness publically.

The Pharisee—renowned as a religious expert—never managed to turn to the Lord interiorly, so what does he notice in his blindness? His illusory greatness, and other people’s sinfulness. He prays not to God but to himself. And his pseudo-prayer recounts not God’s greatness but his own litany of marvelous deeds: “I fast twice a week, I tithe, etc”. He also proclaims the sinfulness of the tax collector: greedy, dishonest, adulterous. He perceives the Tax Collector lacks the three things that matter: hope, faith, and love.

And at first blush, he's dead right. Tax Collectors were notorious for those vices.
But the irony is that the Pharisee is all of these things as well—like the Tax Collector, sure—but he is worse off because he cannot see it. Though he tithes, he is greedy, self-centered, unable to be truly giving and generous in his prayer. Though he fasts, he gorges himself in lies about himself and his self-sufficiency; though he goes to the temple to pray, he commits perhaps the worse form of spiritual adultery: self-adoration. He worships himself. Isn’t this form of idolatry—the terrible closed-circle of self-worship and community-centered worship—among our greatest temptations today?
Humans on earth can't be divided between sinners and saints, but only between those sinners who know it and those who don't (yet). G.K. Chesterton said something much like that.

Finally, the third move: find your mission. This parable may not seem to be a tale of mission, but look--Jesus says of the two men:

"I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former."

To be “justified” means to be untwisted; to be brought into a dynamic relationship to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To dwell in God, which is to dwell in love, and so be healed of our self-adoration. The implication? The tax collector has been healed; he has turned to God, he knows he is a sinner, and now he has discovered his mission—and off he goes! He leaves the temple, exalted as an apostle of God’s power and mercy. He truly “went home justified,” he went home healed; while the Pharisee remains a slave to himself and his lies.

Jesus calls himself our “physician.” Think of these three steps in this analogy: we turn to the doctor’s office, we tell him what is ill, and he heals us so that we can begin to live our lives, knowing and fulfilling His wonderful will for us.

How often in our fear we are like the man—like the Pharisee—who has a massive cancerous growth on his pancreas or liver, and goes to the doctor to brag about his healthy diet and exercise routine. Either this man is delusional, or does not trust his doctor’s skill.

Any of these three steps are happening all the time in our lives; we enter in at any step. Which one are you most in need of right now? Perhaps an experience of addiction has deflated you; perhaps an experience of beauty has captivated you; perhaps discovering that Christ is calling you to the priesthood, religious life, or married life is enflaming your soul with a desire to turn to God in a new way. The "steps" all go together, and form the single experience of our life as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Turn to the Lord. Know you’re a sinner. Find your mission.

Monday, October 11, 2010

talkin' angels to a bunch of (curious) materialists

Recently an upper-level religious studies class at Arizona State University came to the Catholic Newman Center, where I work as a priest, as part of a class observation project. They came to observe the strange and exotic behaviors of us Catholics in our native environment, the Mass. Afterwards, they wished to engage in a two-hour question and answer session with me, a priest.

So that is exactly what we did. It was very interesting.

ASU is in many ways a typically twenty-first century American university: a surface-level pluralism appears across the student body, while what actually pervades their way of thinking and believing (very generally speaking) is a vague and often unreflective--but strong nonetheless--brand of materialism and Enlightenment-style suspicion of religion.

What the heck am I supposed to preach to these kids at Mass? That's what I thought as I prepared for Mass that day. Part of me was hoping for a nice, vaguely spiritual ordinary-time feast which wouldn't cause too much cognitive dissonance to my young materialist and anti-Catholic compatriots. So I opened the "ordo" to check the feast day and got the exact opposite of what my bashful side wished for: a feast of great Catholic verve, color, and snappiness.

The Feast of The Archangels, Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael.

I'll spare you the details of my homily and talk with the students and say this: Catholicism is at its most fascinating, most riveting, most attractive when it doesn't re-package itself to suit modern intellectual tastes. I was tempted to tuck tail and say the squishy swill they wanted to hear: "Catholicism like everything else out's about being nice, and just being yourelf!"

But, alas, a) that's really boring and b) that's totally not true. Heck, Catholicism is about angels, in a huge way. The more I spoke this, the more interesting things became, the more confident I felt, and (it seemed to me) the more the non-Catholic group sat up and showed some curiosity about it all.

Catholicism becomes inviting when its "thick" worldview--God, angels, heavenly temples, exorcisms and all--is presented without the weak-sauce blushing demanded by Enlightenment-style philosophical systems that can't understand it. With all the proper intellectual nuance, to be sure. But without blushing. If St. Michael is real (which he is), there's no need for it.

Do we really believe in angels? Uh, yeah, we do. Shoot, we know their names (a few of them), for crying out loud. To speak to a large group of students of any number of religious, ethnic, and ideological backgrounds is a privilege. But to speak about angels and archangels was a true delight. It snapped me out of my own fearful tendencies to pander to the intellectual pre-commitments of an audience, in exchange a more reasonable and Catholic model in which I proposed to them a more Biblical and historical (and less Cartesian) worldview.

I challenged my open-eyed interlocutors to consider reality on the broadest possible spectrum (perhaps angels are real after all), and to also consider that maybe, just maybe, materialism (the belief that only physical things are real) is a narrow-minded and weird and rationally untenable position to hold.

