Sunday, December 10, 2006

Yes, You Can Do That in Heaven!


Several years ago, an evangelist named Mark Cahill wrote a book titled, One Think You Can't Do in Heaven. The premise, at least behind the title, is that in Heaven there will be no sinners to whom we can witness about the Gospel, so we better take full advantage of the opportunties we are given here in this life. Since I never read the book, I can't say what his thoughts are on the whole communion of saints thing, but for some reason the idea that we can't lead sinners to God when we're in Heaven came back to me back in October while reading about the arrival of the relic of St. John Vianney's heart in Boston on Cardinal Sean's blog. Guess I'm a little slow bringing these thoughts to paper, but I'm erratic like that.

I don't know if any miracles have been confirmed in connection with his relic, but there is still a collection of canes and crutches left behind by people who were healed at the altar to St. Philomena built by St. John Vianney. Of course, every saint has at least two miracles that are verified by the Church to be connected to their intecession. But regardless of miraculous events, simply the presence of a holy relic and the news coverage about it in the Boston area surely served as a reminder to millions that we are all called to radical holiness. I'm sure most of them shrugged it off, but in some people it surely planted a seed and in others a seed previously planted may have come to full bloom.

But as if that isn't enough, we have the powerful story of St. Therese of Lisieux. She was hardly known outside of her convent when she died of tuberculosis at age 24. A year later, her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, was published. She became so influential around the world that another nun took her name and became known as Mother Theresa. And in 1997, Pope John Paul II named St. Therese a Doctor of the Church. She is probably one of the best known saints among Catholics for her simple approach to God. Countless miracles are also attributed to her intercession.

I think her own words provide the perfect closing and response to Cahill's book:

"I will spend my heaven doing good on earth."
-St. Therese of Lisieux

Sunday, November 5, 2006

Theology vs. Love?

Lately I've been thinking about how easy it is to think of theology as something that is opposed to experiencing a personal relationship with God.

I remember going to Mass where the priest gave an excellent homily about his conversion experience during seminary. He joked about how he could tell us about some ecumenical synod from the early Church, but the vast majority of us didn't need that knowledge to be strong in our faith (which is true). Fortunately, this man found what it means to sacrifice our hearts in worship of God. Unfortunately, in the process, I think he fell to the other extreme, tossing the baby with the bathwater, by disregarding liturgical rules and theology as stuff that gets in the way of a personal relationship with Christ. He welcomed me to receive the Eucharist even though I wasn't Catholic at the time. I know he meant well, but the fact is such an invitation is an act of disobedience to the Church's authority. While it's one thing to disagree with a teaching, when does God ever call us to outright disobedience of His Church?

If the whole point to Christianity is growing into the perfect love of God, what's the point to knowing or caring about theology? Does God really care if we believe in transubstantiation or praying to saints? The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Ps 51:17) If knowledge of the Truth is of any benefit to us, it must lead us to perfecting the sacrifice of our hearts to God.

Knowledge by itself isn't of much benefit to us. Satan knows that God exists. He knows Jesus is His Son, the Word made flesh. The disciples also knew these things. Peter confessed, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life," and found the answer to his own question when the rooster crowed. Think about it... the Catholic Church was founded by eleven men who couldn't so much as stay awake while Jesus prayed and were nowhere to be found during his beating and sentencing. Mary was there, and John was present at the cross, but everyone else who knew the Truth about their God ran into hiding.

So clearly we need more than just knowledge. Obviously, the Holy Spirit had no yet descended at this time. But look at how many times love and truth are mentioned together in the New Testament writings. The Church Fathers always stressed obedience to the Church, the priests and bishops. Clearly, the Spirit does not lead us to cast away knowledge of the Truth. In fact, it's exactly the opposite. Look at how many times David and Old Testament prophets spoke of loving God's commandments. Isn't it odd for one to love rules?

Society's worship of freedom and choice has seeped into the Church, leading us to think that it doesn't really matter what you believe, as long as you believe in Christ, live a good life, or whatever. Most Christians would deny they don't believe that, but if faith expresses itself in action or works, then we believe what we do.

What have we done to invite people into a deeper relationship with God? What have we done to serve the least of these? What have we done to eliminate habitual sin from our lives? What have we done to encourage others to eliminate sin from their lives? What have we done to guard against our sexually charged, prideful culture? What have we sacrificed to God, really?

Too often we accept Jesus' teaching that our holiness must exceed that of the Pharisees in order to enter the Kingdom of God as a cop out that our faith in Christ makes us pure and holy, so good works are not essential. I now see it as a challenge. If those who lack the Spirit can do as much as they do, those of us who are in the Spirit are enabled (and expected) to do so much more! St. Margaret of Scotland fed nine orphans and 24 adults before eating her own meal. The same faith and Spirit that drove her to sacrifice so much is also in us, and for those who are Catholic or Orthodox, the same Eucharist that fed her body and soul also feeds us.

I'm not even sure what I'm saying here means for me, much less anyone else, but I am challenged to give myself completely to God's will. Saying that might make it sound like I'm going to end up in the priesthood, but St. Margaret of Scotland was married. She and her husband, King Malcom, together kept two Lents (before Christmas and Easter). Even if I knew my vocation was for the priesthood, yet for some selfish reason I chose marriage instead, I would have "escaped" the priesthood. But there is no escaping the vocation of holiness. There is no way I can claim that God isn't calling me to sacrifice everything -- including myself -- to follow Christ.


Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere love of the brethren, love one another earnestly from the heart. (1st Peter 1:22)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Luminous Mysteries

One of the ways St. Francis challenges me is the way he literally and passionately followed Christ. Before his conversion, he once had a vision that he was the lord of a court filled with shields and trophies gained through military victories. A few years later, when he heard Jesus' command, "Go, rebuild my church, which you can see has fallen into ruins," Francis literally starting rebuilding the chapel of San Damiano, brick-by-brick. While he eventually learned that God was calling him to win spiritual victories and rebuild the faith of apathetic Christians, there was one calling that St. Francis took literally right from the beginning and from which he never wavered:

"And preach as you go, saying, 'The kingdom of God is at hand.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without pay, give without pay. Take no gold, nor silver, nor copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor a staff; for the laborer deserves his food."

-Matthew 10:7-10

Hearing Christ's command, Francis shed the last of his few belongings, put on the rough brown tunic that has become the Franciscan habit, and began cleansing lepers and preaching repentance to anyone (or any animal) that would listen. This Gospel formed the simple beginnings of the Franciscan order. Even as they grew in numbers, he demanded that his friars remain faithful to Lady Poverty, committing not even a hint of adultery.

I was reminded of St. Francis' passionate obedience to Jesus' instructions while praying the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary a few days ago because each of the mysteries focuses on words that leave no room for metaphorical interpretation.

First Luminous Mystery - Baptism of Jesus: The Holy Spirit descends upon Christ like a dove while a voice from Heaven says, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."

Second Luminous Mystery - Wedding at Cana: After Jesus tells his mother that his time has not yet come, Mary instructs the servants, "Do whatever He tells you."

Third Luminous Mystery - Proclaiming the Kingdom: Wouldn't you know, this happens to be same passage I already quoted above that inspired St. Francis to cast away all belongings, cleanse lepers, and preach repentance.

