Saturday, March 31, 2012

Papal Intentions for April 2012

Let us join with our Holy Father in praying for these intentions during the month of April:

General Intention: That many young people may hear the call of Christ and follow him in the priesthood and religious life.

Missionary Intention:
That the risen Christ may be a sign of certain hope for the men and women of the African continent.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Face-Melting Quote of the Day

Click Image to Order from Tan Books
A long but beautiful quote from 'The Spiritual Combat' by Dom Lorenzo Scupoli:
After Communion strive to be deeply recollected, shutting out from your heart the multiple petty encroachments of worldly distractions. Entertain the divine guest with such sentiments as are expressed in the following prayer:
"O sovereign Lord of heaven, what has brought Thee from celestial heights to the depths of earthly hearts?" His answer will be simply, "Love."
And you must reply: "O eternal love, what is it you ask of me?" And He will answer again: "Nothing but love. I would have no other fire within thee but charity, the ardent flames of which will conquer the impure flames of passion, and make thee pleasing in My sight. Long have I wished that thou wert all Mine and I all thine. And long have I desired that surrender of thy will ever solicitous for frivolous liberty and worldly vanities; for only when thy will is attuned to Mine can the first wish be realized. Know, then, that I would have thee die to self, that you might live to Me; I would have thee give Me thy heart that I might make it like unto Mine, which broke on Calvary out of love for mankind. Thou knowest who I am, and yet thou knowest that in some measure, I have made thee My equal in an excess of love. When I give Myself entirely to thee, I ask nothing but thyself in return. Be Mine and I shall be satisfied. Will nothing, think nothing, understand nothing, see nothing but Me and My will. Let thy nothingness be lost in the depths of My infinity, and find there they happiness, as I find repose in thee."

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Holiness as an Act of Charity

Reading for March 18, Laetare Sunday (Cycle A for Scrutinies):
1 Samuel 16:1, 6-7, 10-13
Psalm 23:1-6
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41

To the average First-Century Jewish person, having an illness, disease or disability was synonymous with having sinned. Likewise, to be of good health and not lacking in necessities indicated righteousness. For this reason, the disciples, seeing the man born blind, ask Our Lord the question, “who sinned, this man or his parents?” To this question that Lord brings a shift in the understanding of sufferings and illness. Rather than seeing it as a sign of the man’s lack of righteousness, the Lord tells them that he is blind, “so that the works of God might be made visible through him.” He was created blind so that at the appropriate time, the gift of physical sight might be bestowed on him and because of it the gift of spiritual sight would be bestowed on others. The key though is that the man must participate with the plan of God. Were it not for his willingness to be anointed with the clay, his walking to the pool of Siloam to wash, and his subsequent testimonies about Christ, the plan of God would not have been known and the souls of others would not have witnessed the life-transforming miracle that took place.

In a similar way, the Lord has created each one of us for some specific reason. Like the man born blind, each of us has been created by God with something in us that at the appropriate time in our life, He will desire to tap into for his glory and that His works might be made manifest in our time as well. None of us is accidental. We all have a role to play in this Divine plan. Unfortunately, though, we sometimes let sin into our hearts and permit it to detour us from the Lord’s plan.

In discussions with people about topics such as personal holiness and sin, I often arrived at the point where someone says to me, “Father, I can understand that doing something to someone is wrong, that directly harming them is sinful. But if I do it in the privacy of my own home, if nobody ever knows about it and it doesn’t hurt anyone, what’s the big deal?” The reality – and my response to that question – is that while we may think that our so-called ‘private sins’ or ‘harmless sins’ don’t hurt anyone, they in fact hurt everyone, including the Lord, ourselves, and those closest to us.  

