My last T.O.P. for a while…

…but now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again? (Gal 4:9)

I just came across another remarkable Twenty One Pilots song, called Goner.

It’s a very gentle and plaintive song, and, as with so many of their songs, it is an exploration of the inner conflicts that characterize human life.

The story Tyler tells sounds so much like the internal struggle St. Paul describes so vividly in Romans chapter 7. For example, vs. 15,

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

We are all in some very fundamental sense thus riven within, two-faced, unable to consistently be the person we want and know we should be. This inner schism, with its relentless tensions, can create terrible anxiety and hopelessness, as St. Paul evidences in vs. 24,

Miserable man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

The resolution for Paul is clear. Only the gift of God in Jesus Christ poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit can free me from this inner war. Only by welcoming within the Spirit of Jesus, who makes His own our agonized groaning and makes them redemptive (Rom. 8:26-27) can we know inner peace.

I want to be known by a God who knows well humanity’s griefs and has entered into them (Ex. 3:7; Is. 53:4; Jn. 11:33-35). I want Him to know my griefs and pains and anxieties, closely and intimately.

In this song, Tyler seems to have lost hope (“I’m a goner”), weighted under the burden of his struggle for authenticity. He gasps for breath, hyperventilating, constricted by the inner storm of anxiety. He deeply regrets his two-faces. “Face” is a meaningful metaphor. In Scripture it serves as a “sacramental” outward sign of our truest inward self, i.e. the image of God. The face is an epiphany, and when our face is true it reveals that image of God that is stamped into each of us. Tyler’s “blurry face” represents the distortions masking his true inner self. He’s controlled by others’ opinions and judgments, is not confident in the truth of who he is, in his gifts or in his life-mission. He longs for clarity, to be set free from his inauthentic blurry face.

No doubt being thrust into fame, and into the machinations of the entertainment industry, has presented Tyler with innumerable challenges. “Who will I be in my emerging public persona?” (persona, incidentally, is Latin word for “face”) This is the challenge that we all face when we leave our safe environments, where authenticity seems natural, and enter into new contexts where what we believe and how we act is put into question. Being true to yourself everywhere you find yourself is a learned art, a long labor of virtue that requires passage through purgative fires.

Tyler sees all of this swirling about him and turns to his music as a means of prayer. He desperately wants to be known by the God of authenticity and peace, whose (Holy) Ghost is so close to him. The same Ghost who breathed into him the breath of life in the beginning (Gen. 2:7) can now help him catch his breath, free him from anxiety and duplicity. Though Tyler is twisted “inside-out” by all of this turmoil, God is there with him, beneath him, to catch him.

It’s a profoundly consoling image that Tyler paints. It reminds me very much of the Breastplate of St. Patrick.

The sound of this song that he “slips away into” is the sound of prayer. His voice and the music remains very gentle throughout most of the song, but suddenly — so much their style — it explodes out into a desperate and heart-wrenching cry to God: “Don’t let me be!…”

Like a little child, utterly terrified of being abandoned, left alone.

It’s very moving, especially if you have tasted hopelessness in life and known this cry.

Here is the video with lyrics:


Ode to Twenty One Pilots

Yes, the obsession continues.

Someone recently sent me an interview with Twenty One Pilots lead singer, Tyler Joseph. He is so young, yet possesses a remarkable depth and authenticity. He is plagued by the anxieties and insecurities of our age, which makes him a powerful voice for the inhabitants of this age.

I was particularly interested when the interviewer asked him what the mission and purpose of Twenty One Pilots was; what explains the origin of their lyrics, their musical style? He struggled to answer, wading through the numbers game that dominates the music industry — profits, number of fans — and admitted these tempts him. But, he said, what really drives him is the idea that their music makes people think about life’s deepest and most universal questions. He said if their music lifted just one person up, making his or her life better and more full of joy, then that was the mission of Twenty One Pilots. “I don’t just want to entertain people,” he said, “I want them to think with me, to think about universally true things. I’m a seeker. I ask questions and hope they lead to joy.”

