The failure of Lenten resolutions

I know it seems odd to write on the 1st day of Lent about failing at our Lenten resolutions, but a big part of what makes me choose my disciplines for Lent is whether I think I can stick to them. So the topic of failure is on my mind right from the start.

It seems to me there’s a parallel between New Years resolutions and what we’re “giving up for Lent”. Much of what people give up for Lent are things that are bad for them. Indeed, my list includes soda and cookies… two things that are not helping my waist-line. What concerns me about this parallel is the failure rate of New Years resolutions. Interestingly, 64% are successful for a month (so only 36% have failed by that point), but 80% have failed by the 2nd week of February. 4 1/2 weeks in January plus at most 2 weeks in February… that’s 6 1/2 weeks, which is the length of Lent.

While I don’t have exacting data, the New Years data suggests the majority of Lenten resolutions will have failed before the end of Lent as well, assuming similar failure rates. Although some suggest that the accountability of the faith community as well as the fixed timeline (compared to a New Years resolution that generally is meant to be a life-long change) make it so that Lenten resolutions are more successful than New Years resolutions.

But I think there’s something else that can be different about Lent and indeed about any Christian resolution for change… forgiveness and renewed resolution. There’s something about a New Years resolution that make it seem like once you’ve failed, it’s time to give up… at least until next year. There’s a collective feeling of “Well, we tried. Oh well!”

Hopefully we don’t have this sort of feeling about our Lenten resolutions. If you give up chocolate and give in to temptation, the right answer is to say a prayer asking God for forgiveness and then re-doubling your efforts. This seems more in line with our cherished beliefs about Gods’ forgiveness.

We believe forgiveness and redemption is possible for everyone. While there are many that society will write off as being irredeemable, as Christians we’re called to believe that anyone, no matter how big their sins, can be transformed. This is a great gift to the sinner. Without the possibility of redemption, few would turn their lives around.

This is just as true for the little sins. We can keep returning to the confessional over and over with the little things we struggle with. We’re allowed to try time and time again to overcome our temptations. So where the New Years resolution tends to have a ‘once-and-done’ feel, hopefully when it comes to our Lenten resolutions, even when we momentarily fail, hopefully we have the fortitude to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, ask God for pardon, and begin again.

May we all have that strength this Lenten season.

Printable prayer

As I mentioned in a recent post, I started praying a prayer of my own creation (not that it is all that unique in nature) to help me in regards to some of my habitual sins. I decided to create a print out that I could put around the house in the locations where I tend to fall into my habitual sins.

In case you’d like to try it, here is the print out (4 per page):

http://deaconken.org/docs/HolySpirit_over_Satan_prayer.pdf

What does “lay down one’s life” mean?

I was doing a morning Lectio Divina reflection on John Chapter 15. In it, Christ says “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life one’s friends.” (verse 13)

Of course when we read that, our first thought is generally about what Christ later did: He died on the Cross for all of His friends… US! And so I think it is only natural for us to think in these terms. But what if that’s just the first layer of the onion, a layer that could possibly be an obstacle to us growing in faith?

How often is death actually asked of us in service of others? Not very often, right? So how are we to change our day to day life to conform to that truth? If all we’re doing is spiritually preparing ourselves for the unlikely possibility that someday we may be called to die for God, it seems like we’re not really doing all that much, nor is it something we can test ourselves against to see how we’re progressing in love of God.

Luckily, I think there’s another layer below that. What if we make the word substitution of “giving” instead of “laying down”? It still fits the literal/top layer. We can give our life for our friends. That terminology is often used for someone who died for another.

Yet at the same time, giving our life can also mean that we dedicate every moment of our life to another. We speak of giving our life to our spouse or our children and by that we mean that we no longer use our days for our own benefit, but give those days of service to them.

So I think it is better if we understand this passage in two ways. The first literal way is worth keeping and valuable. But we should also see it in terms of service of God and our fellow man. We can “lay down” our life by every day making the self-less decision to serve God. We can transform our perspective from one that is selfish and mostly concerned with what is for our own good into a life that is self-less and where every day is given to the service of others.

