Thursday, August 30, 2007
As a speaker for the Institute, I get to spend the day, just listening in, meeting people, and hopefully touching base with Christopher at some point. The main thing is prayerful support and witnessing to the great stuff that's happening through this revolutionary teaching on human sexuality, the meaning of the body, and God's plan for man and woman. (If you're new to reading this blog, and want a sweet and concise summary of Pope John Paul II's scriptural reflections on Genesis and the meaning of being made male and female, check out this link of Christopher's, or see the previous posts on my blog by finding the label "Theology of the Body" in the column to the right, scroll way down! Or check out this sample).
There's nothing like a retreat. NOTHING. Even if it's just for a day. And combine the experience of "coming away to a deserted place to rest awhile" with this beautiful teaching, a master teacher like Christopher, over 90 people from all walks of life, married, single, religious, young and old, the beautiful woods and fields of Lancaster County, PA.... AND good coffee....
Please... take me now!
Just last night, before the prayer service, I got to meet a few souls. To my question, "How's the week going?" (I made mine awhile ago), I was greeted with that "Surprise!- Merry Christmas- you just won the lottery- happy birthday- i love you- will you marry me" kind of expression. In other words, this week, this Head and Heart Immersion Course on the Theology of the Body, is like a spiritual fire hydrant gushing water in the middle of a swelteringly hot city block. Those who come are like kids running around and splashing in the streams of cool water. Cool, life-changing, transforming, and healing water.
The prayer service was beautiful. The chapel was dark, dimly lit with candles flanking the monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament in the center. One of the Franciscan brothers played guitar and sang softly as people moved towards the many places where confession was available in the room. It was so warm and intimate, so healing. The Presence of Jesus was like a throbbing heartbeat in the room, beating a rhythm that called us back, back to the beginning. Back to God's original plan for a union and communion among His People. Man to Woman, and Woman to Man, brother to brother and sister to sister. I watched and prayed, and saw the faces of the people gathered in the flickering candlelight. From across the US, and from Canada, and India, and everyone seemed deep in the mystery. This retreat looks at just what it means to be human, just what God created us to be, and it is work. Getting past the lies our culture tells us, the twisted vision of what a man is, what a woman is really is hard work. People have been wounded, the pain runs deep. But I feel everytime I come to Black Rock that the healing has begun. This Theology of the Body is the antidote.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
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• Vitae has developed close to 30 unique television ads, including ads in Spanish
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• 4,700 calls to Atlanta pregnancy resource centers we're made in 2006 after Vitae’s ads aired
• The New York City, Spring 2006 campaign increased calls to pregnancy helpline by 100%
• Vitae ads contributed to the 27% decline in the number of abortions in Missouri since 1992
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Visit the Vitae website to see the commercials! Click here.
PREGNANCY RESOURCE LINKS
National Life Center
A WEALTH OF CHURCH DOCUMENTS
(Thanks to the beautiful website "Women Affirming Life!" we have a host of the best Church documents on women/men/family related issues. Check it out here!)
Monday, August 27, 2007
Sean, if you're reading this, I think we should raise a pint next weekend for the Bard of Armagh! Read the tributes on Liam Clancy's message board here.
"I've a fine, felt hat
And a strong pair of brogues
I have rosin in my pocket for my bow
O my fiddle strings are new
And I've learned a tune or two
So I'm well prepared to ramble and must go...."
It's the piece on the summer camp he's helped create for the children of secular humanists, atheists, and "free" thinkers. Called "Camp Quest" with the tag line "It's Beyond Belief", this camp's main objective is to strip children of a sense of the supernatural. One exercise the kids embark on is trying to disprove the existence of Unicorns. Doesn't that sound fun? But what, you ask, is the connection between Unicorns and God? Well, for Christians, nothing. For Richard Dawkins, the two are practically synonymous.
This rather learned evolutionary biologist equates our belief in a Creator God Who made us, guides us, inspires us, and pours out sweet gifts through His creation for us... to an "imaginary friend." Like Snuffleuphagus. Remember him? There is a whole movement in the radical atheist community that mockingly associates a belief in God with belief in something like a Flying Spaghetti Monster. But there's a real problem with this association. One is fabricated in our own minds, and the other is the Maker of our minds.
