Saturday, February 28, 2009

Mortification at the Gym

Have you noticed a theme to the last few posts? Of course, if you don’t visit daily, then this would probably be the first of the series that you read. Whether you believe it or not, it wasn’t planned that way. It just kinda happened.

After professing my distaste for the self-flagellating kind of voluntary mortification, I have to admit that there is one form of it in which I engage. It’s something I call . . . running.

For some unknown reason, I have misleading memories about my running past. I seem to remember hitting the pavement as being liberating. There are times when I’ll be walking down an alley or a trail, and I’ll get the urge to run, as if I can bound through endless miles with long strides. When I try to do it, however, I’m quickly brought back to reality. Usually before I’ve even covered half a mile, I’m offering my self-induced suffering up to God on behalf of my children or the students in my confirmation class.

I don’t run because I want to suffer. I run for other reasons. The suffering is a side-effect that I try to put to good spiritual use.

There are other things, besides the suffering that accompanies the cardio portion of my workout that I find I can offer up this Lent. There are the annoyances in the weight room from other people who don’t return their weights to the rack. When a bar is loaded with weights, I typically have to assume the bar is in use by somebody super-setting the exercise with another exercise, unless I’m the only one in the weight room. I could just get really annoyed, but in the spirit of the season, I patiently made do with what was available and returned my weights to the rack when I was finished. Another practice that I suspect that I’m the only one engaging in is the praying of an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be between each set.

So maybe I am stretching the definition of mortification just a bit, but if I can’t exercise while I pray, at least I can pray while I exercise.

The Spirit of Mortification

Today’s selected passage from Divine Intimacy comes pretty close to my own thoughts about mortification and penitential suffering, but says it so much better than I can.

The true spirit of mortification embraces, in the first place, all the occasions for physical or moral suffering permitted by divine Providence. The sufferings attendant on illness or fatigue; the efforts required by the performance of our duties or by a life of intense labor; the privation imposed by the state of poverty—all are excellent physical penances. If we sincerely desire to be guided by divine Providence in everything, we will not try to avoid them, or even to lighten them, but will accept wholeheartedly whatever God offers us. It would be absurd to refuse a single on of those providential opportunities for suffering and to look for voluntary mortifications or our own choice. Likewise, it would be foolish for those in religious life to omit the least exercise imposed by the Rule in order to do a penance of their own choosing.
I might quibble with the part about not avoiding or lightening the opportunities for suffering that God sends our way. If there is an easier way to do a job, it seems a little silly not to seek the most efficient way, all other things being equal. Likewise, if I’m hiking on a path, and I come to a spot where the path is deep mud all the way across, but I can easily circumvent the mud, it seems foolish to go through the mud.

Friday, February 27, 2009


I’ve revised my daily spiritual diet now that we’re in Lent. I’m trying to incorporate a daily meditation from Divine Intimacy. The book is a collection of daily meditations based on the old Church year, so I get to have some fun trying to line up the old calendar with the new (current) calendar. It will get really fun in the middle of summer when I have to convert the 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time into the 8th Sunday after Pentecost. Some of the meditations make reference to the mass readings for the day, but the Lectionary was revised with the calendar.

The meditations are distinctly Carmelite in flavor. I used to think that I could be a Carmelite, but now I’m not so sure. My understanding is that Carmelites are big on mortification. I can embrace the redemptive value of suffering, but I balk at the idea of voluntary, unnecessary suffering. I like to think that if I ever end up in a hospital with a serious injury, that I will forego the morphine drip and embrace the pain, but I have a sneaky suspicion that if the time ever comes, I’ll end up embracing the drip instead of the suffering. The engineer in me imagines my self as an excited atom, shedding gamma rays of lost grace as my spiritual electrons seek their lowest energy state. At this point, my wife is surely rolling her eyes.

It is not that I don’t see the value of mortification, just that I don’t seem to be able to do it. From today’s meditation:

After the Incarnation, the Cross of Jesus is the greatest proof of His love for man. Similarly, mortification, which is suffering eagerly accepted for the love of God, is one of the greatest proofs of love that we can give Him. It means freely giving up a satisfaction or a pleasure in order to impose on ourselves, for love of God, something which is contrary to our own natural inclination; we thus prove that we prefer to satisfy God rather than ourselves. Every act of voluntary mortification, whether physical or moral, says to God, “Lord, I love You more than myself!” And since a soul in love has an ardent desire to give proof of its love, it is very vigilant not to miss a single opportunity for renunciation.

As always, love is the key that unlocks all of the spiritual treasures. Today’s mass reading from Isaiah reminds us that fasting and penance, in and of themselves, merit nothing if our hearts remain hardened. It is not magical. If we fast because we think that God will reward us, we do it for the wrong reason. What God desires from us is love. It doesn’t matter what pious deeds we perform, if we don’t love our neighbors. Pious devotions and practices (and yes, fasting) help us to empty ourselves and place the focus of our attention on God.

Grrr. I started out by writing about how mortification and fasting aren’t my cup of tea, and then I end up praising the practice. It’s almost as if I’m trying to argue myself into a deeper commitment. . . .

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Days of Penance

First, a paradox. Today is, of course, Ash Wednesday, the day when Catholics (and, I suppose some non-Catholics) mark the beginning of Lent by receiving ashes on their foreheads. The Gospel for the Ash Wednesday mass has Jesus telling his disciples that when they are doing penance, they shouldn’t let anyone else know. So what do we do? We get a black smudge on our forehead that we wear for the rest of the day to let everyone know that we’re doing penance!

I know, I know. The ashes are a sign (as is so much in our liturgies) that points to a greater reality, and Jesus was really speaking about doing penance for the right reasons (objectively good actions, done with the wrong intentions, can be morally evil). I am definitely not suggesting that we shouldn’t receive ashes. I’m just complaining that, as in so many things, the explanation can be complicated.

I find my thoughts today flitting back and forth between the idea of repentance and penance for my personal sins and the idea that we, as a nation or as a Church, must repent and do penance for our corporate sins.

My personal sins I can deal with, at least conceptually. I am directly culpable for my failings “in my thoughts and in my words; in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do.” I am acutely aware of my sinfulness. Every time that I think that I’m making progress, I find myself seeking forgiveness yet again. The words of Psalm 103 are comforting:

The Lord is compassion and love,
slow to anger and rich in mercy.
His wrath will come to an end;
he will not be angry for ever.
He does not treat us according to our sins
nor repay us according to our faults.

