Monday, February 24, 2014

Good News

When Fr. Paul Check of Courage was here, he said something that struck me.  He said that the Church gets so much "push back" about sexual morality because people generally do not perceive chastity as good news.  They don't see it as part of the Gospel.  Justice, yes.  Charity, yes.  Perhaps even temperance.  But chastity, no.  Not good news.  A burden.  An obstacle.  I think that he is right.

(I think that Cardinal Kaspar is on to much the same thing about the family.  He told the other cardinals that the Church needs to proclaim the gospel of the family.)

Actually chastity is very good news and indeed part of the Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ, like the rest of the virtues, commandments, beatitude, etc.  But it is not perceived that way.  It seems to me that all the conditions for turning to chastity as good news exist in our culture.  The devastation resulting from our cultural deviations from chastity is widespread misery, just the sort of condition for receptivity to good news.  In order to accept good news, you generally have to understand the bad news.  I guess that we don't understand where the misery is coming from and what would help it.

I am no social scientist but here is some of the misery as I see it:
physical -- all kinds of sexually transmitted diseases, abortion
cultural -- fatherlessness and the resulting social pathologies, pornography, sex trade                emotional and psychological -- repetitive, meaningless hook ups, sexual addictions 
personal -- no non-sexual way to date

And that's just what I can come up with at 5:50 a.m.!

All that is pretty miserable.  Yet, we keep going back to the same stagnant wells whereas the living water of chastity is perceived as poison!

I think that we indeed need evangelization, literally: the proclamation of good news.  I am not sure how that will work in this area.  Fr. Check showed a documentary that Courage has produced.  It is very good.  It simply has three members of Courage tell their stories.  They are stories of discovering chastity as good news in particular situations.  They are long, hard stories.  They are stories of the Gospel.  But I fear that they will generally not be heard.

The answer, as always, is perseverance and prayer.  I think that's in the Gospel too!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Something new

I mentioned that Fr. Paul Check of Courage was here last week.  He gave a presentation to the diocesean priests' council with the bishop attending.  He also gave a presentation on campus. 

Fr. Check is impressive and refreshing.  He is doing triage in the Church's cultural field hospital, to use Pope Francis' analogy.  He is a trained moral theologian so he knows his stuff, but what he does in Courage is not theoretical.  He reminds me of a faculty member in the medical school who is an expert in critical medicine, but he does not conduct a class when making rounds.  He tend to the person.

Fr. Check's approach was greeting warmly by the priests.  They said, "we need this."  These are men in the trenches.  They recognized the validity of his approach.  I think that we are now on the way to having Courage in the diocese.

The students, on the other hand, were mainly perplexed by Fr. Check's approach and his presentation.  It was not what they had expected.  It was not apologetic.  It did not give them arguments to make in their discussions with their peers.  He challenged them to listen and to accompany their gay friends.  He challenged them to be authentic to who they are and to what they believe about the human person. 

One of the students who went on the March for Life trip commented on the emphasis at the March events on responding to the human needs surrounding the issue of abortion.  It was the thrust of Cardinal O'Malley's homily, for example.  He found this approach appealing.  I think that this is what Fr. Check is doing about homosexuality.  We need to know human anthropology to be grounded in the truth about same-sex attraction, just like we need to know biology to be grounded in the truth about abortion.  And then we need to act in love and understanding toward the person.  We don't need to argue, at least not at first.  You don't argue in the emergency room.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Week that Was

Although Nashville blessedly missed (once again) the bad weather just to the south and east of us this week, I've had a stormy week.

I guess that it started with being tired.  What do you expect after Awakening?  I did not let myself have down time, and I paid for it.  We also had Fr. Check's visit.  He was a great success in presenting the work of Courage, and he is personally impressive, but there were the demands of getting him around, etc.  There was also stress from the Catholic medical student group distancing themselves from the presentation.  I had been concerned about potential disruptions, but I had not expected it from within "the family" of the faith.  And then I had some personal things that hit just at the same time.  So I crashed Thursday.  Really crashed.  I apologize to any of you who were inconvenienced by my cancellation of just about everything on Thursday, without much notice.  Yesterday was hard but good, and today seems better still -- so far!

I think that the best thing for me to do is to forget about myself and keep moving.  The job of savior of the world is already taken, after all.  All the stuff that is happening is so good.  It does come at a price, but the price is temporary.   See above.  So keep my eyes on the good -- and especially on the good God, and all shall be well!

Happy Saturday!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Joy: Pope Francis is right...surprised?

“Evangelization in our time will only take place as the result of contagious joy.”  -- Pope Francis

I think that this is very true.  And we have everything in the world to be joyful about.  Joy is a wonder that I find at both UCat and even at old St. Mary's.  Joy comes from knowing the love of God for us, from having it, owning it.

It is the surprise of Awakening.  It is the surprise of the sacred liturgy.  It is the surprise of serving, of loving and being loved.

Joy is the conscious possession of a good, according to good, ole St. Thomas Aquinas.  The love of God is the greatest good and therefore the source of the greatest joy.  To evangelize is to share this good, the goodness of the love of God.

I don't think it matters much how we come to know that we possess this good, how we come to find joy.  Just that we do: in the Gospel, in the sacraments, in the poor, etc.  We have it already.  Just wake up.  Awakening, indeed.


