The Holy Trinity

new-color-logo31This Sunday is Trinity Sunday and you can find readings for this weekend’s mass here.

But just what the heck is the Holy Trinity anyway?  We can default to the old school definition that many of us learned in religious education growing up that God is “one in three” or “three persons in one God”.  While those are satisfactory textbook definitions, they do little to help many people understand just what God is.  One of my old radio colleagues once asked, “If I invited God over for dinner, how many places would I have to set?” *Chuckle*

The first thing I would like to note about the Holy Trinity is that it is a mystery.  That’s not a cop-out answer on my part either.  Rather, it serves to mean that God is bigger than our concepts. It also means that while we don’t know everything about God, God does reveal Himself to us in at least a few ways and that can indeed serve to help us understand a bit about divinity.

And so when we say God is “Father” we should not focus on the patriarchal word here, per se, but peer in on the wisdom of creation.  God is the creator but also, God is “beyond us.”  None of us can truly create or father (or mother) all that God has done. God is bigger, deeper, more vast than any of us can imagine.  God is beyond the limits of our merely human constructions.  So we start from a position of humbleness and say that we can never really pin God down.  There is always an element of the unknown when it comes to the divine.

But we also believe that God breaks into human history at times too, do we not?  God interacts with us.  God wants to be part of our lives.  Sometimes that is hard for us to believe and I believe that this has always been true.  In fact, it was so true that God directly intervened as “one of us” in the person of Jesus.  That makes this a whole lot clearer and easier for us to understand now, doesn’t it?  So while God is “beyond us,” God is also “with us.”

And we also believe that God is not just “alongside us” but that God is “with-in us.” I hyphenated that to show that God is both with us and in our hearts; closer to us than our own heartbeat.  We fail to understand this as well sometimes thinking that God could never wish to be part of us.  In my mind, I believe this why Jesus gave us the sacrament of the eucharist. For the times when we can’t understand that God exists in the hearts of each one of us–we literally take God and put God inside of us–through the accidents of bread and wine.  Catholics, do the hard things first, I often say.  And so if we can believe that God’s essence can unite with a simple meal, we should be able to remind ourselves that God is with us always.

So “beyond us,” “with us,” and “within us.”  This is Trinity.  This is our meager attempt to try to classify God.  It is still incomplete, because God is far bigger than our definitions, but this satisfies me as a definition.  The word “kinship” also comes to mind here.  God seeks to be in kinship with us and therefore we have many ways to interact and experience God’s love in our lives.

In what ways have you experienced God as one who is “beyond, with or within you?”

Can We Heal Wounds?

When the horror of September 11th came upon the United States my friends with children fought vigorously to keep their children away from the television screen. Others even fought to keep themselves away from the images we know all too well from that day. Many wondered what to tell their kids when they returned home from school and some even hoped that their teachers hadn’t spilled the beans.

I wondered to myself if this were a healthy approach? It makes sense that we don’t want people, never mind children to be exposed to horrible images that could have traumatic effects on their psyche. But what about telling them about what happened? It seems that many of my friends tried to seal the information from their kids for at least some time, usually before one of their friends remarked about the dreadful news.

I started to think about other things that people don’t tell their kids because they don’t want them to worry. Finances are hard. Mom’s got cancer. There was an accident. Your dog went to heaven. It seems anything that is bad is taboo for children at times and people only tell them things that they need to, only when absolutely necessary.

Slate had a great article today that got me thinking about this. They claim three real reasons that college students (and the rest of us, they claim) are more stressed out than ever before. I’ll riff on each here and add a fourth that stems from them and will add some thoughts about what I see amongst my own students and colleagues.

The first is a lack of community. One colleague of mine said: “I knew there was trouble when I found two student residents in their room arguing with one another–but they weren’t yelling at each other, they were TEXTING and IMing while in the same room! I put a stop to that and made them hash it out.”

Human contact and kinship help alleviate anxiety (our evolutionary ancestors, of course, were always safer in numbers), yet as we leave family behind to migrate all over the country, often settling in insular suburbs where our closest pal is our plasma-screen TV, we miss out on this all-important element of in-person connection. As fear researcher Michael Davis of Emory University told me: “If you’ve lost the extended family and lost the sense of community, you’re going to have fewer people you can depend on, and therefore you’ll be more anxious. Other cultures have much more social support and are better off psychologically because of it.” Another factor that adds to this problem—especially among young people—is our growing reliance on texting and social media for community, which many psychologists say is no substitute for real human interaction. When you’re feeling most dreadful, you don’t run to your Facebook profile for consolation; you run to a flesh-and-blood friend.

I think about my own students with this one. One of the most popular clubs on campus is our Christian Life Communities, a weekly prayer group of sorts that invites people to do a short form of the Ignatian examen in community. We discuss the highs and lows of the week and provide a meditation and a time for affirmations and prayer requests. It’s one of the times in my week that I feel I can really connect with our students and I start to hear just what people are carrying around with them. This is safe space and sometimes when I hear what people are dealing with I’m surprised they are walking and talking, never mind getting a degree. I feel the same way about the students I’ve seen in spiritual direction. And I often feel that they are unprepared for all that life is offering them and impressed that somehow they are still able to function at such high levels.

