Wednesday, December 28, 2011

'Touchdown Jesus!' or 'Does Tim Tebow Kneel When He Throws a Hail Mary?'

There has been a lot of talk lately about Tim Tebow, the current quarterback for the Denver Broncos and a Heisman trophy winner during his college career at the University of Florida. Most of the hullabaloo has not been about how he plays football, however, it has been about his unashamed expressions of faith. He can be seen kneeling on the sidelines and praying before, during, after games and somehow, this is controversial. On a local radio show leading up to his game with my beloved New England Patriots (who won, by the way) they were talking about Tim Tebow and I heard a caller say “I mean, this is America and you can believe whatever you want, but don’t go pushing it on me!”, and I thought, what? The guy is expressing his faith, how is that ‘pushing it on you?’. As a Catholic Christian, there are several things a day that I am exposed to, and offended by, that secular society is definitely trying to ‘push on me’, however, we live in a country where free expression is supposed to be valued and protected. But more and more it seems if you speak out about your faith in the most minuscule way, or are guided by the word of God, you are expected to sit down and shut your mouth.

The other thing I’ve heard said about Tim Tebow is, “Why is he thanking God? Do these people (Christians) really think God cares who wins a football game?” When people keep saying that he is thanking God for winning a game, this allows them to reduce it down to the argument that God doesn’t care about the outcome of a football game, which allows them to dismiss all prayer. But as someone of faith, I would not guess that Tebow is thanking God for the victory as much as thanking God for the gifts he was given, his health and athletic ability, and his safety as well as that of his teammates. In that sense, if you consider the attention his faith is getting from his expressions on the field, he is acting as any Christian should. He is using the gifts he has received, to glorify and praise the God who gave them to him.

This made me rethink my discernment process. ‘Wait a minute!’ I hear you saying, ‘we know you’re married with two daughters, isn’t it a little bit late to go through discenrnment?’ Well, obviously, I have discerned that most important of vocations already. I knew from an early age that I would someday be a husband and father. I don’t know that I bargained for two beautiful daughters that I would someday need to protect from teenage boys, but that is a different story.

No, I am very happy with my vocation as a husband and father. But as anyone who’s been reading these posts knows, I am not in the right place, or even the right industry, when it comes to my career. I have been prayerfully considering what God’s next step is for me for a while now and coming up empty. A short time ago I had a friend suggest that this truly is another type of discernment process as long as I can accept that I am not too old to do whatever it takes to ‘switch horses mid-stream’ so to speak. That shifted my perspective. Rather than just asking God what my next step should be, I need to be seeking it for myself. I mean, how will He show me the path if I’m not even walking?

So taking a page from Tim Tebow, I see that he is using his gifts to their full potential, and regardless of the outcome, he is glorifying and praising God through those gifts. God may not care who wins a football game, but what of the parable of the servants and the talents (Mt. 25:14-30) or the lamp lit to be put under a bushel basket? As Christians, we are called to take the gifts God has given to us, and through our use of them, glorify Him, praise Him and spread the message of the gospel. You do not have to be an NFL quarterback to do this. And using these gifts may not even have anything to do with how you earn a living. But by focusing on what we can do to serve the Lord, we give Him the chance to put us where He needs us most.

So how will I apply this to my discernment process? The first step would be to make an inventory of the gifts that God has given to me and get a clear picture of how they might work together with my primary vocation as a husband and father. Then I need to figure out how I can best apply those gifts to glorify the Creator, and spread the good news of the gospel? Wow, that makes it sound pretty simple, doesn’t it? But it's not. Particularly for a guy who has taken such joy in beating himself up for a long time. It’s a pastime that is making a comeback for me, so this exercise is probably exactly what I need. To take an honest inventory of my talents would force me to see how I AM useful and perhaps the thought that I am seeking to glorify God would light a fire in my spirit and renew vigor for whatever I am called to pursue.

Here’s hoping!

God bless,

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Lessons from Brother Vinnie or Yoda....The 'Barbarian'

It was a warm September morning. I was a 14 year old kid who had gone to public schools his whole life, and I was about to have my first religion class at Central Catholic High School. I was nervous because I was a freshman, I was over dressed because I'd never had a dress code for school before, and I had no idea what to expect. I walked into the room and there was....Yoda.

Okay, so it wasn’t REALLY Yoda, but he certainly looked like Yoda. His name was Brother Vinnie. Or, as he occasionally reminded us, Brother Conan (as in 'The Barbarian') Vincent Dinnean. He was roughly 4 feet tall, with an under bite that made him look a bit like a bulldog, and ears that were a little pointy, like Yoda. And to us young boys, just entering adolescence, he very well seemed to be roughly 800 to 900 years old.

Brother Vinnie had been at Central Catholic for a long time and had served in many capacities. At that time, aside from his duties of teaching us the basics of catechism, he monitored attendance. He had been doing this for a long time and had a couple of interesting stories about excuses for tardiness so outlandish that he had approved them on the basis of their creativity alone. His attendance duties added to the enigma of Brother Vinnie as well. You see, Brother’s cassock was just long enough that when he walked, it brushed along the ground and you couldn’t see his feet, creating the illusion that he was floating down the hallway collecting the classroom attendance sheets. Now that I think of it, to this day, I cannot say with 100% certainty that he was NOT floating down those hallways.

I remember Brother telling us some of his cautionary tales. For example, during a discussion about ordering our class rings, Brother told us of one evening a few years before, that he had gone to a grocery store dressed in his cassock. The young lady ringing out his purchase asked him if he was from ‘Central’, and when he told her he was, she said, “Oh, I have one of those!”, and proceeded to pull out a keyring with the ‘spoils’ of relationships with several boyfriends: class rings from various local high schools. The message was clear. Your class ring belongs to you. If you want to keep it for posterity, do not risk making it part of some girl’s collection. Although, in the battle between Brother Vinnie's advice and common sense verses hormones in a 14 or 15 year old boy, the deck is most definitely stacked, so I suspect some of my classmates now wonder where that damn ring went.

I think that all of us managed to develop an affection for Brother Vinnie. First of all we appreciated his teaching style by which he would give us a list of questions and answers, and then a week or two later give us a test, which was basically him, in the front of the room, asking those questions in the same order and having us write down the answers. But more importantly than that, we could tell that there was not a mean bone in his body. This man who had inadvertently chosen a name during his ordination that would become inextricably linked with a fictional ‘Barbarian’, had struck a balance between an easy-going authority and a keen sense of humor. I think he truly saw each of us boys as having great potential that he did not want us to squander and he did not want to crush. Some of that may be a nostalgic revision of Brother Vinnie, or maybe I'm starting to realize what it was. As I work my way closer to Yoda age and look at the upcoming generations of young men, I feel like I see that promise and I hope that they don’t squander it, despite being in a world encouraging them to do so at every turn.

There are two stories that Brother Vinnie told us that strike me more poignantly as I grow older and since I returned to the faith. The first was a story he told us about a time, many years before, when Central Catholic hired a teacher who was Jewish. I have never understood why Christians have issues with people of the Jewish faith. I particularly do not understand why Catholics would have an issue with them. Not only have we held on to some of the beliefs that the other Christian faiths have jettisoned from the Old Testament, but every week, we celebrate what is largely, a Seder meal, since Jesus used His last Seder meal to give us the gift of His body and the real presence of the Eucharist. In any event, when Central hired their first Jewish teacher, there was an uproar and they received quite a bit of less than enthusiastic feedback from concerned parents. One of these parents found Brother Vinnie in the office and started to express his displeasure. Brother Vinnie, who was never wanting for 'chutzpah', was totally frustrated with these complaints and told the parent, and I paraphrase, that, 'all comments regarding this situation were now to be directed to the Jewish lady on the front lawn', and gestured out the window to the statue of our Blessed Mother. The parent reluctantly retreated.

The second story has impacted something I do every day. In a discussion about prayer one day, Brother talked about how he remembered during World War II, the churches were full of people praying for the end of the war. Then, when the war ended, the streets were flooded with people celebrating, but the churches were empty. It reminds me now, of the gospel story where Jesus heals the ten lepers and only one comes back to give thanks. Though many came to God when they wanted something, no one came back to Him in thanksgiving. This has shaped me in that, every time I pray I start by thanking God for the gifts He has given to me. Now let’s face it, sometimes life is difficult, you can feel overwhelmed, like you’ve had too much piled up on your plate. Sometimes it seems like you have nothing to be thankful for. At times like that, however, if you start prayer with thanksgiving, it can focus you on the fact that when you think you have nothing to be thankful for... you’re just plain wrong.

