Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sunday Mass is Sacred

Maybe I'm overly sensitive. Maybe everyone else is not sensitive enough. I hope that it's the latter. I continue to pray for discernment. [UPDATE: I've changed my mind. I'd rather be overly scrupulous than believe that everybody else is apathetic.]

I believe that sacraments and liturgy, and especially the mass, are sacred. Parlor tricks only cheapen what should be transcendent. It's a terrible thing to come home from Sunday mass in a bad mood, but here I am. It's a terrible thing to not want to go to mass out of fear of what the celebrant will introduce into the liturgy.

I'm at the point now where my first preference will be to attend mass at a neighboring parish. I've addressed my complaints to the pastor in the past, to no effect. More than anything else, I am filled with sadness this morning.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Be Vigilant . . . and Pray

As I noted in my last post, things are going really well right now. I'm trying to take as much advantage of it as I can, because I know that it won't last. Eventually, the consolations will dry up, and even if my overall situation is the same, I won't feel it.

Today's gospel seemed to be appropriate for me. I have to beware that my heart does not become drowsy in these good times. I also have to beware that, with the national economy continuing to deteriorate, I do not let the anxieties of daily life overtake me. Now, while my resolution is firm, I am trying to develop the habits that will carry me through the next period of darkness.

I know that the darkness will come. It always does. I take comfort in knowing that God's love for me does not depend upon my feeling his love. And so, my love for him is above any emotional response. The devotions that I begin today, while I do feel his love, are easy. They will draw me closer to him, even when I do not feel his presence.

Life Is Good

At least for me. At least for the last three weeks.

Three weeks ago, I transitioned into a new job at work (not a promotion, more of a lateral transfer within the Engineering Department). The job that I’m doing now is the job that I originally interviewed for two years ago. I’m very excited and happy about the change.

Coincidentally (or not), I’ve also been riding a spiritual high. My prayer life has been good, my temptation to sin less, I’ve been able to keep my resolutions, I received spiritual direction . . . I’ve even been exercising regularly.

Thanksgiving Day this year was near-perfect. I rose early, made myself a big breakfast (my favorite meal of the day), then I took my wife and kids along with me to mass. The church was packed, and none of my brood complained! Then off to the extended family party with 100+ packed into a large farmhouse. The introvert in me usually rules on these occasions, but this year I chatted and even initiated some conversations. After lunch, I played a little 5-on-5 football, then came home and played some Nintendo with my son, then Monopoly with three of the kids. And the day was book-ended with Morning and Evening Prayer.

The day was pretty near perfect, even if I woke the next morning with aches and pains from the football game. A little something to offer up, right?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Advertising Christ

My wife, in her life before marriage and motherhood, studied advertising. I remember having conversations with her about it when we were dating, and she would tell me that an advertisement could be memorable, but if you didn’t remember who the advertisement was promoting, it had fundamentally failed in its purpose.

Some fifteen or more years later, I was listening to the radio in an all-too-typical bad mood when an extremely annoying ad came on the air. This was the type of ad that got Billy Crystal’s character in trouble in the movie City Slickers. I turned to my wife and snarled, “That ad makes me not want to shop at Meijer!”

In the interest of full disclosure, I have nothing against Meijer. I think their Thanksgiving ad in which a woman calls the doctor because of something her husband ate (and then runs through a long, long list) is quite clever. We don’t normally shop at Meijer because the nearest one (as far as I know) is in Troy, about 40 miles away.

My point is that name recognition in advertising can work both ways. An annoying ad or a bad experience can drive us away from an enterprise just as surely, or maybe even more so, than a good ad or a pleasant experience.

Are we aware that we are walking, talking advertisements for Christ and his Church? The popular anecdote about St. Francis of Assisi is that he preached the gospel, and when necessary, he used words. One of the biggest impediments to people accepting Catholicism is the apparent contradiction between what the Church teaches and how the members of the Church live their lives. I am as guilty of that as anybody, and on a personal level I find it deeply frustrating.

One of the things that I pray regularly is that I might not be a source of scandal – an obstacle to another person’s faith. Because whatever good things we might say with our lips, it only takes one moment of weakness for another to look at our bad behavior and say, “He makes me not want to be Catholic!”

