Monday, December 6, 2010

Hiatus

After doing some thinking and praying on it, I've decided to put this blog on hiatus, for awhile at least. I've not been inspired to write much in the last couple of months. When I have actually written, it's felt canned, forced, artificial. I have to discover why that is, and explore my motivations for pursuing this blog in the first place.

To any and all who may still check up here, thanks for reading what I've written. I may pop back in again when I feel motivated to do. Thanks for showing up.

Peace and Blessings,
Tom Rooney

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Christ the King, remember us


"Jesus, remember me when You come into your Kingdom..." (Luke 23:43)

These words are the faith statement of St. Dismas, the so-called "good thief" to Jesus on the cross. It reflects the faith in Jesus as King and His willingness to forgive the sinner, if only we ask. Dismas was a criminal, either a thief or revolutionary (as Jesus was viewed by Rome). He knew he had done wrong and was guilty, yet with confidence asked for the forgiveness of Jesus. Jesus promised the condemned criminal Paradise with Him.

Jesus, may we remember your Kingship on this your monarchical Feast Day. Help us to hold fast to the faith of St. Dismas and trust in your mercy and forgiveness, even as we hang upon our own crosses of guilt and shame.

Christ, Sovereign King, have mercy on us.

The Solemnity of Christ the King
Daily Mass Readings
2 Samuel 5:1-3
Psalm 122:1-5
Colossians 1:12-20
Luke 23:35-43

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Waiting for Advent...


I always cringe a bit when I see the Christmas decorations the day after Halloween. [Author's note: NO, I don't say 'Holiday'..Chanukha is Chanukha, Ramadan is Ramadan, Yule is Yule, and I celebrate Christmas...deal with it] Not only does Thanksgiving get the short shrift, so does the quiet penitential season of Advent.

The season of awaiting the Christ Child urges us to look inward at the Holy Darkness and make sure we are prepared to receive Him. Advent also prepares us for the Second Coming of Christ. There's much going on in many facets of my life right now; there's not been much time for me to write, or do much of anything else for that matter! I long for the season of Advent to reflect on where I've been on my path this year, and to prepare myself and my family to adore Him, come Christmas.

Come Holy Family. Our Inn awaits your presence.

Memorial of St. Frances Cabrini
Daily Mass Readings
3 John 5-8
Psalm 112:1-6
Luke 18:1-8

Friday, October 29, 2010

Elections and Catholic citizenship -


It's election time in America again. As a Catholic, I always am a bit apprehensive about this time of year. It is always brought into the press reports of one or more Bishops making a pronouncement that any Catholic who votes for a "pro-choice" candidate should not present themselves for Communion, or even call themselves Catholic. That because of its moral gravity, a candidate's position on abortion trumps all other issues.

This makes me angry for several reasons. First of all, I don't like anyone telling me how to exercise my right to vote. I mean, my wife and I vote differently on most matters - WE don't even listen to each other on how to cast our votes! Secondly, while pro-life/pro-choice positions of candidates rightly ought to be given great moral consideration (even more) than many other issues, I refuse to be a single issue voter, particularly if a) I abhor the candidates other positions, and b)I don't believe that said candidate can or will act on their stated pro-life stance.

I am of the 'seamless garment' pro-life school. No abortion...and no death penalty, no preemptive wars, no slavery/human trafficking, no euthanasia. Pro-life...means ALL life. Protect the unborn, AND the "born"; including the guy on death row, the kids in sweatshops around the world, the collateral damage victims of our wars, the women who keep their babies, and the women who've made the somber decision to abort. "From conception to natural death" is what the Church teaches, it doesn't end in the womb.

In this article on Catholic citizenship from America magazine, I was particularly taken with one of the comments on the article, by a Catholic Deacon. It sums up my views on this, perhaps better than I could:

"Surely no one votes for a candidate based on what that candidate says they will do; that would be gullibility in the extreme. Rather one votes based on what one foresees the candidate can or will deliver. There is a personal prognostication that enters into the decision. To illustrate the same point slightly differently: how am I as a faithful Catholic to vote when I judge that the pro-life candidate is unlikely to be able to deliver much of anything in the way of a reduction of abortion (I may even be convinced that they are cynical in their pro-life stance) whereas the pro-choice candidate is almost certain to deliver a significant advance on the social justice front while in no way likely to exacerbate the abortion rate (if that is even possible)? One cannot simply say that abortion as the greatest of all evils trumps every other consideration and therefore I must vote for the self-styled pro-life candidate. Surely for myself as a moral individual the primary consideration is my own judgement of the good or evil that will actually result from my vote."


Thanks go to the Rev. Mr. Carroll!

Whatever your position, VOTE. It is one of our most precious rights as American citizens that we sometimes take for granted (particularly in non-Presidential election years).

Peace.

Daily Mass Readings
Phillippians 1:1-11
Psalm 111:1-6
Luke 14:1-6

Thursday, October 28, 2010

On the lighter side...from my Aunt Joan

I get email forwards from my Aunt Joan regularly. This one made me laugh out loud, which is a rarity whilst procrastinating my getting ready for work. Come to think of it, my posting this right now is part of said procrastination. Anyhoo, it's good to leave for work with a laugh. Enjoy your day!
Truths For Mature Humans

1. I think part of a best friend's job should be to immediately clear your computer history if you die.

2. Nothing sucks more than that moment during an argument when you realize you're wrong.

3. I totally take back all those times I didn't want to nap when I was younger.

4. There is great need for a sarcasm font.

5. How the heck are you supposed to fold a fitted sheet?

6. Was learning cursive really necessary?

7. Map Quest really needs to start their directions on # 5. I'm pretty sure I know how to get out of my neighborhood.

8. Obituaries would be a lot more interesting if they told you how the person died.

9. I can't remember the last time I wasn't at least kind of tired.

10. Bad decisions make good stories.

11. You never know when it will strike, but there comes a moment at work when you know that you just aren't going to do anything productive for the rest of the day.

12. Can we all just agree to ignore whatever comes after Blue Ray? I don't want to have to restart my collection ...again.

13. I'm always slightly terrified when I exit out of Word and it asks me if I want to save any changes to my ten-page technical report that I swear I did not make any changes to.

14. "Do not machine wash or tumble dry" means I will never wash this - ever.

15. I hate when I just miss a call by the last ring (Hello? Hello?), but when I immediately call back, it rings nine times and goes to voice mail. What did you do after I didn't answer? Drop the phone and run away?

16. I hate leaving my house confident and looking good and then not seeing anyone of importance the entire day. What a waste.

17. I keep some people's phone numbers in my phone just so I know not to answer when they call.

18. I think the freezer deserves a light as well.

19. I disagree with Kay Jewelers. I would bet on any given Friday or Saturday night more kisses begin with Miller Lite than Kay.

20. I wish Google Maps had an "Avoid Ghetto" routing option.

21. Sometimes, I'll watch a movie that I watched when I was younger and suddenly realize I had no idea what the heck was going on when I first saw it.

22. I would rather try to carry 10 over-loaded plastic bags in each hand than take 2 trips to bring my groceries in.

23. The only time I look forward to a red light is when I'm trying to finish a text.

24. I have a hard time deciphering the fine line between boredom and hunger.

25. How many times is it appropriate to say "What?" before you just nod and smile because you still didn't hear or understand a word they said?

26. I love the sense of camaraderie when an entire line of cars team up to prevent a jerk from cutting in at the front. Stay strong, brothers and sisters!

27. Shirts get dirty. Underwear gets dirty. Pants? Pants never get dirty, and you can wear them forever.

28. Is it just me or do high school kids get dumber & dumber every year?

29. There's no worse feeling than that millisecond you're sure you are going to die after leaning your chair back a little too far.

30. As a driver I hate pedestrians, and as a pedestrian I hate drivers, but no matter what the mode of transportation, I always hate bicyclists.

31. Sometimes I'll look down at my watch 3 consecutive times and still not know what time it is.

32. Even under ideal conditions people have trouble locating their car keys in a pocket, finding their cell phone, and Pinning the Tail on the Donkey - but I'd bet everyone can find and push the snooze button from 3 feet away, in about 1.7 seconds, eyes closed, first time, every time!


Daily Mass Readings
Ephesians 2:19-22
Psalm 19:2-5
Luke 6:12-16

Monday, October 25, 2010

Rest in peace Father Robert Giuntini, AKA, "Deacon Bob"

Father Robert Giuntini passed away this weekend. I knew him primarily as Deacon Bob when he was assigned to New Hyde Park's Notre Dame parish in the 1970's before his ordination to the priesthood.

I remember it was the year before my First Communion. I had already firmly established my role as the "CCD Geek" in my class; I loved going to religious instruction, loved learning about the faith, and was endlessly fascinated with the Church's rituals and ceremonials. One Sunday, I noticed that a new priest - or so I thought - was helping Father Uris at the altar. His clerical garb differed slightly from Father's; they both had that white robe on, but the newcomer's stole went from his shoulder to his opposite hip, instead of around the neck like I was used to seeing. I asked my dad why that was.

Dad said "He's not a priest, at least not yet. That's Deacon Bob. He'll become a priest next year after his studies are finished.

