Friday, February 29, 2008
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Growing up my mom was quite the gardener. I never really had to pull a weed, till the soil, or tend to watering in order to enjoy the beautiful garden. She worked and I enjoyed.
Recently I weeded the small flower bed in front of my house. It had been quite some time since I’d given it any attention and I noticed several things:
- The weeds were about to overtake the garden and the flowers were struggling to grow. Flowers that were free of nearby weeds had grown tall and full. Flowers that had weeds encroaching on them were still as small as the day I planted them and barely making it.
- Many of the weeds looked very similar to the flowers. I had to lean in and look close to discover the imposters. There were only slight variations to the shape of the leaves and the shade of green pigment. I’m fairly certain I was fooled by a few and left them there to grow.
- Some of the weeds had to remain for now. They had sprouted so close to the roots of the flowers I was afraid that in pulling them I’d damage the flower. I’m fairly certain I pulled a few perfectly good flowers by mistake.
- The weeds’ roots went deep. A two-fingered tug would not suffice. I often had to use a small shovel to loosen the soil and get at the base of it. Even still . . . some roots remained and I’m sure I’ll see those weeds return.
- It took tremendous effort to weed that small garden. I spent the morning bending and stooping, leaning and tugging, shoveling and hauling away the mess. I was sore for days. I wonder how much stronger would all those muscles be if I weeded and worked daily instead?
The similarities to the spiritual life are uncanny. If you didn’t catch them go back. Perhaps read Matthew chapter 13 in prayerful consideration.
To any Christian seeking to grow in holiness I challenge you: plant a garden! A real one. Tend it yourself. (Don’t hire out the work.) And let God speak.
Until I weeded that front garden on my own, the parables in scripture about weeds and wheat and about good soil and bad seemed a bit trite. I would read them, reflect on them, quickly ask the Lord to make me “wheat” or to have a heart of “good soil.” Then I’d go about my way until the next cycle or season of the Church in which we read those passages again.
That is the beautiful thing about gardens. They cannot be ignored until the next season. They need constant attention – so the flowers can grow, so the weeds can be identified, so the flowers can be preserved, so the weeds’ roots don’t dive so deep, so we are physically strengthened in our efforts.
Though often ignored, our souls need this same daily attention - so the virtues can grow, so the vices can be identified, so the growth can be preserved, so the grip of sin can be released, so we are spiritually strengthened in our constant efforts.
This Lent may we daily weed the garden of our soul. Lean in and look closely. Stoop and bend. (Humility is good for us!) Get out a shovel if you need to. Call on the Master Gardener. Make room for growth.
And do it all over again the next day, everyday, for the rest of your life. That is how we flourish.
Do you think Christians are too serious about themselves some times?
Can you laugh at yourself?
Are you not easily offended?
Then check these out. But, have your sarcasm meter on high.
On a serious note, the theology being put forward in these videos is that a lot of things like church attendance, tithing, etc. really isn't important. Which I disagree with. But, the point of being too serious about ourselves should be taken seriously.
*In the "I told you so" category - Adult Stem Cells help more patients than Fetal Stem Cells.
*A good new website about healing from abortion from the Author of Changed: Making Sense of Your Own or a Loved One's Abortion Experience.
*A pornographic depiction of Our Lady of Guadalupe was stolen from the University of Dallas. As someone who attended UD for grad school, I love the place. I think it is one of the better Catholic schools in the country presently. But, having this kind of "art" sends a mixed message. Taylor Marshall, an Aggie Catholic, who is getting a Ph.D. at UD comments here.
My only thought - two wrongs don't make a right.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Echoing the countercultural appeal of religious life to younger Catholics, it appears that many discerners are looking for more obvious outward expressions of their commitment to religious life. Vocation directors—both men and women—commented on an increased interest among inquirers in wearing a habit or traditional religious garb.
Not surprisingly, those discerning the call to religious life also consider essential or very important: praying in community and devotional prayer (73 percent each); living in community (67 percent); peace and justice outreach (66 percent); and above all living a life of faithfulness to the church and its teachings, which was ranked as very important or essential by 90 percent of discerners.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Last week when I was sick I started playing a new card game on my friend’s laptop. It required just enough thought to occupy me, but not too much thought that I was still able to play with my congested, cold-medicine fog.
This game had a neat feature. It had an undo option. If you moved a card and then discovered you were at a dead end or that you didn’t like the card beneath, you could simply click “undo” and go back. Beautiful. At first I was quite pleased at this discovery and my success at the game increased.
But then something happened. The game lost meaning (as much meaning as a computer card game can have) and I felt like I was cheating. My choices didn’t matter. There was no “risk”. I didn’t have to think. I could just undo. I didn’t have to engage any faculties other than my index finger clicking over and over “undo”. Pointless.
In life I think we often wish there was an “undo” button. We say something stupid or heartless and click “undo”. We do something sinful or damaging and simply click “undo”. We make the wrong choice and ever so quickly we click “undo”. But in life there is no undo button.
When Adam and Eve sinned, when we sin, God doesn’t simply click a big undo button in the sky to erase what we’ve done. Why not? This would take away our freewill, our choice, our ability to think and engage our faculties, our ability to really live this life. It would take away all meaning. Nothing we do or didn’t do would matter. God could just click and undo.
Now clicking a button would be much easier on God. But it would leave us unable to truly love (freedom being a prerequisite for love). So what does he do instead? God finds another way. He sends his Son to die for our offenses.
In life there is no undo button. But we have something better. We have the Cross.
- It doesn’t erase our freedom. It wins it. We have true freedom from sin and death.
- It doesn’t take away our choices. It enables them. We have grace to choose the good and avoid the bad.
- It doesn’t reduce our ability to think and engage our faculties. It perfects them. We are “transformed by the renewal of our minds” and we can know the will of God! (Romans 12)
- It doesn’t diminish meaning or make choices pointless. It gives meaning to suffering and value to the “least of these”. (Matthew 25)
- It doesn’t keep us from really living life. It empowers us to live for something, for Someone, greater than ourselves.
