Monday, February 26, 2007

Follow Your Heart

I just wanted to promote the show of my good friend Matt Malone who will be starring in his own cabaret show beginning this weekend. If you are in the NYC area, I'd strongly encourage attending - Matt is a gifted writer and singer and I am very proud of his efforts and excited to see the whole production this Saturday! There is definitely a "twist"at the end that I'm sure all will be overjoyed to see.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

As We Begin the Season of Lent...

Due to sickness, the priest who was to give a talk to a group of students last night was unable to attend and, upon the suggestion of a student in Gospel Explorations, I was invited to fill in. I had a really nice time chatting with the students and spent a great deal of time listening to them articulate their experience(s) of faith as college students.

A quick poll indicated that every one of the students gathered owned an iPod. What I extended to them as advice for this season of Lent I will extend here as well:

Often enough, we judge our Lenten journey on what we have given up. Surely, there is much to be said by the asceticism of denying oneself sweets or alcohol or refraining from swearing. But I think that the time of Lent can also be a period of deepening our relationship, of taking a little bit of time each day in order to place ourselves more closely by the side of Christ.

I would suggest that this season each of us try to make some time for prayer. The website run by the British Jesuits - Pray as You Go - has daily reflections that can be downloaded to your iPod or listened to on your computer.

These are short, ten-minute opportunities to spend time listening to and reflecting on the Word of God. Perhaps as you are preparing for bed, as you wind down from the day, as you take the train to work you could listen to these reflections in order to cultivate a better sense of your relationship with God.

In light of what I wrote several days ago, I would say that the great temptation of Lent is to turn it into a Herculean contest of who can "give up more" or "do more penance." In all of our "doing" we often neglect the deeper, affective, commitment of faith - the reality that the Lord desires to be in relationship with each of us. It is only in prayer, in making the time and disposing ourself to be in God's presence, that we can be participate in this relationship. Recall that it is in and through prayer that we relax into the presence of the One who awaits us, that we nestle ourselves into the arms of the Holy One who has been waiting for us (for some time now!) to come home. When we pray, when we truly pray from the essence and marrow of our lives, we open ourselves up toward the loving embrace of God. Prayer is not a "going out of my way to do something for God" but, rather, the sublime act of "getting out of the way of myself and allowing God to enter into my chaos."

In short, I would encourage a greater dedication toward prayer this Lenten season. Let the horizontal journey with Christ toward Calvary be expanded and deepened through prayer by entering into the mysterious and profound love God has for us, expressed in Immanuel - God with us - and accessible to all who open themselves to it.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ryan and Mike and Rex

I promised a friend that I would re-post this video. Shot by Drew Marquard, SJ during the Jesuit Candidate Weekend (No, not running for public office - just guys discerning their vocations) I played with Mike at our coffee house. Rex (accordion's name) is, of course, the star.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

What The Church Can't Accomplish...

There are few things that the Church is unable to do. One of them is to warp the space-time continuum in such a way that, say, a liturgical season like Lent might start earlier than on Ash Wednesday.

"Why," you might ask, "Ryan do you begin this post so strangely? What has Lent to do with the space-time continuum?"

Well, let me tell you:

Tonight I went to Pugsley's Idol, a knock-off of American Idol (or for those who watch it religiously, American Idle). The event was held as a fund raiser for a most worthy cause (a service trip to Ecuador) and the premise behind the event was to invite contestants to sing one song a capella (no music, just voice). Each contestant was "judged" and seven were selected as finalists.

Let me begin by saying: they are lucky that I wasn't judging. The judges generally ranged from "That was good" to "That was great." Wishy washy nonsense! I had one heck of a time looking for the bottom to put some of these people on. It was ghastly! Some of the song renditions would make strong arguments for mercy killing. The rendition of "New York, New York" with the refrain "It's up to you, New York....New York" left me saying, "Yeah, you're lucky it's not up to me."

So, back to the space-time continuum. Having endured the caterwauling and crooning for two hours, I believe that these wannabes have accomplished the unthinkable: they began the season of Lent a full three hours early.

