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Monday, January 31, 2011

Truth and Beauty

I would be remiss if I did not direct you to one of the most truthful posts about beauty you could ever read in the modern blogosphere:

Beauty makes the soul soar and it's as essential to the spirit as food and water is to the body. Yet it's mocked as sentimentality. Foolishness. It's wiped out of churches and removed from school curriculums. Even art school's favor is with modern art and beauty is turned into profanity.
On any given day I am not overly exposed to beauty. I sit in traffic each morning staring at grey asphalt, then I ride through treeless streets lined with ugly buildings and spend the remainder of my day in a cube. I imagine most people go through these typical mundanities daily and my day is not unlike the majority.
It used to be churches were where regular people could experience that overwhelming awe inspiring spiritual soaring. Churches used to make the soul sing for God. Beauty in the Church is essential. I don't want God brought down from the Heavens and made "relatable" to me. I want to carried up to Christ so I can meet Him there and be in awe surrounded by beauty.
People often justify their ugly little parishes by saying they don't believe in wasting money for garnishments, money that could serve the poor. Little do they realize that their bleak and barren churches are spiritually depriving the poor, starving their very souls. Denying them the one place where their senses should be swimming in beauty, the refuge from the ugly harsh world. The Church.
Beauty picks up where words leave off. It breaks my hurt every time I step into a white washed church devoid of beauty and love. I am reminded of an interaction between two small children I met in a library several years ago. They hungered for beauty like a baby hungers for milk. This is our instinct. God intended us to enjoy beauty, that is why He gave us the ability to create. To deny beauty is to deny God.

Read this short treatise on Beauty and Truth from the beginning, for it is only 2-3 short paragraphs longer than that which I have written here. And I omitted some of it to ensure that if I quiz you, you'll be able to identify it.

Read it and nod, and then...and then.....


Midnight - Part II

I'd awake to the sound of our little dog barking her greeting, quickly hushed as she went about the business of greeting the Master of the house, but none could stifle her excited whines or the musical chime of the tags jangling on her collar.

The door would close and if I listened hard, I could hear him take off his coat and hang it up, in my mind's eye envisioning the fog of condensed air arising from him as he came in, if it was especially frigid outdoors.

Snug and warm in my bed, I'd watch the play of shadows on my wall, listening, waiting for the right time. Sometimes I'd hear my brother emerge from his room; maybe he'd be a "barometer" to predict the weather, for if he was rebuked I'd remain where I was, but if he was welcomed I'd listen further to discern whether this was his night or mine, our ours together.

Usually there would be hushed conversation as Mom greeted Dad, and the clump of his shoes on the entryway floor. There would be noises in the kitchen and finally I'd hear Mom head to bed, finally content that Dad was safe at home.

If my brother hadn't already made his entrance, I'd wait to hear Mom's shadow enter my room, for it was never there without her slippered feet. I could hear her walk through our long, rambling livingroom only to stop at my door to look in, and then, with her silhouette blocking the lamplight, I would query sleepily (sometimes feigned) "What time is it?"

She'd answer in a hushed tone, "Midnight", and move away, into their bedroom. I'd watch the light come on in the closet between us, comforted by that crack of illumination, still listening to the sounds of Dad in the kitchen, wondering if I could go, wondering if sleep would overtake me once again, or whether I would this time fall prey to the monster in my closet or the ghost under the bed.

I remember most clearly, though, entering the brightness of the kitchen to greet my Daddy, and ask to join him in his evening snack. Sometimes it would be cheese and crackers, which is something my brother acutely recalls, but my most vivid memory is my introduction to sardines.

Dad told me at first that I wouldn't like them, but I was curious, and he said that it was good that I wanted to try. He told me how to eat them on the crackers, and said that if I didn't like mine, it would not go to waste for he would eat what I left.

Carefully Dad lifted a sardine from the little tin-sealed pack, which had carefully been peeled with a little "key".  He placed the oily, dripping piece of fish on a cracker and told me to take a bite, holding a napkin under my chin so that I would not have to change my clothes before bed.

I recall clenching my eyes shut against the fishy odor, certain I would not like it, for although I loved fishing with my Daddy, I did not love the flavor (or terrible smell!) of the creatures.So it was that I expected to be disgusted.

In great surprise, however, I rather enjoyed the crunchy, salty flavor of sardines, and in delight that exceeded my own, Dad loaded up another saltine, thrilled to share his Midnight snack

Our little Midnight meetings became a bit of a ritual over time, and Dad delighted in spending some of his late evenings with me, splitting them with my brother who would sometimes join us.

Dad would help me wash up then send me off with a kiss, sometimes tuck me back into bed..and other times Mom would get up and drag me away, insisting that I must sleep no matter how exited I was for Dad to be home with a new can of sardines to share with me.

In Church, whenever we heard about Jesus eating fish with the Apostles, I thought about the sardines Dad and I shared. Even now, as an adult, when I consider the passage in Luke's gospel where the Risen Lord consumes the fish in their presence, I imagine sardines and recall a similar midnight snack, and even though Dad is now long gone, I like to imagine him sitting on the beach with Jesus, sharing sardines on saltine crackers.

It's midnight as I finish this, and although I recently bought sardines in a fit of nostalgia, somehow they just aren't the same without someone else with whom to share them properly.

Good night, Dad.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Engaging the World

Yesterday was the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, my blog patron, so I had initially intended to write this post in his honor.

A few weeks ago I was doing an internet search for a project at work, and came across a book written by one of my college professors, Dr. Benjamin Wiker.  The book in question, 10 Books that Screwed Up the World: and 5 Others that Didn't Help, which takes on the work of Nietzsche, Marx, Hitler and others, invited me by the title alone to click on the link to My curiosity piqued by the numerous reviews, both good and bad, I decided to read a few to see what they contained and why this book seemed to be getting such extreme reactions (from many 5-stars to many 1-stars).

The positive reviews engaged the work itself and the research, contained some constructive criticism, some criticism that revealed the person in question had perhaps missed the point of the book but enjoyed it nevertheless, encouraged others to read it, etc. Some reviews were more detailed than others. Some were written by other professors, others by people just like you and I, mere pewsitters seeking to engage our intellects.

The negative reviews were often a mishmash of ad hominim attacks, strawmen, slinging labels around, casting aspersions upon Catholics specifically, Christians and Christianity in general. A few blustery people identifying themselves as professors ranted that Dr. Wiker's book is what is going wrong in academia today, and very few of the negative reviews were objective, taking on only the work and not getting personal. In other words, very very few of the negative reviews (of those I read) actually had any merit whatsoever.

As a disclaimer, I have not read Dr. Wiker's book so this post is not about its merits or disqualifications. Rather, I'm using this as an example of something I see in the Catholic world, to encompass the entire Christian worldview, as being a factor in why so many people seem to be making an exodus from Christianity, and I'm doing this because one negative review in particular stood out as something diametrically opposed to what we as Catholics have always done and need to do...but aren't doing.

Is your interest piqued yet?

One of the commenters on the negative side identified himself as a Christian (I think he called himself specifically an "Evangelical Christian" but I'm not certain) and said he read the book, thought it a waste of time and quite arrogant to take on such great minds. The gist of his opinion was that if one does not like those philosophers, one should not study them and leave them instead to others who agree with them. He did not see any value in taking a critical look at their thoughts and his review outright told people not to buy the book, but instead save their money and put it in the collection basket at Sunday services.


That one left me scratching my head. A Christian saying it is arrogance to be critical of the thoughts and writings of those who have had a huge impact on the world we live in today? A Christian stating it is a waste of intellect? Really?

Truly, that attitude was condemned long ago, for it was Tertulllian who decided that since philosophy was not divine revelation, it was useless. Instead of using philosophy at the service of theology, he threw it all out.

The Catholic Church has ALWAYS engaged the world, from the very beginning. She has used the philosophy of Aristotle and Plato, has engaged philosophers both ancient and those emerging, throughout history, using what is good, refuting objectively what is contrary to natural law and Divine Revelation.

To state that we should not engage "great minds" is in fact one of the most anti-intellectual things I have ever read, and does not surprise me that a Christian would state it. I am grateful that it was not a Catholic who said such a thing, although it would not surprise me. As it is I know very few average Catholics who would even glance at such a book, much less ask why it is important or not important.

The commenter I cited above still gets some credit; he did, after all, read the book, and then simply gave his opinion based upon his own philosophy without wasting words. Fair enough. I'll not be taking his advice, however!

 Anti-Intellectualism in the Church

There seems to be an epidemic of this in some circles, although it takes different forms.

There are those who refuse to watch any television at all, for they disagree with the content, ergo it is all bad, every bit. There are those who refuse to go to movies because Hollywood produces so many immoral works, ergo, anything on the big screen is morally damaging.

