Sunday, May 31, 2009

Padre Alberto, et. al.

I usually avoid commenting on individual Catholics by name, but some prominent ones have been on my mind lately.

I remember when Padre Alberto Cutie burst onto the public scene many years ago. Catholics rejoiced to have a young, telegenic, articulate, and charismatic priest proclaiming the gospel on the Spanish-speaking media. He was a popular figure on radio and television

A few weeks ago, he was caught canoodling on the beach with a lady friend. His bishop took appropriate actions, which included removing him from his parish ministries and his activities on radio and television. After that, things seemed to quiet down (unless you count stories on outlets like Time and CNN questioning the wisdom of the Church's celibacy policy for priests) until this past week, when the amorous priest suddenly became Episcopalian.

It is at this point that I have to ask, just what did Padre Alberto believe as a Catholic priest. Further, how much might those beliefs be shared by other members of the presbyterate?

It didn't have to end this way. Having failed to sustain his promise of celibate chastity, there were two honorable options available. First, he could have repented of his failure, taken a sabbatical to discern his vocation. The Church would have forgiven him, and he most likely would have been allowed to resume some form of ministry. Or, he could have made a statement to the effect that he had fallen in love with the woman and had discerned that he was called to marriage and would be seeking to be released from the clerical state. Either option would have been acceptable, albeit disappointing.

Instead, Padre Alberto chose to turn his back on the Catholic Church. I presume that, in entering the Episcopal Church, he is making a statement that he believes what the Episcopal Church teaches, including where those teachings are at variance with what the Catholic Church teaches. Homosexual marriage? No problem. Actively gay bishops? Great. Contraception? Sure, whatever works for you. Ordination of women? It's only fair. The sacraments, apostolic succession, papal authority, infallibility, divorce and remarriage. The anchor is gone. Anything goes.

Again, I have to wonder, when did he stop believing, and how many others like him are there, away from the public spotlight?

He's certainly not the first priest to disappoint, but he just might be the most brazen and the quickest to turn.

Fr. Chris Carpenter left the Catholic Church to join a group known as the Reformed Catholic Church. He was excommunicated. But in his case, the change appeared to be gradual, and not exactly a sudden surprise.

Fr. Marcel Maciel Degollado, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi Movement, who died in 2006, was revealed to have fathered a child more than twenty years ago. There were other accusations against Fr. Maciel which were vigorously denied, although it now appears likely that at least some of them might be true. Whether he was repentant is not known, but even to the end of his life, he encouraged fidelity to the Catholic Church and the teachings of the Holy Father.

Fernando Lugo was a Catholic bishop. The bishop asked to be released from the clerical state so that he could enter politics. The Vatican initially denied the request, but subsequently accepted his resignation after he was elected President of Paraguay. It was recently revealed that Lugo fathered at least one child while he was a bishop.

I understand that priests are people too, with faults and frailties. We need them to be more than that. We expect them to undergo a solid spiritual formation, and those who resist the formation should simply not be ordained. They need our prayers.

Why I Don't Cook Much

They make it look so easy. Those people on the Food Network, that is, who slice and dice their food with a dexterity that makes me envious. Does that make the Food Network an occasion of sin? When I cook, I tend to go very slowly, and I can only do one thing at a time, so anything that requires juggling multiple processes at once is out of the question. I'm the stereotypical hapless husband.

Anyway, as my dear wife was leaving for mass this morning (I had gone to an earlier mass), she made only one small request. Could I get everything ready for lunch, so that we could eat when she got back around 12:00? Seemed simple enough to me.

The meat was browned and seasoned. The refried beans were ready to be heated. I pulled out the big cutting board, the big knife, and the head of lettuce. I cut off a big section of the lettuce and cut it into strips, the way I like it. It looked like only about half as much as we were going to need, so I cut off another section and started slicing away. It was going great.

Until I cut off the tip of my thumb.

