Monthly Archives: July 2011

Wisdom, Be Attentive!

On a flight from Minneapolis to Portland earlier this year, I sat next to an airline pilot who was making his way home to Alaska.  We struck-up a conversation and, after the usual pleasantries and small talk, began talking about our families.  We spent a lot of time discussing the joys and tribulations of marriage and family life.  Since my wife Colleen and I are entering the teenage years with our oldest daughter, I was particularly interested in hearing about any challenges he and his wife faced with their daughter when she was in high school.

My new friend smiled and related the following story.  “Thankfully, we only had one incident during her freshman year in high school.  She called us after school one Friday and asked permission to stay at a friend’s house for the night.  We trusted our daughter and we knew the girl she would be staying with and her parents, so my wife and I consented to her request.

“Later that evening, we realized that we never made arrangements to pick her up, so I called the parents of the friend she was staying with.  The dad on the other line sounded surprised and said that my daughter wasn’t there and, in fact, that his daughter asked permission to stay at our house for the night!  I was very disappointed and knew exactly what was going on: there was a party somewhere and both girls were at it.

“Taking advantage of social networking, it didn’t take me long to find the party house.  I drove there and waited on the sidewalk near the walkway leading to the front door.  I stopped someone going into the party and asked them to tell my daughter to come outside.  Less than a minute later, she poked her head out the door and saw me standing there.  With a look of shock, surprise and fear on her face, she slowly came over to me.  I said to her, ‘You have two minutes to say goodbye to your friends, get your coat, and come back outside.  If you are not here in two minutes, I’m coming in after you.’

“Two minutes later, my daughter was out of the house and in the car.  I didn’t say a word to her the entire drive home.  When we arrived at the house, I told her to go to her room and that I would be there in a minute.  After debriefing my wife, I went to speak with my daughter.  I spoke to her in a calm and measured tone, not in anger, but with all seriousness.  I told her how much I loved her and what upset me more than anything was not my worrying about her doing drugs or having sex or drinking alcohol (which I knew she wouldn’t do), but that she violated my trust in her by lying to me and her mother.  It felt like she stabbed me in the heart.  When I told her that, she cried and hugged me, said she was sorry and told me that she would never do anything to destroy my trust in her again.  And you know what … she kept her promise!”

This man’s daughter was at an age where teenagers think they know more than their parents, and some teens may even think that their parents are stupid.  Needless to say, these years can be a very anxious and stressful time in the family.  But this father was not stupid at all!  He showed true wisdom in dealing with his daughter’s situation—a spiritual wisdom that came from a lifetime of love, experience and maturity rooted within an ever-deepening relationship with the living God in union with the Father’s will for his life.

He showed wisdom by not going directly into the party house and embarrassing his daughter in front of her friends.  He showed wisdom by not speaking to his daughter on the ride home so she could have time to process the seriousness of the situation.  He showed wisdom by not yelling and screaming at his daughter in anger but reinforcing his love for her and emphasizing the hurt that she caused to their relationship.

When the Lord God appeared to Solomon—the teenage son of the great King David—in a dream by night, God said, “Ask what I shall give you” (1 Kings 3:5).  By baptism we are adopted sons and daughters of Our Heavenly Father and, therefore, brothers and sisters of Jesus, the Son of David.  Now imagine if the Lord visited you and said that He would grant your heart’s desire … what would you ask for?  My guess is that many of us—if we are honest—would respond like the airline pilot’s daughter; our thoughts would turn inward toward the self, towards the gratification of some passing desire or material possession that we think will bring us happiness.  We convince ourselves that the possessions we are asking for from the Lord are the result of an intelligent decision and not concupiscence, which is the sinful inclination toward sin and evil that fulfill the desires of the flesh over the spirit.

We should learn from the example of Solomon, who was mature enough to admit that he didn’t know all the answers (cf. 1 Kings 3:7) and humble enough to ask the Lord to help him distinguish right from wrong (“Give thy servant therefore an understanding heart to govern thy people, that I may discern between good and evil …” 1 Kings 3:9).  In this context, the “heart” is not to be understood as the organ in your chest but the center of the human person where the conscience, intellect and emotions are found.  It is the seat of the will: the “heart” is the place where the desire for God resides.  Solomon knew that he should ask for wisdom because of the example of his father, David, who prayed to God, saying, “Teach me discernment and knowledge, for I trust in your commands […] The law from your mouth means more to me than silver and gold […] I take delight in your promise like one who finds a treasure.  The lovers of your law have great peace; they never stumble” (cf. Psalm 119:66, 72, 162, 165).

