Friday, December 19, 2008

I have personally been asked at least 6 of these...

H/T to Jen F. over at Conversion Diary.

Of course, Katie and I would add a question about the method of conception (always something you love discussing with a perfect stranger - or a friend, for that matter).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"She means the world to me"

A week before Christmas - children who "get it":

Children have the ability to inspire the best in all of us. The students at Normandy Elementary School in Littleton have taken their love for a teacher to a new level, inspiring their parents, educators and members of the community.

Two students who happen to be sisters, started "The True Gift Fund" to help fourth grade teacher Jewely Del Duca.

Del Duca is fighting stage 4 colon cancer. She is 35 years old.

While undergoing chemotherapy she has remained in the classroom. Del Duca says her students keep her mind off cancer and provide her with encouragement and support.

This experience has provided students many other important lessons too. Del Duca is hoping to qualify for HIPEC treatment (Hyperthermic Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy) which involves a surgical procedure where a heated form of chemotherapy is delivered to the abdominal cavity.

Three times, Del Duca's insurance company denied her request for the expensive treatment.

Take a look here to find out what Ms. Del Duca's class did about it. You may have to watch a commercial before the video begins, but trust me. It is well worth the wait! Trust me. It will be tough to find a Christmas story that will top this one!!!!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Avery Cardinal Dulles, SJ (1918-2008)

Rocco over at Whispers has reported that Avery Cardinal Dulles, SJ, passed away this morning at 6:30 am.

Lord, hear our prayers.

By raising your Son from the dead, you have given us faith.
Strengthen our hope that Avery, our brother,
will share in his resurrection.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Sha Na Na Revival

I heard about this the other day on Good Morning America, and it put a smile on my face. If only it were this easy with children!

Now, I am not sure if it holds a candle to talking dogs, but I will let you be the judge!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Quote of the Day

"The peace promised by Jesus Christ is not bovine placidity, but rather the highest level of tension that is still creative."
- Unknown

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Quote of the Day

"Community is that place where the person you least want to live with always lives... When that person moves away, someone else arises immediately to take his or her place."

-- Peter J. Palmer in Community, Conflict and Ways of Knowing

Monday, November 10, 2008

Forever love: Couple wed 76 years die on same day

From the Richmond Times Dispatch:

LAKESIDE, Va. - Floyd Schooles often vowed, “I do not want to live one day longer than my wife.”

Virginia Harris Schooles died peacefully Thursday at 12:20 a.m., in bed at their Lakeside home. Floyd followed about 10:15 p.m. in the room he shared with his wife of 76 years.

Both were 99.


“The night before Nannie died, Granddaddy asked when her funeral was,” said Kennedy, who was with both at the end. “I said, ‘She’s still alive.’ He said, ‘No. No, she’s not.’ Less than two hours later, she died in her sleep. He knew.”

Floyd’s reaction to her death was predictable, Kennedy said. “He said, ‘Why, oh why, couldn’t I go first?’ “

The obituary can be found here. To read the whole article, including a link to a slideshow where you can hear a touching lesson on how to stay married for 76 years, in their own words, click here. Be sure you have a box or two of Kleenex.

Lord Jesus, grant that I and my spouse may have a true and understanding love for each other. Grant that we may both be filled with faith and trust. Give us the grace to live with each other in peace and harmony.

May we always bear with one another’s weaknesses and grow from each other’s strengths. Help us to forgive one another’s failings and grant us patience, kindness, cheerfulness and the spirit of placing the well-being of one another ahead of self.

May the love that brought us together grow and mature with each passing year. Bring us both ever closer to You through our love for each other. Let our love grow to perfection.


- Wedding Prayer of the Bride and the Groom for Each Other

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Repeating History - UPDATED

Jen F. over at Conversion Diary has some wonderful thoughts in this post-election week:

I tend to be an easygoing, optimistic person who focuses more on my little corner of the world than the macro issues of the day. I tend to want to believe the best about people, and guard against buying into hyperbolic rhetoric that makes generalizations about the activities of certain groups of people being particularly heinous -- so often, upon reasonable analysis, that type of claim pans out to be nothing more than a lame attempt to vilify people you disagree with.

So I wonder:

If were a 31-year-old woman with three little kids in a busy house in Germany 1941, would I have fully understood the evil that surrounded me? As a woman living in 2008 I can see the horror that was going on there, but at the time there were some
awfully sleek lies being told about the situation; it would have been really, really convenient to let myself be persuaded by the lies and just make the nasty little problem go away by telling myself that it wasn't really a problem at all.


Recently I was looking through some genealogy documents and noticed that a distant ancestor of mine owned a slave. My own flesh and blood, people probably not unlike me at all, participated in the horror of slavery. Can I be so sure that I would have seen the truth? Or, if I had lived alongside my ancestor, would I have included a human being on the list of possessions I owned? Even if I didn't own a slave myself, would I have shooed the distasteful subject from my mind by surrounding myself with the comfort that all my friends seemed to think it was fine and, after all, it was
perfectly legal? Evil's most powerful tool is that it always works through lies; the lure to tell yourself that something bad is not really bad at all is a powerful temptation, and one that I'm not sure I could have resisted.

Sometimes I think about this, and wonder what advice I would pass along to my own descendants to make sure this never happens again; to help future generations guard against being blinded should they find themselves in the midst of a culture where something terrible is taking place.

Go take a look and see what she has to say!

This has certainly been a historic week. The election of Barack Obama will have ripple effects throughout our society. Less than fifty years ago, President-elect Obama would not even have been able to drink from the same water fountain as me, and now he will live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

I wonder. One hundred and fifty years from now, will they talk about Roe v. Wade the same way we talk about Dred Scott today? I pray it does not take that long.

Apparently I am in distinguished company by making that analogy. Rocco has the scoop on Cardinal George's address to the USCCB today:

"If the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision that African Americans were other people’s property and somehow less than persons were still settled constitutional law, Mr. Obama would not be president of the United States."

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Lord how I want to be in that number ...

Fr. Z over at WDTPRS posted a link to this cathcy little ditty. So, as we come off our sugar high from yesterday, now it is time to reflect upon the "All Hallows" whose "Eve" was last night!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

From the Mouth of Babes...

H/T to the Ironic Catholic for this gem. It kinda makes you wonder what the world would be like if we had YouTube back when Jesus was found teaching in the temple!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Bishop to Priests: "Take the Weekend Off"

Rocco posted the following Pastoral Letter drafted by Scranton Bishop Joseph Martino. Not only will it be inserted in every bulletin in the diocese this coming Sunday, but he has also taken the very unusual step of instructing that it be read at every single Mass this weekend "at the time of and instead of the homily." Now, there's a bishop who takes his responsibility as the teaching authority of the Local Church seriously!

Since most of us will not be able to make the trip up to PA this weekend, head on over to Whispers to take a read.

As an aside, Scranton is also the diocese in which Vice-presidential nominee of the Democratic party - Joseph "I cannot impose my views on others unless they involve something other than killing an unborn child" Biden was born.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Hovering Between Hope and Anxiety

I am always amazed at the timelessness of the Second Vatican Council documents. As we teeter on the brink of economic meltdown, endure a brutal presidential campaign, and wonder what the heck is going on in all corners of the globe, we can turn to the Church's teaching. Take, for example, the following.