I am now properly mortified - the sack cloth and ashes I had ordered are now obsolete, so chastened is my flesh.

I write this all as hyperbole. It was a fun evening (if your idea of fun is listening to Elton John's "Your Song" performed with the singer making use of one note) and the cause is very good.

I'm just hoping they ask me to judge the finals...

Monday, February 19, 2007

Fordham Basketball Game

Drew and I went to yesterday's basketball game between Fordham and Duquesne. The mascot made his way up at some point and sat down to visit with us. Special thanks to Ann Beck, mother of #20 Matt Beck, for taking the picture.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Being Found

Before heading over to Jane's last night for a Mardi Gras party, I spent some time with a young friend who has been discerning a vocation to the Society of Jesus.

Our conversation last night stayed with me such that, upon awakening, I had to take it to prayer (and to breakfast). My heart's sense is that the issue that faces him in his discernment faces many people every day.

A little historical background: in the fifth century a British monk named Pelagius taught that humans could attain salvation through their own sustained efforts. The basic mindset was that if a person worked hard enough, she could overcome the bad example of Adam (sin) and follow the good example of Christ (grace). Pelagius was condemned not only by St. Augustine, but also by several councils.

Part of the heresy was the belief that my relationship with God depends entirely on *ME*. It's the heresy of the self-made individual, the belief that "It's all about me" and that everything I have and am comes down to my initiative. This image is most seductive for those of us in the Western World. We are told so often to "be all that you can be" and to pull yourself "up by the bootstraps." This attitude posits God as but one more option among others, another object to be chosen or passed over, sought or disregarded.

This is entirely non-Christian! The God of Christianity is the God who is attentive to the cry of the world, who sees the width and breadth of history and has decided to make our reality God's own reality. Our God is Immanuel, God with us, who has entered into our chaos to be our companion.

My point is that for so many of us, the the spiritual quest focuses too much on our attempts to find God. The true grace (and the curse!) of true spirituality is allowing oneself to be found.

Let me try to flesh this out. For a young person discerning a vocation, there I think that there are two sets of experiences. A young man may hunt around on the internet and feel an attraction to entering the Jesuits. He reads books, he knows that he has an open mind and a willing heart and feels a yearning to be a Companion of Jesus. He thinks that he has found God but he doubts: couldn't he be a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, a belly dancer without being a Jesuit? Does he really need to be a priest or a brother to serve? He has so many choices, so many decisions!

How close this person is! But in his fumbling and rustling as he frantically searches for "What God wants" he is tempted toward a dangerous path: against our prevailing wisdom, It's not all about you! The path of "all about me" makes God yet another object, another good, rather than the central good of life. Asking only "what am I going to give God" places us in a position higher than God -- what pride!

A vocation isn't weighing one good against another, as though it were deciding on whether to have the beef or salmon. Long before any person entertains a thought of religious life, of marriage, or of being single, that person has been called. Quietly and through the day-to-day events and goings on, God's invitation into deeper relationship has, for a long time, been extended to each of us.

So the second set of experiences occurs in prayer, when the young man stops "thinking" and starts exploring the inner recesses of his heart. It is in these caverns, spelunking new and as-yet unknown depths, that he stumbles upon a silent fullness, a glimpse of strange beauty, and he realizes that all his fumbling and searching have prevented him from seeing that what he so madly searched for had already found him.

A spiritual restlessness and dis-ease is endemic today. We are searching, turning to strange pursuits and faddish interests hoping to slacken our thirst for more. The prodigal son went so very far from his home in order to find fulfillment...only to find emptiness. Imagine, then, his joy upon returning to meet his father's eyes, eyes that have scanned the fields every day waiting for his return. The son didn't have to bargain for his identity, didn't have to negotiate a deal with his father: the abiding presence of the Father has waited patiently for his return, waited on the lonely and quiet porch of the heart, waited for his son to know himself to be found.