Christians believe God fashioned our minds in His own image and likeness, which means that reason is our mother tongue. It's the greek word Logos, which can mean mind, reason, word. It's where we get the word logical. Our power to reason shows us in our looking out at the universe that things are intelligible. They make sense, they fit, and we can comprehend that even the stars move in a rhythmic dance. That fits rather well, doesn't it? Our minds and the music of the spheres? Coincidence? Nah.... Providence!
A believer's belief in the existence of God (Who has revealed Himself in His fullness, see the Bible) is utterly logical, practical, and a direct result of a very real look at reality. We're not imposing anything onto the world. We're not inducing our own imaginary schemes into what we see and experience. We are deducing from what we see and know and comprehend that there must be a Mind behind it all. When I look at the world in all it's wonder, my initial response is not "What happened?" but "Who did this?"
Now here's the big leap that believers believe. It takes an open mind, and not so open that our brains fall out. When taken in, it will leave an open mouth, agog with wonder and awe. We believe that the very Word or Logos Himself Who made All Things Great and Small actually descended into this place, and took on a human face. Not a Unicorn, or Snuffleuphagus, but a face like ours. But let's go to a great source for knowing and affirming this faith of ours; the Triple C.... also known as the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
"The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for.... In many ways, throughout history down to the present day, men have given expression to their quest for God in their religious beliefs and behavior: in their prayers, sacrifices, rituals, meditations, and so forth. These forms of religious expression, despite the ambiguities they often bring with them, are so universal that one may well call man a religious being: From one ancestor [God] made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him - though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For "in him we live and move and have our being." But this "intimate and vital bond of man to God" (GS 19 § 1) can be forgotten, overlooked, or even explicitly rejected by man. Such attitudes can have different causes: revolt against evil in the world; religious ignorance or indifference; the cares and riches of this world; the scandal of bad example on the part of believers; currents of thought hostile to religion; finally, that attitude of sinful man which makes him hide from God out of fear and flee his call." - CCC 27-ff
In all honesty, given the example and the conduct of some believers, I can understand a revulsion like Dawkins'. But dig deeper. Christians aren't simple-minded idiots, wishing a God into existence so they can have a warm, fuzzy blanket to ward off this cold, post-modern materialistic view of the universe. We don't believe in fairy tales. Well, then again.... maybe we do. But this one came true. And it makes perfect sense to me.
On Christmas Eve I went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral... It had dawned on me before, but it really sank in: the Christmas story... Love needs to find form, intimacy needs to be whispered. To me, it makes sense. It’s actually logical... Love has to become an action or something concrete. It would have to happen... There must be an incarnation. Love must be made flesh.
Friday, August 24, 2007
You see friends, school starts up again in less than two weeks. Yippee! But I need to get over the amnesia that strikes teachers every summer. That's right! Throughout the summer, we teachers are on a perpetual Friday feeling! We lay around in lawn chairs and eat chips, drink mojitos, and absent ourselves from the stress of paying bills, grooming, and other basic forms of hygiene! Now I need to wake up and remember those other four days of the week again: Mumday (sp?), Toosday, Miercoles, and Thursaturthsday or something!
Honestly, it's been a good summer. A self-inflicted summer of work, with talks, writing, and podcasting for the first time, but I set my own pace and really enjoyed it. I love my Catholic Faith! God! Life! LOTS OF STUFF! So the work is my passion and my passion is this work! What'd ya gonna do?
The only thing is... we really didn't "get away" much this summer. Canada was a terrific trip in June, but after the conference, there was just 2.5 days to explore the Rockies. Hey, I'm not complaining! (Well, clearly I was there) but I know that was a grace and a gift. It would be nice though to lavishly squander a week or two somewhere. We haven't even been to the infamous Jersey shore yet this season! At least this weekend will be a little shore time with Rebecca's family. I'll have to soak it up! But that's enough of that. I'M GOING ON LIKE RAMBLESTILSKIN OVE' HERE!