Fourth Luminous Mystery - Transfiguration: This one relates to the first two mysteries; once again there is a voice from Heaven announcing, "This is my Son," and we are instructed like Mary told the wedding servants, "Listen to Him!"

Fifth Luminous Mystery - Institution of the Eucharist: "This is My body, which is given for you. ... This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood."

Most of our Protestant brothers and sisters would dispute the literal interpretation of that last one. Sadly, in our disputing over theology, we probably disregard our duty to proclaim the Kingdom of God. And while it's easy for Christians to cast aside theology as academic stuff that gets in the way of spreading the Gospel, I can't help but think that the gift of Christ's flesh and blood in the Eucharist is what enabled the most radical proclaimers of the Kingdom, like St. Francis and Mother Theresa, to serve the way they did.

St. Francis knew that Christ was present in the Eucharist and it wasn't just academic knowledge; he drew strength and love from the Eucharist. If you read much about Mother Theresa outside of Time magazine, you'll learn very quickly that she considered Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament central to the lives of nuns in her order.

After procrastinating for some time, I am personally excited about finally scheduling an hour every Thursday morning to pray before Christ at a local Adoration chapel on my way into work. I'm sure a lot of people think that praying in the presence of a Communion wafer is clearly a waste of time. I could be out there sharing Christ's love with my friends, serving the needy, and other good works that bear fruit in our lives through faith.

Yet all these good works are nothing without making God our first priority. I'm not going to the Adoration chapel in hopes of becoming a holier person. I already have Christ and the hope of eternal life, so what do I have to gain? Rather, I'm doing it because I know that God will use that one hour a week to sanctify the rest of my week, make me a more faithful servant, and draw the people I know closer to Christ. Whatever good comes from it will not be my own doing, but merely through my submission to God.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

"Make me chaste and continent, but not yet."

I'm about halfway through St. Augustine's Confessions. The communion of saints adds a pretty cool dimension to reading books like this and even Scripture. After learning how St. Augustine experienced a lot of the same frustrations, temptations, and uncertainty about his calling that I do, I've been asking for his intercession to help in my own discernment and pursuit of God. I completely identify with the words he prayed early in his process of conversion: "Make me chaste and continent, but not yet." (I think the more modern translation would be "Make me chaste and celibate...", but you get the idea.)

He knew his old way of life wasn't where he wanted to stay, believed in God enough to pray, and respected God enough to know that God would answer that prayer. But part of his heart remained attached to sin, especially Lust. While my specific experiences aren't anything like his, the same temptations and uncertainties are there. He debated between marriage and celibacy, and like me, wanted the gift to pursue the latter path although he wasn't without reservations.

Ironically, considering what I've just said, what attracts me about marriage isn't the sex, but the incredible challenge it is to be fully devoted to God while raising a family. Priests are kinda expected to be holy, but a married couple living a holy life isn't the norm at all. So I feel like marriage is the greater spiritual challenge. I also heard a quote from some dead U.S. President who was asked by a reporter at what age he thought women were the most beautiful and he said, "The age my wife is." That got me to thinking that one benefit to marriage is learning to see the inner beauty in everything. Unfortunately, it also means having sex. I don't know about that. :)

On the other hand, I was thinking about John Eldredge's book "Wild at Heart" and how the priesthood fulfills the three desires God places on mens' hearts: an adventure to live, a battle to fight, and a beauty to save. The adventure is following this counter-cultural path of chastity, loving God wholeheartedly, and serving peoples' physical and spiritual needs. The battle is fighting to draw people into a closer relationship with God and every prayer made on their behalf. And the beauty to save is the Church, the Bride of Christ, who is made beautiful through faith and the sacraments of Baptism and Reconciliation.

And of course, there is Paul's 1st Letter to the Corinthians: To the unmarried and the windows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do. About half of the seventh chapter is about the blessings of remaining single and the anxieties of marriage. I am surprised that the vast majority of sincere Christians do not wrestle with these words. I have rarely heard of a Protestant considering chastity for the rest of their lives, which I find ironic because it's so clearly biblical. Baptists love to quote Paul when he's talking about being saved through faith and eternal security, but when it comes to this chapter it seems like they all make the assumption that their calling is marriage and the beautiful alternative is shrugged off or laughed at. This has bothered me for a long time and it's one reason (among many) that I started to seriously consider Catholicism (there's a post coming soon that gets into the other reasons).

Well, that's enough for now... I should do something productive now, like laundry (if only I were married so someone else could do that... ha ha).

Sunday, August 20, 2006

What's so Catholic About Picnics?

A few weeks ago one of my roommates said something about watching the drunks stumble home from the Catholic picnic that took place down the street from our apartment. Then last night I was hanging out with some people at a cookout when one girl there got to talking about how they couldn't stand the St. Joseph's picnic (the biggest Catholic picnic in Louisville) because of the old men following around the barely-teenage girls strutting around with their ass hanging out of their little skirts.

It's got me thinking... I know most parish picnics are pretty well civilized, but sometimes I wonder just how much we're selling out to make a buck. The only time I've been to the St. Joe's picnic was a couple of years ago and the one thing I remember most is watching some lady so drunk she could barely walk stumbling down a ditch. I know some people will say that these people are all making their own decisions, but I'm starting to think that's an irresponsible attitude. I'm not sure what the solution is, but I feel like something isn't right when a major source of income for Catholic churches and charities is associated with drunkeness, pedophilia, and slutty middle school girls.

Anyway, I'm off my soapbox for now.

Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Miracles

Just finished C.S. Lewis' Miracles. I got this book for Christmas a couple years ago and it sat on the shelf for a while before I finally got around to starting it about six months ago... and I"m finally finished. Takes me a long time to read a book since I tend to put it down for weeks at a time, pick it up and read a few chapters, then put it down again. This one is pretty "intellectual," but seemed much easier to read than Mere Christianity. I gave up on that one, but I should try and tackle that one again. Hey, no sense in giving up.

I really liked how this book ended:

"Miracles and martydoms tend to bunch about the same areas of history--areas we have naturally no wish to frequent. Do not, I earnestly advise you, demand an ocular proof unless you are already perfectly certain that it is not forthcoming."

In other words, careful what you wish for. :) Speaking of miracles... the other night I saw Pulp Fiction on the big screen. Here you've got Jules "God came down from heaven and stopped these motherfuckin' bullets" Winnfield and Vincent Vega, the skeptic (no, I didn't forget to bleep that... this is my blog and I ain't bleepin' sh**). Both witnessed exactly what happened, but came to opposite conclusions about whether a miracle saved Jules' life. Their conversations mostly revolve around this argument, at least when they aren't preoccupied with cleaning up brain matter from the back seat of a car.

Miracles revolve around faith; to prove a miracle would cause it to cease being a miracle, stripping it of it's power and purpose. And who really wants to emasculate a miracle? You emasculate a miracle, you emasculate God... and I'd have to ask... What does God look like? Does He look like a-- just kidding. (And if you haven't seen the movie, I'm sure I lost you there, which probably for the better. :)

It all boils down to what Jules' says here near the end: "Whether or not what we experienced was an 'According to Hoyle' miracle is insignificant. What is significant is that I felt the touch of God. God got involved."

