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Showing posts from 2013

Hope as the Form of Life

Hope, it seems, has made its way into Hollywood. Recently at the movie theater, for instance, I saw three distinct images of hope:
In the trailer for X-Men: Days of Future Past, Professor Charles Xavier implores his younger self, "Please. We need you to hope again." In the trailer for Noah, hope is implicitly held out as Russell Crowe's Noah builds an ark and must face down what seems to be a horde rather intent on taking the ark for themselves. In Catching Fire, President Snow chillingly observes, "Fear does not work as long as there is hope." Hope is, sadly, a misused word. "I hope I do well on this test" - even though I've not studied. "I hope I lost weight this week" - even though I ate an entire chocolate cake, albeit in thin slices, over the past seven days. 
Hope, in other words, often seems to be a sort of quixotic optimism, a sentiment expressing something like "I know the odds are against me, but...". If we think of ho…

'Twas the Mass Before Christmas

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Per family custom, we attended the 5:00 pm Mass at our local parish. This is, mind you, the parish I made my First Communion (March, '88) and Confirmation (February, '94). I went there throughout high school, college, and graduate school. Since I don't stay with my parents when I visit Cleveland, it's  now the case that I only go to my home parish on Christmas.

Now, Christmas Eve Mass provides an annual "Choose Your Own Adventure" liturgy. One can choose to attend Mass in the church where there'll be packed pews, usually a well-amplified if not particularly talented group of singers, and lots of familiar faces. The youthful pastor will deliver a great homily and, overall, even liturgical dilettantes can't fault it on much (well, other than the music). Sure, you'll see the well-dressed C&E crowd who take your usual Sunday seats, but that can be forgiven if for no other reason than the comedic value of watching irregular attendees continue to a…

The Trinity and Karaoke

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In an interview given in 1990, Sandra Schneiders observed of the Trinity that, for Christians, "God is more than two men and a bird." While this should hardly come as a surprise, the observation nevertheless flies in the face of many artistic renderings of the Trinity. Indeed, I think it is the case that art attempting to depict the Trinity is at least partially to blame for the general irrelevance of the Trinity in the lives of most Christians. 
Think about it: when was the last time you prayed to the Holy Spirit? 
One way of thinking about the Trinity in a way that may be helpful is to think of the Trinity as the event of Karaoke of God's Kingdom. 
Karaoke begins with a song. What goes into a song? Well, first you need an author who writes Lyrics and composes Music. Consider: Without the Author, you'd have neither the Lyrics nor the Music. These both flow from the Author.The Lyrics tell us what the song is about. The Music gives us the rhythm that animates the Lyri…

Undergoing the Spirit

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So, 2013's Person of the Year is none other than Pope Francis. I'm sure he's breathing a sigh of relief that he beat out the the patroness of twerking, Miley Cyrus, and a man who unleashed deadly chemical weapons on his own people, Bashar al-Assad. I reckon Ted Cruz and Kathleen Sebelius canceled one another out. Without question, at least to my mind, of the ten nominees, the Holy Father's great gift has been to welcome a fresh, rejuvenating Spirit into the Catholic Church.

A friend asked me, several hours after yesterday's announcement, if I was "proud" of the Pope. I didn't know quite what to say. It would seem that I should be proud, or happy, but perhaps I was above all relieved because the Holy Father is "Person of the Year" because he points away from himself. I know some of the Pope's critics think he's putting on a show, that he's hamming it up for the cameras, but I think we're witnessing the read deal. This guy lov…

Two Weeks Until Christmas

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Jesus said to the crowds:
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest. 
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves. 
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”                                   ~Matthew 11:28-30
Two weeks until Christmas. It's a thought that stirs hope in children and teenagers, one liable of piquing anxiety in parents. There is, of course, so much yet to be done! Shopping, end-of-year deadlines, travel arrangements, wrapping, hiding gifts, cleaning the house, buying and preparing family meals, hosting guests...Advent, the season when we are called to prepare for the Lord's coming, seems more often to be the season of our mad rushing and running about. 
What is the status of your heart, your "inner home"? I think many of us would prefer not to say because our hearts are very messy and rather cluttered. And yet it is no small part of the Good News of the Gosp…

On the Immaculate Conception

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Today, the Catholic Church observes the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. My father and his brother, Jack, derive waggish delight in querying this celebration: nowhere, of course, is there anything in the Bible about Mary's own conception.

My father and uncle, mind you, were both raised Missouri Synod Lutherans. That makes a wing of my family "arch-Lutherans."