For as the heavensw are high above the earth
so strong is his love for those who fear him.
As far as the east is from the west
so far does he remove our sins.

As a father has compassion on his sons,
the Lord has pity on those who fear him;
for he knows of what we are made,
he remembers that we are dust.

When we receive the ashes, we hear the words, “Remember, man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Lent is a time for us to shed our hubris and pride, to acknowledge that we are dependent upon God’s grace. Sin separates us from the font of life-giving water. Separated from God, our souls wither. Once again, through this season of penance, I try to tear the focus of attention away from myself and place it where it should be.

Corporate sin and penance has always been a harder concept for me to wrap my mind around. Perhaps I should say that it’s been a harder concept for me to wrap my heart around. This Lent, I find myself feeling (though I hate to use that word) that we, as a nation, are facing a great chastisement. I don’t look forward to it. If I were more emotionally sensitive, I would weep for those who will suffer. The two images that occupy my mind are those of Abraham bartering with God over the fate of Sodom and the repentance of the Ninevites after Jonah’s warning. I feel (there’s that word again!) helpless before the oncoming storm, and yet I know that all God is calling me to is fidelity and trust. Have faith, yes, but do penance! Not just for yourself and the sins that you’ve personally committed. Not just to discipline your own will. Do penance to make reparation for the sins of your people.

Cain asked God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The unwritten answer is yes.

When we were confirmed, we became soldiers of Christ. In an older age, the rite include a slap from the bishop. Our enemies, of course, are spiritual. Our weapons are prayer and fasting. Our armor is the sacraments and good works. Just as our soldiers fight on foreign soil to protect a sometimes ungrateful and unaware citizenry, so must we engage the enemy this Lent. The concluding prayer from today’s Office of Readings is appropriate:

protect us in our struggle against evil.
As we begin the discipline of Lent,
make this day holy by our self-denial.

Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Fat Tuesday

It has become almost a tradition. On Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday and the penitential sacrifices of Lent, I enjoy going to lunch at our local Chinese buffet. Even though we are small German communities surrounded by farmland, we have a Chinese restaurant that features a lunch buffet. The owners and operators of the establishment chatter back and forth to each other in Chinese, and from the counter you can here the sounds of Chinese-language television from the kitchen.

These little lunch dates with my wife are, I think, good for our relationship. We engage each other in conversation in a way that we would not if, as I usually do, I simply went home for lunch. My dear wife sometimes complains that I don’t communicate well, to which I reply by pleading guilty to being male. On my scale, I think we talk about things a lot more than most couples. I can only guess that she’s using some kind of internal female scale where the standard is continuous talking.

We had baby Jamie with us today, and she was quite good. As we were leaving, a woman commented that she’s always such a happy baby whenever she sees her, to which I replied that yes, she is now. Maybe she’s making up for the first five months when all she did was cry.

Before returning to work, I stopped at the Marathon station and got myself a big ol’ 44 oz. fountain drink of Mt. Dew. I don’t do that often, but it was Fat Tuesday, and this would be my last Mt. Dew for seven weeks. Last year for Lent, I had the brilliant idea of giving up high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). You never realize how much stuff it’s in. I found myself going without catsup, cocktail sauce, and tartar sauce. I made it all the way through until the last week of Lent, when a friend asked my wife what I was doing about bread. D’oh! I never thought to check the ingredients for bread.

The purpose of corporal mortification is not to inflict pain and privation on the body for the pleasure of making it suffer, but to discipline and control all its tendencies which are contrary to the life of grace. The Apostle warns us: “If you live according to the flesh, you shall die: but if by the Spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live” (Rom 8,13). We must curb ourselves in order to avoid falls; we must prune the useless or harmful branches in order to avoid deviation; we must direct toward good the forces which , left to themselves, might lead us into sin. For the4se reasons mortification, although it is not an end in itself nor the principal element in the Christian life, occupies a fundamental place in it and is an absolutely indispensable means toward attaining a spiritual life. (From Divine Intimacy)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Copilots and Paralytics

A few (about ten) years ago, I heard a sermon by Fr. Michael Pfleger. I’m pretty sure that it was the same Chicago priest that gained nationwide notoriety this past year for his mockery of Hillary Clinton at Trinity United Church of Christ, former spiritual home of President Barack Obama.

When I heard him, he was speaking to a group of Catholic men in Cincinnati. This was at the height, or perhaps just past the peak, of the men’s fellowship movement, when groups like Promise Keepers were filling stadiums (should that be stadia?) with tens of thousands of men united in a desire to follow Christ and provide spiritual leadership for their families. Promise Keepers was a largely evangelical Protestant endeavor, and it spawned a Catholic response that included St. Joseph’s Covenant Keepers and the Catholic Men’s Fellowship. In Cincinnati, an annual men’s conference, Answer the Call, was initiated. It was at one of these conferences that I heard Fr. Pfleger speak.

Fr. Pfleger gave a real stem-winder of a sermon that day, although I don’t remember his saying anything particularly incendiary. All of the speakers that day were recorded, and cassette tape sets of the conference were made available, so I’m certain that a recording exists of this particular sermon. That sermon made enough of an impression on me that, to this day, I clearly recall two of the points that he made.

The first point was that God doesn’t just want to come along for the ride. If we invite him into our heart, as if into our home, we can’t expect him to just sit there. If we tell him to make himself feel at home, he’s going to start rearranging the furniture. To further illustrate the point, he brought up the popular poem, God as My Copilot. After describing the poem, or maybe even reading it, he practically shouted, “GOD DOESN’T WANT TO BE A COPILOT!” He doesn’t want to sit by while you steer the course of your life. He wants you to give him the stick! I can’t begin to estimate how often, in the years since then, that phrase, God doesn’t want to be a copilot, has run through my brain, leading me to surrender my own desires to the will of God.

The second theme that I remember Fr. Pfleger speaking about that day was the subject of today’s gospel reading about the paralytic lowered through the roof to be healed by Jesus. Recall that, the paralytic had four friends who brought him to see Jesus, but because of the crowd, they were unable to get to him. Undeterred, the four climbed to the roof, removed the tiles and broke through the roof, then lowered their paralyzed friend, on his pallet, down before Christ. Moved by their faith, Jesus first forgives the man’s sins, and then heals his paralysis.