In the Gospel reading the Lord tells the disciples, “I am the Light of the world,” and St. Paul reminds us that we, who once were darkness, now “are light in the Lord.” It’s beautiful how that is worded – we are light in the Lord. This points to the reality that by our baptism we have truly been united to Christ in a way that we often fail to fully realize. We are intimately connected to each other because we are all light in the Lord, members of His Body. This theology is clear and found all throughout St. Paul’s writing, especially in 1st Corinthians, where he reminds us that if one member suffers, the other members suffer with it (1 Cor 12:26) and that if one member joins itself to a particular sin, that sin is joined to the whole body (1 Cor 6:15-17). We can begin to understand this reality that every sin, even the ones that are only between a person and God, has an effect on the Church and her members. But what does this look like concretely?

Too approach this, I will start from the opposite direction and point out how others have blessed me. About eight years ago, when I was on summer break from the seminary, I got a package in the mail one day. I opened it and inside was a book and a couple of other items about St. Philomena, as well as a note that said, “Have fun.” I read the book of this saint that was then unknown to me and as I read it my heart was burning with joy and with love for this great saint of the Church. Today, she is my patroness and my constant support from Heaven, always helping me in the daily journey of life.

Months back, when I was just about 6 weeks ordained and had just gotten here, I was visiting with the youth group and telling my vocation story. I mentioned something about family Christmas gatherings and the fact that I had six siblings and that each of them had children but I had none. Immediately one of our youth said, “Father, you have us!” It struck me and I was without words for a moment. Those few words changed the way that I saw myself as a priest and have shaped the way that I minister to the flock entrusted to me.

These are just two of thousands of instances where someone has done or said something that changed the way that I live. And every single one of you can think of similar things that have happened in your own life. The person who gave you a small gift, who said a kind word, gave a hug, or any number of things. These little things are the things that change lives. But if those things never happened, where would we be? If my friend wasn’t fully open to God but had turned in a bit on himself, as sin makes us do, me might not have sent that book on St. Philomena. If that young lady in youth group had been a little less open to God because of some private sin, she might not have had the grace to hear what, I believe, the Holy Spirit wanted to speak through her to me. These are the ways that sin can affect the body. The smallest, most private sin can turn us in toward ourselves and keep us from hearing the voice of God, from feeling the compulsion to reach out, and we can fail to live up to that plan the Lord desires. But if keep our hearts open, if we live in the Holy Spirit and allow Him to really drive our entire lives, we can be like that man born blind and be used by Him to His glory, so that others might come to know God’s power and might.

Saint Jean Vianney, patron of priests, has a beautiful quote that says, "What will convert [insert name] is the sanctity of your own life." Ultimately, we can simply say that one of the greatest acts of charity that we can do for others is to simply be holy ourselves, because if we are holy and don't let sin bring us back to darkness, then we permit God to work in and through us to reach those in need. May God grant us these graces today through the gift of the Eucharist, that we might always truly be light in the Lord. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

You just broke your child...

Here is a great article from Dan Pearce over at the website Become A Better Father. A bit long, but worth the read.

