On Deflated Hope

On Deflated Hope

Hope? Let me tell you something, my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.”

– Ellis Boyd ‘Red’ Redding

I must admit, to my great shame, that I lost hope. It was for a fleeting second, and I’m not even sure it was an intentional thought. It snuck up on me. The New England Patriots had just scored making it a 28-18 game with 5:56 on the game clock in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LI. They were attempting a 2-point conversion and I had this thought: “Please miss this.” I know, I’m so embarrassed. I immediately dismissed the thought but I’m still ashamed that it was even hiding in my head somewhere. But I understand it’s origin.

At that point in the game I had already begun the difficult work of accepting a disappointing outcome. I had let myself grow detached from any desire for victory and simply wanted to see my team erase some of its huge deficit to make the loss respectable. I’m not a football expert but I have gleaned some things from listening to my fair share of angry sports radio. Being so far behind, with so little time left, they couldn’t just be good. They had to be perfect. And they would need some absolute miracles along the way.

And they were perfect. And they got a few miracles (Edelman’s catch, are you kidding me?!) And I was wrong to despair. Haven’t I seen Brady and Belichick do this before? I had every reason to hope, but the difficult road ahead let despair creep in.

 I think we lose hope because of how dangerous it is. Disappointment is easier when we can brace for impact. So we settle for being “good enough” and resist anything that draws us up and out of being merely good to being perfect. Internal voices and those people around us ask the question, “What right do you have to desire and to expect perfection? You’re just so far from perfect!”

Over the last few Sundays we’ve been hearing Matthew 5. Jesus has been laying out the structure of His Kingdom and describing the attributes of its citizens. After all, winning citizenship in the Kingdom of God is our greatest hope—far greater than the hope of winning a Super Bowl. But His demands so are hard. We are blessed when we’re poor and mourning? We should pray for those who hate us and go the extra mile when our service is demanded? We should give until it hurts? Maybe what he means is that we should generally try our best to be a good person and show kindness most of the time. But no. He clarified it for us with these words: “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

It’s enough to cause that same voice in my head that said, “please miss this,” during the game to say something similar in response to Jesus. Because if hoping for the Kingdom of God relies on my being as perfect as our heavenly Father, then part of me would rather not try. Part of me would rather accept being “good enough” and losing in a respectable way. In this week’s Gospel reading, Jesus speaks directly to that part of me:

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.”

Jesus speaks of worrying about food, drink, and clothing and tells us not to worry about where we will get them. In some sense He is talking about literal food and drink and clothing, but He means more than that. He means that God will provide exactly what we need to be citizens who have a right to desire and expect our own perfection in His Kingdom. Brady and Belichick are a fantastic team, but they have nothing on the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The road to victory is difficult, demands perfection and seems impossible. But nothing is impossible for God. He gives us the church, where we pray for and build each other up. He gives us the Holy Spirit who makes us holy and begins the process of perfecting us. He sends miracles along the way, the greatest of which is the Eucharist—Jesus, truly present and alive in our midst. The sacraments are all miracles, Edelman-like catches that provide a spark and ignite us onward and upward.

If being perfect, as the Father is perfect, completely depends on my efforts, then there is no hope. I’m more likely to lead a fourth quarter down-by-25–come-from-behind Super Bowl comeback win. But thanks be to God that perfection and eternal citizenship in His Kingdom are not up to our efforts alone. Because we have Jesus, we can hope.

Click Here and You Could Have a Free Fiat!

Click Here and You Could Have a Free Fiat!

Did I get your attention?

Now I get to be a huge disappointment. There is no car giveaway. Sorry.

There’s good news though. Keep reading and there might still be a free fiat in this for you.

I love the Immaculate Conception. And by that I mean the Solemnity we celebrate today as well as the person. After all, the BVM did tell Saint Bernadette that she is the Immaculate Conception. Immaculate Conception is one of those Catholic buzzwords that can easily end up being so heady and profound that it loses any useful meaning. It did for me until a few years ago when I read for the first time what Immaculate Conception meant in terms that were so simple even I understood them.

Saint Maximilian Kolbe (a recurring hero you know if you follow this blog) taught that the Holy Spirit is the “uncreated, eternal conception” of the love between the Father and the Son. And the Spirit is, by His divine nature, immaculate or free from sin. When Mary declared to Saint Bernadette that she is the Immaculate Conception what she was really saying was that she has identified with the Holy Spirit from the very first instant of her existence. As long as she has been, the Holy Spirit has dwelt with her and in her.