So, here's the thing. The Church isn't celebrating a teaching but, rather, an event. As Herbert McCabe wrote, today we celebrate God's gift to humanity that "Mary was as holy as she could be said to be." It arose because, in and through the prayer and liturgy of early Christians, they realized that the shape and character of Jesus' life had an earthly source, a human model. Just as any parent teaches a child to speak, to eat, to get dressed, so also must parents do things like teach children manners, how to face adversity, and especially how to love. The insanely perfect way…

The Enduring Problem of Abusive Priests?

It was with no small amount of disappointment that I read this morning's story, run in the New York Times, reporting on the newly established papal commission on sex abuse. It's not that I'm disappointed that a commission has been created, of course, but rather the story's superficial reporting. 
Up front, I want to say: the sexual abuse of minors is an unconscionable crime and anyone who perpetrate such a heinous act, whether clergy or not, must be held accountable. What interests me this morning is how the story is being told and why it is disingenuous for them to report in such a way. 
Let me pick a few key lines that will help to illustrate this: "...Pope Francis will establish a commission to advise him on protecting children from pedophile priests...""The announcement was a forthright acknowledgment by the Vatican of the enduring problem of abusive priests..."Citing David Clohessy, from SNAP: "A new church panel is the last thing that kid…

Monday, First Week of Advent

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Today's Gospel contains a line familiar to any regular communicant: "Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed." Well, except that we have taken out "my servant" and replaced it with "my soul."

What may remain unheard, however, is the "leap" the centurion makes. Here is a man, a member of the military elite, with both soldiers and slaves beneath him. He, like many of us, is accustomed to giving orders and having them obeyed. Beyond the realm of business, just think of the ways we give others orders: giving directions to a taxi driver, ordering coffee to one's specifications, trying on new shoes/clothes, ordering in a restaurant.

In this scene, however, the one accustomed to giving orders now realizes his own powerlessness. Moved by the plight of his paralyzed servant, he approaches Jesus and appeals to him for help.

Fortunately for the servant, he did not have to log into any …

The First Sunday of Advent

If you ever want to note how out of step the Church's readings are from mainstream culture, you need look no further than today's readings
Let's think about our culture. Although some stores seem to have put out Christmas decorations in October, so that witches and cobwebs fought with reindeer and snow globes, we are now not surprised to see and hear the sounds of Christmas. If you listen carefully, though, the decorations and music that entice us into stores, the smells of cinnamon and clove that try to remind us of the warmth of the family kitchen...they carry with them a message. 
23 days until Christmas! 16 days until Christmas! Buy now before it's too late!
The church of consumerism, whose high priests are marketing agents, sure know how to spin a deal, how to hawk their wares, how to make us anxious about potentially not being prepared for Christmas. And so, we buy. We buy early and often. Our journey toward Christmas is not a hopeful journey but, rather often,…

Occasions for Pleasure, No Place for Joy

I'm going to make what, to anyone who has watched my Tin Whistle videos on YouTube, may be a startling admission: I regret doing it. I began posting videos seven years ago, just after I moved to Fordham University, because I had the in-built computer technology to do so. When I was later asked to teach a course on the Tin Whistle, I made use of YouTube to make sure each week's lessons were posted.
Several times each week, I receive a note from a viewer who will say something like, "I just wanted to thank you for the free lessons on the Internet. I live in a place without any Irish music teachers and your lessons are the only way I can learn." I'll admit - I do think that's pretty cool and, honestly, I'm glad to have provided a service. 
Nevertheless, I still regret that I ever did it. 
Not because of the good it has shared with others but because, after a lot of reflection, I realize that it has had a corrosive effect on my spirit. 
Each time I post a vi…

Evangelii Gaudium

For those interested in such things, I encourage them to take the time to read the Pope's Evangellii Gaudium, his first apostolic exhortation. I'm in the midst of working on three different projects all at once and I've not quite read the whole letter with the attention it deserves.

One particularly plum section I did manage to read, however, deserves mention and applies particularly to clergy. Under the subtitle No Spiritual Worldliness (93-97), the Holy Father gives a marvelous diagnosis for a problem facing many clergy today. Sad to say, I know not a few priests - Jesuit, other religious orders and congregations, and diocesan - afflicted with a form of spiritual worldliness:
This worldliness can be fueled in two deeply interrelated ways. One is the attraction of gnosticism, a purely subjective faith whose only interest is a certain experience or a set of ideas and bits of information which are meant to console and enlighten, but which ultimately keep one imprisoned in h…

S*#T Under the Fingernails

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An old Irish woman once quipped to me, "I don't trust clergy who have never had s*#t under their fingernails." Her point: religious credibility doesn't come from beautiful words but from enacting the love one preaches.

Hardly a day goes by of late without some new story about Pope Francis. This weekend, Chris Lowney wrote a piece for CNN's Belief Blog about how then-Jorge Bergoglio used to take a turn at laundry duty. Depending on the type of community, I reckon, he might have had far more than lint under his nails when his task was completed!