Prayer Before Reading Scripture


Inspire us to read your Scriptures and to meditate upon them day and night. We beg you to give us real understanding of what we need, that we in turn may put its precepts into practice. Yet we know that understanding and good intentions are worthless, unless rooted in your graceful love. So we ask that the words of Scriptures may also be not just signs on a page, but channels of grace into our hearts.

Origen (ca. 185-254)

Monday, November 24, 2008

K of C Prayer for Vocations

Heavenly Father, bless Your Church with an abundance of holy and zealous priests, deacons, brothers and sisters.

Give those You have called to the married state and those You have chosen to live as single persons in the world the special graces that their lives require.

Form us all in the likeness of Your Son so that in Him, with Him and through Him we may love You more deeply and serve You more faithfully, always and everywhere. With Mary we ask this through Christ our Lord.


Vocation to Joy

Father Kyle Schnippel has posted his most recent column for the Catholic Telegraph, on the joy of a vocation to the priesthood, on his blog. I though about the subject of his column this evening.

Our parish has adoration of the Blessed Sacrament every Monday until 9:00 pm. At 8:00, we pray the rosary, followed by prayers for vocations. We pray for priests, seminarians, and those called to the consecrated life.

Not everybody is called to a vocation as a priest. Some are called to live as married people, and some are called to live as single persons in the world. But all are called to holiness, and I think that all are called to joy. Those called to the priesthood undergo more discernment and make greater sacrifices. One would hope that they would have a more thorough spiritual formation. The rest of us need to take some time for discernment and formation, too.

Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit that we all received in baptism and confirmation. Priests, by virtue of their typically more thorough formation in Christ, are more likely to be filled with and radiate that joy. But the rest of us can and should find that joy as well, one that is, in Fr. Schnippel's words "not an effervescent bubbly joy that would sour quickly, but a deep sense of purpose. . . ." As a husband and a father, regardless of what other apostolates I might be involved in, God has given me a purpose. It is in the daily sacrifice of self to that purpose that joy is found.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

My Brother, My Captain, My King

The scene of the death of Boromir from The Fellowship of the Ring comes to my mind every year on the occasion of the Feast of Christ the King. This is one of those rare instances where I think the film improved upon the book. Tolkien's account is brief:

Aragorn knelt beside him. Boromir opened his eyes and strove to speak. At last slow words came. "I tried to take the Ring from Frodo," he said. "I am sorry. I have paid." His glance strayed to his fallen enemies; twenty at least lay there. "They have gone: the Halflings: the Orcs have taken them. I think they are not dead. Orcs bound them." He paused and his eyes closed wearily. After a moment he spoke again.

"Farewell, Aragorn! Go to Minas Tirith and save my people! I have failed."

"No!" said Aragorn, taking his hand and kissing his brow. "You have conquered. Few have gained such a victory. Be at peace! Minas Tirith shall not fall!"

Boromir smiled.

"Which way did they go? Was Frodo there?" said Aragorn.

But Boromir did not speak again.

In a moment of weakness, Boromir tried to seize the one power that he thought might save his people, although he had been warned of the folly of thinking that any man could control the power of the ring. He atoned for that failure by sacrificing himself, trying to defend Merry and Pippin, and summoning the rest of the fellowship. Aragorn recognized and respected Boromir's contrition. In the film, Aragorn's self identification with the people of Gondor, elicits the declaration of acceptance and loyalty from Boromir, who had previously regarded Aragorn as an outsider with an illegitimate claim to the throne of Gondor: "I would have followed you, my brother, my captain, my king!"

How often have I failed in weakness to temptation, thinking that I could control a power akin to the ring? Am I doing what I can to atone for those failures, defending my family from the assault of a toxic culture? Have I truly recognized Christ as my brother and King? I cannot help but admit that He deserves much more than I have given Him.

Sonnet to Our Lord on the Cross

I am not moved to lover you, O my God,
That I might hope in promised heaven to dwell;
Nor am I moved by fear of pain in hell
To turn from sin and follow where you trod.
You move me, Lord, broken beneath the rod,
Or stretched out on the cross, as nails compel
Your hand to twitch. It moves me that we sell,
To mockery and death, you precious blood.
It is, O Christ, your love which moves me so,
That my love rests not on promised prize;
Nor holy fear on threat of endless woe;
It is not milk and honey, but the flow
Of blood from blessed wounds before my eyes,
That waters my buried soul and makes it grow.

