Thursday, July 31, 2008

Walking the Walk

I was driving down the road the other day, and it was one of those off the beaten path kind of roads mind you, when I noticed a group of young people walking down a non-existent shoulder, carrying a crucifix and a Papal Flag. This merited investigation. This is not something I'm accustomed to seeing on the back roads of Delaware County, PA.

It turns out that these five young people were college students on a special kind of pilgrimage, walking (get this) from MAINE to Washington, D.C. They are known as Missionaries of the Eucharist and their goal is to take the Theology of the Body to the streets! Yes... it's amazing.

Here's the mission statement from their website:

"This summer a group of Catholic young men and women will be walking from Maine to Washington DC trying to build a culture of life and love. Their mission? To proclaim the beauty of the Catholic faith, through the lens of the Theology of the Body, with their words, hearts, and bodies."

So I quickly parked the car and walked a little stretch of the road with them. We exchanged some Catholic small talk, discovering that we were six degrees from Christopher West, and I mentioned that I would post a little blurb of a blog about them.... so here it is! Please check out their wonderful website and spread the word about this awesome and inspiring mission!

The Missionaries of the Eucharist website...

We walk throughout the day to be a witness of love. We are grounded in prayer-we pray with our lips, our hearts, and our bodies. In walking an average of twenty-five miles per day, we offer our fatigue as a gift of love to Christ and the people we meet. Our walking is both sacrifice and prayer.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Carry, Push, or Draw?

Well, my nephew and I have returned from a refreshing and simultaneously exhausting trip up North.... yes, even the word North conjours up sweet memories.... of mosquitoes.

For some cosmic reason out of my control (what is in my control anyway?) the usual blissful, warm days, cool nights, birches, balsam, and sea breezes that I was accustomed to tasting in my trips to Maine at the end of July were... gone. Thanks to some Tropical Storm hundreds of miles away, we were sogged with fog, rained on by rain, and hugged with humidity. And those winged harbingers of doom... oiy!

Mosquitoes the size of small mammals were everywhere. They could bite through jeans! JEANS! I'm not making that up! I think they've been genetically manipulated or something... but why? and by whom? Ah, that's a thought for another day.

Seriously, the trip was great. It wasn't all rain and pain. What's life without bugs and suffering anyway? My dad says the skeeters are here to remind us that "this ain't heaven." Fair enough. We still hiked, and biked, and kayaked; swam, jumped, swatted, laughed, ate, sang, ate some more, spoke of deep mysteries and prayed... so that's pretty good stuff. Here's the blog link if you care to peruse the pics!

Now this experience of seven days with my 14 year old nephew (and Flapjack, our mascot) got me thinking about the ways we encounter life... I mean Life. I mean the Truth and Beauty and Goodness and Unity that Life contains deep within because God planted it there. It's an encounter which many of us (14 to 38 to 98 years old) have sometimes achieved, missed, ignored, or still seek. So how and when do we "get" it? And can we facilitate the encounter?

I had some serious plans for last week. Perhaps too many. You know the old saying "How do you make God laugh? Tell Him your plans." Well, I came to realize that the invitation to such mysteries has to always remain just that.... an invitation. It can't be forced, faked, or fabricated. It's best if it's simply unveiled, pointed to, released simply with a look or a silence. You drive and you look out the window, and there's life. And you watch it unfold like a road before you.


I was reading a fantastic book called Three Philosophies of Life by Dr. Peter Kreeft this summer (for the second time 'cause it's that good) and I came across a line about this encounter. He said that there are three ways to enter into life:

1. We can be carried. No work involved, no will, just lifted here and there like a pile of heart and bones. We don't learn much or stretch our spiritual muscles this way. We're like jello, and we simply fill the mold we're carried into (Realistically, we need this until we're oh, ten or eleven... I think. And other times too, it's flexible).

