Archive | February 2011

Squeamish Ilk

plannedparenthood

Lies and Live Action.

Thomas Peters of the American Papist and now Catholic Vote has been furiously blogging about the Live Action sting on Planned Parenthood. The actions of Live Action have single-handedly changed the political landscape in America.

Some have cast doubt on the actions of Live Action and taken the view that this was nothing but lying.

So, I know I’m a bit late to the party, and everyone wants to know if Rob Bell is a universalist, but just because America’s political pulse has a short attention span doesn’t mean I have to. So, let’s look at Live Action and see what we can tease out.

I suppose the best thing to do might be to turn to the handy-dandy Catechism and see what we might find.

#2484 points out that “the gravity of a lie is measured against the nature of the truth it deforms, the circumstances, the intentions of the one who lies, and the harm suffered by its victims.” This means that at worst, Lila committed a venial sin. Which truth was being deformed? I’d say it was the truth of what goes on at planned Parenthood. The circumstances were a sting operation. A friend of my girlfriend writes at Barefoot and Pregnant and thinks we should see the actions of Lila Rose as an act of war. Read her post here.

What harm was suffered? Realistically, Planned Parenthood was voted to be defunded, and women seeking free or extremely low cost healthcare for specifically feminine problems might have to turn to insurance and other healthcare means. However, the victims were the perpetrators of murder in this case.

Canon #2483. defines lying as “the most direct offense against the truth in order to lead someone into error.” That is all true, but in terms of the entire situation, Lile Rose was working to bring planned parenthood OUT of error as my buddy Dan Lord posted on his blog.

I don’t understand all the squeamishness over an organization setting up a sting operation on another organization. Don’t people read about Rahab anymore? Don’t people know about Tamar? How these biblical women lied and it worked out for a greater good. Rahab said she had no spies in her home, and hid the Israelites. Tamar lied so that she could have a child by her father-in-law, because he had denied her one of his sons.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer says “God’s truth judges created things out of love, and Satan’s truth judges them out of envy and hatred.” Are we really here to pass judgment on Live Action? If so, let’s do it intelligently. At worst, Lila Rose is guilty of a practical joke. She’s misleading, but not with the intent of trying to harm the individuals she is lying to.

We see worse on television everyday in terms of lying, deceit and misleading conversation. Maybe the squeamishness of our culture shows us an altogether different reality than what I first thought. Maybe this uproar shows us that we hate when practical jokes, and the actions of a few individuals reshape our politics. We dislike when politics and pop-culture collide. We dislike when organizations we’re led to believe are here to help are shown to be what they really are. And thus, we are a culture of self-blinding children.

What we have to ask ourselves is: What kind of world do we desire to live in? Do we wish to live in a world where Planned Parenthood workers are better “trained” to more covertly handle prostitution rings? Do we want a world where our children are experts at turning a blind-eye to structural and systemic problems in organizations in their society? “The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children,” says Bonhoeffer.

I think that with the de-funding of planned parenthood we can begin to build a better society, with an organization that can provide some of the same services, without the inhumanity, without the massive bankroll of abortions, without negative consequences that were part of the Planned Parenthood portfolio. We can leave a better world to our children, especially now that there will be more of them out there.

Love Wins- A Look at Rob Bell’s Theology of Hell

Rob_Bell

So, everyone is up in arms about Rob Bell’s new book: Love Wins.

Robb Bell’s Universalism! Catholic bloggers are also up in arms!

If you’re out of the loop here’s why all the fuss.

Rob Bell’s nuances are seeming to imply that the much coveted salvation prayer of the Evangelical tradition isn’t the moment of salvation, neither are classes, seminars or other such participations.

HarperCollins’s description of Bell’s book, Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived is as follows:

Fans flock to his Facebook page, his NOOMA videos have been viewed by millions, and his Sunday sermons are attended by 10,000 parishioners—with a downloadable podcast reaching 50,000 more. An electrifying, unconventional pastor whom Time magazine calls “a singular rock star in the church world,” Rob Bell is the most vibrant, central religious leader of the millennial generation. Now, in Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, Bell addresses one of the most controversial issues of faith—the afterlife—arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering. With searing insight, Bell puts hell on trial, and his message is decidedly optimistic—eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts right now. And ultimately, Love Wins.

What I see going on here is a strong movement of jumping to conclusions. Not unfounded ones, but conclusions that are nevertheless premature. One blogger out there has ACTUALLY READ THE BOOK in its entirety. Others, are quick to dismiss Rob Bell and his ministry as heretical. Now, as a Catholic, I’m not usually on Rob Bell’s side. We do not always agree. I do not think he’s always teaching the gospel. But what I see Rob Bell doing in what scant information is available on his book, unreleased as it is, is that he’s questioning traditional evangelicalism and mainline protestantism.

Rob Bell is living out the end of Evangelicalism, like a softer, kinder, more hipster Derrida, he’s found everything without foundation, and is looking to lay a new one. Or at the very least, undo the harmful byproducts of the old one.

An actual quote from the book is not far from the work of C.S. Lewis, the Catholic position, or a reasonable one found in most people willing to question the reformed tradition.

Love demands freedom. We are free to resist, reject, and rebel against God’s ways for us. We can have all the hell we want.

Rob Bell is simply stating the old addage that hell is a door locked from the inside. But what’s more interesting is that the vision he’s drafted while dangerously close to universalism, is also dangerously close to orthodox theology, and that’s what bothers the Calvinists and the other protestant mainliners. Bell expresses a view that might just decentralize going to heaven, and might just work towards a fuller need for thinking about the Resurrection of the Body. That’s awesome, if it is in fact what he’s doing.

Love Wins.

Isn’t that the gospel message? That Jesus Christ enacted a sure victory for God? Isn’t that why we go to mass or church and celebrate? Is the victory of God really so foreign to us that we have to reject any celebration of God’s justice? Now, I’m not going to trumpet Bell’s praises, but I have to say, hats off.

The man took a risk, pissed off a lot of people and has brought a discussion of salvation into mainstream culture. Twitter exploded, Rob Bell was a trending topic, and the blogosphere erupted. This shows me a sign of hope. We live in a culture that wants more out of life and cares deeply about afterlife, despite the overestimations of atheists and some scholars about the widespread nihilism of our day.

The point of this book is in many ways a popular level version of the Theology of Hope by Jurgenn Moltmann, that eschatology isn’t something we should hide until people believe Jesus is the only way, and then spring on them that all their unbeliever friends are hell-bound. Nor is it an embarrassing end-note on Christian theology. Rather, the victory of God should flavor all aspects of our theology.

Lots of people are quoting Bell as saying that Hell is empty.

Now, if what Rob Bell means by “Hell is empty” is, that it is a place of non-existence because we’ve chosen to cut ourselves off from the one who allows us to exist, and hell isn’t a place but ceasing to have a place in God’s love, then that’s all well and good. That’s within the bounds of Orthodox doctrine on hell.

