Threatening Mass

Cornsheaves. rackcdn.com

Re-post 2014, amplified

This amazement should always fill the Church assembled for the celebration of the Eucharist. But in a special way it should fill the minister of the Eucharist. For it is he who, by the authority given him in the sacrament of priestly ordination, effects the consecration. It is he who says with the power coming to him from Christ in the Upper Room: “This is my body which will be given up for you This is the cup of my blood, poured out for you…”. The priest says these words, or rather he puts his voice at the disposal of the One who spoke these words in the Upper Room and who desires that they should be repeated in every generation by all those who in the Church ministerially share in his priesthood. — St. John Paul II

I recently taught a course on the liturgy to seminarians in Omaha. The course explores the theological and spiritual depths of the liturgy to better enable these future celebrants to personally enter more fully into each celebration in a life-transforming way. The hope is that a fuller personal engagement with the mystery of the liturgy will make them more effective mystagogues, i.e. ready to lead the faithful into those same deep mysteries.

One day I invited a priest to come and speak in my class about his own experience of celebrating the Mass. I asked him to give them advice, based on his personal experience, on how to deal with the distractions and obstacles that can prevent them from experiencing a fruitful celebration. Not being a priest, I needed the view of an insider.

As I listened to him, I thought of the immense privilege I have to be such a trusted part of this work of forming priests. Although the seminarians where I work full-time may not realize it, my lay colleagues and I feel insanely blessed to each be a small part of their formation. In fact, I recall once in Des Moines, Iowa an particularly intense sense of this. I was leading a day of recollection for the priests of the Des Moines deanery (itself a terrifying prospect for me!) on St. John Vianney as a model for parish priests. At one point in the morning, as I was speaking, I was unexpectedly overcome by a moment of awe that shook me up. I was commenting on this line from Vianney: “Oh how great is the priest! If he realized what he is, he would die.” Just as I began offering my commentary on its meaning, I felt inside these words ambush me, as if they were from Christ: “They are me for you.”

I stumbled over my words for a moment before I was able to continue. Later I wrote in my journal:

“Me for you” locates priestly identity in the heart of the Eucharist, making them a sacrament of His self-gift: “…this is my Body which will be given up for you…this is the Chalice of my Blood…shed for you and for many…”

Okay, back to my Omaha liturgy class…

Among many other practical points, my guest-speaker priest shared with the men a struggle I’d never considered before. He called it “teetering between ecstasy and dullness.” There is, he said, as with all things in life that are sacred, the danger of routine; of daily repetition which can breed complacency and contempt. He continued,

But there are these occasional lightning bolt moments that leave you a bit startled. That knock you off balance. While routine can breed contempt, the bolts threaten you with getting lost in the Rite. They are never predictable and are mostly about some new awareness of Christ acting in you. Then there are these moments when you are totally overwhelmed by a very real sense you’ve become Christ’s “I”. Acting in the “first person” with and for Him. Christ and I become “one I” at the Consecration. “My Body” — I am almost afraid to say it at times, it’s so intimate. Totally blows my mind. It’s almost too much to bear and threatens my ability to complete my role.

And then there are other times I’m stunned, like when I’m asking the Father to send the Spirit down on the gifts of bread and wine. I’ll become intensely aware that I’m calling Him down by Christ’s authority. He always comes. That’s terrifying.

Then there are other times when I’m tired, distracted, when I just don’t perceive what I’m doing. That’s totally okay, you can’t always be “on,” it’s not all about your personal experiences. But I do notice that often my lack of attentiveness to the mystery I’m involved in is closely connected to my slacking in my personal prayer that day. Or my lack of preparation before Mass, which is sometimes due to pastoral necessity, other times just my laziness.

The key, he told the seminarians, is not allow these two extremes to become polar opposite experiences. And never to seek out the highs or run from the lows. But to allow one to influence the other. Let the dull moments get kindled by the startling ones, and let the startling ones stay anchored in reality by the duller times. “That’s the flux of life, brothers, so get used to it. But don’t get used to it. Priesthood is a fulcrum full of tugs and pulls that makes for greatness.”

That’s great advice for the spiritual life of any Christian.

He then shared with us a poem called Harvest and Consecration by Elizabeth Jennings. I’d never read it before. He focused on the last line of the poem, saying it best captured his sense of these tensions. I wrote in my notebook at the end of his lecture:

It’s a rare person who loves finding him or herself caught in uncomfortable spots, who appreciates that the discomforts of being torn between alternating extremes.

