Oct 31, 2009

Your Favorite Saint...

Since it is all Saints Day I started to reflect on my favorite saints today and Fran from the Parish Blog of St Edwards had asked the same question of people on facebook. Paul Snatchko made a good point about it's like picking your favorite child--you just can't do it.

But I'd like to focus on two...

St Ignatius of Loyola is certainly one saint who has been a great influence on my life, not only because of his great intellectual contribution to the church but because he wanted his followers to be "contemplatives in action."

Ignatius, a gallant soldier who was wounded and who had a profound conversion while recovering wanted his followers to be "men for others (and today we would add women to that mix)." So instead of locking themselves away in a monastery and praying the liturgy of the hours for the world, Ignatius wanted to be different. He wanted to maintain that prayerfulness while having his followers interact with the world.

That's the real part of Ignatian spirituality that is attractive to me--being in the world but yet being a person of prayer. As a spiritual director, I hope that I can help people see God working in their everyday life.

The Spiritual Exercises resulted from that initial experience of being in the world. In particular, the Examen of Consciousness, a daily review of our actions focused on grace and thankfulness to God, became a maxim for the Jesuits who found it too difficult to keep up with the monastic liturgy of the hours due to the demands of the world being so great. Ignatius bound them to do the Examen daily, especially if they had no prayed at all that day. It is something that I often do in my own life. I try daily, usually when walking the dog or late a night after my wife has retired before I join her in bed. But thanks to the good St Ignatius I have been educated and continue to connect with God in my daily life--a great reminder and a great gift for us all.

I have a superficial but yet profound reason for liking St Ignatius: he's bald! Folks say I resemble him--but it's when I pray that they mention this.

Because when I pray, I cry.

Tears flow easily when I pray. I can't explain it and I no longer am embarrassed by them. The tears are signs of the spirit and that God and I are intimately connecting, most of the time through others but sometimes in quiet and stillness too. This is something that Ignatius was in touch with as well. He called it the gift of tears and in fact, he said we should pray to be so moved in prayer. I often would say that if it is a gift I'd like to give it back. But now, I would not exchange it for the world. Because it is an expression of my soul. Thank you, Father Ignatius.

The second is St Joseph--the foster father of Jesus. In many ways he is the saint of the short shrift. We don't know much of Joseph. We know he was an artisan of some sort, a tradesman who worked with his hands. Traditionally we used the word carpenter to describe him but he held a more intricate position than that some scholars say.

He reminds me of my own father, an unskilled laborer who worked for a living in helping his family make ends meet. Often my dad didn't get enough credit for all he did for us and as he has aged, I'm starting to appreciate that more and more.

It is no surprise that I have ended up at a parish named after St Joseph with an Ignatian college not far away as well. The best of both worlds as far as I can see. Our Pope Benedict is also a Joseph, his given name and his papacy thus far holds the same promise that I think Joseph must've felt at the prospect of fostering Jesus: a daunting responsibility but also an anticipation of the great prospect of what lies ahead. We also tried adopting at one point and while it didn't quite work out the way I would've liked, I learned so much about my own gifts and responsibilities and got in deep touch with St Joseph's experience.

Joseph for me is all about anticipation. And anticipation often means that we remain in the tension of not knowing what comes next. Joseph presumably died before he could see the promise of the resurrection--a common motif amongst prophets and other searchers. But the fact that Jesus and Mary lived a long time when both poverty as well as infant and child mortality was extremely high in their culture points towards Joseph's care and contribution for his family. He is a saint that the working class should come to love and resonate with especially in today's economic climate.

So today let us pray to our favorite saints for they hold something personal and special for us all.

Who's your favorite saint? And how have you connected with him or her so intimately?

Thanks to Chantal Stain Glass patterns for the pic of St Joseph.

An Interview with the Exorcist

My old boss, Fr Dave Dwyer, CSP, did this interview on The Catholic Channel on Sirius with Fr. Gary Thomas, the exorcist for the Diocese of San Jose. He has performed exorcisms and talks about what's real, what's Hollywood invention, what is Catholic teaching? And what is the difference between possession and mental illness.

Recently the book The Rite came out which details Fr Gary's training as a Vatican certified exorcist. It's a great book and while I was at best, agnostic on this piece of our tradition (Meaning, I'm not sure what I believed), Fr Gary and the author Matt Baglio did a great job of clearing up misconceptions and convincing me that something is indeed real and compelling here.

Check it out at this link

Oct 30, 2009

Mandatory Reading for Anyone Who Does Ministry With Millennial Catholics: Young Catholics Are Not TALIBAN CATHOLICS

Amen, Amen I say unto you, John Allen of NCR. As usual, he gets the actual story accurately. I'm taking partial credit for this article because this is EXACTLY what my book Googling God says and John served on the board at BustedHalo®. So I assume my influence and the appropriate back slapping has ensued.

I reflected on the next generation of Catholic leaders. Most empirical data has pegged this cohort of young priests, religious and lay activists as more "conservative," and there's a good deal of truth to that claim. In general, they're more attracted to traditional modes of devotion and prayer, less resistant to ecclesiastical authority, and less inclined to challenge church teaching and discipline.

Yet, I argued, slapping the label "conservative" on all this is potentially misleading, because it assumes an ideological frame of reference, as if younger Catholics are picking one side or the other in the church's version of the culture wars. My sense is that these young people are not so much reacting to (or against) anything in the church, but rather secular culture. In a nutshell, they're seeking identity and stability in a world that seems to offer neither.

Proof of the point comes when you drill with these young Catholics. You'll find they often hold views on a wide variety of issues -- such as the environment, war and peace, the defense of the poor and of immigrants, and the death penalty -- which don't really fit the ideological stereotype.

These observations are hardly unique to me, of course, but I included them because I wanted to issue a plea to Catholics my age and older.

This new generation seems ideally positioned to address the lamentable tendency in American Catholic life to drive a wedge between the church's pro-life message and its peace-and-justice commitments. More generally, they can help us find the sane middle between two extremes: What George Weigel correctly calls "Catholicism lite," meaning a form of the faith sold out to secularism; and what I've termed "Taliban Catholicism," meaning an angry expression of Catholicism that knows only how to excoriate and condemn. Both are real dangers, and the next generation seems well-equipped to steer a middle course, embracing a robust sense of Catholic identity without carrying a chip on their shoulder.

That's assuming, however, that the best and brightest of today's young Catholics aren't prematurely sucked into the older generation's debates -- either by liberals who fear and resent them, or by conservatives eager to enroll them as foot soldiers in their private crusades.

Read the rest here and a further comment from me....

Many people in the younger generation might fall prey to being "co-opted" into one camp or the other when those stuck in the camps of the left or the right take advantage of those who don't have a strong sense of self. What ends up developing is a reliance on a "trusted source" that leads them into an "unthinking piety" on the right or an "action over prayer/ritual mentality" on the left. What really ends up happening to those in the middle who feel forced to choose one side or the other is frustration with older people's baggage and issues.

And what the result is...

They choose nothing. No religion, just an informal spirituality. They become "spiritual but not religious" but long for what could be.

Today let us pray that we have the courage to accept young people where they are and move them into love. Love for the church, love for others, love for Jesus and the love that Jesus had for all. They want to be inspired. But they often are not.

Thanks to John Allen and NCR for an excellent article.

Oct 29, 2009

Oh My God...This Looks Interesting

A movie where they ask what the heck is God? Check out the trailer:

Sure to be a conversation starter.

10 Groups We Should Take Better Care of Before the Anglicans

Welcoming the Anglicans should take a backseat to welcoming Hispanic Catholics. So says Paul Snatchko over at Between the Burg and the City.