C.S. Lewis noted,  “I have met no people who fully disbelieved in hell and also had a living and life-giving belief in heaven”. So, let’s be careful if Rob Bell is accidentally trying to strip our life-giving belief in heaven through shutting the gates of hell prematurely. I mean, N.T. Wright’s book Justification says many of the same things I hear this book saying. The quote above seems to be Bell’s landing pad in the end. That we can choose against grace, and in doing so we can have all the hell we want.

The Unhealthy Alternative

If by “Hell is empty” Bell means that everyone goes to heaven no matter what…we have a problem. If this is the case then, Christ is useless because God has massacred a man for no reason, or even solely for the reason of pouring out wrath on one so he could lassiez-faire the rest of us regardless of our actions. I don’t want to serve that God, and neither should you. This sort of cheap grace as Dietrich Bonhoeffer would call it, is exactly the thing I think the blogosphere might be mis-reading into Rob Bell. Now, I don’t think we have enough information to make a definitive decision on what Bell is really saying, but the quote from the book as provided above seems to make it clear that this is not Rob Bell’s point. I might be wrong, and trust me, I’d love to review the book when I can afford a copy, but by that time I’m sure we’ll all know what he thinks unless one of my well-connected readers has an advance copy they can get me.

I think Bell is simply pushing Evangelical culture to look at itself honestly and recognize it has very shoddy doctrine in issues of salvation nowadays. There’s no singular consensus among protestants except for the “salvation prayer” tradition of most evangelicals, and/or the infilling of the holy spirit experience of Charismatics. I think Bell has asked the right questions, even if in the end it turns out he hasn’t provided the right answers.

Conclusions:

Evangelical readers: This is not the end of the world. It may be the beginning of the end of Evangelicalism, but that’s not so bad. Bell has set the elephants in the room in plain sight. Take advantage of this to walk away different. You don’t necessarily need to change, but be open to it, and you might be surprised. Look deeply at your beliefs through this book, and ask the difficult questions. Does your theology of hell say that Love Wins? If not, it might be time to examine more orthodox theologies, and see what God really might be saying to you. After all, isn’t part of the fun of the faith journey seeking after God Himself?

Catholic readers of mine, the gospel is unchanged and the Church has taught this from the start: Love Wins. The entire book of the Revelation to St. John says as much, our world expects as much from us. We’ve been lost in an eschatology that’s been emabarassed to tell the Truth because of the enduring problem of suffering people, but the Truth is…God has won and continues to win through the person and work of Jesus, the sacrament of God.

In Christ, we all win; apart from Him, not so much. But I think Bell wouldn’t disagree with that. If he does, we have problems, but I don’t think that’s what’s being said. The jury is out, but I am withholding judgment until we know a bit more.

The important thing in the end that we can take away from this heated debate is that God’s grace is alive and well in the world of today, and calling us all to reflect more truly a love that wins.

Sexuality is Spiritual

Ever wonder why Christians hate porn?

Or why Christians insist on marriage being between a man and a woman?

Well, it’s because a secret some of us have discovered, one the Church has known for millennia, and one people are starting to realize is getting back out there. Sexuality is Spiritual.

Sexuality is more than just chemicals and genitalia, and we all know that. The Church teaches us that sexuality is a spiritual as well as physical connection. It’s deeper than emotions, it’s a whole system of actions and reactions that transcend the here and now. Sexuality is a part of the human person in ways that cannot be reduced to simple accident.

Dr. Paul McHugh has an engaging article on the matter of sexual reassignment surgery from a Catholic perspective, with very interesting findings. What were the good Dr.’s findings? What we always knew. Regardless of how you manipulate the body and its environment for a desired outcome, gender and sexuality are intrinsic to the human on a more fundamental level than the attitudes of society. Culture cannot ultimately shape what we know to be proper sexuality.

But what about the Politics!?

This week President Obama decided to tell the Department of Justice to not uphold The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). I think this is simply a distraction from the budget wars that have been fought on Capitol Hill. What this means for our politics is simple,

  1. We are not always allies with the government as Christians.
  2. We will have to work culturally to revive the values we believe are intrinsic to human dignity, including traditional marriage.
  3. We will have to work harder in the gay and lesbian communities with love, patience and understanding to create a country we can all share without ostracizing one another.

However, issues of the ethics of sex begin to raise all sorts of questions about the nature of our politics. Stanley Hauerwas says “…[T]he ethics of sex must begin with political considerations, because ethically the issue of the proper form of sexual activity raises the most profound issues about the nature and form of political community.” So in essence, when we talk about gay marriage and traditional marriage, we’re not just talking about a civil institution, we’re talking about the entire structure of our lives as a culture, and a people. Hauerwas goes on to say “To reduce issues of sexuality to the question of whether acts of sex are or are not fulfilling for those involved is to manifest the assumption of political liberalism that sex is a private matter.”

The Christian Alternative

In Jewish culture, which is the wellspring of Christian thought, issues of sex affect the shape of the entire culture. Judaism was one of the first, if not the first culture with a code of sexual ethics as part of religious/societal life. That Christians today attempt to defend the public nature of sexual acts and collaborate towards a common good is not strange, but inherent to the wider Christian worldview. It is not only in Christianity, but in society as a whole across the world that marriage is a fundamental element in the social/political landscape. Marriage involves a whole convocation of issues at the foundation of every society and changing marriage means changing a whole social order.

Hauerwas is worth quoting at length here:

We must understand that if Christians and non-Christians differ over marriage, that difference does not lie in their understanding of the quality of interpersonal relationship needed to enter or sustain a marriage, but rather in a disagreement about the nature of marriage and its place in the Christian and national community. Christians above all should note that there are no conceptual or institutional reasons that require love between the parties to exist in order for the marriage to be successful. Marriage is, as Russell argues, a biological institution to beget and rear children for the ends of particular communities. What makes marriage Christian is the rationale behind having and raising children. Marriage and the family for Christians are not less political because they are not understood in terms of a national order. Indeed, their political nature is clear from the fact that they refuse to be so defined.

I’d like to take a moment to say: I disagree with Hauerwas in that I think romantic love done Christianly is the human element that make marriages increase in perfection. Hauerwas is of course on one level right, but I’d say that the case he presents has been used wide and far in all sorts of extremely non-Christian relationships, especially among Fundamentalist evangelicals and Fundamentalist mainline Protestants. Marriage is for begetting and rearing children, but it is also for the Christian community, it is also for love, for companionship, for the sacrament of friendship, for communion between persons.