(By the way, after a little 'net searchin', I figured out that "according to Hoyle" basically means referring to the rule book, as in the Hoyle rule book of card games. Don't act like you already knew that... I was curious, so I looked it up and, hey, I learned something.)

Going back to the C.S. Lewis quote, I would hesitate to say that miracles are so rare. I believe Lewis was referring more to the "According to Hoyle" miracles, like the splitting of the Red Sea and the healings performed in the wake of Peter's shadow in the Book of Acts.

However, I can think of at least two specific times I've been healed of colds which I've chosen to attribute to God, if for no other reason that knowing that all good things come from God. The first time was following a charismatic conference where my throat had grown scratchier and hoarser throug the weekend. After seeing all this charismatic stuff, but not experiencing anything personally, I was hoping for some small "touch of God." So I prayed for my cold symptoms to be healed and even made a little sign of the cross on my throat as a form of blessing. Next morning, the cold was gone for good. The other time, I was already pretty sick and a friend of mine prayed over me. Again, the next day I felt fine.

Of course, cold symptoms can come and go like that on their own sometimes, especially with a good night's sleep. But God could have chosen to keep you sick if He wanted, so I figure it's best to stay on His good side and give Him the credit. :) Besides, the proof of miracles is not in the mind, but in the heart.

And when it comes to the Eucharist (and all the sacraments), those are miracles occuring literally millions of times every day around the world. I know ordinary bread changes to Christ's flesh and blood, but not because it tastes any different or some tingly spiritual feeling. And when it comes to martyrdom, this is something we strive to do every day in the spiritual sense. All Christians are martyrs because the old life--which as no life at all--is dead.

Hmm... I'd try to bring this to a neat closing, but I've rambled on long enough and I'm tired... so this blog entry is ended; go in peace.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Incorruptibles

In 117 A.D. St. Cecilia was martyred after refusing to sacrifice to false gods. She had been arrested for giving her husband and his brother a proper burial, both of whom were also arrested and killed for giving proper burial to other martyrs. Although Cecilia had vowed her virginity to God, her Roman parents went ahead and married her off to a guy named Valerian anyway. Of course, he wasn't too pleased to learn that his new wife wasn't going be-- interested. She told him that she was accompanied by an angel whom he could see only if he is baptized. Um, yeah... sounds like something a crazy Catholic would say, but he went along with it and probably crapped his pants when he returned from the baptism ceremony to find his wife and an angel praying together.

So needless to say, he probably gave up on trying to get some at this point. Instead, he asked the angel for a favor -- that his brother would be baptized, and eventually he was. They started a ministry of giving proper burial to martyrs (to think there was a whole ministry for such a thing!). During their own martyrdom, they even converted their executioner.

800 years later, her body was found incorrupt during the process of moving it from its original burial place to the altar in the basilica of St. Cecilia in Rome. And in 1599 her coffin was opened again and her incorrupted body found lying on her side like she was sleeping. Dating back to the first century of Christianity, her body is the oldest known Incorruptible. There are supposed to be over 200 other saints whose bodies suffer little decay. St. Bernadette might be on of the most impressive examples. Doctors reported that her veins were still visible, muscle tissue was firm, and her liver was basically in normal condition 46 years after her death.

...I'll admit, this stuff is a bit creepy, but that's exactly why it's so freakin' cool :) Even Wikipedia has an entry on Incorruptibles. And if it works, try reading the link to "Saints Preserve Us" from about.com since they address the phenomenon from a secular perspective, including the possibility of Buddhist and Hindu Incorruptibles.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

One Difference Between Catholics and Protestants

(This one is not a serious post, by the way.)

Dating the Church: Among Protestants, this refers to the practice of someone who never makes a commitment to join a particular congregation, either because they attend two or three churches at the same time or they go to one church for a year or so before moving on.

However, among Catholics this refers to a man discerning for the priesthood. Should he go on to the priesthood, we might even say he is exclusively dating the Church. And just like in a real marriage, once he makes his vows he'll be broke until the day he dies; unlike real marriage, he'll be getting exactly as much sex as he's expecting.


ba-doom ching... aaand that's all I got for now.

Saturday, July 8, 2006

Messianic Prophecy in 2nd Samuel

This week's Scripture readings in the Divine Office are going through 2nd Samuel and Friday's reading (7:1-25) includes the prophet Nathan's messianic prophecy. To summarize the passage, King David doesn't feel right about living in a house of cedar while the Lord dwells in a tent, so he approaches Nathan about it. That night, God speaks to Nathan, giving him a prophecy that reveals part of the plan God has in store for Israel, the seat of David, and one of his descendents. There can be no doubt this is about Christ:

I will raise up a heir after you, sprung from your loins, and I will make his kingdom firm. It is he who shall build a house for my name. And I will make his royal throne firm forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.

I figure the "house" is what we call the Church today, and obviously you've got two members of the Trinity mentioned right there by name, though informally. What throws me for a loop though is the next sentence:

And if he does wrong, I will correct him with the rod of men and with human chastisements; but I will not withdraw my favor from him as I withdrew it from your predecessor Saul, whom I removed from my presence.

Well... um, that can't be about Christ. Maybe the prophecy (or just this part) is speaking more broadly about the Church as a whole, or from a Catholic perspective it could be speaking about the pope as the earthly head of the Church. I think the latter is a little more logical since Christ was the Church's earthly head following the Resurrection and that seat passed on to Peter and on down the line after the Ascension. Obviously, Christ didn't need correction, but I'm pretty darn sure there's never been a sinless pope. (Although I'm amazed that some Protestants point out Paul's correction of Peter as evidence against the papacy. I wouldn't expect Peter to have never sinned, but I would expect to find in him the humility which is displayed in his ability to handle Paul's direct confrontation.)

Anyway, I'm not trying to say that my interpretation of this is correct.... it's just the best I've come up with :) Through prayer and meditating on passages like this one that stump me a first, God almost always reveals something new about himself, so maybe something more is waiting 'round the bend.

Monday, July 3, 2006

Praying to Mary Should be More Than Just a "Hail Mary"

I've been on a blogging hiatus for the last month or two, although apparently my blog is only halfway down the Christian Bloggers blogroll, so there must be a bunch of other folks who are even lazier than I am :) So, us Catholics and the Orthodox and a few other scattered Christian folk have this prayer to Mary thing goin' on, which makes most Baptists almost as uncomfortable as going to a bar and seeing another Baptist there (ha ha... nothing like crackin' on them Baptists).

Anyway, this friend of mine was talking about how she talks to her mom about whatever's going on with her life (one of those girl things, I'm sure :) and to draw an analogy she remarked that "you guys pray to Mary" (I guess "you guys" must be referring to the Catholics, huh?). Well, I realized that pretty much the only prayer I say to Mary is a Hail Mary or the Rosary, which is fine except that it's like only praying the Our Father to God. Why not break out of the mold a little bit and just be honest with our spiritual mother? After all, she surely experienced all the emotions we have... uncertainty, fear, heartache, the loss of her son's death, anger, and of course the joy and happiness of raising Jesus and the witnessing his resurrection. I've always wondered what was on her mind when Amos prophesied that "a sword shall pierce your heart." We hardly pause while reading those words today, but to Mary it must've been disconcerting at the least. I imagine she wasn't even sure if the words were literal or metaphorical, not mention what exactly would happen to her? And she waited 33 years before Amos' prophesy was fulfilled.

