Tuesday, December 27, 2016

For Every Season...

This entry is about change.

First, allow me to apologize for not posting lately, but that has a lot to do with what this submission is about.

This one is personal, so it's not easy for me to write about, but I feel like I have to speak about it.

As some of you know, I've found myself with a lot more responsibility at the parish lately. Some of you may not know, but John Murray is no longer serving in the capacity of parish services coordinator. A lot has changed in a very short period of time. As we wrap up the Christmas services here, I'm finally allowing myself a chance to exhale and take it all in. John is a very good friend of mine, my fraternity brother, a mentor, and the first person to connect me to a deeper relationship with the Queen community. I am forever grateful to what he has done and what I know he has yet to do.

This post isn't about him though. As I said, it's about change.

Change is hard and most of time unwanted. I find myself turning to my favorite part of Pope Clement XI's prayer:

I want whatever you want,
Because you want it,
The way that you want it,
As long as you want it.

I always found that last line to be the most haunting. It's really hard to answer God's call most of the time. It's even harder when you've answered it, and he says, "That's it. That's all I wanted you to do." How do we move on? How do we learn to trust that voice again, when we've been on the fast track of doing God's will? Usually, answering this call means moving forward. It's really tough, when we have to leave something behind. Personally, I've struggled with why Lot's wife was turned into a pillar of salt just for simply looking back at Sodom and Gomorrah. It's starting to make sense now through the lens of God's eye. We can't look back. To dwell on the past, whether regretfully or nostalgically, can hold us back. God is constantly calling us to work on being the best version of ourselves. It is impossible that that version of us can be in the past. It's not even in the future. Since God is eternal, he is always in the "now". He wants us to strive to make decisions in every moment that choose Him. It's so simple. It's binary. Like how computers work. It's either on or off; for us it's either yes or no. There's no grey area. There's no in between. We're either choosing God's plan or we aren't. This is the trickiest part if free will. But it's such an honor, that God loves us so much that he allows us to play a role in the Beatific Vision, in the Salvation Story. 

I don't know what the future holds, but I know the journey will be worth it. I think about my friend often. I miss having my friend around, as I'm sure he misses being here in his role. I'm stressed out by the enormity of it all. I still grapple daily with the responsibility I've been entrusted with. But numerous people believe that I can, and most importantly, God believes that I can. So I will move forward, without hesitation, without looking back.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Fr. Michael Gaitley

I had the pleasure of hearing Fr. Gaitley speak on my birthday (that and a concert at the Cathedral were presents to myself). He spoke about maybe one of the coolest things I've ever heard. He calls it the second greatest story ever told. The second, you say? Well yeah, he assumes his audience knows the original greatest story ever told... Charlton Heston played John the Baptist... ok, we're on the same page. Anyway. I am not going to do any justice with what I am about to tell you. Fr. Gaitley is a genius with this stuff and he makes so many connections and tells so many of these stories so wonderfully. You really need to check him out directly.

Divine Mercy
I'm just here to wet your appetite because I think it's such a powerful story and everyone needs to hear it.

It revolves around the two hearts of the Immaculate Conception: the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary's Immaculate Heart. The mission set forth by Jesus and the Blessed Mother in the twentieth century to St. Faustina and the children of Fatima are intimately connected with the major events of the past century. World War II and the rise of communism were both predicted in these apparitions. Both Jesus and Mary gave powerful messages and weapons to these new era prophets. The story is so amazingly interwoven that onl;y God could have wrote this story. The fact that the Divine Mercy message came to be known by the whole world is a miracle in itself. The role Poland plays in this whole story is amazing in itself. Again, I don't have room here to expound on all the wonderful twists and ironic turns present in the story. I can tell you though that after hearing Father Gaitley speak, it truly is the second greatest story ever told. If you are a member of the parish you can access the video series and accompanying study guide at

Formed.org

using the parish access code Y4MJDZ all caps.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Renee Descartes

