Monday, December 29, 2014

A Christmas Message

This season of Christmas we recall the powerful words of Scripture, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14). Christ became man to be with us and to experience life with us. He lived an authentic and real human life with all of its many aspects.

I know during this time of year we often recall our many family members and friends who have died and how, even in this happy time, we miss them. Even I lost an uncle who was very dear to me on December 23rd last year. It is at these times, however, that I ask Christ to be with me. I pray for our faithful departed and families, always asking Christ to be with us as truly as he was a man here on earth.

I began wondering, then, what it means that Jesus experienced life like us in the following way:
Can you imagine how many people came up to tell Jesus about a death in the family, fear because of illness, anxiety because of unemployment, or divisions among their families? Jesus shared a great deal in the pain and hardship of our daily lives with us. Likewise, imagine those who came up to him saying, “I am getting married” and “my wife and I are finally having our first child.” Jesus went to weddings, celebrated at religious events, and spent his time sharing in the many joys of human life.

We can relate to these events that punctuate our lives as well. Jesus through his ministry gives us that divine example. By his words and actions he always expressed the same thing, “I love you” and “Do not be afraid, I am with you.”

This time of year we also remember that Jesus Christ is God Himself. He alone can free us of the chains of sin, misery, regret, and death. Through him everything came into being and he sustains every individual instance in his love. For God is love and his entire being expresses love for creation and, in a special way, for us. Our great God who spoke and created all things became subject to our frail humanity for our sake.

So it is this day that we say, “A king is born to us!” and “God has visited his people!”

He came to us as one of us, and he understands each and every one of us. Yes, he even understands our weaknesses, our regrets, and our sinfulness. He ever and always calls us to himself and calls us to believe in him. For it is in believing in him, putting behind our sins, and following him that he will give us the “power to become children of God” (1:12). Through this power we can endure all hardship and, having run our course in this life, reign forever with him in heaven—a gift he so graciously gave to those who endure with him.

Let us, therefore, follow our great King this Christmastime. His every action has said from the beginning, “I love you and I am with you until the end of time.” Let us, by our lives, say the same.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Private Values and a Public Faith (Part I)

Do Religious Values have any Place in the Public Square?

The general consensus among those of faith and without seem to be “no.” Religion is a personal preference and conviction. Personal convictions, while good for me based on various experiences and reasons, are not grounds for me to impose these convictions and others. I believe in God because (a) I was brought up to believe, (b) it gives me comfort, and (c) it makes me a better person. But someone else may have experienced religion in negative circumstances. Likewise a non-believer may not share feelings and values of religious pronouncements on reproduction, family, and (deeper still) premises that inform public action and (politically-speaking) policy.

A non-Christian, non-religious, non-believer also builds convictions derived from his experiences and holds onto them for various reasons. They too may have been brought up to hold certain values that give them comfort and in turn, according to those values, make them “better.” I use quotes for “better” insofar as anyone, when he lives according to values, wants to live up to those values he considers as good. No one, or more accurately, very few of us ever embody fully the values we hold dear—but the more we live our lives according to these values we consider ourselves “better off,” perhaps because we can decide on things more confidently or can discern and solve problems more efficiently.

None of us can escape our upbringing and no one is ever truly free to choose his own experiences. While we are active agents in our lives we are also passive—things happen to us whether we like it or not. We are just as informed by what we do out of choice and by what we experience with no say in the matter. We as humans, however, have a unique ability to reflect on our experiences. More uniquely, since other animals also have memory and learn from experience, human beings have the capacity to reflect on their values and culture. This is not only consistent with ancient wisdom but also modern science.

Man, by applying his reason to himself, may reject what he has been given in a nearly-complete way. Moreover some may even claim that we are unique among the animals insofar as we know how we came to be and that we are also aware of how we are wired (this imagery is by no means exhaustive). Because we “know” we may also reject our wiring in some ways—the example Dawkins uses is that we “rebel against our genes” when we contracept, i.e., that we actively deny the 'desire' of our genes to be replicated through propagation.

Thus both ancient sources, e.g., philosophy or theology, and modern sciences have agreed throughout the ages that man is unique. He is not unique according to his flesh, since his flesh and composition is not too different from other mammals. Perhaps one might say that his brain as an organ is the most impressive according to its construction and capacity. Man is unique according to his reason—formulated in antiquity as possessing a “rational soul”—because by his reason he can even master himself.

While our knowledge, scientifically-speaking, is still expanding on the subject of human cognition we can see that we form connections, both socially (e.g., mother and child) and intellectually (i.e., neural connections), in a way not dissimilar from other creatures. All but a few can recognize, however, that we are capable of understanding how we work and, by our own efforts, direct ourselves beyond mere instinct. While evolution has brought the structure of our bodies and brains to a certain point we also know that in the realm of human and child-development the manner in which we teach each other affects the way that our brain makes connections. In a manner of speaking we can intentionally affect how our brains are organized. This organization, in turn, affects how we act and interact. One may even argue that how we act makes us more fit. Fitness in the narrow sense is simply propagation. I believe that in a broader sense it involves more than just reproduction—fitness also includes well-being, productivity, and living in concord with fellow human beings. Thus how we regard one another, work with one another, and help each other to be our best is a benefit for both ourselves and for those around us.

These activities are achieved through “values” which is shorthand for those conceptions which influence dispositions, habits, and actions. Man, since he has been able to communicate with his fellow man, has discussed values—what is good and what is best—and likewise handed down those values. Values themselves are tested by time and experience. They are tested by hardships and challenges.

Reason and discussion, it may be said, are what make up the furnace of values. Likewise values are applied by different people and in different circumstances, thus their weaknesses are exposed and strengths refined. How those values are expressed are also important—do our actions actually mirror our values? It is foolishness to think that we automatically embody our values—living in accord with any value takes time, effort, and humility. We must always recognize our weakness. On the other hand when we do not attempt to live out certain values we do not actually express them.

In a manner of speaking values are physical and organic, both in their history and within an individual. Consider the image of a tree: when a tree is planted it needs the right circumstances and ingredients to grow. It may very well grow in weak or sandy soil, grow in competition with other trees, grow to be proud and strong, or simply die. Some trees by virtue of its light source will grow in a different direction. Others may be twisted, broken, and bent because of natural disaster. Nevertheless many of them survive in various conditions and amid various trials. Thus, while the tree may appear different in its external presentation each tree is from the same heritage, source, or family (e.g., an oak or a maple are still themselves despite their outward image).

Values themselves may die or they may die in the individual. They may also take root and flourish. Every generation is both the soil and the planter. We are the ones who, having grown up, decide where to plant and how. Values are, in some ways, of supreme importance for how we interact with one another as well as important insofar as they actually affect our physical makeup on the macro and even micro level.

With these in mind, we will proceed to the next part and talk more directly about values and the people who hold them.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Humility and Martin de Porres

This was a homily preached to my seminary community on November 3rd, 2014. The reading for the day (Phil 2:1-4, Ps 131:1b-3, and Lk 14:12-14) may be seen here

Martin de Porres was a lay member of the Dominican Order. (b. 1579 - d. 1639, Lima, Peru)

Humility, as we heard today, is regarding others as more important than ourselves and giving of our wealth and gifts to those who cannot repay us. Humility is expressed by lowliness and generosity.

