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Frat Party with Hillbilly Thomists

As the title would indicate, last night was yet another peculiar night as a friar. Maybe the most peculiar night I have had as a friar. And what a fun night it was. Here’s a small taste:

A few weeks ago, the Capuchins Franciscans (the Franciscans that inspired the naming of the Cappuccino and the Capuchin monkey because of the resemblance to their habit) near Catholic University sent out an invitation to all the religious in the area: “Holy Hour followed by a performance by the Hillbilly Thomists.” Pictured on the flyer was exactly what one would expect: Dominicans in habit playing banjos. To be honest, I could not think of a worse combination of events in an evening: adoration (a devotion that simply doesn’t make sense to me… but that probably requires a full post to explain), coffee (of which I’ve never had a cup in my life), Dominicans (our rivals, who, I would like to remind everyone, we beat in softball this year), and bluegrass music (need I have an explanation for this one?). A few weeks ago, I had not planned on attending.

As of two days ago I still hadn’t planned on attending, and figured most others felt the same way. I was wrong. Two guys in my house were really excited about it; I found out that undergraduate students would be there, giving up a Saturday night in college to go to a religious house; many of the other religious mentioned how much fun it was going to be. Really? I still didn’t think so. But I admired the initiative to start something new, to bring people together. One Capuchin said that it was an experiment: if it worked, they were going to do them frequently with different performances. Alright, I said, I really need to go, if for nothing else, to support guys who were extending themselves and taking a risk with a creative event. Who knows? The next one might be better.

Let’s just say that I underestimated just about every aspect of the night. I was worried that it wouldn’t have enough support: it was standing room only in a large chapel, and almost impossible to move when we transitioned to the basement. I was worried that adoration would be a bit strange, even awkward: the music was fantastic, the energy was tangible, and the preaching was some of the best I have heard, ever (even theologically, I found myself so caught up in the living, breathing body of Christ all around me that I didn’t find myself thinking about how strange it was that everyone knelt there for an hour staring at what should be consumed, I just adored Christ like everyone else, seeing him in my brothers and sisters gathered in great faith.) I was worried that the music would be super lame and that the Dominicans would be formal, pious, and reserved (as has been my experience): the music was so catchy and fun that I couldn’t stop clapping my hands, tapping my foot, and laughing at the great show. All in all, it was one of the most fun nights I’ve had all year.

Last night and today, I couldn’t help but reflect on how creative and effective this was by our brother Franciscans. They found a way to bring together men from five different religious orders and two diocesan seminaries (who, surprisingly enough, do very little together), include as many undergraduate students as there were religious, offering an opportunity to mingle with lay people in a really un-intimidating way, and create a powerful environment for God to touch us all. I think even we as religious can forget the power of intentional, spontaneous prayer in our lives. We prayer multiple times of day, go to mass often, and keep a very good schedule. But when do we go out of our way like this to bring 100 people together who want to be there for no other reason than to praise God? I think people are hungry for this sort of stuff. They want to go out of their way to do something new, something fun; they want to be prayerful people, surrounded entirely by people that want to be there, sing all of the songs, and don’t care what time it is. In a lot of ways, I don’t think it matters what you do if you have people like that coming together. Even if it’s banjo-playing lovers of Thomas Aquinas playing at a [religious] fraternity house.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I think we as a Church need to think outside of our status quo, to stop waiting for people to come to us and instead be creative with the way we engage people with our lives. I look at something like the “Mass Mobs” in Buffalo and think, “How simple. How brilliant.” I see someone like Sister Cristina, the “Singing Nun,” using her talents and faith together to creatively re-brand the popular song “Like A Virgin” in such a powerfully Christian way. I think about our friars who have a chapel in the place people go most: a shopping mall. What are the ideas of tomorrow? Whatever they are, they’re going to have to be creative, attractive, inspiring, and new. A hillbilly frat party is certainly a start.

 
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Posted by on November 23, 2014 in Ministry

 

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A Tribute To Nana, God’s Joyful Servant

On November 11, 2014, my grandmother, Mary Hendel, died at the age of 91. She was a beloved woman and the life of the family. Yesterday, I was privileged to be able to give a reflection of her life at her funeral mass. My message was this: Nana led us to God, and God will lead us back to Nana.