There are books that contain bad theology, philosophy, or bring up moral issues in a way that is contrary to Catholic teaching...ergo they must be avoided at all cost and nothing like them ever allowed into the house.

Yes, I am giving some extreme examples, and I certainly am not trying to imply that those making certain personal decisions about these things is necessarily anti-intellectual. Rather, I am simply trying to give some common examples to illustrate my point - I leave it to you, the reader, to determine what fits.

I am going to give one specific example from my own position, and it's one that may shock some or many of you.

Over Thanksgiving, my brother introduced me to a Shotime production, Dexter.

For those who are not familiar with it, Dexter is a forensic technician; a blood-splatter specialist working in the Miami PD. He also happens to be a serial killer who takes out other serial killers and notorious criminals. In the show, we hear his thoughts, his interior struggles, the psychology of his condition, his attempts at normal relationships with others, etc.

I'll admit it; I was hooked!

Looking at the show through a theologian's eyes, I'm intrigued by the moral dilemma that makes us, the viewers, root for Dexter to get away with his objectively evil crimes. I'm intrigued by the other characters in the show facing their own moral problems, which seem to be exacerbated by a total lack of religion at all. It is almost a completely secular show, with only random insertions of Catholicism or other religions by way of symbols or celebrations that reveal the background of a character. Still, religion and spirituality do not play a part other than to set a particular scene - it is merely wallpaper having no bearing on the lives of the characters we see.

Now...I'll watch the show, and as an adult with a certain moral formation and professional background, looking at it through a particular filter, I see Dexter as an opportunity to engage the world and the culture, as I'm doing now by discussing it here in a place seemingly as unlikely as a Catholic blog. Yet, this is the PERFECT place for it is exactly what the great Catholic intellectuals would have done.

DISCLAIMER!  I would not, if I had children, allow them to see it, and I would never suggest that a sensitive person see it, someone who can't handle violence or is not prepared to handle the strong moral dichotomies presented. Therefore, dear readers, do understand I am not giving this show a blanket promotion, but rather, using it to illustrate the fact that we must engage the world if we are to convert it.

What do I mean? Why am I even TALKING about this?

I mean that we must be familiar with those things that are popular, and be prepared to discuss those things. Doing so is not necessarily apologetics, but simply an acknowledgement that there's a LOT of stuff out there that IS affecting people and their moral formation, both positive and negative. We cannot just stick our heads in the sand and pretend it isn't there, then send our children out to be traumatized. Parents are in a delicate place, trying to protect their young, yet needing to prepare them for what will bombard them when they leave their homes.

Those of us who can, should be taking note of what's going on around us, and using the intellect that we have to engage it, to think critically about it, to see what is good, what can be used as an illustration, what can be used an an example of moral degeneration.

All too often, shows such as Dexter reveal a great deal about our society as a whole, giving a snapshot, for example, of the truth that where religion is merely wallpaper, virtue cannot flourish.

It can't stop there, though; what does that tell us? How does recognizing that point drive us to action on behalf of the Kingdom of God? What does that cause us to realize about the moral condition of people everywhere, in a country where more and more faith is a mere decoration? What does that say about where we are headed, and what, as Catholics, can we do about it?

I'm no expert

However, if you want a great example of someone engaging the world on the world's terms, check out Fr. Barron's Word on Fire. He has several video commentaries addressing popular movies, shows, etc., and I admit that his way of doing this is what has inspired me to lose my own fear of confronting, head-on, things that I know up front are contrary to my own beliefs.

We can't run away from the problems in our society or what causes them, but we can confront them, criticize them, take what is good and in the light of the intellect God gave us, reveal the shadows that seek to destroy our souls.

Now, all that said...

I need to go find a copy of Dr. Wiker's book, 10 Books that Screwed Up the World: and 5 Others that Didn't Help because all the snarky, anti-intellectual, and outright nasty reviews tell me that a certain faction wants this book quashed, and the ethicist who wrote it quashed as well. Given the state of our world today, that means I should be reading this book so that I can better engage the bad philosophies that have done so much damage.  ;-)

St. Thomas Aquinas - pray for us! 

Friday, January 28, 2011


In  those long car rides, I remember watching the landscape pass by in a blur, the hours moving slowly, yet I always had a sense of excited anticipation to penetrate through the boredome. I was always ready to “go” somewhere, to reach our destination.

The semis would rock the car sometimes when they passed, and if it was raining the water would spray up on the windows. Whoever was driving (usually Dad) would turn the wipers to “high” so he could see. My brother would look to see what kind of truck it was and what it was carrying. Mom would tell stories of helpful truckers and speak of road "manners" around those huge metal beheamoths.

The sound of tires on the pavement at 55 mph sometimes created a rhythmic cycle, sedating us with the gentle motion and song of the highway lullabye. We’d pass through exotic places, watching exotic signs, rivers, towns. The light would fade from the sky as we passed by Green Bay (which really wasn’t very green from what we could tell), and slowly those wide-open industrial areas would close in with trees, we’d begin to get glimpses of Lake Michigan and get excited thinking we were “almost there.”

But we forgot that Lake Michigan was much bigger than we could fully understand, and eventually we’d fall prey to the tranquilizing darkness and highway lullabye. In the half-sleep I remember hearing the whine of the transmission when Dad pulled off for gas or a “pit stop”. I recall the slamming car doors, opening and closing, Mom and Dad taking turns so one would always be with us as we slept. Sometimes they would wake us to eat something and then we’d return to our slumber, too bored and tired to stay awake, the darkened landscape no longer able to keep our attention – shadows aren’t very interesting to look at when they pass by so quickly.

I’d hear the fascinating familiar-yet-not-familiar names of towns as Mom and Dad discussed routes or remembered past trips together. The musical names like “Menominee” could almost be felt in my mouth, turning over, taking form, only to be replaced with the kid-friendly “Oshkosh (by gosh!)”, leading me to ponder, deeply in my semi-conscious state, the tag on some of the clothing Mom had packed for me. I wondered if we’d ever turn into Oshkosh (by gosh!), and if we did, would everyone be wearing the same thing?

We passed by exits for “Oconto” and “Oconto Falls”, while arrows on big green signs directed us toward “Marinette” (which always sounded like a place for puppets), but first, first…we had to go through “Peshtigo”, and like “Menominee”, I loved the feel of those words in my mouth, so different, so interesting, and in the case of Peshtigo…so historical.

I always wanted to be awake as we went through Peshtigo, as Dad always told us about the great Peshtigo fire, and promised that if we could, we’d stop at the Fire Museum there on the way home. It was one of those big events that, except for Wisconsin and Michigan locals, had nearly passed into oblivion as it occurred on the same day of the Great Chicago Fire…even though the one in Peshtigo had done far more damage and had taken far more lives.

I couldn’t always stay awake, although I recall waking in the darkness of one trip and asking sleepily where we were.

“Peshtigo”, Dad said. I tried to wake up to look around, but the sleepiness and the rhythm of our travel, the whine of the accelerating transmission, the turning of the car from this corner to that, the glow of the streetlights…all were too much and sent me back into my dreams, all aglitter with the backdrop of Peshtigo and the surrounding forest lands and the great expanse of water, water everywhere on the other side.

Finally, we’d arrive at our destination, and my haze of sleep would be penetrated by the changing movement of the car. Mom and Dad would be speaking softly to each other, and slowly, as we entered Escanaba, (where I’d once asked if Eskimos lived), the rhythm from the tires would combine with the emerging rhythm of street lamps, taking us from light into darkness back into light. I didn’t lift my head, too tired to do so, but I knew we must be close as the car was slowing now, taking more turns, Mom’s and Dad’s voices were growing a little louder now, speaking more urgently as pilots must, I suppose, as they approach their landing.

Mom would turn and try to get brother and me to awake.

“What time is it?” I would ask, rubbing my eyes.

“Midnight”, Dad said, turning into Grandma and Grandpa’s driveway.

He’d pull past the steps that led into the house, leaving room for the car to be unpacked. They had already decided whether to perhaps unpack fully that night or tomorrow, so when they got out of the car to greet Dad’s waiting parents, Mom could get my brother and I from our comfortable temporary cocoons and bring us into the shockingly bright light but comfortably warm kitchen with all the decorative Swedish tiles and the slight scent of gingerbread and potroast.

We’d be whisked upstairs, Grandma leading the way to our assigned rooms, leaving Mom and Dad to help us get changed and back to sleep. They’d finish unpacking the car while we went back to dreamland, resting on crisp clean feather pillows in the same place where Dad grew up.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Salt of the Earth

Last weekend our Townhome Association hired a roofing company to come out and clean the several feet of snow and ice dams off of our roofs. The pressure from the snow and ice was wreaking havoc on our very building construction, although I didn't know until the pressure was gone that THAT was the reason my front door screen wasn't opening and closing properly.

