Friday, August 7, 2009

Back action...and married!

Well, it's been a long time being MIA due to, y'know, my wedding and all... But we're back in action now!

It was an amazing, blessed, beautiful and FUN weekend, and there'll be plenty of pictures and details to come later. Thanks for the prayers as we begin this crazy marriage journey - here we go!

Details and musings to come...


Now playing: Matt Maher - Leave a Light On
via FoxyTunes

Saturday, May 2, 2009

A cross-shaped peg in a kid-shaped hole

"There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church, which is of course, quite a different thing."
-Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

I just began my new job as Director of Youth Ministry at a parish in suburban Minneapolis a
month ago.

So last weekend, I was manning my first middle school dance. These dances are fairly popular among the 12-14 year olds of the area, and I soon found out why. Sandwiched between the "Hoedown Throwdown" (which they played twice) were every explicit and sexual song from "You Spin Me Round" by Flo Rida to "If You Seek Amy" by Britney (which has an entirely different phoenetic meaning).

This all brings up my own ministerial and moral dilemma: how far are we willing to go to meet youth where they are for the sake of the Gospel? Being relatable is one thing, but changing timeless truths is another thing entirely.

My fiancé and I just hung out with a great priest friend, and we talked about this exact issue. The way he put it was, "What's the difference between bringing youth to the Faith, and bringing Faith to the youth?" He's hitting at a major issue in youth ministry, and a major sacrifice that too many ministers and churches make - sacrificing the truth of the Gospel for the sake of being "cool" or "relatable."

This is where we get "awesome" youth groups with rock bands and iPod shaped crosses. This is where we get megachurches that preach the "prosperity gospel" and tell people that if you're not rich, you're not praying hard enough (see: Joel Osteen). This is where we get denominations with moral teachings that change with the majority party in Congress. All these things lead people into an entertaining but terribly shallow version of "Christianity" that's focused on (at best) "being nice" and trusting God to grow your 401k or (at worst) dangerous, overly-literal interpretations of obscure verses from 2 Chronicles. I'm not saying that Jesus t-shirts are a stupid idea, but where do we draw the line? At what point are we watering down the teachings of Christ for the sake of being modern and relevant? And aren't the youth of today (or any day) attracted to truth when it's spoken clearly and consistently, no matter how counter-cultural it is?


Peace, y'all!

P.S. I just ate the ears and head off my chocolate Easter bunny tonight. It's the most delicious part of a chocolate rabbit.

Now playing: Dave Matthews Band - Why I Am
via FoxyTunes

Friday, April 17, 2009

Does the Pope ever miss free throws?

"Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought."
- Pope John Paul II

[In response to Ben's comment on the last post... It's gotta be good to warrant a whole post response! :)]

So without further ado - Ben is right about a number of things:

- The CNS is a fringe group that, to be honest, gives the Church in the U.S. a bad name. I can understand a renewal of Catholic education (which has certainly gone astray; see: Georgetown), but not the way they go about it most of the time.

- Speaking of fringe groups, Rush Limbaugh should have been deported to Greenland long ago. They don't have radio there, right?

- Being a "Christian" doesn't always mean that you're acting like Christ.

But there are a couple of fundamentally wrong points, too:

1. Pope Pius XII was a shining light during the Holocaust. Any reasoning I give now has been tainted by the claim that they're just "excuses," but the fact is that Pius XII got a bad rap from pop culture years after WWII (see: the 1963 play "The Deputy" by Rolf Hochhuth). Many Jewish leaders have credited Pius XII for saving more than 860,000 Jews. But to a certain extent that's beside the point, because...

2. Like too many people, there is a crucial misunderstanding here of the truth of Papal Infallibility. It does not mean that the Pope never makes mistakes. Does the Pope sin? Yes! (JPII went to confession weekly) Were the Crusades evil and wrong? Yes! Was the Inquisition an act of pride, violence and sin? Yes! Again, I repeat - any Catholic who claims that Popes don't make mistakes is uninformed and misrepresents the Church. Per the post title, I'm willing to bet that I would own the Pope in a game of H-O-R-S-E.