I knew right away what I had done, and removed my hand before it even started bleeding. It actually wasn't too bad. There seemed to be a lot of blood, but a couple of band aids took care of that, and the part that I cut off was still sitting right there on the cutting board. I'd say my left thumb is now about 1/8 inch shorter than it used to be.

But lunch will be ready when Amy and the girls get home!

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Future of Marriage

Douglas Kmiec is back in the news for his views on marriage, arguing that the state should completely get out of the marriage business. This is not new to those who saw his appearance on the Colbert Report back in April. Essentially, he seems to be arguing that Catholic moral principles and natural law have no place in public policy. I thought that Colbert did a good job of calling Kmiec out on his compromising of all things Catholic, while claiming to be a voice for Catholics.

For my part, I believe that the state has an abiding interest in supporting the most fundamental unit of society. The Church teaches that marriage is ordered toward the begetting and raising of children. If marriage, as a social institution, fails, it is the next generation that suffers. I shudder to think that my children could reach maturity in a nation where "marriage" has been defined into meaninglessness.

Watch more The Colbert Report videos on AOL Video

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

It's as American as baseball, hotdogs, and apple pie. My mind automatically wants to add "Chevrolet" to the list, even though I tend to be more of a Ford man. The automatic response is the result of the successful programming of my brain by a General Motors marketing campaign when I was a child.

I don't mind hotdogs, but there's not much to them. Given a choice, I'd take a burger nine times out of ten. I like apple pie, but only if I can have it with vanilla ice cream. Calling it pie ala mode makes it sound French rather than American.

As for baseball, I was never a player. I grew up playing IUTIS softball. I played intramural softball in college, but that was the extent of my participation. My son played youth baseball for a couple of years, but decided that it didn't interest him. I have two daughters that play softball, one at the seventh grade level. As for spectating, I followed the Reds as a kid, mainly because my dad did. The last time that I attended a professional game was in Pittsburgh in 1993.

So, when I won some tickets to a Reds game at a 5K in April, I wasn't sure whether I would use them, and whether I would enjoy it if I did. So, with the encouragement of my dear wife, I packed my two teens into the car and made the two-hour trek to Cincinnati last night.

We drove through rain on the way down and heard radio reports of a tornado warning in the county that we had just left behind. I started to worry that the whole trip would be for naught, although the announcer on the radio confidently predicted that the first pitch was still scheduled for 7:10.

We made it through the bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic, for which I am thankful that I don't have to fight on a daily basis, parked the car, and made it to the ball park with about 20 minutes to spare.

It ended up being a wonderful experience. Cincinnati's pitcher, Bronson Arroyo, walked the first batter, and he ended up scoring, giving the Astros a 1 run lead. But that was the only run that the Astros would score. Jerry Hairington, Jr. of the Reds answered with a solo homer in the bottom of the first to tie the game. Jay Bruce ended up with two homers and a triple, as the Reds won 6-1 with Arroyo pitching all nine innings. It was the last game of the series, in which the Reds swept the Astros.

It was a small crowd, probably due to the iffy weather. There were less than 18,000 in attendance, but those that were there were real fans. There's something infectious about the atmosphere that almost makes me want to follow the sport, but who's got the time and energy (and the capacity for heartbreak when your team loses) for all of that? Even with the free tickets, we had to spend 4-1/2 hours in the car just driving down and back on an evening when I had to work the next day.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day. Sadly, to many people it has become little more than the symbolic beginning of summer, which is now defined as the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day, regardless of when the solstice and the equinox occur. It is important for us to remember that this day is set aside to remember those who have given their lives in service to their country. Let us not forget or trivialize their sacrifice.

May the souls of the faithful departed, especially those who died in service to their country, through the mercy of God, rest in peace, and let the perpetual light shine upon them. Amen.

Friday, May 22, 2009

May Feelings

This video is making the Catholic rounds of the internet. Many of you might have already seen it. If you haven't, enjoy . . .