No, Christ’s death on the Cross is not an undo button. It doesn’t go back or erase. It does more. It transforms us. It redeems us. It heals us. And we are better for it.
Through the Cross God says to us, “I love you enough to suffer the consequences of your sins so that you can be healed and transformed and in loving union with me!” Wow.
This Lent may we take some time to reflect on the Cross. Perhaps it is an image very familiar to us, but think about what it means. What has Christ won for you? How has Christ healed you? How has his death given you life?
And thank God there is no “undo” button. We have the power of the Cross instead.
Monday, February 25, 2008
*Check out this nice video from Catholics Come Home. One of the better ads I have ever seen put out by the Church. We need more media like this. It is being done in select dioceses now.
Me - You are kidding me right?
God - Nope. You want to teach and talk about evangelization - well you need to evangelize now.
Me - Come on, she doesn't want to talk to me, she won't even look my way.
God - Do it anyway.
Me - Yes sir.
I then leaned over to the woman and asked what she was reading. She looked bothered by me asking, but tried to remain as polite as possible. She then handed me the magazine, I looked at it, choked down a few comments I wanted to make, handed it back to her, smiled and thanked her. I tried to start a conversation up with her, but to no avail. She wasn't biting. It may have been the picture of the Pope she saw on the desktop of my laptop or the book about the Catholic Church I was reading. Regardless, this opportunity God provided was more for me than her.
Apparently I wasn't the one to plant seeds this time. Rather, God was watering the seed of courage he planted in my soul. If I want to be an evangelist I have to do those things that I don't want to do - and I didn't want to talk to that woman. Thank God I did, because He is the one who gave me the grace to do so.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Last month, for instance, I was on a flight to Chicago and had a great discussion with an Evangelical Protestant man about the Jewish roots of Christianity and Catholicism. He was enthralled when I described the Mass in light of the Temple and Synagogue liturgies.
Also, today, as I sit in the Phoenix airport waiting for my connecting flight, I thank God for allowing me to talk to another man about the Church. Within the first 30 seconds of talking to him, I learned he works for Roger Staubach. This gave me an opportunity to talk about the faith, because Staubach is a devout Catholic.
Other opportunities include being able to invite a college student to church, talking to a former Scientologist about his conversion to Christianity and then dispel myths about the Catholic Church, and finally talking to a man from India who married a Catholic and always wanted to talk to someone who could answer his questions about the Church.
May God open another door of evangelization during my trip and may I have the faith to walk through it. Pray for me and I will pray that God will also give you a chance to evangelize.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
2 - Please keep me (Marcel) in your prayers. Starting today, this will be my busiest week of the year. I have to teach Adult Faith Formation at St. Thomas tonight. Wake up at 4 AM for a flight to California, where I speak at the Temecula Catholic Speaker Series. Then catch a morning flight back on Friday. Saturday morning I am speaking at the Diocese of Austin Altar Servers' Recognition Day. Sunday I will be running a Half-Marathon in the morning and then speaking at a Catholic Voters' Coffee House. I will then summarily crash and burn at home.
Lucky for me, I have the most amazing wife alive. If you want a bald guy come speak to your group, then contact me or check out my personal website - but, don't ask for me to do something in the next week.
3 - If she is able Sarah will post some things while I am traveling. Which is an even better reason to keep checking back here.
UPDATE - Sarah is sick, so there may not be much posting until next week.
Here is a YouTube video the NY Bishops have issued about it.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Thou knowest when I sit down.
The words “sit down” stood out to me. I (oddly enough) pictured my Aunt’s dog Rachel. She is a severely overweight golden retriever. She loves walks, but an odd thing happens midway through. She just sits down. You can’t make her budge. You can call, you can tug on the lead, you can excitedly try and coax her back up. And she just sits. You are left with only a few options, none of which are ideal:
- Patiently sit with her until she is ready to resume the walk;
- Attempt to drag her home. This requires great perseverance and strength, inch by inch making the way home;
- Send someone back to the house to get a delicious something-or-other to entice her onward;
- Pick her up and carry her. This is perhaps the most laborious of the options. She is quite heavy, remember?
And so in thinking of Rachel’s mid-walk plop-downs, I began to think about just how often I “sit down” on my walk with God.
We will be traveling along nicely, walking hand in hand, making some good strides and covering plenty of ground . . . and then I’ll sit.
Why do I (and perhaps you) do this? Why do I plop down mid-journey?
- I get scared of where we are headed. A journey with Christ always leads to the Cross.
- I am not sure of which way to go. We can be quite blind to the signs and promptings.
- I want to go my own way. “All we like sheep have gone astray;we have turned every one to his own way.” Isaiah 53:6
- I begin to doubt the One who is guiding me. Does he really have a plan for my welfare with a future full of hope? Jeremiah 29:11
- I am tired from the journey and my baggage is heavy. And I forget what he said in Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
- I hurt. And I forget that “by his wounds we are healed” 1 Peter 2:24!
- I would rather stay right where I am, enjoying the current view. Much like the apostles would have preferred to stay on that mountain. Matthew 17
For many different reasons, like my Aunt’s dog, I plop down where I am. And what does the Lord do? Does he abandon me and go on his merry way? Does he throw his hands up in frustration or regret he ever committed to walk with me?
No. He patiently sits with me until I’m ready to resume the walk. Sometimes he persistently drags me, inch by inch until we make it home. He always feeds me with His very life and entices me onward with grace and mercy. And sometimes, in his great might, he gently picks me up and carries me.
We are only in the second week of Lent. Have you sat down?
Take a moment to ask the Lord to strengthen you in the journey. Let him sit with you, guide you, drag you, entice you, and carry you. Remember you are not walking alone. Remember you are walking for a great purpose. Remember you are journeying not just to the Cross, but to the Resurrection.
Last night I prayed, “Lord, I want to walk with you!”
If you find that you have sat down, ask for the grace to rise up. And walk.
-Please pray for our staff as we spend a day working on teamwork.
-Please pray for our students, parishioners and benefactors.
