Because Family Has No Perfect Picture

There are neat people everywhere. Yes, you have them in your parish too. And they are outside your parish as well, waiting for you to invite them to join the family. Or to expand your own family, like one of my fellow parishioners has done.

If one listens closely enough, His voice can be heard. It can happen at anytime and can be for any number of reasons.

For Larry Strauser and his wife of 18 years, Beverly, that time came 13 years ago.

“My wife (has a background of) Church of God and I’m Roman Catholic, and she heard the calling,” said Larry. “And I asked my pastor about it and I said, ‘I didn’t hear anything.'” So he said, ‘Larry, if your wife was called into it, you were called into it, too.’ So, we’ve been doing it ever since.”

The Strauser’s are foster parents. It’s a commitment that stands alone and there are children all over Knoxville, as well as the world, who need and want to find a loving home. Larry said after his wife heard the call, they both decided to put down roots in East Tennessee and let their faith guide them along the way.

“In 1998 we sold our businesses and we got called into the ministry working at a children’s home in Sevierville,” he said. “We worked there for five years and we decided we loved Tennessee so much that we wanted to live here. So, we bought a house out in the Karns area and went into foster care with Catholic Charities and Omnivisions. Now we have two great kids who’ve been with us for two-and-a-half years — (foster children) Ryan and Noah — they’re 10 and 13. Five years ago we adopted my son Kevin, so it’s just the five of us at home right now.”

Go read the rest here. Did I mention Larry also finds the time to be a sponsor in our parish RCIA program? Last year, 50 folks joined the Catholic family through that narrow portal.

So the family isn’t “perfect.” But her members try, and the Church provides the means of grace through the sacraments. My friend Wu Li, SJ put it this way,

Those who are known as “daily improving”
to praise the Spirit are worthy;

Day by day, and one step at a time.

Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you. (cf. Matt 17:20)

Lord? Help my unbelief. Amen.

Because Irony Is God’s Way of Lightening Our Load (Friday Funnies)

Photo credit: Sameli 

Go ahead…I dare you not to crack a smile at these. Push all liquids away from your keyboard, swallow any food you have in your mouth, and don’t forget to breathe. I’m probably the last person to have seen them.

Go see more here. Happy Friday!

For the Coolest Blog That Added YIMCatholic to Their Blog Roll

I mean seriously, my hearts goes all soft and warm when I see stuff like this. This is the New Evangelization in action. Would you believe coming out of Emmaus? John C.H.Wu and Dom Lou Tseng-Tsiang are smiling. Me too.

What does the post say? Dunno. But I can make out 2 Corinthians 4: 7-15.

Thank you TingTing Tse…you just made my day!

Because We’re a Pilgrim People

My father was a wandering Aramean.

Today is the Feast of St. James the Greater, brother of St. John the Evangelist. He is one of the sons of Zebedee, the “sons of thunder,” as Our Lord called them. James was the first of the Apostles to be martyred, which is interesting when you consider that Mary Salome, the mother of these two, and with them in tow, had the temerity to ask Jesus the following request,

“Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom.”

Jesus said in reply, “You do not know what you are asking.

Then he must have turned to these two and asked,

Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?”

They said to him, “We can.”

You’ve got to hand it to them. I mean they were nothing if not confident.

He replied, “My cup you will indeed drink, but to sit at my right and at my left, (this) is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”

Of course, after this episode, the other ten disciples got pretty fired up at these two, and Jesus again uses it as a teachable moment and says,

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Christ certainly has a way of melting animosity while bringing the focus back to seeing things as He sees and pointing us down the paradoxical path of the Way.

Speaking of St. James, feast days, paradoxes and the Way, I wanted to share with you all a couple of blog posts that you may find of interest. The first is from Teresa Doyle-Nelson’s blog Bible Saints and includes some really neat background information about James the Greater. The second is a post written by Fr. Steve Grunow of Word on Fire about the pilgrimage along “the Way of St. James,” also known as Santiago de Compostela.

My wife would be thrilled to know that I would love to fly to Provence (remember that dream?) and hike along the pilgrims path all the way to the cathedral in Santiago in Northern Spain. Wait a second…hike the route?! Ok, that may be a little over the top. Maybe a Eurail Pass would do the trick.

By the way (pun intended), I found that way cool map at the website of the Confraternity of St. James. Go check it out too!

UPDATE: Which James is which again?

