A Comprehensive Penitential Plan

Here we find ourselves on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. It is a season we rightly associate with penance. However, let us remember that the true aim of Lenten penance is transformation of our souls through conversion of our hearts anew to Jesus Christ. Pope Paul VI described Lenten penance as something that should trigger a transformation of mentality in us, a change in our way of evaluating ourselves. A key goal of Lent is to submit as much as we can to the perfect transformation Christ wants to perform in us through His death and Resurrection. In practical terms, how do we go about approaching penance in a way that can help us cooperate with the grace God is making available for this conversion of our hearts? I recommend building a comprehensive penitential plan based on evaluation of how dominated we are by the Seven Deadly Vices of lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. This suggestion should be no surprise given that typically we need transformation in more than one area of sin. Evaluating where we stand in regard to these vices can help us create penitential practices tailor-made for helping us grow in the corresponding Seven Heavenly Virtues of chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility. Virtues are like muscles that make it easier for us to remain free of vice, which better disposes us for the transformation that awaits through God’s grace. Now, the Church classifies Lenten penance by way of the three categories of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Below are insights on how we can incorporate those categories into a comprehensive penitential plan for Lent that is virtue-based.

Prayer

Receiving the sacraments of confession and the Eucharist more often should be the foundation of any penitential plan. In addition to them, however, try to think of creative ways for prayer to help you grow in specific virtues where vice tends to dominate you. For example, consider the vice of envy. Do you struggle with feelings of sorrow or resentment at the good fortune of a particular family member, friend, or coworker? Through time spent each week praying for that person’s intentions, God can begin to transform that envy into an ability to delight in the person’s good.

Fasting

Fasting seems to be the first thing most people think of regarding Lent. Usually Christians choose one thing to fast from entirely for the season. This is a time-tested approach that can certainly be effective. However, as part of your comprehensive penitential plan, you may want to try a diversified approach I like that is designed to exercise multiple virtue muscles. By a diversified approach, I mean choosing a combination of enjoyments from which to fast on pre-specified numbers of days each week. For example, let’s say you tend to eat too much of a certain type of food. Under this alternative approach, you could determine a number of days each week to fast from that food, a number that would feel genuinely austere to you. The next step would be to explore other aspects of excessive consumption in your life. Do you find yourself addicted to Facebook? If so, select a number of days each week to also fast from Facebook, at least enough days to feel the sting of its absence. Perhaps you spend too much time listening to political talk radio, which enflames you in a way that causes you to be dominated by wrath. If so, reduce your consumption of talk radio using the method described above, and do likewise with other aspects of vice you would like to target through the fasting portion of your penitential plan. You may be wondering, how austere is austere enough? The answer is to base the rigor of your penitential austerity on an honest assessment of your own spiritual maturity. Offering discomfort as a gift to God is profoundly important to Lenten penitential transformation. This is because crucial to Christ’s suffering on the cross is the fact that its redemptive effect on human nature transformed suffering, something rooted in sin, into a source of His grace. To let ourselves off easy in regard to Lenten fasting is to be stingy with ourselves. God does not need our fasting. We need our fasting for the grace he generously gifts us through it. By the same token, being too ambitious with Lenten penance can lead us to lose sight of its ultimate purpose. When this happens, fasting can become a vain exercise. We can also start to compensate for the discomfort involved by displaying it for others or allowing our penance to become mortification for those around us. Ultimately, follow your conscience as honestly as possible when determining the rigor of your fasting.

Almsgiving

Given that almsgiving is any material favor done to assist the needy, prompted by the virtue of charity, it should be easy to see that almsgiving is a penance that overcomes the vice of greed.

The Ultimate Aim of Lent

I cannot stress enough the importance of conversion of our hearts anew to Jesus during Lent. We should come out of Lent as better people. Ultimately, Lent is meant to prepare us to celebrate Christ’s Resurrection. We as Christians were baptized into both His death and Resurrection, a transformation that will enable every Christian who perseveres in this life to enjoy perfect happiness with Him for eternity in the next.