Strangely, the topic that garnered the most attention is the existence, nature, and attributes of angels. Maybe it was safer for these students than asking questions about God and Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church. But that's fine, isn't it? The students were, as far as I could tell, authentically interested and curious. They seemed a little surprised that much of what Catholics believe about angels comes less from the Bible and more from philosophy (e.g., the nature of how angels know things intuitively, choose, move, etc.)

They giggled--but only a little--when I told them that, if they wish, they can pursue their questions about angels in a field called "Angelology," which is a rich and impressive field in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions.

If, like Blessed John Henry Newman said, a University is a meant to be a place where all the human areas of knowledge and understanding come in contact with one another, then perhaps Angelology at ASU isn't so strange after all.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Hating the body

Recently some family members came across, in a Catholic circle (we'll leave it at that for the sake of anonymity), the idea that St Augustine is "anti-body," meaning he essentially espouses a "soul=good, body=bad" theology.

My family members were bothered. Isn't Augustine a doctor of the Church? they asked. How could he be so wrong on an essential teaching of the faith? Emails went back and forth, and I remained silent...until today! I finally weighed in on the matter. He's the effort, for what's it worth. Next time you hear someone trash-talk Augustine, remember this entry. I'll include the email to my family in it's original form.

Dear Fam,

I don’t know if you’re still thinking about the recent discussion over St Augustine. If you are, read on! I thought I’d make my own contribution to the discussion.

The basic question at stake, it seems, was whether St Augustine’s teaching is anti-body, perhaps tainted by the remnants of his former manicheism, whether implicitly or explicitly. Should we be suspicious of his teaching on the body?

It is good to remember that St Augustine wrote over a span of many decades, and in response to many different situations. But for my purpose here, I’m going to ignore the complexities of the development of his thought. It is true St Augustine was a disciple of the philosophy of manicheism before his conversion. This philosophy was strongly dualistic, meaning the universe was seen as divided into two great principles: light and dark, good and evil, spirit and body.

Later, Augustine was a disciple of Neo-Platonism, which saw the universe as a great chain of being, with the material reality of physical bodies being on the lower end of the chain. Death was an escape from the body, and entrance into the purely spiritual, and therefore better, realm.

But only a cursory reading of St Augustine’s Confessions, his autobiography, shows that he saw these philosophical forays as just that—dead-end paths from which he had been saved when he discovered Christ and the Church.

A theologian I once heard said, “Aquinas reads like a freeman; Augustine reads like a freed man.” Augustine was always conscious of his liberation from the bad tendencies. Still it is fair to ask if those tendencies (in this case, anti-body ones) remained in his thought despite himself, even into his years when he was a bishop.

As far as I can tell, Augustine’s teaching on the body reflects a nuanced and properly ordered understanding. He writes in his famous and fundamental Christian Doctrine:

“And when some people say that they would rather be without a body altogether, they entirely deceive themselves…For as, after the resurrection of the body, having become wholly subject to the spirit, will live in perfect peace to all eternity; even in this life we must make it an object to have the carnal habit changed for the better, so that its inordinate affections may not war against the soul.”

In writing this, Augustine draws claims that the body is in fact good, but unruly, inveterate. It is to submit to the spirit and so become what it is meant to be, which is fulfilled in the resurrection of the body. This whole section is set in the context of Augustine’s reflection on St Paul’s words, “No man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourishest and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the Church.” (Christian Dotrine, Chapter I, book 24).

Augustine teaches that we are to learn to “love the body”, provided it is in the proper way. He writes, “[Man] is to be taught, too, in what measure to love his body, so as to care for it wisely and within due limits.” (Christian Doctrine, Chapther I, book 25).

Augustine even sees the body as ingredient in the command to love God and neighbor “as thyself.” He writes, “Now, if you take yourself in your entirety—that is, soul and body together—and your neighbor in his entirety, soul and body together (for man is made up of soul and body), you will find that none of the classes of things that are to be loved is overlooked in these commandments….it is evident that our love for ourselves [including the body] has not been overlooked.” (Christian Doctrine, Chapter I, book 26).

From Augustine’s own words, it seems clear to me that his understanding of the body is consonant with the bulk of the great Christian tradition. The body is good, but not the highest good; it is an essential element of the human person, and destined for glory, albeit through the discipline of the cross.

From where comes the notion that St. Augustine is somehow anti-body?

I recently read an article from the scholar Eamon Duffy (in "Beyond the Prosaic", a collection of essays) in which he points out that much of the theology of the late 1960’s failed to understand Augustine’s very biblically rooted notion of the relationship between temporal and eternal things, between nature and grace. He claims that for these inadequate schools of theology any hint of ordering (or, God forbid, denying) the natural order of things or appetites to the supernatural, demands an automatic verdict of Manicheism. These strains of thought continue, no doubt, in thinkers today, including those within the Church.

Still, to be fair, the thought of St Augustine, though he is a doctor of the Church and a great saint, is not without some limitations. Joseph Ratzinger once wrote that Augustine did exhibit a tendency toward a “spiritualizing theology” which “caused him [St Augustine] great torment;” this spiritualizing, while in no way manicheism, prevented Augustine “from carrying their insights through consistently” (Ratzinger, Feast of Faith, 112).