Mary with her husband Albert

Mary with her husband Albert

When I think of Nana, I think of a woman of great joy. Tremendous joy. Infectious joy. As I thought about her over the past couple of days, I struggled to come up with even one memory of her that did not include a smile. And do you know what? That made me smile. She was an affective person, someone that simply could not contain her joy. She was the woman that played tennis well into her 80s. The card player that could bid the same thing all night and still beat you… with a smile. The life of the party that found herself on YouTube playing beer pong (seriously, check it out here!). There is very little that she did not get out of this life.

When I think of Nana, I think of a woman of great sacrifice, always giving of herself. Tremendous sacrifice. Infectious sacrifice. As someone who will never have kids, I can’t even imagine how much she must have given of herself to raise ten children, and to raise them well. And trust me: I know all of you and I’ve heard stories. She must have been a saint to handle you through your teenage years! And that’s the way she was until she breathed her last. Nana was a woman always looking to serve, ready to do whatever she had to do to make sure that her family was happy, well-fed, welcome. There is very little that she did not give of herself in this life.

When I think of Nana, someone who is truly a saint in my eyes, it makes me wonder: what made her so joyous all of the time? What was it that gave her the strength to love so selflessly and unconditionally? The only answer that I can possibly give is the love of God. Nana was a woman of strong faith and great hope. God was her shepherd, the one who guided her through tough times and rejoiced with her during the good. He was her comfort, and clearly her strength.

The fact of the matter is that Nana was someone so close to God that she truly embodied Christ in her person. Think about the Gospel passage we have just heard. Right before his death, a death he freely accepted, Jesus took time to do two things: share a meal with his closest companions, and wash their feet. Joy and sacrifice. That, I believe, is the totality of what God meant to reveal to us in the person of Jesus. That truly is the meaning of our life here. Through Jesus, we know the joy of our salvation, the good news preached to the poor and oppressed, that God loves us and wants to bring us home to him. This is not just some passing emotion; I’m not talking about simply being happy. What Jesus brought was the day in, day out, eternal joy of knowing that God was walking with us as our shepherd. And how did he reveal this to us? As a king lording it over us? As one demanding his strict obedience and service? No, quite the opposite. Jesus showed by his example that the way we are to love one another, the way that God relates to us, is as humble servants. Without arrogance. Without entitlement. Without pride. Just love without counting the cost, even if that means giving of our lives.

Isn’t that the way Nana lived every moment of her life? A joyful servant of God?

Pictures like these were more than plentiful at the viewing. Nana was joyful and outgoing.

Pictures like these were more than plentiful at the viewing. Nana was joyful and outgoing.

What I love so much about our psalm today is the image of an overflowing cup. Isn’t that truly what our lives are? Overflowing cups? How could we begin to count the ways God has blessed us? When has our cup ever gone dry? For those who ask to be refilled, God will never stop pouring. That’s the way Nana lived her life. She never thought twice about taking a sip out of life, enjoying every blessing God was going to give her, never fearing that she might run out tomorrow. She was joyful because she knew that God would fill her back up. She never thought twice about giving of herself, emptying her cup for love of others, never fearing that she wouldn’t have enough for herself. She was a servant of others because she knew that God was going to fill her back up.

As she grew older and older, she used to joke, “I think God must have forgotten about little old me down here.” I hardly think this was the case. God had not forgotten about her, and she certainly had not forgotten about God. But I think there’s something so human about a statement like that. Even when joking, it touches on the deep, existential questions we all have to some degree. Does God exist? Why am I here when others have died? What happens when we die? What is the meaning of life? There is within each one of us a longing to know the answer to each of these questions, a struggle to realize that we cannot prove our answers to any of them. It is the human condition, to know that we will never find absolute certainty in this life, but that we have to make a decision anyway. On the one hand, we can let our doubts and skepticism get the best of us, focus entirely on what we don’t know, and wallow in our great loss. Nana is gone from this world forever. But that is not our only choice. We have within us the capacity to hope to believe what we have heard in Scripture and what others have told us. We have hope that what we have seen with our own eyes is God working in this world. This is not some wishful desire made up to comfort us. It is the experience of good and faithful people for thousands of years. It is hope that keeps us from despair; hope that keeps us going until that final day when we breathe our last and we find ourselves face to face with the one who created us and called us home.

As Christians, gathered around this saint named Mary, how can we have anything else but hope and joy for where she is now. Are we sad? Of course. Do we miss her? Undoubtedly. But if we have hope in the life of Jesus, how can we not have nope for Nana. Jesus came to us for a short time, brought us the Father’s joy and love through humble service, and when his work was done, he returned to the Father. Isn’t that Nana’s story as well? After witnessing to the great love of God our father for 91 years, she now returns to that love, to remain in the comfort of his hands forever.