Our Pastor’s Corner, February 15, 2015, Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

 A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity [compassion], he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.” The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once. He said to him, “See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.” The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere. (Mark 1:40-45)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA This weekend before Ash Wednesday, we hear the remarkable story of Jesus healing the leper. In preparing for Lent, three aspects of this healing account come into view. First, the behavior of leper is shocking. The first reading from Leviticus articulates the norms for those afflicted with this disease, “The one who bears the sore of leprosy shall keep his garments rent and his head bare, and shall muffle his beard; he shall cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean!’ He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp.” (Leviticus 13:44-46) Yet, instead of keeping a safe distance and crying out unclean, the leper boldly approaches Jesus with the request to be made clean. To those who witnessed this event, this was an audacious act of faith. The leper not only knew that he needed Jesus, he was brave enough to break the social norms to ask for healing. Second, Jesus’ response to the leper is just as surprising. Risking becoming unclean himself, he reaches out and touches the leper while saying words of healing, “Be made clean.” The word that St. Mark uses to expression Jesus motivation goes beyond mere pity or compassion, but is tinged with indignation. Jesus expresses frustration at the existence of such illness, much as he cries out in anger at the death of his friend Lazarus before he weeps. The existence of sin, disease and separation from God were not part of the original creation, and at every turn in the Gospel, Jesus takes pains to restore with his healing touch. Third, Jesus’ final instructions to the cured leper are perhaps the most surprising of all. Instead of encouraging the man to share his story with everyone, he tells him to “go and show yourself to the priest” and to offer thanksgiving in the temple. This admonition to keep quiet seems at odds with Jesus’ other exhortations to spread the good news and preach the gospel to all. In the end, Jesus’ reasons for silence become clear. When the man publicizes the event, Jesus’ fame as a miracle worker spreads to such great lengths that his ministry is actually limited. Instead of focusing on how the man was brought from the margins of society into the heart of the community, those who flocked to Jesus were looking for a miracle or some other feat of the extraordinary. In the Gospel of Mark, the theme of silence underscores Jesus’ mission to be more than a simple wonderworker or magician. Jesus is not so much concerned with curing, but with healing. In fact, Jesus cures in order to heal. Obviously, in the years following his cure, the leper ultimately died. But the cure that he experiences in this moment heals him forever, since it reconnects him to family of community and the life of worship in the Temple. Whereas his leprosy cut him off from others, Jesus’ cure leads to healing, i.e., a spiritual reconnection with others.

Fr Michael administering the Anointing of the Sick during the Lourdes Novena healing retreat last year

Fr Michael administering the Anointing of the Sick during the Lourdes Novena healing retreat last year

In applying this story to our lives, we too might consider the aspects of our lives that separate us from others. It is not simply an exercise in “Catholic guilt” to reflect on the ways in which we need healing in spirit. Like the leper, when we are bold enough to ask Jesus to heal us, he can make us clean. Such restoration not only brings about personal blessing, but reconnects us with the community around us. As we prepare to enter the great season of Lent, we recognize our need for healing, we reach out to our Lord and we can expect to hear those powerful and comforting words: I do will it. Be made clean.

~ Fr. Michael Hurley, O.P.

Ding!  You’ve got hate mail!

Happy Our Lady of Lourdes, everyone!

hate mailA few weeks back, I got some hate mail.  You know what I’m talking about.  An anonymous email from a made-up email address from someone who tried to character assassinate me.  Sigh.  I mean, this is one of the dangers of developing a blog and the social media for the parish, right?  There will always be a critic or a troll.  It’s goes with the territory, and I knowingly took it on.

Now, it would be little of me if I ranted on what the note was about.  But suffice it to say that most of the comments were rude, unfounded, and sadly comical.  There were a couple of comments that told me that I was part of the Evil Empire because I was affiliated with Stanford University.  (Unnecessary tangent: this is why I rarely reference my previous assignment—people automatically rip me if I mention it, sigh…makes me wonder how Fr. Xavier is holding up….)  And there were others that told me how inept I was as a priest and preacher.  Sigh.

Now, as I had alluded to, this email was delivered a few weeks back, which means I had time to pray and think over (and delete) this note.

jameis winstonConfession:  I love trolling on Jameis Winston, the former quarterback for the Florida State University Seminoles football team.  Undoubtedly a talented player, his off-the-field antics are the things that would make Bill Clinton blush.  You don’t have to Google him for that long to figure how much of a ‘bad boy’ this guy is.  And when I would talk to others who are into the college football scene, I would happily bring up this guy’s past, and trash his reputation.  And you know what?  It was fun.

