Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

A Beautiful Little Video on Christian Unity

Land of the Free? Home of the Brave?

A rap song I like sings, "THIS is the land of the free?  THIS is the home of the brave?"

The only defense of human dignity - from being treating like cattle, for instance - is recognition that human persons are made inviolable by a Creator who demands justice for His creatures.  Materialist theories of man's origins cannot yield any reason to treat people as anything more than mere matter, usually as material for someone else's schemes.

I am not here denying evolution or other scientific theories.  I only deny that they explain everything.

Of course, all this said, it is not beyond Fox News to just blow it, or to blow something out of proportion either.  Anyone know any more about this?  I first heard about it about a month ago, but haven't gotten around to blogging about it.

First News on the Marathon

Here are some initial pictures that I raided from the Facebook of my friend Dave Brewster.  He and I met last year during the marathon.  One of the womenfolk (thanks, ladies!) of his family that came to cheer for him took these.  I owe his dad a huge debt of gratitude for carrying my during the run because I arrived too late to check my bag in.  Here's me at the start.  Dave is in the dayglo yellow shirt a few paces ahead of me.

I got up earlier than last year, but took a wrong turn on the crowded metro system and ended up at the Smithsonian station, getting off with all the 10k-ers.  Realizing my blunder, I reboarded and went the correct way, but the wrong turn cost me about 15 minutes worth of pre-race time.

When I got there, I was confronted by crowds that looked like this.

Now, I wasn't as far back as it appears.  To put it in scale, the red triangle at the lower left is part of the inflatable arch that marked the starting line.  It took me four minutes to cross the starting line from the time of canon blast that started the race.  My roommate, Tom, who got separated from Dave and me, took twenty minutes to cross the starting line.

I felt NO excitement.  ZERO.  That is, until about two days before the race, when I went to pick up my packet.  I grabbed my roommate's too, and seeing our tee shirts and racing numbers, the big "Run for Vocations" posters, I began to get excited.  Going from my team headquarters to the Marine Corps Marathon Expo at the Washington Convention Center to get my free swag only made things worse!  In fact, whereas last year it had been hard to sleep the night before the marathon, this year, it was the night before the night before the marathon where I barely slept a wink.  Now, I am not a terribly jittery person, but this year, about 10 minutes before the race, I couldn't get my fingers to put the goo packs into my little spandex racing belt.  Dave's wife calmly took it from me, loaded the packs in the belt, and handed it back so I could fasten it around my waste.  Erin, thanks!

Around the fifteenth mile I encountered my first acquaintance to cheer for me by name.  I had no clue that Annie was going to be there, but there she was, screaming "Go, Ryan Haber!"  That was a very happy and unexpected meeting.  During the race the Run for Vocations team was out cheering - the organizers, designated cheerers, and those who had already finished the 10k.  Carol Flannery, the team organizer, was among them.  I think we met around the sixteenth mile.  Thanks, guys!  My mom met me at the twenty mile mark.  We hugged, and I spent a few minutes stretching.  She gave me some water to swallow my ibuprofen, which I had kept forgetting to take.  Seeing her was a real morale boost!  She hustled all over the Mall and Rosslyn to see and cheer for me.  Thanks, Ma!  What a sight for sore eyes.  A few meters later I encountered another Run for Vocations crew, led by Msgr. Rob Panke, all of whom went wild cheering.  Thanks, guys!  They told me later that my ma heard them cheering and went over to thank them, as she hustled by to get to the next cheering point.  They also told me that it looked like I was flying.  Lol.  I sure didn't feel like it at that point.

The 14th Street Bridge stunk again this year.  It will always stink.  The MCM Champion, who won the race in 2:21 hrs, said that it stank.  It is about a mile long, including the launch and landing, but it stinks.  It is arched, so it is the second hill of the race, and it stinks.  It is exposed to the sun, without shade, and with a brisk wind off the river, it stinks.  There are very few cheerers because it is inaccessible by car, and it stinks.  LOTS of people start walking at that point, creating obstacles for those still running, and it stinks.  It stinks.  It stinks.  At the start of the bridge, a runner has only 10k left in the 42k race.  But let me tell you what, no 10k I have ever run has stunk that much.  Cramping picks up, dehydration feels more acute, and frankly, jumping to certain death in the chilling Potomac must seem like a plausible option to some of the racers, because it stinks.  About halfway across the bridge, at my second stop on the bridge to stretch for 30 seconds or so, I started sobbing.  It just happened.  No tears came out, but I just shook and sobbed for another 30 seconds or so.  Then I prayed, "Eternal Father, please give me strength.  Help me to accomplish this thing for me and for you and for priests for our Church.  Help me to encourage others whose hearts are wavering.  Please, Father.  Amen."  I breathed deep and looked up.  A spectator was leaning against the Jersey barrier, resting his arms on his bike and looking at me, and at the crowds.  Unashamed, I started to run again.

Like all unpleasantries, it passes if we persevere.  Landing in Crystal City is a bit of a morale boost - tons of crowds cheering, more live music.

On the metro ride home I met a man who was wearing his medal, and proud.  He had a tummy and told me it was his first marathon.  I smiled and congratulated him.  Very much like the Christian life - it is freaking difficult, but surprisingly doable by anyone with a heart to do it, with some friends to help him along, and with some grace and power from God.

Ok, so my stats, from the MCM website, are above at the right.  When I get more pictures in, I will post them.  Thanks for your support throughout my training.  I am grateful to you all, and offered up miles on this race for many of you.  I'm also grateful to my other roommate for meeting Tom and me after the race to carry our bags and celebrate with us.  You have all been in my prayers.  This time around, I think I will try to avoid getting out of shape by signing up for a spring marathon.

