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The Canonization of St. John Paul II (or the Joy in my Heart)

Divine Mercy Sunday was a crazy day. I celebrated mass at my parish at 7:30 am, and, then hurried over to the high school where I am chaplain to celebrate mass for the Dad’s Club who park cars for the annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. After the mass, I helped them park cars for an hour or so then made my  way over to the festival to enjoy good music and good food. The day was topped off with a n unforgettable performance by my guitar hero, Eric Clapton. All of this was expected when I woke up that morning.

However, during the Eucharistic Prayer, at the 7:30 am mass, the LORD gave me a gift I didn’t expect. “May he make of us an eternal offering to you, so that we may obtain an inheritance with your elect,” I prayed, “especially with the most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, with blessed Joseph her spouse, with your blessed Apostles and glorious martyrs, with St. Rita, St. John XXIII, St. John Paul II …” At this point, I choked up and nearly started weeping. “and with all the Saints, on whose constant intercession in your presence we rely for unfailing help.” John Paul became a saint since the last time I said the Eucharistic Prayer!

This man came to my hometown. This man’s writing helped me fall in love with the truth. He helped me first contemplate the depths of priestly ministry (Pastores Dabo Vobis). He helped me understand the moral life with greater clarity (Veritatis Splendor). He gave me the gift of a fully fleshed (pun not intended) theological anthropology (Love and Responsibility and Man and Woman He Created Them). He gave me my first theological reflections on the family and the beauty of femininity (Familiaris Consortio and Mulieris Dignitatem). He helped me fall in love deeper with the Blessed Mother (Redemptoris Mater). He taught me why I need to go out in to the world to proclaim the Gospel and not follow my natural introverted tendency to be insular (Redemptoris Missio). He hepled me understand for the first time many of the documents of Vatican II. His intellectual rigor paved the way for me to receive so well the teachings of Pope Benedict XVI.

I consider him one of my intellectual mentors, and this man, who taught me so much, is now in heaven, inteceding for me as a brother priest, as a man who tries, even if I fail, to take part in the New Evangelization. He was and is one of the priest I looked up to in seminary, a priest I wished to emulate, both in pastoral activity and spiritual and theological reflection.

All these memories came to a flooding head at my praying the Eucharistic prayer that morning. Such joy filled my heart at him being in heaven, that my emotions couldn’t handle. This man whom I love, both as a father and a pope, is before the throne of the lamb adoring the Lord of Hosts and offering supplication for all of his flock, you and me included.



Divine Pedagogy (Or, Church Lingo…Made Fun!)

I love those phrases you find in Church documents that just can’t be found anywhere else. Phrases like ‘actual participation,’ ‘consubstancial,’ ‘distinct but not separate,’ ‘the Analogy of Being,’ or ‘Invincible Ignorance.’ Perhaps those outside the Church would see all this creative vocabulary as, at best, bureaucratic myth-making or, at worst, an example of ecclesiastical Double-Speak. In actuality the Church’s unique shop-talk is neither of these: its hard to be intimidated by such vocabulary when you realize that it has been expounded by a group of sincere old men groping for words to describe the ineffable.

My favorite recent discovery in magisterial documents is the phrase ‘divine pedagogy,’ roughly translated, ‘God’s teaching style.’ The phrase appears in Dei Verbum 15 as an attempt to articulate why it was God used “partial and various ways” (Heb 1:1) in the Old Covenant to prefigure Christ;

These books, though they also contain some things which are incomplete and temporary, nevertheless show us true divine pedagogy. (DV 15)

Now that I am a teacher myself, I know how difficult it can be to reveal a big idea to your students. And your own excitement is not the least of your worries. Today I got so pumped about the 4th cup at the Passover that I almost spilled grape juice all over one of my students. We were doing a living re-enactment of the last Supper, and as I intensely explained the most intimate moments of the meal, my students were daring each other to chug the bitter herbs. Clearly I needed to have better recourse to a Divine Pedagogy. That’s not to say that I despair of their having taken anything away from the experience. Rather, I now realize that more time could have been given to a proper balancing between the content and the style of the presentation.

