St. Pink the Recycler

Mary A. “Pink” Mullaney

Another busy week so I may not be able to post until the weekend again.

The eyes of faith behold a wonderful scene: that of a countless number of lay people, both women and men, busy at work in their daily life and activity, oftentimes far from view and quite unacclaimed by the world, unknown to the world’s great personages but nonetheless looked upon in love by the Father, untiring labourers who work in the Lord’s vineyard. Confident and steadfast through the power of God’s grace, these are the humble yet great builders of the Kingdom of God in history. — St. John Paul II

I am on a lifelong mission — God willing — to help, in a small way, to prepare the theological groundwork for ordinary, secular, world-loving lay men and women to be canonized en masse — or at least inscribed in some official ecclesiastical hagiography — before the close of the 21st century.

Married, single, single parents, divorced, annulled and remarried, widows and widowers, fathers and mothers, childless couples, lawyers, stockbrokers, janitors, fashion designers, actors, business men and women, doctors, maids, school teachers, janitors, principals, bankers, musicians, factory workers, gunnery sergeants, librarians, machine shop workers, architects, prison guards, manual laborers, accountants, nurses, CEO’s, physicists, counselors, police officers, mechanics, electricians, engineers, secretaries, carpet cleaners, the disabled, homebound elderly or bartenders who strive to love God with their whole heart, soul, mind and strength by loving their neighbor as themselves — especially the poor — quietly, consistently, imperfectly yet heroically. I list these intentionally because, over the 30 years I have actually been noticing, I have spotted people whom I have experienced as saints in every category listed — and many more.

Oh, speaking of bartenders. My wife and I know this 69 year old bartender who has bartended since he was “of age.” He’s a man of gritty, callous-handed, steely-willed faith. He put his children through Catholic school and college by working days, nights and weekends as a bartender. He has been with his wife for 45 years and serves as a philosopher-counselor to countless barroom patrons. He always has a smile to give, attended by some pithy piece of world-wise advice with a moral to it. Last time we saw him, he did us a real kindness. When I thanked him he shook his head and said, “Look son, the good Lord’s got me here to serve my fellow man. And in my line of work, He sends me lots of people down on their luck who need a lift, if you know what I mean. He blesses me, I bless them. That’s the way life’s supposed to work, right?”

When you’re around him, you just feel better about everything, never want to complain again but rather want to give your all.

Canonizing these would give us lots of specific names from that second unsung, singing group of Saints that the book of Revelation 7:9 mentions:

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.

Soteriologically speaking, “no one could count” makes me smile.

These seemingly nondescript, ordinary, mundane mystics may not ascend to God through the mansions of a contemplative flight that lifts them above the earth, but they do, day in and day out, descend with Him into the world, extending the mysteries of His earthly life. The laity grow deeper in their sublime union with Christ as He screams and cries as an infant; contributes, as a child and a young man, to the daily life of His family; grows in wisdom by studying hard; goes to synagogue every week and occasional pilgrimages to Jerusalem; becomes fully a part of the community life in His small hometown of Nazareth; works with His hands for 20+ years as an artisan; roams the highways and byways of Galilee and Judea; parties at weddings; climbs mountains to pray and reflect; dines with sinners, friends, benefactors and religious leaders; forms close friendships with men and women; contends directly with the darker side of local and empire politics; pays taxes; engages with pagans and heretical Jews and hyper-orthodox Jews; teaches and preaches and debates anyone willing; heals the sick; confronts injustice; feeds the hungry; fishes with His disciples; enjoys breakfast; takes a nap; struggles with temptation; flirts with exhaustion; suffers unspeakable pain; weeps and dances and laughs and sings and gets really angry. Loves.

And, according to John 21:25, these are only the tip of the iceberg! Jesus was a busy man, like us in all things but sin.

