The Deepest Truths

With the Ordination and First Mass behind us, I’ve been struggling a bit to find my footing in this strange new reality. Despite the fact that I’ve spent the past six years learning more about priestly formation and deepening my own understanding of Catholic theology, the actual reality of Evan’s ordination caught me flat-footed.

Photo of Evan at his first Mass at St. Paul the Apostle in New York.
(Photo courtesy of the Paulist Fathers.)

On Sunday, May 26, 2019 Evan returned to St. Rose of Lima (our home parish) to celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving. Two of his Paulist brothers who had served as pastors of St. Rose in the 80s joined him and concelebrated. Our pastor, Fr. Clarence Sandoval, concelebrated as well. The church was packed with our parish family as well as friends and family of other faiths who came to celebrate with us.

It was a joyful worship, but one which was – at the same time – very, very strange. Seeing Evan at the altar leading the community in prayer, making the familiar gestures of blessing and consecration, and ultimately elevating the host and the cup was beautiful. He seemed so confident; his voice calm and clear as he recited the prayers and he moved through the liturgy as if he’d been doing it for years. It was a moment of fulfilment; the manifestation of something I’ve anticipated for a long time.

It was also deeply unsettling.

On Monday, Memorial Day, Evan celebrated a house Mass for us. So there, in our living room with our cats roaming about, we three enjoyed a quiet Mass before breakfast. In his alb and stole, Evan stood behind a desk which had been pressed into service as an altar. Just before he began, he said, “This is one of the most surreal things I’ve ever done.”

“Surreal.” That was the perfect word to describe what I’ve been feeling since the Ordination in New York.

I knew it was coming, but I don’t think I’d fully anticipated the impact. I hadn’t realized that Evan’s ordination would force me to confront the deepest truths of our faith.

In the language of the church, Ordination changed Evan at an ontological level. That is, through the sacrament, he has been changed and his relationship with the community has changed. The Evan who entered the church as a deacon, left as a priest. Those aren’t simply different titles; they are different states of being. At the same time, he is still very much the child Kit and I raised.

He has been given the authority to “confect the sacrament of the Eucharist in persona Christi.” Which is a poetic way of expressing that he acts in the person of Christ to consecrate the bread and wine at Mass.

At the same time, he delights in good meals, entertaining movies, and beloved video games. He groans at my bad puns and shares warm hugs with his mother.

His is simultaneously a minister of heaven and a child of this world.

This is the very heart of our incarnational faith. God isn’t some remote figure who sits in a distant heaven judging us. God is the love which forms and sustains the universe. To drive the point home, God came to us in the person of Jesus Christ; simultaneously fully divine and fully human.

This strange co-existence isn’t just something which happens only at ordination. It is the nature of every sacrament to bring us face-to-face with the truth of the incarnation. It’s just that sometimes we get so used to the sacraments that we forget exactly what’s taking place. We overlook the extraordinary truth.

In the language of the church we call this a mystery. It’s a reality we can wrestle with, but never fully comprehend.

Evan’s ordination drew me up short and sharpened my awareness of the sacraments and the mystery they express. It reminded me that I participate in a community which treats the physical and the spiritual as parts of a whole and that the rituals and practices of the church are designed to put us in touch with the Divine. It was an invitation to enter into the mystery of faith in a new and deeper way.

For this, and for the opportunity to walk with Evan on his vocations journey, I can only say, “Thank you, Lord.” (Even if it’s going to still be weird to see him saying Mass!)

My Brother the Deacon

I’m back from a whirlwind visit to Washington DC. My brother just took final promises and managed to get himself ordained as a deacon. In under a year that turns into a full on Roman Catholic Priest. My dad has already posted an overview of what happened here. You don’t need me rehashing the order of events from first promises through to his first Mass acting as a deacon. So forgive me if I skim those bits.

I never really doubted that Evan would continue down his path. It suits him fairly well, gives him a good and fulfilling life, and most of the other Paulists seem nice enough. I can’t speak for all of them as I haven’t met all of them. Anyways from the time he told me over Christmas break that he was changing his major to Philosophy with a minor in religious studies (to which my response, incidentally, was “Oh great my brother’s going to be a priest”), I figured he was set for life.

CSP_logo[1]That said, sure or not, it seemed like a fun idea to lay a side bet. So about four years ago I made a promise to Evan. If and when he took final promises I would get a tattoo of the (then current) Paulist Fathers logo. Now I fully intended to keep to this promise. But I had briefly forgotten it in the rush of travelling from one coast to another and prepping for a con the next week. So it came as something of a surprise to me when the first thing he said to me after his Final Promises Mass–literally the first thing–was “you owe me a tattoo”. To which I could only respond that he was right.

So I guess I need to find an artist, and scrounge up the money. There is also a small debate as to where to put the tattoo. He requested it be somewhere I could show off by rolling up a sleeve. I’ll figure something out.

Other than that everything was a massive blur of receptions, family, Mass, more Mass, another reception and sneaking off to do homework when I could. I am not as overwhelmed as my parents are. Maybe it hasn’t sunk in but it doesn’t feel like much changed. He made this choice years ago. Yes now there are official titles, duties, responsibilities and abilities to go with it but it’s just another step on the path. He’s still my brother, he’s still brother to all the Paulists and he’s still doing that thing he set out to do back in college. Good for him.