A while ago I checked in with my old Alma mater and found out that Brother Vinnie had passed away in 2007. He was 91. I wasn't surprised , of course, I mean, although he wasn’t actually as old as Yoda, he was apparently in his 70's when he taught me and I was in high school.... well..... let’s just say it was a while ago. A few years after I graduated, Central Catholic went co-ed, they’ve expanded and I imagine they are charging a little bit more for tuition these days. I know that there are many beloved teachers there doing a fantastic job. I just can't help but to think it’s interesting that the teacher who had an effect on my daily life and spiritual development, turned out to be, Yoda....The Barbarian?

God bless you Brother Conan Vincent, in dedicating your life to teaching us, I'm sure I am not the only young man whose life is a little bit better by your example.

God bless,

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Ready. Aim.....Not so fast. or Jesus and the Stone-Throwers' Greatest Hits!

The sun had just come up over Jerusalem. The light was touching the tops of the homes, the stables and the temple. A new and dynamic teacher from Galilee had just begun teaching the early risers in the temple area who dared to approach him. Suddenly, coming down the road there was a disturbance. A loud congregation was making its way towards this new teacher, led by those in power with designs to arrest and destroy him and to silence his message.

The crowd dragged along a young woman. She was fighting and struggling, trying to escape what she was certain would be her ultimate fate. Her name was Sarah. She was a young girl, betrothed to her father's friend in payment for a debt, she was expected to be living with him soon, as his third wife. Despondent about this possibility a few months ago, Sarah began talking to a young man and he listened to her well, telling her he wished he had enough wealth to warrant marrying her himself. The two wandered from the city, to a meadow. And just as night fell, Sarah made a mistake. She knew it was wrong, but in her heart, she was so confused and afraid of the future, that she couldn't stop herself. The young man left her there in the field. He was gone by morning and Sarah had to lie to her parents so that she wouldn't be disowned, or worse.

That was the first time it happened. And even though she knew the consequences, since then, Sarah had found herself in that situation a few times. She could feel in her soul that she was hungering for real love, but she would give in to the substitute, if only to feel 'loved' for a short time. In the end, though, she was always left with loneliness and regret. This morning, as she woke up next to another young man, that feeling returned again and she tried to leave quietly. Sarah opened the door, and standing there, were two of the Pharisees, her father, and her husband. Without a second thought, they grabbed her, and the girl was dragged off to be stoned, as the law prescribed.

Gathering a crowd along the way, the scribes and Pharisees brought her to the new teacher and tossed her down in the middle of his group. Sarah was confused. They addressed him as 'teacher' so he must be important, but she could tell they were trying to 'catch' him as well. 'He'll probably just want to stone me like the rest of them.', she thought. But the stranger seemed oddly preoccupied. He just sat there drawing on the ground while the others laid out the charges against her. As she sat there in the dirt, listening to what they were saying, she started to feel used and worthless, as if she were expendable. She knew what she did was wrong, and that it was a mistake, but was she really the human garbage that they were describing?

When they finished, the teacher stopped writing on the ground and stood up. His eyes caught hers for a moment and she somehow felt better. He was not looking at her as the others did. He was not seeing just an adulteress, just a sinner. It was as if he could see her heart and he understood what she was really searching for in these trysts. Just from this glance, Sarah felt that he could see her value as a creation of God. And then he spoke:

Looking out at these power-brokers from the Holy City, the teacher straightened up and confidently, but not arrogantly, spoke one simple line, "Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.", he said. Then he bent down and started to draw in the dirt again.

Sarah didn't know what to think, She braced herself for the first stone to be hurled, and then the onslaught that would follow. But it never came. One by one, starting with some of the most powerful men, they started to drop their stones and walk away. Soon it was just her and the teacher. He straightened up again, looked at her and said, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"

Sarah was dumbfounded. "No one, sir." she replied.

Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on, do not sin anymore."

He reached out to help her up and Sarah walked away. Having at last been seen with love and not lust, and treated with compassion and not used, she felt like she had a fresh start. She felt like she could value herself as a child of God. Even if others did not see her this way, Sarah now had that perception from inside, and it had the power to change her life forever. Whether she knew it or not, she had been saved by the only one in the gathering that day who could have truly condemned her.

Obviously, we don't know the name of the 'woman caught in adultery' in the gospel story. And we don't know what the circumstances of her crime were, or how she was caught. But thinking of this narrative from her perspective (with a modest amount of poetic license) makes me think of women in our society today. We all know someone who has made that mistake and woken up with that regret.

Some of us know women who have that regret forced upon them. Let's face it, in Jesus' time it is completely possible that the 'woman caught in adultery' was raped and was about to be stoned to death for it. How many times do we hear of a trial where the rapist's past crimes, no matter how relevant, cannot be mentioned in court, but the victim's entire history can be dredged up and used by the defense as if to say, "well, she didn't say no to these guys, so obviously her activity with my client was consensual."? The victim is still paying the price, two thousand years later.

Either of these situations can lead to a woman making that same mistake over and over, convincing herself that this time, she is the one in control.  In those cases, though she may be 'letting' it happen, how 'in control' is she if that choice is based on fear, a feeling of inadequacy or a sense of obligation? I remember convincing myself that the dancers at the strip club had all the control because they were the ones taking our money, and that women involved in pornography were involved in it by choice. It was nothing more than my attempt to justify something I was doing for my own gratification which, I knew in my heart, was damaging to women. But I kept on doing it out of my own selfishness. All of us have done it.

In the story of the adulteress, there are two reactions to her sin. There is the crowd, standing there, stones in hand, waiting to persecute, damage and destroy her for their own purposes and satisfaction and there is the teacher who sits and shows no interest in the hearsay and gossip about her. He stands up and tells us that only the one who is perfect can condemn her....and then, even though he could, he doesn't do it. Jesus sends her on her way and tells her to "Go forth, and sin no more."

This idea begs the question: When it comes to how the world is treating women, which kind of man am I? I'm not sure I speak for all of us but in speaking for me, I know I struggle with the tendency toward stone-throwing. I'm sure that I am not the only one with this tendency and in the world today with its World Wide Web of anonymity and detachment, the stone-throwers are many times the ones perpetuating the sin. What do you think the chances are that some of the men taking aim at the adulteress, shall we say, knew her very well? I know the odds are very good that many of those men had taken part in the same activity, even if not with her.

We are entering a glorious time of the Church year. Advent is coming. We are 'preparing the way' for the celebration of when The Word became flesh and walked among us. It is an exciting time, but also a good time to take an honest look in the mirror and see if Jesus is looking back at us with compassion, or if we duck down quick so as not to be hit by the stone-thrower on the other side of the glass. In preparing the way, we can take the opportunity to clean house and get rid of some of those habits about which we are fooling ourselves. Take a look at your perception of women and how you treat the women in your life. Are you involved at all with pornography? When you spend a guys night out, does it include a trip to the strip club? Are you respectful of your wife, or does she catch you with a wandering eye? Would you lay your life down for her? And I don't mean dying for her, I mean LIVING for her?

In Ephesians 5:25, St. Paul tells us that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church:

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her."

For the past four weeks, I have been fasting every Wednesday, eating only bread and water. I got the idea from a friend of mine on Facebook who posted a link to e5men. The website explains it pretty well, but basically it is a group of men who fast for their wives the first Wednesday of every month. It is a way of making a physical sacrifice for our wives in imitation of Christ's sacrifice for the church. I decided to fast every Wednesday, the first Wednesday is for my wife, the second and third are for my two daughters, and the fourth is, in a way, as a penance for the perception and treatment of women that I used to perpetuate. In a way, it is very appropriate. Bread and water is associated with prisoners, and behaviors that objectify, use and abuse women not only imprison them, but also imprison men to their own desires.

Women have spent enough time trying to lift us up only to have us leer at them like adolescent walking hormones. It's time for us to be MEN. It's time for us to lift them up. I encourage any man to take this challenge and join me in this fast. Try it just for Advent, as a way to focus and clean house.

Remember, we are getting ready to celebrate the event by which the Savior came to us through a woman who, had her husband not been just, compassionate, and trusting of the Lord, could have been stoned to death as well.

Happy Advent!

God bless,

Sunday, October 16, 2011

'Dada-Yes' or How to Teach Your 472 month old About Jesus

An old married couple is driving along one day and they stop at a red light.
In the car next to them, a pair of young lovers is carrying on, holding hands, kissing, and hugging, and sitting close together on the driver's side of the bench seat.
The old woman looks at her husband and smiles a little bit.
Remember when we used to drive around town like that? Why don't we do that any more?”, she asks.
The old man looks back at her, glances down at the space between them on their bench seat and replies, “I didn't move.”