Unfortunately, I'd misheard Dad; when he said Deacon Bob, I distinctly heard Dick and Bob. I was immediately confused; how could there be two of them if I only saw this guy and Father Uris? Was this along the lines of that Trinity "3-in-1" thingy they'd had been trying to teach us this year? I deduced there must be a second guy somewhere behind the scenes. I concluded that the guy at the altar with Father Uris was "Dick"; the guy somewhere behind the scenes therefore must be "Bob". I kept quiet about my little dilemma and we left Mass.

A couple of weeks later, Dad took me to Baskin Robbins for some ice cream. As we waited, I noticed that the man from Church was a few customers ahead of us, in his black clerical suit. Looking around, I couldn't find a second guy in a black suit; there was only "Dick". The elusive "Bob" had yet to make an appearance. I asked Dad if we could go over and say hello. He nodded and we both walked over.

I confidently stepped up to shake his hand and greeted him -

"HIYA, DICK!!! I'M TOMMY ROONEY!!!"

It took several minutes for Dick and my Dad to stop laughing; apparently they were mightily amused by something I said, but I couldn't figure out what. I mean, all I did was say "Hi". Then I thought that perhaps this was "Bob", and "Dick" was the man-behind-the-scenes. That didn't' seem to warrant such an outburst, though. A moment later, through his tears, Dick re-introduced himself to me, "Hello Tommy. My name's Bob. I'm a DEACON." I blinked in thought for a moment, and finally had my A-HA experience for the day; I got the joke and laughed along. I shook his hand again and said, "It's nice ot meet you, DEACON Bob!"

I was relieved to have this thing cleared up. That "2-guys-in-one" thing had me flummoxed. [Author's note: The Trinity "3-guys-in-one" thingy still flummoxes me from time to time, but that's neither here nor here.]

Deacon Bob had been assigned to Notre Dame for his pastoral year. He visited our classrooms frequently, teaching us different ways to remember how to pray the Rosary, a sung version of the Our Father, not to mention a sign language version of the same, if memory serves. He often preached the homily at the 9am Family Mass and would invite all us pre-Communion kids up to the altar. Deacon Bob could always explain the Gospels and readings in language we could understand. I looked up to Deacon Bob. I knew I wanted to be "holy" like him. During his assignment to our parish was the first time I ever thought I might like to become a priest when I grew up.

He was ordained to the priesthood on my birthday in 1976 and served various parishes along the Island. Father Robert Giuntini passed away on Friday October 22nd 2010, shortly after he celebrated his 34th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood. Unfortunately, I never saw him again after he left Notre Dame.

Thank you, Father Bob, for being someone who will forever hold a place in my heart by shaping and nurturing my faith, for being an icon of what it means to embody Jesus the Servant in the diaconate. Most of all, thank you for having a sense of humor. I knew you for only a short period, but you still left an indelible mark on me, and I will miss you. Pray for us!

Daily Mass Readings
Ephesians 4:32-5:8
Psalm 1:1-4,6
Luke 13:10-17

Friday, October 22, 2010

Bullying of gays and Christianity (warning of some harsh language)

[NOTE: THE VIEWS OF THE AUTHOR OF THIS BLOG DO NO NECESSARILY REPRESENT THE VIEWS OF HIS CHURCH]

One of my friends had A link on his Facebook page which got me thinking about where we are as a society as well as how Christianity is perceived by society. It's a correspondence between a Christian whose against same-sex marriage and Dan Savage, a Seattle columnist and an advocate of the IT GETS BETTER PROJECT , an organization that educates against bullying, particularly the bullying of LGBT teens. Here is the correspondence (WARNING! Some harsh language ahead):

Gay Kids Are Dying, Fuck Your Feelings
October 14, 2010

Dear Dan: I was listening to the radio yesterday morning, and I heard an interview with you about your It Gets Better campaign. I was saddened and frustrated with your comments regarding people of faith and their perpetuation of bullying. As someone who loves the Lord and does not support gay marriage, I can honestly say I was heartbroken to hear about the young man who took his own life.

If your message is that we should not judge people based on their sexual preference, how do you justify judging entire groups of people for any other reason (including their faith)? There is no part of me that took any pleasure in what happened to that young man, and I know for a fact that is true of many other people who disagree with your viewpoint.

To that end, to imply that I would somehow encourage my children to mock, hurt, or intimidate another person for any reason is completely unfounded and offensive. Being a follower of Christ is, above all things, a recognition that we are all imperfect, fallible, and in desperate need of a savior. We cannot believe that we are better or more worthy than other people.

Please consider your viewpoint, and please be more careful with your words in the future.

—L.R.

***************************************************

I'm sorry your feelings were hurt by my comments.

No, wait. I'm not. Gay kids are dying. So let's try to keep things in perspective: Fuck your feelings.

A question: Do you "support" atheist marriage? Interfaith marriage? Divorce and remarriage? All are legal, all go against Christian and/or traditional ideas about marriage, and yet there's no "Christian" movement to deny marriage rights to atheists or people marrying outside their respective faiths or people divorcing and remarrying.

Why the hell not?

Sorry, L.R., but so long as you support the denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples, it's clear that you do believe that some people—straight people—are "better or more worthy" than others.

And—sorry—but you are partly responsible for the bullying and physical violence being visited on vulnerable LGBT children. The kids of people who see gay people as sinful or damaged or disordered and unworthy of full civil equality—even if those people strive to express their bigotry in the politest possible way (at least when they happen to be addressing a gay person)—learn to see gay people as sinful, damaged, disordered, and unworthy. And while there may not be any gay adults or couples where you live, or at your church, or in your workplace, I promise you that there are gay and lesbian children in your schools. And while you can only attack gays and lesbians at the ballot box, nice and impersonally, your children have the option of attacking actual gays and lesbians, in person, in real time.

Real gay and lesbian children. Not political abstractions, not "sinners." Gay and lesbian children.

Try to keep up: The dehumanizing bigotries that fall from the lips of "faithful Christians," and the lies about us that vomit out from the pulpits of churches that "faithful Christians" drag their kids to on Sundays, give your children license to verbally abuse, humiliate, and condemn the gay children they encounter at school. And many of your children—having listened to Mom and Dad talk about how gay marriage is a threat to family and how gay sex makes their magic sky friend Jesus cry—feel justified in physically abusing the LGBT children they encounter in their schools. You don't have to explicitly "encourage [your] children to mock, hurt, or intimidate" queer kids. Your encouragement—along with your hatred and fear—is implicit. It's here, it's clear, and we're seeing the fruits of it: dead children.

Oh, and those same dehumanizing bigotries that fill your straight children with hate? They fill your gay children with suicidal despair. And you have the nerve to ask me to be more careful with my words?

Did that hurt to hear? Good. But it couldn't have hurt nearly as much as what was said and done to Asher Brown and Justin Aaberg and Billy Lucas and Cody Barker and Seth Walsh—day-in, day-out for years—at schools filled with bigoted little monsters created not in the image of a loving God, but in the image of the hateful and false "followers of Christ" they call Mom and Dad.

I don't buy a lot of what Savage had to say, but I understand the anger, particularly in light of he recent tragedies. Mr. Savage is boiling down the Christianity to the lowest caricature - the fundamentalist idiot.

As a person of the Catholic faith for most of my life, I have never...ever...heard gays,gay marriage or gay children, being cut down from the pulpit of any Mass I've ever attended. The only thing I have ever taught my children about dealing with people is that everyone deserves respect, and to treat others the way they'd like to be treated by others. That NO ONE knows how ANYONE else is with God. Period.

Am I aware of what the Catholic Church teaches about homosexuality? Yes. Do I buy it hook line and sinker? I can't say that I do. The Church presents it as a "disorder". We're all disordered to some extent, but that's not keeping most of us from entering into civil contracts to set up housekeeping, insurance, benefits, legal rights, and adoption rights. There's something that rubs me the wrong way about an entire segment of a free society that is denied all these rights. But that's just me.

On to bullying. My son was a victim of it for 2 years. My friends and I (especially the friend who linked this article)dealt with it all through high school. No one, but no one, deserves to be physically and emotionally demeaned and abused in that fashion. It's got to stop.

Daily Mass Readings
Ephesians 4:1-6
Psalm 24:1-6
Luke 12:54-59

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A New Day.


My parents had a small wooden plaque with an inspirational quote in the den. It was there for at least my first 15 years of life. I looked at it and read it every single day. More often than not I ignored its message. This morning I remember, feel it, and am trying to live it. The quote was as follows:
Today is the beginning of a New Day.
God has given me this day to use as I will.
I can waste it or grow in its light,
And be of service to others.
But what I do with this day is important
Because I will have exchanged a day of my life for it.
When tomorrow comes, today will be gone forever.
I hope I will not regret the price I paid for it.

Browsing around the internet looking for the author of this poem, I found a good number of inspirational-type sites that include some version of it. I almost was let down by finding it...thought is was something unique to my parents' den for some reason. An inspiration meant to speak directly to me. Well regardless to whom this poem is directed, it inspires me today. And I guess that's the point, isn't it?