A few small notes about proceedings.

First the Ordination Mass: the one bit he got to control was who in his party would help carry the gifts. Usually the choice is one’s mother but he picked me. Apparently in equal measure because I am his one and only biological brother and because between the lack of a tie, long hair and generally scruffy appearance even in formal attire I helped to embody the Paulist rebellious streak. Works for me.

Secondly, gift giving. He wanted various texts of the forms, prayers, rituals and so on for various sacraments. The parents got him Marriage, his godmother sent Baptism, so it fell to me to provide for funerals. I’m gothic enough to pull it off. When I get back to the coast I will also be sending a small secular gift. After all he may have devoted his life to God but that doesn’t exactly take every second of his time. Oh and the Mission Crucifix he got is awesome. Never seen one with a skull and bones on it before.

–Brother of Evan

 

 

Facing Your Parental Fears

Parents worry about their children. It’s just part and parcel of being a parent.

We’re afraid they’ll make the wrong choices, lose out on opportunities, or have to endure needless suffering. We just want our children to be happy, safe and well.

A call to religious life can be especially terrifying because so few of us have any direct knowledge or experience in that arena. The unknown is always frightening.

In an article I wrote for Area of Effect Magazine*, I recently noted:

Both of my sons have chosen different paths from mine. My eldest is working toward an academic career as a folklorist. My younger is in seminary preparing for a life of teaching. Neither of these is a road I’d choose to travel and both seem risky. Wouldn’t accounting or business be more stable choices?

It turns out that I’m not the first parent in history to worry about my children’s choices. Thomas Aquinas, the theologian and philosopher whose work has influenced Western thought for nearly a millennium, faced serious opposition from his family. At nineteen, he declared his intention to join the Dominican Order. His family kidnapped him and kept him locked in the family castle for nearly a year trying to get him to change his mind. It would have been easy for Thomas to give in.

To keep the article family friendly (it was about Disney’s Moana after all) I didn’t tell the part about Aquinas’ family locking him in a room with a naked prostitute. The legend says that Aquinas was so incensed that he chased the poor girl out with a fire poker.

The details on that may have gotten exaggerated in the telling, but we do know that Aquinas is recognized as one of the great Christian theologians. His parents fears nearly changed the course of western civilization.

Like marriage or a career or a mission trip around the world, a religious vocation is both a journey and an adventure. In the article at Area of Effect, I trace Moana’s journey and her parent’s fears. Like all good heroes her success is bought at the price of risk and hardship. Yet, if she hadn’t taken the risk, her people would have been destroyed.

Will your child be the next Aquinas or Mother Theresa? Will they live a life of heroic virtue? Maybe or maybe not. If you block them, you may find yourself in the shoes of Chief Tui (Moana’s dad) — standing in the way of the future that needs to be explored by our courageous and virtuous sons and daughters.

* Area of Effect is a print and web magazine which explores topics of faith and life through the lens of popular fandoms.

— Dad of Evan

The Story of a Seminarian from a Mom’s Point of View by Amy V.

One of the best things about this blog is that it provides a place for parents to be brutally honest with how they feel as they watch their son go through discernment. Parents who read these portrayals realize they are not alone.  Every parent knows that it is not about them, but they still need a place to express overwhelming feelings both positive and negative during the process.

Below is a exert from a post on Amy V.’s blog: Catholicsistas.com about her son’s journey of discernment and entering the seminary. The heart wrenching feelings of love, fear and worry are detailed in an honest portrayal of a mother trying to learn to let go of her son to many unknowns. Since the author included her son’s picture on this blog post, I will include it in this post.

If you would like to read the entire blog post click here:HERE for the site Catholic sistas.com

THE STORY OF A SEMINARIAN…FROM A MOM’S POINT OF VIEW

July 30, 2014

by: Amy V.

We wanted our son to know that even though our hearts overflowed with love for him, God loved him even more. We enjoyed researching, reading, and talking about different ideas to teach him the truths of our faith and to try to prepare the garden of his heart to receive the love of God.

young priest2

One of the ways God showed His love to our son was through the presence of an amazing new priest.  Our son started seeing priests as men who were fully alive and full of joy and men who cared about the small things, like talking to a 9 year old about which Harry Potter book is the best. We never prayed for our son to be anything in particular, but we prayed that he would know, love, and serve the Lord.

When he was in middle school, priests would ask him if he had ever thought about being a priest someday. He hated when people asked him this and from about 8th grade until 11th grade he started saying, “No way!”  My son loved being Catholic, and since he attended a public school, was always looking for ways to defend his beloved faith. So, right before his senior year in high school, my son felt very strongly that the Lord was confirming in his heart a call to discern the Catholic Priesthood with a deliberate and an intentional heart.

mom cringingAt first, he told everyone, and I cringed. “Not yet,” I thought, “Not yet. Don’t tell people yet.” That year, after his initial zeal, I think he felt like maybe God was chaining him in and the only way God would be happy is if he succumbed to the chains. Time passed, he finished high school and went to college, and during this past year the Lord relentlessly pursued him. Slowly, sometimes painfully, and sometimes full of joy, he began to see his calling as an invitation, not a chain. The Lord was offering him a gift.