In other words, the biblical principal that Catholic theology describes as “grace presupposes and perfects nature,” which runs like a thread from creation to incarnation to resurrection to the Church to the “new heavens and new earth,” deeply informs Augustine’s thought. We saw it above in his writings on the body. Still, he hesitates at times, and doesn’t carry this thread “all the way through” in some areas of thought. Ratzinger sees this inconsistency in Augustine’s thought, for example, evidenced in Augustine’s highly suspicious attitude toward music (and the senses) in Christian worship.

Nonetheless, this occasional “spiritualizing tendency” should not make us lose sight of the bulk of Augustine’s teaching on the body’s basic goodness and capacity for redemption and glorification.

Afterall, St Augustine is a saint and a doctor of the Church, meaning that he was a holy man and that his writings are trustworthy. We should trust his teachings, and not be dismayed by lesser theologians who can't understand him and presume to insult him. It is never a good idea to be suspicious of a doctor of the Church.

Augustine understood well the potential problems that his previous philosophical loyalties posed against the Christian faith, and, as a Bishop and a teacher, he sought diligently to always follow the Scriptures and the Church’s teaching, wherever a conflict arose.

I hope this “paper” helps to rehabilitate the great Augustine, the Doctor of Grace, if his name was besmirched in any way in our little circle.

Monday, September 6, 2010

why do you believe?

Pope Benedict XVI released a special message for the young people of the world, with an eye to the upcoming World Youth Day in Spain. Filled with beautiful truth and pastoral wisdom, there is one theme that particularly struck me:

How can faith in Jesus Christ become mature, "grown-up," authentic?

I recently visited a univerisity campus in which a speaker asked a group of Catholic students if they believed that Jesus Christ is God. They all said yes.

But then he asked why they believed this, and no hands went up. A few feeble attempts to defend their belief (e.g., "the Bible says so..."; "My parents told me..."; etc.) and the speaker effortlessly swatted away the responses like flies.

He concluded: "Most of you believe because your mommy and daddy told you to." The room was silent. These students, mostly college freshmen, realized how truly immature their faith was. It demonstrated how and why so many young Catholics weakly surrender their tradition and feebly acquiesce to whatever ideology the herd happens to be feeding on at the moment.

The Holy Father knows this grave situation among many of our young people, and offers us young people a real solution: because faith is knowledge of God, we must come to real and personal knowledge of God. This is how faith becomes mature.

Pope Benedict says as much, in his Aug 6, 2010 letter to youth:

Enter into a personal dialogue with Jesus Christ and cultivate it in faith. Get to know him better by reading the Gospels and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Converse with him in prayer, and place your trust in him. He will never betray that trust! “Faith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God. At the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 150).

The Holy Father knows how dangerous and ultimately fruitless childish faith is, and how as we reach a certain age, we cannot believe because "our mommy and daddy told us." By personally encountering Jesus Christ in prayer, the Gospels, and in the teaching of the Church, an immature faith--which fails so many high school and university students today--becomes mature and true. The Pope writes:

Thus you will acquire a mature and solid faith, one which will not be based simply on religious sentiment or on a vague memory of the catechism you studied as a child. You will come to know God and to live authentically in union with him, like the Apostle Thomas who showed his firm faith in Jesus in the words: “My Lord and my God!”.

This is no abstract theory for the Holy Father. He himself knows the great interior struggle that this poses for young people, but also that it is a hopeful struggle. He describes this with respect to his discernment as a young man about whether God was really calling him to be a priest or not. The Pope writes:

Here, once more, I think of my own youth. I was somehow aware quite early on that the Lord wanted me to be a priest. Then later, after the war, when I was in the seminary and at university on the way towards that goal, I had to recapture that certainty. I had to ask myself: is this really the path I was meant to take? Is this really God’s will for me? Will I be able to remain faithful to him and completely at his service? A decision like this demands a certain struggle. It cannot be otherwise. But then came the certainty: this is the right thing! Yes, the Lord wants me, and he will give me strength. If I listen to him and walk with him, I become truly myself.

Faith is a kind of certainty, although because it deals with knowledge of God, it is different from the empirical or mathematical certainty that serves us in other areas of knowing. This is why access to prayer, divine Revelation, and the tangible gifts of the Church and the Sacraments are essential components.

When high school or college students come to me, their priest, and confess that they are "losing their faith," or "having doubts," I respond without any surprise; in fact, I try to reflect a fatherly hope that their faith is ready for new maturity.

Like a child bursting out of his toddler pants, they know something doesn't fit. Their pants are fine; they are just too small, suitable for a younger sibling. Often, though, they are uncertain that more age-appropriate faith is either real or accessible to them.

So I encourage them to describe their faith, and almost every time we discover together that is nothing wrong with their faith. It's just that their faith is appropriate for a nine year-old. It lacks intellectual content, a capacity to be rationally defended, a clear connection to action and values, and has little motivational power in their daily life.

Losing that faith is, in a certain sense, a necessity--provided that the young person is ready to embark on the struggle involved when God calls faith to mature.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Aliens and evangelization

"Father, do you believe in aliens?"

The question caught my attention, especially because the student (of chemical engineering) asking it claimed to be a fallen-away Baptist now-turned atheist.

I thought, "Well, that's enough of an opening right there!"