Because I was home when they did their work, I watched as the avalanche of snow and ice pelted down upon the sidewalk beneath the eaves, nearly snowing me in, this time from a man-made job. I watched as they came through with the snowblower, chopping up the compact, heavy snow in the subzero temps, leaving a thin layer that couldn't be gobbled up by the blades.

Yesterday was "warm", though, and even this morning before I left for work I heard water dripping from above. It doesn't take much sunlight light to melt what is left above, but I didn't think to lay down any salt, certain it was going to be too cloudy today, and thinking there really wasn't enough snow to create much ice.

Well...I was wrong. In the evening when I came home, I entered through the garage as usual, grabbed my dog's leash and set out through the front door to take her on a walk.

As I opened the door, I saw the rock salt littering the sidewalk and even my doormat. The sight gave me pause; taking in our surroundings, I saw that the snow mound was coated with a glowing sheen of frozen water. There were slices of ice like broken glass sticking up along the sides, clearly the work of an industrious shoveler utilizing the salt to help him break down the luge course that our sidewalk had turned into during the daytime hours.

Carefully I stepped out and walked past my neighbor's door, knowing this was HIS work and not the work of the roofing company or the Association.  They would do the big stuff, but it was up to we homeowners to make sure we didn't get sued should someone slip. It's not the first time my neighbor has salted our adjoined walks, and I know this also won't be the last.

My neighbor doesn't think in legal terms. His actions are according to Christ; he just does what he knows is right. The salt he buys is pet-safe salt, simply because he's a pet-owner too, and even if he wasn't he cares about his neighbor's pets who must walk on the stuff.

He wasn't out, but I will remember to thank him, and hopefully, return the favor should the situation present itself.

"You are the Salt of the Earth"

In November, I think it was, we had an ice storm and although I was supposed to be at work early that Sunday and attend Mass there, I heeded the advice of the Minnesota State Patrol to delay any travel until at least 10 am. The Mass readings that day were quite pertinent for they spoke of the faithful as the "salt of the earth".

As I left the Church to attempt a venture into work, Father was standing at the exit door. When his eyes lit upon me he quipped, "You are the salt of the go out and salt the roads!"

Although I couldn't carry out that particular task that day, I was grateful for those who could and DID, and today, I wonder if perhaps my own neighbor heard that admonition and simply decided to carry it out on his own!

Mother Teresa has famously said that we should know our own neighbors. Catholic Social Teaching, lately through the voice of Pope Benedict XVI, reminds us of the same thing: we should have care and concern for our neighbor. To do good, we don't have to travel the world, but simply look next door and respond to the needs of those around us, no matter how simple.

How much better off would we all be if we could follow that simple adage whenever possible?

Monday, January 24, 2011

What Would You Do About It?

Today is the March for Life in Washington, DC, and you know...I haven't seen a single secular, mainstream news report on it.

That's fine; we will not be silent and those who MUST be reached, WILL be reached: even we who have already been reached and are already horrified by the blood of infant sacrifice.

Just as this morning while scanning blog post titles, I came across this gem from Michelle at Rosetta Stone.

Here's an excerpt:

Suppose we found out that the town, or the state, had decided that raping women on that particular street corner was legal. We would probably be outraged that such a despicable crime were permitted under any conditions anywhere. Some of us might fight to abolish that law. Some of us might stand vigil on that street to warn women. Some who stand vigil might see women being dragged there by men who want to rape them and know they can legally do it only on that corner. Some standing vigil might be roused to violence in defense of the woman about to be victimized.

Suppose, despite all these efforts, the act remained legal on that corner and in other parts of the country. Suppose after a decade, hundreds or thousands of women were being raped every day, legally. How would we, as a society, cope with that?

Would the outrage remain? Would we get tired of trying to protect women? Would we stop the daily vigil and only show up on days that weren't quite as hectic (no soccer practice today, guess I have time to go rage against the violence)?

Would we have less horror of the act of rape? After a decade of being told that rape was OK, under certain circumstances, would youth brought up in that environment think rape is a big deal at all? Would we begin to justify it, perhaps thinking that the women deserved it?

Michelle's post is well worth reading and considering, and is much better than anything I can write on this subject.  So, my friends, please, go and read the rest.

Oh, and don't just leave it at reading. Let her words, let the reality of the situation inspire you into action.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Spiritual Life and Agility Training

This week, I had the wonderful opportunity of introducing my dog to a couple Agility obstacles. I'll admit to being a bit nervous before we began since I haven't worked with her much on obedience lately. Much to my surprise, though, once we were "at bat", she ignored the children watching this training exercise, and the other dog that had otherwise dominated her attention.

(It helped that I had her favorite "high value" treat:  freeze-dried liver.)

Teaching her to go through the tunnel turned out to be very easy. I'd introduced her to it when the obstacle was brought in. She wasn't fearful of it in any way although she had no interest in exploring its depths. I tried to get her to go in but she simply turned away and I didn't push her - it wasn't time yet.

Awhile later the trainer pulled the tunnel into the middle of the classroom and scrunched it up to make it as small as possible so that the dog could look through it and see that I was on the other side. When I called, she came and gobbled up the treat.  The trainer lengthend the tunnel so that it was just a little longer than the length of her body.  Again, no problem. My dog came through and gobbbled up the treat. We continued this process until the tunnel was at full length, requiring the trainer to stand at the entrance with the leash in her hand while I walked to the other end to coax my dog with the nummy treat.

Finally, though, we had to take the next step:  put a curve in the tunnel so that she couldn't look through and see me at the other end. The trainer explained to the children (and of course, to me) that this obstacle is an exercise in trust. The dog had to come to understand that when she entered the tunnel, she would meet me on the other side. She'd already been through it so knew what the tunnel was, but the question was...would she be frightened away by the curve that did not allow her to view the nice treat and enthusiastic praise awaiting her at the end?

We gave the command and I walked the tunnel, ready to greet her on the other end. Sure enough, she came through but this time was different; after she'd reached the straightaway, she was so comfortable inside that she paused to investigate an interesting scent. I explained to the children what she was doing, much to their delight. This was a good sign and a necessary part of her training that would help her with other obstacles later.

 Finally satisfied, my dog completed the tunnel and came to me for her treat. I took her leash and brought her back to the start. As the trainer explained to the children that although rewards are used in initial training, they must be taken away. You see, the dog discovers that the obstacle is fun all on its own; the obstacle becomes its own reward, so they have to learn to pass through it then look to their master to be directed to the next event.

As the trainer spoke, holding the leash, my dog took it upon her own iniative to enter the tunnel. Realizing that this must be encouraged and rewarded, I gave her the command (not that she needed it that time!) and ran to the end to meet her as she emerged, smiling her happy doggy smile.

Mission accomplished; that ended her tunnel lesson for the day. She "got" the lesson, she discovere the tunnel was fun, that I would meet her on the other end, and she had learned to instinctively look for me as she exited. Should I get the chance to work with her further on Agility, I will no longer use the high value treats, or any treat for that matter. Instead I'll be learning how to direct her to the next thing.

Agility and the Spiritual Life

It may sound strange, but my dog learning this obstacle is a nearly-perfect analogy for our own spiritual lives.

In the beginning, as we come to know God, He gives us many rewards to entice us to enter a life of prayer and communion with Him. So it is that we receive many consolations, but once we have established that we understand and plan to continue our prayer lives, God slowly withdraws the consolations, leaving us with "spiritual dryness."

He asks us to pass through that tunnel, first so that we can see Him, eager to receive His reward for us, and then maybe He throws in a bit of an obstacle, asking us to trust that He will be there even if we can't see him right away. And then, once we have reached that level of trust, even though it is a very basic level, he asks us to pass through that darkness again - but this time not to receive a reward, but rather, to grow in our faith, learning to look not for a reward, but another lesson that will build our relationship with God.

In short, we stop looking for mere treats and instead look joyfully for trials.

Of course, this is where the analogy ends; we are not dogs. A dog only knows what is in front of it and needs our constant guidance to understand what we want them to do; they cannot reason, they cannot know their final ends, and they can not act in a way so as to "choose the good."  That is a purely human privilege.

Sometimes when we pass through that dark obstacle, we come out, as my dog did, looking for God, but He isn't there. As the trainer demonstrated yesterday, she went and stood on the other side of the tunnel so when her dog exited, she looked in the wrong direction and had to pause to find her Master. That's exactly what we do!

In our Pride, sometimes when we pass through spiritual trials we make an assumption about what God is doing, so when we are released, we are looking in the wrong direction. Then we get frustrated and lose our peace.

