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.