Friday, December 30, 2011

Friday Thoughts - Not Standing Still

Now is the time, beloved readers. Now is the time. Why is now the time as opposed to other times? Because on this day, the Lord has glorified the nature of man. We still celebrate Christmas, when God became incarnate. When no longer did we merely sob in the vale of tears, but now we cry in hope, hope of the resurrection, hope of new life within our sinful flesh, without the baggage of our previous sins. We stand tall as redeemed men and women who await the final coming wherein all will be revealed and truth will be seen as it is. The veil that veils our sinful eyes will be lifted and before us we will see the glory of God. All this, is beheld in a newborn child, born in stable, with the company of farm animals and shepherds as visitors. Do not stand still. Stand tall but be moved by such a happening. Do not let Christmas pass by with you unaware. Be transformed by the renewal of mind! Open wide the doors to Christ, let Him enter, the king of glory!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Top Ten Books Read in 2011, #4

Number 4 is ...
unPlanned - Abby Johnson

This is the only book on the list that was actually published this year. It is very rare that I'm actually up to date on stuff like that, but this book travelled with me on the way to and from the March for Life. It provided great reflection on many things.

The pro-life issue needs to be humanized. Abby communicates to the reader two things in this regard: babies in the womb are humans and those who abort them are humans, neither should be dehumanized. Both are required respect, love, charity, and action for their freedom.

Abby showed that freedom from 'the other side' is possible. She is a witness to the providence of God. Her life shows that God desires for all to see the truth. We must pray that each man and woman involved in the 'industry' of abortion can be open in a small way to God breaking through in their lives.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Top Ten Books Read in 2011, #5

Number 5 is....


The Curé d'Ars - Abbé Trochu
I had mentioned this book back when. It took me forever and a day to read this book. Nearly two years, reading a few pages each night before I went to bed. I finished during my retreat in preparation for ordination to the diaconate. I really connected with the saintly life of this man. He willingness to give himself fully to the parish and to France, especially in the confessional has been a big part of my priestly formation over the past two years. I gave tirelessly until the baker, the shoemaker, the mayor, and the whole city of Ars were living saints. I pray that I will work such great zeal and pray with such desire throughout my priesthood.

This is a must read for our readers in formation for priesthood.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Top Ten Books I Read This Year, #6

Number 6 ...

The Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton

I mentioned this in a post back in April I mentioned this book when talking about a book that will show up later on this list. Although G.K. Chesterton thought himself a poor mystery writer, more out of humility and comedy than out of truthful speech.

These mysteries revolved around a simple country priest, Fr. Brown. It's the sheer simplicity of the stories, the mysteries, and the characters that make these short stories so endearing. You want to walk alongside Father Brown as he's walking up a country road in his cassock speaking about such simple, yet profound things (something I would love to do with characters). This series is the first of two regarding this sacerdotal sleuth. It is totally worth the read.

It also has the distinction of being the only book I read completely on an iPod touch/iPhone size screen.

Top Ten Books I Read in 2011, #7

Number 7 is ...

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

One reader, I know at this point your asking yourself, this self-proclaimed bibliophile has not read this American classic? Can he even make that self-proclamation?

No I didn't read Twain's classic in high school, Harry Potter was summer reading (indeed a breakdown in the literature program). Yes, that also means I'm young enough to have been in high school when Potter was published, although to little credit the movies didn't come till my seminary years.

Now that the awkwardness is out the way ... I loved the book. I listened to as an audiobook narrated by the hobbit himself,  Elijah Wood. I was impressed with his skills. He did a great job narrating it. The southern accent was much better than his attempt at an English one in the aforementioned film.

As for the book itself, 'twas great. Twain's use of colloquial allowed for a certain endearment to Huck and Jim.  The story dealt with the difficulties in the south without being self-righteous or offensive.

For anyone who is like me and uncultured in classic American fiction needs to pick this up in one of its forms.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Top Ten Books I Read in 2011, #8

Number 8 is ...


Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith
This was my guilty pleasure for the year. I couldn't help but be attracted by the premise of one of our most popular historical figures being a beast killing vampires. SGS tried his best to integrate the story into actual Lincoln history, which made it all the more interesting and compelling.

I listened to this on audiobook via Audible. It was a great read and let me forget about other difficult things going on.

I'm also looking forward to the movie produced by Tim Burton.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Top Ten Books I Read in 2011, #9

Number 9 is... Europe and the Faith by Hillaire Belloc

I had written a post a few months back about the book. Belloc writes with the zeal of a revert and the intelligence of an Oxford scholar. He hits the nail on the head about the movement and flow of European history. His oft quoted line, "Europe is the faith, and the faith is Europe," is the premise of the book.

The reason it makes the list over other books is its revolutionary quality to me. European history had always been communicated to me within the intellectual context of the secular Enlightenment. To see the history of Europe through the eyes of the Church (not in a biased way but through historical evidence) was, well, eye opening.

His conclusion was so profound and has played out since his death. If we betray the church we betray Europe because historically Europe exists due to the Church. We have watched as Europe has forsaken the faith and in turn begun to destroy itself. It began with Luther and has slowly gone downhill since then.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Top Ten Books Read in 2011, #10

I'm going to do a countdown of the top ten books I've read this year. Coming in at Number 10 is

Parish Priest: Father Michael McGivney and American Catholicism by Douglas Brinkley and Julie Fenster

I became a Knight of Columbus about six or seven years ago. I was also curious about the founder of the group. Who was this elusive Fr. Michael MicGivney, who's picture was in every KofC hall.

This book was one of many books I found in a library book sale. 50 cents for a book is nearly always worth it. This surely was a find for me.

I was inspired by the hard simple work of this parish priest. He had a vision and desire to unite men under the same purpose of charity and community in order to keep them from drunkenness and the allure of the secret societies prevalent at the time.

The Knights of Columbus became an effort to take an already present desire in men's hearts, the joining of social clubs, and baptize it in the richness of our Catholic faith.

It wasn't just his work in founding the Knights that struck. In fact, the stories of his regular ministry as a priest are most profound, more due to their simplicity than anything else. He served the Lord without flash, without much advertisement, and gave his life in service of the Catholics in Connecticut. I hope to be as a good a priest as he was.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

O Come, Let Us...Adore Him?

A few weeks ago, an event called Adore took place at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. It was an 'evangelical' event, in the popular interpretation of such things, a ‘revival’. There were some rousing 'come-to-Jesus' moments which, though exciting in the moment, are pretty much standard at such proceedings. The musician who played is up for a Grammy this year, and played very well, but his appearance is no rarity in southeast Louisiana. Archbishop Aymond too was there, but he seems to be everywhere these days, so I hardly find it possible to judge an event's significance on that account. The decorations were flamboyant. Now, there was something unique about that! The auditorium where the event was being held was your basic, monolithic structure with white walls, a cheap curtain, a four-foot high stage and out-of-date lighting. Most high schools boast about the same. But it had been decorated with cheap Chinese lanterns (the paper kind that come in bright colors and look like oversized bubbles). In contrast, creating a fire hazard of immense proportions, the stage had been covered with candles of all shapes and sizes flickering just inches away from already-hot sound equipment and wooden instruments. A large screen had been placed stage right and caught the projection of hymns and bible verses as they flashed up on the monitor. In the back, there were a series of booths selling 'Jesus glamour gear' (as one theology major so shrewdly put it). All in all, it was a comical display of the type of devotion that our pluralistic and consumerist society tries to offer.