-Please pray for those who are struggling mentally, spiritually, emotionally, relationally or physically.
-Please pray for the upcoming elections and wisdom.
-Please pray for a parishioner who is about to undergo open heart surgery. She is the mother of two small children and a good friend.
-Please pray for God to give me some energy. Starting tomorrow, I have four presentations on four of the next five days. They are in four different cities, in two different states and in addition, I am running a half-marathon on Sunday morning.
-Thank God for this Lenten season and thank you for your prayers.
Monday, February 18, 2008
I vacuum weekly, sometimes more, but the fur remains. The long white strands (hence I don’t wear black) weave themselves into the fibers of the couch, the rug, my clothes, friend’s clothes. You can’t come for a visit without taking a bit of fur with you when you leave.
The other day I took my laptop to work to transfer some files. When I opened it, I couldn’t help but smile. There were a few white strands. One was easily brushed off and the other was tucked in among the keys and I had to pluck it out.
And it hit me.
We all leave something of ourselves behind. In every encounter we have with others, we leave a bit of ourselves with them. But if it isn’t fur then what is it? Well, it depends.
When we are hurting, we might leave behind sadness or despair. Or we might even leave behind a new hurt. There is a saying, “hurt people hurt people”. It is true.
When we are insecure we might toss out sarcastic jabs, put down others, or give “leave me alone” looks. We might leave behind hurt feelings and wounded egos.
When we are anxious we might complicate situations, waste energy, and focus on the negative. We can pass along the unease, distrust, and fear of the future to others.
When we are angry we might miss direct our anger at an unsuspecting person or unrelated situation. We leave behind frustration, confusion, hurt, and the anger itself.
When we are impatient and demand our way, right now with no excuses we can leave behind a cold chill and give someone the impression that what they can do for us is more valuable than who they are.
When we are gossipy we might leave behind falsities and ruined relationships. When we are greedy we might leave behind want and emptiness. And the list goes on. In everything we do, we leave a bit of ourselves behind. A bit scary to think about.
But it can also be a beautiful thing. When we are hopeful, joyful, compassionate, tender, truthful, gentle, humble, sincere, diligent, committed, forgiving, affirming . . . just think of what we can leave behind. Go ahead, think about it.
We can leave behind the love of Christ. We can share his love with others. This love is more persistent than dog fur. It can weave itself into the fiber of their very being and restore, lift up and revive.
This Lent may we be more aware of how we “shed”, of what we leave behind with others. May we deliberately strive to pass along Christ’s love to everyone we meet.
Don’t let anyone visit with you without taking with them a bit of the love of Christ!
Lucky for me I have a constant 95-pound, fluffy reminder of this challenge.
Building on that success they decided to do a documentary about what it means to be a human. The story of the film revolves around a young man and his brother and their quest to find what it means to be human in light of their own experiences and struggles. They have three different life-transforming experiences in search of the answers to the questions about the meaning and purpose of life. What does it mean to be a human? Why do we have to suffer? Where is God? Where can we find hope?
The movie never gives an explicit answer to these questions and I believe that it achieves it's ends much more effectively because it doesn't provide the answer for us. It challenges us to do the same as the young men in the film - go and find what it means to be human. They never get preachy in the film, but rather witness to what makes us all human by experiencing those situations where hope seems distant.
In the first experience, they live life as homeless people on the streets of New York. They meet, talk to, and sleep near those people who are on the streets. They are very humbled by the experience (as anyone who has done an Urban Plunge experience has been). They spend a week on the streets during the coldest week of the winter. They have to ask for food and sleep in cardboard boxes, feeling very vulnerable. What struck me in this segment was the woman who told the story about the time three dogs were taken off the streets near her because it was so cold, but she was ignored. She is still hurt by others' reaction to her, and in her tears we see her humanity that we share. I was challenged most by this segment - because it is the one reality that I see frequently, the homeless.
The second experience was going to see the lost children of Peru. These are abandoned, disabled and abused children. They are taken into a clinic/home where they are treated and loved. The makers of the film immediately bonded with several of the children and laughed and cried with them. The joy of the kids was infectious, even in suffering, though the stories of abuse, neglect and times that seem hopeless are hard to hear.
The third experience was in Africa. It had two parts, the first was meeting with those suffering from HIV/AIDS. One young mother who was dying from AIDS was asked by a young American man (whose mother died from AIDS when he was a child) what she would want her children to know if she was to die soon. She replied - to follow God and his commands always, because you will always do well when you do this.
The second part of this experience was going into a leper colony. The most striking thing wasn't the shock of seeing the broken bodies and rotting flesh, it was the smiles and the joy. It was the old man who was excited to see people who weren't afraid to touch them and talk to them. It was the recognition that "we are brothers". It was the thankfulness that someone would come and shake the stub that used to be a hand.
The film ends when one of the brothers sets up a surprise meeting between his father and his younger brother, who haven't seen each other in ten years. His father is an addict and was abusive, but the love between them never left, though there is much pain. The scene is striking, because they recognize in each other the gift they haven't experienced in ten years. The gift of themselves.
This movie moved me because it tells us what humanity is all about. It put on film what it means to be a human and that our identity is tied up in our great dignity. This came a perfect time for me, because I have recently been thinking deeply about the issue of human identity and dignity.
The makers of this film have done us all a favor. They have made a pro-life film, without ever talking about abortion, euthanasia or other pro-life issues. It is pro-life because it is pro-human. They have made a pro-Christ film without explicitly talking about Him. This is the kind of movie that can move anyone who sees it.
The power of film and the art of being human was shown to me through this film as few films could ever do. I once said this:
Most movies just really don't excite me too much. I might enjoy a good movie, but I don't get too reactive one way or another.I stand by my statement. But, there can always be exceptions. The Human Experience is one of them.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Good Bull indeed.
The moral of the story is that competition (within the limits of civility and mutual respect) is as healthy in religion as it is in any other area of life.