As men, we all suffer some form a spiritual paralysis which we, on our own, are unable to heal. We need the healing touch of Christ. But sometimes, the paralysis might be so bad that we are unable to approach Christ on our own. In that case, do we have four friends who would do for us what the four friends in today’s gospel did? Do we have friends who care enough about our spiritual health to know when we need God’s grace and are determined enough (and half the spiritual resources themselves) to get us to Him. A related question is this: what would we be willing to do to get one of our friends the healing that he needs?

Fellowship is important, but too often ends at good times and donuts. Friendship makes demands. I have to ask myself whether I am a good friend those that I count as friends. Am I willing to literally raise the roof for the spiritual health of my friends? It’s a humbling question. It’s a question that I might very well have to answer at my judgment.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Lectionary Logic

One of the common digs on Catholics is that they don't read their Bibles. The common rejoinder is that, with the three year cycle for the Sunday mass readings and the two year cycle for the weekday mass readings, Catholics actually hear most of the Bible every three years. Now, I admit that most Catholics don't follow the weekday mass readings, let alone attend weekday mass. But even with just the Sunday mass readings, they end up hearing most of the New Testament.

Somebody somewhere has got to know what logic was applied in deciding how to arrange the readings for ordinary time. There are useful little charts laying out the readings at the Roman Catholic Lectionary Website. If you look at Ordinary Time - Year 1, you see that in the first nine weeks of Ordinary Time, the gospel marches through Mark, from chapter 1 through chapter 12. Halfway through week 7 this year, we start Lent, and then Easter, before resuming with week 9 after Pentecost. What happened to week 8?

Also note that for the first reading at weekday mass, the first through fourth week of Ordinary Time steps through the letter to the Hebrews. Weeks five and six feature Genesis, from creation through Noah. Weeks seven and eight has the book of Sirach, and week 9 features Tobit. (Note: if you're using a Protestant Bible, you might not find the books of Sirach and Tobit. They are among the deuterocanonical books that were rejected by Martin Luther.) But wait! Saturday of week six is not Genesis, but Hebrews. Why was Hebrew 11:1-7 inserted between Genesis and Sirach? Why wasn't that reading back in week 3, where it belonged? [Update: I should have read the passage before posting. It references back to Cain, Enoch, and Noah from Genesis. I suppose there was some logic in this case. Still, it looks out of place when just the book, chapter, and verse are listed in a table.]

Somebody somewhere knows what logic was applied that ended up in this schedule. Do you think maybe they could clue in the rest of us?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sitemeter Ramblings

When I started blogging four months ago (seems longer!), I was determined not to put a counter on my site. I didn't want it to matter whether people read my blog or not. I was going to blog because I wanted to practice thinking and writing. My blog was for me, even though it was public.

My dear wife, who had a blog of her own had encouraged me to start a blog, but now she wanted me to include a counter. As any husband can attest, it is nearly impossible to resist and insistent wife, so one night I enrolled my blog in sitemeter. My wife was impressed, and upgraded her counter to sitemeter as well.

Sitemeter tells you some interesting things about who reads your blogs. I don't have many readers, and I really am OK with that. A lot of them click over to my site from my wife's, so you could say that I'm riding on her coat-tails. But the really interesting visitors are the Google searches. I get a lot of international visitors to this post who are looking for information on euthanasia.

My wife and I were discussing our respective blogs the other night. She has a lot more people who read her blog than I have reading mine, so I asked her whether she ever feels pressure to put up a post. When you're posting new content daily, and you know that people are visiting your site daily, hoping to get new content, there is pressure. This blogging hobby has definitely affected my sleeping habits. Since it takes me a long time to write a post, and I generally don't get started until after the kids are put to bed, I find that I'm staying up fairly late, and still getting up early in the morning. I've rebelled a bit lately, consciously not posting so that I could watch TV with my Amy.

The transferral of thought to keyboard doesn't always go smoothly for me. Part of my reason for blogging was to practice that discipline. It doesn't seem to be getting any easier. When I think about things in my mind, everything is so coherent and elegant. Then I try to type it out, and it gets clunky (that is a word, isn't it? I'm pretty sure I've seen other writers use it.). Oftentimes, I'll find myself with several different things that I have thoughts, opinions, and reflections on, but I just can't find the time to record them all, and so they end up lost.

Which brings me to another reason why I blog. I have too many thoughts that, even if someone else has thought them before me, they are original to me. If I don't record them somehow, they drift away. So my blog is my way of trying to concretize and fix my thoughts. To that extent, there are some blog posts that are just for my sake. It doesn't matter to me whether anybody else appreciates them, because they are not the primary audience.

One thing that I find this blog to be very limited in its ability to do is to act as a journal of prayer. One of the basic elements of prayer is contrition. I am a sinner, and when I meet God in prayer, it is with the acknowledgement that I am weak. When I speak of my sins to God and implore his grace to overcome them, it is a private matter. There are, and always will be, elements of my interior life that will not appear in any public forum.

As I sit here, I can think of at least four things that I'd like to post on, but instead I'm typing out this rambling essay, because this is what I need right now. After I finish, I'm going to say my Evening Prayer and go to bed. Maybe the four will become posts in the future, or maybe they'll just drift away, as if the thoughts behind them never even existed.

Good night.


This just in:
Rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, it is still winter.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Noah Lett on the Liturgy of the Hours

On February 2, former Lutheran Minister Noah Lett was the guest on Marcus Grodi's show, The Journey Home (mp3 audio available here). Noah has been on the show before and is now employed by EWTN as a theological consultant. His conversion is a bit more mystical than most: an encounter with St. Bernadette Soubirous (the Lourdes visionary) in a dream features prominently.

At about 34 minutes into the broadcast, Marcus notes that he has discovered that sometimes, after a person has been Catholic for a while, the things that become most important to them about the Catholic Church might be different from the things that originally brought them in. He then asks Noah whether, in the ten years since he originally appeared on the program, that has happened to him, whether he has made any new discoveries that have become important to him as a Catholic.

I just loved Noah's response.