People, Look East

"People, Look East" is one of my favorite Christmas songs.

It is also a good clarion call to the Church in the West.  We are complacent, and we have problems: complacency, corroded morale, secularism on the warpath against anything remotely healthy or humane, and so on.  But we are not being murdered in the streets.  For most of us in the West, the Apostle's words still apply: "In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood," (Heb 12:4).

That is not the case in the East.  The Chinese and Vietnamese governments have certainly been violently opposed to and contrived all manners of repressing the irrepressible growth of the Church in East Asia.  It is a little considered fact, though, that in what was perhaps his only remotely endearing quality, Saddam Hussein insisted on a peace that permitted the Church to continue in the region called Iraq, where she has existed since apostolic times, or shortly thereafter.  My studies in ancient Syriac (Suraya, in its own language) focused on literature from that region: from that region comes the earliest translation of the Bible.  At the time, it was called Chaldea (Kal-dee-ah), and from that name the Christians of the region derive theirs, although they call themselves Suraya.  The were more or less absorbed into the Nestorian heresy, but that heresy had more or less dwindled over a thousand years or so, and since 1553 they have been (back) in union with the Catholic Church.  It was these Chaldean Catholics that continued on in Iraq.  Under Saddam Hussein, one of them was even a foreign minister.

It is not so anymore.  With a sort of forced secularism removed from society, the sectarian violence that has engaged Sunni against Shiite has also engulfed the much smaller Chaldean community.  These people are our brothers and sisters in Christ, united in one Baptism, one Faith, one Church, sharing with us the Pope as supreme pastor on Earth.  And they are being tortured and murdered to death in the streets, their bishops assassinated in public, and their churches torched and razed.  Their attackers do these things with complete impunity.

For more information about the Chaldean Catholics, check out the Wikipedia articles - they are probably reasonably kinda accurate-ish.

They have their own website / newsource / blog.  Check it out, too, by clicking here if you have a few free minutes.  We can at least pray for our brothers.  We can try to find concrete ways to encourage them.  Perhaps we can find someway to get our godless government to pressure their corrupt government to stop its people from killing our people... er, I mean, its own people.

Eduardo Rallying the Troops

This article at the Times (of London) Online is very exciting. It is about Eduardo Verastegui, a very popular Mexican actor who starred, most recently, in "Bella". He is co-owner of a production company called Metanoia, and the article is about how he went from being a not-interested Catholic to a very sincere and devout one - while living and working in the not-too-religious environments of the movie meccas of Mexico City and Hollywood.

As an interesting side note, the article notes that he is going to England to speak to a Catholic youth rally with about 1500 teens expected to attend. I don't know if this sort of thing is yet common in England, as it is getting to be here - I suspect not. In itself, this event is exciting because it means that the Church is stirring in England, one of the most thoroughly secular countries in the very secular West. My gut instinct is that many of the youth waking up the Church in England, responding to their shepherds' calls, perhaps traveled to World Youth Days in close neighbor Cologne, Germany, and in closely akin Sydney, Australia. However He's doing it, the Holy Spirit is sure doing something cool.

What daring times to be a Christian!

(Coincidentally, as I was surfing for a good picture for this post, I came across a picture of the little girl in Bella with whom Verastegui had a life-altering collision. Now that I have little nieces, just seeing the girl's picture made me become very emotional.)

The End of Celibacy? What next?!

Well, not really, and probably not much that you might be worried about.

If you've heard about the Vatican's creation of provisions for married Anglican/Episcopalian clergy leaving their denomination and becoming Catholic priests, you might be concerned that big things are changing unexpectedly. You need not be.

For that matter, the Eastern Catholic churches, in full union with Rome, believing everything we believe and sharing our sacraments, have always allowed men who are already married to enter the priesthood. In the Western/Latin/Roman church, we very early on started developing a preference for ordaining men who had already committed to celibacy. That celibacy has played a crucial role in the development of Western thinking and culture, and certainly so within the Latin (our) church. That practice grew by the middle of the first millennium into a requirement - that only celibate men should be ordained. St. Paul himself expresses this preference, and our Lord set the example Himself. As such, it is not to be lightly set aside.

That said, most of the apostles were married, and we cannot conceive that they put away their wives like chattel in order to serve God, as if that were compatible with Christian living. Somehow they must have made arrangements or balanced the two, or waited til their wives had deceased in order to embark on missionary work, etc. To some extent, then, priestly life is compatible, at least in essentials if not in fullness, with marriage. The Eastern churches (both Catholic and Orthodox) have recognized this right from the start by never having permitted ordained men to get married subsequent to their ordination. And for that matter, in the East, married men have never been ordained bishops, because bishops hold the fullness of priesthood and must be freest for service to the gospel, unobstructed by any natural concerns.

For a number of years, the Roman church has allowed married clergy from other denominations who become Catholic, and whose former denominations' understanding of ministry is close enough to ours, to be ordained in the Catholic Church after their conversion. These men are typically Episcopal or Lutheran, because those denominations are liturgical, as ours is, and because these ministers typically work in ministry full-time, and so have something of a sense of how to balance ministry and marriage, as Eastern priests must have.

In the West, where we have typically had fewer priests per person, we have had higher expectations for what they can provide. Our priests have typically ridden circuits over large areas, traveled to far mission fields, and left their parishes for service in the diocesan offices - that is, gone wherever their bishops have sent them. Married clergy from other denominations admitted to the priesthood have typically functioned a bit more like deacons - less likely to be transferred from one parish to another, and more likely to be permitted a more normal work schedule. But for something between 500 and 1700 years, such circumstances have been exceptional, and not the norm. Such will likely continue for the foreseeable future.

