Sunday, August 10, 2014

Saving Iraq

The following is a heart-felt letter from a dear friend of our family, Mother Olga Yaqob. Please read, make any I effort you can to assist, and share with as many people as you can to help these poor souls at this horrific hour of their crucifixion. 

“We are one human family whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological  differences. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, wherever they may be.”
- USCCB on Solidarity

Dear Brother and Sisters,
Peace and blessing to you. I pray this letter finds you all well. First, I wanted to take this time to express my deep gratitude to you, your families, your parishes and your communities for your care and prayerful support for the people of Iraq, who have suffered such a catastrophic tragedy in recent weeks. 

Second, inspired by today’s request from Pope Francis: “I ask all Catholic parishes and communities to offer a special prayer this weekend for Iraqi Christians,” I thought to ask for your assistance through prayers and, if it’s possible, through sharing this email with others.  Saint John Paul II said on December 30, 1987, “The ‘evil mechanisms’ and ‘structures of sin’ can be overcome only through the exercise of the human and Christian solidarity to which the Church calls us and which she tirelessly promotes. Only in this way can such positive energies be fully released for the benefit of development and peace.” 

It is my prayer and hope that our spiritual communion in praying for those who are suffering will become a seed of solidarity that, hopefully, one day, will grow into a more peaceful world for generations to come. 

As a servant of God and His people, I have served the Iraqi people from a very young age all through four wars. In those years, inspired by the teaching of Blessed Charles de Foucauld on universal brotherhood, I made an effort to learn four other local languages besides my Aramaic native language in order to be of service to all: Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, Chaldeans, and Armenians. Given the large percentage of Muslim communities in Iraq, I also chose to study Islam according to the tradition of both Shias and Sunnis, for two years so as to be of service to them. Through those years of serving in various villages and among many different ethnic groups and tribes, I became a strong believer of the power of solidarity that creates a bridge for healing and reconciliation.

The devastating reality of the last month and a half in Iraq stirred up in my heart the old memories from my homeland. In the last few weeks, despite the darkness of hatred, revenge, persecution, humiliation and death, I could not let go of the hope that the light of healing, reconciliation, human respect and honor of each others’ religion and tradition, that I saw for decades of growing up in a land that is made up of all these tribes, ethnic groups, and religious communities, would not be extinguished.  It was my confidence in this hope that led me to reach out to most of you, other religious and humanitarian organizations, and most of all, to have a daily contact with the Catholic leaders in Iraq.

These are some of the ways that we, together, can help build solidarity for peace:

1) Prayer: Yesterday, August 8th, the USCCB invited all the Catholic Dioceses in America to pray in a special way for peace in Iraq on August 17th. I was moved to tears of gratitude on behalf of all my beloved people in Iraq.

2) Raising awareness of people around us about the truth of this tragedy. Invite people to stay connected and informed. You are welcome to share the videos and the article below to help people be aware of the suffering that is taking place in Iraq.  

A 14-minute interview on EWTN:

A 9-minute video that I put together as a tribute for the Iraqi people:

An interview article by Our Sunday Visitor Catholic newspaper:

2) Donations. I'm sure there are many good organizations that are trying to help. One of them is Catholic Relief Services, who has already established a special fund for Iraq.

Though I consider myself like a small voice crying in the wilderness of so much pain, I am confident that “the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” This light of my hope has never diminished because of each one of you, your powerful prayers and spiritual support to the people of Iraq, and your leadership in raising awareness about the need to pray for peace. 
With the assurance of my daily prayers for you and your loved ones I conclude my letter of gratitude to all of you and all the other American Bishops with the words of a traditional hymn (A Song of Peace):“May truth and freedom come to every nation;
may peace abound where strife has raged so long;
that each may seek to love and build together,
a world united, righting every wrong;
a world united in its love for freedom,
proclaiming peace together in one song.”

Gratefully yours in the Sacred Hearts of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,

Mother Olga of the Sacred Heart, mother servant of the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth
Let us live for God alone, 

love Jesus without limit and 
“cry the Gospel with our whole life.” 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

7 Reasons Why Theology of the Body Must be at the Center of the World Meeting of Families

1. St. John Paul II's Theology of the Body offers the most comprehensive understanding of our creation as male and female and our call to the life-giving communion of persons known as the family. 

2. It was the first major catecheses of the Bishop of Rome, John Paul II, shepherd of the universal Church, and one he slowly unpacked over a five year period at the beginning of his pontificate with incredible precision and passion.

3. The assassination attempt on St. John Paul II took place in the middle of those catecheses. That's got to mean something.

4. The theme for the World Meeting of Families is "Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive!" The Theology of the Body's central theme, which runs like a ribbon through all of his other work, is the family, as St. John Paul II wrote in his Letter to Families, 19; "The Church cannot therefore be understood as the Mystical Body of Christ... unless we keep in mind the "great mystery" involved in the creation of man as male and female and the vocation of both to conjugal love, to fatherhood and to motherhood."

5. The Theology of the Body reveals how masculinity and femininity are "not only a source of fruitfulness and of procreation, as in the whole natural order," but contain "the power to express love: precisely that love in which the human person becomes gift and - through this gift - fulfills the very meaning of his being and existence." (St. John Paul II, TOB, Jan. 16, 1980)  Wow, I'd recommend reading that one again.