I try.

These swings are what make me feel fully human, more open to the fully divine. Caught between opposites. Most of my personal energy comes from the tensions that emerge between obvious and hidden, exciting and boring, boundless and fenced in, seen and unseen, strength and weakness, transcendence and immanence, static and earthquake. It’s where mystery, left long over fire, remains in a permanent state of what Meister Eckhart called in Latin, ebullitio, “boiling over.” It’s easier to remain exuberant there, I guess. Extremes lack mystery. The middle’s where it’s at. Maybe that’s what’s needed to carry out St. Paul’s impossible command to “rejoice always” (Phil 4:4).

Jennings wrote her poem for a priest, to help him augment his sense of how its lowly earthy signs and symbols masterfully convey divine mystery. May our hearts never be protected against the unpredictable inroads of God!

After the heaped piles and the cornsheaves waiting
to be collected, gathered into barns,
after all fruits have burst their skins, the sating
season cools and turns,
and then I think of something that you said
of when you held the chalice and the bread.

I spoke of Mass and thought of it as close
to how a season feels which stirs and brings
fire to the hearth, food to the hungry house
and strange, uncovered things —
God in a garden then in sheaves of corn
and the white bread a way to be reborn.

I thought of priest as midwife and as mother
feeling the pain, feeling the pleasure too,
all opposites together,
until you said no one could feel such passion
and still preserve the power of consecration.

And it is true. How cool the gold sheaves lie,
rich without need to ask for more
richness. The seed, the simple thing must die
if only to restore
our faith in fruitful, hidden things. I see
the wine and bread protect our ecstasy.

Thank you, dear priest-fathers, for your generous self-gift to Christ for us. May He protect your ecstasy…

Pontifical secretaries, laity and digital culture

Earlier this week, Bishop Paul Tighe, Adjunct Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture at the Vatican, visited Notre Dame Seminary to offer our annual Faculty Symposium lecture, with a response by my colleague and friend, Dr. Daniella Zsupan-Jerome.

His lecture was entitled, “The Church in a Digital World: Sharing Good News in a changing cultural context.” He focused on the challenge to the Church in sharing the Good News of the Gospel in a culture that has been profoundly transformed by digital technologies. How can the Church be present to people who are citizens of a digital world, whose identity and sense of belonging have been profoundly conditioned by their on-line experiences? How can we express the truth of God’s love for all people to a public that is accustomed to the language and dynamics of digital communications? How do we invite people, whose understanding of friendship, community and engagement have been shaped by social media, to a relationship with Jesus in a communion of service?

He had a very busy week here, meeting and speaking with groups and individuals, holding interviews and celebrating Mass for the seminary community. It was a great honor! He even agreed to go to my daughters’ high school, Mount Carmel Academy, and address the young ladies on living out the faith in a digital culture. He was a hit because he is personable, engaging, connected to Pope Francis, has a global perspective, persuasively demonstrates the relevance of faith to real life, is up on youth culture and, most of all, has a cool Irish accent.

I asked him the day after his lecture if he would record a brief message for my Neal Obstat blog readers and he graciously agreed (a brief 2:20). Below that is his lecture to seminarians at the seminary (a longer 1:17:11), and below that is an amazing sight: a Vatican Bishop at the South by Southwest Conference (SXSW). Enjoy:

Mashley Goes Public!

Another unapologetic Mashley promo post.

Well, my daughter and her singing friend, Ashley, finally got to perform in a public forum — the Notre Dame Seminary Annual Talent Show. Very generously, the seminarians (who watch their videos) decided to invite them to come join in what is always a seminary-only show. 

Patti and I, along with Maria’s sister, Catherine; brother, Michael; my Mom; and several of Maria and Ashley’s friends all came to enjoy and support them. The seminarians and priest faculty were so incredibly welcoming and supportive and enthusiastic. When I asked her if she was nervous, Maria said, “Once we got out there, no! They’re all like my big brothers! They’re awesome!”

I agree.

I couldn’t imagine a better first experience of public performance! 

The performance is full of smiles and laughter and cheers and on-demand encores.

Patti and I were so proud.

I am having a busy week that has not allowed me any time to write posts, but this one was easy.  Enjoy:

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.

