Friday, November 28, 2008

Let's Eat, Drink, and Be Merry

No matter how you slice it, Thanksgiving is an awesome holiday. First
off, it was strategically placed by our pilgrim ancestors on a
Thursday, which was brilliant. It means we ALWAYS get a four day
weekend. That's right! It's not like one of those "floating" holidays,
where you so often get stiffed; like Christmas on a Monday.

The other thing is, Thanksgiving involves large portions of food,
which is a thing everyone I have ever met is deeply interested in.
I've never met anyone who said to me, "Food? Never touch the stuff."

Finally, Thanksgiving is about family, and family is foundational.
Your family is the launch pad from which you blast off, the
springboard which you leap off of, sailing out into the Big Wide World.

Families are like seedbeds, little gardens wherein we start to grow.
They come in a million different varieties, shapes and sizes, but each
hold the same fundamental responsibility; to care for and to cultivate
the beauty of life.

So let us cherish the vocation and the vacation that this Thanksgiving
is all about. And in the midst of it all, let us eat, drink, and be
merry!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

King Me!

On Sunday, the Church celebrated the Feast of Christ the King. Now at first glance you might be thinking.... Wow, what an outdated concept! How completely irrelevant to my life and to talk at the water cooler on Monday. "Hey Bob, what you'd do this weekend?" "We celebrated the Feast of Christ the King." "The King? Huh... Sounds kinda medieval, Bob. When are you Catholics gonna wake up and smell the 21st century?" Then you hang your head and slink back to your little patch of serfdom behind some flimsy beige partition and think, "yeah, that does sound totally medieval." I mean come on.... this is America! We're a democracy! We don't want some archaic flashback to a time of fairy tales, princesses, dragons, and kings! Right? I mean WE the People! After all, we know what's best! Look around: isn't it working out perfectly in this new City of Man, this Brave New World? Finally, there's peace and justice for all! In the immortal words of Laverne and Shirley, "Give us any chance, we'll take it. Give us any rule, we'll break it. We're gonna make our dreams come true. Doin' it our way." Yeah, right. Truth is, the naive dreams of "our way" have hit the cold, hard highway and turned into a nightmare.... now we're singing "Welcome to the Jungle." Why can't we get it right? Because we're incapable of fixing ourselves. There's a disorientation within each of us that can only be reoriented by the Maker of our hearts. And doesn't that make sense? We didn't create ourselves, so how can we complete ourselves? We don't have a clue. We're unruly. We need a Ruler. But instead of humbly admitting this truth, we grab the "reigns" from the rightful King and we don't even know how to steer this carriage. It's as if Cinderella decided to make a hard left and skip out on the Royal Ball, settling instead for a "happy meal" at McDonald's. But this King has a much better meal prepared for us! I suppose the trap for "we the people" is a fear that the King will become a Tyrant (wasn't this the twisted lie of the Serpent right from the beginning of our story, in the Garden of Eden?) Granted, earthly manifestations of kings have clearly transformed into just that over the millenia. It's quite logical to want to rebel when your monarch becomes a monster. But here's the thing: Jesus isn't a monster. Jesus isn't a king who will sit on a golden throne waving an iron mace. Jesus came as a poor man wearing His Heart on His sleeve. Jesus is not a King who will crush and kill your freedom. He comes to be crushed and killed Himself, to give us all true freedom! When Matthew closes off his gospel, he points us to the Face of the True King, and it is a Face that we never expected. "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me." My King is a hungry, thirsty, broken man. My King is a King of Pain. He directs my eyes into the shadows and into the wounded places of the human condition so that I can learn compassion and love. He is not faraway in a polished palace but deep in the slums, among the "rabble." At the end of the day, governors govern, administrators administrate, and presidents preside, but always seemingly from a distance. I need a King close at hand to rule over me, to set my heart right again. A Ruler by which to measure my love. And I find it all in Christ my King, Who is not afraid to walk among the least of my brothers. In fact that is what He has become for me. For it is who I am... "The guest of our soul knows our misery; He comes to find an empty tent within us - that is all He asks." - St. Therese of Lisieux

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Fatherhood

"Become who you were born to be."

 I've always loved this line, taken from a scene in Peter Jackson's film "The Return of the King." In a darkened tent where the army of Rohan encamps on the side of a mountain, Elrond speaks a word of challenge and invitation to Aragorn. He is the descendant of a royal line who has for too long wandered and waited for his vocation to be actualized.