And into the middle of this strange and brave new temple, the Archbishop brought in the Blessed Sacrament for adoration. The seminarians who coordinated this section of the evening had chosen to take a pre-Vatican II approach by dressing his Excellency in gold vestments and flanking the monstrance with two censures. As he walked up the aisle, the congregation sang ancient hymns put to modern music. Then, after much awkward fumbling, the Lord of the Universe was precariously placed on what appeared to be a tall wooden stool. Here was Jesus, true God and true man, surrounded by paper lanterns, a dangerous amount of candles, a rock band in blue jeans, a projection screen the size of an Cadillac, a gilded epicopus chanting prayers and diakoniae swinging incense to and fro, wafting sweet-smelling smoke through out the room as God stood on a womblely wooden stand. We Catholics claim that the small host in the center of it all is God. And this is the welcome prepared! What absolute nonsense, right? Right!?

I do not know. How scandalous is this coming in comparison to the welcome He received at that first Christmas? At least there was room in the inn this time, even if the inn looked more like a Chinese restaurant than a Church. My purpose here is not to reflect on aesthetics or ecclesiology. I care not a hoot whether you're against the progressives or the traditionalists, whether you believe in evangelical youth ministry or in quiet personal promulgation of the faith. What I would like you to do is just think for a moment: if what the Church teaches about transubstantiation it true, then God was there. In His omniscience, He chose to be there. What was He doing? Were I Him (oh dear Lord, how close I come to blasphemy!), I would have been laughing my most Holy Face off. But that's not what He did. Just as He cried like a babe in the manger, I believe there was more compassion to His coming into that room than irony or indignation. Which brings me to the point of all this: what kind of God are we dealing with? What kind of King so enters the womb and allows Himself to be so welcomed into the room? You see, I can no longer realistically hope to find God. Life has taught me that I can't journey to heaven. So my only hope is that heaven would travel to me. And if He did come down to love us, it would have to be a two way street. He would half to meet us half way. And to save us poor, that means entering a stable, halfway house of sorts, once He was locked out of the 'free house' (or Inn). Our culture has tried covering this mystery of Christmas with cellophane and sale ads, but it just won't do! Frosty's death and rebirth is nothing compared to His! Jingle Bells and Deck the Halls and Santa Baby are just plain boring in comparison to a God who is carried in a gold monstrance and sits on wooden stool on a stage covered in fire, all to let us imitate the hosts of heaven. What need I of more Christmas specials? What could be more special education than a God who sits among Chinese lanterns, all so that He can be with me? Or lie naked and shivering in a stable (or on a cross for that matter...) just so that my nakedness and shivering may cease. I'm sorry: I just don't understand all this and, until I do, there will be much more reflecting, much more writing, much more singing and much much more silence on this subject.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Friday Thoughts - The Ankler

It's been a unique experience for me being off my feet. This past Monday I dislocated my right ankle. It was a nasty looking thing {muscles in my ankle twitch at the thought of it}. Needless to say I required emergency surgery. I've been to many emergency rooms but normally as a chaplain to visit patients. It was very different being crowded by medical students {did I say I was sent to the teaching hospital}. No one had ever seen something like this, me included. My ankle was turned 90 degrees to the right.

It happened on the basketball court built on a tennis court behind the seminary. I have logged in hundreds of hours on that court. I've had some minor twists, a few bruises, and I dished out a bloody nose. Ten minutes into our game I go up for a lay-up, which is rare because I'm usually the smallest one on the court and lay-ups usually mean I got blocked. At some point going up or coming down, my right foot forgot what it was supposed to do, namely be a footing. My ankle gave way and I was on the ground writhing in pain. Here we return to the previous paragraph explaining my injury.

My ankle looked like Linda Blair's head in The Exorcist. It moved a quarter of a circle to the left and decided to freak out the priests-to-be on the court. I received the Anointing of the Sick for the first time. It was quite a gift to receive from one of the seminary faculty. Someone stuck out his hand and whistled for the nearest ambulance. They came bearing painkillers and confused looks. "Sir we've never seen something like this before." Great, now I'm going to be the freakshow on display. Look what this clumsy deacon did.

I had a great conversation with the EMT on the way to the hospital. He's not church going, nor is he dating. He seemed to be married to his work, which is very time consuming. Pray for him, either he's called to be a priest or the woman God created for him will show up soon.

In the ER, I met an array of young doctors, residents, and other various and sundry medical personnel. Apparently Tulane Medical School attracts Australian medical students. He's the third Australian I've met this year and in my life. A kindly and gentle young woman doctor with blonde hair did the honor of placing my foot in its right position. I, at once, understood the beginnings of the crucifixion. It had cc's upon cc's {no not the coffee} of pain meds and felt an excruciating amount of pain. I sincerely cannot imagine the pain for love of us that Christ endured in his passion. I in some small way got to share in that.

After all of this I was finally taken to surgery .... blank ... black ... {cough} {cough} {heave} {breath Kyle}

I was awake again in the midst of an asthma attack. The attending nurse said curtly, "You can't get your CAT scan until you can breathe well." {Big breath} {Big breath} Oxygen assemble!!!! in my lungs! 45 minutes later my labored breathing minimized to the breathing marathon runner after 10 miles on a brisk day. "Okay, it's time."

I go for my first CAT scan. The technician there was a kick. I started quoting Proverbs to him in a anesthetic asthmatic daze, "Wisdom is the fear of the Lord." We started talking about Scripture and my vocation. Hopefully, the Lord touch some hearts. I was surprised he was using me then, I guess in my weakness He is strong.

Finally, I arrive at my room, a great gift, a private room overlooking the lighted Superdome, excuse me Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Now I can rest.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Friday Thoughts - Mary Didn't Walk Alone

Last Advent I had a series on Learning from Mary how to do about Advent. I wish to continue with that theme this Advent.

When Mary hurried in haste to visit Elizabeth, she traveled a great distance. A teenage woman would not have traveled alone across 60 miles of Israeli terrain.  Although the gospel does not speak of it, she was probably accompanied.


As we walk this road, we cannot walk it alone.  This Christian life is live in the Body of Christ. For those of you searching, plug-in find your faith family in your parish.  We also have our brothers and sister who dwell with God I heave.  They are our help and strength: St. Andrew, St. Francis, St. Anthony, St. Therese, St. Jude, St. Rita, St. Philomena.  Plug-in; pray for their powerful intercession.

At the mass we all unite with all the saints and angels in heaven as well as every other person that has ever been to mass.  We all walk together on our journey.  The Church is like this unmentioned person who accompanied Mary.  We don't know but of few of the millions of members of the Church, both living and dead, nonetheless, we walk together to serve our fellow man.  

Friday, December 2, 2011

Friday Thoughts - Can The Muppet's Save Television From Itself?