That last sentence is a bit confusing. Let’s try it this way: Sometimes (most of the time) God’s revelation is so astounding that it results in too many words, too many images, and too many lessons. Outsiders may think that a theology teacher has to struggle to find content for his lessons. This is certainly not the case: a theology teacher is burdened with too much content and is further burdened by the prospect of having to shelve much of it for later instruction.

But what to reveal and what to conceal? How am I to be like the good scribe “who brings from his storeroom both the old and the new” when I can carry so little in my arms? It is in facing problems such as these that the thought of a Divine Pedagogy becomes miraculously attractive. Wouldn’t it be nice to know what to show to the students today, and then what to show tomorrow so that, years from now, when their all grown up and nothing makes sense, they will remember the Word and believe? According to the Council Fathers, that is exactly what the Old Testament is: a gradual reveal that establishes plot, setting and characters in so perfect a way that, when the hero arrives, we all know what’s up and who’s down.

In and of itself, the Old Testament is very unsettling. The violence, the philandering and the obscurities are problematic. Worse, however, is the lingering promises of God, who keeps saying that things will get better, only to turn around and allow things to get worse. As a great theologian recently said to me; “The most tragic real thing that can be thought of is an Old Testament without any hope of a New Testament.” Yet, it is in the Old Testament that we first witness the Divine Pedagogy. God allows his students to fail the first semester! He anticipates the fact that they will mess up, misunderstand and manipulate his plan. He’s ready for it. He knows that the story is too big to be told all at once, though, so he saves the best for last. His faith in us is that, when that last age has come, we will be ready to receive Him for real. His patience works for our salvation. That is the Divine Pedagogy. And if I am to have any hope for patience of my own for tomorrow, I should get to sleep soon…

How to Crown Thy Good With Brotherhood?

“Absorbed and deepened in the family, faith becomes a light capable of illumining all our relationships in society. As an experience of the mercy of God the Father, it sets us on the path of brotherhood. Modernity sought to build a universal brotherhood based on equality, yet we gradually came to realize that this brotherhood, lacking a reference to a common Father as its ultimate foundation, cannot endure. We need to return to the true basis of brotherhood.” Pope Francis, Lumen Fidei p. 54

Liberty, equality, brotherhood. That was the formula of the French Revolution. And though these words never appear explicitly in our Constitution or Declaration of Independence, they are an implicit part of American Heritage. On July 4th, the United States celebrated the belief that equality and freedom undergird the fraternity of our
great Republic. On July 5th, Pope Francis published the above text. It is something of a buzz kill to say the least.

I don’t know if the timing was intentional, coincidental or just providential. Perhaps it was a strange amalgam of all three. Nonetheless, it has worked a revolution in my own thought. Is it true to say that equality and liberty, while good, are not good enough? Is it good politics, much less good theology, to suggest that a free and democratic society can still fall short of brotherhood? Forget all those criticisms about atheists looking for God and girls having their feet washed: this is the kind of statement that should launch Pope Francis into the heart of controversy! It is fortunate thing that he hid it away in an encyclical, since, to my knowledge, no member of the media has every actually read one in it’s entirety. Had Francis tweeted the statement “Freedom ≠ brotherhood. #faith,” I’m certain that the press would have had a field day with it.

Yet, I will leave off speculating about the press here. The American press has not enough gall to start a revolution these days, and starting a revolution is precisely what I am interested in doing. Allow me to explain: our country is supposed to derive its greatness from freedom and equality. The Pope says that these principles are not enough. He invokes faith as the fundamental principle. I do not think that he is suggesting that freedom is useless and that we need to return to an theocracy. I do not even think that what he is saying runs counter to the Constitution (though it does possibly overstate what that document merely hinted at). After all, the brotherhood-by-equality ideal is no where mentioned in the explicit legislation of our founding fathers. But freedom of speech and freedom of religion are mentioned, and they are mentioned on the first lines of the Bill of Rights. Freedom of speech ensures faith in others. Freedom of religion ensures faith in God. What Pope Francis is saying, far from raining on our parades and fireworks, is that brotherhood must be founded on something greater than freedom. He was looking to set our sights on things higher than even equality. I believe that the revolution he was attempting to inspire looks more like 32AD than 1776.