This experience is both grace and curse. The grace is knowing that one has been found, that God has been waiting for you for a very long time. The curse is that, once pierced by this love, the human heart will forever bear this wound upon it and be restless for completion. For some, this restlessness leads into marriage, for others into the single life, and for still others into religious life. The life of the Christian is a vocation, worked out in response to the God who finds us and welcomes us home.

This might not be helpful and may be somewhat unclear. But I cannot help but think of the awesome young guys I have met in the last few years who struggle to find God in their lives. They are good and genuine searchers and my prayer for them is that they allow themselves to be found by God. I understand so well the desire to "keep options open" and to have a desire "to be free to decide" whether to be a priest/sister/parent/single. Having been found by God, having discovered the heart's treasure, the "freedom to decide" is transformed into a "decision to be free" that sets us on a course to answer more fully God's invitation directed toward each of us that calling us into deeper relationship and abundant life.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Where's My Recount????

Well, I didn't win any in any of the categories I was nominated for in this year's Catholic Blog Awards. We'll hope for great things next year (otherwise I might become the Jesuit version of Susan Lucci and I don't want to be a perpetual loser for an award that really doesn't mean a whole lot). If there's a high point, I was very often in the Top Ten of each category and quite a few times I was tied with blogs I think are really fabulous.

So now back to the drudgery. I have to say that I rather liked having a more hot-button issue to blog about. I might do that more's good to keep folks on their toes! Besides, I have opinions and I very much like to share them!

Students Search For Scripture Meaning in Gospel Explorations - News

Students Search For Scripture Meaning in Gospel Explorations - News

You can follow this link to reach the article written about Gospel Explorations. You'll note that in my inimitable fashion, I offer two "money quotes" that are sure to cause a few eyes to roll!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Examen of Conscience

Anyone familiar with Ignatian spirituality knows that central to our daily prayer life is the Examen of Conscience. During an Instant Messenger conversation last night, a friend inquired about it. Sadly, I lost the conversation's transcripts (read: I closed the wrong window). But, as many of you know, I love writing about prayer so if this is helpful to anyone, I'm glad to offer this reflection.

At the end of each day, the Examen intends to offer a recap over the whole of the day. When we watch the news, we see how the Dow performed on a graph - at 9:00 am a stock opens at $4.00 a share, by noon it's selling for $16.00, and by the time the market closes, it's selling for $13.00. Now for those with no interested, the stock market report is just another thirty-second interval between the day's top stories and the weather. For those with a vested interest in the market, however, these "fluctuations" are terribly important.

What caused them? Why the great gain? How did it lose $3.00 between noon and the close of the day?

Well, in a sense the Examen probes these questions on a spiritual level. It goes beyond "I was feeling happy, then sad, and now I'm okay" to inquire into the reasons for the changes, the way our hearts have been moved and challenged throughout the day.

I can rehearse any of a number of descriptions for you, but it might be helpful if I tell you how I pray each night. If it doesn't work for you, I'd suggest buying "Hearts on Fire: Praying with the Jesuits" or reading something by William Barry.

I usually begin my prayer by listening to music. Something soft and soothing, usually without words, in order to relax my body and mind and make me more receptive. I'm an extrovert so I have to reverse my natural inclination to step out of myself and begin a process of interior exploration.

Since even in silent interiority I am still an extrovert, I imagine that Jesus and I are sitting in a garden. The consummate gentleman, he asks me about my day. And I begin to talk:

-I tell him what I felt when I woke up. If I was crabby, I spend time discussing why I was irritable. If I was in a good mood, I thank him for a good start to the day.

-I tell him about my morning: what I ate for breakfast, how my prayer was, what my workout was like. Some mornings I struggle to prayer, other mornings it comes we discuss this. Some days I have very productive mornings and I am able to write and read a great deal, other mornings I have little inclination to do anything other than watch television. We discuss this, too.

-As we review the day together, I come to know more clearly where my heart was resting comfortably and where I felt unease. Maybe my impatience led me to say something curt or cutting, maybe my laziness kept me from doing something I should have done.