It’s not exactly fun anymore, and this is why:

Once, I was out, and I made a crack comment about Winston.  One of the people I were talking to laughed, but later on, said, “Iz—that guy is a son.”

It’s easy to trash someone if you don’t have a relationship with him.  It’s easy for us to trash any celebrity, football player, clergyman, if you don’t know anything other than their first and last name.  It’s easy for me to trash Winston because I hear reports from ESPN and Bleacher Report, and listen to podcasts of what other people say about the guy. Yet, I have never had a conversation with the guy.  And I will even less likely even meet him…ever.

Yet—it’s easy for me to rag on him because I don’t know him.  I don’t know his mother’s name.  Don’t know his religious affiliation. Don’t know how he likes his steaks, if he would rather his eggs scrambled or over easy.  If he likes pulpy orange juice or none at all.

I have no idea who this guy is, other than that he is a college student, an athlete, and is characterized as unwise and unpredictable.

In other words, I have no idea who is this guy is at all.

But he is a son.

photo (1)Yes, I don’t know much about this guy.  But what I was reminded of is extremely important.  That Jamies Winston has a mother and a father.  He is someone’s son.  He most likely wants to be a father some day.  And he as dreams and aspirations like I do.  He has faults like I do.  He has made mistakes (albeit publically) like I have.

He is a son.

This is a guy who was created by the very same God who created me.  And that very same God wanted both of us to flourish and to become saints.

He is a son.

I will respect and read any and all constructive criticism that I receive about any social media of the parish and of my overall ministry at St Dominic’s Catholic Church.  Yet, gentle reader, be mindful of this request: remember that I too am a son.  I too was created by the very same God that created you.  That the very same Jesus that wants you to become a saint wants me to become a saint as well.  So please pray over any and all comments you will make to me, remembering this very fact…then write and send that email.

Holy Father Dominic, pray for us!

 

PS: For the Lenten Season, I have given Brother Andrew the Wise the opportunity to spend this time with you.  See y’all in Easter!

Our Pastor’s Corner, February 8, 2015, Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis Wednesday, we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. We have the pleasure of having Fr. Reginald Martin, O.P., lead us in the Shrine of St. Jude’s novena for Our Lady of Lourdes. Fr. Reginald began the novena with a reflection on the virtue of mercy, which he defined as “compassion for another’s distress coupled with a practical will to relieve it.” The Incarnation is the greatest example of mercy, for it is through the humanity of Christ that we experience salvation. This mercy comes to life through the cooperation of Mary. In the Incarnation, God’s mercy was made flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary through her “yes” to God’s will. For this reason, in the hymn “Hail Holy Queen,” we call Mary “Mother of Mercy.” For those of us who come to the novena with particular needs and intentions, we ask Our Lady to turn her eyes of mercy on us, and show us her son, Jesus.

This theme of mercy is rooted in the very apparition of Our Lady at Lourdes. On February 11, 1858, Our Lady appeared to Bernadette Soubirous, a fourteen-year-old peasant girl, at a cave in Massabielle, France. Identifying herself as the Immaculate Conception, the Blessed Virgin urged Bernadette to live a life of prayer and penance for world peace and spiritual healing. Though many, including her parents, did not initially believe Bernadette’s fantastic story, the miraculous nature of her vision soon became undeniable. Very quickly, the focus of the pilgrims who traveled to the grotto to see where Mary appeared centered on the spring of water that Bernadette unearthed at the Lady’s promptings. Though at first the spring waters ran muddy, it soon became evident that some who washed in its waters were cured of various maladies. Word spread like fire and, though at first the Church was circumspect with regard to these miraculous reports, the scientific community verified the veracity of many of these claims of cure. With joy the Church approved the apparitions and today Our Lady’s grotto in Lourdes is one of the most visited Marian sites, attracting 6 million pilgrims annually.

