28 August 2008

"I am so normal..."

"I finished high school, went to college, and I came up against relativism: the idea that we can't--people said that we couldn't know what was good, what was bad, what was true. So I really began questioning where truth comes from. Where does goodness come from? I know I have values. Who gives them to me? And so between that moment and here, it was a process of 'This is scary, I don't understand this. I don't see why I would be called. How can I be called? I am so normal."

Sister Amelia, O.P. (she just made vows this July!)
Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia
Nashville, Tennessee

One woman's "yes" changed the world.

Will yours?

Answer the call.

24 August 2008

Being Grown Up

It feels like the time for another chat! After realizing that "you are free" and what that means, we come to the next step. If freedom is not the same thing as license, then it makes a difference how you use your freedom. If you have license, then you can do whatever you want. If you are free, you are free to choose the good. It's not the same thing because freedom pays you the compliment of making you responsible for your choices. It makes you a grown up!

Children are generally told what to do. They are also often let "off the hook" for not being responsible for their actions. They are not free. It is the same thing with the criminal defense of not guilty by reason of insanity. That defense rests on this understanding of freedom and responsibility. If you are not free in the choice, then you are also not responsible. Although responsibility is a burden, it is one that grown ups willingly carry. To refuse responsibility is to refuse freedom. That is what happens, for example, to convicts.

Responsibility works both ways. We are not only responsible for our misuse of freedom but also for the proper use of freedom. We get the credit for our free choices! The more we use our freedom for the good, the freer we become. We become moral agents for good. We grow up. And what exactly are we growing up into? We are growing up into being another Christ, who exercised the greatest use of freedom in losing all freedom on the Cross out of love for the Father and for us! Jesus "grew up" -- He was lifted up on the Cross. And so for us, the most important uses of freedom involve obedience, love, and sacrifice. These responsibilities are the fruits of freedom and grow us up!

18 August 2008

Father's Chats

As I get older, paternal instincts are coming out in me. I see the joy in students here, and I often see it robbed by decisions made under the influence of a culture that has departed from the truth about the dignity of the human person. I would like to re-propose the truth in some on-line chats.

I do so with some fear and trembling because I do not want to appear to be judging anyone. I have made enough mistakes in this area to understand how easy it is to be fooled. I want to look at some common behaviors and propose perhaps a better way -- a way that protects joy.

These chats are sort of "folk" Theology of the Body, really more common sense than anything else. Let me know what you think.

For the new freshmen, one of the biggest changes for most will be the new degree freedom and responsibility for their lives. An understanding of freedom is thus necessary. Freedom is not being able to do what ever one wants to do. That is called "license." Rather, freedom is the ability to choose the good. Of all of earthly creation only humans can choose good. Plants and animals do good all the time -- like plants turning carbon dioxide into oxygen. But they just do it; they don't choose the good. Only human beings can choose to do good. This is freedom. Ultimately, God made us this way so that we could choose the highest good, which is to love Him!

The more we choose good, the freer we become. When, however, we choose "not the good", we become less free. Here is a little example: if we develop the habit of getting out of bed when our alarm clock first goes off, it becomes easier to get up. We might even begin to think about the need to get to bed at a reasonable time so that we can get up! But if we continually hit the "snooze" or turn the alarm off and roll over, then we are less free to get up when we want and need to. We sleep through things. We have to rush around like crazy people. We are out of control from the very beginning of the day. That is not very joyful. Misuse of freedom = loss of joy.

So remember that "you are free!" (You will hear me say this a lot, quoting a favorite seminary professor and mentor of mine, Fr. Francesco Turvasi.) But remember what freedom is and what it is not!

17 August 2008

I Have My Mission

God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another.  I have my mission--I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next.  I am a link in the chain, a bond of connection between persons.  He has not created me for naught.  I shall do good, I shall do His work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling.

Therefore, my God, I will put myself without reserve into Your hands.  What have I in heaven, and apart from you what do I want upon earth?  My flesh and my heart fail, God is the God of my heart, and my portion forever.  Amen.

~John Henry Cardinal Newman

13 August 2008

To the top!


(from the teachers at St. Pius):

Standing tall and menacing against the horizon,
It posed both threat and challenge to all who drew near. 
Who would dare to climb the mountain?
It seemed, to many, insurmountable, and thus inspired fear.

Many would walk away, seeing only what could not be done,
But some cast eyes to the height, 
Vowing not by this mountain to be overcome.

The climbers approached the base,
No longer seeing its imposing height,
Instead it is a dream radiating their face,
Of the view from the top of a glorious sight.

Now the ascent begins, following the path,
With jovial grins, they joke and they laugh.

As they proceed, the path rises sharply,
They pick their way through roots and stones,
As one finds a way, the others follow shortly,
At the end of this stretch, they feel it in their bones.

Now the way becomes dark as they enter the forest,
Light is hidden as shadows fall,
Doubt and fear pull at the hearts of the strongest,
And some question "Is it really worth it at all?"

But even in darkness, the dreamer dreams,
And the dreamer sees what others fail to see,
So on they go, following running streams,
As they go, they wonder, "What does the dreamer see?"