The laity, called by God to be “tightly bound up in all types of worldly affairs” (Vatican II), are the secular mystics of God’s descent into, and habitating within, the world He “so loves.”  Hidden everywhere in the world like leaven in dough, lay saints can best be spotted by their local shepherds, called in church lingo “secular” priests. These parish and chaplain voyeurs of lay holiness live in closest proximity to the “Church on the Front Lines,” the descriptor Ven. Pope Pius XII gave the laity. These priests, fascinated by lay holiness, are perfectly positioned to write hagiographies that can serve as an inspiration to the billion+ other Catholic lay men and women who long to see accessibly extreme models of the secular genius. These sainted Janes and Joes witness to a fully lived baptismal priesthood that wreaks havoc on sin and death, punching holes in the Font they were once thrust into — so that the whole earth, inundated by the re-creating mercy and love of God, might become an outpost of heaven.

A new baptismal priest, ready to consecrate the world!

So back in 2013, when I read the obituary of Mary “Pink” Mullaney, an 85 year old Wisconsite who left behind six children and 17 grandchildren, I thought (teaching in a seminary as I do): This should have been written by her parish priest! The obit could be the abstract at the beginning of his petition for her canonization.

A friend of mine sent her obit to me today, out of the blue, with the caption: “just rediscovered this. we need to open her cause for canonization. patron saint of the lay trash!” So, I say, let’s get on with it.

Mullaney, Mary A. “Pink” If you’re about to throw away an old pair of pantyhose, stop. Consider: Mary Agnes Mullaney (you probably knew her as “Pink”) who entered eternal life on Sunday, September 1, 2013. Her spirit is carried on by her six children, 17 grandchildren, three surviving siblings in New “Joisey”, and an extended family of relations and friends from every walk of life. We were blessed to learn many valuable lessons from Pink during her 85 years, among them: Never throw away old pantyhose. Use the old ones to tie gutters, child-proof cabinets, tie toilet flappers, or hang Christmas ornaments.

Also: If a possum takes up residence in your shed, grab a barbecue brush to coax him out. If he doesn’t leave, brush him for twenty minutes and let him stay. Let a dog (or two or three) share your bed. Say the rosary while you walk them. Go to church with a chicken sandwich in your purse. Cry at the consecration, every time. Give the chicken sandwich to your homeless friend after mass. Go to a nursing home and kiss everyone. When you learn someone’s name, share their patron saint’s story, and their feast day, so they can celebrate. Invite new friends to Thanksgiving dinner. If they are from another country and you have trouble understanding them, learn to “listen with an accent.” Never say mean things about anybody; they are “poor souls to pray for.”

Put picky-eating children in the box at the bottom of the laundry chute, tell them they are hungry lions in a cage, and feed them veggies through the slats. Correspond with the imprisoned and have lunch with the cognitively challenged. Do the Jumble every morning. Keep the car keys under the front seat so they don’t get lost. Make the car dance by lightly tapping the brakes to the beat of songs on the radio. Offer rides to people carrying a big load or caught in the rain or summer heat. Believe the hitchhiker you pick up who says he is a landscaper and his name is “Peat Moss.” Help anyone struggling to get their kids into a car or shopping cart or across a parking lot. Give to every charity that asks. Choose to believe the best about what they do with your money, no matter what your children say they discovered online. Allow the homeless to keep warm in your car while you are at Mass. Take magazines you’ve already read to your doctors’ office for others to enjoy. Do not tear off the mailing label, “Because if someone wants to contact me, that would be nice.”

In her lifetime, Pink made contact time after time. Those who’ve taken her lessons to heart will continue to ensure that a cold drink will be left for the overheated garbage collector and mail carrier, every baby will be kissed, every nursing home resident will be visited, the hungry will have a sandwich, the guest will have a warm bed and soft nightlight, and the encroaching possum will know the soothing sensation of a barbecue brush upon its back. Above all, Pink wrote – to everyone, about everything. You may read this and recall a letter from her that touched your heart, tickled your funny bone, or maybe made you say “huh?”