2. We can be pushed. Just do it because I said so. It's not always pleasant but it gets the chores done. It's kind of like the Purgative Way of the spiritual life. I don't wanna but I gotta.

3. We can be drawn. Oh here it is.... this is the moment when the alabaster jars of God's fragrance, stored up in the things of earthly life, break open and lift our eyes to Heaven! This is more akin to the Illuminative or Unitive Way of the spiritual life. To be drawn is to give in to the tractor beam of Grace, to let down our shields and allow ourselves to be taken in by that Death Star that is the Pierced Heart of Jesus. Yes, death to self, death to self-absorption, and to what others think of me. That's a trap with a strong gravitational pull. But everything created by our Loving God has a stronger magnetic property. We just have to orient ourselves towards it. "To see the miraculous within the ordinary is the mark of highest wisdom." (Ralph Waldo Emerson)


My prayer for Sean, as he enters high school this fall, is that he surrenders more and more to this magnetism of grace and truth and goodness, in his friendships, his studies, his prayer, his looking at life as it unfolds before him. I was privileged to be drawn to God by Sean's easy laugh, quiet peace, crazy quotes from Nacho Libre, and his willingness to journey into the unknown with me. This is one extraordinary young man; I know he'll navigate well through the trails ahead!

Just bring some bug spray, Sean. There could be mosquitoes.

Pai'y!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Bill and Sean's Excellent Adventure!

What's This All About?

This weekend (and all of next week), as a gift for his recent Confirmation into the fullness of the Catholic Faith, I'm taking my nephew on a journey of biblical proportions. He doesn't know where we're going, but he knows it's a leap of faith and a walk closer to the Lord (sometimes a hike;)

In order for family and friends to keep abreast of our journeys, I've created a blog, aptly named "Bill and Sean's Excellent Adventure!" This will allow us to post messages and pictures and for everyone else to read about and envy in the good sense of the word some of the deep (and not so deep) thoughts and conversations we'll be having as we travel into the wild! All are welcome to pop in for a virtual visit! The blog will be the canvas on which we paint our travels!

HERE IT IS AGAIN IN ALL IT'S GLORY: http://billandseansexcellentadventure.blogspot.com/

Please say a prayer for our safe travels and good weather!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

World Youth Day Stats

Some pretty neat stats on what's going down Down Under: SYDNEY, Australia, JULY 16, 2008 (Zenit.org) - Some 225,000 youth are participating in World Youth Day, which began Tuesday and will end Sunday with a closing Mass that could gather a half million people.The organizers report that 125,000 of the young pilgrims are from countries other than Australia; another 100,000 are from the host nation. The event is the biggest and most multinational ever held on Australian soil, even more so than the 2000 Olympics. (wow. my emphasis) The United States is the foreign country that sent the most pilgrims, with 15,000. Youth Day organizers have provided these statistics as well: An estimated 8,000 volunteers are assisting with the activities. Some 2,000 priests and 500 bishops and cardinals are present; 500 chasubles were made for the prelates and a stole for each of the priests. One million hosts for Holy Communion were made and 120 bottles of wine will be used for the opening and closing Masses. Pilgrims will eat 3.5 million meals and 232,000 candles will be used during the event. About 100,000 young people are sleeping in 400 schools and parishes and 10,000 in Sydney Olympic Park. About 100 actors are involved with the Stations of the Cross performance. Australia has approximately 5.12 million Catholics in 1,363 parishes. This is approximately 26% of the population. It has 28 territorial dioceses, four dioceses of Eastern Catholic Churches and one military diocese. The greater Sydney region, with its four dioceses, has about 1.5 million Catholics. The Archdiocese of Sydney has almost 600,000 of those in some 141 parishes with 480 priests. There have been three previous papal visits to Australia. In 1970, Pope Paul VI went; in 1986, Pope John Paul II; and in 1995, the Polish Pontiff went again, beatifying Mary MacKillop. www.zenit.org

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Faith - Try It! You'll Like It!