I also think that, for the Catholic Church in the United States, the need to accommodate Anglican-Catholics is much less pressing than the need to better minister to the millions of Spanish-speaking Catholics. (I go to a lot of Catholic conferences. FYI, it's not a British accent that I'm hearing.)

Paul makes a good point. In fact it's so good that I came up with 9 more people that we should be welcoming into the fold BETTER and BEFORE the Anglicans.

1) Hispanic Catholics: As Paul said the church will soon be 50% hispanic. But it's not fair to lump all hispanics into one demo. There are literally dozens of different cultural experiences that exist within hispanic culture. The Cubans express their faith much differently than the Dominicans do. The Mexicans are far different from the Puerto Ricans. Central Americans are different than South Americans and those from Spain are even more of a different culture. We haven't come close to identifying how best to reach all of these different peoples. Instead we simply call all of them Hispanic and we start putting things out in Spanish. Now that's not a poor start but we need to think more deeply about this.

2) Young Adults: Duh. Surveys show that even smaller amounts of Millennial Catholics in their 20s generally speaking, go to weekly mass than their predecessor 30 and 40 something Generation Xers. We don't do a good job of engaging them into parish life or teaching them about the faith that most were poorly catechized into. I doubt that many have thought critically about where they see God working in their lives and there are oodles of unchurched people that we do absolutely nothing with that are hungering for meaning.

3) Married Couples: We run them through several hoops for a sacrament but don't really do our best to a) make their day a special one, b) get to know them well or c) engage them in parish life. Many are marrying outside the faith and outside the church because they make it convenient for them. How do we engage and not be annoying so that they feel inconvenienced?

4) Teens: Sure we have youth groups, but how many of them know people in their parish? How many of them are asked to lector on a regular basis or provide a service for the elderly? How many of them can articulate where they see God working in their lives?

5) Pan-Asian Catholics: This is the second largest demographic and like the hispanics we have several differences. Those from the Philippines are quite different from those in China or Japan. There are loads of young people in Hawaii and Tonga and more of those island nations who mix their culture with their religion in beautiful ways that we forget about all too often.

6) Young Priests: Stop laughing. These guys are being thrown to the wolves. Young priests are poorly prepared for church management and some have little pastoral skills and come in feeling like they have to lord their priesthood over their parishioners. They get a quick wake up call and then reassignment is not far off. Young priests are raised to pastor much faster today and many don't know the first thing about managing a parish. Which leads me to my next group...

7) Religious Women: Let's face facts. If it weren't for religious women, the church wouldn't exist today. They've kept schools running and do much of the work in the parish that needs getting done. They haven't been appreciated as much as they need to be. In my new parish, I'm not sure what they'd do with Sr. jeremy, one of our pastoral associates. She keeps so many items juggling in the air and makes it look seemless.

8) Bishops: Again stop laughing. Bishops are faced with much and like their younger priest counterparts many get raised to their Bishopric without being prepared to be a chief administrator. I think this is a huge reason that the sex scandal was so huge in the United States. These guys weren't ready. Did they make huge mistakes? Yes. Should they be punished for that? Yes. But could those mistakes have been avoided? Most certainly.

9) Contemplatives: In a world filled with noise we crave the quiet and therefore the contemplatives amongst us should be revered as wisdom figures who have much to teach us. Go watch the movie Into Great Silence and then sigh at the beauty that is contemplative life.

10) THE PARISH SECRETARY/RECEPTIONIST/ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT: Whoever is the first line of contact for people who call us. This is the person that many form their opinion of our parish based on. And she or he does much to make the parish a welcoming place. We hope. When this position is not taken seriously, we end up in big trouble. I called a parish I was familiar with the other day and asked for a long time youth minister from the receptionist and he didn't know who she was.
Do we take the time to train and make these people feel welcome?

There's more but I'll leave the rest to you...who else should we welcome?

Marriage for Anglican Priests is OK...But Then Why Not for Catholic Deacons?

I've been silent on the Vatican's recent proclamation about welcoming married Anglican priests into Catholicism who are disenfranchised with their denomination's ordinations of women and homosexuals.

While I'm not sure that the reason for including these priests into our fold, is the main reason we should be welcoming them into Catholicism, I'm also excited to see what the end result is of having more men in the priesthood who do not have to exercise celibacy.

But a larger question looms, we have welcomed married men who have had differences with us into our priestly ministry, but what about offering permanent deacons the same option?

I certainly want to uphold the ministry of deacon as a distinct calling and if celibacy was optional tomorrow, I would hope that many deacons continue to be deacons and not just become priests. Their distinctiveness is something that we should honor and be joyful for their ministry. However, might some of these Deacons felt called to the priesthood and simply chose the diaconate because they had no other option when it comes to ordained ministry? I would wonder why those who have been long time Catholics not be extended the same welcome?

Might we think about those who might feel this way and offer them an opportunity to re-examine their ministry because after all a Deacon has been a loyal Catholic and perhaps have struggled with this for some time.

While I would think most Deacons wouldn't take the option, I do think that those that would at least want to examine what their call has manifested itself into and see if they really feel called to the diaconate or if they are only become deacons because they can't be priests. While formation is supposed to weed out these types, I'm sure there are plenty of people who discover a call to the priesthood post-ordination to the diaconate as well.

Calling all Deacons...what thinkest thou?

And by the way...nobody's said this but does this open the door for the famous Fr Alberto Cutie to come back to his diocese?

Oct 28, 2009

UStream: In Between Sundays: Guest: ME!

Check this out...I was a guest on a great and funny podcast called In Between Sundays. Host Nick and Pat Padley are awesome and used to host the On the U podcast with the esteemed Campus Minister Steve Nelson.

Check us out on Ustream which is like the coolest thing ever, Who said watching radio was boring?

Props to Nick and Pat for including lil ol me on their cast!

When All is Lost...St Jude and the Yanks

Paulist Seminarian Tom Gibbons, CSP, who is one of the nicest guys you'd ever want to meet offers this reflection on his blog, Kicking and Screaming on St. Jude whose patronage we celebrate today:

I have friends who are social workers, and one of the constant struggles I hear from them is that while the work they do is SO important, many of them wonder if they are making any sort of dent in the world. Many scientists have spent their lives looking for cures to some diseases with only limited success, if any. Martin Luther King did not live to see the dream he described at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial fulfilled, a dream of racial reconciliation we are still working out to this day. The list of lost causes goes on.

Which leaves the question... what makes these people continue? Because if we think about it, we all have had—or currently have—times in our lives when we've been faced with lost causes. They might involve some of the issues we just talked about or even just problems in our personal lives that never seem to get better.

Sometimes we all feel like we are lost causes or that things are beyond hope. Who do we turn to then? We often turn to God and Jude is also invoked in desperate situations because his New Testament letter stresses that the faithful should persevere in difficult circumstances.

I think Jude awakens us to the fact that we need God and one another always, even when situations are far from desperate. We need to be engaged with each other's concerns so that situations do not ever get desperate. But when they do it is not necessarily hopeless. St Jude provides us with that hope, not a hope in some magical cure or amazing miracle--though those things sometimes happen--but we have the sure and certain hope that God is always going to redeem all that is wrong. It is that sure and certain hope that we cling to--that we have assurance that even in the worst times, we believe that God can make all of it better--even if we don't see the results of that in the here and now. Somehow, God can hold all of that desperation for us and removes our pain and stress in times of need.

So today we pray in thanksgiving for St Jude but we also pray for the two great baseball teams who start the World Series: The Yankees and the Phillies. Say a prayer for the team you want to win--not for that victory (although we know you can't help doing that) but that they might perform up to their God-given talents. And enjoy the game!