Last weekend, as reward for completing a paper I went with my sister for a bit of nostalgia, The Muppet Movie. It was one of those times when your glad the characters you love are back on stage. It held every bit of the cheesiness of the TV show and previous movies ... and it was awesome. The plot revolved around the Muppet's fighting for retention of their studio, which is going to be purchased by an evil oil tycoon (who can't laugh). They had to put on one last show to raise 10 million dollars to save the studio.

SPOILER ALERT: Plot developments from the film will be revealed (and are necessary for me to make my point)

They pitched their idea to every major TV network and were rejected by all of them in typical Muppet outsider fashion. Kermit and company are told they are irrelevant. Their type of genuine homegrown slapstick comedy without violence, cursing, or much to any sex appeal. The show is picked up when a small TV network has to drop its show Punch Teacher because it is being sued.

The Muppet's are a different sort of brand for Disney. They seem to transcend, in a certain sense, today's media. They appeal via nostalgia to parents and naturally to kids. They break the mode or rather retain the mode that has been broken. Said mode is that non-human characters; i.e. animation, puppets, claymation, etc. do not dabble greatly in the sins of man (murder, excessive violence, sex). That is part of the Muppet's brand.

And, frankly, give the world more. America needs actually wholesome television. Spongebob Squarepants is far from wholesome. Thanks to the 'pioneer' writers and animators of Ren and Stimpy and Beavis and Butthead cartoons have become more and more adult. The Muppet's can bring back good childlike entertainment. Bring the brand to a major television network. It can survive. I'm putting all my entrainment eggs in one basket but that's because I look at the store and its the only one I trust with my fragile entertainment eggs.

P.S. Mahna, mahna

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Musings, Dreaming and 'Communio'

All that follows, the geeking out and philosophizing, will act as an apology for attempting the impossible. I am going to try, in the next few lines, to describe the experience of what may best be called a symposium. I've written before about the difficulties of capturing reality within the confines of the written word. And the more I see of reality, the more readily I believe the challenge to be an almost overpowering one. And though no writer is exempt from wrestling with the muses, it was Chesterton (surprise surprise) who put it most eloquently and complained about it most often. He believed there to be a whole library full of the best stories never written, a bibliography of dreams that eluded the pens of their writers. Recently, I was highly amused to discover that the cult-classic Sandman comic book series turned this idea into a running gag; the house of Dream contains miles of shelves full of such imaginary books (Chesterton's contribution is an intriguing tome by the name "The Man Who Was October.")
So the symposium. Unlike Plato, I have not the memory or patience to write it out as a dialogue. I can, however, provide you with the dramatis personae. The participants included a group of friends each representing different sides of my life: a seminarian, a theology major, a friend from Slidell and a Dominican grad (For the past 5 years, Providence has delightfully deigned that I be acquainted with a new Dominican grad once every two months.) The content of our conversation ranged from chapel veils to jockstraps, from voodoo to theological anthropology. There is admittedly nothing unique about such plurality of topics. Wider spectrums are common among college discussion in these United States. What was impressive from my perspective was the spiritual dimension that was just bordering on the edge of my sensation. Understand: I know these people. Not only do I know their ideas, their feelings and their beliefs. I know them, they themselves, their hypostases, their personhood. And, as I looked on, I watched as they tried to give of themselves, form and matter, body and soul, to everyone in the room. Admittedly, the arguments, though unique, weren’t the quintessence of profundity. Yet, the sincerity of their souls registered to my senses. I could feel the impact of their attempts at self gift, and that is something that left me speechless. At a break in the conversation, I turned to my friend from Slidell (she was only one besides me who had known all the people in the room before that evening) and said "I would not interrupt this for the world!"
That evening was not the first time friends from my different spheres had come together. Nor, praise God, will it be the last. What was unique, though, was that I could perceive the journey our conversation took as we tried so hard to give ourselves to each other. And the best part; we succeeded! Our words had an impact. Our striving reached a goal. There was the titillation of travel and the relief of destination. The experience of it was something more than closure: it was a consummation of sorts. We did not solely dream: we awoke from our intellectual musings to find a dream come true. And that is the difference between a library of stories never written and even just one book that was able to make it out of the authors head and onto paper. The journey is shiny and pretty and perplexing, and that is all wonderful, but I would say (and Chesterton, being a Thomist, would agree) that all the thrill of the potential must be realized by a movement to the actual. Or, in laymen's terms, words in my head must be put down on paper before we can truly experience their impact. My book cannot remain in the realm of dream: it must take on pen and paper the way God took on flesh. A conversation with friends, an evening of self gift, must give way to a newer reality. Then, the lines between dreaming and waking cease to exist. In the comic book I spoke of above, the character Dream laments that all dreams will die when humanity breaths its last. But this is preposterous! The dreaming will not fail because the darkness has not overcome the light of the human race. A day will come when self gift and communio personarum will be fulfilled and on that day all the stories never written will become lived realities. All the dialogues ever had in goodness and in truth will no longer be acted out like plays but will be sung as hymns. And what is now nothing more than delicate visions in the night will become for us one with the world everlasting. For have you not heard: God too dreamt human dreams when he took on the flesh of a babe, swaddled in Mary's arms. He argued and mused, debated and dreamed, and though He did all this with human words, they are words that shall not pass away.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Abby Johnson, Catholic Convert

I try to write outside of space and time, i.e. I don't normally cover news stories. I let other much more qualified people cover such, but I just read something I must share you.

If you remember at the beginning of the year I posted two reviews of Abby Johnson's book Unplanned. You can find them here and here.

I saw on Facebook today that on December 4, 2011, the Second Week of Advent, the second week of the implementation of the 3rd Edition of the Roman Missal, Abby Johnson, Planned Parenthood director turned Pro-Life Advocate, will be accepted into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. She will be confirmed and receive her first communion.

Praise be Jesus Christ!

I was so moved by Abby's human conversion, her trial with her faith as a pro-choice woman, how she encountered Christ in the tender love of the sidewalk counselors at her Planned Parenthood facility. Here she is preparing this Sunday to experience the full sacramental life of the Church. I cannot but give glory to God.

There is a painful caveat. Her friend and Catholic spiritual mentor, Fr. Frank Pavone, will not be able to give her her first communion. This indeed must be difficult for her. No matter your stance on his situation prayers should go up for her. I'm sure it feels like her father is not there. Let her know that you are praying for her and rejoicing with her this Sunday December 4th.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Friday Thoughts - A Sorrowful Thanksgiving Can Be Full of Hope


Psalm 42
Like the deer that yearns for running streams,
so my soul is yearning for you, my God.
My soul is thirsting for God, the God of my life;
when can I enter and see the face of God?
My tears have become my bread, by night, by day,
as I hear it said all the day long: "Where is your God?"
These things will I remember as I pour out my soul:
how I would lead the rejoicing crowd into the house of God,
amid cries of gladness and thanksgiving, the throng wild with joy.
Why are you cast down, my soul, why groan within me?
Hope in God; I will praise him still, my savior and my God.
My soul is cast down within me as I think of you,
from the country of Jordan and Mount Hermon,
from the Hill of Mizar.
Deep is calling on deep, in the roar of waters;
your torrents and all your waves swept over me.
By day the Lord will send his loving kindness;
by night I will sing to him, praise the God of my life.
I will say to God, my rock:
"Why have your forgotten me? Why do I go mourning oppressed by the foe?"
With cries that pierce me to the heart, my enemies revile me,
saying to me all day long: "Where is your God?"
Why are you cast down, my soul, why groan within me?
Hope in God; I will praise him still,
my savior and my God. 