AND NOW A WORD FROM TODAY'S GOSPEL
Today's Gospel for the Feast of St. Bartholomew is from John 1:45-51. Philip finds Nathanael (aka St. Bartholomew) and tells him, "We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth."
And Bartholomew throws back this rather sarcastic reply "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" Hmmm.... don't judge a book by its cover, Bart! How often does God choose the little ones, the poor, the wounded, the backwater towns to confound the big cities? Lots of times... in fact, every time! God always seems to come to us through the hidden way, the common path, the obscure whisper of our conscience as we pass the family van stranded on the roadside looking lost, the pungent odor of the homeless, the mentally ill woman on the bus, the work stacked in the back room awaiting our responsible hands to organize it. God is so often in the details, not the devil. The devil's flashing cash in the big city lights and in the glamor of the popular and the posh.
"Can anything good come from Nazareth?"
Philip said to him, "Come and see."
And here's the saving grace for Bart. He went and saw and found out for himself that "Yes.... Everything good comes from Nazareth."
Come and see for yourself today! Look for Him in the little obscurities, the mundane and the ordinary. I think we'll find Him, if we simply look.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
LONDON, England (Reuters) - Popular mapping service Google Earth will launch a new feature called Sky, a "virtual telescope" that the search engine hopes will turn millions of Internet users into stargazers.
Google, which created Google Earth to give Internet users an astronaut's view that can zoom to street level, said the service would be a playground for learning about space.
"Never before has a roadmap of the entire sky been made so readily available," said Dr. Carol Christian of the Space Telescope Science Institute, who co-led the institute's Sky team.
"Sky in Google Earth will foster and initiate new understanding of the universe by bringing it to everyone's home computer."
Like Google Earth, Sky will enable users to float and zoom in on over 100 million individual stars and 200 million galaxies. Users will view the sky as seen from Earth.
It has created different layers which will show the life of a star, constellations, high-resolution images provided by the Hubble Space Telescope and a users guide to galaxies.
A backyard astronomy layer lets users click through stars, galaxies and nebulae visible to the eye, binoculars and small telescopes."
Wow. I can't wait to check this out!
Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless handheld
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Our topic is "Star-Gazing, the Universe, and Other Mind-Blowing Cosmic Stuff"
Jim is an astronomer, writer, lecturer and consultant who has published more than 500 articles and five books on observing the wonders of the heavens and logged over 20,000 hours of stargazing time with the unaided eye, binoculars and telescopes.
Formerly Curator of the Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science in Pittsburgh and more recently Director of the DuPont Planetarium, he served as staff astronomer at the University of Pittsburgh’s Allegheny Observatory, and as an editor for Sky & Telescope, Astronomy, and Star & Sky magazines. One of the contributors to Carl Sagan’s award-winning Cosmos PBS-Television series, his work has received recognition from such notables (and fellow stargazers) as Sir Arthur Clarke, Johnny Carson, Ray Bradbury, Dr. Wernher von Braun, and former student NASA scientist/astronaut Dr. Jay Apt. In February of 2005 he was elected a Fellow of the prestigious Royal Astronomical Society of London. His 40-year mission as a “celestial evangelist” has been to “Celebrate the Universe!” “to get others to look up at the majesty of the heavens and think about Who created it all and Who keeps it all going! It’s estimated that more than a million people of all ages, faiths and backgrounds have heard his inspiring message.
So tune in if you can, for Heaven's sake ;)
Click here for RESOURCES from STARDATE.ORG
On Stargazing.... Stargazing: Books .... General Astronomy: Magazines....General Astronomy: Web Sites....Stars, Galaxies, and Universes: Books....For Children: Books.....
NASA Image Exchange
Links to dozens of NASA sites with various images: astronomy, Earth, solar system, space shuttle, spacecraft, aircraft
Astronomy Picture of the Day
A different photo every day, with an extensive archive of photos from Hubble Space Telescope, other space missions, ground-based telescopes, and more!