Christians have a differing view of love from the secular societies they form part of. “We do not love because we are married, but because we are Christian” says Hauerwas, and I could not agree more. The basis of marriage for Christians is not romantic love. The basis of marriage for Christians is founded in the faith that calls them to love with full self-emptying devotion. In fact, this makes clear to us the venerated position of early Church martyrs. They were nuptially given to Christ. The criterion was a bodily givenness that could not be duplicated twice, and happened in a context so specific that it could not happen without certain given variables.

If marriage is understood as similar to the way we think of martyrdom, a nuptial sharing with Christ, and yet at the same time a political body which does a service to a community, we must return to what it means to be called to marriage. Being called to marriage as Christians means being called to serve the entire Christian community with our bodies, our fidelity and our patience and hope.

In short, we can say that every marriage is a death of self, so that our self may be free to give to another bodily. It is irreplaceable, and not able to be duplicated without the proper context. Just as Christ gives his body for the Church on the cross and in the Eucharist, the martyr echoes this back in a way at once dissimilar, because the martyr is not God, but sharing in the same identity. Christian marriage is bodily givenness because we are Christian, not because we have passion. Thus both marriage and martyrdom require a bodily fidelity that can be echoed by the other in a way at once dissimilar and mutually identical. Bodily fidelity such as this can only be fully expressed in marriage when a male body is given to its female counterpart as it was made to do.

The Fundamentalist Problem

This givenness fosters in us the passions and loves that the middle ages championed as the height of love. It may very well be that Christian love is the only way to reach these properly. The human element as well as the theological and emotional have to be present to foster a healthy love. Just as much as healthy sexuality is not just proper genital interaction, it is not simply about a purely theological element.

We cannot afford to lose the connectedness and the unity of sexuality for the sake of “biblical sexuality” as some have used it, claiming the other’s body as a sex object at any point through phrases about conjugal rights, and honoring husbands and submitting to the man’s desires. Any structure of sexuality where abuse, lust, rape and adultery are conceived as impossible once the couple are married is a flawed structure. Christian marriage does not say that these things suddenly do not exist or only exist in extreme situations.

Every marriage is subject to the fallen created order, which means that a man can feasibly lust after his wife. Pope John Paul II was mocked by the media for saying that a man should not lust after his wife The Holy Father says, “each man must look within himself to see whether she who was entrusted to him as a sister in humanity, as a spouse, has not become in his heart an object of adultery.”[1]. It is the responsibility of every man to care for his wife as a sister and uphold her dignity. Growing up, I had similar experiences to this where no sex before marriage was the ultimate goal. But I have since learned a fuller Christian theology of marriage and the family.

We must remember that it’s important to recognize that our spouses are not the objects of our sexual pleasure, or where we should direct our sexual frustrations. Our spouses are not where we get to live out every whim and fancy. Marriage, true marriage is a liberation of the person. It calls us to live a life in the fullness of freedom. Christian marriage calls to some and says “If you wish to have freedom from lust, live this way!”

Character and Sex

The issue for us, all of us, is not what we should do with our genitals. That’s important, don’t get me wrong. But the question is deeper and more fundamental than that. It’s a question of ‘What kind of people should we be?’ and that will clearly have something to do with our faith, cookware, genitals and virtues. But the reason that much of the argument for traditional marriage is failing in some areas is that people have made it about genitals and not the character necessary to use those genitals, and indeed our bodies rightly.

What I mean is, we’re called to use our bodies as a statement of faith. Every child that we bear is a fight against the idea and culture that says that we’re all doomed .Every single birth is a statement of faith that says, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, Lord and giver of Life.” This is not to say that children are simply this. Just as marriage needs a human element, parent-child relations need a human element. Every child is an opportunity to reflect the love in our marriages, and testifies to the fruits of our love for our spouses, be they natural-born children or adopted, it says that our marriages are still places where widows, orphans and our neighbor are cared for.

Every successful marriage testifies to fidelity between man and woman, as we were created to be. Every positive marriage shows our patience in waiting for the end, and living today as if it has ultimate importance, though we wait for the end. Every marriage serves the Church, through being called to God as a domestic priesthood, a temple of the faithful in everyday life.

When we remember this calling, what we do with our genitals matters, but for reasons larger than sex itself. Sex is an act of worship, but just as every other thing in our lives should be worship. Marriage, and sex for our good, our pleasure and our ability to enjoy. However, marriage is still a vocation and engenders us to certain responsibilities. This new understanding for the 21st century is an old one for the Church, and a view that fractures many of our cultural illusions, but as Christians we can do no less. Our kingdom, our bodies and our sex is not of this world.

[1]. Pope John Paul II, apostolic letter, Mulieris Dignitatem 14 (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women) (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 1988).

Blessed is the Kingdom: An Interview with Fr. Christian

Do you ever wonder about the people you meet on the internet? I do, so I decided to finally interview one of my online twitter friends, and fellow-blogger, priest-extraordinaire and all around awesome guy Fr. Christian Mathis, who is the Author of the blog Blessed is the Kingdom. I loved hearing his story, and at our original skype call interview, we had such an awesome talk I felt I was conversing with an old friend. It was an awesome interview, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
 

WOULD YOU TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT WHERE YOU GREW UP, AND WHAT LED YOU TO PRIESTHOOD?

 

Yeah, sure. I grew up in Chattanooga, TN. My parents both joined the Church when I was four years old and my brother was an infant. We were baptized together as a family and remained in the same parish throughout my entire childhood. I attended elementary school at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School and high school at Notre Dame High School, both in Chattanooga.

 

The good thing about that atmosphere is that it was a strong Catholic environment and the Methodist remainder of the family did not always understand why my parents had converted, but it jived well in the end. I learned a lot from Methodists on scripture. When I was a kid Catholics didn’t care about scripture as much. A lot of that is changing, but in my generation it was a bit of a rarity.
I grew up with a scripture heavy Christianity, which was really a gift. In fact, my gift at first communion was a Bible. I grew up reading the bible. I remember  finding it strange meeting classmates in seminary who had never explored the Bible, or the basic tenets of the faith. They just had the call. I didn’t understand that then, but I think I get it better now. I believe God called them, but I thought it strange that they had never studied the Bible.
When I look back upon what led me to priesthood, I find several things that laid the groundwork for me to be able to hear God’s call. First was the fact that my parents always taught us the importance of our faith. I also always had the benefit of being around priests and religious. I recall many times when I knew for certain that the Church cared about me and my familly.

 

An early example was when my parents realized we could not afford to continue paying tuition at the Catholic school and we began to attend public school. Several months later when our pastor found out we had left, he approached my parents and found a way for us to return to the school. The same thing happened to me during high school and the principal at the time, once again found a way for me to attend the school when it was unaffordable. Had I not been in Catholic school I would not have had as many positive interactions with priests and religious as I was growing up. I remember especially one of the Nashville Dominican sisters who encouraged me to be open to God’s call.
 