- Attributed to an Anonymous author
- Taken from Handbook of Prayers

Spilled Milk

Have you ever poured milk over your cold cereal, only to have it hit flakes on top and rebound completely out of the bowl and all over the counter. Man, I hate it when that happens.

It seems to happen to my son every time.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Presentation of Mary

I was helping out at our local ConQuest boys' club meeting on Thursday, when I looked at the calendar and noted that today is the Memorial of the Presentation of Mary. I had heard of it before, but I didn't realize that there was actually a day set aside for it in the Church calendar. My prayer book says this:

This feast commemorates the dedication of the church of Saint Mary which was built in Jerusalem near the site of the Temple. With Christians of the East, the Latin Church also recalls on this day the tradition according to which Mary as a small child was presented to the Lord by her parents in the Temple.

I wasn't completely satisfied with this answer, so I checked the Catechism, Radio Replies, and Catholic Replies. Finally, I decided to just go to the original source, the Protoevangelium of James:

And the child was three years old, and Joachim said: Invite the daughters of the Hebrews that are undefiled, and let them take each a lamp, and let them stand with the lamps burning, that the child may not turn back, and her heart be captivated from the temple of the Lord. And they did so until they went up into the temple of the Lord. And the priest received her, and kissed her, and blessed her, saying: The Lord has magnified your name in all generations. In you, on the last of the days, the Lord will manifest His redemption to the sons of Israel. And he set her down upon the third step of the altar, and the Lord God sent grace upon her; and she danced with her feet, and all the house of Israel loved her.
There's a reason that the Church didn't include this stuff in the canon of scripture. It might be interesting, but it's not reliable. And yet, the Church recognizes the memorial of the event, and she recognizes Sts. Anne and Joachim as the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I have to assume that some of the content of this particular apocryphal book might be true, but that some of it is not. If I can't tell the difference, and it all sounds a little hokey, I think that it's best for me to stay away from it. I'm going to stick with the canonical books, which contain all of the public revelation necessary for my salvation.

Pie Jesu Domine

Just because it's Friday!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Spiritual Direction

When you read the lives of the saints, it seems that they all had spiritual directors. St. Francis de Sales, one of the most famous spiritual directors, councils Philothea on the necessity of having a spiritual director in order to live a devout life:

"And so I say to you, Philothea, if you desire heartily to follow a devout life, seek a holy guide and conductor. Seek where you will (so spoke the devout Avila), and you will never so safely find the will of God as in the path of humble obedience, so well trodden by all the Saints of old."

I am supposed to meet with a priest for spiritual direction tomorrow. I've never met him before, so I don't know what to expect. I haven't had a lot of luck with spiritual direction in the past. I've met with several priests once, but have never been able to develop a relationship whereby I was actually guided to growth in the spiritual life.

This is a little different than confession. When I go to confession, I receive a penance, such as four Our Fathers and four Hail Marys. But with spiritual direction, I'm trying to identify my root sins and devise a plan of action to develop the opposing virtue. It involves more of a commitment. (What am I saying, every time I recite the Act of Contrition during sacramental confession I "firmly resolve with the help of Thy grace to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin." Isn't that a commitment? Yes, but it's a more ambiguous negative commitment to not do something. Spiritual direction involves a commitment to do something concrete on a regular, repeating basis.)

And good St. Francis de Sales is pretty serious about following the advice of the Spiritual Director:

"And when found, he should be to you as an Angel; do not regard him as an ordinary man, nor trust in him as such, nor in his human knowledge, but in God, who will Himself guide you through His appointed channel, prompting him to do and say that which you most require; therefore count him as an Angel come from heaven that he may conduct you thither."

Tomorrow will be a first meeting. A chance for me to discern whether this is the guide that God has sent for me. I sincerely hope that it is. I've been guiding myself for a long time, and it hasn't gotten me any closer to where I want to be. Just as a man who represents himself in court has a fool for a lawyer, so too the man who has himself for a guide is led by a fool.