-Pulling the day together, I ask if today I had grown closer to the Lord. Some days, the answer is a resounding YES! Other days I'm not so sure!! Some days are tough and I have to drag myself to prayer, not wanting to see again a day I very much want to forget.

-After I have done a great deal of talking, after I have unpacked my heart and put it out before Jesus, I fall silent. I listen for a word of encouragement, of reproach, of love. I rest in this silence for several minutes, abiding in the silent and healing presence of the One who loves.

-And then I tell Jesus that it's time for me to go to bed (as if he didn't already know). I usually ask assistance for the next day and tell him that I'll see him in the morning.

I probably have more a childlike spirituality than some would expect. When I was a little boy, I used to imagine that each night I would take my blanky (a ratty yellow blanket my Grandma Duns gave me) and fall asleep in the fold of God's fingertip. I knew myself to be very little and God to be very big, so big that I only occupied a tiny spot in the fold of a fingertip. I've not lost this intimacy...I still see Jesus as an old friend who waits for me to visit and spend time together. When I walk into a chapel or church, my heart's inner voice usually says something like, "Hello there! I'm back!"

There is no great secret to prayer. I think children pray better than adults when they bring themselves at night to the foot of their beds and ask for what they most deeply desire. We should pray like children with the honesty that they take for granted: to name themselves as they are, to ask for what they desire, to know their limitedness in a very big and very scary world. Most of prayer is showing up, being dutiful to the discipline of allowing yourself to know and to be known by God and the healing love promised to us.

Recall from Star Wars IV that Obi-Wan tells Luke to "stretch out" with and trust his feelings. Yoda encourage the young Jedi to "feel, don't think" and to "trust your instincts." The daily Examen is just this: we think all day, so here we allow ourselves to be guided by our affect into learning how God has been working in our lives. We learn how the Holy Force moves within our lives, how it invites us deeper into its loving Mystery and how it challenges us to overcome the forces of darkness that assault us. In prayer we are guided by our hearts, guided into the human-divine encounter of the love that makes us most fully human and that expresses completely God's nature. To pray is to enter into a relationship, a dialogue with love itself. The Examen is, accordingly, a "grammar/spell check" function for the story of our lives, a daily way to ensure that we are writing our life stories in a way that does justice to the God who loves us into existence.

As I said, if this is helpful, great! I'd be grateful to anyone who'd post her/his tips and prayer styles - I think this is such a rich topic that many of us can contribute to the discussion.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Valentine's Day

Okay, so I've had a lot to think about tonight. As you may know, I posted earlier (a post I have since removed) that I had received several anonymous messages that completely misconstrued and misunderstood my post. Consequently, I disabled the "comment" features for fear of further escalation.

As I thought about it, however, I just don't see such a move as helping things. People are entitled to have an opinion and I do welcome them to voice it. I just don't like anonymous posts - I reckon that I'm pretty much out in the open and that my interlocutor ought to be as well.

As I said earlier, my friend Jane and I had lunch today to celebrate Valentine's Day. I had French toast and she had a grilled cheese and we drank coffee and spoke of Heidegger and Wittgenstein and Augustine. That's about as much fun as two celibate twenty-somethings get to have on an ersatz holiday intended to sell lots of candies, lingerie, and expensive jewelry.

In other news, stay tuned to WhistleThis and YouTube. Drew and I shot three more videos today all in my kickin' pinstripe suit: after only seven lessons, students will be able to play the most important ornaments on the whistle! Lesson 8 introduces students to "The Silver Spear" which is a very common reel played at sessions. Having covered the basics of whistle playing, the remaining lessons will attempt to pull together what has been taught as we learn new tunes.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Catholic Blog Awards

For those interested:

"A Jesuit's Journey" has been nominated in this year's Catholic Blog Awards. If you should be so inclined, please pop over to the website, register, and then vote!

As controversial as I am allowed to get...

[After some thought and debate, I've decided to reinstate the comments. I reckon that if anonymous posters want to make ludicrous accusations, I'll let them]

A friend forwarded a column written by Regina Brett of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. I include the text:

How far can church downsize?
Sunday, February 11, 2007
Regina Brett
Plain Dealer Columnist

Regionalism has hit the Catholic Church.