Because of this indwelling of the Spirit, Mary’s “yes” to the Angel Gabriel was the freest “yes” ever uttered by human lips. For where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

(She actually said, “Let it be done” which is fiat in Latin. So…there’s the free fiat. I never disappoint)

This is a special grace Mary received from her Son Jesus–the indwelling of the Spirit. A few years after I learned this, I found out something else too. The exact same grace given to the Blessed Mother at her conception is offered to us as well. The prayers for today’s Mass make clear,  the grace of the Immaculate Conception is the foreseen grace given by Christ from the cross.

The Holy Spirit desires to dwell in you and me. And by receiving Him we will be made free. Hopefully, we’ll be made free enough to echo the fiat of the Immaculate Conception. So we offer Mary our veneration*, ask for her intercession, and look to her as the model of perfect discipleship.

“And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.'”

 

*Hyperdulia if you’re looking to get fancy.

God of the Living

God of the Living

This past summer I took Caleb on his first major hike. We had done a bunch of other hikes in the Blue Hills, but none of them were more than a few hundred feet in altitude. This hike was decent. We went up Loon Mountain in Lincoln, NH.  Loon is just over three thousand feet (3064’ to be precise) so I’m proud to say Caleb has summited a three thousand footer. He did a fantastic job too.

I did have some initial reservations about whether he could make the climb. I didn’t know what the weather was like up there or if some parts of the trail would prove to be too steep or treacherous. So to put my mind at ease as to its “doability” I decided to first hike it without him. It was a rainy day and everyone was watching Netflix at our rental home, so I stepped out into the mist alone and climbed up Loon Mountain as a trial run. The view was terrible img_2665

The next day I decided it would be possible for Caleb to make it to the summit. Having been up that trail and on the mountain top I was confident he could go there too. Of course, I also carried him on my back the whole way. For the most part he enjoyed the hike. His favorite part seemed to be pulling my hair, but to be honest I think he was trying to steer me like a horse.

Following Jesus in this life also leads to a mountain top. And being His disciple is scary, because that mountain top is Calvary. To follow Jesus necessarily means denying ourselves, taking up our crosses and dying to sin and selfishness. Not all of us will be called to the bloody martyrdom that was the fate of so many of our saints, and is still the fate of so many Christians in the world today. But all are called to loving sacrifice. Saint Maximilian Kolbe taught that there is no love without sacrifice. And following Jesus up this trail of sacrificial love isn’t always easy. It can mean rejecting pride and embracing humility,  or going beyond what is comfortable, or letting worldly measures of success fall by the wayside, or charitably expressing difficult truths to friends and family. And we know that the Cross is what waits at the end of the trail. But we can take heart. Our Lord knows the trials of this trail but He has confidence in our ability to walk the narrow and difficult road. After all, He did it first. And Jesus reminds us in the Sacraments, in Sacred Scripture, in the friendship of fellow disciples and in the refuge of prayer that He is willing to carry us.

One last thought: This Sunday’s readings are a reminder that while the journey of discipleship leads inevitably to the cross, it doesn’t end at the cross. We know that God who called us along this trail will again call us forth to eternal life.  And on that day when His Glory appears, our joy will be complete.

 

The One Thing Needed

The One Thing Needed

I prefer to do obvious chores. I’m guilty of doing the most noticeable housework first. Empty the sink, clear out the dishwasher, do the laundry. I even leave folded clothes out on the bed so Katie knows how wonderful I am. (Because what’s the point of putting the clothes away? Then no one will notice you did laundry. Duh.) I don’t sweep unless the floor is crunchy and I don’t vacuum unless the rug is visibly dirty. I certainly don’t dust. Where’s the reward in that? And I find I’m not alone in my need be doing and doing in a visible way.

Every year, when dozens of our teens go on a summer mission trip, they have the opportunity to select the work site they want to be at all week. Without fail people are drawn to the home where the work is more visible (construction or painting) and the family circumstances are most dire.  I remember one year where this became almost a competition between work teams (“Today we framed three walls for our host Tony who has diabetes, heart disease, gout, his kids don’t talk to him, he’s super poor, he has terrible halitosis…”). We reinforce this as a society with a great focus on “doing” at all times. Especially in ways that are measurable. Think, in this Year of Mercy, how much attention we pay to the corporal works of mercy and how little attention is given to the spiritual works of mercy. We give awards of recognition, require service hours and do write ups in the Milton Times for feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and sheltering the homeless. I wonder if any high school student has ever turned in a service hours form for 10 hours of “bearing wrongs patiently.”