6. St. John Paul II once whispered to a friend at a meal that if he were remembered at all, he wanted to be remembered as the Pope of the Family, and the World Meeting of Families was in fact his idea starting back in 1992.

7. See reasons 1-6 above.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Let Us Make God in Our Image, After Our Likeness 'Cause It'd Be Awesome

This might hurt your brain, but stay with me friends.

Imagine if he came the way we wanted him to? Imagine if Jesus answered the problem of evil with a punch rather than his paschal mystery?

He would've kicked the devil's butt. He would've been ripped, with muscles on top of his muscles. A combination of brains and brawn. Bolder than Bourne, slicker than Spider-Man, more convicted than Captain America and every move in slo-mo. The lance set to pierce his heart on the Cross would've bounced off and snapped like a toothpick! Nothing would break him. He'd have busted up the Romans and religious leaders in a Divine Smackdown the likes of which the world had never seen!

"Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?" (Luke 9:54)

"Yes, I do. Let's kick some taḥat!" (Luke 9:55, revised)

Yes, if God were made in man's image... we'd all be wowed, then bored to tears. 

"That was awesome! What else is on?”

I saw the latest X-Men film this weekend, and it was awesome. Don't get me wrong, Rebecca and I will be watching this chain of films until we're 90 (because they'll still be making this franchise when we're 90)! Lots of fun, lots of flash and fireworks, classic good versus evil (though the characters are getting morally foggier these days, aren't they?) and then the credits rolled. Fade to black until another new translation of the same old, same old throws its glowing flashes on our sedentary faces. (There was a remarkable and refreshing gem in this X-Men film though.... wait for it ;)

Last night's movie, scheduled as a 9:10 viewing, didn't actually start until about 9:30. It was preceded by 20 minutes of previews. Most of these were coming attractions for the same perennial distractions. Stuff blowing up, slow motion acrobatics, killing, fighting, quelling evil forces with opposite force, which then ushers in a fragile peace until the sequel. Now, what I find reassuring as a "theological anthropologist" (my unofficial job title) is the recognition that bad needs to be broken. We must fight evil and rescue that which is good. This is a theme so deeply engrained in our stories. But "making right" has a better word and a more effective one than the firing of bullets; it's redemption. 

This word changes everything. and it all goes back to that paradigm shift when Christ first hit our "fault line" with the tectonic shift of gratuitous grace. Those aftershocks still reverberate throughout human history, backwards and forwards. Our realignment comes now by our allowing ourselves to be set into this new geographic configuration by faith, not fists. Retaliation and redemption are two very different answers to the problem of evil.

Point is this: There must be a fight. There will be blood. There must be. To quote the Princess Bride for the thirteenth time on this blog, "Life is pain... anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something." But it's all about what we do with the blood and pain and suffering that comes from that first punch. 

The amount of blood and violence and suffering in our blockbuster movies today is staggering, but honestly it's no more staggering than the battles and death in the Bible, especially, uh, the crucifixion. In this latest X-Men film, however, a powerful twist enters in and truly redeems suffering in a beautiful way.

In a climactic scene (slight spoiler alert here) between young Charles Xavier and old Charles Xavier, we receive a pearl of wisdom on how to treat our "enemy"... how to open up to a peace that just might have the power to stick, finally, after so much fighting; 

"The greatest gift we have is to bear their pain without breaking and it comes from your most human part, hope."- Charles Xavier

Wow. The scene has so much more to it, but I want you to go and taste it for yourself.

So back to Jesus... who is the quintessence of this kind of compassion (which means to suffer with).

Recall he came the way the Father wanted him to. He answered the problem of evil not with a punch, but with his paschal mystery. He took the punch, and let it penetrate him (literally in fact break him), through and through. "Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave... becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross." (Philippians 2:7-8)

This is the "movie" that continues to truly move me. And with an ever building sense of joy and Easter hope, all the while trying to unite my own personal small bit of suffering to his, I'm looking forward to the sequel!

"In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.”
- John 16:33

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

To Be Inspired and Inflamed


This July 9-11, there will be a gathering in historic Philadelphia, PA, of renowned experts and enthusiasts on the incredible thought of St. John Paul II. He devoted the first major teaching project of his pontificate – 129 short talks between September of 1979 and November of 1984 – to providing a profoundly beautiful vision of human embodiment and erotic love. He gave this project the working title “Theology of the Body.” Far from being a footnote in the Christian life, the way we understand the body and the sexual relationship “concerns the whole Bible” (TOB 69:8). It plunges us into “the perspective of the whole Gospel, of the whole teaching, even more, of the whole mission of Christ” (TOB 49:3). Christ’s mission, according to the spousal analogy of the Scriptures, is to “marry” us. He invites us to live with him in an eternal life-giving union of love. The repercussions of this teaching, in essence of the Gospel itself, are boundless, touching every person in every walk of life with the positive, hope-filled joy of the Gospel that truly sets women and men free to love. Our three days together in July includes:

• More than 30 seminars, roundtable discussions, expert panels and keynotes;

• Sharing and collaboration between key Theology of the Body leaders, catechists, Church leaders and teachers from around the country;

• Catholic vendors specializing in Theology of the Body-related products;

• Two breakfasts, a luncheon, two dinners, and a special awards presentation;

• Eucharistic adoration, reconciliation, and daily Mass celebrated at the Basilica Cathedral of SS Peter and Paul

- See more at:

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Pope Saint and Fatima

Taken from Jason Evert's excellent new book, St. John Paul the Great: His Five Loves

"May 13, 1981 was a typical Wednesday in the Vatican. As was his custom, John Paul invited guests for lunch, hosting the renowned French geneticist Jerome Lejeune and his wife to discuss Natural Family Planning and other pro-life matters. After the usual course of afternoon meetings and prayer, he descended to Saint Peter's Square to participate in his weekly Wednesday audience with the faithful. He was approaching the halfway mark of his lectures on the Theology of the Body.