In this scene, the Ranger from the North takes up his forefather's sword and takes hold once and for all of his high calling. He rises with a new name, Elessar, and a new mission. Since the adoption of our son last month, I've been feeling the weight of a call; of a new vocation. I think something was activated in me just a few weeks ago, something that has perhaps lain dormant until now, like a seed that was planted but never cracked open until God knocked on the thin shell of my heart and whispered "Let there be life."

It's the glowing ember of fatherhood, which was nearly snuffed out in these past years of trial, of purification and waiting. But now it's stirred by the breath of the Spirit and the gift of this adoption. In our sad experiences of miscarriage and loss, and in the midst of our unborn baby's condition in the womb, I have always felt this vocation growing. Our prayer for a miracle for Baby Grace continues, but it's as if in this time I were looking through a clouded glass, slightly removed, distant in a sense from this new act of "fathering." I know in my heart I am a father, but until now I've been standing in this "Waiting Room," pacing about, back and forth.

A mother's vocation seems to be woven and spun so early, as the little ones are knit together in the womb. For a father, the world is like a second womb; he must wait to receive the new life in its second stage. (I think our Heavenly Father waits at the world's end to receive us all. And what a happy, expectant Father He is! I wonder if God is pacing the halls of Heaven overjoyed for that moment when we are born into the Light of that Unending Day! Maybe all of the angels get cigars when someone enters Paradise?)

Right now, a child sleeps just feet away from me. Unbelievable. My vocation has made its "quantum leap"... has passed a test and is being given a new one. I feel this inspired instinct, this primal proclivity to guard and protect, to sacrifice and to serve my family at a new and deeper level than before. It's amazing! And I can see the design here, the plan of God that allows us massive opportunities for grace. Life is meant to be, in the words of Pope Benedict XVI, an "an ongoing exodus out of the closed inward-looking self towards its liberation through self-giving, and thus towards authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God." It can begin in the self-gift of marriage, and continue for a couple in the gift of children.

 Thank God for this plan, the plan of fatherhood and motherhood, of self-gift and self-emptying love! Like the vocation to celibate love, to spiritual fatherhood and motherhood in the priesthood and religious life, the vocation of marriage allows us to break free of the bonds of self-gratifying gravity and into the Great Wide Open of Selfless Love. It is this kind of love that makes the world go 'round, and that builds a culture of life and love. May we all become what we were born to be!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Twisted Mystics is Here!

Truth and Beauty flow into us from many streams, sometimes cool and clear, sometimes muddy and blurred. One of the tasks of the New Evangelization is to step into the waters of our times and discover what streams lead to the Ocean of Truth, and which lead to a waterfall of self-destruction. Our new blog, Twisted Mystics, is an attempt to filter through and find in the music of our culture the longing for that Infinite Love that every human heart longs for. We'll sing the songs of our culture with the voice of the Theology of the Body! Please pop in for a visit, and pass it on! Visit Twisted Mystics here.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Starved for Beauty Part 2

NOTE:
This is a flashback episode, as just this morning I discovered the clip referred to in Shawshank Redemption on YouTube! Enjoy...

How often have you found yourself out at a movie or watching the television, perhaps just flipping through channels in the hopes of finding "something good," and you actually find it?

Does it grab you? Is it like a new power descending and lifting you up... a fragrance you once knew and loved returning and flooding your mind? For me, it seems so often I stumble through the media with boots on, wading through the equivalent of sewage, and then fresh water comes in like a stream from the mountains. And I know I've found the Good Stuff...

Shawshank Redemption is good stuff. It's the film based on a Stephen King novella (he sold the movie rights for $1 to writer/director Frank Darabont): a heart-wrenching work with themes of endurance in the midst of suffering, hoping against hope, and the heart's yearning for beauty and freedom.

There's a scene I love where Andy Dufresne, the falsely accused prisoner, sneaks into the warden's office and blasts a Mozart aria on the record player. He sets it in front of the microphone so that the music pours through the loudspeakers, soaring over the prison like the hymn of angels. The tough, grey-faced men in the yard all lift up their heads and listen, as innocent and open again as children. For so long they have been in darkness, now a light from some "undiscovered country" dawns.

