The liturgical year is one of the greatest gems of the Church. Over the course of the year, we ritually live out the events of salvation history, calling to mind what God has done for us and what God will continue to do. For those who fully enter into it, each season offers a chance to experience God in a different way, focusing on a particular experience of our lives with God and how we are to respond to it.

In Advent, of course, our focus is on what is to come: we wait in joyful anticipation for the coming of our Lord Jesus.

But what does that actually mean?

For many, the focus is what immediately follows Advent: Christmas. What we await is the birth of our Lord, the Incarnation of God as a human being. And who can blame us? It’s no doubt the greatest mystery of all of human history. The Creator became the created. Think about that. God, the all-knowing, all-powerful being that holds together all of existence… came to be a meek, poor, vulnerable creature in a volatile time and place in human history. God took on our humanity (or did we take on His? Look for a video the day after Christmas…) No doubt, this is something to celebrate.

At the same time, though, that event took place in history, meaning that it is long past. Nothing, in effect, will be different come December 25. At Christmas, we celebrate a remembrance of that amazing encounter—and rightfully so—but in many ways, it is just that: a remembrance. Christmas is not the day of the year in which Jesus actually comes in a way that He is not already present to us now, and it is not somehow special because it is the exact date that it happened, like a birthday (no one knows when Jesus was actually born. The date was set in the third or fourth century.)

For many, then, Advent is kind of a strange season if they think about it. If what we celebrate on Christmas has already happened, what are we waiting for in Advent?

  • Some pretend to be surprised, holding back the information they already know so that they can be like the people of Israel who heard the Good News and rejoiced. But how could we forget what we already know?
  • Instead, others try to make Christmas out to be something more than it already is, a day in which Jesus is actually born is some way, that his presence to us on that day is somehow unlike it was was on the previous day. But how can (or why would) Jesus be born anew every year and then leave again?
  • Finally, and probably most common of all, some don’t think much about it at all, simply seeing the season of Advent as a cute ritual of lighting candles and holding back our excitement so that Christmas will be that much more joyful. But why would the Church devote four weeks of the liturgical year to something that’s simply cute or enjoyable?

In my latest YouTube reflection, I want to offer a slightly different approach. Advent, although immediately preceding Christmas, is not primarily a waiting or preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth, but in fact quite the opposite: because we already possess the Good News of the Incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, what we await now is not His first coming, but rather His second. Unlike the people of Israel who longed for a Messiah, we already have one. We cannot forget this fact, it cannot be taken away from us, and it cannot happen again. Thus, we wait and hope in the Advent season, not because we do not know what will happen, but precisely because we do.

For this reason, Advent is indeed a time of waiting and hope as we have always celebrated, but the knowledge of Christmas gives meaning to our hope and forces us to look beyond what we celebrate: to a world when Jesus will sit on His thrown, the Kingdom of Heaven will be established, peace and justice will reign, and the weak will be lifted up. For three weeks now that has been the message of our Old Testament readings at mass. Really, that has been the focus of our waiting. We do not await a child born on December 25, we await a King to bring justice to our world.

That is what this liturgical season is all about. We are called in this time to remember what God has done throughout history, but also to focus our attention on what God will do one day. We are called to prepare ourselves to receive Jesus into our lives, but also to realize that we already have a foretaste of the encounter we await. We are called to hope for a better world, but also to focus our attention on how we already possess the answer to that hope and are capable of laying its foundation with our own works of peace and justice.

Advent is a wonderful season of the liturgical year. In fact, it might be my favorite. It is a time when we most realize that the world we seek is not the world we have. And yet, it is a time when we are reminded that things will change, and that we can do something about it. We cannot bring about the second coming of our Lord, but because we already possess him in our memory and in our breaking of the bread, we can in fact bring Him into our world, even if it is just a foretaste of what’s to come.

So I guess my question is this: What are we waiting for?

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St. Francis is probably the most popular, widely recognized, and most misunderstood saint in the Church’s history. It’s not that people don’t know a lot about him, it’s the opposite: since there have been so many stories written about him over the past 800 years, everyone knows something, but it can be difficult to separate fact from folklore.

As someone who has studied the early sources of his life, it can be frustrating sometimes to see how his name is used or what people are saying about him. Take the “Prayer of St. Francis.” It’s a nice prayer, but those who have read Francis’ actual writings know that it sounds absolutely nothing like him. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find that it was a prayer for peace written during World War I.