You just broke your child. Congratulations.
Dads. Stop breaking your children. Please.
I feel a need to write this post after what I witnessed at Costco yesterday. Forgive me for another post written in desperation and anger. Please read all the way to the end. I know it’s long, but this is something that needs to be said. It’s something that needs to be heard. It’s something that needs to be shared.
As Noah and I stood in line to make a return, I watched as a little boy (he couldn’t have been older than six) looked up at his dad and asked very timidly if they could buy some ice cream when they were done. The father glared him down, and through clenched teeth, growled at the boy to “leave him alone and be quiet”. The boy quickly cowered to the wall where he stood motionless and hurt for some time.
The line slowly progressed and the child eventually shuffled back to his father as he quietly hummed a childish tune, seemingly having forgotten the anger his father had just shown. The father again turned and scolded the boy for making too much noise. The boy again shrunk back and cowered against the wall, wilted.
I was agitated. I was confused. How could this man not see what I see? How could this man not see what a beautiful spirit stood in his shadow? How could this man be so quick to stub out all happiness in his own boy? How could this man not cherish the only time he’ll ever have to be everything to this boy? To be the person that matters most to this boy?
We were three from the front now, and the boy started to come towards his dad yet again. His dad immediately stepped out of the line, jammed his fingers into his son’s collar bones until he winced in pain, and threatened him. “If you so much as make a sound or come off of that wall again, I promise you’re going to get it when we get home.” The boy again cowered against the wall. This time, he didn’t move. He didn’t make a sound. His beautiful face pointed down, locked to the floor and expressionless. He had been broken. And that’s how his father wanted it. He didn’t want to deal with him, and breaking him was the easiest way.
And we wonder why so many of our kids grow up to be screwed up.
I’m going to be blunt. People see my relationship with Noah, and quite often put me up on a pedestal or sing my praises for loving him more than most dads love their own kids.
.... I don’t understand that, and I’ll never understand that. Loving my son, building my son, touching my son, playing with my son, being with my son… these aren’t tasks that only super dads can perform. These are tasks that every dad should perform. Always. Without fail. There is nothing special about me. I am a dad who loves his son and would literally do anything for his well-being, safety, and health. I would gladly take a rake in the face or a jackhammer to my feet before I cut my own son down or make him feel small.
[sigh] I am far from a perfect dad. And I always will be. But I’m a damn good dad, and my son will always feel bigger than anything life can throw at him. Why? Because I get it. I get the power a dad has in a child’s life, and in a child’s level of self-belief. I get that everything I ever do and ever say to my son will be absorbed, for good or for bad. What I don’t get is how some dads don’t get it.
Dads. Do your faces light up when you first see your child in the morning or when you come home from work? Do you not understand that a child’s entire sense of value can revolve around what they see in your face when you first see them?
Dads. Do you not realize that a child is what you tell them they are? That people almost always become what they are labeled? Was whatever your child just did really the “dumbest thing you’ve ever seen somebody do”? Was it really the “most ridiculous thing they ever could have done”? Do you really believe that your child is an idiot? Because she now does. Think about that. Because you said it, she now believes it. Bravo.
Dads. Do you honestly expect anybody to believe that you can’t find 20 minutes to step away from your computer or turn off the television to play with your child? It has to happen every single day. Do you not understand that children will hinge their entire facet of trust on whether or not their dad plays with them and how involved he is when he plays with them? Do you know the damage you do by not playing with your children every day?
Dads. Should anybody buy into this silly notion that anger is sometimes or often necessary? Do you not understand that anger is almost always an emotion for people who wish to control others while simultaneously failing to control themselves? Do you not know that there are incredible books and courses that can teach you better methods? Most importantly, do you not see the speed at which a child is crushed or becomes completely defiant when anger rules the roost? Are you that desensitized to the luminosity of your child’s spirit that it doesn’t crush you completely when they flinch or cower in your presence? Is that really what you want your child to do? To fear you?
Dads. Do you not realize that your child needs to feel your skin on his? Do you not realize the incredible and powerful bond that skin on skin contact with your daughter will give you? Do you not understand the permanent mental connections that are made when you stroke your son’s bare back or rub your daughter’s bare tummy while you tell bedtime stories? And if any idiot says anything about that being inappropriate, you’re gonna get kicked in the face, first by me, and then by every other good dad out there. Touching your child is your duty as a father.