Oct 27, 2009

Men in Black: The Deacon Version

Deacon Greg raises an issue that I've heard lots of opinions on: Should Deacons wear a Roman Collar?

As a wanna-be Deacon I have a definite opinion on the issue and it's pretty simple. Deacons should not WANT to look like a priest. Or perhaps better stated, Deacons should want their own "look." What that look might be is what should be debated.

In my parent's parish in the 70s and 80s our Deacon was the DRE (Director of Religious Education) and he wore a collar then. He doesn't today. But often he was mistaken for a priest, especially by parents who would just drop their kids off at CCD but hadn't ever been to mass in the parish. The Deacon always said he knew which parents were church-goers because they'd all recognize him as a Deacon and the non-attendees would say "Good Morning, Father." Even a name tag didn't help him. People still confused him for the priest.

My thought is simple. Deacons can wear the collar but also should wear something more distinguishable from their priests. Maybe the diaconal stole should be worn over the clerical collar when on official parish business, maybe even one with the word "Deacon" on it? I've seen those who don't wear collars wear a small lapel pin (pictured, right) but I just don't think that cuts it.

As Deacon Greg notes, wearing a collar definitely changes the perspective of people toward Deacons. You're not really "one of the lay people" anymore once that gets strapped on your neck. But to add something more distinctive to it might raise the profile of the Deacon as a minister and be useful in helping identify them in hospitals and funeral homes.

Any ideas on a Deacon's Uniform?

The Worry of Death

My friend from college Nancy Keelin Tannucilli, posted a brief note on facebook tonight saying how much she misses her dad, who died 21 years ago when we were just freshmen at Fordham. You might find it hard to believe that I remember that event so clearly (I didn't even have to do the math to remember when it was) but, Nancy was the first person I knew that was my own age who had a parent die.

For most of my adult life I lived with the anxiety of thinking that my mother was going to die...and die sooner rather than later. Always with a myriad of health problems, my mother has shuttled in and out of hospitals since I was about 9 years old.

"How's your mother?" was an oft-heard question to me as a child.

"Well...she went into the hospital..."

"AGAIN!?" was the exasperated response from my questioner who found it hard to believe that mom had been hospitalized for probably the fifth time that year.

So when Nancy's father died, our freshman year, I kinda thought I would be the next college student who would be experiencing the loss of a parent.

But through the grace of God, mom made it to graduation. I didn't take a few out of state jobs that I had opportunity to venture into, so that I would be near home, just in case something went wrong with mom. Although continually making her frequent hospital visits, mom muddled through. It takes a toll on her, but she continues her battle with rheumatoid arthritis (which is a dreadful disease that is a killer and we are only recently finding out more about this disease today), severe asthma, anxiety, colon problems and more that I won't bore you with.

Suffice it to say that she's gone through a lot. And for a good portion of my college and young adult life, we suffered along with her emotionally.

On the day of my wedding, when she should have been dancing with me, mom was getting prepped for major colon surgery. I thought surely thought that was going to be the end. But she rallied, given only a 29% chance to live, she somehow, someway, recovered. She and my father struggled with her recovery, as some of you may have read about on Busted Halo® but with some help from Fr Jim Lloyd, CSP, who calmed my mother's anxiety and got her to believe that she indeed was going to live much longer, mom was still with us.

Last year, mom turned 80. My college roommate, Joe Patane called me up on her birthday.

"Hey isn't it your mom's 80th birthday today?"

"Yep, I'm headed there right now."

"That's awesome! You know, Mike, for as long as I've known you, you've lived with the anxiety that your mom is going to die. And I've known you now for 20 years!"

"Yeah, you're probably right about that.."

"Mike, I think you can let that one go now..."

I laughed and then of course, I cried. Because he was right. Nancy and all those whose parents died much too young have had it much worse than I have. My mom, though sick, is still here at 81. And my dad, also 81, has had a rich life, filled with much joy, some pain, some sorrow, but much love.

And now that they are in their 80s, I have to be OK with the fact that every day for them is gift. And there are more days behind them than ahead of them to be sure.

And therein is the point for all of us really. Each day is gift and for some of us, we may not be here tomorrow. We need to bless each day with the joy of life in Christ, which gives us hope for our death, that we might live with him forever.

For Mom, each day is grace and has been for nearly 30 years.

And for each of you who have lost their parents, each day is also grace in which you remember a life that blessed you with the very gift of life itself. Let us remember the joys of our parents, for upon our birth, we were such joy for them (perhaps not in our teen-age years but hey...that's another story). Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

And Nancy, your dad is very, very proud of the woman and mother that you have become.

Now Blogging from Gotham

From high in the spires of St Patrick's Cathedral where I can only imagine that Archbishop Tim Dolan has carved a little nook out for his personal reflection time in which he types out his thoughts on, you guessed it, a new blog.

The Archbishop makes a good point today on healthcare.

The Catholic community in the United States hardly needs to be lectured to about just healthcare. We’ve been energetically into it for centuries. And we bishops have been advocating for universal healthcare for a long, long time.

All we ask is that it be just that -- universal -- meaning that it includes the helpless baby in the womb, the immigrant, and grandma in a hospice, and that it protects a healthcare provider’s right to follow his/her own conscience.

This is what the President says he wants; this is what we bishops say we want.

Indeed. Now let's see if we can all get together and make it happen.

A h/t to the good deacon.

Morning Meditation

Here is a nice version of something we should all pray for each day:

A h/t to the great Paul Snatchko, who I miss already.

Words I Never Thought I'd Say: I Can't Wait to Get a Car...

So the majority of my life in NYC I have not needed a car. The NYC transit system is so good that a car is actually a hindrance in NYC rather than a necessity. I have friends who can't imagine not having a car, loving the freedom of getting into their car and being able to travel anywhere at a moments notice.

Up until now...I have not been one of those types of people.

I hate driving. Or at least I think I do. To be fair I haven't done it enough to say that I really hate it. I've NEVER owned a vehicle, never driven for an extended period of time and never driven a long distance. So who's to know if I'd hate it or if I just have convinced myself that I do.

My friends who know me well are laughing at this post right now because they know I avoid driving at all costs. And I've taken my share of kidding about it.

But isn't public transit supposed to be better for the environment? Shouldn't we do what we can to make it available far and wide?

Well that might play well in NYC, but let's just say that the Buffalo transit system is not the equivalent of NYC's behemoth.

The light rail system goes from the University to the heart of downtown. Straight down Main Street. Where else does it go?


It's also practically the honor system. They only occasionally come and check your ticket.

My comment to city offiicials: "And that's why your subway only goes down Main Street. It's called a turnstile...and that's what makes money for your transit system along with advertising."

The bus system however, takes dollar bills on it which is something that NYC didn't have. But the buses certainly don't run very frequently, especially at night. Let's just say it's still mild in Buffalo right now, but snow is always on the horizon and waiting a long time for a bus in the freezing cold with 6 feet of snow on the ground is not my idea of a well-spent evening...

Which was exactly what I did last night, sans the cold and the snow, providing me with a lot of time for... spiritual enrichment shall we say?

Prayers included: Lord, if I see one more bus that is not mine, I am going to scream. Please help me be patient today.

Lord, help me with my confidence that I can be able to drive soon stress-free.

Lord, help me rent that albatross of an apartment in Queens.

Lord, thank you for sending me to this wonderful place to work with students here. But can you please help the politicians learn that buses should run more frequently. After all it's a social justice issue. The poor need public transit.

Lord, I'm getting cold...where is this bus? I think I might be getting the swine flu.