photo 2 (2)Pope Pius XII wrote a beautiful encyclical in which he powerfully articulates how we can learn from and be healed through her intercession. In the school of Mary one can learn to live, not only to give Christ to the world, but also to await with faith the hour of Jesus, and to remain with Mary at the foot of the cross. Go to her, you who are crushed by material misery, defenseless against the hardships of life and the indifference of men. Go to her, you who are assailed by sorrows and moral trials. Go to her, beloved invalids and infirm, you who are sincerely welcomed and honored at Lourdes as the suffering members of our Lord. Go to her and receive peace of heart, strength for your daily duties, joy for the sacrifice you offer. (Le Pelerinage de Lourdes)

One does not have to travel to France to be touched by the compassion of Our Lady who appeared to St. Bernadette. Here we honor Our Lady at our Lourdes Grotto. Now situated in the parking lot, the Grotto was originally part of St. Rose Academy and resided in a garden cloister area used by our Dominican Sisters of San Raphael. When the Academy came down in the Loma Prieta quake, the Grotto remained in place and today serves as a focal point of prayer and devotion. No matter the time of day, the Grotto always draws devotees who come to call upon Our Lady for her powerful intercession. I think of the countless prayers, rosaries and sacrifices offered at the foot of the Grotto (even in the most inclement weather), and know that many a pilgrim has experienced the peace and comfort of the Blessed Virgin at this special shrine. For those who have visited the Grotto, you have experienced its comfort. For those who have not, I invite you to make a visit. Our Lady awaits!

Since she who we name as our “Mother of Mercy” experienced suffering in her own life, she is always eager to give us the mercy of her Son in our own trials and tribulations. Even if you have not joined us for the novena, I invite you to come to the celebration of this feast at the 5:30 p.m. Mass on Wednesday. May Our Lady of Lourdes enlighten our path, touch our hearts and lead us to the embrace of her Son!

~ Fr. Michael Hurley, O.P.

A Preacher’s Life – The Torch

NOT the on call phone

NOT the on call phone

When any of the priests are ‘on call’ or ‘on duty’, it means that we have to handle anyone that comes in through the door asking to speak to a priest, any devotee of the St Jude Shrine that needs something blessed, or any hospital call that comes in from CPMC, Kaiser or Mount Zion.  Within my first month of being here, I’ve learned to keep these days particularly light…just in case God has something else planned.

Anyway, there is an actual “on call phone”, an older phone with limited abilities.  We hand this off to each other, and because of it, the phone has a nickname—“the Torch”.  Often, when Fr. Michael and I are handing off the phone to each other, one of us sings the Chariots of Fire theme song, with the other in a slow-moving running stance, racing towards the other.  I know, it doesn’t sound so dramatic, but at least it makes the Novices laugh.  Well, it made them laugh twice.  Maybe once.  Maybe at all.

Not too long ago, we had a botched hand-off.  After I got the phone from the Pastor, I ended up dropping the phone in front of the house chapel.  He turned around, saying, “You dropped your cross, man!”

I looked at him, and gave him a smirk, and pocketed the phone.

 

imageNow here’s the thing.  I know that I’ve written so much about have the Torch in my pocket.  However, despite the fact that The Torch has given me so much content, I cannot say that it’s my favorite task.  And I think you can understand why: you are the guy who gets called if someone is dying.  You are the guy that has to wake up at 3:17 in the morning if a nurse at the hospital needs an emergency anointing.  The Torch is a bad comparison to the Holy Spirit—fiery, unpredictable, uncontrollable, and always pining for your attention, always calling you at the oddest times to say something that will get you in the gut.  There is always that little something in the crevice of your heart, just wondering…is this the night when I will be awakened at 3:02 in the morning?

photo (1)So when Fr. Michael asked me to pick up my Torch, he was saying something without saying something.  He was reminding me of why I am here.  With you.  Not merely to watch football and nerd out about the Boy Who Lived.  But to be that instrument of sacrifice.  We are all called to pick up our own Torch, and cast that light of Christ to all.  Especially when it is inconvenient, when we are exhausted, and when feeling cowardly.  So many times, I must remind myself of the great privilege it is to be called the son of God, the brother of the Savior, and an instrument of the Fire of God.

So yes, I guess you can say that there was a lot in that smirk I gave Fr. Michael when he told me to pick up the Torch.  But at least I pocketed the phone, albeit with a quick prayer for a lighter day.

 

Holy Father Dominic, pray for us!