After dropping off Rebecca for work, and on the way to purchase new hiking shoes for next week's adventure (click here! ... I can't wait!) I decided to catch the 8:30 Mass at Holy Cross, a neighboring parish. I was caught up again in the beauty of the eastern wall o' windows (pictured here, thanks to the iPHONE! Again!)

These bad boys are at least 25 feet high and a blaze of glory. But looking at them, during the homily (sorry Father), I got to thinking:

If the cars cruising down Baltimore Pike should perchance cast a glance towards the church right now, what would they see? Only darkness, blotted shapes, and metal bands holding oddly shaped glass together. Only the people on the inside can see their true beauty.

ENTER: A separate stream of thought that should collide with the first stream like in Ghostbusters when they crossed the streams and there was a huge explosion.

Last night on the radio, I interviewed Jennifer Fulwiler (see post below), a wonderful wife, mother, and former atheist who has entered the Catholic Church and now blogs beautifully about her journey at www.conversiondiary.com. She talked about what it was like having the mind of an atheist; how, when confronted with those dark moments in life, the blotted, tangled, cold metallic shapes of pure science and pure materialism alone, she felt.... outside, alone. It was dark, empty, and somehow detached from the mosaic of color that others seemed, almost naively, to enjoy.... and even in suffering, suffer through peacefully.

I think faith is a mystery to many because they are standing on the outside of the Church, looking in. But faith cannot be understood from the outside. One must step inside. Even if we do it half-heartedly, with trepidation, and taking more or less a gamble on this whole "God Thing," we will discover a warmth and a glow shining through the windows of the mind and heart that could never have been seen in other way.

"Sometimes you just close your eyes and jump, you don't think too long or maybe you just won't. Sometimes you just follow your heart, don't analyze too long or maybe it might just be gone."
- Carrie Newcomer, folksinger

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Diary of a Former Atheist - Tonight's Radio Guest

Tonight on the Heart of Things Radio Show, I have the privilege of interviewing Jennifer from "Et Tu?" - You can listen live via internet radio here.

If you are a blogger or a reader of blogs in Catholic circles, you may have heard of this wonderful wife and mother who has been chronicling her journey from atheism into the Catholic Faith over the past two years. With humor and deep insight, she unpacks the journey into God and the deepening of the life of faith, facilitates lengthy discussion threads, and occasionally addresses the presence of scorpions in the life of her household. Tune in tonight at 5pm EST!


ABOUT JEN (taken from "Et Tu?")

I'm 31, married, and have three children ages three and under. I have a background as a web designer/developer but am now Director of Chaos Management for my household. I was an atheist my entire life until around age 26 -- I never once considered the possibility that God might exist, not even as a child. I saw no absolutely no proof for God's existence and couldn't imagine how a person could believe in an unseen deity. Around the time my first child was born I started to think that maybe I should take another look at the question of God. Upon investigation I was shocked -- really, really shocked -- to find that Christianity had some compelling data points in its favor. I came to a dry intellectual belief in God but didn't know what to do from there. To make a long story short, my husband and I both converted to Catholicism in 2007 and today I am thrilled beyond words to be a Christian.

____________________________________________
For more of Jen's posts and a general introduction, click here.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Alligators and Boars and Jesus, Oh My!!

Today wraps up the first annual "Be Not Afraid" Youth Conference Retreat at Ave Maria University near Naples, Florida; strategically held at a place where there is, in fact, much to fear.

The following list of deadly beasts is authentic and has not been doctored up or exaggerated in any way (and was revealed to me by "Christie," who gave me this list AFTER she picked me up at the Fort Myers Airport... ha ha ha)

- panthers
- black bear
- wild boar (I met a guy named Anthony who has bagged 14 of them with
a bow and arrow. I am NOT making any of this up)
- alligators (exhibit A, pictured above; sadly his ferocity may seem
dwarfed by my finger. I found him this morning, floating just outside
the main hall where the retreat was held. Awesome)
- five species of poisonous snakes (and of course, lots of non-
poisonous cousins)
- black widow spiders (helloooooooo)
- mosquitoes that could carry small packages on their backs.