So what do you say to your son when you know he is seriously worried-mother1discerning this life’s vocation? There is such a fine line. While you want to be supportive, you don’t want to be too excited and honestly, you worry. The life of a priest is not easy, and your son is saying, “Yes, I will consider this completely counter cultural life.” I’ve learned that when a young man chooses to open his heart up to discern the will of the Father in this way, that young man will suffer vicious attacks from the evil one. I’ve learned that moments of consolation can be followed by moments of fear and sorrow over what is being given up.

I’ve learned that people will not hold back what they think of this vocation, for good and for bad. And yet, how proud am I? My child is willing to say, “Yes!” to consider taking up the cross of my Lord, and follow Him. He is willing to sell all he has for the pearl of great price. But if he changes his mind, I want him to know that’s ok. That means it wasn’t his calling.

Mary and baby Jesus

Jesus, I trust in You. That’s all I can say. I love my son, but I love You more. I want Your will for his life, whatever that is. This is so not about me, but I feel like when he is suffering with this decision, a sword is piercing my heart too. Mother Mary, pray for me to be strong like you. Mother Mary, how did you let Him go? Mother Mary, how will I let my son go? I love you, my son. The world is hurting and needs you to show them the way. If you don’t, who will? Who loves people more than you? Who has a smile like you that brings light to the darkest places?

Amy V's seminarian sonLast month I had this notion that I needed to go see the seminary where he was going to be staying. I needed to see if he should bring Tide HE or regular Tide for crying out loud. Due to various circumstances, the Lord said no to this notion. My son has already seen the seminary and he has made this choice himself. He didn’t need his mom going there and hovering. So the Lord showed me, “This is not your journey, this is his. Walk with him, but trust Me and honestly trust your son.”

I cried very hard that day.divine_mercy_78_f_small

There are so many unknowns still, but there is peace because I know he is where God is calling him. When he looks back on his life, the Lord has been calling him for a long time. My son has a heart for the Lord.

God help me to keep walking with him and encouraging him. Help me, dear Lord, as my heart is sad sometimes because my world is changing. It is changing for the better, but it is changing.

Please know the authors of this blog pray daily for parents of discerning sons & daughters to find understanding & peace.

How Agnostics Pray

Candle FlameRight, so this isn’t really all that directly linked to my brother’s current work but it seemed the right place to post it.

You’ve heard the saying “There are no atheists in foxholes” right? Well I can’t speak to that specifically but I admit I’ve been doing a bit of praying myself lately. And no that doesn’t mean I have any more faith than the last time I wrote, or that I’ve returned to the fold or joined a new church. I still don’t believe in much of anything, and if something does exist I have no reason to believe inherently that it is the Abrahamic God. So, I don’t know if anyone is there to listen, if someone can listen I don’t know if they are, and if they are I don’t know if they care, and if they care I don’t know if they can do anything. Seems a losing proposition doesn’t it? Yeah it kind of is.

Rationalists would say I’m either trying to shift my problems onto a force beyond my power so I can blame them if things go pear shaped or I am attempting to control the universe in ways that are flatly impossible. And maybe they are right. But right now, right now I’ll take anything I can get.

So how do agnostics pray? In my case with desperation and hope. Without giving out details I find myself in a situation that could end badly and there is nothing I can do to influence the outcome right now. So I have others pray for me, I’m never one to turn my nose up at someone offering aid. And as stress increases I start to pray myself. I don’t know if anyone can hear me and I don’t believe anyone does but I cling to the hope that I’m wrong. That some benevolent figure can pick up what I’m sending out and help out somehow. But I suppose that’s more of a why than a how. The how is more mundane. Lots of pleading silently and hoping against my own mind as I detail my troubles. And in my case lighting candles as a vigil. I’ve always been in favor of enduring actions as an article of ritual, so as I type this there are candles burning in my window, a light to guide someone if they want to find their way back. And on occasion I incorporate saints. They serve as handy symbols of precise desire, like the deities of pre-christian pantheons.

–Evan’s Brother

Journey to Bethlehem; A Christmas Prayer

There is no room at the inn.Since 2006 the good Christian folk of Mountain View Baptist Church have been kind in allowing Cathy and I to participate in their interactive drama Journey to Bethlehem.  The play runs four nights each December and typically draws between four and five thousand guests.

The guests are gathered into groups of approximately 40 people and introduced to the character of Gadielle; a working-class resident of first century Nazareth, devoted family man, and occasional target for Roman harassment.  Following a run-in with a local centurion, Gadielle tells the assembled guests that they will be safe if they become part of his family for the evening.  He takes them from the streets of Nazareth to his home where they meet his wife Naomi and their only child, hear a brief speech from the local Rabbi, and once again come face-to-face with the Romans.  On Caesar’s  orders, the “family” must travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem to be numbered in the census and to pay the Roman tax.

Having no alternative, Gadielle and Naomi lead the family south to Bethlehem.  Along the way they encounter more Romans, meet the magi, experience an angelic visitation with the shepherds, receive interpretation of prophecy from another rabbi, encounter more Romans, shop in the busy Bethlehem marketplace, fail to find room at the inn, and — finally — catch up with Mary and Joseph who are caring for their newborn in the stable.  The journey covers nearly a mile of the church grounds and ends with a brief gospel message at a simple wooden cross followed by a visit to the “cocoa tent”.

