Sunday, June 27, 2010

Quote of the Day - Mother Angelica

"If you're not a thorn in somebody's side, you're not doing Christianity right."

Mother Angelica, Mother Angelica's Little Book of Life Lessons and Everyday Spirituality, edited by Raymond Arroyo, p. 18.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Children of Hope - Fostering Eucharistic Adoration among Children

I was listening to Catholic Answers on the radio and heard Fr. Antoine Thomas of the Community of St. John. I've heard him a number of times, and he does a wonderful job of explaining the faith to young children. He is working on a new project, Children of Hope, which encourages young children to adore Christ in the Eucharist. There are many good things at the website: I highly recommend checking out this website and using it to either promote adoration with groups of children, or at least among the children in your life.

Quote of the Day - C.S. Lewis

Those who talk of reading the Bible "as literature" sometimes mean, I think, reading it without attending to the main thing it is about; like reading Burke with no interest in politics, or reading the Aeneid with no interest in Rome. That seems to me to be nonsense. But there is a saner sense in which the Bible, since it is after all literature, cannot properly be read except as literature; and the different parts of it as the different sorts of literature they are. Most emphatically, the Psalms must be read as poems; as lyrics, with all the licenses and all the formalities, the hyperboles, the emotional rather than logical connections, which are proper to lyric poetry.

C.S. Lewis, Reflection on the Psalms, p. 3.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Seeing with God's Eyes

Jacopo Pontormo, Supper in Emmaus, 1525 (Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy)

(Note the "eye of God" above Jesus' head.)

What does today's second reading at mass and going to the pool have in common?

Let's start with the pool. My family and I went to a large public pool here in Cincinnati. We become very self-conscious about the bodies of others and our own bodies. We see others and we think that we don't measure up. It can be a blow to our self-esteem and our ego. We see others and we are tempted to turn them into objects for our pleasure. As I've been saying recently, bodies matter in Catholic theology. However, the pool can be a glaring example of how bodies should not be treated.

Our bodies are not for lust, but, unfortunately, going to the pool can be a test of "custody of the eyes." We corrupted sight early on. After the Father of Lies told Eve that God was a liar and that she would not die eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, we read: "So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, ... she took of its fruit and ate..." (Genesis 3:6). However, this is not the kind of sight to which God originally called us. We are instead to strive to live the words of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8). If we can see others with the eyes of God, not as something for our gratification, but as children of God, then we can see them with a pure heart. And when we see them as God sees them, then we see God for we are using His eyes.

There is also the flip side of that situation. We can objective ourselves. Walking around in public can be a very humbling experience. At the pool we see many people who are physically attractive as the world preaches it. I'm not exactly the model for a Greek statue, so it is easy to imagine being viewed by others as deficient physically (even if that is not how others actually view me). I was rather heavy when I was young, and it is hard to shed that perception of myself, even though I am not now overweight. But still, I'm rather flabby (which would be helped if I would just exercise like my doctor tells me to do). I was walking around feeling somewhat embarrassed by my appearance, when I went into the pool because my son called to me. It wasn't anything he said. It was how he looked at me. Children, especially young children, have a way of looking at you that just shouts how much they love you. The amazing thing is that they see you. They don't see how much you weigh or whether you have well defined abs. They don't see how much money you make or don't make. They don't see whether you are successful or unsuccessful in the eyes of the world. All they see is the parent who, with the power of God, created them and loves them as bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh. Or, if they are adopted, they see a parent who loved them so much that he or she chose them to be his or her own. They love us despite our flaws. They see us as God sees us. They see us as we are - we who yell at them, get impatient with them, don't always listen to them - and they love us anyway. They see us as we are - we who have the capacity to love, who have the desire to do what is right, who attempt to help others. And they see us as we want to be - heroes and saints.

So what does this have to do with today's second reading from the Letter of Paul to the Galatians (3:26-29):

Brothers and sisters: Through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendant, heirs according to the promise.

God does not make distinctions among people as the world makes distinctions. The things that divide us from each other do not divide us from God. We must seek to see as God sees, and then we will love as God loves.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Ask for Help

Today's readings for mass speak to us of the tendency toward sin of human beings, the initiative of contrition, and the need for God's forgiveness.