Well, I can talk about something very recent that has been a new discovery. When I came into the Church, I was trained at two seminaries in biblical studies with New Testament emphasis, and so I was inclined to think of everything in terms of exegetical work. I didn’t read anything that I didn’t think exegetically about it. Well, one of the things that my friends before I became Catholic and afterward tried to interest me in were the Liturgy of the Hours. You know, and you read like the morning office – I’m used to things highly woven together like any gospel story like, say, the wedding at Cana. It’s all highly woven together and tightly done so that it rewards a certain kind of looking for those things. Well, the Morning Prayer is anything but highly woven together. It’s got a lot of little pieces that are sort of collaged together. I was not prepared to read that and do the Liturgy of the Hours when I came into the Church because I was still looking for it to be like the Bible.

Here recently about four months ago I received the gift of the Liturgy of the Hours. I realized that I had changed, and that the Church, besides giving me the Bible, has also given me the Liturgy of the Hours. The Liturgy of the Hours make me aware – it’s sort of like this. When you read the Bible, you can read it, and there can be a difference between doing it and thinking about it. But the Liturgy of the Hours, you’re either doing it, or you’re not, you know, because you say those things. Yeah, you can be studying them academically, but everybody sees that you’re not saying the Liturgy of the Hours, all you’re doing is studying the Psalms or something. But what you realize is that the Liturgy of the Hours, I do them. I say these Psalms. When you do exegesis you think, “Do I have an adequate theory that combines together the two testaments so that I can answer all of the problems that are between the two testaments so you might avoid some of those passages that make it difficult to join the two testaments.” The Liturgy of the Hours don’t ask you that. They put the Old Testament and the New Testament together like a Psalm or something and say “Read this.” You don’t have to understand how they go together to
experience the goodness it brings you.

I finally, after twenty years, I realized this! Finally, I realized this! I realized that when you do exegesis you go, “Yeah, Dei Verbum says that I should always make sure that I read the passage in its historical environment at the time.” And you think, yeah, that’s a lot of hard work. The Liturgy of the Hours takes Psalm 22 and doesn’t say, “Do you have adequate historical knowledge of the exegetical and linguistic historical background of this?” It just says, “Read it!” And it says, “You don’t have to know all that to do this, because the words will become yours, and there’ll be a meeting between you and the Psalm 23 person.” Everyone knows Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd.” How many people stop and think, “Oh, I can’t read this, because I have no idea what the shepherd was like, you know, back when they wrote this.” You just do it, and you experience the goodness of it. This is a great gift.

I love saying Morning and Evening Prayer, and I try to do the ones in between. Not because somebody says, “OK, you better do this.” It’s because it expresses my heart.

Sometimes people wonder, “How is it the case that you can do all those Catholic, liturgical, external things?” Well, let me ask you this: if your wife is a good wife, does your good wife say, “I don’t want any of the externals of love, I only want you to internally feel love for me?” No. Try do get by with that on Valentine’s Day, you know, and see where you sleep. My wife wants me to be internally in love with her and externally show it. What if I were to say, “Wife, we’ve been doing things, we’ve been doing Valentine’s Day here for thirty years (we’ve been married for thirty years, me and my wife), so uh, maybe this is too external a form thing, we don’t want to do this, we want to do it another way.” My wife would go, “Are you nuts? I want my candy! I want my other stuff on Valentine’s Day! Give it to me!” Your good wife will say to you. What about on her birthday? Can you say, “We’ve been doing your birthday, and you say to your wife maybe lowly that we’ve been doing this for so long, maybe this is external ritual, we shouldn’t do it anymore.”

Our Lord is no less a person than my wife. The Liturgy of the Hours give me a way of expressing my love. I do not always know what to say! But I find these words. When I realize that Jesus said all the Psalms – He said the Psalms, they were his words. He found that he could say these Psalms. I’m saying the words that Jesus said, and I’m experiencing the goodness that comes. This is wonderful. I mean this is a new gift to me, after twenty years.

The Way of Suffering

Jamie has a post on the grace-filled moments and the opportunities for growth in holiness that come with the unpleasant moments in ife. My dear wife has a post noting that I was home sick from work yesterday.

I’m feeling much better today, thank you for asking. Upon returning to my little cubicle, I reached for a tissue, that constant flow being one of my many symptoms. To my horror, the last few tissues came out, leaving an empty box on my desktop. That means that for the rest of the morning, I’ll be blowing my nose with napkins from the break room. My poor nose!

I didn’t expect to travel the way of suffering so soon. I should be thankful that a sore nose is the worst of my suffering.

Oh my Lord Jesus Christ, I offer up to you all of my sufferings, works, prayers, and joys of this day, for all the intentions of your most Sacred Heart, in union with the holy sacrifice of the mass throughout the world, in reparation for sin, and for the intentions of all my friends and associates, especially our holy
father, Pope Benedict XVI. Amen.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Let Us Run The Race

Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. so I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air, but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.

(1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

I don't think that Paul was talking literally about strapping on his running shoes and pounding out ten miles, or striving to take first place in the weekend 5K. Rather, he was using an analogy to help people understand what he was saying about living the faith.

Our ultimate desire should be to be with God in heaven for eternity. So when we live our life, we should live with that goal in mind. We should always aim for heaven, and that means keeping our focus on Christ, who is the way the truth and the life. Too many Christians do not live for Heaven, but rather to avoid hell. The problem with aiming for Purgatory is that, if you miss, it's all over. If you aim for Heaven and miss, you still have a shot at a concession prize. Paul tells us that we should run to win, not just to finish.

A popular speaker, Matthew Kelly, has used the analogy of running a marathon. If you went out tomorrow to run a marathon, could you? What if you tried really hard? Most of us just would not be able to do it, because we haven't trained to do it. That's because trying alone isn't good enough; you've got to train. If the race is analogous to spiritual growth leading to heaven, then how do we train? We start by going to mass, but a runner who wants to be competitive isn't going to reach peak performance if he only runs once a week. We've got to do the things that are necessary to enter into a closer relationship with God: frequent the sacraments, pray daily (Paul says pray continuously), read and study the Bible. Let your growing love for Christ express itself in love for your neighbor through charity and service. Exercise self-control in avoiding sin and the things that lead you away from God.

Don't just run aimlessly, Paul tells us. Don't be a minimalist Catholic, doing only the things that the Church says you have to do, and those grudgingly.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.