Thanksgiving is normally a time of joy and celebration. We, as a nation, give thanks for what we have, tangible and intangible, material and immaterial, property and family. As Catholics, we remember that every gift comes from the Lord. Thanksgiving for many is a time of sorrow. It comes with the thought, 'is there anything I really have to give thanks for this year?' Unemployment has continued. The divorce rate is still unnecessarily high. Many, who in previous years where able to provide a Thanksgiving meal, will have to rely on the generosity of others.

Psalm 42 provides great comfort. It shows to us, joyful and not, that no matter our situation we can sing with "cries of gladness and thanksgiving." Our soul can be downcast even depressed and the Lord can seem so far away and we can still sing to Him at night. Our desire for him is like that of deer for water. Without him we will die. All around us advertisements, TV shows, novels, et al, cry out "Where is your God!?" They taunt us day and night reviling our faith as infantile. "Hope in God; I will praise him still, my savior and my God." That reviling is no matter. It is the crying our of faithless souls desiring for the same that we desire, the font of living water.

During this time of thanksgiving, let us be thankful for our faith and hope.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving and The Vietnamese Martyrs

I had the opportunity to give a vocation witness to the Vietnamese personal parish (it serves all the Vietnamese in the Archdiocese of New Orleans), Mary, Queen of Vietnam. It was an awesome experience. I went to four mass in three languages: Vietnamese, English, and Spanish (go figure!). I miscalculated the time for the vigil mass showing up an hour and half early as opposed to an hour early. As I waited I found a small chapel in the church dedicated to the Vietnamese Martyrs, who we celebrate today. In the chapel, were three reliquaries holding a total of 37 relics of the Vietnamese martyrs. What a witness! Tertullians phrase can to mind, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church."

I look at the faith and vigor of the Vietnamese community as a direct result of the witness of these martyrs over two centuries of persecution in Vietnam, a persecution that still exist under the current Communist government. Like the English Catholics of early colonial times and the Irish Catholics of the mid 19th Century, the Vietnamese fled to the US seeking not only personal freedom but freedom to practice the faith. What a great time to celebrate the Thanksgiving of the witness of the immigrants who still live not only their robust faith but their cultural heritage. The Vietnamese men and women have much to be thankful for in coming the US. In the Archdiocese we have much to be thankful for, in their witness of the Catholic faith awakening us centuries old French Catholics into a deeper more sincere faith.

I will leave you with a letter from one of the Vietnamese martyrs (this letter is used in the office of readings for today's feast day: courtesy of universalis.com)

A Letter of Saint Paul Le-Bao-Tinh


I am not alone: Christ is with Me
      I, Paul, in chains for the name of Christ, wish to relate to you the trial besetting me daily, in order that you may be inflamed with loved for God and join with me in his praises. The prison here is a true image of everlasting hell: to cruel tortures of every kind - shackles, iron chains, manacles - are added hatred, vengeance, calumnies, obscene speech, quarrels, evil acts, swearing, curses, as well as anguish and grief. But the God who once freed the three children from the fiery furnace is with me always; he has delivered me from these tribulations and made them sweet, for his mercy is forever.
In the midst of these torments, which usually terrify others, I am, by the grace of God, full of joy and gladness, because I am not alone - Christ is with me.
     Our Master bears the whole weight of the cross leaving me only the tiniest, last bit. He is not a mere onlooker in my struggle, but a contestant and the victor and champion in the whole battle. Therefore upon his head is placed the crown of victory, and his members also share in his glory.
     How am I to bear with the spectacle, as each day I see emperors, mandarins, and their retinue blaspheming your holy name, O Lord, who are enthroned above the cherubim and seraphim? Behold, the pagans have trodden your cross underfoot! Where is your glory? As I see all this, I would, in the ardent love I have for you prefer to be torn limb from limb and to die as a witness to your love.
     O Lord, show your power, save me, sustain me, that in my infirmity your power may be shown and may be glorified before the nations; grant that I may not grow weak along the way, and so allow your enemies to hold their heads up in pride. 
     Beloved brothers, as you hear all these things may you give endless thanks in joy to God, form whom every good proceeds; bless the Lord, with me, for his mercy is forever. My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant and from this day all generations will call me blessed, for his mercy is forever.
     O praise the Lord, all you nations, acclaim him, all you peoples, for God chose what is weak in the world to confound the strong, God chose what is low and despised to confound the noble. Through my mouth he has confused the philosophers who are disciples of the wise of this world, for his mercy is for ever.
     I write these things to you in order that your faith and mine may be united. In the midst of this storm I cast my anchor toward the throne of God, the anchor that is the lively hope in my heart.
     Beloved brothers, for your part so run that you may attain the crown, put on the breastplate of faith and take up the weapons of Christ for the right hand and for the left, as my patron Saint Paul has taught us. It is better for you to enter life with one eye or crippled than, with all your members intact, to be cast away.
     Come to my aid with your prayers, that I may have the strength to fight according to the law, and indeed to fight the good fight and to fight until the end and so finish the race. We may not again see each other in this life, but we will have the happiness of seeing each other again in the world to come, when, standing at the throne of the spotless Lamb, we will together join in signing his praises and exult forever in the joy of our triumph. Amen.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Arsene Lupin, the Gentleman Thief

Do not believe, my readers (all two of them), that life cannot be worth living, books worth reading, mysteries to solve. Ahh, mysteries to solve. There are always new mysteries to solve created by the brilliant minds of writers, my favorites being Doyle, Christie, and Chesterton, English all of them. Through a small amount of research on the vast wide internet, I attempted to widen my perspective on mystery writers in the early 20th Century (the jury is still out on more contemporary fare). It is in this search that I find a Frenchman, a Frenchman! A Frenchman can write mysteries. Of course, they can. Right? Mysteries deal with the sin of man, most notably theft and murder. Frenchman, indeed, are very familiar with personal sin. This Frenchman was Maurice LeBlanc. 

Being a true Frenchman, a man who despises things English, including its language, people and cultural descendants, or so I hear, he crafts his protagonist as an antagonist, indeed a French twist. His detective is a thief. His thief is a gentleman. A kindly, suave Frenchman of keen intellect with a vast number of connections named Arsene Lupin is the antagonizing protagonist of LeBlanc. Lupin is a curious character. He is a sort of intellectual vigilante, using his mind and panache to help those who are in need. Batman seems to be an intellectual descendant of Lupin. Lupin doesn't have the physicality of Bruce Wayne, but certainly the detective prowess and brains. Anyway, I digress. 

The name of this work I read is The Blonde Lady, which is a series of short stories about Lupin's exploits with the French police and Holmlock Shears chasing along the unifying clue of the mysterious Blonde Lady accomplice. I must digress again. Why Holmlock Shears and not Sherlock Holmes? This apparently is LeBlanc's second work with Lupin and Sherlock Holmes was his adversary. Being that Doyle was still alive and being Doyle, he forbid LeBlanc by force of law from using his intellectual property, especially when Lupin outwits Holmes. 