She is survived by her children and grandchildren whose photos she would share with prospective friends in the checkout line: Tim (wife Janice, children Timmy, Joey, T.J., Miki and Danny); Kevin (wife Kathy, children Kacey, Ryan, Jordan and Kevin); Jerry (wife Gita, children Nisha and Cathan); MaryAnne; Peter (wife Maria Jose, children Rodrigo and Paulo); and Meg (husband David Vartanian, children Peter, Lily, Jerry and Blase); siblings Anne, Helen, and Robert; and many in-laws, nieces, nephews, friends and family too numerous to list but not forgotten. Pink is reunited with her husband and favorite dance and political debate partner, Dr. Gerald L. Mullaney, and is predeceased by six siblings. Friends (and strangers she would love to have met) can visit with Pink’s family at the Feerick Funeral Home on Thursday, September 5, from 3 until 7 PM with prayer service at 6:45 PM. Mass of the Christian Burial will be celebrated at St. Monica’s Catholic Church in Whitefish Bay on Friday, September 6, at 3 PM. Dress comfortably with a splash of pink if you have it. In Pink’s memory donations may be made to Dominican High School, 120 E. Silver Spring Dr., Whitefish Bay, WI 53217, or Saint Monica Parish, 160 E. Silver Spring Dr., Whitefish Bay, WI 53217, or any charity that seeks to spread the Good News of Pink’s friend, Jesus. Valet Parking in front of the funeral home on Thursday.

P.S. Pope Francis loves these saints, and knows exactly who I’m talking about:

Ministers on Mission

Running up the stairs on 9/11

Re-post from 2015

Over the summer while I was in Omaha, I was privileged to meet privately with a Bishop and speak with him about all things ecclesiastical. For almost 90 minutes. Actually, it was quite jarring. I was asked one day to meet with this Bishop who was in town, and I didn’t know why he wanted to meet with me After we sat down together and finished the pleasantries, he said: “I want you to tell me what you think about us bishops, about how we handle the church, vocations. Be honest. And don’t blow smoke at me.”

I felt a shiver go up my spine at the prospect of having to offer critical thoughts about bishops to a Bishop whom I did not even know. But the man was so genuine and sincere — and humble — I felt able to candidly share my thoughts on his questions.

After I finished, he said a number of things to me that I found really striking, many of which I wrote down in my journal later. Let me share with you one line of thought he followed. He gave me permission to share his general observations, so here you go. It’s all in his voice:

All too often, Tom, I find, those who seek out leadership positions in the church, whether they’re lay or ordained, are driven not be a sense of mission to serve others and build them up in the name of Christ and His church. Instead, these are driven by a desire to fill their own personal needs or act out of their own unresolved issues. Good leaders have to be defined by mission and service, and not by personal needs. We have to set ourselves aside for the sake of God’s people. If you’re consumed by your own issues all the time, you can’t own the church’s mission.

I can tell right away when I’m with a needy minister, because when I’m with them I walk away thinking mostly about them and their needs and problems. They always manage to turn the conversation back on themselves and their interests or their woes. The worst thing I could hear someone say about me is, “Poor thing. So sad.”

Leaders in the church who are mission-driven should always leave people thinking about Jesus and the church. Feeling built up, encouraged, lighter. People should want to be better after working with you, or feel they’ve been brought closer to God after speaking with you. Or feel more impassioned about their own life’s mission, because that IS your mission: to help them fall in love with theirs.

The point is that you have to point away from yourself, to lose yourself in the will of God. Have you noticed that when an “I” finally falls prostrate, it becomes the first letter of humility? [I was so captivated by that image, I created one!]

It’s why the church says holiness in church ministers is imperative. Holiness is always other-focused because holiness is about love. Love takes you out of yourself, gets you wrapped up in others and in God. You stop living for adulation and approval, stop dragging along with you all your attention-getting clanging baggage. Save that for your spiritual director or your counselor or your peer support group. Don’t use the people you serve to soothe or feed your malnourished ego. Look, I’ve got plenty of mine own baggage, believe me, but I know I can’t use the people I serve to fix them.

As I said, people should walk away from you lighter, more hopeful and encouraged, more joyful and on fire with their personal mission. The goal of a leader in the church is to be totally forgettable. Not with false humility, or because you’re just drab and dreary, but because you always point away from yourself toward the people you serve, toward the church, toward the Lord. Like Pope Francis says it, good leaders are mediators not managers. Mediators convey and communicate grace and the Kingdom, help others discover God’s dream for them. But managers manipulate grace and the Kingdom for personal gain, use God as their excuse to control, impose their own agenda or exploit the faithful to their own advantage.