Anyway, I guess the point I'm making is that Jesus along with Mary and all the saints are real people alive in Heaven who take joy in hearing our prayers and praying to God for us in return. We don't always have to use the standard prayers because we can talk to them like anyone else. In all likelihood, you won't get the verbal response that you get from a face-to-face conversation. Still, I think our prayers are often answered through those conversations with friends or relatives... and the more people you got prayin' for ya, the more likely the Cubs are to finally break that curse -- I mean, um, you get the idea.

Monday, June 12, 2006

What's your favorite book/passage of the Bible?

Here's another funny like thing Christians like to toss around. I was just reminded of this while reading part of Sean's post about Ann Coulter where it mentioned some Democrat politicians favorite book of the Bible was Job, but he didn't even know if it was Old Testament or New Testament. Of course, some people (like myself) answer silly questions like that wrong half the time if only because we aren't thinking about the answer. For some reason, I always mix up Hebrews and Proverbs in my head... if I'm thinking Proverbs I usually find myself opening to Hebrews and vice versa.

Anyway, moving on from that detraction, my point is that we like to quote the "nice" passages about God leading us through pretty valleys and streams of cool water, comforting and forgiving us, or getting 72 virgins when you die (oops, wrong religion). But who likes to quote passages about obedience, the commandment to love another, etc.? I'm not saying that there aren't certain passages through which God has spoken to me more than others, but maybe "favorite" isn't the best word. After all, I don't usually like what God says, but I know it's something I need to embrace. On some level, I actually do like it... more in the way that I like to run five miles; not because it's fun like eating a bowl of ice cream, but because I like to stay in shape. This requires discipline. If you asked, how many peoples' favorite word would be "discipline"? And how many peoples' favorite verses focus on spiritual discipline?

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

What's a "good Christian"?

I believe I've talked about this before, but at 25 years old, I'm starting to become senile and talk about the same things over and over again. Actually, I was hanging out with some folks earlier and got to thinking about this again after hearing someone talk about some girl who claims to be a good Christian while basically denying a lot of her sins. What strikes me is how someone could really be a good Christian? Think about it... the reason for following Christ is that we turn to him for redemption from our sins. And for that reason, confession of sins is at the core of being a Christian. What it comes down to is that on the outside there is often little difference between Christians and non-Christians (barring the expemplary examples of certain saints and church leaders), but since others' deeds are what we observe, that's how we end up judging people in our minds. Yet the only thing that counts is our heart -- that when we confess our sins, we sincerely desire not to sin again. Of course, that's the kind of stuff only God can see while he forgets the juicy stuff; we only see (and remember) the juicy stuff while usually having little idea about where others truly stand before God.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

"Bless those who persecute you."

I liked the quote from St. Francis in today's Saint of the Day e-mail. It seems especially relevant considerly all the hoopla over DaVinci Code:

"And let us refer all good to the most high and supreme lord God, and acknowledge that every good is His, and thank Him for everything, [He] from Whom all good things come. And may He, the Highest and Supreme, Who alone is true God, have and be given and receive every honor and reverence, every praise and blessing, every thanks and glory, for every good is His, He Who alone is good. And when we see or hear an evil [person] speak or act or blaspheme God, let us speak well and act well and praise God (cf. Rm 12:21), Who is blessed forever (Rm 1:25)" (St. Francis, Rule of 1221, Ch. 17).

Romans 12:21 says, "Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good."

So if Dan Brown is our enemy, I suppose we should bless and pray for him. And maybe go see the movie too, although I personally believe he intentionally pushes buttons to compensate for a story lacking in plot. But I haven't seen the movie yet, so I'll let you know.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

ooo... I'm a Calvinist.

So, does this make me a bad Catholic?

You scored as Anselm. Anselm is the outstanding theologian of the medieval period.He sees man's primary problem as having failed to render unto God what we owe him, so God becomes man in Christ and gives God what he is due. You should read 'Cur Deus Homo?'

Anselm

67%

John Calvin

60%

J?Moltmann

53%

Jonathan Edwards

53%

Karl Barth

53%

Martin Luther

33%

Charles Finney

33%

Friedrich Schleiermacher

33%

Augustine

33%

Paul Tillich

0%

Which theologian are you?
created with QuizFarm.com

Well, I disagreed with almost every statement in that thing, so maybe they just default everyone to Anselm (whoever that is) when you don't fit in any other category.

Of course, Augustine is in the list and most people assume he was Catholic, but depending on who else you happen to ask, he might have been Orthodox, Baptist, Lutheran, Free Will Baptist, Calvinist, Presbyterian, Anglican, Buddhist, yogaist, Shintoist, Amish, the first President of the United States, the pre-incarnation of Joseph Smith, an alcoholic, Jewish, the founder of Southeast Christian, or something really weird. I personally believe Augustine was a ghost. Speaking of ghosts, isn't it interesting how many times Jesus was mistaken for a ghost? I guess when you're one in being with the Holy Ghost, it's an easy mistake to make... ha ha.

Anyway, I don't really have anything worthwhile to say on this beautiful day in Louisville, Kentucky, but thanks for reading and next time I'll try to think of something halfway intelligent (I can only promise to be halfway intelligent, and I don't promise to keep my promises). Otherwise, I'll just plagiarize something off the Internets.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Silence

One of my favorite devotional-type things to do is just getting away from life to be in nature while actively listening to God for two or three hours, if not a whole day. We used to do this at InterVarsity chapter camp every year by spending three hours in total silence and I always found it to be some of the most productive time as far as my walk with God. We just never sit and listen... I often have trouble even thinking to pray, and when I'm praying, I'm not really listening. And if I try to listen, there's always a song running through my head, like "Welcome to the Jungle." It seems to take between an hour or two of just sitting and trying to listen before all those thoughts, worries, and whatever else is cluttering the mind are finally cleared to where God can just speak, when the thoughts entering your mind are from God and not from the distractions from the rest of your life.

So last Friday I spent the day at Mount St. Francis, attended Mass at 11:45, just chilled out by the lake and did some reading in the hermitage, which is basically a little cabin that's just about as nice as my own apartment (not exactly roughin' it at all). I didn't eat much and, in fact, I could have fasted from food completely seeing as it was only 24 hours and my only physical activity was walking around the place. I slept there in the cabin and drove home the next morning. The only bummer was that it rained all day Friday, so I couldn't explore the trails around the Mount like I hoped to, but I'll just go up there sometime during the day and do some hiking.

Anyway, basically all I want to say is that silence is awesome :) It's difficult, but once you get in that "zone," it's definitely worth the time it takes to get there.

Saturday, May 6, 2006

Psalm 116

I've been diggin' the Verbum Domini podcast lately... it's just a 3-5 minute recording of each day's Scripture readings, which I think is pretty genius. Today's Psalm reading is from 116 and I liked it, so I'm gonna post part of it here since this is my blog and I can do whatever I want with it. Booya.


I love the Lord because he has heard my voice and my supplications.
Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
The snares of death encompassed me;
the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
I suffered distress and anguish.