Indeed, it is good that we are seeking God, but not finding Him where we expect becomes a lesson in humility on the way to deeper trust. We must continually learn deeper and deeper trust, for although Our Lord may not always be where we expect, we can be assured He is still there, waiting, ready as soon as we are to take us more deeply into the lessons He has for us.

Some days, it seems I learn more from my dog than she does from me. No wonder dogs are man's best friend; they certainly must be one of God's closest allies in getting us to Heaven! ;-)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Please, if you would....

...please take off your coat and stay awhile!

I welcome all my new readers from and other venues, but as I say in my new ABOUT YOU page, it would be nice to get to know the people who spend so much time with me.

Please, if you would, step on into the next room, have a cuppa coffee or tea, or whatever you please, and have a chat with me. Help me to get to know you!

Welcome, and thanks for stopping in!  My door is always open!

Mind the dog, though...she'll slobber and shed all over you if you let her!

The Distinction between "Ministry" and "Apostolate" and Why it Matters

Question: On the importance of the distinction between the terms “ministry” and “apostolate”

Objection 1: It would seem that the term “apostolate” would apply to the successors of the apostles and the term “ministry” has a more universal application and understanding.

Objection 2: One who engages in ministry should be termed “minister”.

Objection 3: It seems the distinction is unnecessary because many who minister are in an apostolate and vice versa. To wit; it is unnecessary because the terms are not mutually exclusive nor are they necessarily mutually inclusive.

On the Contrary, it is important to draw the distinction in terms, for, as many theologians have noted, a lack of distinction in terms has led to larger consequences as it applies to doctrines taught by the Church with regard to ministry. In 1994 John Paul II stated, “It must be admitted that the language becomes doubtful, confused and hence not helpful for expression the doctrine of the faith whenever the difference ‘of essence and not merely of degree’ between the baptismal priesthood and the ordained priesthood is in any way obscured." (LG, 10) He also stated in the same document, “We cannot increase the communion and unity of the church by ‘clericalizing’ the lay faithful or by ‘laicizing’ priests.” (1)

I answer that although the definitions of the two terms, “Apostolate” and “Ministry” have not been formally defined to complete satisfaction, in a review of several official Church documents it becomes clear that the words do have specific applications. We can note especially that the Vatican II documents (see especially Apostolicam Actuositatem, Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity) exclusively used the term “Apostolate” to apply to the work of the laity in carrying out the mission of the Church in the world. The word “minister” and “ministry”, in fact, has both historically and, as emphasized in Vatican II only applied to those who have received Holy Orders.

Reply to Objection 1: It would seem that the term “Apostolate” has a wider application. “Every activity of the Mystical Body with this in view goes by the name of “apostolate”; the Church exercises it through all its members, though in various ways.” (2) However, throughout history, the term “ministry” has been restricted to apply only to the activities that flow from Holy Orders in the sacred actions of word and sacrament. Vatican II, as well was very specific in its use of “ministry” as applicable to the work of the Ordained Ministers, and the term “Apostolate” to the work of the laity, especially as it applies in the world. Apostilicam Actuositatem emphasized especially the right and duty of the Catholic faithful to carry out apostolic activity in the Church’s work of sanctifying the world. “From the fact of their union with Christ the head flows the laymen’s right and duty to be apostles. Inserted as they are in the Mystical Body of Christ by baptism and strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation, it is by the Lord himself that they are assigned to the apostolate.” (3) It would seem, therefore, that the term “Ministry” applies properly to the Ministerial Priesthood which is granted specifically through Holy Orders, and the term “Apostolate” applies to the Lay Faithful which is granted and nourished by Baptism and Confirmation.

Reply to Objection 2: The use of the term “minister” has been reserved for the ministerial priesthood; that is, those who have received the Sacrament of Holy Orders and have taken on the character of the priesthood of Jesus Christ. The work of the priest, that is, his ministry, flows from that sacramental character to minister to the people of God in exercising the offices of Priest, Prophet, and King. The 1983 Code of Canon Law extended the privilege of admitting some of the laity to participate in certain liturgical or catechetical offices. This work of the laity in those offices, however, flows not from Holy Orders itself, but out of their own foundation in Baptism and Confirmation, and granted only through the commission of a Priest or a Bishop. Those of the laity who participate in the work of the Priest in the work that does not absolutely require Clergy, such as in liturgical positions (Cantor, Lector, Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion) have an extraordinary character; it is a privilege, not a right and it has limited scope.

In Christifideles laici, John Paul II discussed the fact that although the 1983 Code of Canon Law allowed for lay persons to exercise certain ministries normally belonging to clergy, “…the exercise of such tasks does not make the lay faithful pastors: in fact a person is not a minister simply in performing a task, but through sacramental ordination. Only the Sacrament of Orders gives the ordained minister a particular participation in the office of Christ…” (4)

It would be totally inappropriate for one who serves as a Lector, for example to refer to himself as a “Minister”. It is proper in that case, however, for him to understand that he participates in ministry. Likewise, the teaching office of the Church which flows through Holy Orders may be carried out, through commission, by the laity. In this case, it would be proper for the lay people who do the work of catechesis, that is, handing on the Faith, to recognize that their work is a ministry which is a participation in the ministry of the Priesthood. However, a catechist is not a minister; but rather, enjoys a participation in the ministry.

Reply to Objection 3: Certainly it can be observed that the Clergy participates also in Apostolate, and in some cases, the Lay Faithful are granted the privilege of participating in the Ministry of the Priesthood. However, this does not make the terms mutually exclusive or inclusive, which is why the distinction in terms is clearly necessary. Christifideles laici revealed that in the Synod Assembly, there was a critical judgment voiced regarding a too-indiscriminate use of the word “ministry”. This over-use caused “…the confusion and equating of the common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood, the lack of observance of ecclesiastical laws and norms…the tendency towards a ‘clericalization’ of the lay faithful and risk of creating…an ecclesial structure of parallel service to that founded on the Sacrament of Holy Orders.” (5) As stated above, in the replies to the first and second objections, the use of terms in Objection 3 are founded upon a lack of definition of terms and thus a misunderstanding of the character belonging to each term and inherent mission indicated by it. To properly distinguish “ministry” and “apostolate” is truly revelatory of the mission of the Church and the complimentary roles and charisms that belong to both clergy and laity from within their specific areas of responsibility. The Church cannot exist without the Lay Apostolate; nor can the Lay Apostolate exist without the Ministry of the Priesthood.



1. Address of John Paul II, April 22, 1994
2. Apostolicam Actuositatem, 2
3. ibid, 3
4. Christifideles laici, 23
5. ibid.

Note:  This was a paper written for Pastoral Theology in May, 2010.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


Catholic music artist Miriam Marston!

I’m trying to get the word out into the Catholic blogosphere about some new music – I released my second album a few months ago, called “The Luggage of an Optimist” (based on a chapter title in GK Chesterton’s “Manalive”). I’ve been featured on a Catholic radio station out in Oregon, and getting opportunities here and there around the Boston area where I work and live.
You can listen to her music here, and to purchase it at iTunes, Amazon, or through

Seriously, go check out her music! When I listened the other day I loved what I heard and can tell you Ms. Marston deserves any publicity we can give her.

Oh, and my friends, don't stop with just listening - pony up a little dough and PURCHASE her music - that's what sends the biggest message!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Why is Prayer So Difficult?

In the previous post, How to Listen to God, Faith posits the question, "I understand that praying isn't easy. My question, is: Why is this so?"

Isn't that another great question???  Thanks, Faith.  :-)

Let's go back to the definition of prayer:  prayer is a conversation with God.

Conversations are easy, right? Sometimes. Yes. No...well, maybe...or...not so much.  Hmmmm.

I think I'd answer it like this:  Prayer is easy.  WE are difficult!

When we look at Faith's question in light of the most basic definition of prayer, and recall that the other party in the conversation is God, the Creator of the Universe, our Father, our Beloved Savior, the Holy Spirit who groans on our behalf for the words we cannot speak., well, that can sometimes seem a bit overwhelming. Perhaps it challenges our faith to recognize that God truly wants this relationship with us and is inviting our participation.

Remember:  God is immutable. 
He does not change. He cannot change.

When we pray, therefore, we are forced to recognize who we are in the face of God, and sometimes He holds up a mirror, and the reflection there ain't so pretty, is it? Sometimes we get a good look at ourselves through His eyes because we've got a few flaws He wants to point out, and perhaps we don't want to see those flaws. Or perhaps we KNOW they are there but we don't really want to recognize them, or work on them. We'd rather just push past that mirror of self-knowledge and say, "Yeah, God, I know all that, but I really really really want to experience the heights of ecstasy like St. Teresa of Avila. Can't you make just one tiny exception...for me? Please? Pretty-pretty-please with sugar on top?"