In Matthew’s gospel (see Matthew 13:44-52), our Lord Jesus, a descendent of Solomon and David, shows the people of Israel that genuine wisdom and knowledge, true happiness, and lasting peace comes when we seek God first above all else!  David taught Solomon the same lesson that the pilot tried to teach his daughter and that Christ is trying to teach us every day of our lives: (1) that eternal life forever in heaven is the fruit of faithfulness to God and not to the world, (2) that wisdom is a gift of God and He bestows it on those who pray for it, (3) that the Lord God of Israel protects those who are faithful to Him, and (4) that the Lord alone is God and that we must “go and sell all that we have” and “throw away what is bad”—we must rid ourselves of everything that is not of and for God so that, at the end of our life, we may be counted among the righteous who possess the treasure, the pearl of great price and not among the wicked who worship of idols of this world, where we children of God act like recalcitrant teenagers who think our Father in heaven is foolish and stupid. When we act in this way, we violate God’s trust in us and stab Him in the heart with our sins.  If we persist in our sinful arrogance, without discerning the Spirit of Wisdom, we will end up exactly where we deserve: in the “fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth” (cf. Matthew 13:42).

My brothers and sisters in Christ, because Solomon sought Wisdom above all else, God not only granted his desire but also bestowed riches and honor upon him (cf. 1 Kings 3:11-13).  God will always give us more than what we ask for if we live in communion with His life and holy will.  Satan will try to destroy our relationship with God and we must use Wisdom to discern the devil’s tactics, to recognize his presence and to ignore his temptations to be hateful, unforgiving, jealous, greedy, ambitious for worldly things, hard-hearted, and proud.  It is the gift of Wisdom that strengthens our faith, fortifies hope, perfects love, and promotes the practice of virtue to the highest degree.  We must stay very close to the Holy Spirit, in order to have both light and strength to discern good from evil, right from wrong, the human spirit from the Holy Spirit.  We need to be detached from our old way of thinking in order to be open to the quiet inspirations of the Holy Spirit.  Only then will we, like Solomon, be able to recognize what God is saying to us and what He desires of us so that we can keep our promises to Him.  “He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:43).

©2011 Aurem Cordis and Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers

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No Turning Back

A review of the book, No Turning Back: A Witness to Mercy by Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC.

Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you (1 Peter 5:6).

“That guy’s a priest?”

This is what my awe-struck father whispered to me as we listened to Father Donald Calloway, MIC share his conversion story at a men’s conference in Portland, Oregon.

“Yes, Pop, he is,” I answered.

“He’s worse than me!” my father retorted.

I laughed … hard!

Let me explain.

My father would not have won any “Father of the Year” awards while my siblings and I were growing-up.  My dad was not a religious man but a pagan who never went to church.  He had three loves in his life: alcohol, cigarettes, and women.  You can imagine what life was like in our house.

I remember the day my relationship with my father went from bad to non-existent.  When I informed him of my decision to join the Benedictines, he was not only disappointed—he was angry.  What he said went something like this: “You’re going to do what!?”  He then reminded me:  “You are the first person in the family to go to college.  I spent all that money sending you to one of the best universities in the country.  You studied economics and business, and instead of making something of yourself, you are going to waste your life in that monastery living with a bunch of men?  What’s wrong with you?  What I am supposed to tell my friends?”  I won’t repeat what I said to him, but on that day he became like Lazarus in the tomb: he was dead to me.

Eighteen years later, Jesus reminded me that he raised Lazarus from the dead.

After not having a meaningful relationship for most of my life with the man who destroyed our family, I met with my father after he claimed to “find Jesus.”  During our time together, I did not hear words of sorrow and repentance for his many sins and transgressions, words I so longed to hear from him.  Instead, this talented and gifted musician who was lost and now found, who only now—after seventy-four years—came to faith in Jesus, showed me the meaning of fatherhood by his example when he sang this song:

“O Lord, sweet Jesus, have mercy on me.  My eyes were wide open, yet I failed to see.  Dear Lord, I beg you have mercy; please, have mercy on me.  I am so sorry.  Lord, forgive me.  Please show me the way.  I can’t go on living this life without you.  Sweet Jesus, please tell me what to do.  Lord, I’m depending on you.  I want to live a life that’s honest and true.  I will let nothing stand in my way.  Sweet Jesus, please hear my prayer.  O Lord, teach me how to pray, I beg you, because at times I know not what to say but when I think of Calvary I know my Jesus loves me.  Dear Lord, I beg you have mercy.”

As my eyes filled with tears, I asked my father, “What happened to you?  How is this possible?”  What he said next left me in stunned silence and awe: “The Blessed Mother and Divine Mercy.”

You’re probably wondering, “What does this have to do with No Turning Back?”  In a word: everything!  The true story that I related about my father pales in comparison to the absolutely incredible—almost unbelievable—conversion story of Father Donald Calloway, a boy on the road to an early grave who has become, in my opinion, one of the greatest priests of our time.