A long time ago, there was a philosopher names Renee Descartes. He wrote a work called The Meditations. In it, he proposed to start from scratch to figure out what was really true. Now in philosophy there are two kinds of truth. A posteriori is what we think about as truth in modern terms. Scientific, or empirical, truth is known from experience; which is why science does experiments. If we see something happen a bunch of times the same way, we call it a fact. The problem with this kind of truth is that it is truth with a small "t". There's always a chance it can be disproved if we have an experience that contradicts it. For example, we can say that "fire is always hot", but if we ever felt a cold fire that statement would be proven untrue. There is nothing inherent in fore that says it has to be hot, we've just always experienced it that way. Descartes was looking for what philosophers call A priori truth (with a capital "T", conversely), that is, something that cannot be unproven because the fact is inherent of our understanding of the subject. A statement like "a triangle has three sides" will always be true because we could never hope to find a four sided triangle. It would obviously be a square or a rhombus, or some type of parallelogram. Anyway, that little foray into Philosophy 101 is to set the stage for Descartes.

He wanted to find something that was undeniably true aside from our senses and experience. He would eventually become the father of a whole line of thought called Rationalism. Western Philosophy really then breaks down into two camps at that point. Rationalism (which was more popular in continental Europe), and Empiricism (more popular in the British Isles). But back to The Meditations. Descartes eventually arrives at the point that he cannot doubt his own existence. This becomes the basis of all the other truths he claims to uncover afterwards. This is the one True fact that he cannot deny. He famously wrote it in Latin, "Cogito ergo sum." Which roughly translates into I think therefore I am. As he works through his meditations, he finds that he while he can trust in his own existence, he can still doubt everything around him. Anything he knows through his senses, his body, other people, the entire outside world, are things that he can only know conditionally. He can therefore find reason to doubt their existence. This sets up what is later referred to as Cartesian Dualism. Essentially, there is a fundamental difference between the self and everything else: the True and the doubtful. He eventually uses God as his go between. He cannot bring himself to believe that an omnibenevolent or "all good" God would choose to deceive him. He also says he cannot doubt God since the idea of an infinite being has to originate from an actual infinite being, since a finite, or limited mind, his self, could not conceive of an infinite or limitless being on his own.

I think this dualism has set us up for what we call the postmodern condition. We believe ourselves to be something different than the rest of the world. This has the potential of leading the human self to be separate from everything around it. It can lead to a real sense of loneliness. I think this is the reason so many of us, while so connected through technology and our daily interaction with others can feel so isolated, so alone. We don't see ourselves as a part of creation, but as a single entity, that has some privileged view of the world that no one else can experience.

True knowledge then comes from the realization that we are not alone. Our world is shaped through experience and interaction. Our self, or soul, is affected by the things that happen to us and around us. And thanks to the Christian viewpoint, we are most definitely not alone. Christ plays an intimate role in who we are, and has an infinite desire to shape us into the best version of ourselves. We have all been invited to play a special role in the salvation story. We are not merely individual selfs on a journey through an isolated life. We are called to be Christs for each other. We need the other in order to realize the true potential of who we are. This, in a roundabout way, leads us back to Descartes juncture in his reasoning. It is through God that we can begin to see the connection from our undeniable self to the rest of the speculative world. We realize that we are not special because we are a singularity in the universe, but that we are deeply connected to the universe through our connection to God and the Sacred Heart.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

All Souls Day and Grief

Last night was our parish's Remembrance Mass. After the homily, the names are read of all of those parishoners that have gone home this past year. I was shocked at how many people I knew in the congregation this time. I knew that they had lost a loved one, but to see them all together is a different story. It made me think about the sadness that can accompany that kind of loss. Last year, I lost my grandfather, who was the last of my grandparents. As an aside, my grandparents were two of the most amazing people I ever had the privilege to know. I'm not saying this to brag. I'm sure your grandparents were awesome in their own right. I say this to point out that I miss them terribly. We had a remarkably close relationship.

