Proud or Humble?

At first glance, Mary appears to speak out of both sides of her mouth in today’s gospel. On one hand, she rejoices that God scatters the proud in their conceit. Yet on the other hand, she rejoices that all generations will call her blessed- an assertion that, taken in isolation, sounds like a prideful boast. We might ask: “How can Mary speak of the proud’s humiliation while she herself sounds so proud?”

In truth, Mary is not arrogant at all. She doesn’t boast of own accomplishments; she celebrates instead what God has done for her. She’s not prideful; she’s simply grateful. Instead of singing her own praises, she praises the greatness of the Lord.

Mary knew full well that it was God who had raised her up; she understood that it was God who had looked on her with favor; she acknowledged that it was the Lord who had chosen her to be the mother of his Son.

Because of this, Mary is a model for us, because she exemplifies the virtue of humility- the humility of knowing that all good things around us are sent from heaven above; the humility of accepting that any good we might do finds its origin in God’s grace; and the humility of a life lived, not for our glory, but for the glory of God. Mary soul doesn’t magnify herself. Instead, her soul “magnifies the Lord.”

Readings for today’s Mass:

Photo credit: joguldi via Creative Commons

Downward and Deeper into Sexual Confusion: Parents Choose to Raise "Genderless" Child

It is no secret that our culture as a whole is descending into an ever-deeper sexual confusion. Recently two examples of this were in the news.

In the first article which I summarize here, a Canadian couple have chosen to raise (impose upon?) their child a “genderless” upbringing. For now, they have refused to tell any of their family or friends the sex of their child, whom they call “Storm,” and groom and dress the infant child ambiguously.

I would like to provide excerpts of a much longer article here and comment as we go. As usual, the article is in bold, black italics. My comments are in plain red text. The full article is here: Parents Keep Baby’s Gender Secret

Jayme Poisson

So it’s a boy, right?” a neighbor calls out as Kathy Witterick walks by, her four month old baby, Storm, strapped to her chest in a carrier.

Witterick and her husband, David Stocker, are raising a genderless baby. (Pet peeve: “Gender” was traditionally a word that referred to grammar, as in the subclass of a noun (male, female and neuter) in Latin and in the romance languages.”Sex” was the traditional word that referred to the sub classification of human beings as either male or female. I am willing to admit that language (which does change) is undergoing a change here. But perhaps too, it is no coincidence that, as we increasingly loose a proper sense of our humanity, that we would take up the word “gender” to refer to our sexuality. For gender in language is somewhat of an arbitrary assignment to words which have, not only a male and female sub class, but also, a third “neuter class). While there’s nothing ambiguous about Storm’s genitalia, they aren’t telling anyone whether their third child is a boy or a girl.

“If you really want to get to know someone, you don’t ask what’s between their legs,” says Stocker. (And here is one of the great errors of the modern age, a kind of Gnostic or Manichean dualism, if you will. Sexuality is much more than genitalia. The whole body, and the whole soul, is male or female. The body is not some arbitrary container or machine in which I live. My body and my soul are one. The body expresses the soul, the soul is the form of the body. It is not just my body that is male. I am male. As a human person my body and soul, though distinguishable, are one. Thus my body is a revelation of who I am at the deepest level. The child’s father (am I allowed to use that term?) has an anthropology that no Christian can accept, it is an ancient heresy (dualism) fought by the Church 18 Centuries ago, and also in more recent times. Gnostic dualism tried to separate the soul and the body).

Friends said they were imposing their political and ideological values on a newborn. Most of all, people said they were setting their kids up for a life of bullying in a world that can be cruel to outsiders. Witterick and Stocker [the parents] believe they are giving their children the freedom to choose who they want to be, unconstrained by social norms about males and females. Some say their choice is alienating. (Their friends are right. This is a terrible thing to do to the child, not only for social reasons, but also for deeply personal reasons. They are messing with this child’s psyche. For nature (and I would add, nature’s God) has supplied this child with a sex, and pretending this is insignificant, is unnatural, and thus unhealthy, for the child. Sex (or “gender” as they say), is not something we choose. It is something that is given. It is, quite simply, who and what we are).

Stocker, 39, and Witterick, 38, believe kids can make meaningful decisions for themselves from a very early age. “What we noticed is that parents make so many choices for their children. It’s obnoxious,” says Stocker. (I wonder if they will allow their kid to take up smoking, swallow broken glass, or join a right-wing political movement? The fact is, children need to be raised. They are in no position to make most decisions for themselves at an early age. Children need to be formed and educated according to what is right and proper. (Sadly, these parents seem in no position to do that anyway). Parents need to be parents. They need to show their children what is the way and how to navigate, both reality, and the social order. It is possible for a parent to micromanage a child in some matters,  but these parents are over correcting for the possibility.