There’s no doubt the Christian worldview inhabits the lyrics, but Tyler is exceedingly careful not to speak with overtly religious language. He is very aware of the constraints of reaching a broad audience in a radically pluralistic world. His circumspect approach seems quite intentional. After listening to the interview, I wrote in my journal:

It’s like their music is composed and performed — “offered up” — on “the altar to an unknown God” St. Paul identified in the Areopagus of Athens (Acts 17:23). It’s a natural space to plant faith in the midst of our increasingly pagan culture, without being preachy. It’s a place where faith can encounter, give voice to and respond to the great questions and anxieties of our day. Their (lay) genius, to me, is that they are out there in the midst of that culture, singing with abandon of and to an unknown, hidden and humble God.

I also wrote a poem in my journal after hearing the interview. It’s my summary take on what I see to be their artistic mission. If I could send them a message, which I have concluded I cannot, it would be this poem.

Prophets of Zeitgeist

Voice of angst, prophets of zeitgeist
in authenticity, integrity unsacrificed
inscribing, singing a silent Christ
by twining faith in life, deftly spliced.

Rappers of deepest dark reality
facing who we are, we long to be
discovered by Truth who sets free
we, a restless, twisted humanity.

Not thru preaching, but evoking;
not thru imposing, but provoking
us to think thoughtfully; soaking
greying despair in colorful cloaking

by words that cut, yes make us bleed
though then only to heal and feed
souls yearning for an immortal creed
that won’t break the most fragile reed.

Your call and mission seem clear:
daring us hope in a world of fear;
outing a hidden God, so silently near
who whispers, “I am with you, here
wiping, drying, shedding every tear.”

Can you save my heavydirtysoul?

Black Friday. telegraph.co.uk

Re-post 2015. Taken from my journal and left in its raw, stream of consciousness form

And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” — Luke 12:16-21

After watching the video of that famous 2008 Walmart Black Friday stampede that left one worker dead, I could not stop thinking about the faces of those crazed shoppers. Desperate and glazed, like soulless zombies carrying out an irresistible command. I was reminded of Zosima’s words in The Brothers Karamazov as I watched:

The world has proclaimed freedom of theirs: nothing but servitude and suicide! For the world says: ‘You have needs, so satisfy them, for you have the same rights as the wealthiest and most highly placed of men. Do not be afraid to satisfy them, but even multiply them’ — that is the present-day teaching of the world. In that, too, they see freedom. And what is the result of this right to the multiplication of needs? Among the rich isolation and spiritual suicide, and among the poor — envy and murder, for while they have been given rights, they have not yet been afforded the means with which to satisfy their needs.

These memories were resurrected (for unknown reasons) when my daughter recently introduced me to the Twenty One Pilots song, Heavydirtysoul. It feels like the song of someone who is confronted by a music culture that proliferates the mindless life of a moral zombie, and responds by crying out to God to save him and smoke out the “infestation in my mind’s imagination.” These lyrics in particular struck me:

Nah, I didn’t understand a thing you said,
If I didn’t know better I’d guess you’re all already dead,
Mindless zombies walking around with a limp and a hunch,
Saying stuff like, “You only live once.”

You’ve got one time to figure it out,
One time to twist and one time to shout,
One time to think and I say we start now,
Sing it with me if you know what I’m talking about

Death inspires me like a dog inspires a rabbit.

YOLO, which is meant as the cry of a hedonist rebel, is judged to be the motto of mindless zombies. Yes, you only live once, but that time is given for us to think, which in other Twenty One Pilots sons, like Car Radio, is equivalent to faith seeking understanding. Faith alone sheds light on the ultimate meaning of our one-life.

Jesus’ parable of the rich man, Zosima’s incisive diagnosis and Heavydirtysoul face us with the critical choices thrust on us by a consumerist culture: either live a self-serving hedonist ethic, driven by the insatiable cycle of pleasure-seeking consumption (with only pragmatic regard for consequences), or “take time to think” (metanoia) and rise above avarice and greed by practicing a virtuous asceticism. For those who take this road less traveled, “You Only Live Once” ceases to serve as a cognate of the Epicurean motto, “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die,” and becomes a bracing call to make of one’s life a worthy offering.