A lively conversation went back and forth on the topic, but soon turned to matters of more existential import--life in general, specifically the purpose of human life. Avoiding anything too explicitly "religious" for the sake of my young but unconvinced atheist, I sensed an opening at one stage and said on a whim:

"We were created to be loved--do you think this?"

Instead of a philosophical response, this time the answer was awkward silence and eyes filling with tears.

The conversation ended abruptly and uncomfortably after that, and I thought, "Way to go, Father'll never see this student ever again."

As I said goodbye, I couldn't think of anything to offer accept a house blessing for her and the new place she just moved into with her six guy roommates--none of whom are Catholic. "Uh, okay. Bye," she said, and left.

Should I have been suprised when the phone rang the next day, and she said that her household wanted me to come and bless the house?

Well, I was surprised. But I also marveled at the strange ways of God, who took me from aliens to booking an improbable house blessing with seven students who had probably never talked to a Catholic priest before.

Soon I was whispering "Wash me O God, and I shall be clean..." and walking around the most typical college house you've ever seen, sprinkling Bob Marley posters and lacrosse sticks with holy water, as slack-jawed and wide eyed college students stumbled nervously in tow behind me as we marched from room to room.

I can't think of another time in my three years as a priest when I have been more conscious of the fact that priests are ordained and sent not just to Catholics, but to the every human person, to the whole world.

Kind of like aliens.

Go Devils!

There's nothing quite like a night in the desert in late August. A mild monsoon breeze accompanied the rising moon this past Sunday night as I stood gazing up at the old steeple on the red-bricked St Mary's Church at Arizona State Universitsy in Tempe, AZ.

As I bid goodnight to the last of many students after the late Sunday Mass, I caught my breath and thought with joyful astonishment: "I can't believe I'm here!"

My second pastoral assignment as a priest in the Diocese of Phoenix has taken a few months to sink in. Joining Fr Rob Clements as one of two full time priests at the All Saints Catholic Newman Center, I find myself with an assignment that didn't even exist for diocesan priests in Phoenix for decades.

In April of 2000, before I entered seminary, I interviewed for a position with an organization dedicated to Catholic evangelization. With a gut sense that it just wasn't time back then, I didn't accept the position. But apparently the good Lord just wanted to give me a good ten years of preparation for such a noble task--ministering to college students and all others at the University level.

Somewhere between 15,000 and 18,000. That's an estimation of the number of "Sun Devil" Catholics at Arizona State University. It's Notre Dame and Georgetown rolled into one.

People occasionally ask me if I feel overwhelmed by the immense task that lays at our feet at the Newman Center. The answer is, "Yes!" How many young persons at ASU don't know God! How many are imprisoned in one of the countless counterfeit promises of happiness that our culture imposes!

But like the warm refreshing air of an evening Arizona monsoon breeze, the grace of God blows from the deep lungs of the Church--especially when we humbly beg the Holy Spirit to come to us, and to renew the face of the earth.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

One day to go, and I can upload photos!

GeoTagged, [N31.78935, W35.22941]

Nine days down and one to go, and I just figured out how to upload photos.

To prove it, here's one of me in bethlehem at the caves where the shepherds lived, holding the famous bambino used at Christmas liturgies. I offered Mass in the cave.

I'll work on uploading more photos. But cut me some slack--I'm doing all this from my phone! Praying for my peeps, fjm

Dmac on you tube

I interrupt this pilgrimage blogcasting service to announce the inauguration of 'Dmac' on you tube. If you're interested in catholic church architecture, you'll love this upcoming series of videos from one of the best. Visit:

Friday, March 19, 2010

It's a bright sunny mornig in Jerusalem as I write these words, and it is "shabat" (sabbath) in the city. All is peaceful. Let me straight for The Highlight: Holy Mass at the Holy Sepulchre. I celebrated the Mass of the Triumph of the Cross on the place where Jesus was nailed to the cross, and about 7 steps from where the cross He was raised up on the cross. What a totally incomparable experience. I prayed for my parents, all my siblings (plus spouses a kids!) and for myself and my priesthood.

I had heard that the shrine of the holy sepulchre was crazy, with all the various religious groups vying for space and time, but for me the sheer overwhelming power and peace of the place trumped all that human pettiness. I was amazed how much prayer happens here. It is a gushing fountain prayer. Last night I had the wonderful opportunity to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation as a penitant at the sepulchre, and just as I emerged, evening vespers erupted at the tomb in an explosion of voices and organ tones. It was quite memorable, to say the least. What an amazing grace to come to the site of Calvary--on a Friday eveining, no less--and to share in the graces that flow from it.

Yesterday also had a trip to the site of the vistation and the birthplace of John the Baptist. I chuckled to myself as I read aloud to the group the story of Zechariah's muteness and recovery, as my own voice was functioning at a minimal level due to a thoat problem. Boy, the Holy Spirit sure knows how to make the scriptures come alive!

Blog readers, you're all in my prayers.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Traversing the rocky and slighy grassy hills about 5 miles south of Jerusalem, our big maroon bus lumbered it's way into the ancient city of David, Bethlehem. Like just about every other place we've see, it was amazing. First we had mass in the so called shepherds cave, where tradition says the shepherds lived who say the angels announce Jesus' birth. We celebrated the mass of midnight for Christmas eve (it's a permissible option at these pilgrimage sites). How strange that here in this little cave--this forgotten nook, this meaningless cranny--the good news of the incarnation came. It was beautiful. Everyone kept saying afterword that it felt more like Christmas than Christmas. I think I agree.