In high school what really influenced me was priests that seemed more like normal people, but it was also the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, and a seminarian who is now a priest in the Nashville Diocese. Oh, another thing, one of the most influential, was getting to the Catholic high school early. Before class we met in cafeteria and did homework/hung out before class. There was daily mass going on early. I decided to go one day, and kept going, and it was the first time for me, that I started listening to the prayers of the mass, the eucharistic prayers, and secondly I would listen to the readings of the day, ans think to myself, “somehow today I will try to implement this gospel today, in my life.” That took me deeper into the faith, even though I didn’t apply to the seminary for many years.
“…[H]e provided a good space to discern God’s call. That’s what really in the end I think did it, being given the space to respond.”
 

A key part of understanding a call for me during college was being able to meet with a group of men who gathered for dinner and prayer each week. Fr. Al Humbrecht was our campus minister at the time and he provided a good space to discern God’s call. That’s what really in the end I think did it, being given the space to respond.

 

WHAT’S IT LIKE BEING A CATHOLIC YOUTH MINISTER?

 

Challenging and rewarding.

 

I was our diocesan director for youth ministry. During my 3rd year being a priest, my bishop asked me to learn how to do youth ministry.

 

One thing I learned in doing that and working in a diocesan high school I graduated from is this: People in the Church really want to include the youth and the young people of the Church. They mention young people often as the future of the Church, but we who do youth ministry have to remind the congregation sometimes that the youth are the present day Church and already in the Church now.

 

We have youth groups of course, but we should also include them in every aspect of the Church that is possible. Youth are likely not suited for finance committees, but there are places for young people in the Church already. One of the things I feel very strongly about, is that some of the times it’s our own fault that youth leave their parishes in the end. Youth mass separates the youth from everyone else, gives them really interesting or contemporary music, but in many cases looks much more like an evangelical protestant mega-church than a Catholic one. I have seen so many young people graduate and after having been separated for several years from the main body of the Church pick up and leave. Then we wonder why the youth went off to evangelical mega-churches instead of sticking with Catholic faith. Our tradition doesn’t exclude altering things to fit youth, but it should include formation towards our Catholic culture, not away from it.

 

“Youth ministry is the same ministry we do to everyone else, it’s just for young people.”
The biggest challenge, I guess, is the youth themselves. They’re on the move, very busy. There’s the internet and texting and all these things pulling them in different directions. But the thing that is the same is that they want connection to adults besides their parents, and that comes through relationships. You have to take the time, you know, like taking calls at one in the morning. It’s a challenge and it’s a joy, and I’m still connected with many of our young people. The people who do youth ministry don’t have to be teenagers to do it effectively, they just have to engage them with proper respect. It doesn’t have to be dumbed down to be effective.

 

Youth ministry is the same ministry we do to everyone else, it’s just for young people, just like mass in Spanish is normal ministry but in Spanish.

 

The last thing is you have to be willing to make a fool of yourself, and I’m good at that. Maybe that’s why the bishop asked me to do youth ministry.

 

YOU BEGAN YOUR BLOG IN 2008, WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START BLOGGING?

 

The year and a half before I came to St. Thomas I was on a leave of absence from ministry, trying to discern whether priesthood was still right for me. When I returned to the diocese, I didn’t have a real assignment, I was just kinda, easing back into ministry. I didn’t have any official duties so to speak and the pastor here wanted me to help with some masses, and then I was doing spiritual direction. And, so…I decided to start the blog, because I wanted to get my thoughts down for family and friends. I also saw it as a way of getting back into the pattern of preaching. I started doing that, and what was weird is that pretty soon people besides family and friends were reading the blog, and in the beginning it was lots of Orthodox Christians.

 

Then it got serious.

 

The pastor at the time liked it, even though he had never liked a blog in his life. And that was funny.The blog in many ways has become is a ministry of evangelization. Sometimes people get the wrong idea, it’s no substitute for real ministry, but what it does in my mind and experience is open the door for real ministry to happen. Sometimes people don’t feel comfortable walking into a church, and they like observing from a distance. Sometimes that next step in person can be a lot harder. I have a really good community.

 

WOULD YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR RECENT TRIP TO THE HOLY LAND?

I studied in the Holy Land back in the 1998-99 and have always wanted to return. I can say a bit here about the trip but a better source might be my blog where I made several posts while on our journey. One thing that I enjoyed very much was getting to know one of my brother priests, Fr. Michael Woods and the twelve parishioners from St. Thomas who were on the trip.

 

It was really a time for prayer. All of us grew closer together. The other thing I think of is going back to the Incarnation and  remembering the physical places where this stuff happened. Reading scripture after having been there, I can picture where certain things would have happened. There is nothing like being in the places where Jesus lived, taught, died and was raised. It really strengthens your faith. I can see the life of Christ in my head, even though the city is different the terrain is still really the same. You can envision it better. Sometimes the people call the land the 5th gospel. That kind of stuff, while it’s not necessary is valuable.

 

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR PASSIONS IN MINISTRY? (E.G. ECUMENISM, LITURGY, SACRAMENTS, STUDY, BLOGGING, SOCIAL JUSTICE, ETC.)

 

First and Foremost, evangelization. What I mean is, if you look at our parish, we have as our primary goal, to reach out to Catholics who are no longer practicing their faith and bring in those who have no church affiliation and those who are in our pews and not fully practicing. I really feel like we have something to offer people that others don’t and we should be active, not passive in this mission. We can be active without being aggressive, and we need corporal and spiritual works of mercy, opportunities for prayer, catechesis. A whole host of things. But that’s the primary thing we’re supposed to be doing out there, spreading the faith.

 

Put it like this:
1. Reaching those who have never heard the gospel.

 

2. Reaching those who have partially heard the gospel.

 

3. Reaching those who need to deepen their faith.

 

And then there’s another thing:
4. Preaching.
 
In seminary I was very afraid of public speaking, but I think preaching allows us to teach and be creative and have a dialogue with people. I think one of the things I have pushed since getting here is social justice. Social justice is taking care of those most in need. Whoever that is. Whether it’s here or NPH for kids in El Salvador.

We have a 6 year plan to take 6 themes from Matthew 25 and take them seriously. since Jesus will judge us on those and scripture makes it abundantly clear. We’re gonna work on those 6 things, and basically, it’s how are we proclaiming the gospel? It’s not about numbers, it’s about having the people we do have well-formed, and if we do that, we’ll get other people well formed in the gospel. If we get well-formed people we’ll get everything we want and need as a community of Christians.

 

YOU’RE DOING A LOT OF WORK ON THE SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL. ARE THERE A FEW HIGHLIGHTS YOU’D LIKE TO POINT OUT FROM YOUR STUDIES?

Vatican II is such a big thing. The thing I see about the state of the Church now, and this is just my opinion is that it seems like we have a split in the Church right now. For lack of better vocabulary, we have liberals, and we have conservatives.
“What Vatican II tried to do, and we’re still trying to figure out how to do it right, is to try and go back to before there were differences between Christians…We’re still working on bringing scripture back into the heart of Catholic life.”