Further, though they claim to be giving their kid “freedom,” it is just as arguable that they are imposing their confused agenda on their children. To say that “gender” is up for grabs, is not a neutral position, it is a viewpoint; a (perverse) doctrine they are imposing on their child. So, though they like to claim that they are on some sort of (perverse) high ground, the fact is, they are imposing an agenda upon their children. So perhaps the truer conclusion is that they are being parents, just bad parents).

The moment a child’s sex is announced, so begins the parade of pink and barrage of blue. Tutus and toy trucks aren’t far behind. The couple says it only intensifies with age. (Shame on us! We are all so evil. Imagine, recognizing a child for what he or she is, how could we be so pushy?).

“In fact, in not telling the gender of my precious baby, I am saying to the world, ‘Please can you just let Storm discover for him/herself what s (he) wants to be?!.” Witterick writes in an email. (Again, we don’t decide what sex we are going to be. The body is a revelation from nature (and, I would argue, from nature’s God) of who the person IS.  Sex change operations, and other forms of pretending, do not change what we are. They simply reveal deep-seated confusion and psychological disorder.

Christian anthropology insists that the body is revelation.  We learn about ourselves from our bodies. They will often tell us when we are under stress, when we are being gluttonous, how old we are, etc. It is true, the body is not the only revelation of who we are, but it IS revelation, it does not lie. It cannot simply be ignored or set aside because of some form of stinking thinking, or delusional notion, that all that matters is what I think. The body is a reminder of a little thing called  “reality” to which we must answer and square our thinking by. More on this below).

Stocker teaches at City View Alternative, a tiny school west of Dufferin Grove Park, with four teachers and about 60 Grade 7 and 8 students whose lessons are framed by social-justice issues around class, race and gender…. The family traveled [recently] through the mountains of Mexico, speaking with the Zapatistas, a revolutionary group who shun mainstream politics as corrupt and demand greater indigenous rights. In 1994, about 150 people died in violent clashes with the Mexican military, but the leftist movement has been largely peaceful since. Last year, they spent two weeks in Cuba, living with local families and learning about the revolution. (I wonder what the indigenous people would think of this couple’s absurd notions? I would think that most indigenous people are more in touch with reality, basic nature, and “real-world” living than this Canadian couple, lost in a post-Cartesian fog. My guess is that as they observe this sort of thing from the “corrupted West” a word comes to their mind: “Loco.” Not sure about the Cubans and how much they’ve been “westernized.”

Witterick has worked in violence prevention, giving workshops to teachers. These days, she volunteers, offering breastfeeding support. At the moment, she is a full-time mom. (Glad that mom is a full time mom, but in this case, I wish the kids had other influences).

Witterick practices unschooling, an offshoot of home-schooling centered on the belief that learning should be driven by a child’s curiosity. There are no report cards, no textbooks and no tests. For unschoolers, learning is about exploring and asking questions, “not something that happens by rote from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays in a building with a group of same-age people, planned, implemented and assessed by someone else,” says Witterick. The fringe movement is growing. An unschooling conference in Toronto drew dozens of families last fall. (These poor kids, these poor, poor kids. Not only are they being heavily influenced by sexual confusion, but they are being wholly unprepared for life. Life does occur on our own little schedule, or indulge our moments of curiosity. Life does have tests, and we are accountable for what we do. Tests, and report cards are good training for life. Textbooks, though not perfect, do at least provide a reasonably common curriculum written by some one other than these confused parents. These poor kids, what a mess. I am not against home schooling, but the picture is, that these kids are being really isolated from the real world by parents who refuse to engage reality).

Jazz — [the oldest boy] soft-spoken, with a slight frame and curious brown eyes — keeps his hair long, preferring to wear it in three braids, two in the front and one in the back, even though both his parents have close-cropped hair. His favourite colour is pink, although his parents don’t own a piece of pink clothing between them. He loves to paint his fingernails and wears a sparkly pink stud in one ear, despite the fact his parents wear no nail polish or jewelry. Kio [his brother] keeps his curly blond hair just below his chin. The 2-year-old loves purple, although he’s happiest in any kind of pyjama pants.“As a result, Jazz and now Kio are almost exclusively assumed to be girls,” says Stocker, adding he and Witterick don’t out them. (Sigh…)

On a recent trip to Hamilton, Jazz was out of earshot when family friend Denise Hansen overheard two little girls at the park say they didn’t want to play with a “girl-boy.” (Now, of course, the parents and their supporters will calls these girls unenlightened, harsh, mean spirited etc. But the fact is, these boys are (understandably) confused, and their (created) confusion unsettles people. But as is usually the case in these matters, those who engage in disordered and troubling behavior, demand all the sensitivity, and show none. As per usual they are preferring an “in-your face” approach that demands acceptance and tolerance, while at the same time showing none for us, who are understandably troubled by deeply disordered notions that fly in the face of reality).