Daily Mass Readings
Exodus 17:8-13
Psalm 121:1-8
2 Timothy 3:14,4:2
Luke 18:1-8

Friday, October 8, 2010

PROVE it.


I realize that I can't. And that's alright.

I cannot provide scientific proof of the Judeo-Christian God. I can argue God philosophically, logically, theologically. I can offer no scientific method-type proof that would satisfy. None whatsoever. Yet I believe anyway.

My atheist friends loooooooove when they get me to this position in a debate!

Although fictional, I always think of Ellie Arroway, the atheist scientist in the book/movie CONTACT, regarding the demand for proof of her supposed intergalactic journey:
I had an experience... I can't prove it, I can't even explain it, but everything that I know as a human being, everything that I am tells me that it was real! I was given something wonderful, something that changed me forever...I wish I could share that. I wish, that everyone, if only for one moment, could feel that awe, and humility, and hope. But that continues to be my wish.

A faith experience is very similar. I've had several experiences in my life that have confirmed the faith I was born into. When I received Communion for the first time. When I first met my wife. When I made my first Confession in 20 years. When I saw my sons leaving their mother's body into the world. When I decided to stop drinking, literally in mid-slug. When my cancer-afflicted mother asked for my prayers...and her doctors still can't fully explain her recovery.

In each of these experiences, God was with me. Period.

I can't prove it. I can't explain it. But like Ellie, everything that I know as a human being, everything that I am tells me that it was real. Thank you God, for Your Presence today and everyday, for believers and non-believers.


Daily Mass Readings
Galatians 3:7-14
Psalm 111:1-6
Luke 11:15-26

Monday, October 4, 2010

Fool for God


Today is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, patron of the Franciscan Family, ecology, animals...and plain old fools like me.

- Brother Francis renounced a life of wealth and privilege in favor of strict poverty
- Brother Francis embraced a terrifying Wolf at Gubbio.
- Brother Francis kissed the hands of a Leper.
- Brother Francis stripped naked in front of his bishop and his community, to be closer to his Lady Poverty.
- Brother Francis often preached to his sister birds.
- Brother Francis on his deathbed thanked his donkey for carrying him throughout his ministry. The donkey is said to have wept at his passing

My Brother also literally and figuratively built up the Church and founded a great religious order of men and women who follow his path to Christ even today. My Brother also received the Stigmata. He has inspired millions with his simple way of following Christ. He embraced all of God's Creation as his own family.

My Little Brother Francis was a Fool. May I one day be as foolish as he!

Brother Francis, let me truly follow your Path to Our Lord Jesus Christ, and to serve Him with great humility!

Amen

Memorial of St. Francis of Assisi
Daily Mass Readings
Galatians 1:6-12
Psalm 111:1-2,7-10
Luke 10:25-37

Monday, September 27, 2010

Finding our Strengths

During the past year, our parish has been encouraging all members who wish to be involved in ministry to take the Clifton StrengthsFinder, a tool released by Gallup that rates you on 34 different themes, based on around 180 questions. The questions are timed so you have to go pretty much with your gut instinct. The poll is geared towards finding your strengths to better direct the types on ministry you ought to pursue. The top 5 themes are your most dominant strengths.

The results are more individualized than you'd think. The odds of someone having the same top 5 strengths in any order as you have are 1 in 250,000. The odds of someone having the same 5 strengths in the same order of dominance as you are 1 in 33 million. This surprised me!

Here are my top 5 Strengths...and it is accurate, particularly the first one:

Communication
You like to explain, to describe, to host, to speak in public, and to write. This is your Communication theme at work. Ideas are a dry beginning. Events are static. You feel a need to bring them to life, to energize them, to make them exciting and vivid. And so you turn events into stories and practice telling them. You take the dry idea and enliven it with images and examples and metaphors. You believe that most people have a very short attention span. They are bombarded by information, but very little of it survives. You want your information—whether an idea, an event, a product’s features and benefits, a discovery, or a lesson—to survive. You want to divert their attention toward you and then capture it, lock it in. This is what drives your hunt for the perfect phrase. This is what draws you toward dramatic words and powerful word combinations. This is why people like to listen to you. Your word pictures pique their interest, sharpen their world, and inspire them to act.


Empathy
You can sense the emotions of those around you. You can feel what they are feeling as though their feelings are your own. Intuitively, you are able to see the world through their eyes and share their perspective. You do not necessarily agree with each person’s perspective. You do not necessarily feel pity for each person’s predicament—this would be sympathy, not Empathy. You do not necessarily condone the choices each person makes, but you do understand. This instinctive ability to understand is powerful. You hear the unvoiced questions. You anticipate the need. Where others grapple for words, you seem to find the right words and the right tone. You help people find the right phrases to express their feelings—to themselves as well as to others. You help them give voice to their emotional life. For all these reasons other people are drawn to you.


Connectedness
Things happen for a reason. You are sure of it. You are sure of it because in your soul you know that we are all connected. Yes, we are individuals, responsible for our own judgments and in possession of our own free will, but nonetheless we are part of something larger. Some may call it the collective unconscious. Others may label it spirit or life force. But whatever your word of choice, you gain confidence from knowing that we are not isolated from one another or from the earth and the life on it. This feeling of Connectedness implies certain responsibilities. If we are all part of a larger picture, then we must not harm others because we will be harming ourselves. We must not exploit because we will be exploiting ourselves. Your awareness of these responsibilities creates your value system. You are considerate, caring, and accepting. Certain of the unity of humankind, you are a bridge builder for people of different cultures. Sensitive to the invisible hand, you can give others comfort that there is a purpose beyond our humdrum lives. The exact articles of your faith will depend on your upbringing and your culture, but your faith is strong. It sustains you and your close friends in the face of life’s mysteries.


Input
You are inquisitive. You collect things. You might collect information—words, facts, books, and quotations—or you might collect tangible objects such as butterflies, baseball cards, porcelain dolls, or sepia photographs. Whatever you collect, you collect it because it interests you. And yours is the kind of mind that finds so many things interesting. The world is exciting precisely because of its infinite variety and complexity. If you read a great deal, it is not necessarily to refine your theories but, rather, to add more information to your archives. If you like to travel, it is because each new location offers novel artifacts and facts. These can be acquired and then stored away. Why are they worth storing? At the time of storing it is often hard to say exactly when or why you might need them, but who knows when they might become useful? With all those possible uses in mind, you really don’t feel comfortable throwing anything away. So you keep acquiring and compiling and filing stuff away. It’s interesting. It keeps your mind fresh. And perhaps one day some of it will prove valuable.


Adaptability
You live in the moment. You don’t see the future as a fixed destination. Instead, you see it as a place that you create out of the choices that you make right now. And so you discover your future one choice at a time. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have plans. You probably do. But this theme of Adaptability does enable you to respond willingly to the demands of the moment even if they pull you away from your plans. Unlike some, you don’t resent sudden requests or unforeseen detours. You expect them. They are inevitable. Indeed, on some level you actually look forward to them. You are, at heart, a very flexible person who can stay productive when the demands of work are pulling you in many different directions at once.


If you're interested in discovering your top five themes, visit http://www.strengthsfinder.com. You'll need an access code to take the poll, which can be found in a number of publications. The one I purchased through my parish was
LIVING YOUR STRENGTHS: DISCOVER YOUR GOD-GIVEN TALENTS AND INSPIRE YOUR COMMUNITY (CATHOLIC EDITION). It is worth the price/donation of the book (I donated $10 to my parish for the book). Be warned that every book's code that can only be used once; do not purchase a used book for this purpose!

Memorial of St. Vincent de Paul
Daily Mass Readings
Job 1:6-22
Psalm 17:1-3,6-7
Luke 9:46-50

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Virginia executes first woman in a century

From CNN
Teresa Lewis, called the mastermind in the murder-for-hire deaths of her husband and stepson, was executed Thursday night, Virginia Department of Corrections officials said.

Lewis, who was given a lethal injection, was pronounced dead at 9:13 p.m. ET at Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt.

Death penalty opponents argued that Lewis, a 41-year-old grandmother, should not have died for a 2002 conspiracy that spared two triggermen a capital sentence. Instead they got life without parole...Lewis and her lawyers argued to the governor that she had an IQ that was borderline mentally retarded and that she was manipulated into committing the crimes by a dominant male co-defendant. She pleaded guilty to her participation in the murders but later regretted her actions, they said."

The actual triggermen, one of whom admitted targeting and manipulating Lewis to commit the crime (he subsequently committed suicide), were given life without parole. Lewis was called the "mastermind" of the plot, despite having an IQ that borderlined mental retardation, and as such her clemency pleas were rejected by the Governor and the Supreme Court.

It was right that Teresa Lewis was punished...but did she deserve death, especially if the triggermen did not??? The Holy Father Benedict XVI has come out strongly against the death penalty, as did his predecessor Venerable John Paul II. Where was the condemnation on behalf of Ms. Lewis by the US Bishops, who constantly remind us of the dignity of life "from conception to natural death"? Where were Priests for Life, Missionaries for the Gospel of Life, or any other Catholic organizations that work tirelessly against abortion and euthanasia, but are rarely seen speaking up for those executed by the state? To be fair, Priests for Life does have a page on its site dedicated to the abolition of the death penalty (the last news item on that page however, is PFL calling for a halt to Timothy McVeigh's execution in April of 2001.)