Our Pastor’s Corner, February 1, 2015, Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time 

If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts. Oh, that today you would hear his voice: “Harden not your hearts as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the desert, Where your fathers tempted me; they tested me though they had seen my works.”(Psalm 95:7-9)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYosemite National Park is a favorite place of mine. Over the years, I have had the pleasure to visit the park at various times of the year and discover the dynamic beauty of its redwoods, waterfalls and mountains. I’ve been on retreat with the Young Adult Group, climbed the top of Half Dome, and swum, briefly, in the glacial waters of Lake Vogelsang. With such affection for the park, my interest was peaked recently, when I saw the story of the two young rock climbers who scaled the face of the El Capitan. Seven years in the planning, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgenson tackled their lifelong dream: to scale the sheer wall, or Dawn Wall, using nothing but their own skill and strength. Ropes would be there to catch them, but that was it. Again and again, they were told it was impossible to scale the 3,000-foot rock face, yet in less than three weeks, using only their hands and feet, they completed the first “free climb” of the Dawn Wall. As they basked in the glow of their incredible achievement, they were asked what message this might send to the world. Jorgenson said, “I hope people take the time to find their own Dawn Wall, if you will, and use this project as an example of what you can achieve when you dream big and don’t give up.”

photo_2Dream big and don’t give up. In the Psalm this weekend, we are reminded of the forty-year desert wanderings of the Israelites. After the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea and the reception of the Law on Mount Sinai, the Jewish nation is dreaming big. God promises blessings, legacy and land and, driven by theses promises, it takes them a matter of weeks to reach the cusp of the Promised Land. Yet as the travels become more daunting near their goal, the people waver. When they reach Meribah (or Massah), they are worn out, hungry and without water. And they give up. They complain against God, plot to violently revolt against Moses and agitate to return to Egypt. Their big dreams collapse for lack of resolve. What might have taken a matter of weeks is extended into forty years, as the people learn that God’s promises can only be achieved through perseverance.

feb calAs we begin February, I am reminded of the big dreams of the New Year, which is often a time to make new resolutions or set specific goals. Research indicates that more than half of the population makes a concerted effort in the New Year to start fresh on an anticipated project. Yet, within a month 92% of those who made such resolutions have given up. In fact, fewer than 5% of folks who make New Year’s resolutions see them through to the next year. Though there are many reasons why resolutions fail, perhaps the most significant is that when we initially fail in our resolution, we can easily give up. Last year, I eagerly attempted to read the Gospels through flocknote.com/gospel (I had done the same with the Catechism the year before). Since I spend some time answering emails, I thought it would be a good way to have a prayer break in the midst of the busy routine. I signed up at flocknote.com/gospel and began to get a short text of the Gospel sent automatically to my email each day. For the first few weeks, it was great. No matter when I read the passage for the day, inevitably the words or actions of Christ gave new meaning and application to particular pastoral situations that arose. It was as if the daily readings were speaking to me directly. Unfortunately, it didn’t last. I’d put off a day here and there, and then would rationalize, “well even if I skip St. Mark’s account, I’ll catch up in St. Matthew.” Soon enough, I had abandoned the goal completely. So this year, then, I’m back to it again, only with this resolve: even if I miss a day here or there, my resolve is not to give up on the overall project.

Each day is new, every sunrise a fresh opportunity for God’s word to work as a moment of grace. Even though we’re a month in, I invite you to join me in going through the Gospels together if you are so inclined. In fact, whatever your New Year’s resolution (and it’s not too late to formulate one!), the challenge of this week is to continue to dream and don’t give up. The mountains of our lives are scaled not by uncommon virtue but simply through the grace of perseverance.

~ Fr. Michael Hurley, O.P.

 

I have a weird life

I have a weird life.

I know that I have written about these things before, but it isn’t without reason.  Many things happen in the day of a priest. I have a weird life.

Not too long ago, I was on-call for the day. At 10:15 am, I was checking my email in my office when I received a call from the front desk. I was called to go to the hospital to anoint a dying man. I hung up the phone, and closed my computer, nabbed my oils, and took off.

Just as I was walking by the front of the parish and up Pine Street, towards La Boulange, I get a text message from one of our young adults.  The previous Sunday, she and her boyfriend had come into the Friars Chapel as I was there praying.  They had been very…talkative.  Anyway, she texted and apologized.

