“Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8)

“Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.” — St. Teresa of Calcutta

Here’s an excerpt from a scripted portion of my talk last Saturday on the lay apostolate in the world, i.e. the mission to be secular saints and infiltrate the world with the love of God. I did not get to present most of it and I never edited it, so please excuse all mistakes.

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There’s a lovely phrase frequently used by Evangelicals when they evangelize, “God has a plan for your life.” At the heart of that “plan,” Catholics would say, is the universal call to holiness. God created each of us to be a saint. Holiness is nothing more, or less, than being made perfect in Christ’s love.

This vocation, regardless of our state or circumstance in life, is renewed from moment to moment. Every new situation we find ourselves in is a fresh calling from Jesus: COME, FOLLOW ME. My child awakens at 2:00 a.m. with a nightmare: Come, follow me out of your rest. My boss fires me unjustly: Come, follow me in patient endurance and hope. My irritating neighbor knocks on my door asking me to move my car, again (which is actually in front of my property): Come, follow me in speaking the truth in charity. My alarm goes off at 4:00 a.m. to pray before I leave for work at 5:00, and I’m tired: Come, follow me into your prayer room where I await your sacrificial offering. The doctor gives me news of terminal cancer: Come, follow me along the way of the cross, of dark faith and of trust. When we see all life as a vocation, everything becomes a new opportunity to choose God’s plan by choosing life, faith, hope, trust, patience, honesty, kindness, forgiveness – in a word, by choosing love…

Love of God and love of neighbor.

But what is love? To love is to will the well-being, good, fulfillment, salvation of another. All of the commandments are the substance of love, giving love meaning and direction, and rooting it in justice. Of course, we can love our neighbor by willing their good, but what of God? He is Goodness itself, purely actualized. We cannot will His well-being, good or fulfillment.

So how can we love Him?

By willing what He wills. And what does He will? The good of our neighbor. And how do we do that? By keeping His commandments. And so it all circles back on itself, a closed and endlessly revolving circle that binds love of God and neighbor inextricably together. They can never be separated — when you love God, you are loving your neighbor; and when you love your neighbor, you are loving God. God does not compete with His creation, as if we had to choose God or others. Only when we sin do we establish a competition.

Jesus commanded us, taking His words from Leviticus, “love your neighbor as yourself.” This does not, by the way, mean that self-love and self-care are model of genuine love. (nothing against self-care) Rather, this commandment means that to love one’s neighbor is to love oneself. What I do to my neighbor I do to myself. If I kill my neighbor, I commit suicide. If I slander my neighbor, I slander myself. You might even say that God Himself obeys this same commandment. Inasmuch as God made us in His own image, and became Man, He made the welfare and good of humanity His own. He loves humanity as Himself, loves us as another self. This binding love meant the Father could not but raise Christ from the grave into eternal life.

God wishes us to think of Him the same way: when we love neighbor, we love not only ourselves but Him. God does not eat sacrifices, like the pagans thought, but His hunger and thirst is satisfied through our feeding the hungry and thirsty — “I was hungry, thirsty and you gave me food, drink.” Or Proverbs 19:17, “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord.”

Dorothy Day made this point stunningly when she said that we only love God as much as love the person we like the least. This is the hallmark of Christian love: sacrificial, self-less, other-centered, forgiving love. God loves most to be loved through our enemies. Only such love possesses restorative, reconciling power. It’s also why Fr Walter Ciszek, who spent 23 awful years in Soviet work-prison camps, said that persecution is really our enemies testing how serious we are about this love thing. So when Christians suffer abuse and hardship and persecution for their faith, their first recourse must not be outcry and  lawsuits, but mercy, patient love, and courageous, uncomplaining, un-bitter endurance. Even as they pursue justice.

Because every vocation is always a declension of love, the fundamental vocational discernment question is never, “What does God want for me?” but “what does God want for others?” Never first, “What good will this bring me,” but “How can I best, most efficiently expend everything I have been given on others? How can I best obey the law of the gift? What is (as my own spiritual director once said it) the most likely way I can be assured to die broke, having expended my gifts on other’s well-being and divine glory?”

Lord, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to ask for reward,
save that of knowing that I do your will.

Discernment is about the divine-human alignment of my gifts and desires with the needs around me. A really brilliant Sudanese missionary priest I met years ago said, when I asked him how he decided to become a priest,

I can tell you this — it didn’t begin with my exploring “I, me, my;” but with exploring “thou, thee, thy.” God, neighbor. My mother taught me that as a small child: You will find God only when you fill the mouth of your brother, your sister. In American culture so much discernment is an agonizing over personal fulfillment and happiness — what will make me feel fulfilled, me happy, me complete? Love can’t start there or it will always be a tortured process, locked in your ego. Because the center of gravity in every vocation is always the other, the neighbor, the church, the village, the world, God.

