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

Sunday, April 5, 2009

"Who is John Galt?"

Once abolish the God, and the government becomes the God. - G.K. Chesterton

The economy is a mess, and no one’s immune. The mortgage and real estate industries are in a shambles – Kenna and I just spoke with a realtor on Friday, and home prices are continuing to plummet, as are interest rates. It’s more difficult to get a loan, but once you do, good homes are a dime a dozen. Home owners are struggling. The stock market has yet to show signs of life since the end of last year (I bought into a mutual fund in December of 2007 at $14 a share; the fund sits at just over $7 a share now. Buy high, sell low, right?).

I’ve heard people blame everyone from Bill Clinton, to George W. Bush, to CEOs, to mortgage lenders, to God for the sad state of the economy. But I’ve figured out who’s really to blame for these brutal current affairs – a dead Russian woman.

I recently finished Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged, after reading The Fountainhead last year. Ayn Rand isn’t a pure novelist per se, she’s more of a philosopher who happens to excel at writing novels, and thus chose to situate her personal philosophy in terms of fictional characters and dramatic plots. My goal here isn’t so much to give a book report on
Atlas (there’s a great one here) or to spoil some of the more interesting parts of her writing for you, but instead to explain why my favorite way to describe her writing is, “I disagree with every single principle she holds true, and I love reading it.”

There’s no way that I can deny Ayn Rand’s brilliant writing style, a style that I eat up. Her dialogues and narration of main characters’ thoughts are almost contradictory, but they underscore her depth of meaning. Open the book to any page, and you can read a sentence like, “Her eyes were half-closed in the mocking, conscious triumph of being admired, but her mouth was half-open in helpless, begging expectation.” Her style is gripping, but her philosophy is sinister.

Rand grew up in Communist Russia, and it’s impossible to miss her revolt against the tenets of Communism & socialism in her writing. For her, the U.S. is the greatest idea and greatest possibility for humanity, because it was founded on capitalist selfishness; i.e. "If I work hard enough, I’ll be wildly successful and I won’t owe anything to anyone." And this extends even to romantic relationships; i.e. "I don't love you in spite of your faults, I love you only for the good in you and no more."

Ayn Rand writes all her novels from an individualist philosophy called “objectivism,” or to be more exact, “rational self-interest” or “egoism.” For Rand, the happiness of the self is the highest value, and the obsessed rational function of the mind is the highest virtue to achieve happiness for oneself. All of Rand’s heroes are brilliant, overworking, unfeeling egoists; all of her villains are philanthropic, self-immolating, weak cowards concerned with the “common good.”

I don’t see how anyone, religious or otherwise, could agree with this philosophy. Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the Federal Reserve from 1987-2006, does.

Greenspan had a very close relationship with Rand until she died in 1982, and he was a part of her inner circle. Now, I can’t pretend to know much about complex economic structures, but I do know that when Greenspan was questioned about his flawed economic objectivist philosophy by Congress last year regarding the current recession, he said “Yes, I’ve found a flaw. I don’t know how significant or permanent it is. But I’ve been very distressed by that fact.” You can read more about the connections between Rand, Greenspan and our current recession in this great article.

But aside from all the criticism that I have on Rand’s intellectual and economic philosophy, I want to bring up the one sentence that I haven’t been able to get out of my head since reading
Atlas. Toward the end of the book, the central hero, John Galt, hijacks an international radio wave and broadcasts a 60-page diatribe on Rand’s principles. In the middle of that monologue, he throws this smug jab at the listeners who believe in self-sacrifice, even to the point of death: “Do not remind me that it pertains only to this life on earth. I am concerned with no other. Neither are you.”

And there it is. The linchpin on which Rand’s entire philosophy hinges. If there is no God, no heaven, no immaterial soul, and no morality based on sin (which she states), then there is no reason for self-less love. If there is no God, there is no “common good,” which she despises above all else. If there is no God, then rational self-interest may very well be the best way for our economy to function; many individuals in our country certainly act that way already.