LeBlanc does a great job creating meaningful and enjoyable characters. The plots move along quite well and the matching of wits between Lupin and Holmes/Shears makes for a great read. Watson/Wilson because the comedic relief of the stories constantly falling into mistreatment by his weak wits. 

It all brings up a philosophical and moral question inside of me. Can a thief be a gentleman? A gentleman is an image of moral uprightness and for all his panache moral uprightness is not how Lupin goes about his business. I think a character like him belies of the change happening in the culture due to the last 200 years of philosophical theory and cultural distancing from Christian ideals. A gentleman can be a thief is a contradiction in terms and know doubt LeBlanc plays on that, but despite his clever title Lupin is nothing more than a man who does not respect law, even if faulty in it execution. He takes the law into his own hands and cleverly enacts his own sense of justice. He is the arbiter. God, the divine judge, and from whom all laws derive, has no say on the matter. Lupin is a true humanist in this sense. "Man is the measure of all things."



I listened to the audiobook from the great service of Libirvox. Support them. It is such a great resource for audio version for books no longer under copyright. Check them out.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday Thoughts - Manhood, Football, Fatherhood, and Fire

Photo by Br. Simon Stubbs, O.S.B.
Each year St. Joseph Seminary College and Notre Dame Seminary square off in an epic game of flag football. The former practice the whole of the fall semester while the later takes the idea of practice to the field participating in the Loyola New Orleans University intramural flag football league. Collegiate seminary vs. theologate. Philosophy vs. theology. Kant vs. Ratzinger (or Aquinas vs. Aquinas). This event does not only include a football game but a giant bonfire built log cabin notch style (we are well aware of the dangers of celebratory bonfires from other universities, God rest their souls). I have the distinct privilege of preaching at the mass before the event hits into manly mode with football and pyrotechnics. I thought I would share this for the sake of posterity but also as a ancillary reflection on manhood, fatherhood, and priesthood. There are some inside seminary jokes, but bare with them.

Stubbs

There’s something thoroughly cathartic in building something only to watch it burn down. There is something thoroughly uncathartic about preparing mentally and physically for a football game by building up a habitus of football skills only to be found unsatisfactory on the field through the victory of the opposing team. And, yet, in both of these, building and losing, we learn what it is to be a Christian man and a good father.

Stubbs
            The bonfire itself is a symbol of manhood. It is the culmination of hard work and sheer desire to outdo the height of the previous year. It requires the blood, sweat, and chainsaws of men willing to build an edifice for the sake of its slow destruction by the unpredictable force of fire. This is a seemingly futile undertaking, and yet it is an analogy for us as Christian men called to be a light in the darkness of this world. We have before us, in the bonfire, the pursuit of secular man. He builds a large house full of strong timber and at the pinnacle of the structure of his life all that it is worthy of is its collapse due to arson. It seemed to be a stable structure but under the weight of heat and flame it buckles.

            St. Paul, who we hear about in the first reading, built his house on the Pharisaical interpretation of the Torah. With one question, Christ knocks it down. Paul rebuilds on the foundation of the cross, which seems weak and unable to support the full missionary effort that he undertook. Yet, he arrives to the place of his “destruction” stronger and more stable than the Coliseum. We build our houses not on our own or by sheer will and the work of our hands. No, we build, with Christ, His church. Our future bride is symbolized in the two churches whose dedication we celebrate today, St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Paul Outside the Walls. Peter and Paul built the church on the stone rejected by the builders that became the cornerstone. A father builds a house for his family. A priest builds up the Church one soul at a time knowing the structure and foundation are not designed by him or sustained by him, but rather by Christ, who his our rock.
           
Stubbs
            Now, as for losing, this, in the eyes of the world, is the epitome of the worthlessness. It is unmanly to lose, especially for us Americans, to lose a football game. The loser feels totally emasculated. With regards to losing, I speak from experience. When it comes to flag football, I’m a loser. I have played in seven bonfire games. I won my last, indeed my only game, in 2003. Six years of losses can be disheartening, but apparently the Lord thought I hadn’t learned the lesson I share with you today. He put me in a parish this fall that had no coach for the middle school flag football team. The eighth graders coerced me to coach. Never did I think that the Bonfire game would actually prepare me for ministry. I coached a team from ages 9 to 13, with varying degrees of knowledge, skill, and natural athleticism, while myself having little knowledge about how to run a practice or design a playbook, or how to deal with a quarterback who is sobbing on the sideline at halftime.  We played five games, and we won none. I had to figure out how I was going to console these kids who worked hard in practice and even showed up to play a game on day with no school.
           
            Those five games as a whole and the multitude of practices will make them better men. They will realize that despite the hardest we can work; we will not always succeed. As men, we wish to put up the mirage that we stand on firm ground and are perpetual winners, but Christ, inviting Peter to come, shows us, that to be a man you must walk on choppy seas. Our power, our balance, is not solely ours. The true man and the good father is empowered and sustained by the Son who was sent by the Father to become man. Loosing reveals to us competition fails. What I have is nothing. I am merely a breath that passes like a fading shadow, like grass, which springs up in the morning, and by evening withers and fades. Our fatherhood, our manhood is contingent on the fatherhood and manhood of Jesus Christ.
           
            Bonfire Day, with its game and with its fire, teaches us that we are but mere men. It is by Christ that we gain our strength as we walk on the choppy seas of seminary formation and prepare to be fathers who build the Church through the ministry of the priesthood of Jesus Christ.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Friday Thoughts - Liturgy, the Nucleus of the Parish

Yes, I like adjectival clauses in my titles. Anyway, down to business. This is a short reflection on the 'ideal parish.'


The nucleus of the parish should and need be the liturgy.  The Second Vatican Council calls it the "source and summit" of our faith.  It is from which we gain strength as Christians, and it directs us towards our final goal, heaven.  For most of the parish, this will be the main communal interaction of the parishioners, every Sunday.  It, then, becomes not only the source and summit but also the main tool of the New Evangelization to a people inundated with the secular, devoid of God, devoid of morality, devoid of a sense of truth, goodness, oneness, and beauty.  The liturgy provides an experience of these four transcendentals.  Hence, it should not mitigate them for "pastoral" reasons but rather let them shine forth.  The liturgy shines forth the truth of salvation history in the Liturgy of the Word, showing to all who listen that God has worked to interact with and meet man and show that he was not only created in love, but is keep in being by Love.  The homily because a central aspect in revealing this truth.  The liturgy of the Eucharist allows the drama of the salvific sacrifice of Christ to show the truth that we are offered salvation and it is through this very sacrifice that we enter into it.  Truth is so relativized in our society that stability of the same ritual every Sunday allows the truth the Church carries with Her to manifest itself.  God is unchanging and the universality of the liturgy allows man to see this in the acts of His Church. Entering into Calvary and receiving the fruit of the tree of life, allows us to see what is good and what is evil.  Our consciences are formed by the unchanging truth manifested in the liturgy, which increases our desire to pursue what is truly good, the Almighty.  Nothing brings a community together better than taking part in communion with the One God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, through the reception of the body, blood, soul, and divinity, of Jesus Christ.  Communally being directed toward the worship of God in music, interior prayer, and sacrifice manifests the Body of Christ, which unites all of the members of the Church. The flow of the liturgy, its setting, its music, its vestments give witness to symmetry, which witnesses to what is beautiful.  Beauty, I am convicted, is a great evangelizer.  It arrests the heart and allows the mind to temporarily separate itself from the lies it has attached itself to and experience something truly heavenly.   The architecture of the church should have direct the people in their worship.  Over the two millennia of the Church the cruciform, cathedral design seems to best direct the mind and the heart.  Filled with stained glass, art that is both realistic in portrayal but pious in its direction, and an altar fitting for the sacrifice that occurs on its pillars.  The sound system to should be unobtrusive and well mixed using the proper techniques in acoustics to not prevent dead spots or unnatural decay in the sound.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sentimentalism, a Chestertonian Insight into Social Bias