Dads. Wake up! These precious souls that have been put into your care are unique and so very sensitive. Everything you say or don’t say will impact their ability, success, and happiness throughout their entire lives.
Do you not realize that your kids are going to make mistakes, and a lot of them? Do you not realize the damage you do when you push your son’s nose into his mishaps or make your daughter feel worthless because she bumped or spilled something? Do you have any idea how easy it is to make your child feel abject? It’s as simple as letting out the words, “why would you do that!?” or “how many times have I told you…”
Let me ask you this. Have you ever looked into the swollen eyes of a parent who’s child has just died? I have.
Have you ever cried through a child’s funeral? I have.
Have you ever touched a wooden box with a child inside? A permanent tomb from which another laugh or giggle will never sound? I have.
If you want the motivation to be the best parent on earth, do that just one time. I pray you never have to.
Dads. It’s time to tell our kids that we love them. Constantly. It’s time to show our kids that we love them. Constantly. It’s time to take joy in their twenty-thousand daily questions and their inability to do things as quickly as we’d like. It’s time to take joy in their quirks and their ticks. It’s time to take joy in their facial expressions and their mispronounced words. It’s time to take joy in everything that our kids are.
It’s time to stand up and ask what we can do to be better dads. It’s time to get our priorities straight. It’s time to come home and actually be a dad.
Dads. It’s time to show our sons how to properly treat a woman. It’s time to show our daughters how a girl should expect be treated. It’s time to show forgiveness and compassion. It’s time to show our children empathy. It’s time to break social norms and teach a healthier way of life! It’s time to teach good gender roles and to ditch the unnecessary ones. Does it really matter if your son likes the color pink? Is it going to hurt anybody? Do you not see the damage it inflicts to tell a boy that there is something wrong with him because he likes a certain color? Do we not see the damage we do in labeling our girls “tom boys” or our boys “feminine” just because they have their own likes and opinions on things? Things that really don’t matter?
Dads. Speak softly to your sons. Speak calmly to your daughters. Who do you want your child to be? Do you want him to be the kid at school that sits by himself with absolutely no friends or self esteem? Or do you want him to be the kid running for class office and feeling like he deserves to win it? Do we not see that we have the power to give that to our children? Do we not see that we have the power to teach our children the tools of societal survival?
Dads. Do we not see the influence we have when we say we believe in one thing, but our children see us living something else? Do we not realize how little we encourage our children to actually decide what they believe, declare what they believe, and then live by it? Whether it’s religion, politics, sports, or societal norms. It is not our place to tell our kids what to think. It is our place to teach our kids to think correctly. If we do this, we need have no fear of what they will decide for themselves and how strongly they’ll stand behind it. A man will follow his own convictions to his death, but he’ll only follow another man’s convictions until he steps in manure.
.... Dads. Every child has the innate right to ask for ice cream without being belittled and broken. Every child has the innate right to do so without being made to cower in the corner because the man who is supposed to be his hero is actually a small, small man altogether. Every child has the innate right to be happy, and giggle, and laugh, and play. Why aren’t you letting them? Every child on earth has the right to a dad who thinks before he speaks; a dad who understands the great power that has been given to him to ultimately shape another human being’s life; a dad who loves his child more than he loves his television shows or sports games; a dad who loves his child more than his material junk; a dad who loves his child more than his time. Every child deserves a superhero dad.
Maybe the truth is that a lot of dads don’t deserve their kids.
Maybe the truth is that a lot of dads aren’t really dads at all.
I apologize for the heatedness of my post. I believe a part of me feels like a coward for not saying something to the man in front of me at Costco. Consider this post to be my penance. Perhaps a part of me feels that if even one person reads this and decides to be a better dad, it was worth every second that I spent typing it. If one child has a better life because something in my words stirred their father to step up their game, then it was worth every ounce of begging and pleading with you to share this with others, of which I am inevitably going to be guilty.
Dads. Children are gifts. They are not ours for the breaking. They are ours for the making. So stand up with me and show the world that there are a lot of good dads around.
To the men and women who read this post… married or not… parent or not… share this post on Facebook and Twitter, even if it doesn’t apply to you because you’re already all these things. If you’ve ever seen a father break his child, share it. You never know what child might get his superhero dad back. You never know what tiny spirit might feel just a little more loved because Dad took the time to tuck her in tonight.
All because you were willing to paste one link and ask others to read it.
Dan Pearce, Single Dad Laughing Pleading