“Death inspires me like a dog inspires a rabbit.” Brilliant! Fear that emerges out of an awareness of the gravitas of freedom can serve as an effective motivator for change. Proverbs 9:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” In the Christian tradition the prospect of death has always served as a core theme of any healthy spirituality. Every night we are counseled to prepare for death and final judgment as the surrender of sleep is, in the words of Thomas a Kempis, “a daily rehearsal for death.” With its absolute finality, death forces a definitive confrontation with questions of ultimate significance. Memento mori, “remember that you must die” has long served as a mantra for keeping one’s priorities straight by living every moment sub specie aeternitatis, “in the light of eternity,” fully aware that the Awesome Judgment could follow your next breath.

Those who live mindless YOLO lives — driven by greed, avarice and the gluttonous quest to always feel full — have numbed the sting of conscience by living in a vast Mall within which needs are conjured and satisfied. Chanon Ross masterfully describes the psychology of such a superficial mall culture:

When a consumer enters the shopping mall, her senses are engaged by a panoply of stimuli designed to intoxicate. Images, music, scents, and products swirl together in a whirlwind of desire. The consumer does not have to want anything before entering the shopping mall because it is designed to cultivate desire for her, and it provides her with the products she needs to consummate the desire it has produced.

The charge of energy that the shopper gets wears off. The products she bought get a little old, a little drab, a little familiar, losing their gloss and sheen. One day she will peer into her overflowing closet and conclude, ‘I have nothing to wear.’ Taken literally, this statement is nonsensical; what she really means is that the clothes she purchased in the past no longer provide her with the intensification of being that she craves. Purse in hand, she heads off once again to the shopping mall, and the cycle of de-intensification begins anew.

This vapid consumerist culture shrivels all aspirations to spiritual greatness. Fr. Tom Hopko describes this state with his usual color:

…Man emerged from 12 billion years of cosmic evolution. God breathed in us an immortal spirit and stamped us with His divine image. We fell into sin but He pursued us with love, taking on flesh, being crucified and rising from death to give us a share in the divine life. He gave us generations of saints and martyrs whose blood and sweat and tears and sacrifices have been poured out to ensure the seeds of the Gospel made it to the ends of the earth. And then we look to see what fruits have come from all this and what do we find? Some guy slouched in a La-Z-Boy, intoxicated, or high on weed or heroine or some drug of choice, watching porn while eating junk food. This is where we have come. When we become like this, we are no longer human. We’re post-human. We’re sub-human. We’ve become nothing but brains and bodies, computers and consumers, calculators and copulators, constructers and cloners who believe we’re free and powerful but we’re really enslaved and destroyed by our insane strivings to define, design, manage and manipulate a world and a humanity without the God who loves us. It’s all so sad. Only God can save us from this mess!

Twenty One Pilots asks us to cry out to God from this mess:

Can you save, can you save my—
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?

If we dare to receive His answer, the revolution begins:

There’s an infestation in my mind’s imagination,
I hope that they choke on smoke ’cause I’m smoking them out the basement,
This is not rap, this is not hip-hop,
Just another attempt to make the voices stop,
Rapping to prove nothing, just writing to say something,
‘Cause I wasn’t the only one who wasn’t rushing to sayin’ nothing,
This doesn’t mean I lost my dream,
It’s just right now I got a really crazy mind to clean.

Gangsters don’t cry,
Therefore, therefore I’m,
Mr. Misty-eyed, therefore I’m.

Can you save, can you save my—
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?
Can you save, can you save my—
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?
For me, for me, uh
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?
For me, for me, uh
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?

Nah, I didn’t understand a thing you said,
If I didn’t know better I’d guess you’re all already dead,
Mindless zombies walking around with a limp and a hunch,
Saying stuff like, “You only live once.”
You’ve got one time to figure it out,
One time to twist and one time to shout,
One time to think and I say we start now,
Sing it with me if you know what I’m talking about.

Gangsters don’t cry,
Therefore, therefore I’m,
Mr. Misty-eyed, therefore I’m.

Can you save, can you save my—
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?
Can you save, can you save my—
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?
For me, for me, uh
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?
For me, for me, uh
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?

Death inspires me like a dog inspires a rabbit. [2x]

Can you save, can you save my—
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?
Can you save, can you save my—
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?
For me, for me, uh
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?
For me, for me, uh
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?