We hear of the stark sentimentalist, who talks as if there were no problem at all: as if physical kindness would cure everything: as if one need only pat Nero and stroke Ivan the Terrible. This mere belief in bodily humanitarianism is not sentimental; it is simply snobbish. For if comfort gives men virtue, the comfortable classes ought to be virtuous—which is absurd. Then, again, we do hear of the yet weaker and more watery type of sentimentalists: I mean the sentimentalist who says, with a sort of splutter, "Flog the brutes!" or who tells you with innocent obscenity "what he would do" with a certain man—always supposing the man's hands were tied. - G.K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles
'Tis interesting this beautiful thought of Gilbert.  In one in the same statement, he says violent men and passive sentimentalists come from the same tree, namely ignorance of the human person.  Man is not merely the sentiment connected with human physical contact, not to deny its power, only to mitigate the popular belief in its power.  Nor does man need to be degraded as an ignominious idiot worth nothing more than torture.  

Man is worthy of being contemplated not for his own sake but to see that he is not the root of his existence or the power by which he lives.  He is immediately and brokenly contingent.  He requires both discipline and loving sentiment to become virtuous, insodoing it moves towards being fully human.  

Friday, November 4, 2011

Friday Thoughts - Canon Law and New Media


Now I'm sure Ed Peters has probably covered this in some sort of way or another, but something struck me in reading some of the canons in Church Administration class yesterday.

Canon 761
The various means available are to be used to proclaim Christian doctrine: first of all preaching and catechetical instruction, which always hold the principal place, but also the presentation of doctrine in schools, academies, conferences, and meeting of every type and its diffusion through public declarations in the press or in other instruments of social communication by legitimate authority on the occasion of certain events. (Italics added by me)
This is under the section entitled The Ministry of the Divine Wordas part of the teaching function of the Church.  Many of the previous canons are directed toward the ecclesial authority of the Roman Pontiff, the college of bishops, individual bishops, priests, and deacons.  Canon 759 references the ministry of the Divine Word entrusted to the laity.  The last two canons of this preface of the section, Canons 760-761, direct all the members of the Church, ordained and lay combined.   

This canon then is for all of us, bloggerss included.  It seems almost prophetic that Canon Law, codified in 1983, speaks of "other instruments of social communication" opening up wide for the possibility of proclaiming the Word of God through the social communication of weblogs, podcasts, vidcasts, and tweets.  We are called to use said means to proclaim the word of God, evangelize, and teach.   

"By legitimate authority" seems to focus on clergy, and indeed Pope Benedict XVI has directed priests especially to use these new means of social communication to evangelize.  

Now this certainly isn't a definitive license or even explicit message for the use of New Media in Evangelization, but the fact the "other instruments of social communication" is mentioned in the Code of Canon Law is a juridical step in the right direction for us here on the digital continent.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Europe and the Faith


I heard about Hillaire Belloc about 5 years ago from a classmate.  I had yet to delve into any of his works, until this past month.  Europe and the Faith was a great work introduction to his work.  His life work was to reconnect Britain with the Church.  He recognized modern man and his slow and sometimes violent turning away from Church established by Christ and maintained by his spirit.  

One of the modus operandi of Belloc's vision of history is that history is not merely material.  The effects of history are not merely human.  The thrusts and forces that move history toward or away from God and His Church are "not of this world."  There are things in history, like the Reformation, especially in England, that cannot merely be explained by human forces.  Cultural things collided.  Greed was rampant.  All would have fell had it been in on the shoulders of German princes and few radical minds.  It, however, gained force and permanency through the ascendancy to its minor positions by a single monarch, Henry VIII.  The schism exists because of one misguided man who made a decision many monarchs had previous, but at the most inopportune of times.  

Belloc makes the statement at the beginning and end of the book, "Europe is the faith, and the faith is Europe."  Europe, as he knew it, in the early 20th Century was shaped by the faith of Jesus Christ handed down from the Apostles in the Roman Catholic Church.  The Church pushed forward the positive organization of the dying Roman empire and subsumed indeed in an almost perfect way, inculturated it.  

It is at the turn of the Reformation that Europe began to self destruct.  Fiefdom by fiefdom, kingdom by kingdom, nation by nation, Europe has slowly degraded the farther it has moved away from its foundation, that is, the Church.  

If Belloc was alive today, he could see almost the logical conclusion of his arguments.  France is in utter ruin being repopulated by Arabs, a peaceful version of what the Iberian peninsula experienced 1200 years ago.  Germany is still trying to recover from Fascist and Communist oppressions.  England welcomes riots and a general apathy even disgust, i.e. Dawkins, et al, of religion, Catholic or otherwise.  Italy even has its problems.  Finally, the last bastion of the Roman Catholic nation, Ireland is in total shambles, due in part to the clergy abuse scandal, but also to a lack of anything to root for.  No longer do they have to fight for their faith which had been so dear to them for the past four centuries.  To them it doesn't seem worth fighting for pedophiles and liars.  

There is hope.  Hope only in one thing, that is the Church.  She, as the bride of Christ, can reform and transform the European culture.  In its current state, the New Evangelization is ripe for the picking.


Notes:
The book takes a rather sweeping look at history.  He goes through each period selecting certain things to help make his point.  He desires for brevity as opposed to unnecessary depth.  As for a history book, it would work well in a Western Civ course, especially for those in a home school situation.  If I were a parent, I would give this to my child as supplementary reading because it corrects so much erroneous thoughts and assumptions regarding European history.


Highly Recommend.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Friday Thoughts - Secularism

I have started the mini-mester here at the seminary.  Our professor for the Sacraments of Healing has us reading Bl. John Paul II's Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia.  I am thoroughly enjoying it.  It is backing up with theology what I have intuited.  Many things have struck me so far but JP II's definition of secularism is spot on, so I want to share it with you.  (For you long time readers, i.e. me, this goes back to the beginning of the blog, sharing quotes)


"Secularism" is by nature and definition a movement of ideas and behavior which advocates a humanism totally without God, completely centered upon the cult of action and production and caught up in the heady enthusiasm of consumerism and pleasure seeking, unconcerned with the danger of "losing one's soul." 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Guest Post: How to Understand Scandals and Other Things - Insights from Archbishop Fulton Sheen

Now for the final installment on Archbishop Fulton Sheen from Luke from Quiet, Dignity, and Grace.