The key thing is that prior marriage is not inherently incompatible with ordained priesthood; as femaleness is. So the discussion of whether and when and to what extent the Church might ordain married men is not the same sort of question as whether and when and to what extent the Church might ordain women. To the first question, answers are varied and the discussion is open. To the second question, the answers are no, never, not at all, and the discussion is closed. That is because priesthood is essentially connected not to a skill set, but to fatherhood. It has always been conceived as a fatherhood, and an emulation of God's fatherhood. God is not a mere parent; He does not create mere parents any more than he creates mere neuters. Jellyfish are neuter, but humans are male and female. He creates men and women, intended by their complementarity for fruitful union that models the fullness of His nature. He Himself seeks to be in fruitful union with us, the Church, His Bride. Complementarity is not imaginary. It is built into creation, as is fatherhood, as is priesthood.

Maybe I'll begin researching and writing a metaphysical anthropology paper connecting fatherhood and priesthood, and discussing how we are all priests in a vague way by baptism, as we are all vaguely masculine by being human; but how only the more clearly masculine is suitable for the more crystallized priesthood of ordination. Hmmm... Well, best to find a full-time job first.

The media is great at soundbites but bad at nuance and distinctions. Because they are by-and-large enslaved to sex they hate celibacy, for celibates are much more likely to be free with regard to sex. The media perhaps see this as a first step toward all that they hold dear.

Or at the very least, they see it as an interesting conversation starter, which it certainly is.

In With the Old

Archbishop Raymond Burke is the head of the Apostolic Signatura, the Church's highest court, subject in law only to the Holy Father himself. On last Sunday, Oct 18, 2009, he sang the Tridentine Mass according to the 1962 Missal of Bl. John XXIII in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. It was the first time the High Tridentine Mass was sung in Latin in St. Peter's for forty years.

In her blog, Mary Ann Kreitzer points out that forty might not be a coincidence. In biblical thought, it is the number signifying penance, conversion, and waiting for God. Forty is the number of days of rain in Noah's day; of days spent sitting in the ark waiting for the world to dry; of years wandered in the desert; of days til Nineveh be overthrown; of days our Lord spent fasting and praying. The thought is hers, and I got the beautiful picture (at right) from her as well.

I will not go nearly so far as to say that the Church has been in exile away from the true Mass, and now we've got it back. That's all bosh. Where the bishop is, there is the Church (according to St. Ignatius of Antioch); when the Pope speaks, Peter has spoken (according to St. Augustine of Hippo). The Church has given us a new liturgy, the Liturgy of 1971 of Paul VI. According to our Holy Father, that is and will remain the ordinary ritual for the Mass in the Latin ("Roman") church.

But I will go this far: I think the Church is waking up. I think we are finally starting to wander out of the desert of our own denseness. I think those who are daily deciding to stick with her come what may, have counted the cost, are counting the cost, and have a better sense of what we are doing. Fewer and fewer remain who do so only because everybody else is doing so. Just a couple generations ago, so many Catholics had memorized answers that they did not understand, felt they mustn't question or probe, and were mostly content not to do so. The faith of those who remain is harder won, and we may yet be made to fight harder still to continue in the race of faith. Sincere seekers are asking questions with an openness to answers, and they are being answered by knowledgeable Christians who are open to questions. I do not dare say that the Church has been chastened, but I think it is clear that we are being chastened. And we are waking up.

Click the picture for thoughts about
Rev. Mr. Fernando Saenz' first mass as deacon

We will bring that wakeful alertness with us wherever we go. We will bring those questions, and those answers, to the world. We will bring our understanding with us when we go out, because God is giving us a new heart for Him. And we will understand what God is doing even when we do not understand the language of the liturgy in which He is doing it. From October 6 to 15, while traveling in Italy and Germany, I had occasion to attend Mass twice in English, once in Italian, and twice in German. The German sounded a LOT like English, and phrases here and there had refreshingly similar sounds, but I understood hardly any of it. I know more Italian than German, but the Italian sounded even stranger - singsongy and light. At one English-language Mass the microphones were turned down a bit low, so I missed most of it. "Why not Latin?" I thought, "Just as easy to understand!" The other English-language Mass was beautiful, quiet, with an air densely packed by prayer; that was the Mass in which my newly-ordained friend preached for the first time. Seven or eight of us filled up half the chapel. Several Italians, mostly young and presumably understanding only a little, popped in to take up the empty pews. They didn't know it was the day after Fernando's ordination. They didn't know English. We did not know Italian. But somehow, in that place, praying privately together, publicly as a community of new acquaintances and strangers except for Christ, we knew exactly what we were doing. The Mass is the Mass is the Mass, the same in every language and in every place. We knew exactly what we were doing. We were awake.

Somehow, I sense that the growing urge within the Church for the Tridentine liturgy, even if we experience it only periodically, is a sign that we are coming awake.

Works of Mercy

Check out, if you get a minute.  Their mission is kinda cool, and the family that runs it seems even cooler.  It makes me happy to bump into things like this card.

