Re:Incarnation

living our faith in the world

Mission

Though I am in LA and not the B-more/DC metro area,  this weekend I got to listen to the Baltimore Orioles hit doubles as I did the dishes, as the O’s were playing the Dodgers. This is just one of the little luxuries that I won’t have in Cameroon, and there are a host of others. We received the children’s passports in the mail this week, and the reality of our trip overseas is starting to come into sharp focus. Sometimes it hits me: this is really going to happen! (God willing, of course.)

So now, with the task close at hand, it’s time to look closer at the task at hand: mission. What is mission? What is evangelization?  For now, I’ll leave you with a thought from our Mission Theology instructor, a Franciscan Br. John: Mission is not something the Church DOES, but rather it is an essential part of what the Church IS.

The “wrong side of history?”

Recently, a picture has been making the rounds on the internet featuring a protest sign which implies that opponents to same-sex marriage will be on the “wrong side of history.” Without getting into the actual subject of same-sex marriage, I propose to you that such rhetoric should not be convincing for a Catholic, or any clear-thinking individual, on any subject.

Think about the implications of there being a “right side” (and therefore, a “wrong side”) of history: it means that history is a continual march forward in progress, and/or it means that it is important to be judged by future generations as being correct.

The first implication is manifestly false, for while we certainly see some progression in the arts and sciences, culture is by no means tied to a train that only goes up. Society can regress as much as it can progress… or, it can progress off a cliff (a Chestertonian way of viewing progress).

The second implication, that one should desire to be judged well by future generations and should form one’s opinions based on the future state of things, is icnredibly short-sighted. As noted above, the future has the possibility of changing, and one generation’s vice is another generation’s virtue. The next generation may view Position X as “right,” but fourteen generations later, they’ll be noting in their textbooks the barbarous culture that took Position X.

No, it is much better that when presented with a choice between two stances, we should choose the one that most closely represents the truth, not just as we know it, but as much as we CAN know it. This means that perhaps instead of getting into debate after endless debate, we should educate ourselves more on the topics. I, for one, am guilty of getting caught up in debates, both online and in person, where there is much heat and little light. Instead of continuing in old habits, I’m going to try to use that time to grow in knowledge and wisdom and understanding. Certainly there is a time and place for such discussions, but that time is not always right now.

So, the next time an opportunity for debate pops up in my life, I’m going to ask myself if it is better for me, the other, and the Kingdom if I engage in discussion, dialogue, and debate, or if it is better for me to use that time and energy to pray and to learn from intellectual giants, past and present, and so be ever more prepared to respond in charity in the future.

Rebuilding with Living Stones

In the homily during his inaugural Mass, Pope Francis again made allusions to the job of building. Earlier, in  his first homily after being elected Bishop of Rome,  he had noted that we are “to walk, to build, to profess Christ crucified.” You can’t hardly surf the web without running into some kind of commentary, Catholic or not, that explicitly links Francis’ choice of name with St. Francis’ received command to rebuild Christ’s Church, which is in ruins. Francis will be the pope to clean up the curia, clear out the money changers, and get things going right again! At least, that’s the general consensus from just about everybody, including those who didn’t think there was all that much wrong to begin with.

Given his explicit references to building, I don’t doubt that he also has the rebuilding of Christ’s Church, which is in ruins, in mind as he begins his pontificate. And I wouldn’t be surprised if we did see some change in the way things work. Big shake-ups in the Curia? Maybe. A different mode of governance? Maybe. But for the kind of change that Francis hopes to accomplish, I posit that you need look no further than your own home. Hear again his words on the Feast of St. Joseph about building God’s house:

“This is what God asked of David, as we heard in the first reading. God does not want a house built by men, but faithfulness to his word, to his plan. It is God himself who builds the house, but from living stones sealed by his Spirit.”

Francis holds to no illusions of who does the heavy lifting. It’s not any man who builds God’s church, who lays living stone on living stone, at least not without God’s helping grace. And it’s not just the visible structure of the Church which is in ruins and needs rebuilding: each of us needs to be repaired and rebuilt into our place in the Church, sealed with the Spirit. No matter who we are, Pastors or Youth Ministers or Parents or Students or Retirees or Missionaries or whatever, we must let ourselves be molded and shaped by God, chiseled and formed to perfection. Then, we must let ourselves be placed in the wall, we must support those around and above us… we only have a direct effect on our immediate neighbors, but each individual stone is crucial for the integrity of the whole.

If we hear the pope’s words and think, “Finally, a guy who’s going to reform,” and don’t take a long, hard, serious look at our own selves and our own need to reform,  we’re missing the point of Francis’ pontificate.