Return, O my soul, to your rest;
for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.

For thou hast delivered my soul from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling;
I walk before the Lord in the land of the living.

What shall I render to the Lord for all his bounty to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.
O Lord, I am thy servant;
I am thy servant, the son of thy handmaid.

I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord.

Praise the Lord!

I've just been thinking about how nobody becomes a Christian until they've faced their sins and admitted their need for redemption. Usually when we look into our past and remember the stupid crap we've done (or maybe stuff we don't remember at all...), we regret it and almost wish we could somehow go back and change what's already happened. Of course, I'll probably never grasp how God can forget all our sins like snapping your fingers, but I don't necessarily wish I could change anything in the past. Not because I'm proud of those things, but because I wonder if I would've truly humbled myself before Christ otherwise.

One part of the Lutheran liturgy that I always enjoyed was the Hymn of Praise. I've never heard it in a Catholic church, but the words are beautiful. Best I remember, the liturgy begins with a confession of sins and this hymn follows it after the pastor pronounces the forgiveness of everyone's sins (it's very similar to the Sacrament of Confession, but it's not sacramental):

This is the feast of victory for our God. Alleluia.
Worthy is Christ, the Lamb who was slain,
Whose blood set us free to be people of God.
Power, riches, wisdom, and strength,
And honor and blessing and glory are his.

This is the feast of victory for our God. Alleluia.
Sing with the people of God
And join in the hymn of all creation;
Blessing and honor and glory and might
Be to God and the Lamb forever. Amen.

This is the feast of victory for our God.
For the Lamb who was slain has begun his reign. Alleluia. Alleluia!

Monday, April 24, 2006

Our Father

The other day I got to thinking, and since that doesn't happen too often, I knew something of true genius was afoot. No, seriously, I noticed that that at least two of the sacraments are clearly represented in the words of the Our Father. "Give us this day our daily bread" is commonly interpreted as a reference to the Eucharist and "forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us" is clearly about Reconciliation. So last night I happened to be at Sojourn, but my mind just can't focus on a 40-minute sermon (especially when, seriously, not much more is really being said than what you'd hear in a 10-minute homily... humility is not hard to understand; it's just damn near impossible to do. That would be my sermon :) . Anyway, moving on... during the sermon I figured if I'm going to be distracted, at least try to think about something related to Jesus, so I tried to see if all seven sacraments are somehow represented in the Our Father. Here's what I came up with... at first I thought some of them would be a difficult stretch, but after writing this out I think it makes sense, but I suppose you can be the judge of that :)

Our Father, who art in heaven... -- Baptism, because through the waters of Baptism and the power of faith we are cleansed of all sin and become adopted children of God. We rightfully refer to our Creator and Redeemer as "Father."

...hallowed by thy name... -- Confirmation, when we choose to publicly profess the Catholic faith, declaring that God and His Church are holy and true.

...thy kingdom come, thy will be done... -- Ordination, when God invests in regular, sinful men the power to celebrate the sacraments, pastor the Church, and see God's kingdom grow in our world.

...on earth as it is in heaven... -- Marriage, because in marriage man and woman "on earth" are joined sacramentally with God "in heaven" in a beautiful symbol of the marriage supper of the Lamb and the relationship between Christ and His bride, the Church.

...give us this day our daily bread... -- Holy Communion, which Catholics and Orthodox can truly receive on a daily basis, if we desire (and why wouldn't you? :).

...and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us... -- Reconciliation, in which we are forced to sacrifice our pride, confessing our sins to God and praying for His mercy. When we come face-to-face with our own sin in our stark contrast to Christ's perfection, we know that nobody (even Hitler) is capable of sinning against us as terribly as we have already sinned against God.

...and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. -- Anointing of the Sick, when we receive tangible reassurance that no evil, temptation, illness, or even death can conquer those whose faith is in Christ.

I look at the sacraments not as a mechanical approach to Christianity that manipulates God's grace and assuring salvation to the recipient regardless of their relationship with God. Rather, I thank God for these gifts because having been human in Christ and walking among us, He knows how desperately we need something tangible to help us grow and remain strong in our faith. That's exactly what the sacraments are: tangible signs of God's free grace.

So is God not capable of forgiving the sins of a repentant sinner, regardless of whether they were physically baptized? Of course! The criminal on the cross offers biblical proof, straight from Jesus. Clearly, the sacrament of Baptism is not for God's benefit because he is not tied to these sacraments. Rather, Baptism is for our benefit because we need to know that, "Yes, I have been washed clean," not because my parents had me dunked as an infant or I chose to be baptized as an adult, but simply because God gives us the gift of faith to believe like a child. The best thing my parents ever did for me was have me baptized when I was too young to make the choice for myself. The temptation of pride doesn't even exist because I can truly say I did nothing to earn this gift. Likewise, through the other sacraments we are reminded that nobody is worthy and just how feeble-minded we are that we need the sacraments at all, and in response all we can do is praise God and open ourselves to being a sacramental instrument for God to reach unbelievers.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Well, it's official...

You sure can't beat the Saturday Sacrament Trifecta Special... Reconciliation (most people call it Confession, but that's only one part of the sacrament), Confirmation, and Communion all in one day. Badda-boom, badda-bang. I was actually looking forward to Confession, but that didn't mean I wasn't nervous about it. Three of us went Saturday morning and it had to be hilarious watching us being so cordial with each other. First, one lady had to use the restroom, so she skidattled out of the sanctuary for a minute, leaving me and this other guy. So I said, "I don't know if you have to be anywhere, so if you need to, go on ahead of me."

And he replied, "Oh, I've got all day! You go ahead."

"Well, I might be in there a while..."

"Take as long as you want!"

Then the other lady comes back and I'm sure she was hoping somebody would already be in the confessional by then, but we're still out there talking about who should go first. We really should've played paper-rock-scissors for it.

But it really wasn't that bad. I had a pretty good list written down on my piece of paper (not that I'm trying to brag...), but once I started reading them off, it didn't feel like more than two minutes before I was done. There were a couple of things that I wanted to mention specifically, where I could have simply alluded to them by saying something like, "yeah... I've struggled with lust." After all, that could be a million different things. But getting specific with your sins ain't easy. My voice stuttered and my left knee was jumpin' up and down... I hadn't been that nervous since asking a girl out for senior prom, but I just ignored it all and focused on being as honest as possible (without getting into details, of course). Of course, God provided the grace and courage; I was simply open to it, as opposed to the many times when I'm trying to cover something up or make something I did wrong not sound as bad as it really is.

So after that was all over with, I didn't feel anything real miraculous, but it was very comforting to know that everything I've done was just wiped clean and forgotten. In the past, it's always been difficult to "feel" clean just because I'm aware of my sinful nature and how susceptible I am to straying from God and falling into old patterns. When you can remember much of what you've done and the people your sin has affected remember what you've done, it's difficult to imagine that God can forget everything and make us clean as the day we were born (if not cleaner, since baptism washes away the stain of original sin).