This brings me to this Sunday’s gospel reading (Luke 10:38-42). In it we see Mary, sitting at Jesus’ feet, and Martha, burdened with much serving. Martha wasn’t doing anything wrong. What she was doing was very good. She was serving her family and her guest, who happened to be her Lord. It’s not that Martha was wrong and Mary was right. What Martha did was good, but what Mary did was better. It was the only thing that needed to be done.

The message for us is to choose the better part like Mary did. What I want is to be doing. I want to do a work that is a visible accomplishment. And not even so I can receive credit or boast—I want to look at what I did and know I did something.  But that isn’t the better part. That isn’t what Jesus knows I need. He wants me to come to Him and simply be in His presence. To sit at His feet, under His loving gaze. To pray, to be healed in Reconciliation and receive Him in the Eucharist. There are no awards and there is no sense of accomplishment. There is so much more—there is grace and the unconditional love of God that strengthens all of our efforts; there is mercy and the Holy Spirit who sanctifies us.  I firmly believe that Mary, after spending time at the Master’s feet, went out and was able to do the works of Martha better than Martha ever could.

Glory to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit

Glory to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit

The other night Katie and I were having one of those important, deeply profound, life changing, heart to heart conversations. This one in particular was about who Hollywood director Judd Apatow is married to. Is it Jenna Fischer? No, Isla Fisher? At some point one of us said “Why are we discussing this, let’s just Google it and be done.” It’s Leslie Mann, if you’re wondering. Google is great for that. Often times friends or family will be sitting around having trivial conversation and a question will come up that just has to have an answer right now. So someone grabs their phone and Googles it, problem solved. I think that’s fine when dealing with trivia. But there’s also a temptation to that same “problem solved” mentality with nontrivial things. The success of the scientific method and the technologies science produces has led us to conclude that everything is merely a problem that can be solved. But not every truth has a simple summation that our intellect can grasp.

We have a beautiful word for these Truths that can’t be simply summed up or solved—mystery. I used to think calling something a mystery was a graceful way of admitting ignorance of a thing that should be understood but wasn’t. Mystery is so much more than that. A mystery is not something that can’t be known at all, it is something that can’t be known completely. The central mystery of the Catholic faith is the Most Holy Trinity. Scripture is pretty clear on four things:

     The Father is God (Philippians 1:2)

      Jesus is God (Titus 2:13)

     The Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3-4)

     There is only one God (Deuteronomy 6:4; 1 Corinthians 8:4)

We first learn this truth by various analogies, though none of them are the complete truth. The temptation to apply a problem solving sort of “Google it and be done” approach to the Trinity is much older than Google. Oversimplifying the truth to make God more manageable can lead to a number of material or accidental heresies, some of which I have been guilty of believing in the past. Here’s a short list of Trinitarian heresies:

Sabellianism: God is one person, but reveals himself to us in three different ways. For example, a man is one man but also a father, a husband and an employee. However, this heresy denies the Threeness of God. Another example: H2O is water, ice and vapor.

Arianism: The belief that only the Father is truly God and that the Son and the Holy Spirit are his creations. The sun is a common example: the sun represents the Father, and the sun’s light and heat represent the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Tritheism and Partialism: Tritheism is the belief that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are actually three gods who work as one. Partialism is the belief that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three parts or divisions of God. A common example of partialism is the shamrock (sorry Saint Patrick). Another is an egg—one egg made of shell, yolk and white.

The mystery is that God is one nature and three distinct Persons. The Father is not the Son or the Spirit. The Son is not the Father or the Spirit. The Spirit is not the Father or The Son. The three Persons share one divine substance (consubstantial).  The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit is God. I really hope that makes very little sense to you as it makes very little sense to me. Because the tension created by this mystery is beautiful.

I was one of the six people who bought a Wii U. I used it a lot when I first purchased it. It was fun to figure out its features and get new games to play on it. But then I had it all figured out and it became boring to me. It was, after all, just an object. Persons are not objects and we can’t fully know them simply by knowing about them. That would be like thinking you know someone because you know their name, favorite movie and where they see themselves in five years. The greatest aspect of being in relationship with another person is the mystery that they are so wonderfully other.

