Researchers at the University of Michigan have concluded that the love stories told in classic Disney and other G-rated children's films - such as the Little Mermaid - are partially to blame for the pervasiveness of what they label "heteronormativity."This wasn't a problem for the Star Wars franchise - or Lord of the Rings - or any of Sandra Bullock's offerings.
"Despite the assumption that children's media are free of sexual content, our analyses suggest that these media depict a rich and pervasive heterosexual landscape," wrote researchers Emily Kazyak and Karin Martin, in a report published in the latest issue of the Sociologists for Women in Society (SWS) publication Gender & Society.
Kazyak and Martin said they studied the role of heterosexual relationships in several of the highest-grossing G-rated films between 1990-2005. The results, say the researchers, illustrate two ways that the children's films "construct heterosexuality": through "depictions of hetero-romantic love as exceptional, powerful, transformative, and magical," and "depictions of interactions between gendered bodies in which the sexiness of feminine characters is subjected to the gaze of masculine characters."
"Characters in love are surrounded by music, flowers, candles, magic, fire, balloons, fancy dresses, dim lights, dancing and elaborate dinners," the researchers observed. "Fireflies, butterflies, sunsets, wind and the beauty and power of nature often provide the setting for - and a link to the naturalness of - hetero-romantic love."
The SWS press release on the research blamed what they called the "old ideals" of romantic relationships, specifically those found the Brothers Grimm fairy tales, which in many instances inspired the films' storylines, for "such heavily gendered depictions and glorified portrayals of heterosexual relationships."
The team says the results point to heterosexuality achieving a "taken-for-granted status" "because hetero-romance is depicted as powerful."
"Both ordinary and exceptional constructions of heterosexuality work to normalize its status because it becomes difficult to imagine anything other than this form of social relationship or anyone outside of these bonds," they concluded.
"These films provide powerful portraits of a multifaceted and pervasive heterosexuality that likely facilitates the reproduction of heteronormativity."
The SWS press release concluded: "President Obama may have declared June to be Gay Pride Month, but entertainment for children therefore continues to perpetuate a less inclusive message, leaving those outside its confines with little to build their own dreams of happily ever after."
Sexuality expert Dr. Judith Reisman told LifeSiteNews.com (LSN) yesterday that the "politically correct" study reveals "the growing dominance of Heterophobia within academia and the spread of heterophobes among female professionals."
"Now, if the Ladies of the Sociology Society think pornography is becoming the heteronorm and that Disney is contributing to that form of what is really Heterophobia, they might have an argument," Reisman noted.
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Monday, June 29, 2009
The mantle of leadership for the Autobots was passed on through a device called the "Matrix," which carried with it the collective wisdom of the Primes past. Hot Rod then became "Rodimus Prime" and assumed the regal role of leader. I remember even then - in eighth grade - being intrigued by this concept of passing this mantle of leadership. In fact, the Matrix made one fit to lead.
In the recent film "Rise of the Fallen," the Matrix reappears. Sam must find it in order to avert a Decepticon victory and to help save Optimus. In his near-death experience, Sam learns that the power and the effects of the Matrix cannot be selfishly taken but must go to one who is proven worthy. Returning, he "resurrects" Optimus Prime. Once accomplished, there is a sense that Prime cannot be defeated again with his new purpose - this new life, which is much like what St. Paul speaks about in Christ. Christ, once raised from the dead can die no more, and we now have that same life given to us through our baptism. As Seth correctly points out in his comment from the other day, "it takes the life-resurrecting power of the "matrix" in Optimus Prime or of "God/Love" in Jesus to defeat evil."
To me, this Matrix is more than a neat device that brings with it magical powers. It is a mark of worthiness - which cannot be stolen, taken or forced. Jesus once observed that "It is not you who chose me but I who chose you." There is no way for us to "make ourselves worthy." Instead, God pursues us and makes us so by grace, and that is what the Matrix carries in our lives.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
The treatment for terminal cancer that Annapolis resident Mary Ellen Heibel took at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 2004 and early 2005 worked beyond anyone's wildest hopes, wiping out malignant tumors in her lungs, liver, stomach and chest. Her doctor did not expect it, nor could he explain it.
Surely the outcome was remarkable, but was it - in the sense applied by the Roman Catholic Church in such cases - a miracle?
In a few weeks, a committee appointed by the Archdiocese of Baltimore will begin exploring that question, examining 11 witnesses, including Heibel, pressing her doctors, nurses and friends in an attempt to understand what happened. The findings gathered at the archdiocese's downtown offices will be shipped to Rome, and ultimately will bear on a campaign to have Francis X. Seelos, the 19th-century Maryland priest to whom Heibel had turned in prayer for help, canonized as a saint.
For only the fifth time in its 200-year history, the archdiocese has launched a test of faith and science to help the Vatican determine whether one of its own was not only exemplary in virtue during life but now has the power in death to intercede with God. In the end, it will be up to the pope to rule on whether Seelos is to join the men and women held up by the church through the centuries as models of holiness.
How long, woman -
how long have you suffered?
How many years go by
and you stay on the outside,
passed over by God's People
and left to weep with no comfort?