And not only that, but we are counted worthy to receive Christ not just spiritually, but physically. Think about how dangerous the Holy of Holies was. Only one priest was allowed to enter every year so that he could make the annual sacrificial offering of Israel's sins (I'll have to look up what that offering was called). If he didn't perform the ritual correctly, stayed in God's Presence too long, or whatever, the wrath of God would kill him. I've heard they even tied a rope around the priest's ankle so that if he died, another priest from outside the curtain could drag his body out. Now, under the New Covenant, God humbles Himself under the appearances of bread and wine so that every person can enjoy the most intimate communion in God's Presence that was never possible under the Old Covenant. Pretty cool stuff :)

Friday, April 14, 2006

God or the Girl

I've been seeing this show promoted on a couple of Catholic web sites and it looks pretty interesting. It's a documentary/reality show that walks with four guys as they discern their vocation to either marriage or the priesthood. I believe in the end two of them choose priesthood and two choose marriage (gotta keep things neatly symmetrical like that). At least one of the guys has a girlfriend, which must complicate matters a little :) I've heard good things about the show, so hopefully the much-needed positive publicity will encourage more men and women to consider the religious life. We think it's bad in the U.S. with one priest for every 800-1,200 Catholics, but in the Phillippines there is only one priest for every 13,000 Catholics! Even with deacons assisting with some responsibilities, that's gotta be rough. I think things are slowly starting to turn for the better... I don't know anybody personally who is in formation for the priesthood, but at least four friends of mine have friends who are. A few married Catholics I know considered the priesthood, which I used to think was pretty crazy, before I realized most priests are just down-to-earth regular guys who just happened to be called to a different vocation that most of us. Hopefully this show will illustrate that everybody has a vocation that we're all responsible for discerning through prayer, Scripture, serving others, and listening to God. It premieres Easter Sunday on A&E at 9PM. Since I don't have cable, I guess I won't be watching it. Maybe it'll be out on Netflix...

Monday, April 10, 2006

History Sure Is Ironic


You'd probably guess that the guy who first started using religious tracts would be some Calvinist preacher, like Charles Spurgeon or somebody. Well, the other day I ran across a short biography of St. Francis de Sales. I've always been a little curious about this guy since my aunt's church is dedicated to him (not a bad looking sanctuary for a small western Kentucky town either), but I never bothered to look him up or anything. Turns out this is the guy who was sent by his bishop in 1594 to evangelize the Catholic faith in the Calvinist towns of Switzerland, where celebrating Mass warranted death (not unlike the first centuries of the Church). Having stones thrown at you and suffering hypothermia in a tree to avoid becoming dinner for a pack of wolves makes for a thankless job. Since people were afraid to open their doors when he came knockin', he started writing short sermons, having them copied many times over, and sliding them in under the door. Eventually about 70,000 Calvinists returned to the Catholic Church within Francis de Sales' lifetime.

Some of these tracts were very short, the shortest of which seems to have inspired a fast-food chain's current marketing them: "Eat more fish." (ha ha)

Seriously, you can purchase these tracts in a single bound edition entitled "The Catholic Controversy" for only $9.75 from Amazon.com. Here's one tract I found online called The True Church is Visible. And here's some more about his life: either the short version or the long version. :) His Introduction to the Devout Life was written for laypeople to help them grow in love of God while trying to handle a job and family, which I'm gonna have to add to my lengthy Amazon wish list.

Now, you gotta admit there's some irony in Jack Chick using tracts for exactly the opposite purpose that Francis used them for...

Thursday, April 6, 2006

Did St. Francis Die From an STD?

Francis died at only 45 years of age. Later in life his vision slowly deteriorated, sometimes to the point of complete blindness. Due to the pain in his eyes, Brother Elias insisted he seek treatment. So they traveled to Rieti and Francis underwent the excruciating cauterization procedure, but his sight never improved. While nobody can look back and diagnose whether Francis simply died from years under harsh living conditions, an STD, or some other kind of disease, we do know that before turning his life over to God he pretty much indulged in every kind of pleasure life offered. To put it simply, Francis had a lot of sex. Now, considering both the general lack of knowledge about STDs and the inability to protect oneself (outside of abstinence), I can't imagine how anyone could get away with even a moderately sexually active lifestyle with catching something. And at least one common STD, Cytomegalovirus, can result in blindness. Considering his relatively young age at death, you can't rule out the possibility.

Of course, we'll never know for sure and ultimately it doesn't matter, but I do feel that if it is true, such a death only makes Francis' story that much more dramatic and relevant in an age of widespread sexual confusion and promiscuity. It's also a powerful testimony to Francis' redemption from his old "life" to eternal life in Christ. Francis could have died for the world and all the temporal pleasures it offered him, but he chose Christ and died for Christ, teaching his brothers by word and example right to the very end. And perhaps an early death was God's gift to Francis, to finally be taken from this world and into Heaven.

Friday, March 24, 2006

To Jesus Through Mary

I hardly ever read The Onion, but I felt like checking it out this morning (mostly just want to make sure I haven't become one of those easily offended Christian lame-o's) when I found this piece of filth!

Man Just Using Virgin Mary to Get To Jesus

Disgusting!* I'll never read The Onion again, and I encourage everybody who reads this blog to join my in an Onion boycott!** I'd rather chew into a whole onion and eat it than read this Internet scum!***

* Just kidding.
** Yes, all three of you.
*** Just kidding, again.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

"Preach the Gospel; if necessary, use words."

This is surely Francis' best-known quote... and I'm afraid it's almost always quoted out of context. Usually when I hear somebody quote these words, you would like Francis rarely preached with words, or that we regular laypeople should discourage preaching with words in favor of living Christian lives and letting people "figure out" we're Christians by our example. (yeah... right) On the Catholic Exchange podcast from January 16th I heard this guy named Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio and I believe this hits the nail on the head:

"If you weren't supposed to preach the Gospel except when necessary by words, he thought it was necessary a lot because he trained his guys to preach; and they preached on the street corner, they preached in churches. He was a deacon, so he preached in churches. The importance of that saying is it's not a cop-out from sharing the Gospel with words. It's don't share the Gospel with words without realizing that your actions can really contradict those words and undermine them."

I think the popular temptation these days is to downplay using words because we don't want to be "preachy," but I think we are trying too hard if that happens. Just offering to pray for someone when they're going through a rough time can speak volumes and doesn't require a knowledge of theology or a course on "six steps to effective evangelization." It helps to know that we're all on the same journey, whether you happen to be in church, unchurched, ex-church, overchurched, dechurched, churchaholic, tired, bored, excited, or curious.

One of the many ironies of Christianity is that we cannot become perfect in God's eyes without revealing all our imperfections to other people. Yes, every last imperfection, for whatever little thing we consciously hold back gives praise to Satan rather than Christ. A lot of Christians (myself included) continue putting up that old shell and never let anyone see who they really are. That's a dark, ugly place. We know that dark, ugly place exists inside every person. We know the world is groaning for salvation from that dark, ugly place. But we conceal it, so that the world looks at Christians and sees a bunch of hypocrites: they're sins are obvious, yet they claim to be perfect in Christ. What kind of salvation is that supposed to be?

So there are two options for the Christian: deceive ourselves by continuing to live inside our shell or become transparent and let Christ deal with our imperfections.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Countdown to Easter Vigil... party time!