For Thoughts On the Misery of Man

Here are a few words in prose from my gifted friend Blaise Pascal. They should need no explanation, but only the observation that this particular mathematical genius understands human nature (at least mine, if no one else’s) and he can write as clear as the peal of a bell.

from On the Misery of Man

We care nothing for the present. We anticipate the future as too slow in coming, as if we could make it move faster; or we call back the past, to stop its rapid flight. So imprudent are we that we wander through the times in which we have no part, unthinking of that which alone is ours; so frivolous are we that we dream of the days which are not, and pass by without reflection those which alone exist. For the present generally gives us pain; we conceal it from our sight because it afflicts us, and if it be pleasant we regret to see it vanish away. We endeavour to sustain the present by the future, and think of arranging things not in our power, for a time at which we have no certainty of arriving.

If we examine our thoughts, we shall find them always occupied with the past or the future. We scarcely think of the present, and if we do so, it is only that we may borrow light from it to direct the future. The present is never our end; the past and the present are our means, the future alone is our end. Thus we never live, but hope to live, and while we always lay ourselves out to be happy, it is inevitable that we can never be so.

We are so unhappy that we cannot take pleasure in a thing, save on condition of being troubled if it turn out ill, as a thousand things may do, and do every hour. He who should find the secret of rejoicing in good without being troubled at its contrary evil, would have hit the mark. It is perpetual motion.

Our nature exists by motion; perfect rest is death.

Food for thought on a Saturday afternoon…

Update: Me and Blaise go way back.

For the Paradox of the Wide Road on the Narrow Path

Joe Six-Pack, USMC here with a few brief words on Why I Am Catholic. Actually, there is one word that sums up what I am getting at with this post: pluralism. Before pitchforks and torches are mobilized, and hordes of angry, conspiracy theory influenced folks attempt to hurl themselves upon my redoubts and battlements, and risk being bitten by my ferocious and cunning battle dog, let me clarify which definition of this word I mean.

Using the handy Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary, you will find the definition of pluralism, as I use it here, listed as the fourth one with two parts.

4 a: a state of society in which members of diverse ethnic, racial, religious, or social groups maintain an autonomous participation in and development of their traditional culture or special interest within the confines of a common civilization.

b: a concept, doctrine, or policy advocating this state

Catholic Cathedral Bamako, Mali

If when reading the definition in 4 a) you didn’t immediately notice the similarity of this with the actual makeup of the Catholic Church, think about it for a moment. Do you see it now? I don’t mean just in your particular parish, or even in your diocese, though if they are anything like mine, it may be enough. No, I mean the whole Church, the entire Body of Christ spread as she is throughout the world; every parish, and every diocese from Rome, Italy to Bamako, Mali, in all countries, from A to Z.

Whoa Frank, you may be thinking, there is only one way, and that is the Catholic way! And if you note the title of this blog, it should come as no surprise that I agree. But I do so with the caveat that within the “one way” of Catholic tradition, there are many variations that allow the adaptation of practices not only to the cultural mores of local parishes, but even extending out to the widely different charisms that give rise to the multitude of orders and societies within the Church as well.

If there was only “one way,” there would be no allowance for the orders of the Benedictines, the Franciscans, the Paulists, or the Poor Clares. There would be no tolerance of the charisms of the Capuchins, the Carthusians or the Cistercians. No need for the Carmelites, the Brothers of the Holy Cross, the Redemptorists, or the Sisters of Mercy. Seriously, if there is only one way to be a faithful, Christ-centered, and blessed by grace, Catholic, the enterprise of saving the whole world was doomed to failure at the beginning.

But it wasn’t a failure. Instead, the mission has been a rousing success, in spite of all the challenges, travails, and martyrs. From the death and resurrection of the Founder, to those of our brothers and sisters that endure persecution for being faithful Catholics today, the saving mission of the Church continues on. The sharing of the Good News, and the provision of inward grace via the outward signs of grace (which are the sacraments) continues apace.

And the Church was successful, and will continue to be so, because the catholic nature of the world demands an embrace of pluralism that, frankly, the leadership of the Church understands and encourages. This is why when you hear some folks ranting about there being only one way to receive communion, only one correct way to sing songs (and even diatribes on certain songs that are in in your hymnal? Lord have mercy.), only one proper way for the Mass to be said, in only one proper language, etc, etc., there is something to remember: there is a wideness in God’s mercy within the narrow path of Catholicism.