No, I'm not using the parish blog for sympathy points. Later in the mass, I was paying special attention to the Liturgy of the Eucharistic. It had extra meaning for me last night, because I remembered that the mass takes place in heaven too. Every time the priest lifts the host and the chalice, we are not only united with Christ, we are united in the Body of Christ... with the "communion" of saints (see what I did there?).  I realized when I was a kid, I felt something special when we were all together at mass, my extended family. I never really put it together until last night. It was a foreshadowing of how I would be with my family, those still here on Earth and those in Heaven. It's the ultimate family reunion. Every saint is present at the sacrifice of the mass. And this lead me to another thought:

I never really mourned their passing. At first, I thought maybe I was in denial, or not present emotionally, or closed off somehow, all of the classic psychoanalysis terms. Let me clear, I was sad, I knew how empty life seemed without them. But it certainly didn't feel like the classic mourning that I was picturing. I had lost friends and other relatives before that, but never someone as close to me as they were. I guess, in my mind, mourning had something to do with feeling bad that the person has died, like they lost something, or that death itself is a bad thing. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't associate negative feelings with their deaths. How could I? I knew where they were and I knew it was the most amazing place they could be. I guess I could compare it to your best friend landing his or her dream job working at Disney World. Sure, you'd miss them, but if you truly loved them, you couldn't be anything but happy for them.

So there it is. The consolation of the Eucharistic. I don't know if you've lost someone. I don't know if perhaps someone in your life is ill. But there is so much solace and comfort, if you truly understand and embrace what is happening during the mass. I am so grateful to God for choosing to place my soul in this time and place; for letting me meet such amazing people and have the honor of calling them Mommom and Poppop. But I am most grateful for the gift of His Son, for the gift of His ultimate sacrifice, for the gift of never having to really say goodbye since He has conquered death.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Why be a Christian?

In another lifetime, I purchased Bertrand Russel's Why I Am Not A Christian. I have to admit that I put it on my book shelf and there it has sat ever since. I bought it thinking that I'd like to hear what the other side has to say. I know personally after studying a myriad of different philosophers and their respective thought, that I was pushed further into believing that there must be a God. I'm sure we've all had moments of doubt, or as the Church likes to call it, conversion. So what drives people to develop a deeper relationship with God? Looking back, and even reflecting on my current journey, good prayer is hard. I usually compare the spiritual journey to training for something physical, like weightlifting or a marathon. I still can't imagine what it must be like to run for 4 hours or bench press 400 lbs, but it didn't stop me from trying running or lifting weights. Not being able to imagine what it must be like to accomplish these Herculean tasks must be a nonstarter for a lot of people. So it is with being an engaged Catholic. So many people must see the transition necessary from their everyday lives to that of a religious person as overwhelmingly daunting. Just the thought that we'd have to change anything in our lives, or to give up even the most minor things, seems anathema to us. No matter the reason, there is a reluctance. As Saint Augustine said, "Make me a saint, just not yet."

So what makes someone begin on the spiritual path? Is it out of desperation? Does one have to hit rock bottom? Or does it take a divine revelation that they are broken and need healing? Well, in some cases yes. But I think there's another entrance. It makes me think back to freshman year of high school. I tried out for the football team. Why? I wanted to be a football player. I couldn't get over how cool the upperclassmen looked in their pads and helmets, the taped knuckles, high top cleats, playing under the lights. I knew I wanted that to be me. I did not grow up in a "sportsy" household. I barely even watched football. I had absolutely no idea what it would entail to go from a grade school soccer player to a high school football player. Everything was new. The first thing you notice is that getting used to wearing a helmet hurts. The next thing you notice is that practice seems impossibly long. The next thing you notice is that you have to run everywhere; you have to do it with 10 extra pounds of equipment on, in late August. I won't lie. Football camp is miserable. Two to three practices a day will make anyone start to question their decision. My high school didn't cut anyone from the team, but a lot of guys weeded themselves out pretty early on. Pretty much in that first week. I don't know what drove me to make it past the quitting point for those other guys. There were other guys on the team that seemed to just love it. There were other guys that had a special gift for perseverance. I was neither of those. But what kept me going was their example. I wanted to keep at it until I loved it, or at least got past the dreading going to practice every day.