Morgan Freeman plays the character Red, a kind of narrator throughout the movie. He remembers the scene: "I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don't want to know. Some things are better left unsaid. I'd like to think they were singing about something so beautiful it can't be expressed in words, and it makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a grey place dares to dream. It was as if some beautiful bird had flapped into our drab little cage and made these walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free."



We know beauty when we see it, hear it, taste or touch it. We are made for beauty, and beauty is clean, pure, and good. Beauty is a gift. It's really what the human heart craves more than anything. I firmly believe that deep down, in this culture so full of noise and distraction, greed and grasping, madness and materialism, we all pine for the fresh water of Beauty to wash over us. And it's out there, in a million different places. As the Bible says, "Open wide your mouth and I will fill it." Like little birds we can turn to our Lord and let Him feed us.

Pope Benedict just published his letter for the 41st World Communications Day. In it he said "Beauty, a kind of mirror of the divine, inspires and vivifies young hearts and minds, while ugliness and coarseness have a depressing impact on attitudes and behaviour... Media education should be positive. Children exposed to what is aesthetically and morally excellent are helped to develop appreciation, prudence and the skills of discernment."

He continues; "Any trend to produce programs and products - including animated films and video games - which in the name of entertainment exalt violence and portray anti-social behaviour or the trivialization of human sexuality is a perversion, all the more repulsive when these programs are directed at children and adolescents..."

Above all, God wants to give us beauty, truth, and goodness. He is the very fullness of all three! And the Church desires to share with us a vision of human dignity! We are made for eternity, and for housing within us eternal truths! Like a mother, the Church knows what is best for us and she lays out a table of rich food and drink; this banquet of beauty, truth, and goodness is the meal that will really satisfy us! Much (by no means all) of what the media culture has been offering us is junk food, fast food. Let's try and shut down the pipes that are pouring the wrong stuff into our nice, clean living rooms. Let's turn to the rich and ever-growing, overflowing streams of Beauty that are coming from so many directions; art, music, poetry, prayer. What a rich history we have in the Church! Looking to Her, we never need to go hungry.

_____________________________________________
Looking for that aria that was played in Shawshank Redemption?
Here is the opera in it's entirety.
And here's the single aria on iTunes.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Answering the New Atheism with Ben Wiker

Are You Able to Answer the Arguments of an Atheist? In this week's radio show, I interviewed Dr. Ben Wiker, co-author with Dr. Scott Hahn of a new book that hears and answers the arguments put forth in evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins' best selling book The God Delusion. Benjamin Wiker received his Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University, and has taught at Marquette University, St. Mary’s University, Thomas Aquinas College, and Franciscan University. A senior fellow with the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and with Discovery Institute, he is now a full-time writer. He lives in rural Ohio with his beloved wife and children, and an ever-increasing number of a moderately useful but always entertaining animals. To learn more about Wiker's books, click here. For information on interviews and speaking engagements, click here. From his website: Answering the New Atheism: Dismantling Dawkins’ Case Against God cuts through the shoddy reasoning, logical blunders, and factual errors that populate Richard Dawkins’ best-selling book The God Delusion. Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker provide readers with sharp logic and clear reasoning, exposing the muddle-headed thinking behind Dawkins’ veneer of intellectual rigor. Along the way, Hahn and Wiker offer a cogent and convincing argument for God’s existence. "Rarely, if ever, in my many years as a professor of philosophy did I ever have the opportunity to read such a compelling argument." - Antony Flew, Author of There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind The podcast of my interview with Ben is available here. For a video interview of the authors discussing this book, click here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Frivolity is Frivolous

OK, there are plenty of important things we should be focusing on these days; life, death, taxes, the economy, what's for dinner..... this I realize. But at the same time, in the immortal words of St. Thomas Aquinas, "there must be time for frivolity" (at least I hope that was Aquinas, since I've been getting plenty of mileage off of this quote for some time now). And so, I bring you, on this Tuesday evening in the year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Eight.... one of the coolest a capella tributes to the movie music of John Williams using lines from the original Star Wars movies that I've ever heard. Well, it's actually the only one I've ever heard. And that's a good thing.