Lord, help me resist the temptation from crossing the street and going to the Tim Horton's for a donut. Because we all know how that ends. I get fat first of all, and then I just know I'll watch the bus I've been waiting for pass me buy as I'm getting my change.

Lord, please help me forgive my wife for telling me the wrong bus number and thank you for making me smart enough to realize that I was headed in the wrong direction after just one block.

Lord, why didn't I get a schedule this morning? I guess you didn't make me a smart as I thought!

Our Lady of the Highways pray for me today as I commute into work. Remind me that I need to keep the poor who don't have the means for transportation at their fingertips. Let me pray for single mothers who struggle to get to work to support their children. And let us pray for those who are transit workers who are responsible for the lives of so many each day that travel via public transit. And in thanksgiving I pray with great gratitude for Fr Jack and Sr Jeremy and Patty --my co-workers --who have all given me a ride during my car-less time here in Buffalo. They are great servants of your work and have built you quite a great community.

St Joseph, the patron of our parish, please help Marion and I rent our apartment as we virtually bury your statue in the ground today (or is that just for a home sale? We need a patron saint of renters!).

Today is a light day for me, as the students have a simple rosary group prayer at lunchtime, which provides a nice break in the day.

Oct 25, 2009

Reflection for World Youth Day Sunday

Sunday Readings can be found here

Sometimes I only see what I want to see. In my many years of living in NYC, I would pass dozens of homeless people on the streets and I would avoid them like the plague. I mean, they smelled bad and were disheveled and even though I worked at a homeless shelter from time to time, I never really considered any of them friends. I didn’t get to know their stories. They were more like “problems,” and while I wanted to help the poor, I really didn’t want to get too close to these people either. They didn’t belong in my home and I certainly wasn’t going to invite them to have a meal with me at the diner or hire them for a job.

And while I'm embarrassed to say this now...I sometimes would think to myself that they must have done something to DESERVE that cardboard box that they use for a home.

So today’s gospel has been a real eye-opener for me--literally. We hear about the healing of Bartimaeus, who is one of the only people healed by Jesus that we have a name for...

And that name bar-timeaus...son of Timaeus...has a bunch of meanings.

In Aramaic, Bartimaeus means "son of the defiled one."

And that makes sense because people believed at the time of Jesus that if you were blind or sick or even poor--that this was a sign of God’s disfavor. You were a sinner...and the sicker you were the more of a sinner you were. So people thought that Bartimeaus must’ve done something awful, just awful....to DESERVE his lot in life.
And maybe Bartimeaus wondered what it was that he had done...let’s see which sin could it have been that struck me blind?

Now in the Greek language Bartimaeus has yet another meaning: “Son of the exhalted one.”

So what the gospel writer of Mark trying to tell us today? Is Bartimeaus a sinner or is he something more?

Well...Bartimaeus answers this question for us. He begins to call Jesus...no, he begins to CRY out;

JESUS! HAVE PITY ON ME! The cry of a desperate man...hoping beyond hope that someone will believe that he is more than the sinner that everyone thinks he is.

And the crowd says “SHUT UP! What will the great rabbi want with the likes of YOU?”

But he persists all the louder... hoping that Jesus will believe him. Maybe even trying to convince himself that he is not worthless. And Jesus sees more in this man than he sees in himself. Jesus knows that Bartimaeus, deep down doesn’t really believe that he is a good for nothing BUM...and Jesus uses Bartimaeus as an example to the crowd. Because if this Bartimeaus is no longer blind---then the rules have changed. God did not punish him with blindness...instead God makes him and example for others to learn from. A man of great faith who believes that Jesus can cure him. A man even the most religious in the crowd would envy.

Once an outcast on the side of the road, Bartimaeus is now a respected part of the community who continues on that road to follow Jesus.

Now if that’s not a miracle... and it is a miracle that I need too.

I need that miracle to cure the fact that I too, often pre-judge people based on who I think they are. I don’t always see Bartimaeus’s with the eyes of Jesus.

And I need others to help me do that. I’ve had others who have helped me do that.

One is Allen...who is from Kenya and I met Allan at World Youth Day in Sydney last year. And I pre-judged him.

When I heard that Allen was from Africa I immediately assumed that he would have a very simple spirituality. That he would have nothing to teach me about life...someone from the first world...the rich United States.

And so when I asked him what it was like to be catholic in Kenya...I didn’t expect much. And his answer was astounding:

To be a Catholic in Kenya is lovely. But there are lots of challenges because we are confronted with HIV and AIDS. Because most of the young people in Kenya have relatives or friends that either have HIV or AIDS and this takes away most of the income that most of the people have and most of them are poor to begin with. So our faith demands that we as young people have to give home care to people with HIV and AIDS and to try to find additional jobs to help support their families as well. And the Catholic community has also worked to help find treatment for these people who have been infected by AIDS so that they might live a little bit longer.

Talk about someone who we should call an exalted one...and someone that I had and have whole lot to learn from but who I initially disregarded. Allen is someone who lives his Catholic faith each and every day--and he does it with a smile on his face, proudly.

Today is World Youth Day Sunday...and Allen is just one of hundreds of young people that I met at the last World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia. For the young people here today I’d like to encourage you to attend the next World Youth Day in 2011 in Madrid Spain. It is a place where young adults gather to be with the Holy Father, Pope Benedict and where they have been gathering with the Pope for decades now.

And there’s a real challenge that World Youth Day provides us. Because at WYD, It’s easy to be a Catholic because there is strength in numbers thousands sometimes millions of Catholics all in one place--strength in numbers. The real challenge of World Youth Day is not simply to go and be with all those people, no...the big challenge is to have that event change you... So that you might coming back to your everyday life where we often don’t have that kind of support and still be proud to be Catholic and to live differently because of that.
The young people who sit with us today here in this church know how hard to be a young person of faith in today’s world. And the Pope knows that as well. The Pope knows of the pressures you face from all sides of our modern culture that says that wealth and pleasure are the the only things worth attaining.

World Youth Day reminds us that we need to support one another each and every day in our catholic faith and more importantly we need to support those who really need us--the Bartimaeus' of our world who are too often pushed to the side and forgotten about.

After all, I know I don’t often care for the Bartimaeus' of our world--be they pregnant teens in our city, or parents who are getting older and demand more of my time. I let the homeless and the poor be pushed into ghettos and those in the developing world seem all too far away. I don’t concern myself with the needs of people beyond my family and friends and quite often I don’t concern myself all too much with their needs either.

The challenge of WYD is to remember what we learn there. For me I need to remember Allen and how inspiring he was to me.

At the last World YD in Sydney, I’ll always remember what Cardinal George of Chicago told all of the American pilgrims. He said that each and every one of us, even though we might be very faithful, each of us has something that holds us back from completely giving our lives over to Jesus. That there is one little or maybe a big part of us that simply doesn’t really trust that we are good enough, or holy enough. Indeed, when it comes to committing ourselves to Jesus we have a blind spot.

We call that blind spot sin. And sin simply means that I often miss the mark. In fact, we all do. Sin is what we all have in common and sin means that we’re often blind...blind to the concern that we should have for others and blind to the fact that God does indeed love us, despite the fact that we are often blind.

And that's the point Jesus wants the crowd and us to come away with. That despite sin Jesus is always willing to say the words..."What do you want me to do for you?" Because Jesus sees more in us, than we often see in ourselves.

Just Like he did with blind Bartimaeus.

So today, ask yourself, "What’s my blind spot?" What blindness does Jesus need to heal me from? What keeps you from believing that Jesus can heal you from all the blindness, all the things that we don’t like about ourselves.

And all we have to do is say...

“Master, I want to see.”

Oct 24, 2009

That Scientist Believes in God? He must be nuts...