I think that's how it goes for Christianity. It is our witness to the joy of the Gospel that inspires others to begin that journey. Right now, I have the privilege of watching our candidates go through RCIA. In case you didn't know, it is a year long process. It involves weekly meetings, serious discernment and a lot of prayer. I don't know the numbers on how many seekers "wash out" before Easter Vigil. I have to imagine that there are a certain number that choose not to continue at some point. I think the ones that persevere, however, are the ones that see the light at the end of the tunnel. They have some example that they look to, to see that the journey is worthwhile. This finally leads me to the big question. Are fewer people sticking out the journey, because the ones that are on the path aren't obvious witnesses? Are we leading joy-filled lives? Does someone look at you and say, "Man, now there is a happy Christian! I want some of what they have!" My hope is that we are the cool upperclassmen. We are the people who's lives are so joy-filled, so blessed, that another person can't help but wonder what it's like to have God as an integral part of his or her life. Let's always keep that in mind, that those on the outside looking in have no idea what it feels like. They have to have examples to look toward to begin to imagine.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

October, Month of the Rosary

Full disclosure: I'm stealing this from Father Mike's homily during the Mass to open the PREP (or CCD for us old-school types) semester. In my experience, stealing someone else's work is the highest form of flattery.

There is so much to be said about the Rosary. It's literally a weapon given to us by Our Lady. I can't say enough about it, but Fr. Mike said it better than I ever could. He talked about something that I never before considered. When we reflect on the mysteries, do we ever stop to reflect on how they mirror our own lives? As an aside, he was speaking to parents of children and was using the Joyful Mysteries as the example. The Annunciation is the same joy we felt when we found out we were going to be parents. The Visitation is when we wanted to tell everyone the good news. The Nativity is obviously to joy at the birth of our own child. The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple is paralleled beautifully in the Sacrament of Baptism.

How amazing! I never thought to reflect on my own life while praying the Rosary. But how fitting, to see our own lives in the journey of  Christ through the Rosary, which is essentially a journey through Holy Scripture. I started thinking about all the times that I felt close to Christ through that filter. I saw my sufferings in the Sorrowful Mysteries. I saw the great gifts of grace I received throughout my life in the Luminous Mysteries. I felt the hope of the Resurrection promise in the triumphant moments of the Glorious Mysteries.

This new view really inspired me to appreciate the Rosary in a whole new way. I just wanted to finish this up with my two favorite recent revelations about praying the Rosary. The first is that it's contemplative. I think when people first engage the Rosary, they see it as repetitive. I know I fell into that trap. An exercise that bestowed grace, but something that was to be completed. A task that I needed to get through, like push-ups. Essentially saying, I'll be happier with myself when they are done. What I found though was that the repetition settled my mind and let me think deeper thoughts, to hear things that one can only here when his or her soul is quiet. The second revelation is that praying the Rosary is a form of Lectio Divina.

The what now?! Allow me to explain if this is a new term. Lectio Divina is an ancient Catholic practice, that dates back to the early Middle Ages. The most basic explanation is that one uses a reading from the Bible as the backbone of his or her prayer. The best analogy I've heard is that it's the foundation of our prayer skyscraper. You don't build the penthouse first. I know from my personal experience, and from what I've heard for others, that it's hard to go right into the highest form of prayer, which is conversation with God. Sure, we can talk to God, but conversation is also listening. Many people get discouraged when they don't hear God in prayer. The problem is that we're not tuned in to listen to him. Think of your own earthly experience. It's hard to listen to someone until you're prepared to listen. My wife can try repeatedly to tell me something important while the Flyers are on, but there's little chance that I will even remotely begin to grasp what she is trying to tell me. But I digress. Let's tie this back into the Rosary. The Mysteries of the Rosary, as well as the majority of the prayers, are taken from scripture. The Bible is the inspired Word of God. If we want to hear what God is saying, we have his words right in front of us! By starting there, by focusing on how God speaks we can begin to tune in to hear his voice. God speaks to us first through written word, and then he speaks to us in conversation! For me, it's like reading the book before you go see the movie. Anyone who has read Lord of the Rings, knows how different your experience was of watching the movies than someone who had not.