 

The liberals say that Vatican II was a break with Tradition, and that’s awesome and we should break even further from it. There are also conservatives who say that Vatican II was a break with Tradition, and this is a travesty, and we should break with it and go back to the Council of Trent, some have gone so far as to say that popes beginning with John XXIII through Benedict are not popes. Both start from the same place and end with more or less similar conclusions. One solution that has been proposed by my former professor Fr. Bob Barron is that we need bi-polar extremism. We want both fully God, fully man. We want totally and fully Scriptural, we want total and fully liturgical practice together.”

 

What Vatican II tried to do, and we’re still trying to figure out how to do it right, is to try and go back to before there were differences between Christians. What I mean is, the documents seem to me at least, to draw heavily on the patristic era and mindset. The new missal is a good example, we said let’s make the liturgy more accessible. The first translation wasn’t the best or the most beautiful translation, but the Church is humble enough to admit it’s not perfect and revising it for us. We’re still working on bringing scripture back into the heart of Catholic life. The hierarchy is part of it, but the council started with the people and worked it’s way up. It’s been a struggle, and it will continue to be. We have this confluence of things, and I’m not the best example of someone to know exactly what we can do, but just like any other council, it’s a council of the Church and it deserves our respect.

 

I wish more people would read the documents themselves.

 

It is a big difference to say that the Novus Ordo and the Tridentine Rite have different emphases. First the people of God then the sacraments, then the bishops and then the leadership. It’s just a difference in emphasis, not a radically new split from the Church.

 

WHAT DO YOU THINK CATHOLICS CAN DO ONLINE AND IN PERSON TO REACH OUT TO EVANGELICALS?

Know and Learn your faith, and then practice it. We need to quit playing the Protestants’ game. Stop playing by their rules. Catholicism doesn’t live by their rules, because it is bigger than their rules. If we believe we should always defend the faith with scripture, we answer to sola scriptura. We don’t have anything to prove, except through living out our faith. When we lose these arguments it’s really because it’s not our faith. The other thing, it’s not about winning. That’s not the gospel. The gospel is really that we both win. That’s what the faith is about. We should not be talking about how we as Catholics aren’t different from other Christians. We are different from them, and we should show them what they’re missing. This is not to be condemning, but saying “We have something you don’t have we want to share with you because we love you.” That’s how we argue the faith, with love, we do it with evangelization and our best defense is living our faith.

 

When we’re chosen, we get chosen for the cross. It doesn’t mean God wants you to suffer, but you will.

 

IS THERE ANYTHING YOU THINK WE NEED TO URGENTLY RUSH TOWARDS IN FILLING IN GAPS OR DEVELOPING NEW IDEAS IN THE CHURCH?

 

New Ideas? No. We should revive old ideas. We should get the majority of Catholics to understand and respect what we do when we come to the liturgy and when we pray. The other thing is getting people to have an adult understanding of the faith, and devote themselves to continual growth. Thirdly, I think we need dedication to the apostolic mission of the church and corporal works of mercy. I think we’ve missed that Church-wide in recent years.

 

I think we should embrace all media that comes along, but they they don’t take the place of the basic stuff that we’re supposed to be doing. If there’s nothing upholding it, it doesnt’ help. It can become a thing unto itself, but it doesn’t have to be.

 

I will say this: Almost everyone in our RCIA process came about as a result of our website initially. That says it’s possible to reach people through those media. People who aren’t using those tools are missing out. 10 years ago, I didn’t have the ability to do what I do. I now have the ability to talk to about 120 people a day via my blog. That’s more than our daily mass. Some of those have taken advantage of the opportunity to connect in physical life. There are new methods for doing new things.

 

I like ancient faith radio, and while John Maddox started with Dobson and Focus on the Family, he’s now Orthodox and has taken their format and made ancient things accessible to the modern world. That’s admirable.

 

I ALSO, IN LIGHT OF RECENT EVENTS WANT TO ASK YOU ABOUT PRIESTLY ABUSE, AND WHAT YOU MIGHT OFFER TO ALL OF US ON SUCH A SENSITIVE TOPIC.

 

So, let me tell you my experience with this. My last year at seminary in Chicago, we had a course on priestly preparation. We went through some other things about priesthood. One of the guys presenting to us was from Nigeria. His name was Fr. Peter Damian Akpunonu. He gave us these words “I can guarantee you one thing: If you become ordained, someone is going to take a very big cross, and they’re going to lay it on your shoulders.” I was ordained right around September 11th and people were looking to us for answers. Shortly after that, there was something in the news almost daily on priestly abuses.

 

I remember thinking to myself: I need to call our former bishop. At the time he was the bishop of Palm Beach. One day soon afterwards I got a call from someone at our chancery who told me there was going to be a press conference with our former bishop, and we thought he might admit to sexually abusing minors. He did. It’s a hard way to begin your priesthood.

 

This was a guy who I thought was the opposite of that. It was rough. But I remember doing praying, “whatever I can do to help God, I’ll do that.” Shortly thereafter I was made director of youth ministries and it wasn’t easy because people look at you suspiciously. I look at it this way, The Church is still the Church, and the Church doesn’t uphold abusing children, the church doesn’t uphold abusing anyone. We were saddened by it, but we’re trying to heal that. Many of the people who were hurt by this are working through that. I don’t discount that there are people everyday who have to deal with people asking them about it and asking why they’re still in the Church. That has to be hard. I’m sure there are people in my parish who have to deal with that all the time.
“Bonhoeffer’s definition of a theologian: Ultimately they try to live their faith and try to stand with the saint and those who are not the saints, often the great sinners. Saying that we stand with both, that’s the job of the theologian..”

 

Bonhoeffer’s definition of a theologian: Ultimately they try to live their faith by standing with the saints and those who are not the saints, often the great sinners. Saying that we stand with both, that’s the job of the theologian, and that’s our job too. We stand with the Mother Theresa figures and St. Francises, but we also stand with the people who don’t live out the faith well. I don’t in any way condone what our former bishop did as right. There are people from our diocese who visit him, but in visiting him, they are supporting him in hope that he is reforming his life. On the other hand, he is in a place where he can be supervised and kept from places where he could do the same thing. It’s tough, but in a society that doesn’t support the Church, it’s an easy way to attack the Church because it’s a self inflicted wound.

 

Ultimately it will make the Church stronger, because the people who are still here are faithful. They’ll stay faithful through it all. It takes being courageous. The worst thing priests can do is back away from dealing with kids, but one of the temptations is to protect yourself and cut off that healthy relationships between priests and children. But being a priest puts us in a vulnerable place. Someone could come forward against a priest who has done nothing, and ruin their life. But I think we should continue being priests. In the early church, Christians persisted in the gospel, and they were martyred. Today we can look at the priests and religious who in Central America have been killed, but they keep doing good. they keep living the gospel. Yeah it hurts priests, but I think it hurts the people in the pews more. I can’t justify it, I don’t try to. I just say it’s not a legitimate reason to leave the faith.