And so I ask something of you, something for you to think about and ponder as you remember the life of such a wonderful woman. If Nana has touched your life is some way, if her joy made you smile (or continues to make you smile), if she has made your life better because of her great sacrifice, if she has made you the person that you are today… would you allow yourself to believe that is was God who touched her life and made her who she was? Would you allow yourself to believe that it was God working through Nana to show you his love?

If you say yes, know that Nana will never be far away. For what we truly loved about Nana is before us here and before us always. God’s love is ready to be poured out to all who ask for it and made truly present here in the word and at this table. God’s grace made Nana’s cup overflow so much that we couldn’t help but feel his presence in our lives. May you allow your cup to overflow with the grace of God so that you may also bring joy and selfless love to all you meet.

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2014 in General Reflection

 

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Cardinal Differences

While these two men are unquestionably Catholic, they have very different visions for the life of the Church

While these two men have very different visions for the life of the Church, they are unquestionably Catholic

It was quite a remarkable week at the Catholic University of America. In what we were told was “completely coincidental,” two different (and I mean different) Cardinals found their way onto campus to give lectures about the Church. On Monday, Gerhard Cardinal Müller, the prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), gave a lecture to the public, and on Tuesday prayed evening prayer and gave a lecture before a private audience of seminarians. On Thursday, Walter Cardinal Kasper received a medal for “Excellence in Scholarship and Leadership in Religious Studies” from the Catholic University of America and gave a lecture entitled, “Theological Background of the Ecclesiological Ecumenical Vision of Pope Francis.”

For those not up on the latest gossip–I mean news–within the Vatican regarding the Synod on the Family, this is quite a coupling of Cardinals to have speak in one week. Both men have been the center of attention of media personnel, and many have caricatured these men against one another as theological and political enemies, one being the progressive in favor of doctrinal change, the other the conservative defending the faith against heresy. While there is some truth to this, as they appear to have taken different stances on a couple of key issues, it seems to me to be a gross oversimplification of the issues and an attempt to create schism where no schism exists. These men hold different points of view regarding the life of the Church, sure, but they are also very Catholic in doing so.

Of the two, Müller’s was certainly the drier of the lectures. Being the prefect of the CDF, one did not expect him to present anything revolutionary or controversial. Added to that, language was definitely a barrier, meaning that his entire lecture and even much of the question-and-answer session, was read from prewritten statements. As far as presentation goes, I have to admit, I struggled to stay awake.

At the same time, though, it was a really worthwhile experience. Attended by and geared toward seminarians alone, the whole evening was a pretty inspiring event. While the Franciscans (OFM) and the Dominicans appeared to be the only religious in attendance (ahem… Carmelites, Capuchins, TORs, Conventuals, Paulists…), there were hundreds of seminarians in attendance, all students at CUA. That was pretty amazing to see. Vocations to religious life and the priesthood are by no means where they need to be, but it’s clear that there has been a small resurgence in numbers over the past five to ten years. Müller took notice of this, but seemed to indicate that quality is more important than quantity. Encouraging us to embrace the process of growth and conversion, he told us that seminary and formation were not simply, “I believe ze English term is ‘hoops to jump troo.'” We must always ground ourselves in faith, and recognize our journey in the life of the Eucharistic celebration. With the mass as our foundation, seminary and formation is not the step before we get to where we’re going, but rather the experience of Christ right now on our journey of faith.

As an added “bonus” to the night, Cardinal Müller shook each of our hands, took a group picture, and invited us to tour the Saint John Paul II exhibit recently opened. (More about this experience at the end.)

But as worthwhile as our evening with Cardinal Müller was, it pales in comparison to Cardinal Kasper’s lecture. Let’s just say that the man was candid, casual, and full of joy with the current pope. Francis, he said, is Jesuit to the core (not a Franciscan in disguise.) Unlike his predecessor who exercised faith from the standpoint of his intellect and theory, Francis’ faith is rooted in experience and defined by practical measures. Distinctly South American, he exemplifies a method of theology found in the liberation theologians: see, judge, act. Unlike the liberation theologians, however, the Gospel is not primarily a message of liberation, but rather joy, and joy cannot be contained. It is God’s mercy that defines the Gospel, not law. As such, social justice is not some far off ideal we seek, but rather “the minimum amount of mercy” required by all. The Gospel requires more than just the minimum, more than just “what is due.” It requires mercy.