(Hebrews 12:1)

Nobody says that training for the race is easy, but isn't that what we admire so much in our star athletes? You're not likely to see a champion runner compete in a parka and snow boots. That's because they are heavy and restrict motion. They slow the runner down. That's what our sins do. And I'm not just talking about the mortal sins -- the big ones -- even the venial sins are encumbrances that can cause us to fall just shy of our goal. We have to shed our disordered desires and detach ourselves from all the things around us. They might be good things, and we can use them and enjoy them, but we must not let them become more important to us than our ultimate goal: the beatific vision. That would be like running in a beat up pair of sneakers that we've had forever, when a new pair could give us that extra performance that makes the difference between winning and being an also-ran.

We also have to remember that, while nobody else can run the race for us, we are not running alone: "we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses." The saints who have already finished the race ahead of us have returned to line the final stretch, cheering us on. There are other runners also competing who are on our team. We support one another in the race. We train together for race day. Just as the amateur athlete might look to the professional to see how they train, we can look to the saints to see how they lived their life, what they did to grow close to Christ. They don't just cheer for us, they give us an example. They are our role-models.

Another way to think about laying aside every weight is to think about the importance of a good diet for the competitive athlete. Peak performance athletes don't typically live on a diet of greasy hamburgers, french fries, and soda. They eat healthy food, aware of the nutritional value of what they put into their bodies and the effect that it will have on their performance. They might carefully watch what they eat before a race to ensure the maximum amount of energy is released to their muscles when they need it. If we are to run the spiritual race to win, we must be careful about what we feed ourselves with spiritually. The formation of an individual's conscience is a very important thing, and a malformed conscience can cause us to run erratically, and could result in spiritual injury that could prevent us from even finishing.

We also have to run the race that is set before us. We don't get to choose the course, it's already laid out. Spiritually, we have to live the life we've got. We can't waste our time living someone else's life. I'm a husband and a father of six, one of whom has special needs. That's the race that I've got to run. It does me no good to try to run the race of a cloistered monk -- that's not the course that is set before me. This is where I am, and this is where I have to find God's will for me.

An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.

(2 Timothy 2:5)

In a race, if you break the rules, you could be penalized or disqualified. Christ gave Peter the keys to the kingdom, along with the authority to bind and loose. The Church has defined some things as intrinsically evil. Do those things, and you'll probably find yourself disqualified. At any rate the Church lays out the rules and offers plenty of coaching advice. You break the rules at your own peril. I wouldn't recommend it.

It is our hope that, at the end of our life, we will cross the finish line and enter into the embrace of God almighty.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on the Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

(2 Timothy 4:7-8)

Drinking Stars

by Mark Jarman
Copyright (c) 2008 First Things (May 2008).

Down in the soul’s wine cellars
The casks of virtue brood.
They’re aging through the centuries,
Like deep Alaskan crude.

The casks of sin, however,
Are daily tapped and flow,
Filling carafes, beakers, and jugs,
Giving each face a glow.

It’s quite a ways below ground,
The soul’s wine cellars dwell.
The casks of sin and virtue stand
So close, it’s hard to tell

Which, when you tap its fullness,
Comes spurting an arcing stream
Into a thimble or a cup,
Into this world or a dream.

But when he takes a sip,
God, the sommelier,
Knows at once the vintage broached
And tosses it away.

Friday, February 13, 2009

5K Dreams

Last night, I had a dream, but before I get to that, I need to tell you what I did last summer.

I ran cross country and track when I was in high school half a life ago. I hadn't run competitively since. I would occasionally run for fitness, but never with any consistency. Then, last year, I saw a race entry form at the YMCA, and I decided to give it a go. Here's the thing though: that race was the first in a series known as the Shelby County 5K Tour -- a series of eleven races beginning in April and ending in October.

I ended up getting hooked. After every race, the knowledge that there was another race in the tour coming up in just a few weeks kept me training. My competitive side took over, too. Runners tally points with every race, depending on how they finish in their age category. I was lucky enough to fall in a week age group, and by the third race of the season, I was near the top of the rankings for my age. Now the knowledge that missing a race or slacking would hurt my ranking kept me training.

I finished the year in first place in my age category. If I were three years younger or two years older, I would have had a hard time even placing in the top three.

In the dream that I had last night, I was at the YMCA, where I had signed up for a race. With about an hour before race time, I realized that I had no idea what ground the course covered, so I asked another guy in the locker room and was told that the race was going to be run on the elevated track.

That made no sense to me. The runners would be so packed together that nobody would be able to pass. Plus, with all the laps required on the elevated track to even run a single mile, I didn't know how any individual runner could be tracked to ensure that he ran the correct number of laps. Surely, somebody would skip a lap or two.

The gentleman I was speaking to cocked his head and said, "It's not about winning. It's about donating to charity."

It's true. Every 5K that I competed in as part of the 5K tour was raising money for a worthy cause. My entry fee was a contribution to a cause that needed funds.

Of course, running the race to win is more fun. And if it was just about charity, I could mail a check. Still, my 5K dream gave me something to think about if my age class becomes suddenly more competitive this year.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Evenings in Egypt

Last week, I attended the first of what Fr. Rick is calling "Evenings in Egypt." Fr. Rick is the pastor of the Minster cluster - St. Augustine in Minster and St. Joseph in Egypt. St. Augustine is a much larger parish, and demands most of Fr. Rick's time. These evenings are his attempt to get out to St. Joseph a little more often.

Last week's program featured Jessie Magoto, the Minster girls cross country coach, and was titled Running the Race, Keeping the Faith. Jessie has been coaching for ten years, and in that time has brought home six state titles (with two second and two third place finishes) in cross country and one state title in track. Over the years, Minster has won 22 state titles, with 19 of them coming in girls track and cross country, so Jessie continues a tradition of excellence in the community.

The presentation wasn't quite what I was expecting. I was expecting a development of the analogy between running and living the spiritual life, based on the letters of St. Paul. The presentation was a little more literal, with Fr. Rick noting that exercise helps us to recover balance in our lives and Jessie speaking about daring to set goals and surrendering results to God. I've thought about the analogy myself a bit, and I'll share my reflections in a future post.