"Be not afraid."

Indeed.

Ave Maria University just moved into town a couple years ago, in fact, the town is being built "around" the University. It's brand new. So as Christie says, "Nature has not quite gotten the concept yet of "people." It got me thinking though, as I pedalled into town this morning on a
borrowed bike, past palm trees, floating gators, and prehistoric birds drying their huge wings atop street lights (while whistling the theme from Jurassic Park) - I think the scariest presence of all for some of these teenagers is God Himself.

Who is He really?
What does He want from me?
Does He know me, all of me, my heart's deepest secrets and desires?
Do I even know myself?

It's scary terrain, this interior landscape of the human heart, no doubt. But to live an authentic human life, we must step out, wade into the water, take that uncharted path.

Leaving today, with the final farewells and the testimonies of the young, I knew many had discovered some peace. A fellowship too, so desperately needed. And best of all the truth that God is not scary; life without Him is.

Friday, July 11, 2008

A Wing and a Prayer

We were flying over the east coast towards Naples, Florida this
afternoon, when the sun broke through this bank of clouds. Amazing!
Having a snazzy camera in this iPhone sure comes in handy. I know, I
know... Nerd Boy strikes again. (PS - the 3G version of the iPhone was
released today. Double the memory, half the price, dang it. Good
things come to those who wait!)

I've been invited to speak at a Youth Conference at Ave Maria
University tomorrow. Fresh from an incredible week with the Theology
of the Body Institute, I get to carry some of that fire down south to
the youth who will come to the weekend. So I'm flying, praying,
preparing, missing Rebecca, fumbling through the pages of the
experiences of my life and asking Jesus what He wants me to share. Did
I mention I'm missing Rebecca?

Giving talks over the years, I've discovered that the best ones come
pouring from these experiences of life. I stress about the flow, the
bullet points, and Jesus just keeps saying "Relax. Share the story."
That's what much of Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body is rooted
in, as well as his book Love and Responsibility (which Dr. Janet Smith
led us through beautifully this past week): our human experiences.

What is the deepest desire of my heart? What draws me to do this or
that? What were those restless years, of fear and longing, hopes and
dreams that in my own younger days were nearly as tangible and
substantial as bread?

What is it about human love, about Rebecca, that draws me out of
myself (finally) and into something so much bigger, deeper, richer?
What is this paradox that when I give my life away, I find it again...
and more?

What are the cravings for truth and beauty and goodness that pull me,
magnetically, through this world? This is what I'll speak about; the
desire in each of us for union and communion. The fact that a mystical
marriage with the Divine is what awaits us! That we have a capacity
for the Infinite within the hollow spaces of our hearts that no finite
thing can ever fill. Love has stamped this yearning in our hearts.
That I have tasted it in my marriage with Rebecca, that we drink from
this same fountain in our quiet time after Communion, that when we
walk hand in hand, we don't just face each other, as if the fullness
of love lies in our own power and person. But we look out and up to
the One from Whom all graces flow.

Amen. Time for some sleep!

Friday, July 04, 2008

Let Freedom Bling?

I was in the city yesterday, waiting to pick up the Mrs. and sitting outside of Independence Hall. Fitting, eh? Today this historically rich city of Philadelphia will be booming and blasting with fireworks and all shimmery with swirling "glow in the dark" necklaces for kids, and cheesy fries. Lots of cheesy fries. It's gonna be big! Bigger than all of us! It's America's Birthday!

We all like BIG. I think in a positive sense it reminds us that we're small. We discover that we're part of a BIGGER picture; that the World isn't just our little brush stroke of a life in one corner of the painting. We play a part in a big Glorious Canvas and are members of one BIG human family. This puts all of our "little" problems into perspective. Or at least it should.