A vocation feels like a direct compliment of God to me: I am special, unique, gifted, God has called me by name. Yes, there is truth in that. But vocation must always be attended by mission, which is always a direct compliment for the neighbor to whom we are sent by God. Vocation serves mission. Sometimes people get stuck in naval-gazing vocation circles because they know if they say Yes, freedom tightens, the mission begins, and we must forget ourselves. But this is natural in a culture that claims rights without responsibility, gifts without giving.

For me my discernment to be a priest was simple, but not easy. There is a real need for priests, I had a desire, an openness and I had the gifts to accomplish priestly ministry. So, I am a priest. I saw the apostles did not deliberate over personal fulfillment when Jesus called. They dropped all. With the hand on the plow, no turning back. The rich young man in the Gospel? He stopped and deliberated his personal happiness and fulfillment, weighed his options and went away sad. The Devil makes us look back over and over, always wondering if other pastures are greener.

When Jesus calls, He does not say: “Do you want to feel happy and fulfilled and special?” No, he says, “Do you love me? Feed my sheep, tend my lambs.” Our response should always be, “Yes, Lord! Now, which sheep, how to feed, how to tend?”

Jesus is clear, mission is really cross-carrying. Pick up your cross and follow me. This reminds us every day that thinking of our calls as a an ego trip, rather than death-to-self for the other, is a total farce. Only when you embrace this will you stay faithful when you face all of the hardships, temptations, struggles that will come your way. If the whole vocational edifice is built on me, my, mine you will fall fast, like a house built on sand.

To love, think and live like this, we must be immersed, soaked, drenched in God’s love; be intimate with Him, drawing our power from Him like a branch grafted to a Vine. We have to have our imaginations captured by the greatness of this adventure — like Augustine said: “To fall in love with God is the greatest romance; to seek him the greatest adventure; to find him, the greatest human achievement.” Once you fall in love with Jesus and allow His love to enter your life, you become more able to respond to His call at every moment, consecrating the very earth by every drop of blood you shed.

Pope Benedict helps us here:

If I have no contact whatsoever with God in my life, I am incapable of seeing in my neighbor the image of God. But if in my life I fail completely to heed others, solely out of a desire to be “devout” and to perform my “religious duties”, then my relationship with God will also grow arid. It becomes merely “proper”, but loveless. Only my readiness to encounter my neighbor and to show him love makes me sensitive to God as well. Only if I serve my neighbor can my eyes be opened to what God does for me and how much he loves me. The saints—consider the example of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta—constantly renewed their capacity for love of neighbor from their encounter with the Eucharistic Lord, and conversely this encounter acquired its realism and depth in their service to others.

Only then can your vocational mission look, as it must, like this…

Mashley, Prison and Storms

A medley today.

First, a new Maria and Ashley video. MIKA’s Grace Kelly. It’s playful and spikes some amazing pitch peaks! Always gives me joy to share…

I’d also like to share a bit of my yesterday before I go to bed…

Yesterday I had the privilege of speaking at the Cathedral in Pensacola for a Lenten day of reflection. I was invited to speak on a topic dear to my heart, the lay vocation to sanctify the world as “secular saints.” I spoke alongside Dale and Susan Recinella, both of whom serve on behalf of the Catholic bishops of Florida to Florida’s Death Row and Solitary Confinement population. They are two extraordinary people who incarnate both the justice and the mercy of God. So while it was my job to offer a fresh look at the Catholic theological and spiritual vision for the lay apostolate, it was theirs to give concrete evidence of what it looks and feels like when you live that out in a radical and real way. I’ll share below a 10 minute clip of a talk Dale gave at Jesuit High School in Tampa on his apostolic work in prisons.

At the very end of my talks, this wonderfully joyful and faith-filled woman came up to me and shared with me a quote (she has framed on her wall) that knocked my socks off. Here’s what it meant to me, per my journal entry…

Her quote captured with one image all I had tried to say about the (mostly ignored) meaning and power of Baptism and Confirmation that confer on each of the lay faithful the exalted vocation to consecrate the world itself to God.

These Sacraments introduce into creation an entirely new and destabilizing principle of divine life — Emmanuel — inaugurating the overthrow of death and the re-creation and transformation of all things, as God becomes an “insider” in the world — first by becoming Man in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and then, through faith and the Sacraments, continuing His incarnation in each of us. Again, just reflect on this — in the Sacraments, the Word of the Father extends the fullness of His “becoming flesh” to us (John 1:14), making us His Body, drawing us through His death and resurrection, and filling us with the roaring Wind and raging Fire of Heaven (Acts 2:1-13). God became man that man might become God, as St. Athanasius famously put it.

Wow.