The logistics of the drama are complex, requiring close coordination among the 150+ cast and crew.  In addition to the cast members at each of the “stations” along the journey, there are eight or more Gadielle/Naomi couples.  At any given moment there are between four and six “families” somewhere along the journey with new groups starting out every ten minutes.

Cathy and I got involved through my parents who are long time members of Mountain View.  Mom got stepped up first and later Dad joined her.  They recruited us to be a Gadielle/Naomi couple in 2006 and we’ve been in every production since.  Up until Dad’s death in 2011, my parents tended the inn.  Mom continues to be involved as a greeter who hands out Jewish passports to the guests as they register for the journey.

During our participation with the production, Cathy and I have seen some remarkable things.  When the angel appears to proclaim the birth of the newborn king, we kneel in awe and reverence.  More than once, we’ve had our entire family spontaneously kneel with us.  At the manger we’ve seen small children creep forward for a closer look at the doll representing the infant Jesus.  Memorably, this year, Cathy had a brief interaction with a tattooed-and-multiply-pierced young lady who hung to the back of the family during the entire journey.  “Thank you for letting me come along,” she said as the journey ended, apparently grateful to have been included.

At the end of each year’s production, the cast and crew are utterly spent.  The long nights of performance in cold and wet weather have taxed people’s reserve and the final farewells are delivered in raw, hoarse voices.  The guests themselves are no less hardy.  People of all faiths and none travel from all parts of Utah, Idaho and Wyoming.  They wait in line for hours for the opportunity to spend an hour walking through the darkness experiencing the journey.

I’ve thought a lot about what drives us — cast, crew and guests alike — to go to such extremes.

I think it’s simply the experience.  Journey to Bethlehem is incredibly visceral.  From the first moment of the journey to the last, the family is on the move.  The trail is full of sights, sounds and smells.  The light from a campfire reflects off the polished Roman armor.  The smoke drifts past as the angel proclaims his message of peace.  The merchants of Bethlehem call out to the guests, offering goods for sale and begging for news of the promise messiah. The dark and the cold contract close, convincing everyone that we are indeed travelling through the ancient world.

Human beings, I think, crave an experience of faith.  The journey gives that to them.

One of the problems with religion in America (and perhaps the western world in general) is that we have over-intellectualized it.  We treat belief as a subject for academic study; something that can be gained or given through mental exercise.  In so doing, we have traded away the best part of faith.  It is little wonder people are wary of religion; we talk to them about God, but never show Him to them.  We are like professors trying to frame a scientific explanation for love and completely missing the point.  Faith isn’t subject to rational evaluation.  It is a suprarational act.

Perhaps it is time we remember that and invite the world to share in the experience of faith rather than endlessly debating it.

Which brings me to my Christmas prayer for all of you.

God, creator of all things,
grant us the grace to encounter Your infinite love
through our experiences with Your bountiful creation.
In the name of the Father,
And of the Son,
And of the Holy Spirit.
Amen

— Dad

Visiting the King in Memphis

St Mary's Memphis

Last Saturday found me in Memphis, Tennessee at the tail end of an educational conference.  My colleagues took advantage of the the opportunity to head off to tour the king’s home, Graceland. I stayed behind for the vigil Mass for the Feast of Christ the King at St. Mary’s parish.

 

From the outside, St. Mary’s is a sturdy, unassuming brick building built along familiar lines.  A cornerstone near the front door anchors the parish in 1864, the start of the post-Civil War reconstruction.  Classic column-and-arch architecture lends the compact interior the feeling a European cathedral.  Fitting, as it was built originally as a German parish.  The hand-carved wooden pews, confessional and altar give the space a sense of weight and dignity; the earthly embodiment of the heavenly ideal.

There is no denying the beauty of the church and its parishioners are justly proud of having just celebrated the parish’s sesquicentennial.  What struck me most — and moved me during my time there — was the sense of community beyond the walls of the church.

As I entered, a small group near the front prayed the Rosary.

Hail Mary, full of grace…

Their public prayers formed a sort of Greek chorus behind my own private prayer before the Mass, reminding me that I am loved by God individually and as part of a larger community.  The modest crowd that filtered in was a visible sign of the universality of the Church.  Across the world, in thousands of other parishes, hundreds of thousands of people were celebrating the same Mass with the same Liturgy and the same readings.

It was comforting and moving, sitting in the company of other believers whom I had never met and would likely never see again; yet sharing the experience of the Eucharist.  It was a moment both commonplace and profound.

And that, I think, is what I took away from the experience.  Not the homily (although it was a good homily), not the music, or the readings or even the beauty of the space.  The gift I received from the King that day was the simple truth that none of us is alone; we are all pilgrims on a journey toward heaven and there is great comfort in knowing we that none of us is alone.

Back from the Desert

There’s a delightful bit in Pixar’s “Up” in which Russell (the eternally optimistic scout) is trying to assemble a tent.

Tents are hard!

The scene ends with the tent sailing over the rain-soaked horizon with Russell dejectedly declaring, “Tents are hard.”

A few years back Cathy and I adopted that as a family meme during Lent.  Whenever our Lenten sacrifices seemed particularly difficult, we’d look at each other and say, “Lent is hard.”

This Lent turned out to be unexpectedly difficult.  Not that I’m complaining, mind you.  It just wasn’t the Lent we anticipated.  But, I guess, that might have been the point.