Now, it comes as no surprise to anyone to hear of moms or dads doing laundry, or preparing the daily meals, or changing diapers. It's part of the day-to-day duties of being a family. So, too, within Jesuit communities, the benchmark of a good community member can be measured by whether he'll take the time to unload the dishwasher, do his house job, prepare a thoughtful dinner, or lend a hand bringing in groceries. F…

The Cradle is Not a Future Cashbox

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I am not a parent. So, what follows, may be discounted as the ramblings of an idealist, a person who "doesn't get it." Nevertheless, I want to make a single statement and offer a thought.

Statement: The Cradle Is Not a Future Cashbox

An extremely bright college student sought me out recently with a heartrending dilemma: the student wants, more than anything, to become a math teacher. The parents, however, refuse to allow this: they will pay for a business degree and nothing else. If the student should decide to pursue a degree in education, the parents will refuse to continue paying tuition for a degree able to be obtained "anywhere."

It matters little to the parents that the student is totally passionate about educating others, that the student's personality is vibrant and engaging, that the student knows how simultaneously to inspire and challenge those being tutored. What matters is that the parents have decided that a degree in business is the only just…

Intimacy in the Age of Facebook

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Back in July, I set about working on a chapter for a book of essays compiled by contributors to The Jesuit Post. My title never varied: I knew I wanted to call my piece "Dispatches from the Control-F Generation." Frequent readers will remember that this is a theme I have written about several times over the past few years.

My original submission, however, did not gain much traction with the editors. I used Ovid's Metamorphoses to frame my discussion of technology. In particular, I tried to develop the image of the "Shirt of Nessus," a shirt soaked with poisoned blood given to the hero Heracles as an unwitting gift that led to his death. The gift, given with the best of intentions, turned out to be the exact opposite of a gift. My sense of our increasingly technology soaked culture was, and continues to be, that we are donning for ourselves and passing onto our children a modern-day "Shirt of Nessus" we believe to be a great gift but, in actuality, is…

"Modern Man" and "The Mission"

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Last night, I hosted a group of young men here at the Faber Jesuit Community for an event we called "Reel Jesuits." November 5th is the day the Society of Jesus remembers its Saints and Blessed and, in a special way, prays for vocations to the Jesuits. As part of the effort, I helped to organize "Reel Jesuits" which was a dinner of pizza and salad (it's young men, after all!) followed by a viewing of the 1986 gem The Mission. Discussion followed our viewing, reflecting together about how we today are being called into "the mission" of the Gospel.

One of the attendees pointed me in the direction of the song "Modern Man" by Arcade Fire. There's something riveting about the song. The first verse opens:

So I wait my turn, I'm a modern man And the people behind me, they can't understand Makes me feel like Makes me feel like
Not to get a sacramental, but there is a way this verse, and the whole song, brings about what it represents. For,…

Briefly Checking In

As I watched the sun rise over the Rocky Mountains this morning, it dawned on me that I'd not updated the blog in over a week. Due to the way I scheduled myself to play several feiseanna, I'm in a very intense period of playing all over the place. Fortunately, next Saturday will be my last feis until December and, I can assure you, I'm excited to get back to having free weekends for reading and writing.

Several readers may remember, from two years ago, that I was placed on bed rest for pneumonia. It was arguably the most trying week of my life: I never took days off of work and I'm not much good at laying in bed. Last Sunday, I had a bit of a scare when I developed a cough eerily reminiscent of the cough I had two years ago and began to have trouble speaking without a dry cough erupting.

Fortunately, I managed to see my doctor who confirmed that I had a bit of a respiratory infection. Noting that post-nasal drip may be contributing to this, she wrote me a prescription…

Saint Cecilia's RCIA: Week #4

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Last night, the Saint Cecilia's RCIA group met at our usual 6:30 time. Having had three weeks to get to know one another better, we started to move more deeply into discussions of "nuts and bolts" Catholicism. By this I mean, simply, raising and reflecting upon some key questions one must of necessity wrestle with as a believer.

What impresses me most of the group I'm praying with (and for) is their willingness to venture questions. Given their love of questions, I turned to a reliable source - The Teaching of the Catholic Church by Father Herbert McCabe, OP - and raised five questions to the group last night. Thus, after praying from Proverbs 8, we reflected as a group about what it means to call God the creator, what God wants for creatures, and whether evolution/science are hostile to religious belief.

I've attached the schedule from last night in case it is helpful to anyone as a resource.

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In addition, I learned that, when I wear the costume wig my paren…

Birthday Wishes Do Come True!

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I came home from playing music at the local pub last night and went to bed, still a little sad: my only wish on my 34th birthday was for hair.

This morning, I woke up with...hair!