I found this thing called ClockLink.com where you can set up different kinds of clocks or countdown thingies for your blog or web site, so I threw this little countdown to Easter Vigil on here. At the time of this writing, in 34 days, 21 hours, 6 minutes, and 2 seconds I'll become a bone-a-fide Catlick... and not surprisingly, that means throwing a party and drinkin' some beer! Of course, this is my cousin's idea, and while I was a little uneasy about having all my Catholic relatives in town for this thing while my parents (who are Lutheran) are just like, "whatever," I've never been one to turn down a party.

And after Easter Vigil and the hangover passes (just kidding... I had enough hangovers back in my college days), I'll have to think of something else to count down to.

But there's no time to think about that right now... I just got a call from a good friend from high school and he happens to be in town tonight, so we're rollin' out to 4th Street Live. (like a good Catholic would!)

Saturday, March 4, 2006

Haunted by the Saints

The saints have really been challenging me lately. Reading about St. Francis has me thinking a lot about how much he and his brothers sacrificed to live the Gospel as best as they knew how. These guys embraced the poor. When St. Francis heard the Gospel reading at Mass, it was as though God were speaking personally to him. Christ says to each of us, Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me. What if we took those words seriously? Do we really see Jesus in the "least of these" in our society? When we have a conversation with a homeless person, we're talking with Jesus; when we look them in the eye, we're looking Jesus in the eye. We talk about "experiencing God" through contemporary worship, and while that has it's place, it seems like for most Christians that's where the God experience ends. I feel haunted by the lives of people like St. Francis because I know more people are called to similar lives of sacrificial love for God and neighbor, but it's such a radical calling that they opt for a safer road.

I've also been learning about a different saint every day with the Saint of the Day e-mail. It's difficult for me to ignore the chasm between their lives -- the sacrifices they made out of their deep love for God and desire for others to follow Christ -- and my own life. Of course, I don't want to throw a little pity party for my sinful self. That would be worthless. But I can't ignore that God is starting to prepare me to abandon everything for Him in a similar manner. Some mornings I wake up and the first thought in my head is, "You don't seriously want to become a priest, much less a Franciscan. That's ridiculous."

Exactly... such a calling was too ridiculous even for St. Francis, but God is faithful every step of the way. "But God," by the way, happens to be one of my favorite two words in the Bible. This short phrase occurs 41 times (at least in the NASB translation)...

But God remembered Noah ... and the water subsided. (Genesis 8:1)

But God said to Abraham, "Do not be distressed because of the lad and your maid; whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her, for through Isaac your descendants shall be named. (Genesis 21:12)

But God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol,For He will receive me. (Psalms 49:15)

My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalms 73:26)

Who can forgive sins, but God alone? (Mark 2:7 and Luke 5:21)

You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts... (Luke 16:15)

But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. (Acts 2:24)

But God raised Him from the dead... (Acts 13:30)

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

You know how certain words from a sermon will stick in your head for months? I keep going back to something one of the priests at the Youth 2000 retreat said about our expectations in praying for miracles. "God isn't going to raise someone back from the dead," with which he followed after a short pause, "in all likelihood." Isn't is awesome that we believe in the one God who holds power over sin and death, that even the one miracle that most would consider impossible -- well, not necessarily. Throughout history, God has intervened in the bleakest of times and revealed His glory. We can go before our Lord in full confidence that no request is too great -- nor too petty -- no matter how weak our faith might feel, for nothing will be impossible with God.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Pickin' My Belly-Button Lent

You know how every once in a while you notice that there's a little lint building up in your belly-button? You gotta pick that stuff outta there to ward off building a little Lint Monster growing inside you. So if you don't get where I'm going with this yet... so it is with the season of Lent when we can pick out the lint of our souls.

Seems like as Lent approaches, I start thinking about what I might what to sacrifice and what positive thing I might want to do... and my mind goes blank. And a few days later, after I've got a short list of only ten or twelve things I'm either not doing or doing, it occurs to me that trying to do everything will mean accomplishing nothing. (There's ya Soundbite of the Week, brought to you by CCAA: Cows for Catholics Across America, encouraging all Catholics to avoid red meat on Fridays during Lent and reminding them that we may continue to do the same every Friday throughout the year.)

So... I've settled upon fasting from coffee throughout Lent and from lunch or dinner for one day a week. And I just decided to throw in frivolous message board use, which tends to waste a lot of time that could be far more productive. That one probably won't be as hard as giving up coffee or fasting from food because I'll easily find other crap to do. Like blogging!

And for something positive to do, I'm committing to daily prayer and Scripture reading and making a conscious effort spend time with some family and friends that I feel like has been neglected recently. Hopefully, every time I think about wanting coffee or food on whatever day during the week I choose to fast, I'll remember to take time out for the positive stuff.

I'm also curious to see if I get a wicked-crazy caffeine buzz on the Monday after Easter. :)

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Brother Sun, Sister Moon

A parishinor at St. Anthony's lent me this movie about the early years of St. Francis' life. According to the Yahoo Movies review, director Franco Zeffirelli attempted to draw parellels between the simple poverty embraced by Francis and his followers and the hippie movement of the 1960's and 70's. I've been assured Zeffirelli didn't turn Francis into a pot-smokin' flag-burnin' rebel... in other words, nothing like this guy.


Okay, I've seen the movie now. It does a good job portraying the abuse Francis suffered under his father, Pietro, as he slowly rejected the world of wealth and comfort in favor of the life of servanthood and preaching the Gospel. Church hierarchy is portrayed in an appropriately corrupt light, nor did it overromanticize the simple life of Francis and his followers. They lived a rough life, subjecting themselves to snowy winters and spring rains with little shelter. While some of the details weren't exactly accurate, that usually happens with movies. I guess they didn't have the technology in 1973 to make the cross of San Damiano move and speak.

There is only one inaccuracy that particularly bothered me. The movie ends with Francis' audience with Pope Innocent III, who blesses the brothers and commissions them to go out and spread the Gospel. Innocent leans over to kiss Francis' hands, then kneels before him and kisses his bare feet. That is all very beautiful and moving, but in the movie two of the cardinals are questioning what's happening before them and one of them confidently remarks, "The Pope knows what he's doing. They will draw the poor back into the Church." The clear implication is that Pope Innocent III wasn't so innocent after all, but merely saw these humble Franciscans as a clever way of drawing the poor into the oppressive influence of "Holy Mother Church."

Well, that little bit creative script writing may have sold more tickets during the early 70's when everyone questioned the authority of any institution and their right to judge right and wrong. Unlike the Reformers, Francis was sincerely concerned about avoiding heresy and this is why he went to Rome to receive the Pope's counsel and seek his blessing. Naturally, Hollywood fails to write a better story than what really happened....

Francis did not have just one audience with a less-than-truthful Pope. The first meeting was rather uneventful, if a group of brothers dressed in rough tunics visiting the Pope can be uneventful. He explained the brotherhood's controversial mission and left. During the night, Innocent dreamed a vision of the Basilica of St. John Lateran leaning on its side and beginning to fall to the ground when a beggar, whom he recognized as St. Francis, came up and supported the whole church on his shoulders. Calling Francis back to the papal court the next day, he didn't talk about his own troublesome dream, but merely listened again to Francis' own dream of literally living out the Gospel. Innocent came down from the papal thrown and embraced Francis.