Of course we were busy with the formation classes we were teaching and the Catechist Formation course we were taking.  For me, spring is always a busy time at work as we wrap up one fiscal year and plan for the next.

That was expected.

Cathy’s accident on St. Patrick’s Day was something of a surprise.

She fell and broke her right arm.

Too much merriment?  Nope.  She was at work and tripped on the sidewalk while crossing between two buildings.  She’d been holding an empty box and had her hand curled under.  When she fell, she landed on the back of her right wrist.  I’m not medically trained, but if I understood the doctor, the official diagnosis was that she “crunched the bone up, but good.”

Good enough, anyway.  The next day she had surgery to put in a T-shaped bit of titanium and seven screws.  (Oddly, when you compare broken arm stories with people, they want to know exactly how many screws you got.  Perhaps there’s some secret club you can join when you have enough screws in your bones.)

She was out of work for the better part of two months.  She’s had casts and braces and physical therapy appointments and doctor’s visits. Her medical clearance was granted this past Wednesday and she’s pleased to be back on the job — even if she’s discovering some unexpected limitations.  (Who knew staplers required so much force to operate?)

Cathy was a trooper and did well.  Still, we had to shift some of the household responsibilities and some things had to go by the wayside (including the blog) while we sorted things out.

Evan’ sojourn in Austin was spirit-filled and he came back with a better idea of how parish life looks from the priest’s point of view.  He also had a chance to visit old friends, new friends and distant relatives whilst in the weeks leading up to Easter.

And, as part of my Lent, I designed a new website.

It felt, in many ways, like a sojourn in the desert.  Not what we had expected; and more harsh than we anticipated.

There’s power in the desert imagery, though.  Cathy and I love the desert wastelands of southern Utah; the intimidating rock formations, deep canyons, and surprisingly stubborn life.  The desert is a hard place, but that hardness makes the life there all the more sweet.  Like grace born of suffering.

Easter was lovely, though.  The Vigil Mass was beautiful and moving as always.  Cathy has been restored and life is settling back into something resembling routine.  In the end, it was worth the journey, but I think the phrase “Lent is hard” may mean something a bit different to us from now on.

— Dad

With Great Power Comes Great Humility?

180px-ScholasticNarniaA little over a week ago, my friend Mette posted a link on her Facebook page to an article entitled “Finding a Feminist Theology in C.S. Lewis’s Narnia.”  I was sufficiently intrigued — since C.S. Lewis didn’t seem to be an especially feminist writer — to click through.

The article starts out recounting Lewis’s many critics who call him out for fearing and disliking women, disliking sexuality, and equating “ultimate good” with “ultimate masculinity”.  Then it moves on to talk about a new view of Lewis’s work which is presented in Monika Hilder’s book The Feminine Ethos is C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia.  So far this all sounds like an academic cat fight, right?  A clutch of post-modern professors and lit crit snobs mixing up it for the sake of entertainment.

Except that (echoing Hilder’s text) the authors suggest that the modern idea of feminism misses the point.

In an age that worships the cult of personality and aggrandizes the “virtues” of the energetic, the magnetic, the stunning, and the forceful – because these traits lead to more materialistic wealth and power – what room left is there for the fruit of the Spirit? Qualities such as self-control, meekness, patience, and peace sound quite out of vogue; “Let’s see how far the meek, patient, and peace-loving female can succeed,” I can hear the cynic ask. Hilder, though, suggests that our struggle for independence, power, and autonomy echo Satan’s thirst for domination more than Christ’s model of humble servanthood.

Take a moment to consider that last line.  When was the last time you heard someone — anyone — praised for being a good and humble servant?  That’s crazy talk, right?

If we are uncomfortable with some of the female characterizations throughout Lewis’s series, perhaps we should reconsider where this discomfort stems from. While we as women are right to strive for gender equality, we are wrong to measure it according to mere chauvinistic ideas of accomplishment. As Hilder states, “to the extent we have not examined our own chauvinism, we demean the ‘feminine’ qualities and extol the ‘masculine’—not noticing that Lewis does the opposite.” And indeed, it is in doing exactly that opposite that Hilder suggests Lewis’s radical theological feminism can be found.

More importantly, Lewis seems to be saying that the servant-minded approach cuts both ways.  Men, as well as women, should strive to live up to that lofty standard.

Lewis’s idea of true spiritual strength— for both men and women— rests in openness to our Father, community, submission, compassion, truth, grace, and humility. So, when Lewis has Lucy run towards Eustace-the-dragon and bestow upon him grace only expressible in a child’s unrestrained kisses, or Lucy and Susan weep with Aslan while he is on the stone table, or, even Mrs. Beaver demonstrate foresight and responsibility for those in her care (or one could even dare say, community mindedness) in bringing along her domestically stigmatized sewing machine, Lewis wasn’t belittling these characters. I can learn that true spiritual strength, or spiritual heroism as Hilder terms it, “establishes the kingdom of heaven through humility,” not independence.

The article goes on to talk about how much of what we perceive to be sexism reflects our own biases more than the objective truth.  That wasn’t what stayed with me after reading the article, though.  I kept coming back to the idea of servanthood being the mark of a successful adult.