Yep: after years of asking/begging/praying, the most unlikely source of grace came through with my heart's sole desire: my mom and dad. I have to say, the color works pretty well: it matches my beard. Sadly, it looks like I've a bit of bed-head. All the same, I particularly like being able to run my hands through it, even it's not *quite* my own natural hair.

Thanks Mom! Thanks Dad! Just keep rubbing in the fact that you gave me life and horrific genes leading to baldness. Nope, no resentment there.


A Jesuit's Advice On Classroom Management

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Looking back upon my own experiences as a teacher, I can attest without any hesitation that the steepest learning curve to contend with is classroom management. Students I taught as a first-year teacher, now well into college, delight in reminding me of my own trials. Without question, I learned by trial and error.

A new teacher, after reading an essay I wrote called The Jesuit Guide to Teaching, wrote me to ask about advice in managing the classroom. He has been challenged by the administration not to be "too nice" and to "harden his heart" in order to maintain discipline.

I resonated with his initial response to this directive. He writes:
To be honest with you, I have a difficult time discerning when to turn theother cheek and when to flip over the tables and crack the whip in certainsituations. Christ was a man of great kindness, yet he used brutal honestyand even force to make his views known. What should I do? How can I showlove to my students while being firm…

Can Atheists Experience Awe?

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Chris Stedman, assistant humanist chaplain at Harvard, has a piece over at CNN's Belief Blog entitled "What Oprah gets wrong about atheism." He takes as his point of departure the recent contretemps between Oprah and swimmer Diana Nyad.

In his reflection, Stedman raises this concern:
Winfrey's response may have been well intended, but it erased Nyad's atheist identity and suggested something entirely untrue and, to many atheists like me, offensive: that atheists don't experience awe and wonder.  Now - and I speak as something of a theist...Jesuits do, in fact, believe in God - I don't get the sense from Oprah that she is erasing Nyad's atheist identity. Instead, what Oprah experiences as a sense of awe, of the mystery of creation, is what she calls an experience of God. In quoting Karl Rahner yesterday, I attempted to shore-up Winfrey's response. Rahner, one of the theological giants of the 20th century, understood the experience of God seldom to…

An Atheist in Awe

Apparently Oprah Winfrey has caused some flap amongst atheists in the wake of her recent interview with famed swimmer Diana Nyad. On Sunday's "Super Soul Sunday," Oprah questioned Diana about her religious beliefs. 

The issue, as far as it is an issue, centers on exchange between the two. Nyad asserts herself an atheism, but that she is a person who is deeply in awe.
Nyad: I can stand at the beach's edge with the most devout Christian, Jew, Buddhist...go on down the line, and weep with the beauty of this universe and be moved by all of humanity...all the billions of people who have lived before us, who have loved and hurt...Oprah: YeahNyad: ...and suffered. So to me, my definition of God is humanity and is the love of humanity. And as we return to...Oprah: Well, I don't call you an atheist then! I think if you believe in awe...and the wonder...and the mystery...that is what God is Critics have been quick to take aim at both personalities. Nyad is critiqued for a …

The Scandal of Poverty in a World of Plenty

In a splendid and deeply challenging article in America Magazine, Bishop Robert McElroy draws upon the Holy Father's call to a mass cultural conversion. Pope Francis, McElroy notes, has exposed "three false cultures that materialism has created in our world:

The Culture of Comfort - we think only of ourselvesThe Culture of Waste - we seize the gifts of creation, exhaust what we have seized, and then discard themThe Culture of Indifference - we have become insensitive to the suffering of others.  The culture of materialism has worked toward the creation of the Anti-Kingdom of God. Rather than being gathered into a New Jerusalem ruled by God, those of us who are able prefer to worship at the altar of capitalism: we are, as a society, an idolatrous people. Gathered around the graven image of wealth and prestige, we become what Pope Benedict XVI lamented in Caritatis in Veritate: a globalized society of neighbors but not sisters and brothers. 
Bishop McElroy prophetically calls f…

RCIA: Signs, Symbols, and Sacrament

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Last night's RCIA topic was "Sign, Symbol, and Sacrament." My intention for the class was to develop a Catholic way of seeing the world around us. Just as a musician trains to hear the intricacies of music, or a surgeon trains in dexterity and deftness of hand, so must the Catholic train "to see" the world differently, to see how the "Grandeur of God" shines through it.

We live in a world of signs. Signs are objects that point away from themselves and tend to have one, relatively clear meaning. A STOP sign hardly calls for much interpretation; a check mark on an test records approval, a red-x an incorrect answer. Granted, many signs are ones we have, as a society, agreed upon in recognizing: Green means go, Red means stop, and Yellow means either "caution" or "hurry up!" There could have been different colors chosen, but we've settled on these three.

The next level down, symbols are more complex and involved signs. They can ha…