________________________________________________________




Insight #3: "If you do not live as you believe, you will begin to believe as you live."

This gem comes from what is now called the Sheen Catechism.  The Archbishop's skills as an orator are alive and well in this collection of 50 talks which are now available on mp3.  They were originally recorded in his private study and are truly beautiful.

In a discussion on the moral life, he lays out the idea that if we don't live as we at least claim to believe, eventually, our beliefs will change.  Why is this so?  Well, we human beings, as good as we may be at fooling others, are just not capable of fooling ourselves.  When there is a tension or a hypocrisy in our life, we want it gone.  If we Say we are Catholics, for instance, but begin gradually not living the way we ought to, then the eventual consequence is that we will very likely give up the belief.  We will choose a belief that better fits the way we live our lives.

Pithy though the quote may be, this quote has serious power from a spiritual, rational, practical, and even psychological point of view.  Sheen not only studied philosophy and theology, he also read heavily in modern psychology, trying to find the best of its efforts, even if it meant sifting through a lot of less useful ideas.  This quote has the power to transform your life if you understand it at an early enough age.  If you believe your religion is important, you had better live like it.  This doesn't mean you have to be perfect, of course.  Nobody is.  But you better do your best and you better make it a priority to live up to that standard.  If not, eventually, the battle gets more difficult.  And Sheen was expounding this in the golden age of American Catholicism.  What has happened since his era?  Mass attendance has fallen by almost 50%.  People have created a whole new brand of Catholicism in which they consider themselves Catholic but disagree and disobey major Church teachings as well as almost completely abandon sacramental practices.  Unfortunately for many people, they stopped living in a way that lined up with their belief.  And in due time, their beliefs changed.

Insight #4: How to Understand Scandals


First, a fact: There Are scandals.



This shows us that Christ chose the people of His Church in their human condition, he chose them as they are, not as they should be.  After all, Christ was a cause of many scandals; why should his Church, his Mystical Body, be exempt from scandal?  For instance, Christ's disciples knew that He was God made flesh.  But they witnessed his humiliations and, ultimately, his death on the Cross.  What greater scandal could there be than a dead God?


Christ experienced wants of hunger and thirst and even died at the hands of sinners.  So his Church experiences tragedy, scandal, and sin.  But Christ being in pain didn't mean that He was not God.  Christ's own death couldn't even triumph over the fact that He still was, is, and always will be God.  Similarly, Christ guarantees that his Church teaches the truth, but he doesn't guarantee that his teachers will always be perfect.


It is true that there are bad Catholics. But remember this.  While "our faith increases responsibility, it does not force obedience.  It increases blame, but it does not prevent sin.  If some Catholics are bad, it is not because they are members of Christ's Mystical Body, but it is because they aren't living up to its demands."

An Interesting Point

Think of the concept of a scandal.  Someone has to do something that disappoints someone else.  In other words, if a Catholic priest commits a sin and it becomes public knowledge, the only reason it would be a scandal is if you would expect a Catholic priest to be good.  So when people throw their arms up in disgust at the Church, they are really displaying that they look for something good in the Church.  Namely, they expect holiness.  That's a very important psychological point!  The media can only draw the scandal out and make great headlines because everybody Expects the Church to be Holy.


You never hear someone complain that a sun-worshiper or atheist has fallen in his or her duties.  No news headline would ever grab attention if it read "sun-worshiper steals money from church" or "humanist steals money from school."  Nobody expects anything from a sun-worshiper, humanist, etc.  But insert the word priest and we have a scandal.  It's easy to be a communist or an atheist, and it's very morally lax.  But it is demanding and morally difficult to be a Catholic.


Furthermore, if the Church, which some people criticize for its human failings, was actually a perfect institution....would anybody want to be a part of that?  If the Church was actually perfect, then most of us would be ineligible to join.  In fact, aside from Christ, Mary, and a few saints, we'd nearly all be cast out with the plants that grew on bad soil.  Christ told us some of the harvest would be thrown out at the end.  If being Catholic really kept us perfect, then Christ's words would be either a lie or they'd be impossible.  Because if we were all perfect, there would be none cast aside at the end.
_________________________________________

I apologize for this but blogger was acting up so I had to highlight in a weird color for you to see the most important text of the blog.  Go check out Luke's blog Quiet, Dignity, and Grace.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Guest Post: Insights in the Writings of Archbishop Fulton Sheen



Now for the second edition of Luke's piece on Archbishop Fulton Sheen.  Don't forget to check out Luke's blog, Quiet, Dignity, and Grace.

__________________________________________________________

Insights Gained
I am young in my knowledge of Fulton Sheen.  I have read 10 of his books and listened to hours of his audio catechism (the same one which John Paul II used to learn English).  It is not possible to succinctly state everything I have learned from this very amateur study.  However, I will try to explain what I consider to be the four most powerful things I have learned from this Servant of God.

Insight #1: The Importance of the Eucharist and the Holy Hour
Reading Sheen, one constantly runs across Eucharistic metaphors.  He frequently employs analogies of wheat being sifted, ground, chewed, etc. to our world today.  We in a sense are that grain and our lives, if we unite them to Christ's, will follow the pattern He set.  The world will chew us up; we will suffer.  On the other hand, Christ, by becoming the bread of life for us, enables us to receive the merits he won on the cross through the Eucharist.

So the suffering we encounter is a sign that we're living the way Jesus did.  The world reacts against us because it knows that if our love is real and our faith is true, it is doomed.  What could possibly keep a Christian on the path in the face of so much resistance?  Only the very gift of Christ, who both gives us the true bread from heaven and IS the true bread from heaven, containing in itself all delight.

Fulton Sheen makes the Eucharist the source and summit of his thought precisely because it was the center of his spiritual life.  This was one of two promises he made on his ordination to the priesthood: he would make a holy hour in the presence of the Eucharist every single day.  It is one he never failed to keep, no matter how busy he might have been or how ill his health may have been.  In the later part of his life, Sheen spent years doing retreats for priest.  He noted that he felt people needed some concrete advice after coming out of a retreat if it's going to make any real difference in their life.  His advice was always the same: make a Daily holy hour.  It was simple advice to give, but challenging advice to follow.  But precisely its simplicity is what also made it attainable.

This practical goal he set wasn't always practical for him.  He writes in his autobiography of having to do some extra convincing sometimes to get into churches for his Holy Hour.  When did he find time in his schedule?  In the morning.  Sometimes, Very early in the morning.  He writes in his autobiography of once having to climb out of a window because the church he was visiting had been locked up by an impatient pastor.

And don't forget: this wasn't a man with lots of free time on his hands.  He wrote and studied constantly.  His work as a professor at Catholic University kept him in the books and he even destroyed his course notes every year at the end of the year.  Any teachers out there know how much extra work that would entail.  Archbishop Sheen had early morning flights, plenty of train rides around the country and Europe doing extra catechetical and evangelical work for no extra money.  He was the head of the Propagation of the Faith apostolate in the United States, and the private theologian to a handful of celebrities.  How many times did he fail to keep his daily holy hour?  Zero.  This is his first recommendation in building a spiritual life and anyone who has ever tried this, even temporarily, knows how powerful it is.  Sheen was built up by this grace for decades!!