Every time we say Yes to God, Heaven’s tempest — the Spirit of Jesus — fills the earth and God unleashes His own re-creating storm on the storm-battered ruins of this world (1 Pet. 3:18-21). Indeed, the God-Man allows Himself to be ruined with us, only then to rise and still the storm (Job 38:1; Matt. 8:24-26; 27:50-53; John 20:19-23), preaching good news to the poor, proclaiming release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, setting at liberty those who are oppressed and proclaiming the acceptable year of the Lord (Luke 4:18-19). Like Elijah, the faithful are caught up in the Whirlwind, in a chariot of Pentecostal Fire, to bring earth to heaven and heaven to earth (2 Kings 2:11).

Man, those are some seriously volatile Sacraments we receive. Saints are dangerous.

It was so appropriate that, as I drove home from Pensacola yesterday with her quote resonating in my heart, I passed through several lines of violent thunderstorms. And all on the feast of the Annunciation. Deo gratias.

I asked the woman to allow me to record her sharing the quote, and she graciously agreed:

Here’s Dale:

Staycationing in God

Children play with a suitcase near a camp for people displaced by the earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Tuesday, March 23, 2010. A 7.0-magnitude earthquake hit Haiti on Jan. 12, killing and injuring thousands and leaving more than a million people living in makeshift camps. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

[I will not post until Sunday because I have another very hectic week. Hence, this post’s theme…]

Instead of wondering when our next vacation is we should set up a life we don’t need to escape from. — Seth Godin

My daughter shared this quote with me last weekend, and said: “Isn’t that great?” I said, “It is! And the busier your life gets, the harder it becomes!” After that exchange, later that night, I wrote out a few rambling thoughts in my journal…

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When beset by worries, anxieties and responsibilities, the temptation is immense to narrow the world around me and refuse to live fully in the present moment. It’s natural, in a certain sense, as I only have so much psychic energy to spend at any given time and stress naturally constricts my vision. But what I tend to miss out on when I get in that “survival mode” is the capacity to receive each arriving moment as a gift laden with rich possibilities for discovery and grace.

We call this attentiveness to the now by words like mindfulness, awareness or watchfulness. In the Catholic tradition we refer to the “sacrament of the present moment.” Regardless of the term used, for a Christian these all represent a disciplined attentiveness to the truth that each now is an opportunity for a singular and fresh encounter with the God who is at all times calling creation into existence.

In this sense, the primal event of the Big Bang has no advantage over us in its proximity to the shock-and-awe experience of God’s creating  words: “Let there be…” When God spoke creation into being, He did not just create cosmic raw material and then saunter off to attend to other things. Rather, the God who is timeless called into existence, all-at-once, every single moment of cosmic time. From 13+ billion years ago to the end of time, all is wholly and immediately present to the freshness of God’s creative Word. I’ve always thought that the words to Eleanor Farjeon’s hymn, Morning Has Broken, capture elegantly this sense of “springing into being” so well.

We live mostly in ordinary time, in the daily routines and rhythms of school and work and family and trash day. Sometimes slow, sometimes harried. So how can we avoid ordinary time’s seemingly natural slouch into stale, dull time? How can we fend off the sense that ordinary time’s well-worn grooves or tight strictures are a rut or an imprisonment from which we require periodic vacating?

To see ordinary time not as a prison but as a Gate, I must be able to rediscover the Gift of Wonder again and again. Wonder, the capacity to be #surprised!, originates in God. Wonder abides deep within his eternally proceeding Fire, Fire once stolen from Heaven for us by Christ as he breathed his last on the cross.

I ponder of something great
My lungs will fill and then deflate
They fill with fire, exhale desire
I know it’s dire my time today

Wonder’s raging fire topples walls, plows ruts and expands horizons. Fire fills the Kingdom that Baptism first inaugurated within me. God’s is an ever-nearing Kingdom, cast by Christ into a world grown cold in sin. It is a Kingdom filled with song and praise, dancing and feasting, angels and rivers, seas and orchards; a realm without tears or pain or sorrow or loss.

In prayer I enter, and am entered by, this Kingdom. Intimately. In prayer, I allow God’s reign entry into the fissures and marrow and sinews and quarks of my being. In prayer I pass through the Wardrobe into Narnia, through the Sea into the spacious Promised Land. All of this transpires in the heart of the one who prays with the heart. It’s why Satan, lord of the icy prison, abhors prayer.

Only if we live in prayer will we come to see, taste, touch, smell and hear the coming of that Kingdom’s King, who comes softly as a zephyr (1 Kings 19:12), whose delight is to play among the children of men (Proverbs 8:31). The God of ever-present refreshment, celebration, newness and restorative rest is so near. Just listen now, in the silence. Do you sense him? The Wonder-Counselor is with us, working joyfully, eagerly awaiting our offerings, to render them translucent, transubstantiating them into sacraments of His Kingdom. Whatever it is we choose to offer Him– time, work, play, possessions, relationships, pain, boredom, dreams, regrets, love. Even a tiny puddle.