And if we get stuck in the reform, we’ll never be able to function how we are supposed to. One builds a Church not so that there will be endless construction (la Sagrada Familia excepted, I suppose) but in order to worship God within. One doesn’t reform the Church merely to reform, but in order for the Church to better carry out its mission: To preach the truth about God and humanity, and to forgive our sins and reconcile us to God.

As a living stone, how are you in ruins? how are you using the Grace of the Sacraments? How will God use you to help rebuild his Church, and are you willing? Are you willing to be faithful to God’s plan?

Trust the Surprise

I am ecstatic at the news that “Habemus Papam,” We have a pope! It was wonderful to witness the white smoke and the Urbi et Orbi blessing here in the Mission House, in community with other Catholic families. It is certainly something I will remember… with everyone muttering “Who’s Bergoglio?” and scrambling to look him up on wikipedia, which had already been updated. There was immediately much (electronic) ink spilled about the new Holy Father, and I have read that Francis is too conservative, too liberal, too modernist, too reactionary, a great pastor, a terrible pastor, humble, ambitious, wonderful that he’s a Jesuit, terrible that he’s an orthodox Jesuit, etc., etc., etc.

the picture is funny if you squint your eyes a little and imagine he’s looking down at a very large, very squat Christmas tree decorated with light. Consider that my contribution to alter the photo for fair use.

More on Pope Francis later. First, I need to note something.

I had only known one living pope my entire life until 2005. I had grown up loving and honoring and heeding the life and ministry of Pope Bl. John Paul II, and when he died and left the Chair of Peter vacant, a deep, yawning pit opened up in my heart. I had only known one kind of pope, a JPII pope, and I didn’t know what to expect. The election of Ratzinger was surprising not so much in that it happened, but in what unfolded during his pontificate. I knew that Ratzinger had been close to JPII, but I also knew of his reputation as a hard-nosed enforcer. What we got was something much different… certainly not a cuddly pope, however Benedict was always patient, kind, compassionate, thoughtful… if you paid attention!

I began to know what it was like to be surprised by the pope. If I sat back, unengaged, and allowed my preconceived notions (or those of others!) to guide my thinking, the Pope merely presented the same old faith, warmed over for this Sunday’s homily. But that’s not what you get when you pay attention! Our faith is in a truth that is ever ancient, but also ever new. And when you pay attention to what the pope preaches, you just might be surprised.

I remember a conversation I had with a Lutheran pastor friend of mine about sin. She was adamant about the existence of social sin, structural sin, whereas I had been taught that sin is always personal, even when it affects society at large. Naturally, in the conversation/debate that developed, I pushed back hard against her. However, years later, Benedict surprised me when he noted that original sin leads to individual sins which can lead to the development of structures of sin. Certainly, Benedict and the Lutheran Pastor would disagree about much, but there was no denying that there was some common ground there.

Once, when reading up about moral theology and looking up actions which are always wrong because they are objectively wrong, I was surprised to find John Paul II include deportation along with homicide and abortion and genocide. (they’re not necessarily identical in gravity, but they’re always wrong).

And so, going back and reading, and re-reading, the words of Benedict, John Paul II, Pius XI, Leo XIII, I find myself surprised by what I find: I am surprised by the beauty, the foresight, the consistency, and often I am surprised that what I think the Church teaches isn’t always true, or at least it’s not always the full picture.

And now we get to Pope Francis! What a blessing it is to have a new Holy Father, a sign of unity, a leader to look to. And in one night, he has taught us so much. In his brief appearance on the loggia of St. Peter’s, he took the time to pray with the people for the bishop emeritus of Rome, our beloved Benedict. He took the time to ask the people to pray for him, including 15 seconds of silent prayer. But that’s not all, and there was something subtle in his off-the-cuff remarks:

“And now, together, let us start this road: bishop and people. This [new] path of the church of Rome, which “presides in charity” [over] all the churches. A path of brotherhood, of love, of trust between us. Let us pray always for ourselves: one for the other.”

Catch that? The relationship between the pontiff and the people is one of authority, but also one of brotherhood, love, and trust. We, the people, trust the Pope, but the pope also trusts us. He must, for we do the work of the Church! The bond of trust is a two-way street, and while we trust the Holy Father to lead us, he trusts us to follow.

So let us follow, and let us place our trust in our Holy Father to lead us. Let’s not worry about if he’s too liberal or too conservative or too cerebral or too inexperienced or too whatever. Let us trust that the Holy Spirit guided the election process and continues to guide the Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Let us continue the attack on sin and the forces of evil, with the Sacraments as our weapons, looking to our leader in this battle and heeding all that he teaches us.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to be surprised.