He climbed aboard the Popemobile and crisscrossed through Saint Peter's Square, kissing babies and blessing the 20,000 pilgrims who had gathered to see him. At 5:17 P.M., moments after blessing a two-year-old girl and handing her back to her elated parents, blasts from a 9mm semiautomatic pistol rang out. Pigeons throughout the square scattered skyward as John Paul fell backward into the arms of his secretary, Monsignor Dziwisz.

One bullet fractured two bones in his left index finger and passed through his abdomen before exiting through his sacrum and coming to rest in the Popemobile. Another bullet grazed his right arm, and two American women in the crowd were injured. His assailant, Mehmet Ali Agća, was a trained twenty-three year-old Turkish gunman who had been incarcerated for murdering a journalist. Three days before the Pope's visit to Turkey in 1979, Agća escaped from an Istanbul prison and sent a letter to the Turkish newspaper Milliyet, stating that if the papal visit is not canceled, "I will without doubt kill the Pope-Chief. This is the sole motive for my escape from prison."

Although the Istanbul daily paper printed the letter on its front page, John Paul moved ahead with his plans and safely made his apostolic pilgrimage. However, Agća was determined to follow through on his threat. He arrived in Rome two years later, on May 9, and stayed at the Pensione Isa hotel, a fifteen-minute walk from the Vatican. Over the next few days, he examined Saint Peter's Square and developed his strategy for murdering the pontiff. After the assassination attempt, police searched his room and discovered a note that declared, "I have killed the Pope."

After the gunshots were fired, the Popemobile fled the scene and John Paul was transferred into the familiar ambulance. Dziwisz climbed beside him and could hear him praying, "O Maria, Madonna! Maria, Madonna! Mary, my Mother..."

In Saint Peter's Square, as the faithful were praying for his survival, a group of Polish pilgrims took an icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa and placed it beside the empty seat that the Holy Father would have sat upon during his audience. A gust of wind blew it over, and a bystander noticed the inscription on the back of the image, which had been written days or weeks earlier: "May Our Lady protect the Holy Father from Evil."

After healing, John Paul desired to express his thanks to the Virgin Mary for protecting his life. He took one of the bullets that struck him and gave it to the bishop of Fatima, who placed it among the gems in the crown of the statue of Our Lady of Fatima.

Several biographers have noted that it was a perfect fit. Uno Zani explained, "To everyone's surprise, it was not even necessary to make a place for it, because there was already a hole in the crown into which the bullet fit perfectly, as if it had been designed that way." 

In Saint Peter's Square, he installed a mosaic icon of the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child, overlooking the Papal Apartments, with the words of his motto, Totus Tuus, inscribed beneath it. The image was installed in remembrance of the assassination attempt, but it also filled a need that the Pope realized before the attempt on his life occurred: of all the statues that surround Saint Peter's Square, there wasn't a single image of the Blessed Mother."

- Jason Evert, St. John Paul the Great: His Five Loves

Saturday, April 19, 2014

When God Sleeps

Epic fail. It didn't work. He's dead at only 33. His own disowned him. Betrayed, his friends abandoned him. What a waste. Everything the Lord did in his life on earth was meant to be a kind of catechism for us. His every divine word but also his divine actions were an answer to the mystery of human life for us; after all, he came to teach us how to live. "Jesus Christ fully reveals man to himself, and makes his supreme calling clear." (Gaudium et Spes, 22) The birth in poverty. Jesus the toddler. Jesus the teenager. The blue collar work. The callused hands. The hidden years, all 18 of them. The lack of formal "education" and having anything written down for posterity. Then the false accusations. The criminal's death. The awkward silence of Holy Saturday. But we know now he was waiting. In silence. For a Jew, three days meant the soul had definitely left the body. He was dead. The "prayers" of the embalming perfumes set in, and soaked his dead flesh in the darkness of that tomb. One hundred pounds of oils the gospel said, enough for a kings burial. But a waste. Spilled over a dead man. Sealed and scented by no one. 
Have we felt the silence of Holy Saturday in our lives? The cold echo of prayers places in tombs? Have we learned nothing from the God of parables? The seed must die, buried in the dank earth, and wait. Time must tick. The Lord will respond in his time, not ours. The key is, keep showing up. Stay awake even when it seems Christ himself cannot "watch one hour with you." This tomb of hollow prayers must be visited. We must go through the motions, as it were, even when it appears as if death, silence, failure is all there is. Stay awake even when God sleeps. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Naked Christ

"It's scandalous to see this nearly naked Christ," some critics said, as the story goes, when an initial draft of Ford Madox Brown's Christ Washing the Feet of Peter was viewed. Brown lived through the majority of the 19th century as an English painter in a Victorian climate, where the sight of a woman's ankle might be seen as improper. It's ironic to think that those whom Christ stripped himself to serve would be scandalized, not by his act of love, but by his physical appearance. When Peter was scandalized, it was because of his interior unworthiness. The Victorians were shocked by his exterior "impropriety."   
What does this tell us? It tells us that we have issues, in every time and place, with the realm of sexuality and the body. Deeper still, with the realm of trust and vulnerability, of which nakedness is the physical sign. Nakedness is a spousal call to see the other, to enter into the vulnerable mystery of the other.  And it tells us that the Messiah, the Heavenly Bridegroom, will do anything to get our attention. He will play the fool, he will strip down and serve, he'll make himself that vulnerable. And he'll also make it clear that he wants us to see him, to know him. He will reveal himself to us, in all of the vulnerability of a lover to his beloved bride. He wants to come close. So close to us. 