That’s something we can work on getting better at every day. That’s something we can measure whether we’re making progress in our relationship with God. That’s something that come the end of our life we can have hope that we’ll hear the refrain we all hope to hear: “Well done, faithful servant.”

Aim high and try again

I have to admit, the last 36 hours have not been my finest. Not that anything horrible went wrong, but I succumbed to some of my bad habits that tend to torture me. What’s worse is that the last few weeks have been very good in those same areas, so the last day and a half has felt like a big step backwards.

While reflecting on how to recover from this setback a few thoughts came to mind that I thought worth sharing:

  • Most of the time, the wrong reaction to setbacks is to set our sights lower. Of course there are exceptions to this. There are times when we will we set our goals delusionally high and it ends up being an obstacle to both success and peace in our lives. But I think that’s the exception, not the rule. Generally, the right path is to aim high and be ready to work on a recovery plan if we fall short of that. I think this is something to keep in mind as we make our plans for Lent. Let’s make plans that are both semi-realistic, but also stretch us a bit. Let’s aim high.
  • Prayer is so essential to success. And not just praying, but making sure it’s good prayer. I’ve been in a very good prayer habit the last few weeks, but Wednesday morning I was a bit tired and I let myself treat it to mechanically. I said the words, but my head and my heart weren’t there as much as they should have been. In retrospect, it shouldn’t have been much of a surprise that later in the day when my temptations came calling, I wasn’t well prepared to resist them.
  • Speaking of which, here is a prayer that I made spontaneously a couple of months ago and I find it to be surprisingly effective at resisting my temptations: “Holy Spirit, give me strength and fortitude over my temptations. Protect me from Satan as I tell him – “You have *NO* power over me!” I say this prayer the instant, and I mean right away, whenever I feel tempted to something. I’m actually surprised how well it works. But when temptation came calling Wednesday afternoon I was in enough of a prayer rut that I didn’t say that prayer.
  • Finally, I am reminded that it is never God who ceases to offer us fortitude and protection, it is our weak humanity that chooses to walk away from it. God is always there. We just have to choose to tap into the graces he offers us.

So, let us aim high, be vigilant in our prayer lives, and when we fall down, let us pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and try again.

Weak or humble?

I love the overall message of this video:

Awesome stuff! Really great, great, great stuff!

But I must admit that I recoiled a bit at the choice of the word “weak”. I would have chosen the word “humble”. It is not weak to be an instrument of God’s grace. It is not weak to let God shine through you. In fact it takes great fortitude to say no to the pride that can get in the way of being a conduit to God for others. Humility, which seems to me is the ultimate point the bishop is getting at, actually takes a strength of character that is contrary to human nature.

But one of the things I’ve been learning to do in the last couple years is to be more humble in my assessments. And I’ve wondered in the couple days since I first watched it if perhaps I was being too judgmental. To compound that, when I re-watched it, I saw a theme in the Bishop’s homily that perhaps made weak the appropriate term.

The bishop says that “we are not looking for super-men”, and that sounds right to me. Because to be super-men is to attempt to deny our human weakness. We are not Gods. We are mankind. And for a priest to be effective, he must fully embrace his humanity. He can not let ‘En Persona Christi’ get too close to his heart so that he thinks he shares more with the divine than with the human. He must always be a man, with human weakness, not a super-man, who deludes himself into thinking he has risen above.

And so while I think humble is in many ways the right term and the term I would have used if giving a homily in this arena, I have to admit that there’s a value in thinking in terms of weakness.

Thoughts on gay priests

I just finished reading a blog post by Jennifer Fitz that is an open letter to gay priests and generally a response to an article in the New York Times where they interviewed a number of gay priests, mostly anonymously. While the post is a bit more coarse than I would write, it well sums up my thoughts, both on the NYT article and generally how we should view gay priests.