Martin de Porres, whom we celebrate today, is a model of humility. Born in lowliness as a mulatto he sought to make himself even lower. He preferred to be out of sight and perform menial tasks. He cared for the poor and the sick. He also performed many miracles of healing. His fame spread because of this, much to his dismay.

He was sent by his superior at one time to heal the Archbishop of Mexico who had fallen very ill. Having completed his task, he returned to his friary embarrassed his gift was made public. He then sought to perform the most menial tasks he could think of. A priest asked him, "Would you not be better off in the palace of the Archbishop?"

Martin replied, "Father, I think one moment doing what I'm doing is more important than many days in the palace of the Lord Archbishop."

I believe an appropriate image of humility is a bed of white-hot coals. Whether they are our faults and failings, or our accomplishments and talents, humility immolates them all.

Gold is purified by intense heat which separates the dross from it. We ought to commit all things to the furnace of humility, for it separates the dross of despair and pride and produces in us love--that one virtue that is the fulfillment and crown of all things; it is the one thing that endures, for even faith and hope will pass away.

Jesus Christ is rightly said to love perfectly because He emptied Himself perfectly. Allow this Eucharist, a sign of His humility and the source of ours, to remove all dross from your hearts day by day.

To paraphrase the book of Sirach,
There is no precious gold except by fire,
and there are no acceptable men made except in the furnace of humility (cf., Sir 2:5).

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Extraordinary Synod (2014 Edition)

In light of the many articles and comments arising from I would like to offer some thoughts on the topic at hand that may be helpful for others who are (attempting to) follow the news on this issue. In any academic setting and even in every investigative setting one must first look at the source and, from there, investigate what others are saying about the source.

In this instance the "source" is not much of a source. It is a written document, yes, but as a written document it only serves to chronicle what has been spoken of at this time. This document carries with it no legislative power in the Church. Many people are surprised of the language used concerning homosexuality and others and have praised its content, but these praises are only sung by people who have no desire to investigate what the Church has already said. Websites, such as Human Rights Campaign, have opened up their article on the Relatio saying,
The preliminary but potentially ground-breaking document released today by the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops asserted that LGBT people have “gifts and talents to offer the Christian community,” and, for the first time, referred to LGBT couples as “partners” instead of sinners.
Moreover the Huffington Post, "the bastion of quality journalism" as readers call it, reported that
A day after signaling a warmer embrace of gays and lesbians and divorced Catholics, conservative cardinals hit back strongly Tuesday (Oct. 14), with one insisting that an abrupt-face on church teaching is “not what we are saying at all.” ...
The summary document, presented to the media by Hungarian Cardinal Peter Erdo, immediately provoked the fury of conservatives about how he and his colleagues were interpreting the spectrum of views aired on the synod floor.
In typical fashion, holding a stance on anything is considered a sort of conscription into an ideology whereby one forfeits his reason and knowledge in favor of some safe and accepted rule. At least that's how I read this excerpt saying that 'finally those conservatives are getting some pushback.' Compassion and warmth can not, apparently, come from anyone considered "conservative." What I dislike about this article in particular is how it tries to pit two groups against one another.

Both conservatives and liberals have overreacted to this synod. Sadly it has become yet another instance where even the Church is labeled as having two camps. Catholics who can not debate topics with integrity and honesty, even if they get heated, are neither liberal or conservative but rather just bad apologists.

With that said I'd like to make a few points as there are those who have spoken to me saying, "Is the Church going to cave in to societal pressures?" while others have said, "Finally the Church is recognizing gays and homosexuals on (more) equal footing."

I. As Catholics we need to exercise patience.

All to often I think we forget that we live in history. With 2000 years of Tradition, traditions, and development we casually quote Nicea, Trent, and Vatican II among others as singular events. These were Ecumenical Councils that contained debate, (fierce) disagreements, and in the fire of competing intellects language refined six and seven times over. The Church does not shy away from disagreement, debate, and asking difficult questions.

The Acts of the Apostles ought to give Catholics some rest about how the Church proceeds. First the Church in local communities identify a problem of disagreement and proceed from there. But even in local churches there can be "no small dissension and debate between them" (Acts 15:2). Likewise, when brought to the assembly of Apostles and presbyters, there was still "much debate" (v.7).

Thus we as Catholics should not be afraid of debate because we never have been. While others may consider us to be doctrinally locked into a singular way of thinking this is far from the truth. Nevertheless we are constantly confronted with new information and problems. All of us share in the task of transmitting the faith with intentionality which includes us bringing the Gospel to each new problem.

This task requires patience. Just as Christ was rejected and accepted in His day we are no different. If we really do believe in the organic growth of the Church and her understanding, we ought to judge the fruit of this synod when it is in bloom, not now. In our patience we, meaning all sides, must listen to each other and be open to correction.

II. Homosexuals and others should be co-laborers to the Gospel

Homosexuals and others in more difficult categories are in a difficult spot. Many are isolated from the Church while those who do stand up for Church teaching are rejected as self-hating and enemies. Having grown up myself in environments where gays were ridiculed and, likewise, seeing how easy it is to demean those I misunderstood I have challenged myself in the following way:

=What is science (biology, psychology, etc.) actually saying about homosexuality?
=Can I, being critical enough to distinguish descriptive or ideological claims, understand the challenges they face if they do indeed wish to walk the path the Church does?
=Can I use this information to better understand human sexuality and our humanity?

We must be able to affirm the teachings of the Church on marriage and family while also being what we are called to be, one. I still recall being labeled as a certain type of person because I am from Chicago. I was told what my work ethic probably was among other things. Being labeled as having this or that moral quality, having this disposition, or other per-determined traits is not only insulting but about as reliable as "blood typology" common in many Asian countries.

It is easy to fall into the trap that "everyone deserves love" and that "who are you to say I can't have sex." Sex does not complete us, no matter how good it feels. What completes and perfects us is holiness. Our individual human perfection comes from both our vocation (what I, personally, am called to be by God) and a growth in love that imitates God's love.

Thus, when we work with others treat all persons with dignity and all ideas with scrutiny, carefully exploring how those ideas do or do not fit with the Gospel. "Test everything, hold fast to what is good" (1 Thes 5:21).

III. Be informed

This synod, while not the best PR episode we've had in a while, has opened up some discussion. Confusion has that effect sometimes. Can you as families sit down and discuss the synod? Can we as Catholics openly debate with ourselves and be vulnerable enough to acknowledge our ignorance on certain issues?

Nothing reveals ignorance better than conversation which is why most of us are usually silent, even among friends. We must fortify ourselves with humility and speak with one another about Scripture, Tradition, and the Church. More than that, we should not look with disdain at Rome or our Church as if they have nothing to teach.

The only way to abolish ignorance is through investigation and, after investigation, testing it against the intellects of believer and non-believer alike. Our children can teach us as can our elders. No one knows through whom the Spirit will speak and how, but no one is beyond scrutiny and testing. Love of knowledge is one thing, but a love of wisdom is another thing. Wisdom orders all things and no one receives wisdom except through prayer.

Some of us will assent easily and others assent with difficulty, but we should all be open to truth. No one will believe the Church has that attitude unless we practice it ourselves.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Do We Need a New Language to Speak about Homosexuality?

