Oh Lord, purify me, make me a chalice in which you dwell, offer your sacrifice in me and spread your love through me. Let me shine like gold, adorn me with the jewels of virtue that I may always be open to you. Fill me. Overflow me. Let me be like that most perfect vessel, the Singular Vessel of Devotion, She to whom I cry for protection against the Evil One. I ask this for your glory, for the vessel is nothing without the sustenance inside, the cup nothing unless it is filled. Oh Lord, purify me.

Give me a word, Abba

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Parties and Penance

A Christmas Party. I don't know if you've ever been to one. Probably not.
It's a funny thing about Catholicism, at least in its most complete form, that it embraces exuberant parties and extreme penances. I'm not quite sure that most people, even most Catholics, are aware of this. Perhaps it is a result of living in a culture that so thoroughly corrupts both.

We in the West (and increasingly everywhere as technology spreads and the unifying Gospel is no longer Christ but contraception) tend to give ourselves penances not out of love for creation's God, but out of disgust for our bodies and the material world. In a strange contradiction, the material world is considered the sum of existence. It is not a pleasant affair to be disgusted by the only thing that exists. We can only find Usefulness in matter and so we either consume excessively in order to get the most out of the material world before we die, or we study matter extensively in order to determine how to more efficiently consume. This over-consumption gives many in our culture a spot of guilt and in retaliation, they lash out at enjoyment of creation and thus the puritan is born.

Believe me, I myself am puritanical at times. All of us who are concerned about the looseness of morality and the wastefully indecent way of treating God's gifts fall prey to the temptation to reject God's gifts. Are there alcoholics? Yes. Fear of alcoholism drives the puritan to reject beer or wine or liquor as a sign of moral decadence and a culture of abuse. Do people overeat? Of course they do. The puritan comes up with categories for Good Foods and Bad Foods, which, as you may have noticed, change over time. We should reject carbs (never mind that pasta has been a staple of multiple cultures for centuries.) We should reject fat (never mind that without fat, cold-climate peoples would freeze to death. Besides, low-fat ice cream is gross.) We should reject any animal product, or just meat, or gluten, or any number of things.

Now if we were to really think about it, none of these things is deadly to people. What is deadly (and what leads to obesity 9 out of 10 times) is the lack of a consistent culture of active work. Instead of physical activity being a natural part of our day, we have to schedule it in two or three times a week and thus have to schedule our eating to respond to the work-out schedule.

But of course, all of this is just a side note. We reject the goods of creation not through the love of God, but through the fear of what he has made, namely our bodies and the food we eat. We are extremely concerned with our bodies and what they look like, but so often end up hating them no matter what. Since our bodies lead us to sin in obvious ways that very clearly hurt us or others, it is easy to be hard on the body.

But at the same time, we can't stand being uncomfortable. Who wants to eat low-fat ice cream? (Did I ask that already?) Who wants to be always tired and hot (or cold) and under-sexed? No one. No one wants to live a life of continual rejection of the body because we are both body and spirit. To hurt one is to hurt the other. So our culture embraces what makes us feel good.

Sometimes this is physical pleasure, but more and more often, it is about feeling good "inside" where it matters the most. Or does it? Our strange modern dualism is rather schizophrenic. It can't make up its mind whether it loves the body and hates the soul or loves the soul and hates the body. Why, I might ask, can't you love both?

And this is where the Catholic comes in with his penance and parties. Joy in creation is a direct way of giving glory to God. It is not idolatry to enjoy a rare steak, nor is it pantheistic nonsense to revel in a sunset. In fact, every part of creation, living and non-living, is filled with being that reflects the very existence of God. A rock reflects God just as a hummingbird does. We can quibble about various amounts of reflection, but suffice it to say, everything is a reflection.

And this, I believe, is what we've lost in our pursuit of scientific knowledge and simultaneous reduction of our bodies to mere Useful Objects. We've lost the wonder of creation. But just as we need to recover the wonder of creation in all its mad revelry, we need to recover a sense of self-gift. This is not just to each other, though it sees its highest expression in the love between persons. In fact, only rational beings can properly give of themselves. Self gift, however, is not just for others' consumption, or else we would lose ourselves and be unable to continue giving. Self-gift is sharing so that neither the giver nor the receiver of the gift is consumed but is drawn into a deeper existence.

As I said, the highest expression of this is between persons, but it is also true that we can give of ourselves to other parts of creation. The meaning of the land is to produce beautiful flowers, trees, and plants which sustain and beautify the area. When we cultivate the land and do not destroy it, we allow it to flourish in an even more orderly and beautiful way. But this requires that we give of ourselves.