 

IN CLOSING, I’D LIKE TO ASK YOU WHAT ALL BELIEVERS MIGHT DO, AS A WAY FORWARD IN A TIME FULL OF NEWS AND SCANDAL AND INDECISION AND MEDIA OVERLOAD; HOW CAN WE SHINE A LIGHT IN THE WORLD OF TODAY?

 

Media Overload? Fasting.

 

We can learn to spend less time watching television, internet, and especially things like Glenn Beck and Rachel Madow, and who often incite and start things up. Stop being dragged into that stuff and ask, ‘What does our faith say to us?’ I feel our media keeps trying to divide us. If we look at our Catholic faith, it embraces pro-life as being against abortion, but we also say pro-life is against the death-pentalty, pre-emptive war, or forgetting the needs of the poor. We’re not Right, or Left, we are Catholic. Being Catholic is not as easy as choosing a political party. I think the danger is if we say abortion is today’s only issue, it can sometimes lead to giving uncritical support to un-Catholic issues from either party without holding them accountable to our votes.

 

We as Catholics should be part of solutions, not taking sides and polarizing the differences. It doesn’t matter which party you support, there will always be things you have to be critical of with either party. In every election I have voted in, I have found myself making tough choices, but I always hold myself and them accountable. I think some people want the Catholic political party, or the Catholic news source, and those just don’t exist. There’s a lot of room for opinion in the faith, and that’s the beauty of the word Catholic.

 

” I feel our media keeps trying to divide us. If we look at our Catholic faith, it embraces simultaneously, pro-life and against abortion, but we also say pro-life is against the death-pentalty, pre-emptive war, or forgetting the needs of the poor. We’re not right, or Left, we are Catholic.

 

On a practical level, I know I put people in positions who don’t always agree with me. But I need them. I need people that will tell the Truth, we may have different ideas, but if we’re on the same page, even if we have different opinions, that’s what matters. That’s why we’re a Church together. It’s a strange culture we live in, it’s not Church friendly, our society wants to put people in camps and set them against one another. Our Church welcomes them in and wants to unify people for a greater cause.

 

Catholicism is bigger than our society and that is the beautiful thing.

 

My own hope is that we simply keep trying to focus on the fundamentals. Prayer, nourishing ourselves with the Scripture, serving those in need, developing communion among Christians. Humility is always central. These sound like simple tasks, but they are extremely difficult to maintain.

Catholic Dance Moves: The Neon Bible Approach to Catholicism

The Neon Bible

So, for all of you non-Catholics out there, do you ever feel like you want to brush up on your know of Catholic dance moves? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Have you ever been in mass and then not known what comes next, but luckily had the person next to you to look to? Well, here’s the deal. Being Catholic is all about worship together, so it’s kinda like doing a toned down, sacred electric slide, in a sense.

I once had a friend say “Man, I feel like being Catholic is a dance party, and I just don’t have the right moves.” I never forgot those words. And so, in honor of my groove-challenged friend, and his inquiries into some dance skills, I have decided to provide. Ask and it shall be given, after all.

And seeing how Arcade Fire just took a grammy for Album of the Year, I think some congratulations are in order via a pictoral shoutout, and the dance-themed approach to this post, as well as a new sub-category called Dance Moves. I’ll be talking about the various practices of the mass and Catholic life, as dance school. It should be fun.

 

Origins

So, where does this “Sign of the Cross” come from?

Well, the earliest written source about the practice for the Sign of the Cross is Tertullian who wrote in the early Second Century.

“In all our travels and movements”, says Tertullian (De cor. Mil., iii), “in all our coming in and going out, in putting of our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupieth us, we mark our foreheads with the sign of the cross”.

Tertullian was a prolific writer and provides a lot of insight to us about Church practices in his day, but for him to pay attention to this detail means it must have been rather significant. Tertullian was a man concerned with refuting heresies and providing large and sweeping defenses of the faith, so that he picks up on enough to write about this means, to me, it must have been widespread from the earliest days of Christianity.

By the Fourth Century, the practice had become standard fare in all the Churches which bore the name Christian and we see this in the writings of St. Cyril of Jerusalem who in his “Catecheses” (xiii, 36) remarks:

“let us then not be ashamed to confess the Crucified. Be the cross our seal, made with boldness by our fingers on our brow and in every thing; over the bread we eat and the cups we drink, in our comings and in goings; before our sleep, when we lie down and when we awake; when we are travelling, and when we are at rest”.

Since we saw that from the earliest days of Christianity, the sign of the cross has been written about, signing one’s forehead is a practice which likely has apostolic origins. If not the apostles during the immediate recordings of the bible, then certainly the St. Peter who had seen God heal others through his shadow and the St. Paul who had seen the power of the Eucharist in action both for life, and in fact, for death as well.

In fact, when we look at scripture I believe that Revelation 7:3, 9:4, and 14:1 are referring to the practice of signing oneself on the forehead with a little cross. In the scriptures the redeemed are “signed on the forehead”. Of course, the imagery comes from Ezekiel 9:4 where the faithful are sealed upon their foreheads with a mark of redemption. And it also reminds us of passover, and how the mind and the heart were the household of the soul in many ancient cultures.

The Dance Moves

So, let’s talk dance moves. How does one make a good sign of the cross?

First, one approaches it with prayer. This is an action to seal us, to remind us of baptism and to protect us against evil. It reminds us that the God we serve is none other than the Father, who freely gives the Son so that we might be reborn in their Spirit.

Either under your breath, out loud or in your mind you should pray “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.” or you should pray as Mexican Catholics do “By the Sign of the Cross, deliver me from my enemies, O Lord.

Either is acceptable.Though it doesn’t hurt to pray both. Or a third which is common among rosary devotees:

By your Cross O Christ, You have redeemed the world.

or a Fourth, common among the Orthodox Christians:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

There are four options for your hands when making the Sign of the Cross. These four I got off of Fish Eaters

  • Option A. With your right hand, touch the thumb and ring finger together, and hold your index finger and middle finger together to signify the two natures of Christ. This is the most typical Western Catholic practice.
  • Option B. Hold your thumb and index finger of your right hand together to signify the two natures of Christ
  • Option C. Hold your thumb, index finger, middle finger of your right hand together (signifying the Trinity) while tucking the ring finger and pinky finger (signifying the two natures of Christ) toward your palm. This is the typically Eastern Catholic practice.
  • Option D: Hold your right hand open with all 5 fingers — representing the 5 Wounds of Christ — together and very slightly curved, and thumb slightly tucked into palm

Catholic Disco Lights

Disco Devotionals? Well, Not Exactly.