The first reading comes from 2 Samuel 12:7-10,13:

Nathan said to David: “Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘I anointed you king of Israel. I rescued you from the hand of Saul. I gave you your lord’s house and your lord’s wives for your own. I gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were not enough, I could count up for you still more. Why have you spurned the Lord and done evil in his sight? You have cut down Uriah the Hittite with the sword; you took his wife as your own,and him you killed with the sword of the Ammonites. Now, therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah to be your wife.’ Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” Nathan answered David: “The LORD on his part has forgiven your sin: you shall not die.”

The Gospel reading comes from Luke 7:36-50:

A Pharisee invited Jesus to dine with him, and he entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. Now there was a sinful woman in the city who learned that he was at table in the house of the Pharisee. Bringing an alabaster flask of ointment, she stood behind him at his feet weeping and began to bathe his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Tell me, teacher, ” he said. “Two people were in debt to a certain creditor; one owed five hundred days’ wages and the other owed fifty. Since they were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for both. Which of them will love him more?” Simon said in reply, “The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven.” He said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? When I entered your house, you did not give me water for my feet, but she has bathed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but she has not ceased kissing my feet since the time I entered. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with ointment. So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The others at table said to themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” But he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Yesterday my daughter and I were going to confession. Today at lunch, I talked about confession with my daughter and my son. I asked them, "Why do we need to go to confession once we've been baptized?" My son gave me a much more profound answer than I would have furnished. He ran over to the refrigerator and pulled off a sign we have there for the kids to remember when they are frustrated because they feel that they can't do things like homework or a game or a sport. My son pointed to the second item on the list: "Ask for help." How true. At confession we are asking God for help. We are saying, "God, I can't do this on my own." (We are acknowledging that we are not Pelagians.)

The only prayer that Jesus taught us (the Our Father) is composed of seven petitions. That is, we ask for God's help seven times.

Sometimes we don't go to confession because we are afraid. Sometimes we don't go to confession because we are proud. In both cases, we are unwilling to ask for God's help, either because we don't want to embarrass ourselves, or because we don't think we need confession. Either way, we are saying that we won't ask for God's help because we choose to elevate our embarrassment or our pride above God's mercy and grace.

Let us all ask God for His help and go to confession regularly.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Immaculate Heart of Mary, or Sylvia Poggioli Explains It All To You

Today is the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Today's Gospel reading for mass is the finding of Jesus in the Temple when he was a boy:

Each year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom. After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. (Luke 2:41-51)

There are two aspects I want to focus on here regarding Mary. The first is that Mary did not understand what Jesus was telling her. She was at Ground Zero of salvation history, but as a human being, her understanding of what God was doing was limited. The second aspect is that despite (or because) she did not understand, she reflected on these events, on these words and "kept all these things in her heart." Lack of understanding provoked reflection to produce greater understanding.

With these ideas in mind, let us turn to the news reporting of National Public Radio's Sylvia Poggioli. In the last week she has had two reports about Catholicism. The first report was about adult women who had affairs with priests. Her report, "Letter from Priests' Lovers Reignites Celibacy Debate" is laughable as professional journalism. For a good critique, see the June 8, 2010 post at Get Religion. According to Poggioli:

In an unprecedented move, a group of Italian women who have had relationships with priests wrote an open letter to Pope Benedict XVI, saying that priests need to love and be loved.

What is this unprecedented move? A letter signed by...three women. An Italian woman, Stefania Salomone, claims that 40 women contacted her but want to remain anonymous. The Pope called celibacy "a sacred value," but Salomone told Poggioli: "And so we decided to tell people this is not a value, and this is not a sacred value, because sacred is the right of people to get married." This statement is illogical. All men have the ability to get married--instead of becoming a priest. The Catholic Church is not somehow denying anyone a right to be married. But no one has a right to be married and a priest (any more than anyone has a right to be a priest). The illogic continues when Poggioli says, "They [the women who have had affairs with priests] say a priest 'needs to live with his fellow human beings, experience feelings, love and be loved.'" The idea that priests do not live among their fellow human beings, do not experience feelings, do not love and are not loved is simply a denial of reality. I heard the other day about a priest who described his call to priesthood this way: one day he saw a very beautiful woman, and he thought, "I wonder what it would be like to be married to her Creator." Those don't sound like the words of a repressed or oppressed man.