Dr. Ken Zucker, considered a world expert on gender identity and head of the gender identity service for children at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, calls this a “social experiment of nurture.” When asked what psychological harm, if any, could come from keeping the sex of a child secret, Zucker said: “One will find out.” OK, Doctor,  you have used an important word here: “experiment.” Since when did we get the notion that performing experiments on children is just fine? And do you, Doctor, parents, and supporters of the parents, really think its OK to just “find out” if any harm will come to the children? Is it right for parents to perform “social experiments” on their children in regard to the deepest aspects of who they are?

What if a certain group of parents decided that sleep was over-rated and 8 hours of sleep was an undesirable and socially imposed rule that had to go? And what if they decided to impose an “experiment” on their children by depriving them of sleep and indoctrinating them with the notion that what their body was clearly saying (“I want to sleep”) could and should be ignored? How about another experiment where we just let kids eat what they want, or bathe when and if they please? Maybe we could also refuse potty training since toilets are “social constructs.” It wouldn’t take long for the authorities to intervene in cases like this. But when it comes to sexual confusion, a politically correct and protected deviancy, we are all just supposed to step back and admire an “experiment” while three children descend into utter confusion).

The broader question, he says, is how much influence parents have on their kids. If [some]  lean toward nature, Zucker puts more emphasis on nurture. Even when parents don’t make a choice, that’s still a choice, and one that can impact the children. Well Dr. Z you’ve spoken the truth here: the parents non-choice is, in fact, a choice. And their “non-choice choice” will have “impact” on their children, I would estimate the impact at about 65 mph, head on.

Well there it is, in all its tragic gloom. And, as the lights go out in Western culture this sort of thing is going to become more common.

At the heart of the problem in the Western world has been the full flower of the Cartesian error. Rene Descartes, back in the 16th Century, adopted a radical skepticism wherein he did not trust that the reality around him was real or even existed. All he could “trust” was that he doubted and quipped, “I think, therefore I am.” And thus began in the Western World, a slow but steady retreat away from reality, and into the mind. Little by little we have pulled up roots from the real, the actual and natural world around us, and turned in on ourselves. Increasingly all that matters is what I think. When one points to the actual, the real world, to facts of nature, and so forth, the modern world is increasingly unimpressed or runs to find an anomaly and pretend it’s normative. In the end for the modern westerner, All that matters is what I think. And as for what you think, well that’s just your opinion, what you think.  There is no common, no shared reality, just what I think, that is all that matters.

When it comes to many of the moral issues of the day, the actual, physical, aspects of the matter are increasingly ignored and everything becomes an abstraction. Abortion is not the physical dismemberment of a human baby, it is a “choice” or just a political “issue.” When one points out that homosexual activity violates the clear design of the human body (for the man is clearly for the woman and the woman for the man, not the man for the man or the woman for the woman), one is greeted with puzzlement, as if to say, “What does the body have to do with it?” For the modern age, our bodies apparently have nothing to say to us. That promiscuity of any sort brings disease doesn’t seem to register with modern man. Most today do not conclude, on account of STDs and AIDS  that perhaps our bodies are telling us something. Rather the only conclusion is that the government needs to supply more condoms and antibiotics and do more research so that we can go on ignoring our bodies and indulge our passions.

It is clear that we are retreating into our minds and away from the physical realities that are before us. Reality is cast aside. We owe no debt to the “is-ness” of things. All that matters is what we think. Rene Descartes’ retreat into the mind has come full flower and it is an ugly flower.

But for the Church and the Biblical moral tradition, natural law is an essential component of understanding what is right and wrong. The body is a revelation to us from nature, and for the Church, the body is also a revelation from God. Our bodies and the natural world around us have essential and critical things to teach us, and we owe a debt to reality that is actually before us. To simply ignore the body in discussion of sexuality is unthinkable from a Natural Law perspective, and from a Biblical perspective. The body speaks truth to us, and reveals to us what is right. When we retreat from reality by rationalizations and intellectualizing, or simply by ignoring it, we suppress the truth it reveals.