Note: I apologize for my sporadic posting these past months. Big tests, traveling, and hospital ministry have taken me away from my writing. My hope is to start writing more soon, provided I have something interesting to write about.

I am also experimenting with using this spacing on my articles to make them a bit easier to read. No pictures this time either, sorry :(. I do hope we get some good discussion out of this, though.
Originally posted on Ignitum Today.
The first is “Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers” (1997). - See more at:
The first is “Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers” (1997). - See more at:
The first is “Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers” (1997). - See more at:

The first is “Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers” (1997). - See more at:
One of the more popular, misunderstood, and challenging problems Catholics face today is the topic of homosexuality. I think of the many great strides we as a Church and as a culture have taken in speaking about it. In the same way, neither side whether secular or religious, has spoken more clearly on the subject. Catholics, at the very least, have always been very good at making distinctions. The process of making distinctions is not just good philosophy and theology, but it also aids in our practical and charitable responses to what we experience.

When we respond to homosexuality we should know what it is. Moreover, when someone is homosexual it does us little good to categorize that person according to preconceived notions about their sexual activity, sexual purity, or moral state. In fact I've usually seen these reactions as one's own personal, moral blindness than as a useful discussion geared towards understanding something so as to respond to it more effectively.

That being said, I also see among many Catholics and (more understandably, perhaps) secular homosexuals a departure from language such as “disordered.” A great deal of language focuses on “natural” sexual desire. It should be granted that the word “nature” (or “natural”) is not as clear as it first appears, but some have achieved a greater sense of clarity about it.

Part of my worry is that even good, Catholic homosexuals have found the language of “disorder” offensive and disheartening. My worry is not so much their individual feelings about the word, but it does bring forth the valid question as to whether or not our language about homosexuality is unsound, invalid, or ineffective.

This is also not as easy to determine right away. Our language could be unsound it simply isn't true or because we are operating under false premises. It may be invalid simply because what we do know about the human person and human sexuality is not properly expressed (i.e., our conclusions may not be properly derived from our premises). Our language may be ineffective as a result. Effectiveness is not only a matter of truth but also rhetoric. Speaking ineffectively is just as damaging to an argument as it is to be untrue or be lacking logically. This also accepts that, like Jesus, some people simply will not accept what is true—but this should stop us from pausing and considering our own words.

Should we discard the use of the term “disordered,” then? I am inclined to say 'no' for the time being. I say this for a number of reasons, some of which I'll list:

(1) is that scientifically speaking we do not know what causes one to be homosexual or to what degree one is a homosexual. Furthermore, as part of our species, what function or role does homosexuality play?

(2) The notion of “disordered” is often improperly univocated. There can be disordered states of being and there can be disordered acts. An act whose content or purpose is “good,” such as sex, but which is realized improperly is disordered. Thus both homosexuals and heterosexuals can engage in “disordered” sex.

Something that is disordered, however, is both simple and complex. An eye that cannot see is “disordered” insofar as it can not operate according to its purpose. A keyboard whose keys work except the “t,” “h,” and “e” is unable to fulfill its function adequately.

Thus something can be “disordered” either in execution (i.e., how it's carried out) or through inability (i.e., it's incapable of doing what it should).

Catholics hold that the purpose of sex is unitive and procreative. The act of sex is reserved as an expression of marital love. This does not mean that sex must result in procreation. Marital sex must be open to the possibility of procreation lovingly, otherwise that act of sex is disordered. Thus to be truly married and have sex according to the order established by God, the couple must execute the act in an “orderly” way (i.e., they must be married, freely have sex, truly love one another, and be open to (one of) the natural consequences of sex) and both must also be capable of fulfilling these criteria in order to be “ordered properly” in the first place.

(3) We should not be afraid to label ourselves as “disordered,” homosexual or heterosexual. Sin itself is a disruption of “order” insofar as all sin is contrary to God's will. One who is addicted to masturbation acts in a disordered way. One who is prone to spreading rumors and gossip acts in a disordered way. Those of us who do not go to mass on Sunday act in a disordered way. Those who do not forgive others for their transgressions against us act in a disordered way.

Many of us, because of family history, genetics, or circumstance are also born into a state of greater probability for certain sins or vices, whether we want them or not. We are all born into an existence both ordered by grace and disorderly because of sin.

And so...?

My intention is not to “solve” the problem we have since I do not believe we have the full tools to solve it. I have some self-criticisms that I will briefly connect to my points above:

(1) Sifting through today's science (biology, sociology, psychology, etc.) on the subject is at times biased, confusing, and willing to promote certain findings for reasons that aren't always “scientific.” Nevertheless honestly engaging what we are discovering about human sexuality, along with their impulses, are necessary endeavors. Regardless of a lack of scientific clarity those of us who do minister to or interact with homosexuals (etc.) must recognize them as persons created in the imago dei.

(2) My hope is that there is still clarity and a lack of clarity in the term “disordered.” How do we call homosexuality, the state of being, “disordered.” For too long we considered someone who was openly homosexual as one who was by necessity sexually active and predatory to the same sex. This is simply untrue, otherwise we would have to bring the same complaint to heterosexuals.

Homosexuals, by virtue of their homosexuality, are still fully capable of practicing virtues, discerning right from wrong, and making rationally informed choices. Thus their homosexuality is not a disorder to their will and, perhaps one could even say with confidence, their souls.

Their biology is another matter. Their homosexuality does not affect their internal or reproductive organs. In fact we have seen cases of homosexuals who have a desire to reproduce yet, for obvious reasons, can not do so by means of their 'native' sexual inclination.

Sex has the ability to improve (or deteriorate) intimacy and trust, to procreate, and give pleasure. In what ways does our insistence on procreation cloud our understanding of sex. I remain, however, a firm believer in the premise that procreation is one of the biological purposes of sex, to which pleasure and intimacy aid in the realization of a new human life.

(3) Perhaps this is too negative a view of the current state which we live in. Some are more willing than me to speak of the goodness of the world/state/circumstance we live in. On the one hand any of us are capable of loving another and love is the only means to break the cycle of sin, since it is only love (according to Paul) that is eternal. Since we have the capacity to love does this mean we are more ordered than disordered? In many ways there is a greater confusion over the terms “evil” and “sin,” in my view, than terms such as “homosexuality” and marriage.

It would be good for all of us to consider more deeply the difficulties at hand with intentionality and patience. 

(Please consider these documents:

The first is “Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers” (1997). - See more at:
The first is “Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers” (1997). - See more at:
To that end I would suggest two documents by the USCCB for your consideration:
The first is “Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers” (1997).
The second is “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care” (PDF, 2006).
- See more at:
To that end I would suggest two documents by the USCCB for your consideration:
The first is “Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers” (1997).
The second is “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care” (PDF, 2006).
- See more at:
To that end I would suggest two documents by the USCCB for your consideration:
The first is “Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers” (1997).
The second is “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care” (PDF, 2006).
- See more at:

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Redemptive Suffering

The fear of suffering, pain, and death seem like unconquerable mysteries. My time here at CPE has helped me to understand, via experience, that they are not necessarily things that need to be conquered. No amount of faith excludes us from experience pain, loneliness, and death. Money, power, and other earthly things makes these three experiences even worse. With this in mind, I began to wonder if the words of Qoheleth were not as negative as they appear: “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (Ecc 1:2). Earthly things will pass which also means these things, both good and bad, will pass. Yet this does not ease the blow of the mystery of suffering and death. Even if they pass away they still remain with us our whole lives.