When I read that NYT article I was very frustrated by how it was framed. It acted as if priests who are attracted to other men are in some different situation than priests who are attracted to women. Or frankly, that they’re all that different from the rest of us when it comes to sexuality in the most important sense: We’re called to have restraint and mastery of our sexual desires.

Is it any easier for a married man to be respectful of his wife’s need for sexual abstinence during the 2 to 6 months surrounding the birth of a child? Does the desire for sexual intimacy magically go away during those sorts of times? Could it perhaps be harder for us married men because we have strong personal and intimate memories of the joys of sex with our spouses when we must be celibate for long periods of time?

Perhaps that last question pushes the boundaries of rhetorical truth, but the point is we’re all called to show sexual restraint and even for a married couple there are more days than not where we have to do that.

And that means that there is both good news and bad news for priests who have attractions to other men. The good news is that we get that it is difficult. We may not know what it is like to be attracted to people of the same sex, but trust us, we know what it is like to have resist sexual temptations. And so we’re pretty sympathetic. We’re ready to support you in whatever way we can, just like we’re ready to support any other priest who is struggling with temptations, sexual or otherwise.

But that bad news is that we’re not ready to offer you any sort of special privileges or indulgences either. We’re happy to have you serve us as priests, no matter what your sexual temptations are. But just as we are called to sexual restraint in our marriages, you’re called to sexual restraint in your vows to the priesthood. You don’t get a pass just because your sexual temptations are homosexual in nature. Your job is to proclaim the Gospel including Christ’s call to self-less love, not lustful desire. Our job is to hold you accountable to that same Gospel.

But here is where I’m ready to admit there’s been an issue that needs to be addressed: There’s a massive disconnect over what the term “gay” means and thus I think many people are talking past each other and misinterpreting others.

And it’s as simple as this: Does “being gay” mean you’re sexually active?

I don’t know why it has been so hard for people to admit this disconnect. It feels like in certain circles, even those with very different perspectives, there’s a desire to not admit the disconnect.

My proposal would be to not assume. Or if you must, assume that the speaker is using the term gay in a way that is most reconcilable with your perspective. Christ does call to assume the best of others, yes?

By way of example, when a priest with homosexual attractions hears someone say that the “lavender mafia” is responsible for the sexual abuse crisis, assume that what they’re saying is that it is not the homosexual attraction that is the issue, but that there’s a group of priests who are showing insufficient sexual restraint and encouraging others to do the same. Thus, this culture of encouraging illicit sex is encouraging those with temptation to either pedophilia or ephebohilia to act on their temptations. Assume that those who speak of a “gay problem” do so not to attack your ministry nor an attack on your attractions or temptations, but that there is a problem with sexually active priests.

The same goes for the inverse case, when a priest says that he is gay, people should not assume this means he is sexual active. It is merely admitting that the preponderance of their sexual attraction is towards people of the same sex.

If we could do this, get to a place where we both recognize that there have been places within the clergy that have been undermining the collective vows of celibacy and at the same time honoring celibate priests who have same-sex attraction as good and noble men, I think we could go a long way towards both addressing the sexual abuse crisis while also helping priests find peace with the Church’s attitude towards their temptations.

Unusual way we could help the poor

I’ve had a developing thought that gained clarity yesterday as I was preparing to get passports for all of my children…

The process of getting a passport looks daunting at first. The application form has *FOUR* pages of caveats and conditions. They speak in terms that are confusing and hard to understand. But once I started wading through it, it turned out to not be that bad. All I needed was to fill out a form with basic identifying info most people know by heart and have all of us (both parents and the kids) go to the appropriate post office with their birth certificates and photo ID for the parents.

Yet It took me a good hour to figure that out. It talked about all the various documents I needed, but it turned out that all of those things were satisfied by the kids birth certificates. But that was not at all clear at first. It started with precision of all the various ways one could establish each of the documentary evidence one needs to provide (and there were many). I think this was because they wanted to “make it easy” for someone who may have some of the other options, but not readily have their birth certificate.