What's In A Name?

"What's with Shadows of Augustine?" my wife wanted to know. "Where did you come up with that for a name?" I explained that I had, in fact, given quite a bit of thought to what I wanted to call my blog. The alternatives that I came up with were either pretentious or dorky. I couldn't even come up with anything that rose to the level of silly.

I settled on Shadows of Augustine for two reasons. First, Augustine is my favorite Church father. I once took an online quiz designed to identify the philosopher whose thought was the most similar to yours. I came out 99% Augustine and 99% Thomas Aquinas. Between the two of them, I find that Augustine has the more compelling biographical narrative.

The second obvious reason is that I belong to St. Augustine parish. I live within walking distance of the church, practically in the shadows of the twin steeples.

It made sense to me, and it satisfied my dear wife. Now any curious readers know too.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Conscience Under Assault

The International Herald Tribune carried a story, “Last-minute Bush abortion ruling causes furor,” yesterday about Bush Administration (Department of Health and Human Services) plans to put in place a conscience clause for health care workers at institutions that receive federal money. As I understand the IHT story, the rule would state that if a facility receives federal funds, it cannot discriminate against employees who refuse in conscience to participate in morally problematic procedures such as abortion and sterilization.

Note that the rule is not in place, it’s just been proposed, and is opposed by President-elect Obama, who will likely dismantle the rule once he takes office.

Why is this important to us as Catholics? Because the alternative is for Catholic healthcare workers to either violate their conscience by cooperating in acts that the Church teaches are immoral, or risk unemployment in their field. An example would be a pharmacist who objects to providing oral contraceptives based on their abortifacient effects. As it stands now, that pharmacist’s employer can give him the ultimatum to either dispense the pills (against his conscience) or be fired. I happen to think that the employer should be allowed to discriminate against his employees in how they service his patrons. So, I suppose that means that I would oppose the specific rule proposed by HHS.

However, there are broader implications at the employer level. If the owner of the pharmacy doesn’t want his pharmacy to dispense contraceptives, he should be free not to do that. If a physician or a gynecologist, in her practice, does not want to perform sterilizations, she should be free not to. It is at this level that the battle is being fought and needs to be won. The government will use the power of the purse to try to force providers to make the full range of “reproductive health” options available. So, if a Catholic hospital refuses to perform abortions or sterilizations, no government money (think Medicare and Medicaid) will be given to that hospital. So, if someone with a broken leg goes to the emergency room at a Catholic-run hospital, the hospital will still be required to treat the individual, but if the person is uninsured, the hospital won’t get any money, unless it has already compromised its Catholic identity. Under a scheme of universal health care, all medical payments will be tainted with government money, so Catholics will be forced out of healthcare completely (unless, that is, they’ve agreed to act as though they are not Catholic).

It’s not enough to refer a patient to another physician or facility who is willing to do the evil deed. That too, will land the conscientious Catholic in trouble with the courts.

This is why judges matter. I fear that the next four years will not be good for individual liberties.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Letters to the Churches

The weekday mass readings are starting into the Book of Revelation. This has got to be one of the most misunderstood books of the Bible, with televangelists reading all kinds of signs of the times into the apocalyptic imagery. I think that it's time to blow the dust off of my Scott Hahn tape set, The End, and give it another listen.

Yesterday, the church at Ephesus was told, "you have lost the love you had at first. Realize how far you have fallen. Repent, and do the works you did at first." Today, the church in Sardis was told, "I know your works, that you have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Be watchful and strengthen what is left, which is going to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember then how you accepted and heard; keep it, and repent. If you are not watchful, I will come like a thief, and you will never know at what hour I will come upon you." The church in Laodicea was told, "I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich and affluent and have no need of anything,’ and yet do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked."

I can't just look at others and say, "He's talking about you," because I know that he's talking about me.

Lord, help me, help us all, to recover the earnestness of fresh faith. You love us, and You are knocking at the door. I want to welcome You in, and dine with You. I want You to be Lord of my life. I plead for you to give me the strength to follow you, for I know that your grace is sufficient.