For me, this mystery is one that is only solved by the Cross. The cross is, for me, the foundation of my theology the ministry I do. The cross is the Incarnational moment where love and suffering meet. Love because “God is love” (1 Jn 4:16b) and suffering because the human condition is deeply affected by sin and death (Gen 3:16ff). Christ took upon himself the entirety of our human condition. While this expressed itself in his person I believe it was brought to completion by his sacrifice. It was only in his death that he was able to “reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace through the blood of his cross” (Col 1:20).

How does this inform my theology? First, if Christ chose to take on all of humanity he also took on pain, loneliness, and death in all completeness. He did not run from them but endured them and experienced them to the full. Thus any ministry inspired by Christ must be a ministry willing to encounter and experience all of the human condition. Secondly, did not Christ through His actions reconcile all things to himself? If this is the case he also reconciled what is lowly and base to our human existence. Thus in ministry encountering what is base, disgusting, and disturbing is an opportunity to encounter Christ in the same capacity as that which is lofty, beautiful, and joyful. There is no discrimination in what Christ assumed in our humanity. He became like us in all things but sin (cf. Heb 4:15).1

As such, in my mind and in my ministry I attempt to approach a Catholic theology of suffering. The primary way is the Catholic view of suffering or, more specifically, redemptive suffering. What do I mean by redemptive suffering? Only this: that our suffering when united to Christ shares in his mission of salvation. How is this so? Christ is married to the Church as his spouse and the “two [have] become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). Moreover “no man hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the Church, because we are members of his body” (Eph 5:29-30, cf. Eph 5). We are by virtue of our baptism joined to Christ and the Church. We are joined to the body of Christ such that we are one with him. “This is a great mystery” (Eph 5:32). Yet Scripture proclaims that as Saul persecuted the "disciples of the Way" Christ himself said, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? … I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:4, 5). Lastly, Paul himself says, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete2 what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church” (Col 1:24).

Christ entrusted his disciples with his Spirit to carry out his mission of salvation to the whole world and to all ages. The Church was established as his bride and He himself is the head of the body. We are extensions of his body. We share in the sufferings of those to whom we minister (and we ourselves also suffer). Christ identifies with us, especially with those who suffer (cf. Mt 25:40), should we not also identify with Him in turn? Christ assumed humanity so as to redeem it, thus with confidence I say he also redeemed suffering. The suffering we experience can be joined to Christ who even after the Resurrection complained to Saul that He himself was being persecuted. Christ's suffering continues in His Body, the Church, because we live in a world redeemed but not yet saved.3 We too, in joining our sufferings to Christ, suffer for the sake of His Body (cf. Col 1:24). And indeed “he did this once for all when he offered himself” (Heb 7:27b). Thus we too “must present ourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Rom 12:1). This means that the suffering I experience in myself and others can be effective in Christ's saving work for the one who suffers (and even myself). When I share in the suffering of another I attempt to share in the suffering of both Christ and the individual.

1“For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning.”
2In Greek the verb “antanapleiro” also has the sense of “filling up” or “making full.”
3For while this present age is passing away (1 Cor 7:31) it is still in the process of doing so. We await the “glory to be revealed in us” (Rom 8:18).

In a special way keep Grace Oliver, 23, in your prayers as she battles cancer in the face of a very difficult diagnosis. While my words may express a cognative struggle with this issue, my words are shadows compared her words in the face of suffering and death. Please pray for her and please read what she has to write: Grace Oliver and Dumb Cancer

Monday, July 14, 2014

Seeds and the Soul

[The was originally preached at Sunday mass, 7/13/2014. The readings for that day may be found here: USCCB.]

As the rain falls down it does not return to the heavens until it has accomplished its task. So it is with God's word which he sends down to earth constantly. In our mass this day we receive God's word twice. The first is through Scripture, which teaches us about the history of God's saving work and reveals to us who we are. The second is Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. When we receive Him, not just in word but fully, He dwells in us and we in Him.

But consider for a moment how rain falls upon the earth. When it rains it falls on every sort of terrain: fertile soil, dry and cracked earth, grasslands, and forests. While fertile soil receives rain and produces fruit, the other sorts of terrain will produce little more than what they already have. Fertile soil needs to be prepared to receive rain and produce fruit. As you receive God's word this day, how have you prepared yourself to receive it? What will you do once you receive it?

Perhaps this story will aid you in meditating upon these questions:

There were once three neighbors who each had a plot of land behind their houses. The land was set up to be a garden. Because each had many concerns they left their gardens for another time. As time went on wild grass and weeds covered the whole area. One day, each neighbor was inspired to dedicate time to making their garden look as each one desired. After many long hours of toil the land was cleared and prepared. They took many types of seed, planted them, and they quickly grew. But then came trouble:

The first man became distracted by other concerns again. When he saw some of the weeds growing and how they had flowers he assumed that this was what he planted and let them grow. While the seeds he planted indeed grew the weeds and grass also grew up and consumed the whole garden once more.

The second man was more attentive. He made sure to pull weeds and care for the land. He took care of what he had planted diligently. One day, however, he had to leave on urgent business and left the garden unattended for a week. When he returned, his hard work had prevented everything from being lost but his garden was a mess and he lost much of his progress. When he asked his family, “Why did you not care for my garden?” they replied, “You never asked us to help you.”

The third man was as attentive as the second one. He cared for the land with great fervor. When a crisis arose that distracted him he told his family, “I am troubled by what has happened but I also fear that while I am away my garden will be destroyed and overrun. Will you help me care for it?” His family all helped him. When the crisis passed and he was once again able to focus on his garden he found that the many plants he had cultivated had now matured. His family rejoiced with him as the garden produced vegetables, spices, and flowers. He shared his produce with his family and even his neighbors and all praised him for his work.

Are you confused at all, brothers and sisters, as to the meaning of this parable? The garden is our soul and the seeds planted in them is the Word, Jesus Christ, and all he taught. God has also planted in us many kinds of virtues and talents which require diligence and effort. God does not give us anything fully mature, but only as a little seed.

The weeds are the many sinful inclinations each of us have. Some of them are small and can be easily uprooted. Others need to be held with both hands and ripped out. Some grow because we are inattentive. Others grow because they appear good and attractive. Whether big or small, if we are inattentive to our sins and our bad habits, they can overwhelm the good we have and they can set us back.

And how often, brothers and sisters, does work, illness, family issues, and stress take us away from our garden? The second man did not ask for help and when life turned him away from his soul he found that he had sunk back into his old habits. The one who sought help, who asked his loved ones to keep him honest and attentive when he couldn't be, returned to find his soul at peace and in it more mature fruits of the Holy Spirit.

Let us not fool ourselves, however, and say that every good thing we have is the work of our hands. God has given us the seeds and he sends forth the rain, His grace, to aid us in our life. But God has also given us the capacity to work alongside Him, to cultivate and personally own the good He has given us.