In no other age has mankind enjoyed such an abundance of wealth, resources and economic well being; and yet a huge proportion of the people of the world is plagued by hunger and extreme need while countless numbers are totally illiterate. At no time have men had such a keen sense of freedom, only to be faced by new forms of slavery in living and thinking. There is on the one hand a lively feeling of unity and of compelling solidarity, of mutual dependence, and on the other a lamentable cleavage of bitterly opposing camps. We have not yet seen the last of bitter political, social, and economic hostility, and racial and ideological antagonism, nor are we free from the spectre of a war of total destruction. If there is a growing exchange of ideas, there is still widespread disagreement about the meaning of the words expressing our key concepts. There is lastly a painstaking search for a better material world, without a parallel spiritual advancement.

Small wonder then that many of our contemporaries are prevented by this complex situation from recognizing permanent values and duly applying them to recent discoveries. As a result they hover between hope and anxiety and wonder uneasily about the present course of events. It is a situation that challenges men to respond; they cannot escape.

- No. 4 from Gaudium et Spes (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World)

Can you believe that was written over 40 years ago?!?! It is well worth a read. So, with all due respect to Deacon Greg and his colleagues in the mainstream media, I invite you to take some time this weekend to turn off the talking heads on the TV and read how some very forward thinking folks in the Church felt we should live out our Christian vocation.

Off to Richmond...

Tomorrow, Katie and I head off to Richmond to begin the academic portion of formation for the permanent diaconate. 48 other men, their wives, pastors and instructors will all be there. Our bishop will celebrate Mass, and then join us for dinner. The next day, our class in The History, Theology and Spirituality of the Diaconate will begin. I have already finished the reading, and my head is awash with thoughts and questions about the sacramentality of the diaconate, what it means to have a vocation, and what has God gotten me into!!! I can only imagine how powerful an experience it will be to gather with so many people who are all involved in discerning a calling to the same vocation!

Jen F. over at Conversion Diary has some wonderful thoughts on this whole topic of vocation. Her thoughts we very helpful to me:

A couple years ago some Catholic readers responding to this post introduced me to the concept of "vocation," that every single person is called to one of the vocations that God has given us -- the most common being married life, the priesthood or consecrated religious life -- and that each of us is to discern to which vocation we are called. What I found most interesting about this whole concept (and, frankly, shocking and slightly disconcerting at the time), is that your life's vocation isn't as much what you do as much as it is whom you serve. This worldview basically said that each of us is put on this earth to serve others, and your vocation is simply a matter of discerning whom you'll serve and how you'll serve them. In other words, there is no living for yourself. There's no optimizing your entire life around what you feel like doing.


What I realize now is that I completely misunderstood the concept. I came to see that this worldview is not an expression of absolutes, but of prioritization. To live a life of service does not mean that you never take time for yourself; it means that taking time for yourself isn't the entire meaning of life. It does not mean that you turn your hopes and dreams over to the dustbin; it means you turn them over to God.

It was only very hesitantly that I put this concept into practice in my life. Slowly I began to embrace the fact that the defining purpose of my life is to be a wife and mother, that to serve my husband and my children and my parents and the world around me was what God wanted me to do...that it was even what he wanted me to do far more than write great articles or books or blog posts (even if those articles and books and blog posts were in an effort to bring glory to him). It was one of my first big exercises in trusting God to accept this premise that selfless service of others is objectively a higher life priority than seeking personal gain.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Last one out, turn off the lights!

The House that Ruth Built
1923 - 2008

In honor of this special evening, I wanted to relate a story my mother shared with me about her years growing up in the shadows of Yankee Stadium.

She would often roller skate with her friends in the stadium parking lots. One day, she fell and scraped herself up really badly. As she sat on the ground, bleeding and crying, a limosine pulled up next to her. The window opened, and a gentleman asked her if she was OK and if he could drive her home. Having the street smarts one would expect a girl who grew up in the Bronx would have, she declined the offer from the man to get in his vehicle. The window rolled up and the car drove away.

The guys with whom she had been rollerskating asked her, in shock, why she did not take the ride home. She said there was no way she was getting in a car with a stranger.

"Do you know who that was?" one of them asked.

"No, who was he?"

"That was Joe Dimaggio!" they shouted in unison. I am sure at that moment each and every guy in that group wished they were the one who had taken the spill.

My mother's reply:

"Who's Joe Dimaggio?"

Mike Hayes has a poignant reflection over at Busted Halo. I guess we can forgive him for being a Mets fan...

Rocco also has some thoughts about the "Last Call at the Cathedral" over at Whispers.

And, for your enjoyment...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

"Because I wanted to sell more books"

This was the answer Dr. Gomes provided when asked by Stephen Colbert why was Jesus' Gospel "scandalous". I was listening to the interview the other night as I was falling asleep, and made a mental note to post a link on my blog. However, as usual, Deacon Greg beat me to it!

For my listening pleasure...

My many travels between Lynchburg and Richmond provide for a lot of time to listen: to CD's, to radio, and, more often than not, to God.

My usual ritual for the 2+ hour drive to the See City involves listening to four podcasts I download off the USCCB website. The first is Lino at Large, described as "Catholic radio for 'Generation X'." The weekly interview program Personally Speaking with Msgr. Jim Lisante, along with American Catholic Radio and Catholic Radio Weekly round out my selections. They are each about a half hour and, if I start listening to them when I roll out of my driveway, they are just about wrapping up when I pull into the parking lot of the Diocesan Pastoral Center! Since I go about every two weeks, I have just enough to listen to both ways.

As I have posted before, I have recently been impressed with the undercurrent of spirituality that flows through Bruce Springsteen's lyrics. I am not alone. America Magazine just pulled an article by Andrew Greeley from its archives and dusted it off.

While Greeley is certainly a controversial figure in many circles, I think he provides some very interesting insights as to what it means to be a Catholic as well as why we express our Catholicism the way we do:

Springsteen is a liturgist, I propose, because he correlates the self-communication of God in secular life with the overarching symbol/narratives of his/our tradition. Moreover, I also propose that he engages in this "minstrel ministry" without ever being explicit about it, or even necessarily aware of it, precisely because his imagination was shaped as Catholic in the early years of life. He is both a liturgist, then, and a superb example of why Catholics cannot leave the church.

A word about the Catholic imagination: Unlike the other religions of Yahweh, Catholicism has always stood for the accessibility of God in the world. God is more like the world than unlike it. Hence Catholicism, unlike Protestantism, Judaism and Islam, permits angels and saints, shrines and statues, stained glass and incense and the continuation of pagan customs—most notably for our purposes here, holy water and blessed candles.

The entire article is worth a read.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Reflection on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

About three months ago, my pastor invited me to take part in a training session for implementing the Sunday Celebration in the Absence of a Priest (SCAP). Although we have a deacon assigned to our parish, he was concerned about what would happen if he was incapacitated and the deacon was out of town , or unable to celebrate as well. So, he organized a committee of about 15 leaders of the parish to be trained to be "on call."