Paradox That Produces Life

Everyone has a worldview, A story that attempts to order existence. Christianity draws our two tendencies of creating a worldview and discovering one together. What is revealed book-dark-glasses-heart-night-Favim.com-167861confirms truths we’ve discovered. This Christian narrative is about God, goodness, life, death, rebellion, resurrection, science and faith. It is about a reality that is sacramental and a Church that is as visible as the broken and resurrected body of Christ, is a life-giving paradox.

When other worldviews offer up their narrative, I find the way they deal with the tension in reality, in my heart, is to loosen the slack. Call everything physical, material, natural, temporal, psychological. Or call it all spiritual, immaterial, supernatural, eternal, spiritual. Reducing reality to scientism or spiritualism doesn’t satisfy my heart, mind, or imagination. Why does the real world seems bigger than these worldviews?

The paradox at the heart of the Christian faith – of real places, people, dates; of prophecy, genealogy, a virgin mother, a God-man, a cross, a bloody sacrifice, the triumph of evil and a final, beautiful, unexpected victory – embraces the two ways of looking at the world: history and mystery. The story leaped off the page. Myth became fact without ceasing to carry all the imaginative power laden in myth. History, in all it’s messiness, in all it’s concreteness became the medium for myth to meet us. God became man. Spirit and soil are reunited, without losing their distinction. Like in a good marriage, two very different realities enter into happy union, and remaining two, they can become one, and in becoming one, they can produce all kinds of life.

God shows his great love by saving what he has already called “good!” The Christian story is about the restoration and elevation of a good world in rebellion. God comes to not only save us from something (sin) but more importantly, to save us for something (life!) that is already taking root around us. The Kingdom of God, this world, this good world wounded by sin, is being reclaimed and we can join him in the healing and renewal of the universe by letting him first do that in us.
This worldview is about sin and a savior.
Of sinners who can be transformed into new creations by the savior.
About sinners who must serve others, especially the “least of these,” by loving like the savior.
And in loving like him, it’s about transformed sinners who participate in the process of saving all that God calls good.
This worldview produces life, spiritually, intellectually, and imaginatively. The Christian worldview is poetic and prosaic. Doctrinal and deeply spiritual. It’s large enough cultivate the scientific method while producing saints who willingly die serving lepers on Molokai  (shout-out to St. Damien!). It’s a worldview that gives room for doubt and danger, and courage, and confidence. It’s about loving things enough to give them away, and giving away things as the only way to keep them. It’s about how we love people and use things and the danger of loving things and using people. It’s about wine, bread, celebrations, fasting and feasting. It’s about angels, demons, heaven and hell. It’s about reorganizing our categories and trusting that grace and nature are made for each other. It’s about the Eucharist. About the real presence of Christ being really present in human things. The Eucharist is Christ. It is his promise that he desires to be really wedded to our humanity, forever.In the words of G.K. Chesterton, Christianity is a tale with

“a certain combination of normality with distinction. It has simplicity with a slight touch of strangeness; as has the style of Milton or Michelangelo. It is a tale just sufficiently unusual to be worth telling, and yet immediately intelligible when told.”

Why do I believe? This worldview reveals clearly those things I have dimly discovered about my heart. I am haunted by selfishness and equally haunted by heroism. I am a sinner who recognizes that on my own, I can be good, but good is not my deepest desire. I want greatness. I want this hidden secret in my heart to be true, that whisper that is always there, that tells me that I am made for greatness. That the world offers comfort, but all of us are made for more than comfort, more than goodness. We’re restless because we’re made for God himself.

A single step

Our missionary formation program begins this week with orientation, and I am looking forward to diving in and getting on with it!  During the next four months, we will cover a number of different topics in order to prepare us for overseas mission work, including spiritual formation as well as nuts-and-bolts “what to expect” kind of stuff.  While I have little idea what the actual material we’ll cover is right now, the topics seem interesting: Mission Theology, Communication, Scripture, Intercultural Competence, Stress of Overseas Living, Moral Theology, Staying Healthy Overseas, Charism of Msgr. Brouwers (the founder of Lay Mission-Helpers), etc.  Those are just a few of the classes. Some of them are only a few sessions long, others are held weekly throughout the whole program.  I’m sure there’ll be plenty to talk, read, and think about as the program continues, but for now here’s a picture of my kids in their school uniforms:

they had a great time!

they had a great time!