Insight #2: The Beauty of True Humility and Piety

Modern day readers who look back on Fulton Sheen's works may find his piety a bit pervasive.  We're not used to it these days.  We expect people to keep their religion to themselves and not to let it out of the box too often.  Certainly we don't expect religious fervor to permeate every conversation we have or sentence we write.  But, when you read Sheen, you read piety.

For instance, whenever the late archbishop wants to refer to Jesus, he has a handful of options available to him.  He could use the following: Jesus, Jesus Christ, Christ, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Lord, the Messiah, etc.  There are countless ways to refer to the second person of the Trinity.  And if you were typing on a typewriter or heaven forbid using an actual pen and paper, some of them would save more space than others.  Sheen constantly used the title "Our Blessed Lord."  Now, this may seem like a small thing.  But when you read book after book and listen to talk after talk you start to see just how much extra time it would take to say "Our Blessed Lord" rather than Jesus.  Add to this that whenever Jesus was referred to as "he" or "him," those words are capitalized, you start to see how much reverence Sheen had for Our Blessed Lord.  Archbishop Sheen's respect for God's name was no doubt due in large part to his devotion to the Holy Hour.

Aside from his piety and the beautiful way in which he utilizes poetic imagery in his theology, Fulton Sheen also displayed a deep-rooted humility.  He famously said at a retreat given for inmates that there was only one thing which separated him from the men imprisoned: they got caught!  His autobiography is filled with deep looks into his own self and almost uncomfortable descriptions of his own failures.  He feared, at the end of his life, that he had been too flashy, accepted too many of the world's comforts, and had too much pride.  He also has a painful recollection of a moment in which he, ever so briefly, hesitated when greeting a leper.  He had meant to place a crucifix in the hand of an African leper when he hesitated and dropped it.  After that, he picked up the crucifix, and proceeded to kiss the hands of every single leper in the village as he greeted them.  That moment and the description of it shows how penetrating Sheen's self-knowledge was.

And what is the great mark of a saint?  Seeing himself in God's eyes.  Holding himself accountable the way God would.  Surely Fulton Sheen knew what great good he was called to.  The slightest imperfections were things he saw clearly about himself.  That humility is probably what further spurred his great piety and devotion.  You see, when we, like Sheen, realize how lowly we really are, suddenly genuflecting, praying before meals, using reverence when speaking the divine name, a morning offering, nightly examination of conscience, and all the other common practices of piety which Sheen constantly recommended become a natural reaction to the simple truth that we are not God.  The Archbishop knew this truth intimately.

________________________________________________

Check in soon for the final installment.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Friday Thoughts - George Harrison and True Freedom

I watched a Martin Scorsese directed documentary on the quiet Beatle, George Harrison. As a musician, I have profound respect for him. He was a terrific songwriter because he was able to communicate in song what people were feeling. He was able to direct emotion outwards from his Rickenbacker, or Strat, or Martin. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" remains one of my favorite songs of all time.

This documentary went through not just his musical life but his personal life. I found out he was raised Catholic. Baptismal graces laid latent with him, even when he pursued Indian mysticism. I have no doubt he pursued the God whom he encountered as a child. He said he was turned off by the rules and lack of encounter, no doubt in line with the thinking of his contemporaries. He found "what was lacking in Catholicism" in Indian mysticism. Where rules bound him as a child, a freedom in meditation allowed him to roam unchartered territory.

What I found interesting was the general distrust or desire to be free from his body both expressed by him and by his widow about him. For a man who was so sensual in his style and demeanor, he desired nothing more than to be free from the senses.

What he saw in his sensuality was incomplete and so he made the false assumption that it is in spirituality devoid of sense that one is free and at peace.

We are made as body and soul and are meant to be such, to be perfected as such, despite our own degradation of the body we have been given. Original sin doesn't get enough credit here.

I believe he desired freedom, but was led not towards true freedom in the cross of Christ, but, rather ironically enough, only a material freedom. Spiritual freedom cannot occur by our own work, even through meditation. We only become free through the salvation of the Paschal Mystery.



Thursday, October 20, 2011

Guest Post: Archbishop Fulton Sheen

We are lucky and honored to have our very first guest post. I've wanted to do this for a while, but have not pursued it enough to see it to fruition.


Welcome to the thoughts of Luke Arredondo, the author of a fellow Blogspot blog Quiet, Dignity, and Grace (which was nominated for best new blog over at the Crescat's Annual Cannonball Awards). I have know Luke for nigh on six years. We were in the seminary together. We played music together (he is an accomplished trumpeter). We prayed together and we've laughed together (a unique experience for the who have had the pleasure).


Luke, now a DRE at a local parish, is married with a beautiful baby girl. I've known for a long time that he is an avid reader and no author is more close to his heart than Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. When I asked to write a post, it seemed most appropriate for him to write on Sheen. Due to the breadth of his writing, it will be spread out over three posts.


Without further ado ...

_____________________________________________________________




An Ambassador of Faith

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, to older Catholics, is a household name. Unfortunately for the younger generations, his name is not yet awell-known one. However, it seems the tide may be turning in the other direction, even if slowly. Seminarians are reading his works,YouTube users are seeing some of his great tv spots, and in parishes around the world, prayers are being offered for his case for canonization.

I first discovered the writing sof Fulton Sheen while a seminarian. I'll forever be in debt spiritually to Neil Pettit, whose pile of books sitting on his desk attracted my attention on a number of occasions. On a whim, while heading out the door to my week of vacation in Destin, I asked if I could borrow his seminal volume on priesthood entitled The Priest Is Not His Own. Never will I look at the world with the same eyes.

These posts are born of a deepdesire to do two things:
First, to impart some of the most powerful insights I have gained from reading Sheen's works.
Secondly, to hopefully encourage those who read this post to go directly to the source and read some of the Archbishop's beautiful meditations and deepen your own faith in Christ.
If all goes well, reading these posts will lead you to read Fulton Sheen's own works and will in turn lead one deeper into the mystery of faith and particularly to a devotion to the Eucharist.

Short Biography

Fulton Sheen was born in El Paso, IL. His name was actually Peter John Sheen, but he became known by the name Fulton as a child and it stuck withhim. Although Sheen grew up in arural, farming community, his intellectual gifts would take him to some of themost prestigious places of study in the world. And he would succeed in everysingle challenge placed before him, even earning the highest possible honors in postgraduate work at the prestigious theology school in Luvein, Belgium.

After earning his doctorate, here turned to the US where he became a professor of philosophy at Catholic University of America and went on to host an Emmy-winning television program, Your Life Is Worth Living, which attracted viewers of all faiths and walks of life. His charisma came through the tv screen as well as his humor. At his acceptance speech for his Emmy award, he thanked his four writers Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

All throughout his life, Sheen was busy studying and writing. He is theauthor of over 30 books. His most well-known works are his Last Seven Words and his magnum opus Life of Christ. Shortly before his death, he met Pope John Paul II in New York, and the Holy Father told him that he had written well and spoken well of the Church. He died in his private chapel during a holy hour in 1979.

_______________________________________________


Stay tuned next week for the second post by Luke!