Your doctors brought you pain,
but that was nothing
compared to the silence,
the cold shoulders of your neighbors.
When would that Comfort come -
your heart plunged into despair
until the One would come to town.
He didn't come for you, did he?
Rather, maybe he did.
Only a moment -
only a passing touch -
is all you would need.
Not used to being a bother,
you would simply pass by
On his way to heal Jairus' girl,
could bring you peace.
The moment came.
were whole again.
Then, something even more spectacular:
your God -
searches for you!
"Who touched me?"
And the crowd parts -
that crowd who had nothing to do with you
for so long,
now they all stare.
But their eyes are nothing
when God holds your gaze.
His hand stretched out,
(he had been saving that call for another).
And you rise,
Your patience -
your faith -
your trust -
brings your God to you.
You are now the star -
you will never be the same
in their eyes.
And God will never be the same in yours.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
In the new "Transformers" movie, the villain Megatron questions Optimus Prime as they do battle for the boy Sam, who possesses special knowledge that is valuable to the Decepticons. Prime never (verbally) answers the question. He continues to do battle with his enemy and eventually gives his life defending little Sam. His sacrifice is powerful - even if he is a 30-foot tall robot/semi.
Sam spends much of the rest of the film reflecting on that sacrifice and his own responsibility for Prime's demise. He is growing in his awareness of his importance and destiny in this ancient battle between the warring robot race from Cybertron. As he assists the Autobots, he resolves to honor that sacrifice of his friend and work to bring an end to this conflict.
The good news is that Someone has answered that question - and that answer is seen in the Cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ - God-made-man for us. Just when all was darkest, Jesus confronts those forces with His sacrifice, which carries all the power that we need: the Love of God.
It is that love that truly transforms us.
Friday, June 26, 2009
Many of the titles are under development at the moment, and others are "gathering interest," but they all look like great resources for anyone who wants to go deeper than the Sunday readings or religious ed.
For example, you can get the Summa Theologica, by St. Thomas Aquinas (in English and Latin!) brought right to your desktop. Our soon-to-be Blessed John Henry Newman's collected works are a treasure of wisdom and faith; classics of Catholic Spirituality (like Story of a Soul, Imitation of Christ or Dark Night of the Soul); even Butler's Lives of the Saints - it's all there, and some more.
Check out the product site and see for yourselves!
Thursday, June 25, 2009
"Do you find a split in the way you're treated, especially after the sexual abuse scandals, with some still putting priests on a pedestal and others only seeing flaws?"
Yes, I do, but it has not been so great a split that it merits that much worry. Some people outright don't like priests. This often comes from their own negative experience of a priest in their past, and they simply transfer that ill will to all in a collar. I don't think it is any sort of anti-Catholicism on their part - just anti-priest. It is not entirely their fault. Whoever the priest or priests were who gave them that bad experience (and this can be from telling them they can't park in the principal's space to the horror of sexual abuse) - those priests are also guilty.
When I was sending out the invitations to my diaconate ordination in 2002, we were in the throes of the clergy sex abuse scandal. I vividly recall sitting in my room at the parish where I was working, addressing envelopes, and listening to talk radio hosts blasting the Church, the clergy and everything else I was getting into. I thought, "Do I really want to do this? Is it worth it?"
It's enough to say that my answer to those questions has been given. My resolution at that time was to be the best priest that I could be - I only have control over myself and my actions. Rather than distancing myself from young people, I chose to be involved as a healthy, holy person. If anything, the scandals have heightened our awareness of the need for vigilance in protecting our kids and honesty in screening our candidates for priesthood.
That has been the negative. As far as putting me on a pedestal, I certainly have had that too. Particularly from those of the older generation who cherish a visit from "Father." The very pious have placed priests high on that pedestal, and this is more of a reflection of the high expectations that people have from those called to confect the most sacred mysteries of our faith. It is humbling to me to have people treat me like that, especially because I know myself that I often don't measure up.
What does this mean for me? Well, it is always a reminder that I am a public person in the Church. My ministry carries with it not only what I do and have done, but often what other priests have done and what people expect from their priests. When that "little old lady" slips a $10 bill into my hand when all I did was visit her home, and she says over my protests, "I want you to have it, Father. And pray for me," I am brought back to the reason I am who I am. I am her priest - $10's or not - and that's my job: I pray for her.
The witness value of our vocations means that when people see me they think about church - they think about God - they think about priests. Whether this brings immediately good or bad thoughts to mind is not up to me. After meeting me, I hope, they are thinking a little differently; and after reading this, maybe you do to?
If you have any questions or subjects on which you'd like me to write - related to priesthood - feel free to comment on the post.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
LA's fine, sunshine most of the timeIn the midst of his drifting feelings of homelessness, he cries out:
The feeling is laid back
Palm trees grow and the rents are low
But you know I keep thinking about
Making my way back
Well, I'm New York City born and raised
But nowadays, I'm lost between two shores
LA's fine, but it ain't home
New York's home but it ain't mine no more
I am, I said"I am" is what caught me, I suppose. "'I am,' I cried." Is he crying out that he is there? Is he somehow asserting his existence in some lonely, crowded world where individuality has made us all lonely? Or - just maybe - is this a veiled prayer - a cry to the Judeo-Christian God who reveals Himself to those He calls as "I AM"? All those vocation stories in the Bible seem to have a formula to them. Part of it involves the one called protesting; the other, though, is the reassuring voice of God Who asserts, "I will be with you."