A Different Kind of Kingdom

Many of us work or have worked for company's whose environments were relaxed, where "business casual" is the attire, and where we are encouraged or required to call our supervisors and even the CEO by their first name, usually Skip, or Chip, or Don.  The purpose of this casualness is to make us feel comfortable, to feel at home, to think of the company as a family.  Yet, everyone seems hellbent on kissing Chip's butt in a way we rarely felt inclined to kiss Dad's butt.  In fact, when we kissed Dad's butt, he usually called us on it very quickly, didn't he?  "Ok son, now what's this all about?  What do you want?  Do you need money for a date?  Do you wanna borrow the car?"  But Skip, Don, and the other bigwigs and supervisors at our company seem to like having their butts kissed.  They are certainly aware that our desks are all straightened way a visit from them is anticipated.  The modern kings, princes, and petty barons are much smoother than maybe they were in medieval times, but they nonetheless manage to make themselves felt, as Jesus put it.

The readings from today's Mass (Is 53:10-11; Ps 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22; Heb 4:14-16; Mk 10:35-45), those of the XXIX Sunday in Ordinary Time, probably go in one ear and out the other of folks intent on being worshiped, the Don's and Chip's of this world.  But they might go misunderstood by those of us trying to be Christians, and should give a moment's hesitation to anyone engaged in "the culture wars."  Here's why:

James and John go up to Jesus and ask him if they can be the two top dogs in their kingdom.  In another account (Mt 20:20) it's their mom that does the asking.  How that fact got confused between St. Matthew and St. Mark might be an interesting sociological question, but it's not really relevant to the story or to the message for present purposes.  Anyway, Jesus basically asks them if they can handle it.  "Of course we can," they basically say, "easy."

Easy, indeed.  Now, the other apostles get all tangled up because they want to be the best in the kingdom, too.  Pandemonium ensues.  Jesus calms them all down by stumping them, as usual:

"You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many," (Mk 10:42-45).
Now, this is a different sort of kingdom, isn't it?  Not only is it a kingdom with a different goal than the kingdoms of this world, but it is a kingdom operating on a whole different set of principles.  Normal kingdoms depend upon and elevate the majesty of their king; ours depends upon and elevates the crucifixion of our king.  Normal kingdoms run on taxes; ours runs on widows' pennies (Lk 21:1-3).  And this all makes sense: a different goal often requires different means.  One packs different things for a trip to Ocean City than for a trip to Alaska, and one probably uses a different mode of transport.  The Kingdom of God is different than any of the kingdoms of men, not only because it is run by a different king aiming at different goals, but also because it uses different means.

How often do we who "fight to save the culture" fight using the very worst weapons developed by the very worst people in our culture?  We organize committee meets, develop marketing strategies or three year project goals, recruit workers, and bang! off we go.  Of course, our Blessed Lord chided us because we don't even do these things very well (in the parable of the dishonest steward, "for the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light," Lk 16:8).  We use the means of the world to beat the world, but we do not use them well because our Christian faith and morals get in the way; for their own part, using the means of the world often ends up corrupting our Christian faith and morals, which are the whole point of the Kingdom of God.  Now, I am not arguing that committee meetings and marketing strategies are necessarily evilEvil is a very emphatic word.  But those things are emphatically not the way our Lord does things.  We are to make use of the things of the world (Lk 16:9) as appropriate, but never in a way that detracts from our true purpose.  Our true purpose is not to out-world the world, to one up the world at its own game.  Our purpose is to let God build up in us and through us a new sort of world - the Kingdom that is to come.

And that is a different sort of kingdom:
"The LORD was pleased to crush him in infirmity. If he gives his life as an offering for sin, he shall see his descendants in a long life, and the will of the LORD shall be accomplished through him. Because of his affliction he shall see the light in fullness of days; through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear," (Is 53:10-11).
When we who want to change the world are willing to suffer whatever it please the LORD to visit upon us, as an offering for sin, then we shall see the world change.  If we really believed that our affliction would bring us "to the light," would we seek to dodge it.  If we believed that our suffering would justify many, would we be working so hard to do it with committee meetings?

What I am suggesting is not the abandonment of formal structures in the Church.  I am only urging a return to prayer, fasting, almsgiving, to penance, to service to the weakest and poorest, to those most mangled by the Kingdoms of this world.  I am not suggesting that we have stopped doing those things in the Church, not at all.  I only wonder if we haven't somehow gradually gotten our minds onto the wrong track, if maybe we haven't settled in a bit too much, those of us in the pews.  I am not denigrating petition-signing, election-time campaigning, and blog-writing.  I just hope they haven't taken the place of hairshirt-wearing and prisoner-visiting.  The ancient world was converted to Christ when they saw Christians picking abandoned babies up off the sides of roads, when they saw Christians nursing people with contagious diseases, when they saw Christians giving their own last bit of food to a hungry stranger, trusting in Providence for their own next meal.  The postmodern world will be converted to Christ when they see us lifting male prostitutes up out of the gutters, when they see us nurturing drug-addicted babies, when they see us living simply (and donating the rest of our salary) so others might simply live.

Well, in any event, I doubt many have been converted by seeing how we conduct our committee meetings.  Let's refocus our hearts.  And that, dear brothers and sisters, needs prayer.

Europe Is Not So Far Gone Yet

I tried to embed a video about pro-life demonstrations in Madrid. I couldn't get it to work, so check it out here instead. We make a big mistake if we think that the Church and authentic human values in general have died in Europe.

Wer Glaubt

"He who believes is never alone,"
Pope Benedict XVI, Regensburg, Sept. 12, 2006
Click the pic to read the story.

Africa Need Not Starve

The more one reads on the overpopulation myth, the more one is liable to become disturbed.  The problem is not too many people, but too much injustice - domestic within hungry countries, and internationally between the West and the Global South.