Innocent gave up bearing a son of his own when he took on Holy Orders; Francis left his earthly father when he proclaimed in the Assisi square "From now on, I desire only to say, 'Our Father, who art in Heaven." In their embrace, Francis gained an earthly father and Innocent gained "many times as [many sons] and eternal life." (Matt. 19:29) And Innocent sent them out, saying "Go with God, little brothers, and announce salvation for all, as the Lord reveals it to you! And when the Almighty has multiplied your number, then come back to me and I will charge you with a greater inheritance."

The real story is that the humble Francis and powerful Pope Innocent III shared a father-son relationship and Innocent was always counted among the Lesser Brothers of Jesus. Together God used them to spiritually rebuild a fragile Church, like Francis had restored stone-by-stone the crumbling San Damiano Church.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Who is the Richest Man in Assisi?


[Editors note: There was originally a post before this, but in the wisdom of time did not find that one to be all that important or engaging. This was the second post, so I promoted it become the first post since it just makes sense that way. I left a note where the original content of this post begins, which I wanted to save since it I wrote it shortly after first learning about St. Francis' story.]
 
Who is the richest man in Assisi? My blog title is partly an allusion to a parable on financial wisdom by George S. Clason: "The Richest Man in Babylon." I read it years ago in high school, at a time when I devoured just about anything related to personal finance and investing, and even free-lanced a series of articles on the book. Babylon is one of the world's earliest civilizations. They pioneered beer brewing, which I consider as good a benchmark of civilized activity as any. The simple Babylonian economy allows the author to use simple concepts that a layperson can use to better understand today's more complex financial world.

Which brings us to St. Francis, growing up in 12th Century Italy, when international trade, corporate structures, and a rising middle-class were forming the earliest budding seeds of today's modern economy. Francis' father, Pietro Bernadone, was a garment merchant and regarded as the wealthiest man in Assisi. Probably no Medici, to be sure, but up there on the food chain regardless. And since Francis would inherit his father's business and fortune, I call him the "richest man in Assisi."

Of course, not just for that reason -- for if anyone wrestled with God, Francis wrestled. And eventually things came to a head as Francis fell in love with Lady Poverty, coming to view the family business and wealth as pesky mistresses he wanted nothing to do with. In renouncing his natural father's inheritance, he declared, "From now on, I shall only say 'Our Father, who art in heaven,'" embracing his bishop without a stitch of clothes on (imagine that happening today! Assisi apparently didn't have any lawyers :) Thus, Francis exchanged an earthly inheritance for an eternal one, and dying some years later on a cold dirt floor -- naked again, save for a blanket -- it is not Pietro we remember 800 years later, but this man whom thousands of Franciscans emulate around the world, who is often regarded as the most Christ-like of saints, who personally loved his neighbor, whether he find him to be a sickly leper or the Sultan of Egypt.

Many of the issues Francis faced are still relevant today. He is one of the most famous saints, yet one of least known. I regard him as my patron saint, as Francis of Assisi is the Confirmation name I chose on April 15, 2006. And this blog is essentially my thoughts on faith and modern life in light of my esteem for St. Francis.

[Below is the original content of this post, sharing my brief version of Francis' biography when I just learned about him.]

Speaking of books, one of the Franciscans who lives at St. Anthony's gave me a book titled Francis: The Journey and the Dream by Murray Bodo. I guess you'd describe it as a creative account of St. Francis' life. Instead of just telling the facts about his life, it speculates more about his struggles discerning God's will in the face of rejection by relatives and friends. It should make for good meditation.

Having everything he could care for, Francis reveled in the pleasures of life and tended not to be very studious at school. Even those he exhibited sharp business skills, making him the natural candidate to inherit the family business and surely surpass his father in wealth, his dream was to be a knight. He enthusiastically enrolled with an army fighting for Pope Innocent III and was two days into the journey to battle, but God...

A voice in the night instructed Francis to return home and ponder a little more the vision God had given him. No doubt this was frustrating. At some time or another, we have all felt confident of God's will for our lives only to learn that wasn't it at all. But this vision was mysterious if it didn't mean fighting as a knight. In Murray Bodo's description of this vision, Francis "was led into the great hall of a dazzling Palace, where a radiant Princess-Bride held court. The walls were covered with shields and trophies of battles won. And when he asked aloud who the Lord of the castle was, a voice sang out: 'It's the high court of Francis Bernardone and his followers.'" God instructed Francis to abandon the military and return home, where he would be told what to do.

While Francis continued to party with his old friends, God had drawn his heart to a higher calling. While riding on horseback one day, he suddenly came upon a repulsive leper. At first, he retreated in disgust, but he couldn't pass him by. Instead, he dismounted the house and embraced the leper, then gave him all his money. Surely, failing to embrace this poor leper would have been a failure to embrace Christ himself. Indeed, it was in the crumbling chapel of St. Damien that Francis heard Christ speak from the cross, commanding him, "Go, rebuild my church, which you can see has fallen into ruins."

In his saintly zeal, Francis started the work of rebuilding this chapel. It was literally falling apart, after all. He immediately went and sold some of his father's inventory of cloth and one of his horses to raise money for the church. Naturally, his father was angry, and Francis escaped to a cave for a month to avoid him. Upon returning to the city, a crowd pelted Francis with mud and stones, mocking him as a madman. Pietro forced him home, beat him, and locked him bounded in a dark closet.

While the gold was recovered since the priest at St. Damien refused to accept it, Pietro also wanted Francis to forgoe his inheritence. Brought before the bishop, Francis -- who was once destined in the world's eyes to inherit all the wealth Assisi could offer -- stripped himself of his clothes and handed them to this father, declaring, "I have called you my father on earth. From now on, I desire to say only 'Our Father, who art in heaven."

Francis continued working on the restoration of St. Damien's and two abandoned chapels near Assisi, begging for stones and personally putting them in place, while also caring for the lepers. Apparently he didn't leave much room for interpretation when God's Word seemed to speak directly to him. After hearing the Gospel message of Jesus instructing the disciples to carry no gold or silver, shoes, nor a staff for the journey, but to go out preaching repentance and announcing the Kingdom of God, Francis rid himself of what little he still owned. Now he wore merely a coarse, brown tunic tied around him with a knotted rope -- the clothing of the poorest peasants. Out in the countryside, he preached penance, brotherly love, and peace. Francis soon began attracting followers who shed everything they owned to take up a life of service and preaching the Gospel.

This movement, eventually developing into the Franciscan Order, did rebuild the Church -- not so much physically, but spiritually. In the midst of widespread corruption within the Church hierarchy, God used Francis to inspire Christians to lives of sacrificial love for God and neighbor. And that mysterious vision of shields and trophies wasn't for earthly battles won as a knight, but for the thousands of souls delivered from darkness by Francis and his followers.

In addition to the ordes, he was an active missionary travelling even as far as personally visiting the Sultan of Egypt during the midst of the Crusades. Francis also started the tradition of building Nativity scenes and was the first person to receive the stigmata. He died naked on the bare ground of a hut, covered only by a borrowed cloth, but had gained the favor of God and even the same citizens of Assisi who once stoned him as a madman. Therefore, I call him the richest man in Assisi.