Can you save, can you save my—save my—
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?
Can you save, can you save my—save my—
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?

I’m not a Christian singer


I was sitting in McDonald’s the other day waiting for my car to be repaired, trying to write up some end-of-the-academic-year reports amid the noises that tend to populate a McDonald’s. Right above me was a TV that was blaring daytime talk shows. I mustered all of the skills of attentiveness that I have acquired over the years studying and writing amidst screaming children running wild in the house.I was successful until this one interview caught my attention.

I don’t know the name of the TV show, but the host was interviewing a rap artist about his lyrics. When I heard the beginning of the discussion, I stopped my work and started typing what I heard. Evidently his lyrics are free from the usual fare of profanity and sexually explicit content, which makes him unique among pop rap artists. Although he said he talks in his music about real-life struggles, and especially the hard realities of inner city life, he refuses to glorify sex, drugs and violence. The man interviewing him finally asked him, “So, are you a Christian artist?” He said, “It depends on what you mean by that.” He went on to say that there’s a real danger in putting himself in that genre of music, because he would immediately get stereotyped and holed-up in the “religion” box. He said something like this,

If I come into a studio to record and sing a song about life on the streets of Chicago — and that means tellin’ my stories about broken relationships or poverty or despair or about just tryin’ to make a livin’ — and then in the middle of my song happen mention Jesus, they’re gonna to say to me: ‘Yo man, what’s up? You a Gospel singer?’ I say, no man. But what that basically means is, ‘You ain’t a serious rapper cuz if you Christian you have to be all nice and sweet and syrupy about everything. They right away think you ain’t gonna be real and down low with the rest of us. Pie in the sky kinda deal. If you religious, they say, you can’t tell it like it is.’

But that’s not true, man, you know what I mean? Just cuz God comes into the picture doesn’t mean now you unreal, can’t face the dirt on the streets. But that’s the way they see it in the industry. So look, I can say I’m a Christian man who raps, but I can’t say I’m a Christian rapper. Then it’s all over for my career. I’ll get pigeonholed. See, religion’s been put inside this box and you’re either in or out. You can’t be both. You got Christian music and you got secular music. Oil and water. But I don’t like the box, so I just ignore it and sing about life. And God’s just, like, already out there in real life, so I ain’t tryin’ to drag people where they ain’t already livin’. I’m just showin’ what I can see. It’s the same world they see, except faith lets me see God’s right there in the middle of everything. And I want to show it’s a much better world when He’s around, you know?

His brilliant insight reveals very well the depth of impact a radically privatized faith has on how that faith is expressed in public. Every day we move closer toward what Richard Neuhaus called the “naked public square,” where religion is stripped from public life either by being domesticated and contained or by being altogether excluded.

It seems to me that artists, like this rap singer, are particularly well positioned to challenge and help us rethink the hegemony of this aggressively atheistic paradigm by reintroducing a vision of faith that does not threaten to abolish or overwhelm real life, but rather embraces it, builds on it, beautifies it, purifies it and perfects in it all that is good, true and beautiful.

As Pope Benedict XVI said so eloquently:

Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? And once again the Pope said: No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life.

As I am writing here of pop culture and faith, I have no option but to mention Twenty One Pilots. I believe they transgress the artificial barriers between faith and life, revealing in their music the infinite ways in which faith and life shade into one another. Their music leaves you more honest, more hopeful and more human precisely because they see so clearly that Christ is what it means to be fully human, God’s way. Like the rapper, I would say Twenty One Pilots is not a “Christian band,” but are musicians whose creativity emerges out of a rich Christian imagination. To that point, I mentioned to someone the other day that they epitomize Paul’s (slightly reworked) injunction:

Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, sing about these things (Phil. 4:8).

By the way, I found out yesterday they are coming to New Orleans in March. I am beyond manic about it.