However, in their attempt to “make it easy” they actually made it quite daunting. It was overwhelming. And I thought to myself, what if I was poor or transient? How much more overwhelming would this be at a library computer than in the comfort of my own home with a filing cabinet full of saved documents?

Government needs to find ways to make things simpler. Part of the libertarian push-back we’re seeing in society is because government has done a very poor job of keeping things as simple as possible. In this case, it should start with that simple list I mention above (birth certificate, ID, picture (if you don’t want to pay to have it taken at the PO)) and then have links for people to follow if they don’t fit the normal situation.

Or another example… when I was laid off, we had a 2 month window where we weren’t going to have health insurance. We could have paid for cobra to keep my existing insurance, but “Obamacare” (correctly called the A.C.A.) supposedly made it a lot easier and we’d likely get a government subsidy while both Wendy and I were unemployed. But actually getting it was a *nightmare* of documents and bureaucracy. I eventually acquiesced to a bureaucrat who wanted to do it the wrong way based on my reading of the relevant forms because I was sick of fighting her. But I thought to myself, this is going to come back to bite me. Sure enough, we got a $1000 fine come tax time for not doing something right.

Thus a similar thought went through my head… how is this helping the poor who can’t afford health insurance? Are they really going to be able to fight their way through this bureaucracy? What do they do when they get a fine like that for not following every step just right?

So, if we want to actually help the poor, not just pretend to help the poor, we have to make the processes for government *MUCH* simpler. Every time a middle-class white-collar family struggles with government bureaucracy we need to say, if it’s hard for a person with this many resources to do this, it’s too complicated. We are failing our poor people, the people who government is supposed to be looking out for, by having such a complicated governmental system.

Books for Lent

As I mentioned in my ‘Movies for Lent’ post, at my ‘Faithful Questions’ talk on Tuesday found myself looking like a babbling idiot. I mentioned that one of the ways we can make the most of Lent is to watch movies and read books that help us to delve into the divine. When during the Q&A portion, someone asked for a list I was only able to spit out one or two titles.

So now that I’ve redeemed myself with a good list of movies, here’s a list of books I think can be of value during Lent:

  • ‘Crossing the Threshold of Hope’ by St. Pope John Paul II: A wonderful book that was the result of an interview with the Pope. In it he repeats his oft-used refrain of “Be Not Afraid!” again and again. Sometimes when we get into Lent, we’re afraid to commit too fully to it, for fear of where that might lead. This book will help you find that courage.
  • ‘The Screwtape Letters’ by C.S. Lewis: A fictional work of a series of letters from one demon to another, Lewis manages to delve into the motivation and methods of the demonic in a way that few others have. Sometimes to confront evil, we must stare it in the eye. Lent is as good as a time as any to do that.
  • ‘Resisting Happiness’ by Matthew Kelly: While the tone of the book may be a tad bit upbeat for Lent, the message fits well with the penitential themes of Lent. Kelly wants us to transform our lives so that we can find true happiness with Christ. What better time to do that than Lent?
  • ‘Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Conquest of Darkness’ by Warren H. Carroll: This short history book covers the conquest of Mexico by Cortez through the appearance of Our Lady to Juan Diego a mere 14 years later. Cortez and the Spaniards are often criticized and not entirely without merit. However, missing from that criticism is the grave evil that Cortez discovered when he arrived in Mexico and the heroic steps he took to put an end to human sacrifice in the New World. Similar to some of the movies suggested, this is a combination of the heroic virtue that can inspire us as well an educational read that helps us to see beyond the modern secular view of things.
  • ‘The Bones of St. Peter’ by John Evangelist Walsh: This book was sadly out of print when I first came across it, but has since been re-published in paperback. Hooray! In any case, sometimes what we most need during Lent is to connect with our roots, to know that our faith comes from an ancient and unbroken lineage. The Bones of St. Peter covers the 20th century excavation under St. Peter’s basilica as they attempted to find the bones of St. Peter that tradition said were buried under the high altar. It’s an inspiring story that will help you remember where we come from.
  • ‘Render Unto Caesar’ by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput: Continuing down the educating and challenging our faith path, this book discusses the relationship between Church and State. I think it’s an excellent work and will challenge you. Hopefully from that, along with general Lenten reflection, you’ll be emboldened to bring Christ more into the public sphere (but in the right way).