Texas thus offers a classic American illustration of a basic principle of religious sociology -- where there is religious ferment of any sort, there is likely to be Catholic dynamism too. Far from being threatened by pluralism, for the most part Catholicism ought to welcome it. To invoke a classic Aggie formula, a vibrant religious marketplace is basically "Good Bull."
Friday, February 15, 2008
He puts some of his thoughts about his Texas tour up on his blog, which you can read here. Below I will put a few highlights.
He is especially discussing the fact that the strong Evangelical Protestant presence in TX has influenced Catholicism.
"Evangelical transfer" can be glimpsed in ways large and small. For example, Fr. David Konderla, director of the sprawling St. Mary's Catholic Center at Texas A&M University, says it sometimes shapes the way Texas Catholics pray.
"At our student group meetings, ask a Catholic kid to pray and rather than reciting the 'Hail Mary' they're probably going to say something like: 'Father, we really just thank you Lord, we just want to give praise to you,'" Konderla said. "It sounds very much like what they hear from their Protestant friends in the dorms and sororities."
He cites St. Mary's again when he discusses our vocations.
St. Mary's Catholic Center at Texas A&M University is among the biggest and most dynamic campus ministry programs in the country. It's a vocations powerhouse, having produced 112 priests and religious so far, with 39 more Aggie alums currently in formation. Each year the center averages 8-10 vocations to the priesthood and religious life; last year's total was 16. By itself, St. Mary's therefore generates more vocations than many dioceses. The center's six weekend Masses regularly draw around 4,000 students. (Roughly 25 percent of A&M's student population of 45,000 is Catholic.) Konderla says that the unique ethos of A&M -- drawing students from rural, intensely religious parts of Texas -- is part of this picture. Paul Holub, a 22-year-old health education major who's considering a vocation to the priesthood, told me that it's not uncommon for Catholic and Evangelical undergrads to get "sidetracked" during study sessions talking about their faith -- pivoting especially, he said, on what it means to be "saved."
FROM CCMA Our thoughts and prayers are with the the students, parents, campus ministers, faculty, staff and community at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb, Ill. Thursday afternoon a masked gunman opened fire in Cole Hall, injuring 22people and causing seven fatalities, including himself. A candlelight prayer vigil was held Thursday evening on campus. Seven counseling areas have been set up around campus, as well as a hotline to offer support and comfort, as well as an informational website with pertinient numbers and information for parents, students and the community. Tributes are being left online at Facebook and postings of support may be left at http://www.niu.edu/index.shtml. Please keep in your prayers the campus ministry staff at Northern Illinois University's Newman Student Center: Rev. Msgr. Glenn Nelson, Dc. Jim Dombek, Rev. Godwin Asuquo and Rev. Addison Hart. Prayer vigils, Mass and an Ecumenical Prayer Service are scheduled throughout the day today. Safety on campus is an issue that members are facing more and more. Please revisit the October/November issue of Crossroads, Safety on Campus by visiting www.ccmanet.org and clicking on the Members section and Crossroads. Peace and prayers, CCMA National Office
Our thoughts and prayers are with the the students, parents, campus ministers, faculty, staff and community at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb, Ill. Thursday afternoon a masked gunman opened fire in Cole Hall, injuring 22people and causing seven fatalities, including himself.
A candlelight prayer vigil was held Thursday evening on campus.
Seven counseling areas have been set up around campus, as well as a hotline to offer support and comfort, as well as an informational website with pertinient numbers and information for parents, students and the community.
Tributes are being left online at Facebook and postings of support may be left at http://www.niu.edu/index.shtml.
Please keep in your prayers the campus ministry staff at Northern Illinois University's Newman Student Center: Rev. Msgr. Glenn Nelson, Dc. Jim Dombek, Rev. Godwin Asuquo and Rev. Addison Hart. Prayer vigils, Mass and an Ecumenical Prayer Service are scheduled throughout the day today.
Safety on campus is an issue that members are facing more and more. Please revisit the October/November issue of Crossroads, Safety on Campus by visiting www.ccmanet.org and clicking on the Members section and Crossroads.
Peace and prayers,
CCMA National Office
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
You and I and our grandmother's friends would never think of going together as a group to sit and watch a live sex act. We wouldn't enjoy it -- and if we did, we would feel like perverts (for good reason). It would disgust us to learn that a group of coworkers had gone to see such a thing. But many Hollywood producers want us to believe that getting together to watch a sex act in enhanced form -- in giant color images, intercut with close-ups and punctuated by music -- is a perfectly normal way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Which is to say, manyThis is very true. We sometimes feel that it is okay to watch a scene in a movie, because the rest of the movie is pretty good. But, that one scene...
Hollywoodproducers are perverts, and want us to be perverts, too.
Sounds like Oprah is making movies, but the culture in Hollywood is scared of the truth about God.
chops God in half: He is no longer a person, just an energy source. Star Wars makes that explicit, naming him the Force and describing him as a non-personal center of ubiquitous energy. Other movies pray to the same God, without ever describing him so theologically. Hollywood
It's great for movies to have happy endings that encourage hope by showing us that life is hard but worth it. But many movies make the mistake of delivering improbably happy endings that tell audiences: If you dream about something, and if you really want it, your dream will come true.Now the "health and wealth gospel" is made into movies. We can't re-make our reality or dream it into being.
love is all about serving a beloved, and not about using someone else to satiate our own needs and desires.
Yet, in the movies, "I love you" isn't about what I give my beloved; it's all about what my beloved provides for me. One of the best known scenes in modern film has Tom Cruise bursting into a divorce support group meeting and begging for Rene Zellweger to return (Jerry McGuire). He had her at hello. Unfortunately he got the love thing all wrong: "You complete me," he told her.
To which she should have replied, "Complete yourself, buddy, then look me up when you've matured past narcissism and are ready to love."
I should write that on poster board and walk around the campus of A&M with it. What a lie our society has bought into.
I should write that on poster board and walk around the campus of A&M with it. What a lie our society has bought into.
Go read the whole thing, you won't regret it.
Go read the whole thing, you won't regret it.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Except of course one thing – some trash is gross.