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Thirst of God

Readings for Sunday, March 11 (Cycle A for Scrutinies):
Exodus 17:3-7
Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9
Romans 5:1-2, 5-8
John 4:5-42

“Give me a drink.”

This simple phrase spoken to the Samaritan woman seems to be a simple request from the Lord for a drink of water. At the noon hour, surely the Lord was hot and thirsty from traveling. But there is much more to those four simple words. As He says to her, “Give me a drink,” He is really beginning to show her - and all of us - the desire that God has for us to be in union with Him.

In the Old Testament, nearly every instance of a man and woman coming together at a well resulted in a marital union, so for this scene to take place at a well is meant to evoke in the mind of the reader a marital context – the union of a husband and wife being analogous to the union of the soul with God. This meeting at the well, as the Catechism so beautifully puts it, “is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him” (CCC, 2560). This image of thirsting is intentional. Every one of us knows what it means to be thirsty and every one of us knows the feeling of having our thirst quenched by a good cold drink. To have experienced thirst is universal, a sign that every person is able to understand the longing that God has for us personally. To quote Fr. Joseph Langford, MC:

As a burning desert yearns for water, so God yearns for our love. As a thirsty man longs for water, so God longs for each of us. As a thirsty man seeks after water, so God seeks after us. As a thirsty man thinks only of water, So God thinks constantly of us: “Even the hairs of head are all numbered” (Luke 12:7). As a thirsty man will give anything in exchange for water, so God gladly gives all he has, and all he is, in exchange for us: his divinity for our humanity, his holiness for our sins, his paradise in exchange for our pain (Mother Theresa’s Secret Fire, 77).

“God proves his love for us,” says St. Paul, “in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for our sins” (Romans 5:8).   Not after we had repented, not after we had straightened out our lives and gotten on the right track, but while we were still sinning. This is the love He has for us. This is the longing that He has for us.

And just as God longs for our hearts to turn to Him, so too do our hearts long to be with Him. As the Lord speaks to the woman about the living water, the Holy Spirit, you can feel the longing that she has to receive that gift. She cries out, “Sir, give me this water!” In the same way, our hearts also are crying out to receive God, but the thing is that we often fail to realize it as such. We feel a longing for something and, in our sinfulness, try to fill is with so many things around us. Like the Israelites who thirsted for water, we can often try to fill up the longing of our hearts with things that are good. We try to find fulfillment in the latest and greatest technology, sports or hobbies, the accumulation of money or possessions, and the company of good friends and family. These things, while not bad in themselves, never bring us true fulfillment. Like the woman at the well, who lived a life of sin, we also sometimes turn to those things that are not good for us, yet we still hope will bringing fulfillment – abuse of alcohol or drugs, viewing pornography and self-abuse, and promiscuity, to name a few. These things too fail to fulfill the thirst of our hearts. The only thing that fulfills us, the only thing that will bring us peace is to know the God who is Love.

And so we gather here once more at this altar of sacrifice, the place where God’s love is made manifest once more and He gives Himself to us in the Eucharist – the ultimate sign of His love – and we hear Him speaking to us today: “No matter what you have done, I love you for your own sake. Come to me with your misery and your sins, with your troubles and needs, and with all your longings to be loved. I stand at the door of your heart and knock. [Harden not your hearts. Rather,] Open to me, for I thirst for you” (Secret Fire, 136).

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Helping Girls become Nuns!

Dear Friends in the Lord,

We all know that the number of priests and religious brothers and sisters has drastically decreased in the last forty years. The good news, though, is that the long winter in the Church seems to be coming to an end as the new springtime is happening all around us, producing many beautiful vocations for Holy Mother Church, so much so that many communities lack the space to accept them all! In my own journey toward and into priesthood, I can say for a fact that it was by the grace of so many prayers that I was able to hear the call, respond, persevere in discernment and ultimately say 'yes' each day to all the Lord desires. The power of prayer is an incredible thing, so please continue to pray for more vocations and holy vocations. That said, a trend in the vocation realm today is that young adults often hear and respond to the call to consecrated life during or shortly after attending college and incurring heavy debts. Often it is these debts that keep them from being able to pursue the vocation to which they feel called. With that in mind, I'd like to ask if you might consider assisting some of these young people. 