Building a culture of life means all life, not just the lives we think have worth. To quote Sister Helen Prejean:
"The profound moral question is not, 'Do they deserve to die?' but 'Do we deserve to kill them?'"


And from Romans 12:
"Vengeance is MINE, says the Lord. I will repay"


May God have mercy on the soul of Teresa Lewis...and on all of us.

Daily Mass Readings
Ecclesiastes 11:9-12:8
Psalm 90:3-6,12-14,17
Luke 9:43-45

Friday, September 17, 2010

Who am I, really?


I was just thinking today about my former spiritual director, Father Jim. I met him a few years ago when I was discerning the diaconate; all inquirers were mandated to begin spiritual direction. After a year of sessions with Father, it became clear that I wasn't supposed to be a deacon (at least not in the near future). However, I continued the sessions with Father Jim because he challenged where I was going with my faith, where I was going as a writer, and most importantly where I was going as a husband and father. Jim became more than a spiritual director, he became my friend and confidante; what the Irish call Anam Cara or soul friend. He moved to a parish out east and we sort of lost touch (really ought to call him).

Fr. Jim once presented me with a small framed quote; it said simply REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE. He asked me to take it home and consider its meaning, and that we'd discuss it during our next session.

OK, so...Who am I, and why do I have to remember? I figured it would be relatively easy to come up with the right answer, doll it all up in spiritual "lingo" and present it for Fr. Jim. In fact, it was MORE than easy. I wrote a whole essay on who I was, who I saw myself to be, where I was going, etc. I was a little stuck on the whole "remembering" thing, but hell, how could I forget who I was? I had a couple of pages worth!

I went down the list with Fr. Jim the following month.

I'm a husband!
I'm a dad!
I'm a brother!
I'm a son!
I'm a friend!
I'm a religion teacher!
I'm a banker!

I went through this little exercise with confidence, embellishing each title with how important each was to myself and the people I touched.

He listened, smiling has he did so, nodding throughout. Then he broke the news,

"Tom, all those things are true. But they are not who you truly are. There is something you are that you've forgotten, in fact most of us have forgotten. It is something you have always been, something you were before you were born, something you are now, something you will always be."

I waited, puzzled...and a little hurt that I had obviously failed my assignment.

"What you need to remember...before everything, during everything, and after everything...You are the Beloved of God."

OK, so let's just break this down. When I goof off at work, I am Beloved of God? When I yell at my kids I am Beloved of God? When I enjoy some gossip about someone who doesn't deserve it, I am Beloved of God? He could love me in the rain, he could love me on the...Oh, I could go on with all of this, and the answer will be the same; Yes.

God's love for me and indeed all of us is profound as the Father's love for the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). The son screws up...big time. He squanders his inheritance (indeed in 1st century Judea, it was an insult of the highest order to request your inheritance before your father's passing) going to prostitutes, and money lenders until he winds up as a penniless working on a pig farm (another big time no-no for a Jew). He decides to go home, and beg his Father to let him stay on as a servant.

However, the son is his Father's Beloved. The Father sees him from far off...and bounds off the porch to meet him with a tender embrace. The son took a step towards his Father...and his Father rushed to meet him.

I am Beloved of God. I pretty much have not forgotten since then. Thank you Father Jim for helping me to Remember.

Feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis
Daily Mass Readings
1 Corinthians 15:12-20
Psalm 17:1,6-8,15
Luke 8:1-3

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

On the EASE of Writing

Ah yes, the blog. The Lazy Man's Novel.

I've had the desire to write something a bit longer than a blog entry for awhile. I've written a few short stories, tried (and failed) to consolidate a couple of decades worth of journals into publishable form. I can say without exception, these 18 Easy Steps to Becoming a Writer is something I've gone through in each an every instance I've made an attempt. From WRITERS DIGEST:

Step One: Decide you're going to write a story.

Step Two: Decide it's going to be brilliant. Imagine the response of your [teacher, classmates, reading group, agent] and how it will completely change the way they look at you.

Step Three: Open up Microsoft Word.

Step Four: Stare at the blank white screen stretching on into infinity until your eyes begin to burn and your brain hurts from the sheer emptiness of it all.

Step Five: Check your e-mail. If writing a novel, research agents for a couple of hours.

Step Six: Stare at the blank Word document again.

Step Seven: Realize you need music. Spend the next hour finding the perfect "mood" music for what you want to write.

Step Eight: Inspired by [insert perfect music here], click back over to Word document.

Step Nine: Change Facebook status to: [Your name here] is WRITING!!! Realize you aren't on Twitter, and that anyone who is anyone is networking/wasting time on Twitter. Sign up for an account and spend the next two hours figuring out how it works and what the crap # means.

Step Ten: Stare at blank Word document. Decide you need a title. Brainstorm for the next hour.

Step Eleven: Come up with a GENIUS title. Proudly type "The Scent of Green Papayas" at the top of the document, followed by your name. Happily consider how easily a story will come now that you have such an amazing, literary title.

Step Twelve: Take a four-hour break for snacks and naptime.

Step Thirteen: Refreshed, sit down and toy around with pen names for a while.

Step Fourteen: Realize to your horror that your genius title is actually the name of a Vietnamese foreign film you saw seven years ago.

Step Fifteen: Erase the title, pressing Backspace much harder than necessary.

Step Sixteen: Stare at the blank Word document until your eyes bleed.

Step Seventeen: Check Facebook. See that fourteen people have commented on your status, asking what you are writing. Feel both guilty and annoyed.

Step Eighteen: Slam your laptop shut and go to the movies. Tomorrow's a better day for writing, anyhow.

See? You never knew writing was so easy!

I'll get there one of these days.

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
Daily Mass Readings
Numbers 21:4-9
Psalm 78:1,2,34-38
Philippians 2:6-11
John 3:13-17

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Prophet Jeremiah and worn-out shoes


Today I began reading THE CLOISTER WALK by Kathleen Norris. Ms. Norris, a Benedictine Oblate (click here for details on oblates), chronicles her time in a Benedictine Abbey and her journey toward oblation. Although I've only just begun, this journal/meditation is a page-turner.

I was particularly shocked out of my reading by Ms. Norris' account of the monks collectively reading lectio continua; reading entire books of the Bible at once rather than the piecemeal chapter and verse we're used to; this preserves the continuity of the author and captures the poetic/oral tradition that animates the Benedictine charism.

The monks were listening to the Book of Jeremiah. The prophet states in chapter 2 verse 25, "Stop wearing out your shoes." Like being shocked by that cool sweet water from Smallwood Falls, I was awake. Ms Norris goes on to comment:
"This was something the crusty desert father might have said to a recalcitrant young monk who thought some other monastery might suit him better...In a society that has become alarmingly mobile, where retreats and spirituality workshops have become such a hot consumer item, one wonders if seeking the holy has become an end in itself." (pg 34)

I immediately thought of the off-ramps my own spiritual path has taken here and there over the years, but especially recently. What am I looking for...really...when I say I wish to understand God as others (non-Christians) understand God? I mean, I've been down this road before many times, but always feeling guilty, always haphazardly, without a map, without a home base, and without a good pair of shoes. As long as I can remember, I looked into alternate spiritualities like Buddhism, Judaism and (gasp!) Paganism, with the idea I was doing something wrong, something exotic, something dangerous. After scratching the surface (read a book or 2, haunt a few message boards) and finding real people, with real beliefs, real faith, and yes, real problems, I'd become disillusioned. Then I'd retreat to safe, Catholic Christianity until I felt like being "bad" again.

Seeking the holy has indeed become the end and thus far it's left me cold.

Perhaps if I truly engage these faiths and the people who practice them, I will do better. Perhaps seeking the holy needs to be the means rather than the end. Perhaps - without the inner pretense of being "exotic" - and from my own lens as a faithful Catholic, I can actually see something worth seeing and learn something worth learning. Ecumenism isn't be about ditching your date for the tantalizing girl and her man who just sauntered into the hall; you dance with the one who brung ya (and Christ Crucified certainly 'brung' me!). However, we certainly can all sit down at table between dances and talk about who we are and how we got here. As Brothers and Sisters.

Thank you Jeremiah!

Daily Mass Readings
Micah 5:1-4
Psalm 13:6a-c
Matthew 1:1-16,18-23

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Waterfalls and boulders

Sometimes even a routine weekend can surprise.

We were up at my in-laws summer house outside of Monticello, NY, in a hamlet called Smallwood. Going up to the "country house" is sort of fall-back position for us on summer weekends. It's not that we don't have a good time up there - we do. When we're not working with Lori's dad on this or that construction project (the man has done wonders with what had been a dilapidated cabin 12 years ago), we can go swimming in the lake or the pool, cruise the dozens of flea markets great and small. On a number of occasions, we've visited the Museum at the Bethel Center for the Arts (site of the original Woodstock festival...peace, man!)