Professionally, I notice the texting more amongst outside younger colleagues than amongst my students at Canisius. I communicate with many people via text. And sometimes it’s inappropriate. There are some who try to conduct business via text when it would be faster and easier to call and have a conversation. Indeed texting is somehow more efficient but then again, it can lead to problems. My staff does this well. We text when necessary. When we need to get a message to someone quickly and think they are in a meeting or can’t talk. Or when the message is a quick one that requires some kind of action “Can you grab cider for the meeting?” would be an example.

The second is information overload which I discuss at length in my book, Googling God. There’s so much information out there that you can’t possibly consume it all. Our students often ask for bullet points and other quick soundbytes of information and I often give it to them because they just don’t need one more thing to read and information is bombarding them at high rates all the time. I don’t ever not recommend reading and I give them plenty to chew on when I think there’s a book or an article that is worth their time, but I also try to encourage that there’s not a rush to consume this information–to savor the reading process and to enjoy reading and gaining information. I often feel that college would be more enjoyable if we just let students finish when they finish. Now that’s an impossible business model to sustain, but from my own perspective I was able to work and do two graduate classes per semester and I enjoyed that immensely. I found it difficult to take 5 undergraduate classes and hold all that information together while working at the radio station and socializing and all of my campus ministry involvement.

I find my present students are great at balancing their time. Many are involved in much and have heavy duty science majors or are working on a big time business degree. I never knew how the medical students kept up at UB and the pre-meds are just as impressive at Canisius. But I do notice their anxiety. I do notice that it is not easy for them. And I do see them when they get overwhelmed by their to-do lists and the pressure of being good students and having a social life and trying to figure out what they would most like to be and do with their lives.

Some are brilliant: They’ve realized that they are never going to know everything that someone else thinks they should know. It took me years to get that idea through my thick skull.

Finally here’s the last major point:

Put simply, Americans have developed habits for dealing with anxiety and stress that actually make them far worse. We vilify our aversive emotions and fight them, rather than letting them run their own course. We avoid situations that make us nervous. We try to bury uncomfortable feelings like anxiety and stress with alcohol or entertainment or shopping sprees. Psychologist Steven Hayes, creator of a highly effective anxiety treatment formula called acceptance and commitment therapy, told me that we’ve fallen victim to “feel-goodism,” the false idea that “bad” feelings ought to be annihilated, controlled, or erased by a pill. This intolerance toward emotional pain puts us at loggerheads with a basic truth about being human: Sometimes we just feel bad, and there’s nothing wrong with that—which is why struggling too hard to control our anxiety and stress only makes things more difficult.

Amen! We protect ourselves way too much. And we protect others from our sadness and what we perceive is their sadness way too much.

Interestingly enough, comedian Louis CK hits the nail on the head with this: (warning: vulgar at times).

Perhaps our call is not to remove our student’s sadness or stress, but to help them more appropriately deal with that. We often do this in community on retreats, prayer groups, spiritual direction and on more than a few occasions by collaborating with our counseling center.

Our students need us and more importantly, they need community, they need time to chill to detox from information and they need to share their fears in a safe space where they can actually feel their emotions and be supported by peers and ministers.

In a world that is marked by terrorism all too often, anxiety is ever present globally and we have fewer resources to turn to because everyone is so busy that we have a hard time paying attention to those who need us. Older Americans might note that they were afraid of the Russians or of the bomb–but their community structure was much more intertwined with one another than our students’ lives are today.

This is our call as higher ed professionals and as Catholic Campus Ministers. As Pope Francis put it in the recent interview in America Magazine:

“I see clearly that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds…. And you have to start from the ground up.”

Heal the wounds… the wounds that are felt deeply and all too easily pushed away. Help people to feel their wounds and then to not be afraid to place your hands in the wounds of Jesus, like Thomas and allow the healing that God has to offer to take place through you, even in small and simple ways. This is ministry.

And it is where we always encounter God waiting for us and asking us to heal wounds.

First Day at School Memories

While many of my friends are sending their kids off to their first day of school and my wife heads in to her first day as the new after-school coordinator at her school, I’m filled with first day of school memories.

Of course, there’s nothing like that first day of school, for the first time. Mine was Kindergarten and my mother walked me to school which was one block from my house. We unexpectedly found my teacher in the hallway and my mother introduced me to her. Miss Suess took me by the hand and we walked to our classroom together and Mom went away. I was excited and anxious at the same time. What was going to happen next?

It was only a half day and I was in the afternoon class. I got switched to the morning class for some reason half way through the year and learned about getting up early.

Each year, we went school clothes shopping and I struggled to cover my books on that first day.

That first day though may very well have been my favorite memory of a first day at school, equalled only by a return to college each year.

Two worse first day memories come to mind:

The first was high school. I walked into my school and was excited. I was off to find my homeroom and was there pretty early. As I past the cafeteria smiling, I saw a group of Seniors sitting at a table. I sighed as I walked past and then I heard them:

“Duh…let’s see who I can make friends with! Stupid, freshman.”

Clearly high school was going to be a problem.

The second was middle school. I was coming into our parish school after going to public school from kindergarten until 6th grade. It started out well. I had come in three days late after a bout with some kind of illness. Mrs. Wasp my teacher, introduced herself and then looked to find me a seat.