Friday, February 7, 2014

NAXIV

That's: Nashville Awakening 14!  This weekend.  Pray!

I have read that Texas A&M is getting ready for Aggie Awakening 100.  God bless 'em!  The Aggies' hospitality back in the day is the reason that they are my second favorite SEC school ;-)  I think I might even be able to make a short pilgrimage to College Station when I go to Texas for my retreat after Easter.  It has been too long.  I need a fix! 

But I could not be prouder of our reaching 14.  I am need of an Awakening bounce so it is just in time for me.  So here we go.  Did I mention: Pray!?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Wonky

Sorry about the wonkiness of the last post.  It was motivated by a lot of things, and I needed to try to think things out.  One of the students came by last week saying that a friend on his hall was claiming that gender identity (of all things!) is all in the brain.  The young man's friend went on to claim that the brain is what makes us human.  That's it.  I was trying to think out a response to that claim, and the last post was more or less it.

The brain is awesome, but it cannot account for everything that makes us human, especially not the best things.  In order to make the claim that the brain does account for everything, you have to get rid of an awful (literally) lot -- including la difference of the sexes.

It is the examined life of wonder that sets us on the path to truth, goodness, and just plain common sense.  Thanks, Socrates!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Wonder

Another fruit of the March for Life was being able to go to a session led by Fr. Stephen Fields, S.J. at the Cardinal O'Connor Conference.  I have been thinking a lot about his reminding us that philosophy and the examined life begin with wonder.  Wisdom begins with wonder, according to Plato.  Without wonder, we are at best expertly skilled technicians.  To the extent that we wonder about anything in our culture, we wonder about techniques: how something is done.  We can dissect, analyze, and manipulate just about anything, but we wonder at nothing.  That is why we are so skeptical; why we deny truth; why we despair of the good.  Things are just bundles of techniques.  Some techniques work better than others.  And that is all there is to know.  Now let's move on.  Wisdom and wonder are just fuzzy excuses for those who can't keep up.

Do we really see how we are living?  It is not the "good life" in any sense except the material.  If an ape had the brain capacity and opposable thumbs, he could do everything we can do.  Ditto for a computer.  Computers actually are better at technique than we are in many ways.  That is just the point that materialists make.  Humanity is no big deal.  But is there any more to us than what we do?  Is there an "are" or even an "ought" to us?  About the closest thing that I can find to an ought in our culture is that we ought to let every technique be tried without hindrance. 

But what about the heroic; what about the beautiful; what about the holy?  These are not techniques or products of techniques.  And only human beings can appreciate them or even recognize them.  What about compassion?  And what about wisdom?  These are the things that make life worth living.  These are the things that make us human.  And yet, these are the very things that our utilitarian world simply won't recognize.  See, for example, how current superhero movies debunk the heroic ideal.  Transcendental realities are inconvenient because they don't fit the narrative that only technique matters. 

Even better, little and ordinary things are just as capable of conveying mystery and meaning as are grand events.  Even a day at work in the technical "salt mines" of our culture can be charged with wonder when it is motivated by charity, the most wonderful thing of all!  It is as simple as that.  Love is and ought to be.  Wherever it is, is the "good life."  Wherever it is not, is not.

Technique is not bad, just secondary.  Sometimes we even forget this in ministry.  We can get caught up in methods and in making reports, if we are not careful.  And technique is useful!  If medieval builders had the building techniques that we have now, they would have done a lot better than those crazy buildings in Dubai which are the most interesting architecture that we can come up with today.  Or think of the videos that medieval troubadours would have produced.  YouTube would be cultural treasure.  Our bold and daring culture is really so boring because it relies only on technique apart from what makes humanity transcendent.  Special effects can do only so much for a movie.  Without wonder, we are left with the tyranny of the technical.  It will pull down every transcendent good on the way to technical perfection.  That is why at some point we have to put a limit to technique.  Technique is to serve, not to master.  By being "connected" 24/7, for example, we think that can be more productive.  But we actually become less connected in any but the most superficially technical sense of the word.  We cannot share a meal in peace or say a prayer.  We become slaves.   With wonder, we are open to what elevates and frees us.  That is the good life.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

January is so over!

I am not usually one to count the passing of time.  It is so precious.  And I usually don't have time to notice the passing of time!  But I have noticed that January is over.  Finally.

First, yesterday was such a lovely day.  February is starting out so well!

Although I am feeling more overwhelmed, I am at least feeling.  January was cold in more ways than one for me.  After my father's death, I really have not been feeling much of anything.  I have just been plowing on.  But now I feel better physically, and my emotions seem to be turned back on.  Sometimes I have to pull back from them consciously.  There seem to be big pits in front of me.  I am trying not to fall or jump down into them because I am not really ready to explore them.  So I just slip around them for the time being.  I know that I will have to come back and deal with them.  Every now and then my dreams betray me and take me down one.  That's one of the main reasons I know that they are there.

One of the things that scared me during January is how little I have liked my work.  That is really unusual for me.  The March for Life gave me some life, and Awakening is going to work its magic too, judging from the practice talks I heard yesterday.  Amazing.  But I have to get my heart back into things at UCat and the parish.

Well, let me wish you a Happy Sunday!

1st UCat priest

Fr. Josh Altonji and some UCat friends in Birmingham!

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