I wonder how the Victorians would've reacted to the true history of Roman crucifixtion. The victims were too often left naked on those crosses, shamed and publicly humiliated. But for Jesus, as Augustine tells us, this was the moment where the cross turned into a "marriage bed." The cross is the crux where all horizontal earthly love meets the power of the vertical love of a God that rushed down in love to be with us! And this perfect love has no fear! Like the first Adam in the beginning, Christ the second Adam is "naked without shame" and he like Adam was called to "cleave to his wife, so the two could become one flesh"... 

Like Peter then, we must loosen our grip, let the blood flow back into our clenched knuckles and allow The Lord to love us. Totally, humbly, wholly His Way. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Clarity of Christ, the Muddiness of Man

"So Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.”"
- John 13

When I was "discerning" my vocation I was an expert in mental gymnastics. I could think myself into a million different moves, different scenarios, in and out of twists and turns, yet ironically ending up in the same place every time. In my starting position, on the mat. 

Gathering information is great. We all need to do a little recon now and then in life before a major leap. Like Caleb and Joshua in the book of Numbers, we gather our intel on our expedition into Canaan. But when they reported their findings, and spoke with their own clarity about the move (essentially they were the only ones saying "Let's do this!"), the muddiness of mental gymnastics began. The others spread discouraging reports "Well, uh, they're uh... giants. They'll eat us. Yeah. We need to reconsider this."

"Caleb, however, quieted the people before Moses and said, “We ought to go up and seize the land, for we can certainly prevail over it.” 
- Numbers 14

"So Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.”"
- John 13

We can be our own worst enemy. Fear can sap the strongest heart. When we know the good, we ought to do the good rather than rationalize ourselves into a little corner of inaction. (PS - I really stink at this, which is why I'm writing about it right now.) This Holy Week the Passion dawns in its perennial newness, in deep blood-red hues spreading over the weak world. 

What shall we do as the great God descends? Run and hide? Deny even knowing him? Or follow along in his footprints like the beloved disciple? Time is of the essence. The hour is at hand. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Our Tangible God

As Passion Week continues to unfold, let's pay attention to the exquisite details of the gospels: the whole drama of emotion, the full gamut of fear and faith, cowardice and conviction. This is the long awaited confrontation of the incarnate God and His rebellious creatures. This is the centerpiece of the triptych of human history: our redemption pulsating like a jewel of red fire between the two pillars of our origin in grace and our destiny. Our challenge is to stand in the gap, allowing Our Lord to right our wrongs in and through His sacred flesh. His body and soul. 

"Our culture has lost its sense of God’s tangible presence and activity in our world. We think that God is to be found in the beyond, on another level of reality, far removed from our everyday relationships. But if this were the case, if God could not act in the world, his love would not be truly powerful, truly real, and thus not even true, a love capable of delivering the bliss that it promises. It would make no difference at all whether we believed in him or not. Christians, on the contrary, profess their faith in God’s tangible and powerful love which really does act in history and determines its final destiny: a love that can be encountered, a love fully revealed in Christ’s passion, death and resurrection."
- Pope Francis, Lumen Fidei, 17

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Perfecting Our Passion

Today the Passion narrative was read at Mass for this Palm or Passion Sunday. My thoughts always turn to those brilliant scenes in the film of the century, The Passion of the Christ. This still frame takes place in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus, Peter, James and John spend an anxious hour of prayer, anticipating a new Passover. Temple guards approach with weapons and lights. Masterly woven together, three figures move past each other like dark threads in the cloak of the night: Peter, Judas, and a temple guard. Peter stands still, Judas is retreating, and the temple guard is pressing forward to lay hands on the Christ, the Son of God. All three have a passion that intertwines their destiny, but it's misdirected so that the result will be a frayed and inconsistent stitch.  

Judas' passion is for money (we know he stole from the communal stash), for success, and for the earthly power and authority he thinks Jesus can win for this rugged band of fisherman. 

The temple guard's passion is for peace and for order, but he will stop at nothing, not even innocence, to keep the Pharisees in control and the Jewish subculture alive under the shadow of the Romans. 

Peter's passion is purest but falters in the end. Why? Why deny him? Why run? Was he relying on his own strength? 