Back to my point. They are particularly masterful at giving clear voice to the existential “feel” of living in a post-Christian culture that is no longer sustained by a Christian architecture. Ours is a deracinated culture, uprooted from faith and so rife with anxiety. Our world has lost its sacraments, repealed its laws, silenced its scriptures, and rendered opaque the stained glass windows that once let in the light of eternity, leaving us stumbling about in the dark. Twenty One Pilots articulates, with such grit, the tremors of Doubt that shake our cultural landscape, especially among the young. Yet — their gift! — they teach us how to pray right out of the heart of this world:

House of Gold and Pope Francis

I could not help but smile when I read this paragraph in Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia:

As the word of God tells us, “a man leaves his father and his mother” (Gen 2:24). This does not always happen, and a marriage is hampered by the failure to make this necessary sacrifice and surrender. Parents must not be abandoned or ignored, but marriage itself demands that they be “left”, so that the new home will be a true hearth, a place of security, hope and future plans, and the couple can truly become “one flesh”. In some marriages, one spouse keeps secrets from the other, confiding them instead to his or her parents. As a result, the opinions of their parents become more important than the feelings and opinions of their spouse. This situation cannot go on for long, and even if it takes time, both spouses need to make the effort to grow in trust and communication. Marriage challenges husbands and wives to find new ways of being sons and daughters.

I smiled because it touches on what I have found to be one of the most challenging parts of getting married and having a family: negotiating your relationships with families-of-origin. I know this is a universal challenge, as I have spent uncountable hours speaking with other married men and women about their own struggles with how to interrelate their own marriage and family with their parents and extended family members. By coincidence, just after I read this portion of Amoris Laetitia I went to see the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, which is all about that struggle. Not as funny as the first one, in my opinion.

Years ago, I knew a man who had a very controlling mother. When he was dating a young lady and got engaged, she was clearly jealous of the relationship and made the man feel caught between her and his fiancée. It was very painful to watch. His fiancée finally said to him, “It’s either her or me.” He was tortured by this ultimatum. But one day something absolutely remarkable happened. He and his fiancée were in a public parking lot and a man came up to them demanding money while threatening them at gunpoint. He said it was in that moment, when he realized he would take a bullet for her, that he knew his choice. He called his mother up that night and told her that if she was going to force him to choose, he was going to choose his wife-to-be.

My wife and I often say to each other that we want our children to fly, to discover their own life callings, grow and flourish, and that our greatest hope is that they always find in our home, and our love for them, an anchor, a refuge, a safe place where they can be themselves, know they are loved and supported; where they can share any struggle or any joy. It’s hard! My two sons will be in college this Fall. It’s hard! My daughters are flying through high school. It’s hard! I want them to stay, I want them to go. I want to hold on, I want to let go. I want them to want to stay, I want them to want to go. The words of that Sting song come to mind here: “If you love somebody set them free.”

Okay, so I know you will be very surprised but there’s yet another Twenty One Pilots song that now comes to mind as I am writing this post — House of Gold. My 89 year old mom loves this song. lol. It’s all about the tensions between a mother and a son. The mother wants her son to stay near home and promise to take care of her when she is old and her husband dies, while the son is anxious to set out into life to discover his unique calling. The son clearly loves his mother dearly and wants to promise her everything, but feels torn (literally!) as he also wants to go out and begin a music career (“be a bum so I just might become someone”). The music video is both comedic and macabre, and admits of no resolve in the end.

So with no other better idea as to how to end this reflection today, I will share the wild music video. Enjoy:

Lay Saint!

Today I thought I would simply, and without additional commentary, share with you two strangely related insights found in two different emails sent to me by two different friends.

The first, sent to me by a friend in New Orleans Tuesday afternoon, recounted a remarkable little story. The second, sent to me later Tuesday night, contained a series of excerpts from a letter Pope Francis wrote very recently to Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.

I thought the coincidence of time and theme was good enough reason to post them together. I will refrain from commentary as they speak for themselves.

Email #1:

I sat outside today at Rue De La Course studying for my Scripture final exam. I was approached by a homeless gentleman seeking money and we struck up a conversation. His name was Ronnie, he was weathered and obviously living on the streets but had a joyful countenance about him. He noticed I was reading “Jesus the Bridegroom” so the conversation went in the direction of Christ and his love for us.