From the Earth to the Moon DVD series
The Hubble Site.com
Sara's maiden name is McVicker's, and Friday night it became McDowell. Not much of a cultural leap, huh? A bagpiper met us at the church and greeted everyone with a few jigs and airs as we filed in; the Guinness was flowing at the reception; and there was a live band called Kilrush who fiddled, piped, and played through the night a whole host of classic tunes; in the midst of which by the way, a trio of Irish step dancers exploded, feet dancing like flames, legs flipping up like swords. It was grand, as they say. Grand!
It got me reflectin' on me own Irish roots. Our music alone is a noble heritage. Somehow it just slips in, bypassing the reason and awakening the heart, taking hold of the spirit and reorienting it. Irish music stirs us from our slumber with mournful whistles in distant airs, coaxing us to look up, to taste that World beyond the Green Hills and the Shimmering Seas.
And even in the midst of this world, with all of its 'troubles," there are jigs and reels to give us rapture; the grace to keep moving; to leap, to jump, to move to the music that made the world, pounding out in our daily lives the rhythm of the saints.
I hear it in the Chieftains, and Liam Clancy, Christie Moore, and Solas. In the melodies of Seamus Egan, the siren songs of Karen Casey, and the poem-hymns of Tommy Makem.
Rufus and Sara, thanks for the music! May it keep your spirits high and strong as you continue on the one road, sharing the one load, in a grace-filled married life! And may you see around you in the music of every day life, stepping stones to higher places. Slainte!
Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless handheld
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
So what better way to celebrate than to sing with a sweet hymn of words from the poet priest Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89).
Just a teaser here, but visit this link for more of his art!
The Blessed Virgin compared to the Air we Breathe
...My lung must draw and draw
Now but to breathe its praise,
Minds me in many ways
Of her who not only
Gave God’s infinity
Dwindled to infancy
Welcome in womb and breast,
Birth, milk, and all the rest
But mothers each new grace
That does now reach our race—
Merely a woman, yet
Whose presence, power is
Great as no goddess’s
Was deemèd, dreamèd; who
This one work has to do—
Let all God’s glory through,
God’s glory which would go
Through her and from her flow
Off, and no way but so.
I say that we are wound
With mercy round and round
Be thou then, O thou dear Mother,
My happier world, wherein
To wend and meet no sin;
Above me, round me lie
Fronting my froward eye
With sweet and scarless sky;
Stir in my ears, speak there
Of God’s love, O live air,
Of patience, penance, prayer:
World-mothering air, air wild,
Wound with thee, in thee isled,
Fold home, fast fold thy child.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
My guest is Sister Sheila Galligan, an Immaculate Heart of Mary sister who is currently the Chairperson of the Department of Theology at Immaculata University. Sr. Sheila studied for her Master's at St Charles Seminary and completed her doctoral work at the University of St Thomas (the Angelicum), in Rome. She focused on the writings of C.S. Lewis.
We'll take an in-depth and wonder-filled look at this teaching of the Church on the glorified body and heaven, how it came to be understood, and why it's so crucial that we understand Mary's Assumption and her role in our life today. What happened to Mary is part of God's plan for all of us! Tune in and find out why!
"God’s temple in heaven was opened,
and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple.
A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun,
with the moon under her feet,
and on her head a crown of twelve stars."
- Revelation 11:19
Monday, August 13, 2007
The walk was intoxicating... It was clear and cool and I loafed in slow staggering steps, down a wooded trail along a babbling brook in a state park not far from our home. When's the last time you loafed, America! Can everybody say saunter? It was high time I just lollygagged (is that a cool word or what?) because the summer is slipping away and I've been Mr. Productivity too long.
There's a page in the Fellowship of the Ring where, touching the bark of a tree in Lothlorien, Frodo is deeply moved at how alive it feels, an ancient and vibrant life flowing through its veins. Amen, Frodo! Amen, little man! The time the Fellowship spent in those enchanted woods, under the protection of the Lady of the Wood, was timeless. Sam often wondered about it. It was as if they were in a different world altogether, not bound by the tick of clocks or the ringing of bells. The Greeks called it kairos time (human, creative, qualitative periods), as opposed to chronos time (tick tock, meet the deadline, quantitative time).
On my walk, I breathed deep and smelled the earth, I felt like Francis! And I remembered my Thoreau: "Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each."
