Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Annunciation - Faith and Discipleship

In today's Gospel, a young Jewish girl named Mary is being told by a stranger that she is "highly favored", that the Lord is with her, and through the power of God, she will become Theotokos - literally the "Bearer of God". Naturally, Mary wonders who the heck this guy is and what this all means, "what sort of greeting might this be"? Our messenger lays it all on the line for her; the spirit of God would overshadow her, and as a result she would bear the Son of the Most High, Emmanuel - "God With Us".

How Mary, likely frightened out of her wits, responds is nothing short of astounding - "Let it be done to me according to your word." Mary was well aware of the stigma that surrounded an unmarried, pregnant girl in first century Palestine; a lot less dainty than things are these days! She knew her betrothed Joseph only had to say the word and she could be brought up on adultery charges and possibly stoned to death! She said "Yes", as literally the first Christian.

ONLY through Mary's assent could Emmanuel - God with us - take place.

The Feast of the Annunciation celebrates the "Yes" of Mary, her perfect discipleship, her assent to God's plan. It also demonstrates a disciple's gift of free will - Mary, like all of us, had the ability to refuse. May we all emulate Mary's example of faith and discipleship as we prepare to celebrate our Holy Week!

Pax et Bonum,

Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord
Daily Mass Readings
Isaiah 7:10-14, 8:10
Psalm 40:7-11
Hebrews 10:4-10
Luke 1:26-38

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Some Jesuit thoughts on Facebook

Jake Martin SJ from America Magazine shares some interesting thoughts on the Facebook phenomena.

My mother recently told me that when I was in my teens and early 20s she was concerned that I would be lured into joining a religious cult. "You are highly suggestible" she remarked, as she turned up the volume on the television to hear about Oprah's latest spiritual breakthrough. "You are a follower, not a leader." Thanks, Mom!

But she had a point. Ultimately I joined the Jesuits, which some might consider a cult of sorts. In truth, I have always been one to jump on a bandwagon. I wore parachute pants in the 1980s, flannel in the 1990s and was unemployed in the 2000s. So when everyone around me seemed to be Facebook-ing, it made perfect sense for me to do the same.

Facebook is a cyber phenomenon that began as a networking tool for college students. It was opened up to the general public approximately two years ago, and since then its popularity has skyrocketed. (I should preface my Facebook story by saying that I joined its predecessor, MySpace, at the same time, not knowing the difference between the two.) Fairly ignorant of the advances made in cyberspace over the past couple of years, I had contented myself with reading blogs and arguing with perfect strangers on tennis message boards. As it turned out, MySpace is a gigantic moment of spiritual desolation, as St. Ignatius Loyola might say it screams seedy underbelly. After about 15 minutes and seven "friend" requests all beginning with the word, "Lonely?" I decided that MySpace might not, in fact, be the space for me.

Facebook, by contrast, is a land of rarefied air, all cool whites and airy blues. Simple fonts, without gaudy serifs, do not spoil its intentional simplicity. It is a gorgeous model of technological beauty. If it were a country, the trains would always run on time.

There is a lot to love about Facebook. It has proven to be a wonderful way to catch up with old friends from high school and college. It is also an easy way to keep up with those people in your life you just do not have the time to call or e-mail regularly. You can post quick messages on your friend's "wall" a sort of cyber bulletin board, and post pictures of yourself and your friends that can subsequently be organized into albums. You can also use your various pictures to change your profile picture, the image that serves to project the message you want to send out to the universe, a sort of a cyber tattoo, if you will. This is your opportunity to show the world who you are, your existential moment it is right there for everyone to see.

So what is the problem with Facebook? All of the above. Not to be brutal, but there is a good reason I am not in touch with friends from high school: I am not the same person I was then, which is a good thing for all the people in my life now. I do not want to relive my high school angst that is why God invented the sacrament of confession, so I can kneel in a dark closet-like space and spill out the secrets of my past, leave them there, and never, ever, deal with them again.

Yet every time I log on to Facebook there is someone like Dmitri Perivoliotis "friending" me (why do all new cultural phenomena have to turn nouns into verbs?) and sending me notes like, "Remember how Mike Rogers would launch spitballs at you during Mr. Fowler's class?" Thanks, Dmitri, for reminding me how I had to sit through the whole of ninth-period algebra with spitballs resting atop my coarse mop of curls, tears rolling down my acne-laden cheeks. Mr. Fowler, who had his own problems, what with being 112 years old, took no notice of my misery, nor of the fact that there were other students in the classroom.

The other big problem with Facebook is that it's boring. Anyone with whom I would communicate by e-mail or phone, I would communicate with by e-mail or phone. And any person I would not communicate with by e-mail or phone-well, I would not communicate with them at all.

So Facebook has, for all intents and purposes, become a way for me to acquire as many "friends" as possible with whom I will never have to communicate again. The creators must have realized that the acquisition of friends was about the only thing that was going to keep people coming back. For the most part, there really is not much to do once you have posted all of your likes, dislikes and your relationship status, and once you've tried the special applications that have about as much chance of keeping your interest as 99 percent of the programming aired on EWTN. The layout is designed so that you are continually reminded of the numerical count of your friends. This can only lead to feelings of inadequacy, especially since it is so easy to keep track of how many "friends" your "friends" have. This sort of thing brings out the competitor in me. I want to win and will do whatever it takes to have more "friends" than anyone else, just so long as I don't ever have to be in contact with them.

Ultimately, Facebook is just another way of giving people the illusion that they are participating in the world without having to leave the isolated confines of their cubicle, office or bedroom. Promoted as a networking tool, it serves primarily as a sort of existential device that allows people to categorize their life experience and interests while simultaneously shutting them off from the very life they are trying to present to the world.

While I remember being on the receiving end of those spitballs that Fr. Martin mentioned on occasion, and therefore not really needing to be in contact with the majority of of high school experience, I find Facebook to useful. As Fr. Martin points out, it has the potential to be misused and a bit of a distraction. I don't know how many groups I've joined that I've never visited (i.e. - 'I can't find my glasses...oh wait, they're on my face'). It's had the effect of wasting a lot of my time, in spite of the relationships I was able to rekindle. And admittedly, I've discovered a good percentage of these "relationships" are in truth, phantoms. It's interesting to see how the lives of people from my past have turned out.

Then again, there's a reason most of these folks have remained in my past. Something for me to think about.


Daily Mass Readings
Numbers 21:4-9
Psalm 102:2-3,16-18,19-21
John 8:21-30

Monday, March 22, 2010

Litany of Humility

This is so appropriate in this penetential season; praying to Jesus for the good of others rather than our own. Reminds me a good deal of the Prayer of St. Francis.

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.

From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being extolled, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being honored, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being praised, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being preferred to others, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being consulted, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being approved, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being humiliated, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being despised, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of suffering rebukes, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being calumniated, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being forgotten, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being ridiculed, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being wronged, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being suspected, Deliver me, Jesus.

That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I unnoticed, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be preferred to me in everything, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

Jesus knows we can't desire these things in and of ourselves. Asking for God's grace to desire it is another matter. God is good!


Daily Mass Readings
Daniel 13:1-9
Psalm 23:1-6
John 18:12-20