We have met several times to work out the logistics, and decided to open last night's meeting with a dry run. Since we are preparing for something we hope we will never have to use, it is a bit tough. As those who preside at liturgy know, the only way to get comfortable with leading a congregation in worship is to actually do it frequently. That will not be an option, since this will be the "celebration of last resort." Anywho, I was asked to prepare the reflection for last night's service:

Seven years ago today, we gathered in this very space – in shock, in fear, in mourning. And, by this point in the evening, the very first stirrings of anger had begun to sink in. We prayed to God and asked him to see us through these difficult times. The Hebrew people depicted in the First Reading made similar requests during their time in the desert. However, their complaining to God, verbal expressions of ingratitude for all God HAD provided, was also a metaphor for sin, an attempt to assume the role of gods, entitled to all they wanted simply because they wanted it. Such behavior had resulted in painful, deadly consequences. Suffering abounded, and they blamed God for their situation.

Now, you will certainly recall the response of a number of preachers in the days following September 11. The terrorist attacks were labeled as a punishment from God. Retribution for the sinful society we had become. And while the devastation of that day was not solely the fault of the terrorists in the plane, or Al Qaeda, or their supporters around the world, it was certainly not the fault of people who lived or supported immorality.

After all, there are always two aspects to sin – the individual and the communal. The choices each of us make - good and bad, have a residual effect on all of creation. Individual acts of greed and pride become institutionalized, and the corporate accumulation of those decisions is eventually reflected in public and foreign policy.

Every choice each of us makes has an impact on the world around us. Like drops of water, they accumulate. Over the millennia, they have formed into a pool that would make the Water Cube in Beijing look like a shot glass. The ability for tragedy, pain and suffering to come into the world as a result of the sinful behaviors of a given culture at a given point in history is no more likely than the ability for a couple of guys with straws and buckets to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool. And likewise, it would be easier to empty that pool with the same straws and buckets than to prevent tragedies such as 9/11 with a change in a Presidential Administration or the introduction of a few new policy initiatives. No, there is a lot more at play.

However, trying to understand and explain the tragedy of September 11 is only part of the story. St. Paul reminds us “where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more.” The construction of the Water Cube was important in as much as it provided a venue for some amazing achievements. And so it is with God’s story.

The swimmers who competed in last month’s Olympics prepared for a lifetime to do so. Years of sacrifice and practice conditioned them to stand on the starting block and await the starter’s signal. One race that will always be etched in my memory is the Men’s 4 x 100 freestyle relay. Along with most of America, I sat on the edge of my seat as, Michael Phelps, Cullen Jones, Jason Lezak, and Garrett Weber-Gale pulled off an amazing come from behind victory. I mention all their names not in order to show off my vast knowledge of Olympic Swimming, but rather to emphasize the importance of team work in all we do. As a Church, we are One Body. We do not stand alone! That being said, and even though without them Phelps would leave China with only seven gold medals, I am pretty sure that if I had asked you who else besides Michael was on that team, you would have been hard pressed to give an answer. (I have to admit, that without Google, so would I!) But none the less, all four had to give their all in order to succeed.

And so it is with this assembly. As we can see, without a priest, something is most certainly missing. But Christ is still truly present here today – through the assembly gathered together as well as the Word of God proclaimed and preached. Through this celebration, we are able to worship and praise God!

After one of his many other victories, Michael Phelps exclaimed, "That was probably one of the most painful races of my life. Everything was left in the pool.” In the second reading today, Paul reminds us that Jesus, if interviewed after the resurrection, probably would have answered in much the same way. Everything was left in the pool. He gave his all to save each and every one of us.

In recalling an ancient Christian hymn, Paul tells us that Jesus “did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.” The Greek word translated as “grasped” comes from the same root as our verb “to cling.” In the today’s Second Reading, I think that makes more sense. The hymn goes on to tell us that Jesus emptied himself – leaving everything in the pool. His obedience to God’s will, an obedience that required him to Love regardless of the consequences, resulted in pain and suffering beyond imagination. But, through the eyes of faith, we can see that left in the pool as well!

And so, like the Hebrew people in the desert, as we reflect on the world around us, we turn to God and ask for a sign. We already have the sign, and it is hanging on the wall behind me. We are called to be like Him. To Love. To reach out with kindness and forgiveness, never, ever to strike back. In the Gospel for today’s daily mass, Jesus instructs us to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you." Considering the anniversary, what a coincidence! However, if Christ was here, I bet he would be somewhat indignant at our needing to connect the reading to the anniversary of the terror attacks in order to view it as significant. After all, the entire Gospel- God’s entire being - is based upon that very message.

The Cross we celebrate today is a constant reminder that we are not called by God to Love simply because it feels good or because we are loved. We Love because God Loves. And God Loves because God is Love. To Love like God loves requires us to be willing to risk losing everything we hold dear in order to reach out and be the presence of God to others. That kind of love recognizes each and every life as priceless from the moment it was thought into being by God until long after He calls it back home. It does not take into account what that life has done or has not done. It is loved by God. That is all that matters. Every other decision is made after placing that truth at the forefront. It must be the foundation of every political platform, policy decision, and election.

That is all well and fine. But I challenge you to reflect this evening about what that means if you were to encounter Osama Bin Ladin in the parking lot tonight, looking for a meal. Or perhaps Seung-Hui Cho might be there, asking for someone to help him find a place to sleep. Now, let me make something entirely clear. I am not minimizing the tragedy, suffering, pain, and pure evil that each of these men wrought. Far from it. They are horrible people who did horrible things. And I do not even presume to stand here before you and suggest that I am at a place where I can say with certitude that I would act in a manner consistent with the theme of this reflection. But nonetheless, I ask you to join me in praying that God would grant – will grant – each of us the grace to do His will should that unlikely event ever take place.

Living our lives according to such a standard is a daunting task. One we cannot undertake glibly. It is not enough to think of it only when we are seated here once a week. We must wake up every day determined to climb the stairwells of whatever buildings God puts in front of us, knowing full well we may never reemerge. Then, strengthened with the gift of God’s Grace, we have to dive into our lives - leaving everything in the pool.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Civic Duty

I have always been frustrated by those on either side of the political spectrum who believe that their ideology has a monopoly on the Catholic Conscience. As I examine my conscience and decide how to cast my vote, I have to admit that at this point, none of the options available are satisfactory. I ask you to pray for me (as I pray for each of you) that God gives us the grace we require to separate the wheat from the chaff of information.

The following quote from Archbishop Chaput has been first and foremost on my mind:

But [Catholics who support pro-choice candidates] also need a compelling proportionate reason to justify it. What is a “proportionate” reason when it comes to the abortion issue? It’s the kind of reason we will be able to explain, with a clean heart, to the victims of abortion when we meet them face to face in the next life—which we most certainly will. If we’re confident that these victims will accept our motives as something more than an alibi, then we can proceed.
Take a few moments to view the following. It may not help you make up your mind, but perhaps it can help you focus. I know it helped me:

H/T to Deacon Greg &

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Saturday, August 23, 2008

What Exit?

It has been ten years since I made the move down to Lynchburg, Virginia. However, I think it is safe to say that although your can take the man out of New Jersey, you can never take New Jersey out of the man! There is something in our DNA that makes us crank up the car stereo every time a Springsteen song comes on the radio!

