Sunday, January 31, 2010
What is it like
to share Your Word
with your friends,
and to have them not want to hear?
How do You handle it?
Where do You go?
and so many love You back.
But when these -
these people so close to You -
when they refuse to hear,
and run you out of town,
what is that like?
I hope You aren't discouraged.
I hope You stay strong.
Because I know
that those Words are worth something,
and many more need to hear them.
Don't hang Your head too much.
Don't fear the rejection.
So many others are cast out too.
Just like You.
When You cross my path,
when You have Your Word to say,
when I am in front of You
don't walk away
as You did from Nazareth.
Saturday, January 30, 2010
At the end of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, as Professor Dumbledore is awarding “last minute” points to various individuals (Harry included) for their extraordinary performance, he singles out Neville Longbottom, who, it had seemed, played a very small role in the story. As the three heroes were heading off on their climactic adventure, little Neville tried to stop them in the Gryffindor common room. Unfortunately, the too-smart-for-her-own-good Hermione petrified him with a spell and they went off anyway.
However, Neville’s little deed was noticed by the headmaster, and it was the points he earned that placed their house in first place for the House Cup that year. It may not have been what Neville wanted, but his courage was what, ultimately, lifted all his peers up.
That sort of courage is what the readings this weekend are about. Jeremiah, the young prophet, receives his calling and mission from God. The Lord recognizes that this mission will be hard and He tells Jeremiah so. However, He also tells him that it is God’s work that he will be doing, and he will be strengthened to be able to endure it. “They will fight against you but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.” And it is that awareness of God’s presence that allows Jeremiah to continue and tell his fellow Israelites some rather harsh news.
Saint Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, knows too that even those things that might earn him honor and popularity are nothing if he does not possess love. This love is not just “nice feelings” toward others, but it is that agape, that charity, which is the essence of who God is. It, therefore, must at times speak difficult things to others when love for them demands it. Ultimately, this love “never fails,” because this love is God.
Even Jesus knew what it was like to stand up to his friends and fellow townsfolk. At Nazareth, even as he announces the fulfillment of the Good News the prophets had announced, he had to also warn them that simply being associated with him was not cause for security. Rather, they were not exempt from the chastisements that the prophets had leveled on God’s behalf toward His people. It’s hard to listen to difficult news, even when it’s a friend who is delivering it.
We, too, can find ourselves in the place of Jeremiah, Paul and Jesus. We live in the midst of many friends and family whose choice might not be in keeping with what we know God would ask of them. The challenge for us is to be the voice that helps them to hear what God is speaking to them and then to have the courage to speak up.
So much of what we do can be motivated by how we think our friends will react to us – “Will they still think I’m cool?” “Will they agree with me?” “Will they still be my friends?” With this in mind, often we will not say things that love might require us to say; we might not speak up for what we know is right or true; we might allow the just deed to go undone for the sake of fitting in. Even more, it is very hard to tell our friends when we think they are acting wrongly, when they are doing something that is harming themselves or others, when our beliefs are being compromised by their actions around us.
Sometimes, in the name of “tolerance” we will be quiet; however, if we are truly honest with ourselves, it is not tolerance but fear that keeps our mouths shut.
In times like these, God’s Word should encourage us – as it did Jeremiah and Paul: “Be not crushed on their account, as though I would leave you crushed before them.” God tells us this in order to strengthen us, but also that we can be a sign and help to others. It is the common good that is the value here, and God’s truth always serves that good.
This is the Truth that Jesus is – a truth that comes to set us (and others) free. It may seem like a small thing to speak up to our friends, but that truth often takes much more courage to speak. We are blessed to hear that Truth, as were the people of Nazareth. May we not be closed to it as they were, so that Jesus simply walks away.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Last week, I received an email from a Catholic organization that I think is right at home here on JGTDW. It is "The Fraternity of St Genesius." This is a group organized to pray for and support those in the performing arts as a way of helping to transform culture to better reflect the beauty of God and humans. Here's a snip from their site:
The Fraternity of St Genesius was founded on 19th January 2007 in Drogheda, Ireland, and was formally approved as a Catholic Private Association of The Faithful on 27 August of the same year. The Fraternity was founded in response to the calls of the Servant of God, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI for the renewal of culture, and as a means of supporting the men and women of the theatrical and cinematic arts through spiritual accompaniment.
As the Church has always understood, and as iterated by the Second Vatican Council, the Church is missionary by nature and she has a deep concern for all men and women whom she sees as the children of God and who are called to come to know and love him. In response to this, the Church preaches the Gospel in the modern world and looks to every area of human life to see Christ’s presence and then seeks to make that presence known to those who inhabit or work within those areas so they may also recognise the presence of the Lord, know that they are not alone and that they are called to know Christ, to seek his Face, to achieve holiness in their daily lives and be received into his kingdom. It is this teaching which is at the heart of the Fraternity’s mission.