Francis preaching to the birds is another example. Did Francis preach to the birds in a literal sense? Maybe. We do have one or two references to it in his early biographies. But what’s interesting is that so many other saints before him were also said to preach to animals, and that, for some, the birds represented the many types of people of the world. And besides that, he did and wrote about many other things; preaching to the birds is something he never mentions, and is really insignificant to all of the other more important things he said and did. And yet, he is the man of the birdbath.

These are just two examples of the manways the image of Francis has been misunderstood throughout the years, and it’s no wonder that he can be found promoting such vastly different causes. Once, for instance, our novitiate class was forced to attend an etiquette because, as the friar hosting it said, “Isn’t this what Francis would have done?” An etiquette workshop. Right.

That’s the feeling that Rob Goraieb, OFS had a few weeks ago when we were preparing for the feast of St. Francis, coming up this weekend. How could we deal with this frustration in a positive way? Like the 40 minute video we filmed a few months ago about vocations and church in the modern world, we decided to just sit down and talk about it on camera. What things frustrated us? What aspects of Francis’ life are often overlooked or forgotten? What do we as Franciscans want the world to know about St. Francis?

We sat for about an hour on camera and we hardly scratched the surface of what we wanted to say. In fact, both of us were initially left dissatisfied with what we had done. The fact of the matter, as we realized, is that there is no way to totally encapsulate the inspiration of the life of Francis, and in some ways, we didn’t even want to try. But we did want to share with you what we found most essential to Francis’ life and what it might mean to follow Francis today.

Happy Feast!

For those on email, the link is here.

I was tempted to have this reaction on more than one occasion this summer.

I was tempted to have this reaction on more than one occasion this summer.

I love debate. There are few things to me better than a good argument, presenting one’s case and rebutting the other. It’s a great way to refine one’s own opinion and to learn the perspective of another. That is, if it is a good debate.

This summer has been witness to quite a few bad ones, I have to say. Divisive and inflammatory issues such as climate change, same-sex marriage, gun control, the Affordable Care Act, Deflategate, the confederate flag, ISIL, Israel and Palestine, Cuba, immigration, Planned Parenthood, Caitlyn Jenner, Donald Trump, and the Iran nuclear deal, to name just a few, have dominated discussions and infuriated so many in the past few months. On any given day, my Facebook news feed exploded with impassioned, and often offensive, articles and opinions that left me angry and deflated. “Really? Why would you say that about that person? What is wrong with the world?”

Part of the problem is definitely the opinions themselves. Research done by the Pew Research Center (found here, with lots of infographics and great information so check it out!) shows that the United States is becoming increasingly extreme in its opinions and further divided on issues than in the past. The number of people that hold moderate opinions, able to bridge the gap between extremes, is diminishing while the extreme conservative and liberal stances are gaining support.

The real issue, though, has less to do with the opinions themselves and more to do with how we react to them. This same study found that an alarming number of people are beginning to see those of the opposing political party as a “threat to the nation’s well-being.” Compared to ten years ago, both sides moved away from the other: conservatives in this category more than doubled while liberals increased by a third. This is a major problem. Not only are we moving away from the other in what we hold true, we are much more likely to label and belittle the other as our enemy, becoming more comfortable with the notion that we don’t need the other. “Oh, those people? Who cares what they think? They’re ruining America.” This is not good debate for the sake of the truth. This is bad debate which seeks to destroy the enemy.

Anecdotally, my daily experience on Facebook and in general conversations has shown me that most of us simply don’t know how to talk with one another about difficult issues without becoming angry or taking things personally. Conversations about simple governmental policies or social issues quickly escalate with emotions and even offensive behavior. Why does this happen? How is it that opinions such as these can get us so angry that we are willing to post hateful articles, show disrespect to another, or even choose to end a relationship?

In my experience, the biggest problem is that we struggle to make a distinction between someone disagreeing with our idea and someone attacking our person. I had an experience like this once in a planning meeting. Throwing around ideas, I disagreed with one person in particular:  “I see what you’re saying, but I just don’t agree. I think it would be better to do X, for these reasons…” Respectful, direct, and clearly thought out. After the meeting, though, this person came up to me upset and actually hurt: “What do you have against me?” he asked. What? I just disagreed with you. I don’t hate you! For him, he was so tied to his opinion, had allowed it to become intertwined with his identity, that a simple disagreement felt like an attack on him personally.