That having been said, when I did so this week, the lyrics came across in a way they never have before. Deacon Greg has often commented on Springteen's Spirituality. This verse in particular seems to hit on several Gospel themes:

Poor man wanna be rich, rich man wanna be king
And a king ain't satisfied till he rules everything.
I wanna go out tonight, I wanna find out what I got.
Now I believe in the love that you gave me
I believe in the faith that could save me
I believe in the hope and I pray that some day
It will raise me above these
So, crank up the volume, roll down the windows and enjoy!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Deo volente! Deo gratias!

I came home from work today and there was an envelope waiting for me on the dining room table. Inside, there were two letters. The first was from the Most Rev. Francis X DiLorenzo, Bishop of Richmond, welcoming me to the diaconate formation process and thanking me for my "commitment and dedication to the process thus far." The second letter was from the Director of Formation, congratulating on my acceptance and explaining what the Church has in store for me during the next few weeks.

So, its official. I am preparing to become a permanent deacon of the Roman Catholic Church. Thank you so much to all who have stormed heaven with prayers for me and all those who have been involved with the diaconate process. Thanks to all who have been mentors throughout my faith journey.

Of course, I would truly appreciate it if all would continue to keep the prayers coming. My family and I will most certainly need them. Throughout the process, I have continued to remind myself that all is in God's hands. I have continued to qualify all statements about discernment with the phrase "God willing." That being said, days like today are such a blessing.

Of course, not all blessings take the form of letters from the Office of the Vicar for Clergy. Far from it. Quite often, they have taken human form. For example, a couple of weeks ago, someone came up to me after mass and asked how the formation process was going. I told him that actually, it had not yet begun! I would hear in the next few weeks whether I had been accepted. "How can you stand to wait?!? The suspense must be killing you!" Actually, it wasn't. After all, it was in God's hands. My mantra over the past few weeks was a quote that I read in Brother Lawrence's book, The Practice of the Presence of God: "I am in the hands of God; He will do with me as He pleases. If I do not serve Him here, I will serve Him elsewhere."

That having been said, however, it would appear that He intends for me to serve him now by preparing to become a deacon. Whether I will make it through the process, well that remains to be seen. And, is kinda beside the point. The work "deacon" comes from the Greek word for servant. I have come to realize that I have a vocation to serve: at home, in the marketplace, at Church. Whether I will do that as an ordained minister of the Church remains to be seen. However, the fact that I am called to serve God's creation is crystal clear. And, as much as I enjoyed hearing from Bishop DiLorenzo today, I did not need his letter to know that!

Image: Deacon candidates prostrate before the altar of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles during a 2004 diaconate ordination liturgy. Photo by Rick Flynn, owned by Eric Stoltz.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Quote of the Day

Employing science while ignoring the governing hand of God is like completing a jigsaw puzzle upside down. You can figure out how the pieces fit together but you're missing the beauty and function of the design.

- Scott Nehring at Good News Film Reviews

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Don't Blink!

A few months ago, I posted an entry about Maggie Doyne, a young woman from my home town who was making a difference in the world. Last week, I received an update in the form of a video. It is well worth your time to take a look at what one woman has been able to do with some "babysitting money she saved up" and a dream!!

Let's all keep her - and the children she helps - in our prayers. To find out more about the work she is doing take a look at her website. There are pictures as well as a link to her blog.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


My wife has found a new guilty pleasure. The Secret Life of the American Teenager is a new drama on ABC that, according to "centers on the topic of teen pregnancy. Good-girl band geek Amy discovers that she is pregnant after losing her virginity to Ricky at band camp. Christian cheerleader Grace, however, has promised abstinence to her parents. As their secrets start to spread, everyone is affected by the news. "

Again, it is Katie's guilty pleasure, not mine. However, the other evening I overheard some of the dialogue and wanted to share. Two teenagers, presumably a couple, are preparing to go to Church with the boyfriend's parents. The girl (not the pregnant one) is trying to convince her boyfriend to well, engage in behavior that the pastor would not approve of!

Girl: We'll just go to confession afterwards.

Boy: I'm Protestant - we don't have confession.

Girl: You don't? Well, what do you have?

Boy: Umm.... Guilt... Shame... Regret... Yeah, we have

Katie is having a tough time getting a read on the show as a whole. At times there seems to be a strong moral message about the consequences of teen pregnancy, but at others, the writers seem to be mocking that same morality.

One thing is clear, the message this program is sending is not the same one delivered by celebrities such as Jamie Lynn Spears! It co-stars Molly Ringwald as the mom of the teen mom-to-be. Seeing her face gave me quite some pause. When I was growing up, topic of teen pregnancy was the fodder of "after school specials," not prime time entertainment. While I agree that the message is an important one, I wonder whether its intended audience really understands?

Monday, August 4, 2008

Quote of the Day

“If you intend to love as God does, then plan on being frustrated as God is.”

- Don Kimball

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

"A sower went out to sow..."

For no better reason than, "I felt like it," I wrote the following reflection. Although I never shared it with my friends in the Pastoral Ministry Leadership Formation program, I thought I would go ahead and post it here! I continue to be amazed at how busy God has been in my life these past few weeks.

“A sower went out to sow…”

One of the characteristics of a well-written parable is that it allows the reader to place him or herself in a position to view the action from several perspectives. Such an approach permits us to enter deeper into the mystery that is God. When we do so, the questions for which we find answers rarely take the form of either/or. No, God’s answers are almost always both/and! I am sure that is why Jesus, the master teacher, makes use of parables throughout the Gospels. Take, for example, the readings from this past Sunday.

Quite often, the Parable of the Sower is understood as depicting God as the Sower, the seed as His Word, and the ground as those who hear that Word. That perspective is certainly valuable, and ripe with opportunity to cultivate and harvest a deeper understanding of the mind of God. In fact, this is the perspective that Jesus uses in the second half of last Sunday’s Gospel when he explains the parable to his disciples.

However, it is not the only one. For this reason, I prefer the shorter version of that Gospel which does not include that lengthy explanation. In fact, many scripture scholars believe that the second part of the reading was added by the Gospel’s author. That makes a lot of sense to me. By not explaining what the parable teaches, the master teacher allowed the parable to teach us even more!

For example, let’s imagine for a moment that God continues to be represented by the Sower, but what does this parable teach us if we are the seed, and the world is the ground? It is a subtle change, but one that has far reaching implications. I have to admit that it makes me a bit uncomfortable. Why would God allow my gifts and talents to be cast on the equivalent of rocky ground or among thorns? If He loves me and cherishes me, why would he allow my life to be less fruitful than others?

I do not know the answer to that question, but this morning’s Canticle from the Book of Wisdom gives me some comfort. There is a bigger plan at work. One with which Wisdom “who knows your works and was present when you made the world; Who understands what is pleasing in your eyes and what is conformable with your commands” is familiar. The author petitions God to make that Wisdom present in his life. “From your glorious throne, dispatch her. That she may be with me and work with me, that I may know what is your pleasure.”

And so I have come to another perspective on the parable. This time, I am in the position of the Sower. The treasures, talents and time God has given me in this world are the seeds, and the many ministries in need of help are represented by the ground. I am called to lavish my time, talent and treasure upon those ministries. I ask for the Wisdom of God to be with me when I do so, as an active co-worker. I must always realize that my talents, my treasure, my time - my contribution – is not really mine. It comes from elsewhere. Likewise, the fruitfulness of my action will be the result of forces that are not my own.