The first ten chapters of No Turning Back are a jaw-dropping, heart-pounding thrill ride filled with tales of sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll.  The second half of the book is a beautiful, Spirit-inspired testimony to both the awesome power of God’s grace and mercy, and to the efficacious mediation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Its an amazing dichotomy but that’s what makes No Turning Back so compelling: we all know someone who we think is a “lost cause,” someone who has no faith, no morals, no conscience; who could care less about their life or anyone else’s; who has zero sense of dignity and self-worth and who, quite frankly, would be better off in jail … or worse.  We have given-up on them because they have given-up on themselves.  This was the young Donald Calloway.  He writes:

“[…] I was living exactly the life I wanted to lead.  I believed that the hallucinogens were enriching my life, allowing me to experience a whole different dimension of thinking […] There were times that I did so much LSD that everyone looked like and moved like a turtle.  In those days, I was so stoned out of my mind that I don’t even know how I sustained life” (page 117).

And after discovering the richness, beauty, and truth of the Catholic faith through the Blessed Mother and Divine Mercy, he writes,

“Mixed with my prayers was a sense of gratitude and humility.  I know where I was when Mary found me and brought me to the feet of her Son, Jesus.  I even said to Our Lady on one occasion: ‘Mother, you have called me to this [the Catholic faith] and I know that it is because of you that I know the real Jesus.  And I am totally willing to lay down my life and be a victim with him because I should be dead.  I don’t deserve to live, yet I know the fullness of truth has been revealed to me’” (page 186).

This book is an absolute must read for every teen who is enticed by the lure of the culture, especially teens in crisis: for teens who are addicted to drugs, alcohol, and sex; for teens who are gang involved or incarcerated, and for all those who love them and dedicate their lives to making a difference.

This book should be required reading for everyone who believes there is no God or that the Catholic faith is a bunch of superstitious nonsense, or who think there is an absolute disconnect between faith in God and the lived experience.  No Turning Back reminds us that God is real and that, if we have the courage to seek the Truth with an open mind and heart (cf. John 14:6), we will be swept away by a tidal wave of divine love and into the ocean of the Father’s inexhaustible mercy where we will the ride the wave of life in safety and without fear, for “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).

I fully endorse and highly recommend Father Calloway’s book, No Turning Back: A Witness to Mercy!  I am indebted to Father Calloway for his humility in sharing his story of God’s incredible power, love and mercy—a story that has significantly affected my own father’s life and the life of our family.

But the story doesn’t end with his ordination to the priesthood.  The last chapter of the book is entitled, “Ongoing Conversion.”  Father Calloway, a holy priest who has written a stellar and moving autobiography, and who travels the world speaking about the Catholic faith, is not arrogant enough to think that he has “made it.”  On the contrary, he asks his readers to pray for him (“I want to be holy, but it’s a spiritual battle,” page 262).  Father Calloway knows all too well that he (and all of us) must

“Be sober, be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world.  And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you” (1 Peter 5:8-10).

There is a powerful lesson here.  The virtue of hope flows from a dynamic relationship with the Living God in humble obedience to the voice of the Holy Spirit, for “the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:27-28).  “Redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present … even if it is arduous” (Spe Salvi, 1).

This reality transformed Father Calloway’s life and can transform our lives as well, for nothing is impossible with God.

©2011 Aurem Cordis and Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers

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It Doesn’t End Here

A review of the book, It Doesn’t End Here: An Amazing Journey of Faith and Forgiveness by Dawn Marie Roeder

“For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy” (Saint Thérèse of Lisieux).

“When we pray, do we speak from the height of our pride and will, or ‘out of the depths’ of a humble and contrite heart?  He who humbles himself will be exalted; humility is the foundation of prayer, only when we humbly acknowledge that ‘we do not know how to pray as we ought,’ are we ready to receive freely the gift of prayer” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2559).

It Doesn’t End Here is an amazing story of faith, mercy, perseverance and prayer in the midst of an incredibly heartbreaking tragedy.  From the depths of a heart torn open by grief, and from a soul-searching for the purpose and meaning of God’s will in the midst of intense suffering, Dawn Marie Roeder shares her remarkable faith journey following the death of her son, Nathaniel.  In fact, It Doesn’t End Here is as much a tribute to the life and memory of Nathaniel as it is about seeking justice from those indirectly responsible for his death.

The narrative itself is gripping and compelling, and in many instances you actually feel the emotions (I felt anger, sadness, and joy) welling-up inside of you as Dawn tells her story.  What had the biggest impact on me, however, was how Dawn Marie responds in faith to all that is happening to her.  Drawing strength and inspiration from Almighty God, the saints (particularly the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, and Saint Thérèse of Lisieux), and from an incredibly supportive network of friends, Dawn Marie responds courageously to Christ’s call to true discipleship by picking-up her Cross and following Him (cf. Matthew 16:24).  In sharing her gift of vulnerability in imitation of Jesus (“I have been crucified with Christ”, Galatians 2:20) and the Mother of God (“And a sword will pierce through your own soul also, that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed”, Luke 2:35), Dawn Marie’s ability to forgive flows from a life that personifies the power of prayer and trust in God’s divine providence and holy will.