But do I have an offering to give? I can only offer what I am able to receive, and I cannot receive if I don’t first loosen my white-knuckled grip on everything. I can feel the tension right now! Here, let me release my possessing, controlling, consuming, using, abusing, squandering, self-centered and ungrateful grinding through the moments of each day; moments that so quickly bloom and fade away. I walk amid lush meadows of magnificent flowers, yet I thoughtlessly crush them underfoot because I live elsewhere than where I am. I long to pray with the immediacy of wonder:

Glory to Thee for the Feast Day of life
Glory to Thee for the perfume of lilies and roses
Glory to Thee for each different taste of berry and fruit
Glory to Thee for the sparkling silver of early morning dew
Glory to Thee for the joy of dawn’s awakening
Glory to Thee for the new life each day brings
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Annie Dillard said so well, “The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” Striving to “be there,” present in the moment. Present to the beauty of grace in life, in real-time. Allowing it to drench my soul and shape me. What a wonderful definition of contemplative prayer: Permitting the grace of the moment to shape me. St. Thomas Aquinas defines contemplation as a “simple gaze on truth.”  A simple gaze is receptive, uncomplicated, not manipulative or exploitative, allowing reality to be what it is, the Real to be who he is.

Gazing simply, consistently, receptively on the God of Jesus. Crucified, dead, buried, risen. Letting this God be God, rather than me writ large. Doing within me all he wills.

This is the secret of liberating incarcerated grace. The Passover God is an emancipator. Let him enter, the King of glory. He will bend your prison bars into a Gate opened out into vast and fragrant meadows.

But if I persist in barring this Kingdom’s entry, failing to pray, I remain pressed, hemmed in, stifled in narrow places.

I love vacations. I find them so important for resetting my inner compass. But I don’t want to live my ordinary time bereft of wonder, depleted of joy, blind to beauty. I choose now to draw near to my recreating God. Come, Lord Jesus!

Catholic vantages on Evolution

Fr. Nicanor Austriaco. news.providence.edu

Today, more than a half-century after the appearance of that encyclical, some new findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than an hypothesis. In fact it is remarkable that this theory has had progressively greater influence on the spirit of researchers, following a series of discoveries in different scholarly disciplines. The convergence in the results of these independent studies—which was neither planned nor sought—constitutes in itself a significant argument in favor of the theory. — St. John Paul II’s 1996 Address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences

But the big problem is that were God not to exist and were he not also the Creator of my life, life would actually be a mere cog in evolution, nothing more; it would have no meaning in itself. Instead, I must seek to give meaning to this component of being. Currently, I see in Germany, but also in the United States, a somewhat fierce debate raging between so-called “creationism” and “evolutionism,” presented as though they were mutually exclusive alternatives: those who believe in the Creator would not be able to conceive of evolution, and those who instead support evolution would have to exclude God. This antithesis is absurd because, on the one hand, there are so many scientific proofs in favour of evolution which appears to be a reality we can see and which enriches our knowledge of life and being as such. But on the other, the doctrine of evolution does not answer every query, especially the great philosophical question: where does everything come from? And how did everything start which ultimately led to man? — Pope Benedict’s 2007 Meeting with Clergy

Recent studies indicate that the Church’s pastors have not been effective in communicating and leading this mission. In her 2015 study “Catholicism and Science,” sociologist Elaine Ecklund notes that 62% of high-attendance Catholics think that the Bible and science can be in conflict, indicating a lack of awareness that, in the words of John Paul II, “The theological teaching of the Bible, like the doctrine of the Church which makes this explicit, does not seek so much to teach us the how of things, as rather the why of things.” This is especially true of younger Catholics; according to the National Study of Youth and Religion, 72% of 18-29 year-old Catholics see science and religion in conflict, and 78% of 18-29 year-old lapsed Catholics cite the “conflict” of science and religion to account for their departure, despite the teaching of the Youth Catechism that “there is no insoluble contradiction between faith and science” (#23). This data suggests that in order to effectively catechize and evangelize this and subsequent generations, Catholic priests must be prepared to address scientific topics in a way that weds faith and reason. — Dr. Chris Baglow, author of Faith, Science, and Reason Theology on the Cutting Edge

That last quote is by my colleague and dear friend, Dr. Baglow, introducing the timely importance of a course he offered this Spring at our Seminary called, The Emergence of the Image: Human Evolution from Scientific, Philosophical and Theological Perspectives. I wish I could take it! It offers seminarians the opportunity to become part of the solution to the crisis these statistics evidence.