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Thursday Before Ascension Sunday?

I’m indulging my stubborn German side today. The Archdiocese of Cincinnati is one of the many in the United States that has transferred the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord from Thursday to Sunday because, well, it’s just too inconvenient for people to attend mass on Thursday. I am choosing to observe the Ascension today, because I like the idea of the Ascension coming forty days after Easter. Further, the whole idea of a novena comes from the nine days between the Ascension and Pentecost. You lose all of that by moving the celebration to Sunday.

So, last night and this morning, I said the Liturgy of the Hours for the Ascension. And when I read the scriptures for the day, I read the scriptures for the Ascension. And tomorrow, I will begin a novena to the Holy Spirit.

As an individual, I’m allowed to do that with my private devotions.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Spirit said, "No."

Why is it that so often, the scripture passages that I find the most interesting are the ones that the Lectionary skips? Since Easter, the daily mass readings have included a passage from the Acts of the Apostles, beginning with Chapter 2 (Chapter 1 is featured for the Ascension of the Lord). On Monday of this week, we entered Chapter 16, but we skipped over the first 10 verses. What caught my attention was verses 6 and 7:

And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.

My Navarre Bible attempts to explain this by suggesting that Paul got sick and therefore spent more time with the Galatians. Whatever might have happened, Paul interpreted it as a sign from God. That led my own reflections into the topic of discernment.

To paraphrase the slogan of some diocese's vocations promotion campaign, God's will for any individual is rarely announced with a blast of trumpets. Most of us are dimly aware that we've got to do something, but not quite sure what. A single person might investigate the priesthood or religious life, but even then, there is a wide diversity of religious orders. For married parents, there are family obligations that need to be considered.

Thomas Merton wrote a famous prayer in which he lamented that he did not know whether he was following the path that God wanted him to follow and hoped that his desire to follow the path marked out for him was somehow pleasing to God. I think I can say with some confidence that many of us share his sentiment.

For my part, I hope that if God has a path for me to follow, then He will somehow guide me onto it. If His will is not for me to toil away as an engineer at a manufacturing company, then He will either provide me with an opportunity or push me out of the nest. If God wants somebody to pursue a vocation, then I have to believe that He provides signs, actual graces, that point in that direction. But what to do in the absence of a sign?

If a person feels called to a course of action and finds that one things leads to another in a chain that moves him however improbably along that course, does that mean that God's hand is present? Then again, if someone feels called to a path that seems to encounter roadblock after roadblock, does that mean that God's hand is present, but indicating a different path? Where is the line between perseverence and stubbornness?

Generally speaking, I follow a spirituality of inertia. Inertia is the property in Newtonian physics that states that an object at rest wants to remain at rest, and an object in motion wants to remain in motion. Some outside input is required to cause motion or change direction of motion. If God wants me to make a course correction, He's got to somehow signal the change.

I know the inertia analogy is not perfect. In reality, the world and my own concupiscence provide enough friction and resistance that, without continual impetus, my spiritual life would grind to a halt. To introduce another metaphor, I know that if I don't swim against the current, I'll get swept along by it and move farther from, rather than closer to, the pure spring water of God's grace.

There are practical applications of all of this in my own life, and I struggle with whether to continue down a path that I explored years ago. Am I experiencing a test of my perseverence, or is the Spirit blocking my path? Am I being prudent, or am I being stubborn? My only desire is to follow God's will, and I hope that somehow, that will be enough.

Monday, May 18, 2009

How Old is that Photograph?

I came across a tidbit by Jay Nordlinger at National Review Online regarding photographs used to represent notable individuals:

At the Amman airport, there are pictures of the king, as there are pictures of him all over the country. In a couple of photos in the airport, he looks very, very young. Those photos should really be updated.