Only Jesus has a Passion that can carry him all the way to the conflagration of the cross, there to be lifted up to draw all men to himself. This is the proper goal of passion; the perfection of passion. This is what will be unravelled again this Holy Week for the world to see. For Christians hearts to meditate on. Passion must lead out and beyond, beyond ourselves, beyond petty pleasures. Passion must take us to the fires of Heaven, even as it passes first through the fires of suffering and death here below. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Stretching Our Hearts

Pope Benedict once wrote that "Man was created for greatness - for God himself; he was created to be filled by God. But his heart is too small for the greatness to which it is destined. It must be stretched. (St. Augustine said) “By delaying [his gift], God strengthens our desire; through desire he enlarges our soul and by expanding it he increases its capacity [for receiving him]”. Augustine refers to Saint Paul, who speaks of himself as straining forward to the things that are to come. He then uses a very beautiful image to describe this process of enlargement and preparation of the human heart. “Suppose that God wishes to fill you with honey [a symbol of God's tenderness and goodness]; but if you are full of vinegar, where will you put the honey?" The vessel, that is your heart, must first be enlarged and then cleansed, freed from the vinegar and its taste."

"This requires hard work and is painful, but in this way alone do we become suited to that for which we are destined. Even if Augustine speaks directly only of our capacity for God, it is nevertheless clear that through this effort by which we are freed from vinegar and the taste of vinegar, not only are we made free for God, but we also become open to others. It is only by becoming children of God, that we can be with our common Father."

And that's the path of sanctification. The journey of holiness. The life of prayer. 

"To pray is not to step outside history and withdraw to our own private corner of happiness. When we pray properly we undergo a process of inner purification which opens us up to God and thus to our fellow human beings as well." (Pope Benedict)

Friday, April 11, 2014

Unconnected Instants

We just left a wonderful little soirée for my mum, who just completed a whopping 32 years working for Deborah Heart & Lung Center in historic Browns Mills, NJ! An incredible achievement in this age of restlessness. The crowds of friends who came out to celebrate her showed gratitude and love for that dedication, and I saw some faces I haven't seen in decades. Some of them 30 years! (including the babysitter whom I once shot rubber bands at from the hallway, in my PJs, 'cause she brought her boyfriend). 

My mom's an amazing lady. And she has a heart of gold. And she so deserves this time of rest. I don't want to say she'll keep busy, because that's a thing we often say in a negative way as if the silence after leaving the working world is a scary thing that one has to incessantly fill lest we feel alone. No. Mom will fill it quite adequately, I'm sure, with good, creative, reflective rest and fruitful human activity. 

Now a quick jump to a divergent strain of thought that's full of irony. I know I'm a total Catholic Nerd because I'm always thinking about these things... and I'm certain it must come off as snobby at some level. Annoying even. But let me be the gadfly of this age of technolatry. I'm simultaneously one of its victims. 

In the bar, called "The Recovery" there were over 40 screens of varying sports, news, and other shows. Yes, 40. 

At our table, at one point, 4 out of 6 people were looking at their little baby smart phone screens. 

I'm just saying. It's interesting. It took me off on a different train and I drew my wife Rebecca along with me to see the view. 

J.R.R. Tolkien wouldn't sit in a pub that was playing a wireless radio because he felt it should be a place for human interaction. Faces and names. I think he would have called in the Ents to "release the River" on this place. 

Once man has lost the fundamental orientation which unifies his existence, he breaks down into the multiplicity of his desires; in refusing to await the time of promise, his life-story disintegrates into a myriad of unconnected instants. 
- Pope Francis, Lumen Fidei, 13

Again, this may be a strange juxtaposition of things. A retirement party in a place of endless sensory overload. But then again, maybe not. We must find peace in the eye of the storm. We must be recollected in the restlessness of modern life. Mom's good at that. She was on the move and didn't sit long tonight. But the beauty was in her connections with those faces and names. "I have to mingle," she said. "I should see more people." 

Amen mum! So should we all!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

“Santo Subito!”

The average wait to see him was 13 hours. The line was over 3 miles long. Over 150 cardinals concelebrated, 700 archbishops and bishops were present, and 3,000 priests participated.

It was the largest gathering of statesmen in human history. It was the first time an Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Church had attended a papal funeral since the Great Schism of 1054. 159 foreign delegations were in attendance, as were 10 kings, 5 queens, 3 princes, 59 heads of state, 17 prime ministers, 10 presidents, 8 vice presidents, 12 foreign ministers, 24 ambassadors, general directors, secretary generals or presidents of international organizations, 23 delegations of Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox Churches, 8 Churches or ecclesial communities, international Christian organizations, and Jewish delegations.

More than 3 million pilgrims came together in Rome for the funeral of Blessed John Paul II on April 8, 2005.* And the people cried “Santo subito!”

Loosely translated, it means “saint him now!” The process for beatification however could not, as it was written then, begin for at least another 5 years. Then add the further study of his writings and letters, a massive volume of work to be sure, and the wait for Heaven's signature in the form of a supernatural sign or miracle through John Paul's intercession. Was this cry for canonization coming, as some believed, too fast? Was this pressure from the faithful crying out “santo subito” unwarranted?

It's often recalled when someone is in the midst of a struggle or crisis that “pressure makes diamonds.” Tremendous heat and tremendous pressure, applied to carbon deep in the heart of the earth will create exquisite, nearly unbreakable gemstones. God seems to have imprinted in so many physical realities and natural processes, lessons in matters of the human spirit; perfect parallels that can illuminate human life through a close examination of the biological. There are parables impregnated into the very fabric of the world if we allow ourselves to see them, and to hear them.