And there God sits, immovable, loving us as we squirm under His directed, uncondemning gaze. We try to look away, but we just can't...and there we sit. That's kind of a prayer-killer, there, isn't it?

Think about it:  when we look away and refuse to take that mirror into our own hands, go to Confession, and own up to the fact we have a lot of sins holding us back from fulfilling our end of our relationship with God, we're the ones sticking a fork in prayer. We're the ones being difficult. The responsibility for that rests solely upon ourselves.

Sin isn't the only problem making prayer difficult, though, is it?

I don't know about you, but I have often found that, especially when I have sinned seriously, or maybe not mortally but enough to make me feel especially bad about something, my prayer life gets a bit wacky. Sometimes I'm almost afraid to pray, but always, always, if I take my sorry self to the chapel to pray, or open up the Liturgy of the Hours, God gives me certain consolations, and often those consolations are exactly what buoys me right into the line for Confession, even if I'm shaking in my shoes.  Then, the moment I'm out of Confession and offer my penance and pray a prayer of thanksgiving for God's mercy, BANG! I suddenly can't seem to pray anymore!

At times I've sat almost shell-shocked in the chapel, staring at the Blessed Sacrament, asking Jesus, "Hey! Where did You go? Come back!"

In that case, I've removed the obstacle of sin, but there I am, in the desert. Spiritually, that desert is stretching far in front of me...and even though Jesus is right there, I can't "feel" Him anymore. I know intellectually all the theological stuff that tells me He is right there and especially after Confession when I've managed not to sin for about 30 seconds or so, that the Holy Spirit burns within my soul...but Jesus just sits there and looks at me stoically, asking, "Are you still going to talk to me even when it's hard?"

Yes, Lord. Thy Will Be Done.  *ow*!

This is a lesson often spoken of through the Spiritual Masters:  dryness in prayer. 

When we first begin to pray, and we are falling in love with Jesus, there may be a certain spiritual high. We are doing something new and exciting, maybe we are reading about the great mystics and, their words for God and about God still burning on the pages of their journals, we, too are ignited and desire with all our hearts that same kind of love for God...and that knowledge of God's love for us.

So it is that we sometimes experience emotional "highs"; we may weep during prayer, we feel a deep emotional joy, we may look forward to any moment we can get to pray.

Over time, though, that tends to fade. Prayer isn't as pleasurable anymore. We haven't experienced the heights of mystical ecstasy, we haven't seen any apparitions or heard any Divine voices. Maybe we struggle just to pray a single Hail Mary or Our Father, and we feel guilty, for maybe we fear we have fallen out of love with God.

Maybe we even stop feeling pleasure at attending Mass; it becomes more of a drudgery than a joy, and we deeply feel a sense of guilt about t his, and perhaps don't even want to bring it up to anyone for fear they may point at us and scream HERETIC! YOU HATE GOD!

It's easy to romance the idea of the Saints at prayer, but the reality of their prayer lives was the daily drudgery of it. The constant conversation with God, the sheer tedium; that is what truly brought them to holiness. Not a single Saint was canonized because God granted them infused prayer; they were canonized because they persevered even when  or perhaps especially when prayer itself was a trial.

What is the Purpose of Prayer?

If you struggle with prayer, ask yourself what you're trying to get out of it. What are YOUR goals? WHY are you praying?

Then take a step back and look at God. Ask Him what He gets out of this relationship with us. Realize...nothing. God doesn't get ANYTHING out of it. He doesn't NEED us, but rather, WE need HIM! God created us entirely for Himself and wills our good - only our good! Our very ability to pray is in and of itself a pure gift from God.

Prayer is the way we come to know and love God, and through the Sacraments which lead us more deeply into prayer, we become sanctified.  The purpose, then, of to make us Holy!

It's so easy to forget that. We all have long laundry lists of needs and wants. We have unrequited desires, deep wounds in need of healing, fears for loved ones...and a will that needs to be purified.

God Will Not Be Manipulated

In going back to the original question - why is prayer so difficult - I stated that prayer is not difficult:  We are!

We are fallen, and in our fallen nature we try to manipulate others to get what we want. We are selfish, self-centered, egotistical little worms and we usually do things because those things make us feel good or get us something that we want. We do good for others because it makes us feel good to do so; ergo, for a selfish reason. Over time this basic childish tendency can be tempered as we begin to do good things for others because it is RIGHT, even if at times we must suffer for doing the right thing.

In our relationships with others, using the office as an example, we tend to do good things for our co-workers because we know it might advance our careers. Certainly ethics are involved; I'm not saying we all go around trampling on others to get what we want, but rather, we look at the ends we desire and we do what we can in our current positions so as to advance over the guy in the next cube. "If I volunteer to take that overtime on July 4 that no one wants, that's a big star in my file and might be the thing to tip the next promotion in my favor...".  Sure, we might tell our teammates, or just let them think we're "taking at hit for the team" but no, we're just manipulating the team.

Even in the closest friendships, we do the same thing; we humans have a HUGE capacity for manipulation, and unfortunately, that sometimes transfers over into prayer.

All too often we go to prayer and tell God what WE want, and when the outcome is not what we dictate to Him, we become angry with God. We rail at Him, curse Jesus in taking His name in vain, stamp our little feet, cry, scream and say we're going to leave the Church unless He does what we tell Him to do.

If that kind of response to God's disobedience to us isn't part of our temperament, then maybe we delve into more passive-aggressive techniques designed to put Him in His place, such as using devotions in a superstitious or talismanic manner, or looking for "prayer" techniques that might get us what we want when we want it while bypassing the pesky necessity of God's Will.

(Are you squirming yet? I am. Aren't you glad God is merciful? I am.)

We forget that God is immutable; our temper tantrums and techniques are not part of His plan.  Certainly He may respond favorably to our prayers IN SPITE of ourselves, but we must remember:  God cannot be manipulated. He laughs at our attempts.

Sometimes we even delude ourselves, saying that this or that "technique" or even "devotion" is what got us something like a certain consolation. We forget that healthy skepticism is also important; we are not blind fools; to be so is an insult to God who created our intellects and will in His own image. We sometimes forget the lessons of self-knowledge, comforting ourselves by the delusion that our complicated techniques won for us a feeling of euphoria when in actuality, all we did was hyperventilate and get too much oxygen into our brains. Or maybe we just saw "signs" that weren't there but through our own wishful interpretation in ignorance of reality.

Here's the Final Blow - Brace Yourself:

Prayer really isn't so difficult. A simple conversation with God is the easiest thing in the world. God is not trying to trick us or trip us up. He loves us too much and honors the dignity He gave us too much to make building a relationship with him something akin to figuring out the geometry, physics, and mathematics of a house built by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Prayer is simplicity itself. What is difficult is letting go of ourselves and our own wills enough to let God decide what and when...or maybe never. We have to let go of pride and realize that we can't manipulate Him. We HAVE to become like little children, the children that we are, if we are to truly pray.

A toddler can pray just fine, and pray very effectively, for when they do so, they pray in innocent sincerity - completely unlike most adults!

The biggest comfort to me, believe it or not, is not when adults tell me they are praying for me, but when they tell me their 3-year-old child is praying for me!  I'll take the prayers of a toddler over that of the Holy Father himself ANY day! (No offense to our dear Pope Benedict XVI, whom I dearly love and believe to be a very holy man!)  

Prayer is difficult because we make it so, and of course, because at some point God has to wean us from the bottle of consolations He delights to pour out to encourage we children in the faith. At some point, though, we have to grow up and learn the sacrifices demanded by divine charity; difficulty and obstacles to prayer.

It is a greater sacrifice, of much greater merit, to pray when it is difficult, for in that sacrifice, we complete the task in spite of the fact we don't "feel" like it. When we go to Mass even if we don't "feel like it" or when we say we don't "get anything out of it anymore" but still go because we love God, that is an act of far greater love and holiness than going when it feels good to do so.

Why is prayer difficult?  Because through prayer, God is sanctifying us, is calling us to greater trials, conforming us to Himself, calling us to the Cross...all so that we might become Holy and spend eternity with Him. 

Thank you, Jesus. It really hurts to say it, and I don't know what's coming but....Thy will be done.


**     **    ***

Thanks for your question, Faith (and by the way, I love your name!). You made me ponder and pray a lot over this one - sorry it turned into a book in and of itself!

How to Listen to God

As Providence would have it, this morning I received a wonderful question from Jose, who happened upon an old post/article,  Centering Prayer vs Contemplative Prayer.  Because his question is pertinent and of course, a common one, I felt it deserved its own post.