The faith of the founding fathers went unspoken in much (though not all) of their explicit legislation. Perhaps it is time to amend that. Perhaps it is time to move beyond the vague social scruples of enlightenment era politicians and codify what they merely hinted at.

Or perhaps not.

I am no lawyer or politician. I admit that I do not know the best way to translate this theology into social change. All I can say is that it must be translated into social change soon or any semeblence of “brotherhood” that exists in this nation will begin to be torn at the seams. For too long, our country has justified acts of violence, racism and injustice by reserving too much power to the “local and individual liberty.” Freedom is good, but an absolute freedom that aborts children and lynches minorities in the name of “personal freedoms” has been the stigma of our nation’s history.

I, for one, believe that it is time to move away from an interpretation of the Constitution focused purely on freedom and equality. There must be explicit acknowledgement of the Creator on which are founded these unalienable rights. Until there is, we will remain under the thumb of a very civilized and bureaucratic mob rule.

Something Strange (or, “The Lord’s Descent”)

Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated. For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

This ancient homily is taken from the Office of Readings for Holy Saturday. It remains, for me, one of the highlights of the Triduum Liturgy. Favorite part: Christ introducing Himself to Adam as “your son.”

QOTD – Are You Prepared for Marriage?

As I have begun preparing couples for marriage, I have found that when they live together the preparation instantly becomes more difficult for them because they live a lie as a truth. Marriage prep began way before they entered my office. It began in their homes and continued in their dorms and in the apartments.

Society’s interest in preparing young men and women for marriage also suffers when the media presents as a mercantile plaything the holy act of intimacy that is proper to the sacred bond of marriage. – Bishop Paul Loverde of the diocese of Arlington, TX

QOTD – For What He Is Man is Precious

In the economy that we are in coupled with the culture that we live it’s always good to remember:

A man is more precious for what he is that what he has. – Gaudium et Spes

Courtesy of Bandini

Concupiscence, True Communion, and ‘Friends’

I decided to repost my first thoughts posted on blog format. This post originally was written on Monday, June 30, 2008.

It does not correspond to the personal union or ‘communion’ to which man and woman have been reciprocally called ‘from the beginning,’ in fact, it is contrary to it, that one of the two persons should exist only as a subject of satisfaction of sexual urge and that the other should become exclusively the object for such satisfaction. Further, it does not correspond to this unity of ‘communion’–in fact, it is contrary to it–that both the man and the woman should mutually exist as objects for the satisfaction of sexual urge, and that each of them on his or her own part should be a subject of such satisfaction. Such a ‘reduction’ of the rich content of reciprocal and perennial attraction among human persons in their masculinity and femininity does not correspond to the ‘nature’ of the attraction in question. Such a ‘reduction,’ in fact, extinguishes the meaning proper to man and woman, a meaning that is person and ‘of communion,’ through which ‘the man will… unite with his wife and the two will be one flesh’ (Gen 2:4). ‘Concupiscence’ removes the intentional dimension of the reciprocal existence of man and woman from the personal perspective ‘of communion,’ which are proper to their perennial and reciprocal attraction, reducing this attraction and, so to speak, driving it toward utilitarian dimension, in whose sphere of influence one human being ‘makes use’ of another human being, ‘using her’ only to satisfy his own ‘urges.’
Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body by Blessed John Paul II

Friends was one of the big sitcoms in the 90’s (you can hear the claps from the theme clap-clap-clap-clap). It had a lot of influence on my generation. Yet, this quote from John Paul II puts forward the basic weakness of the series.