When one looks at the multi-faceted life and unbreakable character of Karol Wojtyla, the future St. Pope John Paul II, it would seem the pressures that surrounded him must have been nearly beyond comprehension; an unequaled intensity forged his character as surely as the carbon is heated and crushed by the primordial weight of the world. These pressures have created for us, and for Heaven, a gem of astounding beauty. The early suffering of losing his mother, brother, and father before the age of 21 might have been enough to crack a more fragile heart, but for young Karol it created early on a true sensitivity, and a tender affection for the Mother of God to whom he turned more deeply in prayer. The demonic fire of the Nazi regime, which ensnared many of his peers and close friends, literally forced him into an underground theater to act and to perform the noble qualities of his Polish heritage. That pressure gave him a deep loyalty to his native soil, which later would expand into a powerful respect and connection with the soil of other lands. He was known for kissing the ground as an act of respect and gratitude whenever he stepped off the airplane in his trips around the world. When the communist regime took over and applied pressure on his priesthood, it only served to create a body connected in deeper solidarity. In one of the many powerful scenes of his 27 year papacy, tear gas was thrown to break up the masses gathered outdoors for Holy Mass. As the panic mounted, a monsignor beside him whispered that he should perhaps take his leave before things became more violent. With unbreakable resolve, he halted, and full voice cried out to the crowd and to the gathering darkness, “Love is stronger! Love…is…stronger!”

To the end, this unbreakable quality in John Paul II would remain. He would, with a diamond's brilliance, catch the light of the Son and illuminate the places he would travel, and he would travel until the end. Only death, it would seem, could break him. And even there, he seemed not to yield, not to be crushed utterly but to rise again for another day. That final day, the one on which he would hand over his spirit and return to the Father's House would be the Feast of Divine Mercy. Like his Lord and Savior, he would hold out until that final piercing, when the rock would be struck and blood and water flow out.

This April 27, 2014, is another Divine Mercy Sunday. It has only been 9 years since his passing; a novena of years in which the Universal Church has been waiting, praying, hoping. And now we can all cry out anew, “Santo subito!”The day has come, and he wears the crown of everlasting splendor, and its light shines from the communion of saints on us all!

"You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, sardius, topaz, and diamond…On the day that you were created they were prepared…you were on the holy mountain of God; in the midst of the stones of fire you walked. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created…"
- Ezekiel 28:13-14

* Statistics taken from CNA

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

"You are Trying to Kill Me"

"But now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God..."
- John 8:40

I've always been fascinated by the two extreme reactions of people towards Jesus: adoration or desecration. Absolute wonder and awe that sought only to touch his hands or a blinding rage-filled hate that would drive a nail through them. 

Dr. Peter Kreeft wrote in his stellar book Jesus Shock:
"Those who meet Jesus always experience either joy or its opposites, either foretastes of Heaven or foretastes of Hell. Not everyone who meets Jesus is pleased, and not everyone is happy, but everyone is shocked." 

I've been following the Sr. Jane Dominic ordeal with a similar fascination. This dear sister came and proclaimed a truth about human sexuality in light of the plan of God for our joy. It was a young audience at Charlotte Catholic High School and time was very limited for such an intense topic. Granted, it needed time to breathe, time for questions and exploration, and that's been acknowledged. But a truth was spoken. And like the finger of a physician it touched a wound, and an angry body had a knee-jerk reaction. According to the comments and the news reports, no one seemed interested in the veracity of the studies Sr. Jane cited regarding the homosexual lifestyle. No one wanted a discussion and/or revelation that would have treated that wound or sought to address it at a subsequent meeting. They seemed only interested in silencing this Catholic nun, and letting it be known that they felt (they felt) that the Church should change it's teaching. 

I found it so providential that the first reading at Mass later that week (after the mob at CCHS) was from Wisdom 2: 

To us he is the censure of our thoughts; 
merely to see him is a hardship for us,
Because his life is not like that of others,
and different are his ways.
He judges us debased;
he holds aloof from our paths as from things impure.
He calls blest the destiny of the just
and boasts that God is his Father.

Just something to consider in this whole debate, this whole decision about speaking, teaching, living the Catholic faith in its fullness: If we want to really love Jesus, this shocking Jesus who could "bash" Pharisees and bedazzle prostitutes, trash temple money-changers and touch tenderly the blistered wounds of beggars, than what happened to Jesus must necessarily happen to us. 

“If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first... If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you..."
- John 15:18-20

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Why Jesus Lets Us Die

In an incredible gospel story for this Fifth Sunday of Lent, Jesus allows his friend to die, then begin to decompose in a tomb for nearly a week, before he takes any action. Why?

The story builds with a momentous slowness, layered with a variety of characters, details, and all of the pathos, anxieties, and questions that human suffering punches into the heart when death occurs. But Jesus stays right where he is, for two more days. He does nothing. Removed from the situation. Why? It's certainly not apathy. It's not laziness. I think it's Divine Mercy.

"Lord, if you had only been here."
"He healed others, why not his friend?"
"See how he loved him."
"Lord, surely there will be a stench."

Imagine how Jesus must have felt taking all of that in; all the doubt, fear, misplaced pity, and the ignorance of his true identity and power. But he takes it all in, and on himself, allowing the crushing weight of death to sink into his own heart, his listeners, his followers. "And Jesus wept." He invites them to feel. Makes them enter into the cold hollows of a rock hewn tomb, to sit and to wait in that place. 