Re:Incarnation re:focus

The focus of this blog has been to explore how we can fulfill our calling of bringing Christ into the world, of incarnating the Word in our lives through our actions. While that will continue to be our motivation here, I am going through a pretty big change in my life, and so the nature of my posts will change to reflect that. My wife and I have been accepted to the training program for Lay Mission-Helpers, which sends individuals, couples, and families to do mission work overseas. Our training begins in Los Angeles next week and runs through May 26 (my brother Ben’s birthday, coincidentally), and then we head overseas for three years, God willing. Our assignment location isn’t set yet, and we’re obviously not there yet, so for the time being I’ll be sharing any interesting insights and experiences we have.

Plenty more to come (I hope!) but for now I’ll just share a shot of the front of the big house we’re living in and training in, along with another family and another couple.

I may live in South Central LA, but Mary's got my back.

I may live in South Central LA, but Mary’s got my back.

The house is an old convent next to a church, and the kids are having a blast with their new friends (all very close in age to our kids!) and we are so blessed to have a chapel inside with the blessed sacrament present. Our rooms are right above the chapel!

Aphoristic thoughts on Liturgy and Morality

I have been reading the book length interview with Pope Benedict, Light of the World. I am fascinated by a point he makes about the liturgy: the liturgy is not an an expression of our own selves, but a participation in forms laid down by God. So, God created in six days and rested the seventh, so we set apart the sabbath for our main liturgical worship.

In explaining morality, he uses similar logic. It’s not that we impose our own ideas or desires upon the moral landscape, but rather we live out what has been laid out for us. The one who created us knows whats best for us, and knows what helps us and what breaks us.  Living a morally excellent life is about fulfilling our highest potential, it’s about living as we ought. Within the structures created by God, we find liberty.

Blessed and Mourning

I am blessed. I know this is true. You know who Jesus said was blessed? Those who mourn. Those who are persecuted. Those who are poor. Those hunger and thirst.

Today I am feeling the sting of the Beatitudes. While the whole nation stands and reads and watches and listens in shock at the events in CT, my family is in shock for an additional reason: my cousin Jonathan died yesterday in a terrible car accident. Of course, the news from CT is horrible, and it deeply saddens me. My cousin dying is personal, and a great weight for my family on top of my brother’s death just months ago. ( in fact, the last time I spoke with Jonathan was at Ben’s funeral.)

Of course, while tragedy is shocking, deep down it should not be surprising. We know that in the world we will have trouble. Christ told us so much. We know that to be Christian means to suffer in many ways that we cannot predict. Knowing all that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with our troubles. Some times it very much does feel like we’re as bad off as Job. My grandfather lost 1/4 of his grandchildren this year, grandchildren he expected to predecease.

But “Take Courage!” Christ commands us, for he has conquered the world! Those who mourn are blessed because there will be gladness in heaven. Those who are persecuted are blessed for they will triumph with Christ in heaven. By his cross and resurrection Christ conquered the world, and we live in that world but are not of it: in hope we wait for the day when our body is raised and glorified and forever we sing God’s praises in heaven. Courage has been described as not the lack of fear, but the knowledge that something else is more important than fear. So in courage we face the world, fearing death and the sorrows to come, but knowing that the good to come is so much more important. To be raised, we must die. For glory, we must first suffer. For Easter, we must have Good Friday.

I am so sad that Good Friday came so soon for Jonathan.

“For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”

Oasis

December is a busy month for many people, and for people who work for the Church perhaps this is especially true. Missions, Masses, Reconciliation, Posadas, parties, etc. On top of that, my family is packing up for a big move (please pray for us!) and we’re getting things done and taking care of details big and small. Amid it all, it has been nice to have a time of prayer to retreat to, to refresh and listen for direction.  It doesn’t get anything “done,” but it sure does seem to make everything easier to do!  Prayer is a blessing, a grace, and it’s easy to forget that and think that we are the ones that “do” prayer. but really, it is God who takes over, God who moves our hearts to pray. All we need to do is say yes to him and open up, and he does all the rest. Which is good, because I’m not nearly as good at praying as I am at sinning, seeking out temptation, and being distracted. Our time of prayer is like an Oasis during our day, rejuvenating us in order to face the hardships to come.

I heard a story about Pope John Paul II once where he was on a tight schedule, and was to visit a seminary or school, I can’t remember which. they knew that if they brought him in a certain entrance, he’d pass the chapel and want to spend time in prayer (it’s hard to argue with the Holy Father… “um, we have a schedule to keep? pray later!”). So, they took him in a side door. Still, once he entered, he asked “where is the chapel? I would like to pray for a few minutes before the Blessed Sacrament.” He knew how important prayer was before, after, and throughout the day!

Oremus.

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