I haven't written in a few weeks. It's been difficult to find the time lately as I am trying to re-acquaint myself with the concept of sleep. But when I last wrote, it was about St. Peter being called out onto the water by Jesus. Taking his eyes off of Christ and focusing on his fear of the storm around him, Peter started sinking. I was feeling, at that time, much like St. Peter, as if I was sinking. For Peter, this was remedied as Jesus reached out and pulled him from the waves. I was wondering, at the time, if I'd ever even left the boat. Looking back, I think this question was a bit of a deflection, because I knew that I was drowning and not just waving. To think I hadn't left the boat was easy and got me off the hook in trying to figure out what steps I needed to take to return my focus onto God.

I would love to say that in the time since I wrote that, I've figured some things out, grabbed His hand and pulled myself from the waves. Unfortunately, that is not the case. I have progressed from being St. Peter losing faith in the sea, to being the lost sheep, not able to recognize my shepherd's voice.

I know the storms that are hitting my family right now are not as bad as hardships that many others are facing. Most importantly, thank God, everyone is healthy. I am, however, filled with fear about where I am leading my family. Which leads me to doubt that I am equipped to lead us out of our current situation. And with that, comes a host of regret and self-loathing for the time I wasted when I could have been preparing myself for the vocation of being a husband and a father. In the midst of all this noise that I am hurling at myself, I started to lose God.

A few weeks ago, that felt just like walking on the sea with wind whipping all around and Jesus' voice fading in and out, beckoning me to come to Him. However, as I obsessed over 'what I can I do's', 'what I can't do's', 'what I didn't do's' and 'why didn't I's', His voice just kind of ended up fading away.

I didn't actually realize it until a very inconvenient moment when my wife and I were discussing our situation and what our next steps will be. That is when I realized that I have no clue what to do to move our family forward right now. The job that I am lucky to have, regardless of my hatred for it, pays well for what it is, but doesn't pay enough. I'm barely sleeping, short-tempered, disengaged... in short, I am miserable.

Someone I talked to a couple of weeks ago asked me where I see God in my life right now. I thought for a moment, and said, “I don't know. I don't think I can see Him right now.”

We were silent for a moment, as those words hung in the air like a cartoon bubble, with both of us just looking up at them. And it really hit me that my faith is really being shaken. Oh boy, yet another thing to obsess over, wondering what I can do.....

Well, thank God (and I mean that literally), I am blessed to have a 13 month old daughter. (I also have a 39 month old daughter, a 437 month old wife and I myself, am 472 months old, but that's another whole story). My 13 month old likes to play this incredibly riveting game that I call the 'Dada-Yes' game. It's beautiful in its simplicity in that she says, “Dada”, and I reply, “Yes.” She likes to play this game often, and can go for about 20 minutes or so at a stretch. She especially likes to play when I am driving. It dawned on me in the middle of everything else one day, that the game is about her calling my name, and me responding. On one hand, obviously, it teaches her my name, but it also teaches her that I'm always there, waiting for her to call me.

This led me to think of the story that I used to start this piece. Our previous Pastor, who has recently moved on to another assignment, used this story one day to illustrate our relationship with God. In case you need it pointed out, God is the old man. And when we look around and wonder what happened to our relationship with Him, we need to remember, He didn't move.

I had this image in my mind one day of God seeing me fumbling like a blind man trying to find a key in the dirt, and getting frustrated as he tries to tell me that I only need to knock on the door for it to open.
But then I realized, it's even better than that. I started to think of Jesus telling us that he is the good shepherd. And I remembered a painting I saw where he is reaching out over the edge of a cliff to save the lost member of his flock. So not only will the Father respond if I call on Him, but He is reaching out to pull me from the brink.

In a class I was teaching recently, we read about how several shepherds will pen their sheep together for the night and then retrieve only their own sheep every morning. The writer wondered what kind of chaos must ensue when this happens, so he made a point of being there the next morning when they arrived. What he found was that when they opened the gates to the pen, each shepherd went off in a different direction whistling a different tune, and their sheep would follow them. When he asked how the sheep knew which shepherd to follow, a local told him that all day when they were grazing in the fields, the shepherds would walk among the sheep and whistle so that they learned to recognize the tune. The tune that the sheep recognize is the one they would follow in the morning.

This was all very good news...

First, and most importantly, God didn't move!

Second, He is anxiously waiting to play the 'Dada-Yes' game with us!

Third, He is aching for us to stop looking for that stupid key and just knock on the door!

And for those of us who are truly lost, He is reaching out from the cliffs to pull us from the brink!

But at the end of the day, we have to remember, if we don't learn His tune, and keep ourselves acquainted with it, then we are only going to get lost again.

So what am I doing to re-familiarize myself with the voice of my shepherd? First, I am continuing to go to mass. Our parish is blessed that even though we lost a pastor who was a brilliant homilist and teacher, we have received a new pastor with those same gifts. Second, since I am a night owl, I am returning to reviewing the daily readings before I go to bed, which, since it is always after midnight, is usually one of the first things I do on any given day. Third, I will be making more frequent trips to reconciliation. We are all, at some point, the lost sheep, about to fall into a ravine, and reconciliation is Jesus' way of finding us and reaching out with His mercy to pull us from the brink.

I admit these changes aren't producing their fruits overnight and I am still struggling with all this, so I could use some prayers. But I am encouraged for the first time in a while because I have not completely lost sight of my shepherd, and I still have faith that He will come to find me. Now I just have to do my part, and keep walking towards Him instead of just staying in the holding pen.

God bless,

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Can You Walk on Water? or: Rearranging Deck Chairs on the Titanic

Last week was first Friday, which means Nocturnal Adoration at my parish. I work an odd shift, so when I get out of work, it is usually a good time to go and sit with Him for an hour or so and just check in. This month, my wife decided she would come along as well and we both sat for a while with the Lord. It was her first time going and at the end she told me that the realization she came to in her time with the Lord, was that she, in her own words, sucks, because she doesn't spend enough time in prayer and quiet with Jesus. I am right next to her in that boat! So as someone who loves her and wants what is best for her, I should be looking toward bettering both of our prayer lives. Perhaps we could read the next day's readings together before we go to bed like we did when we were first married. We could tie it in with discussing her observations for NFP (a practice I will not share the details of here, but also an area where we need to improve our consistency).

But if she were ever to ask me what to do for Adoration, I would be no use to her. I couldn't help her decide what to do, because quite frankly, I am never quite sure what to do during Adoration. Part of the time I sit in silent conversation with Christ, bringing my needs to Him and expressing my gratitude, and asking His mercy for my too frequent lack of gratitude. Some of the time I spend asking His help for the things I think I need. The rest of the time I spend listening. Sometimes silently, and sometimes by reading some of the readings out of the missal. I look for something to jump out at me, you know? I wait for that 'aha!' moment where His voice rings in my ears with the choirs of angels saying, “Tom, this is what you should do! This is my will for you!”

I read scripture waiting for words to light up on the page spelling out my path like a giant 'highlighter from Heaven' pointing out the parts of the readings that are a must-see for me!

As of yet, neither of these things has happened. If they do happen, I'll keep you posted. Perhaps God will light up numbers in the readings, prompting me to buy a winning lottery ticket. If I start writing a lot more, you'll know that this has happened and I have quit my job, but I'm not holding my breath. So how does God speak to us? He apparently does not have my email address. I have not received any text messages...

“Tom, was looking over ur plan for ur life. OMM (instead of OMG) ROFLMAO. Will txt u my plan 2morrow. ;0) Your BFF, JC”

No, God would not send a text message, and if He did, I'm pretty sure He would skip the emoticons. In fact, when I was at Adoration last month, I was thinking about how He speaks to us and it led me to sit there looking at the Body of Christ in the consecrated host and thinking about Robert Frost. Or at least about Frost's poem, 'The Road Not Taken'. I imagine most of us are pretty familiar with the poem...

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
I posted the whole poem because it is just beautiful and makes me think of many things in my life. Even as I pondered it that night, in the quiet, a lot of different things came to me. It made me think of men who pursue the priesthood in these modern times when the culture we live in has so many things to discourage them from doing so. It made me think of when I was engaged for the first time. My fiancee was a perfectly nice woman, but she had not been brought up in any particular faith and I was beginning to hear the call to return to my faith, which she had no interest in pursuing. The engagement fell through and eventually, I met my wife who was beginning her journey back to the church. I cannot imagine where I would be now had I continued down that road and not followed what many would have you believe is the road less traveled by returning to the Catholic Church.