He teaches us through Scripture, but we must own Scripture for ourselves too. He has given us the saints to inspire us, but we too are called to be saints through a life of faithful endurance. He has given us the Church to guide and protect us when we falter, but we must also choose to walk with her. And God has given us His only Son and, when we receive Him, do we mean what we say when we say “Amen”?

So this day, my brothers and sisters, do not delay in entering the garden of your soul, preparing it to produce many good things. Indeed we all have harvested many good things already. When we discern what is good and what is evil and sinful we can catch ourselves before we're overrun. Rely and trust on each other, for we are all brothers and sisters in this one house and in this one, holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. It is then that we share in God's many gifts, being supported when we are burdened and supporting others who need us.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Hobby Lobby: Issues at Hand

The popularized conception of the Hobby Lobby case is that it's about contraception and, to a lesser extent, how big corporations are oppressing our women/pushing their antiquated beliefs on them. I hope to reflect a bit on the first and indirectly about the second.

There is a difference between medicines which are contraceptive as a side effect and those things which are contraceptive as for the sake of a lifestyle or sexual choice. Childbirth, and impregnation, are results of sex and thus natural, i.e., part of the natural process and natural conclusion of a natural act. Those things which impede the natural process as a side effect for the sake of a medical benefit are not the issue. Despite moral objections others or I may have to the actual reason for their use we cannot assume in any way that their use is intended for a moral evil. There do exist alternatives, of course, but at that point we can only suggest them.

One issue emerges, however, from paying for contraception not as a health issue but as a lifestyle choice. One example is that someone is likely to take contraception to impede natural processes if they desire to be sexually active. This sexual activity is not necessary for their health or well-being, however much it may (or may not) contribute to, enhance, or supplement their physical and emotional health. Indeed, increased sexual activity may also increase the risk of diminishing one's health. Regardless, this vision of health is not based on necessity but choice, and I think in these instances employers have reason to take issue. Furthermore, contraception that induces abortions, i.e., those contraceptives that disable the fertilized egg from implanting itself on the uterine wall is, according to others and my consciences, terminating a life.

There are strong cases that can be made scientifically that that fertilized egg is a human life, even if it does not have the capacity for action that a fully developed man has. Many argue that pregnancy begins at the moment the zygote is implanted, and that human life likewise begins here. This is based on other scientific reasoning, perhaps, but it is additionally based on popular beliefs that this life is worth “less” than the mother or that the fertilized egg is just “a mass of cells” as opposed to a human being.

No one is forcing anyone to believe one or the other is true by this ruling, but it is forcing those who want these abortofacients that we do not share this definition that they have, even if the phenomena of the fertilized egg occurs in the woman who believes it is not a human life.

Sadly, to us, she may still choose to abort this child. At the very least we who hold very strongly that this zygote is a human life in no way desire to participate formally (by consent) or materially (by providing proximate or satellite means) in that termination of life. This particular ruling with Hobby Lobby confirms this belief.

This being said, matters are not always as clear as they appear, even after bringing about better distinctions about what this case is and is not about.

This ruling, then, is not about denying a woman's health. I also believe that there has been for some time and that there should be a more public discussion about what dissenters of this ruling define “health” as, especially how they describe purely contraceptive/abortofacient means as “health”—I can only see them defining contraceptives as a form of preventative health, which to me is a curious evaluation of health (the term) anyhow.

Likewise, I think the great disagreements over this case, often encapsulated by the popular phrase “Keep my boss out of my bedroom,” also strikes at the heart of the public practice-private beliefs issue. In short, our private beliefs inform our public practices. To claim that they could ever be truly separate is at worst a lie and at best a delusion. Any discussion of justice or rights comes from living together and discovering which values are best for the common good and not which values merely allow each to have what he wants—this perhaps is a biggest disagreement and is an answer that has yet to be found, ever. This claim, however, strikes at the heart of the matter. Where we would like to construct a value system that gave us what we wanted, our values may inevitably conflict with the beliefs and values of others.

We could, as some have tried, to struggle so that our values are so valueless that each gets what he wants. Human beings, however, do not regard beliefs as valueless. Even the desire as some to find the perfect value-neutral rules hold these rules as having supreme legal, personal, or rational value. Ultimately, if the Hobby Lobby case has taught us anything, is that we as men and women living together in society can not escape a serious discussion about values. Public policy and the common good don't make sense otherwise.


I would also highly recommend this article by

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Theology of Suffering

When I was a teenager and with the Boy Scouts (i.e., Venture Scouts) I went to Manatoba, Canada to do a Northern Tier trek, a canoeing expedition. We arrived at a small town with a population of about 90. We got on a little puddle-jumper plane, they flew us over the beautiful landscape, and dropped us off in the middle of a lake. We told them where we planned to be in 10 days and off we went. About two days into the trip we were going along a river with high reeds on either side. We stopped and discussed our path at a fork in the road: take a 2-mile detour by canoe or portage through a wet area. Our guide told us that the portage would be about “a third of a mile” and the water would be “maybe up to your knees.” Needless to say neither of these things were the case. The portage may have been one of the most miserable experiences I've had. Mud, water that was at times up to my hips, hidden branches that tripped me, caught me, and at one point could have cased me to drown. I was at best 150 pounds and was carrying at least 35-40 pounds of equipment plus heavy, wet clothes. Some three hours later, after a lot of cursing and frustration, we made our destination with still a lot of travel left in our day.

This situation captures the feelings I have towards a theology of suffering. Indeed, from a distance things may seem simple and we can reassure ourselves about the probable course of suffering, at least until we get there.  I consider the looming task before me as I begin CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) where every seminarian spends a summer intensive at a hospital doing hospital chaplaincy. Therein we are spiritual care providers to anyone and everyone. Here we may confront traumatized patients, broken families, and frustrated staff members. Any theology is informed by experience and yet suffering is surprisingly one of our weakest theologies.  While it is true that we all suffer and have experienced the suffering of others it also seems to be the case that we attempt to distract ourselves from the ultimate reality that suffering reveals: death.

It is hard to accept that suffering is natural despite it being perhaps the most natural things of all. Suffering in a very profound way helps us to understand the Cross but it is not enough to speak in moral platitudes or theological maxims. Indeed, Christians receive the whole repertoire of “God will not leave you” or “God is with you.” There is likewise the common and, in my opinion, misguided phrase “offer it up” comes up frequently. However true these sentiments may seem, I have found that in my own experience they alienate rather than alleviate. Certainly some complaints and problems are minor and are annoyances to others—being a complainer myself I know all too well it can wear on people. Yet sometimes minor problems reveal something deeper, namely our struggle with suffering, death, and our perception of what we “deserve” in this life. I call to mind those famous words

My soul is full of troubles … I am reckoned like those who go down to the pit … like the slain that lie in the grave … your wrath lays heavy upon, and you overwhelm me with all your waves. … Every day I call to you, O Lord; I spread out my hands to you. … O Lord why do you cast me off? Why do you hide your face from me? … Your wrath has swept over me; your dread assaults destroy me. They surround me like a flood all day long; they close in upon me together. You have caused loved one and friend to shun me; my only companion is darkness” (cf. Ps 88).

