Reflection: March 2019

Originally written for and delivered as a reflection at Holy Hour at our March 2019 diaconate formation weekend – March 8, 2019:

A reading from the first book of Kings, Chapter 19 verses :3-8:

Elijah was afraid and fled for his life, going to Beer-sheba of Judah. He left his servant there and went a day’s journey into the wilderness, until he came to a solitary broom tree and sat beneath it. He prayed for death: “Enough, LORD! Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”  He lay down and fell asleep under the solitary broom tree, but suddenly a messenger* touched him and said, “Get up and eat!”  He looked and there at his head was a hearth cake and a jug of water. After he ate and drank, he lay down again, but the angel of the LORD came back a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat or the journey will be too much for you!”  He got up, ate, and drank; then strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.

As we begin our Lenten journey, at the end of a week that had a day of fasting and abstinence, and another day of abstinence, this reading might make us think only of physical food like the angel pointed out to Elijah… food like a Filet-of-Fish, or a salad, or Saturday morning bacon.

And yes, refraining from physical food as a means of self-denial, sacrifice, and penance, is an important part of the spiritual life and of our penitential season of Lent.

But tonight, as we spend time with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ here in Holy Hour, I’d suggest that we turn our thoughts inward on this moment and the way we pray and approach this moment.  I’ll admit that, despite hours upon hours in adoration and prayer with Jesus in Holy Hours like this one, I still find it uncomfortable at times.  I wonder whether I’m praying “the right way.”  My mind gets distracted, and I feel bad that I’ve left Jesus sitting there looking at me, waiting for me, while my thoughts are elsewhere.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes, despite my best efforts, I feel like I fail at spending time here with my best friend.

Sometimes, in those moments, I’m like Elijah, turning back and saying, “Enough, Lord! Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors!”

But that’s when I realize that Jesus is still sitting here, the most patient and loving of friends, still waiting for me.  He understands, and he’s ready when I’m ready.

Last month in the Holy Hour reflection, David talked about suffering and silence.  He went into vivid detail about his son’s suffering after his attack in the streets New York City.  It was an amazingly touching story, but my heart and mind quickly flipped beyond suffering and honed in on the word “silence.”

Silence.

Let me tell a little story….

The night before our last formation weekend, I had made the decision to take a HUGE leap for someone who makes his living working in the daily grind of the tech industry, for a software company that makes much of its money from the time and attention of consumers inside of advertisers’ experiences.

I had come to the realization that enough was enough when it came to the distraction of quick little glances at my phone for Facebook updates, Tweets, Instagram posts, even emails and text messages.  That Thursday, I had made the decision to remove all of the social media apps from both my work and personal phones, and to turn off all of the notifications on emails and other messages, except for work emails during working hours and texts from Suzanne at any time.

Immediately after taking that step, I noticed that I had entered a vast ocean of wonderful silence.  I actually hadn’t even realized how much I had longed for that silence… that peace.

By the end of our last deacon weekend, I was truly savoring the fact that I wasn’t constantly pulling out my phone as a distraction in those “down moments” between conversations to check what was going on out there in the broader world beyond my immediate experience and influence.

Yes, there have been times when I’ve really been tempted to reinstall those apps.  Yes, there are moments when I really want the distraction. But no, I haven’t given in, and yes, I truly am appreciative of the “new life” I’ve had in my new, more real, more focused, interactions with other people in real life over the last month.

I saw its impact on my time in our Salt Lake City office this week, when my phone stayed in my bag most of each day and I found myself more focused on my teammates and team members.  I’ve certainly seen its impact in the time that I spend with Suzanne, and my time with the boys and with our other family members and friends.

Silence.

In this morning’s office of readings, St. John Chrysostom reflected upon prayer and conversation with God as “a supreme good.” He spoke of how our spirit should be quick to reach out toward God, constantly and in every moment and action.  Our prayer should be just an ongoing awareness of God and conversation with Him through each day.  He says, “The spirit, raised up to heaven by prayer, clings to God with the utmost tenderness; like a child crying tearfully for its mother.”  He says, “When the Lord gives this kind of prayer to a man, he gives him riches that cannot be taken away, heavenly food that satisfies the spirit. One who tastes this food is set on fire with an eternal longing for the Lord; his spirit burns as in a fire of the utmost intensity.”

I can’t say that I’m there yet.  I don’t know that I’ll ever be there in this life.  But I can say with sincerity that the “technology Lent” that I started last month is yielding fruits in helping me be more attentive to and present for others in my life.

Not that I ever pulled out my phone during Holy Hour, but my mind still had the muscle memory of quick distractions, and that’s starting to fade away a bit.  I hope and pray that this little change helps me be able to be more present here in Holy Hour with my Lord and my friend.  I hope and pray that we each find those little changes we need to make in our lives in order to deepen our time in prayer and increase the frequency in which prayer finds root in the moments of our day.