I discovered Thoreau's Walden when I was in high school (thanks Mr. Guagliardo!) and I found myself reading snatches of it constantly. Thoreau was like a secular St. Francis of Assisi, like a Francis Lite (great taste, but less filling). But his thoughts are true gems, polished smooth and pocket-sized for anyone who wants to plunge past the shallows and into the deep. I found Thoreau in a classroom, and he led me into the woods. Francis took me to the heavens.
As a Catholic revert, zapped by grace at the age of 15ish, I discovered that God not only poured his Grace and Love through the Bible and the Big Seven (sacraments) but also through His first Book, Creation (not to mention the little books of His sons and daughters who are always seeking Him in their studies though they may know it not).
It was clear to see that God had planted countless lessons for us in the rise and fall of the seasons of Creation, and in the rhythm of life of all manner of creatures. These miracles were like little love letters and poems for us to find. And with prayer and a sacramental vision as a kind of paint, we could on a mid-summer's walk splash a shimmering trail of signs pointing to God.
Sadly, I've met many "Conservative" Catholics who are afraid to read this book. They feel it's like dipping our toes in the waters of the New Age movement. But how can God's creation, when rightly viewed, lead anywhere else but to... God? You can't drown with the life-preserver of grace around your heart.
Sadly, I've met "Liberal" Catholics who have obsessed about this book, seeing God as somehow splintering off parts of Himself into it, and they are left with a pantheistic piety. A faith that gets bogged down in the fertile bogs of earth, "in the winds of the east, west, north and south." We should remember that the Spirit hovered "over" the waters in the beginning, not within them. That's what we mean by the term "supernatural."
I think we just need balance. Bishop Sheen nailed it in the following quote:
To materialists this world is opaque like a curtain; nothing can be seen through it. A mountain is just a mountain, a sunset just a sunset; but to poets, artists, and saints, the world is transparent like a window pane - it tells of something beyond...
So get out of here! Go take a walk today, and ask the beauties you see from whence they came.
And they will answer, "from above, where you shall one day dwell!"
After all, God put us in a Garden, redeemed us in a Garden, and promises us one day New Heavens and a New Earth. What will a saunter through that New Creation be like?
I have no idea!
Saturday, August 11, 2007
"All you hosts of the Lord, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever. Sun and moon, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever. Stars of heaven, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever."
- Daniel 3:61-63
Thursday, August 09, 2007
This is not a gloomy post. Sure, the "death of marriage" is a pretty dramatic title, but I just needed to catch your eyes. This one is meant to edify! To fire up husbands and wives and prospective husbands and wives! To lead them up the Mountain of Love that is Calvary, not down some primrose path with a white-picket fence that just feels nice. Those of us in the club know what I'm talking about: the secret to a joy-filled married life is... death.
So yeah.... Today, Rebecca and I celebrate 4 years of marriage... woohoo! So I went digging through the 'ole journals and this is something I found, written a few months before the BIG DAY...
"I am going to die." (I was ridiculous back then, wasn't I?) "It's not long now; just a couple of months. August 9th, to be exact. I'm getting married. Now this thought may not seem like your traditional “jitters” or cold feet. It’s a wee bit extreme, huh? But it’s true. I am going to die. I am mounting the hill of Calvary, and like Christ, I am called to lay down my life for my bride. His was the Church, mine is a symbol of the Church. But death it must be, if there is to be Real Life in our new life together. This isn’t poetry, it’s reality! To put it scientifically, no two objects can occupy the same space at the same time. In order to become a “one flesh union” we have to die to our old selves. Imagine if this was how engaged couples were viewing their wedding day! It would bring a radical simplicity to the plans, wouldn’t it? "We are going to die... Okay then, I guess we can’t take it with us, as they say. So what do we leave behind? The ego... yes, let’s die to that one. And the “Me First” attitude. That has to go too."
Marriage is about service to the other (I know this, despite the many times I turn it around). Before Jesus died, He washed the feet of his friends. A couple years ago, we went to a wedding of friends who were once Franciscan Volunteers (they were housemates of Rebecca when she lived and served in Kensington). At one point in the liturgy, they actually washed each other's feet.... is that awesome or what? We got the point! At our wedding, after Communion, Rebecca got up and sang to me the Servant Song.... it was RIDICULOUSLY BEAUTIFUL and I don't think there was a dry eye in the house!