Jose asks:

I have been trying to "learn to pray" of late and find myself often confused between Catholic Meditation and the mix of Chistian-Eastern practices. I do have one question. The Saints and others say that one must LISTEN for God when one prays. I also recall the story of the Old Testement prophet who heard thunder, and earthquakes but didn't find God. He DID find God in a whisper. And, one must clearly listen for God to hear him in something as subtle as a whisper. So...What's the difference between emptying ones mind and listening for God? I feel as if I can't really listen to ANYONE if my mind is elsewhere and busy. If you were in a conversation and your mind is filled, your friend would accuse you of not really paying attention. Can someone explain the difference between the emtying of the mind and listening for God? I feel as if one can't listen without a quiet mind. It's truly confusing. God Bless and thank you!

Jose, you bring up several points, and I'll try to address them all.

It's not surprising that you're confused by the mix of "Christian-Eastern practices" because in reality, the non-Christian Eastern religions have practices of prayer that are diametrically opposed to Christian prayer.

It's first important to understand what those differences are and WHY they are, and that may help sort out your confusion. In a nutshell, Eastern non-Christians aren't praying relationally but for a very general way; the object of their prayer is impersonal, and their goals in prayer have a far different object.

In Christianity, we pray to a Person: God. We recognize the Holy Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. We believe that we are Temples of the Holy Spirit; God Himself is within us, and it is the Holy Spirit who initiates our prayer, who teaches us to pray, who inspires the desires of our hearts and helps us to cooperate with God in union with His will.

By definition, prayer is a conversation with God, and any conversation has a certain amount of give and take. When you pray, recognize that you are looking for an encounter with a Person, a real Person. God is not an impersonal, uncaring deity, but He is your Father who called you into being to be loved by Him. Prayer is your response to that love and is in and of itself an act of love for God.

Think of it this way:  when you want to get to know someone, you sit down and you have a conversation with that person. You speak, but hopefully, and more importantly, you listen. Listening is an action; your mind is engaged as it must be in order to formulate a response, to process what is being said to you and perhaps to take action. When you converse with people you know, do either of you sit and stare blankly at the person speaking?

Prayer is no different than that.

Yes, you do have to eliminate useless distractions, but keep in mind that not all distractions are useless!  For example, if you're praying the rosary and trying to meditate on the mysteries of Our Lord, and a certain person keeps popping into your mind, could it be that God is speaking to you and asking you to pray for that person? Or perhaps there is a problem with your relationship with that person - maybe you have not become reconciled to someone, or you're holding a grudge, you need to be forgiven something or maybe more importantly, you need to forgive that other....or yourself. Those things can actively block your prayer to God - and yet, in a way they've just facilitated something wonderful: the gift of self-knowledge.  Our distractions in prayer are often God's way of telling us what we need to bring to Confession!

Now, if you're just sitting there wondering about what to make for dinner that evening, or what to put on the shopping list for your kids, or whether you should shovel the walk when you get home or perhaps in the morning...those are useless distractions. That may require a bit of self-discipline, nothing more. Knowing that you're, say, in the Adoration Chapel to spend time with the Person of Christ and continuing to focus on that fact will probably go a long ways towards eliminating the garbage but still allowing your mind to continue to operate.

Christian prayer is a beautiful thing, for it engages the entire person, body, mind and soul. Our postures, our thoughts, our entire being can be absorbed in prayer; they shouldn't be suppressed. We NEED to engage our minds in order to listen to God, but we also need to know HOW He speaks to us.

It is different for each person and you may need to try different things if you're not sure how He speaks to you.  He may speak through your distractions, or, if you pray the Bible (Lectio Divina), God will speak through His Word, the Holy Scriptures. What stands out to you in a certain passage? Stop and simply ponder that. Read the gospels - what details stand out? God is speaking! Stop and allow him to reach through to you!

One big mistake people make in prayer is that they bring a whole stack of intentions and devotions, they run through their "routine" and then rush out the door. At no time do they ever give God the chance to answer. Silence, therefore, is important. That doesn't mean devotions are bad or bringing prayer intentions is a terrible thing; quite contrary, they are wonderful things, and God wants to hear those! Balance is needed, though - allow Him to respond. He may not do so immediately. Simply wait. Enjoy His presence, and even if you are not praying in the chapel, know that the Holy Spirit is within you, that God is always with you and WANTS to respond to your prayer.

The other biggie - praying in the will of God. We don't know His will, and perhaps in our prayer we are asking for things that are OUR will, so we must always be willing to "die to ourselves" and pray the prayer of Christ in the Garden: "Thy Will Be Done."  Not mine. YOURS.   (And yes, that's often hard to pray with sincerity!)

Prayer is very simple; it doesn't require complicated techniques. Contemplation and Infused Prayer are gifts from God we cannot elicit through any technique, but without knowing Him, loving Him, and simply delighting in Him, we will never grow in prayer.  Keep it simple; begin with focusing on the fact you desire a relationship with God, and He will guide you more deeply in accordance with His will.

You may also find this wonderful post from Fr. Charles to be very helpful to you!

I hope this helped, Jose, and if you have any other questions, please let me know. I'd be happy to clarify any points.  God bless!


* St. Francis de Sales  Introduction to the Devout Life
* Fr. Thomas Dubay  Prayer Primer

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Call of Christ: Set Apart for the Kingdom of God

(copyright May, 2009)

Throughout the Gospel of Luke, one can note the theme of "The Call" of Jesus Christ, which by revelation culminates, ultimately, in the Cross, leading to the Resurrection. Those who were called and united with Jesus in a special way continued the mission He began in the book of Acts, where it is developed even further. We can see how those who are called to dedicate themselves to the work of salvation in a particular way are called also to sacrifice, and even suffer in order to fulfill their mission. Many are called to follow Christ, but not in the same way. Some are called to give up everything, even unto their lives, while others are called to live a different kind of sacrifice exactly where they will remain, making the Lord known and loved through everyday actions. In looking at these interwoven themes, it appears that Luke’s gospel lays the foundation of this Call, and Acts reveals how this Call, ultimately began to be fulfilled and remains so today.

We will first consider those passages that seem to reveal a special call to someone who has been set aside in some way for the Kingdom of God, followed by a discussion of the call belonging to those to whom Christ is revealed; to follow Him and proclaim Him in every facet of life. It begins in the first chapter of Luke, where the first clear call of God is delivered by the Angel Gabriel, telling Mary that the Holy Spirit shall overshadow her and she shall bear the Son of God. (Lk 1:35) She gave her fiat, and upon learning from the angel of her cousin Elizabeth’s own pregnancy, she rose to join her, pondering deep within her heart her own mysterious role. We can see through these passages that God’s call is one of sacrifice, for Mary took leave of her own home in order to serve in a new capacity, not yet fully understanding what was to come. There, when she greets Elizabeth, we meet, leaping within her womb, the one God has designated to be the prophet of the Son of God. (Lk 1:76)

 Already a pattern is developing, for the Lord makes His intentions known to those whom He calls, and those responsible for making sure that Call is fulfilled. 

Obviously, there are those designated by God alone, to be set apart for service to Him in His plan of salvation. While some of this idea of a designated role is present in the Levitical priesthood, it is through the birth and dedication of John the Baptist, uttered by his father Zechariah in verse seventy-six (Luke 1:76) that we understand God has called him to a particular mission in life.

There seems to be evidence from the text of Luke itself that men and women even before the time of Christ were called to serve God alone in a special capacity. Luke 2:27-35 reveals how the Holy Spirit inspired Simeon, who was “righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel”. He prophesies the purpose of the infant Jesus, and the linked Vocation of Mary, making a clear declaration that with this great gift nestled in her arms, she would be called to suffer as well. Luke 2:36 brings in the prophetess, Anna, a widow who did not depart from the temple, but fasted and prayed every day, dedicating her life to the Lord. She, too, was a witness to Simeon’s prophecy and recognized immediately the Call to proclaim Him to all those looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Luke 3: 23 tells us that Jesus began his active ministry when he was thirty years old. Even as He sat in the temple proclaiming the Good News, healing the sick, those hearing were divided, and some sought to kill Him. This brings us to recognition of the theme of suffering, for Christ Himself could not live out his purpose in the world without suffering. In Luke 4:42, Jesus declares His mission, to preach the Good News (gospel), for, as he says, “he was sent for this purpose”. This is a clear declaration of being sent, set apart and designated for a particular cause; and in this case, it was the Son of God living out first in a perfect example what He would ask his followers to do as well.

In Luke 5, Jesus calls Simon, James, and John, but before He calls them, He asks them to make an act of faith. Jesus sees them washing their nets and gets into one of the boats, asking to be put out a little from the land, where He sits down and begins to teach. When He is finished, He directs Simon to put out his nets for a catch. Simon protests that they’d had no success all night, but “at your word I will let down the nets.” It is here that Jesus is revealed in a catch that so fills the boats that they nearly sink. Jesus’ Call to Simon and his partners, James and John, is simple: “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.” As the text tells us they left everything to follow Him. Jesus gave the fishermen an abundance but as we can see, the Lord and his work was worthy of the sacrifice of material possessions.