Our God is not just one Person but three Persons equal in glory, coequal in majesty. We could (and hopefully will) spend an eternity coming to share in the inner life of the Trinity and never reach its depths—never fully grasp the mystery, and never grow bored. If you’ve ever been blessed to read a book (or binge-watch a series on Netflix?) that pulled you in and totally engrossed you and you never wanted it to end then you might understand this. If you’ve ever had a deeply meaningful conversation that lasted hours but felt like minutes that’s even closer. But books and people are finite. We have to avoid the temptation to make God a problem to be solved or a question to be Googled—small and understandable. I hope this Trinity Sunday finds you diving into the reality of a God who is deeper than we can imagine, beyond comprehension and beckoning us all to enter into the perfect communion of life and love that is our God —the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, through belief in the Threenessthrough confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation.”

-Saint Patrick

Happy Birthday Church!

Happy Birthday Church!

I love the Holy Spirit. He is amazing. We are taught that the Holy Spirit is the Love between the Father and the Son. I used to marvel at the idea that the love between two Persons could be so powerful that another distinct Person could proceed from that Love. I still marvel at that reality despite participating in it and seeing not one but two persons proceed from the love between Katie and me. I’ve also been blessed to have the veil lifted at times to see something powerful proceed from the love between a father and son.

On the day Caleb was born, after spending some bonding time with mom, I went upstairs with him to the nursery where they did tests and took measurements. I remember standing there, looking down at Caleb with something new but familiar burning deep in my chest. There were certainly many emotions, as one might expect when a child is born. This particular birth was made a bit more emotional because we had just observed the 9th anniversary of our oldest child’s death. But this burning love inside as I looked at Caleb wasn’t just a feeling. It was like love stepped out of mere sentiment and showed what it truly was—a pure fire of will, totally unencumbered by fickle emotion. I borrowed a line from our Heavenly Father, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.” I have had that same burning many times these last nine months.

I had it this morning as I left for work. Caleb was playing on the floor. I got down on all fours and put my forehead against his. I said, “I love you Caleb Maximilian, be good to mom today.” He grabbed my beard and gave me a sloppy drooly kiss (he’s still working on his technique). The burning in my heart returned once again. On my drive to work I thought about how the more emotional side of love was tugging at me to stay home, but the burning fire of will was urging me to go out. It calls me to go places and do things that are uncomfortable. Love as a function of the will is unselfish and agenda free.

This love, perfect and infinitely multiplied, is the Love from which the Holy Spirit proceeds. When we become docile to the Holy Spirit and remove obstacles to personal holiness miracles happen. Mary said yes to the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit and the Son of God became man. When we allow the Holy Spirit to overshadow us Christ enters the world through us. Two thousand years ago, on the first Pentecost, a group of insignificant socio-economic nobodies received the Holy Spirit and, led by a wayward fisherman, brought the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church into the world. That same Holy Spirit dwells in us. That same burning fire of Love urges us out of complacency to the same bold, fearless faith.  What better gift can we give to the Church on her birthday than to echo Mary’s “Yes” to the Holy Spirit?

 

The New Evangelization

What comes to mind when we hear the term “New Evangelization?” Some have never heard the idea of a New Evangelization. What’s wrong with the old evangelization? For others, they’ve seen this term being thrown about in various circles and a number of images come to mind: new and improved Jesus! Catholicism 2.0! Or is it, and God forbid (literally), a cynical marketing ploy from a 2,000 year old church struggling to remain relevant? It is probably a good idea to clarify just what the New Evangelization is and what it means to our community of faith. In doing so I hope to share with you all just what it is my new role will hopefully mean for the future of our parish.

What is the New Evangelization? It most definitely is not new and improved Jesus, after all you can’t improve on perfection. It is not Catholicism 2.0. Jesus promised Peter that the gates of hell would not prevail against His church—the Catholic Church. We’re still on Plan A and there is no Plan B. As for an attempt to remain relevant, I can’t see anything more relevant than the answer to life’s great questions: Who am I? For what purpose was I made? Is there more to life than meets the eye? Jesus Christ will remain relevant to this world regardless of our efforts because this is His world. He doesn’t simply provide answers to life’s most important questions; He is the answer to life’s most important questions.

The Good News is the same as it ever was.  “But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. “(Mt 28:5-6) Christ is risen. Death has died. Sin has no power over us anymore.