Archbishop Romero once wrote, “We plant seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise… We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.” John’s Gospel reminds us, “One sows and another reaps. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the work, and you are sharing the fruits of their work."

There is a place in God’s plan for the path, the rocky ground, the thorns as well as the rich soil. Each serves an important and unique purpose. And, each is part of God’s creation. God calls us to spread our talent, treasure and time without evaluating how fruitful we may think each target may be.

We are all here having spread our seeds far and wide. Some landed within our families; hopefully others took root in the workplace; still others fell upon various church ministries; more than a little found their place here within the Pastoral Ministry Leadership Formation Program. Some of us have spread seed while discerning a vocation to the diaconate. Over the next few weeks, those seeds will continue to grow. As time progresses, some of us will be chosen to begin formation for ordination, some will not. Some will continue with the PMLF next year, some will decide that they can no longer devote the time, talent and treasure necessary to participate. I admit that over the past few weeks, this uncertainty has created more than a little anxiety in my mind.

But prayerful meditation upon last Sunday’s scripture readings made me realize that the seeds you and I have scattered all wound up exactly where God wanted them to land. Each one will sprout according to God’s will. The prophet Isaiah quoted God in last week’s First Reading, saying, “my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”

The result may not be exactly what you and I want or think it should be. But I am at peace with that possibility, and suggest humbly that you should be as well. It is easy to be frustrated and to view our previous efforts as wasted. But in those times, I am reminded to call upon the Wisdom of God to help me to understand that the seeds I scattered landed exactly where God wanted, and needed, them to land. Teilhard de Chardin once equated time with “grace and circumstances acting on your own good will.” We scatter the seeds, God makes them grow. De Chardin closes the same work by noting,

Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be.
Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept
the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.

May God’s Wisdom continue to accompany us, and may His grace always be busy in our lives!

“Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

Sunday, July 13, 2008

He's Got the Whole World...

We are called to go out into the world and spread the Good News. I always thought I knew what that meant. But this week, someone at the Beginnings Plus Institute said something that opened my eyes to a whole new perspective.

It was something along the lines that we are called to spread the Gospel throughout the world. But the world is not just Ethiopia and South America. The 'world' is our workplace, our marriage, our family. At the moment it occurred to me, how many times have I said that "my family means the world to me"?

When I got home, the kids were their usually wild and crazy selves. Jack in particular wanted to show me a "sign" he had made for my workshop (the part of the basement where my tools are). It was an 8-1/2 X 11 piece of white paper with red crayon scrawling - some letters were recognizable, but none that formed any words. In the middle was a perfectly drawn heart. He proudly pointed at the sign and said, "You are the best dad in the whole world!" I broke down in tears and held him as tight as I possibly could. I can't believe those little ones are five years old already!

As I reflect upon that little episode this morning it occurred to me how much it can tell us about catechesis. Jack could not form the words, but he could sure draw that heart! While I am on the topic, here is a snip from a comment I posted on someone else's Blog a few weeks ago:

As a child, my family made the trek to Florida about three or four times.
Then, Katie and I made the trip a couple times before we had children. As
wonderful, and memorable as all those trips were, they cannot compare with the
experience we had when we brought all four children down for their first

It did not even take fireworks to make me tear up! Since we were staying at
one of the resorts, we took advantage of the Shuttle Bus service from the
airport to the hotel. The bus had little tv's to keep the kids (of all ages)
occupied during the trip. Then, as we approached the main gate, the bus driver
turned off the monitors.

"Alright folks, here we go! Help me count down.

"Ten, nine, eight, seven..."

I looked over at my six year old son His nose was plastered to the

"six, five, four ..."

I thought, how cool to see the excitement in his face.

"three, two, one... WELCOME TO DISNEY WORLD!!!"

I was crying. The joy that I had remembered from my childhood. The magic of
those days as a young couple, all the wonderful happy experiences that I
associated with Disney World. We were going to be able to share with them as
they made those experiences their own.

I could not help but wonder, "Is this how God feels? Is this the kind of
joy that he feels when we are able to experience His Kingdom?"

I gave Christopher a huge hug. He looked at me, puzzled, and asked "Why are
you crying?" I replied,

"Someday, you will know. Until then, promise me you will never forget this

I know that I never will. I look forward to the day when, nose pressed up
on the glass, I will ride into the Heavenly Kingdom and feel the embrace of God.

I just hope that the wait for Space Mountain won't be as long!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

It's Australian for Rubric, Mate!

Ya gotta love the liturgist who drafted the Missal for the World Youth Day. The following was found by a friend in the text from the Vigil of the Youth:

The Holy Father enters the stage, accompanied by 12 pilgrims in
traditional dress.

After waving to the pilgrims, the Holy Father and his attendants go
to the chair on a raised dais.

The stage is still in semi-darkness, with the Holy Father lit.

An announcer invites all present to sing the hymn Our Lady of the
Southern Cross.

I mean it is World Youth Day, and it is Australia...

The things you learn at workshops...

I made a lot of wonderful friends at the Beginnings Plus Institute this past week. Amongst the many things I brought back was this gem:

Friday, July 11, 2008

Live... From Richmond

Now that a number of people have been dropping in to lurk, I have been very remiss in not posting more often. Mea culpa!

This week I have been interning with the North American Forum on the Catechumenate. Last year after I attended one of their workshops, I was invited to consider becoming one of their presenters. It was a humbling honor to be asked since being a catechist is not my "day job." To have those who do this work professionally identify a rank amateur such as myself as having something to contribute has been very affirming.

As the name of this blog reflects, I am very fond of the apprenticeship metaphor for catechesis. It works so well on so many levels. However, yesterday, one of the presenters discussed how we are called as Christians to be 'ambassadors for Christ.' Someone stood up and began to explain how that expression brought to her mind images and concepts of diplomacy. We must dialogue with others, not talk at them. She said, "So often we attempt to use 'shock and awe' to get our point across."

WOW! The Danish physisist Niels Bohr once said, "The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth." When I encounter people in a catechetical environment (or elsewhere for that matter), especially those who are at a different place in their faith journey, I must remember that God is not just at work teaching them. I will be transformed as well - If I allow Him to work on me!

In tracking down Bohr's quote for this post, I came across this gem: "It is the soulless scientist who contents himself with merely undeniable facts. Bohr’s quote shows that he and his ilk are after purely irresistible truths." Aren't we all!

Every time the Truth is named, there must be a change. Things cannot remain the same. The Hebrew word for "word" is dabar. It speaks to actions not just things. For example, when God speaks, things happen. To see what I mean, crack open the Book of Genesis, Chapter One.
-Photo: "Eye of God" Nebula taken by Hubble Space Telescope

Friday, June 6, 2008

Falling in Love

Sorry that my posting has been so sparse of late, but life has seemed to kick into hyperdrive. Between spending time cherishing my family and watching my children grow up way way way too fast, work at a company growing by leaps and bounds, coursework for the pastoral ministry leadership program, the application process for the diaconate, my work on the parish finance council, and coordination of our parish's RCIA ministry, I have been well, a little bit busy!