Then, like the child clinging tenderly as to its mother, we’ll be able to eat and drink deeply of God’s presence and grace, and like Elijah, we’ll find ourselves strengthened for the journey, ready to get up and face our forty day and forty night journey to the mountain of God.

My we all find our ways toward deeper prayer, deeper presence, and being more deeply filled by God as we journey through this Lent together.  Maybe it can begin in a special way here tonight, as we each spend time face to face with our Lord.  May God give us this grace.

A dream, a perspective

I had a wonderful, vivid dream last night. I was in the middle of the most beautiful, never-ending liturgy, with people of every race and time and place. I was dressed in a simple alb and deacon’s stole, and my only concern for eternity was keeping the charcoal burning in a thurible. I was so content and happy, and even felt a little sad this morning as I recalled it and desired to be back there.

I was also supposed to fly to Dallas for an all-day meeting with my manager today, but my 7:30 flight was delayed to 9:30, then 11:30, then 1:30. Even with an earlier rebooking opportunity, we decided I’d just stay home and we’d meet virtually instead. It’ll be as productive but just not the same experience.

Much in this world is imperfect. We long for the perfect of the world to come.

Christ’s Body: Change From the Outside

The Bread of Life & the Church's present scandal

I woke this morning to the sounds of the crickets finishing their evening chorus to the rising sun, and I laid in bed for a few minutes starting my conversation with God for the day. As I did so, the words of the Act of Contrition started to flow through my mind.

“And I detest all my sins because of Thy just punishment.”

I couldn’t help but continue to think about all of my own sins of my life and how I was truly sorry for them and wanted God’s grace to continue to get better, but also how tied to those sins was a just punishment. I prayed that someday, someone would have the sense to continue to pray for my soul after death as, hopefully, I underwent my own purification in Purgatory before going to be with God for eternity in Heaven.

Then, of course, my mind couldn’t help but turn to the current scandal facing the Church because of so many men in power who also sinned, and who also didn’t do the right thing when the situation called for it. The ongoing, renewed, and even bigger than imagined scandal of abuse of minors, covering it up, fostering and allowing an environment of sexual immorality – all of it is so terrible and heinous and unimaginable.  I detest all these sins by members of our own body, members of Christ’s body.

The Homeless Man & The Body of Christ

Homeless girl sleeping on a bench in the night mysterious atmosphere

The other morning, I took our dog on our usual walk down the street and around the park. While in the park, we came across an older lady from our church who I’ve seen around town from time to time, collecting and bagging up aluminum cans and plastic bottles. She was at it again that morning in the park, pulling a couple of bottles out of one of the trash cans and putting them into the bag she was carrying.

From time to time in the past, when I had seen her doing this, I had briefly wondered why she did it – it never seemed like she needed to try to recycle them for the money, but I didn’t know, and I didn’t ask. The other morning when I saw her doing it again, though, it made me wonder…

Personal Reflection on Chapter 1 of ‘Ministries: A Relational Approach’

Reflection Paper: Church History II

I found Edward Hahnenberg’s analysis of the contrast and balance between clergy and laity in Chapter 1 of his Ministries: A Relational Approach to be fascinating and intriguing in the context of the re-introduction of the permanent diaconate in the wake of Vatican II.  Hahnenberg outlines the tension between clergy and laity and the start of a “theology of the laity” coming out of Vatican II, and explored new models that evolved out of the council, like Yves Congar’s concept of “ministries of service / community.”  As a deacon aspirant, it was interesting to consider yet again how the deacon sits “between” the clergy and the laity, or in a spot that others have referred to as a “seam” or a “bridge.”  I find myself reflecting again on the opportunity for the deacon, formally part of the clergy and sacramentally ordained but also living a life within and among the laity, to truly bridge this perceived gap.

Perhaps this is part of the wisdom of the Second Vatican Council that is yet to be fully understood – precisely into the empowerment of the laity and calling them to fully live out their life as Baptized Christians, “priests, prophets, and kings”, in a very real sense is planted the diaconate.  The order of the diaconate bridges the life of the lay person with the life and sacramental orders of the clergy.  For someone aspiring to orders as a deacon, what might this mean?  I believe that this means fully taking part in the proper clerical role of a deacon, while at the same time maintaining a life that otherwise is that of a faithful Catholic lay person. While being present in the ministries of sacrament and word in a liturgical sense, a deacon also sends the laity forth at the end of Mass, and then truly leads them forth, first among them, back to his home, his workplace, and the streets, parks, and secular places that need the light of Christ. Without “taking over” opportunities for the laity to serve in new and creative ways, the deacon in fact both sets an example and becomes a facilitator of the participation of the laity in their calling.  In this way, he “represents” them and their daily sacrifices at the altar, and he also leads by example in how to take the Word and make it present in the everyday culture and life in the secular world. In this sense, I don’t see the tension outlined by Hahnenberg being as present in a Church in which the diaconate has come back into its full nature and become the “bridge” closing the gap between clergy and laity.  In my own reflection, I see the deacon as playing a critical role in a truly “new theology of ministry.”