Friday, November 07, 2008

The Forest for the Trees

The other day at school, one of the theology teachers was trying to determine an answer on a crossword puzzle that his students were given in class. The question was “What is the fundamental norm of Christian morality and the fullness of the law.” The answer had 5 letters, the second to the last letter was "u." _ _ _ u _ Now there were a few of us in the department hanging around St. Rita's before class, and we all puzzled over it. We laughed, because no one could figure it out. A combined mass of Masters degrees in Philosophy, Systematic Theology, Church History, etc. Clueless! How the heck are the kids gonna get this if we can't? This got me thinking about how often we scramble and scratch and work incessantly to get an answer for the blank spaces in life. And we feel so limited. It's just a couple of blanks! How could we not guess the answer? Why won't this word fit, or this one? The book must be wrong. It's a typo. It's impossible! I think all of the questions we have ultimately have one Answer, but we think it can't possibly be that simple. And yet it is. The answer was Jesus. Ouch.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A Stranger in a Strange Land

I'm packing my bags. This is going to be a way of sorrows. A long walk through a valley of death. We have just elected, as a people, the most abortion-minded politician in decades. "The first thing I'd do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act. That's the first thing that I'd do." - Barack Obama, speaking to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, July 17, 2007 The Freedom of Choice Act? What's that all about? Healing the economic crisis, bringing peace to the war in the Middle East? Finding solutions to issues like immigration or health care? No, it's about destroying our unborn children, America's future generations. Is this the change you wanted America? From the National Committee for Human Life Amendment: The Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) ... is a radical bill. It creates a “fundamental right” to abortion throughout the nine months of pregnancy. No governmental body at any level would be able to “deny or interfere with” this right, or to “discriminate” against the exercise of this right “in the regulation or provision of benefits, facilities, services, or information.” For the first time, abortion would become an entitlement the government must condone and promote.

FOCA would go well beyond the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in imposing an extreme abortion regimen on our country. No other piece of legislation would have such a destructive impact on society’s ability to limit or regulate abortion. It would eliminate a broad range of laws - informed consent laws; parental involvement laws; laws promoting maternal health; abortion clinic regulations; government programs and facilities that pay for or promote childbirth and other health care without subsidizing abortion; conscience protection laws; laws prohibiting a particular abortion procedure (e.g., partial birth abortion); laws requiring that abortions only be performed by a licensed physician; and so on. For a careful legal analysis of FOCA by the USCCB’s Office of General Counsel, see: www.nchla.org/docdisplay.asp?ID=190. A summary fact sheet for general distribution can be found at: www.nchla.org/docdisplay.asp?ID=194

In a September 19 letter to Members of Congress, Cardinal Justin Rigali, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, raised grave concerns about any possible consideration of FOCA. The Cardinal declared: “We can’t reduce abortions by promoting abortion.” He urged all Senators and Representatives “to pledge their opposition to FOCA.” For full text of the letter, see: www.usccb.org/prolife/FOCArigaliltr.pdf.

Recommended Actions: Contact your U.S. Representative and two U.S. Senators by FAX letter, e-mail, or phone. Call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at: 202.224.3121; or call Members’ local offices. Full contact info can be found on Members of Congress’s web sites, at: www.senate.gov and www.house.gov

Sunday, November 02, 2008

A Song for Grace Elizabeth

Anyone who knows my wife Rebecca knows her gift for music. This is a song she composed for our unborn daughter, Grace Elizabeth, diagnosed with a terminal condition and not expected to live outside of the womb. The first image is of Grace and her siblings at the embryonic level, just prior to their transfer through the miracle of embryo adoption (click here for the original post of our story). Only Grace survived, and for this and for our time with her to date, we are eternally grateful. As we near an election that could spell hope or doom for the most vulnerable among us, the unborn, may this music stir our hearts into a true and lasting love for human life. Thank you all for your continued prayers! "Everything is a grace." - St. Therese of Lisieux

Fr. Barron on the Film "Religulous"

Fr. Robert Barron is the Bishop Sheen of the new millennium. He has a prolific presence on YouTube, podcasts on iTunes, and is now on location filming a mammoth series called The Catholicism Project on the history of the Catholic Faith, sure to be a media treasure when it comes to sharing what Catholics really believe. I'll be interviewing Fr. Barron this Tuesday, November 4, on the radio show, 5 to 6pm EST on www.catholicinternetradio.com

23 Keys for Unlocking the Mystery of Gender, Identity, and Human Sexuality

Who am I? This fundamental question is asked ultimately by every person ever born. What is this great mystery of human life; what is our o...