At the heart of the Church teaching and or her Natural Law Tradition is a confidence that we can know reality and trust what it tells us. To ignore reality, to ignore the revelation of the natural world, and the body is, pure and simple, to suppress the truth. The Letter to the Romans speaks with great sobriety about this problem:

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their senseless minds  were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools….Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in their bodies the due penalty for their perversion. (Romans 1:21-27)

In suppressing the truth about God and what can be known from nature, our senseless Western minds have become darkened. As the Scripture points out, one of the most obvious symptoms of this is sexual confusion: promiscuity, contraception, and homosexual activity, all involve a turning away from what the body teaches us about sexuality. Sex is pleasurable to be sure, but that pleasure is obviously oriented to pro-creation. The bodily aspect of sexuality is clearly unitive  but it is also procreative. We cannot simply set aside the procreative dimension of sexuality without doing violence to what the body reveals.

And, as we descend deeper into sexual confusion it would now seem that we have come to a place where some cannot even decide what it means to be male or female. How can anyone be so confused? And the yet Scriptures say plainly how. Just suppress the truth, by ignoring God and what he reveals in creation, and the downward slide begins.  Before long, there is utter debasement, confusion and, at least collectively speaking, our senseless minds are darkened.

As the lights go out, the Church cannot simply curse the darkness. We must light a candles of Revelation and Natural Law. We must hold them high. And as we do so, the world will curse us, for light is obnoxious to those accustomed to darkness. But gradually, the light can be adjusted to again.

The following video is another example of the sexual confusion being pushed on others. In this case it is indoctrination in the public schools of California which insists that one can “choose” to be a boy, a girl or “both.” The “instructor,” as he points to his heart and head says, “Gender identity is about what’s in here, and up here.” It is pure Gnostic dualism,  and a Cartesian retreat into the mind, and away from reality. All that matters is what I think. What is outside, “doesn’t matter.”

We have a lot of work to do.

On the Memorare of Memorial Day

memorial-dayMemorial Day, for many, means the beginning of Summer. To others, it is a day off to shop. But, as I am sure you really know Memorial Day is a day to honor those who have died in the service of this country.

The word “memorial” comes from the Latin Memorare which is in an  imperative meaning: “Remember!” So, Memorial Day is “Remember! Day.”

This is a day to remember that there are men and women who have died so that you and I could live with greater security, justice and peace. May these fallen soldiers rest in Peace. We owe them a debt of gratitude and our prayers.

In a secondary sense we can also honor those today who currently serve in the military since they have placed their lives on the line for our security and peace.We will have a second opportunity to thank those who still live on Veterans Day.

God bless them all, and may the dead rest in peace.

The Love of one’s country (Patriotism) is related to the fourth commandment. The Catechism teaches:

It is the duty of citizens to contribute to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity and freedom. The love and service of one’s country follow from the the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity. (CCC # 2239)

The Lord himself makes it plain: No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13).

My Cousin, John Clem, has blogged on how his parish celebrated Memorial Day by remembering the cost, the high cost, of war in human terms: HERE: Eyes Wide Open

Never forget the price others have paid for our freedom. Pray for our fallen soldiers of every generation and their families. Perhaps you might use this video as a way to meditate on the sacrifices they made. Here the text of the song “Mansions of the Lord” and the video follows:

To fallen soldiers let us sing,
Where no rockets fly nor bullets wing,
Our broken brothers let us bring
To the Mansions of the Lord

No more weeping,
No more fight,
No prayers pleading through the night,
Just Divine embrace,
Eternal light,
In the Mansions of the Lord

Where no mothers cry
And no children weep,
We shall stand and guard
Though the angels sleep,
Oh, through the ages safely keep
The Mansions of the Lord

Photo Credit above: The U.S. Army via Creative Commons

The Hungers of Our Hearts

While teaching a group of small children, Sister Briege McKenna said, “When you receive your first Holy Communion, Jesus will come and live in your heart.” One little girl piped up and asked, “Oh, do you mean with his furniture and everything?” Well, there is no furniture involved, of course. But Jesus does come and live in our hearts when we receive Holy Communion.