Through this lens, he described, Francis’ understanding of the Church is straight out of the Second Vatican Council, even if he never mentions it. “He doesn’t mention Vatican II a lot. The reason for this is not that he doesn’t agree with it, it’s that that he has embodied it so completely in himself.” For Francis, the Church should not be like a business in which the CEO dictates the mission and the heads of each department work towards pleasing the boss, guided by strict laws and protocols; the Church is not a top-down institution with the pope as the sole source and authority of truth, dictating doctrine for everyone to follow. The Church is the people of God, the messianic people, the sensus fidei, and he wants full participation from everyone, particularly the laity. Just as the outwardly written “doctrines” are secondary to the inward gifts of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, the Magisterium is there, not to impose burdens on the people, but to listen to and serve the people of God. When the Church becomes self-centered, failing to move to the peripheries of society and Church out of fear, the joy of the Gospel does not get communicated. (I’ve intended to write a post about Francis, and maybe I’ll get there, but can I just go on record to say that I love this guy?)

It’s here, I guess, that the reflective piece of this post begins, and the true purpose of writing comes out. Having listened to two Cardinals with very different tones this week, and having spent a lot of time in conversation about the differences between the papacies of John Paul II and Francis, (not to mention the fact that there were two people protesting outside of one of the lectures!) I cannot help but recognize that each of these men is truly Catholic in his theology and understanding of Church, even if I prefer one over another. I think Cardinal Kasper’s very candid opening line of his lecture expresses what I want to say: “For some of you, the papacy of Francis is a spring of new life, a great warmth after a winter that has lasted for many years; for others of you, it is an unwelcome cold spell that has caused you to grab your coat and pray for a short winter.” This is not a new phenomenon, nor does it indicate that we are headed towards schism. To have a different perspective on Church, and thus, to be disappointed with the Church’s leadership at a given time, does not make someone a good or bad Catholic. As I walked around the John Paul II exhibit, I couldn’t help but be inspired by the many wonderful things he did and the great man of prayer that he always was; at the same time, I couldn’t help but remember that his understanding of Church and style of leadership were far from my own, and that he did a lot to undo the reforms put in place by the Second Vatican Council that really define my own theology. And that’s okay.

You see, we live in a pluralistic world, and like it or not, worship in a pluralistic Church. Having now taken classes in Church history, history of theology, history of the sacraments, foundations of moral theology, and social ethics, it’s clear to me that there has never been time in which everyone in the Church believed and acted the same way, even among the greatest of theologians. (Look at Saint Bonaventure and Saint Thomas Aquinas: contemporaries and doctors of the Church, they represent a Church moving in opposing directions. Look at East and West: truly faithful people that agree on every important dogmatic statement (minus one word that we added later…), both drawing their lineage all the way back to Jesus, and yet are very different in thought and practice.) While the experience of God’s revelation in Christ is unchanging, the way we understand that revelation and live it out develops over time. Just because we may have different opinions about theology and Church organization does not mean that one is right and one is wrong, it simply means, as Kasper said, “The totality of God cannot fit into one human perspective.” Instead of calling for Schism or name-calling among the people of faith, instead of a theology of arrogance that claims to know all that there is about the infinite, let us treat one another with humility of heart and joy for the Gospel, and do as St. Paul tells us: “Test everything; retain what is good.”

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2014 in Post-Novitiate, Theology, Workshop

 

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Weight Room Theology

Good workout mantra. Bad theology.

Good workout mantra. Bad theology.

“No pain, no gain.”

“If you can’t outplay them, outwork them.”

“It’s all about who wants it more.”

“The difference between the impossible and the possible lies in a person’s determination.”

“You gotta burn it to earn it”

“Pain is weakness leaving the body.”

“Go big or go home.”

“If you fail to prepare, you’re prepared to fail.”

As someone who has taken sports and athletic training very seriously my whole life, quotes like these really get me going. Even watching a commercial like this makes me want to jump off the couch and hit the weights. I can work harder. I can get better. I can be great. There is within me a constant demand for progress and the belief that it is within the realm of my free will to achieve it (or not) based on the amount of effort I put in. Hard work pays off, as they say, and so I’m all about hard work.