Clearly, I was the new guy, but I was known to some in the school because I was an altar boy in the parish. One guy, Claudio, had began spreading rumors about me early and often. We had gotten into an altercation once after a bit of name calling. Apparently, he objected to me bringing up his mother in a foul way and this was his revenge.

Recess came and we played punchball–a kind of baseball game. Someone launched one far down the third base line and I raced over but it was well past me. The ball crawled under the fence before I could get to it. We weren’t allowed to climb over.

“HAYES!” Claudio yelled. “YOU OWE ME A NEW BALL!” He may have pushed me after that. What was worse was that he told all the girls that I stupidly let the ball roll under the fence. I saw someone passing by and got their attention and they retrieved the ball for us which Claudio took credit for later. But damage done. Worst two years of my life was that school and I didn’t look forward to a single day there.

But as I look to our freshman and see their excitement and yes, the jitters that still come with a new place, I recall my own college years as amazing. It fills me with much joy to be a small part of their experience and I hope that these years are a blessing to them.

Today, let’s be grateful for first day experiences, both good and bad. For even the bad ones make us more sensitive to others who may be struggling. The start of something new reminds me of God’s continual wiping away the slate of our sins and giving us a renewed chance to start again.

So as you start again…be grateful for the chance to start over and to make all that you can out of this, nothing more, but more importantly, nothing less. Amen.

Beyond Bread and Wine

So the past few days, I’ve been talking a bit about communion with friends. I posted the following on Facebook:

Ok folks…here’s one for the germaphobes. The blood of Christ should not be suspended. #1 there’s enough alcohol in there to kill any germs and second of all people should police themselves if they are sick or prone to illness. #2 I find it odd that the liturgical police NUTS are so concerned about people who receive from the cup but are unconcerned about everyone dipping their fingers into the same bowl of holy water. Get a life folks and stop trying to politicize the Eucharist under the guise of health.

At least two people told me that receiving from the cup was gross…to which I replied.

“Um no, it’s Christ.”

One of the grossed outs informed me that:

Jesus is in my heart NOT in my cup!! Drinking wine is symbolic of the blood of Christ..c’mon Mike! We ALL learned that in Catholic school!!

Well, we obviously did NOT go to the same Catholic School because that’s what we call consubstantiation…meaning “with the substance”. So the wine is merely a symbol which is what the Protestants believe. They believe it’s a type of re-creation, but the bread remains bread and the wine remains wine. Catholics on the other hand believe in TRANS-substantiation. Meaning that the bread and wine look and taste the same but the substance is now changed. The bread and wine are merely “accidents” while the substance becomes the body and blood of Christ. Now no longer bread, the essence of the Eucharistic feast has changed into something “BEYOND the substance” we see.

How I love doing Catechesis on Facebook, but am also amazed at how people spout off their theological beliefs as if what they believe is Catholic dogma and they even have the audacity to try to tell me that I’m wrong, even with my Master’s Degree in my back pocket!

But beyond those who are grossed out, I’m also astounded that as a eucharistic minister many people don’t say “Amen” when they come up to receive, especially when they receive from the cup. I think people get nervous, especially those who may be returning to the church. They simply forget it. I often prompt them and while I’m not in favor of priests or Eucharistic Ministers refusing people communion for their political beliefs, I am in favor of prompting folks to answer the minister when they say “The Body of Christ”. I remember once I stood there host aloft waiting for someone to say “Amen” and they just looked blankly at me. I replied:

“This is the part where you say ‘Amen.””

And indeed they had become flustered and just forgot. They even apologized and then I did as well. I’m really not trying to embarrass anyone, or even be a snot. But I do believe that Christ is present in the sacrament and that we should be giving assent to that.

Now that said, I also believe that some of us get way too bent out of shape about the Eucharist. We should be reverent with the Eucharist for sure, but not so pious that we forget about people and the fact that the Eucharist ties us all together in unity.

I think we too often forget that Jesus went to the cross and beyond death and therefore I think Jesus is able to take care of himself. So all the mistakes people make when they come up is not the end of the world. Jesus understands our human frailty and forgetfulness at times. Grace abounds regardless.

This evening I stumbled upon a column by my dear friend, Deacon Greg Kandra. He’s calling for a return to the altar rail, which in my opinion is a vast over-reaction. But read for yourself why he feels that way.

But now, after several years of standing on the other side of the ciborium—first as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, now as a deacon—and watching what goes on, I’ve had about enough.

I’ve watched a mother receive communion, her toddler in tow, then take it back to the pew and share it with him like a cookie.

At least four or five times a year, I have to stop someone who just takes the host and wanders away with it and ask them to consume it on the spot.

Once or twice a month I encounter the droppers. Many are well-intentioned folks who somewhere, somehow drop the host or it slides out of their hands and Jesus tumbles to the floor.

A couple times a year I get the take-out crowd. They receive the host properly, and then pull out a hanky and ask if they can take another one home to a sick relative.

Beyond that, I’m reminded week after week that people have no uniform way to receive in the hand. There’s the reverent “hands-as-throne” approach; there’s the “Gimme five,” one-hand-extended style; there are the notorious “body snatchers” who reach up and seize the host to pop into their mouths like an after-dinner mint; and there are the vacillating undecideds who approach with hands slightly cupped and lips parted. Where do you want it and how??