Reminds me of photos of syndicated columnists. They should update them, every now and then. Some columnists have photos that are ten, fifteen years out of date. And sometimes you get a real surprise from a concert or opera program — that is, when you compare a photo in the program with the person on the stage. A fellow critic and I had a particular chuckle, a few seasons ago: There was a paunchy bald tenor onstage; and in the program, next to his bio, was a slim, shaggy-headed tenor.

Why, you might ask, did this particular item catch my attention? Interestingly enough, it has to do with four priests.

The first is the pastor of the parish where we live. The Parish Center used to be the elementary school and is now used for meetings by different parish groups and religious education classes. Every classroom features portraits of the Pope, the Archbishop, and the pastor. The pastor's portrait, however, is from the early nineties, when he was an associate pastor at the same parish. He's a little older now. Some of the children have been known to ask who the man in the picture is, and are amazed when told that it is the pastor. It wouldn't be hard to update the picture. Just last year the parish published a new picture directory, which features a recent portrait. I suspect that the younger picture is how he wants people to remember him.

The second is a blogging priest. His blog profile features a picture of a youngish-looking man in a collar. His parish is not far from where we live, and we had an opportunity to go there earlier this year for a presentation on promoting vocations. The man's a wonderful guy, but I had to strain to see the similarities to his profile portrait. I was left wondering how long ago the portrait was taken.

Priests three and four probably aren't to blame for their out-of-date portraits. Both are columnists for our Archdiocesan newspaper. One is bald--he shaves his head and has for some time, but the portrait the newspaper uses for his column has hair. The absence of hair is a pretty striking difference from what you expect to see if you read his column in the newspaper. The other priest must have provided a photo when the newspaper first started carrying his column, and the newspaper has never changed the photo. I say this because we still receive the diocesan newspaper from where we lived when I was in the Navy, and that newspaper recently added his column. The photo that they used showed a much older priest, though clearly the same man.

I would be remiss if I didn't report my own out-of-date profile photo. When I first started this blog, it was close to Christmas, so I picked a profile photo that featured me wearing a Santa hat. However, the photo was from a few years earlier, when I was sporting facial hair. It wasn't long after that when I ran into an acquaintance who told me that he had thought I was bearded again. Now, I just use my Mii, and nobody can possibly expect me to actually look like that!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Bock and Rock 2009

I like beer, but I’m not what you would call an afficianado. I enjoy the occasional craft pack, when I can sample bocks, porters, pale ales, pilsners, etc. So I was looking forward with some excitement to the 2009 Bock and Rock in Minster this past Saturday. For the price of admission, you get a tasting glass and a set of tickets that can be used to sample some of the more than 75 different specialty and craft beers available.

This is the second year that the Minster Civic Association has held the Bock and Rock. Last year, my wife and I considered attending, but she was nine months pregnant at the time, and we decided that it would be wise for both of us to stay completely sober. This year, however, there was nothing preventing us from enjoying the event. My wife doesn’t like beer, and she knew that my primary intent was to sample the different offerings.

After just four samples, my head was swimming and my wife suggested that we get a little something to eat. I’m a pretty big guy at 6’4” and 235 lbs, but I was telling Amy that I didn’t know I was such a light weight. You have to realize, however, that these are not your standard beers. Some of these had alcohol content of more than 10%!

I never did use all of my tickets, but I did come away with some personal favorites. The Koningshoeven Trappist Quadrupel was one of my two favorites. It was described as a Belgian specialty ale:

Inspired by the Trappist brewers of Belgium, a Quadrupel is a Belgian style ale of great strength with bolder flavor compared to it Dubel and Tripel sister styles. Typically a dark creation that ranges within the deep red, brown and garnet hues. Full bodied with a rich malty palate. Phenols (clove or Band-Aid flavors) are usually at a moderate level. Sweet with a low bitterness yet a well perceived alcohol.

The “ale of great strength” in the description was certainly accurate. I could tell from the first sip that it had a higher alcohol content, but it was smooth and crisp.