To no one there
And no one heard at all
Not even the chair
I am, I cried
I am, said I
And I am lost, and I can't even say why
Leavin' me lonely still
When God first reveals His name "for all ages" to Moses at the Burning Bush, He tells him, "I AM that I AM" - sometimes rendered, "I AM WHO AM." This God - He-Who-Is - is a God who is there when we cry. In the midst of our loneliness, our fears, our angst, God is the One to Whom we are truly crying out, "I am." Our time has long been one of uncertainty. There is always some sense of feeling "lost" as forces much bigger than you or me seem to carry us in directions we just don't want to go. Our prayer might take on a different form, though: "God, are you even there?"
His reply, "I AM, said I."
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Looking for another way to celebrate the Year of the Priest? Want a $500 shopping spree at the Catholic Company? Want to sent your favorite priest away - er, off to Rome, I mean? Well, check this out:
Deacon Greg, one of the "celebrity judges," points it out.
You're welcome to follow me around, but I am hardly "incredible"!
Monday, June 22, 2009
One night, Merlin is awakened by a voice calling him. He leaves his room and looks to his guardian, who remains asleep (evocative of the Samuel-Eli story in the 1 Samuel 3). Merlin continues following the voice to the lowest reaches of the castle town, to a cave, where he encounters a talking dragon. The dragon reveals that his "gift" has been given to him for a reason. Merlin hints at his excitement to know that he has a purpose, but the dragon tells him that his destiny is tied to that of Arthur. He relates his opinion of the prince and the dragon tells him that, perhaps, his destiny is to "help Arthur realize" the greatness he has in store.
Young people labor under the (correct) opinion that they have a special destiny. This is part of our vocation. Most of the time, we believe that we are in control of that destiny - that we choose what we are to become. However, the truth is that God has made us for our purpose. Our lives are journeys to discover and fulfill that destiny. This does not mean that we have no control over our choices, nor that our choice do not shape us. It does mean that we have a duty to discover our vocation. It also means that our destinies are never independent realities. We are tied to one another, and there is no escaping that. It is our destiny.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
They woke him and said to him,
"Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"
"Do you not care?"
How many times have I asked that of God when I see horrible things happening in the world (or more often, in my life)? How often do people everywhere, who have placed their faith in the carpenter who walked on water, who made the blind see, who cured the lame, who rose from the dead - how often have those people asked that same Jesus, "Why?"
"Why do bad things happen to good people?"
"Why did my husband die?"
"Why are children killed in our cities?"
"Why does violence keep us prisoners in our homes?"
"Why? Why? Why?"
"Do you not care?"
This Sunday, Archbishop O'Brien has designated as "Peace Sunday." Today, we across the Archdiocese are asked to pray for peace and to give one dollar toward the "Safe Streets" public health initiative. Baltimore has consistently over the past few years had one of the highest homicide rates in the country. Children are fearful to step outside because of gangs, drugs and violence. There is no peace - only the storm.
And it seems that our God is asleep.
"Do you not care?"
The next line of today's gospel is telling: "He woke up." Jesus wakes up, rebukes the storm and returns to his usual business - trying to draw faith out of his disciples. Their reaction is one of awe - as it had been countless times before when their friend worked his wonders. And here is our answer too.
Yes, Jesus cares. But his actions are more than a cool trick. Rather, they are reminders of what God can do when we place our faith in Him. When we become faithful coworkers with God, we are capable of bringing these storms to the peaceful calm that we envision today. However, it requires the boldness of faith to think that we can work with God. The question remains: "God, do You not care?"
His answer: "Do you?"
When we do, that is the beginning of true faith. And that faith makes all the difference.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
My dear sons, Ernest, Marc, Hector and Gonzalo.
Mis queridos hijos, Ernest, Marc, Héctor y Gonzalo,
Could there be a more joyful, significant moment than an ordination day? From the farthest reaches of our Archdiocese and well beyond the People of God gather in great numbers to witness and participate in a ceremony which in its essence traces back to apostolic times.
The joy could not be more evident, even palpable. Friends from the parishes you have served while in the seminary rightly take pride on this day. Through their love of Christ and his Church you have already seen how thoroughly and effectively, we priests are shaped by the People of God. And with such anticipation have your families looked forward to this day.
In a special way, I welcome on behalf of all the faithful of this Archdiocese your parents, Gonzalo, who have come all the way from Medellin, Colombia, Marta and Hernan, and I thank them for the gift you are to us.
Hector, I know your mother Clelia Maria, takes joy in this Ordination Day. All of us welcome you, Clelia Maria, and we know that in this his first Mass, Hector will remember all his family and most especially his beloved Father Ciro Antonio who died tragically last year.
To all Spanish-speaking family and friend of our ordinands, a warm welcome.