After experiencing this too often, in too many places, under a variety of circumstances, I’ve decided: it’s got to stop. Catechesis is fruitless. We’ve tried. You can show people how it’s done; you can instruct them; you can post reminders in the bulletin and give talks from the pulpit. It does no good. Again and again, there is a sizable minority of the faithful who are just clueless—or, worse, indifferent.

I think that’s a bit much. I think people can be instructed and I think we can make that time more solemn in many other ways. I love the parishes who stand together after communion until all have received or those that do a nice post-communion hymn standing together as one body in Christ. See, we don’t stand together often, there’s always some divisiveness that bleeds over into our cluttered and opinionated lives. But here we stand together as one, one body of believers drawn forth by Christ to become who it is that we receive. We challenge one another to stand humbly before God as unworthy people and receive all of God into our bloodstreams.

And now back to the germophobes.

I suspect that all this talk of altar rails and not making the blood of Christ available at mass, comes from an attempt to co-opt the sacrament to a time from before the Second Vatican Council. So I’d like to call for more levity in making those kinds of sweeping judgements and to look for what might be good in receiving communion together in the present form.

And so while the germophobes almost immediately side with those who wish to eliminate the reception of Christ’s precious blood, these same people may receive Christ’s body on their tongue, a practice that is far more unsanitary (fingers touch tongue, touches next host). And secondly, we don’t seem to have any problem dipping our fingers in the same holy water font week in and week out. By the way the CDC agrees with me, TWICE, so I now have medicine and theology on my side. Next up: The World.

My point is that the problems with receiving communion properly is not really as much about those coming forth to receive, but instead it is with us who are ministers of the sacrament. How much care do we take with our roles? Do we stand and receive reverently ourselves, do we try to create a time like no other for Christ? Do we give people ample opportunities for quiet after communion to pray a bit more privately in gratitude for Christ’s love for us?

Or do we come forth, like we’re carrying any old thing and then expect others to act differently? Do we even seem excited about being a Eucharistic Minister? There’s a guy in my parish who is a big time lawyer, but when he goes to the altar to be a Eucharistic Minister, he seems so filled with enthusiasm that it becomes holy. Are we as excited to receive Christ?

Lastly, I’m not sure the altar rail will work. I think people will be more confused. Kneel or stand? Hands out –or tongue? Where do I go again? What’s worse is that it seems to emphasize the separation between priest and laity over the unity of the sacrament. We are all joined together in the Eucharist, not just to each other, but to all who have received the eucharist before us, including the disciples! Ritualizing that moment might be worth doing, placing our minds and hearts before God during and after the sacrament. In doing so, we bring ourselves and others to Christ. Be we priests or pot smokers, bishops or bankers, mothers or managers, custodians or CEOs. We are all one body in Christ.

For it is:

“Through him with him and in him, O God Almighty Father,
In the unity of the Holy Spirit, all power and glory are yours
Both now and forever. Amen.

A brief addendum…A faithful reader points out that for those unable to receive because of illness, this shouldn’t be read as a judgement against them. Rather, people should be given the choice to receive or not receive the blood of Christ. My own wife doesn’t receive normally. So I understand that, but my point is that we need not overreact and eliminate it altogether. Bishop Malone here in Buffalo has asked people to police themselves if they are sick, which I would say is the right idea.

Concealed on Campus

From this morning’s NY Times:

For more than 30 years, the University of Colorado has enforced a sensible policy banning guns from its campuses. The ban worked well until March, when the State Supreme Court agreed with a student’s complaint that it violated a state law allowing citizens with “concealed-
carry” permits to carry guns in public places.

This has left the university resorting to a new twist on its in loco parentis responsibilities — designating segregated housing this fall for students with gun permits. Gun-toting students 21 or older will be assigned to special housing on the Boulder and Colorado Springs campuses, where they must have safes to store their weapons when they are not carrying them. Or they can check them with the local police, Dodge City style. They will not be able to live in dormitories with younger students, but they will be allowed to carry their weapons around to classes or anywhere else, except to certain sports and cultural events.

This is true for students at all other public campuses in the state. No one knows how many might go packing in college halls, though estimates run into the hundreds.

OK, this is insane! How much more dangerous did they just make this campus? Who knows anything about the student with a gun permit? Does the student have a clean bill of mental health? How long and what kind of record does the student have concerning the use of his gun?

I understand that some will say that a student carrying can stop another student who tries to shoot up the campus but in the recent case of the movie theatre in that same state, that would have done no good as the perpetrator in question was basically clothed in armor! Someone carrying would probably have done MORE harm than good.

And I believe that’s the case in most scenarios here. What happens when some little kid visits his big brother and finds a gun in someone’s room? What happens when a drunk comes home and starts firing the gun in anger or pointing it at someone else in his stupor. Someone on a bad trip and they hallucinate? College students often do dumb and dangerous things like that, but this time the administration just did something 1000 times stupider.

Higgs Boson Does Not Disprove God

There’s a few items on my mind with regards to the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle, an amazing event in the world of physics, which has been referred to as the “God particle.”