This is merely an example, but our penances are training for a life of self gift. We do not merely give up chocolate so that we suffer or because it is bad for us (it's not). We give it up because we mist always continue to practice self gift so that when the opportunities arise, we are ready to help our fellow man or work to preserve God's creation.

My own patron, Thomas More, was a fan of both parties and penance. He loved conviviality and enjoying the company of others, but what also, in private, severely penitential and trained himself to not hold too fast to the things of this world. And that, I suppose, is the real reason that we both party and do penance: to lead us to Him Who made us, Who gave us these gifts in creation and Who ultimately desires us to give it all and ourselves back to Him.
He gave it all and Himself.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

All to all

Jesus Christ, the God-man, is present in all things, which is not to say that all things are Christ. All things are reflections of the revelation of God Who is the Word-made-Flesh. All things point to some divine reality, but it is only because He is the fullness of reality. Jesus Christ is the healer, the teacher, the king, the priest. He is an architect, a painter, a writer, a scholar, a scientist, a philosopher, a mathematician. He, in fact, whatever anyone and everyone needs. He is all to all.

He draws people to Himself so that they might be more like Him and that they might reject sin. He is a king, but He is a poor king born in a stable. The poor can come to Him and be one with Him; the rich are also called. He calls them to be rich like He is rich, poor like he is poor. If someone is seeking a king, He fulfills that desire. If someone is seeking a barefoot pilgrim, there He is too. If we fail to see Him as the proper object of our adoration, affection, and desire, it is because we do not recognize the inifinite-faceted nature of His divinity.

If we seek nourishment, He is bread and wine. If we seek intellectual stimulation, He is the Logos, the reason and logic behind all inquiry. If we desire to enact good in the world, He is the all-powerful source of good who wishes good on all of creation more than we do ourselves. If we are disposed to accept a glorious God, He is a glorious God. If we, however, are searching for a humble God, we will find Him humble. He is King and Servant, Father and Brother, Counselor, Friend. He is all to all.

But He will not manifest Himself merely based on our outward desires. We often do not understand our own needs and the true desires of our hearts. True, He is also the fulfillment of our outward desires for friend, ruler, or beautiful sensation, but more importantly he addresses our true needs. And this can often look like He cares not a jot for our desires.

We may say, "Oh, Lord, show us your majesty and we will believe!" but He merely appears to be a beggar on the street. We may say, "Oh, Lord, show me your presence in the poor!" but are greeted instead by the finery of the liturgy. We may say, "Oh, Lord, show the Logic of the Gospel and I will believe!" and He may say, "This is My Body." We may say, "Lord, if you truly care about us, we would live in a Christian state where our beliefs are respected and the common good is promoted!" but instead, He appears as one crucified and asks us to follow Him.

His Divine nature is hidden to us here on earth. We are not privy to His glory as the apostles were on Mount Tabor. We must have faith in His infinite goodness, knowledge, power, and love. If we do, we will be able to glimpse His working in our lives and by drawing closer to Him, allowing our desires to be fulfilled.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Fearful and Overjoyed

I haven't blogged for a while here, not to mention anywhere else. Suffice it to say, my final semester at the University of Notre Dame has been filled with all sorts of things which prevented me for one reason or another from writing on what I have wanted to. Lots of fear, lots of joy. The paradoxes of life bring with them a lot of uncertainty. They wouldn't be very good paradoxes if they didn't. A life without apparent contradictions is a life giving into entropy, a necessarily apathetic, nihilistic existence. Flatlining is death. It is only in the ups and downs that we can see the life within us.

My experience is no different from that of any other Christian who stumbles after the cross to Calvary. Every period of our lives is a microcosm of the life of Christ: The brightness of a star, the excitement of new beginnings, the obscurity, the hard work, the miracles, the friends, the loss of friends, the suffering, even the death of a bit of ourselves...and a resurrection. The whole process starts over again as we are reborn again (forgive the redundancy.) Yet, though we live the life of Christ, we do so imperfectly and often live like his apostles did. We are the ones who abandon our friends, overcome by the fear which suppresses for a time our hope, our joy, our love. And when our fear is greatest, we hide in our apathy, we turn in on ourselves. Our "door being closed" (cf. John 20:25), we do not expect our King to find us. We may not even want him to find us. But we have an insistent King and he breaks through even our hardest hearts.