OK, those are the religious books I can recommend right off the bat. I’ve read them all and whole-heartedly recommend them. However, how could I recommend that others read books during Lent and myself ignore that advice? So, here are 3 books I hope to read between now and the end of Lent. Since I haven’t read them, I can’t yet give them my stamp of approval, but they all come highly recommended:

  • ‘Why Preach’ by Father Peter John Cameron: Fr. Cameron is best known for his work with the Magnificat publications. As a deacon who has to give a monthly homily, I want to make sure I’m doing a good job and so I frequently read articles or books on how to get better. I’m about 20 pages in so far and I’ve been surprised by the path it has taken. It is far more theological than practical thus far.
  • ‘Dark Knight of the Soul’ by St. John of the Cross: I’ve read many of the great classical works of Catholicism, but this one has yet to bubble to the top of the reading stack. A reflection on how to survive dark times, hopefully it will give me courage to delve even deeper into Lent knowing I have the tools to survive any interior darkness I might find.
  • ‘Interior Castle’ by St. Teresa of Avila: Another great classic that I’ve yet to tackle and ironically by someone so closely tied to St. John of the Cross. But the time has come to read this important work by the first woman to be named a Doctor of the Church.

Finally, here are two secular works that I think are worth reading during Lent. I’ve read both books at least 4 or 5 times. They are two of my favorites and fit well in Lent:

  • ‘Earth Abides’ by George R. Stewart: Technically a science fiction book, although it doesn’t read like one from my vantage point, it’s a story of a man’s journey after civilization is wiped out by a plague. Written in 1949 it is surprisingly timeless. It uses a ton of religious symbolism, starting with the title coming from the King James translation of the Bible (Ecclesiastes 1:4). At its root, it contemplates what the purpose of our existence is against the backdrop of a man must completely re-evaluate the purpose and value of his life after society is no more. Despite the religious title and imagery throughout, the book strikes a mostly agnostic tone, but for a person of faith, it opens up a wonderful space for contemplating this wonderful creation that God has made for us.
  • ‘The Sea Wolf’ by Jack London. I’m a big Jack London fan and I can never understand why this book is not considered his definitive work. Call of the Wild is child’s play compared to this. The book follows the journey of a rich socialite who’s swept out to sea in a ferry accident and picked up by a seal ship. There he is confronted by a captain who has embraced a completely Darwinian view of life. London remains fairly neutral to whether nobility or survival of the fittest is right, but for those of us who know where we stand, the book is a fascinating read. In some sense it is like The Screwtape Letters, but instead of the explicitly demonic, we get to see into the heart of the most troubling form of modern atheism.

So there you have it. More books than you could possibly read during Lent, particularly if you spend all your time watching the plethora of movies that I suggested.

And just as with the movies, feel free to add any additional suggestions in the comment section.

Movies for Lent

At my ‘Faithful Questions’ talk on Tuesday I mentioned that one of the ways we can make the most of Lent is to watch movies and read books that help us to delve into the divine. Later, in the Q&A portion, someone asked for a list. And I proceeded to sound like a babbling idiot only able to spit out one or two titles. So to redeem myself, here’s a list of movies I think can be of value during Lent:

  • ‘The Mission’: This is a movie about redemption set against the backdrop of conflict between the Jesuits trying to bring the natives to Christ and the powerful who want to see them exploited, in 18th century South America. One of the slave traders kills his brother in a jealousy induced rage and goes into a self-inflicted depression and isolation. The movie centers on the relationship between him as he seeks redemption and one of the lead Jesuits. A great Lenten movie.
  • ‘Pius XII: Under the Roman Sky’: During the Nazi occupation of Rome, the Pope must navigate the treacherous waters of somehow protecting the persecuted Jews without causing an even greater crackdown. The movie follows his heroic actions as he tries to find the best combination of direct confrontation and rebuke, against secretly undermining the Nazi’s efforts. It’s a little bit more subtle how this is connected to Lent, but sometimes what we need to see is heroic virtue to evaluate where we are falling short in following God.
  • ‘Bella’: The story of a man who can’t forgive himself for a life he took away and a single and struggling woman who’s recently found out she’s pregnant, and their unexpected friendship. It’s a story about the search from redemption through service and accompaniment of another who needs to know that she is loved.
  • ‘There Be Dragons’: Another movie about relationship, this time between a future Saint and a man who loses his faith in God through the Spanish Civil war. The value of this movie as a Lenten movie is similar to Pius XII, in that we see both sides of what one might choose in difficult circumstances: the heroic and the tendency towards self-preservation.
  • ‘Doubt’: The story of a nun who is the principle of a parish school who suspects, but doesn’t have proof, of sexual abuse by the pastor. While the movie itself doesn’t strike a particularly redemptive tone, I think in our current situation, spending the time to reflect on this shameful area of our Church is very important, and definitely fits the penitential spirit of Lent.
  • ‘The Exorcism of Emily Rose’: This might be the biggest stretch in the list, but I think it still is worth a watch during Lent. It follows the trial of an exorcist priest who is charged with a crime for the death of a young lady who was in his care. He was convinced she was possessed, but the prosecutors argued that she had a mental health issue and the priest did her great harm by dissuading her from receiving psychiatric help. Lent is a good time to reflect on what we really believe and this is a movie that exposes the difficulty of discerning when a person’s difficulties can be attributed to the demonic or instead whether mental health issues are to blame.
  • ‘A Man For All Seasons’: The story of St. Thomas More and his martyrdom. This is a bit of mix between being challenged by the heroic virtue of a saint who chooses martyrdom instead of compromising his faith, and a movie that challenges us intellectually to this about the right relationship between Church and State.
  • ‘The Passion of the Christ’: The most obvious movie for the list and thus saved for last. There couldn’t be a more Lenten movie than one about Christ’s crucifixion. The one point I would make is to make sure you watch for the specific parallels between the 14 Stations of the Cross.

In addition to movies specifically intended to have a religious theme, here are a number of more secular movies that I also think are of value. Each of them are more focused on a lesson we can learn about life. I will mention that some of these movies have some objectionable content, both sexual and violent. Particularly considering my background, I tend to be less sensitive to these sorts of things than some, and do my best to not let those scenes distract me from any overall good that can be found in the movie. I’m also more willing than some to overlook the troublesome but common morals of society that show themselves in secular movies, as long as their is something that stands out as of value among them.

So with that caveat aside, here is that list:

  • ‘The Painted Veil’: A wonderful movie about true love. It centers on a newlywed couple. Infidelity tears their young marriage apart, but then they find themselves in a difficult situation and must find their way toward forgiveness and redemption. Fair warning: It’s a tragedy, not a Hollywood ending.
  • ‘Up In The Air’: A movie about a man who has purposely chosen a life of nomadic solitude and material indulgence being challenged by a young woman who has much more interest in a traditional domestic life. While the ending is a bit muddled as I think they tried to give a Hollywood ending to what is fundamentally a tragedy, I think it is a wonderful movie about what makes life both valuable and joyful. (Caution: definitely a couple of pretty explicit sexual scenes in this one)
  • ‘Braveheart’: One of the greatest movies of all time in my opinion. I see St. John Paul II’s dual admonition to ‘Be Not Afriad’ and to cherish Freedom, in the lead character of William Wallace. This is another movie that challenges us by showing us what heroic virtue looks like. (Caution: There’s tons of violence in this one.)