Why Won't the President Rule Out Abortion Funding?

The White House is refusing to discuss the funding of elective abortions with federal money, instead insisting - against all reports - that the Hyde Amendment will apply and so the question is moot.  Don't trust them; read this instead.  What the White House is not telling the American people, who overwhelmingly disapprove of government funding for abortion, is that the House health care plan under consideration will do just that.

A Few Pictures of Bavaria

My friend Trisha and I set out this morning to rent a car.  It took a while, but we finally set out by 2 p.m. from a rental car company to an enchanted destination that we had been planning to finish up with by 2 p.m.  We relaxed though, and decided to let Providence guide our adventure.  Along the way we had a few cool experiences. Driving on the autobahn with our manualtransmissionrentalcar (guys, back me up on this - it was awesome fun), we happened across a sign that said Autobahnkapelle. The word is a conglomerate of "auto-course" and "chapel." Trisha thought maybe it was a rest stop, because the obvious meaning was too weird. I shared her sentiments. Intrigued, we decided to stop. When we got there we saw that it was, in fact, a Catholic church in a countryvillage whose proximity to the autobahn prompted somebody in heavily (but now, unfortunately, not-so-practicing) Catholic Bavaria to build an off-ramp leading directly to it and then advertise its presence.

The off ramp led to a parking lot with this sign (it says "Mary-on-the-Road Church").  We followed the sign and arrived at this interesting piece of architecture, an honest attempt to be both modern and reverent, built in 1969.  Its architecturalinsides were more predictable than the people we met therein: a German woman who works with the local diocese, presumably at the parish, and three Senegalese - a man and two women.  They came in while Trisha and I were praying.  As I finished my prayers, they prepared to leave.  Suspecting the man of priestcraft, I approached and asked him in the language I heard him speak, "Excuse-moi, monsieur.  Est-ce que etez-vou un curĂ©?"  ("Excuse me, sir?  Do you happen to be a priest?")  He told me that his name is Father Pierre, and so I asked him to give his blessing to Trisha and me.  He was happy to oblige.  Afterwards, we spent several moments speaking a few random words of French, German, and English to each other.  The German churchworker noted that we had in one little country chapel three whole continents.  It was a real blessing to meet a kind father and three wonderful sisters in our holy religion there, and so unexpectedly.  It was a Providential reminder that wherever we go, if we go with God, we go not alone.

The episode was very typical of the Catholic Church, I think, and also very beautiful.  Before I rush on, I want to note that the chapel itself was actual nice.  Modern and goofy, to be sure, but with a very high ceiling and a very clearly marked tabernacle visible throughout the place.  Above the altar hung a cross cut into a circle so that the thing looked like a Sacred Host.  Unusual, all of it, but none of it disrespectful or sacrilegious.  Again, very much like our beautiful Church, dear reader: goofy, unusual, but really a valiant attempt to honor God, and not a failure at doing so.  And like the Catholic Church, the most important thing is what happened inside.

A bit further in our journey we passed a late Romanesque church under renovation.  A gardener working in the cemetery helped us to find our way in.  It was simple and sparse, but the white walls reflected the little windowlighting well.

Our trip reached its climax as we pushed into the Alps further and wound from village to village, smaller and smaller as we drove.  At one point we came across a sign with the silhouette of a cow.  As we wondered what that might be, we came across a small traffic jam - 6 cars, more than we had seen in twice as many miles, backed up - waiting for a line of cows to be herded up the road.  My picture didn't come out so well, so maybe I'll add Trisha's later.

We saw the castle in the distance and drove into the village-like tourist-souvenir center at the foot of the mountain upon which the castle sat.  What you see below was the reward of our perseverance through rain and 80 or so miles of adventure: Schloss Neuschwannstein ("New Stone-swan Castle").

It was cloudy most of the day, rainy frequently, and always chilly.  It made for very gothic photography of a photogenic region that responds dazzlingly to the weather.  We parked halfway up the mountain and hiked up.  We'd arrived too late for the tour, but enjoyed walking around the perimeter and courtyard of the 19th century schloss (an ornamentalcastle) seen above.  On the drive home we stopped at a gasthaus ("Guest House") for dinner - excellent Bavarian fare.  We got back to our hosts' home around 9:30 or 10:00 p.m., dead tired and with some cool stories to share.

Our Father planned for us a much nicer adventure than we could have planned for ourselves.

And yes, I deliberately smooshed several nouns together, in honor of our Germanhosts.

Ordination, a Cappuccino, and One Hell of a Town

I am in Rome right now, visiting the Eternal City for the third time in my lifetime.  My good friend from my seminary days, Fernando, was ordained to the Holy Order of the Diaconate today, and I came to see it happen.  The pictures of the ordination at the Altar of the Chair, inside St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City, did not come out so well because of the dim lighting inside the mammoth edifice.  Here's a picture of Fernando and me during the tour he gave us of his seminary.  (He's really not that much taller than I am; it's only that I am squatting to avoid making him feel bad on his ordination day.  Lolol.)  He will, if all goes as planned, be ordained a priest of Jesus Christ at the end of June back in his home diocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico.  The ordination was as beautiful as one would expect.  Nothing is done poorly in St. Peter's.