But all of these thoughts came afterward. What struck me originally was that opening image of the poem. “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, / And sorry I could not travel both / And be one traveler, long I stood / And looked down one as far as I could / To where it bent in the undergrowth;”
That image reminded me of what happens when I talk to God. And when I say 'talk' I mean that in the conversational sense. Let me give the example I was confronted with that night...

Anyone who has read this blog knows I do not like my job (see: Job Searching II: Jeremiah Strikes Back) and at the beginning of last month, I was in the running for what was going to be a great job. I had made it through the third round of interviews and I was just waiting for the call. So I was chatting with God thanking Him for bringing this opportunity to me, hoping and praying it would come through, then it occurred to me; What if I don't get it?
Briefly I thought about that... well, if I don't get it, then it is time for me to 'buckle down' where I am and get serious about doing what I need to move ahead...ah, now we have two roads diverging in the wood...and as quickly as I could, in my mind's eye, I looked down that other road to where it bent and I said, 'I don't even want to think about that! Forget that other road!'
And a horrifying thought came to me. When you're praying for God's guidance and you have a thought like this that you dismiss soooo quickly, how do you know that's not the road toward Him? As we say in my house, 'Oh poop!'

So after thinking about this image for a month, there I was at First Friday Adoration for September, sitting with my wife. I decided to review the readings from August. The readings from Sunday August 7th really stood out to me.

The first reading was 1 Kgs 19:9a, 11-13a. It is the reading about Elijah going to Mount Horeb and being told to wait for the Lord as the Lord will be passing by. As he waits, a strong wind, an earthquake and a fire come, but the Lord is in none of these. After all of these things pass, there remains a tiny whispering sound, a still, small voice, and Elijah recognizes this as the Lord. What better example could I have that it doesn't make sense to look for a grand demonstration from God, but that His voice will come to us as a tiny whisper. Perhaps it is a new opportunity, maybe it is a conversation with a friend that gets you thinking about something. There are people who are alive today, have earned a living, made millions or met their husband or wife because of a 'mistake'. And I realized, sadly for me, these 'roads less taken' that we don't want to take, may also be God's voice quietly guiding us.

The gospel reading for that day was Mt 14:22-33, another one we are all familiar with. This is the passage when Jesus sends the apostles ahead in a boat. A storm comes up, and they look up to see Jesus walking toward them on the sea. He calls Peter out of the boat. Peter starts walking toward him, but he takes his eyes from Jesus and starts to fear the storm, so Peter starts to sink. He cries out for Jesus to help and Jesus reaches out and catches him, admonishing Peter for losing faith. Well, this reading struck a chord with me because you see, I did get that call and the company decided to put off hiring anyone until early next year. I was pretty discouraged and again, if you've been reading this blog, you know that it just seems I can't catch a break lately, see Job Searching (as in 'the book of Job'.... but if you hear of anything...), and this just seemed like another kick in the gut. I was exactly like Peter. I was so focused on the 'maelstrom' around me that I took my eyes off of Jesus. I have been very afraid that I won't find the way to move my family forward. It pains me to say this, but my faith is shaken and I am most definitely sinking.

As I imagined myself in Peter's place, stepping out onto the sea, having fear get the better of me and starting to sink, the reading made it very clear what I would need to do next. Like Peter, I would need to cry out to Jesus so that he can reach out and catch me. But as I thought about the still, small voice and all those 'roads' that I have dismissed in prayer or quiet contemplation, I realized that there is something I need to do before I think too quickly that I am sinking. I need to take a good, hard, honest look around me. Because there is a good chance, that I haven't even left the boat.

Please comment as I would love to get different perspectives and experiences as to when / how you have heard His voice and your own reflections on the question, 'Have you left the boat?'

God bless,

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Hello, my name is Tom, and I am an adult who cries at Disney movies...

So last weekend we took our two daughters to see the new Winnie the Pooh movie. As usual, my eyes filled up a little at the end. This is not unusual for me and Disney movies. I am not too proud to admit it. The reason I choked up at the end of this one, (and I put out a large SPOILER ALERT here to anyone who hasn't seen it yet) is that after spending most of the movie scheming and hoping to get honey, Pooh goes to visit Owl, hoping he has honey, and notices that Owl's doorbell rope is made out of Eeyore's tail (which they have all been searching for throughout the movie). Pooh goes in and asks about the rope, and upon figuring out that it is Eeyore's tail, he takes it and heads off. As he is going out the door, Owl offers him some honey. Pooh Bear, even though his tummy has been rumbly since the beginning of the movie, says something to the effect of, 'No thank you Owl, I am very anxious to return this tail to my good friend Eeyore.'. Pooh thinks of someone else instead of his own need for honey, BOOM, I choke up.

The worst, by far, however, believe it or not, is 'Cars'. You know, the movie with the race car and the goofy talking tow truck....yes, that's the one. Chokes me up every time and usually a tear or two will spill. In the words of Eeyore, "pa-thetic". And in that movie, it's the same thing. It's the part in the final race where Lightning McQueen sees that 'The King' has crashed, slams on his brakes, screeching to a halt just before the finish line, giving up his Piston Cup championship, and then going back to push him across the line because he thinks, "The King should finish his last race.". Again, putting someone else before all he thought was important.

I was thinking of this during Sunday Mass a couple of weeks ago when the reading was about God offering Solomon anything he wanted, and Solomon asking the Lord for wisdom to be a good leader for his people instead of selfishly asking for riches or power for himself. (1 Kgs 3:5,7-12) It made me think of a story my father has told me about when I was in the hospital as an infant.

When I was two days old, I was rushed to Massachusetts General Hospital because my 'color' wasn't right. It turns out I was a tad blue due to a serious congenital heart defect called Transposition of the Great Vessels. At three days old, I had my first open heart surgery. It was not a final repair, but it bought me three years (twice as long as they originally thought) until the final repair could be done on a larger heart, and with three years of technological advances. For most of the time, my mother was climbing the walls in Lawrence (Mass) General Hospital because those were the days when they would keep women in the hospital for a long time after they gave birth. My father was struggling to run his own business, a welding shop, and locked it up as soon as he found out what was wrong with me. He spent days and nights at the hospital, leaving to give my mother and the rest of the family reports on my condition and occasionally to see my two older brothers. Then one night, while he was at the hospital with me, he had gone to the waiting room.

When he got there, there was a young girl of about 20 years old. He had seen her there before, always alone. She had a daughter named Jennifer who had led a very difficult young life, and Jennifer was in the fight again. The doctors came in and took Jennifer's mother aside. They told her that Jennifer was not doing well. You see, Jennifer's extremities and the tip of her nose had started to turn black because she had such poor circulation. They told Jennifer's mother that she should probably just go sit by her and say goodbye because she was not going to last the night. When my father explains what happened next, HE starts to choke up.

Jennifer's mother looked up at the doctors, her eyes flashed with anger, and a passion burst forth from her as she told them, 'Who the hell do you think you are?!?! Are you God? Don't you dare tell me that my daughter is not going to last the night! She's fought before and she's going to fight now. She is not going to die tonight! She is going to be fine!"

My father was amazed by this young single mother standing up to the all-powerful doctors. The next thing my father knew, he was in the chapel at the hospital. He doesn't know how he got there, and he doesn't remember walking there. He's not even sure he knew where the chapel was at that point. He just remembers realizing that he was in there, on his knees, and he was praying, for Jennifer. Here he was in the hospital with his infant child recovering from heart surgery, and he was praying for some other kid. When I was younger, I often wondered what the hell he was thinking. I needed those prayers! But my father was moved to put someone else's needs before his own. Lately I've wondered how my father's prayers for Jennifer may have affected my recovery.

The next day, my father saw Jennifer's mother, and Jennifer was fine. Her circulation and color was coming back, and my parents actually saw them both about a year or two later in the doctor's office while we were there for one of my follow-up visits. Jennifer was still doing well, and I wonder if she's gone on to live a long, healthy, normal life. I wonder how much my dad's praying had to do with that.

In the Winnie the Pooh movie, Pooh Bear wins the prize for finding Eeyore's tail, a full honey pot so big he dives in. In Cars, Lightning McQueen ends up with friends and a real home, both of inestimable value. Both characters learn a lesson about what is really important in life.

My father...well, he got me, I guess. He never re-opened his iron shop, and he tells me he doesn't regret it one bit. I have been extremely fortunate, despite not taking care of myself the way I really should. When I see what other people with my heart defect and my particular repair for it have gone through, there is no doubt that God has had a hand in my life. And the more I learn about God and His word, the more I think that is, at least partially, because my father was praying for 'some other kid' when I was recovering from heart surgery.

I think tonight I'll say a prayer for Jennifer, wherever she may be.