First of all, scientists hate the term “God particle” and it’s called that not for any anti-theological reason, but rather because the higher ups at CERN (the center that has made today’s historic discovery) wouldn’t let the scientists working on the experiment call it “the Goddamned particle” because it was so difficult to find.

Ok, that’s kind of funny. Who knew scientists could have such a sense of humor. I need to watch more of the Big Bang Theory.

What is the Higgs-Boson particle anyway?

From National Geographic:

The Higgs boson is one of the final puzzle pieces required for a complete understanding of the standard model of physics—the so-far successful theory that explains how fundamental particles interact with the elementary forces of nature.

The so-called God particle was proposed in the 1960s by Peter Higgs to explain why some particles, such as quarks—building blocks of protons, among other things—and electrons have mass, while others, such as the light-carrying photon particle, do not.

Higgs’s idea was that the universe is bathed in an invisible field similar to a magnetic field. Every particle feels this field—now known as the Higgs field—but to varying degrees.

If a particle can move through this field with little or no interaction, there will be no drag, and that particle will have little or no mass. Alternatively, if a particle interacts significantly with the Higgs field, it will have a higher mass.

The idea of the Higgs field requires the acceptance of a related particle: the Higgs boson.

According to the standard model, if the Higgs field didn’t exist, the universe would be a very different place, said SLAC’s Peskin, who isn’t involved in the LHC experiments.

“It would be very difficult to form atoms,” Peskin said. “So our orderly world, where matter is made of atoms, and electrons form chemical bonds—we wouldn’t have that if we did not have the Higgs field.”

In other words: no galaxies, no stars, no planets, no life on Earth.

So some are saying that the Higgs-Boson disproves that a God has any role in the making or maintaining of the universe. That we are simply a random bunch of particles bouncing off each other with little or no meaning. This assumes something about religion that simple isn’t true.

Religion does not try to say anything about the origins of the world. Religion and science have two completely different purposes, but can work complimentarily to give meaning to human existence and have done so for years. It should be noted that a priest proposed the big bang theory, using science as opposed to the Book of Genesis to explain the order of the universe.

Check out this video that I did some time ago on science and religion with the head of the Vatican Observatory, Fr George Coyne, S.J.. It’s focused on evolution, but Fr. Coyne takes us into defining the difference between religion and science in general.

Science and scripture are not compatible, or I should say that the purpose of the Bible is NOT, precisely not, aimed at scientific discovery. These are revelation stories designed to teach us about “meaning” not “scientific origins.”

Now some are going to say that there are nutburgers who’ll say different. And they would be right to say so. These are fundamentalists, people who believe in a LITERAL interpretation of the bible. Catholics are not fundamentalists. We believe that the bible is divinely inspired, meaning that the biblical writers are not God, but rather people who wrote something down to try to tell us a bit about what God is like; mainly that God is loving and allows us to participate in God’s own creation through our humanity.

There are also fundamentalist scientists in my opinion. People who believe that their empirical discoveries are all that there is. That there cannot be anything beyond these discoveries. I find that haughty and arrogant.

Catholics believe in transcendence, that there are things that go beyond our very selves and our experience of the world. This is where we experience God.

And God is ALWAYS mystery, the inexhaustible one that we never truly can grasp with our limited human intellects. God is beyond us, so far beyond that full knowledge of God is impossible. In fact, that would make us God if we had that.

But God is also with us and within us. And we do have some experience of what God is like for us. Scripture tries to give us a glimpse of this, and the experience of Jesus and the Holy Spirit links the ineffable with us. We are connected to God, who always is trying to unite with his creation. We need to pay attention to that in order to discover meaning in our lives that is beyond science, but also that doesn’t disprove and still honors scientific discovery.

Much like our political landscape these days, the interaction of scientific communities and religious ones are fraught with division. And it’s unnecessary. Let’s call out the extremes on both sides today and show that Catholics are not part of some radical anti-scientific mentality and also honor science, that continues to discover the wonders of God’s world for all of us.

Just Love, By Example

Sr. Margaret Farley whose book was deemed as not being in conformity with Catholic teaching released the following statement yesterday:

I have received the official Notification from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, published in Rome, June 4, 2012. By it, I understand that my book, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, has been judged to contain positions that are not in conformity with the hierarchical teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. I appreciate the efforts made by the Congregation and its consultants, over several years, to evaluate positions articulated in that book, and I do not dispute the judgment that some of the positions contained within it are not in accord with current official Catholic teaching. In the end, I can only clarify that the book was not intended to be an expression of current official Catholic teaching, nor was it aimed specifically against this teaching. It is of a different genre altogether.

She is the epitome of her book’s title and clarifies further on her site at Yale. When we disagree, we need to get to the heart of the disagreement. While certainly disappointed she opened up the possibility that the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and her book are simply of two different aims and doesn’t purport the book to be trying to teach Catholic doctrine, rather it lays out possibilities for sexual ethics that readers can judge for themselves.

Apparently the CDF has judged that these positions do not represent a Catholic position and Sr. Farley’s response is simple. “That’s fine and thanks for reading my book. You have assessed it critically.”

The goal of any book! Glad that this resolution was peaceful for once and we should thanks Sr. Farley for her work here in the regard.