As we walked my partner and I found ourselves in a bit of a nook. There was a small narrow spot behind a building that backed up to a wooded area. This narrow space was at the end of a large field, and as a result wind had blown a great deal of junk into this out of the way spot.
My first response was to say, “Oh we don’t need to bother with this.” It was near the end of our work time and no one would ever go behind that building. But my partner was an eager and hard worker and began to pick up trash along the tree line.
My second response was to say, “Okay we’ll just clean up a bit here by the entrance where people will see.” Why bother with the rest? I’m tired. The bag is getting full. But my partner was still eager and I watched for a minute as she squatted and reached for trash I hadn’t even noticed.
My last response was to say, “Well, we should rejoin the group now, we don’t want to get too far from everyone.” It was a bit creepy back in that little nook. And I was ready to leave. After a bit more cleanup my partner joined me. We left the nook only partially cleaned. And that bothered me somehow.
The other day in prayer I found myself anxious. God had been doing a lot in my heart lately and I knew he wanted to do more. But I was tired and a bit timid.
God brought to mind the above service project. At first I thought it was a mere distraction or a random memory popping in. But then it hit me.
God wants to clean out even the smallest, narrowest crevice of my heart. He wants access to all the nooks, all the out of the way places. He wants to clean out all the trash, sin, hurt, fear – anything that keeps me from receiving and giving his love fully.
At first my responses were the same: “Oh we don’t need to bother with this.” “Okay we’ll just clean up a bit here where people will see.” But God is a most eager and hard worker. Finally I said, “Okay Lord, clean it out.”
This season of Lent we have a grand opportunity. God comes to us eager and willing to work. He longs to clean out our hearts – even those places we often pretend don’t exist or the ones we have long since tried to forget are there. He bends and reaches and sees trash we aren’t even aware of. He doesn’t tire of his work. He longs to make us whole.
You may be tired. You may be timid. You may be eager to leave this task for another time. It may be gross. It may seem creepy. It may be tempting to leave this project before it is completed.
But let him in. Give him full reign to clean up your heart.
This Lent may we cry out to God as the psalmist did, “Create in me a clean heart, O God!”
And then let him get to work on the cleanup.
Here is my question:
What do you believe are the reasons for the decline in those joining religious orders? Is this something to be worried about or is there room for optimism?
Look at the picture to the right. This is not an uncommon sight for St. Mary's. The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and the Sisters of Life just happened to be in town at the same time last semester. So, we took them on campus. FYI - In the picture - one of the friars, one of the sisters and the priest in clerics are all Aggies. A - Thanks for the question! First, I need to tell you that I cannot do anything but have hope. I live in the midst of it. I just took a break from this post to go and get some caffeine (in the form of sweet tea) and talked to a sister from the Nashville Dominicans for 10 minutes about hope in our students lives. She is here, along with 16 other priests and religious from around the country, for our Busy Students' Retreat. Hope is here in Aggieland. Hope is in St. Mary's averaging about 7-8 students a year going into formation as religious and priests. Hope is in 30 entering in the last 3 years.
A - Thanks for the question! First, I need to tell you that I cannot do anything but have hope. I live in the midst of it. I just took a break from this post to go and get some caffeine (in the form of sweet tea) and talked to a sister from the Nashville Dominicans for 10 minutes about hope in our students lives. She is here, along with 16 other priests and religious from around the country, for our Busy Students' Retreat. Hope is here in Aggieland. Hope is in St. Mary's averaging about 7-8 students a year going into formation as religious and priests. Hope is in 30 entering in the last 3 years.
Second, I should let you know that some of the numbers that have been reported incorrectly. The Vatican's newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano has corrected the numbers it issued previously. Here are the corrected numbers:
Father Ciro Benedettini, the deputy director of the press office, said that the accurate figures showed a decline of just 7,230 over that one-year period.
Thus although the world's religious population did decrease between 2005 and 2006, the decline was less than 1% of the total-- rather than nearly 10%.
So, in light of this, I do believe there is much more to be hopeful about, though even if the original numbers were correct, there is a lot of room for hope.
So, in light of this, I do believe there is much more to be hopeful about, though even if the original numbers were correct, there is a lot of room for hope.
The reasons for drops in religious orders are many. I want to warn you that I am neither a sociologist or a demographer, rather, I am an observer of culture and faith. The following observations are my own opinions.With that being said, I believe is has to do with several things:
1 - A misinterpretation of Vatican II. After Vatican II, many people within the Church tossed open the windows to the modern world and instead of engaging the world in order to evangelize it, became evangelized by modern culture themselves. They allowed the culture to be a greater authority on matters of faith than the Church of Jesus Christ. For more on this part of the story, you can read some comments I have previously written on Vatican II and it's misinterpretation and implementation.
2 - A disconnect with people living out the faith. I see this often as well. We are sinful creatures made with a fallen nature. This means we want it both ways - to be close to God and to do our own thing. We all do this, but it is much more widespread in our Church today. But, if you can't get your own way and don't want to have it any other way, then religious life is the last thing you would consider.
3 - Lack of a Catholic culture of vocations. Many people decided to stop asking their children, friends, and others to think about a vocation to the priesthood and religious life. It wasn't an option in some parts of the Church to seriously consider it.
4 - Dissent. This one is a very serious reason. Why would you sacrifice your life for something (the Church) you think teaches lies? Dissent on moral and sexual issues is especially harmful to vocations to the priesthood and religious life. If you undermine the Church's moral authority to teach truth in regards to sexuality then we can expect that people will not answer the high calling to live a celibate life (or chastity in any vocation - look at the high number of married Catholic who use contraception). Dissent also is directly tied to reasons 1 and 2.
5 - Laicization of the clergy. If a lay person can "do" everything a priest can do, then why become one? The blurring of the lines between clergy and laity, the failure to see Christ's authority in the clergy, and the changing definition of our worth from being to doing lead to many problems.