God bless,


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

TOB Tuesd- um Wednesdays! TOB and Same-sex 'Marriage' or Would you serve 10W30 or 10W40 With Veal?

So last week, I addressed Theology of the Body and marriage. As an addendum, I guess, I feel it is important to talk about Same-sex 'marriage' in regard to TOB. To be succinct as possible, it simply cannot and does not exist.
According to God's plan for marriage in the bible, it must have four elements.

Marriage must be free, total, faithful and fruitful.

If you think about it, same-sex 'marriage' is not free since it is based on a compulsion toward distorted sexual desires. It is not total in that one is really not giving anything of himself, sexually speaking, to the other person. It obviously is not fruitful, as a same-sex couple cannot produce offspring. I know that technology has provided an illusion of this, but biologically, as our bodies are designed, it is impossible. And although these relationships may be faithful with regard to fidelity, since they are based on selfish and distorted sexual desires, the role of the other partner could be filled by anyone. Without the possibility of children there is nothing to tie the two together by singular roles within the family.

I know that some people will say that it is about the love that the two people share and not just about intercourse. As I mentioned in my marriage post, the major difference between friendship and marriage, is the marital union of the bodies into 'one flesh'. It is sexuality. And the meaning and purpose of sex is to point us toward our spiritual union with God. It is to be an unselfish exchange of total persons in a life-giving union. By that definition, the only true definition, members of the same sex cannot even truly have intercourse. When those desires are turned toward nothing more than physical satisfaction, they become by nature, selfish and twisted in on oneself. This is the case with addiction to pornography and masturbation. So by that definition, when two people of the same gender have 'sex' it is really no more than mutual masturbation.

I am sure that these statements are going to cause some controversy, and possibly lose me some friends, but in the end, I can only express what I know as truth. And I know there are many arguments that people will make for same-sex 'marriage' but those do not change the reality that marriage began as a religious institution that the state decided to recognize (and charge licensure fees for). That does not, inherently, give 'the state' the right to re-define the reality of what a marriage is. (Perhaps they got cocky when the re-defined murder as 'choice').
More importantly to me, marriage, by my faith, is not just a legal contract, it is a covenant, a sacrament, a sacred calling, a vocation. People will say I don't have the right to 'impose my will' upon others, and thanks to the system we live under that is correct and a wonderful thing. That does not mean that I cannot voice my dissent when somebody tries to twist something that is important to me into what it is not because they think they have a right to it.

Again, many will disagree with me, and legislatures will do what they will do (generally what is politically expedient to bring in money or save their jobs) but no matter what the state says marriage is, it does not change the reality. In the end, it is one woman and one man, brought together to share in God's miracle of creation. What I've written here are my beliefs based on what I have learned marriage is. I have friends that will agree, and I have friends that will disagree. When it comes down to it, we all have one voice. I hope we can express ourselves civilly, and if we disagree, we can at least learn about the views on the other side.

I don't want people to think that I am unfeeling about those with same-sex attraction, by the way. I cannot imagine the struggle they go through each day if they are fighting those desires and I do not envy their call either. We are all called to chastity, even within marriage (chastity- a call toward purity of heart) but for those with same-sex attraction, the call to chastity is a call to celibacy. In it, there is opportunity to give the gift of oneself in other ways, but it has to be a very difficult call. Most of the people with these desires have been told by our new modern society that it is okay to act upon them and that it is okay to use their sexuality this way. These people probably do not agonize over a desire to live chastely. It is their choice and some may say it is not loving of me to point out that it is the wrong choice. But if your neighbor was doing something against the body's original design, such as, drinking motor oil, wouldn't it be the loving thing for you to inform him that 10W30 is not good for the digestive tract? I know the analogy is a bit different as there are certain and immediate consequences to drinking motor oil, but in the end, it is basically just stating that someone is not using their body as it was intended. And if your neighbor, after you tell him, continues chugging 10W30, then you love him anyway and help him when he gets sick.

Thank you for reading this far.

God bless,


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

TOB Tuesday! or 'Mawwiage is what bwings us togethaaah today.'

So a little while ago, in my post about Theology of the Body, I mentioned that I would be taking some time to address TOB as it relates to some specific subjects and church teaching. In an effort to actually do this, I have decided to institute, 'TOB Tuesdays' (although I'm sure that I will most likely be posting them in the wee, small, hours of Wednesdays). In this, the first 'TOB Tuesday, I have decided to tackle a topic that I covered fairly well in my initial post, but that needs a little more fleshing out.


When we think about marriage, what images pop into our heads? Some people reflect on their wedding day. Others think of some sort of pent up resentment that they are holding toward their spouse. Some people think it's just a piece of paper. I have heard it referred to as 'living together with a lawyer'. And the great Groucho Marx once quipped, "Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who wants to live in an institution?"

When I said I was getting married, I had a friend suggest to me, "Why do you wanna do that? After marriage it's just kids, and then all that's left is death!"

So marriage has not gotten a good rap through the years. Do phrases like, "the engagement ring, the wedding ring, and then the suffering." or "the old ball and chain" ring a bell?

They do not evoke the beautiful, 'happily ever after' image at all. It is like you are willingly giving up every bit of yourself, tying yourself to another person forever and in the bargain, you get to raise a bunch of kids! It will comfort you to know that according to Theology of the Body, marriage is nothing like that! Well, except for the willingly giving up every bit of yourself, tying yourself to your spouse forever, and raising a bunch of kids part.

You see, in the Bible, marriage is a pretty important thing. The Bible begins with a wedding (Adam and Eve), then Jesus performs his first miracle, beginning His public ministry, at the wedding feast at Cana, and the Bible ends with the wedding feast of the Lamb in revelation, where the Lamb and His church join together in full communion for eternity.

These three events actually map out God's plan for marriage quite well. But first, we need to address exactly what it is that makes a marriage different from all of the other relationships in our lives. After all, married people share each other's dreams and hopes, they love each other and want what's best for the other person. All of these are qualities of friendship, and very important to marriage, but not really exclusive to it. All of the things I just listed, I have shared with friends and family for my whole life. I can express all of my hopes, dreams and fears to any number of friends, including my wife, but there is only one of these people I give myself to totally, and that is my wife. And what is it that I share with my wife that I cannot share with any of these other people I love so much? It is simple. It is my sexuality. That is what makes marriage different from all of our other relationships, and that is what constitutes giving ourselves totally to another.

Without sexuality and sexual desire, there would be no marriage. When God created Adam, he was alone, there was no other creature like him, and it made no sense to him. His body was inscrutable on its own. It was only when he saw Eve that Adam finally felt the joy of being who he was. The joy of being a man, made in God's image, for the purpose of unity! Adam and Eve were the original image of God's plan for marriage and sexuality. They were able to see each other as total beings, body, spirit, flesh and divinity all together, given as a gift to the other. This union, this 'giving of the total gift' of oneself, was designed, by its very nature to be fruitful. A husband and wife give themselves to each other in such a powerful exchange of love, that sometimes, 40 weeks later, you have to give it a name! The Lord also designed Adam and Eve for freedom, because He knows that love cannot be demanded. Adam and Eve were so free in fact, that they were able to go against God's wishes, which led to the temptation and the fall of man. The fall led to one of the other failings in Adam and Eve's marriage, and that was faithfulness. While they were free to disobey God's instruction, they were supposed to be faithful to Him and each other. Where was Adam when Eve was being tempted by the serpent? Shouldn't he have been protecting her? And then when they got caught, he threw her under the bus immediately:

"The woman whom you put here with me- she gave me fruit from the tree, so I ate it." (Gen. 3:12)

 They were not faithful to God, or each other. So in Adam and Eve, we see the first marriage and the original intent for its foundation, (even though it was torn asunder by temptation and man not trusting God's plan). Husband and wife, FREE to make a TOTAL gift of themselves and be FAITHFUL to a FRUITFUL union between the man, the woman, and God.

Jesus was also an image of marriage for us. But wait, Jesus was not married. How could He be an example of marriage to us? In Jesus and His relationship with His Church, we see a perfect example of what marriage is supposed to be. Throughout the gospels, Jesus refers to Himself as 'the bridegroom' and His life is a perfect sacrifice for His bride, the Church. St. Paul clarifies this relationship for us in his often misunderstood letter to the Ephesians. He starts by saying that wives and husbands should be subordinate to each other out of reverence for Christ, and then he opens the floodgates of wrath from all of the modern feminists by saying:

"Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, just as Christ is the head of the church, he himself the savior of her body." (Eph. 5:22-23)

 O....M.....Gosh! Did he just say what I think he did? Yes, wives are to be subordinate to their husbands. And that is where the 'tolerant', 'open-minded', 'accepting' critics of this passage leave off. But what is St. Paul's guidance to husbands? This is so good, I'm going to quote the whole thing....