You've heard of cities sharing fire trucks, water and taxes?

How do you share Midnight Mass, choirs and church bulletins?

Alternate years for Midnight Mass? Borrow the choir every other Sunday?

Print one side of the bulletin for St. Malachi and the flip side for St. Patrick's?

Like it or not, full-service parishes will soon perish.

All 231 parishes in the Cleveland Diocese will soon change. The diocese will organize all parishes into groups that will share resources and priests.

I can see the bishop flipping through a thesaurus to find the right word to describe what he will do with the churches to combat the dwindling priesthood.

Hmm. Let's see . . . Reorganize. Reconfigure. Reconstitute. Merge. Consolidate. Collaborate. Cluster.

That's it.

Cluster sounds much better than Share A Priest, which is what clustering amounts to. It also sounds better than closing churches, which is bound to happen next.

We should've seen it coming. The trend has swept the nation as fewer men join the priesthood and more priests die and retire.

I still remember the letter from the bishop more than a decade ago addressing the shortage of priests. Our pastor read the letter and said we were to have meetings and talk about how to get along with fewer priests.

When he told us we were not allowed, however, to discuss the issue of married priests or women priests, you could feel a breeze as heads shook collectively in disgust.

We all knew there was a solution. Actually two of them:

Women priests.

Married priests.

End of shortage.

Unfortunately, every pope is deaf in one ear and can't hear out of the other when it comes to ordaining women and married clergy.

Protestant churches use the same Bible, yet they ordain married priests and many of them ordain women.

Fewer priests mean fewer services. We all know that.

It means the folks who paid for the pews and sat in the same one every day for 7 a.m. Mass won't receive communion from the priest once they end up in the nursing home.

It means the engaged woman who was baptized, who celebrated her first communion and confirmation in one church might not get married there because the church is down to one matrimony a week.

It means the troubled soul who lost God can no longer knock on a rectory door and confide in a priest before doing something desperate to find God.

But who knows, it could be part of the master plan.

Maybe in time, we'll end up where we started: "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them." (Matthew 18:20)

Maybe we never were supposed to depend upon a hierarchy of celibate men.

After all, Jesus promised a comforter, the Holy Spirit, to guide us. He didn't mention popes and bishops and priests.

He kept it simple. As simple as it gets: Feed my sheep. Feed my lambs. Love one another as I have loved you.

The original church wasn't a building. It wasn't a hierarchy. Just people. Two or three, breaking bread.

I guess you could call that a cluster.

As some of you know, blogging Jesuits are to avoid hot-button issues. I feel no need to rehearse the various arguments, pro and con, concerning the male-only priesthood. What I do feel inclined toward is just offering a few thoughts concerning her sentiments:

1. Her argument seems to presuppose that the shortage of priests is the exclusive reason for the clustering. She fails to mention that there are many parishes that are unable to sustain the parish based on its numbers. On Fulton Road, in Regina's own Cleveland, there were two enormous churches built decades ago to accommodate the then-booming Irish and Italian immigrant populations. As these immigrants aged and moved away, the size of the parishes shrunk and these churches were unable to sustain services/programs, leading to church closings.

2. I'm all for nostalgia and tradition. Yet, her appeal to emotion is just glaring: the church building as marriage locale isn't a great reason to keep churches open. Even if we had an excess of priests right now, unless we had the congregations to sustain and support them, it would be utterly foolish to keep some waning parishes running.

3. Her column is a public temper tantrum: complete with a Burger King mentality of "my way, right away." It does not become her. It is true that fewer priests will probably mean that Father won't be able to visit every parishioner in every nursing every week. Or month. But her allusion to a church of "just people. Two or three, breaking bread" seems to suggest that she'd like to see greater participation of the laity in the life of the church. But, if that's the case, why is it so necessary that the it be the priest who brings communion? If "WE" are the church, then shouldn't we step forward as church and minister to one another?