In Luke 6:13-16, Jesus, after a night of prayer, chose from all of his disciples, twelve to be set apart in a special way, to accompany Him in His mission as Apostles. This is not a denigration of those disciples who were not set apart in this way, for indeed, as disciples they had their own mission to Christ. Yet we see that because Christ called only twelve, there was significance in their role and relationship to Him.

In Luke 9, Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, then sent them out to preach. Here we begin to see more of the related theme of sacrifice and suffering. Jesus directly addresses the necessity of suffering for the Kingdom of God in Luke 9:22: “The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Jesus immediately made this relevant to the role of the Apostles, that they might clearly understand the Call to which they were responding: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake he will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24). Yet this call to suffer is not for the sake of suffering and sacrifice in and of themselves, but ultimately, for the Glory of God, for the Resurrection. To do as Christ wills, one must have nothing, but depend upon the will of God in all service, to follow Christ in an act of trust, and an act of faith. It is another way of casting out a net as they went on their mission “fishing for men.”

It is important to note another form of a call which arrives with the birth of Christ: the first to learn of His birth are the humble shepherds watching their flocks in the night. The angel appears to them to reveal the birth of the Savior, and they rise immediately to go to the side of Christ. After their visitation, they return to their regular lives, changed, praising and glorifying God. (Lk 1:8-20) It cannot be a mistake that the first to visit the side of Christ proleptically reveals the future birth of the Church from the side of Christ on the Cross; thus here we see a call belonging to all believers; those who come into contact with Christ always return and proclaim His Glory and make this a way of life even within any humble state.

In returning to Luke 6:13-16, we see that Jesus had disciples who were not part of the twelve set apart. What of these disciples? Were they not also called to follow Him? Luke 6:46-49 defines those who may call Him “Lord” as “Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them.” This points to those who may not be set apart, but clearly are called to follow Him, not just to listen, but to DO as He does. It seems that as the life of Christ progresses, from the very first moment, all who come into contact with Him realize that there is a change. A pattern is emerging, an unspoken call to all those who come into His presence must make a decision:  either to disregard Him OR to become His disciple, and of those, to give up everything in order to be free to give themselves fully to Him, even if it leads to the Cross!

These themes of a special Calling, related to sacrifice and suffering, continue in the book of Acts, for there, the foundation of the Call has been laid, and the work of Our Lord continues in the hands and voices of those He called to sacrifice for His people.

In Acts 1:24, the Apostles choose another to take the place of Judas, and in that process, they pray to know not whom they want to choose, but whom GOD has chosen to take the place in ministry and apostleship.

From the very beginning of this book, we can see immediately the theme of a revelation continuing; and that it is God who calls, God who chooses, and this choice is expressed through those to whom authority has been given. This is expressed again in Acts 6:3-6, as the Apostles choose from among the disciples “seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” to be appointed to serve in a special capacity. They laid their hands on the seven in this act of ordination which clearly set these men apart from the others. The Navarre Bible Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles addresses this passage, stating, “A person can be elected or designated by the faithful; but power to carry out that ministry (which implies a calling from God) is something he must receive through ordination, which the Apostles confer.” (p.61) It is God Who gives the authority and the ability to live out the Call to which they have answered.

Stephen was one of these men ordained in Acts 6 as one of the seven priests, and as he spoke with the power of the Holy Spirit, we become witnesses to the other part of the Call of God; sacrifice. He preaches eloquently and as a result of speaking the Word of God, of preaching of the death and resurrection of Christ, he becomes the first martyr to follow in the bloody footsteps of Our Lord. The resulting persecution of Christians for their faith causes them to scatter, yet in their scattering they do not deny Christ, but continue to preach Him to all nations. Here, this dispersion and the resulting spread of Christianity reveals the link between those who are set apart to guide the faithful, and the actions of the faithful themselves, for they work together for the same end: to spread the Gospel to all nations.

Saul’s conversion, which we could say happened as a direct result of Stephen’s own prayer for him makes up a great portion of this theme; in Acts 9:4-6 Saul is knocked to the ground, blinded, and sent by God to Damascus where he is to be taken to Ananias. Ananias is hesitant, but the Lord explains, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine, to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:15-16) In this passage, Saul is called, but in Acts 13:2-3, he and Barnabas are “set apart” and given the authority to preach, sent by the Holy Spirit on a mission from God. Yet we cannot ignore that once again, the theme of suffering for the sake of God’s kingdom was addressed from the very beginning. In Acts 26:16-18, Paul is speaking, reiterating how he received his Call from God to bear witness, and following passages reveal the necessity of suffering.

 Paul did not preach a barren bloodless gospel, nor did he or any of the Apostles live a barren cross without meaning.

In summary, we have traced the theme of God’s Call through Luke and Acts, what that meant, and see the clear indication of Authority granted by God and expressed through those whom He calls. It was a continuation, built through Luke, brought to fulfillment and example in the Cross of Christ, and, we see through Acts the full expression of the life of Christ in His ministers (the Holy Priesthood of Christ.)  We have considered even the role of women who have been Called and set apart to serve the Lord, dedicated specifically to the needs of the Church, and even this has roots in the Tradition of the women who had been dedicated to serve in the temple of Jerusalem.

 It is also important to address the other role of the disciples of Christ; those who were called to serve in their regular state of life, living the Gospel and spreading it within their own homes and cities, empowered through the instruction of those called to lead them and aid them in the sanctifying and fundamentally missionary life in Christ. The vast majority of Luke and Acts addresses this call, and it is one which must be followed; those who encounter Christ in any way are forced to make a decision, and it is the same one we must all answer:

 Will we follow Him, too, wherever He calls?

Author's Note:
The above is a paper (edited for blog use) which I wrote for my New Testament course on Luke-Acts, in which our professor told us to find a theme in our reading and follow it. At the time as I was in discernment, it was easy for me to pick out the early Church's concept of Vocation, and it seems that this week, being Vocations Awareness Week, is an appropriate time to post the article. I do not offer it as a professional publication, only an academic but scriptural exploration; one which could be expounded upon. It is my prayer that this exploration of the theme of Vocation in Luke-Acts is helpful to anyone who happens upon it.

How Do You Discern a Vocation?

This is National Vocations Awareness week, and perhaps a few of you are shocked that I haven't actually, until this point, mentioned it.

On Sunday, I heard a beautiful homily about God's call; what is required to hear Him, and how one must respond when His sweet voice speaks. For the last few days I've been pondering his words as well as my own experiences over the last several years in my discernment struggles. I've also considered some of the questions I've received via email from others out there who perhaps have had the same struggles, the same questions, similar experiences and feelings.

For that reason, I have decided to start a series, and perhaps let it be driven by demand. You, my faithful readers, or perhaps you who are just passing by..have you any questions about Vocational Discernment? (To define: recognizing to which state in life God may be calling you - marriage, priesthood, religious life, consecrated single, etc.).  If you already know your Call, can you recall any of the questions you pondered or asked that you'd like to see answered here?

For now, I will begin with a very basic question:

How does one discern a Vocation?

This is an important question. Some of you out there may be asking that very thing. Perhaps you have heard God's voice, or just have a little inkling that perhaps there's something missing in your life. The first thing, then, is to cultivate your relationship with Our Lord. He is waiting for you. He may be calling, or perhaps He, too, is biding His time...waiting for you. 

He is a perfect gentleman; He will not force His will upon you, but only waits for you to be open to the gentle invitation to sit at His feet, to spend time with Him in prayer, or simply...just in His presence. You see, Jesus delights in you, He loves it when you come to the chapel to spend time with Him in the Blessed Sacrament. He awaits your presence, He welcomes your questions and He is ready to speak as soon as you are ready to listen.

This is all discernment; it is necessary first to know God, to fall in love with Him over and over again, and this can only be done through developing, constantly, your relationship with Him.

Knowing God and allowing Him to love you are fundamental to anything else;  you cannot fully love what and whom you do not know. You cannot hear a Call unless you have somehow learned to listen, and you cannot know which steps to take and when to take them if you are not in a dialogue with the one who has placed an invitation in your soul.

This is true for all Vocations; many a married person has come to know God had called them to marriage through prayer, and I even have a friend who learned in Adoration WHOM she was called to marry. (And just this year they had their first child, a beautiful son!)

How does one discern? Spend time with God. Go to Mass frequently, receive the Sacraments of Holy Communion and Confession frequently, and never let a day pass where you do not take time to pray. This is the first step. Know God, love God...and learn to allow Him to love you.