I encountered that idea again a few days later when we attended a Mass for the Admission to the Candidacy for the new Deaconate class in Utah.  (A friend from our parish is one of the candidates.)  The second reading was from Matthew.

But Jesus summoned them and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.  Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Oh.  Right.  Jesus mentioned this idea a couple of millennia back.  At the time it was clearly a challenging idea; unusual and non-intuitive enough that he felt a need to address it with his disciples.  You would think that in the past 2,000 years this idea would have caught on.  I’ve read a goodly number of books about leadership and management and I’ve attended lectures and seminars and institutes, but all of them focused on ways to consolidate exploit power.  Sure, there’s been talk of “servant leadership“, but it’s always in the context of “getting the job done”.  The implication is that there is some goal to be achieved or target to be hit and it’s the leader’s responsibility to make sure that happens.  If servant leadership can get you there, great.  If not, find some other tool and keep pressing forward.

In other words, the modern ideal of leadership is the accumulation and application of power.  Whether you’re a man or a woman, your goal should be to reach the top.

Except there’s this one guy who keeps telling a different story.  In case you’ve missed the theme of humility in the homilies, interviews, and public talks Pope Francis has given in the past several months, he kindly included it in Evangelii Gaudium — his first Apostolic Exhortation.

I’m a long way from having read all 244 pages, but I’ve skimmed a bit of it and read some reliable commentaries from trusted sources, and the thing which sticks out is how deeply counter-cultural it is.  In a world which judges us largely on how well we “succeed”, Pope Francis is calling for us to step out of the game.  He’s not telling us to lose the game.  He’s telling us to get out and spend our energy on something better.  He even goes so far as to point out that we are guilty of this kind of thinking within the bounds of our religious practices.

(93) Spiritual worldliness, which hides behind the appearance of piety and even love for the Church, consists in seeking not the Lord’s glory but human glory and personal well-being. It is what the Lord reprimanded the Pharisees for: “How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (Jn 5:44).

(94) …those who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past. A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying.

(271)  It is true that in our dealings with the world, we are told to give reasons for our hope, but not as an enemy who critiques and condemns. We are told quite clearly: “do so with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet 3:15) and “if possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all” (Rom 12:18). We are also told to overcome “evil with good” (Rom 12:21) and to “work for the good of all” (Gal 6:10). Far from trying to appear better than others, we should “in humility count others better” than ourselves (Phil 2:3). The Lord’s apostles themselves enjoyed “favour with all the people” (Acts 2:47; 4:21, 33; 5:13). Clearly Jesus does not want us to be grandees who look down upon others, but men and women of the people. This is not an idea of the Pope, or one pastoral option among others; they are injunctions contained in the word of God which are so clear, direct and convincing that they need no interpretations which might diminish their power to challenge us. Let us live them sine glossa, without commentaries. By so doing we will know the missionary joy of sharing life with God’s faithful people as we strive to light a fire in the heart of the world.

When he was first elected, we knew there was something different about Pope Francis.  His humility was refreshing and his simplicity endearing.  Now he is asking the same as us; he is inviting us to follow him in humility.  For those of us who grew up in western nations where “success” as a human being is defined by power and wealth, this is tremendously challenging idea.  I wonder how many of us will be willing to follow through?

— Dad

Reflection: Vocation and Discernment

Novice Prayer Service Wednesday October 23rd, 2013

On Discernment

God, come to our assistance. Glory to the Father. As it was in the beginning. Alleluia.

Psalm 25

Antiphon: Lord, allow your guiding spirit to enter our hearts.

To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust;
do not let me be put to shame;
do not let my enemies exult over me.
Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame;
let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

Make me to know your ways, O LORD;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.

Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for your goodness’ sake, O LORD!

Good and upright is the LORD;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.

Reading from Hecker’s diary, June 6, 1844

What would the spirit have me to do? To say? It seems to give me no rest, would it have me to be still, quiet and peaceful?

What is the work that the spirit is doing now within me?

The spirit draws me ever inward and will not permit me to read, think, or do anything else but attend to it. It is like a young bride; it would have me ever in its presence speaking of its charms.

Responsory

Incline my heart according to your will, O God.

Incline my heart according to your will, O God.

Speed my steps along your path,

according to your will, O God.

Glory to the Father…

Incline my heart according to your will, O God.

Intercessions

We pray for all of us present, that we might discern where the Holy Spirit is guiding us.

Lord hear our prayer.

We pray for all earnest seekers to find where God leads them in life.

Lord hear our prayer.

We pray for the young men joining us this weekend who are discerning a life with the Paulists.

Lord hear our prayer.

We pray that all leaders, civil and religious, listen to the people and to God

Lord hear our prayer.

For what else shall we pray?

Our Father…

O God, who enlightens the minds and inflames the hearts of the faithful by the Holy Spirit, grant that through the same Spirit we hear in our hearts where you are guiding us. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Lord bless us, protect us from all evil, and bring us to everlasting life.
Amen.
Let us bless the Lord.
And give God thanks.

— Novice

Catechesis

Catechism Lesson - Jules-Alexis MuenierThe Pope says that Cathy and I are special.

Well, not really.  What he said was that catechists are “pillars” for education in the faith.  This came in the context of his remarks to the participants in the International Conference on Catechesis.