Next came the church of the nativity in bethlehem, where we venerated and prayed by the cave where Mary gave birth and laid her Son in a

Then back to jerusalem and to the place where Mary is said to have fallen asleep at the end of her life, and then to the ancient jail cell where Jesus was held for a few hours over night. It is essentially a hole in the ground into which He was lowered. Now there is a side entrance. I had the chance opportunity to be alone in prayer in there for just a few seconds, which was an amazing privilege. As I imagined the stark reality of what Jesus allowed himself to go through when he did not have to in the least, it was impossible not to full a great deal of gratitude and just plain awe.

Tonight we had dinner with retired bishop of jerusalem. We regaled us with stories and spiritual fervorini, but I just kept thinking about how I'm not getting over my cold very well, even though I promised myself to tell everyone I feel much better each day. Some pilgrim I am!

So two more days of touring pilgrimage sites, and then a free day in Jerusalem, then we fly home. I'm already super excited about praying the triduum this year, especially the passion narratives. You're all in my prayers. Thanks for checking in.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Today we made the trek (in a bus) from the sea of galilee to Jerusalem with some absolutely amazing stops along the way. We stopped at the Qumran caves, which was a Jewish monastic commumity at the time of Jesus. Some think John the Baptist spent time with them. These stark dwelling places in the middle a harsh desert reminded me of the intense apocalyptic expectation of Jesus' day.

On a lighter note, we stopped by the dead sea and took a swim. It was hilarious! The water is so salty that it is utterly impossible to sink. In fact, it's like floating in space, or like a big wet chair. I couldn't help but wonder if Jesus and the apostles ever took a dip there and had a laugh. It would have been uncomfortable with a nice fresh water shower after though.

We visited Jericho, the oldest (10,000 years) and lowest (1000 ft below sea level) city in the world. Did you know that there is a cliff at Jericho where supposedly Jesus was tempted by the devil? If it is the place, our Lord had some mad climbing skills, cuz that cliff is steep.

I had the cool experience of saying mass and preaching at the church of st Lazarus in Bethany, only yards from his tomb where Jesus raised him from the dead.

Finally, coming into Jerusalem for the very first time, as the sun was setting, was second to nothing else I've done before. We came through a tunnel from the north east and then BAM, there she was, Jerusalem. The temple mount glistening and yet templeless. I just kept thinking, this is where it happened. Right here. It seemed much smaller than I imagined. For everything that has happened here, it should be as big as Texas. But it's not, it's not big at all.

Surprise conversation of the day: I'm sitting at the bar in the Christmas hotel talking to a fellow pilgrim (a professional golf writer, that's for another blog), and someone behind the bar hands me the phone and says, 'it's the bishop, for you.' 'sorry?' I said. 'the bishop of jerusalem.' so I took the phone and with an raspy voice that is baring functioning at this stage said, 'hello?' and sure enough, it was the bishop of Jerusalem. He's hoping to meet up with our pilgrim group. What a gracious and talkative man! It was a wonderful surprise.

Not the first of the pilgrimage, and I'm guessing not the last.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Sea of Galilee, Caesarea Philipi

All sorts of interesting things to report from the Holy Land pilgrimge.

First, as you may have guessed, I still haven't figured out a way to get the photos I'm taking on the blog. I should have it figured out soon. Until then, I'm using the next best thing from google images. They're of the actual places that I'm visiting.

Let me hit a couple highlights for you.

Yesterday we visited Caesarea Philipi, which is in the far norther part of Israel, about 20 miles North of the upper edge of the Sea of Galilee. It looks like this:

This large cliff-face is on the edge of the mountain range which is the northern border of Israel. The cave-like thing is an ancient cave, one that has a spring in it. It was in ancient times considered by some pagan religions to be the jaw of death, the portal to the underworld. At this very place pagan temples stood.

It was amazing to imagine the power of Jesus' words to Peter here: "You are rock, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it." The whole place exudes power, stability, permanence.

But it also exudes two other things that really struck me. First, the sacrificial dimension. This was a place of sacrifice. Second, this is a place of 'living water.' Springs gush from this place, and this time of year the water flows with amazing strength, as fast as any Colorado river. I know the image of "water flowing from the temple" comes from the Jersusalem's temple, Ezekiel's vision, etc., but it is (to me) unmistakably applicable to this site too.

Today we spent almost the whole way bopping around the Sea of Galilee itself. It looks like this:

I saw an amazing sunrise over the Sea this morning, surrounded by little chirping birds, as I prayer Matthew 5, 6, 7, at the place traditionally associated with Jesus' preaching of the Beatitudes (Mount of the Beatitudes). It was fun to look as the very birds of this place as I listened to Jesus' words, "Look at the birds of the sky...."

The Sea of Galilee is large: 5 miles wide, 10 miles long. I did a boat ride in a boat like the one above. It was a little bit cheesy ("come do the Jesus boat ride!"), but it was still a neat meditation to picture Jesus walking on the water, calming the storm, Peter sinking, etc. It really struck me how you can see so many significant places as you float on the Sea of Galilee: Capernaum, the place of the Gerasene demoniac, Tiberias, and many others.