"Husbands love your wives even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. So also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body."
(Eph. 5:25-30)

WOW! We, as husbands are to love our wives as Christ loved the church. Christ died for his church! He handed himself over, was tortured, beaten and humiliated before being put to death for His church. So in Christ and the church, we are given another example of marriage. Christ's love for His church was epitomized in His passion and sacrifice for her. He gave Himself TOTALLY, even to His brutal scourging and death. He gave Himself FREELY:

 "This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father." (Jn. 10:17-18)

He gave Himself FAITHFULLY. Unlike Adam and Eve, who turned on God and each other, Christ did not back down when He was tempted or even when He was in agony. Even in His prayer in the garden at Gethsemane, He said:

 "Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will, but what you will." (Mk. 14:36)

And most gloriously, Jesus' sacrifice for the church was FRUITFUL. For in His sacrifice, Christ conquered death itself. Taking all of our sin upon His shoulders, so that we could share in the Father's mercy and be given new life through Him. In dying on the cross, Christ made us all the children of God, brothers and sisters in His love.

So Jesus' relationship and sacrifice for the church, is the perfect example of the foundation that was established with Adam and Eve, but where they failed, He endured, thus redeeming this relationship and showing it in its purest form.
Jesus also spoke about marriage directly. When asked about divorce, Christ said: 

"Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'?  So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate."  (Mt. 19:4-6),
and goes on to say,
 "Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery."  (Mt. 19:8-9).

In this passage, Jesus affirms that Moses allowed divorce because of our fallen nature and that marriage was not meant to be like that. He confirms that it was supposed to be a total and faithful covenant between husband and wife lasting until death. 

So we have the foundation for marriage and its original intention damaged by Adam and Eve's inability to resist temptation, and a long period of struggling before we have the perfect example of spousal love in Jesus and His sacrifice for His church. But what Theology of the Body teaches is that as wonderful as the spousal union and the expression of our sexuality within marriage are, it is simply a foretaste of what awaits us when Christ and His church are brought into total union at the wedding feast of the Lamb. And before you ask, no, the wedding feast of the Lamb is not a giant orgy. The reason that our physical, spousal union is but a foretaste, is that the union that Christ and His church will have is a joy beyond our human understanding. It is a union not simply on a physical level, but on a spiritual level that we cannot yet comprehend.

So what we are left with as the TOB teaching on marriage is that as man and woman, our bodies were created with a purpose and a message that points us toward union with another. On Earth, that union is called marriage and consists of making a gift of yourself to your spouse. Marriage is meant to be free, in that you give the gift of yourself willingly. It is to be total, in that you hold no part of yourself back from your spouse. It is to be faithful, meaning that it is marked by fidelity and is life-long. And it is to be fruitful, meaning it is open to God's plan for new life. Marriage is one of the sacraments of the Catholic Church. Which means by its very definition that it is a physical sign of a spiritual truth. It is a union on Earth, pointing us toward a union in Heaven.

Is marriage an institution like Groucho Marx said? No, marriage is an institution, created by God as a sign of what we were made for.

So is marriage just a piece of paper, like a contract, concerned with what you get out of it? No, marriage is a covenant, life-long, unbreakable, and totally dependent on what you put into it.

See, it's just like I said at the beginning. Marriage is willingly giving up every bit of yourself, tying yourself to another person forever and in the bargain, you get to raise a bunch of kids!

What an awesome gift God has given us!

God bless,



Saturday, July 2, 2011

Fathers and Daughters or The Practicality of an Electric Fence and a Shotgun

For Father's Day, my wife bought me a great book called, 'Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters', by Meg Meeker MD. The book goes through ten 'secrets every father should know' about raising daughters. I'm about halfway through and it is scaring the hell out of me! Truthfully, so far I have found most of the father-daughter relationship information fairly intuitive. The fact that girls can see their daddies as their heroes and that I need to model the way she should be treated by her boyfriends and husband because she will compare them to me (for better or for worse) is no great surprise. These things are daunting, but do not come as a shock. I mean, as a man, I have taken cues from my parents' relationship (for better or worse) and carried them into my expectations of, and behavior in, my marriage.
What I am most terrified about is the statistics in the book. The author is a pediatrician and quotes statistics that would (and probably should) terrify any parent of a daughter.

We are raising our girls in a world where:

1 in 5 Americans over age 12 tests positive for genital herpes
11.9 percent of females will experience forced intercourse
40.9 percent of girls aged 14 to 17 experience unwanted sex
11.5 percent of high school girls attempted suicide in 2005
10000 teens PER DAYcontract a new STD
90 percent of eating disorders occur in girls age 12 to 25

And those are just some of the hard studies. Girls are entering puberty earlier than they were a generation or two ago (as early as age 9). Just take a look around at the messages and images young girls are getting, even passively in the room when tv is on, let alone the younger and younger dissemination of sexual 'education' that they are in no way mature enough to understand.

This is definitely a world where girls need their daddies to be heroes and protectors. They need us to step up and keep them safe. Now as reassuring as it would be to just erect a gigantic electric fence, sit by the gate with a shotgun and call it a day, the possibility of 'locking up our daughters' is neither practical, nor any way to treat someone whom you love more than your own life. So we need another way to protect them.

The positive side of the studies in this book is that by being engaged, interested, caring.....  basically by being loving fathers, we can make a huge difference in our daughters' lives. But, there are more messages out there that are bound to make that a bit of a fight for us. Anyone who has watched tv in the last, oh, 20-30 years can't help but notice a shift in the portrayal of dads on tv. Where we used to have Charles Ingalls, we replaced him with Al Bundy. Where Cliff Huxtable once tread, we have Homer Simpson shuffling (and drooling). Where Mike Brady would engage his kids and teach them something, we have Peter Griffin, need I say more?

The father in many modern tv shows has become little more than another sight gag, valuable to the plot, perhaps, but portrayed as a bumbling ass so that even when he gets things right, it's mostly by accident (think of Tim Taylor and Ray Barone). Fatherhood has been marginalized as men have been perceived in some sort of suspended adolescence. We are shown as slaves to our own desires and impulses. We are portrayed as selfish morons who begrudgingly put up with our wives and children in between golf games, sporting events and trips to the strip club. It is not a good picture. And although I'm sure there are some who are happy to accept and wallow in this example, judging by all of the dads I know, it is not an accurate picture. It is also the last thing our families need.

What our families need is heroes. They need us to be bold. We must be the head of the family, but also the servant of our family. We must be warriors for the protection of our loved ones. I don't mean warriors in the sense that we are armed with weapons, picking fights or waging war on a society fraught with danger at every step. We need to be spiritual warriors.

Allow me to explain this a little further. I have a first degree black belt in two separate styles of traditional karate-do. I studied those styles for almost eight years, yet I have never been in a fight. The training I did, if necessary, could have kept me from physical harm. However, what I learned in my training, is that the self-defense 'warrior' is really more internal. It was more  in the way I carried myself, or being aware of my surroundings. All the time being confident that I could keep myself from harm if it were warranted.

These are the warriors that our families need. They need us to be strong, humble, caring, protective, and confident. They need us to listen, to set guidelines and be clear in our expectations. But most of all, they need us to be examples. Whether you have sons or daughters, you need to be an example of what a good man is. You need to show how a good man treats his wife, how he works for his family, how he listens and guides his children. Your sons will look to you as a mark of how they should behave and relateas they become husbands and fathers. Your daughters will gauge the way their boyfriends and husbands are treating them, by the example they saw at home.

We can't allow our role to be marginal. Our role can make a tremendous difference in the lives of our loved ones. This should be elementary, no-brainer kind of stuff. But as we are moving into the time when fathers have been trained in manhood by the television and we are battling the tide of irrelevance in the messages our own children receive, our job is not made any easier.

Might I suggest we follow the example of St. Joseph. When he brought Mary to Bethlehem, heavy with child, and there was no place for them to stay, he persisted and did the best he could for his family. When God's messenger told him to leave for Egypt at once, he did, without hesitation. He was a strong man, a humble man, willing to give of himself for his family and willing to listen to the word of God. Ask him to pray on our behalf that our Father in Heaven will provide these gifts and graces to us.

...and to quote another tv show from long ago, "Let's be careful out there!"

God bless,

Monday, June 27, 2011

Happy 4th of July! or "We hold these truths to be self evident..."