The group is based out of Ireland (begoragh!), but is world-wide in its scope. Their site is worth a look - if only to learn who St. Genesius is! The important thing that they remind us of is that popular culture is not just some static thing that we passively observe. Rather, we have an effect on it. The Christian role should be one of prayer and example to support those elements that lift up the human spirit and guide us better toward God.
Monday, January 25, 2010
Well, here's a story you don't see every day.
Grant Desme, a 23-year-old minor league outfielder in Oakland's system, is retiring from baseball to follow a calling into the Catholic priesthood.
The story was first reported by Fox Sports' Jon Paul Morosi — perhaps appropriately with that first name of his — and this isn't a case of a struggling player going through an early-life crisis. Desme was ranked the A's eighth-best prospect by Baseball America after hitting .288 with 31 home runs and 89 RBIs in A ball in 2009 and he was just named MVP of the Arizona Fall League.
Desme might have even been a late-season callup to the big league club in 2010. Our Y! Sports 2010 fantasy guide has him ranked the 40th-best minor-league prospect for near-term fantasy purpose. However, ESPN's Rob Neyer disagrees, saying that he didn't see Desme as a future star by the Bay.
Susan Slusser has more on Desme's decision to leave playing against the Padres and Cardinals so he can start praying with other padres and cardinals at a Catholic seminary in Orange County. He said the news came as bit of a shock to Billy Beane, but that the Oakland GM and entire A's system have been supportive of his decision.
Said Desme on a Friday afternoon conference call:
"I'm doing well in baseball. But I had to get down to the bottom of things, to what was good in my life, what I wanted to do with my life. Baseball is a good thing, but that felt selfish of me when I felt that God was calling me more. It took awhile to trust that and open up to it and aim full steam toward him ... I love the game, but I'm going to aspire to higher things."
Desme spoke with Baseball America last year about baseball being only "a game" and we wish him success on his spiritual path. In a selfish age when churches struggle to recruit young male Americans, his sacrifice of possible riches is a very admirable thing.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
What did you hear, Jacob,
in the synagogue today?
I heard He came back.
Did He read?
Did He speak?
What news, Jacob?
He did indeed read;
He did speak.
He unrolled the scroll
as if He had written it
and He began:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
I know that.
We've heard that before.
So what -
is that all?
What did He say?
That's the thing, father.
The words are familiar;
the prophet is the same
But now -
now, there was more.
Even after He rolled up the scroll,
we could tell -
there was more.
So, then what, son?
The prophet's words have been with us every day.
week out -
Ah, but that's it, father!
today, He said -
are fulfilled -
in our hearing!
There is no more to await.
He is the One!
Don't we know His brothers and sisters?
How can He be?
Isn't He the carpenter's son?
Yes, father, He is.
And I am yours.
I have heard Him,
and I am sure.
Come, let's hear Him
Friday, January 22, 2010
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
The idea of an "avatar" is that one has a created body through which one experiences and interacts with the world. It's the same idea as all those "sim" games on your Wii, xBox, PlayStations and the like. In other words, they are shells into which we can insert our consciousness and interact with others and the world. To borrow from The Police in the early eighties, it's the idea of the "ghost in the machine."
This is not how we view our own interactions. We have souls and minds and bodies - all of which are intimately connected and all of which matter. One cannot say, "It's OK if I do this - it's just my body. My soul is what matters." No. The soul is what expresses its dispositions through the body, and our bodies are how we gather information and relate to others. They are not just "shells" into which God has placed us so that we can move around and interact. If that were the case, God would not have needed to enflesh us. But He has, and we glorify God with our bodies, as St. Paul says.
This was the same for Jesus. He had a body - a human body - and this is part of who Jesus is. He is not the same without that body. That is why, when he appears to his friends after the Resurrection on Easter, he shows them his hands and his side. The marks are still there! That was not just a show, and it matters - for them and for us and for all eternity.
Not everything in the movies and culture is evil - not all of it is good. However, good or bad, there are lessons to be learned - and then lived.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
The problem of suffering and evil is often brought up by nonbelievers as a proof of God's non-existence. If God were real, none of this would have happened, they argue. However, this is not a modern, nor a new, criticism. In John 11, Jesus' friend Martha tells him, "Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died." That, however, is not a critique of Jesus but an expression of faith. Jesus goes to those places of suffering and death and joins his to theirs. Such is also the case now in Haiti.
Religion writer, Jim Wallis, gives his thoughts on the matter:
Tragic moments like this bring out the best in global citizens, as we put aside our differences and unite in support of the victims and their families. Haiti is no stranger to hardship, poverty, or sorrow. As Katrina revealed in New Orleans, this earthquake will once again unmask the unbelievable poverty that exists in countries like Haiti. Nearly 80 percent of Haiti’s population lives in abject poverty. I pray that this is not simply another tragic event we see on TV as we channel surf, but I hope it reminds us of our brothers and sisters around the world and down the street, who suffer not only from tragic events — but who suffer every day.