There is a total reduction of the relationship between man and woman to one of sexual satisfaction. The two friends who ended up marrying each other began their intimate relationship with sex. When they hid the ‘relationship’ from the other friends, they where hiding the fact that they were having sex. To my knowledge, which is limited and finite, and possibly wrong, they didn’t go out on a ‘date’ until it was public knowledge that they were dating.

A relationship which ended in marriage was based and grounded upon a sexual relationship, i.e. sand. This is what my generation saw each week, and it is what John Paul II called the utilitarian dimension, wherein the person of the opposite sex is an object for sexual gratification. The ideal in this dimension is mutual sexual gratification, which, to many nowadays, means a basis for a solid marriage.

Is Collecting Bad?: The Fountain Pen and Our Consumerist Culture

To “have” objects and goods does not in itself perfect the human subject, unless it contributes to the maturing and enrichment of that subject’s “being,” that is to say unless it contributes to the realization of the human vocation as such … The danger of the misuse of material goods and the appearance of artificial needs should in no way hinder the regard we have for the new goods and resources placed at our disposal and the use we make of them. – Bl. John Paul II Sollicitudo Rei Socialis 28,29

These seem to be contrary statements, but are rather intended to moderate our use of material goods. We live in  a society that idolizes materiality. I feel like I’m preaching to the choir being that most of us realize this. Realizing it is one thing, and not participating in it, is another thing altogether.

Take myself as a poor example. Back in January, I fell in love with fountain pens (they write so much better than ballpoints). They’re messy. They are really nice looking, and they leave you open to an endless possibility of inks.

I loved taking notes with them while in my final semester of classes. I actually no longer took notes on my laptop or iPad. Over the course of six months, I have purchased a total of … 1, 2, 18 fountain pens. My latest purchase is a set with Benedict XVI’s signature on it. I got caught by the collector consumer bug, courtesy of Amazon and eBay. 

Now, seriously Kyle what are you going to do with eighteen fountain pens? Well, I use this one for this and this one for that and that one for signing checks and that one for homilies. I still don’t use them all. I gave one to my sister. A few ended up being duds and unusable (which in itself proves the point).

Pens hold a certain nostalgia to them. Some of them make really cool fancy lettering. Some of them just look cool (like the one second from the left in the picture that is made from olive wood from the holy land.) 

Pens can contribute, as Bl. John Paul II, to the realization of the human vocation. They can be used to write down thoughts (I write out my homilies because for me, typing requires less energy and less memory). Thoughts are very important in the realization of the human vocation. They can communicate truth and beauty. But “to ‘have’ objects and goods does not in itself perfect the human subject.” In other words, I don’t need 17 pens to write my homily. I only need one. 
Where is the line drawn (no pun intended)? Is collecting things a pursuing something that does not bring us closer to God? Are there moral justifications for collecting, whether it be baseball cards, stamps, or fountain pens? Does such a hobby build us up? Dear reader, these are questions for which I do not have an answer. Sound off if you so desire and let me and others know what you think.

Go to Confession and Go Out to the World

True conversion of hearts, which means opening ourselves to the transforming and regenerative action of God, is the ‘motor’ of all reform and turns into an authentic force for evangelisation. During Confession, the repentant sinner, thanks to the gratuitous action of divine Mercy, is justified, forgiven and sanctified. … Only those who allow themselves to be profoundly renewed by divine Grace can internalise and therefore announce the novelty of the Gospel.

Bl. John Paul II Dives in Misericordia

The Contests Between Political Parties and What a Pope Thinks

To these evils we must add the contests between political parties, many of which struggles do not originate in a real difference of opinion concerning the public good or in a laudable and disinterested search for what would best promote the common welfare, but in the desire for power and for the protection of some private interest which inevitably results in injury to the citizens as a whole. – Ubi Arcano Dei Consilio Pius XI

This was written in 1922. It was the encyclical of the pontificate of Pius XI. This is part of what he had to say. I do not normally enter into the realm of politics when I blog, but I read this a few months back and was struck by the force of its truth as well as the appropriateness for our current political situation in the United States. I’ll let him speak for himself.

Pius XI in his office (via Wikimedia Commons)