Oh, and thank God for bishops. Who, among their many responsibilities, have one also “to affirm legitimate pluralism and to challenge simultaneously contemporary currents which exceed the boundaries of justice, holiness, and mutually forgiving love, so that the unity of truth and the unity of Spirit can be even more deeply renewed ” among the faithful and spread to the world. See Matthew 7:16.

I lifted that quote from Brother James Hanson, CSC and I’ll also share this one from the introduction of his book, If I’m a Christian, Why Be a Catholic? as well,

To be Catholic today is to live in the pluralism of the post Vatican II Church. For many the experience is as confusing as it is renewing. Gradually the dust is settling as the wheat is separated from the chaff while gently nurturing new shoots of life at the same time (Matthew 13:25-30). I am convinced that all truth is beautiful and that the revealed truth of Catholic faith is compellingly beautiful when it is properly understood. In John 10:14, Jesus called himself the good shepherd who knows his sheep and is known by them. When Pope Gregory the Great preached on that text, he wrote, “If someone does not love the truth, it is because he has not recognized it.”

I thank God for helping me to recognize it. And a huge part of that recognition is from seeing the beneficial fruits of the pluralistic policies of the Church as seen in the various approaches she allows in following her. She is so accommodating and hospitable, you know, like you would expect your best friends mom to be.

Now, Brother Hanson wrote those words 27 years ago about the Council, which concluded 19 years before he wrote them. Perhaps he was premature in saying the dust was settled, because there was plenty of threshing to be done, as there always will be. But to me, and remember, I’m just Joe Six-Pack, she believes, practiced, and continues to practice E Pluribus Unum long before that motto was adopted on the Seal of the United States (1782, for you history buffs). In fact, a variation of the phrase was used in the fourth book of the Confessions of St. Augustine (which is just another reason why I am Catholic).

Why has pluralism been a “Catholic thing” since the beginning? Well, I’ll venture to again keep things simple with a one word answer, that may require development in further posts to make it evident. Agape. A simple answer that again is seen as the reason for the saving mission of Christ, and thus of His Church,

A mustard seed

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:17)

And thus the mustard seed of agape was planted and now we behold the truth as the Truth Incarnate foretold us in this short parable,

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the ‘birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.'”

Not just for one kind of bird, and in a very large bush. Thanks be to God.

Quote of the Week

There are stars whose radiance is visible on Earth though they have long been extinct. There are people whose brilliance continues to light the world though they are no longer among the living. These lights are particularly bright when the night is dark. They light the way for humankind.

-Hannah Senesh, poet, playwright, and paratrooper (1921-1944)

 

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Explaining Death and Loss to a Young Child, A Poem By Gerard Manly Hopkins, SJ

When words fail, and our hearts are not still, what can we do?When tragedy strikes, there are questions that must be answered, and mourning that we must endure.

At times like these, I turn to prayer, and to the psalms seeking comfort. Further still, I look to the poets, like those of a Jesuit priest named Gerard Manly Hopkins.

Some poems are meant to be sung, and thankfully, Natalie Merchant sings this one for us beautifully. Follow along with me,

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Spring and Fall: To a young child (1880)

Márgarét, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves, líke the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Áh! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

 

 

 

To Renew My Inmost Being and Put on the New Man

Have you noticed how tough life is? It’s hard enough to make it on your own, but try living the Christian life fully and the delusion that doing so is easy should have already crashed down upon you like a Summer thunder storm. That is, if you are giving it your all.

I’m reminded of the sage words of a military genius again. Ever heard of Carl von Clauswitz? Here is something he shared in his classic book on military strategy, On War,

Everything in war is simple, but the simplest thing is difficult. The difficulties accumulate and end by producing a kind of friction that is inconceivable unless one has experienced war.

Sure, you could kid yourself that this doesn’t apply to your life as a Christian. “I’m a civilian,” or so you pretend. But to me, Clauswitz’s thoughts illuminate the truth of the life not only of those “in the world,” but definitely the lives of those of us who struggle mightily to be “not of the world.”

So yesterday morning, for the first time in what seems like ages, I dug into my book bag, pulled out my copy of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, flipped to the Friday morning prayers and proceeded to regain my sanity. It wasn’t long before I came across this truth of the Christian life,

Your inmost being must be renewed, and you must put on the new man (Ephesians 4:23).