I always tell our seminarians that it’s really a good thing when they experience opposition and conflict in their leadership work. It keeps them humble and grounded and cognizant of the fact that it’s not all about them at all. It’s about the mission of Jesus. The Beatitudes are clear: if you’re keeping to Jesus’ mission, and people hate the mission, you’re going to feel the heat. You can’t change the mission to make sure it works for you. You work for it. And the mission of Jesus is mercy that supports the fallen, heals the broken and confronts lies and sins. It should make you uncomfortable, knock the chip off your shoulder, end the pity party. I also tell our seminarians, the same spirit that inspired the firefighters to run up the stairs in the burning towers on 9/11 should inspire you to get up again every day to be faithful. To give your life.

In the New Testament good leaders, Beatitude-driven leaders rejoice in hardship only because they want the mission to succeed more than anything else. They’re happy to pay a price, to decrease to make others, and Jesus, increase.

Tom, it’s like you as a father, right? Think about it. Your role is not to make your children like you, or to make life easy for yourself. Your mission is to help them become good people, good citizens, saints. To provide for them. When you demand they honor you or thank you or say please, it’s because you want them to become the kind of people who show honor, gratitude, courtesy; not because you yourself want those things from them. Your role is always much bigger than you. For a father, the needs of their children trump all personal needs. Your a father for them, they’re not sons and daughters for you. And if they reject you or oppose you as you try to love them into greatness, all the better for your fatherhood! You die to whatever in yourself is unworthy of fatherhood — pride, laziness, anger, selfishness. You live to embody your paternal mission to give them love and the opportunity to be virtuous men and women.

That’s what holiness is. The saint is one in whom person and mission become one. Jesus says as much when He says “my food is the will of my Father, my raison d’être is the mission He sent me on” [cf John 4:34; 6:38]. We talk about the cross as an act of spousal love, but the crucifixion is also a very fatherly act. I know you know that! [laughter]

The Great Commission [Matthew 28:16-20] means [he spoke loudly]: It’s simply not about me or about you, Tom! It’s about the mission, the mission, the mission.

I can never say that often enough to other leaders. Or to myself.

Yeah, that.

Photo Thoughts

This week I am immersed in accreditation at our seminary — pray for us! — so I will likely be unable to post for a few days.

In the mean time, a fun post of pix with comments.

Fr. Peter Finney celebrates Mass on our family dining room table, and Deacon Ryan Hallford serves as Deacon. What a gift! I thought of Pope Francis: “In this perspective we can say that the family is ‘at home’ at Mass, precisely because it brings its own experience of life-together and opens it up to the grace of a universal life-together, of God’s love for the world. Sharing in the Eucharist, the family is purified of the temptation to close in upon itself; strengthened in love and fidelity, it broadens the boundaries of its own fellowship according to the heart of Christ.”

Our daughters and their friends who came to our home for Sunday Mass, fellowship, food, sacred and secular songs, catechesis, faith witness, laughter and joy.

Maria and Catherine before the Twenty One Pilots concert began. Those faces dismantle all resistance. I pray for daddy superpowers every day.

Maria and Catherine 12 years ago. Resistance is futile, a lost cause from the beginning. Again, daddy superpowers please, God.

St. Joseph’s Altar at the seminary for the Feast. Lent relented.

Fr. Dustin Feddon, one of my dearest life friends. Pater et frater. Altum, “Deep.” To see him celebrate Mass Saturday was unforgettable.

Saw this on my walk on Sunday with Catherine. I said, “Just a minute! Can’t let this go unnoticed.”

Yep.

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What’s it doing there? That’s just absurd. 3rd century theologian, Tertullian: “The Son of God was crucified: there is no shame, because it is shameful. And the Son of God died: it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd. And, buried, He rose again: it is certain, because impossible.”

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Thank you.

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I think my writing is powered by 99% good caffeine, 1% inspiration. I consumed this one just before I started writing a post. It took me a few minutes to stop admiring the FoamArt before I sipped.

After Twenty One Pilots. Shameless Me.

The waves last Sunday — I spent a good 30 minutes lost in their rhythms:

Us singing (before Mass) at our Sunday house-church celebration:

“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 models 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 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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