Apparently that's the opinion of some scientists who are debating the merits of Dr. Francis Collins who is renown for his work on the human genome project but now is being questioned as a good candidate to be the head of the National Institute of Health. Over at In Him We Live and Move and Have Our Being there is been quite a reaction to a NY Times piece on October 5 that accuses the good doctor of "dementia"

In this article, the Times speaks of several controversies surrounding the NIH director. It says, “First, there is the God issue. Dr. Collins believes in him. Passionately. And he preaches about his belief in churches and a best-selling book. For some presidential appointees, that might not be a problem, but many scientists view such outspoken religious commitment as a sign of mild dementia.”

You've got to be kidding.

At any rate, apparently Collins didn’t always profess a belief in God. Some years ago, a patient asked him what he believed, and it struck him that this was a question that merited consideration. He explored the question for a period of years and ultimately came to believe in God.

The Times goes on to say, “Critics like the physicist Robert L. Park contend that the moment was nothing but a hormonal rush. That a man with a medical degree and a Ph.D. in chemistry failed to diagnose the problem and instead gave it higher meaning ‘is enough to cause concern,’ said Dr. Park, a professor at the University of Maryland noted for his attacks on ‘voodoo science.’”

Another scientist who was concerned about the possible impact of faith on Dr. Collins’ ability to lead the NIH was Dr. Irving L. Weissman, director of the Stanford Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine. Ultimately some of his fears were allayed when Dr. Collins promised him “not to let faith interfere with scientific judgment”.

I'm in the midst of Collins' best-selling book The Language of God. I thought I should read it since I will be working with a bunch of medical students and engineer-types as well as other science-based majors.

But it begs the question of the scientific community, does one need to be a bit loony to be a scientist and a believer. I think not. Check out this video that I produced some time ago for Busted Halo® on evolution for example with the head of the Vatican Observatory.

In short, congratulations to Dr Collins, who continues to show that good science is not incompatible with a belief in God.

Oct 23, 2009

But for HIM you kill the fatted calf?

Last night at the student scripture reflection we read the story of the Prodigal Son from Luke's Gospel. It's one of my favorite passages for many reasons, but last night, one of the students, Aarti, a bright young Occupational Therapy student, had a great question/insight...

"We don't know if the brother ever went and embraced the prodigal brother as the father did."

She's right! It's true! And it's something I always wondered about too. Did the brother go into the party or did he sit outside sulking all night? I also wonder if the younger brother, the prodigal son, ever came out to plead forgiveness of the older brother for leaving him with all the work on his father's estate?

We don't know. The author doesn't say.

Raymond Brown, the great scripture scholar, reminds us that Jesus is addressing the Pharisees and that parables are always stories where you think you know what the ending is going to be, but then Jesus twists some irony into it. So the Pharisees think that they are the Father in the story as they hear Jesus telling it, but then this character of the older brother is introduced and the Pharisees begin to see that they hold these resentments towards those they look down on.

How am I the older brother? My parents and sister often chide me that I work very hard for the needs of others but neglect them in the process. My wife often tells me that I sometimes treat those I minister to nicer than I treat her. I know I resent the old hurts that have been inflicted by family and close friends a lot more than those who I meet through a ministerial route. Do I sit an sulk outside as well? Do I neglect my family in favor of my own haughtiness?

Do I expect more from family and friends? And therefore am I less willing to forgive? Jesus reminds me here that my forgiveness needs to have no boundaries. That I need to drop my resentments and come into the party where we will dance with great joy, rejoicing over what has been found again.

And what else is found over and over again for us? We find a forgiving father who always is there running out to meet us, again and again, despite our own stupidity. God runs to greet us as if he thought we were dead, but now have come to life again.

Do we have the love in our hearts to greet all those who offend us with the same embrace?

Oct 22, 2009

When your deadly serious, you're seriously dead...

That was the line of the night at the Sapientia et Doctrina dinner where Jesuit Father and all around good guy, Fr James Martin, SJ was the keynote speaker. From Fordham's website

The school honored 11 people and agencies for their excellence in doing the day-to-day work of the church, and bestowed a special Gaudium et Spes award on James Martin, S.J., award-winning author of My Life With the Saints (Loyola, 2006).

Father Martin, an associate editor at America magazine and media commentator familiarly dubbed the "Colbert Report chaplain" for his appearance on the popular show, spoke to the value of expressing more liveliness and laughter, or "salt and light," among Catholics today.

"We’ve all met Catholics who seem to think that being religious means being deadly serious," he said. "But of course, when you’re deadly serious, you’re seriously dead."

Fr Jim killed and I wasn't so bad myself as I was the preacher during the reconciliation service.

If you've never heard Fr Jim before...check him out on the Colbert Report here:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Father James Martin
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorMichael Moore

UB Students Rock!

A capacity crowd came over for dinner on the North Campus last night and a good deal of students stayed to hear lil' ol' me talk about discernment. Great insights were shared around the tables and I felt good about it...this was an abbreviated version of a talk I've been giving for the past 9 years but I felt like people were attentive and engaged.

In particular, there is a small group of students from the South Campus who made their way over to the North side who stayed to hear me, their campus minister. Now that's dedication and a nice vote of support. I can tell that they've been waiting for someone to start ministering on this campus. So we'll hit the ground running this weekend.

My job is going to be challenging as the folks who come regularly will need to be accentuated by others who can bring different gifts and help provide us with some different activities. Then we start to get a critical mass. But the folks who are already engaged are so nice and so dedicated to being part of the ministry that I know that they will be a great help in helping me to engage the rest of the campus.

There are 27,000 students on UB's campus. 50% of them are Catholic. Take another 50% and that makes about 6750 Catholics on one campus which is a huge pool to shoot for. I've got a lot of work to do.

I loved the fact that the students asked me what possessed me to come to Buffalo from NYC. I replied that the job was open and the great Patty Bubar Spear who is our youth minister encouraged me to apply. Another friend Ann Marie from the Center for Ministry Development also has an office at our church, so I was enthused by the possibility of working with them and then when I met the rest of the staff I just knew it was a good fit.

But the real answer is that I'm here for them. That God has led me to realize that I'm called to be a pastoral minister for young people. To guide them in their prayer, to give them opportunities to serve others, to lead them on retreat and to simply give them an opportunity to socialize with people they are proud to be associated with.

We'll start feeding people soon and then the numbers will start to jump. It will take some time to learn the place but that's not an excuse. The Spirit waits for nobody and I think it's already beginning to flourish here. A huge hat tip to Katie Trapp, my colleague over on North Campus who has done such a great job and whom I will have much to learn from and much to share with as well.

Sunday is a big day. I get to do a reflection on the Gospel and on World Youth Day.

Oct 21, 2009

What the Hell is Hell?

Jane of the United States (JOTUS--which is LOL funny) had a great post today about hell. Jane, a red state protestant gave a very Catholic definition of hell. It just goes to show that you can take the girl out of the Catholic Church but ya can't take the Catholic out of the girl.

Many people lampoon the hell out of hell. It’s a place with limitless chocolate chip cookies, but no milk. For the smoker hell is cartons upon cartons of free Marlboros, but no matches. For the suicide bomber hell might be 72 virgins wearing chastity belts, or for the Hare Krishna it might be a place void of boardwalks and airports. For the wine enthusiast hell would be a wine cellar full of the finest Bordeaux but no corkscrews. You get the idea.

The stark truth is that hell is much more frightening than we’d like to believe and infinitely more unpleasant than any satire, but ironically understanding hell is one of the best ways to understand God’s love for each one of us....