Ronnie shared with me that for 2 1/2 years he studied at the Baptist seminary because he thought God was calling him to be a pastor. Towards the end of his time there he heard God say to him, “Ronnie, (we talk like that because we are good friends) I called you to study here not to become a pastor but to go out into the world and reach those that only you can reach. I have given you gifts, you are street wise and can work with your hands. It is there that I am sending you to teach them about me”.

Lay Saint! What a great witness he was for me and for so many!

Yea God!!! So cool!!

Email #2:

I remember the famous expression [of St. John Paul II]: ‘It is the hour of the laity,’ but it seems that the clock has stopped.

Clericalism brings about a homogenization of the layperson, treating as ‘mandatory’ limits to his or her diverse initiatives and efforts, and I would dare to say, the audacity necessary to bring the Good News of the Gospel to all places of social and overall political activity.

Clericalism, far from giving impulse to diverse contributions and proposals, turns off, little by little, the prophetic fire from which the entire Church is called to give testimony in the heart of its peoples. Clericalism forgets that the visibility and the sacramentality of the Church belongs to all the people of God and not only an elect or illuminated few.

What does it mean for us pastors the fact that laypeople are working in public life? It means finding the way to encourage them, to accompany them and to stimulate all the attempts and efforts they are already doing to keep alive hope and faith in a world full of contradictions, especially for the poorest.

It is not the pastor who must say to the layperson that which they must do and say; he or she knows more and better than us. It is not for the pastor to decide what the faithful must say in their diverse settings.

Priests often fall into the temptation to think that the committed layperson is he or she who works for the Church or in things of the parish or the diocese, and we have reflected little on how to accompany a baptized person in their public and daily life. Without realizing it, we have created a lay elite believing that only those who work in things of priests are committed laypersons; and we have forgotten, neglected the believer that many times has their hope burned away in the daily fight to live the faith.

These are situations that clericalism cannot see, because it is more worried with dominating spaces than creating processes. We must then recognize the layperson for their reality, for their identity.

It is illogical, and even impossible, to think that we as pastors should have the monopoly on solutions for the many challenges that modern life presents to us. On the contrary, we must remain at the side of our people, accompanying them in their work and stimulating that capable imagination of responding to current problems.

Our role, our joy, the joy of the pastor, is truly in the helping and the stimulating. Laypeople are a part of the Holy Faithful People of God and therefore are protagonists of the Church and the world; we are called to serve them, not them to serve us.

…talkin’ ’bout my girls…

Pope Francis kissing hand of Holocaust Survivor. Taken from euronews.com

Repost from January 2014

I came across this quote from Pope Francis yesterday, and it caused me to reflect on the gift of women in my own life:

The Church acknowledges the indispensable contribution which women make to society through the sensitivity, intuition and other distinctive skill sets which they, more than men, tend to possess. I think, for example, of the special concern which women show to others, which finds a particular, even if not exclusive, expression in motherhood. We talk about whether they can do this or that: Can they be altar boys? Can they be lectors? But we don’t have a deep theology of women in the Church

Thanks especially to the witness and influence of my wife and my daughters, I have discovered what John Paul II in his 1988 Apostolic Letter, On the Dignity and Vocation of Women, called ingenii muliebris, the “feminine genius.” That genius, the Pope argues, manifests itself in a great many ways. Cross-culturally, the personal characteristics revered as uniquely feminine are quite diverse. However, the Pope says, there are some universally recognizable and distinctively feminine markers inscribed in the soul and body of each woman. Of these, he argues, the woman’s most precious gift is found in her tender solicitude for the personal dimensions of human life. A women is uniquely suited to cradle human life in her womb, in her arms and in her heart. She possesses a natural instinct to look down with tender compassion on the human face and to be a guardian of fragility. “The human person,” John Paul says, “has been entrusted by God to women in a particular way.”

Let me offer four particular examples of this genius from my own small world.

1. Whenever guests come to our home, my wife has an all-consuming passion to make our home beautiful, warm and welcoming. Flowers in the guest bedroom, fresh towels and scented candles in the guest bathroom, candles and flowers on the dining room table, with libations and hors d’oeuvres in plenteous supply. St. Edith Stein, in her essay, “The Separate Vocations of Man and Woman According to Nature and Grace,” describes Patti perfectly in this regard: “The natural feminine concern for the flourishing of the people surrounding her involves the creation of an ambiance of order and beauty conducive to their well-being.”