The life lessons learned from this book are invaluable!  As I read and reflected on It Doesn’t End Here, three Bible verses came to mind that speak to the contemporary experience of and the intimate relationship between suffering and forgiveness. These verses serve as threads that are intricately woven throughout the fabric of this marvelous book:

(1) The awesome challenge of Jesus’ words in the Gospel, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15);

(2) The famous line from the Book of Job, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord … Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 1:21; 2:10); and

(3) The reflections of King David in Psalm 37, particularly verses 3-11:

If you trust in the Lord and do good,
then you will live in the land and be secure.
If you find your delight in the Lord,
he will grant your heart’s desire.

Commit your life to the Lord,
trust in him and he will act,
so that your justice breaks forth like the light,
your cause like the noon-day sun.

Be still before the Lord and wait in patience;
do not fret at the man who prospers;
a man who makes evil plots
to bring down the needy and the poor.

Calm your anger and forget your rage;
do not fret, it only leads to evil.
For those who do evil shall perish;
the patient shall inherit the land.

A little longer–and the wicked shall have gone.
Look at his place, he is not there.
But the humble shall own the land
and enjoy the fullness of peace.

Dawn Marie shows us that prayer is both a gift of grace and a response that takes effort on our part.  In order for us to walk humbly before our God in the obedience of faith, we must appreciate the fact that we cannot do this all on our own.  We need God’s help every step of the way, especially during those times in our lives when we feel that God is not hearing or answering our prayers.

As I read Dawn Marie’s story, I kept asking myself, “How is she going to get past this?  How do you give praise and thanks to God—how do you even trust God—at a time like this?”  My thoughts then shifted to questions asked by so many others who have suffered:  How do you pray for the person who raped you?  How do you pray for the person who got you hooked on drugs and alcohol?  How do you pray for the person who molested you as a child?  How do you pray for the person who drove drunk and killed your spouse?

Yet it is precisely during these dry, dark periods when we are forced to pray from a position of disillusion and anxiety that leads us into the very heart of Christ’s Paschal Mystery.  The real cross of prayer is to believe that Jesus is Lord of every single situation in our lives.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God, and His activity in our lives reflects our own deliberate and sustained use of that trust.  If we want prayer to become a part of who we are, we must wait on God and have complete confidence in His mercy and love.

The anger and hatred we feel when suffering injustice burns like a fire in our hearts, and we want–more than anything–for the person who hurt us and our family to suffer greatly, even to the point of death.  Yet, in the midst of unimaginable anguish and pain, our Lord calls us to do the seemingly impossible: he tells us that we must forgive.  Our Lord gives us no other options and makes no exceptions!

Forgiveness was so essential to the purpose and mission of Christ, that when the Apostles asked Jesus how to pray, he gave them the Our Father, in which we ask God to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  Christ wanted to make a very a strong and direct link between God’s forgiving us and our forgiving others.  Jesus knows the human heart, and when our hearts are angry and bitter, when we harbor deep resentment—even though it may be justified—there is a part of us that is imprisoned by hate; a hate that can diminish or even block being open to forgiveness from others and receiving forgiveness from God.

The truth is that God always listens to and answers our prayers.  God knows what we need, and grants those prayers that will help us be with Him forever in heaven.  That’s why the best prayer we can pray is, “Thy will be done.”

I highly recommend It Doesn’t End Here! This book is for everyone who is grieving the loss of a child or loved one, for anyone who wants to better understand the meaning of suffering and forgiveness, and for anyone who wants to experience a deeper and richer relationship with Jesus Christ.

My final thoughts on It Doesn’t End Here are summarized beautifully by the great Catholic theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar:

“When life is hard and apparently hopeless, we can be confident that this darkness of ours can be taken up into the great darkness of redemption through which the light of Easter dawns.  And when what is required of us seems too burdensome, when the pains become unbearable and the fate we are asked to accept seems simply meaningless—then we have come very close to the man nailed on the Cross at the Place of the Skull, for he has already undergone this on our behalf and, moreover, in unimaginable intensity.  When surrounded by apparent meaninglessness, therefore, we cannot ask to be given a calming sense of meaning; all we can do is wait and endure, quite still, like the Crucified, not seeing anything, facing the dark abyss of death.  Beyond this abyss there waits for us something that, at present, we cannot see, namely, a further abyss of light in which all the world’s pain is treasured and cherished in the ever-open heart of God.  Then we shall be allowed, like the Apostle Thomas, to put our hand into this gaping wound; feeling it, we shall realize in a very bodily way that God’s love transcends all human senses, and with the disciple we shall pray: ‘My Lord and my God’.”