Omitting and texting sins

pennsylvaniaduilawyersblog.com

[re-post 2014, updated]

Recently, my wife and I watched a documentary with our children on texting and driving, From One Second To The Next, that told the heart-wrenching stories of victims and victimizers whose lives were turned upside down by one person’s decision to text while driving. It withered any temptation I may have had in me to text while I drive.

It reminded me of a Sunday homily I heard several years ago by a priest who spoke of what he called, “the sins I am surprised I never hear confessed.” It was a sobering homily.

He highlighted two sins that are, he said, “especially conspicuous for their absence from Confession.” Here’s some of what he said (as I wrote in my journal later):

… Yet it’s crucial that we also consider, as we examine our conscience, the ways we have failed to do what we can or what we ought when circumstances call for action. For example, sometimes we’re obliged to speak up for someone as others bad mouth them when they’re not there to defend themselves. We often sin in this way through cowardice — we are afraid to face the heat, to get criticized or shunned. Or maybe it’s just laziness, just too much energy expenditure for us to be confrontational. Or maybe we want others’ approval and can’t stomach the thought that they might not think well of us; and this might even compel us to join in their toxic speech.

As people of faith, we confess it is, in those cases, Christ whom we deny, whom we slander or fail to shield. He is always joined to the victim of every sin and injustice, present in every person unfairly maligned. He awaits us, the members of His Body, to come to His defense. Christ takes very personally what is done, or not done, for the least of His brethren. The implications of Matthew 25 are much greater than feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty. And according to Matthew 25, judgement is primarily about sins of omission. “You did not…did not…did not…”

There’s a wonderful poem by Studdert-Kennedy that powerfully captures this:

When Jesus came to Golgotha, they hanged Him on a tree,
They drove great nails through hands and feet, and made a Calvary;
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were His wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.

When Jesus came to Birmingham, they simply passed Him by.
They would not hurt a hair of Him, they only let Him die;
For men had grown more tender, and they would not give Him pain,
They only just passed down the street, and left Him in the rain.

Still Jesus cried, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do,”
And still it rained the winter rain that drenched Him through and through;
The crowds went home and left the streets without a soul to see,
And Jesus crouched against a wall, and cried for Calvary.

Then the priest took a surprising direction in his homily, one I’d never previously heard preached. He said:

But one of the most surprising omissions in Confession is the sin of breaking traffic laws, reckless driving. Did you know the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

“Those incur grave guilt who, by drunkenness or a love of speed, endanger their own and others’ safety on the road, at sea, or in the air”?

Grave guilt! Let me ask you — please, though, don’t raise your hand! — how many of you have sped, had too much alcohol and gotten behind a wheel, texted while you were driving, blown through stop lights or done other irresponsible things while driving? And how many of you have confessed this to the Lord in His Sacrament of Reconciliation?

This is, the Church tells us unequivocally, a grave matter. “Graviter” in Catechism’s Latin — which means it’s a serious matter, the matter for mortal sin. In fact, the Catechism takes it so seriously that it places this consideration under the 5th commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.”

If Jesus says to harbor hateful anger against your brother in your heart is already murder, the Catechism adds this: Reckless driving contains an implicit consent to murder. So it can, in this sense, already be considered murder. Whether you get caught by the cops or a camera, or not, is absolutely irrelevant.

I beg you, as your father in Christ, respect life by driving safely. Be a witness to temperance and justice, call others to be accountable and responsible. Maybe put a “Choose Life” bumper sticker on your car so that you become more conscious of being a witness to others. If someone sees you texting and driving, and then sees your bumper sticker, they may wonder: “Whose life are you choosing?”

You are your brother and sister’s keeper, a disciple of Christ the giver of life.

There’s a stunning bumper sticker I’ve seen, “Honk if you love Jesus! Text if you want to meet Him!” [congregation laughter]. But I would add, on a much more serious note, that for me, personally, I would not want my last deed before entering the presence of Christ the Judge to be the violation of the 5th commandment. Destroying lives, all to send a stupid text.

It’s a very powerful human skill to rationalize sin away. And especially to rationalize reckless driving away. I am exempt; I can handle it; just this once; nothing’s gonna happen. The families of victims of traffic accidents caused by texting or drinking or disregarding traffic laws would have much to say to you in reply. As would the Lord.

So I encourage you: Go to Confession if you haven’t and unburden your sins before our merciful Lord, the Lover of life. And then, choose life every time you get behind the wheel.