After the ordination, reception, and tour, my friend Trisha and I walked around Rome for a few hours, stopping for a late lunch and some souvenir shopping for friends back home.  Lunch was great.  Italians do food very, very well.  No place else could a panino, a simple ham and cheese sandwich, taste so excellent.  The gelato that followed... well, let's just say that I am a confirmed gelatoholic and have been for some time.  That is the real reason that I run, actually.  After lunch, before we began browsing our way through the shops north of the Vatican in the direction of the neighborhood where Fernando's family was holding his reception, I decided I needed a cappuccino.  Italians do coffee very well, too.  Only in Italy can it be 80* and a coffee somehow feel refreshing.  Trisha doubted me, but after a nice lunch in the shade on a pleasantly warm day, a cappuccino really did the trick.  I don't usually drink very much caffeine, but this didn't bother me.  In fact, only eight hours later, I am still wide awake blogging.  Nope, the caffeine really wasn't a problem.  As we walked and browsed back, the Holy Father drove by.  Trisha ran into the store where I was browsing Italian religious books and pulled me out just in time to see him.  That was a pretty cool treat - we were within twenty feet or so and could see him waving through the open windows of his street vehicle (not the popemobile, because this wasn't actually a public appearance... he was just appearing in public).

The reception was at a restaurant near the Chiesa Nuova, where a prayer vigil was held the night before for the deacons-to-be.  Please do me a favor and do not ask Trisha why we missed the prayer vigil.  I'll never hear the end of it.  Anyway, about the church:  The church is actually named, but never called Santa Maria di Somethingorother; I think there are too many Santa Maria's in Rome, so at some point somebody decided to start with a new name.  Chiesa Nuova, "Newchurch," if we were in England, seems to have stuck unofficially but unambiguously.  Now the restaurant near the church was called Don Mario's, and man, was it good!  First course, all kinds of appetizers: bruschette, prisciutti, polpi, formaggi, and more.  Then two pastas, one in some sort of vodka or arrabiatta sauce, the other in an alfreddo.  Then the meats: veal, chicken, pork, ham, sausage, beef, with a portion of each for everybody.  Then the desserts.  The fifth course was the coffees and the lemon sorbet, to clean out the palette.  It was really good.  I do not normally go on about food so much, but it was excellent.

After dinner we all walked back, each party going its separate way as we went.  Trisha and I took some pictures during the blue night.  There's one to the left.  I think it is of Castel Sant'angelo, that in older days guarded the way to the Vatican perhaps, but now only guards museum exhibits.  The only problem with Rome is that it is so damn ugly and un-photogenic.  I mean, really.  That's the Tiber, lazily reflecting those horrible lights.  Lolol.  Actually, if you haven't noticed my tongue in my cheek, let me come clean and tell you that Rome is beautiful.  As I type this blog post overlooking the Viale di Trastevere, the main street in the neighborhood of the hotel where I am staying, I can honestly say that sometimes seems difficult to find a spot in Rome that is not photogenic.  One of Fernando's close friends is here with his wife, and neither of the two is Catholic.  This crowning achievement that is Rome has certainly overwhelmed them, especially the gems like St. Peter's, Maria Maggiore, and the Sistine Chapel.  If they are not convinced of Catholic truth, they are certainly stunned by Catholic beauty.  We joked about how ugly churches so often are, Catholic or Protestant, back in the States.  Smaller than St. Peter's is a given, but ugly need not be.  We Christians owe it to the world to show the goodness of our beliefs and morals with the beauty of our lives and works.  We Catholics have a sacramental faith that makes physically manifest God's glory and love.  We Catholics owe it to our separated brethren to lead the way.

A Thought During a Long Run

During my distance run with my roommate tonight, I had a thought at some point. But I'll share that in a minute.  At the start, we offered our run for different intentions.  In the last miles, we started offering particular miles for different people and different intentions. That helps me, and perhaps him, to stay tough during my runs. Running is largely mental, and so is toughness. People whose first contribution to a conversation about long-distance running is, "I could never do that," probably won't. But they could, even in a wheelchair. During the Marine Corps Marathon last year one of the things that inspired me most and made me most emotional during the run was to see how men in racing wheelchairs, and without functioning legs, could keep up with the runners. Some of them were born without legs. Some of them lost their legs in the war. They tended to get passed on the uphills, but man, did they compensate on the way down! And ten dollars says that not one of them spent the race saying, "I could never do that."

So here's the though that occurred to me: "Toughness and gentleness are not at odds with each other, but in fact are complementary virtues." When we say someone is tough, we usually mean that he or she can take a beating, can get knocked around, and still get back up. "Tough" is a very different thing than "violent," or "aggressive," or "harsh," and its contrary opposite is not gentleness, I think, but weakness or cowardice. "Tough" might be a modern word for something like "having perseverance," or "having fortitude."

Now, someone who is tough knows how to take a knock and not get knocked down, or at least how to get back up. A tough person knows what it is to suffer in the way that a coward does not. A coward goes to any length in order to avoid suffering, perhaps because of fear that it will break him, or perhaps out of simple decadent complacency in comfort. This evasion of suffering can obviously lead very quickly into all sorts of sins. The coward refuses to suffer, never learns of what mettle he's made, never knows triumph, what the Bible calls glory, what we are all made for - perhaps because he cannot conceive even the hope of glory. When we reject weakness and suffering, we will begin to reject it, resent it, in others as well.

On the other hand, the tough person knows what it is to suffer. He has quite likely suffered amply, suffered in a way that a coward preempts by saying, "I could never do that." It is no coincidence that children come to birth before they come to the point of hurting their mothers' hearts. The woman's soul is prepared for suffering by the suffering her body has already learned to endure. This capacity can make them seem amazingly hard to a soul more repelled by pain. "How can she kick her own daughter out of the house, just for doing drugs, or bringing strange boys home overnight?" The tougher person knows that there is a good out there, worth attaining, and greater in goodness than the intervening suffering is in badness. So the tougher soul hardens itself to push through pain and suffering, and wins the prize. (Think of Rom 5:3 or 8:18.)