I also want to say a word about God and evil. Pat Robertson said that Haiti’s earthquake was caused because of the country’s “pact with the devil.” I don’t even know what he means, nor do I care. But I want to say this: My God does not cause evil. God is not a vengeful and retributive being, waiting to strike us down; instead, God is in the very midst of this tragedy, suffering with those who are suffering. When evil strikes, it’s easy to ask, where is God? The answer is simple: God is suffering with those who are suffering.Let us all keep the people of Haiti in our prayers. And let us all give what we can to help in the relief efforts.
Read the full link here.
Sunday, January 17, 2010
Friday, January 15, 2010
"It's just a star," we might say with his alligator pal. But, if we look at this through eyes of faith we can see the true meaning of such devotion.
Ray loves Evangeline - a name derived from the word for "Gospel" (evangelium). His true love for her is symbolic for us of the Christian's calling to follow that Gospel and be faithful to it. It is through following the Gospel, which is nothing more than the announcement of the Good News of Jesus Christ, that we attain the promise of that life eternal that God sets forth for us. By following that light, even in death, Ray finds his true love and peace - a place among the stars that makes him also a light to others.
This Vocations Awareness Week, we look to those who also hear God's call to follow that Gospel completely with their lives as priests, deacons and consecrated religious. They too are faithful to "Evangeline" and draw us all to follow in that fidelity. That is the light of the Christian - the light of the Gospel.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
When things like this happen - tragedies - young people are very often moved to want to "do something" - when a hurricane strikes, when a classmate or friend's family member dies suddenly, or when there is an international disaster. Many youth find themselves frustrated by their limitations in their ability to do concrete things. However, never underestimate the value and power of prayer first and foremost in these moments, for it serves to direct our hearts and minds to the One through whom the real healing comes.
Recently, Disney has started a promotion offering a free day at the park for those who give a day of volunteer service. While there is a motive behind this promo, there is good to be had as well. For us, when we start "doing something" at home, we open ourselves and our neighbors up to the reality of God's justice and love, and we become a better instrument to bring that justice and love elsewhere. So start at home, friends.
For those looking to help Haiti, there are a number of relief organizations who are constantly at work there to alleviate the suffering and poverty of this small neighbor of ours. Check out Catholic Relief Services, where you can donate, or Doctors Without Borders, who also take donations.
(photo from CNN.com)
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Or is there?
In the movie, Prince Naveen comes looking for adventure and fun, and he finds himself transformed into a frog by the evil Shadowman. Now, he must overcome attachment to appearances and convince a princess to kiss him. Tiana seems to fit that bill, but she is not a princess, and her kiss only earns herself some webbed feet as well. However, the love that the two discover overcomes all difficulties, and they are finally convinced that, frogs or not, they have what it takes to support and love one another no matter what.
It is then that the "magic" takes place. As they marry, they kiss, and the two are transformed back to their human form. Yet, they are both somehow better than before. Naveen has learned that beauty is only skin-deep and that love is something that goes much deeper. Tiana is now truly a princess, and with that, her dreams can come true.
We too are royalty - children of the King. Through our Baptism, we are transformed and conformed to the Son and become co-heirs with Christ of the good things of the Kingdom. Once brought into this new reality of grace, our dreams can come true as well. It still demands hard work from us, but the grace of God is what gains us that everlasting victory.
And we never had to kiss a frog to get there!
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
The people of Pandora are well in tune with their goddess and all of creation that flows from her. There is a true connectedness of all life, and they are spiritually - as well as biologically - tapped into it. This is not just some hippie, earth-religion, but rather a true spiritual sense that they are part of something bigger than themselves and beyond themselves. There is no desire to quantify it or explain it, except to the misunderstanding humans.
The people know their god, and this spills over into all that they do: their relationship with the world around them; their care for other creatures; their relationships with each other; and even the way the encounter and welcome strangers. This is the fruit of spirituality at its best.
Now, while we do not believe in some "Earth Mother" as Christians, the idea is the same. God is the Creator and we are part of His creation. Our role as enlightened beings, endowed with reason and made in God's image, is to be stewards of the gift of Creation. When the basic relationship of God and us is in tune, we are in tune - with nature, with others, with ourselves. When it is not, there is discord.
The lesson that I take from the Na'vi here is that it starts with an awareness of God that we call "spirituality." This is deeply personal, but it is also meant to be shared. It is what binds us more closely together in religion and faith, and ultimately it is what makes us a human family.