My other favorite was similar. The St. Bernardus ABT 12 was listed as a Top 100 Beer and was one of the Bock and Rock committee’s favorites. It was described as a Belgian Strong Dark Ale:

On the same path as the Belgian Dark Ale but obviously higher in alcohol with more of an all around character. The alcohol character can be deceivingly hidden or can be very bold and in your face. Look for lots of complexity within a delicate palate. Hop and malt character can vary, most are fruity and some may have mild dark malt flavors. Phenols will range from minimal to high and most will be light on the hops. All in all most are spicy and alcoholic.

One of the things that surprised me about the German and Belgian beers that I sampled was the spice flavor that was present. I sampled one beer that was described as “the grand-daddy of all stouts.” It was extremely dark and thick. I was told by those who attended the VIP tasting (limited number of tickets available), that the stout was very good when mixed with the raspberry ale. I imagine that might be true, but mixing specialty beers seems like too much work for me. I might enjoy beer, but I’m just not that much into it.

I have to mention that I tried the Chapeau Banana. Yeah, that’s right. It was a banana flavored beer. I thought it tasted very sweet, almost like a fruity white wine. It could be that my tasted buds were by that time desensitized by the Quadrupel and the Stout and the 90 Minute India Pale Ale, because upon hearing my description, my wife decided she needed a sip, and she declared that it was definitely beer. Did I mention that she doesn’t care much for beer?

We ended up leaving a little early to make a dinner date with a lovely couple from town at Amy’s favorite local Mexican restaurant, but that was probably a good thing. If I had used all of my tickets, I probably would have had a harder time getting up for mass on Sunday. It looked like the attendance was pretty good, so they will probably have it again next year. If so, I think that I might have to try to get a VIP ticket for the directed tasting.

Those Belgian Trappists sure make good beer!

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Wave of the Future

Writing in the May 2009 issue of First Things (still behind a subscription firewall), Editor Joseph Bottom notes an indicator of where our utilitarian society is headed.

Back in February, Dr. Jeff Steinberg, director of Fertility Institutes in Los Angeles, announced that he would help couples choose the eye, hair, and skin color of their children using genetic embryo screening. "Genetic health is the wave of the future," he told the New York Daily News. "It's already happening and it's not going to go away. It's going to expand. So if they've got major problems with it, they need to sit down and really examine their own consciences, because there's nothing that's going to stop it."

As it happens, enough people did sit down, examine their consciences, and then stood right back up again: The public outcry eventually forced Steinberg's clinic to suspend the service. In its news release, the Fertility Institutes admitted that, "though well intended, we remain sensitive to public perception and feel that any benefit the diagnostic studies may offer are far outweighed by the apparent negative societal impacts involved." The clinic hasn't exactly stopped practicing eugenics. They still boast of a "100 percent sex-selection success rate"--meaning, of course, that embryos of the undesired sex are discarded. The clinic also screens embryos for "albinism or other ocular pigmentation disorders" as well as a range of genetic abnormalities such as Down syndrome and hemophilia. Eugenics is fine, as long as you don't alter eye and hair color.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Ephesian Sins

One of the exercises in our St. Paul Bible Study from two weeks ago involved listing the sins and faults enumerated by Paul in Ephesians 4:17-5:20. It's an impressive list, and it contains a few surprises -- things that I would only include in certain situations. The list I came up with:

Ignorance, hardness of heart (4:18), callousness, licentiousness, greed, uncleanness (4:19), deceit, lust (4:22), falsehood (4:25), sustained anger (4:26), theft (4:28), evil (non-edifying) talk (4:29), bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, malice (4:31), covetousness (5:3), filthiness, silly talk, levity (5:4), idolatry (5:5), drunkenness, and debauchery (5:18).