So if this whole marriage thing is a call to die like Christ did for His Bride, to serve like Christ for the Beloved, then we discover that our union should be deeply “Eucharistic.”
A Little Somethin' from Christopher West
When we receive the Eucharist worthily, it bears new life in the whole of our lives. When we receive it unworthily, we eat and drink our condemnation (1 Co 11:29). Similarly, when spouses open their union to the Holy Spirit, their whole marriage continually bears new life in the Spirit. However, if spouses close their union to the Spirit, they undermine the whole reality of their marriage and their family life. (Read the full article)
It is therefore fitting that the spouses should seal their consent to give themselves to each other through the offering of their own lives by uniting it to the offering of Christ for his Church made present in the Eucharistic sacrifice, and by receiving the Eucharist so that, communicating in the same Body and the same Blood of Christ, they may form but "one body" in Christ. - CCC 1621
Now that's deep stuff. I can only say that I'm beginning to get it more and more. We have a beautiful reminder of this call to Communion in our marriage. It's a paten.... and was given to us by two dear friends on our wedding day. Our names our written within it. The priest who married us, Fr. Scott, was taken aback when he discovered, right before the wedding mass began, that this was a gift of ours. He had planned to preach on the very idea of this Eucharistic aspect of marriage for us, and saw in his prayer, a silver paten! (play Twilight Zone music here). A paten is a shallow dish or plate that holds the consecrated host, the material that God has transformed into Himself at the words of the priest and the power of the Spirit. Fr. Scott said that's where we belong, right in that paten. If we keep ourselves there, with the hands of Jesus hovering over the material of our marriage, then we can expect a transformation. Amen to that!
So God help us when we try and wiggle out of that place of transformation, as we so often do. God help all husbands and wives who share in this amazing, perplexing, impossible, crazy collaboration of hearts that is marriage.
Now it's off to grab some roses and a little vino ;)
Here's a list of resources and links we mentioned in the show:
Ken's website and blog:
True Knights Blog
E5 Ministry for Men
Theology of the Body
That Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn Iggulden
The King's MenCatholic Men's Quarterly
Real Catholic Men
Catholic Men's Ministry of Oklahoma
More Links.... Thanks to the King's Men Website
Ladies out there, we love you and hope that you'll forgive the times we've failed to be men of honor, purity, strength, and grace. If you can think of a man in your life who needs some inspiration and solid connections to other men of faith, then please pass this on!
From Fr. Leo's website:
"More than a Typical Cookbook "
Grace Before Meals: Recipes for Family Life is a new book that takes a unique approach to strengthening family relationships. By encouraging families to spend time together in the kitchen, Fr. Leo shows how easy it can be for parents and kids to find common ground through the preparation and enjoyment of a simple meal. Each chapter reflects on a variety of topics related to personal milestones, family holidays and faith observances. Short essays offer practical wisdom and ideas, so parents can create a comfortable environment for honest communication.
Great idea, Padre! (By the way, when he was younger, Fr. Leo used to teach Karate and was a stellar breakdancer. How cool is that?
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
We had breakfast for dinner, which I love to do. As we picked away at the remaining strips of bacon, and slid our chairs back from the table just a bit, thoughts began to form and the deep questions sizzle; "Does God want us to suffer? Why doesn't He stop us from being attacked, raped, abused? Why do innocent people get cancer, die in car crashes, and burn in buildings. And in a world where some see fertility and pregnancy as a hindrance or an imposition on their freedom, why do we carry the cross of infertility? We WANT children!"
We had strayed into Job territory. That burning furnace of Questions, the Problem of Evil that humanity has always struggled with throughout our history.
At the end of the day, can our 3.5 pound brains figure it all out? I think the answer lies, not in the middle of this human drama, but in the end. Here's my little rambling on this great mystery.