"When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
-Declaration of Independence, July 4th 1776

These simple phrases, penned over 235 years ago created our nation. The people of the United States of America, (before it was the United States of America, of course) were pushed to revolution because they were being denied freedoms which, they stated, were endowed upon us by God. Now I will readily admit that the Americans of that day were a little off track when it came to protecting God-given freedoms. We were a nation that still supported slavery, even by some of the men who wrote those words. A wrong that would not be addressed for almost another hundred years, and the residue of which, still affects us to this day.

So recently, I was listening to a radio show talking about the Transportation Safety Administration's pat-down of an 18 month old child (that was last week's story, before this week's story of a 95 year old leukemia patient) and a gentleman called in and pointed out that we were in trouble as a nation when we move away from the concept that these rights are 'endowed by our Creator', because we no longer think that people are entitled to those rights objectively. To be honest, the guy sounded a little crazy. The more I thought about it, however, I realized that although his tone was a little wacky, his idea was a pretty sound one. He ended the call by saying that in the end, we would only keep the rights we fought for, because if we didn't fight for them, then why do we deserve them?

Interestingly, the two 'victims' of the TSA are a perfect example of the flaw in this system. You see, when we only support the rights of those who can fight for them, we limit the freedoms of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to those who are strong enough, or powerful enough to defend their own rights. And those who are fighting, better have a good reason why their freedoms benefit everyone else, because you cannot fight without any ammunition (figuratively speaking, of course). In short, we descend into a utilitarian society. "Why should the state allow you to do what you want to do? What can you offer?" The judgement is then up to the subjective will of, well....... who? I guess that is the question. When we lose sight of the fact that these rights are given to us by our Creator, we leave the decision up to somebody else, don't we?

But that is not where we came from. We are a nation founded on the premise that we are all entitled to these rights, not because we earned them, not because we can contribute 'enough' to be worthy of them, but because our Creator, our God, made us all free. The concept is very old. God could easily have created Adam and Eve to only obey Him, only do what he wanted, but He didn't. He made them free. They made a mess of things, and His chosen people continued not listening to Him, but he freed them from slavery in Egypt and brought them to the Promised Land. He was just, and He reprimanded them, but he didn't leave His people. Later, even though we were all sinners, He sent Jesus, his only begotten son, to die for our sins. Did we deserve it? Had we earned it? Do we serve God 'enough' to be worthy of such a sacrifice? I know I don't.

So back to our two TSA 'Terror suspects'. What of those not strong enough or powerful enough to fight for themselves? Those at the very beginning of their lives, and those at the end, are not strong enough, or powerful enough to fight for themselves. And, quite frankly, in the eyes of those 'deciding' and those who don't think we need a 'crutch' like religion and God, these two groups do not contribute enough to truly value them in society. So we have a nation where the unborn's right to life is dependent on someone else's choice, and to suggest that their rights are important is to be attacked outright. Imagine, we live in a world where you are considered intolerant by asserting someone's right to life. The old and the sick are being pushed to assert their 'right to die'. But isn't it naive to think that conceding some 'man' has the authority to bestow these rights upon us won't lead to someone having the authority someday, to make that choice for us as well?

We need to realize that the first amendment was not written to keep God out of government, but to keep the government out of God. As we push the faithful out of the public square, and move toward a totally secular society, we must consider what a danger it is to be judged only on what your usefulness is, how scary it will be when somebody else gets to decide what your life is worth, and where we are headed when the government becomes our god.

I know many people will not agree with what I'm saying here and others will think that I am railing against the current administration. I'm not afraid of the current administration. What is scaring me is the overwhelming attitude I see in comments everywhere. In news stories, on Facebook, on other blogs, people seem all too happy to take the decisions once left to God, toss Him aside (because that's how we've been conditioned when it comes to public policy) and allow the government, or the loudest interest group, to make that decision for all of us.

I recently got into a Facebook back-n-forth (I do not recommend these) with someone who said that religion was only responsible for violence, war and hatred and the faster we can get it out of our government, the better. I literally felt like we were talking about two different groups of people as I know a lot of religious people, none of whom are the monsters she described. While I agree that religion should not be a prerequisite for holding a government post and the last thing I would ever want is the government casting judgement on, or creating any religion, (these are the things that the first amendment guards against), it seems to me that people of faith in government, have the perspective of the Creator's unalienable rights and of being blessed with gifts that we do not 'deserve' or do not contribute enough to be 'worthy' of receiving. We are a nation with a lot of hope, with a lot of promise and with a lot of sin. We need to be grateful, we need to try to live up to His expectations and we need humility.

As we prepare to celebrate the birth of our nation, let's not forget the words of our Declaration of Independence, the document responsible for the beginning of a bold experiment in freedom. An experiment that God inspired and nurtured. An experiment that could end sadly if those of us with faith in the Creator allow our voices to be shut out of the discussion.

Happy 4th of July!

God bless,

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Theology of the Body or You teach Catholic teenagers WHAT?!?!

  A couple of weeks ago, in my post about pornography, I mentioned that my wife and I teach Theology of the Body for teens at our parish. It occurred to me at the time, that many readers may not know what TOB is. So I attempted (poorly I suspect, as the teaching is really expansive) to get the basic idea of the teachings in Theology of the Body to fit into this blog post. It was impossible. So I laid a foundation here, and I will be expanding on some of the concepts and how they apply to and affect church teaching as the weeks go on. So without further adieu, my post: Theology of the Body refers to the teachings in 129 talks that Blessed Pope John Paul II delivered during his Wednesday audiences between 1979 and 1984, at the beginning of his pontificate. The teaching centers on the body as the primary vehicle for making visible the invisible (the spiritual and the divine) and being the sign of these things in the visible world. The premise is that, in the way God designed our bodies, they point toward union with another. The meaning of life, is stamped into how are bodies are designed.
God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.” Gen. 1:27
And in Genesis 2, the second account of creation, when Adam is seeking a suitable partner he goes through all the animals, and does not find one. Adam realizes that he is alone in the world, that somehow, he is different from these other creatures, and then God creates Eve, and we all know Adam's reaction to this:
the man said: "This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called 'woman,' for out of 'her man' this one has been taken." Gen. 2:23
And at that time, the bible goes on to say that:
The man and his wife were both naked, but they felt no shame.” Gen. 2:25
What this says to us is that, in the beginning, Adam and Eve were meant to see each other as an integrated body and spirit, to see the real value of the other person. They were not supposed to feel threatened by the selfish desire of the other, because they did not see each other that way. But in eating from the tree of knowledge, that desire for the good was twisted and they no longer saw each other as the beautiful integrated beings they were. Their perception of each other was split, and instead of seeing the beauty of the spirits that God had given to each of them, they only perceived the physical, seeing each other as a means to satiate their own desires. They then sewed fig leaves into clothing, because out of this revelation, came the suspicion that they needed protection from the selfish desires of the other.
I think it is always interesting to note at this point, that before 'the fall', the only tree that Adam and Eve were not to eat from was the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the tree that led to man thinking he is as wise as God. However, at the end of the story of the fall, God keeps them from eating of the tree of life. So, in the beginning, God's original intention was for us to live forever in a consciousness where we could truly see each others value as beings with a divine soul. But by introducing sin into the world and being tempted by evil, death came into the world, and we were cut off from this consciousness. Truly, isn't that still how sin works today? It is someone or something in this world telling us that God's word is not in our best interest, or that there are ulterior motives, or that 'everybody else is doing it', or that the expectation is not realistic. Whatever the justification, it gives us reason to think that we know better than God, that we have the true knowledge of good and evil. So we deliberately go against His word and cut ourselves off from Him. Sin has not changed much, has it? Or perhaps it is just perpetual.
Theology of the Body, then expands on this as it relates to the 'Nuptial' meaning of the body. What does this teaching in Genesis, tell us about the original intent for our sexuality and our spousal union? Well, to touch on this, we need to think about how seriously the bible takes marriage. The bible starts with a marriage (Adam and Eve), Jesus begins His public ministry at... a wedding. Jesus continually uses comparisons with himself as the 'bridegroom' and the church as the bride, and the bible ends with, the wedding feast of the lamb, where Christ and the church come together in union for all eternity. So it would seem that the spousal union is a pretty important thing in the word of God.
So starting with the teaching from Genesis that we were originally called to a union with each other, not as just physical bodies, but as integrated beings with a divine soul. Theology of the Body starts to give us an idea of God's intent for our sexuality.
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.” Gen. 2:24
TOB then expands on this through teachings in the new testament. As I said, Jesus starts his public ministry by performing His first miracle at a wedding feast. Throughout His teachings, Jesus refers to himself as the bridegroom to his bride, the church. So Christ puts as a model for our spousal unions, his union with the church. St. Paul verifies this in his letter to the Ephesians, saying that marriage should reflect Christ's love for the church and the way he sacrificed himself, giving himself over for her. Concluding by saying:
So (also) husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.” Eph. 5:28-30
Theology of the Body thus teaches that our marriages should reflect Christ's sacrifice for the church. So if we believe that our sexuality (the design and desires of our bodies) is a gift from God to point us toward union with another, then we learn from the new testament, that the spousal relationship that leads to, is to mirror Christ's relationship with the church. At the very least, this should make clear to us that our sexuality is not to be twisted into ourselves and our selfish 'needs'. As I mentioned in a post a while ago, Christ never asked what was in it for him. “Hey Dad, what's in this for me? I mean, what do I get out of being crucified?” And this understanding gives us a clear definition of lust. Lust is simply using someone or something only for our own gratification.
So TOB tells us that our spousal relationship is to mirror Christ's sacrifice for the church and goes on to say what those qualities are: Free, Total, Faithful and Fruitful. Free in that Christ gave himself voluntarily for his church. Total in that Christ gave all of himself, up to death, for his church. Faithful in that Christ promised he would not leave the church. Fruitful in that Christ's death and resurrection brought life to all who will accept his mercy.
And, if you listen during a Catholic wedding ceremony, these are the exact vows we affirm...
1. “Have you come here freely and without reservation? (Free)
2. “Will you honor each other as man and wife for the rest of your lives?” (Total and Faithful)
3. “Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?” (Fruitful)
I will be expanding on a lot of themes in the coming weeks based on these concepts and how they explain some of the teachings of the Catholic church. I apologize in advance if I raise anyone's hackles by venturing to explain church teaching. I only hope that any discussion be conducted civilly, but I don't think I have to worry too much about that.
So this is a thumbnail sketch (believe it or not) of what Theology of the Body contains. And yes, my wife and I are crazy enough to teach this to teenage confirmation students for six weeks each fall and spring. The way we came to do so, was actually after we had taken a four week course on TOB ourselves and we looked back on our respective pasts and thought, 'Wow, there is really a need for kids to learn this before they make some of the mistakes we made.' So when our parish was seeking volunteers to learn and administer the 'TOB for Teens' curriculum, we had no least until the night and morning before we taught our first class. But the Deacon and his wife helped us out with that first session, and it went pretty well.
Now don't get me wrong, I am not naive enough to think that by teaching them TOB, these kids will all magically see their classmates as whole integrated persons, not use pornography, and grow to be perfect husbands and wives. (Just the tide of filth that kids are bombarded with every day today makes it clear that it's an uphill battle) But I do think that seeing a married couple that aren't TOO old, and have been frank and honest about some of the mistakes we have made, might make something click for one or two of those kids in the moment when those decisions or options are presented to them.
I know it's trite, and way overused, but if that happens once or twice, then it's really worth it.
Happy Solemnity of the Holy Trinity!
Happy Father's Day to all the dads!
God bless,