The choice between an eternity with God and an eternity separated from him is ours to make, and it lies in Christ alone – not in our church attendance, nor our community service, nor our charitable contributions, those these are worthy things that the Word encourages. In truth, we all live lives worthy of hell and it is only through our acceptance of Jesus Christ as our redeemer that we are saved from an eternity there.

Consider our transgressions as debt that we owe to our Creator. Christ paid this debt in full at Calvary so that when we die, God sees us as sinless and blameless and we are welcome in his kingdom forever. Our debt is gone.

But if we reject Christ and his ultimate act of sacrificial love, then we’ve made the choice to spend eternity in hell separated from God, our sins and unbelief the anchor to our doom.

I think she's right on the money here. But to further Jane's point...there is always something that we choose rather than choosing Christ. We might choose cheap sex over fully relating to someone else. We might choose comfort over working for the needs of the poor. We might choose hatred over loving all people...

And when we do--we distance ourselves from God and choose HELL.

A life of choosing to separate ourselves from God's love, from building the kingdom. For our loving creator always wants and needs and loves us.

What do you choose? And what keeps you from choosing God?

H/t to Jane who was the greatest guard in Fordham basketball history.

Oct 20, 2009

On a Wing and A Prayer

So I made it through my first day at the new office. I organized bookshelves and generally got things situated. I will be speaking over on the North Campus on Wednesday (tomorrow night) on discernment and we had a staff meeting today, which was loads of fun. Basically it's an opportunity to let others know what we're doing and to reflect on the upcoming Sunday gospel together.

We've moved into our new digs. Haze the dog especially likes the new place and has found plenty of places to curl up in a ball and snooze. God bless my wife who is unpacking boxes faster than the flash. Only 20 more to go, she tells me!

Prayer for me this week has been interesting as I have been reflecting on Sunday's scripture readings in advance of a reflection on them I've been asked to give. It's also World Youth Day Sunday, so I'm trying to tie the readings into that theme. Bartimaeus, the blind man is the central figure (besides Jesus of course) in this week's gospel, so I'm thinking about themes of blindness in my own life. In some ways I've gone into this job "flying blind" not knowing what to expect, not expecting much of anything in fact, except to be present to Christ and to students in new and some old ways.

So we have plenty of places to reflect. I'm going to spend some time in prayer this evening with the gospel and see what imaginative places God might lead me. Might you join me? Here are the readings. Enjoy.

Fr. Richard McBrien: Another Baby Boomer Who Doesn't Get It...Sorta

I must've been sleeping throughout September because this article crept past me by the esteemed Professor at Notre Dame Richard McBrien.

Notwithstanding Pope Benedict XVI's personal endorsement of eucharistic adoration and the sporadic restoration of the practice in the archdiocese of Boston and elsewhere, it is difficult to speak favorably about the devotion today.

Now that most Catholics are literate and even well-educated, the Mass is in the language of the people (i.e, the vernacular), and its rituals are relatively easy to understand and follow, there is little or no need for extraneous eucharistic devotions. The Mass itself provides all that a Catholic needs sacramentally and spiritually.

Eucharistic adoration, perpetual or not, is a doctrinal, theological, and spiritual step backward, not forward.

McBrien is showing his crotchety old demeanor here and is a good example of someone who throws the baby out with the bathwater.

Especially amongst the young eucharistic adoration has become a practice that many have found to be worthy of their time. The larger question that most baby boomer Catholics don't ask is why? If I had a dime for every baby boomer campus minister who gets alarmed at the fact that young people are choosing to do this devotion, I'd be a rich man.

Send your dimes ASAP by the way.

So why are young people liking this particular devotion more and more? It is not out of literalism, but more out of a need for contemplation, tangibility and belonging.

1) Contemplation: In a world filled with noise where a moment's peace is never found, why would we not be surprised to find young adults flocking to a place where they can simply have one hour of peace to clear out the cobwebs? By the way the last time i checked the Eucharist was in fact, the source and summit of our faith. So again why are we surprised that young people flock to a moment's peace with the central element of our faith visible to them?

2) Tangibility: The Eucharist is tangible. Jesus understood this better than anyone. He provided us with a ritual that tells us that we. as Catholics do the hard things first. If we can indeed understand how GOD can unite with a piece of bread and a cup of wine and that when we consume it we remind ourselves of a presence within us that was already there, though hidden. If indeed when we are reminded of that WE are transformed, we become what we receive, then we are truly living the body and blood of Christ.

But sometimes that become route. We consume and do not transform. We eat but do not reflect. We receive but are not changed because we have no time to be mindful of what we are doing. We are off to the next thing to do and take no time to think about what we are doing then the Eucharist becomes another empty ritual (at least internally for us). Adoration provides that mindfulness that we often miss.

3) Belonging: When people leave the church they often point to the Eucharist as the thing they miss the most. It is the Eucharist that many consider the very essence of Catholicism.

And it is. Without the Eucharist we long for it. We consecrate more hosts to insure that people have access to it. We hold communion services and call them that because people want Christ in the Eucharist, that tangible reminder of Christ's presence already within us. They may love scripture, but they want the Eucharist. And they miss it when it is not there.

Now I think Richard McBrien is far from a dumb man, and I can even appreciate his thought on the over-literalism that many take on when it comes to the Eucharist and even with adoration. But that is far from the norm and to lump most of those who practice Eucharistic Adoration into one boat is at best short sighted and at worst, prejudicial.

Oct 19, 2009

Sent Forth By the Spirit (of the Paulists and NYC)

We have arrived and unpacked much in the beautiful city of Buffalo where it is a mere 33 degrees today but sunny. Living amongst boxes is no fun and the office awaits me today where a bunch of strong engineering students hoisted my boxes up to the 2nd floor outside of my office. I'm grateful, but being engineers shouldn't they have designed the most efficient way to arrange my office as well?

I guess engineers are not what I need...interior decorators, now one of those, I could use.

Regardless, I went to the student mass last night and it was great with pizza that followed. The folks here have been so hospitable to us, feeding us, driving us around, and generally just making us feel welcome. We arrived in our new apartment to a fully stocked fridge courtesy of Sr Jeremy the pastoral associate on staff and Fr. Jack, the pastor and my new boss.

Besides all this...three great things happened before we left NYC.

1) The going-away party: BustedHalo® and the Paulists gave me a huge send off. Fr Dave Dwyer, CSP, Bill McGarvey, Jarrad Venegas and Brittany Janis are four people who made it very hard to leave with the outpouring of love that they showed me not only with the party but with lots of personal support as well. They made it very hard to turn the keys in at the end of the day. When you add all the friends and colleagues who were there it was quite overwhelming. Fr Brett Hoover, CSP, who co-founded BustedHalo® with me came all the way from sunny California for the big event (and on his birthday, no less!). Marc D. Adams who used to co-host our podcast also came up from Washington DC--which was a nice surprise as well.

2) The lost wallet: Yes, you guessed it. I dropped my wallet on Metro North the following day while headed up to Fordham to preach at their vespers service for the Graduate School of Religion. I was frantic. The Metro North Police had a conductor sweep through the train. Nothing.

Sigh. Driver's License. Credit Cards. Money (only $40). Gone?

Perhaps not. I got a phone call from Rodney who not only found it but brought it over to Fordham for me. Amazing! All the cards and a license found! Thank you, St Anthony!

3) Fordham: I spoke at the Sapientia et Doctrina dinner and it was a blast as always. The team of organizers even gave me a nice send off blessing at the end.

Anyway...I'm off to the office for my first day and first staff meeting.

Oct 14, 2009

Leaving: Harder Than I Thought...