A woman at my parish taught this truth to a non-verbal autistic boy who was preparing for his First Communion. She wanted to make sure that he could make a distinction between the normal food he ate at meals and the spiritual food he would receive in Holy Communion. So she drew a big picture of his body on a sheet of brown paper. Where the stomach would be she drew a big circle and filled it with samples of food he would often eat- Cheerios and things like that. Next she drew a picture of his heart and placed in it some unconsecrated communion wafers. Then, after completing the picture, she would ask the boy where the food he eats at meals goes. He would point to his own stomach, and then the stomach on the big picture. Finally, she would ask him where the spiritual food Jesus gives him goes, and he would touch his heart, and then the one on the picture with the wafers. He was ready for his first Holy Communion.

Jesus himself teaches us, in today’s gospel, that he comes to dwell in our hearts when we receive Holy Communion. The setting this teaching was the Last Supper, when Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. He explained to his disciples that after he had risen and ascended to heaven, he would send the Holy Spirit who would unite them with himself and God the Father in a very intimate way. “On that day,” Jesus said, “you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I am in you.” This communion with God begins when we receive the Holy Spirit at baptism, and it is nourished and strengthened whenever we receive Jesus in Holy Communion.

Pope John Paul II once said, “Even if all the physical hunger of the world were satisfied…the deepest hunger of man would still exist.” Indeed, we have several deep hungers that need to be fed. Bishop Robert Morneau of Green Bay proposes that we each have what he calls “five basic hungers of the heart.”

The first of these hungers, he says, is for meaning in life. Sometimes we wonder if life has any purpose. We ask “What’s it all about?” We look to the skies a and note that our tiny planet circles a sun that is only one of 100 billion stars in our galaxy, which in turn is only one of 100 billion galaxies in the universe, which is growing bigger as we speak. We see this, and wonder if there’s any purpose in it all.

Our second basic hunger, according to Bishop Morneau, is for commitment. We all search for someone or something to commit our lives to; we seek to give our talents and energies to something worthwhile. If we don’t commit ourselves, we’ll wind up bouncing from one relationship to another, moving from one job to the next, ceaselessly drifting and experimenting.

Our third basic hunger is for depth and quality in life. Morneau says that we long for deep encounters- with God, with others, and with ourselves. He gave the example of a Christmas party he once attended. In twenty minutes he was introduced to thirty people, but he concluded that he didn’t really meet anybody. The encounters were superficial, which is the experience of life for too many people today. They- we- hunger for more.

“Wholeness” is the fourth basic hunger of the heart. We’re all broken people, says Morneau. We’ve been hurt by life, by others, and we’ve hurt ourselves too. We struggle with our pain, our addictions, and our sinfulness. We need to be healed, to be made “whole” once again.

The fifth and final “basic hunger of the heart” is intimacy. We’re made for oneness, for communion, says Morneau. Nevertheless, we suffer from isolation, alienation, and loneliness.  In a sense, this is kind of a “hell on earth.” What we want is closeness- with others, with God.

The only thing- the only person– who can feed the deepest hungers of our heart, is Jesus Christ. Only Jesus who can satisfy our need for meaning, commitment, depth, wholeness, and intimacy. This was learned by a woman I know who was fond of wearing a necklace with a heart-shaped pendant. The heart, however, wasn’t solid. It was only the outline of a heart. She said that this pendant was symbolic, as she felt as if she were going through life with an empty heart. At times she had tried to fill it with various things- some good, some bad. But it was only when Jesus broke into her life that the hunger of her heart really began to be fed.

St. Peter said to us in today’s second reading: “Sanctify Jesus in your hearts.” We can do this by letting Jesus come into our hearts and feed its hungers with the gift of himself in Holy Communion. So maybe the challenge for us today is to come prepared, and to come often. “Our hearts are restless until they rest in God,” wrote St. Augustine. But perhaps we can paraphrase him and say: Our hearts are hungry, until they are fed by Jesus.

Readings for today’s Mass:

Photo Credits: Laurel Fan, madmiked, and Geecy via Creative Commons 

Living the Lessons of Love – A Meditation on the Gospel for the 6th Sunday of Easter

In the Gospel for today’s Mass Jesus gives us three lessons on love which are meant to prepare us for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. They also go a long way towards describing the normal Christian life.

Too many Christians see the Christian Faith more as a set of rules to keep, than a love that transforms, if we accept it. Let’s take a look at the revolutionary life of love and grace that the Lord is offering us in three stages: The POWER of love, the PERSON of love, and the PROOF of love.

1. THE POWER OF LOVE – In the text Jesus says,  “If you love me, you will keep my commandments ……Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me.

We must be very careful how we hear this. For it is possible to hear the Lord say, in effect “If you love me, prove it by keeping my commandments.” And this is how many hear it. And thus the text and the Christian faith is reduced to a kind of moralism: Do good, avoid evil and thus prove you love God. Loving God, then, becomes a kind of human achievement.