The problem with this is that our political rhetoric and smear campaigns are actually designed to do this. “He believes X, so he’s a bad person.” A quick look at any television ad shows what I mean: the pro-candidate is always in color with smiling faces while the one with a different stance is in black and white with dramatic or sad music. By attacking the person’s character with cheap emotional tricks, these ads try to convince us that, “If s/he is a bad person, her/his idea must also be bad, and vice-versa.” This sort of thinking leaves us unable to disagree with a candidate we respect or to like an idea from people we don’t get along with.

We as Catholics need not fall into this trap of bad debate, though. We know that every single human being is created in the image of God, and that the opinion one holds, even if completely idiotic at times, has absolutely no effect on the respect we must give to this God-given dignity. Yes someone may be severely misinformed, but we are called to love everyone, not because of what they believe, but because of what we believe, that they are created in the image of God. 

For me, this is a non-negotiable for a good debate. No matter how much I may disagree with someone on the most fundamental of principles, there is never an excuse to confuse the idea with the person, attacking both indiscriminately. Who wins from that? If our goal is to actually convince people of our side, namely that the love of Christ is freely given to all and is fueling our mission in the world, hatred and impatience is not going to do a great job at expressing that! And we all struggle with this, I’m sure! I know that when I’m faced with certain opinions, it is really hard to show the respect that Christ shows me. But here’s the thing: that is exactly the moment we need to show it most. It is in those debates with those who agree with us least, say…a pro-abortion pedophile Nazi who worships trees and burns the American flag for fun… that we need to be at our absolute best, arguing not only with good logic and reason, but with the way we treat them.

It is why I would love to see more Catholics on inflammatory shows like Rush Limbaugh preaching peaceful and balanced dialogue, conservative news sources like Fox News speaking about climate change and immigration, and liberal news stations like MSNBC defending the life of the unborn. If done with respect and intelligence, those are the places we need to be entering the debate. And we need to be entering. Some opinions should make us angry. They should infuriate us. It is not only appropriate to hate an idea and stand against it at times, it is our Christian responsibility to do so. As long as we do so as Christians. Our anger should always be proportionate to the gravity of the situation and rightly directly, aimed at the opinion and never the person professing it. What is the purpose of winning an argument if it as the expense of belittling our brother or sister? We all lose in that situation. Instead, let us debate with one another like Christians, with respect for the other, and with the goal not of beating our opponent, but of challenging them (and letting them challenge us) to discover greater truth from which we can ALL benefit. That, I say, is a debate with dignity, and there are few things I like more in the world.

Is It Tough To Preach There?

Giving a lecture on Laudato Si in the church to a mixed audience

Giving a lecture on Laudato Si in the church to a mixed audience

If time flies when you’re having fun, it seems to break the sound barrier when you’re busy living out your life’s calling. After eight weeks that I will forever remember at our parish in Triangle, VA, I find myself back at Holy Name College in Silver Spring, MD wondering what just happened. Part of me is in denial. I only started packing to leave an hour before I left, and didn’t even hint at saying goodbye to any of the parish staff until I was packed and ready to go. I sit here in my room half expecting to head back in a few days, but that is not the case. I do not know if or when I will return, but I do know that it has been (dare I be so bold…) my favorite period of being a friar thus far.

For some, this might be surprising given the reputation of the parish. The parish does not have a bad reputation by any means, but before I visited and ultimately decided on it, there seemed to be an obligatory question friars asked when mentioning the parish: “Is it tough to preach there?” What they meant by this was that the influence of the government and military (the marine base at Quantico is just .4 miles away and the parish is the home of many Pentagon and intelligence workers) was perceived to be a detriment to preaching freely about some difficult topics. How could one engage in works of social justice, challenge the culture of war and gun violence, and speak freely about the social ills of the country if everyone there was either a gun-toting conservative or a high-powered government agent that would be keeping tabs on anything controversial (not that either of these things is bad, I should note)? That was the perception I had of Triangle after three years in the Order, having visited the parish only once.

Having now spent eight weeks there and leaving with actual experience preaching, do you want to know my answer? No, yes, and it’s a flawed question. Let me explain.