Because of this euangelion (“good news” in greek) we who are baptized are all evangelists. We are all missionaries. Each one of us is called to declare to the whole world the Good News by word and deed. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Mt 28:19-20) This is the duty of all baptized Christians.

The newness of the the New Evangelization doesn’t refer to the message itself. The New Evangelization is “new in ardor, method and expression” (Saint John Paul the Great’s Address to the Latin American Episcopal Conference (CELAM), March 9, 1983). I would like to back up a little and explain why this is so necessary for bringing people to Jesus. Saint John Paul identifies three scenarios in which evangelization takes place:

  1. To people who have never encountered Jesus Christ or the church. This is what most people might think of when they hear about evangelizing and mission work. Worldwide there are billions of people who have never heard of Jesus or the good news. To them is the mission ad gentes (to the people).
  2. Christian communities that are practicing believers who “bear witness to the Gospel in their surroundings and have a sense of commitment to the universal mission” of the Church. This is the lifelong faith formation which consists of evangelization (spreading the faith), catechesis (teaching believers) and apologetics (defending the faith). We do this as a parish and principally at home in our families.
  3. An intermediate situation “where entire groups of the baptized have lost a living sense of the faith, or even no longer consider themselves members of the Church, and live a life far removed from Christ and his Gospel.”

It is in this 3rd scenario that the New Evangelization is called for. In his encyclical Redemptoris Missio (Mission of the Redeemer) Saint John Paul the Great declared, “I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the Church’s energies to a new evangelization and to the mission ad gentes. No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples.” (3)

While the overwhelming majority of people in the world have never heard the Gospel message, the same cannot be said for where we live. I believe Saint Mary of the Hills does a wonderful job at catechizing and evangelizing our own parishioners. But what of those Christ has entrusted to us bring the good news? In our very neighborhoods we see that religious service attendance hovers below 20%. Many people have heard the good news and remain indifferent to Jesus’ invitation. The new “ardor, method and expression” of the New Evangelization is a recognition of this reality.

Discussing matters of religious faith with family, neighbors, friends and co-workers is usually on the list of favorite activities somewhere right between “Getting a Root Canal Without Anesthesia” and “Going To The DMV” or maybe even “Explaining Snapchat To Anyone Over 30.” Pope Francis has echoed the call for a new evangelization in the secularized west noting that there is difficulty in carrying out this work. “The process of secularization tends to reduce the faith and the Church to sphere of the private and personal…it has produced a growing deterioration of ethics, a weakening of the sense of personal and collective sin, and a steady increase in relativism” (Evangelii Gaudium 64). Our world has received a small portion of the gospel message—all too often delivered in a joyless way that acts as a vaccination against catching the “good infection” that our faith is.

He later includes this appeal to Catholics:

“Who would claim to lock up in a church and silence the message of Saint Francis of Assisi or Blessed Teresa of Calcutta? They themselves would have found this unacceptable. An authentic faith – which is never comfortable or completely personal – always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better that we found it.” (Evangelii Gaudium 183)

For us who are blessed to receive Jesus in the Eucharist there is a strong call to the mission to evangelize. Saint John Paul said, “Communion and mission are profoundly connected…communion represents both the source and the fruit of mission: communion gives rise to mission and mission is accomplished in communion.” (Christifideles Laici 32) The new evangelization is an answer to the call to mission with a renewed sense of urgency. The Holy Spirit is moving in new ways through the Church and we are blessed to be participants in His work. Programs related to the new evangelization are first and foremost about strengthening our own relationship with Jesus. When we come to believe that he is the Christ, the center and meaning of our lives, we will have a desire to share Him with others. There will be plenty of opportunity to learn how to evangelize in everyday life with and without words. Most especially, how to have breakthrough conversations with others when our example of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal 5:22) has brought someone to believe that we have something (or Someone) that they too want.

We know Jesus. We know “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding (Phil 4:7). We receive his Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist. We receive healing and absolution in the sacrament of Reconciliation. We are adopted sons and daughters of our “Abba,” our Father, through baptism and confirmation.  To know Jesus Christ is to know unspeakable joy. It is my great hope that by answering this call to the New Evangelization we can, all of us, be bold in our love for Christ and passionate in our desire to lead others to Him. “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Is 43:19) He is doing something new through Saint Mary of the Hills to enliven the spiritual desert that has grown around us.