Monday, January 11, 2010
The fact that these tall blue people are called Na'vi or prophets might be accidental or by design - I don't know. However, if we think about the connection, their role in the film is very much prophetic for their divinity. They are a people very much in touch with the divine and the intimate connection between their goddess and all life. It is what drives who they are and how they try to make the intruding humans understand why they cannot simple blindly go about exploiting their home.
The role of a prophet is one that places that person in a challenging role. As a prophet, we are to both listen to the Word of God and transit that to others in word and in action. At our Baptism, we take on this role in being conformed to Christ, Priest, Prophet, and King. In Confirmation, we are strengthened and charged with sharing that faith even when it will be difficult. That is the task of the prophet: to announce God's Word and will to others, even when that will not be popular, even when it might bring us scorn.
Such a role starts, though, with a real relationship with and knowledge of God in our own life. It is only when we truly know that love and presence for ourselves that we can hope to share it with others. We are all prophets - navi'im - and God calls us to make known His love to the ends of the earth - and maybe even beyond!
Sunday, January 10, 2010
could this be Him?
in front of me -
in front of all of us -
in the Jordan?
It can't be.
How could it be Him?
I am not worthy to loosen
the thongs of His sandals,
let alone BAPTIZE Him!
It can't be.
The heavens open!
"You are my beloved son."
Is this Voice for Him,
or for us?
Could He be the One?
I've been preparing,
but how could I know?
If not for that Voice.
He emerges from the waters,
opening His eyes
and looking right at me.
It can't be!
my work will end.
He must increase;
It is finished.
And it has just begun!
Saturday, January 9, 2010
The first is the while idea of the "avatar" itself. An avatar is a sort of personality through which one experiences a world - often like the "Mii" on your "Wii" games. In the film, the avatars are genetically engineered bodies of the native Na'vi people who are control ed by the minds of the humans after whom they are modeled. Once inside, they need to take time to get used to their new 10-foot-tall bodies and their tails. Jake Sully enters the avatar modeled after his twin brother and thus enters the world of the Na'vi. In a sense, he "incarnates." His new existence in that body allows him to interact with them and understand them as never before.
Throughout the film, while he begins with ulterior motives, Jake comes to love and respect these people and even is accepted as one of them. He learns their ways and feels their connection to their world in a way that a mere human cannot.
This is similar - although NOT the same as - to Christ's incarnation, which we have celebrated this Christmas season. God became man; this is a profound reality which we often overlook or fail to fully appreciate. Because God became man, we now have a better insight into the life of the Trinity, and we have access through God's grace to share that life. Only as one of us could God fully bring us to redemption. When Jesus took on all that we are, he lifted it up, and drew together God and humanity in himself - forever.
There is a scene where Jake is trying to save the Na'vi from the impending doom being brought by the humans. They don't believe him; they reject him; and they tie him up to feel the brunt of mankind's attack. He is not unlike Christ, spread out on the Cross. Finally seeing Jake's true motives now, the spiritual leader approaches him in desperation. "If you are one of us," she pleads, "then save us!" And she releases him.
"If you are one of us."
IF you understand who we truly are, then you can save us - because you understand them. Jesus knows us, and he knows God - because he is God. When he is lifted on the Cross, he pleads for us, "Father, forgive them! they know not what they do."
The incarnation is the mystery through which God is revealed as one of us - one who will go as far as taking on our existence and suffering death in order to bring us back together with God. That is no virtual reality or game. We need no avatar for this grace. It is real.
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Monday, January 4, 2010
Well, there are a couple of things. The first and most striking for me as a Catholic is the idea that Tiana's food (handed on to her by her father) would "bring people from all walks of life together." That's the magic of good food, her daddy tells her as a child. In this, we can see a Eucharistic thread, as those who come to the table of the Lord, as He is broken and shared in the Bread and Wine, are all brought together. As St. Paul comments, there is no longer Jew or Greek, male or female, freeman or slave. All are made one in Christ, and that is the effect of the Sacrament.
The other is the warning for us to stay away from dabbling in dark arts. Yes, kids, I said the "dark arts." And this is not some Harry Potter break-away. The powers of darkness are real - evil is real - and they have an effect in our world, especially if we are careless in "playing" around with them. The villain, "the Shadowman," illustrates just how nasty these things can be. Although he is a classic Disney villain - rotten to the core - he is also trying to play all sides to his advantage, including his "friends on the other side." Ultimately, this cannot be sustained, and he is made to pay the price for his dabbling in things more powerful than he admits. We too, must be aware that the devil is after us, and that evil is a reality. Putting on the "armor of light" helps us to stave off these spirits and maintain a life of virtue and peace.
Finally, as the title alludes, the movie shows us the transformative power of love - true love. This is not the love that looks at appearance and "how cute we are together." It is a love that sees the deeper connections that the heart can only know. Even when it appears that that love is "not working," it is still love, and that is the most powerful "magic" we have.