On a more mundane personal note: I've got a crazy sore throat and my voice is almost gone (temporarily). It wouln't be a pilgrimage without some inconvenience. I think it comes from the warm, dusty air we've been breathing the past two days. Now cleaner cooler air has come in from the west or north. No big whoop.

Tomorrow we'll be off to Jerusalem, stopping in some places along the way. This really has been a prayer pilgrimage so far, as we prayerfully "follow" Jesus from these places of his earthly ministry up to Jerusalem for his great Passover, his great exodus.

Which reminds me...we spent time at Mount Tabor today, the site of the Transfiguration of Jesus! It is tough to remember all these amazing places. Oh well.

Please pray for us pilgrims, and I'll include in my pilgrim prayers, "all those who are following my blog." Deal?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Hit the Ground Running!: Three Amazing Places

Shalom! After landing and staying overnight in Tel Aviv, Israel--which is something like a Hebrew-speaking San Diego--I commenced a truly remarkable day. Our first of three amazing places was Caesarea on the western shore of Israel. Seen from the air it looks like this:

As you can see, it is the ruins of a massive man-made port town. The brainchild of Herod the Great, it was thriving by the time Jesus was a young boy, although we don't have any record of him being there. St. Paul, on the other hand, was held there for two years before his final inprisonment and martyrdom in Rome. Although the ancient city is now in ruins, it was amazingly easy to imagine the pagan glory--and eventually the Byzantine, Christian glory--of the city. I imagine Cornelius the Centurion relaxing here when the angel told him to send to Joppa, a few miles to the south, for St. Peter. See the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 10, I think.
Then we went to Mt Carmel, farther to the north, and still on the Mediterranean Sea. I prayed in the cave where Elijah the prophet prayed, and from where he saw the small cloud that foretold the end of the draught in 1 Kings 10. A few miles to the east along the Mt Carmel mountain range, I prayer at the place called 'The Sacrifice," where Elijah out-dueled the 450 prophets of Ba'al, and then slain then by the river in the Valley of Jezreel, pictured below.Finally, we had Mss in Nazareth, and walked around a bit. Jesus grew up in a hilly little town! And so did Our Lady. Seeing the cave where the Angel Gabriel came to Mary was breathtaking. I prayed for all the women in my life there: my mom, sisters, friends, students at Xavier, parishioners, etc.

Tonight I write from atop a hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee, and I'll make this home-base for three days. The air is lush and warm, and bursting with the scent of orange blossoms and flowers, as was Narazeth. It was a spitting image (as far as a smell can be an image) of the Arcadia neighborhood where I grew up in Arizona. It was uncanny. That, I can say is one thing I have in common with Our Lord: we both grew up smelling, and eating, oranges.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

temptations come in threes

the "temptation of Christ" by Michael Pacher, 1471-1481...

I have to share this simply because it is amazing. It's about the temptation of Christ, recounted in the synoptic gospels and proclaimed at the beginning of every Lent.

The temptation of Christ is the "undoing" of the original Fall. I first heard this from Dr Brant Pitre, and then I was reminded of it from a post on the blog he shares with some other scholars:

Here's the basic point. Using the threefold structure, you can line up the Original Fall with Christ's temptations, which line up quite well with the three-fold Lenten work of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

It works like this:

In Genesis 2, Eve saw that the fruit was “good for food, pleasing to the eye, and to be desired to make one wise.” We usually pass over this quickly ("ok, so she wanted the fruit..."), but nothing in the Bible is accidental. Look closely:

Good for food = temptation to love sensual pleasure over God

Pleasing to the eye = temptation love glory, beauty over God

Desired to make one wise = temptation to love self over God

visual aids!


Christ is also tempted in three ways: To turn stones into bread, to worship Satain in exchange for glory of kingdoms, and to test God by leaping from temple.

Anything look familiar?

To turn stones into bread = temptation to love sensual pleasure over God

To worship Satain in exchange for glory of kingdoms = temptation love glory, beauty over God

To test God by leaping from temple = temptation to love self over God

Of course, the eternal Son of God did not need to be tested through his temptation--but we do. So His threefold temptation--and threefold victory--is available to us through the season of Lent. We do this through fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. Funny, there's that number three again...

Fasting: loving God more than our sensual pleasure

Almsgiving: loving God more than the beautiful things of creation

Prayer: loving God more than our own self

John Bergsma points out in his blog the very cool point that the kings of Israel were called to overcome this threefold temptation, too, in Deut 17:16-17, but we'll leave that alone for now. Since we share in Christ's kingship from our baptism, it's a point well taken.

And about a zillion more like it could be made. The Bible is a great symphony of God's plan for his creation. And this theme of threefold desire--present in the Fall, Christ's temptation, and our Lenten struggles--is one of the great ways that He is, this Lent, undoing the fall in those who permit it. God grant us a blessed Lent!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

following Christ up the mountain in prayer, rain

A few days back I had the blessing of leading the Eucharistic procession at the Diocesan Youth Rally for Life at Arizona State University. Climbing up the ASU mountain in silence, with an army of prayerful young people in tow, we begged God to resurrect our culture from death to life.

A procession is a corporal prayer--a physical acting out of what we desire to do with our hearts and lives. We physically walk with our Eucharistic Jesus, carried by His priest. We walk together, in the same direction. We go with him, stepping over obstacles and past baffled or antagonistic onlookers. We move our legs along a path that we don't choose for ourselves in a pedal prayer that our hearts will do likewise in the "procession" of our, and my, life.