Patron of Veterinarians

My nephew is taking his veterinary boards today, and his mother (my sister) asked me to remember him in my prayers. Being the Catholic that I am, I had to look up the patron saint of veterinarians. I was expecting St. Francis, based on the annual blessing of animals on his feast day in October. Instead, I was surprised to learn that it is St. Eligius. Eligius was apparently a metal smith in the 7th century who became a bishop. How does a metal worker become patron saint of veterinarians? Eligius liked horses. When he died, he left one to a priest. The new bishop took the horse from the priest. The horse got sick. The horse was returned. The horse got better. So now, he is the patron of all veterinarians.

As for the boards, I don't just want to pray that Kyle passes. I am confident that he knows his stuff, so I pray that he will remain calm, and that God (and Eligius!) will facilitate his memory, that he may recall his training and studies appropriately.

St. Eligius, please pray for Kyle.

Monday, November 17, 2008

I Want My Global Warming Back!

Last year, I don't think we got any snow at all until January. I've gotten used to not getting snow until at least mid-December. Here it is, mid-November, and I have to fight my way through driving snow (not just flurries) to get to my car so I can maintain my carbon footprint.

I know that President-elect Obama promised to reverse global warming (among other amazing things), but I think I was kind of liking it.

People Get Ready

Jesus is comin' . . . .

Yeah, I listen to some Contemporary Christian music. Some of it is pretty good, some of it is pretty bad, and some just has a way of getting stuck in your head. Better that than the latest offering from Kid Rock.

That's not what I'm posting about, though. This past Sunday, we read from the First Letter of Paul to the Thessalonians:

"But as to the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night."

The Office of Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours featured a passage from the book of the prophet Joel concerning the last days and a discourse on the psalms by Saint Augustine. I really liked the way that Augustine put it:

"He will come whether we wish it or not. Do not think that because he is not coming just now, he will not come at all. He will come, you know not when; and provided he finds you prepared, your ignorance of the time of his coming will not be held against you."

I really like St. Augustine. The challenge for us is to live our lives as if the end could come tomorrow, while at the same time living as though our grandchildren will still be looking for the day of His coming. Is the eschaton imminent? Nobody knows. It shouldn't make a difference in how you live your life.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


In today's gospel, Jesus gives us the parable of the talents. I tend to take a dim personal view of this parable for two reasons. First, I don't see that I've produced any return on the talent that's been given to me. Second, I can't identify what my talents are in the first place. It's a dim view.

I end up trying to generate some kind of return on what I've been given, because I know that we are all called to the apostolate. We were told as much by the fathers of the Second Vatican Council in Apostolicam Actuositatem:

. . . the member who fails to make his proper contribution
to the development of the Church must be said to
be useful neither to the Church nor to himself.

So, I've tried different things. I've come to realize that I don't connect well with youth, even though I'm a high school catechist and an adult mentor for a program for boys aged 8 and up. My own kids have turned out pretty well so far, but I have to resist comparing them (and by extension, my own parenting) to other good kids, and every time I lose patience with them I am confronted with my own failure.

Again, I find myself turning to Him and crying, What do you want of me? If I complain that I don't have a silver tongue, I recall that Moses said the same thing. If I complain that I can't overcome my own sinfulness, I recall that St. Paul said much the same thing.

And so I keep stumbling along, hoping that my efforts do more good than harm.

Why Blog

What leads a person to create a blog? The short answer for me might be that my wife told me to.

But there's more to it than that. I really had to consider whether it was nothing more than an exercise in vanity. Am I blogging because I think that anybody out there wants to read what I write? I'm not (at least I hope) that self-centered.

It really comes down to two things. First, I'm hoping that it will foster a deeper prayer life and relationship with Christ. I might be able to get the same thing, or perhaps more so, from a private prayer journal. Indeed, I have to be careful in my blog posts not to get too personal.

My second reason for blogging is that, once upon a time, I considered myself a pretty decent writer. It's a talent that has been neglected, but I keep getting little inspirations that I think might be coming from the Holy Spirit that this (not blogging, but rather larger writing projects) is what God wants me to do. So, by blogging, I can throw samples of my writing out for public comment and hopefully hone my own thought processes and the path from my brain to the keyboard.

Maybe I'm deluding myself and it all is vanity, but I can do nothing but trust in God and hope that I'm travelling the road he has laid out for me.