We rejoice in the presence of the Cibelli family, especially Ernest’s parents, Gennaro and Elaine, along with Ernest’s two brothers. I know that most of us are aware of the unexpected death of Marc Lanoue’s mother just weeks ago. Marc, your proud mother, Margaret, along with your father, Russell, who died many years ago, will have a special place in this Mass. And how comforting it is for you that your three (3) brothers and five (5) sisters are here with their families, for your support
I want to thank the priests of the Archdiocese here in great number, many of whom have shared a special role in your formation as pastors and mentors. Soon the four of you will kneel as one by one each priest will impose hands upon you. They will be expressing the special bond of priestly fraternity into which we are welcoming you. In effect, they will be offering prudent counsel: “the priest cannot act by himself; he acts with the presbyterate, becoming a brother of all who constitute it.”
I would plead that you see in this presbyterate your place of sanctification and that you would in turn, seek to support your brothers by faithful attendance at priest convocations and conferences, prayer groups, anniversaries and funerals. How indebted we all must be to those in our number who creatively seek ways to gather the brethren socially, and showing special concern for those in difficulties.
My brothers, soon to be priests, each of you has won the respect and friendship of the priests of this great and historic Archdiocese. Lean on them for their support in the years ahead, and do all that you can to gather with them to strengthen your own priestly identity.
Gentlemen, you have chosen a portion of the Letter to the Hebrews as one of your readings, a letter that waxes extensively and eloquently on the significance of the priesthood of Jesus Christ and of those who share in Christ’s priesthood. We’ve just heard proclaimed that the priest is to offer gifts and sacrifice for sins, his own sins as well as those of the people.
To offer sacrifice…
All of us, one with Christ through baptism share in the priesthood of the faithful through prayer and through the offerings of our daily works of sacrifice. But it is through the ministerial priesthood, which this successor of the Apostles will confer on you this morning, that you will act in the very person of Christ, and lead the People of God, through the Sacrifice of the Mass, into intimate participation in the death and resurrection of Christ.
How significant and providential it is that each of you will celebrate your individual Solemn Mass of Thanksgiving tomorrow, on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. Pope John Paul II had much to say about the Eucharist in his last Encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, the Eucharist Builds the Church.
The Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary…
…is so decisive for the salvation of the human race that Jesus Christ offered it and returned to the Father only after he had left us a means of sharing in it as if we had been present there.
My brothers, at the consecration of every Mass, you will not simply repeat Christ’s words of institution. Since only Jesus can effectively say, this is my Body, this is my Blood, by your configuration to Christ through this rite of Ordination, you will put your voice at the disposal of the One who spoke these words in the Upper Room and who desires that they should be repeated in every generation by all those who in the Church ministerially share in his priesthood.
For in the sacraments, as our Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, “all that Christ is – all that he did and suffered for all of us – participates in the divine eternity, and so transcends all times.”
And so the Pope explains:
“The Eucharist is truly a glimpse of heaven appearing on earth. It is a glorious ray of the heavenly Jerusalem which pierces the clouds of our history and lights up our journey.”
With such an extraordinary gift entrusted to you please, brothers, make this Eucharistic Sacrifice the center and peak of your priestly prayer life. Be totally convinced, brothers, that whatever success you can rightly expect from priestly activity will flow mainly from this Sacrifice.
I cannot exaggerate the central role of the Mass in your daily lives. Prepare well to celebrate each Mass you offer. Know that this greatest of all privileges that will be yours, to allow the Word to become flesh on your altar, will bring countless graces and blessings upon God’s holy people.
Finally, in regard to the Eucharist, I echo the consistent and unchanging voice of the Church that it is your responsibility as priests and pastors, “to encourage by your own personal witness, the practice of Eucharistic adoration, and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in particular, as well as prayer of adoration before Christ present under the Eucharistic species.”
In this way, I am convinced, not only will your parish community increase in its love for Christ and be motivated to love of neighbor, but our Archdiocese will reap a harvest of vocations – yes zealous lay ministries but also vocations as consecrated religious, deacons and most especially as priests. I thank our pastors for their leadership in offering our faithful greater opportunities for Eucharistic Adoration. Most especially, I thank our good people for their invariably positive and enthusiastic response to Eucharistic Adoration, a devotion which “prolongs and intensifies all that takes place during the Mass itself.”
How fortunate we are to have two more native Spanish speakers in our presbyterate. Hector and Gonzalo, through your special devotion to the Mass and to Eucharistic Adoration outside of Mass, I know for sure that our local Church will be blessed by many more future priests who will bring the rich Catholic culture of Latin American into our Archdiocese.
Your reverent celebration of the daily Eucharist, enriched by your love of the word of God and complemented by your conscientious preaching of that word will enable the grace of God “to unite yourself more closely every day to Christ the High Priest who offered himself to the Father as a perfect sacrifice.” Your total prostration on this sanctuary floor soon to come, is your pledge to join yourself to Christ by a celibate offering of your bodies, living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God.
A sacrifice holy and pleasing to God, as well, will be the complete surrendering of your will to God’s, in the full embrace of all our Church’s teachings and traditions, and in full obedience to your bishop. And as our High Priest had nowhere to lay his head while he walked this earth, do not set your hearts on earthly riches or transient pleasures. With St. Paul, may you rate everything else as loss in the light of the surpassing knowledge of your Lord Jesus Christ. For his sake be willing to account all else as rubbish so that Christ alone may be your wealth.