And, moreover, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Mt 27:46). Indeed this very quote of Jesus is from Psalm 22. While verses 22-31 speak of God's faithfulness, His glory, and how he lifts up the afflicted. Nevertheless we have to get through the first twenty one verses. Suffering can be reduced to something superficial, where minor injuries aren't that important, and where feelings of hopelessness are addressed by telling someone to have hope.

The Incarnation is a theology that includes the Cross. “Incarnation” makes us think of Christ sharing in our humanity, but what has he shared in? In the hospital “incarnation” and “cross” have met: blood, broken bones, hopelessness, fear, pain, defecation, a loss of control, abandonment, betrayal, schism, and waiting in silence. As a chaplain it would seem like we're sent into this circumstance and situation to life people out of this mire but in a strange we we are not asked to lift up but step down into it. In that strange and wonderful way we, by sinking into the depths we also lift to the heights. Why? Because by acknowledging suffering, experiencing it, and by experiencing it with others we do lift each other up. Perhaps this is why the phrase “Duc in altum” (Lk 5:4) can both mean “go into the depths” and “go to the heights.”

No one catches fish without first casting your line to the depth they swim at. We don't experience the Resurrection if we don't experience the Cross. Christ can not redeem all unless he had sunken lower than all.

It would seem strange that in a place of death or, at the very least, a place entrenched in its inescapable realities I might find life. Most of all I'm called to love these people and consider their life, counted by the world as pitiable and worthless, with a sort of divine dignity. May the Son who died for all give us all life, even if we have to walk through the muck first.

Monday, May 26, 2014


Note: This was a homily I gave on the weekend of May 25th, 2014. If you would like to readings for the day that I used you can find them here. While not necessary they are a good aid for what follows.

“Be prepared to give an account of the hope in in you … with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet 3:15-16a). I've recently been able to visit the school where I grew up and the school from my internship. In going to these classrooms the kids eventually open up to me with various questions. Things from as simple as “Why do you wear all black?” and “Why do you wear a collar?” to questions as deep and penetrating as “Why did Jesus have to die for us?” and “Why did Jesus have to come when he did?” It reminds me all the more, especially as I grow older: “Be prepared to give an account of the hope in you.” Our hope is in Jesus Christ, through whom all things were created. How do we come to know the source and reason for our hope? By keeping his commandments, Jesus says, and in keeping them close to our hearts we will also grow in love of Him.

Still others may ask us, “Why do you believe in Jesus? Why do you waste your time on Sunday? Why don't you choose for yourself what's right and what's wrong?” While not necessarily the case, these questions will come from those who neither believe in Jesus not know Him. Nevertheless these are all questions that we need to answer for ourselves.

Jesus, however, has not left us as orphans. He has given us an Advocate, the Holy Spirit. This is the same Spirit who spoke through the prophets and the holy Apostles, the Spirit who is “the giver of life.” Jesus promises us the same Spirit. How then does He send this Spirit? It is no mistake that in our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles (cf. Acts 8:5-17) those who came to believe in Christ received the Holy Spirit from Peter and John. Phillip brought the word of Christ to Samaria—a land to the north—and those who heard came to believe. Yet they sent for Peter and John who were in Jerusalem, in the south, to visit them. They prayed for the Holy Spirit to visit them and they accomplished this task by the laying on of hands.
While not necessarily the route Peter and John took, it's important to recall the animosity between Samaria and Jerusalem dating back many centuries (at that time) and that the notion of both those of Jewish and Samaritan descent would be united was quite unusual.

What does this teach us? It teaches us that we receive the Spirit through the Church, and not just the church we all are in today, though indeed we receive it here. We receive the Spirit, rather, though the Church of our fathers, the community of believers from ancient times to the present day in union with one another. Phillip, though he was an Apostle himself, sought Peter and John to confirm the faith of the Samarians so that the believers in both the south and the north would be one through the same prayer and the same Spirit.

But perhaps some will ask, “Doesn't our faith alone make us one? Why do we need the Church?” I answer to them that just as we could not exist without our mother our faith could not exist without our mother, the Church. Just as we have received life as a gift we must also give our lives as a gift. In the same way we have received our faith as a gift, given to us through those who believe. Parents might understand this analogy best, but all of us are sons and daughters so I believe we can all relate to this fact: we receive our traits from our parents and as we grow older we resemble the features of our parents. Moreover we also find that, deep down, our children inherit our mannerisms, our attitudes, and our dispositions. If this is true then it is indeed also true that our faith is the same. In living Jesus' commandments we transform ourselves and we inherit His traits, His dispositions, and imitate Him more closely. And when we as adults do this we give this to our children so they might also resemble Christ a little bit more each day. Our hope, then, is that by inheriting these things they may also inherit His very image as sons and daughters of God.

Through all this we discover this truth: faith is not a private possession but a gift that is handed down from generation to generation. The Church aids us in handing down this faith through her sacraments, her prayers, and by her members (us included) who safeguard this precious gift and offer it to everyone.

We will all return to our own lives, our own problems, and our own homes in a very short while. But we are one in Christ's Body, the Church. The Spirit will come to us when we pray as one, united to the whole Body of Christ. Jesus, truly, will not leave us as orphans. He has given us a home this very day.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Mother's Day and the Good Shepherd

Note: I realize it's been two months since I posted. This is mostly because of the whirlwind we came back to in Chicago after our 9 week trip to the Holy Land. I was greeted with 2 exams, one language the other comprehensive, 3 papers, and my ordination to the diaconate. Now that this is all over I have a little breathing room. This is the first homily I gave, slightly edited. Please enjoy! Attached are the reading for this past Sunday.
From my first mass. (I'm on the left)

After being ordained on May 10th I talked to a number of people. I spoke with one of the little Oblate Sisters of Jesus the Priest and thanked her for her service and her prayers. Her words were simple, "We are always praying for you." She then added, "Be holy."

While this is good advice for me it's good advice for us as well: Be holy.

Holiness has many aspects, but one aspect relevant for today is that we recognize God in all moments of our life or, another way of putting it, is recognizing that God has always been with us along the way.

When considering this it is profitable this Mother's Day to think of the mothers, grandmothers, wives, and women who are there and were there in our lives. It's even more profitable to use these experiences of such women as an image that reflects God's love.

The prophet Isaiah says, "Can a mother forget her child, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even if she should forget, I will never forget you" (Is 49:15). God's love for us is compared to that of a mother's love for her child, if not stronger, and we all know how strong a mother's love is. Moreover, God says through the prophet Hosea, "It was I who taught Ephriam how to walk, who took them in my arms" (Hos 11:3). Remember the joy, excitement, and wonder you had seeing your child's first steps? Know that God has this same affection for each of you. Lastly, call to mind a mother or father who hold their children in their arms. Hear the Lord's words: "The Lord your God, who goes before you is the one who will fight for you ... and in the wilderness you saw how [I] carried you, as one carries his own child, all along your journey" (Dt 1:30, 31). The child they hold depends on them, feels safe in their arms, and loves them with simplicity, so too with your own children. This is our relationship with God who holds us in His hands.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, walks before us. He cares for us and watches over us. Priests, and now me as a deacon, are called to be shepherds as Christ is: to love all of you as Christ does, to live His Gospel as a model for you so you can recognize the Good Shepherd's voice when he calls each of you by name.