BUT…if there is a God, a heaven, a soul and sin, then everything that Rand holds true is inherently flawed and sinister. If we believe in the Catholic social teaching of solidarity, then making money, being happy, and (gasp!) great rational intelligence aren’t the highest good – not by a long shot. If we believe that what we do, from the big to the small, has eternal consequences, all of a sudden we’re more concerned with helping our competitor get to heaven and not so much with putting him out of business.

It’s perfectly fair for Rand to claim that even Christians and Catholics aren’t truly concerned with heaven; but she’s wrong. And her entire system of thought unravels when you pull that string.

(And on a personal note, good ol’ Ayn made me angry when she effectively killed off my boy G.K. Chesterton in
Atlas. In the center of the novel, she puts a pontifical, over-stuffed English author named Gilbert Keith-Worthing aboard a train and runs the train into a tunnel, which collapses. Chesterton’s G.K. stands for Gilbert Keith. Grr…)

Peace, y'all!

Still to come:
- El Presidente at El Commencemente
- Starting up at OLG

Now playing: Dave Matthews Band - Anyone Seen The Bridge?
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Farewell, piercings...

A somewhat large part of my identity (sad) has been caught up in the fact that I have been, for nearly 5 years now, a multi-pierced man. On that fateful day in the spring of 2004, when the gentleman at the Michiana Tattoo Emporium ran a 12" needle through my eyebrow, my life changed forever.

And this past Monday, March 30th, I removed both my eyebrow and my cartilage piercings.

The reasoning was two-fold:
a) The pastor at my new parish requested that I remove my piercings before starting my c
urrent ministry job (more blogging on said ministry job to come later)
b) As I'm getting married in less than 4 months, I don't want to be "that weirdo husband/dad with the piercings"

And so, on this end of April Fool's 2009, I give you my Ode to Piercings (with memorable photos over our time together):

The Top Ten Reasons I'm Sad To Lose My Piercings

1. I've had a longer relationship with my piercings than I have with any lady, including my current fiancé. -->

2. I no longer have the chance to joke with the bored TSA workers at airport security about setting off the metal detector.

3. I'm sure somewhere, deep down, my parents will think that all of their reasoning against piercings finally sunk in, it just took 5 years. And that would just be too bad. :)

4. I no longer have the chance to explain to young and old alike my reasoning behind getting piercings. (In short, folks with piercings/tattoos are usually assumed to live a certain immoral lifestyle, so I'm attempting to run a "don't judge a book by its cover" campaign. Fundamental problem: I make lots of mistakes, so it ends up being somewhat hypocritical. Ah well, what can you do?)

5. I may miss my piercings enough to walk around like this:

6. Now I have nowhere to hang my car keys when my hands are full.

7. In the youth ministry world, it's one less gimmick that I have to make kids think that I'm actually cool and relatable. You
know, in the parishes I work at that are full of rich, white kids who don't have piercings anyway... Hmmm... At least I can still play guitar.

8. There's the off chance that Hair:Samson::Piercings:Pat.

9. No more awkward glances and questions from middle agers, like Tony, a staff member at a previous parish I worked at:

Tony: Can I just ask you one question about that thing?
(eyebrow ring)
Pat: Sure!
Tony: Does it go through the bone?

[note: It does NOT go through the bone!]

10. The words of Rita Rudner are no longer true for me: "I think men who have a pierced ear are better prepared for marriage. They've experienced pain and bought jewelry."

Thanks for reading - feel free to follow if you like what you see! Peace y'all!

P.S. Upcoming posts...

- I finally finished Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, and also found out that Alan Greenspan was a huge flunkie of Rand's. I can't WAIT for that post!
- Obama @ ND. I can't avoid it for much longer.
- Brand new youth ministry gig. Rockin' so far!

Now playing: Nickel Creek - Green And Gray
via FoxyTunes