And before we proceed with the beautiful liturgy of ordination, may I encourage you, my young brothers in ministry, to pattern your life on the life and death of our High Priest, Jesus Christ. Christ ever celibate out of love for her bride, the Church; Christ, ever poor in his humanity, for he possessed the fullness of the divinity; Christ, totally obedient to his father whom he trusted completely.
Now let us proceed to allow this singularly beautiful liturgy speak for itself. Take comfort in the fact that in the litany soon to follow, all the saints in heaven and the Church Universal on earth join their prayer to ours this morning as you, Ernest, Marc, Hector and Gonzalo, as joyfully and gratefully we accompany you up to the Altar of God.
Friday, June 19, 2009
On the forthcoming Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Friday 19 June 2009 – a day traditionally devoted to prayer for the sanctification of the clergy –, I have decided to inaugurate a “Year for Priests” in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the “dies natalis” of John Mary Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests worldwide. This Year, meant to deepen the commitment of all priests to interior renewal for the sake of a more forceful and incisive witness to the Gospel in today’s world, will conclude on the same Solemnity in 2010. "The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus”, the saintly Curé of Ars would often say. This touching expression makes us reflect, first of all, with heartfelt gratitude on the immense gift which priests represent, not only for the Church, but also for humanity itself. I think of all those priests who quietly present Christ’s words and actions each day to the faithful and to the whole world, striving to be one with the Lord in their thoughts and their will, their sentiments and their style of life. How can I not pay tribute to their apostolic labours, their tireless and hidden service, their universal charity? And how can I not praise the courageous fidelity of so many priests who, even amid difficulties and incomprehension, remain faithful to their vocation as “friends of Christ”, whom he has called by name, chosen and sent?As this year begins, as I mentioned before, I want to provide some personal insights into the vocation that I am living - a sort of "behind the sacristy" look at priesthood - by answering your questions about what priests do and who they are. I said I'd be honest and appropriate, so while I am sure that I'll have some pious reflection on the joys of ministry (and there are so many!), I will also write frankly about struggles too.
As for everyone else, I want to humbly offer a few ways in which we can all celebrate the Year of the Priest so that not only the priests will emerge holier but all God's People will rediscover the "love of the Heart of Jesus." So,
- Ask a priest for his blessing. As Pope Benedict points out, John Vianney had a great awareness of the awesome gift that the Priesthood is for God's People: He spoke of the priesthood as if incapable of fathoming the grandeur of the gift and task entrusted to a human creature: “O, how great is the priest! … If he realized what he is, he would die… God obeys him: he utters a few words and the Lord descends from heaven at his voice, to be contained within a small host…”. Explaining to his parishioners the importance of the sacraments, he would say: “Without the Sacrament of Holy Orders, we would not have the Lord. Who put him there in that tabernacle? The priest. Who welcomed your soul at the beginning of your life? The priest. Who feeds your soul and gives it strength for its journey? The priest. Who will prepare it to appear before God, bathing it one last time in the blood of Jesus Christ? The priest, always the priest. And if this soul should happen to die [as a result of sin], who will raise it up, who will restore its calm and peace? Again, the priest…
- Celebrate your priests' anniversary day. This will probably mean actually asking him if you do not know, but remembering that do on which your priest became "your priest" shows a real appreciation for the sacrament of Holy Orders that he shares. Send a card, arrange a special Mass - even have a party (do you really need an excuse for cake?!).
- Thank your priest - or your favorite priest - for his vocation. This goes along with #2. Priests and pastors get a lot of mail - usually bills for everything from the boiler to lawn service, often complaints about this or that staff member (of himself), and stacks of letters from "downtown." Imagine the joy of your priest as he opens a card or letter from a parishioner simply thanking him and offering prayers for his happiness and peace.
- Encourage a young man whom you believe would make a good priest. When I finally decided to go into the seminary, so many people told me that "it made sense to them." They said "I saw that in you." The problem was that they never told me until I agonized over the decision! The invitation and encouragement mean so much. Pray, look, and invite.
- Go to an ordination or your diocese's Chrism Mass in Holy Week. These are central in the life and ministry of a presbyterate. It is a time when the faithful see so many of their priests together and are encouraged by their numbers, however small. If you've never been to an ordination, do it - you will feel the Spirit moving in the Church.
- Greet priests when you see them. And not just at the church. See one in the 7-Eleven? Say "Hello!" Many times, when I am in these "secular" places in my collar, people often avoid eye contact or give off that "get away from me" vibe. It's just good manners - for a priest or anyone for that matter.
- Talk about ways of promoting vocations in your parish. Some places now have "vocations committees" who look for ways to encourage their young people to consider priesthood and consecrated life - as well as married life. The "Elijah cup" (where a chalice is taken weekly into the home of a different parish family) is a popular way of visibly promoting prayer for vocations.