We all love stories. We love the beginning when there's peace. We weep in the middle when things get messy; when characters are betrayed, abandoned, or lose their sense of innocence, purity, and peace. And we love the ending when all things are made well again, in fact, so often in stories, things are made even better than before. Throughout the story, characters either fail or evil befalls them, or a mixture of both events occur. Why is this so? Well, that's the price of freedom. It wouldn't quite be a story if the characters had no freedom.
Why do we love stories, movies, books, romance? Because the story is a reflection of what's happened and is happening right inside US.
Each of us longs for that golden age, the shimmering place that was "in the beginning" (even if we've never been there, we still have a sense that that place exists). And each of us holds in the heart a tangled knot of sorrows that our fumbling fingers just can't seem to undo, or open up, or lay out in the open again and spread clean so that we can see it rightly. And we all, ALL OF US, want a resolution. A final fixing, a making right of what once went wrong. The wrong that's happening because of our selfish choices, or the wrong that simply fell on our heads for reasons we cannot possibly fathom.
Si comprehendis, non est Deus.
- St. Augustine
"If you can comprehend, it is not God."
Clearly this ancient thought of Augustine's wasn't spoken to pacify or placate our itch to know why stuff happens.... but it can help us see a little better. If this crazy and confusing and sometimes tragic life, this whole existence is a drama, a salvation story that's written and being written every day by the free choices of people and the great swirl of the cosmos and a loving Hand, then I want to stick around and see how it's going to end. The movie isn't over yet. What if I walked out after Han Solo was frozen in carbonite? What if I closed the book when Frodo was trapped in Shelob's dark and dangerous lair, with seemingly no way of escape?
"Tolkien! Why did you lead your characters here! Why didn't you take them through the Black Gate under cloak of darkness, with Gandalf to lead the way? Why didn't an eagle just drop the Ring into the Cracks of Doom and be done with it? Why this tedious and meaningless walk into certain death and despair, so far from journey's end? It doesn't make sense!"
In the movie Padre Pio: Miracle Man, there is a powerful scene where he's preaching on the topic of evil and of suffering. A mother is sowing a tapestry, and her little boy is seated below on a low stool, looking up at her work. He sees the jumbled mess of threads dangling under the screen and says "Mama, what is this mess you're making? You've got it all wrong. It's terrible and no one will want it!"
Then she smiles and stoops towards him, turning the work of her hands over for him to see. His eyes open wide with wonder and delight.
I'm not gonna lie to you... I think it's a mess down here. I think we're living in very dark and confusing times. I can't believe the horrors I hear about in the news, the sadness that some of my friends have had to bear. I don't know why we can't have children; why this cross has to be so heavy.
It all comes down to trust. We have to reach out in this storm and grasp His hand. We can't put God in a box. Can't try and figure life out like it's a puzzle to be solved and then cast it aside. Life's not a puzzle but a journey towards a Person. And I believe the greatest good is yet to come. Ultimate joy, the bliss we long for is only here in half notes and little fragments. Sometimes sour and sometimes splintered and that should remind us that this life is not the end. The tiny colored threads of our lives, as beautiful and as tragic as they each can be, are only the first sketches of a pattern of infinite beauty. Let's hold on until the day when He tilts the canvas just a bit and shows us the work He's done with the feeble strings we've given Him.
Monday, August 06, 2007
I went to the local hospital chapel the other day for daily mass because:
#1. It's like 5 minutes away.
#2. It's a noon mass which means I can relax a wee bit more in the morning
#3. There's confession available just before the bells toll and I hadn't been in like 5 months.
So the chapel is on the 5th floor in the hospital; a beautiful little structure, Russian icon over the altar, and the stained glass is gorgeous. But it was about 103 degrees in there. No AC. Just big fans made of steel, back when fans were fans, if you know what I mean. The exhaust from a bunch of other fans and vents on the adjacent rooves (?) of other buildings outside the chapel added to the heat and the noise, seeping into our sanctuary through the open panels at the bottom of each stained glass window.