Sometimes it all starts to taste like chicken after awhile if you know what I mean.

This past weekend had been a little strained. My in laws had taken the boys up on Thursday, and Lori and I followed after I left work on Friday. Additionally, Lori's cousins cameup with their three daughters, all loud and full of fizz as all kids under 10 are, but the crowding wasn't it. Everyone, including me, just seemed to be surly; snapping at each other rather than enjoying the holiday weekend.

As I was packing to get the heck out of there on Monday, Lori's mom said she was taking the boys for a walk near the lake; one of the neighbors was going to show them where the "Smallwood Falls" was located. Now, we'd been coming up to Smallwood since 1997 when my in laws bought the cabin. I thought I'd seen all that was worth seeing. We'd heard the neighbors mention "the falls" here and there; I expected they were talking about some stagnant little man-made stream that generally trickled in a downward direction. I even thought I knew the stream they were talking about, and I mentally scoffed at every mention of the mighty "falls".

So the boys were going to see the falls, huh? Good for them, I thought, and continued packing, more than a bit anxious to leave this weekend behind.

About a half hour later, Lori's mom called on the cell. She sounded very lighthearted and said that Lori and I just HAD to come down. She did not elaborate beyond the directions (although we had to call back 2 or 3 times to clarify said directions...not Ma's strong point).

We finally pulled up to our destination. After getting out of the van, the first thing I heard was the water. Not the steady trickle of a stagnant stream. No this was the constant bubbling and rumbling of water over rock. A lot of both. Lori and I walked to a clearing in the woods where Ma stood. She smiled as we walked past her. There under the canopy of the maples and evergreens was...Smallwood Falls.

There were dozens of huge, almost neolithic looking boulders, festooned with bright-green moss. No direct sunlight penetrated; we were enveloped by midday shade. It was cool enough that none of the stinging and biting flies made their usual nuisance. The rapidly running (and surprisingly clean and clear) water rushed over three shelves of the aforementioned boulders. I saw my children on the second level of the Falls, fascinated and excitedly intent on what there were doing; James was attempting a little dam made of leaves at a narrow point. Patrick was sailing twig after twig into the rapids and watching the rough-tumble course of each as they shot through the current. My hearts swelled with love and pride as I watched them.

Lori settled down on a boulder and gazed over the scene. I walked up, past the third level to the side of the rushing stream. The ground beneath my feet had a bit of give; layers upon layers of leaves and pine needles. There was a slight crunch to each step. I also noticed the sound quality was...different is the only way I could put it. At one point the water would almost deafen, a couple of yards away from the bank and there was a strange echo. There was something larger than me here...and yet I...we...were all a part of it.

On impulse, I rushed to the bank near one of the ledges of the Falls. The water, incredibly clear, looked inviting. I got down on my knees and cupped my hands under the torrent. I was SO cool, so clear! I washed my hands clean, and splashed the water onto my face...Bliss! Cupping my hands under this natural faucet, I gulped down a miracle-tinged swallow of the water and was satisfied. I was at peace. And the toxins of the weekend left me.

We left, bound for home later that day. Weekend salvaged! I'll try to get some pics up soon!

Sister Water, Brothers Rock and Tree, thank you for your presence.

Amen.

Daily Mass Readings
1 Corinthians 6:1-11
Psalm 149:1-6,9
Luke 6:12-19

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

9 Years


Nine revolutions around the sun since I put the cork in the bottle. I am extremely grateful today for all the people in my life and my God who made this possible in the first place!

I'm celebrating in my own way...relaxing in the den with some peach sorbet. I don't think I'm getting complacent in my sobriety, but each year, I get less and less surprised to be celebrating another one. I guess I ought to be grateful for that most of all; that sobriety is a matter of course and a way of life rather than something to continually sweat through.

As I've already posted today's Mass readings, I will instead post the very well-known (but officially untitled) poem by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, commonly called the "Serenity Prayer". This is the full version:

God, grant us the...
Serenity to accept things we cannot change,
Courage to change the things we can, and the
Wisdom to know the difference
Patience for the things that take time
Appreciation for all that we have, and
Tolerance for those with different struggles
Freedom to live beyond the limitations of our past ways, the
Ability to feel your love for us and our love for each other and the
Strength to get up and try again even when we feel it is hopeless


A Hale and Hearty Amen!

On Retreat in Alvernia

I spent the day at a Franciscan Retreat house called Alvernia in Centerport Long Island for a day of reflection last year. The theme was Praying Always and All Ways. This has been playing over and over in my mind, especially recently (see my previous post)

One segment of the retreat was praying in nature. As Alvernia sits directly on the water in Centerport, surrounded by myriad flora and fauna, this was appropriate. St. Francis reminds us that all creatures and forces are our Brothers and Sisters; Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Fire, Sister Water, Mother Earth, Sister Death. I began and and ended this segment's journey deep in a thicket of bamboo about 20yards from the front door of the retreat house - it may as well been 20 miles.

I wrote the following poem in the midst of this experience:

My Bamboo Temple,
Walls 30 feet and and twice as wide.
In it, I sit and prepare for my journey with and to You.
Our Swan, majestic and swift, flies in low,
How can such a thing be, to sustain such grace in flight?
I walk on our beach to your shore.
Your pebbles, rocks and silt suck gently at my feet,
Embracing them as your own, like a lover's deep kiss.
Dozens of geometrically perfect, wet-clear jellyfish lie at your water's edge.
They have chosen this place to die.
I remain in You as You remain in me.

Return to my Temple to phase back into...and out of...the World.


Amen

Daily Mass Readings
1 Corinthians 2:10-16
Psalm 145:8-14
Luke 4:31-37

Monday, August 30, 2010

Humility...and coming clean

The Mass readings yesterday emphasized humility. The Book of Sirach, Chapter 3 proclaims "What is too sublime for you seek not, into things beyond your strength, search not." Yesterday's Gospel exhorts us to seek the lowest place when invited (Luke 14).

I guess I ought to come clean - I can't say that I'm currently striving to be humble, at least in light of these readings. To be truthful, things do go a bit deeper than that.

I look for the sublime, the unknown to be made known. I've been attracted to the face of the Divine since I was a toddler. Recently this curiosity has extended beyond what is known to me through the lens of Catholic teaching. To be sure, I've gained a minimal understanding of God within the context of the Church over the years. This is becoming less and less...acceptable to me over the years, I guess one would say. It simply doesn't feel to be "enough". There's a huge world out there, billions of people with thousands of different ideas of what constitutes Deity. Are the majority of the people in the world, AKA non-Christians, wrong? If so, what does an all-loving God do with these deluded folks? Or maybe, do they have insights into the Divine that I simply haven't even considered?

Now, I suspect at least a couple of my relatively few readers will think this pluralistic view smacks of "the dictatorship of relativism" the future Pope Benedict XVI spoke of before the last conclave. Or perhaps that I've made this "all about me" and my feelings about God. Maybe I am just getting cold feet as I get closer to my profession. I suppose any/all that could be true. However, I can say that this specific struggle has been with me for quite some time. I've done a good deal of praying about it over the months, and really ought to sit down with my spiritual director for an overdue heart-to-heart.

This blog IS supposed to be about the angels I wrestle with, the potential stumbling blocks as I find my way along whatever this is that constitutes my spiritual path. Wanting to learn in depth about how other cultures and religions view and pay homage to Deity certainly qualifies. I will not de-emphasize or attempt to minimize this longing any further. St. Augustine tells us "Our hearts are restless until they rest in You." My heart is restless, and I won't pretend it isn't (at least not anymore).

I hope you'll continue to read in light of this little bloggish twist. Any prayers you'd like to throw my way would be appreciated.

Pax,
Thomas

Daily Mass Readings
1 Corinthians 2:1-5
Psalm 119:97-102
Luke 4:16-30

Monday, August 23, 2010

The St. Francis Pledge


I would urge anyone who is serious about being good stewards to our planet - Catholic or not - to consider taking the St. Francis Pledge as laid out by the folks at Catholic Climate Covenant. Costs you nothing monetarily, but it does require you to do the following:
- PRAY and reflect on the duty to care for God’s Creation and protect the poor and vulnerable.

- LEARN about and educate others on the causes and moral dimensions of climate change.

- ASSESS how we-as individuals and in our families, parishes and other affiliations-contribute to climate change by our own energy use, consumption, waste, etc.

- ACT to change our choices and behaviors to reduce the ways we contribute to climate change.

- ADVOCATE for Catholic principles and priorities in climate change discussions and decisions, especially as they impact those who are poor and vulnerable.
So we pray about our duty to creation, learn and educate others, assess our lifestyles and make appropriate changes to lessen the suffering of the poor. Goes beyond making a simple donation, but it actually involves us in affecting change; when you get right down to it, the most important and meaningful change we can make is within ourselves and how we live our own lives.

Please consider taking the Pledge!

Peace & All Good,
Thomas

Daily Mass Readings
2 Thessalonians 1:1-5,11-12
Psalm 96:1-5
Matthew 23:13-22

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Catholic Church "jumps on the green bandwagon?"