This was a neat article for Cathy and I as we are both catechists.  Cathy is in her second year teaching a fifth grade formation class for our parish.  She does sword drills with them (an idea we borrowed from our Protestant friends), has crafts, lets the journal privately and works to help them understand the sacraments.  It’s been a great experience for her.

I’ve been asked to take on a special class for a group of young people who have never had any of the sacraments.  I’ll be meeting them soon to set a schedule and get started.  They range in age (I think) from about eight to about fourteen, so it should be an interesting challenge.  I’m looking forward to it.

Cathy and I have also been invited to take formal catechist training through the Salt Lake Diocese.

So, the article resonated with us.  As is his way, Pope Francis also dropped a challenge in along with the praise.

“This is a beautiful experience, and a bit paradoxical…Why? Because the person who puts Christ at the centre of his life is off-centre. The more you unite with Jesus and make Him the centre of your life, the more He makes you abandon yourself, decentralize yourself, and open yourself to others…In the heart of the catechist, there always lives this ‘systolic- diastolic’ movement: union with Jesus; encounter with the other…If at one of these two movements is no longer beating, then you do not live.”

This reminds me a bit of a story that Fr. Rolheiser shared in a recent column.

A priest friend of mine who teaches at a secular university was once asked by one of his students: “Father, have you met Jesus Christ?” His answer, no doubt, reflected some fatigue: “Yes,” he replied, “I have met Jesus Christ, and it messed-up my whole life! There are days when I wish I hadn’t met him!” What his answer, in its irreverence, correctly highlights is that meeting Jesus implies a lot more than a private, romantic, affective, and safe encounter with him and that meeting Jesus is more than having a private feeling in the soul that we are loved by and secure with God.

Like that tired priest, Pope Francis is reminding us that following Jesus is deeply countercultural and challenging and we cannot expect it to be easy.  As catechists, we have to accept that challenge and expect that we will have moments of doubt and difficulty.  At the same time, Pope Francis reminds us in his gentle, pastoral tone:

This is our beauty and our strength: If we go, if we go out to bring his Gospel with love, with true apostolic spirit , with frankness , He walks with us , before us always [preceding] us.

— Dad

Question: What is the Paulist Mission?

Hecker1This past week the novices spent some time with Fr. Colgan learning more about the Paulist mission.  Seemed a good excuse to post a few words about what make the Paulists unique.

In short, the Paulists are a missionary order who work primarily in North America.

Their three-fold mission is:

— Evangelization, by giving the Word of God a voice “using tools of the modern age”

— Reconciliation with Catholics who have left the church

— Ecumenical outreach to build bridges with other faiths

All of this relates back to Fr. Isaac Hecker, a Redemptorist priest who was called by the Holy Spirit as a missionary to the people of North America.  This puts the Paulist priests out into the community as much as possible, finding ways to build bridges and understanding.

A couple of notable examples of this ministry include The Busted Halo and Fr. James DiLuzio’s Luke Live.

Busted Halo is a far reaching ministry designed to reach out to the young who have questions of faith.  (Although those of us who are “older” can learn a lot there as well.)  Among the tools of Busted Halo you’ll find a comprehensive and frequently-updated website, a daily radio program on Sirius XM, and a variety of podcasts which include homilies and a more-or-less-weekly Q&A show with Fr. Dave Dwyer and Fr. Steven Bell.

Luke Live is a parish mission in which Fr. James brings his considerable vocal and theatrical talents into play to illuminate and instruct around the Gospel of Luke.  We’ve been privileged to have him bring the mission to our parish twice now and both visits were remarkable and uplifting.

And, of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention two of their more well-known ministries; Paulist Press and Paulist Productions.  The first of these is a publishing house and the second a film production company.

One last note, this week Evan will be meeting with a Sulpician priest.  I had never heard of the Sulpicians and was surprised to discover that they are an order which is dedicated to the formation of priests.  Kind of neat that such and order exists.  I look forward to hearing more about them in the future.

— Dad

Question: What is a Vocation?

imageWhen I set out to write this particular post, I thought it would be easy.  You hear about “vocations” all the time.  Except, when I started researching, it seemed to be more subtle and complex than I expected.

I’m going to take my best shot and hope that if I stray, someone will be kind enough to correct me.

I’ll start with a quote from St. John Paul II.

What is a vocation? It is an interior call of grace, which falls into the soul like a seed, to mature within it. (Angelus message, December 14, 1980)

The Lumen Gentium, (one of the principle documents to come out of the Second Vatican Council) explains that there is a sort of universal vocation:

Thus it is evident to everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity; by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society. In order that the faithful may reach this perfection, they must use their strength accordingly as they have received it, as a gift from Christ. They must follow in His footsteps and conform themselves to His image seeking the will of the Father in all things. They must devote themselves with all their being to the glory of God and the service of their neighbor. In this way, the holiness of the People of God will grow into an abundant harvest of good, as is admirably shown by the life of so many saints in Church history. (40)

My first thought was, “Oh.  Is that all?”  The “perfection of charity” and “holiness” seems like something of a tall order.  But it’s right there in black-and-white and (just in case you missed it) there’s a reference to this in paragraph 2013 of the Catechism.