Submitted December 9, 2017, for assignment 3 of the course “Church History”, Instructor: Deacon Patrick J. Donahue, D. Min..

Q&A: Reception of Baptised Christians into Full Communion

At one of the Masses last weekend in my home parish (the parish in which I’m also currently assigned), it was a pleasure to be assisting as an altar server as we received a new member – an already-baptized Christian – into full Communion of the Catholic Church. It was a special moment for me, because the woman who came into Communion of the Church is a fellow parent at our kids’ school, and is the wife of one of my old grade school classmates.

One of our friends from the parish asked a question on Facebook earlier, and I thought it would be helpful to answer it here for posterity. He asks, “At the 4 PM Mass there was an adult Baptism. Father did not pour water on the head of the person being baptized. My question is why.”

I’ll refer to the woman who was received into the Church here as “Catherine,” since that was the name that she took as her patron.

First, I’ll clarify that what happened at Mass was not a baptism. Because Catherine had already been baptized into a Christian church whose baptism we acknowledge as valid, she can’t be (and doesn’t need to be) baptized again. As the Church came to understand through the Second Vatican Council, she was already a member of the Church, the Body of Christ, by virtue of her Baptism, even if she wasn’t in communion with the Church from a “juridical” standpoint. After all, as we profess in the Nicene Creed, we “confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” (See: Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1246, and Code of Canon Law Canon 864) Since we recognize her Baptism as valid, nothing new would be gained by receiving the sacrament a second time, and it would be inappropriate to “baptize” her a second time.

What happened at Mass on Saturday is from the instruction on the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), Reception of Baptised Christians into the Full Communion of the Catholic Church (see section 5, starting on page 41 of the linked PDF): “This is the liturgical rite by which a person born and baptized in a separated ecclesial Community is received, according to the Latin rite, into the full communion of the Catholic Church. The rite is so arranged that no greater burden than necessary (see Acts 15:28) is required for the establishment of communion and unity.”

Since she was already a baptized Christian, and had been catechized and active in her Christian faith through her life, she simply underwent a catechetical program customized to her needs in order to be ready to be received into the Church, made a confession of sins privately beforehand, and then made a profession of faith within the context of the rite within the Mass. In this case, she was then Confirmed and joined the community in reception of the Holy Eucharist.

The ritual moment is described quite simply by Joseph Marrotta in his 2008 paper, “The Reception of the Previously Baptized into the Full Communion of the Catholic Church“:

“The actual ritual used to receive someone previously baptized into the Full Communion of the Church is simple. The preferred form takes place within the Eucharistic liturgy. After the entire group of faithful (not just those to be received) make a profession of faith (either the Nicene Creed or a renewal of baptismal promises), the celebrant asks the candidate or candidates to affirm that they “believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches and proclaims to be revealed by God.” (RCIA, 491) The priest or bishop then proclaims that the person has been received into the full communion of the Church. Many are surprised at the simplicity of the ritual.”

Marrotta continues:

“Viewed from the perspective of article 14 of Lumen Gentium, however, this rite makes perfect sense. A community of believers gathers. The presumption is that all are in a state of grace, each having celebrated the sacrament of reconciliation if necessary. They profess their faith; calling to mind the baptism that each has already received. To this point, the rite is a celebration of the full theological communion that already exists. Then, the candidates are asked to assent to the teaching authority of the Magisterium. By doing so, they are received into the juridical communion necessary for full communion to exist. Later in the celebration, all receive the sacrament that recognizes and nourishes the full communion of the Church – Holy Eucharist.”

It was a joy – a simple joy, at that – to receive Catherine, already baptized, into full Communion of the Church at Mass on Saturday evening. We join in prayer with and for her and all Christians.