Jesus allows Lazarus to die. God's permissive will allows so many of us to die, to be in periods of darkness, and to even dwell in those foul tombs where there seems to be absolutely no light, and no hope. But again, it's his Mercy. We are taken down to the depths so that we might realize our utter dependence on Him, our infinite thirst for Him. To see His glory. 

We have to die. We have to be laid in that tomb of our weakness and inadequacy. And then from the other side, from the light of a clear day whose timing He alone knows, from the beaming face of the Son, who is the light and the resurrection, He speaks. "Lazarus, come out!" 

And we rise. 

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Countdown to Canonization!

The great approaches! Come over to @TOBinstitute and follow our Countdown to Canonization pics as the day approaches!

"You Fill Up My Senses"

"God wants to reach us where we are, beginning with our senses, for it is he who created them and implanted them in us as our road to him... Like the sage in the parable, God never tires of bringing out of the treasure of his own Being (for what other treasure does God have?) the most unexpected gifts, whether in gold, stone, or humble wood."
- Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Holy Parenthood!!

In the midst of this morning's whirlwind of activities in preparation for a "normal" day, as Seth obsessed about his cars, delayed brushing his teeth, taking his inhaler, and eating "at least three grapes", Clare went from sweet to sour in seconds over which coat to wear, finally screeching both "I can do it ma'SELF!!!!" and "Do it FOR meeeeee!!!" and Sheila climbed up on top of the Cinderella chair and pulled down and scattered across the floor the "secret-box-for-tiny-toys-that-Sheila-could-swallow", I had this thought: 

If the morning ritual of preparing children for the day were fully embraced by moms and dads and lived with the heroic virtue it calls for, then all of purgatory could be emptied, our own hearts instantly sanctified (a kind of microwaveable mysticism), the eschaton hastened and salvation history brought to an abrupt but happy close in a matter of minutes. There. Done. Kick in the Nunc Dimittis chant cause this saint-making job is over! 

But alas, the scripture sayeth that the just man falls seven times a day, and daddy just lost it thrice in the last five minutes. Well, it's a process right, not a project ;)

My sister in law Christine, mommy to five, has a little plaque in her house that reads, "Cleaning the house while the kids are still growing is like shoveling snow while it's still snowing." 

Process. Journey. Stages through the ages of purification. Learning how to roll with it is the key; to roll with the often hilariously abrupt mood changes, likes and dislikes, emotions and attitudes. I think, and I might be totally off on this because I'm typing while holding Sheila who won't fall asleep, but I think its about letting go of our own control, saying less, being more.... Not expecting checks in little boxes that make one feel "successful" (checks in mailboxes are most welcome, however). 

Dr. Peter Kreeft nailed it when he said "The family is God's school of saint-making... You can't have a family and be selfish." Mommyhood and daddyhood are absolutely awful if you are trying to put your comfort first. Death traps, honestly. Children will and must destroy you, then remake you into one awesome unselfish person. Thank God. Anyone who imagines it's anything else is about to get grape jelly on their dress shirt. 

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Meeting John Paul II

In October of the Jubilee Year 2000, a World Mission Congress was held in Rome. Hundreds of missionaries and mission educators from around the world gathered in the Eternal City to celebrate the fundamental call of all Christians: to be the soul in the body of the world. To breathe a spirit of peace and humanity in an age increasingly foreign to kindness and selfless love. I was part of a delegation of over 20 young adults from across the USA. 

The Congress closed on World Mission Sunday, October 22, with a Jubilee Mass celebrated by Pope John Paul II. As a remembrance of those first missionaries, the Twelve Apostles, twelve men and women were chosen to receive a new commission for a New Evangelization. We received a simple cross, woven by missionary sisters, from Pope John Paul II himself, and he commissioned us "to bring Jesus back to your country." I was given the amazing and unexpected grace to be selected as one of those twelve souls, representing the United States of America!

That moment of kneeling before the Vicar of Christ on earth, before a man so many already considered a saint, an intellectual giant and a philosopher whose insights would be talked about and explored centuries from now, will never fade from my memory. There at the feet of St. John Paul II, the prayers and songs of over 80,000 people behind us in St. Peter's Square billowed up and over us, like a surging and powerful tide of convicted joy. 

Since that day I've tried to make it my goal to simply "bring Jesus back" to the world; one word, one step, one moment at a time, but I'm realizing it's more "letting Him be" than it is me doing anything.

This New Evangelization is more about seeing Him everywhere than it is about saying things everywhere. He lives. He moves. And in us He shares His being, so generously. We simply need to receive that truth. May the same fire that fueled John Paul also fill our hearts! And on this anniversary of his death, may he continue to pray for us! And inspire us to take up our own crosses, our own challenges, and not be afraid!

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

The Conscious Uncoupling of Love from Sacrifice

Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin, whom I do not know personally and don't have any authority or desire to judge, having their own back-stories, needs, and wounds (just like me!), are “consciously uncoupling" from their marriage. 

This phrase I feel I can objectively judge. 'Cause it's goofy. 

Their advisors, Dr. Habib Sadeghi and Dr. Sherry Sami, are telling them lovely things like the following to anesthetize the event of a divorce lest it sound and feel like they are in fact divorcing:

"To change the concept of divorce, we need to release the belief structures we have around marriage that create rigidity in our thought process. The belief structure is the all-or-nothing idea that when we marry, it’s for life."