Once you have chosen a hand position this is what follows:

Touch your forehead as you say or pray mentally, “In the name of the Father,”

Touch your breastbone, heart or the top of your belly and say or pray mentally “And of the Son”

Begin to touch your left shoulder as you say or pray mentally “And of the Holy”

Touch your right shoulder and finish the Sign of the Cross with “Spirit” either prayed out loud or mentally.

Hold on there Disco Stu:

There’s a bit more to all this than just frantically crossing yourself or the air or whatever else as often as possible. Though, I’m sure it can’t hurt anything, at least not very much.

As Christians, making the sign of the cross should be like breathing, essential to daily life. Christians should make the sign of the cross at the beginning and the end of their prayers, upon entering a Church, after receiving communion, in times of trouble, or fear, when facing temptation, when one remembers the dead, when seeing a crucifix, or anytime we wish to ward away evil, or to honor and invoke God.

Making the sign of the cross is an invitation to getting groovy with God. It’s an invitation to remembering the core of your life and my life as Christians. It’s all about remembering holiness, and getting centered so that we can be holy. It’s a devotional tool, a prayer that reminds us from Whom we proceed into this great wide world. It reminds us to act in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. It’s a reminder that religion can have dance moves outside Church, and that those moves can be used in daily life for extremely practical as well as devotional/spiritual reasons.

Remember to take your time, it’s not about rushing through it, it’s about making sure we center our minds and bodies on Christ, Our God, who calls us to eternal life. The Sign of the Cross is not only the most obviously Catholic dance move, it’s also the most popular in movies, media and everywhere else for a reason. Christians love the cross, and everything it means for the way we are sanctified and live, even right now.

Welcome to being Catholic, I hope these dance moves help you too.

My Valentine’s Date: An Adventure through the City of Rome

vatican-bank

Or, Why I Bring a Rosary to the Movies.

It was a cold evening, overcast and treacherous ice lay on the roads and byways, and I was running late for my date with the one and only Secret Vatican Spy. We were off on another adventure, this time to see The Rite. And so, scheming up plans for dinner and enjoying a long conversation in the process, we prepared ourselves for the movie. We talked about how excited we were to see it. I had not even seen the trailers for it, I just knew it was endorsed by my bishop, and I wanted to see it for that reason.

The Secret Vatican Spy on the other hand was full of taut and energetic awe at going to see this film of films, this magnum opus, this scary endeavor into the great and dark beyond. We made our way treacherously upon the sheet of us that stood between the car where we had parked to the front of the theatre.

After taking more than one verbal cue from Kassie to slow down, (she was wearing heels) we finally made it to the front and purchased tickets. The warmth of the inside of the theatre was a blessed relief after the biting cold outside.

Coffee in hand, we entered the theatre and had a seat.

The previews rolled by, and we wanted to see every film on the reel for the previews. And then there was one unexpected trailer, one neither of us had been prepared for. There Be Dragons. Someone is making a movie about St. Josemaria Escriva!Now, this might not be of interest to everyone, but I love it. I cannot wait to see this film and will do all I can to endorse it. But anways, back to our tale.

The movie then started. Kassie clutched my arm and squee’d with excitement (she loves scary movies,) and I just sort of let the film take me in slowly.

From the moment of its beginning, I could tell I was going to like it. The camera work was exquisite, the colors, vivd, the dialogue splendid. And I wondered quietly to myself why this movie wasn’t a winter blockbuster.

The story unfolded and then, suddenly, there we were, Rome. My little convert’s heart fluttered and stuttered at the beauty of the Vatican, and at the sights and sounds of the Ancient City. I could have squealed with joy, I got chills, I wanted to be in St. Peter’s square and Kassie too kept excitedly whispering how the sights and sounds gave her chills too. We grinned, and laughed and smiled, and enjoyed the subtexts where Catholics could laugh at things that other people miss out on.

We curtailed through the streets of Rome following Fr. Michael Kovak, and his training to become an exorcist. He was a reluctant skeptic, offended by the idea of the supernatural and trying to resort to psychological explanations for everything. However, even his annoying skepticism couldn’t phase me as we passed the Coliseum, and saw the various fountains of Rome in the backgrounds and forefronts.

We saw the little neighborhoods, and the Vatican rising above the Ancient City, to stand majestically at her heart. For a convert, it was awe-inspiring.

It was indeed an exciting time, thrilling and enjoyable. And suddenly, the movie unrolled the creepy music, the long pauses, the silences, the tensions and the underlaying foreshadowings, and things changed. I was glued to my seat, scared, and enjoying it. Kassie whispered “Are you scared?” And I, being a latin man full of bravado said “No, I’m ok.”

A few minutes later, she whispered, “Do you have a rosary?” to which I replied “No, I forgot it in my other coat before I left.” She smiled at me and said “Do you want this one?” producing a rosary I’d seen her make, and I smiled, and said “No thanks, I’m ok for now.”

All this comes on the heels of a previous date where we felt compelled to go visit the hospital’s perpetual adoration shrine and get some holy water before we could go home. Yes, we like scary movies, but we also like Jesus, a lot more. So, I was wondering if it was going to be a ‘Holy Water After the Movies’ sort of affair.

About 20 minutes later I was near shaking, and I found my hand clutching Kassie’s with the rosary between us, both of us touching the crucifix with hope, and enjoying the fears being brought before us. Rome had suddenly become a place where the forces of darkness were doing battle with a skeptic seminarian, and his teacher, Fr. Lucas. Possession wasn’t about pea soup, or spinning heads or magic words, it was about doing battle with the devil.

It was a battle as ancient as the ministry of Christ and before, the battle of faith vs. doubt. A battle of Truth vs. lies.

I loved the themes in the film, doubt vs. certainty, fear vs. faith, the nature of the supernatural, modernism, religion, belief, etc. There were so many positive points to this film that I’m surprised that there is not a more massive outcry for this movie to be watched.

The demonic portrayals were accurate, intimidating and realistic. The writhing, the facts that the film used to convey the reality of demonic possession was intense, and a welcome relief from movies where skepticism and jadedness are the meal ticket. I applauded the accuracy, and the fairness of the film, and I applauded the themes, the maturity of the film and the way in decided to speak favorably of Rome, and priests despite the media’s obsession with negative press for the Vatican.

I loved that this film was so well made, and so positively in favor of the Church, and yet managed to pull it off without being preachy or annoying.

I was so glad that the film ended the way it did, because it ended up not being a holy water at the adoration chapel sort of affair, and I felt satisfied and hopeful in the end. I figured out why I love going to the movies with Kassie so much last night. Besides her being my best friend, it’s because she remembers the rosary, and because she knows when I’m scared, and because she will totally pray in the middle of a movie and still be able to enjoy it. It reminded me of why I’m Catholic, the ability to share in little things, like taking a rosary to the movies.