Cleaning an office of nine years of work, memories and "general-crap-I've-accumulated" is not that easy--phyiscally or emotionally. I've found myself overwhelmed by the sheer piles of boxes in my home and office and the things that I've found that have brought back jarring memories. These include:

-The first drafts for what we thought Busted Halo® should be.

- My original proposals for the Paulist Young Adult Ministry. (Which included website, radio and retreat ministry--check!)

- Original book manuscripts for Googling God with notes scribbled on them by the now, deceased Fr Michael Hunt, CSP (sniff) who many of you knew as the blogger, Westside Paulist.

- One ring pop. (Which my wife gave me after I proposed to her as her engagement ring to me--she even got down on one knee!).

- Signs and assorted notes from the BustedHalo.com® launch party (which after that I was banned from ever doing any artwork by Fr Brett Hoover, CSP, our original director and a genius who just finished his doctoral degree at Berkeley.

- Two old cell phones (recycle!)

- Lots of old pictures. Including the first picture anyone ever took of Marion and I.

- Old reel to reel tape from my college days (I haven't figured out why I'm saving those exactly).

- Retreat memories (I will miss the Oak Ridge Retreat Center very much).

It looks like I will retain some role with BustedHalo.com® from afar. I'll let you know what that is when it becomes official.

It's been so hard to say good bye and I know tomorrow will be a celebration of 9 years of accomplishment and joy---but I am really gonna cry from start to finish. No surprise there for those who know me well, but still, I may set a new record. Buy your kleenex stock now!

We are off to do two final Busted Halo podcasts today. Yikes. 217 podcasts! Out of the Haze will become it's own podcast soon (Maybe even a video cast!).

Keep me in your prayers for transition.

Oct 12, 2009

All You Need is Love?

A great post by Why I Am Catholic yesterday:

Janis Joplin's only #1 hit was "Me and Bobby McGee," Kris Kristofferson's bluesy ballad of romantic love. Kristofferson was Joplin's "lover," but how much good did that do her? Hey, but maybe "Feelin' good is good enough for me."

The Doors' 1967 super hit was "Light My Fire," about the hottest sort of love, baby. Which didn't do a lot of good for Jim Morrison, now, did it?

Is it any surprise that the biggest, longest-lasting hit of the 1960s was "(Can't Get No) Satisfaction"? Well, not really, no.

Somehow, I end up at 1st Corinthians 13, which must be the Biblical text used most often in weddings since the 1960s. "The greatest of these is love?” Sure thing. But does anyone ever give a thought at any of those profoundly romantic moments about the two cardinal virtues that come first?

A great Jesuit high school teacher of a friend of mine used to put the following question up on the backboard which read:

"I can't POSSIBLY live without....

A) Love
B) a Job"

It was interesting to hear the argument go around the room from all factions. The job folks won out logically, but those who picked love contended that if people just loved each other they might not need the job and they could live on the love offered by others.

Interesting thoughts regardless. And Why I Am Catholic's thought about the other two cardinal virtues: faith and hope give us further thoughts as well.

Am I Christian or Buddhist?

That's the question that the esteemed Paul Knitter asks in a new book featured in today's New York Times. And I think it is indeed a question that many of us explore as we start to get exposed to other religions and their beliefs. In his latest book, After the Baby Boomers, Robert Wuthnow, the sociologist from Princeton claims that many people in the younger demographics today are what he calls "spiritual tinkerers," meaning that they dabble with practices from one religion or another as it suits their needs and likes.

However, isn't this somewhat problematic? After all, we run the risk of being in the Catholic Cafeteria or more appropriately stated the world religion's cafe where now people no longer just pick and choose what CATHOLIC beliefs they wish to adhere to but they also are choosing across religious lines. Does this continue to make them Catholic or something else?

Knitter and the New York Times pose exactly that question with reference to his new book

“Am I still a Christian?” he asks in his new book. It is a question posed over the years by others, including some unhappy officials in the Vatican. But the question, he writes, is also “one I have felt in my own mind and heart.”

“Has my dialogue with Buddhism made me a Buddhist Christian?” he writes. “Or a Christian Buddhist? Am I a Christian who has understood his own identity more deeply with the help of Buddhism? Or have I become a Buddhist who still retains a stock of Christian leftovers.”

The struggles Mr. Knitter is writing about are not the familiar ones about sexual ethics, the role of women or the failures of church leaders.

His focus here is on what he calls “the big stuff”: What does it really mean for Christians to profess belief in an almighty “God the Father” personally active in the world, or in Jesus, “his only-begotten Son” who saved humanity through his death and bodily resurrection, or in eternal life, heaven and hell?

However much he tried, Mr. Knitter found that certain longstanding Christian formulations of faith “just didn’t make sense”: God as a person separate from creation and intervening in it as an external agent; individualized life after death for all and eternal punishment for some; Jesus as God’s “only Son” and the only savior of humankind; prayers that ask God to favor some people over others.

Mr. Knitter’s response, based on his long interaction with Buddhist teachers, was to “pass over” to Buddhism’s approach to each of these problems and then “pass back” to Christian tradition to see if he could retrieve or re-imagine aspects of it with this “Buddhist flashlight.”

He was not asserting, as some people have, that religions like Christianity and Buddhism are merely superficially different expressions of one underlying faith.

Here's my take: I practice yoga stretching from time to time with Fr Tom Ryan's great DVD. I'm taking those traditional poses and praying Christian prayers. But I'm not Christianizing yoga. Nor am I in line with Buddhist ways of belief. I am still a Christian who employs a practice of another religion to deepen his own Christian experience of faith. St Paul writes that we should glorify God in our body and I believe that we truly say that God is closer to us than our our heartbeat. When I do the yoga pose I am indeed more mindful of those principles and can see them more clearly throughout my day.

But let's also be careful here...there are some who I don't think take this in that vein and do in fact hold more of the Buddhist, or Jewish, or Shinto religions tenets more strongly than their Catholic birth-religion. There are others who start doing yoga for the more meditative aspects without ever considering the Catholic tradition of centering prayer first (or even knowing that it exists!). A friend of mine who considers herself Episcopalian once said to me: "I mean, I think Jesus was a great guy, but did he rise from the dead? Is he God? I doubt that sincerely." But yet, she still attended Episcopal services (more out of a political or social affiliation than anything else!). Perhaps she might be more religiously comfortable with Islam or Judaisim, since she doesn't believe in Jesus, but there seems to be some hold on her own birth religion that she has as well. Who knows? Perhaps the Holy Spirit is still working on her. And me...

For myself, I see nothing wrong with seeing beauty in the practices of another faith as long as one appropriates mindfully their own faith as their guidepost.

India Needs Your Help

Rachel Lawrence from London, England's First Sunday Plus writes via facbook:

I am writing to you from Pannur in South India where there have been terrible floods. Many people here have lost their homes and are living by the roadsie without any shelter, food or clean water. The main help that is reaching the people is coming from the church here and we really need support from the church in England. I have set up a website to let people know what is going on the address is :

Please have a look at it and get in touch, it would be great to hear from you.

We have also set up a Facbook group: SOS Pannur in Floods.

And then most importantly: pray. Not just for those in India but for the folks in the Philippines too and for all those who face natural disasters and for those who work for climate change and the environment.

Oct 11, 2009

More Premature than the Obama Nobel Peace Prize?

This is one of the main buildings on the South Campus at the University of Buffalo.


The Boundaries of the Rich Man

"For he had many possessions and went away sad."

Our Gospel today tells us about a rich young man who RAN to Jesus...filled with enthusiasm but that his face fell when he found out that he had to give his belongings away to the poor. We need a bit of background to truly understand what is at the heart of this gospel.