Pray for us priests and deacons this holy day, for the sheep need their shepherd and the shepherd his sheep. May we all live and grow in love and peace to have life and have it more abundantly.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

My Desire for Marriage

(Note: I've made some major revisions to this piece, mostly attempting to add clarity to my message and fixing up some diction. ~M, 3/15/2014)

As I approach ordination to the Diaconate after 12 years in the seminary it's easy to think about the many “what ifs” in my life. Things such as career, money, jobs, a wife, children, and even a permanent home are things I've given up in pursuit of this call. A call, however, is both something desirable and undesirable. When it comes to vocations I call to mind that “when you were young, you fastened your own belt and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will fasten your belt for you and carry you where you do not wish to go” (Jn 21:18). Any walk of life requires sacrifice and any vocation, in my view, goes against the grain of our desires.

While the Apostle Matthew was called, “rose and followed him” (Mt 9:9), this is not true of all followers. Calls demand a response, not necessarily a wholehearted desire for the content of that call. Peter himself said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Lk 5:8). Isaiah lamented, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lip in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (Is 6:5a). Jeremiah complained, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth!” (Jer 1:6). All types of people are represented in Scripture. The overwhelming majority are those who aren't too keen to do what God has asked of them—it's not bad to see ourselves in them.
As Matthew's expression illustrates, "How could you choose me?"

The Lord responds to our response. “Do not be afraid” (Lk 5:10). “Whom shall I send?” (Is 6:8). “To all to whom I send you you shall go, and whatever I command you to speak I shall speak” (Jer 1:7). The formula of God's call is uniform: He reassures us and says, “Do I send whom I have not chosen?” (cf., Is 42:1). This is true because “it was not you who chose me, but I who chose you” (Jn 15:16). Then he tells us rather bluntly, “You will do as I command” (cf., Dt 12:32). We must confront the reality that life is not what I want but what God wants in His time and in His way. Prayer sharpens our hearing, but it is time, grace, and the Church that makes us desire His will as if it were our own.

The call is, for some, a process of constant humiliation, disappointment, frustration, and difficulties. Yet, “Await God's patience, cling to him to do not depart, that you may be wise in all your ways. Accept whatever is brought upon you, and endure it in sorrow; in changes that humble you be patient. For gold and silver are tested in the fire, and acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation” (Sir 2:3-5).

I know what awaits me from others moving forward: disrespect, hatred, dismissive attitudes, and many other things. I know that in my own heart there is a fear of timidness, complacency, and apathy. Yet God has cared for me with those who love me. He has cared for my heart by giving me peace, courage, faith, and hope. I've come to find that all things in me are good but not fulfilled. No one can fulfill himself and love is never fulfilled except from outside of myself. This is His gift to me: the love of God and neighbor is my own fulfillment.

Having given up everything to follow Him I approach a new chapter in my life: sacrificing personal desire for the sake of those sheep whom Christ said to feed and shepherd. I will soon experience this call and experience it with the people of God, and there are many trials and many blessings herein.

As I prayed about these things in my heart I called to mind the couples that I will marry. I called to mind that they too are called and respond as all men do to God's call. I thought of my friends with children and the unique opportunity that having children offers in your life, but I also considered the many trials they will experience. In a life that is, by necessity, “focused on the things of this world” (cf. 1 Cor 7:33-34). What hope is there for a married couple and, I thought, what could I say to them to take the concrete experiences of their life and see God?

This, then, is my desire for marriage: that couples reflect on the fact that their relationship truly reflects the Divine Life and to keep this close to their heart throughout their own trials.

Only parents can experience God as a parent. Reflect that God calls us sons and daughters, too. A child comes forth in pain, crying, but it is met with love. The child is needy, depriving sleep from one's eyes and peace from one's mind, yet it is loved because it is life and the “fruit of my body” (cf., Dt 28:4). Throughout his or her life, their suffering is your suffering, their anxieties are your anxieties, and their joy is your joy. When they are sick you heal them. When they are scared they run to you. When they are arrogant they turn from you. When they are bad they anger you. When they are away they sadden you. Through it all these emotions are intensified because of the love with which you first loved them.

Your spouse, the one whom you love, was a co-creator and cooperator in your own love. You share life and you share hardships, even if each one bears it unevenly. Your love changes you and it is completed by being received and then returned. This too is the life of grace. This is a life of faith in as concrete a manner as one can experience it. This is the God of the Old Testament and New in as intimate, reasonable, and accessible way as one can approach it.

Any child becomes a sign of God's covenant with His people. Know that your feelings for your child are merely a fraction of what God feels for you. Yet despite your child's suffering that result from his wickedness, from misfortune, or persecution your love for him remains undaunted. If a mother or father's love can endure evil and even death, how much more does God's love endure through our sins and the sins of of the world!

Jesus promises that “his burden is easy” and his yoke light (Mt 11:30). Life has shown us that it is not easy. “Much labor was created for every man, and a heavy yoke is upon the sons of Adam” (Sir 40:1). Christ said this, however, because not only is this life of imitating God possible, it is peace for the soul. For “when a woman is in labor, she has pain because her hour has come; but when she is delivered of the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a child is born into the world” (Jn 16:21). This is love God shows to those who return to Him, love and peace we all have access to.

Life for both of us, ordained or married, is a unique call from the others. It is indeed a life of responsibility unlike any other. This is a gift given to us, even if it doesn't always seem good or desirable. All life is a gift, no matter the type, since we are all pilgrims on one path—may our feet not stray! We have all been called.

His response is simple: Be not afraid, follow me.
Let it happen to me according to your word.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Holocaust Reflection : Reflection on Us

Visiting the Holocaust Museum is a difficult subject, especially in Israel. Unlike many museums which are houses of a people's history and triumph, this museum is a walk through a people's history and suffering. The Holocaust stands as a mark of identity for modern-day Jews just as World War II stands as a mark of identity for most Westerners of the past three generations (born 1910-1995).

We are now moving into the third and fourth generations past the Holocaust and WWII, where things such as “Nazi” and “Communist” and people such as Hitler and Stalin have become more of a byword than a warning for future generations. Many people are all too likely to associate government actions with the Nazi party and many people are just as ready to roll their eyes.

When visiting Yad Vashem (the site of the Museum) I entered with a reverent and somber silence, in my mind befitting such a chapter of our human history. I found it odd, then, to find teenagers in there laughing, boyfriend and girlfriend attempting to have an intimate moment in the shadow of child torture, or as some friends cited, a teenager goosestepping out of the museum.

This is our humanity: how quickly we forget, how quickly we stop caring.

As we all grow older and as time marches forward we find how chilling and correct these words are: “For of the wise man as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten” (Ecc 2:16a).
Part of the ministry of Yad Vashem is to give some sort of remembrance to the names and people who were lost.

It's easy to blame these kids, but such is the time, era, and maturity we all came from. Some grow up to recognize immaturity, others grow into immaturity.

One important lesson I took from the Holocaust and the museum is prefaced by the following statements:

1) Ordinary men and women did horrible things out of fear, vice, coercion, and sometimes all three.

2)Both religion and science were used as tools to carry out this exercise; any blame of one or the other would be dishonest and folly.