“I wanted to tell you why we were so chatty,” she explained.  Her boyfriend had proposed to her in the chapel!

“You didn’t say yes,” I responded, “did you?  I mean, he is so ugly!”rings

She didn’t respond to that.

Suffice it to say that it was a rather jubilant text conversation.  Just talking to her the other day, it was apparent she is so very excited.  She wants to get married two weeks ago.  The funny thing was, when he proposed, I didn’t even realize that they were five feet away from me.  I was doing my whole prayer routine, so I could care less what or who was attempting to distract me.  She mentioned that they were happy that I had been there (bizarre, I know) but they wanted to share the news with me in person.  Now, apparently, they were still in the Chapel by the time I had left, but…anyway.

This text conversation had ended at 10:45 in the morning.

Pacific-Campus-235x193pxI walked the hospital with a smile on my face.  I mean, how could you be in a bad mood after someone tells you that they are engaged to be married?  Looking at my oils, I remembered myself and began to pray for him and his family.

Entering the room of a dying man is simply indescribable.  There is a heavy knowing about the room.  People know what is going to happen.  And they are scared.  Most have never seen a death before.  Most would rather be in the park or watching a movie.  But they are there.  Out of love for this dying man, they are there, aiding him as he flies to Jesus’ realm.

Fifteen people were present when I entered the room, their eyes and energy focused on the patient.  The man had a mask around his nose.  There were pumps inflating and deflating, helping him breath.  The heaters were on, yet everyone was dressed with sweaters, their arms wrapped around themselves as though they were in the middle of Ann Arbor in December. Always, there is that one family member who has her arms wrapped around her waist, just keeping it together.  The strong woman in the family.  She acted as family liaison, telling me of the patient’s situation.

We began the Liturgy of Anointing and the Commendation for the Dying posthaste.  His family gathered around him, all of them touching him, listening to his gasps, seeing his head bobble, his eyes shut, the odd glisten over his eyelashes. One family member placed her hand over his heart and sobbed.  And sobbed.  And sobbed.

We prayed a decade of the rosary.  Then recited one of the psalms.

But the silence.

Yes, there were machine squawking and buzzing.  The noise of a busy hospital. The sounds of the City. But mysteriously, all I heard was the silent voice of God.

That thick, heavy, presence of Christ that comforts and allows your heart to relax.  It is an unmistakable feeling, knowing that the King has come to take His soldier home.  It’s like feeling a beautiful symphony for the first time.  The music enveloping you, allowing your entire self to swim around the chords and harmonious soaring of melody.  As though you were riding a long chord played by French Horns or allowed climb the air with the violins.

There came a time when I saw that all that I could do had been done.  I put my oils away and thanked the family for calling the parish.  With a muted thank you from the family, I blessed the patient one last time and excused myself from the hospital.

The time was 11:12.

While walking back to the Church, I saw two ladies laden with packages.  The younger lady had tightly cropped hair and a pleasant face.  She spotted me and waved.  I waved back.

“Hey, can I have a blessing?” she asked.

burning_candles_in_church_209033I didn’t think I heard what I was hearing.  “A what?”

“I would like you to pray over me.”

I smiled, half-chuckling.  “Well, okay.  What’s your name?  What are we praying for?”

She told me her name, adding, “I dunno.  I just need a blessing.”

So we prayed.

The time was 11:25.

I have a weird life.

In a matter of less than an hour, these things happen.  Torn apart, from tragedy, to bliss, to simple prayer.  And it’s a privilege, really.  God kill me if my ego grows so big so to feel indifferent when these things happen.

When Preadicare was started, I asked some readers for ideas for content.  One responded that he wanted to see what a normal day was like in the life of a priest.  Frankly, I’m still trying to figure out what a normal day in the life of a priest is myself, so I’m sorry that I cannot answer said question!

We are all busy, right?  And we all want to spend our limited time on earth, well.  May we have that contemplative heart to allow God to do His God-thing, and allow every moment (which ultimately belongs to Him) be filled with blessing and surprise.

Holy Father Dominic, pray for us!