At the beginning of the discernment process for the diaconate, I was asked to submit a spiritual autobiography. These past few days have brought a section of it to mind:

Falling in Love
The other day, I was asked to meet with a young couple to answer some of their questions about the Catholic Church. They are planning to get married; she is a cradle Catholic, he is a member of a non-denominational faith community. He wanted to gain a deeper understanding of what the Catholic Church believes and his fiancé thought that it would be better if he heard it from someone besides herself. After my 2-1/2 hour meeting, Katie asked me to stop by the store for some groceries.

As I walked through the aisle searching for a can of ‘lite’ cherry pie filling, I reflected back on my day. I woke up early and recited Morning Prayer. I then went to work where, in my role as chief financial officer, I used my gifts and talents to make help make decisions that provide a living for my family and the families of my co-workers. I came home and enjoyed dinner with my family, helped bathe the kids and put them to bed. Then, I ran out to spend time with a young couple, sharing stories of our faith and helping them to discern God’s call as they travel on life's journey. Then, it was off to the store, to help Katie get ready for a get-together she was having at the house the next morning. I thought to myself, "Life is good. God is good. I am so happy right now." I remembered something that the late Msgr. Charles Kelly once said. "If you see a priest who is truly living his vocation, he will look like a man who is in love." How true of any vocation! It is certainly true about my vocation to married life. However, I have come to appreciate that another love has been at work throughout my life. It is a love of service to the church.

As I was sifting through my daily selection of blogs, I discovered that Julie over at Happy Catholic is hosting a 'cyber book tour' appearance by the Jesuit author James Martin. Although I have yet to find the time (go figure) to read one of his works completely, it is definitely on the top of my To Do list.

He related a wonderful prayer by the Servant of God Pedro Arrupe, S.J.:

Nothing is more practical than finding God,
that is, than falling in a love in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination will affect everything.
It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings,
what you will do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, who you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.”

I said to myself, "Yeah, that about sums it up!" People wonder how I find the time to do all I do for the Church. The answer, I have come to realize, is "Because I love what I do." I think many people view Church ministry as one in a list of activities, dare I say hobbies, in which they participate. They do it for the enjoyment they receive out of serving and helping other, or perhaps out of some sense of obligation.

I have to say that has not been the experience for me. As I discern a calling to ordained ministry, I have grappled with why I serve. I have held the words of Fr. Kelly close to my heart. I have reflected upon all the ways I have served the Church. Then I look at my relationship with my wife and family. The parallels are unmistakable. Fr. Arrupe's words today helped me to realize that my service to the Church is really no different than my service to my family. It is not out of obligation, or even because of the benefits that I receive as a result. It is out of love. A love of Church that can only be described as agape.

That is probably why it is so hard to answer the question, "How do you find the time to do everything you do?" The answer can only be found in the Love between a husband and her wife. A Love that is but a foretaste of the Love that God has for each and everyone of us. A Love that is so intense, so focused, and so passionate, that it excludes all else. What is amazing to me is how that kind of Love cannot be contained. It overflows into the rest of my life, whether I like it or not. It affects the way I treat my family, my co-workers, my friends.

May God continue to grant me the Grace to love him and serve him!

Thanks be to God!!!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

On the Journey Towards Claiming the Sabbath

I came across this reflection in a Henri Nouwen Society newsletter. It was written by Doug Wiebe. Doug has been a member of L'Arche since 1989 and currently fills the role of community leader in L'Arche Lethbridge, Alberta. He also serves as a lay preacher and congregational chairperson for the Lethbridge Mennonite Church. He is married and has one son.

Like many other overanxious first-time parents, I used to go into my son's room at night to make sure he was still breathing. Now I go in because I know he's resting. I want (and need) to welcome him into my life not only when he's awake and busy but also when he's asleep.

Perhaps the way a child sleeps after a day full of discovery is similar to the way God rested after he finished creating the world. Perhaps the love, gratitude and awe we feel when we watch our sleeping children is similar to the way God wants us to be aware of his presence during our times of quiet.

Imagine that the hours of our Sabbath day of rest are no longer numbers on a clock but pillars supporting a beautiful temple. Sleeping in perfect peace in the centre of this temple is the Creator of the universe. Our Sabbath invitation is to enter into this "temple of time" and to simply rest with God, who on this day has nothing but time.

I don't know the details of how this happens for any one of us. What I do know is that there was a marked contrast between my experience of my son during the work of toilet training and my experience of him when I watched him sleeping in my arms or in his crib. I need both experiences, and so does my son. The same goes for our relationship with God. May God continue to show us how to enter into the Sabbath temple of time to learn more and more how to rest with, and in, God.

I often do go check on my little ones after they have fallen asleep. Our house is so wild and crazy when they are awake. Seeing them resting peacefully is always a comfort!!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Uh... right......

I have been meaning to post about this recent Call To Action "liturgy" for a couple of days. I think one of the reasons that I have not is because there is part of me that does not want to give it any further attention. But then again, if we do not point out the absurd conclusion that can come about, one might think that the smaller liturgical abuses are tolerable. Know what I mean???

Please make sure that there is something soft in front of you before you watch this. I don't want your chin to get bruised when your jaw hits the floor!!!

When I first viewed it, a comment made by fellow blogger Andie over at Theophany All Over came to mind: "Liturgical dance stupid".

The Anchoress (host of the the blog where I found this er, celebration) noted, "Ever notice how all liturgical dance looks the same? Lunge left, lunge right, leap and spin - it’s always the same."

How very, very true. HOWEVER, please click below for the exception that proves the rule!!

See more funny videos at CollegeHumor

I know, I know, including the Colbert "King of Glory" clip in a post on Liturgical Dance is way, way too predictable in the Catholic Blogosphere. I'm sorry, I couldn't help myself.

Perhaps someone should suggest Gigantic Puppets to Stephen. Then again, they might remind him too much of bears...

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Print it. Ponder it.

A few weeks ago, Deacon Greg provided a link to Peggy Noonan's WSJ column on the Pope's upcoming visit. I really appreciate her insight. Money quote:

A Vatican reporter last week said John Paul was the perfect pope for the television age, "a man of images." Think of the pictures of him storm-tossed, tempest-tossed, standing somewhere and leaning into a heavy wind, his robes whipping behind him, holding on to his crosier, the staff bearing the image of a crucified Christ, with both hands, for dear life, as if consciously giving Christians a picture of what it is to be alive.

Benedict, the reporter noted, is the perfect pope for the Internet age. He is a man of the word. You download the text of what he said, print it, ponder it.

That really spoke to me. I grew up with JPII. It is easy for me to remember images of the only Pope I knew - kissing the ground after descending the airplane steps, spreading his hands out to a sea of young faces at World Youth Day, you get the idea. The only Pope I knew - until recently.

When I was fortunate enough to receive two tickets to the Papal Mass at National's Stadium, I took it as an opportunity to get to know more about the man who was the successor to Saint Peter. The more I read, the more I liked. Now that he has left, I continue to read and pour over his public statements. I came across this gem from his homily during the Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral.

I would like to draw your attention to a few aspects of this beautiful structure which I think can serve as a starting point for a reflection on our particular vocations within the unity of the Mystical Body.