And speaking of classmates…and Graduation Memories

A Happy Birthday to Paul T. Daly today. One of my many college suite-mates. Paul hails from the great state of Texas and has a voice that I’d run my mother over for. Give this a listen for some of his work on Texas High School football.

My favorite ever Paul Daly line from our radio days was: “That would been a great catch….

had he caught it!”

Yep–that would’ve helped!

So since it’s graduation week and everything here’s a quick story. Paul was busy covering the ECAC Baseball Tournament that Fordham was in so he got back to campus just as graduation exercises were completing. He was a year behind me in school, so he wasn’t graduating.

Now I wasn’t the best student as an undergrad. And when Paul departed for the tournament, I hadn’t gotten my final grades. And let’s just say Medieval Literature was not my best subject and I needed a C- in order to graduate.

And that indeed was going to be a close call.

I made the grade but in the age before cell phones, Paul had no clue whether I was going to walk or not.

So here is Paul racing to Edward’s Parade on that day and he gets there in the middle of names being read. They just started the “H’s” as the names are read alphabetically. He’s waiting for “Hayes” to be read.

When they got to “Iagone” he said his spirits really dropped.

“Oh no! He didn’t make it. Man!” He sat there depressed for me. He wondered if my parents even came or if I were even out there or if I just went the hell home.

They read the last name and it occurred to Paul that they got from H to Z rather quickly.

Fr. Pascoe, our dean, then took the microphone and said:

“And now, Fr. President, I call the names of the candidates for the Bachelor of ARTS degree in Fordham College!”

And the crowd went ballistic. Paul thought for a moment. He asked the person next to him, “Whose names was he just reading before?” Turns out he showed up while the Bachelor of Science degrees were being read.

He thought, “Wait! Mike’s an English major. English…Arts. YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY! WOO-HOO!”

Of course he then thought, if they don’t call his name this time…

But they did. A second piece of irony. But first, a second story.

So my freshman year, I was placed in second year spanish. Now that would have been fine if I remembered anything from my high school spanish class. I was lost and I wanted to add/drop into first year spanish. I had to go to the dean to do this. And let’s just say that the modern language dean who I will be merciful to and not name, was having a bit of a bad day.

“What do you want to change and why?” he growled at me.

I told him. He looked in his book.

“There are no openings in first level spanish.”

I said to him, “OK so what do I do now?”

Now I’d like to take a second here to tell educators that your response to this question should be “Just take another class and don’t worry about it and take it next semester.”

That was not the response I got.

“Well..we’d LIKE you to finish your language requirement by the end of your sophomore year (which means 4 semesters of language culminating in taking a literature class in the language). So if that’s the case, then you need to start with another language.”

So I say, “OK, fine, give me Italian.”

“No sir. No openings in Italian first level either.”

“OK, give me French.”

You guessed it…no openings in French first level either.

So me being me, I got angry. And I believe I said something along the lines of “Can you please just tell me what freakin class I CAN take?”

And incredulously the dean said, “Well you have a choice!”

I said in the deepest depressing voice ever, “Oh goody, that’s a thrill. You can’t imagine my joy. I am nearing orgasm at that news.”

Yeah that probably didn’t endear me to him.

My choices you ask: Russian or German.

Now I’m nothing if not logical…but if I had half a brain I would have just walked out of the office and told him off and went to my academic dean. But I’m a dumb freshman, the first in my family to go to college.

So I think deeply. “Well, Russian is a different alphabet. German is kinda like English (oh no it’s not!) so I’ll take German.”

“Splendid.” the dean said. And off I went with my new class.

Which I was now in two weeks late.

And I never caught up. I got a great big F.

There goes the GPA. Law School…forget it.

My professor and I tried everything. I just couldn’t do it. I got a tutor (who was kinda hot, I might add). I studied so much German my OTHER grades started to suffer. And then I realized that this just wasn’t going to happen. I passed 2 tests of 4. If I remember right I got a 37 on the first exam. A 58 on the second. A 78 on the third and a 62 on the fourth. That’s a 59 average. Failing by one point.

I got a 55 on the final exam. 6 more points and she would’ve passed me with a D.

I got all B’s in my other courses and a giant F in German.

And then I took four semesters of spanish starting with the next semester and finished the language requirement a semester late–which nobody ever said “BOO” about. And the interesting thing was that I was making the same mistakes in spanish, but the difference was that, say I misspelled a word throughout the exam….my spanish professors would take only one point off.

My German professor would take 9 off for every time I misspelled.

Sigh.

OK, so back to graduation…

Who read my name at graduation….?

You guessed it. The one professor to ever give me a failing grade.

I ran into her just after I graduated. I was still hurt because I begged her for a D but she wouldn’t budge. She had the audacity to ask me to carry some boxes up some stairs for her and another dean.

If the other dean wasn’t about to cry, if I said no–I think I might have left her standing there with the boxes.

But we are a religion of forgiveness, after all.

So up the boxes went. We had a cordial conversation and I told her I was graduating and had a job lined up at WFAN.

She seemed relieved. I could almost read it in her face.

“Well, I’m glad you’re getting out of here because you were a train wreck in my class.”

So basically I was a B student in most classes and a A student in theology and philosophy and the occasional writing class. But when it came to German or any language that sounded like German….