Poggioli goes on to say: "But it's an open secret that priestly celibacy is often violated." The argument that celibacy should end because it is violated is utterly preposterous. With that kind of logic, one could argue with a straight face that marriage should be ended because it is often violated by adultery. Speaking of adultery, Salomone does not seem to grasp the adulterous nature of her relationship with the priest (adulterous on both sides). A vow to fidelity means that violating the vow is adulterous, whether we are talking about marriage or celibacy. Salomone told Poggioli, "'I think I represented a stain on his church dress,' Salomone says. 'He wanted to see me, but after seeing me he was not happy with his decision. He always tried to find a way to go away. I wasn't seen as a woman, I was seen as a danger, as a sin.'" This is always the way people act in an adulterous relationship, because adultery turns us from God, from others, and from ourselves.

Another of Poggioli's reports this week was on June 11, "Pope Begs Forgiveness Over Abuse Scandal." At the end of that report is an attempt to link the sex abuse scandal to celibacy:

Friday's Mass was preceded by a vigil service Thursday night in St. Peter's Square in which the pope responded to pre-selected questions from five priests.‬‪ In one query, Benedict was asked about "the beauty of celibacy."

Benedict called celibacy a great sign of faith and said it represents an act of transcendence that brings the priest closer to God.‬‪‬‪ The Catholic Church has denied that celibacy is one of the causes of child abuse in the priesthood — but even some leading cardinals have begun to question the requirement and are urging an open debate on the topic.‬‪

But the Vatican discouraged reporters from seeking the views of some of the thousands of priests who came to Rome — the Holy See police prevented even Vatican-accredited reporters from interviewing priests in St. Peter's Square.‬

One priest who was willing to speak on the sidelines of the ceremony was the Rev. Jose Vasco of Mozambique.‬‪

"The church first tried to resolve the cases on its own," Vasco said. "But now that they have become so grave, the church must seek the full truth, and to do that we need joint commissions with lay people, with civil society, especially at a time when there is the appearance that the church has protected the guilty ones."

Vasco said he would welcome the idea of a debate on celibacy to determine whether it could be one of the causes of the sex abuse crisis and if it should be mandatory.

Poggioli says: "The Catholic Church has denied that celibacy is one of the causes of child abuse in the priesthood — but even some leading cardinals have begun to question the requirement and are urging an open debate on the topic." The Church doesn't have to deny that celibacy is one of the causes of child abuse in the priesthood because there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that it is. This, despite remarks made in March by Cardinal Schonborn of Austria.

So what does all of this have to do with the Immaculate Heart of Mary? Let's go back to lack of understanding and reflection. Pope Benedict rightly speaks above about celibacy being "an act of transcendance." It is precisely this point that Poggioli, Salomone, and many others do not understand. Western culture is so saturated with a stunningly debased and reductionist notion of human sexuality that things like celibacy simply do not make sense. In fact, in secular culture, things like "transcendence" do not make sense.

Which brings me to reflection. When things do not make sense, one response is to examine them further, trying to learn what we don't understand, determining if there is more there than we initially thought. This is the kind of reflection that Mary did, the contemplation that keeps things in the heart. Then there is another response, a response that turns a blind eye to anything that does not fit one's own agenda or paradigm, that grinds axes to a sharp edge, that seeks to malign through implication when facts aren't available. This response closes the heart. We all have these two hearts at different times and different settings. This is how Mary differs from us. She has one heart, the first kind, the kind where lack of understanding provokes reflection to produce greater understanding.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

Image from the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales (

As the Incarnation and the Resurrection teach, the body matters. Last Sunday's Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ reinforced this message. And in case we did not get it through those reminders, today we celebrate the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We reflect that Jesus had a physical heart of flesh and blood. We reflect that he had a spiritual heart that encompasses love for every single human being, from the greatest saint to the most vile sinner. The image of his heart is pierced, reminding us that love requires sacrifice. There is a flame above the heart, showing us that warms us, consumes us, fires us up.