Recently he invited microbiologist Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, O.P., who teaches biology and bioethics at Providence College, to give a series of lectures on evolution. Fr. Nicanor received his Ph.D. in Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his doctorate in Moral Theology at the University of Fribourg.

One of his class lectures on “why would God choose to create through evolution” was recorded, and he wonderfully gave me permission to post his lecture for public consumption. I am so grateful! It’s over two hours long, the audio is not perfect, but I think it’s well worth your time. Enjoy…
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St. Abba, pray for us

soultravelmultimedia.com

Human fatherhood can give us an inkling of what God is; but where fatherhood no longer exists, where genuine fatherhood is no longer experienced as a phenomenon that goes beyond the biological dimension to embrace a human and intellectual sphere as well, it becomes meaningless to speak of God the Father. Where human fatherhood disappears, it is no longer possible to speak and think of God. It is not God who is dead; what is dead (at least to a large extent) is the precondition in man that makes it possible for God to live in the world. The crisis of fatherhood that we are experiencing today is a basic aspect of the crisis that threatens mankind as a whole. — Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

Tomorrow is St. Joseph’s feast day. I have a deep devotion to him. Spouse of Mary, foster-father and guardian of the Redeemer, rock of the Holy Family, patron of the universal church. Jesus first addressed Joseph as Abba. Joseph’s face, more than any other, formed for the “little” Jesus an image of the face of His Father — which Jesus spoke of with such tenderness in Matthew 18:10:

Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven

I’ll share a few brief, scattered reflections on fatherhood. What I share I have learned from great fathers, who helped set my goals and aspirations. And what I say is true for all who rightly bear the title father, including biological fathers, grandfathers, adoptive fathers, sacramentally ordained Fathers and spiritual fathers. And though I will not develop this point, fatherhood is wholly defined by motherhood. As St. John Paul II said, a father “learns his own fatherhood from the mother” — in other words, in relationship to a woman’s maternity.

May these thoughts be pleasing to and inspired by the example of good St. Joseph…

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“And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:6).

This is, to me, the core of fatherhood — having your heart turned toward your child and receiving back your child’s heart. Terrifying. Guys aren’t often good at heart-matters. The heart takes you beyond the superficial. You look in your child’s bright eyes as they look at you with such intensity. They look with an absolute trust and expectation that you will care deeply about their every word, their every need, their every fear and hope and dream. And then I see how selfish and weak and petty I am, and I beg God: “Make me worthy of them, Father.”

Their natural openness to God finds its first resting place in their father. As the Little Prince said, “The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched, they are felt with the heart.” Small children live out of their heart, are wide open like baby birds in the nest trustingly awaiting from their parents, with gaping mouths, not poison but nourishment. The intimacy I’ve felt with my children, precisely because their hearts allow and request such complete unfiltered access, is unequaled by any other experience of intimacy. It’s singular.

I was putting my son Nicholas to bed one night, when he was 4 or 5 years old, and as I was trying to bless him he pulled his face up to mine — inches away. He said with his lisp, in a hushed tone, “Daddy, my heart burns for you.”

I was stunned and speechless. I blessed him, left the bedroom and went right over to Patti to tell her. I said, “What does that even mean to him? Where did he learn that?” She immediately said, “Isn’t it obvious? What’s on the wall in our prayer room?” I said, “The Sacred Heart image.” Then I said, “Oh my.” She went on, “Don’t you remember the other night when he asked you why Jesus’ heart was on fire? And you said, ‘Because Jesus’ love for you is so intense that it’s like a raging fire!’ So, clearly he felt love for you and thought that was the best way to express it.”

Fatherhood also “turns your heart toward your children” as you become defined by them, by their needs and their welfare. When you think about anything, they are just there, somehow shaping your attitudes, your responses. Children’s fears elicit from their father an instinct to encourage; their questions, a passion to teach; their bad behavior, a demand to correct; their hesitancy, a hope to inspire; their sufferings, a call to pray; their gifts, a wish to cultivate. The hearts and minds of children inhabit and reorient a father’s mind and heart.

In fact, I’d say some of the clearest signs that fatherhood has defined you is when you find joy in realizing your prayer has turned into an exchange with God about your children; when your conversations with co-workers and friends are frequently seasoned by random references to them; when your times away from them are unsettled by the ache of missing them; when you find yourself able to overcome fears that once paralyzed you because they need you to be strong; or when your peaceful sleep is suddenly overtaken by a waking concern for their welfare and you, instead of being angry over losing sleep, spontaneously say, “Thank you God for this noble burden you’ve entrusted me with. Now let’s talk about him, her…”

Fatherhood is not just an extrinsic role assumed for a period of time to achieve a goal — i.e. raising children to adulthood — that can later be abandoned. No! It inscribes itself into your soul as a permanent identity, a permanent internal posture of facing your children. Even if they die, if I die. I am a father forever, even if in the New Creation my fatherhood simply means rejoicing that my children have achieved the fullness of life, as the need to watch over their steps has now passed away.