Thanks goes to Deacon Keith Fournier of Catholic Online:

The Catholic Church has been green for a lot longer than any modern environmental movement

On January 1, 2010 Pope Benedict XVI released a letter entitled "If You Want to Cultivate Peace, protect creation". Some reports intimated that the Pope had somehow "joined" the environmental movement. In fact, he was simply teaching what the Church has always taught; a proper stewardship of the environment is grounded in our obligations to - and solidarity with - one another. We have been given to one another as gifts. Creation has been given to us as a human community, with responsibilities which we must now share. I sent the following excerpt from the letter to a few friends:

"There exists a certain reciprocity: as we care for creation, we realize that God, through creation, cares for us. On the other hand, a correct understanding of the relationship between man and the environment will not end by absolutizing nature or by considering it more important than the human person. If the Church's magisterium expresses grave misgivings about notions of the environment inspired by ecocentrism and biocentrism, it is because such notions eliminate the difference of identity and worth between the human person and other living things..."


This is an excellent article that highlights the Christian understanding of environmental stewardship, supported by the Holy Father's words. We are called to care for creation as it has been entrusted to us. The land, the seas, the mountains, the forests, the air, and all living things that dwell within each depend on us. A good thing to remember on this, St. Clare of Assisi's Feast Day.

Memorial of St. Clare
Daily Mass Readings,
Ezekial 9:1-7, 10:18-22
Psalm 113:1-6
Matthew 18:15-20

Monday, August 9, 2010

Our Brother's Keeper


It's funny...Haiti's devastating earthquake rarely makes the news anymore. The country is just as leveled, her people just as impoverished, her basics for living still virtually nonexistent. But now that the "sexiness" of the actual devastation has passed ('if it bleeds, it leads'), the media has all but dismissed this as old news.

Who will provide the materials for the people of Haiti to get back on their feet? With such devastation as this, where can you even begin???

The Knights of Columbus have pledged to provide every child in Haiti who lost a limb in the earthquake with prosthetics and physical therapy. The Supreme Council is has already provided over 1,000 wheelchairs, with plans for at least a thousand more.
The Board of Directors of the Knights of Columbus approved a resolution last weekend that commits the organization to providing prosthetic limbs and therapy over the next two years for all the approximately 800 children who lost an arm or leg in the earthquake. The estimated cost of providing the prosthetic limbs and therapy is $1 million.

No, this certainly doesn't solve the devastating situation Haiti is currently in. But to provide these essentials - the basic freedom of movement - is enormous. We, all of us, are our brother's keeper.

Things like this make me truly proud to be a Knight of Columbus; the main reason I joined in the first place.

Daily Mass Readings
Ezekial 1:2-5,24-28
Psalm 148:1,2,11-14
Matthew 17:22-27

Friday, July 30, 2010

Anne Rice leaving the Church again...or is she?


Anne Rice, the author of the popular VAMPIRE CHRONICLES series as well as her current (and excellent) CHRIST THE LORD series, has announced she is "leaving Christianity". This was surprising to me, especially in light of her much-publicized return to the Catholic Church after decades of atheism.

From CNN
"For those who care, and I understand if you don't: Today I quit being a Christian ... It's simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I've tried. I've failed. I'm an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else."


The next day she clarified with the following:
"My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn't understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me...But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been or might become."


Being a revert to the faith, I certainly can empathize with her struggles - she seems a bit torn, in my opinion. And it certainly would be a shame if she did not continue the CHRIST THE LORD series; her portrayal of Jesus of Nazareth and 1st century Judea is just astounding. I had been looking forward to her 2008 book which documented her return to the Church, CALLED OUT OF DARKNESS: A SPIRITUAL CONFESSION. I'm wondering what the read will be like in light of Ms. Rice's current spiritual struggles.

I can't pretend to know her thinking and reasons for leaving Christianity (although she remains a follower of Jesus). I can only continue to admire her writing, and to pray she finds her spiritual home, wherever that might turn out to be. God speed, Anne.


Daily Mass Readings
Jeremiah 26:1-9
Psalm 69:5,8-10,14
Matthew 13:54-58

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Review of THE SHACK, by Wm. Paul Young


"Forgiveness isn't about forgetting...it is about letting go of another person's throat." - Papa


THE SHACK is a tome about the forgiveness and redemption of Mackenzie Allen Phillips, a father whose 6 year old daughter was abducted from a campsite and presumed dead. This causes a "Great Sadness" in Mack, which he struggles with for four years. He finally receives a cryptic note - apparently from God - inviting him for a weekend-long meeting. The meeting will take place at the shack...the same shack where Missy's bloodied dress was found four years ago.

I found this book to be striking, and not for my usual reasons.

To start with, I wasn't particularly fond of Mr. Young's writing style. I was jolted out of the story numerous times by Mack's squeaky-clean exclamations a la "Oh boys", "Wows", "Whoas" ( I half expected a 'gee-willerkers' in there). I've probably read too many Stephen King books, because I would have expected cursing instead. Some/most of the other characters (the mortal ones, anyway) are 2 dimensional at best. This bothered me at first - I enjoy understanding and getting into the mind of the characters, see what makes them tick. As I read, I realized that they were not really integral to the plot. This was Mack's story, from Mack's perspective. The entire book is either heading to or coming from the weekend meeting with God at the Shack. The rest of the cast are essentially placeholders to this end.

Also, there was an level of "preaching" in places where it was not needed. The redemptive nature story stands on its own merit. You could almost put "Author's note" in these places, again jolting me out of the story.

As a father, I was mightily disturbed by the disappearance of Missy. It was powerful. As we are following Mack's account (second-hand through his friend Willie), we don't see the abduction, we don't learn any details of what happened to her. We do share Mack's transition from unease, to concern to full blown panic to resignation and the ultimate despair as the search party finding his Missy's blood-soaked dress - but not Missy - at the Shack of the title.

Mack does meet with God- unlike any God I've ever imagined before, yet completely recognizable in a Christian context. I won't give it away, but there's no trace of the blond blue-eyed Christ we're all used to in Western art and literature.

I guess what intrigued me most about this yarn is that Mack's struggles and questions with God, his "wrestling with angels", mirror my own in many aspects. Particularly insightful was God's explantion of why suffering occurs; I'd never really seen the free-will argument in fiction before...especially set up as an actual argument!

In the end this book is essentially a parable about redemption, acceptance, closure, love, and trust in God. A message our world sorely needs these days.

Memorial of St. Joachim and St. Anne
Daily Mass Readings
Jeremiah 13:1-11
Deuteronomy 32:18-21
Matthew 13:31-35

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Poverty in this world

"We spend money we don't have on things we don't need to create impressions that won't last on people we don't care about." – Tim Jackson, Prof. Of Sustainable Development, University of Surrey

Professor Jackson certainly has our culture pegged.

I am a product of this culture as much as anyone; being a Franciscan certainly doesn't make me immune to the thrill of excess. I want that new car, the dormer on my house, the prestigious job, more money in the bank to do with what I choose, more ridiculously rich food to shovel down my throat. We're all susceptible to clever advertising, telling us all those things we MUST have..."RIGHT NOW! FOR ONLY 47 EASY PAYMENTS OF $19.99...but WAIT! There's STILL more!!!!"

Part of the Franciscan charism is living in the spirit of evangelical poverty. I had a problem with that when I started my inquiry into the Secular Franciscan Order. Was I supposed to sell my home, live with my family in a tent with sackcloth and ashes, giving every scrap of money or food I was coming across to people who were poor through no choice of their own? No, of course not. The spirit of evangelical poverty does not forbid ownership of goods; it does not frown upon the well-to-do or wealthy either, I was surprised to learn. True evangelical poverty teaches us gratitude, to use goods without being "owned" by them. Poverty reminds us that we are merely temporary stewards of this world, and if we are lucky enough to live comfortably, we ought to share joyfully and without complaint. We must be so grateful for what we have that we can't help but share it with those who don't.

That being said, I have a long way to go. I LIKE my stuff, and I like getting more stuff, a lot of times simply for the sake of having it. And that's OK. Because it allllll about the journey.

Daily Mass Readings
Micah 2:1-5
Psalm 10:1-4,7-8,14
Matthew 12:14-21

Friday, July 9, 2010

Is this bad timing or it it me???

Revised Vatican norms to cover sex abuse, attempted women's ordination
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican is preparing to update the 2001 norms that deal with priestly sex abuse of minors, in effect codifying practices that have been in place for several years.

At the same time, it will include the "attempted ordination of women" among the list of most serious crimes against church law, or "delicta graviora," sources said...

OK...I understand - if not completely agree with - the Church teaching on the ordination of women. But to equate the seriousness of instances of "attempted" women's ordination with the sexual molestation of children by clergy and religious; I don't know, but does this seem out of whack to anyone else? Women who wish to serve in persona Christi, who feel called to serve so strongly that they seek out ordination. This call to serve (legitimate or not) is a serious crime, "delicta graviora", on the same level as sexual predation of children and mentally impaired adult who cannot defend themselves, by priests?

Really???