I won't insult your intelligence by expounding any further on the just how wonderful the Rosary is. I know you know how to use Google. But do yourself a favor and do some homework on this collection of 5 prayers, set in 5 decades in 4 sets of mysteries. It is so simple, yet so profound.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Faith in Action 2

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how our love for God translates to action. That we are moved by the love of the Father to care for all of his children. Twice this week (and hopefully again this Sunday), I've had the pleasure of hearing Marie Joseph speak about perhaps one of the most important ministries in our area. She is the founder of the Legacy of Life Foundation. This organization operates two centers, one in Bristol and one in Center City. The centers exist to aid men and women who are dealing with the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy. Marie spoke of the many situations that make it difficult to welcome a new life into the world. The people seeking the services of the center may be financially disadvantaged, homeless, in transition, or lacking the support of a partner. Mostly, they feel alone and afraid. As powerful as her talks were, I was particularly moved by a poster that is now at the front left of the church. It is a collage of pictures of all the babies that were born through the efforts of the center. Perhaps some of the babies on that poster would have come into this world regardless. But to see all of those hundreds of beautiful smiling faces, it hit me that many of them would not. They are real human beings. Their tiny, happy, little hopeful faces are all blessings to the world that may not have been. It hit me hard. I was no longer thinking about faceless fetuses. I was no longer seeing a political or legal situation. That's when it hit me:

Pro-Life is not about a supreme court decision made 40 years ago.

Marie was so optimistic about my observation when I shared it with her. She said plainly, "Some day when that decision is reversed, we will be in such need for all of those that viewed this as a purely political issue to show up at our doors and help." It really got my wheels turning. We can do so much for our brothers and sisters that really need our help. Allow me to be frank. Laws do have the impact of protecting those they seek to protect. But we know that drug use, violence, theft all still exist in our society even with laws that seek to prevent them. The same will be true for abortion. Laws cannot dictate morality, only what is legal and illegal. Even if one is pro-choice, my hope is that he or she can still see the good in helping someone not be coerced into their decision based on their situation. Without an alternative, many feel that there is no choice, despite in their heart wanting to bring that life into the world. The real answer is found in our hearts. We must love everyone enough to want to help them in what could be the most soul-testing moment of their lives. This is about people, not about politics.

This Sunday, Queen of the Universe is having a baby bottle drive. There will be empty baby bottles at all of the entrances. Please take one. Take it home and fill it with your loose change. It may not seem like a lot. It's money we usually don't even think about. It sits in our car consoles, under the couch cushions, or in a jar on our dresser. It may not seem like a lot, but the cumulative power of coming together turns it into a lot. Last year, this parish alone, raised $11,000. That translates to supporting over 500 babies born last year. I can't even begin to do the math on how many fathers, mothers, brother, sisters, grandparents, etc. that now have the gift of a son or daughter, brother or sister, or grandchild. Thanks to that small amount of generosity on each of our parts. So bring that bottle back the following Sunday and know that are making a real difference in so many lives.

I'd like you to consider something larger too. Think about giving your time and volunteering for the foundation. Or think about setting up an annual donation. I even know some wonderful parishoners who have adopted through the center. If you won't be able to donate through the bottle drive, please visit their website legacyoflifefoundation.org/ You can also see, in more detail, all of the wonderful things they are doing on said website. If nothing else, when someone criticizes the pro-life movement of really only being pro-birth, you'll be able to respond with what it really means to be pro-life.