©2011 Aurem Cordis and Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers

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Saint Angela Marie

A few years back, I was delighted to hear that some Notre Dame friends of mine were pregnant with their fifth child.  But my joy quickly turned to sorrow when I read the first line of the email: “It started as a routine ultrasound.”  They quickly learned that their daughter had anencephaly, a neural tube disorder in which the skull is not properly formed, and much of the brain is missing.

They started a blog and posted updates on how things were going.  A month after the ultrasound, they wrote: “A question that comes up is, ‘How do you deal with a situation like this?’  How many times have we been asked already if we would like to terminate.  It is not at all an option for us.  This is our child that we are going to love and nurture for as long as we can.  Actually, she isn’t even our child ultimately: she is God’s child.  Like all of our children.  Our deep faith in God and our hope in heaven keep us going.”

They took the words of our Lord in the Gospels seriously, opening their hearts wide to allow God’s truth to live in them:  “I am the vine, you are the branches.  Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.”  They allowed God the Father to prune away the dead branches of the culture of death—a culture that adulates individuals like Princeton University professor Peter Singer.  Often called the “most influential” philosopher alive, Singer says that it would be ethically OK to kill one-year old children with physical or mental disabilities, although ideally the question of killing these children would be raised as soon as possible after birth (see Marvin Olasky, “The Most Influential Philosopher Alive”).

“Abide in me as I abide in you.”  My friends named their daughter Angela because they knew she was going to be their little angel in heaven.  They had been praying for a miracle and, just after the New Year, they wrote: “Dear Lord, if not a miracle healing, then please let her be born alive so we can shower our love on her.”  It really makes you stop and think: How can anyone treat a helpless, defenseless child—a child who has the breath of God’s life and Spirit flowing in them—as though they were “damaged goods” to be discarded like trash?  How could anyone who has a soul given to them by God deny a child the freedom to experience the depth of a mother’s love?

A child first learns to love in his mother’s womb, where he knows that the relationship of love and life is intensely personal.  Like the vine attached to the branch, the child is literally attached to his mother, depending on her love for his very life.  Jesus says to us, “Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me.”  We depend on the love of God for our very life, and He invites us to live according to His will so that we can bear much fruit and be worthy of the name “disciple.”

How can we serve Jesus as His disciples when we overlook what God has made abundantly clear in Scripture: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you … For it was you who created my being, knit me together in my mother’s womb … Already you knew my soul, my body held no secret from you when I was being fashioned in secret … Every one of my days was decreed before one of them came into being (see Jeremiah 1:5 and Psalm 139). The Church teaches that all “human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception.  From the first moment of existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person–among which is the sacred right of every innocent being to life” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2270).  This is not a suggestion: this is what it means to abandon all and follow Christ.

When Angela was born she weighed six pounds, seven ounces.  She was immediately baptized and confirmed.  They thought they would have only a few minutes with her but she lived three days.  During that time, Angela learned the meaning of love from her mother’s gentle touch and as she nursed from her mother’s breast.  Angela experienced the love of God through a unique and special bond with her mother—a bond that no man can appreciate or understand.  The woman’s motherhood constitutes a special and most demanding part in the loving parenting relationship and, in many ways, a man has to learn his own fatherhood from the mother (cf. Pope John Paul II, Mulieris Dignitatem, 18).

Children learn the meaning of love first from their mothers because the woman is the one in whom the order of love in the created world of persons first takes root (cf. Mulieris Dignitatem, 29). The order of love belongs to the intimate life of God himself and, in this intimate life of God, love becomes a gift.  The dignity of a woman is measured by the order of love, which is the order of justice and charity (cf. Mulieris Dignitatem, 29).

“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you will and it shall be done for you.”  On the third day, Angela’s breathing became labored and she started to turn purple.  Surrounded by family and friends, Angela took her last breath, opening her eyes briefly as she slipped away—the only time she opened them her whole life.  A parent’s primary responsibility is to get their children to heaven and God blessed them for a job well done by allowing Angela to gaze upon the faces of her father and mother, who sacrificed so much and who remained firmly joined to the vine of Christ.

Saint Angela Marie, pray for us!

©2011 Aurem Cordis and Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers

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Freedom from Gleedom

My 13-year old daughter is mad at me because I won’t let her watch Glee.

I’ve heard of the show but since we don’t have cable or satellite television, I’d never seen it.  So I viewed several full-length episodes online and also looked at numerous episode clips.  I found Glee appalling.

It’s not that I don’t love my daughter (I do love her and all my children very much) and it’s not even a matter of trusting her.  The fact is that, unlike some television shows and movies that may contain PG-13 or R-rated material within the context of plot development, Glee has a very pervasive secular ideology that goes way beyond occasional scenes.  I was expecting a show primarily about music but, in fact, the musical aspects are secondary.  What I saw was a typical, contemporary primetime television program replete with the usual suspects: an underlying sexual milieu, a systemic individualism, and a deep-seated moral relativism that suffuses the storyline and is woven into the fabric of each episode.  This material is very inappropriate for any “tween” who is trying to live their Catholic faith and who, along with their parents, underestimate the lure and attraction of secular culture, and the role it plays in forming young consciences and distorting authentic freedom lived in the light of Christ and His Church.