But understanding this text from the standpoint of grace yields a different, and I would argue, a more proper understanding. For loving God is not a human work, but the gift of God. So the text should be read to mean, in effect, “If you love me, you will, by this love I have given you, keep my commandments.” Thus, the keeping of the commandments is the fruit of love, not the cause of it. Love comes first. And when love is received and experienced, we begin, by the power of that love to keep the commandments. Love is the power by which we keep the commandments.

It is possible to keep the commandments to some extent out of fear and the flesh. But obedience based on fear tends not to last and brings with it many resentments. Further, attempting to keep the commandments by our own flesh power brings, not only exhaustion and frustration, but, also, the prideful delusion that somehow we have placed God in debt to us because we obey.

It is far better to keep the commandments by the grace of God’s love at work in us. Consider the following qualities of love:

A. Love is extravagant –  The flesh is minimalistic and asks, “Do I really have to do this.” But love is extravagant and wants to do more than the minimum. Consider a young man who loves a young woman. It is unlikely he would say, “Your birthday is coming soon and I must engage in the wearisome tradition of buying you a gift. So, what is the cheapest and quickest gift I can get you?” Of course he would not say this. Love does not ask questions like this. Love is extravagant, it goes beyond the minimal requirements and even lavishes gifts on the beloved, eagerly. Love has power to overrule the selfishness of the flesh. No young man would say to his beloved, “What is the least amount of time I have to spend with you?” Love doesn’t talk or think like this. Love wants to spend time with the beloved. Love has the power to transform our desires from selfish ends, toward the beloved.

Now, while these examples might seem obvious, it is apparently not so obvious to many Christians who say they love God but then ask, “Do I have to go to church?” “Do I have pray? How often, how long? Do I have to go to confession? How frequently?” “What’s the least amount I can put in the collection plate or give to the poor  to be in compliance?” Asking for guidelines may not be wrong, but too often the question amounts to a version of “What’s the least I can do…what’s the bare minimum?”

Love is extravagant and excited to do and give, to please the beloved. Love is its own answer, its own power.

B. Love Expands – When we really love someone we learn to love more who and what they love.

I dated a girl in High School who liked square dancing. I first thought it was hokey. But since she liked it, I started to like it, and came even to enjoy it a great deal. Love expanded my horizons.

I have lived, served and loved in Black community for most of my priesthood. In those years I have come to love and respect Gospel music, and the spirituals. I have also come to respect and learn from the Black experience of spirituality, and have done extensive study on the history of the African American experience. This is all because I love the people I serve. And when you love someone you begin to love and appreciate what they do. Love expands our horizons.

And what if we really begin to love God? The more his love takes root in us, the more we love the things and the people he loves. We begin to have God’s priorities and to love justice, mercy, chasity, and all the people he loves, even our enemies. Love expands our hearts.

The saints say, “If God wants it, I want it. If God doesn’t want it, I don’t want it.” Too many Christians say, “How come I can’t have it? It’s not so bad. Everyone else is doing it….” But love does not speak this way.

And as God’s love grows in us it has the power to change our hearts, our minds, our desire and our vision. The more we love God, the more we love his commands and share the vision he offers fro our lives. Love expands our hearts and minds.

C. Love excites – Imagine again, a young man who loves a young woman. Now suppose she asks him to drive her to work one day because her car is in the shop. He does this gladly and sees it as an opportunity to be with her and to help her. He is excited to do so and glad she asked. This is so even if he has to go miles out of his way. Love stirs us to fulfill the wishes and desires of the beloved.

In the first Letter of John we read – For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:3). Yes, love lightens every load. And as we grow in love for God, we are excited to please him. We keep his commandments, not because he have to, but because we want to. And even if his commandments involve significant changes, we do it with the same kind of gladness as a young man driving miles out of his way to bring his beloved to work. Love excites in us a desire to keep God’s law, to fulfill his wishes for us.

2. THE PERSON OF LOVE – The text says, And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows him. But you know him, because he remains with you, and will be in you.

In this text Jesus tells us that the power to change us is not just an impersonal power, like “The Force” in Star Wars. Rather, what changes us is not a “what” but “who.” The Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, living in us, as in a temple will change us and stir us to love. He who is Love, will love God in us. Love is not our work, it is the work of God. We love, because He first loved us (1 John 4:10). God the Holy Spirit enables us to love God the Father and God the Son. And this love is the power in us which equips, empowers and enables us to keep God’s law. He, the Holy Spirit, is the one who enables us to love extravagantly, and in a way that expands and excites.