The important lesson to take from such a chapter of our history is to see ourselves in that history. This is not to see you or I caused the Holocaust, but to see how, in the human condition, vice and sin caused it, as it causes the greatest tragedies.

Fear keeps us from doing good, but vice helps us to spread evil. Many will say, “I haven't killed anyone, I haven't stolen anything. I'm a good person!” History seems to say, “Just give yourself a chance.”

How easy it is to call ourselves enlightened, intelligent, and wise in the face of such things. It would be unwise to see the little evils we allow in our own lives as “good” just because they aren't “really bad.” The road to great evils begins with tolerating small evils. In my mind the easiest source of determining evil begins with the dignity of the human person.

In any era and in any place the first people to suffer, in good times or bad, are the ones who are despised and defenseless. This can be the unborn, the abused, the poor, addicts, or the mentally disabled. Furthermore they can be, in the right circumstances, those imprisoned, homosexuals, religious, or even a-religious.

Many evils are carried out for greater goods or ideologies that don't need wrinkles—and while it's easy to blame religion alone in this sphere, anything secular or otherwise would subscribe to folly if they thought it was true.

Even more evils are carried out because we lack the ability to forgive and seek forgiveness. An open wound festers, but a bound wound has a chance to heal. I find that this is the hardest thing to learn: forgiveness and self-forgiveness.

Humanity likes to see itself in great triumphs and accomplishments, but it's much harder to look in the mirror when it's something disfigured and horrible. But in looking upon it there is also healing. In accepting the evil we do and converting from it there is progress.

We rightly pray this Lent for mercy because we need it, and we know we do. “My sacrifice to God is a contrite spirit, a humbled and contrite heart you will not spurn” (Ps 51:17).

This Lent say a special prayer for the many families and lives ruined or lost by war and evil.

Friday, February 21, 2014

A Moral about Seeing

The city of Bethlehem.

As we walked through the streets of Bethlehem we talked about getting a cup of coffee. We had just bought some icons and were looking at the face of this city, both ancient and modern. The street was a mixture of vendors, cars, taxis, and travelers. We walked up a hill and as we walked a saw a small child, no more than 8 or 9, pushing a shopping cart up this stone street. He would get over a few stones only to be halted by gravity and his own lack of strength.

We reached the top of the hill and I stopped. They said, “What's up?” I responded, “Did you see that kid?” They said, “No.” I handed my bag to a friend and walked up to the kid. He didn't speak English but I pointed to his cart and asked if he wanted help. He said yes, perhaps thinking I asked “Is this yours?”

I pulled the cart of the hill—it was empty and a light task for a grown man. I motioned to him to follow me. I stopped at the top and I gave him a smile. He stared at me, saying nothing, and I couldn't decipher it as a sign of thanks, disappointment, or anger. It was a strange face. Two of the other guys, my friends who were looking on, gave their hand for a high-five (or fives of some kind) and the kid reciprocated—so he must have been a little happy.

We went on our way to get a cup of coffee. One said, “That was a particularly Christian thing to do.” This was in the shadow of the birth place of our Lord. Another noted, “I didn't even see him.”

The moral is not a tale of my virtue. What I did was minor and most likely of little consequence. What is important is how, even in holy places and in the company of friends, how easy it is to simply not see others. Others who suffer from hunger, injustice, or from simply going on unseen.

It is not merely sin, that is an active form of rebellion that progresses evil in the world. A lack of seeing and, when we see, inaction that stunts the growth of love. My friends did not act because they did not see. I saw, so how could I not act if my conscience has been formed by God—by “observing his decrees” (Dt 4:40) and “walking in his ways” (Ps 128:1)?

Being attentive to the world advances love when we respond as we are able. “You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands” (128:2) so “practice justice, love compassion, and be prepared to walk with the Lord your God” (Mic 6:8).

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Ein Gedi: Near to Him

Ein Gedi is an oasis in the desert near the Dead Sea. We walked one of the paths of Ein Gedi which was hewn into the rock. A small stream of water ran alongside the path, cascading down a number of tiny waterfalls as we walked up. Right beside this water, lukewarm in the sun and cool in the shade, was green vegetation. In the same valley, just meters away (and sometimes mere inches), the terrain returned to its normal image: rocks, dust, sparse and barely-surviving vegetation. Apart from the area near the water nothing looked desirable.

As we walked upward we came to a place where the path and the water met. There was a tunnel, about five feet high and seven feet wide, formed out of rocks on the bottom and reeds/roots on top. The air was immediately cooler and the smell of, perhaps, fresh straw minus the farm became apparent. Further still were pools of water and similar tunnels. We finally arrived at the highest point we could walk to and there was a waterfall. It wasn't immediately impressive, coming out of the rock like water from a faucet as opposed to large waterfalls as we're accustomed to think. The rocks formed like a roof over the area covered with thick vines and rich vegetation. Apart from the water it was silent and peaceful. The air was even a bit cooler now and I took a while to reflect in prayer how this very place has been used in Scripture.

I give this description to help you walk, in some small way, the path I walked. It is amazing to consider that in the following passages the inspired authors had the very place I had walked in mind. They themselves had visited this place, a safe haven for travelers and a place of repose for the weary. But rather than simply reflect on comfort, they saw the land itself tell a story and teach a lesson. Here I offer, weak though I am, my reflection on the beauty they saw and, more importantly, how one may learn about God.

“My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms in the vineyards of Ein Gedi … As a lilly among brambles, so is my love among maidens. As an apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among young men” (Song of Songs, 1:14, 2:2-3).

God says to Wisdom, “Make your dwelling in Jacob … among your chosen people put down your roots” (Sir 24:8b).

Wisdom replies, “I grew tall like a pine tree in Ein Gedi” (24:14)

A famous scene between Saul and King David takes place in the caves in Ein Gedi. As Saul leaves, his life spared by David, David emerges from the cave holding the tassel he had cut and shouts out to Saul proclaiming that he had done no harm to him though God had delivered Saul into his hands. He says, “Know and see today that it is not evil in my hands, nor injustice and a breach of trust, and that I have not sinned against you” (1 Sam 24:11).

Ein Gedi is mentioned other times but in these three passages it is spoken about most explicitly. We find that Ein Gedi, its landscape, is a living analogy of love, wisdom, as well as mercy and reconciliation.

Ein Gedi was chosen as a portrait for three important virtues that help us grow closer to God. Just as everything quickly dies and turns to desert when it is far away from the water so too does this happen to all things that are far from these virtues. Ein Gedi is a place of contradictions.

Beauty without love is ugliness.
Knowledge without wisdom is ignorance.
Justice without mercy and forgiveness is tyranny.

Ein Gedi was chosen as a portrait of life being nearness to God. Everything apart from him, even the greatest virtues, die quickly and turn to a desert waste. Ein Gedi is a place of contradictions and that which we hold dear is placed in stark contrast with a new truth.

Money without God is poverty.
Harmony without God is cacophony.
Life without God is death.

Think of every good thing in your life—because God is in your life—everything, even trials, may be a source of joy for you. Without God even your accomplishments will be a source of grief.

The inspired authors saw this and this beautiful spot teaches this. It stands as a living symbol for this truth:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind (Dt 6:5)