It takes a lot of guts to set a high goal. When you make that goal public, you set yourself up for a disappointing fall. Jessie noted that one year, she was horrified to see a sports columnist write that, barring a catastrophe, the Minster girls would win state. Sure enough, the catastrophe came to pass, and the Minster girls did not win state that year. She also noted how one year, the girls on the team were confident that they could win state. She told her girls that, on paper, at least two other teams were better than them, but the girls never gave up and, despite a disappointing finish in the Regional meet, ended up taking home the state trophy. That season did not end with the State meet. That season did not end until the girls presented their state trophy to God with the gifts at a Sunday mass the following weekend.

She shared the need to rely upon God and to turn things over to Him. You can't allow yourself to worry about what will happen if you fail to make your goals. You just need to do the best you can with faith in yourself, your coach, your teammates, your support system, and most of all, God. You cannot get through it alone.

As a coach, you use the gifts that you're given. You do what you can, and you turn the rest over to God. But you cannot confuse turning the results over to God with giving anything other than your best effort. You run the race to win. We don't know His plan, but we give our best effort. We never pray to win, we pray that we might have the courage to go after great things. Whatever happens, you deal with it afterwards.

Success breeds success, and Jessie will be the first to tell you that her success as a coach in Minster is due to the efforts of those who came before her and the tradition that they left.

It was an enjoyable evening, and it was well attended. The little parking lot at St. Joseph was packed, even though it seemed like I was parked on a sheet of ice. I look forward to attending more Evenings in Egypt.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

England's Slide

It's been about a year since Rowan Williams, the (Anglican) Archbishop of Canterbury caused a row by remarking that the imposition of sharia law in England was inevitable. Many people took his remarks to be an endorsement of Islamic law. I think that he was merely looking at the direction the tide was flowing and making a prediction about the future, unless the tide is reversed. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown "quickly distanced himself from the Anglican primate, signalling that British law must be based on British values." Then, to the extent that the population of England has increasingly Moslem values, the British law will reflect that, right minister? Isn't that pretty much what the Archbishop said?

Two items from this week document this slide in British law and policy.

The first is news that Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician who produced a film critical of Islam, has been banned from entering England. Note that Mr. Wilders is a member of the Dutch parliament. The reason given for banning him is that he represents a "security risk." It seems that the British government is afraid that if Mr. Wilders enters the country, there could be riots by those who are defining the new British values. John Derbyshire over at The Corner notes that the chief spokesman for the Lebanese group Hizbollah was allowed to enter Britain last May. To the British government, a Dutch film-maker politician is a security risk while the front man for a terrorist orgnanization is not.

The second item concerns an English foster parent. It seems that a 16 year-old Moslem girl, after having been assaulted by a family member, was placed in foster care. While in foster care, she converted to Christianity and was baptized. This was done entirely on the girl's initiative.

'We had a multicultural household and I had no problems helping the young person maintain her faith of birth,’ she said. ‘I have always prided myself in being very professional in what I do. If something works for a young person, whether I agree with it or not, I am happy to support them in that.’

But the girl, whom the foster mother describes as caring and intelligent, defied expectations by choosing not to wear overtly Muslim clothes or to eat Halal food.The girl, whose interest in Christianity had begun at school some
time before her foster placement, also made it clear that she wanted to go to church.

The carer, an Anglican who attends a local evangelical church, aid: ‘I did initially try to discourage her.

‘I offered her alternatives. I offered to find places for her to practise her own religion. I offered to take her to friends or family. But she said to me from the word go, “I am interested and I want to come.” She sort of burst in.’

The British government, it seems, is being somewhat selective in which British values it is going to uphold.

You might be thinking at this point that this is all very interesting, but it's happening over on the other side of the Atlantic, half a world away. It's got nothing to do with us. To which I would suggest that, unless we are vigilant, what happens over there could be a portent of things to come here. Remember that British common law (at least as it used to be practiced) forms the legal foundation for much of the English-speaking world, including the United States. We like to think that the Judeo-Christian values of the majority of U.S. citizens will always protect the freedoms that we enjoy. However, a very vocal and active minority can wield considerable influence in just which (and whose) freedoms are given priority. One person's freedom of speech can be found to interfere with another's "freedom" not to be insulted. When we begin to lose sight of which freedoms are necessary to the funtioning of a free and democratic republic, then we'll begin to follow our dear friends on the other side of the Atlantic into the darkening night.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

In His Tinitarian Image

Whenever I read the first chapter of Genesis, in which the first creation account of man is given (a slightly different version is given in chapter two), I am reminded forcefully of God's trinitarian nature and the profound importance of that for how I view my marriage.

God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)

We know from some of the early Church councils that God is a trinity: three divine persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with one nature. The very nature of God allows for only one God. Thus, the three persons are one god, not three gods.

This account of God's creation of man, male and female, in his image reveals the familial nature of God's own being. God is a communion of persons, with the Father and the Son, with the Holy Spirit proceeding forth as the love between them. That is the image in which man is created, male and female. Man is not meant to be alone. The male and the female complement one another in completing the image of God.

And that's where I find that the trinitarian nature is important to how I see my marriage. My marriage is a living icon of God, with the husband and the wife and the love between them proceeding forth as the fruit of the marriage (children). Divorce is painful to witness because it smashes this trinitarian icon (although it could be argued that the smashing occurs earlier, when the love between the spouses dissolves).

Some people live their lives assuming that the dogma of the trinitarian nature of God has no real bearing. For me, it means everything! It is one of the central tenets of our faith, and runs through everything that we believe as Catholics.

And it starts with the very first chapter of scripture.

Monday, February 9, 2009

You Know You're A Geek

You know you're a geek when you laugh out loud at Sunday's Foxtrot comic, and nobody else in your family can understand why it's funny.

This, apparently is not the first time that the comic strip artist has found humor in math.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Why I Joined

The news came out last week that the founder of the Legionaries of Christ and the Regnum Christi movement was not as saintly as the members of the order and the movement had been led to believe. There were some who wondered, in the wake of the discovery, what led people to join the Regnum Christi movement. I incorporated into the movement in 2001. I can’t speak for anybody but myself, but I’d like to share my reasons for joining.

The short answer to the question “Why did you join Regnum Christi?” is that it was the best of the alternatives available. There are three points that were important in my decision to join. First, there is a universal call to holiness. Holiness is not just for priests, nuns, and saints; every follower of Christ is called to strive for holiness. Second, doctrine and dogma are not incidental, but form the backbone of faith. There are a variety of competing doctrines within Christianity. Only the Catholic Church can claim the authority to distinguish the truth between competing doctrines. Third, all followers of Christ are called to the apostolate. Christ himself commissioned his followers to make disciples of all nations. Thus, we are called to share our faith with others.

