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.


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.

            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.
            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.