- Finally, and most important, pray! Pray for our priests. Pray that they remain faithful and good. Pray that they have the strength to remember that God is with them and it is His work they are doing. Pray that those who have fallen may have the grace to get up. Pray that those who have brought scandal to the Church may still be healed and reconciled with those whom they have hurt. Pray that our priests may always be aware of the immense Gift that they have received - a Gift that we are now called to share with all.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
It wasn't a horror film, per se, but it was about some scary stuff - the return of the dead, demons from beyond and the destruction of what we know and love. The growing hopelessness that the city of New York felt could only be allieved by the answer to that one question: "Who you gonna call?"
Now, evil spirits, I think, are real, and we do have to wrestle with them in our lives. There are also other "demons" that can seize us with a sense of hopelessness and fear. When we place our hope in the false gods of wealth, success, possessions and "I-can-do-it-all-on-my-own", we can easily feel this sense of being lost. When all these things are taken from us and we stand face to face with our fears, we come to the realization that there is only One who can help us. Who you gonna call? God is waiting, and He is ready to believe you.
St. Paul gives us his spin on this:
What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? As it is written: "For your sake we are being slain all the day; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:35-39).
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
The tension was palatable. But it didn't taste good.
"Did I pass?" I sheepishly inquired.
"Yeah, you passed," he growled, emphasizing "passed" like I had said it. I don't think he liked me - I don't think he liked anyone - but, hey, I had my license!
My point here is that there are people that we meet along our way, who come into our lives in significant moments for us but ordinary ones for them, and they remain impressed into our memories forever, even though we may never see them again. I don't remember that guy's name (he remains forever to me as "Angry Driver Test Guy"). As a priest - as a representative of the Church, I am aware of this strange fact of life. Every wedding, baptism and funeral I do - especially if they are not that acquainted with the Church - I see as an opportunity to give a person, couple, or family a positive experience of the Church. So many people have said that they "left the Church" because of this or that priest. Often, this is just a cop-out for taking responsibility for letting their faith fade; however, I am not so naive as to think this doesn't happen.
Youth ministers and pastors who work closely with young folks have this graced opportunity to be that positive experience for our young people. They faith future is in our hands, and they will remember our contact with them - for better and for worse. Yeah, they might "pass," but whether or not they had a friendly, open presence to help them along that course can make all the difference as to whether or not they decide to take a "driver's seat" in building up the Church in their life.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
However, this time, I was watching the story of the genie - how his tale unfolds. He is a prisoner - albeit with "phenomenal cosmic powers", he is confined to the lamp and then to be beholden to whatever master stumbles upon him. When Aladdin asks him what he would wish for, he is taken aback. His deepest desire: freedom - to be his own master. "Such a thing," he says, "would be greater than all the magic and all the treasures in all the world." Aladdin promises that he will set him free, and while he agrees, the genie does not really think it will happen - just a distant pipe dream.
For us, created by God and in His image, we have been given freedom. That freedom is somehow restricted through our own sin, our fears, our unwillingness to open up to God's action in our lives. However, in Christ, this freedom has been restored, for, Jesus has set us free for freedom, as St. Paul says. Yes, we "are our own masters," but not so that we can do whatever without limits. Rather, we are free to love - free to embrace truth, which dispels fear and limitations and brings us back into that image in which we are created.
Such a thing is greater than all the magic and all the treasures in all the world!
Monday, June 15, 2009
On the way home, as luck would have it, I was scanning through the West Virginia channels in my car and came across Miley Cyrus' newest song, "The Climb." It was a fitting close to a Spirit-filled week:
I can almost see it.Let's keep on climbing.
That dream I'm dreaming, but
There's a voice inside of my head, tellin'
You'll never reach it
Every step I'm takin'
Every move I make
Feels lost in no direction,
My faith is shakin'
But I gotta keep tryin'
Gotta keep my head held high
There's always gonna be another mountain
I'm always gonna wanna make it move
Always gonna be an uphill battle
Sometimes I'm gonna have to lose
Ain't about how fast I get there
Ain't about what's waitin' on the other side
It's a climb
The struggles I'm facing
The changes I'm taking
Sometimes they knock me down, but
No I'm not breaking
I may not know where, but
These are the moments that
I'm gonna remember most
I've just gotta keep goin', and
I gotta be strong
Just keep pushing on, but
There's always gonna be another mountain
I'm always gonna wanna make it move
Always gonna be an uphill battle
Sometimes I'm gonna have to lose
Ain't about how fast I get there
Ain't about what's waitin' on the other side
It's a climb
There's always gonna be another mountain
I'm always gonna wanna make it move
Always gonna be an uphill battle
Sometimes I'm gonna have to lose
Ain't about how fast I get there
Ain't about what's waitin' on the other side
It's a climb
Keep on movin'
Keep faith baby
It's all about, it's all about
Keep the faith, keep your faith
Sunday, June 14, 2009
So I want to say thank you to all the people of my pastoral assignments for making me the priest I am. Thanks too to the people for whom and with whom I serve now. You are all a huge part of my vocation!
Sunday, June 7, 2009
Professor Umbridge personifies a common view of young people as annoyances who need to be kept docile and unchallenged so that they can simply mimic and reproduce the status quo. "I really hate children," she admits at one point. Dumbledore, however, sees the potential that these young people have and nurtures their new and innovative ways of encountering life - all the while, he is aware of the serious business that they face in growing up. In fact, Harry's "lesson" shared at the end of the film, he says, came from Dumbledore himself, because he knew what was worth fighting for.