When considering how to pursue holiness, I knew that the saints would provide good examples, and I found that the daily and weekly commitments for members of the Regnum Christi movement were tested and proven methods to achieve spiritual growth: Eucharistic adoration, Marian devotions such as the Rosary and the Angelus, frequent sacramental confession, weekday mass attendance, meditation on the scriptures, etc. I recognized, from the reading that I had done, that what the movement expected of its members was good and that it would draw a soul closer to Christ, as long as they were viewed not as burdensome duties but as acts of love.

The members of Regnum Christi are thoroughly Catholic. They love the Church and the Pope as the Vicar of Christ. When attending a mass celebrated by a Legionary priest, the reverence for the Blessed Sacrament and the care to perform the rite with fidelity is evident.

Finally, Regnum Christi members are typically very active Catholics. The RC members that I knew were active in the parish. In addition, they were involved in other programs that reached out to Catholics with the teachings of the Church, helping them to apply those teachings in their daily life.

There was no other group doing these things. There were no parish groups promoting a universal call to holiness. Individual Catholics were on their own to come up with their own plan for spiritual development, and there was no real encouragement to accept the challenge. There were some other groups, mostly farther away, that emphasized different aspects of spirituality, but many of them seemed passive or contemplative (almost feminine), rather than the active model presented by RC.

There were aspects of Regnum Christi that didn’t fit perfectly with my spiritual goals and needs, but the overlap was significant enough that I could overlook the rest. As I stated earlier, I became a member of Regnum Christi in 2001, and I have benefited from that decision. There have been and are aspects of the movement that I have not fully embraced, and given the new revelations about the life of the founder, I don’t know that I ever will. My goal continues to be to grow in holiness with fidelity to the Church, and I continue to discern whether the Movement to which I belong is the best way to achieve that goal.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

FOCA and It's Evil Twin

I was surprised to open a copy of The Catholic Telegraph and find a Catholic News Service brief assuring me that the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) was nothing that I need to worry about. According to CNS, FOCA died with the 110th Congress, has not been reintroduced, would not result in the closing of any Catholic hospitals, and would not threaten the conscience rights of any who work in healthcare.

What a relief! I'm sure we can count on Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to keep the legislation from being introduced in the 111th Congress (I typed with tongue firmly in cheek). Somebody tell the USCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities to get with the program! Lest anybody miss my sarcasm, I want to state clearly that I am dubious of the assurances in the CNS brief.

Meanwhile, the Catholic News Agency reports on the Prevention First Act (PFA). This act, which has be introduced in the present congress under the bill number S. 21, would dramatically increase funding for contraception and explicit sexual education. Emphasis on FOCA could draw attention away from PFA. Both pieces of legislation are gravely immoral.

St. Maria Goretti, pray for us.

Ending the Lefebvrite Schism

Catholic News Agency is reporting a statement made by the Vatican Secretariat of State and published by L'Osservatore Romano. For background, see this previous post.

“The lifting of the excommunication has freed the four bishops from a very grave canonical penalty, but it has not changed the juridical situation of the Society of St. Pius X, which currently does not enjoy any canonical recognition in the Catholic Church. In addition, the four bishops, while they are no longer excommunicated, do not have a canonical role in the Church and do not licitly exercise a ministry in her,” the statement says.

In order for the SSPX to be recognized, the statement goes on to say, “full recognition of Vatican Council II, the Magisteriums of Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II and Benedict XVI himself is an indispensable condition.”

While I would dearly love to see these souls returned to union with the Church, I don't see it happening any time soon. Of course, I'm wrong often.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Wake the Neighbors

On Sunday, we heard how Jesus cast an unclean spirit out of the man in the synagogue at Capernaum. If yesterday (Monday) hadn't been the Feast of the Presentation, we would have heard about how Jesus and the apostles traveled across the sea to the country of the Garasenes, where Christ cast out a legion of demons from a possessed man. The demons entered a herd of swine, which then ran off a cliff into the sea, causing the local people to come and ask Jesus to leave.

What I found interesting was that the man who had been possessed wanted to go with Jesus, but Jesus told him to stay. In the synagogue, Jesus commanded the unclean spirit to be silent concerning his identity. In today's gospel, Jesus charges Jairus and his family to tell no one about the miraculous return to life of Jairus's daughter. But to the Gerasene, he says, "Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you."

Surely, there must be a lesson here in terms of vocational discernment. Not everyone who wants to accompany Christ is called in the same way. The apostles were called to abandon their nets. The Gerasene, having been released from his bondage, was called to witness to those around him. He had much for which to be thankful. And so do we. I want to write a post on the passage from 1 Corinthians that we heard this past Sunday. For those of us who live in the married state, it's a challenge to carry Christ into the world, but that is what we are called to. We are called to tell our friends and coworkers how much the Lord has done for us.

I am reminded of the lyrics to a Steven Curtis Chapman song from back when Regis Philbin was the host of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire:

Imagine this
I get a phone call from Regis -
he says "Do you want to be a millionaire?"
They put me on a show and I win
with two lifelines to spare

Picture this
I act like nothing ever happened
and bury all the money in a coffee can
Well, I've been given more than Regis ever gave away
I was a dead man who was called to come out of my grave
I think it's time for makin' some noise

Shocking News of the Day

I don't ever want to be accused of avoiding the hard truths.

The Catholic News Agency is reporting that Legionaries of Christ spokesman Jim Fair has confirmed "that there are aspects of his (Legionary founder Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, who died in January 2008) life that weren’t appropriate for a Catholic priest." For extensive commentary on what this could mean for the order and for the Church, I refer you to Patrick Madrid's post from this morning.

Fr. Maciel also founded the apostolic movement Regnum Christi, of which I have been a member since October 2001. In the wake of these new revelations into the life of the founder, many people are asking what the attraction of a movement like Regnum Christi is. I fully intend to take that up in a future post, but not right now.

Concerning the future of the order and the movement, Mr. Fair noted to CNA that their particular charism was given by Fr. Maciel and approved by the Church. The Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi will continue to serve Christ and the Church according to that charism.