4. Unrealistic. The "priest shortage" is a symptom of a much larger problem, what that far outstrips her facile solution of ordaining "women priests and married priests." Again, I'm not arguing for or against this, but really, Regina, look around. The schism in the Episcopal church concerning the ordination of women/gays should certainly be a reason to tread most carefully. A recent article in the New York Times indicates that even Protestant denominations are having a hard time staffing their churches - their seminarians can find work in other venues (non-ordained ministry, business, education, etc.).

Parish mergers are not, as far as I can tell, a major problem. Yes, there is the pain and grief associated with the loss of someone/something important to you. But I often get the feeling that the "church" as parish has supplanted the Church; there is certainly a temptation to idolatry. Pooling resources and priests eases the burden on already-stretched pastors, perhaps freeing them TO PASTOR rather than administer a parish. Instead of worrying about making mortgage payments, the priests in these 'clustered' parishes might have time to spend with one another and with their parishioners doing what they signed on for in the first place: pastoring the flock.

I think Regina Brett has a benighted vision of reality. Even if she were writing on behalf of *every* American Catholic, she would still represent but 6% of the Roman Catholic Church. The tone of her conclusion about the simplicity of Jesus' message reduces Christianity to little more than collection of do-gooders: so why am I a Christian when I could be in the Elk's Club or a Shriner?

It's because that in Jesus I have met God most fully. In my confession of Jesus as the Christ of God, I am called to live out this confession in the world. This draws me into communion with others, women and men who pray with and for me, who also confess with me that Jesus is Lord. We don't gather together, do good things, and then break bread and *WHAMO* there's Jesus. We are part of a much larger and still-unfolding story of a pilgrim people nourished by Christ's own body and blood, who derive strength and sustenance from it, and continue in their labors to help bring about God's Kingdom. The Eucharist is the source and the end-point of our labors. Nourished on his own body and in response to the love I have known, I go out into the world where I struggle to "feed my sheep. Feed my lambs. Love one another as I have loved you." And I fail. And I return again to the table of the Lord. And I try again. And again.

No, Jesus did not mention priests and bishops. But as a human institution intending to pass down the gospel, to re-create and re-member the Christ in history, they are necessary as teachers and promoters and safeguards.

My fear is that Regina would have the entire church conform to her will. This might well be her image of perfection. A church built around Regina Brett, and not the Christ who continues to invite people to "come and see," is, however, anything but my image of heaven.

Friday, February 02, 2007


A friend wrote me this evening asking about confession. The conversation began:

ummm, okay. what can you tell me about confession? I mean, I've been to confession and stuff before, but I feel that I don't go enough, as it is a sacrament and all, and all sacraments are important, but I don't really know what to say when I'm in there, and, well, you probably get the picture

Unfortunately, I do get the picture. Only too well: to be honest, I hate going to Confession. To be fair, I don't take exception to it as a sacrament - it's just that my ego can't stand having to admit my faults and failings!

Posed over AOL Instant Messenger, my response as I gave it to him is more disjointed than I would want to reproduce here, so I'd like to offer a few thoughts on how I approach this sacrament.

Keep in mind that the sacrament of confession is one of healing. It is a chance for us to pose to ourselves the question, "Self (or, if your name is not Self, insert your name here), where am I broken?" This is a key question: often enough, we go to confession to talk about THINGS we did. Acts. These are important, yes, but dig deeper: what is broken within you that allows these acts to flow from you?

The moment we start asking this question, we are in for a battle. If the dark spirit has taken hold of our hearts, it won't give up without a fight. So we'll hear a little voice saying, "Oh, there's nothing wrong with you! It was just a one-time'll never happen again." "Really? Is it that big a deal? Everyone else is doing it..."

This is a common temptation, so be prepared for it! Follow the sound of this seductive voice and throttle it about the head - it is lying to you! It is speaking from the dark recesses of your heart, speaking its honeyed words to lull you into complacency lest you investigate too fully, lest you discover its wretched presence and attempt to pry it out of yourself. The Dark Spirit makes an appearance as Martha Stewart telling us that our hearts are in order, that "it's a good thing" when, in reality, Elvira and the Crypt-Keeper have taken the whole place over!