6 - Specific issues to certain religious orders. Some orders and dioceses are busting at the seams. Some have no vocations at all. Some orders are expanding rapidly and others are about to close up their shops. Why? Because of all the reasons above and more. It is a complex issue. But, to be as blunt as possible, it is mainly because some orders have lost their Catholic identity or charism (gift of the Holy Spirit). Their missions have become too blurred for them to properly discern how to live out their calling.
Now, with all of this said, there are more signs for hope than there are signs of despair. God is in charge here and many times through salvation history has God allowed these "prunings" of the people of God to happen in order for the growth to come forth more abundantly. I believe that we have turned a corner in our Church in the USA. We are seeing more and more signs of a "springtime" within our faith.
Pray for vocations. Pray for our Church and her leaders. Come visit the religious and priests at St. Mary's this week. Join us in our hope.
Monday, February 11, 2008
I went to Home Depot and armed myself with a variety of products. I spent one whole morning spraying inside and out (it is a wonder I didn’t pass out from all the fumes) to rid my home of all the pesky bugs. And it worked. Well, for a little while.
I wish that pest control was a one time deal. You did it. You dealt with them. And then you could live in peace without all the creepy crawlies. Forever.
Sometimes I find myself wishing our faith were the same. One day you’d have this big epiphany, surrender your life, change all your ways and then live in peace without all the struggle, conversion, temptation and cross-carrying that follows.
Perhaps it is normal to long for this kind of “once and for all” finality. And yet following Christ requires a daily dying, a weekly Sunday commitment, a constant battle against sin, and a continuous building of virtue. And there are layers. Oh how there are layers! You conquer one pesky vice today and there is another (sometimes bigger and more daunting) lurking around the corner.
This morning I found myself praying “Lord, you ask me to give my life and I don’t know how.” I think that I was hoping I could make one big heave-ho effort while sitting on my couch in prayer, and my will would be totally surrendered with no residual fears or submissions needed.
And then it hit me.
The daily struggle to love God, to seek Him in prayer, to change my ways, to really love others as he has loved me . . . all this is giving my life.
It isn’t a nice neat once for all package I offer as I proclaim, “Here is my life, Lord!” It is a daily rising, a daily striving, a daily dying. We are to make ourselves a “living sacrifice” as St. Paul says in Romans 12. A living sacrifice. Ouch.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I do believe in epiphanies, life changing encounters and radical conversions. They happen. Praise the Lord! And I do believe that Christ has conquered sin and death. It happened. Praise the Lord!
I’m simply reminded that so long as we draw breath on this earth we are never “done” with the struggle, never “done” with the surrender.
This Lent as we recall that “we are dust and to dust we shall return” may we make the most of our time here on earth. May we stop looking for a quick fix or a finished product, but rejoice in the daily grace God offers. And use that grace to remain on the altar – to be a living sacrifice.
Through grace we can make our lives a sacrifice to the One who sacrificed all for us. Beautiful.
The book is a great read so far. Therefore, I was pleased to see that he wrote the following column about demons. Because there are many misconceptions about the devil, demons and spiritual warfare. We are truly in a battle for souls and if we do not know the enemy, we are in trouble.
In the column, he writes:
If many people find belief in demons absurd, it is because they take their beliefs from books, they pass their lives in libraries and at desks; but demons are not interested in books, they are interested in persons, especially, and precisely, saints.
How could a person know anything about Satan if he has never encountered the reality of Satan, but only the idea of Satan in cultural, religious and ethnological traditions? They treat this question with great certainty and a feeling of superiority, doing away with it all as so much "medieval obscurantism."
But it is a false certainty. It is like someone who brags about not being afraid of lions and proves this by pointing out that he has seen many paintings and pictures of lions and was never frightened by them. On the other hand, it is entirely normal and consistent for those who do not believe in God to not believe in the devil. It would be quite tragic for someone who did not believe in God to believe in the devil!
Yet the most important thing that the Christian faith has to tell us is not that demons exist, but that Christ has defeated them. For Christians, Christ and demons are not two equal, but rather contrary principles, as certain dualistic religions believe to be the case with good and evil. Jesus is the only Lord; Satan is only a creature "gone bad." If power over men is given to Satan, it is because men have the possibility of freely choosing sides and also to keep them from being too proud (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:7), believing themselves to be self-sufficient and without need of any redeemer. "Old Satan is crazy," goes an African-American spiritual. "He shot me to destroy my soul, but missed and destroyed my sin instead."
With Christ we have nothing to fear. Nothing and no one can do us ill, unless we ourselves allow it. Satan, said an ancient Father of the Church, after Christ's coming, is like a dog chained up in the barnyard: He can bark and lunge as much as he wants, but if we don't go near him, he cannot harm us.
In the desert Jesus freed himself from Satan to free us! This is the joyous news with which we begin our Lenten journey toward Easter.
AVC: Speaking of wickedness, when you were shooting Life Of Brian, were you concerned with the fate of your immortal soul?
JC: No. No, because it's not in any way against Christ or Christ's teachings. It's all about criticizing people who make something of Christ's teachings, which I think he himself would not recognize. There's a lovely line that an idea is not responsible for the people who hold it. A lot of people in America who describe themselves without any hesitation at all as Christians are, in my opinion, completely missing the point of most of his teachings. It was like Tom DeLay, who said, with reference to turning the other cheek, that he never understood that bit of theology, which is absolutely the key to everything that Christ says. Here you've got a guy who's made a political career out of being supported by evangelical Christians, and he's totally missed the point of the teaching. So is he a Christian?
AVC: It seems like Christianity was removed from Christ at a certain point.
JC: Oh, exactly. And it's very interesting to go back to the early history, because the cross itself as a symbol doesn't seem to come in until 300 A.D. And the belief in reincarnation in Christianity was not labeled a heresy until, I think, the 400s.
AVC: Religious traditions as a whole are constantly revised, yet you kind of have to hold onto the fiction that there's an objective truth that stands the test of time.