What, then, does it mean to be truly, authentically free?  If you think about it, there are only two answers: personal freedom, i.e., the freedom to do what I want, or God’s freedom, i.e., living, acting, and “being” in a way commensurate with His truth.

Moral Relativism (aka, Secular Orthodoxy)—the magisterium of modern society—posits a “freedom” from objective truth, and professes political correctness and values-neutral education as foundational principles that promote the very ideas which, left unchallenged, will ultimately erode the spiritual foundation upon which our faith is built all in the name of “tolerance” and “diversity,” and at the expense of authentic truth and freedom.  Our culture, through shows like Glee, tells us that freedom means “independence”; that I don’t need to subject myself to principles that are true in themselves but that truth can be changed depending upon current trends or my particular situation.  Christ, the Good Shepherd, tells us that man’s deepest truth and identity is to be in God—in the heart of the Trinity—to love as God loves.

The truth of God’s ever abundant and merciful love is rooted in freedom—a freedom from and a freedom for: the freedom from sin so that we can beTrue Freedom free for God.  The Scriptures are clear: “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12: 1-2).

At first glance, living according to God’s truth seems burdensome—following commandments and living according to a moral code goes against society’s view and understanding of freedom.  The truth is that “the more one does what is good, the freer one becomes.  There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just.  The choice do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to ‘the slavery of sin’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1733).

Let me illustrate the two types of freedom.  Imagine a violin, representing the Body of Christ, that has four strings, each representing a member of the Body.  Now picture one of the strings removed from the violin and laying on a table.  Our culture would tell us that the string on the table is free: it is no longer subject to the violin and can now do whatever it wants.  It is no longer bound by the restraints (i.e., the moral codes and commandments) of the violin and can now “be itself.”

From the Church’s perspective, the violin string is not truly free because its full potential is not being actualized; by not freely choosing to be part of the whole, by allowing itself to be freed from that which makes it truly unique—from that which is true, good, and beautiful—the string can never fully be what it was created to be.  The Church teaches that by freely submitting ourselves to God’s law—to God’s loving care, protection, and divine providence—by making a complete gift of ourselves to the Giver of all gifts, then can we truly and fully be the person who God created us to be.  It is only when the string is tethered to the body of the violin, when it is tuned to the unique and proper pitch that it was designed for, when it is played in harmony with the other strings, that the full potential of not only the string but the entire instrument is truly realized and fully appreciated.

This is why adherence to the Church’s teaching, especially in the area of conscience and the moral life, bear tremendous fruits for those who are willing to give themselves over in love the God’s law.  Whether in the intimate expression of our human sexuality—rooted in the life-long covenant between a husband and a wife—or whether in the intimate expression of celibacy, which anticipates the eternal wedding feast in heaven, God allows His children to participate in His creative, life-giving work.  This is the Father’s gift to us: to allow us to love as He loves; to allow us to give ourselves to Him fully, completely, and freely just as Christ poured out his love for us fully, completely, and freely on the Cross.

The freedom to love is not rooted in “choice”, but in the Word made flesh who dwelt among us.  The gift of ourselves in complete love to the Father—the gift of our hearts, minds and bodies, our hopes and fears, our desires and dreams—means that we must trust God; that we must allow ourselves to become vulnerable before the God who made us.  It means that we must trust God enough to come before Him and not be afraid to reveal and expose the deepest part of who we are so that His love can shine forth in and through the unique and special person that He created me to be.  This is the peace that true freedom brings!

This freedom can be found in its fullness in the image of the crucified Christ.  Society would tell us that Christ is not free on the Cross, that he is bound by four large spikes imbedded through his flesh and into the tree.  This clearly points to the fact our culture has a limited understanding of freedom: a freedom that focuses on the here and now, on the “I” and “me” rather the eternal—on the “Thou” and the “other.”

We must never forget that certain teachings in the areas of faith and morals can never change, regardless of whether or not people accept them or are faithful to them (see Bishop Sam Aquila, You Will Know the Truth and the Truth Will Set You Free, no. 7).  We as Christians cannot accept the Jiminy Cricket philosophy of “let your conscience be your guide” which “suggests that we are responsibly following our conscience when we knowingly replace Christ’s teaching with the world’s opinions” (Bishop Aquila, no. 21).  If we are to free ourselves from the slavery of this culture of death, we must come before Jesus.  This means that we must reject Glee and other similar programs that insidiously attack on our children’s consciences.  We must remove ourselves from the darkness and confusion of sin so that the light of God’s life and truth may shine brightly upon us.