  • I bring a rosary to the movies because there are places in everyday life where prayer can make a difference and scary movies happens to be one of them.
  • I bring a rosary to the movies because the bible tells us to pray without ceasing
  • I bring a rosary to the movies because my girlfriend doesn’t forget them, even if I do.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem “The Spirit Comes Gently”

Today is the memorial of a Church father who laid a lot of groundwork for our theology of the Holy Spirit, St. Cyril of Jerusalem.

The Spirit comes gently and makes himself known by his fragrance. He is not felt as a burden, for he is light, very light. Rays of light and knowledge stream before him as he approaches. The Spirit comes with the tenderness of a true friend and protector to save, to heal, to teach, to counsel, to strengthen, to console.

Look at the movement in these words. The Spirit has a procession of his won, and he is preceded by light, and knowledge, much as Isaiah and the prophets would say of the Spirit of the Lord. St. Cyril is a wonderful saint to consult for theology of the Holy Spirit, and I would encourage you to engage him at some point in your near future, maybe even today.

 

 

What is Philokalia?

Philokalia directly translated means: Love of the Beautiful.

However, in the context it is written from, we should understand that it more closely means Love of the Beautiful-Holy, also Love of the Divine and Exalted.

The Beautiful-Holy is the most apt term I have found for this, though Western theologians like Pope Benedict XVI and Hans Urs Von Balthasar have begin talking in similar terms like Divine Beauty and Divine Love.

I think what we get when we think of Divine Love, or The Beautiful-Holy, is a totally new concept to many people in our world who see religious artifacts as mementos for museums and consider beauty to be whatever a trend says it is. The acts of the Philokalia challenge this in us, and ask us to reconsider for a moment what it means to be holy, and what it means to be beautiful, and says that they are in fact participants in the self-same identity.

When we learn what I’m saying, we discover a whole new Christianity for the Western world. However we discover a new Christianity that is as old as the Church herself. Christianity’s quest for justification in the West can be done away with without sacrificing discipline. To be Christian is in some sense to relearn what beauty means.

Christianity isn’t a sure-fire way to heaven, it’s a path that teaches us to see Christ as Lord, and ourselves as servants. It’s a path that teaches us that the Devil is a liar, and that his ideas of beauty are not our own. I guess what I’m getting at is: Christianity is not a quest for justification, it is a path that teaches us to love what is truly beautiful. And in this love, there is all our justification and sanctification. As Hans Urs Von Balthasar said “Love Alone is Credible.”

The Love of the Beautiful-Holy, the act of Philokalia, is to perceive Holiness in looking at Beauty and to perceive Beauty when encountering Holiness.

Philokalia in its fullest sense means a love of God as the fullness of Beauty.

This has a ton of practical consequences, but I will only name three:

  • Justification becomes the act of becoming more beautiful, more human, and more holy all at once
  • We learn to love the Holy because it is in holy things that we find Beauty
  • We learn that anything truly beautiful is also participating in God’s very own holiness, and thus our imaginations conceive beauty totally differently
“Christianity is not a quest for justification, it is a path that teaches us to love what is truly beautiful.”

Understanding all that helps us understand these texts. It helps us understand that the Philokalia is not just an anthology or a collection of texts, it aims at helping the readers engage the life it presents. It seeks to cultivate love from the faithful, through their growth in relationship with God.

Ultimately, Philokalia is our action of reframing all that is beautiful around our love for God.

Illumine our Hearts

The Resurrection

For those of you who have patiently waited for a post, thanks for your patience. Life has certainly been busy. I think the prayer I am about to share is a very important one. We often seek more knowledge or other things in the Western Tradition. I think we would all do well to continue to pray for light.

I feel that we often find ourselves jaded. Wait, let me rephrase that. I often find myself jaded, and dismal, and lacking hope. I find myself forgetting to live in the power of the resurrection. I find myself lacking the imagination to live in the light. What I mean is, we forget that we can and should live in the power of the resurrection now. I forget that Christ is risen. I forget that Christ has conquered and now we live in victory.

I recently had a debate with some friends most convert to Catholicism, and I found myself depressed at the way it was handled at various moments. I watched these friends of mine, whom I love dearly defend beliefs and ideals to high heaven, but I saw very little charity. I decided to make a choice, and that choice was to be different.

 

The Rule I discovered as a principle to put into the conversion survival guide is this:

Seek Illumination.

It’s easy to lose sight of your conversion’s reasons when you get mired down in theological and liturgical debates. But it’s best to stay focused on Christ, on the power of the resurrection and why you are in process of conversion. It’s imperative that in moments of trial we ask for God to help us find the light again.

I think that’s the most important thing about all this. Remembering to depend on God for His light in the midst of darkness.

Let’s not Get Lost:

I learned today that it’s extremely easy to get lost in minutiae of any sort on any side of the liturgical aisle, obsessions over liturgy, over theological Thomisms that few will understand, or over who has or what the best interpretation of the Second Vatican Council is. Arguing over the legitimacy or illegitimacy of the Novus Ordo, or the use of English in the rites of the Roman Catholic liturgy is going to accomplish little to build the kingdom, in my opinion.

I might be wrong, but I think that I’m rather well thought out. I know that we need to advance the Church, in all areas. We need to work hard to retain what Pope Benedict XVI calls the Hermeneutic of continuity. I think we need to discuss these things, but at the same time, we need not get lost in them. We need to work from within the life of the Church towards her future.

 

Hope:

But even with all this focus, I did learn something else, about the power of hope…

Even when there’s no charity among Christians and we’re nearly at each others throats in arrogance, there’s still a light that emanates from a weeping man who dies outside the walls of Jerusalem. There’s still beauty in the midst of all the ugly, and that beauty is the Christ who suffers to bring us Himself.

 

God comes to the Godforsaken, and this proves one more thing:

The world is always ready for more of the Kingdom, always.

In a world full of darkness, this might be one of our best and most hope filled prayers.

 

The Prayer of Illumination:

I want to share with you, a prayer from my daily meditations, one that my Orthodox friends would know well, and one that my friends in the Western Tradition have heard me pray at one point or another. I have recently seen some very dark days not just with friends but with society. From uncharitable actions, to illness, poverty, callousness and people lacking hope, I have seen dark days recently. And so, I’d like to offer a prayer with intentions for those who are searching for light.

The Prayer goes like this:

Illumine our hearts, O Master Who loves mankind, with the pure light of Your divine knowledge. Open the eyes of our mind to the understanding of Your gospel teachings. Implant also in us the fear of Your blessed commandments, that trampling down all carnal desires, we may enter upon a spiritual manner of living, both thinking and doing such things as are well-pleasing unto You. For You are the illumination of our souls and bodies, O Christ our God, and unto You we ascribe glory, together with Your Father, Who is from everlasting, and Your all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

 

 

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