But when BIG becomes quantifiable in the amount of stuff we gather, rather than qualifiable in the measure of love we receive or give, then we've got problems. This is a BIG deal. The freedom we celebrate today is the freedom to choose one of these paths. A life, family, country, or world will rise and fall, thrive or thwart their destiny if it chooses poorly.

Ah Freedom.... it's the unique and inviolable gift that makes humans human. We can choose. We can move. We can be heroic or demonic - selfless, or selfish. We can be super-human by cooperation and abandonment to the Divine Grace that flows from Jesus, or we can reject Him and hence slip into being sub-human, never "awakening" to our divine potential, our promise of sharing in the divine nature. The mystery of mysteries is that God took this tremendous risk in creating us this way! He knew we could fall. But so that we might RISE... God Himself took the risk of creating us free.

The question on a day like today is, in the words of William Wallace, "What will you do with your freedom?" Amass a bunch of stuff, build a bigger nest? Use our freedom for "bling" or let that freedom ring?

Freedom is not our license to have it all. Freedom is the calling to give it all.

And thank God our ancestors did just that.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Taste and See!

Today is the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle. Beautifully, his quest for tangible "proof" in the resurrection of the dead, the turning of the tide that sweeps all of humanity under her tow, was initiated by this man. A man of science we might say. A man who wanted to affirm sensory data, to take in all the reports, not just of hearsay or someone else's witness, but quantifiable, experiential evidence. Thomas wanted to "taste and see that the Lord is good," and would not rest with merely the fragrance of that food from another's plate. He would feast his own eyes on Incorruptible Flesh, and would plunge his own hands into those very real wounds to be sure this was no impostor.

Good for Thomas. Faith needs works like this sometimes. We should all press on to taste and see, to experience the Lord not just through another's feelings or philosophy. We should enter through that Door ourselves with our whole person, and never be afraid of the results. God has given us faith and reason, not as enemies, but as complements. One reaches up from the earth, the other shimmers in the heavenly realms. "Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit soars to the contemplation of Truth." (Pope John Paul II)

I hear a tone of quiet peace and an invitation in Jesus, not an angry tone, when he says to Thomas the Questioner, Thomas the Seeker, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”

On that day, the experiential became the quitessential, the climax of all questions.... So to Thomas the Scientific we are grateful, and we are invited to taste and see ourselves. He is Risen!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

True Beauty

Last night, Rebecca and I saw the above ad for Dove's Self-Esteem Project. Now I don't watch a ton of TV so I may be coming in late on the game here. The ad almost knocked me out of my seat. With the beautiful song True Colors playing softly in the background, it called out the distortions and exaggerations of femininity in the media, throwing the spotlight on their obsession with certain physical traits as ideals for "real" beauty. So many fall into the trap of thinking that this model is the model for what is beautiful! Statistics say that only 2% of women consider themselves beautiful. Tragic! So to help girls recognize their intrinsic worth before the media gives them a distorted lens to look through, Dove is proclaiming that true beauty lies deeper than the skin-deep deceptions of air-brushed super-models and surgically altered body parts. Thank God for these ads. St. Peter once wrote that a woman's beauty was not so much an "external one: braiding the hair, wearing gold jewelry, or dressing in fine clothes".... but went much deeper, into "the hidden character of the heart, expressed in the imperishable beauty of a gentle and calm disposition, which is precious in the sight of God." (1 Peter 3:3-4) Isn't this what the young should be led to, developing the interior? The character of the heart, should always precede thoughts of outward appearance. The heart of a person is what illumines the body and gives it real glory. That's what made Mother Teresa so gorgeous, wrinkles and all!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Don't Just Do Something! Sit There!