JC: Here's what I think in a single sentence: I think that the real religion is about the understanding that if we can only still our egos for a few seconds, we might have a chance of experiencing something that is divine in nature. But in order to do that, we have to slice away at our egos and try to get them down to a manageable size, and then still work some practiced light meditation. So real religion is about reducing our egos, whereas all the churches are interested in is egotistical activities, like getting as many members and raising as much money and becoming as important and high-profile and influential as possible. All of which are egotistical attitudes. So how can you have an egotistical organization trying to teach a non-egotistical ideal? It makes no sense, unless you regard religion as crowd control. What I think most organized religion—simply crowd control.
So, let me sum it up:
*Religion = crowd control
*The cross isn't historical
*Reincarnation is historical and part of Christianity
*Ego control is the heart of Christianity
As I said before, great comedian, but a terrible theologian. He is close to with the "ego control" stuff, as long as his idea of humility is true emptying of self in order for God to enter in.
Tip O' The Hat to Mark Shea.
Friday, February 8, 2008
I’m certain if I told the same story with the same gesturing and enthusiasm someone would question my sanity or at least my medication. And yet, because it was a celebrity it was automatically funny, captivating and significant.
There is something about the celebrity status. It captivates: we watch, we listen, we are eager to observe. It convinces: purchases from cars to toothpaste, from investment options to sports drinks.
As I reflected on this odd authority and credibility we assign to those in the limelight, I began to wonder. Why don’t we so readily take God at his word? Why aren’t we as captivated by his word? Why don’t we believe his promises? Or listen to his stories?
Think about it. He says to us, “Trust in me.” We say, “Well, I know that you say that, but I think I’ll trust myself (my significant other, my feelings, my friends, this website, the in-crowd, the “experts”) instead.”
He says to us, “Fear not.” (Over and over and over in scripture!) We say, “Well, I know that you say that, but this world is a scary place.”
He says to us, “I will not forsake you” and “I am with you always”. We say, “Well, I know that you say that, but I feel forsaken and you seem so very absent.”
And so our Lord goes beyond captivating sermons and enthusiastic invitations. He doesn’t just speak these truths. He shows us on the Cross: “I love you.”
What do we say? How do we respond?
This Lent may we hear and see and encounter Christ anew: in the readings we are so familiar with, in the image of the crucifix we are so comfortable with, in the love he pours into our hearts each time we receive him in the Eucharist.
Be captivated by his word. Be confident in his promises. Be convinced of his love.
And respond with your life.
Notre Dame chose the Bishops moving off-campus.
Here is the story.
Thursday, February 7, 2008
Today, as every year, we recommence the Lenten journey, stimulated by a more intense spirit of prayer and reflection, of penance and fasting helps us to rediscover the gift of faith we received at Baptism and encourages us to approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation, placing our commitment to inner conversion under the protection of divine mercy.
In today's liturgy for Ash Wednesday, we are reminded that "we are limited creatures, sinners in constant need of penance and conversion. How important it is, in our own time, to listen to and accept this call!
When he proclaims his complete autonomy from God, modern man becomes self-enslaved, and often finds himself tormented and alone. The call to conversion is, then, an encouragement to return to the arms of God the tender and merciful Father, to trust in Him, and to entrust ourselves to Him as adoptive children regenerated by His love".
The Pope went on to ask whether "achievement of success, desire for prestige and pursuit of luxury, when they completely absorb a person's life to the point of excluding God from the horizon, truly lead to happiness. Can real happiness exist without God? Experience shows that satisfying material wants and needs does not lead to happiness, In truth, the only joy that fills the human heart is the joy that comes from God, because we have need of infinite happiness. Neither daily concerns nor the difficulties of life are able to extinguish the delight that comes from friendship with God".
May our Lent be as such.
Please keep in your prayers the students, parents, campus ministers, faculty, staff and community at
Wayne State Universityin Early Monday morning a fire broke out in an off-campus apartment building housing 21 university students. Thankfully, no one was injured. The uprooted students were given shelter, food and counseling services at the university’s student center on campus. Also keep in your prayers campus ministers Dan Barriball and Fr. James Meyer as they continue to offer support to those affected by the fire. Detroit, Mich.
Also keep in your prayers the entire community at
Union Universityin As the students, parents, faculty and staff recover from a tornado that ripped through the area on Tuesday, February 6. The campus sustained heavy damage and several buildings and dormitories we completely destroyed. Approximately 19 people were injured but no one sustained any major injuries, including those students who were trapped during the dormitories’ collapse. The university is working on their plan to begin rebuilding and recovering their loses. Jackson, Tenn.
Please also keep in your prayers Fr. Ed Branch, D. Min., at
Atlanta Universityin Atlanta, Ga., in the passing of his father; and Fr. J. Friedel, at the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, , in the passing of his mother. Our thoughts and prayers are with you both during this time of need. Mo.
May God's mercy and grace flow.
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
Andrea Bocelli sings Panis Angelicus
Here are the words:
fit panis hominum;
Dat panis coelicus
O res mirabilis!
Pauper, servus et humilis.
Te trina Deitas
Sic nos tu visita,
sicut te colimus;
Per tuas semitas
duc nos quo tendimus,
Ad lucem quam inhabitas.
The Bread of Angels
becomes the bread of men;
The Bread of heaven
ends all prefigurations:
a poor and humble servant
consumes him, the Lord.
We beg of You,
God, One in Three
that you visit us,
as we worship You.
By your ways,
lead us who seek
the light in which You dwell.
For another version - here is Pavarotti and Sting. Different, but nicely done. But, they only sing the first verse.
Why, thank you very much. Of course, I truly believe Sarah's posts are better than mine.
Now we have to give the award out. So, in an effort not to put up too many of the "big" blogs and in no particular order, we give it to these ten blogs, some known by most and some by few:
-First Things blog (in makes me think I am smart)
-In the Light of the Law (the only canon law blog I read - because Dr. Peters is phenomenal and a former prof)
-Shrine of the Holy Whapping
-Cosmos-Liturgy-Sex (great name - great content)
-Creative Minority Report
-Caterbury Tales (an Aggie turned-Catholic blog)
-Standing on My Head
1 - Remember to abstain from meat and fast. It is one of only two days we are required to fast every year.