The surprising ones (for me) were the silly talk and the levity. They were immediately followed by the admonition to "let no one deceive you with empty words, for it is because of these things that the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience" (5:6). Of all the things that St. Paul says could provoke the wrath of God, he focuses on filthiness, levity, silly talk, and empty words. That's enough to make me scratch my head and say, "Huh?"

I hadn't really thought much about this passage until now, but I can see that it's one that I'm going to have to mull over for a while.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Vine on Mothers' Day

On the way to mass this morning, we (my wife and I) were talking to the kids and each other about today's gospel.

I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

John 15:5

My first impulse was to reach back to Isaiah 11:1 - "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots." In the gospel Jesus is saying that we are the branches, and in a sense, we are incorporated into Him through our baptism and the mission of the messiah is passed on to His Church.

But then I started to wonder how one might tie this gospel in with Mothers' Day.

Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots around your table.
Lo, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord.

Psalm 128:3-4

Jesus is the vine, and we are his branches. A mother is like a vine, and her children like olive shoots.

After a long day including visits to my mother-in-law, my mother, and my wife's grandmother, I don't have the energy to explore the similarities and differences, but it is obvious that they are there. I think I'll just say that my wife is like God, and leave it at that.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Scary Mary

Because it's Friday!

(H/T Jimmy Akin)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Parental Virtue

Do you ever wake up in an irritable mood? No? Surely I’m not the only one! It can be very difficult on such days to radiate the love of Christ to the world. Paradoxically, it’s difficult to feel the love of Christ on such days and yet, it is the sure knowledge of that love that makes the day bearable. On such days, we can have no better model than Mother Teresa of Calcutta, as anyone who has read Come Be My Light can attest.

On days like these, those closest to us suffer the most from our affliction. I’m sorry. I should be saying that those closest to me suffer the most from my affliction. I really shouldn’t project my own trials and failings onto anybody else.

Unfortunately, I ran just a little short on patience with my dear little Erin this morning. Twice she dragged me from the kitchen into the family room. Interestingly, I try to hold her hand, but she insists and leading me by my thumb. I had to make it clear to her that she was not going to play on the Wii or watch family videos before school. As I poured her Cheerios, I watched as she pulled a full gallon jug of milk out of the refrigerator, tried unsuccessfully to twist of the cap (it hadn’t been opened yet), then returned it to the refrigerator and stood there, with the door wide open, just looking at two unopened gallons of milk.

After breakfast, I directed her to the bathroom, where I’ve been having her sit on the toilet whenever I change her diaper. She’s been asserting her independence lately, and today she wanted to remove her own diaper with me out of the bathroom and the door closed. I know that the probability of a mess goes up exponentially that way, but I let her do it. I have to watch closely for when she’s finished to make sure that she washes her hands – another thing that she now wants to do on her own. Now she also wants to brush her teeth. This has all taken a terribly long time, and I still have to brush my own teeth, shave, and get off to work. When she pulled the towel off the rack to dry her hands a second and third time, all while still standing on her stool at the bathroom sink wearing nothing but a T-shirt, my patience ran out, and I snapped at her.


Finding the right balance between patience, gentleness, and firmness is hard enough with my typical children. With Erin, it seems that God demands of us a higher degree of perfection. Raising our Down Syndrome child requires a greater degree of parental virtue than raising our typical children does, although even with our typical children, I get frustrated and occasionally snap. Every time that I do, it feels like a failure. I am profoundly thankful that God’s patience with me is infinitely greater than my patience with my kids, and I try to learn from that and let it inform how I parent them.

But I am frail, and some days I am worn thin, for reasons that I do not understand. On those days, I can do little more than rely upon God’s grace and pray that I do no harm.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Jesus is the Door

This past Sunday's Gospel was the familiar "I am the Good Shepherd" passage. Jesus did not originally call himself the shepherd, though. He had to change gears because his audience did not understand what he was saying to them. So, in today's Gospel, we get the prelude, in which Jesus says, "he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens; the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. . . Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep." (John 10:2-4,7) The shepherd is the one who enters by the door, and Christ is the door. But if Christ is the door, then who is the shepherd?