It is disappointing to me personally that the admission that the founder might not have lived up to the ideals of holiness that he proposed to others was only made after the new allegations became public.

It is also somewhat shocking that, today of all days, I received via email a letter from the General Director of the Regnum Christi movement that begins, "I would like to begin this letter by congratulating you on the occasion of these holy days we have lived, and by wishing you a very happy New Year of 2009, as we thank God for all the blessings that he has granted us during this period." It would have been appropriate three or four weeks ago. Today, it was highly inappropriate. The letter did contain one paragraph that caught my eye.

Lord, we ask you to halt our hand and tongue before hurting our brothers and sisters. Don’t allow my words to harm or wound you, who dwell in those around me. We ask your pardon for everything that may have hurt or offended anyone, and we ask you for the courage and strength never to hold onto grudges or resentment. We offer you our lives so that we may always do good, as you have taught us, and so that our words may be words that you sow in the hearts of your children.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Examples of Simeon and Anna

Today was (is) the Feast of the Presentation, as recounted in the Gospel of Luke.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord. (Lk 2:25-26)

An essay in the February 2009 issue of Columbia magazine explores the role of the elderly as prophets in the model of Simeon and Anna. The author, Camillian Father Carlo Notaro, notes that in his Letter to the Elderly (1999), Pope John Paul II stated that the elderly "are the guardians of our collective memor, and thus the privileged interpreters of that body of ideals and common values which support and guide life in society."
The subject is certainly worthy of deeper exploration, although I'm not quite willing to confer prophetic authority on every old person. There are plenty of old fools, old farts, and grumpy old men out there. And yet our senior citizens have a lifetime of experience on which to draw. I remembering hearing or reading at some point that the older a person gets, the closer they get to death, and the more serious thought they give to the last things (death, judgment, heaven, and hell).
Fr. Notaro notes three ways in which the elderly can be prophets. First, "they may act as an example in words and deeds toward their families." Second, "they can proclaim words of truth to the Church, especially in the parishes to which they belong." Finally, "the elderly can be a witness to the world."
Fr. Notaro quotes from John Paul II again toward the end of his essay.
How many people find understanding and comfort from elderly people who may be lonely or ill and yet are able to instill courage by their loving advice, their silent prayers, or their witness of suffering borne with patient acceptance!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Authority and Unclean Spirits

My friends and I got together yesterday and talked about today's gospel. Here's some of what we discussed.

When Jesus taught in the synagogue, the gospel says that he did not teach like the scribes, but with authority. We are left to surmise the difference. Perhaps the scribes taught with arrogance, speaking down to those who did not possess their knowledge. More likely, the scribes taught what the scriptures said, but Jesus taught what the scriptures mean. We know from other gospels that Jesus claimed authority that the scribes dared not claim. For example, in the sermon on the mount, Jesus says, "You have heard it said, . . . but I say . . . ." In his book, Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI notes, "He teaches not as the rabbis do, but as one who has 'authority' (Mt 7:28, cf. Mk 1:22; Lk 4:32). Obviously this does not refer to the rhetorical quality of Jesus' discourses, but rather to the open claim that he himself is on the same exalted level as the Lawgiver--as God."

Not only did Jesus teach with authority, he backed it up by performing miracles. He cast out demons and cured leprosy. He restored sight to the blind and made the lame walk. If you've been following the weekday gospels, Mark continues to relate the many miracles that Jesus performed and the crowds that followed him because of it. In spite of seeing all of these miracles, the apostles are still astonished when he calms the storm at sea!

Jesus punctuates his teaching on this occasion by casting out an unclean spirit. It's not uncommon these days for "experts" to explain away demonic possession in biblical times as cases of mental illness. Whether possession or insanity, the encounter with Christ still produces a miraculous result. Some cases, according to Jesus himself, can only be helped by prayer and fasting.

The demon possessing the man in today's gospel knew Jesus's identity. I can't help but wonder, therefore, why he would go to the synagogue. It could have been to find out whether Jesus really was the Son of God--a kind of demonic recon mission. Another opinion would be that the demon went to the synagogue to "out" Jesus and make it harder for him to accomplish his mission.

Consider that before this incident, these men had been going to the synagogue week in and week out, listening to the scribes and sitting in the presence of a demon. Jesus comes with a new authoritative teaching and casts out the devil that either they had not recognized or had learned to live with. What happens after Jesus leaves? Do they allow themselves to be changed by this incident, or do they return to their prior, comfortable practice? It can be the same way for us, when we attend a retreat. We draw closer to God and see him with clearer eyes for a weekend, but then we return to our lives. Are we changed by the retreat, or do we slip back into our comfortable patterns of living, allowing ourselves to be blind to sin and resisting the call to daily conversion?

Lord, you taught with authority and you cast out demons. Help us to hear your words and accept the teachings of your Church. Give us the grace to see the demons around us and resist their temptations. May we spread your fame and lead others closer to you. We humbly ask this in your name. Amen.

Small Town Life

As I was walking to church this morning for the 8 am mass, I recalled a lunch conversation from earlier in the week. The fellow I was talking to was relating that the restaurant where we were dining was going to close at the end of February, and part of the problem that the owners of our company have encountered is the reluctance of chefs to locate away from the big city. I suppose that it might be true that one does not have access to all of the cosmopolitan cultural outlets that are available in a larger city. We could debate whether that's good or bad, because it also means that we don't have all of the negatives.

I have often said that the bad thing about living in a small town is that everyone knows your business. Very little remains private in a small town. However, the good thing about living in a small town is that everyone knows your business. Neighbors know when you're not home, and look out for your property. If you need service, chances are good that you know the person who answers your call. Everything is more personal.

My lunch partner also relayed how many of his friends are amazed when he tells them that the nearest Wal-Mart is 20 minutes away. That may be, but from my home, I can walk to church, the post office, the library, the kids' schools, the grocery store, and our Knights of Columbus hall. A few things are a little farther away, but still within bicycle range, including the hardware store, the YMCA, and even my place of work in the next town. Plus, our town has sidewalks, good roads, and is well lit. When it's warmer, I can go for a run at night without having to worry about running in a bad neighborhood, down unlit streets, or out in the road where a passing car might get too close.

Some people think that they need big city amenities. I happen to like the ones I get in my village.