Well…not so much.

So when she read “Michael F. Hayes, Jr, English” I cringed and offered a soft smile her way.

Then I saw Paul.

He was jumping a hooting and howling for me. From complete disappointment to complete elation… for me.

I grabbed my diploma and hugged Fr. O’Hare. Fr. Pascoe our dean, looked at me and said, “Thanks for being such a big part of Campus Ministry (I served as an acolyte).”

Even then…there was God nudging me towards ministry and away from radio.

A quick look at my grades tells the tale:

English Classes: 2.8
Theology and Philosophy Classes: 3.2
Foreign Language: 2.136 (which aint bad considering I got an F in one of the five classes).

Is it any wonder I graduated with an M.A. in Religious Ed, Summa Cum Laude (3.83) nearly 13 years later?

God sometimes has to howl at me.

Even louder than Paul did on graduation day.

Happy Birthday, Tex.

Voices of Hope and Doom


E.J. Dionne has a great column today in the Washington Post and he rightly points out that the voices of doom seem to be all around us.

First he points to the voices of doom on the left.

Recently, a group called the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) ran a full-page ad in The Washington Post cast as an “open letter to ‘liberal’ and ‘nominal’ Catholics.” Its headline commanded: “It’s Time to Quit the Catholic Church.”

The ad included the usual criticism of Catholicism, but I was most struck by this paragraph: “If you think you can change the church from within — get it to lighten up on birth control, gay rights, marriage equality, embryonic stem-cell research — you’re deluding yourself. By remaining a ‘good Catholic,’ you are doing ‘bad’ to women’s rights. You are an enabler. And it’s got to stop.”

He immediately grasps that the secular left doesn’t care much for Catholicism, or I suspect religion of any kind, preferring to lump all of us “religious-types” together.

But there’s another kind of progressive minded group. And it’s those of us who believe in much that liberal principles hold and that it reflects much of Catholic teaching.

We’re the ones who remind some narrow minded folks that it’s not OK to just be against abortion when you call yourself a pro-lifer but that the title also demanded that we support women who struggle to not just bring a child to term, but also to support that child and mother well long after the birth. Not to mention those of us who call for an end to war, violence and the death penalty. We hope to care for the poor who all-too-often are in harm’s way and for the environment which continually gets ignored too often as well.

And we do so by pointing people to the wisdom of our tradition as the reason why.

Dionne then takes up a second group of doomsayers. Those on the Catholic right.

I wonder if the bishops realize how some in their ranks have strengthened the hands of the church’s adversaries (and disheartened many of the faithful) with public statements — including that odious comparison of President Obama to Hitler by a Peoria prelate last month — that threaten to shrink the church into a narrow, conservative sect.

Do the bishops notice how often those of us who regularly defend the church turn to the work of nuns on behalf of charity and justice to prove Catholicism’s detractors wrong? ….has it occurred to the bishops that less stridency might change more hearts and minds on this very difficult question?

Indeed. While I certainly think that those who oppose abortion, for instance (I would count myself as being in that group), are doing their darnedest to try to change the law and to protect the innocent who so desperately need our assistance, what good has it really done? Our opposers are more firmly entrenched because of the vitriol of some and they liken the words coming forth from well-meaning and dedicated people (Laity and Bishops alike) to hate speech and at best, mean-spiritedness.

I don’t think that’s the message that people need or even want to hear. It doesn’t call us to change and it doesn’t produce results apparently.

What do people want? They want two things: action and results.

It seems to me that this is what the nuns were doing pretty darn well and their heroism seems to be brushed off because they didn’t spew venom often enough.

Even with a Republican President for 4 years recently and a congress that also shared those principles what were we able to do about abortion?

Nothing.

That’s not a good record. And we should be ashamed. All of us.

There’s an old adage that some in the church should carefully heed.

“It’s time to put up or shut up.”

Why, might I add, haven’t we heard much about a small organization called Malta House in the state of Connecticut –a state I might add, that just abolished the death penalty?

Just a sample of what Malta House does:

Malta House promotes the dignity of God given life by providing a nurturing home environment, support services, and independent living skills to expectant mothers of all faiths, and to their babies.

Residents of Malta House participate in educational programs covering issues of Health, Nutrition, Parenting and Child Development. During their stay at Malta House, mothers also receive guidance designed to foster a positive self image for themselves and their children. Personal finance and budgeting advice is offered to promote self sufficiency as our young families assimilate back into the community.

In addition, each resident agrees to participate in an individualized educational component that may include GED preparation or certificate programs at a local community college. Tutoring is provided to support the rigors of each class.

Michael O’Rourke, Malta House’s founder, is a saint in my opinion. He put up and then he didn’t shut up–rather he went and spoke to thousands of people leaving no stone unturned in order to gain support for his cause. It was an easy sell. And he did it all with grace and a quiet voice of peace.

So why, might I ask, has nobody bothered to say…

“Y’know what might be a good idea? Let’s have one of these Malta Houses in every diocese! Heck, let’s have two! Get O’Rourke on the phone.”

It would provide jobs, care, and it’s clearly a pro-life message that can be seen and produces results.

Do we think that the secular left couldn’t get behind that? Despite the law, we Catholics need to find ways to support the cause of life ANYWAY.