As a Catholic, I am quite content to find the answer within the very same Gospel. In John 21:15-19, we see an encounter between Peter and the risen Christ. Three times, Jesus asks, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Once for each denial. After the first profession of love, Jesus tells him, "Feed my lambs." After the second profession, "Tend my sheep." And the third time, "Feed my sheep." Christ is the gate, but he did not leave his sheep without a shepherd.

Peter, the rock upon which the Church is built, to whom Christ gave the keys to the Kingdom, and his successor is our shepherd. If we heed his voice, he will lead us to heaven through Christ. As the vicar of Christ, he is the visible representative of him who ultimately is our true shepherd. I mean to say that looking to Peter as our shepherd does not supplant Christ himself as the good shepherd. We follow our German Shepherd not because of who he is, but because of the authority entrusted to him (i.e., to Peter and his successors) by Christ.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

5K Season 2009

Last Saturday was the first race in the 2009 Shelby County 5K Tour, and it was a beautiful day to run. My time was much-improved over last year, although the official time given in the results is off by about 13 seconds, based on both the time displayed when I crossed the finish line and the time recorded on my wristwatch.

This first race benefits the group Bringing Everyone at Shelby Hills Together (B.E.S.T.). The spring newsletter for the Shelby County Board of MRDD states that B.E.S.T. is the parent organization of Shelby Hills Early Childhood Center. Past funds raised from this event have been used to purchase additional playground equipment and provide financial support for the construction of a picnic shelter house. I have a cousin who helps organize the 5K and also has a child with Down Syndrome. During the course of the season, I am likely to see several of my cousins at the various races in the 5K tour, but especially at this, the first one.

This year, I had a cousin from Versailles, OH that participated in the race. She's five years younger than I am, and female, but she finished just 33 seconds behind me! Her 9-year old son beat my time from last year! I hope that they are able to make it to a few more of the races. Maybe I'll see them at her home town race in Anna.

It's clear to me that I'll need to step up my training this year if I want to be as competitive as last year. A runner from the 30-34 age bracket has graduated into the 35-39 age group, and he typically runs in the mid-to-high 19s. I only broke 20 once last year, and that was late in the season, and by only 0.1 seconds. The problem, as always, is finding the time. Ideally, the best time for me would be right after work, but my wife's business is going well enough that she's having trouble finding ladies to work the cleaning jobs -- meaning that she works more, including commercial jobs in the early evening, which requires that I be home with the baby. If I wait until later in the evening, after my dinner has digested and the kids are put to bed, I find that I've lost all motivation, and my self-discipline fails me.

I'm sure there's a spiritual analogy there somewhere.

The next race is not until May 30, in Jackson Center. That gives me four weeks to try to improve. Typically, I try to determine what pace I need to run and am able to maintain, then go out at that pace and hold it. By the second mile, I'm fighting a mental battle, trying to convince myself not to slow down. Shortly after that, I start counting down to the finish. It might be counter-productive, but I can't help it. It works pretty well for me, since by the time I reach the finish, I'm usually too spent for much of a closing kick. I've seen too many guys sprint hard across the finish line many minutes after I've completed the race, and my thought is always that if they have that much left at the end, they didn't run the rest of the race fast enough.

So I guess my training will involve two components: endurance and pacing. My success will be a matter of my own self-discipline and whether I consistently get out to train. Preparation requires self-discipline. Execution requires determination and self-knowledge.

Again, I'm sure that there's a spiritual analogy there somewhere. Is it any wonder that St. Paul used running as a metaphor in several of his letters?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Prayers for Vocations

A few weeks ago, Fr. Schnippel posted a link to the new website of the Brooklyn Diocese Vocations Office. They have a nice little recruitment video there. The video shows a priest donning his vestments, and asks the question: What challenges your life? Accept the challenge . . . Put on the helmet of salvation. Accept the challenge . . . Celibacy for the Kingdom of God. Accept the challenge . . . Carry the cross for God's people. And it is yours O' priest of God. Accept the challenge of Priesthood. Enjoy the rewards for life.