Precisely because these tougher souls, women in pangs and men in racing wheelchairs, know what it is to suffer, I believe they have a greater capacity to accept it in others. They may not choose to do so, but I think they have a greater capacity to be genuinely patient with others' weakness, suffering, and sorrow. They certainly have a greater ability to help others endure their own difficulties. In an unexpected way, the spiritually tough person is much better at being spiritually gentle. And precisely because our bodies and souls are so thoroughly interconnected, a lesson we learn in one can help us to live better in the other.

So many modern "solutions" to problems come from a rejection of suffering. "I could never carry my child to term, having it remind me of the man that raped me," and others, accustomed to similar thinking, ignore the child's humanity and innocence and concede abortion in cases of rape. It's easier. Less suffering. I-could-never thinking. "But grandma is so old and weak, and tired, surely this disease will torture her to death if we do not put her out of her pain," and others, accustomed to similar thinking, ignore the fact that rather than comforting and loving her, they will only do the work of the disease. It's easier. Less suffering. I-could-never thinking.

The insanity is here: the coward who betrays his comrades to avoid being shot in battle might very well be shot after the battle, and if he isn't, will probably wish he had been, so great will be his interior agony, his self-loathing, his division. For it is a plain truth that we are either at war with sin or at war with ourselves. We can never be at peace with sin because peace is contrary to the nature of sin. The part of our soul that wants goodness will then wage war against the part of our soul that has made a pact with sin, agreed to rationalize and protect it. And the agony of a house divided, of a war within one's soul, of doing evil and hating evil at the same time, is far worse than simply dying. But we often select it because it seems easier, more pleasant, better, especially in the short term. But in the long term, it is a worse sort of death. It is disintegration of the self, the death that does not die, and in the very end, it is hell. Likewise, after the glamor of sin has lost its luster, the couple that have divorced rather than dig into their problems are rarely happier, even if their daily lives seem more manageable. The father who has rejected his homosexually-inclined son "as a matter of scriptural principle," is not at peace.  Nor is the mother who tells the same son that such abnormalities are normal, in order to be nice.  They have successfully split Solomon's baby in two by choosing either to hate the sinner or to love the sin, but they have not successfully saved their son as both of them have intend.

And let's face it: our culture hates suffering. According to Yoda (in Star Wars - you know, the little green dude), suffering is the worst evil. So it is in Buddhism. But in Christianity it was suffering on a cross that saved the world. Aside from the purely natural benefits of enduring suffering to attain a great good on the other side of pain, we who are baptized into and united with Christ have an amazing opportunity; we can offer our suffering in union with His to help Him to redeem the world (Eph 3:13; Phil 3:10-11; Col 1:24; 2 Thes 1:5). That is amazing. And we must remember that people are not the enemy, nor is even suffering, but the I-could-never thinking is. Just as a physically tough person can help a physically weaker person to attain new heights, we Christians, who know that Christ is the Helpmate of us all, should help others to attain new height by persevering through the more profound difficulties that are spiritual and moral.

We not only have to fight for laws that outlaw bad "solutions" to very real problems, but we also have to help those who are spiritually weaker, more vulnerable, more afraid, to learn to endure the difficulties of life by enduring them together. That is what "compassion" means in Latin, "to suffer with," not "to magically make suffering go away." It is what our Lord did by becoming human, and it is how we humans are to serve the Lord. Right now, crisis pregnancy centers and old folks' homes seem especially the places to be - the front lines of our spiritual warfare against I-could-never thinking. The reply to such thinking that arises everywhere and especially in such places must always be, "Ah, but you can do all things with Him who strengthens you," (Phil 4:13). And it must be followed by, "And I'll help you do it."

Tying it all together, in those last miles of the run, my roommate and I prayed for the grace to be made tougher, and we offered our little, voluntary sufferings in union with Jesus' for people about whom we care a great deal especially some people that Jesus is currently asking to voluntarily endure involuntary sufferings. Because running is largely mental, and the mental is half of how we engage in the spiritual, the devil can certainly try to slip in, to break morale, entice us to sin. When a pain the hip or in the glutes interpreted itself as, "Wouldn't it be best to stop now?" I grit my teeth, prayed for Jesus' help, and said, "F*@# you, devil. Go to hell! This mile's for so-and-so. They need it and you're not going to get it," and I pushed into the pain a little. And like the pangs of childbearing, these littler pains pass too. Now, the devil defeated - at least for a few minutes - and the post-run milkshake-and-burger-dinner inhaled and the endorphins making my heart happy in spite of stiff legs, because of stiff legs, I am starting to feel a little sleepy.

Here's what I will pray, I think, before I sleep:

Heavenly Father, please make me tough, so that I can run this race of life the way you want me to, with a gentle heart filled with love for you and those you give me. And now as I lay me down to sleep, please refresh me for another day of service to you, and grant me in my service whatever joys are necessary to sustain me in it, and to bring others to you by it. I ask these things in Jesus' Name. Amen.

Sorry for rambling so long.  It was a long run - there was lots of time to think.  In case you're curious, there's just

I'm weak and liable to spend lots of the next nineteen days thinking, "I could never do that," rather than "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me."  So let's keep praying, OK?