Both those quotes contain within them the notion of a “call” from God; an invitation to live a life of holiness.  What’s interesting is that the Lumen Gentium acknowledges that there are many different ways that this life of holiness can be lived.  Section 41 speaks eloquently about bishops and priests, other consecrated clerics, lay ministers, married couples, widows, single people, “those who engage in labor”, the poor, the infirm, and the sick.  It concludes by sweeping them all up into a final paragraph:

Finally all Christ’s faithful, whatever be the conditions, duties and circumstances of their lives—and indeed through all these, will daily increase in holiness, if they receive all things with faith from the hand of their heavenly Father and if they cooperate with the divine will. In this temporal service, they will manifest to all men the love with which God loved the world. (41)

This is often referred to as the “universal vocation” and I’m taken with this notion that we are all encouraged to pursue holiness as our primary vocation, by acting out our calling.  It’s the word “calling” that most Catholics think of when they hear the word “vocation”.

Traditionally, Catholic thought turns to three different vocations as “primary” vocations or callings; holy orders, consecrated life, or marriage.  Holy orders refers to those who are ordained as deacons, priests and bishops.  Consecrated life refers to those who have taken vows to live “the evangelical councils of poverty, chastity and obedience“; the most common of which are those who live in religious communities such as monks or nuns.  Marriage is also a vocation, although one that is often held in too little regard in the common culture.

All of these primary vocations — these paths to holiness — are a response to God’s call and all of them involve a total gift of self.  For married couples, we are called to give ourselves wholly and unreservedly to our spouse.  For those taking vows, they are giving themselves totally to God.

I found a wonderful article on OSV.COM that explains it very eloquently:

In the case of each primary vocation, that gift of self is not a transitory or temporary thing. It’s not given one day and taken back the next. Rather, the central relationship of each is spousal. It’s exclusive, total and enduring. When the gift of self is made to God, enduring is a “for all eternity” kind of enduring. When the gift of self is made to another person, it’s just an “until death to us part” kind of enduring. Nevertheless, the idea is the same: You fully and freely give yourself to another, and through that giving you pursue your universal vocation, holiness.

One of the keys — if not the key — to working toward holiness is surrender.  It’s that wonderful paradox that comes up again and again in Christ’s teachings — the idea that to attain the most that God has for us, we have to give up our self.

Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily* and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. (Luke 9:23-24)

Which doesn’t mean that we turn our backs on life.  Most of us have bills to pay and families to raise and (yes!) parishes to support and that means taking up some form of worldly labor.  You’ll sometimes see this referred to as a “secondary vocation”. Having a job (or even a career) facilitates our survival and it can also be part of our journey toward holiness  The Lumen Gentium recognizes this when it says:

Finally, those who engage in labor—and frequently it is of a heavy nature—should better themselves by their human labors. They should be of aid to their fellow citizens. They should raise all of society, and even creation itself, to a better mode of existence. Indeed, they should imitate by their lively charity, in their joyous hope and by their voluntary sharing of each others’ burdens, the very Christ who plied His hands with carpenter’s tools and Who in union with His Father, is continually working for the salvation of all men. In this, then, their daily work they should climb to the heights of holiness and apostolic activity. (41)

There is — as I discovered in writing this — a lot more territory to cover when it comes to vocations including the question of discerning God’s will for our lives.  I’ll end this now, though, with an encouraging quote from Thomas Merton.

Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice out there calling me to be something I am not. It comes from a voice in here calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.

Thomas Merton

–Dad

Sad News

Tuesday, while busy at work, I received an unexpected call from Evan.

“Hi Evan, what’s up?”

“My friend Doug died.  They just called to tell me.”

That morning on the news, I’d heard about an accident at Utah State, but the student’s name hadn’t resonated with me.

The media reported his real name — Eric — not the name he’d been given by his circle of friends — Doug.

“We called him that because we decided there were too many Erics in the world and he looked like the cartoon character,” Evan explained.

Doug was part of the group that Evan ran with at Utah State.  They were close friends who supported one another through school and life and developed a tight bond.  And now one of them was gone.

Evan felt the loss deeply and had already been given permission to return for the weekend for the funeral.

“You’re part of a community back there,” I said.  “Embrace them and let them support you.”

And the Paulist community did, indeed embrace Evan.  They modified the retreat to include a prayer service for Doug (from the Paulist prayer book).  They have supported Evan and helped him with ground transportation.

Once Evan had the time for the funeral, we set about arranging his air travel.  Given that it was the Wednesday before a holiday weekend and Evan had to leave from Albany and return to New York, I was not optimistic about finding available seats.  Praise God, Expedia coughed up a flight that matched Evan’s scheduling and geographical requirements.  We booked it and sent him the confirmation.  He’ll be arriving late tonight and leaving early Monday.

This experience, too, is part of Evan’s formation.  I’ve been reading Just Call Me Lopez (a sort of novel that serves as an introduction to the life of St. Ignatius and Ignatian Spirituality) and I was struck by this passage from the introduction:

Miracles so often happen in the midst of brokenness, inadequacy, and failure. In fact, those experiences would seem to be God’s preferred location for the work of transformation.

So I pray.

I pray for Eric and his family.  I pray for Evan and all of Eric’s friends and ask God to use this experience to let them feel the embrace of His love.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. Requiescat in pace.

Edit: Forgot to mention.  Please join us in praying for Eric and his family and, if you want to express your condolences please click here to access the obituary and guest book.

–Dad