An old friend of our family said to me when my oldest son Michael was born: “Don’t believe people who tell you you ‘become’ a father. Nope. Children rip fatherhood out of you. When you find out your wife’s pregnant, when the doctor says, ‘It’s a girl’, when you throw that first ball with your son, when you dance with your daughter. With every scream, every tear, every success, every failure — they rip daddy out of you. You just obey the call and step up to the plate.”

Or, in the words of my grandfather, “When they are cut, you bleed.”

Fathers share their life’s wisdom frequently, generously, but they listen even more. They spend copious amounts of time playing with, working with, eating with, tinkering with, fishing with, building with, praying with, biking with. Fathers know, as the saying goes, that children spell love t-i-m-e.

I was going to Confession very recently and was confessing some parenting failures that plague me. The priest, an older Irishman, said very directly to me:

You know Jesus says, “There’s no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends”? There is no more important person on earth, other than your wife, who demands your laying down your life than your child. Each one. Every day. When you’re tired. And the dividends will pay off in the future for them, and for you. This is your one chance. Soon they’ll be gone and your chance to convince them you love them will dwindle away. Love them now, today. Give up anything that’s keeping you from that time, from spending it on them in the way they deserve. No matter how good or important you think it is.

You can save a thousand souls. Yes, very impressive. But if you neglect your children the good you did is to no avail for you; or them. Nothing is worth losing those times you’ve been given to be with them. God will judge you first as husband, then as father, then all the rest. So first things first, son. Get on with it now, will ya? Hug them when you get home. Tell them you love them. But more, show them you love them every day by making them your priority. Making time. Now, before it’s too late.

As I prayed my penance, I thought of my daughters dancing with me at the father-daughter dance back in 2010. During one song, each was standing on a foot, looking up at me.

I have to stop now.

Quelle différence!

pinimg.com

My wife, Patti, and I often laugh about the differences between us. And there are many! Personality styles, temperaments, habits, perceptions. On a sliding spectrum, here would be some of our more general differences: She’s an extroverted party girl, I’m an introverted book worm. She’s decisive and clear, I’m deliberative and nuanced. She’s a neat-freak, I’m comfortable with piles. She’s practical, I’m theoretical. She’s able to negotiate complexity with ease, I’m good with one thing at a time. She likes country, I like rock. She loves the city, I love the forest. She’s a night person, I’m a morning person. She’s detail oriented, I’m big picture. On that last point, here’s a wedding anniversary card I gave her ten years ago:

Some of those differences complement really well, others clash, others are tolerated. But both of us would be in full agreement that our presumption of a Jesus-centered marriage that’s a sacramental covenant, our daily life of prayer as individuals and as a couple, really is what makes it possible for all of those differences between us to become material for creativity and growth and color. And humor.

Faithful, thriving and lifelong love between two very different people, who are also sinners, is hard work. But love loves a challenge. My grandfather, who was a business executive, used to extol for me the virtues of manual labor, and the dignity of manual laborers. He would say, “The body was made for hard work.” I would say the same of love, it’s made for hard work. It thrives on hard work. Especially, love loves redemptive work, loves facing brokenness and leading it to wholeness. At least God’s love does.

One of my dear friends, who is a total lol character and is in quite a challenging marriage, says of her husband,

He’s a pain in the ass, but he’s my pain in the ass. I love all of him. But I always tell him, “And I’m fully aware that I’m your pain in the ass, too.” If we both get that, face it, embrace it and get on with it it totally works. But when one of us forgets they’re an ass too, and forgets that love’s a two-way deal, it totally breaks down.

They are both people of faith and they say that without their faith they would likely never have stayed married with all their differences and difficulties. Faith, she’s said, gives them a vision of what tough love looks like, gives them hope that God will provide in tough times, and makes them aware every day of the gravity of their marital vows as something God has joined. “It’s bigger than us,” she once said, “and when you get that it keeps all the small problems small and the big ones manageable.”

I once emailed her this line: “I think of marriage as being tasked by God with carrying your Sacrament through life like it’s a Communion Host that Jesus placed in your joined hands on your wedding day. And that Host is Jesus and everyone else in your life whom Jesus sends your way to be loved. Children, friends, neighbors, co-workers. And Jesus says to both of you: Hold this Host with reverence, don’t drop it, and when you die you can return it to me as your final and supreme sacrificial offering.” She replied to my email, “That’s perfect! And when I think of walking through life with [her husband] with joined hands all the time? And doing that while dealing with kids and in-laws and everybody else who just shows up into our marriage? With love!? Sweet Jesus! That takes a lot of patient balancing and coordination! That’s our 23 years in a nutshell! Pray we don’t drop it!!!”