After Communion I smelled something like a rich tire rubber smell, not like a new floaty raft for the backyard pool smell, more like a new bicycle tire smell (stay with me, this IS going somewhere). "Smell" is one of the more intriguing and yet under appreciated of the five senses God has endowed us with. It's usually the one we sort of... well... turn up our noses to (oh that was good, right?). The eyes and the ears are just so cool! And taste, I mean, well, stuff tastes good. But smell. You never meet a person and say, "Hey, nice to smell you!" or "Man, today smells GREAT!"
But I like my sense of smell. Heck, I just like the word smell. The real kicker about smell that mystifies me is its power to kindle memories and transport us back to those memories. Sometimes I smell astroturf, and boom! I'm 9 years old and sitting at that red picnic table at Nana and PopPop's in Edison, NJ, drinking her famous Iced Tea and ready to jump in the pool again and make a whirlpool by racing around the edges of this circular womb of water. Other times, I step into a house and think, this smells just like the Fifield's back in Country Lakes, and my mind gets to wondering how Brian, Jeff, and Scottie are doing. I haven't seen them in who knows how long.
So the other day, after Communion, as I was rapt in the sweet fire of the Divine Embrace, I was brought back to my youth by this smell.
As stated earlier in this most pungent of posts, the smell was like a new bike tire smell. In my mind I was suddenly 10 again. And there before me was my Huffy Pro Thunder BMX bike, with the star rims, in blazing yellow and black, humming like a hornet, with the cool pads on the cross bar and the neck of the handle bars. I remember that Christmas of '79, when my eyes first fell on that nefarious machine, that wild stallion that would take me to far and distant lands on so many wild adventures! Look at this picture! My eyes were riveted! I was already on the open road, spitting gravel from my tires like a Monster Truck.
That one smell sent me back. I was pulling wheelies again and exploring our neighborhood. It was the Three Amigos: Sam Kennedy (who suddenly at 13 wanted us to call him Dwayne, which we thought was kinda weird), Artie Perry (whose full name was Arthur Perry the Third, which I always thought was royal and somewhat heraldic), and me, little Billy.... nerd boy, wheelie champion of Jefferson Street and BEYOND! (ask my brother, it's true. I once rode a wheelie almost the entire length of Railroad Avenue:
kid measurement = like 2 miles
actual measurement = about a quarter mile (still impressive, right?)
Our youth was free. We were so free! Our moms and dads trusted us in this age of innocence, just two years before the debut of MTV. We would tear through the "Trails" like the kids in "E.T. the Extra Terrestrial." We would tap into the uncharted regions of our town, and name and claim places for our own, like little Columbuses and Marco Polos. Down through the brambles and the vines that edged the parking lot of the infamous "Lakeview Inn" (since closed), we would plummet, discovering little streams and pools, and the dark swirls of the cedar water creek that poured out of Mirror Lake. My cousin got a fallen tree bridge named after him (Antonio Bridge), I got an entire island (Willy Land) and then there was Snake Valley, a sunken mire with upturned tree roots and mud where, yup you guessed it, there were lots of snakes.
I had a golden childhood; my brother and I both know it, and we speak of it from time to time. Summer days we'd be gone, outside, all over town, in the woods and fields, playing and laughing and then coming home again when the crickets started to sing. Today, we wonder how free we can let kids be... to taste and see (and smell) the world around them, to journey, to explore. It's a different world. I know it can be a dangerous place, but when I stop and dream of the little ones we hope to have and hold someday soon, (please God!) I imagine when we'll let them go; into the wild of their imaginations, lost in wonder and in discovery. Should we always be right there, overshadowing them? Or can we sometimes let them wander, and wonder, and explore the way we did as kids? It was danger that sharpened our senses, and gave us the tools to discern right from wrong, wisdom from folly, goodness from the shadowy cloak of badness.
I thank God and my parents for the freedom of my youth. I wonder if the risk of giving kids the same freedom today outweighs the assurance that an overprotective bubble will give us, knowing exactly where they are all the time. Will that sheltering shadow leave them poorer in the end? Less equipped for the "real world" when they get there?
Hmm..... I just wanted to put it out there; thoughts and comments as always are welcome... and by the way, don't forget to stop and SMELL the roses today, and see what thoughts they'll kindle for you!
Friday, August 03, 2007
Thursday, August 02, 2007
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