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Job Searching II: Jeremiah Strikes Back

"For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord,
Plans for your welfare, not for woe!
Plans to give you a future full of hope."
Jeremiah 29:11

I hate my job. I started this job two years, eight months and four days ago. There was a training period of eight weeks, and then I started actually doing the job. And I hated it from that moment.

Now I don't want this to sound like any kind of complaint against the company I work for. (Particularly to any of the readers who might know where I work) The truth is that the company I work for takes very good care of its employees. I get paid well compared to people doing my job at other companies. My benefits are great too. As a matter of fact, when my last daughter was born, I was given two weeks PAID Paternity leave. Can you imagine that in this economy? When employers know that they could really put the screws to employees, I got two weeks off, PAID, because my wife had a baby.

No, my company is a great company to work for. The problem is, this job just is not for me. I am definitely a round peg in the square cubicle of corporate America. So I have prayed for a long time, for the Lord to guide me to a new job. “What do You want me to do?”, I ask Him over and over,hoping that I will hear the call to some great purpose.

A while ago, however, I thought of a quote from Blessed Mother Teresa:

“We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”

You see, I have always felt (naively, I must admit) that God was going to reveal this amazing earth-shattering purpose for my life at some time, and that I would do something that would change millions of lives and make me a historical figure. Okay, so that's a bit of an exaggeration, but I did feel frustration that God would not reveal to me how I could help people and make a real difference. I mean, after all, I just wanted to do it for Him. Of course, with the side benefit of getting out of my 'round peg in a cubicle' job. But that quote very clearly points something out. We are not all called to be Blessed Pope John Paul II. Not everyone is called to be St. Thomas Aquinas, or Blessed Mother Teresa.

There are plenty of ways that we can encounter and serve Christ in our everyday lives. Think of the 'supporting cast' and 'extras' in the bible.

When the servers at the wedding feast in Cana (John 2:1-12) were putting on their aprons, they had no idea that they would deliver the jars of water that Jesus would turn into wine, the first miracle, starting His public ministry.

When they boy came to hear Jesus speak and brought a few loaves and fish, he had no idea that his lunch would end up feeding thousands. (John 6:1-15)

The Samaritan woman at the well didn't want to face the leering eyes and whisperings of her neighbors with regard to her personal life. “Oh, she's 'shacking up' with another one this week...” But she needed water, so she went when she knew it would be deserted. And there was a stranger who saw right through her and revealed himself as the Savior, the Living Water. She then told others and brought them to Jesus, all out of a chance meeting in her daily chores. (John 4:4-42)

Some of the disciples were even called to help Jesus while in the course of their daily work. Simon (Peter), Andrew, John and James were mending their fishing nets when they met Jesus and he called them to be 'fishers of men'. Matthew was a tax collector, sitting at his customs post.

Even at the end of Jesus' life there are similar examples. Simon the Cyrenian was visiting Jerusalem when he was pressed into service to help Jesus walk to His crucifixion. And when Joseph of Arimathea had a tomb dug out of the rock for his use (a great expense, as the gospels mention, he was a rich man) could he have possibly known that the place he would offer to lay Jesus' body, would be the site where the resurrection would take place?

All of these people were simply going about their daily lives and are now 'supporting actors' and 'extras' in the narrative of our salvation. Would there have been other servers if the staff at the Cana wedding 'called in sick'? If Simon the Cyrenian were not walking by, would someone else have been pressed into service to help our Lord walk to the sacrifice He made for us? Who would have led those Samaritans to Christ if not for the woman at the well?

As for me, would some other customer service representative take a moment after helping a customer in a bad position, or having health problems to say a silent prayer for them? Maybe they would, and maybe others do.

But the servers at Cana did go to work that day, Simon was in town when they needed someone to help Jesus carry his cross, the Samaritan woman, regardless of why, was the only one who came to the well at that moment. And for now, I am the one answering the phone call.

God doesn't wait for us to decide to take on the world and then reveal to us His grand scheme to use us as public figures to influence millions. He comes to us as we are and where we are and asks us to do small things, with great love for all the people we come in contact with.God's word doesn't tell us all where to go to do His work, God's word tells us how to do His work where we are.

So does this mean I don't try to look for another job? Well, the way I see it, if you're a round peg in a square cubicle, you should probably still keep your eyes open for a better fit. But in the mean time, do what you can and try not to beat yourself up because you aren't a square peg. I am writing this hoping that I can truly internalize that message.... I am writing this hoping that I can truly internalize that message.... I am writing this get the point. As I said, I realized this a while ago and I am still struggling with it.

But the most important thing I've learned while thinking about this over the past couple of weeks, is only going to take a few sentences. I was thinking that I wish God would pick a new job for me. I need it! I want it! And (perhaps most arrogantly) He could put me to such better use!

Then something happened at work. And I paused for a second, and thought........'You colossal goober-head!'

One of my colleagues and his wife are anxiously awaiting the birth of their first child. Hopefully, the baby should already be here by the time you're reading this. Pause, say a prayer for a healthy delivery for baby and mama........thanks.

So before he left work, I told him, “Look, I'm just going to warn you. In a few days, you'll be packing your new daughter into that brand new car seat and thinking, 'Isn't there some kind of force field I can put around my car for the ride home?' And as you drive away, you'll be thinking, 'Why on earth am I driving AWAY from the medical professionals?!?!?!'”

“But,” I assured him,” It will be okay.”

Then I was quiet for a moment, smiled, and said, (as I say to every expectant dad I talk to),”It's the best freakin' job in the world!”

You see, the job I don't like, is the job that MY decisions led to. The 'colossal goober-head' part came in when I thought of my wife and our two daughters.

It finally seeped through my thick skull. That is the job that God picked for me. Husband. Father. That was the earth-shattering purpose right under my nose as I was seeking it everywhere else. God has picked a job for me.

And yes, even when it's difficult, it's the best freakin' job in the world.

God bless,