Papal Infallibility, as restated in the document Lumen Gentium from Vatican II, only applies when "by a definitive act he proclaims a doctrine of faith or morals" (LG §25) Infallibility only applies to the teaching charism of the papacy, and only in matters of faith and morals. So we're talking about things like the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the evil of murder, the teachings on marriage, etc.

This, of course, was the central concern during JFK's presidential campaign and the reason he's been our only Catholic president. "Will the Pope pick our Supreme Court justices? Restructure our legislature? Do away with the precious electoral college?" And the answer is, of course, no. The Pope has no right within his ministry to directly affect the temporal structures of nations and states. Now, he might teach on those elements of secular groups that pertain to moral infringements (see Pope Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum, which criticizes certain capitalistic labor standards). But there's a fine line between teaching on truths of faith and morals and executing those same truths. That's why, praise God, the Papacy no longer has the political and military authority that it once did.

So now that we all love the Pope, how 'bout some randomness? :)

And speaking of Popes, happy 82nd birthday to Benedict XVI yesterday!

Peace, y'all.

Now playing: Eric Hutchinson - You Don't Have to Believe Me
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Obama @ ND

“I can think of no better way of redeeming this tragic world today than love and laughter. Too many of the young have forgotten how to laugh, and too many of the elders have forgotten how to love. Would not our lives be lightened if only we could all learn to laugh more easily at ourselves and to love one another.”
- Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, President Emeritus, U. of Notre Dame

I graduated from the U. of Notre Dame in 2004, and I liked it so much that I stuck around for 2 years of grad school in Theology. I loved my college experience, and being back at ND brings emotions out of me that no other place on earth can. I love the Masses, the quarter dogs, and the vicious sprinklers.

But there are a few things about Notre Dame that have made me sad:
1. Our football program of late. Yikes. Better this year, right? Please, Charlie?
2. The weather. Give us our sun back, Michigan!
3. ND inviting President Obama to speak at commencement.

Now, let me be very clear. Yes, I was saddened that ND invited an aggressively pro-choice politician to such a public platform. But I was even more saddened by the backlash that I knew would result from the Catholic community. ND is a part of me, and the insults against ND are tough to brush off these days.

Probably the most vociferous group in speaking out against the so-called "Notre Dame scandal" has been the Cardinal Newman Society, a group dedicated to renewing Catholic higher education in the U.S. Now, a few years ago the CNS released a study on the Catholic identity of some major colleges and universities; and it was fairly well done. And ND was such an anomaly to them that they dedicated an entire chapter just to the Catholicism of Notre Dame. (Read it here.) Basically, what the CNS said was that Notre Dame is the most academically prestigious of any Catholic school, and the most Catholic of any academically prestitious school.

And that's the dichotomy that ND is forced to face; nearly every day, someone at the University is making a decision that can either be true to Catholic doctrine or further ND's academic prestige, but not both. And contrary to popular belief, the latter option isn't always chosen.

In this singular situation, Notre Dame chose prestige over Catholic identity. But couldn't we have said the same when ND invited President Bush to speak at commencement in 2001? The man who was Governor of Texas (which executes 3x more humans than any other state), declared a war that was criticized by Pope John Paul II, and constantly acted against Church teaching on immigration reform certainly wasn't a "Catholic" speaker. Granted, abortion is one of the only moral teachings of the Church that is unequivocal; abortion is never ok. But nevertheless, where was the massive petition against Bush's anti-Catholic stances?

And even more poignantly, if we're looking to invite only public figures that are perfectly aligned with Catholic teaching, who'll be speaking at commencement from now on? Only practicing Catholics in good standing with the Church? Only priests, bishops and Stephen Colbert (I could deal with that!)? But seriously, ND would sacrifice quite a bit if they were ever to go to those lengths; maybe that's a sacrifice some would expect of ND, but I personally wouldn't.

I will never defend President Obama's actions against the pro-life cause, and I don't necessarily believe that Notre Dame should have invited him so soon after his inauguration. But I'm hopeful that Obama can deliver some Catholic action on immigration, health care and social services and that this invitation can open a dialogue on other issues, such as abortion and marriage.