The procession up the mountain at ASU in January 2010:

The prayer for life, from John Paul II, which we all recited aloud, as the rain fell:

Incensing the Blessed Sacrament under the canopy with the lights of Tempe, AZ in view from the mountain top:
The Solemn Blessing over the people by Our Eucharistic Jesus (still in the rain):
Isn't this a great photograph of young people kneeling before Our Lord on the mountain top?

Processing down the mountain:

The anti-feast of the anniversary of Roe v. Wade is always a terrible occasion, but the entire week I found St. Paul's words consoling: "Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more" (Rom 5:20). If Jan 22 represents in our country the practically unchecked abounding of bloodshed, human destruction, and sin, can we hope for an even greater release of God's grace?
We certainly can beg him for it--and that is exactly what we were privileged to do as we marched up the mountain at ASU, which Christ Himself leading us, on a rainy Friday night in January.

Monday, February 8, 2010

fatherhood and art

This past weekend I had the very cool--and somewhat chance--opportunity to meet the executive producer of Grassroots Films, Joe Campo. I also met with him Cliff Azize, one of the two main "actors" in the amazing movie-documentary, "The Human Experience." The website is

Here's Cliff, Joe, and Fr Benedict, so you know who I'm talking about:

I'd like to request prayers for Joe who is struggling with some health issues. I met him in a hospital here in Arizona where I had celebrated the Sacrament of Anointing for him. In the small but growing world of Catholic films, Grassroots is a bright light.

A short reflection: what a blessing to meet Joe Campo, though at an unfortunate time health-wise. Joe struck me as something like a "lay" Fr Benedict Groeschel: a tough New Yorker, and a holy, loving man who radiates genuine Fatherhood. A power reminder to me of how real holiness is, and must be, if it comes from an incarnate God.

At one point I asked Joe how many sons he has, and he said very matter-of-factly, "Two biological sons, and nine spiritual sons." And he meant it, not a drop of sentimentality. The way he said it made it unmistakable: these young men are his sons, he is their father. Someone else in the hospital room added, "And they'd have to come to be with Joe if he'd let them." (They're in New York, he's in Phoenix.) Fatherhood is an objective spritual reality, which may or may not have a biological origin.

For years he has been a father-figure at the St Francis House in Brooklyn, founded by Fr Benedict Groeschel in 1967, to be a safehaven for young men looking for a new start in life. What amazing the work.

The young men from the St Francis house in Brooklyn:

Another one with Fr Benefict and Joe Campo:

Again, please pray for a fast recovery for Joe Campo, a truly great Catholic man at a time when we're in desparate need of more like him.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

catholic chant

A great story from my sister in Steubenville, Ohio...

The girls basketball team at Quigley Catholic High School outside Pittsburgh had a big game against a public school rival.

At some point during the game, the opposing crowd starting chanting, "Go back to youth group!" The Quigley students, in response, began a chant of their own: "We love Jesus! We love Jesus!"

How cool is that? A story that makes you even more proud to be Catholic. There's nothing like a Catholic who loves Jesus! Thanks for the great example, Quigley.

religious life visit

This past Monday I spent the day at Xavier College Prep with Sr Martin Therese, O.P., a young Dominican Sister from Ann Arbor. I listened to her speak to high school girls all day about religious vocations and about her own religious vocation to the Dominicans.

Three things stand out from the experience:

1. Religious life fascinates high school with an almost mystical power. Even if they don't understand it or its deepest motivations, young people are attracted to it--the vows, the habit, the way of life, the cultural rebellion, the unashamed love for God. It's all so wierd (definitely) and beautiful (hopefully) to them. Most students couldn't take their eyes of this young Dominican sister. I had to practically drag her away from the students when we had to leave for another class.

2. God is still calling young women to religious life. The Ann Arbor sisters have grown from 4 to over 90 young women in only a few years--all entering between the ages of 18 and 30. Many young women at Xavier confide to me that they are attracted to various religious orders.

3. A religious vocation is an objective reality. It is not a subjective career choice. St Martin Therese--for example--at one point in discernment dragged her boyfriend(s) to the convent to convince the superiors (and herself) that she wasn't called to religious life. Didn't work. Soon she surrendered, and she is living proof of the unique happiness that comes from discovering and doing God's holy will.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bishop's Mass for Life Homily

On Jan 22, the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, the students and faculty at Xavier College Prep received a marvelously rich homily from Bishop Olmsted. A few highlights:

A 'new feminism.' A quotation from JPII's The Gospel of Life, the "new feminism" rejects false feminisms which are thinly-veiled models of 'male domination.' How easily we forget that abortion is a weapon of 'male domination'--a violent attack on that uniquely feminine power to conceive and nurture human life. The earliest feminists of the 20th century were deeply against abortion because they understood it to be a weapon forged by men in order to serve men by making women to be more like men. New feminism embraces the particular genius of women and rejects male domination.

The 'unique witness' women bring to the Pro-life movement. Women have a special capacity to "first learn and teach others that human relations are authentic if they are open to accepting the other person..." (again, from The Gospel of Life). True openness and tolerance are found here. Perhaps this is a lesson that men are less naturally disposed to understand--that dignity comes not from usefulness, strength, intelligence, beauty, or health, but simply from being a person. Who is a greater witness to unconditional openness that a pregnant woman who loves her child, nurtures her child, says "yes" to her child?