A year ago I was at a funeral mass on the Feast of the Sacred Heart. There I decided that I would receive communion on First Fridays in devotion to the Sacred Heart. I have done that for the next twelve months. I am only scratching the surface of this devotion. I pray that the next year brings me deeper into Jesus' Sacred Heart.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Joos van Wassenhove (active c.1460-80), The Institution of the Eucharist
c.1474; Oil on panel; Gallery of the Marches, Ducal Palace, Urbino, Italy

Today we celebrate the feast the focuses our attention on the Eucharist: The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, or Corpus Christi. As my son sat next to me at mass today, periodically pressing his body up against mine or putting his hand on my arm, I thought about how in human experience, bodies matter. Children love to sleep with their parents or with their brothers and sisters for the sense of closeness and belonging. The marital act is all about emotional and physical bonding. In pregnancy, the mother is so close to the child that she carries the child physically within her. Fathers will never know that kind of closeness with their children.

All of this help us to understand the Incarnation and the Eucharist. In the Old Testament God dwelt in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple as the shekinah. God thought, How can I draw closer to these people? And of course, the answer was, By becoming one of them. Hence the Incarnation, where Mary carried Jesus for ten months. As the new English translation of the Nicene Creed will say, Christ "was incarnate of the Virgin Mary," for a man can be born of a woman, but only a god can be incarnate, that is, the divine spirit becomes enfleshed as a human. We remember the beginning of the Gospel of John through our prayers of the Angelus: "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us." Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14 using the term "Emmanuel," meaning, "God with us" (Matthew 1:23).

One might be tempted to think that incarnation was sufficient. However, God thought, How can I continue to live up to the name Emmanuel - "God with us"?

Lessons from the Garden - Coming Up from the Roots

Gardening can teach us many lessons. One of those lessons is resilience. Many plants have the amazing property of coming back from their roots after significant damage. I remember when I was a junior in high school many years ago. One of our neighbors had a maple tree growing in their back yard. I took some of the many seeds from that tree that year and planted six of them in a dirt patch in our back yard. Two of them came up. While they were both quite small, my dad did not see them one weekend and mowed over them. I was quite upset (not thinking that I should have marked them off so dad would clearly see them), and I left them in the ground, despite an impulse to just pull them up. Much to my surprise, they came back from the roots. Both those trees are now in the front yard of my parents' house with double trunks, a visual reminder of that earlier trauma to them which they overcame by regenerating from their roots.

I recently had a repeat of that experience. I have a couple of bronze fennel plants in my garden, and a third one came up outside of the border, in the grass, by our porch. I never told my wife about this plant, never put some border or markings around it, and, sure enough, she mowed over it. I left it in the ground, and, sure enough, it came back from the roots.

These plants can teach us the importance of going back to our roots after a trauma, after a devastating loss. If we are rooted in God, if we go back to the roots of our faith in the Scripture and the teachings of the Church, then we can begin again with new life. I remember when I returned to the Church but still struggled with my faith (not that we ever fully complete struggling in our faith life until we no longer need faith in the company of God). I made my first confession in probably thirteen years, and my confession was that I didn't know if I believed in God. The priest, a wonderful Franciscan, asked me if I wanted to believe in God. I said I didn't know. He did not need to absolve me, but he did, sensing something moving in me that I didn't understand. We were going to mass the next day, and he asked me to really reflect on the Creed when we said it. I was thinking, "But this is my point, I don't believe everything in the Creed." However, he understood that reflecting on the Creed is about going back to our communal and personal roots. The Creed is the foundational statement of what we believe, or at least what we ought to believe. The Creed is what the godparents assent to for the infant at Baptism, and the Creed is what the congregation reaffirms when a child is baptized at a mass. When we struggle in our faith or morals in our lives, we go back to the grace of the Holy Spirit from our Baptism and Confirmation for the strength to overcome those struggles.

If we go back to our roots, we can find the resources to restore the life we had, or perhaps live life more abundantly than before.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Quote of the Day - Abba Poeman

Abba Poeman was asked for whom this saying is suitable, "Do not be anxious about tomorrow." (Matt. 6.34) The old man said, "It is said for the man who is tempted and has not much strength, so that he should not be worried, saying to himself, "How long must I suffer this temptation?" He should rather say every day to himself, "Today."

The Sayings of the Desert Fathers by Benedicta Ward, SLG, p. 185, Poeman 126.