In Jesus' time, poverty and sickness were a sign of divine retribution. Meaning that if you were poor, it meant that you were cursed. God had brought his wrath down on you because of your sin. Riches, conversely, meant that God was thinking well of you.

Jesus turns this on its head and says that not poverty but riches is what keeps us from God. That the rich have forgotten about other human beings and that their condescension would be their undoing.

So when the rich young man comes and says that he keeps all the commandments, Jesus sees that he may in fact be someone open enough to hear his message. But he chooses his riches over "those other people."

The rich young man is a microcosm for all of our own boundaries that we set up; the things that keep us from loving God and establishing God's kingdom. What boundaries do I set up each day? Do I pre-judge people like the homeless, the elderly, the unborn, those who think ill of me or who I think I have all figured out?

Do I set myself up in a safe enclave so that I create a separation between those who have less than I do? Am I mindful of those who are much poorer than we in the United States are--or are they just others in far oft lands.

We cannonized Damien, the leper priest yesterday who went to the colony of Molokai and didn't allow himself to be separated from those with Hanson's Disease. In fact he embraced them. Am I willing to tear down these kinds of boundaries in order to really live within God's love?

Or am I just another rich young man?

Praying for the Gift of Tears

Sometimes others know us better than we know ourselves and while this week, which is my last week at BustedHalo®, will recall much laughter and happiness in celebrating nine years, I know it will also bring many happy and sad tears.

I think that at least one of my friends sensed that and therefore, I received this note via facebook from one of my best friends from college, Joonmo which he received from his pastor.

Some months ago I had a conversation with a lady who was experiencing considerable distress and who was adding to her problems by expressing total frustration with her tears. I don't know if she will see this. I came across it in a beautiful book by Fr. Edward Hays; a book on prayer which includes the following in a chapter called The Prayer of Tears.

"Our Eyes are not only the windows of the soul and organs of enjoyment, they are also the instruments of joy and sorrow. While we feel deeply, the pain of departure, or the intense experience of other emotions, these are not easily shown. Our eyes are sacraments for these beautiful and deeply felt feelings. Even our tears become a way for us to "pray all ways."

"Tears and laughter are universal languages, for they are understood by people of every nation. Crying is part of our basic birth equipment and so is a gift from God. While it's embarrassing, it is also an honest and an incarnational or bodily prayer that reaches the ear and heart of God."

The Prayer of Tears
Lord, Beloved God
since all communion with You is prayer, may even my tears be
psalms of petition and canticles of praise to You.
This is a prayer that You value greatly: the prayer of my tears;
it is a prayer that you always hear, for, You are a compassionate and kind God.
And, Lord, I know you understand - that when I am overcome by
tears - unable to speak or form a prayer - that these very tears voice volumes of verses.
All truly great prayer - rises from deep inside and springs spontaneously to the surface.
It would then seem - that from among the many beautiful prayers,
the scared songs and canticles of praise, my tears my be the best worship of all.
Help me not to be ashamed of them; show me how I can let go of control and
let this prayer of my heart, my tears, flow naturally and freely to You
my Blessed Lord and Divine Lover. In times of joy and sorrow, blessed be my tears,
the Holy prayer of my heart. Amen.

These are thoughts for reflection.
"The heart is the happiest when it beats for others."
"You can accomplish more in one hour with God than one lifetime without Him."
"Jesus is a friend who walks in when the world has walked out."

With love in Christ,
Father Paul J. Henry

Indeed this, as many of those close to me know, describes me and my prayer perfectly. When I am touched by the spirit, I begin to cry and I really don't know why it happens but it does. As a man, it used to be somewhat embarrassing to me, but since I couldn't help or control it, I didn't quite know how to stop doing it--and moreover, didn't know if I should try to stop doing it or hiding my tears.

Some people grew uncomfortable with my tears, shifting in their seats, looking away, or even laughing at bit. Most people though, grew more open-hearted. They seemed to resonate with me most when these genuine tears would flow in prayer or in sharing how God is alive in my life. I indeed noticed that when I just allowed myself to be touched by God's spirit and even explained what was happening, people seemed to be comfortable with what was happening to me.

Besides these beautiful words given to us today by Joonmo's pastor, St Ignatius talks about "the gift of tears." In fact, Ignatius tells us that we should pray for this great gift, of having our hearts moved so much by God that we are moved to tears.

The great basketball coach, Jim Valvano, in his famous speech at the ESPY Awards in 1993 said there are three things we should all do each day, think, laugh and cry. His speech is always worth re-hearing and so, here it is. It's about 10 minutes but it's time well spent:

And pray each day to be as blessed as all of us who receive the gift of tears.

Oct 10, 2009

Who Are Our Lepers Today?

When I was a child I remember one of the earliest "religious" movies that I saw was called "Father Damien, Leper Priest" with Ken Howard (from "The White Shadow" TV show) playing the lead role. I remember being moved very much by this priest who volunteered to go to a leper colony to serve the people there even though he knew he was putting his own life in danger.

What I really remember though was not this huge act of self-sacrifice, but rather how Fr Damien really embraced all aspects of the people's life there. I remember him learning their language so that he could pray with them in their own language. His early attempts would be ones in which he would make the people laugh with his mistakes which often made his sentences sound silly or even lewd. But he just rolled with it, trying his best, which is really an example for all of us in our daily lives. It was this simplicity that stuck with me and has led me to try to understand people of other cultures and has always made welcoming a large part of my ministry to all people.

In a moving scene in the newest movie, Fr Damien outstretches his arm to shake a young boy's hand, despite knowing that the young man has Hanson's Disease, better known as leprosy. While we hear about lepers in the gospel, that word was really applied to any kid of skin ailment that rendered someone "unclean" or more probably "contagious." In fact, people were required by law to remove themselves from society or to shout in the streets should they remain "unclean, unclean" so that people wouldn't touch them. Hanson's disease is what we normally associate lepers with in today's modern parlance. But the same holds true. These were contagious people that nobody would touch out of fear and furthermore, that modern society had eliminated from society and placed them on an island of their own and would conveniently forget about them. There wasn't anything that doctors could do for them and those with the disease would often feel bad about themselves and about how they longed for human contact. They were pariahs, people that nobody wanted anything to do with.

Damien, saw that need for human embracing and he did so with love, the love that God had for these people that they needed to understand. Damien awakened an entire culture to believe that God had not run afoul of them. That God had not forgotten them, exiling them to a lost continent to waste away. God was truly here with them, suffering with them and leading them to a deeper and more intimate experience of the cross than one might expect on the surface.

Damien is going to be raised to Sainthood today. And his life beckons us to consider some of the same deep questions he faced:

Who do I place on a island and conveniently forget about?
What role do I play in reconciling those who long for human contact with God and the world?
Who are our lepers? The people nobody wants anything to do with?

We have murderers and prisoners and child molesters who we all "put away and out of our sight" and conveniently remind ourselves of their guilt but never of their humanity. We have the unborn who we often think of as an inconvenience, especially for young teens who get pregnant. instead of providing care we settle for death for the child in the womb and we tell the teen that they simply can handle the pressures of parenthood and adolescence while not really offering any real assistance whatsoever. Many of us place our elderly in their own exiles, forgetting about them in nursing homes and never taking any time for a visit much less a daily one.

We don't have to go to Molokai to find our own lepers.

And by the same token, we don't have to go to Molokai to see Fr Damien either. We need to look into our own hearts and into the heart of Damien's example as well. It is there that we find God tugging at our heart and begging us not to forget all those who can be easily forgotten.

So let us pray to St Damien today that he might show us the way to our own human heart's deeper longings for others. To which "forgotten land" might you have need to visit or re-visit?

Who have you forgotten? It is only your embrace that they long for today.

Googling God

Googling God
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