A young woman in our youth group at St. George will be entering The Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara  this coming summer and has been in contact with several other young women who desire to join this community as well, but they are in need of relief from debts.  Pam McGown and Alex Pintus each have a site where you can donate to help alleviate these debts. If you are leery of giving to a specific person but are interested in this great work, you can also go to the Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations webpage to donate or read more. Be mindful that even a small gift of $5 is a wonderful blessing for these young people and a true gift to the Church. Thanks for your consideration and for your support of vocations to priesthood and religious life. May the Lord bless you abundantly for your kindness and love. 

in the Heart of Jesus, through Mary,
Fr. Brent

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Seeing Only Him

12th Century Icon of the Transfiguration
Readings for Sunday, March 4:
Genesis 22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18
Psalm 116:10, 15-19
Romans 8:31-34
Mark 9:2-10

In this morning’s Advocate I read an interesting article about a priest, Fr. Gregory Boyle, who ministers among gang members and works to end violence through education and involvement. One of the things that struck me in the article was a story that he tells in his book, Tattoos on the Heart. The father of one of his priest friends fell ill toward the end of his life and the son had to step into the role of caregiver. He spoke of the many ways that he cared for his father, including reading books to him. He noted when the son read those books, the father, despite his illness, never fell asleep. Rather, he simply stared at his son and smiled. This simple story, for Fr. Boyle, was the story of God’s love for us – a love that simply gazes at us at every moment and rejoices that we are His beloved Sons and Daughters.

Now, if we’re honest with ourselves, every single one of us must admit that while the Father is constantly gazing at us with eyes full of love and joy, we often turn our eyes away to other things and begin to let them have pride of place in our hearts. We sin and stray from God’s love.

Life would be much easier if we didn’t have to worry about that tendency of our heart to turn toward evil things, known as concupiscence. But the reality is that it is part of our fallen nature now and so we take up the fight to sanctify these desires. In this season of Lent we intensify those activities which we are called to do year-round. We pray and fast more fervently, give of our time and talents more freely, and endure bodily and spiritual suffering more willingly all so that we might be more faithful to the God Who is ever-faithful to us. As we journey through this season, it’s supposed to be tough. We’re supposed to be uncomfortable. As Our Holy Father so beautifully put it in his first days as Pope: “The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness!” My brothers and sisters, we are called to greatness. We are called to be saints, joyful lights shining a world of darkness. But we have to fight for that to happen.

To have the courage to continue in that fight today, we turn to the scriptures. As we hear the account of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, we see that Mother Church is coming to the aid of her children. She recognizes that as we journey in this spiritual desert for forty days we must have an extra nudge every so often - and we find that little nudge today in this passage wherein the glory of the Lord is revealed. It was to strengthen the faith of those three great Apostles that the Lord showed His glory, so that when the persecution came and He was crucified they might not turn away but would remain faithful. In the same way, as we find ourselves in the midst of temptations or trials during this season, the Lord encourages us also to be mindful that He is the Beloved Son of God; He is the Christ. And if we are faithful and persevere in our trials, we will not only behold His glory, but will also have a share in that glory in Heaven. His glory helps to sustain us, also, because we recognize that the Father was faithful to His own beloved Son, pouring out many blessings on Him, and we are assured that He desires to do the same with us.

And so as we continue in this journey, we pray for the grace to continue to repent of sin and be faithful to the Gospel of Christ, and beg the Lord that we might always have the grace to be like the Apostles on the great mountain of the Transfiguration and see nothing but Him alone.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Papal Intentions for March

His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI asks us to join him in praying for the following intentions throughout the month of March:

General Intention: That the whole world may recognize the contribution of women to the development of society.

Missionary Intention: That the Holy Spirit may grant perseverance to those who suffer discrimination, persecution, or death for the name of Christ, particularly in Asia.