I always knew that it was work to be a Christian, in the back of my mind. Everything I had learned from studying the Bible while growing up warned that this was true. But somewhere between leaving home and entering the world on my own, I had forgotten this fact. Running away from the truth will do that to you.

St. Paul’s inspired words reminded me of this situation again. You see, in order to “put on the new man,” you have to take off the old man first. And Lord knows, early on I had as much interest in being changed as the next person, which if you are anything like me means practically not at all. I went along with the easy care of “the saved,” while never confronting any of the dark shadows of responsibility that followed me along that road.

In other words, I sought the easy path of the Christian who is a Christian in name only. I professed belief in Christ, had been baptized, and I was “good to go” in that department, or so I thought, and I could concentrate on other more important things like fighting World War III, or striking it rich, you know, all while ignoring the plight of the poor or less fortunate. Talking myself out of my sinfulness, and letting my pride get the best of me and run the show.

I came back to the well of my faith only when I needed help. Like when I was sweating probation when I was trying to make it through Marine Security Guard School in Quantico, or when I was getting ready to graduate from college and I would pray, “Lord, help me find a job.” Prayers such as these are not invalid. They are necessary prayers for the soul to cry out with, as long as they are backed up with the diligent search to find work, etc. But all in all, I was a fair weather Christian and my conscience would needle me on that point from time to time.

Distractions helped me keep from listening to these urgings for the longest time. Have you allowed that to happen? Especially when there is some important project that you know you should be working on, but you put it off and put it off some more in the vain hope that the task would go away on its own accord so you won’t have to face it. But it doesn’t go away, and then you burn the midnight oil cobbling something together that barely passes muster, and just in the nick of time. I didn’t want to live my life like that forever.

As they say, denial is not just a river in Egypt, but I drank deeply from her anyway. But increasingly I noticed that her drafts still left me parched. Despite dying from thirst, it took my almost being killed to put me finally on the path to the Catholic Church. The Lord knows that marrying a Catholic didn’t do this, but it didn’t hurt matters either. Nor did the accident provoke me into an instant, “on the spot” conversion either. It took another 6-7 years before I finally cracked open the door that, by this time, my conscience was banging on loudly and relentlessly. As I’ve written before, the injuries I sustained ended my Marine Corps career, providing me the opportunity to change my (and my family’s) life and lead us I knew not where.

I never thought this tortuous path would lead me to the Catholic Church, but every day I rejoice that it has. I can say that I have no idea what is going on in much of the rest of the Church. Perhaps my brush with the Desert Fathers has inured me to answering the siren call of keeping tabs on all that the Bishops do, or don’t do, for instance. For me, the call to conversion is deeper than playing “inside baseball” with what is going on with Rome and all her players. This particular player is in the game, and not sitting on the bench. I am too busy “work(ing) out my salvation with fear and trembling” to have much time to devote to anything that distracts me from helping me, my family, and you dear readers, from that goal.

I’ve heard it said by some to others (bloggers, etc.), “how could you not know about Father X?,” or “problem XYZ?” or some such line regarding another scandal du jour. You all know that I’ve heard about, and commented on, some events like these in the past. And I’m likely to do so again, in the future. But it will be only if it is something glaringly obvious worth talking about, and by that I mean something that is leading others astray, or that has affected me personally in some way.

The real reason that I don’t follow all the latest newsy stuff is that I am too busy doing the work of “renewing my inmost being” to pay attention to the noise that’s going on outside. This work of taking off the old person and putting on the new one is time consuming. Especially considering that I have other work, and family responsibilities, on top of blogging about the Faith here. But my friend Webster Bull said once that “being Catholic is like walking around with a blazing torch in your hand, one that illuminates everything you encounter” and for me that is the reality.

It is as if the scales have dropped from my own eyes, and I’ve discovered the “beauty ever ancient, beauty ever new” of the Church. It is the vision of a person who was blind once and can now see. Or like after the storm is gone and I see what Noah saw. Even so, I’ll freely admit that the sight I have regained is still one “as looking through a glass, and darkly.” But the Beacon calls me clearly.

And thankfully, as I continue to do the work of renewal, the Divine Optician constantly updates the prescription on my individual looking glass. And did I mention he also carries most of the load? He’s got the big stuff, so I can sweat the small stuff.

Photo Credit: Michael Belk

For Stuff My Abba Macarius Says About the Adversary

The following thoughts are from my patron, St. Macarius the Great.

from Homily 26.