Our Brother’s Corner, January 25, 2015, Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

andy armsIt sure is easy for me to forget that time is running out. Today’s second reading seems to indicate that Saint Paul encountered Christians with the same forgetful tendency. He reminds the Corinthians that the things of this world are passing away. Why does he refer to the present time as something that is passing away? After all, he wrote to the Corinthians nearly two thousand years ago, and the things of this world are still here. First of all, we need to remember that God exists outside of time. Poetically, Saint Peter writes that a thousand years are like a day in God’s sight. Scripture tells us that right now Jesus is sitting at the Father’s right hand where all things have been put under his feet. We hold as an article of faith that He will come again for his final judgment, destroy the heavens and the Earth, and create a new heaven and Earth in which those saved will live with Him, sharing in His nature as members of His body, for eternity.

As people who have been baptized into Christ’s death and Resurrection, assuming we are in a state of grace, we are already with Jesus in eternity in so far as Jesus is in eternity and we are spiritually part of His body. From Christ’s perspective, the current physical world really is passing away, and as spiritual members of his body, we ought to see it as such as well. But seeing things that way can be difficult because even though we are with Jesus in eternity spiritually, our physical bodies, including the physical senses on which we rely for awareness, remain here in this world where we are still vulnerable to temptation. Those of us who have died and risen spiritually with Christ but remain here physically in the realm of time – before physical death – are still in a process of transformation. It is a process that will reach its fulfillment after physical death.

clockIn the meantime, we are growing into the fullness of the new life Jesus initiated in us through baptism. Since the ultimate aim of Christian existence in the current life will reach its fulfillment after death, the best way I know of not being dominated by distractions in this life is to spend time meditating on the end of this life. With every passing moment, I am moving closer and closer to that unavoidable event. Meditating on death is not easy, and I imagine it becomes more complex emotionally the closer we perceive ourselves being to death. The fact that I am going to die is something that for most of my life I struggled to confront for longer than a few moments. It was just too profound a reality for me to handle. Plus, there was always some nearby distraction to relieve me from such thoughts. For example, if I went to a funeral or visited someone who was dying in the hospital, afterward I always needed a funny TV episode or some other worldly diversion from the reality that confronted me that day.

Holy Father Dominic's Tomb, Bologna (credit - domid.blogspot.com)

Holy Father Dominic’s Tomb, Bologna
(credit – domid.blogspot.com)

Many of us reach a point at which we are more willing to meditate on death. Different factors can cause this. For me, it came from being in religious life. Religious life is meant to remove, or at least limit, many of the tempting distractions the world offers. Religious life is also difficult emotionally because as a religious you have to live with people who cross your boundaries, irritate your sensibilities, and enflame your insecurities. If you want to be a healthy religious you need to deal with those issues. Essential to dealing with issues is to have an approach to ranking them, an approach that follows from a solid conviction in why you should rank them in that way. I started by asking, “Where is my life headed?” The unavoidable answer to that question was that my life was headed toward death. “What is it I believe about what happens after death in context of what I believe about why I am alive?” In contemplating that, I started experiencing meditation on death as something that freed me from the difficulties of my immediate environment. Those difficulties did not seem so important once I remembered the ultimate aim of my existence was toward a reality after physical death, and the things that were bothering me in the present would not matter at that point. As Saint Paul reminds us, time in this life is running out. From the vantage point of eternity, time will have seemed as brief as a blip on a radar screen.
~ Br. Andy Opsahl, O.P.

 

The Ten Truths of Moses

imagesThanks, Deacon Dan, for the post.  

Credit: Pastor Steve

Holy Father Dominic, pray for us!

 

The Ten Truths of Moses
 
I
All is One. (There is only one thing, One Being. Don’t settle for anything less than The One. “Have no other gods.”)
 
II
The Beloved is greater than your knowing. (Let go of your understanding of reality and simply behold it. Let go of your image of the Beloved and just love. “Have no graven image.”)
 
III
You can love God, but not use God. (God is beyond your controlling or defining. “Don’t use God’s name.”)
 
IV
Life is a gift. (Let go. Stop playing God. Even God does not play God. Be nothing, powerless and empty-handed. Let God be God. Take time to stop doing and be. “Honor the Sabbath.”)
 
V
You belong. (You receive great gifts from those who have come before you, and who surround you, and all the living beings who provide for you, simply because you are here. Show gratitude. “Honor your elders.”)
 
VI
Life is sacred. (Life itself is the presence of the Holy One. Do what gives life. Refrain from all that diminishes life. “Do not kill.”)
 