And other causes that support and claim who we are–a people of action.

Or we can just keep crying foul as a voice of doom that claims that the whole world is going to hell in a handbasket and we are powerless to change that because of those pesky little laws.

Now c’mon folks, we’re smarter than this. A lot smarter.

Perhaps, as Dionne suggests, we should heed the words of John XXIII:

“Distrustful souls see only darkness burdening the face of the earth. We prefer instead to reaffirm all our confidence in our Savior who has not abandoned the world which he redeemed.”

And as Dionne rightfully notes: “The church best answers its critics when it remembers that its mission is to preach hope, not fear.”

Amen.

Oh! And if you’d like to help to Malta House click here—their gala event is Thursday!

Rebuilding Christ’s Church

Congratulations to Br. Dan Horan, OFM, who will be ordained this coming week and who just graduated as the Valedictorian of the last class at Washington Theological Union, which is closing.

Over at his fine blog, Dating God, Br. Dan speaks of the ornateness of the Basilica of St Mary in Assisi, Italy in his valedictory address and how his meditation there led him into a deeper vocational call that has a message for each of us.

As the conference winded down, I snuck away early to pray at the little chapel that is the mother church and founding location for the Franciscan movement.

Called the Portiuncula, or “the little portion,” this centuries-old chapel is about the size of one of our WTU classrooms. It is small and simple and was the church most loved by Francis of Assisi. In the centuries after his death, the Franciscans and the universal church, in order to honor and protect this sacred space, built a gigantic basilica over the Portiuncula.

The basilica church is simply huge, with an imposing presence outside in the open piazza and inside with its massive and overarching structure of marble and stone. My thought has always been that Francis was likely rolling in his grave at the thought of such opulence and excess. But then I realized something that might be insightful for us today. I asked myself: Where is the Church of St. Mary of the Angels? Is it this massive, imposing, stone basilica? Or is it the tiny, fragile, simple church, which is housed within?

The more I considered it, the more I realized that on the one hand, it is both. They are intertwined, the large church protects and shelters the small church, it provides the context and sets the environment. Yet, the small church gives meaning and purpose to the large basilica and it is where Francis’s heart was located. His work and his way of life arose out of the small church – the little portion – and transformed religious life and spirituality forever. If Francis were alive today, I wonder if he wouldn’t still have problems with the big, imposing basilica; with its opulence and with the message it seems to project about what is important and what is not. But, Francis would likely not be as bothered as I can be at times today as a friar coming “home” to the spiritual center of my religious order. He would, I think, still focus his attention and energy and direct his love toward the little Church, the Portiuncula.

It is there that he came to hear the quiet voice of the Spirit calling him to live his baptismal vocation to the fullest.

It was there that the early brothers, inspired by the would-be saint, joined Francis in fraternity and ministry.

It was there that the young noblewoman Clare of Assisi professed her commitment to follow Francis’s way of life.

It was there that women and men, the poor and the privileged, the powerful and the marginalized alike sought out the pastoral care and spiritual guidance of the man who would become Christianity’s most popular saint.

It was there, at the Portiuncula, that Francis asked to have his naked body laid so that, as he entered this world in total poverty and completely dependent on God, he might leave this world in similar fashion.

And, I came to realize while praying in the tiny church, that all of us here have our own Portiunculas, our own “small portions” of the church, like Francis had St. Mary of the Angels.

For some of the graduates, your Portiuncula is at the side of a hospital bed or in the waiting room of an oncology wing, where your hearts are led by the Spirit to reveal the compassionate face of our loving God to the sick and dying.

For some of the graduates, your Portiuncua is found in the parish church where you help form the spiritual life of the faithful, minister to people during their most joyful and sorrowful moments, and share the good news of Jesus Christ in so many ways.

For some of the graduates, your Portiuncula is located in the classroom, educating students about the richness of the theological and spiritual traditions of our faith, guiding and mentoring the next generation of Catholics and other Christians during their most formative years.

For some of the graduates, your Portiuncula is in place yet to be imagined in a world that so desperately needs the Gospel, and with people who wholeheartedly long for the life-giving word that God loves them and journeys with them in life.

Like Francis of Assisi, each of us graduates has received – in some form or another – the vocational call of the Spirit to “Rebuild Christ’s Church.”

Read the rest of his address, but know that this call is not just for graduates, rather it is for us all. We are all called to the Portiunculas of our lives. It may be to the bedside of a sick parent or child, to the homeless down the street, to the neighbor struggling to make ends meet, that co-worker who can’t seem to do anything right these days and fears unemployment and of course to all of those jobless and filled with worry.

And we are called to ourselves. Where our deepest fears need to meet with God’s mercy and love to find that God can meet us in the Portincula too and calm out fears and fulfill our deepest desires if we just hone our relationship with God a tiny bit more each day hearing the words of St. Peter, “To whom shall we go, Lord? You have the words of eternal life.”

Congratulations to WTU’s final class, especially Br. Dan and Rich Andre, CSP and Tom Gibbons, CSP. As ordination awaits each of you, may you be filled by the grace God imparts each day and may that grace lead you to be more of who God calls each of you to be.

And may God call each of us to the same vocation.