I Just Met the Coolest People

Bl. Valentin Paquay
Bl. Lodovico Pavoni
Bl. Eusebia
Palomino Yenes


I recently finished writing three articles for an encyclopedia, each about one of the blessed Christians pictured above. When I applied to contribute biographies of new saints and beati to the publication, I had hoped to receive the names of VIP saints. That was all my ego doing the hoping. In the course of doing my research, I got to speak with a kind librarian, dig around in CUA's library, and dust off my Latin. The final product was three brief articles and a lesson from each of them.
  • The lesson I received from Bl. Valentin is this: the simple love of Jesus goes a long way.
  • Bl. Lodovico taught me that big things begin small, and that noble people are not do not feel themselves to be stooping when they attend to them.
  • Bl. Eusebia taught me that small is beautiful and that we will be happiest if we entrust our littleness to Jesus.
The lesson I learned from all three of them was really more of a reminder: Jesus has given me my britches and I shouldn't try to be too big for them.

I really enjoyed the learning about them, and hope you will too. Each one of them speaks to me from across the generations in a different way, but like all the saints, they say the same thing, only in their own way: "Do whatever He tells you," (Jn 2:5). Click their names beneath their portraits to read the Vatican's bio of each my new favorite pals.

Open Letter of the CMA on Health Care Reform

You know that I try to avoid, though sometimes give myself into the purely political. The difficulty is that so much that is political is also moral, these days. I mean, face it, we are rarely arguing about where to put a highway or whether to enter a trade treaty on fishing with the Danish. Wouldn't it be nice if those were our major political concerns?

Now a number of our Catholic organizations have given us precious little guidance about health care reform. After simply noting that health care is a "right" (whatever that means) they say something to the extent that any reform is better than no reform, leaving the implication that we should support whatever the President proposes. These premises are all questionable.

The first is questionable if only because the idea of a "right" is now so vague in our society as to be almost meaningless. It is certainly becoming confused with "entitlement". Reading the Bill of Rights, one will note that all the rights enumerated can be rephrases as something like, "The government will stay the heck out of..." my house, my saying what I please, associating with whomever I please, owning the weapons that people me, etc., etc. Nowadays, though, many "rights" do not seem to be expressible in such formulas. Nowadays, they have to be reworded something more like, "The government will give me..." which is to say, "Everyone else will give me..." That shift strikes me as dangerous.

The second is questionable simply because change can always be change for the worse.

The last is questionable simply because our president has proposed in the past some questionable propositions.

The Catholic Medical Association, though, has put together an open letter explaining the parameters of discussion as they see it: health care reform in general, a Catholic's perspective on it, and how we should engage the broader society with our ideas. Click the picture, or here, to read it. Would that more of our Catholic organizations were helping us to question critically what is being presented to us for a rubber-stamping.

Polluted Water, Polluted Culture (reprint)

Read this very excellent article.  It ties together environmental degradation, moral collapse, and the tyranny of relativism.  We Christians have to start getting serious about finding ways to resist in our own lives this creeping destruction, ways to create safe spaces in our culture, ways to fertilize the gospel with our lives so that it can grow in this increasingly barren soil we call the West.

Click to see full-size graphic from the Denver Post.

More on the Concert

The concert was great.  Here are some random, unorganized recollections and reflections.

U2 did a good mix of old and new.  That is very much their style: classic because unchanging on some substratum, but yet always keeping up with the times, and never mindlessly following them.

I would have liked to hear "Angel of Harlem" but am happy to exchange that experience for what I did get: Bono sang a medley in honor of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, a hero of mine, that started off with the first verse of "Amazing Grace," sang reverently and beautifully.  The whole audience joined in.  So much for America not being a Christian nation.  The medley transitioned into "Beautiful Day," causing the audience to explode and join in.  He sang other songs in tribute to the following people, perhaps among others I missed, and in no particular order:

  • Bishop Desmond Tutu;
  • President George W. Bush (no joke - in gratitude for Pres. Bush's previously unsung but heroic efforts against malaria in Africa - people were stunned into silence by this tribute, but they loved the song, so it was OK); and
  • Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma.
Bono was not explicit with his own Christian faith, not in the sense of preaching at the audience - it wasn't a revival and faith witness - but he was really unabashed about it his Christian beliefs and spiritual anchoring.  That was cool.  Cardinal McCarrick was in attendance and got one of the first shout-outs.  Rumor has it that Bono and the Cardinal are fans of each other and have met on a number of occasions.  The late Holy Father John Paul II also had such a relationship, more visible, with the Rock Star.  That relationship went so far as to include gift exchanging, as if Bono were a head of state.

Last night at the concert, when Bono introduced the band, he gave each of the band members titles: Secretary of Defense, etc., making Larry Mullens, Jr. into the leader of the opposition party, for example, and announcing himself as majority leader of the Nation-State of U2.  He ended his introductions by speaking a bit about how much he likes Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, having visited the region a number of times aside from his concert tours.  Naturally, the crowds enjoyed these compliments.  He also praised America, and thanks Americans for "the idea of America."  That's very Chestertonian of him.  G. K. Chesterton wrote in What I Saw in America something to the extent that "whereas other countries are bloodlines, America is an idea," the idea of democracy and plurality in harmony - what Holy Father Benedict has called America's healthy secular ideal - in opposition to the atheistic secularism in Europe, and gaining ground even here under the cover of the older kind of civic life that called itself secular once.

They sang all the staples in their canon, some that you might not expect, like "Vertigo", some of the stuff from All That You Can't Leave Behind ("Beautiful Day" was for Eunice; thinking of her makes me choke up sometimes; God rest her well), and a couple songs from their new album.  I especially enjoyed hearing "Moment of Surrender" played.

The graphic and special effects were out of this world.  Just amazing.