2 - Pray every time you get a hunger pain.
3 - Start your Lent off on the right foot by being joyful and kind today. Remember we are not to let anyone "know" we are fasting.
4 - Right down your Lenten resolutions, so that you can remind yourself daily about them. My family and I did this last night together.
5 - Go to Mass. Wear your ashes today and be ready to tell someone why you do so.
To get us in the mood for Lent and Ashes:
Allegre's Miserere (means "pity"). Do yourself a favor. Turn it up, close your eyes and pray with it. This song is so beautiful, that it was forbidden to be sung outside of the Vatican for a while.
The text comes from Psalm 51 (one of my favorites):
1 Have mercy on me, O God,Tip O' The Hat to Rocco.
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are proved right when you speak
and justified when you judge.
5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
6 Surely you desire truth in the inner parts;
you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.
7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will turn back to you.
14 Save me from bloodguilt, O God,
the God who saves me,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise.
18 In your good pleasure make Zion prosper;19 Then there will be righteous sacrifices,
build up the walls of Jerusalem.
whole burnt offerings to delight you;
then bulls will be offered on your altar
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Firmer doctrine in our teaching and preachingIf we committed to do this in the Church across the Western world, I believe it would make a very significant difference. But, there is one thing missing - efforts to train and send out the laity as evangelists.
Re-enchant the liturgy
Recover the insights of metaphysics
Renew Christian political thought
Revive family life
Resacralise art and architecture
Put a new emphasis on monastic life
Strengthen pro-life rhetoric
Recover a Catholic reading of the Bible
Tip O' the Hat to Insight Scoop.
*I have never heard of a baby "kicking out a tumor" of his mother, but that is apparently what two twins in Britain did. Much better than the alternative, I am sure.
*Participate in your local 40 Days for Life for Lent. Just as the Pope says - we are "all called to protect life."
*Children with 3 biological parents are now a reality. Does anyone ask "ought we do it" anymore?
Monday, February 4, 2008
This is just good clean fun. Made me smile:
Tip o' the Hat to The Anchoress.
A - Thanks for the questions. This organization has caused Catholics quite a bit of confusion (and a lot of controversy) since they were formed. We ought to first clear up the fact that they are NOT associated with the Catholic Church. They have taken on the name of "Catholic" in order to try to confuse and distract Catholics. The USCCB issued this statement, in 1993, about the group saying:
For a number of years, a group calling itself Catholics for a Free Choice (CFFC) has been publicly supporting abortion while claiming it speaks as an authentic Catholic voice. That claim is false. In fact, the group's activity is directed to rejection and distortion of Catholic teaching about the respect and protection due to defenseless unborn human life.Simply put, they are a lobbying group in DC and New York (in both the US and internationally at the UN). They push an agenda that is contrary to Catholic teaching on just about every life and family issue - in fact, they lead a campaign to have the Holy See's privileges of being a non-voting member of the UN pulled. Because of their agenda, they cannot be recognized as "Catholic" in any way, shape or form. They use the name "Catholic" without permission from the Bishops, who are the determiners of what is Catholic and what is outside the boundaries of the Church.
On a number of occasions the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) has stated publicly that CFFC is not a Catholic organization, does not speak for the Catholic Church, and in fact promotes positions contrary to the teaching of the Church as articulated by the Holy See and the NCCB.
CFFC is, practically speaking, an arm of the abortion lobby in the United States and throughout the world. It is an advocacy group dedicated to supporting abortion. It is funded by a number of powerful and wealthy private foundations, mostly American, to promote abortion as a method of population control.
The reason they exist is simple. The abortion-rights groups need someone to call themselves "Catholic" because the Catholic Church is the biggest opponent of abortion. So, it is a calculated attempt to undermine the moral authority of the Church. Of course, they haven't succeeded and their attempts have fallen flat, except when heard by like-minded people who are looking for a reason for remaining in the Church and supporting abortion. They keep no membership roster, but rather they claim to speak for Catholics in the US. The reality is they speak for a minority of people and they are kept a float by pro-abortion money and foundations that use them as their "Catholic" pro-abortion voice.
So, you are correct in looking at them critically. In fact, as you state, these kind of groups should get our antennae raised. Their idea of "choice" is that we can choose to kill our children in the womb, that we can choose to redefine marriage, that we can choose to do as we wish. But, this isn't real freedom. Real freedom is the ability to choose what is good and right. Real freedom is freedom from sin and vice and from enslavement to our passions. When we find true freedom we can do no less than love others, especially the most defenseless among us. The Catechism says this about freedom:
The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to "the slavery of sin." - CCC 1733The Catechism goes on to talk about freedom in the way this group defines it - and tells us how false freedom is ultimately a lie and a false freedom.
The exercise of freedom does not imply a right to say or do everything. It is false to maintain that man, "the subject of this freedom," is "an individual who is fully self-sufficient and whose finality is the satisfaction of his own interests in the enjoyment of earthly goods."...By deviating from the moral law man violates his own freedom, becomes imprisoned within himself, disrupts neighborly fellowship, and rebels against divine truth. - CCC 1740So, you are correct in your assessment about Catholics for a Free Choice. They are a walking contradiction - they are neither Catholic or for a true free choice.
The best advice I have when approaching a group such as this is:
1 - Continue to educate yourself as to what the Catholic Church truly teaches, so that you can properly discern what is good and true and what isn't.
2 - Steer clear of organizations such as this.
3 - Pray for the leaders and members of this organization.
Finally, on the life issues, the Church is crystal clear. There is a contradiction in being for abortion and being Catholic, regardless what this group might try to teach.
Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person - among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life….
Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law….
Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. - CCC 2270-2272
Saturday, February 2, 2008
The newest one - they are giving maternity benefits to women who have abortions after 20 weeks. Read more. One Canadian abortionist believes "that the world is a kinder, gentler place" because of abortion.
*On this side of the border, one of the biggest late-term abortionists in the country is being forced to turn over records to investigators.