The Lord says, He, the Holy Spirit, remains in us. Are you aware of His presence? Too often our minds and hearts are dulled and distracted by the world and we are unaware of the power of love available to us. The Holy Spirit of Jesus and the Father is gentle and awaits the open doors we provide (cf Rev 3:20). But as we open them, a power from his Person becomes more and more available to us, and we see our lives being transformed. We keep the commandments, become more loving, confident, joyful, chaste, forgiving, merciful, and holy.  I am a witness! Are you? This leads us to the final point.

3. THE PROOF OF GOD’s LOVE – The text says, I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.

The key phrases here are: You will live .... and ….. You will realize. For the Lord says that he will not leave us as orphans, that he will come to us and remain with us.

How do you know that these are more than just slogans? Simply put, you and I know because of the new life we are receiving, which causes us to realize that Jesus lives, is in the Father and in us.

To “know” in the Bible is more than intellectual knowing. To know in the Bible is to “have intimate and personal experience of the thing or person known.” I know Jesus is alive, and in me through his Holy Spirit because I am experiencing my life changing. I am seeing sins put to death and graces coming alive! I am a new creation in Christ (2 Cor 5:17). This is what Jesus means when he says, “You will realize that I am in the Father and in you.” To “realize” means to experience something as real.

The proof of God’s love and its power to transform is me! It is my life. In the laboratory of my own life I have tested God’s word, and his promises, and can report to you that they are true. I have come to experience as real (i.e. “realize”) that Jesus lives, that through his Holy Spirit I have a power available to me to keep the commandments and embrace the new life, the new creation, they both describe and offer to me.

I am a witness, are you?

Photo Credit: “The Love of the Father for the Prodigal” from the Josephite collection.

This song says, “He changed my life and now I’m free…”

Just Doing Our Job

Few of us welcome being challenged, criticized, or told that something about us needs to change. Instead of keeping an open mind, we usually react with defensiveness, anger, or fear. We might make excuses, stop our ears, or dismiss our critic as being off-kilter or a “goody two-shoes.” It’s easier to silence the challenging voice, than it is to listen. That’s why dictatorships squelch a free press! It’s also why Jesus was nailed to a cross.

Those who speak uncomfortable words to the world, or challenge it by their way of life, inspire some, but threaten many more. Prophets are typically unappreciated and misunderstood in their lifetimes. They’re often ridiculed, jailed, or even assassinated.

As God’s Son, Jesus is a prophet, because he revealed God’s sometimes uncomfortable truth to the world. As members of his body, the Church, we share in Jesus’ prophetic ministry. We shouldn’t be surprised then, that the harsh reception given to Jesus, is also given to us. “If the world hates you,” Jesus insisted, “realize that it hated me first.”

We don’t hate the world in return, we witness to it; we engage it, without embracing it; we challenge it, but are not conformed to it. Doing this will make us friends, but enemies too. It’s painful when that happens, but there’s also a silver lining: it means we’re doing our job, as Jesus did his.

Readings for today’s Mass:

Photo credit: Know Malta via Creative Commons

Picturesque and Pilgrim Papa – Two Lighthearted Videos on Pope Benedict

I don’t know why, but it’s funny to see the Pope on the phone. I am not sure where I got this photo. It has just been in my collection since shortly after Pope Benedict became Pope.

But again I say, that it strikes me as odd to see him on the phone, and I don’t know why. But, as I look at this photo, I think of the following caption as he speaks into the phone with his soft German accent: No, Really! This is the Pope! I really mean it! Please deliver three pizzas, extra cheese with Italian Sausage to the Vatican… No really! I am not kidding….This is me!

I have always thought that Pope Benedict is very photogenic. His face is wonderfully expressive. A couple of years ago, I put together a brief video of some of the more humorous photos of the Pope. I hope you might enjoy a one minute diversion.

I also put together another video of the Pope as a pilgrim and world traveler set to Johnny Cash’s “I’ve Been Everywhere.” Enjoy a toe tapper of a song with photos showing the Pope’s far flung travels.

God in the Midst of the Storm – A Meditation on the Mystery of God’s Providence

We are all struck by the fury and devastation in the Midwest this year. And we are left to wonder why and how God allows it. And old song says,

Does any one know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours? ….And all that remains is the faces and the names of the wives and the sons and the daughters. In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed, in the “Maritime Sailors’ Cathedral.” The church bell chimed ’til it rang twenty-nine times for each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald….. “Superior,” they said, “never gives up her dead when the gales of November come early!” [1]

Yes, where does the “love of God go?” There are no simple answers, those that attempt them know not of what they speak.