This is the task of youth ministry in the Church. Young people's enthusiasm can be seen as refreshing; it can also be seen as troublesome, annoying and out-of-the-ordinary. Either way, I think this holds some promise and hope for the Church in the future. Not that they aren't already part of the Church. Rather, the hope and promise comes from our collaboration with them to help them grow into the Church as She grows with them.
I will be away on retreat this week. There will be no posts until - maybe - Friday. I take with me as my prayer intentions the young people of our Archdiocese and the world, as well as some others. Pray for me too, and I'll see you at the end of the week!
Saturday, June 6, 2009
So let there be no doubt: Islam is a part of America. And I believe that America holds within her the truth that regardless of race, religion, or station in life, all of us share common aspirations - to live in peace and security; to get an education and to work with dignity; to love our families, our communities, and our God. These things we share. This is the hope of all humanity.
Of course, recognizing our common humanity is only the beginning of our task. Words alone cannot meet the needs of our people. These needs will be met only if we act boldly in the years ahead; and if we understand that the challenges we face are shared, and our failure to meet them will hurt us all.
For we have learned from recent experience that when a financial system weakens in one country, prosperity is hurt everywhere. When a new flu infects one human being, all are at risk. When one nation pursues a nuclear weapon, the risk of nuclear attack rises for all nations. When violent extremists operate in one stretch of mountains, people are endangered across an ocean. And when innocents in Bosnia and Darfur are slaughtered, that is a stain on our collective conscience. That is what it means to share this world in the 21st century. That is the responsibility we have to one another as human beings.
This is a difficult responsibility to embrace. For human history has often been a record of nations and tribes subjugating one another to serve their own interests. Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners of it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; progress must be shared.
- President Barrack Hussein Obama, Cairo, 6/4/09
Like many people, I was transfixed on listening to the president's words to his audience in Cairo. I thought it was a masterful speech - an example of great rhetoric. All his talk of a "new beginning," though, made me wonder myself if such a thing is really possible. Are there "do-overs" in our world and lives? Should there be?
Many western philosophers have tried to do this. The best example would be Rene Descartes, who tried to remove every previous foundation of thought before finding that "solid ground" on which he could assert, "Cogito ergo sum" (I think, therefore I am). This exercise - while the work of a brilliant man - nevertheless absolved him from respecting anything that went before. So too with international "new beginnings." Last week, as we read that the president sought a "new beginning" in American-Arab relations, I worried that this was where he was going. By trying to forget everything that went before and starting anew, we'd pay no attention to the history - good and bad - that has brought us to this moment.
However, this does not seem to be the case. We will go forward, yes, but always aware of the tensions, the blessings, and the history that have given us this present opportunity to dialogue.
Now, this brings me back to my original wonderings - and to my faith. Are there "do-overs" or fresh starts? While we are called to go forward, to forge new relationships and to forgive. There is the opportunity! It comes with forgiveness. That's why the Sacrament of Reconciliation is so valuable: it gives the absolved an new start. We can all learn from this - both spiritually and politically. There is the famous dictum of Paul VI that, "If you want peace work for justice." Lesser-known, but equally powerful and true, are the words of John Paul II: "If you want justice work for forgiveness."
This fresh start, then, begins with a very difficult but powerful step: forgiveness. It is the first step on the way to peace.
Friday, June 5, 2009
Occasionally, there are issues that provoke greater-than-normal amounts of correspondence to my office. One recent issue garnered such attention: the precautions we issued to prevent the further spread of the N1H1 Virus (Swine Flu).
While my sentiment on the matter is reflected in the recommendations we issued to our priests and extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, I thought I would share a sampling of the opinions I received about this emotionally charged issue and will, from time to time, give light to the views of others on various topics – as the occasion and (e)mail volume warrants.
Following the news that cases of the “Swine Flu” had been reported in Maryland, my office issued some suggested liturgical and housekeeping precautions (added emphasis on proper hygiene, sterilization of vessels, and suspension of Communion by cup and personal contact during the “sign of peace.” It was also recommended that Communion be given in the hand, alone.) These recommended measures prompted the following communications to my office.
From Mike L.:
Since moving to the Archdiocese of Baltimore … I had always felt welcome to receive the Eucharist in the way that I have always received, on the tongue. … I grew up in a very religious family, and this was one of the traditions instilled in me. … I am writing because … our priest stated immediately before the distribution of Communion that we refrain from receiving Communion on the tongue … I was in shock. And then I became upset … I received on the tongue. I have not touched the Body of Christ with my hands for over 10 years. I was not spiritually prepared to change the way I receive Communion in 30 seconds. … Part of me was wondering if I was disobeying my priest. Another part wondered whether I was disobeying my bishop. I request in the future you be more sensitive and act with more pastoral concern.
Mike, we should have been more explicit in our instructions, advising the priest/Eucharistic Minister to give Communion to anyone asking for it by tongue in spite of our recommendations. My apologies for the difficult position in which you found yourself at Mass.