And to roll this announcement in with new codification for clerical sexual abuse penalties...bad PR to say the least. The Vatican wants to show the Church and the rest of the world that they are taking action on the abuse scandals. WHY would they roll this classification of women's' ordination in the same announcement, all but guaranteeing to overshadow the action on child abuse??? I don't know, it's as if our bishops are adamant about shooting themselves in their collective feet.

Christ have mercy.

Daily Mass Readings
Hosea 14:2-10
Psalm 51:3-4,8-9,12-14,17
Matthew 10:16-23

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A new field


“Sow for yourselves justice, reap the fruit of piety;
Break up for yourselves a new field, for it is time to seek the Lord,
Till He come and rain down justice upon you.”
-Hosea 10

Sometimes when I pray with the daily Mass readings, a verse will strike me. Usually it's a Gospel reading; I'm pretty much a New Testament man. However this time it was Hosea. Break up for ourselves a new field...I've heard many metaphors for starting a new habit, beginning a new course of action, etc. But preparing a stony field to bear fruit is something I'd not considered before.

I'm not really a farmer/gardener...pretty much born with a black thumb. From what I understand, ground that has not been used for farming before needs to go through many processes before it will bear fruit. It takes hard grunt work, like breaking up the ground. It takes proper composting (usually with scraps and castoffs of previous fruits and veggies). It takes precise watering. It takes care. It takes time. And most of all it takes patience before the fruits of our labors are realized. Then the seasons change and we must begin all over again.

It's not enough to break ground, however. We must labor in the fields before the harvest comes in.

Dear Jesus, give us courage to break new ground, the patience to tend the fruits of our labors for our betterment and the betterment of our world, and the perseverance to continue this always. Help us recognize the worth of everything from past harvests that we may "compost" for the future.

Amen.

Daily Mass Readings
Hosea 10:1-3,7-8,12
Psalm 105:2-7
Matthew 10:1-7

Monday, June 28, 2010

The SACRAMENT of Marriage


Too often, we married couples forget that our marriages are Sacraments and Vocations - a way of living our lives to better understand God, who is Love. We are called to this Sacrament every bit as much as priest or religious is called to their respective vocations. We forget this in the midst of vacuuming, fumbling with the remote, trying to get the car fixed, balancing bills into what we need vs. what we want. We forget in the midst of doctor visits, soccer games, meetings, arguments, hilarious comedies, and heart-wrenching tragedy, that God is with us in a very real sense - again, every bit as much as He is present in ordained or consecrated life.

Valerie Shultz, a blogger for AMERICA magazine, weaves this idea of modern marriage as a Sacrament and invitation to God to be in our lives in a real tangible sense into the following article. It was written in 2002, in the context of Pope John Paul II's beatification of a married couple who became celibate after they had their children. Ms. Shultz rightly asks why this was made so prominent in their cause for beatification:

GOD IN THE TANGLED SHEETS

My marriage is not what saints are made of. I concluded this after reading Pope John Paul II’s homily on the occasion of the first-ever beatification of a married couple, Luigi and Maria Beltrame Quattrocchi. Maria and Luigi, an Italian couple who lived in early to mid-20th century, led holy lives. They attended daily Mass, prayed a nightly rosary and raised two priests, a consecrated lay woman and a nun. They devoted their lives to various Catholic organizations. Because the cause for canonization treated the two together, a single miracle attributed to their intercession cleared the way for beatification in October 2001. The prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints considered them together because of “their experience of sanctity, lived together so intimately.” In other words, their marriage made it impossible to separate them.

The part that remains off the record is that, after giving birth to their children, Maria and Luigi stopped having sex....But if marriage is a source of sacramental grace, why are we as a church so uncomfortable about sex?When two people who chose celibacy as a way of becoming closer to God are beatified as a married couple, the message to us married people is mixed. Because we are the ones who are supposed to be having sex! We are allowed and encouraged to have sex. We are the celebration of sex. All of those shoes and backpacks in a pile in my front hall belong to the embodiments of sex. I’m taking a Catholic stand when I say that sex is good.

Of course I am not talking about casual, sporting, movie sex. I’m talking about married sex: user-friendly, loving, unitive, procreative—and also, to be honest, hot, satisfying and the most fun of all earthly pleasures. Married sex may not always be glamorous and candle-lit. But intercourse is the closest one can be to another human being. It is a bond, a sharing, a trust, a deeply intimate human encounter. It is no wonder that the relationship of Christ to the church is modeled on that of a groom and bride: we are to be that connected.

The pope sees the Beltrames as “confirmation that the path of holiness lived together as a couple is possible, beautiful, extraordinarily fruitful, and fundamental for the good of the family, the church and society.” As my children say: totally. We married people are on the path of holiness as surely as anyone else who is following the call of a vocation. While I respect the choice the Beltrames made on their journey to God, I do not believe post-children celibacy is necessary for a marriage to become holier. God can also be in the tangled sheets and tangy sweat on skin.

Is this shocking? It should not be. We are designed for this perfect fit. For biblical proof, I offer the glowing embers from the Song of Songs.

Says the bride:

“Awake, north wind, and come,
south wind;
blow upon my garden that its
perfumes may pour forth,
that my beloved may come to his
garden and enjoy its rare fruits.” (4:16)

Says the bridegroom:
“May I find your breasts like
clusters of grapes on the vine, the
scent of your breath like apricots,
and your whispers like spiced
wine flowing smoothly to we
come my caresses, gliding
down through lips and teeth.” (7:8-9)

The bride and bridegroom sing a delicious, teasing ode to sex, full of juicy and physical imagery, with which any happily married couple would agree. Sex is that good, and we thank God for this gift. Too often we Catholics treat sex as an impediment to the mission of marriage rather than a glorious manifestation and integral piece of that mission. We view sex as a necessary evil, prone to abuse and scandal, rather than a transcendent joy.

...In our house on a typical night, one may not find a rosary in use. But there are bedtime prayers and blessings, hugs and kisses, a spirit of love, the quiet world turning and maybe even the lovemaking of two searching, aging, journeying, married souls. In our house can be found the reach for what is holy—even though there are no resident saints.


And as an aside, for those of you who like a hot romance story, read more of Song of Songs; STEAMY stuff! ;)

Daily Mass Readings
Amos 2:6-10,13-16
Psalm 50:16-23
Matthew 8:18-22

Thursday, June 17, 2010

There's something in my eye...


This is a beautiful Gaelic song by Maria McCool. It will bring a lump to your throat and a tear to your eye. Is She a dream? Has She been there all along?

THANK YOU for sharing this, Mother Cait!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IfngXJMyoS4
Areir 's me tearnnamh ar neoin
Ar a' dtaobh eile 'en teora seo thios
Do thaobhnaigh an speirbhean im chomhair
Dfhaig taomanac, breote, lag tinn
...Le haon ghean da mein is da clo
Da breithre 's da beol tanai binn
Do leimeas fe dhein dul 'na treo
Is ar Eireann ni neosainn ce hi.

Oh last night in strange fields as I roamed
Such a vision I passed on my way
A young woman so fair to behold
That in seconds my heart was astray
Oh she reached out a welcoming hand
But I knew that it never could be
And before I could kiss her sweet lips
She had vanished forever from me

Amen.

Daily Mass Readings
Sirach 48:1-14
Psalm 97:1-7
Matthew 6:7-15

Friday, June 4, 2010

Rest in Peace, Brother


I went on my first "wake call" for a Hibernian Brother this evening. Ed was in an auto accident earlier this week and died of his injuries. I wasn't going to go - I didn't know Ed all that well. However, our President wanted as many members to go to the wake to represent the Division; Ed was a longtime member and active in the Order. So with an end-of-week sigh, I reluctantly got on my jacket and tie, grabbed my tri-color sash, and went to the funeral parlor.

Ancient Order of Hibernians Division 15 was out in force for our fallen Brother! There were at least 30 Hibernians there, some "fully vested" in kilt and beret, all in the tri-color sashes of Erin. Two vested Hibernians with pikes guarded Brother Ed's casket as the rest of us lined the room. Our President said some words about Ed's devotion to God and his country, how he always had a joke and or a smile for everyone as they came into the Hall. As Ken went on, I couldn't help remembering Ed the day of my Hibernian initiation. After I made my pledge, before everyone cheered and congratulated me, I heard a loud ATTA-BOY! I turned around and there was this white-haired ruddy-cheeked gentleman with a broad grin. It was Ed, and I felt welcomed into the Division from that point on.

The President then led us in prayer and one by one, we prayed for our Brother and paid our respects. I was proud to be in the company of such great men. No, I didn't know Ed all that well. He was my Brother all the same, and I owed it to him to see him off. He would have done the same for me.

Rest Easy Brother Ed - May you enter the Glory of Heaven before the Devil knows you're dead.

Daily Mass Readings
2 Timothy 3:10-17
Psalm 119:157,160,161,165,166,168
Mark 12:35-37

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Oddballs

I was just thinking about Deacon Joe, one of my Franciscan brothers I currently have the privilege of being in formation with. In one of our last meetings, Joe was musing a bit on why he loved the fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order. To paraphrase:
"It's because I'm an oddball when it come to this God business, at least in the eyes of the world. I come here because I enjoy the company of other spiritual oddballs."