Tangent 1: When did it become the "Catholic" thing to publicly criticize our nation's leader? And when did the Republican Party become the Catholic party? The Democratic Party clearly supports abortion, embryonic stem cell research and gay marriage, but isn't every other plank in their platform mostly Catholic? (Just FYI, I'm neither Rep nor Dem - they both drive me crazy.)

Tangent 2: Wouldn't it be great if we could all agree on a common moral basis (i.e. don't kill babies, etc.) and let the politicians actually make political decisions? Since when did suits in Washington form the moral framework of our country?

Tangent 3: Finally, there's no way that ND (or any other school) will ever uninvite the President of the United States from any event. I understand the efforts of the petitioners, but if you're a University, you just don't do that.

Lemme know what you're thinkin'!
Peace, y'all.

P.S. The new DMB single, "Funny The Way It Is" is out. Awe. Some.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

"He is not here."

Now let the heavens be joyful, Let earth her song begin:
Let the round world keep triumph, And all that is therein;
Invisible and visible, Their notes let all things blend,

For Christ the Lord is risen, Our joy that hath no end.
- St. John of Damascus

Everything that happened before Christ's Resurrection, including the whole Old Testament, was a precursor to Easter morning. Everything that's happened since can only be viewed in light of that moment.

Everything that we do as Christians leads us to Easter morning, and everything we do afterward is in response to the Resurrection.

We are an Easter people!

In the story of the Resurrection from Mark's Gospel, the women who loved Jesus show up on Easter morning to perform the traditional Jewish anointing rites for a dead body. They loved Jesus, and they deal with their grief by focusing on concrete, practical jobs as many of us do. What they don't realize is that while they're looking for a dead body, the Jesus that they love is risen and very alive. The women were "amazed" and probably a bit afraid; they could have never imagined this to be possible.

How often are we stuck searching for Jesus in the tombs of our own lives? When are we most afraid to change the way that we pray, think, or live, even when we hear the call from God to do so? How easy can it be to convince ourselves that Jesus is right where we left him - at the church, in our childhood, with another group of friends?

Mark assures us on this most important day of the year that if our Jesus is anything, he's certainly NOT predictable and static. Christ is rarely right where we left him. Instead, he is constantly "going before you to Galilee; there you will see him." This Easter, may we leave behind the tombs of our own sin and safety and look for the exciting, vivid, living Christ in new and beautiful places.

Peace, y'all. Happy Resurrection!

P.S. Speaking of the importance of the Resurrection, the truth of the Resurrection has gripped even the literary greats throughout history; suffering, death and Resurrection drive many of the great stories throughout the past 2000 years. Including Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, I might add! (*Spoiler Alert*) For all of her ceaseless criticism of Christianity, her hero, John Galt, rises from his own version of a tomb - a torture chamber. Rand unwittingly uses the truth of Easter in her attempt to deny it.
For more, here's the blog on Atlas's economic failures.

P.P.S. How was your Easter? What'd you do to celebrate? Open for comments...

Now playing: Eric Hutchinson - Outside Villanova
via FoxyTunes

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Devil's Temporary Triumph

"The gradual extinction of all light in The Basilica symbolizes the temporary triumph of the Prince of Darkness over the Light of the World."
- Tenebrae worship aid, Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis

This is the weekend to end all weekends for a Catholic Christian. This is why we
do what we do - for the experience of Holy Week, the Triduum and Easter Sunday. And one of my favorite liturgies during the course of the Triduum is the celebration of Tenebrae, which means "darkness" in Latin. I don't just love Tenebrae because they turn out all the lights at the end and you get the bang on the pews to represent the earthquake after Jesus' death (although that is a highlight). During Tenebrae, we use darkness, Scripture and song to remember the time between Jesus' death and resurrection; we remember the time that Jesus was not in the world.

I'm a fan of reflecting on the circumstances and people surrounding Jesus in the Passion narrative. Tonight, at Tenebrae, I couldn't get my mind off of Satan's "temporary triumph" over God on Good Friday. This is a pretty intriguing idea to me, mostly because of the interplay between power, wisdom and love.