This reality is not one we always deal with well. The women who first heard the news of the Resurrection were fearful and overjoyed. Is it too much to hope that Christ returns to us again in the flesh? We are scared that it is not true, for how could it be true? How is death overcome? How is sin abolished? The Flatline seems to be the consistent reality. Betrayal is real in our lives as it was in Christ's. Our friends mess up, leave us, forget us, confuse us. Our Church struggles to continue its mission being crippled by scandal and the strong wave of secularism and modernism that has left it still reeling. When we grow up, we see our parents as the fallible human beings they are. We have something in common with them, they are no longer the strong distant authority that compels us to follow. So it is with the Church. As we grow up, we see our Mother the Church in all her sinfulness, all her confusion, all her ugliness. Her very clear truths are obscured by her members words and actions. Some, seeing this, leave her disillusioned. Hope is lost. The paradox is too much.

And yet, how can we account for the potent soul-socking presence of Christ in our lives? How can we account for the smell of lilacs, the strains of a solo cello arpeggiating the image of the Creator's love? The taste of wine, the majestic order of an architectural wonder, a reflection in stone of the heavenly Jerusalem? The laughter of friends, the wind over the lake, the shared moments of joy, sadness, contentment?

How can we account for the fact that Christ asks us to come and have a personal audience with him every week? The King IN THE FLESH invites us to his palace, to speak with him, to listen to his wisdom, to feast with him, to love him.

It is too powerful an idea for us to believe, and fear fills our hearts. But we must go back again and again to confirm our joy. And week in, week out, Christ comes through our locked doors and establishes the reality and calls us to overcome our fear with his joy.

Monday, December 2, 2013

What do we deserve?

As subjects of the King, all that we have is a free gift from Him and nothing that we have do we deserve. We do not deserve money, clothes, human affection, education or food except that God has given all this to us in creation. He has made us so that our nature calls out for these things which are His to give, but we do not deserve them, for our wills are not with His. We turn from him and so we do not even deserve the gifts he has already given us. One such gift is the Mass.

We don't deserve liturgy that appeases our aesthetic sensibility. We don't deserve liturgy that elevates our souls to the contemplation of the ineffable. To put it bluntly, we deserve hell, except for the sacrifice of Our Lord on the Cross, which is enacted in each Mass on the altar. So we shouldn't complain if what we get is felt banners and not silk vestments, liturgical dancing instead of the rubrics, Marty Haugen instead of Thomas Tallis. The Mass, after all, is a great gift to the people of God and we should not take it for granted.

But we should also not take it for granted.

Lest you think I am being confusing, let me explain. Our Lord established the Church in a human context which brought about the flourishing of beauty in expression of worship. In fact, humanity was made to imitate its creator in making things that are "very good." The gift of our humanity, and the gift of the Church are not to be taken lightly. No, we do not deserve existence or to be made in the image and likeness of God or the Incarnation, or the Church herself. But God has seen to it that we have been given these gifts, and to turn our backs on them is to deserve them even less. God does not need the commemoration of his Sacrifice to be in any context, for the commemoration of that Sacrifice and the worship of our God is not for Him. It is for us. He does not need our worship, but he deserves our worship, and for our sake he established a Church which leads us in that worship.

But let us not take it for granted, this great gift! Part of this gift, which makes it all the greater, is its appeal to our human nature and our desire for beauty. It draws us in so that our needs are better met. Should we, the poor in beauty, refuse the charity of Him who is Beauty Himself? If we do, we forget that it is we who need him and will instead depend on our own efforts in providing our needs.

Let us, then, lose ourselves in the charity of beauty, let us not refuse the gift of the Mass. Let us not strip it of its beauty because of agenda or pride. Let us instead allow the beauty to draw us closer to the Giver. We do not deserve it, but he has given it to us. Let us not throw it away.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Ordinary and the Beautiful

One might not think that a single yellow brick, chipped with age and discoloured by years of exposure to the dirt and dust kicked up by students would be beautiful. It is, in fact, sort of ugly. All of us have experienced a beautiful sunset piercing the trees and reflecting off of a nearby water-feature, or perhaps the sharp profile of a highland crag against a steel-blue sky overlooking the dark swirling North Sea, or maybe yet the wild, untamed mountains and ravines of ruddy Wyoming.

All of these are nature, and they are not made by us. They do not belong to us. They are Other, just as God is Other and only he is responsible for them. They are, for this reason, such a powerful witness to his presence that we feel the tug, the desire for a union with the unattainable, the infinite.