I could not have said it better myself. Since I can remember, I've been something of a spiritual oddball myself. From my first CCD classes through today, I've always looked upon my relationship with God with intense awe, to be explored examined and experienced. It's not always felt like a good thing. The world frowns on such a thing. You want irony? I've intensely prayed to God to make His relationship with me LESS important, to make it easier to carry myself in day to day life; in short, praying intently to not want to pray intently. I don't have to do that anymore, as long as I have all the Church-y "weirdos" in my corner. I could be in worse company; St. Francis of Assisi himself was known as "God's Fool"!

Spiritual Oddballs of the world, UNITE!


Memorial of St Charles Lwanga and companions
Daily Mass Readings
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Psalm 25:2-5,8-10,14
Mark 12:28-34

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Remember what we are memorializing...


In the midst of our celebrations this weekend, let us not forget those who made the ultimate sacrifice to make and keep our country free. Let us not forget those who give us something to celebrate every day; falling asleep and waking up as a free people.

God Bless and keep the Men and Women of the United States Armed Forces, past and present. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!!

PEACE and all good,
Thomas

Daily Mass Readings
1 Peter 4:7-13
Psalm 96:10-13
Mark 11:11-26

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Bishop who gets it, and thoughts on the Church


Archbishop Emeritus Francis Quinn of the Diocese of Sacramento, as quoted in America Magazine:
"We should consider having a new ecumenical council with the unifying force of Peter and representatives of the entire church family, always respecting tradition and Sacred Scripture, studying more deeply the subjects of human sexuality; the healthy exercise of authority in the church; the needs of the poor and the suffering; the appropriateness of celibacy in the priesthood; the role of women in the church; the need for transparency; and the personal holiness of each one of us...The church is a living organism. Only lifeless things are static and unchanging. Well thought-out changes may be necessary at times like these. To strengthen our faith, we should take heart from the words of Carlo Caretto, who writes:

How much I must criticize you, my Church, and yet how much I love you! You have made me suffer more than anyone, and yet I owe more to you than to anyone. I should like to see you destroyed, and yet I need your presence. You have given me much scandal, my Church, and yet you alone have made me understand holiness.

Never in this world have I seen anything more compromised, more false, yet never have I touched anything more pure, more generous, or more beautiful. Countless times I have felt like leaving you, my Church; and yet every night I have prayed that I might die in your warm loving arms."



It is such a shame that bishops seem blind to this level oh insight until after they've retired. Please Lord, more Archbishop Quinns!!!

I could have written that quote from Carlo Caretto myself. It completely sums up my own wrestlings with the angels. I love my Church. Because I love it so much, I will support the views of insightful Bishops like Francis Quinn wholeheartedly, and try to not be cowed by those who think me a dissenter because of it.


Peace,
Thomas

Daily Mass Readings
1 Peter 2:2-5,9-12
Psalm 100:2-5
Mark 10:46-52

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Dreams and Destinations


I’m pretty much in a mode of acceptance at this particular time; this is what my life is, and I need to make the most of it, instead of harboring pipedreams. Now don't get me wrong - there is nothing wrong with dreaming! However, when those dreams interfere with how I progress in day-to-day life, it becomes a liability.

I still can become a writer, lose weight and get fit, get involved in the Hibernian Youth Division, Knights Special Friends, and become a bagpiper. If it is either impossible to achieve (religious brotherhood/priesthood) – or something I simply am not prepared to work towards, is dangerous for me, or would cause an inordinate amount of upheaval in my life and the people around me (bodybuilder or marathoner, the diaconate), then I simply must let it go.

Another goal I have is of course continuing my journey as a candidate/novitiate to the Secular Franciscan Order. Today I had the privilege of witnessing and participating in a Mass of Profession for Kathleen, a fellow candidate to the Order. The Mass was celebrated by Father Matthias Wesnofske OFM Cap, the spiritual assistant to the Seculars in our Region. It was a true family celebration; members of our Fraternity led the procession, brought up the gifts, proclaimed the readings, and performed the beautiful music. Kathleen was vested in the Tau Cross, the habit of the Secular Franciscan Order, and made her promise to live the Gospel life of Jesus in the footsteps of our seraphic father, St. Francis of Assisi. AMEN!

It made me excited and anxious for my own profession, hopefully next year. If I've learned nothing on my journey, however, is that I've got to walk the path instead of simply dream of the destination.

Peace and All Good to Kathleen G. SFO!!!

Saturday in the Seventh Week of Easter
Daily Mass Readings
Acts 28:16-20,30-31
Psalm 11:4-5,7
John 21:20-25

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

First Communion

My son Patrick will be making his First Holy Communion this Saturday. Amidst all the preparation for the party, the clothes he's wearing, what we'll be eating, etc., it has been easy to forget what all the celebrating is about. Pat will be receiving the Body of Christ for the very first time, that he's seen everyone do at Mass time and again, wondering when it was going to be his turn.

I'm reminded of our older son James' First Communion. He dearly loved his teachers and Sister Margaret, the Director of Religious Education at our parish. He'd made his Communion in a Mass on his own - at the time he was in special needs religious education due to his PDD (Pervasive Developmental Disorder for the uninitiated), and did not receive with the mainstream class. We worried that he would have some kind of problem, either with the host in his mouth or something that was going on during the Mass. Things like that had happened before.

He seemed to do wonderfully. He sat attentively during the Mass, responded to the prayers, knew when to sit, stand and kneel. He got up dutifully to receive the Body of Christ for the first time without any prompting. However, when he returned to the pew we noticed tears streaming down his cheeks; James was openly crying. Very worried, Lori held him and asked what was wrong. James said, "Don't worry, Mommy. I'm OK, it's a GOOD cry. I'm just so happy!"

I was, and still am in awe of James...maybe even a little envious of him! He GETS it. A thousand-page book on Catholic theology could not convey the meaning of the Eucharist any clearer. My son became (and remains) my CCD teacher that day.

Pat is in the same vein, anxious to join the congregation in the sacred meal he has only been an observer of until now. He yearns to finally come to the Feast of Heaven and Earth at the Table of Plenty. May I and all of us keep that sense of awe that children have when we approach Jesus!

Peace,
Thomas

Daily Mass Readings
Acts 17:15,22-18:1
Psalm 148:1,2,11-14
John 16:12-15

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Cuts right to the heart of it.

Michael Sean Winters, excellent blogger from America Magazine, cuts to the chase in Church sex abuse scandals:

It is not hard to see how some hierarchs viewed their sinning priests as errant sons, as prodigals, and were all too quick to believe their promises of amendment. It is also true – and let’s be perfectly clear on this – a bishop does owe even a pedophile the promise of God’s mercy. He does not owe him another assignment working around children. This was the mistake and, yes, it was callous to make such a mistake when the lives of children were at stake. As for "unrepentant"? I do not think that adjective characterizes any American bishop. Certainly, I cannot think of a comment by any of them that would count of evidence of such an attitude but given some of the things they say about the President, perhaps I missed it. Most American bishops, I believe, have adopted the policy of meeting with the victims, apologizing for the crimes against them repeatedly, and of leading the flock in prayer and reflection and penance for those crimes.


Read the rest of the article here

Indeed, that was the mistake, and it's a mistake most of the complicit bishops seem to have a tragic blind spot about - allowing trust in mercy to trump caution and justice and refusing to admit that.

Please continue to heal our Church. Our Lady of Sorrows pray for us.

Peace,
Thomas

Daily Mass Readings
Acts 12:24-13:5a
Psalm 67:2,3,5-8
John 12:44-50

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Vocations

I think I'm finally getting a handle on this Husband/Father thing.

It comes before everything. I know I've written that numerous times before, but I didn't quite understand it until recently.

It comes before work - although work is something that makes up the whole 'responsible man' idea, which is of course a big part of being a Husband and Father.

It comes before any aspirations I have to service in the Church in any official capacity. I'd been coveting the idea of become an ordained deacon for the Church. Being a deacon is to personify Jesus Christ the Servant. It requires an emptying of oneself in service, but even the Church specifies that both family and work come before any clerical responsibilities. My wife and my children have lost a lot of my time due to the active phase of my alcoholism, and I am not nearly caught up to the point of having the time to become an ordained servant of the Church.

It comes before my hobbies and my comforts. I've enjoyed my reading, writing, facebooking, and all-around relaxing - to the detriment of quality time spent with my family, and things I ought to be doing in and around my home. Sooner than I think, my boys are going to stop wishing to spend so much time with me. I have a window of time, influence and future memories that will be closed before I know it. I need to take advantage of that while it is still possible.

I have not nearly explored the richness of what it truly means to be Husband and Father. I have a greater idea of what I stand to miss out on if I don't plumb these depths now. It's time to be a Man. I've been treating my life as a prelude to something greater...and it is, in respect to eternity. But if I forget the journey in favor of waiting around for the destination, I've missed the entire point of living a Life. I can't let that happen.

St. Joseph, Patron of Husbands and Fathers, pray for us.

Peace,
Thomas

Third Saturday of Easter
Daily Mass Readings
Acts 9:31-42
Psalm 116:12-17
John 6:60-69