And while most of us recognize that our free will is only one contributing factor to our success (along with our genetic makeup, social upbringing, and chance), I imagine that most of us buy into these weight room montras to some extent. We want to be in control. We want to think that we can determine our own future, that it is not some unchangeable characteristic our biology that determines our life, but rather our dedication and innovation. Isn’t that the American way? At the core of who we are, we are a people that upholds the freedom to make of ourselves what we can, that hard work should be rewarded with success.

I think that’s really the crux of it: we are a people that believes that we are able to and should earn everything we have. We live with the notion that the world is a meritocracy, that those who work hard will be successful and those who are lazy or incompetent will be unsuccessful. In this world, everything is in our control. We can choose to work hard or not, but ultimately success is within our hands. When people hear that the actual greatest indicator of one’s success is the social status of the family in which one is born, most want to reject this: the privileged want to think that they earned what they were given, and the poor want to believe that their situation can be changed if only they work hard enough. Everyone wants to be in control; everyone wants to believe that we can earn whatever we want.

It’s no wonder, then, that weight room montras and motivational quotes pervade all aspects of our life, even our relationship with God. Without even realizing it, many of us have adopted a weight room theology in which salvation is yet another task to be overcome by our will and earned by our hard work.

Can we really earn our salvation? Can we really work hard enough to deserve a place in heaven? Will any amount of innovation, creativity, or usefulness really make God love us? The answer to all three is clearly no. Because we are God’s creation, made in God’s image to reflect the divine aspect and to give everything we are back to our Creator, there is nothing we ever do above and beyond what is expected of us. God’s grace to us is something that is freely given and undeserved. It is a true gift, something that is not as a result of our actions and does not warrant anything in return. God created us, Jesus became like us, and the Spirit now remains with us, not because of who we are, but because of who God is.

But that doesn’t sit well with us Type-A Americans, does it? We want to know that what we are doing means something, that we can overcome ourselves to assure the result we want. We allow a weight room theology to slip in. “If I say all of my prayers every day God will love me.” “I followed all the rules of the Church, received every sacrament I could, and gave money to the poor.” “I did something really bad. I need to do something to make up for it so that God will forgive me.” In each of these statements there is a desire to be in control, to convince God of our worthiness by doing good things. Isn’t that a bit silly when we think about it, though? Surely we could never convince God of anything, and even if we could, there could never be a rule to follow or a deed to complete that would be enough.

So does that mean everything is for nought? If we can’t earn salvation, what does it matter how we act? For our answer, let’s look to the parable of The Great Feast (Matthew 22:1-14, Luke 14:15-24). In both versions, the great king sends out his servants to tell the invited guests that the banquet is ready. They did not pay to enter the banquet, nor is it implied that they did anything to deserve attendance. What do they do with such a gift? They choose not to come. Caught up with worldly concerns, they make excuses and turn down the free banquet. Enraged, the king sends out his servants to the streets, inviting anyone and everyone, including “the poor and the crippled, the blind and the lame,” surely not people that earned a place at the table. This does not mean that nothing is expected of them, however. Noticing that one of the guests came without a wedding garment, a sign of repentance and changed heart (not to mention disrespectful to the host!), the king kicked him out with the others that chose not to accept the gift.

Even though it is up to God who ultimately gets invited to the feast, it is up to us whether or not we accept the invitation and show up with a heart open to conversion. It is an acceptance that we are not in control of our destiny, that no amount of hard work or merit could ever guarantee us a place before God. In the chapel, unlike the weight room, we rely not on our own strength to be great, for our strength is nothing on its own. Rather, it is when we are weak that we are strong, when we allow Christ to lift us up, to take our pain, to direct our lives, that Christ lives in us and we are truly strong.

Ultimately, motivational quotes and inspirational commercials have there place. God has placed within us a tremendous amount of gifts that we often don’t recognize, and anything that aids in bringing them to perfection is alright with me. In our weight room at Holy Name college, we have this poster of Michael Jordan and this one of Rocky Balboa, along with loud speakers to play pump-up songs like this, all to help us dig deep within ourselves. Where does this strength come from? God, and God alone.

(But… just in case we forget, we have one more piece of motivation on the wall)

God is my strength, in the weight room and the chapel.

God is my strength, in the weight room and the chapel.

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2014 in Theology

 

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Don’t Fear Fraternity

Nothing to fear here!

Nothing to fear here!