(Expect to see a list of books similar to this in the next day or so.)

Finally, feel free to add any additional suggestions in the comment section.

Topics for upcoming Faithful Questions seminars

I’ve been asked in a couple of different forums what my upcoming topics for the Faithful Questions seminar will be. I put them in my slides for the previous couple talks, but I figured I should publish them separately:

  • February 19th: What is the point of Fasting?
  • March 19th: Were the Jews responsible for the death of Jesus?
  • April 23rd (delayed from 3rd to 4th Tuesday due to Holy Week):
    What do eggs and bunnies have to do with the Resurrection?
  • May 21st: TBD – perhaps general Q&A, ideally with pre-submitted questions

I will then take June, July and August off and re-start in September.

Thought for this morning

A reflection book I am working through asked me how forgiving I am when someone does something that crushes a dream of mine.  It seemed to me that’s asking the wrong question.  It seems the better question is:  ‘Why I am letting a dream crush me?’

It seems “dreams” could be grouped into 3 categories:

  1. Foolish dreams.  If this is the case, I have only my self to blame for despairing when they fail.  I was the fool for desiring it.  If anything it should be a joy because it is an opportunity to turn away from foolishness.
  2. Selfish dreams.  I won’t fully condemn selfish dreams.  Often God will allow us the indulgence of striving to achieve them.  However, if we are to be truly Godly, we must know that all selfish dreams are of little consequence.  We must never let them define us to the degree that failing to achieve them crushes our spirit.  If I am letting that happen, I am the fool.
  3. Righteous/Godly dreams.  These might be the toughest, but only because we are trapped in our temporal experience of life.  As Christians we must always know the permanence and completeness of Christ’s victory.  Any setback is temporary.  If we are crushed by these setbacks, it means we don’t fully believe in Christ’s victory.  Yet again, the foolishness comes from within.

So it seems to me, that any time we are crushed by the failure of a dream, no matter what the type of dream it might be, we are the fool.  Any transference of the blame for that despair onto the shoulders of someone else, no matter how temporally accurate it might be that they are to blame for the failure of the dream, is to misunderstand what is causing the despair in the first place.

Prayer for today

A new feature for this space is going to be the ‘Prayer for today’.  I always start my morning with prayer and sometimes I have a prayer thought that seems worth repeating.  So, when that happens, I’ll post it here.  Hopefully that will be 2 to 3 times a week.

Today’s prayer:

Christ, I am deeply sorry for the pain I have caused you through my sins, and for the pain I have caused others.  I have dedicated my life to serving you and I have at times failed to live up to that promise.  Help me to make amends for my failures by bringing your joy and love to the world, to my family, friends and all those I meet, in greater measure than the pain I have caused to you and your creation.

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Faithful Questions – Is there a conflict between Faith and Science? – RAW

Last nights topic was ‘Is there a conflict between Faith and Science?’  It was attended by 40-50 people and overall it went pretty well.  Sadly, the better of my two phones that were recording video had a cap of 30 minutes and so only caught about 25 minutes of the presentation.  Luckily I have full audio of me, so I’ll still be able to put together the summary video in the days to come.  It will just be slides and audio after I lost the video.

In the meantime, here is a link to the slides:

http://deaconken.org/presentations/Faithful_Questions_Faith_and_Science.pdf

The raw audio is at the top of the post.

Faithful Questions kickoff

Last night at my parish I started a lecture/seminar series titled ‘Faithful Questions’.  Each month I’ll talk about a new question that average Catholics have about their faith.  Many Catholics believe in the faith, generally accept the Church’s teaching as correct (even if they struggle with them), but at the same time, don’t know as much about what the Church teaches as they’d like.  They lead busy lives and educating themselves on Church teaching isn’t the highest priority.  Often the result is they have many misconceptions about Church teaching.

My goal is to help Catholics like this better learn about their faith.