I read somewhere that the video was intended to evoke images similar to Batman Begins, with the priest playing the role of the hero. It is certainly true that the priest is heroic, having sacrificed some of the tangible goods of this life for the intangible. He is imbued with awesome super-human powers. He is able to make present to us the very sacrifice of calvary and to change bread and wine into the body and blood of the Son of God. He can absolve the repentant sinner of his sins. He can unite a man and a woman into an indisoluble bond, and he can incorporate the believer into the very body of Christ through baptism. Even the most uninspired and discouraged priest has these powers. How much more can the holy priest, transformed into a living icon of our Lord, accomplish?

Every Monday, members of our parish meet to pray before the Blessed Sacrament that those God is calling to the priesthood or consecrated life will be generous and answer the call. I think that it would be more proper for us to pray for all vocations. Usually, when we speak of vocations, we mean vocations to the priesthood or religious life, but not all believers are called to those vocations. And yet, all believers are called to a vocation. I have a vocation. As a young man, I was called to be a husband and father. The incredible gift of my vocation includes the creation of new life, into which God breathes an immortal soul. It is my responsibility, along with my wife, to raise these persons to adulthood. My only aspiration for my children is that they grow to become just and righteous men and women.

Sometimes I fail in my responsibilities. I wonder, if people were gathering to pray for those with a vocation to fatherhood, would I, through the grace of God, be a better father to my children? In my own reflections, I often return to the last line of Malachi: "And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse." Fathers are called to heroic holiness no less than priests. Where are the commercials urging husbands and fathers to shoulder the responsibilities of the vocation to which God has called them? Based on statistics associated with marriage and births to single mothers, it's a message that is in dire need to propagation.

I know that the Knights of Columbus has a Fathers for Good program. But as far as I know, there's no outreach to draw men to the resources that are available. They are great resources, but only men who are already trying to live their vocation are going to find them.

The broader question might be this: short of an advertising campaign requiring lots and lots of money, how can the message be delivered to those who need to hear it? That's probably the same as the central question of evangelization, isn't it? How do we propose the love of Christ to those in desperate need of that love, when they don't recognize their own need?

I don't pretend to have any answers. I only note that the so-called vocations crisis is not limited to priests. There are lots of men called to the vocation of fatherhood who are in need of prayers as well. If I seem a little focused on dads, I hope that you can understand why. I am, after all, a dad. I don't mean to neglect mothers, but I see the crisis as being a little more pronounced on the male side of the equation.

Friday, May 1, 2009

St. Joseph the Worker

From Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Exhortation Redemptoris Custos (Guardian of the Redeemer):

Work was the daily expression of love in the life of the Family of Nazareth. The Gospel specifies the kind of work Joseph did in order to support his family: he was a carpenter. This simple word sums up Joseph's entire life. For Jesus, these were hidden years, the years to which Luke refers after recounting the episode that occurred in the Temple: "And he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them" (Lk 2:51). This "submission" or obedience of Jesus in the house of Nazareth should be understood as a sharing in the work of Joseph. Having learned the work of his presumed father, he was known as "the carpenter's son." If the Family of Nazareth is an example and model for human families, in the order of salvation and holiness, so too, by analogy, is Jesus' work at the side of Joseph the carpenter. In our own day, the Church has emphasized this by instituting the liturgical memorial of St. Joseph the Worker on May 1. Human work, and especially manual labor, receive special prominence in the Gospel. Along with the humanity of the Son of God, work too has been taken up in the mystery of the Incarnation, and has also been redeemed in a special way. At the workbench where he plied his trade together with Jesus, Joseph brought human work closer to the mystery of the Redemption.