But what of my brick? It is also a connection to the infinite in the sense that it is a connection to history. Our lives are but a series of encounters with eternity and history is the collective memory of humanity's interaction with the infinite. We are like stones skipping across the lake of eternity and will eventually sink into it and be consumed by it.

But we eventually encounter a spot of eternity where someone else has been before. It brings the great fabric of time, the small corner of eternity, into greater perspective. This brick may have been touched by thousands of students, been witness to countless graduation pictures, stood steady as presidents and provosts passed on their responsibilities, as great discoveries were made and great social strides accomplished. It also has seen tragedy and discord. It in fact speaks loudly of the human condition. A building is a testament to the struggles and joys of not only the generation that built it, but all those who follow after as well, and each brick has its part in that history.

All things, ordinary and extraordinary, tell of the great gift of God which is this life. Can we pass up that leaf pile that calls for jumping? (Well, if there's a machine sucking them up, perhaps.) Can we ignore the single dandelion that has found its way into bloom? Can we say to a squirrel eating a nut, "No, you are unimportant?"

We should not, for all speak of God's love and all call us into a greater understanding of his infinite goodness.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


I mentioned to one of my friends at dinner last night that there is a distinct difference between being "nice" and being "kind." It's something I've been thinking about a lot recently, mostly because I can see the difference in myself. "Niceness" is a somewhat self-centered attitude, where people's perception of you is the most important. If you are nice, you'll look good and attractive to people, right? But "niceness" is a very shallow thing whereas "kindness" is not. Kindness is directed to another person. It is true attentiveness to the needs, wants, and situations of others. We can spend time with another person, but it takes a kind person to seek out that person and give them your time. See the difference? One is seen as "spending" time, a cold, businesslike word, and the other is "giving" time, a personal word.

Kindness is so much more important than being nice. You can act pleasant all you want, but it isn't enough to truly be a friend. Everyone has interior struggles that are not addressed through exterior postures. Everyone! Even the person who is the most confident, the most put together, the most happy person! There is an attitude at the University of Notre Dame that in order to be successful, you need to appear happy, put together, busy, self sufficient....the list goes on, but it does not allow for vulnerability which is the opening to Love.

This vacuum of vulnerability means that all sorts of harmful vulnerabilities rush in to fill it. We allow ourselves to be used and use others. We succumb to alcohol, the party scene, the loose sexual morals which all make us vulnerable, but in all the worst ways. Vulnerability results in pain and the shattering of our innocence when it is not accompanied by genuine love.

But when we are kind, we are making ourselves vulnerable and allowing vulnerability in others to come through and the sharing of healthy vulnerability in a safe, sober situation is the gateway to love. Selfless gift of time and attention, even if that means leaving someone alone is true love. Even this vulnerability can result in pain, but as we know, the greatest act of love was an act of suffering, with a resurrection afterwards.

No bad can come from true kindness, only from the false vulnerability so rampant on college campuses which can trick us into thinking it is love. What is really is is a loud cry for love that we can answer if we will give to each other the time and the love of true kindness.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Sign of the Cross

I was watching a television show called Fringe the other day which is a pretty good show, though not nearly as good as Person of Interest. One scene from a climactic episode of the third season of Fringe was of a man in a somewhat nondescript liturgically inaccurate Christian chapel of some sort. He was, as is often the case in these situations, asking God for a sign, even though he didn't believe in him. (Another example of this might be George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life, though he did believe in God and it wasn't in a chapel. It was, in short a much better scene.)

The man in Fringe wanted a sign from God so that his son might live. I thought about this for a minute, and because there was a great shining cross in the scene, it reminded me of how a Father once allowed his son to die for the sake of the world (which, incidentally, this son was also going to be doing..they really can't get away from Christian imagery, can they. Peter Bishop? Come on. That's as bad as Christian Shepherd from Lost, incidentally created by the same person as Fringe.) Anyway, this man was asking that his son might be saved and that God might give him a sign to show him that this would happen, and I thought "Doi, you're looking at the cross, the greatest sign God ever gave and it was a sign of suffering and of sacrifice."

We sometimes forget that when we ask for a sign, God will oblige us, but often the sign includes a loss, a sacrifice, a death either of our desires or our goals. Ultimately, the end of the Cross Saga was a resurrection, and so God too will bring life out of the death of our desires. However, his greatest sign was the cross, and we can't forget that that's how he works.

So let us sign ourselves with the Cross, and continue to ask God to work in our lives and bring us to the resurrection through the purification of his sacrifice.