Yes, follow this voice. You will eventually find its source and, when you do, name it! Do not mutter its name under your breath, do not make a mental note of it and decide to tend to it later. Speak it! Say it loudly! As the words escape your mouth, the evil wretch will sting you with shame and embarrassment...but such feelings are the result of its death throes. Know that it will pass, shortly, and that any feelings of shame will give way to the refreshing knowledge that your sins have been lifted away and that the chasm that you had felt separating you from God exists no longer...sin does no prevent God from coming to you (that's the beauty of confession) but it does make it difficult for us to approach God.

The beauty of Confession is that it really is like a mini-Exorcism (minus the split-pea soup). With the healing Christ you are guided by grace's light into the dark chamber of the heart where you are girded to do battle with those forces in our life that make us less human, that make us less capable of responding to God's invitation to us to have life abundant.

Confession is not something for old people and pious ninnies! It's for Jedi warriors and members of the noble House of Gryffindor. Confession is a heroic act of calling upon our courage and our Christ in order to face the darkest and most awful force of nature: our sinful self. But as we are on the side of the Holy Force, the outcome is assured - no evil, no dark spirit, no sin will carry the day over us. The true hero is not the one who feigns total innocence but is, rather, the one who has the courage to name his brokenness. For it is only in naming that darkness, realizing that "that-which-would-rather-not-be-named" (sin) loses its power and its luster the moment we name it, when we ask for help in grappling with it.

When people say, "I don't need to tell my sins to a priest" there is a part of me that nods in agreement! But, then again, I guess don't need a guide to see Venice, either. But doesn't it help and enrich the experience to have a guide to mediate the knowledge and history and experience of the city? Just as having a guide to bring me to a deeper appreciation for my journey so, too, does the priest mediate the wisdom of a Tradition that assures us that the forgiveness of our sins is possible. Confession is less an arena for punishment than it is a training ground, a theater where we can find and take direction from one who is (hopefully) a master. Think of it like Yoda: Yoda *never* claimed to be the Force just as Dumbledore *Never* claimed to be the whole of magic. They were but conduits, individuals who had dedicated their lives to bringing to ever-greater clarity the great and mysterious power that animated their own lives.

This is not an easy task. Often enough we feel as though we are under siege by terrible forces threatening to overtake our very souls! I think of the image from "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers." Recall the scene: Aragorn and King Theoden have retreated to the the keep of Helm's Deep. The king is resigned to defeat - the onslaught of orcs is too powerful for their soldiers to contend with. But in this dark hour, Aragorn looks through a window to see the first glimmers of a new day and he convinces the king to ride out to face the enemy. Ordering that the great Horn of Helm Hammerhand "Sound one last time" they ride out, a few lowly mortals against a sea of evil. To our eyes, the conclusion is foregone: soon they will die. But, lo! Upon the high hilltop the dawn from on high breaks upon the valley and all see Gandalf the White. The Orcs' spears are no match for wave that rushes down, crushing the opponent under hoof. The day is saved not by further retreat against the dark forces, but by rushing out to meet them held only by a promise, an oath, that He would come again.

In honor of SuperBowl Sunday, let me suggest that we re-think our image of confession. Rather than see it as "sack cloth and ashes" let us look at it as the locker room for our Christian lives, where our coaches guide us in living better our discipleship. Just as athletes watch films after games, so too must we take the time to examine our lives and to receive correction, to name our failings in such a way that we can conquer them in order to answer God's call . If, "when we are weak we are strong" (2 Cor 12:10), then our true strength shines forth when we name our sinful reality, when we open our hearts to the pierced hand of the healing Christ, who desires that we have life abundant. Commend, then, your brokenness into those hands, into that lanced heart; believe in the promise made by Christ and know the peace and joy that comes with the words, "your sins are forgiven."

Flute playing priest finds YouTube fame