Yes, God forbid we have rigidity in this life, something like a promise or vow for instance that would be our best word that we will stay, remain faithful, stick to the beloved like in that movie The Notebook. Seriously, rigidity is for things like concrete, not people! People mustn't be rigid. They should be more like... Jello. 

"The truth is," the love doctors continued, "the only thing any of us have is today. Beyond that, there are no guarantees. The idea of being married to one person for life is too much pressure for anyone."

Narrative Note: You are not reading the Onion. People with doctorates wrote that bit. 

So to be married to one person for life is "too much pressure"..... Can someone please tell Danny and Annie that they totally, and selfishly, wasted their lives on each other, when they could have wasted it on more people than just each other? 

"A conscious uncoupling is the ability to understand that every irritation and argument was a signal to look inside ourselves... If we can remain conscious of this during our uncoupling, we will understand it’s how we relate to ourselves internally as we go through an experience that’s the real issue, not what’s actually happening."

You mean actually happening with that other human person in the room who is your God-given guide and helper to unselfishness and love through self-forgetfulness? Ah yes, the quintessence of narcissism. "Wait, who are you? What are you doing in the story of my life? Have this person removed immediately!" 

Let me give this diseased flow of verbiage a B16 shot: "Love is... a journey, an ongoing exodus out of the closed inward-looking self towards its liberation through self-giving, and thus towards authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God: “Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it” (Lk 17:33) - Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 6

I don't know the situation of Gwyneth and Chris, but I know the situation in the modern world regarding love and marriage, and it stinks. The divorce rate is roughly 52%. Now more than ever is when we need an amazing witness to faithfulness, self-sacrifice, and self-giving love. 

And let's be extremely cautious of any philosophy that seeks to "uncouple" love from sacrifice. That's like "uncoupling" Christ from the Cross. They are and always will be one. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

"I am a Sinner" - Pope Francis

The Pope was at a penance service in Rome recently, and after a reflection, when he was to be moved to a prearranged spot by the master of ceremonies, in typical Francis-style, he thwarted their plans and went to a "common" priest (as one news article said) and confessed his sins. I love it. He's driving the Swiss Guards crazy. 

It's like Bob Dylan sang, "You may be an ambassador to England or France. You may like to gamble, you might like to dance.... But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed. You're gonna have to serve somebody..."

By the way, whose feet will he be washing this Holy Thursday, I wonder. "You might be the Vicar of Christ, under all those heavenly lights, but you're gonna have to serve somebody (as He has served us.)"

But Pope Francis is all over service. His life echoes his namesake's St. Francis of Assisi, who once said "Preach the gospel always, and when necessary use words." Our beloved Holy Father is saying through his actions, confession is vitally important. Everybody needs it. It's an encounter with the living Christ. Just do it. 

Urge all souls to trust in the unfathomable abyss of My mercy, because I want to save them all. On the cross, the fountain of My mercy was opened wide by the lance for all souls - no one have I excluded!
- St. Faustina, Divine Mercy in my Soul

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Jesus Gets His Hands Dirty

Back in the mid-1990's, before the internet ruined our lives (I'm kidding. Kidding) I was in the seminary, discerning a possible call to the priesthood. 

They were amazing years, and gave me a solid faith formation, an opportunity to come to know the beautiful heart of the Church from a unique and powerful perspective, and a chance for a brotherhood that in many ways continues today with both brothers who discerned out, like me, and were called to marriage, and those brothers who are now my "fathers" through the gift of priesthood. 

But some things in my seminary experience drove me nuts. Like the guy whom we will call "Brad."

"Brad" had it all laid out. His future was bright. A priestly vocation stocked with the highest of creature comforts. If that sounds bizzare wait for the next line which he actually said out loud. "These hands were made for chalices not callouses." 

Uh. What?

Praise God he was weeded out by the formation team, and I do pray he is happy now and has submitted to the action of the Holy Spirit Who would rightly flush all such nonsensical thoughts and earthly attachments from his head and make a selfless man out of him. 

Chalices not callouses? Have you read the gospels? Have you thought of the life of Jesus as he worked under that scolding hot Palestinian sun? For 18 years! As a blue collar worker, a "tekton" or carpenter/stone mason?

Why else would Jesus call us the salt of the earth? He was the salt of the earth. Poor, humble, hard at work to provide for his mother. And in today's gospel, Jesus gets his hands dirty once again. Sorry "Brad", but he makes mud. He sacramentalizes the earth with his spit. It's true. 

"While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes, and said to the blind man, "Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” - which means Sent. So the blind man went and washed, and came back able to see."
- John 9

Now there's manly. There's a man willing to speak the language of his people; in fact to speak the language of each unique person. The man born blind needed that extra stage. That preparation time to receive and revere the full weight of the glory of sight. 

So all of us must be willing to stick our hands in the mud and mess of life too. To get the callouses that come from our hands at work in the fields of the Lord. 

Our distance from the daily grind of the common man, the poor and the suffering never brought a soul closer to God. It's the descent in humility that prepares our hearts best for the final ascent into glory. 

Pope Francis said, on the plane after World Youth Day this past summer:
"I want to tell you something. What is it that I expect as a consequence of World Youth Day? I want a mess. We knew that in Rio there would be great disorder, but I want trouble in the dioceses! ... I want to see the church get closer to the people. I want to get rid of clericalism, the mundane, this closing ourselves off within ourselves, in our parishes, schools or structures. Because these need to get out!"