This short film was made in 2013, so the texting and driving problem since then has grown exponentially. It’s almost ubiquitous. Just yesterday, a woman with children in her van was texting as she drove down I-10. I noticed she was texting because she was weaving in and out of her lane. And voice to text unquestionably makes the illusion of justification even more seductive. Here’s some stats:

Texting While Driving Causes:

1. 1,600,000 accidents per year – National Safety Council
2. 330,000 injuries per year – Harvard Center for Risk Analysis Study
3. 11 teen deaths EVERY DAY – Ins. Institute for Hwy Safety Fatality Facts
4. Nearly 25% of ALL car accidents

Texting While Driving Is:

1. About 6 times more likely to cause an accident than driving intoxicated
2. The same as driving after 4 beers – National Hwy Transportation Safety Admin.
3. The number one driving distraction reported by teen drivers

Texting While Driving:

1. Makes you 23X more likely to crash – National Hwy Transportation Safety Admin.
2. Is the same as driving blind for 5 seconds at a time – VA. Tech Transportation Institute
3. Takes place by 800,000 drivers at any given time across the country
4. Slows your brake reaction speed by 18% – HumanFactors & Ergonomics Society
5. Leads to a 400% increase with eyes off the road

If you can, the ~35 minute film is worth the watch. With your family, friends. But it is graphic.

Praying, with TØP, of the world

M

Pic from the concert

Per the gracious request of one of the people who comment on this blog — AMDG — I will post a portion of my journal entry from the night after the Twenty One Pilots concert. Note: the “sacramental shuttle” is the name my wife and I give to the friends of our daughters who regularly join our family for Mass and Confession.

So, for what it’s worth, in all its rawness, here you go…

+ + + +

…I’ve been to many music concerts, but this one had a different ‘feel’ to it. Of course, clearly, being with [my daughters] Maria and Catherine and the sacramental shuttle was a game-changer. Cor ad cor loquitur. That alone made for a seriously giant quality of life increase. But these two men — Josh, Tyler — have this stunning capacity to make my faith so human, intricately knit into the marrow of my bones. As I inhabit their songs, I don’t sense in any way spiritual means less-human, more-porcelain. Vatican II says the great error of our age is the “split of faith and life.” This means people privatize their faith, check their conscience at the door of the voting booth. This means theists act like atheists. But this split also emerges from the sense that to be religious, faithful, pious means that you have to repress your earthiness, denigrate the material good things of this world in order to exalt the spiritual good things of the next world. Or so the split-minded would have it. Catholics (kath’ holou, “according to the whole”) don’t see it that way. Belloc:

Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,
There’s always laughter and good red wine.
At least I’ve always found it so.
Benedicamus Domino!

Aligning your soul with the grain of God only sets you in opposition to sin, never against creation itself. Sinners are world-haters, saints are world-lovers. On the Cross, hewn by sin, God allowed us to cut Him cross-grain so that He could, from within that mercy-suffused creative tension, realign all things with Himself. We Christians, set square in the crux of the Cross, are called to be the living signs to the gnarled world of a God-who-so-loves-the-world that He consents to be cut down so we might be raised up. Christians, lodged in this crux, should love the world more than the world. In the world but not of the world in order to live for the life of the world. We are consecrated, set apart, to ensure all things enter the Age to Come. By being human. In fact, God becoming man so that man might become God seals the deal: the only way to share in the divine life, to be divinized, is to be fully, unabashedly, joyfully hominized.

c/o Jordan Haddad, a rockin’ Augustine quote from The City of God, Bk 20 Ch. 14:

“For after the judgment has been accomplished this heaven and this earth will, of course, cease to be, when a new heaven and a new earth will come into being. For it is by a transformation of the physical universe, not by its annihilation, that this world will pass away. Hence the Apostle’s statement, “The form of this work is passing away, and I want you to be spared anxiety.” It is, then, the outward form, not the substance, that passes.”

And that cosmic transformation, inaugurated in Christ, the God-made-cosmos, is wrought in us, we who are His mystical Body. Wrought in us by Spirit-powered love, agápē, by which and for which all things were created. Wrought in us by Alms, which turn matter into mercy. Oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus — “star stuff” — achieve their telos [purposeful goal] in us. Matter, the laws of physics, space, time came alive to make love. The cosmos labored for 13+ billion years to produce bread, wine as its locus of transubstantiation; re-created to feed and give joy to the Poor of Yahweh. We, clay-stamped icons of God, are creation’s inscribed vocation made conscious, quarks made grateful and free to love — priests of nature who unite earth and heaven, time and eternity, spirit and matter, Creator and creature in the bond of charity.