2. Every weekday morning as I pull out of our driveway on my way to drop the boys off at school and head to work, my youngest daughter stands outside to wave goodbye. She is faithful to this practice, whatever the weather. Recently, on a very rainy morning, she stood at the end of the driveway with an umbrella and waived. As I drove down the road I looked back in the mirror. That sight killed me. I had to pull over for a moment to regroup. My boys thought something was wrong with me. That night when I asked her why she stood out in the rain, she said: “Because I don’t want you to feel sad that you’re leaving home.” Do you parents understand the physical heartache such sincerity causes? Her tender love draws out of me a better man. In that mirror is the instrument of my redemption. Every time I watch her wave to me in that rear view mirror she tears fatherhood out of me.

3. A man I know in Iowa was telling me with great pride about his eleven year old daughter’s many academic and sports achievements. In particular, he shared with me a story he said illustrated for him a fundamental difference between his daughter and his sons.

For two years, she was the only girl to receive the highest academic achievement award in her grade. But this year she had to share the award with another girl. When I asked her if it was hard for her to not be top dog this year, she said: “No, it’s okay, but I’m excited that [she and her victorious friend] get to get out of class first period tomorrow and have donuts together!” She was more excited to share donuts with her friend! She wants to win, but in the end it’s about relationships to her.

4. A priest I know has dedicated most of his priestly ministry to serving Catholics who live in economically depressed rural areas. He shared a powerful story.

I was called on one day to give last rites to a man who was dying of mouth cancer. His wife called me. He was a younger man, in his late 40s. He and his wife had two children — a son in his late teens and a daughter in her mid teens. When I arrived at the farm house, the son was outside tinkering with a truck engine. I asked him, “Is your dad inside?” He said, “Yup.” I continued, “Do you want to come in while I anoint your father and pray with him?” He wouldn’t look at me, but said rather flatly, “Nope.” He continued tinkering with the truck, so I went inside.

The father was on a cot, in real pain. His daughter was quietly crying in the corner of the room. His wife stood over her husband. She called him “Papa.” She had a strong and quiet look on her face. She said to me, “Thanks for coming, Father.” She turned to her husband, held his hand, and said with remarkable tenderness, “Father’s here to bless you, Papa.” Then she disappeared from the room.

I took my oils out, knelt next to his bed and began to pray. He was groaning in pain. Suddenly the door opened and the wife walked in with her son, dragging him by the arm. She pulled him next to his father and said, “Now you say goodbye to your Papa! Tell him you love him!” The boy began to sob and, on his knees next to his dad, he threw himself across his dad’s chest and said through heaving sighs that he loved him. As his mom peeled him off, he said, “Goodbye, Papa.” The room was filled with an air of solemnity. I thought, even the angels must have stopped singing in heaven. The boy and his mom walked him out of the room and she closed the door.

I could never have done that. Only she could have. A mother’s love is fierce. Only she could cut through his iron exterior, his anger and fear and break open his heart toward his father. As I anointed the man after they had left the room, I felt that I was offering a Sacrament after having witnessed a sacrament. The sacrament of married love, of a child’s love, of a mother’s love that can soften even the hardest man.

So brothers, today renew your gratitude for the women in your life. Let them humanize you, call forth from you chivalry, nobility and greatness. Thank you, ladies, for the gift of your unique witness to the primacy of selfless love, tender compassion and the personal dimensions of life. Thank you for being the face in which every newborn first discovers the truth that, in the words of Pope Benedict, “each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.”

Thank you, every woman, for the simple fact of being a woman! Through the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood you enrich the world’s understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic. Our time in particular awaits the manifestation of that “genius” which belongs to women, and which can ensure sensitivity for human beings in every circumstance, because they are human! — and because “the greatest of these is love” — Pope John Paul II

If Dostoevsky is right in saying “beauty will save the world,” it will come above all through your beauty, my sisters, just as our salvation first came through the Virgin Mother, whom we call tota pulchra, all-beautiful.

“Virgin and Child,” Elisabetta Sirani, 1663. nmwa.org