Let me end with a pair of viral videos that capture humorously the marital difference. The first was a real BBC interview I posted a week or so ago, the second is a funny follow up. My wife sent the second one to me last night, because, in so many ways, This is Us…

 

“The Madonna has not appeared in Medjugorje” — Bishop Ratko Peri

[Busy days ahead so I will pause my posting till the weekend]

As a person who went on pilgrimage to Medjurgorje twice 25 or so years ago, let me say a few brief things about the recent judgment of Bishop Ratko Peri, following the lengthy Vatican investigation:

Considering everything that this chancery has so far researched and studied, including the first seven days of the alleged apparitions, it can peacefully be affirmed: The Madonna has not appeared in Medjugorje.

See also the cruxnow.com article here.

My comments today won’t analyze the content of the Vatican investigation or the Bishop’s judgment, which I don’t have time to think about or research, but I will offer four general reflections on claims to “private revelations” like those in Medjurgorje.

(N.B. I include a definition of what I mean by “private and public revelation” at the bottom of this post).

First. Private revelations always hold a relative status in the Catholic tradition. Even when the Church makes a judgment in favor of an apparition of Mary, belief in the apparition is not commanded for Catholics but only commended as “worthy of pious belief.” The obedience of faith is given only to public revelation, i.e. what is contained in Sacred Scripture as interpreted and handed on in Sacred Tradition. In fact, commending a private revelation as “worthy of pious belief” is actually quite modest language. Strictly speaking, the Church does not “approve” an apparition as true. Rather, it only asserts that the Church finds in the apparition nothing contrary to orthodox faith and practice.

That said, private revelations, like those in Fatima, Portugal can be given a revered status by the Church, even becoming the focus of a liturgical feast day (Our Lady of Fatima on May 13). And though one is still not required to accept the specifics of Fatima (e.g. Mary appeared between May 13 and October 13 at the Cova de Iria, the sun miraculously danced in the sky) as a truth of faith, the core message of Our Lady at Fatima must be accepted simply because it is part of the Catholic common core of beliefs, i.e. be devoted to God, repent, pray, do penance, make acts of reparation and receive the Sacraments.

Second. Following from the first point, private revelations can never be said to add anything substantial to the content of faith. When authentic, they only serve to emphasize and punctuate what is already fully present in the Church’s ordinary faith and sacramental life. In theological language, ordinary means not plain or dull, but rather the normal means by which God brings us His truth and salvation. Private revelations are always extra-ordinary, out of the ordinary. While we don’t diss their value, we also refuse to overinflate their value. Then why does God grant them at all? The Tradition is consistently clear that they are given by God when some aspect of the ordinary is being neglected or denigrated; or when there is an extraordinary crisis that may prevent the faithful from seeing and accessing the fullness of truth and life found in the Church. God does extra-ordinary things, yes, but extraordinary always tends back to the ordinary. As extra-ordinary, all private revelations are secondary, supplementary, ancillary and, like John the Baptist, should always be content to decrease in favor of the increase of the ordinary.

Those who latch on to private revelations in an obsessive, disordered, clingy or fanatical fashion sow the seeds of sectarianism, dishonor the fullness of salvation already “ordinarily” present in the Church, and they threaten the primacy of unseeing faith over visions. Faith, not sight, is the appropriate posture toward the supernatural in this life (see John 20:29; 2 Cor. 5:7).

In my experience, so much of what I call Catholic “apparition culture” resembles early Christian gnosticism that favored secret, esoteric, spectacular, special and new revelations over the ancient Apsotolic Tradition. A morbid fascination with novelties, the miraculous, the odd, as well as the compulsive need to feel special, is how St. Irenaeus might have described the gnostic pathology in his 3rd century treatise, Against All Heresies. St. John of the Cross made this same point thus:

Therefore if someone were now to ask questions of God or seek any new vision or revelation, he would not only be acting foolishly but would be committing an offense against God – for he should set his eyes altogether upon Christ and seek nothing beyond Christ.

God might answer him after this manner, saying: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; listen to him. I have spoken all things to you in my Word. Set your eyes on him alone, for in him I have spoken and revealed to you all things, and in him you shall find more than you ask for, even more than you want.”

Modern versions of this neo-gnostic “apparition culture” also seem to be a very human response to the crisis of modernity that has placed faith under the critical microscope of science, stripped away the sacred from the public square and made of religion a wholly private affair locked in the inner room of personal experience. Maybe, angst-ridden moderns fret, the personal experience of heaven breaking the laws of nature and bypassing the ordinary, telling us what it all means, and what to do, is the only way we can gain real certitude and peace with this age’s countless ambiguities. But succumbing to such an approach as a Catholic means, among other things, that we willingly grant faith and reason a written bill of divorce and relegate Christian apologetics to a course in miracles. But I digress.