Pope Benedict: “If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great.” But how many live in this fear: “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?”

God, no.

I’ll never forget when [a dear friend of mine] told me that, after she gave a talk to a women’s group on her own love for the Virgin Mary, a number of women crowded  around her to excitedly talk about apparitions and rosaries and scapulars and First Saturdays and miraculous photographs. After listening to them for a bit, she finally said to them: “Can we talk about the weather?” She meant, good as they are, there are vastly more worthy things in the world to speak about than just the “goods of religion.” Even at the wedding feast at Cana, Mary the Jew was undoubtedly all about celebrating, music, dancing and an ample supply of spiced red wine.

St. Isaac the Syrian: “What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists.”

Pope Francis: “The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God.”

So this TØP concert was an artistic foray into the orderly beauty and the blooming, buzzing confusion of the human condition. Their songs — mightily searching, struggling passionately; lost, afraid; pining for hope, love, connection, meaning, purpose.

God abides in their songs as a silent Thou; a rapt, attentive You. A Father, Hearer of cries, sighs, whys.

For many of the fans around me, maybe their intention was devoid of any idea of God. Regardless, the songs drew out, exegeted, the deepest of human aspirations and longings. Tapped into life’s profoundest questions. Playfully, exuberantly, agonizingly. For those who have explicit faith, their music very naturally springs alive as prayer. Not because it’s religious, but because it’s human. For those who have no faith, their music grants permission to long, ache, yearn with open-ended hope of being heard, being seen, being loved. And these seem to frequently be young men and women who live on the margins, who may not be prone to trusting others — hence, their famous Heathens counsel:

All my friends are heathens, take it slow
Wait for them to ask you who you know
Please don’t make any sudden moves
You don’t know the half of the abuse

I think of [Vatican II’s] Gaudium et Spes: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.” People of faith need to take this opening salve of Gaudium deadly seriously. We’ve gotta be real, connected, set apart only in order to re-turn and face with-God the ones we momentarily stepped away from. Turning from sin in order to turn toward the myriad faces that seek His Face. Turning to face the wonderful, terrible world with God-with-us. All because Christ first, from womb to tomb, up-took into Himself the whole of the human condition, from the brightest selfless sacrifice to the blackest selfish hatred. The God buried in our wreckage, the drunkard, glutton, dinner companion of sinners, Lover of Mankind Messiah.

Thank God for artists like Tyler, Josh who give full, unhesitating voice to the vast expanses of the human condition, inviting a weary world into a living quest for the FarNear.

I read several articles recently that described their music as schizo-pop, because they expose the “schizo-split” that cuts through minds riven by doubt, anxiety, despair, fear, temptation, sin, and yet those same minds long for faith, peace, hope, trust, reconciliation and faithfulness to “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, any excellence, anything worthy of praise” (Phil 4:8). They sing St. Paul’s own schizo-verse (Romans 7:14ff) into life, making it contemporary.

I found myself again and again, while fully enjoying the sheer thrill of their electric music, falling upward into prayer. Naturally, seamlessly, not feeling I had migrated from secular to sacred or withdrawn from the sensory flood of sounds and sights to enter a purely spiritual realm — precisely because I have become more and more convinced as years have passed that the Word, indeed, became flesh and pitched His tent among us.  And last night, amid the silent Trees, “there were shouts of joy and victory in the tents of the just” (Psalm 118:19).

In fact, it was when they sang Trees at the end of the concert that I found myself completely lost in prayer, begging God it would never end, wholly present to my daughters and the sea of humanity around me and the God who breathed silently. Singing, feeling swept up, and up-sweeping my offering. It was transcendent. When it all ended, I could hear distinctly within: Ite, missa est, “Go, be sent.” Out into the world so large it seems to have no end. Yes, right, world without end. Amen.

I know
Where you stand
Silent
In the trees
And that’s
Where I am
Silent
In the trees

Why won’t you speak?
Where I happen to be
Silent
In the trees
Standing cowardly

I can feel your breath
I can feel my death
I want to know you
I want to see
I want to say
Hello
Hello
Hello
Hello