Throughout all of the Scriptures and Tradition of the Church, we have the constant message that everything we do
begins and ends with love. God is Love. We know that God's love offers us many gifts, one of which is wisdom. And any power that we possess as Christians comes first from our love and God's love in us, and second from the wisdom that we're given. Jesus got this progression right. Satan couldn't have gotten it more wrong.

Jesus' great triumph was in putting love before power. Could he have come down from the cross under his own power? Of course - nothing kept him on that cross but love for us. Satan's great folly was in putting power (and everything else) before love.

I wonder sometimes if the devil understood, at least on some level, that the whole crucifixion situation wasn't going to turn out well for him in the end. I wonder if he had some glimpse of Christ's victory over death, but was too greedy to pass up watching the Son of God die. It's like a drug addict on probation knowing the serious consequences he faces if he touches heroin again; and then doing whatever it takes to get the next fix, because he can't see past the immediate obsession.

I love C.S. Lewis for about a million reasons, one of them being the way he goes about this idea in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, after Aslan comes back to life:
"It means," said Aslan, "that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward."
What Lewis was wondering was whether the devil had too little wisdom to understand
the end result of the crucifixion (salvation). What I'm wondering if whether the devil had plenty of wisdom, but ignored it for the sake of immediate gratification.

So that brings us to Holy Saturday. Today of all days, let's wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. This day of anticipation and near despair while Christ is in the tomb is nothing compared to the joy of Easter!

...and also the joy of eating chocolate again. :)

Peace y'all,

P.S. They dropped rose petals from the ceiling of the Basilica during Tenebrae tonight. A little over the top? For sure. Still pretty cool? Yup.

Now playing: Dispatch - Walk With You
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, April 9, 2009

"Do you realize what I have done for you?"

Jesus lays down the clothes of his glory, he wraps around his waist the towel of humanity and makes himself a servant. - Pope Benedict XVI, Homily on Holy Thursday 2008

I'm a big ol' fan of icons of the Church. I find great beauty in the reverence that Eastern Catholics have for iconography not as a symbol of the Word of God, but as the very Word of God itself, represented visually. The process of "writing an icon" is a prayerful and spiritual experience in itself (and one I'm not cut out for, I might add...).

The icon of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples is in my Top Three of all-time favorite icons. It's been the background image on my work computers ever since I began my venture into parish and youth ministry - the image of Christ humbling himself to serve his disciples is eternally humbling to me and a great reminder of what I'm called to do as a minister.

But weird parish ministers aren't the only ones called to wash feet.

Every now and again, you hear the word "charism" pop up while talking to a Catholic. Basically, it's the religious equivalent of the old, "we all have different gifts" talk that our parents gave us when we got cut from the baseball team/band/skee ball club, etc. In the secular world, it rarely makes us feel much better. In the Church, it means that we were created beautifully unique for a specific role in the Kingdom.

Yesterday, I went with 20 youth to a place called Loaves & Fishes in Minneapolis - basically a service through various churches in the area that serves dinner to homeless and poor families. When we were wrapping up dinner and I was scraping inches of burned gunk off of industrial pots with one of the high schoolers, I was thinking to myself "I'm not cut out to do this every day."

Not all of us are called to be overseas missionaries. Not everyone is called to be a youth minister. Not everyone is called to be a priest or a sister. But EVERYONE is called to wash the feet of those who need it most - that's not a charism, it's a command. When Jesus asked his disciples, "do you realize what I have done for you?" he wasn't asking them if they recognized the significance of foot-washing. Jesus was asking them if they realized that he had just given them an obligation to do the same.

Which begs the question - whose feet have you washed this Lent? The family member you need to be reconciled with? The co-worker you know is having a hard time with a sick loved one? The child who needs to be told that she's worthwhile? The homeless person you pass by every day on the way to work?

Happy Holy Thursday - now wash some feet!


P.S. Just stumbled across the blog of the Vocations Director at the Benedictine Monastery that my fiancé was discerning with when we started dating. She's awesome. :)

Now playing: Dave Matthews Band - Lie in Our Graves
via FoxyTunes