"Run, run, run" said the automobile, and we ran. "Run for your life. Take to your heels.... Foolish school of fish on wheels..."
- James Taylor

Hmm. I am guilty of this. I move too fast, even in the summa'time! I get up early, my mind swimming through a swarm of ideas. In the words of Henry David Thoreau, I "live too fast just as we eat too fast and do not savor the true taste of food." I am often awakened to the fact that I don't make enough time for prayer. Real prayer; the real crying out to God and opening up to God that makes us look like little birds in a big nest, wide mouthed and waiting for Him to feed us. I keep picking at the nest, milling around for scraps. My saving grace and the fuel for my soul is daily Mass (which I missed this morning, dang it). There's the most real prayer of all, the Perfect Prayer, as the saints and mystics tell us. They also say that all of life should be either a preparation for or a thanksgiving after Holy Mass. That's where Life becomes a rhythm around the Song of the Lord's Supper, a ring around the altar.

Fr. Paul Dressler (stationed in Rome for studies, and boy is he missed by the Philly crowd!) once said in a talk that when he was young he'd hear that famous phrase "Don't just sit there, do something!" But when it comes to Grace, it's best to flip that phrase around. "Don't just do something! Sit there!"

St. Dominic used to say (back when Latin was cool, and I think it still is):
"Contemplari et contemplata aliis tradere."

Contemplate and hand on to others the fruit of your contemplation.

Imagine if that well of prayer and meditation was the source and step from which we launched into every thought, word, and action of the day? Whoa, what a world it would be.


EXODUS, STAGE RIGHT
Moses answered the people, "Fear not! Stand your ground, and you will see the victory the LORD will win for you today. These Egyptians whom you see today you will never see again. The LORD himself will fight for you; you have only to keep still."

The answer God gives through Moses to these poor, unarmed, homeless, afraid People who are under attack is:

"Stand still!" Be Still... and Know that I am God. From the perspective of the world, this is INSANE. Imagine the initial reactions of the Israelites! Moses, what have you been smoking? And can we have some. All hell is breaking loose, the Egyptians are about to wash over us like a tidal wave, and you say.... Stand still?

I love this. I stink at this, but I love this.

This is our entrance into ABSOLUTE TRUST - into the Mystery of God and His Power - our entry into Eucharistic Adoration!

In the midst of our crazy culture, the Church says to us: Stand still! Now, some think that Eucharistic Adoration is akin to "doing nothing." I once met a priest (a priest God help us) who called Adoration "bread watching"... UGH. Does he believe in the Real Presence?

Moses reminded the Israelites that there was Another Presence with them, besides the rumbling charioteers who were about to mow them down. God was with them! And they needed to see Him, own their relationship with Him, BE with Him.

TO ENTER INTO THIS EUCHARISTIC MYSTERY, WE MUST LEARN TO STAND STILL....
- to calm down and see things for what they are
- to let God be God
- to hear his Voice like Elijah in the cave

This is how we enter into His Stillness. This is how we enter Eucharistic Adoration. Our culture is nuts! There are 130 billion e-mail messages transmitted worldwide every day. We can't sit still. We need detox. We need to enter the White-Hot Furnace of Silence. But let's understand what this therapy of silence means. We don't mean silence as a vacuum, just the absence of sound... Silence is not an absence but a presence, your presence of mind & heart to Life and God and creation! My favorite quote from Scripture may well be Isaiah 30:15..... By waiting and by calm you shall be saved, in quiet and in trust your strength lies.

We are living in a world that is starving for TRUE LOVE, and Love is tasted in silence, like a cool stream seeping into the heart through the eyes and ears. Love is an interior gaze. We MUST enter into this Mystery, give witness to the Real Love of the Eucharist through this silent, still gaze.

The presence of Jesus in the tabernacle must be a kind of magnetic pole attracting an ever greater number of souls enamoured of him, ready to wait patiently to hear his voice and, as it were, to sense the beating of his heart. "O taste and see that the Lord is good!" (Ps 34:8).
- Pope John Paul II, Mane Nobiscum Domine

Amen.

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