The first has to do with the stained glass windows, which flood the interior with mystic light. From the outside, those windows are dark, heavy, even dreary. But once one enters the church, they suddenly come alive; reflecting the light passing through them, they reveal all their splendor. Many writers – here in America we can think of Nathaniel Hawthorne – have used the image of stained glass to illustrate the mystery of the Church herself. It is only from the inside, from the experience of faith and ecclesial life, that we see the Church as she truly is: flooded with grace, resplendent in beauty, adorned by the manifold gifts of the Spirit. It follows that we, who live the life of grace within the Church’s communion, are called to draw all people into this mystery of light.

This is no easy task in a world which can tend to look at the Church, like those stained glass windows, “from the outside”: a world which deeply senses a need for spirituality, yet finds it difficult to “enter into” the mystery of the Church. Even for those of us within, the light of faith can be dimmed by routine, and the splendor of the Church obscured by the sins and weaknesses of her members. It can be dimmed too, by the obstacles encountered in a society which sometimes seems to have forgotten God and to resent even the most elementary demands of Christian morality. You, who have devoted your lives to bearing witness to the love of Christ and the building up of his Body, know from your daily contact with the world around us how tempting it is at times to give way to frustration, disappointment and even pessimism about the future. In a word, it is not always easy to see the light of the Spirit all about us, the splendor of the Risen Lord illuminating our lives and instilling renewed hope in his victory over the world (cf. Jn 16:33).

"The one who has hope lives differently." How can I live my life in such a way that those who have yet to experience the grace, beauty and gifts that are to be found inside the Church are inspired to "Come and see"?

Where has my experience of Church been "dimmed by routine"? What can I do to change that?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

I knew it!

I was the first born in my family. I have a sister who is two years younger than me. I just forwarded her (and my parents) this article I came across on MSNBC. The highlights (as far as I am concerned):

Now, a new study has confirmed what first-borns like Joshua have always suspected: The oldest kid in the family really does bear the brunt of parental strictness, while the younger brothers and sisters generally coast on through.
When a job needs to get done, it’s the habit of the parent to call on the first-born, because they’re the most reliable and conscientious,” Leman says. But it's no accident that the oldest has become a responsible wonder child; it's the parenting strategy that made them that way.
Amen! (emphasis added by me)

Anything else?
By the time the second and third kids come around, many parents lighten up, and realize that they probably overreacted a little with setting rules for their first kid, Leman says. “The first-born’s a guinea pig; we practice on ‘em,” he says. “Once the other kids come in, we lighten up. Or exhaustion takes over.”
So, Diane, I was not making it up those many years ago. Mom and Dad were tougher on me. And I am the "wonder child." Science says so!!!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Quote of the Day

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware.

- Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Today in Christian History

Some interesting trivia courtesy of

387 - Augustine of Hippo, 32, was baptized on this Eve of Easter. He told the story of his Christian conversion from a profligate life in his "Confessions," written between 397-401.

1576 - Birth of St. Vincent de Paul, French Catholic priest. He founded several religious orders during his lifetime, including the Lazarists (or Vincentians) in 1625.

1870 - At the Vatican I Ecumenical Council, the dogmatic constitution "Dei filius" was published. Explaining the relationship between faith and reason, it declared that God could be known by human thought processes.
The site also has a really good lexicon which comes in handy when you are taking a class in Old Testament Scripture (as I am)!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

As promised...

I am still collecting thoughts and reflections, but here are a few photos from the day.

There is really no way to describe the experience of worshipping with 46,000 other people:

Friday, April 18, 2008

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

No greater love...

I am not an overly emotional guy, but my eyes tear up every time I think of this story. If you pray for no one else today, please, please pray for this family:

From the Washington Post:

Sgt. Jesse A. Ault rejoined the National Guard to take the place of his wife, Betsy, on a deployment to Baghdad.

He called home to Dublin, Va., every day he was in Iraq, including his last. Ault died Wednesday in Baghdad of wounds suffered in Tunnis, Iraq, when his vehicle encountered a makeshift bomb, the military said. Ault, 28, was assigned to the Roanoke-based 429th Brigade Support Battalion.


Jesse Ault met his future wife during summer training camp in 2002. "One day, while standing in line, I turned to him and said, 'When are you ever going to ask me out on a date . . . alone?' " Betsy Ault said.

They were dating by the time their units were combined and deployed in 2004 to Camp Anaconda in Balad, Iraq. During a five-day pass home for Christmas, Jesse met and bonded with her son Nathan.

When they got back from Iraq, Jesse told Betsy that he wanted to start a family. They got married on the front steps of her father's house. Soon after, their son, Adam, was born. He's now 15 months old.

In early 2007, Betsy was alerted that she would be redeployed to Iraq. "Her number came up to go back for another tour," Ron Ault said. "At the time, they were trying to get pregnant. [Jesse] thought the best thing for him to do for his family was reenlist. He went back in her place."

Besides his wife, Jesse leaves behind two sons, Nathan (10) and Adam (1) and a 4 month old daughter, Rachel.

"No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." (John 15:13)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

"It's as simple as it gets"

I heard Mr. Julio Diaz's story while driving to work the other morning. If you have a couple of minutes take a listen. You won't be sorry!!
Julio Diaz remembers being robbed on a subway platform in the Bronx.
It totally set my day off in a great direction!! And brought this to mind:
"But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

"To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic. Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you." (Luke 6:27-31)

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

"filled with the Spirit and wisdom"

The readings for daily mass during this past week provide a glimpse at life in the early Church. On Saturday, we heard about the ordination of the first deacons. Yesterday and today, the story continues with one of those deacons, Stephen, being called upon to witness in a way that hopefully none of us will be called to.

My confirmation name is Stephen. I chose it not because of that Stephen, though for a number of reasons that now seems to be quite appropriate. No, I picked that name because of the faith story of another witness with the same name, Steven McDonald. When I was in high school, I was very interested in law enforcement. I seriously considered pursuing it as a career. One day I was in the library during my lunch break, thumbing through a copy of Reader’s Digest when I came across an excerpt from a book called The Steven McDonald Story. It was written by a New York City police officer who was shot in the line of duty. The wound left him paralyzed from the neck down.

I was so fascinated with this man’s story that I tracked down a copy of the book and read it cover to cover in one weekend. I was particularly moved by how his faith, and the faith of those around him, got him through that difficult time. He went on to forgive the young man who shot him. “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60) Thanks to a post by Deacon Greg, I have learned that he is still out and about, sharing his experience with others. A few months after reading the book, when I was asked to provide a confirmation name, I could not think of a better one than that!

Nearly twenty years later, I am in the very beginning stages of preparation for another sacrament. As you may know, I am actively discerning a call to the permanent diaconate. Last week, Katie and I went for an interview. I was asked “How did I see ministry as a deacon fitting in to the rest of my ministerial life?”

An interesting question. It is one with which many deacons and prospective deacons surely struggle. After all being a deacon, in and of itself, is not a ministry, is it? Serving the poor, teaching religious education, assisting the priest during mass – those are all ministries, but lay people can do all of those. What does being a deacon add?

I found myself providing an answer I never thought of before (Ain’t the Spirit grand?) I said that I did not think it would so much change my ministry, as reorient it. Most of us choose ministries because we enjoy them. However, as a servant of the church, a deacon is called to serve where he is needed. In the early days of the church, that need was in providing fairly for the widows and orphans. Today, it may be somewhere else.