Adherence to objective truth, especially in the area of conscience and the moral life, bear tremendous fruits for those who are willing to give themselves over in love the God’s law and boldly profess the truth and beauty of faith in Christ Jesus.  As followers of Christ, our choice is clear: do we want to use our God-given freedom to “climb in through another way,” or do we want to enter the doors of salvation “so that we may have life and have it to the full” (John 1:10).

Today, my daughter is mad at me … and she will be mad at me again.  One day, she will thank me for standing-up for our Catholic faith.

©2011 Aurem Cordis and Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers

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The Word Made Flesh

I have personally spoken to some Catholics who left the Faith because they believe they were not nourished spiritually by the word of God; that there was a disconnect between Scripture, the sacraments, and their daily life.  But why is this the case?  After all the Second Vatican Council taught that Sacred Scripture provides spiritual nourishment to the People of God in order to enlighten our minds, strengthen our wills and set our heart’s on fire with the love of God (cf. Dei Verbum, 23).  Why isn’t this the experience of many Catholics, especially those who are leaving the Church or who come to church for the sacraments but watch TBN to hear the word of God?

The Spirit-filled joy that the disciples experienced on the road to Emmaus can only come from God’s Word, which is not just pages in a book but is a Person—our Lord Jesus Christ.  In the Word, we don’t just read about Jesus: we encounter Him!  In the Word, we don’t just become friends with Jesus: we fall in love with Him.  In the Word, we don’t simply say we are good people: we give our lives to Him.  In His goodness and wisdom, God chose to reveal Himself and to make known to us the purpose of His will through Christ, through whom we have access to the Father in the Holy Spirit, and in whom we come to share in the love and life of God (cf. Dei Verbum, 2).

When we come together at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we should not sit back like mere spectators while the readings pass us by because our minds are someplace else.  We need to walk more closely with Jesus on the road to Emmaus.  When the word of God is proclaimed, we should praise God and exclaim with joy, “Did our hearts not burn within us when he opened the Scriptures to us?”  We need to recapture a sense of awe and wonder in listening to and appreciating the depth of God’s word (see Nehemiah 8:8-10).

MassSo how do we “hear” God at Mass?  Yes, we listen to the readings and read Scripture but when do we actually hear God?  We must remember that God’s words are not just pages in the Bible but that The Word became flesh and dwelt among us!  We listen to the Word with our ears but in order to truly hear Him we must take Saint Benedict’s advice: “Listen to the Master’s precepts and incline the ear of your heart.”  The heart is the starting place of hearing the Word of God and observing it.

The key to listening with your heart is silence.  The Scriptures cry out to us, “Truly I have set my soul in silence and peace” (Psalm 131:2) and again: “Indeed, you love truth in the heart, then in the secret of my heart teach me wisdom” (Psalm 51:8) and once more: “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:11).  We must foster of atmosphere of prayerful silence in order to hear the Word of God and allow that voice to change our lives.

What is the connection between the Word of God and the Mass?  In the Mass, the Liturgy of the Word comes first because we receive Jesus in the Word of God as we prepare our hearts, minds, and souls to receive him body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  “Word and Eucharist are so deeply bound together that we cannot understand one without the other: the word of God sacramentally takes flesh in the event of the Eucharist.  The Eucharist opens us to an understanding of Scripture, just as Scripture for its part illumines and explains the mystery of the Eucharist.  Unless we acknowledge the Lord’s real presence in the Eucharist, our understanding of Scripture remains imperfect” (Pope Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini, 55).

The Church sees the connection between word and sacrament as so important that we will receive a wonderful new English translation of the Mass in November at the start of the church year on the First Sunday of Advent.  The entire Church in the United States has been blessed with this opportunity to deepen its understanding of the Sacred Liturgy, and to appreciate its meaning and importance in our lives.  The long-term goal of the new translation is to foster a deeper awareness and appreciation of the mysteries being celebrated in the Liturgy.

Let us renew our love for the word of God!  Let us give Sacred Scripture the attention it deserves.  Let us listen attentively to what the Lord is saying to us in His word!  Let us say with King David, “Your word is a lamp for my steps and a light for my path.  I have sworn and have determined to obey your decrees” (Psalm 119:105).  Let us say with Jeremiah, “When I found your words, I devoured them; they became the joy and the happiness of my heart” (Jeremiah 15:16).  Our Father in heaven doesn’t care how many passages of Scripture we memorize: that’s not important.  What’s important is how we live what we believe!