Third. Because private revelations have only a relative status and are extra-ordinary, they have a certain inherent ambiguity. St. John of the Cross, who is merciless on claims to visions, locutions and other extraordinary mystical phenomena, makes it clear that those who claim to receive these “extraordinary favors” from God, or from a saint or angel, are always subject to errors in the process of receiving, interpreting or relating the content of what is heard or seen. Which is why, St. John says, the best approach a spiritual director can take toward a directee claiming such extraordinary things is not credulity (canonizing the experience), but scrutiny, placing faith, humility, discretion and prudence in the forefront. If the mystical phenomena are from God, they will come to pass through the fires of virtuous scrutiny and in fidelity to the authority of the Church. And this is the case especially when the recipients of revelations claim their message is for others or even the whole world.

Naïve credulity, John says, is the open gateway to diabolical and psychological delusion, while sage discretion is the gateway to genuine illumination that flows from reason informed by faith.

Unlike public revelation, even with authentic instances of private revelation it’s not always simply about believing “all or nothing.” To say either everything a visionary said is true or it’s all a lie misses the complexity of the reality. Seers and saints aren’t mediums who channel an unfiltered divine voice, but, like theologians, are interpreters of God’s living Word who are subject to error and are subject to the critique of reason and the final judgment of the Church’s authority.  Pope Benedict XIV, when referring to the mistaken predictions of St. Catherine Labouré, said: “The revelations of some holy women canonized by the Apostolic See, whose saying and writings came in [mystical] rapture and were derived from rapture, are filled with errors.” Yes, these women are still saints, and their teachings are still revered, but holy saints are not Holy Spirits.

Fourth. Even when claims to extraordinary mystical or supernatural phenomena are deemed problematic or false, or even diabolical, genuine graces received in association with those dubious phenomena are not thereby rendered meaningless. God, who sends rain on the just and the wicked, and who speaks through asses and antagonists (cf. Numbers 22:21-38; John 11:49-52), is very willing to work good wherever there is sincere faith, hope and love. Like it or not, weeds and wheat, wheat and chaff co-exist in this world.

So when some aspect of a good thing given by God is found to be tainted or flawed with some bad element, we should not simply throw out the baby with the baptismal water. We must use discretion, retaining what is good and rejecting what is not (cf 1 John 4:1). Consider that if a priest in mortal sin can validly consecrate the Holy Eucharist, absolve sin, etc. with all the fullness of God’s power, then good graces given in association with alleged apparitions that are subsequently deemed by the Church “not to be worthy of pious belief” should not be rejected or doubted. They only need be purified, detached from alien elements, winnowed and brought into conformity with the act of an unseeing Catholic faith, hope and love. The many graces I received in Medjugorje remain with me today, and to accept the judgment of the Church that these apparitions are not objectively genuine supernatural “visionary” events does not steal those graces from me, but makes me even more grateful that our God is a God who can make even the very stones cry out His praise: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38, 40).

In some ways, hearing such a stark judgment on an alleged apparition can serve to strengthen faith. How? Inasmuch as it reinforces the bedrock truth that, in this life, God wishes us to cling to Him in dark faith and veiled sacrament within the ordinary life of the Church and amid the ordinary contexts of daily life. And the ordinary, for Catholics, burgeons with great mystery as it both conceals and reveals — like the earth’s serene crust — the fiery magma of grace burning beneath life’s homely surface. Seeking to bypass the divine economy of “the mystery of faith” is, it seems to me, a form of cheating.

I, for one, am grateful that the Church takes so seriously her shepherding role in the face of every claim to extra-ordinary graces and supernatural events. I’d have no faith in a credulous Church. Catholics must rejoice in knowing that, in the ordinary economy of grace, we have superabundantly more of God’s graces than we could ever ask for or imagine. As I said in class the other day, “If the fact that Baptism remits all your sins, recreates your nature, grants you adoption by the Most High King, makes your body-soul into a Holy of Holies for the life-giving Trinity, divinizes you, empowers you to consecrate the cosmos to God and labor into existence an everlasting new creation is not enough to satisfy your itch for mystery and thrill, nothing will do it.”

So when any “extras” do come to us, if they do, we must happily beg Christ to at once to give us a fresh infusion of the 9th beatitude that clearly gives Him such great joy:

 

[Revelation refers to God’s making Himself and His plan known, specifically to Israel and the Church, and above all in Christ. Public revelation, which ended with the death of the last Apostle, refers to all that God has made known to us that is contained in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Private revelation refers to any claim in the post-apostolic Church that God or a saint/angel has revealed something to a person or persons by some extraordinary means, like an apparition or locution. Public revelation demands the assent of faith by all Christians, while private revelation does not]