Through the forest, a light breaks through,
A ray of hope, bringing strength renewed.
Yet a brambly wood, a way still rough,
But with machetes in hand, a way is cut.

Clearing the thorns was quite a feat,
But the greatest obstacles were yet to come.

A fog descended, thick and gray,
The air became a bitter chill,
A narrow ledge proved the only way,
To continue ascending the imposing hill.

Hearts shrank and shivered once more,
"Is it worth the risk?" they ask.
Again the dreamer's words come to the fore,
"Once begun, how can we desert this task?"

The dreamer called the strongest climber,
Facing the fog and narrow cliff,
"Your feet are sure and vision clear,
You can lead us through this mist."

The climber's heart swelled with hope,
He turned to the climber most unsure,
"Stay close to me and grab this rope,
It is only together we will pierce this blur."

This is only one obstacle along the way,
Yet what has the dreamer done today?
The ascent continues, the summit waits, 
But another dreamer is born today.

11 August 2008

Angelic Warfare Confraternity

As a university chaplain contemplating the beginning of the school year, I am looking for help to help my students live lives of chastity. So many want this virtue, but there is a lot to deal with: wireless internet access all over campus, cable television in every dorm room, open visitation, not to mention the normal human struggles and weaknesses of the flesh and a toxic sexual culture. These are temptations, that is, invitations to sin. It takes a lot of virtue not to get tangled up some how some way in all this.

Violations of chastity are certainly not the worst sins one can commit (especially at this age), but they do give a heaviness and sadness to the soul that is seeking God. They make one less free. This year I think that I am going to rely more on an old help that the Dominicans came up with centuries ago: the Angelic Warfare Confraternity. The Dominicans have been dealing with university students since there have been universities. Another good resource from the same source is a booklet called "Achieving Chastity." It's inspiring, realistic, and practical.

05 August 2008

Theology of the Body, Yeah

I am afflicted by crankiness, like my friend "The Cranky Professor." One of the things that makes me cranky and shouldn't is the rapture over the "Theology of the Body." I was just reading a post at "The Curt Jester" on yet another book by Christopher West. Don't get me wrong, I certainly believe the theology of the body and am delighted that so many of the young people I deal with are inspired by it. I am grateful to JPII for resurrecting this aspect of Catholic teaching. What makes me cranky is that it seems so obvious to me. The theology of the body is nothing new. Apparently the new West book studies talks of JPII based on the Song of Songs, Tobit, etc. But the Song of Songs is certainly one of the most commented on books of the Bible, if we look beyond yesterday! All the Fathers and medieval doctors commented on it. All of them affirmed its affirmation of human sexual love and took it well beyond that. Oh well, ever ancient -- ever new.

03 August 2008

Zesty Australia!

Since I have been home, I have been thinking more about Australia. People keep asking me what I thought of Australia. Of course, I was only in Sydney and was very involved in WYD activities most of the time. Yet I did take some impressions of Australia itself. Mainly these came from my early morning walks on the beach. You may remember that our group was staying at a surfers' hostel on Bondi Beach. I was determined to get some beach time each day, even if the sun wasn't quite up and the air was chilly. I wasn't the only one! Even before dawn, there would be quite a number of runners and walkers, with and without dogs, groups of people working out with a trainer, even with weights, swimmers in a neat pool that was right on the edge of the surf, and surfers. It was very energizing. I was particularly interested in the surfers. They were in wet suits and would come trotting down to the beach carrying their boards. This was uniform behavior. They did not walk; they trotted. Maybe it was because their feet were cold, but I think it is part of the surfer ethos at Bondi.

When I returned home, one of my questioners about Australia is a native of Southern California and a surfer himself. I asked him about the trotting surfers. Do California surfers also trot? He said that they certainly do not. Trotting is not cool. But the Australians to a man trotted. They were eager and not cool. This became a symbol of Australia for me. It is a zesty place. I could not help but like it. I saw the same behavior my last day doing a little shopping in downtown Sydney. It is zesty. I think that Australians are fun and excited.

This insight made me reflect on the parable of the unjust steward, whom the Lord praises for being so ingenious about taking care of himself in a worldly way. Would that the children of light were so ingenious about eternal things! The trotting surfers became a rebuke and an inspiration for me. If theses fellows could be so happy and zesty about a few cold minutes in the surf before going to work, where is my zest for the Kingdom! This Australian zest turned to Jesus Christ could be awesome. Cardinal Pell is a good example of that. It all brought back to me the motto of my high school: "Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever." Enjoy Him!

I think that Americans generally would do well to look to Australia and perhaps see a younger version of themselves. As for the Church, I was inspired by the zest of Australia! Let's get trotting!

01 August 2008

Heart of Jesus

Today is First Friday. I am talking to some teachers today about the Sacred Heart of Jesus: the symbol of the love of Jesus. It's not merely a metaphor -- for you literary types!

It is so necessary to begin with the love of God. It is the only way to make sense of Christianity. Thanks to Pope Benedict for starting us out this way again! So don't forget your Morning Offering!