Let us be on fire for the Lord!  Let the fire of His love burn away everything that turns our hearts away from him.  When we encounter the Living God in this way, the paralyzing grip of sin will give way to the peace of blessed assurance:  “Did our hearts not burn within us when we heard the Word proclaimed and when we received Our Lord in the Eucharist?”  When we have the courage to live the truth and beauty of our Catholic faith, the fire of the Spirit will consume us.  As Catholics, we know that there is no resurrection without crucifixion, and knowing that “for the sake of the joy that lay before him Christ endured His cross,” let us “not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:3).  Let us always choose to follow Jesus who through the fire of His love, will lead us from sorrow to joy, from despair to hope, from death to everlasting life.

©2011 Aurem Cordis and Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers

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Kyrie Eleison

Quite often, after leading a parish mission, I am approached by someone who wants to spend time talking about a serious issue in their life.  I remember the story of a teenager who was abused as a child and as a result, was very sexually active, abused drugs and alcohol, and was dating a much older man.  She was clearly anxious and in tremendous pain.  She knew that she was acting contrary to God’s will and had to make a major change in her life, a change that included the very painful decision to end a relationship with a man she had grown to love but who actively pursued an illicit and illegal relationship with her.  She was scared but could not let go because she was afraid to trust God.

After encouraging her to seek God’s mercy and peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I said this to her, “Right now, there is a young man on his knees praying to meet someone like you.  This is a young man who is willing to give his heart, his mind, his soul and his body to you and to only you, and to the children you will have together, for the rest of your life until your dead.  That is a love worth waiting for because that is a love worth dying for.”

A love worth dying for.  This is the depth of the love and mercy that God the Father has for us: His Son endured the cross, carrying the weight of our sins on his shoulders.  In his tremendous suffering, He was allowed to experience alienation from God and endured the ultimate consequence of sin: death.  But by His resurrection, Christ has conquered sin; he has triumphed over death and has shattered the gates of Hell.  God’s love is so immense, His power so limitless and His embrace so tender and intimate, that Love Himself brings forth life.

Diviner Mercy

When Jesus appeared to Saint Margaret Mary, He showed her His heart to demonstrate how much He loves us.  He said to her, “Behold the heart that has loved so much and has been loved so little in return.”  He is loved so little in return because we don’t truly believe in the love, the promise, and the mercy of God the Father.

Our Lord told Saint Faustina of the mercy He wants to give to the world, if only we will believe in His love.  If we are honest with ourselves, we realize that we are often lukewarm at best.  Sunday after Sunday we hear the Word of God and receive our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist and yet we walk away, for the most part, unchanged knowing full well that Christ is calling us to change our lives and become one with Him, which means we must reject popular opinion and the ways of the world.  We allow ourselves just enough faith to be comfortable until that faith calls us to stand-up for the truth that makes us uncomfortable.  Then, like the Apostles, we lock the doors of our minds and hearts, cowering in the fear of being rejected and unpopular.  Each one of us has been set apart when we were consecrated to the Most Holy Trinity on the day of our baptism.  We have been set-aside for a holy purpose.  To do God’s work, we cannot think or act like everyone else; we are to follow in the footsteps of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Jesus appears to His apostles and says, “Peace be with you” precisely because they were not at peace: they were afraid.  Today, because we don’t trust in the God’s mercy, we keep Jesus at an arm’s distance so that our lives don’t have to change.  We don’t want to let Jesus get too close because we know that when we do, His tender mercy will transform us.

It is at these times that we must take comfort in the Father’s endless mercy and be at peace without being afraid to be vulnerable before the Lord.  The Holy Spirit breathed on the Apostles and they were given the authority to forgive sins — our sins.  When we really know that our sins are forgiven, we have nothing to fear.  If we truly believe in the promises of Our Lord, we can be at peace.  We live in a day and age when the mercy of God is more necessary than ever before and as our Lord told Saint Paul, “Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.”  And because there is a great deal of sin in the world, the Lord provides an overwhelming abundance of grace that is available to us in the sacraments.

Sacraments are not just empty rituals; we don’t just go through the motions of coming to church and walk out unchanged.  What happens in all of the sacraments, and especially at Mass and in the sacrament of Reconciliation, are realities more profound and powerful than anything we can ever hope to experience in this world.  The worst sin that we could ever commit is like a drop of water in the ocean of God’s infinite mercy.  His love for us is endless; it is beyond anything we could ever grasp or imagine.  As big as our sins might be, they are nothing for the Lord.

When we come before the priest in Confession and hear those beautiful words of absolution, we walk out with the knowledge–the unshakable knowledge–that our sins have been removed from our souls.  In His mercy, the Lord looks us right in the face, as He looked at Thomas two thousand years ago, and He says, “Doubt no longer, but believe.”

When we give ourselves over to God’s divine mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, when we love with a love worth dying for and are no longer afraid and in doubt, we will have the courage to place our hands in the wounds of Christ, and profess with confidence and joy and faithfulness with Thomas, “My Lord and my God.”  Heavenly Father, for the sake of Your Son’s sorrowful passion have mercy on us and on the whole world.

©2011 Aurem Cordis and Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers

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