There is a story of St Antony of Egypt wherein he pondered such things and received an answer of sorts:

The Abbot Antony, being at a loss in his meditation on the depth of the judgments of God, prayed, saying, “Lord, how comes it that some die in so short a space of life, and some live to the further side of decrepit old age: and wherefore are some in want, and others rich with various means of wealth, and how are the unrighteous rich and the righteous oppressed by poverty?” And a voice came to him saying, “Antony, turn thine eyes upon thyself: for these are the judgments of God, and the knowledge of them is not for thee.”

It was an answer in its “non-answer.” For our minds see so very little. Wittgenstein famously said in his Tractatus, Whereof one cannot speak, one must pass over in silence [2].

I suppose if God were to advance an explanation we would hear only thunder, for our minds cannot conceive such a thing. Sometimes we must remain humbly quiet before our God. Job thought question God, and God did answer, with a non-answer:

Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm. He said: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know….! (Job 38:1-4)

Then comes the great litany of creation, one of the most painfully beautiful passages in the Old Testament (it goes on for chapters). At the end, Job can only say,

“I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. [You asked,] ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. (Job 42:1-3)

Another song (a gloss on Psalm 104) speaks of God’s glory in creation but also of its fearsomeness:

O tell of His might, O sing of His grace,
Whose robe is the light, whose canopy, space,
His chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form,
And dark is His path on the wings of the storm
. [3].

I have often meditated on the “non-answer, answer” and concluded that, while I cannot understand God’s ways, I have also been the situation where I cannot explain what I do, and yet do them, I must.

  1. At times I must take my Cat Daniel to the vet f0r shots. At the mere sight of the cat carrier, he darts under the bed and begins caterwauling and digs his claws into the carpet to resist my persistent tugs to pick him up. I tell him we are only going for a visit and he will be fine. But he does not understand, even though I speak to him. So loud and awful are terrified protests that neighbors look out the widows as I take him to the car. He moans and caterwauls all the way to the vet who puts him the front of the line since the waiting room is so disturbed with his cries. He moans all the way home and, upon emerging from the cage avoids me for days out of fear. Talk about trauma. But no explanation is possible for him. I act for his good, and the good of others but he does not, cannot, see that.
  2. At times I do “violence” in my garden. Roses must be pruned, old and dying plants must be removed. Fruits must be picked. Some flowers are cut and brought inside to be enjoyed. The soil must be broken and turned. One can imagine that if the garden and plants were sentient this is all very unsettling. I would like to explain what I am doing, but they are only plants and soil and cannot understand. When I break the soil I only enhance its ability to give life, but it does not understand this, it “feels” (in my imagined scenario) only pain. The pruning is “painful” to the roses and temporarily diminishes their glory But I know what I am doing and in Spring the glorious results show forth. Even to the clipped flowers I intend no indignity, rather it is a great dignity that they are brought into the house to enjoy special favor and admiration.

We cannot understand – I realize that humans are not cats or garden plants. But I suppose we are no better able to understand God’s ways than my Cat Daniel can understand me, or my roses comprehend my pruning. I have thought however, that the non-answer of God is not a refusal to answer us, so much as it is a manifestation of our inability to fathom God’s ultimate plans. He knows what he does and why. We are often left to cry or protest. Even if He did explain, we would hear only thunder.

There is an old song that says:

We are often tossed and driven
on the restless sea of time;
somber skies and howling tempests
oft succeed a bright sunshine;
in that land of perfect day,
when the mists are rolled away,
we will understand it better by and by

Trials dark on every hand,
and we cannot understand
all the ways of God would lead us
to that blessed promised land;
but he guides us with his eye,
and we’ll follow till we die,
and we’ll understand it better by and by

Yes, by and by, but not now. Jesus says as much:

I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear….You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. On that day you will have no more questions to ask me. (John 16, varia)

For now, all we can do is pray for those who were lost and those who are suffering. We can send our help, but too many simplistic answers for why only make the suffering worse. And so we respect the mystery of God’s providence and trust by faith that All things work together for good to those who love God and are called, according to his purposes (Romans 8:28), somehow, in ways we know not.

Photo credit Paul McEnany via Creative Commons

This song says, When the oceans rise and thunders roll, I will soar with you above the storm. Father you are king over the flood, I will be still, know you are God.