As friars, we’re busy people. The students go to school and volunteer at ministry sites; the solemnly professed work full time jobs; the postulants (first year) volunteer at ministry sites and attend many classes and workshops on a regular basis. Add that to the regular prayers, meals, and house chores, and there is little time left in the day for most of us.

For the long-time reader, this may sound familiar. In A Brother, Even When Busy, I shared a similar reflection as the postulant year was starting to pick up and I was forced to budget my time and focus on what was most important: “Being busy is much more of a test and training of our priorities: even after a long day, how are we going to find time for our brothers?”

You see, being in a fraternity is a lot like one’s own family: you don’t get to choose who you live with, you’re not always interested in the same things, and while there is a common bond that unites everyone, the people around you are often taken for granted and overlooked because we know that they’ll always be there. There is in both cases, I believe, the false idea that our relationships with either stay the same or get better even without much attention; we implicitly believe that they will grow naturally by virtue of living together and sharing a common identity. I’m sure all of us can attest to the fact that this is just not the case. Community life takes work. Without clear intentionality on the part of everyone involved, it is simply going to fall apart when things get busy.

So what do friars do about that? One thing Holy Name College is doing this year for the first time is a monthly fraternal celebration. Set up by the recreation committee (who has just unofficially changed its name to the fraternal life committee), one evening a month has been assigned a theme to make it more than just a regular night, and the friars are “encouraged” to break from the normal schedule to be with one another for an extended amount of time.

With Halloween upon us, we couldn’t help but make the inaugural fraternal celebration a “Black and Orange” party. And how perfect it worked out. Celebrating the feast of Ignatius of Antioch, one of the first martyrs of the Church, the readings and homily at mass reminded us not to be afraid even when the world is crashing down around us or we’re about to be killed by the Romans (or that there are ghosts. That too.) We came out of mass to find the living room completely decorated with blac3k and orange streamers, Reese’s Peanut Butter cups and orange slice candies on the tables, and a witches hat on the lamp (that no one actually put on, surprisingly enough.) The dining room was completely decked out with orange and black table cloths and napkins, streamers from the ceiling, and festive place settings. For dinner? How about blackened salmon, black beans and orange rice, sweat potatoes with blackberry jam, sicilian orange salad with black olives, and for dessert, carrot cake and blackberry buckle. (But wait, there’s more!) After evening prayer at its regular time, the living room was reconfigured for a showing of a scary movie, The Others (good movie but excellent entertainment hearing one friar scream at every slightly scary part!)

Could it have went very poorly? Definitely. Some might have said, “I’m not giving up a Friday night to stay in,” or “We don’t do those sorts of things here. That’s really lame.” And I’ve heard friars say both. But they didn’t tonight, and believe it or not, almost every friar stayed for the whole night (and enjoyed themselves!) Was it a lot of work? Sure. But what would we have gained by “saving our energy”? A regular Friday in which people don’t go out of their way to make sure they’re at mass, small talk about the day for twenty minutes, normal dinner, and then everyone dispersing their separate ways after (or before) prayer. Instead, everyone made an effort to be there, to enjoy themselves and their company, and really appreciate the fact that we’re a fraternity, not a bunch of bachelors living together.

So what do I have to say about all of this, given the Halloween theme? We cannot be afraid to put ourselves out there for the sake of building intentional community. I mentioned a few weeks back how moved I was by our Feast of Saint Francis celebration, and I’m beginning to see a common element: the men that I live with are more open to working on our fraternal life than any of the three house configurations I have lived in before. I sense a comfort with one another and an intentionality of life that I have not experienced. This is very encouraging.

As the year progresses, my hope is that we may build upon the fun we have each other, and in a sense, move beyond it as our sole sense of camaraderie. Especially among men, it can be difficult to move beyond the laughter and good wine to something deeper, to something intimate. Why is it that we’re here, together? What struggles do we face in life? What brokenness do we carry around with us unbeknownst to others? Being vulnerable with each other can be very scary, no doubt. For many, we’d rather face a ghost than share who we really are. But isn’t that what our life is about, walking together because we know we can’t do it on our own? As Christians and Franciscans, let us never fear that which challenges us, builds us up, and above all, reveals Christ to us: our fraternal life together.

To see more pictures of the night, check out the shufferfly site.

 
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Posted by on October 17, 2014 in Fraternity

 

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Do Grades Matter?

How important are these in your life?

How important are these in your life?