Expect to see at least two posts for each month.  The first will be a raw posting of audio and the slides.  A few days (OK, maybe it’ll be a week or two) later, I’ll post a link to a YouTube video that combines the slides, video of me pacing back and forth (gripping stuff I’m sure) and the audio.

Happiness from the past or future?

(Quick administrative aside: It’s still the plan to get to the backlog of videos to post and to get to daily video posting.  Other priorities keep getting in the way.  In the meantime, expect occasional posts about topics as they come to my mind.)

I’ve been slowly reading ‘Seven Storey Mountain’ by Thomas Merton and there was a passage I just read that struck me.  He was talking about an incident where he appeared happy to a friend whom he had bumped into on the street.  The friend asked him, “Where are you going?” under the assumption that it was excitement of a future event that was the cause of his happiness.

But in fact, it was the other way around, Merton’s joy came from having come from Mass and receiving the Eucharist.

It makes me think of the odd trend we as American’s have regarding Christmas.  We spend a month (or more) in a joyful mood looking forward to Christmas.  Yet most of us spend no more than a day celebrating Christmas.  The most common sight I see the day after Christmas: Dead trees on the curb.

Obviously both the future and the past should be opportunities for happiness in our minds.  As Christians we are people of hope.  The thought and planning for the future should bring us happiness and joy.  But I think we’re too quick to let go of our past joys instead of letting them linger in our hearts.  We should let the good of the past hour, day, week or even month, constantly infect us with happiness and joy.

Let’s make that a goal for the near term, to be as happy about the joys of the past as about what we are looking forward to.

The little ways God speaks to us

Last Friday through Saturday, our parish has a day of prayer and fasting for the reparation of the sins of the Church.  We exposed the blessed Sacrament on the altar at noon and scheduled parishioners to be present and pray all day and all through the night, ending with daily Mass on Saturday morning.  All of the clergy, both deacons and priests, committed to spending significant time in prayer along with the parish.  To that end I came from the noon exposition through 2:30 PM (when I needed to return home for the kids getting home from school) and then returned in the evening from 6:00 PM through 10:30 PM.

The first thing to comment on is how good it is to be in silent prayer for long periods of time, particularly if one can have the benefit of being in front of Christ in the Eucharist.  We live in a world that is remarkably noisy.  It is very rare that we’ll spend 4 hours in silent prayer.  And if you’ve never done it, I urge you to do it soon.  God talks when we listen, it just takes a while for us to clear our head enough to listen.  Do it soon!

To that end, during the 9 o’clock hour I was kneeling for Taize prayer (OK, it wasn’t entirely silent).  My legs weren’t cooperating.  I’ve gained a fair amount of weight this year and my legs haven’t been that happy with the extra weight when I kneel for extended periods.  But I was determined to stay on my knees throughout Taize.  After about 15 minutes, just when it seemed I would have to sit down, the outside of my vision got foggy.  Not the center; I could see the monstrance very clearly.  But my periphery vision got pretty out of focus and clouded.  It was as if God was encouraging me to be solely focused on him.

And then I heard his wisdom in my mind.  “Trust in me.  I am more powerful than anyone could possibly imagine.  Anything is possible.”  From that moment, kneeling became much more easy and I was able to last the entire 40 minutes of Taize on my knees.  Additionally, never in my life have I been so sharply focused on staring at Christ.  Not much more was said between us for the remainder of the time.  There were echos of what God previously had shared with me, but mostly it was just quiet.  Instead it was spiritual communion unlike anything I had previously experienced.  Christ was with me and I was with Him.

I am very grateful for the experience.

So… spend time in prayer.  Make it a priority.  Find some quiet time to listen to God.  Turn off the phone (really, not just on vibrate, make it so it will in no way interrupt you in any way, even a minor way).  Turn off any music with words that will grab your attention.  Give the Lord at least an hour to speak to you.  Give God the time He desires.  Give you brain the time it needs to calm and clear itself so that it can truly listen to God.

You will not be disappointed.