And this...this is the foundation and somthing that must never stop, for relationship with God is something that will continue to grow and deepen throughout your life, regardless of your Vocation.

Monday, January 10, 2011

New Catholic News Site!

This evening I received an e-mail from Tito Edwards, who has started a new news aggregate which may interest a number of you.

His site,, searches the web twice daily (once daily on weekends) for the "best orthodox punditry in the blogosphere" and posts it for your reading pleasure.

Go have a look!  From what I can see it's a great site and at a glance you'll see links to great commentary by names you recognize (and maybe a few you don't!)

Um....but come back here, too, ok?  I don't want to get lonely...


Sunday, January 09, 2011

Total Desperation

Have you ever noticed that every time you are down in the dumps about something, you seem to run into someone else who has it much worse than you?

Yeah...that happens to me, too.

Yesterday I learned that my request for a financial forbearance on my graduate loans through Citi-Bank was denied, for a really stupid reason. I saw that I had one day to pay my December bill before it doubled, so I robbed Peter to pay Paul, hoping Peter will be more forgiving than I expect. But at least Paul is 1/2 satisfied for now.

And I was in a panic - my account still shows that I am behind, and this is not a good thing. I don't understand how the bank thinks I'm going to be able to pay when what I told them before is still true; I simply don't make enough money to pay this loan right now. I'm looking for another job, I'm praying for a miracle, I'm looking for a way to satisfy the debt. In the meantime, I've paying my undergrad loan, but it means I have to "float" bills and pay them just in time for my next check to be deposited into the account. It doesn't take a genius to realize these are dangerous practices that only lead to disaster - and another huge monthly bill makes things even more precarious.

Unfortunately, what I just described is how a LOT of people are living these days. Others have already had the catastrophe of a dropped ball in that juggling act and are losing their cars, their homes....everything.

A Harsh Reminder

As hard as it is to be in this position, not wanting to ask for help, for after all, I GOT myself into this mess, I should suffer the consequences, right? I didn't HAVE to go to grad school and I knew when I began that I'd be leaving my well-paying job and taking on another...although I did not realize it was one that would increase my debt load, not keep it on an even keel.  Such is life.

Because of these and other thoughts, I was in quite the panic yesterday to realize I am officially in default on a grad loan, in spite of my attempt to keep that from happening.

Well, God had a reminder for me, and it happened while I was driving en route to my brother's house to celebrate his birthday.

An electronic freeway sign announced that the road I needed to take had a blocked left lane due to an accident. OK, fine. I know south Minneapolis quite well so got off at the 46th street exit.  The area has changed since I lived there; now there is a huge bus station there and panhandlers have taken over the area.

Living in the 'burbs as I do, I don't often see panhandlers but at the occasional exit ramp or stoplight if I happen to be going out of my way for some reason.

Yesterday, though, as I approaches the top of the exit, I saw a man holding a cardboard sign; it was bent and frayed on the edges and he dropped it to his side as he crossed in front of me to approach a car in the right lane. I slowed to ensure both he and I that he was in no danger of being struck by me as he received some kind of token. He took it from the driver; I did not see if it was food or money, it didn't matter. He returned to the sidewalk, glancing around at approaching traffic, and again held up his sign.

His hands were dirty; he wore no gloves, and I finally got a glimpse of the sign: 

I didn't make eye contact with him as I was trying to read his sign; when I saw that message and the condition of his hands as he stood in the shadow of the urban sound barriers in 10 degrees, I was stricken.

Glancing towards the seat next to me, I regretted my bag was in the back; I had a nutrition bar in there. It wasn't much, but it was all I could give him. I glanced at the light then suddenly turned to reach behind, knowing I *must* give him that nutrition bar, desperately reaching into the pockets of my bag, clutching, finding only things useful to me - my toothbrush, kleenex, other odds and nutrition bar. I tried the pocket at the other side, shoving my confused but curious dog out of the way, praying the light would not change.

I've never wanted to give someone something so much as I wanted to give that man this stupid nutrition bar.

I glanced ahead...the light had changed, traffic was coming...I had to go. There was nowhere to pause. There was nothing I could do but move on.

As I passed through south Minneapolis, I couldn't get that man out of my head and I did all I could do; I prayed for him. He didn't know I was trying to find him some food; for all I know he saw the action in my car and thought I was trying to avoid looking at him.

Far from it; I really SAW him in a way I haven't seen a homeless person in a very long time.

No Maybes

Some will read this and fall upon the old party line of cautions against handouts to panhandlers, personal safety, carjackings, etc etc etc.

Sure, there's merit in that, but I had no money to give him although if I did, I might well have given it yesterday. I had but a small thing, and perhaps some of you may recall something I witnessed one hot summer day...and I couldn't forget that image, either. That event is burned into my memory.

So it happened that yesterday, there was a direct collision of my own self-pity against the cold harsh reality of someone else's very real desperation.

There, but for the grace of God, go I.

And I still wasn't able to help.

All of us are that dependent upon God; we can do nothing in and of ourselves. Even when we do offer something to others, or desire to, we sometimes are prohibited from doing so.

Who knows? Maybe that man needed a prayer more than he needed food; don't we all?

So please, stop now and pray for him, whoever he is. And when you pass by those in our communities who stand on corners holding signs, at least see them. Pray for them. Offer even an encouraging word. Anything - the dignity of humanity demands it.

Friday, January 07, 2011

The Daily Show and Other News

It's been an interesting week, and I have to admit, life is always full of surprises - as well as reminders of our faults!

Yesterday was one of those packed adventures, and several things happened right in a row.

Good GREAT News!

Because I've written of it a few times, I'll share the news now: the friend who was diagnosed with what looked to be terminal brain tumors called me yesterday, almost sounding like himself. He'd been to his neurologist and learned that the tumors are shrinking and there is no evidence of cancer around his spine!  He's overjoyed, calling it a miracle, and thanks everyone for prayers - he knows those prayers have carried him through and continue to do so. I know he is resigned to God's will for him, but he's grateful that, at least for now, God has more work for him to do here on earth.

Merely Good News:

After that I received a few responses to emails and phone calls for a huge project at work, something beginning next week, and I'd begun to fear that it was going to be a total disaster. As it stands now, it looks like we'll have more than enough experts coming in to share their expertise for a small group of very enthusiastic children. Yay!

Surprising News:

And here's a real kicker, one that I admit stopped me in my tracks:  I had an email from Matt Polidoro, producer of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, who was inviting me to be interviewed for and participate in an upcoming show. I wasn't sure of the reason for this, but finally located an old post of mine. After reviewing it, I saw why he'd contacted me; it really did make me look like a female William Donohue. Although the information in the post is something with which I still agree, it was quite inflammatorily stated - most of it lacking charity. Granted, at the time that's how I was writing, but over the years my tone has greatly changed. Guess I grew up a bit.

So I pondered this and talked it over with friends, pondered some more, and this evening sent an email back to Mr. Polidoro explaining I'd really have nothing to offer him, thanked him for the invitation, but no, not interested. He sent me back a nice response. Done.

How ironic; when I was a child, I wanted to be an actress, I wanted a career on television, I wanted to be "famous". And here an opportunity comes to my very doorstep and what do I do? Say no. Life is funny, isn't it?

Of course, it's not that a single involvement in a popular cable television show would by any means bring me fame, but rather, I recognize how many people are "dying" for such an invitation and would probably be floored that I would turn it down. So, in the words of Eeyore, "Thanks for noticin' me"!  :-)
Y' is a blessing to be Catholic!

Now...if I could just get over this writer's block....

Monday, January 03, 2011

January Blog Quote of the Day

It's been awhile since I've slightly altered famous quotes, and if you recall, by popular acclaim I suggested that perhaps I could make this bit of humor a regular feature. Too soon, I realized that just wasn't going to happen but every so often I come across a fun series of quotes. As I like to keep my readership happy, and as many of my regular readers are bloggers themselves, well, I hope these bits of self-deprecating but all-too-truthful humor bring a little brightness to you day.

Without further ado, here are some more clever commentaries about blogging thanks to (real) authors:

Bloggers are easy to get on with - if you like children
~ inspired by Michael Joseph (1897-1958)

I post blogs because it's a way of making statements I can disown, and I tweet because dialogue is the most respectable way of contradicting myself.
~ inspired by Tom Stoppard

A blogger is a lucky person who has found a way to discourse without being interrupted.
~ inspired by Charles Poore 

A blog is never finished, only abandoned.
~ inspired by Paul Valery 

Immature bloggers imitate; mature bloggers steal
~ inspired by T.S. Eliot

Finishing a blog post is just like you took a child out in the back yard and shot it. 
~  inspired by Truman Capote

Too many blogs finish too long after the end.
~ inspired by Igor Stravinsky