VII
The heart of life is faithful love. (God is faithful. All of life is a Covenant. Be faithful. “Don’t commit adultery.”)
 
VIII
We are all in this together. (Possession is an illusion. Resist the temptation to think of yourself as separate from others, or of others as a resource, or yourself as more deserving than they. Seek to bless others rather than to take anything from them. See to it that all have what they need. “Don’t steal.”)
 
IX
Illusion is powerful, but truthfulness is more so. (To free yourself from the power of illusion, be truthful in all things. “Don’t bear false witness.”)
 
X
You are a source, not an end point. (Relinquish possessiveness. Let go of things. Be giving instead of grasping. Share. “Don’t covet.”)

Our Brother’s Corner, January 18, 2015, Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhom in your life do you identify as a teacher, and why do you identify the person in that way? In today’s Gospel reading, Andrew and another disciple followed Jesus because they recognized Jesus as a teacher. They recognized him as a teacher because John the Baptist identified him as the “Lamb of God.” They believed John’s identification of Jesus as the Lamb of God because they believed John was a prophet through whom the God of Abraham and Moses spoke. They cared what that God said because they believed He created them. He was the source of existence, the author of truth. Given that they believed Jesus came from the author of truth, they were willing to follow him wherever He went, even if He did not tell them ahead of time where that would be. Ultimately, Jesus showed his followers’ ultimate destination to be in the next life, participation in His Resurrection, a state of perfect eternal happiness with Him outside of time. The early Christian martyrs were willing to be eaten alive by animals because they literally believed that about Jesus. The obvious question is should they have believed such a thing about Jesus? Why would anyone accept as true something from a source believed to be divine? What is truth?

The Catholic philosophical tradition makes a distinction between truth as reality in and of itself – as it actually is, and logical truth. Logical truth refers to one’s use of human reason in order to get as close as possible to knowing reality as it actually is. Given that reality in and of itself is always larger than human ability to understand it, human beings throughout the centuries have been willing to believe in an intelligent source of truth as the ultimate source of their own intelligence. They have been willing to believe in a reality that is not bound by what binds human understanding. Christians believe that intelligent source of intelligence to be the Triune God who sent His son Jesus to redeem sinners through his death and Resurrection.

bloch-sermon-on-the-mount815x912-624x698If you believe the same, then you should identify Jesus as your ultimate teacher as did the disciples in today’s Gospel. If we identify Jesus as our ultimate teacher, how are we Christians able to receive guidance from this teacher in light of the Christian dogma that He ascended to Heaven where he sits at the right hand of the Father? One answer is that Jesus provides it via the Holy Spirit. But what does it actually mean in practice to follow that guidance? It’s not like each of us has a personally assigned burning bush from which to hear it. How do we discern the difference between following the Word of God through the Holy Spirit versus simply following words we put into God’s mouth? The best way I know to follow Christ’s guidance authentically is to focus on growing in the Seven Heavenly Virtues and learning about the teachings of the Church He established on Earth. Virtues are essential muscles in this overall endeavor because the more those muscles grow the easier it becomes for us to master the Seven Deadly Vices. The less dominated by vice we are the freer we are to submit to the Word of God via the Holy Spirit through faith. It is a faith-driven submission to what our consciences indicate we should do in light of what we honestly understand Christ to be saying through the teachings of His Church. This process requires a willingness to submit even when doing so is inconvenient.

Also, any level of understanding of what Christ is saying through His teachings to a believer, no matter how honest on the part of that believer, will always have its limits in this life. This is because the truth that comes from Christ surpasses our mortal abilities to understand it. Understanding the guidance that comes from Jesus through the Holy Spirit is a process that unfolds gradually, and we will not understand it fully until we see God face-to-face. In the meantime, our faithful submission to the Word of God in the Holy Spirit through His Church’s teachings is the mechanism by which Jesus speaks to us in order to guide us. It is a relationship with Jesus that becomes more complexly and richly personal the less reservedly we give ourselves to Him through it. If this divine source of truth in which we have faith is real, it is a magnificent treasure that makes all of the difference in our lives. It can give us a sense of the ultimate aim of our existence in this life if we believe it. The question you have to ask yourself is do you believe it?

~ Br. Andy Opsahl, O.P.