This past week provided a good example. Deacon Gordon Cartwright is a very close friend of mine. He has volunteered to return to helping with RCIA in our parish. It is a ministry he truly enjoys and I knew he was very excited to take part in our catechetical session this past Sunday. Right before Mass began, his wife Gloria came up to me to tell me that Gordon would not be at RCIA today. The pastor in a neighboring parish fell ill, and Gordon was asked to lead a Sunday Celebration in the Absence of a Priest.

He wrote me the next day to apologize for missing RCIA. I am sure you would agree there was no need to apologize. He was doing what deacons do. He was serving the needs of the Church with no regard for his own desires. I guess it would be safe to say that Christ’s prayer in the Garden is the prayer of all deacons: “Not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)

Only God knows whether I will ultimately be ordained a deacon. But I do know that I am called to be more “deacon-like” in living out my faith. At home, at work, and at church.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

One of my fondest memories as an altar server was having the honor of assisting at the dedication mass for the new sanctuary in my parish. I was a freshman in high school, and actually came out of retirement to do so. I had already moved on to the role of altar server coordinator for our parish.

I remember gathering with the priests, deacons and bishop prior to the Mass. I recall processing around the outside of the church while Latin hymns were chanted. I especially remember all the neat rituals that are unique to a dedication liturgy. I will always cherish the look on our Associate Pastor's face when Bishop Rodimer took the jar of Chrism, dumped it on the newly installed hardwood altar, and worked the oil into the wood with both hands!

Rocco has dutifully provided links to the website announcing the dedication of the newest Cathedral in the United States. Lots and lots of great pictures and a really imformative worship aid that explains the theology behind the rites and rituals of the dedication liturgy. What is especially moving for me is how much of the church is consecrated simply by its use. For example, the Ambo is not consecrated by the Bishop saying a prayer over it, it is consecrated when the Word of God is first proclaimed from it!

What is also cool is how the dedication ritual mirrors our own Christian initiation. First, it is turned over to the bishop by the builders (just as our parents and Godparents present us for baptism). Then it is washed with a blessing of holy water. Next, the entire building is anointed with Chrism, just as we are when we are sealed with the Gifts of the Holy Spirit at Confirmation. Finally, the Eucharist is celebrated. The 'source and summit of our faith', the completion of our initiation into the Church is likewise the completion of the dedication.

However, whereas the installation of the Blessed Sacrament in the Tabernacle wraps up the initiation of a Cathedral, we are sent - "To Love and Serve the Lord." The living stones emerge from the building to take the Church out into the world!

Congratuations Galveston-Houston! May the beauty of your new Cathedral be paled only by that of the Living and Growing Church that worships there!!!

The Last Lecture

Last Fall, I came across a column in the Wall Street Journal about a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University named Randy Pausch. On many college campuses there is a tradition of inviting professors to deliver a 'Last Lecture.' These talks are prepared to answer the question, "If you were only able to teach one more class before you die, what would you say."

When he was asked to give such a talk at Carnegie Mellon, it was more than an intellectual exercise for Prof. Pausch. He had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer - a particularly aggressive form of the disease with a low survival rate. Randy's talk is extremely inspiring and has moved across the internet at a rate that even exceeds to growth of his cancer. More than six million people around the world have viewed it. The video is widely available online and runs a little more than an hour. If you have not seen it already, stop readying my drivel and go watch it! Have a box of Kleenex nearby.

The popularity of the Lecture, and the universality of Prof. Pausch's message have given birth to all sorts of spin offs. He has been on Oprah, the CBS Evening News has done updates. This Wednesday, April 9, 2008, Diane Sawyer will do an hour-long special on his story. That same week, a book based on his lecture will hit bookstands.

Randy's message is delivered as only a scientist can. There is no explicit mention of religion or his personal beliefs. However, as a Christian, I could not help but see the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Randy's talk. He most certainly 'gets it'!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Divine Mercy

Yesterday in my Christian Spirituality class, we discussed Ronald Rolheiser's book, The Holy Longing: The Search for A Christian Spirituality. I highly recommend it. In particular, we discussed the chapter on "Consequences of the Incarnation for Spirituality". As you may recall, last week I posted a selection from the Office of Readings describing Christ's descent into Hell.

Rolheiser includes a brief story from G.K. Chesterton's Everlasting Man:

A man who was entirely careless of spiritual affairs died and went to hell. And he was much missed on earth by his old friends. His business agent went down to the gates of hell to see if there was any chance of bringing him back. But though he pleaded for the gates to be opened, the iron bars never yielded. His priest also went and argued: 'He was not really a bad fellow, given time he would have matured. Let him out, please!' The gates remained stubbornly shut against all these voices. Finally, his mother came; she did not beg his release. Quietly, and with a strange catch in her voice, she said to Satan: 'Let me in.' Immediately the great doors swung open upon their hinges. For love goes down through the gates of hell and there redeems the dead.
This Sunday we contemplate and celebrate the Divine Mercy of Jesus Christ. For me, it is a mercy that is reflected in the greeting the Christ gave to those locked in the upper room. Even though they had abandoned Him in a time of need, He did not dwell on the past. "Peace be with you!"

He went on to say, "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” When a court proceeding is dramatized, we often hear the judge sentence a criminal to death by saying, "May God have mercy on your soul." What I have come to find particularly interesting about that statement is that it somehow presupposes that we are permitted to simply delegate forgiveness to God. That it is OK to 'write off' someone because of their actions, and let God take it from there.

I have come to realize that it is not OK. As difficult, painful, unfair, and even impossible as it may be for me to actually forgive someone for something he or she does, that is what I am called to do. I recall the days that followed the Virginia Tech shootings. Perhaps you do as well. Since I only live two hours from the campus, the news coverage was even more intense. I remember one night in particular, I was sitting on my bed, surfing the Internet. I came across a photo of the shooter. He had a gun in each hand and was staring intensely into the camera. I stared back. I remember being struck, stunned, jarred by the stare. I remember thinking, "What could be going on behind that cold, evil stare?" However, as much as I deplored what he had done, I could not deplore Seung-Hui Cho.

I found myself praying, "God, this is one of your children. I pray that this troubled young man finds rest in your arms." And a sense of peace came over me. I knew that God took it from there. As I reflected upon that event over the ensuing months, I have come to a deeper appreciation of what happened. Rolheiser does a much better job of articulating what I have come to realize than I ever could:

The view of the incarnation being proposed here never says that we forgive sins, that we bind and loose, that we heal each other, or that we anoint each other. It is Christ, working through us, who does this. The power is still with God, not with us, but in the incarnation God has chosen, marvelously, to let his power flow through us, to let our flesh give reality to his power.

I just pray that God will give me the grace to be an instrument of His peace. I pray that in the face of injustice and injury, he gives me the grace to say, "Peace be with you!" I pray that he gives me the grace to treat others justly and charitably, so that I am not in need of his Mercy. However, I pray that when I inevitably fall short of the mark and do stumble, that His merciful arms are there to pick me up, hold me, and send me back on my way - his way!

Thanks be to God! Alleluia, Alleluia!