Question. Does Satan know all of a man’s thoughts and intentions?

Answer. If one man, by being acquainted with another, knows about him, and you, who are twenty years old, know the affairs of your neighbor, can Satan fail to know your reasonings? He has been with you from your birth. He is six thousand years old (Note: This is a very rough calculation from the LXX chronology of the Old Testament, which differs from the Hebrew). Yet I do not say that he knows what a man will do before he tempts him. The tempter tempts, but does not know whether the man will yield or not yield, till such time as the soul gives up its will into bondage.

Nor do I say that the devil knows all the thoughts and devices of the heart. Suppose there is a tree with many branches and many limbs. A man may be able to grasp two or three branches of the tree. So the soul has many branches and many limbs. There are some branches of thought and intention which Satan grasps; there are other thoughts and intentions not grasped by Satan.

In one thing the side of evil is the stronger when thoughts spring up; in another, the mans’ thought is more than conqueror, receiving succour and deliverance from God, and resisting sin. At one point the man is mastered, at another he has his will. Sometimes he comes to God with fervour, and Satan knows it, and sees that he is acting against him, and cannot restrain him.

Why? Because he has the will to cry to God; he has the natural fruits of loving God, of believing, of seeking and coming. In the outer world, the farmer tills the ground; but in spite of his tilling, he needs rains and showers from above. If no moisture comes from above, the farmer has no profit from his tilling of the ground.

So is it with the spiritual world. There are two factors to be taken into consideration. The man must cultivate with a will the ground of his heart, and labor upon it—for God requires the mans’ labor and toil and travail. But unless clouds of heaven make their appearance from above, and showers of grace, the farmer does not profit by his toil.

This is the mark of Christianity: however much a man toils, and however many righteousnesses he performs, to feel that he has done nothing, and in fasting to say, “This is not fasting,” and in praying, “This is not prayer,” and in perseverance at prayer, “I have shown no perseverance; I am only just beginning to practice and to take pains “; and even if he is righteous before God, he should say, “I am not righteous, not I; I do not take pains, but only make a beginning every day.”

He should every day have the hope and the joy and the expectation of the coming kingdom and deliverance, and to say, “If today I have not been delivered, I shall tomorrow.” As the man who plants a vine has the joy and the hope in himself, before ever he embarks upon the toil, and sketches out vineyards in his mind, and reckons up the income, when there has been no wine yet, and so enters upon the toil—for the hope and expectation make him work cheerfully, and for the time being he incurs many expenses out of pocket; and in like manner the man who builds a house, and the man who tills a field, are at much expense to themselves first, in hope of the advantage to come; so it is here.

If a man does not keep before his eyes the joy and the hope, “I shall find deliverance and life,” he cannot endure the afflictions, or the burden, and adopt the narrow way. It is the presence of hope and joy that make him labour and endure the afflictions.

But as it is not easy for a brand to escape from the fire, so neither can the soul escape out of the fire of death, except with a great deal of trouble. For the most part, Satan, under pretext of good thoughts, that “in such and such a way you can please God,” offers suggestions to the soul, and underhand seduces it to subtle and specious notions, and it does not know how to discern that it is being seduced, and thus it falls into the snare and perdition of the devil (1 Tim. iii. 7, and vi. 9).

The most deadly weapon of the combatant and champion is this: to enter into the heart and make war there upon Satan, and to hate himself and to deny his own soul, to be angry with it and rebuke it, and to resist the desires that dwell there, and grapple with his thoughts, and fight with himself.

If outwardly you keep your body from corruption and fornication, but inwardly commit adultery, to God you are an adulterer and a fornicator in your thoughts, and you have gained nothing by the virginity of your body. If there is a young woman and a young man, and he by guile wheedles her till she is corrupted, she then becomes an object of loathing to her spouse, because she has been unfaithful. So the incorporeal soul, if it holds fellowship with the serpent that lurks within, the wicked spirit, goes a-whoring from God, as it is written, “Everyone that looketh upon a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery already in his heart”(Matt v.28).

There is a fornication effected in the body, and there is a fornication of the soul, when it holds fellowship with Satan. The same soul is partner and sister either of devils, or of God and the angels; and if it commits adultery with the devil, it is unfit for the heavenly Bridegroom.

Read the entire homily here. St. Macarius the Great, pray for us.