With midterm week(s) upon us, papers and tests are consuming students around the country leaving many to wonder, “Does this even matter?” It is a rhetorical question that I’ve asked myself many times, attempting to justify the amount of work I was unable/unwilling to finish or to comfort me with less-than-perfect marks. “Eh, what do grades matter anyway?’ While I have never “struggled” in school and my grades were by no means bad, such a philosophy always inhibited me from achieving the higher grades that were within my capability. So now I wonder a very non-rhetorical way, as a graduate theology student preparing for ordination, “Do grades matter?” Should I have studied more as an undergrad so that my GPA would have been .25 higher?

Yes and no. (Did you expect a straight answer?)

I wish I could emphatically say yes, that what I’m doing is of the utmost importance and that grades accurately reflected the amount of work I do and that they will predict how well I was going to be a priest in the future. That’s just not the case, because, frankly, no one cares how you did in “Canon Law of Sacramental Ministry” or “Ancient and Medieval Church History”. Even in more practical courses like “Advanced Preaching” or “Reconciliation” no one is out there wondering, “I wonder if he got an A…?” In life after school, either in ministry or professional degrees, no one is ever going to ask for or even wonder about how well someone was able to read a text and write a paper about it; what people want to see is someone who is knowledgeable and competent, who is able to integrate classroom information into real life situations.

Because our degree is a combination of intellectual and practical knowledge, it is fitting for people continuing on to higher academic studies as well as for people entering pastoral fields; because our degree is a combination of intellectual and practical knowledge, there are aspects of the degree that will serve absolutely no use to someone planning on only entering pastoral fields (this is also the case for every undergraduate degree. Do I really need Chemistry 101?) As a pastoral minister in the Church, do I really need to know the different liturgical rites of the Eastern Churches for baptism; the history of the Nestorian controversy and how the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon responded to it; or the differences between Scotus and Aquinas on the Absolute Will of God? Probably not. Does it matter, though, if I can give a personal (and theologically accurate) testimony of Jesus Christ in the life of the Church, offering consolation and guidance to someone having just lost a loved one? Absolutely.

With this is mind, knowing that we are in school not for academic pursuits but rather to better serve the people of God, there is a sense that we need to discern what is important and what is not, focusing less on the grades we earn and more on learning what will be useful. For example, the other day I was assigned a primary text of an ancient theologian that bored me to death and presented no practical application. Should I have a) read the treatise anyway, getting what was important to know for the test, or b) read the optional, supplemental material that gave a historical overview of the Church at that time, placing the theologian into the context of the whole Church? For me, even though it would not help my grade any more than doing nothing at all, I found the latter to be much more helpful in the long run of my ministry, and that’s how I spent my time.

I wish I could say that this is the solution to the question, that grades are merely letters with no significance at all and that all that matters is discerning what information is practical for ministry. This I simply cannot say. The fact of the matter is that grades do matter. While they should not be the determining factor to one’s happiness nor will they guarantee any success in the long run, they are helpful in keeping students on task and evaluating how well they were able to comprehend difficult material. Is everything in the course necessary for one’s ministerial career? Probably not. But how can one know what exactly will be useful in the long run? As the number of ministers in the Church continues to diminish, new ones will be called on to be all things for all people, expected to be prepared for anything and everything that comes along.

Similar to this, I think that there is a level of trust and obedience that can be exercised as a diligent student. Rather than discerning what is and is not useful, essentially dismissing the professor as unable to do his/her job, why not show some humility and give up one’s will in the matter, doing what is asked of oneself? I am fairly sure that graduation will not mark the end of trivial assignments or stressful work, so why not train the will, not the intellect, to be patient, obedient, and open-minded? I have found on more than one occasion that things I did not think were useful ended up being life-changing events. Who knows where God will speak?

Ultimately, while I wish that I could say that they don’t matter to me and that school is about what one learns, grades do matter to me, and that’s not a bad thing. Grades are an effective way to manage and motivate what I learn and how hard I work. As long as I remember that they are not ends in themselves and they do not give reason to boast in any way, that they are merely a tool to encourage me to learn more about God and serving God’s people, then I think they serve a great purpose. That’s the key, I guess. Whether it’s becoming a priest or going to tech school, learning is something that should always be done to build up the kingdom of God and should never be kept to oneself for pride or personal glory. Do grades matter? I guess it all depends on why one wants them.

 
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Posted by on October 10, 2014 in Ministry

 

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