The call to be "holy women." Riffing off of C.S. Lewis' essay, "Nice guys or new men?", Bishop Olmsted illuminated difference between being "nice" and "new." The dominant culture wants us to be "nice"--to fit in, to not rock the boat, to silently support the often ruthless attacks on the weak and powerless. To be "new" means to allow your life to be constantly uploaded by the Holy Spirit. To be "new" means to ground your thought and action in faith, hope, and love--three things the secular culture cannot provide.

Rejecting "nice." That pseudo-virtue of niceness! Bishop reminded his listeners that the word "nice" comes from the Latin word nescire, which means "know nothing." Not unlike the "know nothing" parties from our American history who willfully "knew nothing" regarding the many injustices directed toward American Catholics and others, today's "know nothings" are often nice people who silently turn a blind eye to the injustice of every single abortion. The link between "nice" and "stupid" (and the passive violent) is striking. The next time someone says, "He's a nice guy," I'm going to say, "That's very unfortunate...I hope no one gets hurt."

"Thought and action." Pro-life action always begins in thought--that is, in recognizing truth--through seeing and knowing the objective beauty of other human beings. This truth calls us to act with love and responsibility.

"This is my body." The greatest words of love Jesus ever spoke--words by which He continues to give His life in the Eucharist to His receptive people. Bishop gently pointed out the sad irony that these same words are turned upside down in the promotion of abortion: "This is my body," and I will do with it what I want... Of course there is no disharmony between the call to say yes to life and yes to one's own freedom. Christ's freedom is expressed in His boundless capacity to give Himself. A mother's freedom is expressed in her capacity to give herself in order to give life--whether in natural or supernatural motherhood.

"Let your body always be a temple of God's love and a sanctuary of life." These final words of the homily resonate with the inner core of the Gospel of Life: a call to love in accord with the dignity due to the human person--including the human body. The words of St. Paul come to mind: "The body is for the Lord." You might say that this is the great revolution in Christianity--the mysterious meaning and divine plan for the human body which transcends usefulness and even death.

Ancient cultures tended to see the body as something negative, something to be freed from at death. This was expecially true of the female body, which is a sanctuary of life in special way. God's scandalous "yes" to human nature in the Incarnation is mirrored by the "yes" of a mother to her child in the womb. And this teaches all of us--men and women--a fundamental lesson: the body is made for love. Love for God and love for each other, especially the poor, and the defenseless unborn. This is a thought which always leads to responsible action.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

This morning I was driving and heard Bishop Olmsted speaking on the radio. He made a plea for all of us to support the relief efforts in Haiti. It struck me how prompt and direct his response came, just days--hours, really--after the harrowing events. He spoke simple words of love and truth. Haiti needs our help. Let's respond.

The same catastrophe/response pattern is on display in the readings for this Sunday. The Prophet Isaiah speaks: "No longer shall people call you 'forsaken,'.. but you shall be called 'my delight.'" At the famous wedding at Cana, Mary says to Jesus, "They have no more wine." And Jesus responds with his first "sign," miraculously transforming water into wine. Emptiness into fullness; abandonment into love.

January 22 is approaching us this week. January 22, 1973 was a harrowing day in the U.S., a day of forsakenness and desolation: the legalization of abortion in the decision Roe vs. Wade.

A few months later, on July 2, 1973, a young man was ordained a priest in Lincoln, Nebraska, who dedicated himself to defending the defenseless. No doubt this was one of the countless ways that God responded and continues to respond. That young priest is now our Bishop Olmsted. I recall that Bishop once explained in a talk to young priests: he saw clearly that it was God's design that he was ordained in 1973, so close to Roe vs. Wade. God was calling him to respond; or better said, God was mysteriously responding to the recent catastrophe in and through the young Fr. Thomas Olmsted's priesthood.

Over thirty years later, one of Bishop Olmsted's first public actions as the new Bishop of Phoenix was to pray--quietly, peacefully, fervently--outside an abortion clinic. He continues to proclaim the gospel of life--unconditional respect and love for every human person, especially those most "forsaken": the unborn, the elderly, unmarried mothers, immigrants, and now the poor in Haiti.

With all this in mind...what a blessing that Bishop Olmsted will visit Xavier College Prep--a school dedicated to the Catholic formation of women--this Jan. 22! He will celebrate the Holy Mass with the entire school in accord with the day's special pentitential spirit. How fitting it will be to led by our Bishop in prayer, even in the midst of desolation. Because on this day of darkness and sadness, God responds. He responds with love.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Inaugural Post

ehem...Arthur Middleton once wrote:

"The Incarnation is the medicine of the soul, undoing the Fall and bringing man to the Tree of Life, and the office of a priest is to administer this medicine in the sacraments."

Perhaps at risk of sounding overly-dramatic for a simply little blog, "undoing the Fall" is the name that I want to employ. One of my great teachers said, "Christianity is about nothing if it isn't about a New Creation." If Catholicism is real, it's kind of a big deal. Hey, maybe that sentence would have been a good blog rhymes, sounds good. Nah, it's to long.

"Undoing the fall" is its name!