Good, Evil, & God: Understanding the Old Testament’s “Dark Passages”

Essay: Introduction to Scripture

rembrandt-abraham-isaac

In the book of the prophet Isaiah, God teaches mankind, “my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways… For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (Isa 55:8-9 NABRE). The words of God in this passage, spoken through the Prophet, remind us that no matter how hard we try to come to a full knowledge and understanding of the ways of God in this life, we will still fall short. Modern skeptics argue against faith and the truth of Scripture with intelligent, well-researched, and well-structured arguments based on seeming inconsistencies found within the supposedly-inerrant Scriptures. The “Method B” approach of the modern, historical-critical skeptic zooms into snippets of Scripture and focuses on the origins, historical settings, and truths surrounding the text to understand it from a scientific viewpoint. Because of such a read, and forgetting that “[God’s] thoughts are higher than [our] thoughts,” a skeptic using this approach is unable to explain seeming contradictions scattered through the entire Canon of Scripture, or singular events or stories that stand in contrast to the full, revealed truth of God’s nature and essence. Particularly in the Old Testament, there are many different types of contradictions noted by modern scholars: the nature of God, the nature of good and evil, and the nature of the afterlife.

Today’s Gospel: In the Vineyard

Workers in the Vineyard, Erasmus Quellinius

Workers in the Vineyard, Erasmus Quellinius

Today’s Gospel is deeply meaningful to me. When our initial cohort of our Diaconate formation class was told, in the summer of 2016, that our formation was going to be extended by a year while the diocese opened the door for more classmates to join us, my brother classmates and I were initially swept by a variety of emotions – including some confusion and anger.

That eventually gave way to docility and acceptance.

For me, today’s Gospel was a big part of my own reflection and prayer around our formation “pause”. Today, I’m thankful for the rest of our class – those who joined us in the vineyard later in the day.

Our Peaceful Protest

In the midst of all of the protests (and rioting) in St. Louis right now (just follow the Twitter hashtag #stlverdict for a bit), it was refreshing and provided some good reflection to be able to be part of a peaceful prayer walk and “protest” yesterday. It was our annual Diocesan pro-life Mass and prayer walk to the abortion clinic in downtown Granite City.

After Mass, as we walked down Washington Avenue from the church to the clinic, I was reflecting on how nice it was to be able to exercise our rights to assemble, to march, to pray, and to protest – and to do it in such a way that everyone knew that we weren’t a threat, and that we wouldn’t misbehave or riot. In fact, we were lucky to have a police escort helping to keep the road clear for us as we walked the few short blocks.

I believe in peaceful assembly and protest, and was proud to be a part of how it’s done “well”.

It’s unfortunate that we have to pray and protest for a closure of a place that provides for the killing of innocent human life, but such is the nature of protesting against things that we believe are injustices in our society.

And we even made the local “rumor” mill on Facebook!:

profile-march

For what it’s worth, my second oldest was one of the vimps for the Bishop, serving his very first Mass (vimping alongside his older brother)! And he got to continue to “vimp” for the whole walk to the clinic, carrying the Bishop’s crozier as we walked:

Matthew Vimp

The Call is Sacred

Image: © lightpoet, Shutterstock

Image: © lightpoet – Shutterstock

I awoke this morning to the tail end of a dream in which I was sitting in the kitchen of the (three advisers back) lead adviser to the National Order of the Arrow Shows team. It wasn’t really his kitchen (I’ve never been to his house), but it was how I imagine his house to be in the hills of Pennsylvania, and the kitchen was the kitchen at my grandparents’ old house in Sikeston, Missouri (a very special kitchen to me).

In the dream, “Randy” and I were talking about the power of shows and theatre in culture, and why they’re so important in informing and developing the philosophy of a people.

Over the course of the conversation, “Randy” said something to me that stood out to the rest and then became the “soundtrack” of the rest of what I saw, thought, and felt in the dream:

“The Call is Sacred.”

In a moment in my own life and discernment when I’ve started to question “callings” of my own, hearing such an important adviser in my own life say, even in a dream, “The call is sacred“, triggered a lot of thinking and emotion this morning.

Calls are, in fact, sacred. “Small ‘s’ sacred” sometimes, but sacred nonetheless. They convey deep meaning, sometimes (often?) life-changing messages. Calls are special.

“Come, follow me.” – God

“Will you marry me?” – beloved

“Dad!” – child, scared, at 3 AM

“Could you help me with this?” – friend

“We need you to come into the office to talk about your test results.” – doctor

“Come, let us sing to the Lord.” – Psalm 95 (at the start of each day’s liturgy)

Respecting the Call

Sometimes in today’s busy world and culture, with our hectic schedules and distracted device-laden lifestyles, it’s easy to neglect or ignore calls, or miss them altogether.

How can I focus on listening more to the calls coming my way and responding appropriately to them? How can I better respect the call, reflect upon it, and answer well?

Pray. Listen. Discern.

There’s a reason, I think, that the message that, “The Call is Sacred”, came to me in a dream, in my “grandparents’ kitchen”, from an adviser who has meant a lot in my life and who led a team that meant so much in my life. It bolsters the message and causes it to echo in my heart.

Calls ARE sacred, and so are our responses to them.