From Mark M.:
Sanitizing holy water? ... refraining from the sign of peace? ... refraining from drinking the Blood of Jesus? ... so as not to get sick? ... If a thousand sick people dipped their fingers into holy water, I would drink it … if a million sick people drank from the chalice of the Blood of the Lord, I would finish it. … I guess Clorox trumps blessing and the avoidance of Communion with the Blood of the Risen Lord will ensure good physical health.
Mark, the Church teaches that with consecration the bread and wine is wholly and substantially changed into the Body of Christ. However, the “accidents” of bread and wine continue to exist along with their physical characteristics.
And the other side…
From Ellen Y.:
I am a retired medical social worker who worked in a hospital for 17 years. … I have been outspoken on this issue for years asking my pastor to cease these rituals. … I NEVER receive under both species, but people feel embarrassed NOT to hold hands. … It should be announced LOUDLY that these are personal decisions and people should feel free to just wave, blow a kiss, give an “elbow bump” if they so choose.
From James D.:
I thank you very much for what you did to help stop the spread of the flu. Stopping the hand shaking to me was excellent. It truly does stop the spread of germs. What can we do to take its place? Our new peace sign could be “The Sign of the Cross…”
From James B.:
I wish to commend your office for the recent decision to refrain from taking the wine/blood from a common chalice. As a physician specializing in public health, I have declined this aspect of the Mass for years. I hope that this ruling remains in place for the future.
Thanks to each for your affirming words. These precautions were meant only to be temporary efforts to address the immediate public health threat government officials thought the “Swine Flu” posed. It is hoped that we have all learned something valuable from the experience.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
When the little scout approaches his door to "assist the elderly," Carl has lost all sense of purpose in his life. His bride is dead, along with their dreams together. More than that, he doesn't want any either. Instead, it takes the changing world around him to push (or "lift") him into his adventure.
However, Carl discovers through that adventure that his purpose can never really be an isolated one. In discovering the real adventure of his life, he finds the true meaning of that adventure: community - a shared adventure. Apparently, this was something that his late wife Ellie had understood long ago. Through the companionship of Russell, Doug, and yes, Kevin the momma bird, Carl finally learns that an adventure shared is a life of purpose.
For us, this purpose is similar. It is in discovering that we are made for God and that we are made for each other that our lives take on the character of adventures. No two are the same, and yet, they cannot be truly complete until we share them together. The more we resist the forces that try to call us out of ourselves and into community, the longer we will have to dwell in the isolation of meaninglessness. Once we do discover that community, though, it can only be "up" from there!
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
On top of that, the traditional criticism of the Church as "anti-science" strikes me as so simplistic as to be almost laughable. Those who either read the book or see the movie should be made aware of this: the Church does not deny the valuable contribution that science has made and makes to human society. Nor do we see faith and reason as opposing forces. The priest who is portrayed as working at the CERN facility in Switzerland sees this, and his work on the antimatter "God particle," is part of his own attempt at reconciling these two - faith and reason - which both have God as their Author.
It is not a matter of being a "person of faith" or a "person of intelligence." In fact, true humanity can be seen as an integration of the two. Working with college students, I have been blessed to see young people awaken not only to the new learning that they find at the university, but also awakening to their faith, which they now see as reasonable. The classical fathers of the Church defined theology as fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking knowledge). This does not mean that only faith can explain the way things are; rather, it means that faith enlightens our reason and the two open up to us the knowledge of what is truly important, what truly matters. Rather than seeing science as a way of "debunking" faith, the truly faithful person sees the insights and discoveries of science as a pathway to wonder at what God has created and revealed to us.
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
"Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for a man's anger does not fulfill God's justice. If a man who does not control his tongue imagines that he is devout, he is self-deceived; his worship is pointless" (Jas 1:19b-20, 26).
Violence - in acts or in speech - is not a way to justice. Violence against the innocent, violence against the guilty, against the homosexual, against children, against women, against enemies, against anyone - is not in keeping with our faith. Life is precious - all life. Let's be consistent, so our worship may not be pointless.
Monday, June 1, 2009
This story in the beginning of Carl and his wife Ellie's romance bears special attention. They meet as kids, looking for adventure, and fall in love. Ellie shares her "Adventure Book," wherein she keeps snippets of others' adventures and has a page leading to the rest of the scrapbook which will detail her adventures to come. They marry and talk about their dreams (all in a great montage). The story's sadness comes in a scene with Ellie holding her head in her hands in their gynecologist's office - apparently having been told she is sterile. Unable to have children, they nevertheless live a full life together and try to save for that great adventure that they both dream of. There are the natural demands on them that cause them to dip into their dream funds (home repairs, etc.), and as time goes by, they never take that adventure.
The movie's main adventure is Carl's trip to Paradise Falls, where they dreamed of going. At the end, as he sits, self-satisfied at having made it, he opens Ellie's scrapbook - only to notice that her "adventures to come" pages had already been filled - with her life together with him. It wasn't about the dream for her; it was about the shared journey.
Their life together was fruitful. It did not include children, but it was full and wonderful. There is a life-giving aspect to every marriage, and married couples in love are themselves the blessing - whether or not children are in the picture. Certainly, kids are a blessing; but that love itself is also a blessing. A shared love that reflects the Love of God.
And that is the best adventure of all.