For starters, the very reasons that some have cited as potentially off-putting are the very reasons that make it an incredible place to work and preach. Because let’s be honest: if you are interested in social justice and actually want to get things done, wouldn’t you want people in the pews who can make a serious difference in their work, say… FBI agents, people who protect and interact with the president on a regular basis, and oh, you know, generals in the armed forces. Sitting in their pews each week are the people that have the power to make incredibly influential decisions on behalf of our country, and are entrusted with the task of forming many young men and women entering these jobs. Rather than reading the New York Times op ed piece and forming an opinion, the people of this parish can go and speak to an actual person working in the Pentagon or investigating an issue on the ground and have a real conversation. This is an incredible resource. Is it tough to preach here? No. Quite the opposite: it’s better informed and more exciting.

On the other hand, having these resources there do require a bit more work in preaching. Our preaching has to be done in a smart way. Unlike “easier” situations for preaching, congregations that are largely similar and everything we say is like “preaching to the choir,” one cannot get away with saying lazy answers or half-truths when those listening are well-informed and diverse. If everyone is conservative in the parish, you could get away with preaching about how there are abuses to the welfare system and the best way to help the poor is to make them “help themselves.” Popular, but not the Gospel. If everyone in the parish is liberal, you could get away with preaching that the entire reason people are poor is because of corporate greed and the top 1% of wealth-owners. Popular, but also not the Gospel. When a parish has the parishioners that St. Francis does, knowledgable and well-connected, and given the issues many have had with their previous churches, overwhelmingly diverse when it comes to the conservative/liberal scale, it can only be successful if it preaches carefully and invites all to the table.

I saw this first hand working with the Care of Creation Committee on Pope Francis’ Laudato Si and the Economics Committee on wealth inequality. Both issues are very controversial. Both have the possibility of alienating parishioners. And yet arch-conservatives and flaming liberals (and of course, us normal people in between!) were able to come together, challenge one another, and not leave the conversation by flipping the table and storming off. Why? Because the conversation was incredibly intelligent, and more importantly, involved people that knew that the real answer had to include everyone. Is this a difficult environment to preach in? You bet.

As a result, though, St. Francis is the most successful parish I know of in actually making a difference in social justice issues. How successful? While many churches have a food pantry and outreach program, which St. Francis does, it also has seven different Action and Advocacy groups. The Anti-Human Trafficking group, for instance, is so well-organized and ahead of the curve that two representatives of the parish were asked to present on effectively organizing a parish-run social action group at the Anti-Humam Trafficking conference organized by the United State Conference of Catholic Bishops a few weeks ago. That’s no small potatoes! It is a certified Green Faith parish, an active community organizer through the Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (V.O.I.C.E.) organization, a major supporter of respect for life issues (a committee that includes but goes beyond abortion in its defense of the dignity of human life), and… well, you’re probably tired of me shamelessly selling this parish by now. But you get the point: it is a successful parish.

So, is it tough to preach there? No, yes, and ultimately, it’s a faulty question. Because, really, shouldn’t it always be tough to preach somewhere? The Gospel is not easy to follow. It’s challenging. If it seems easy to preach and everyone agrees with what we’ve said, well then maybe we haven’t preached well. If we have picked a side and given people what they want, haven’t we also failed to be bridge-builders to those on the other side? Maybe we haven’t challenged our congregations, or maybe we haven’t challenged ourselves. At St. Francis, one can understand the apprehension to preach and its reputation, given the congregation. For me, though, that’s what all preaching should be, and I loved the opportunity to take part and the excitement of knowing that, if the Lord chose to work through me, and if I took the time to actually listen, I could effect change in the world in a way not possible other places. For me, that’s a tough situation, but not for the reasons some might thinks.

Sometimes We Fail

Easter is realizing that Christ is carrying us

Easter is realizing that Christ is carrying us

Last year, I wrote The Joy of Our Salvation as a candid recount of the Easter Vigil calling it, “hands down the best liturgical experience I have ever had.” I was amazed by the transcendence in the liturgy, the energy in the congregation, the faith in the catechumens. Last year, everything went exactly as planned. It was an incredible success.

This year went a little differently.

Now a theology student with a little experience preaching, I was asked by the pastor of St. Camillus Church to give the English “reflection” for Good Friday, the celebration of the Lord’s passion (since it’s not a mass someone other than a priest often gives it.) I was honored. I was excited. Those who know me know that I love big liturgies and I love to preach. Come Friday morning, I felt really great about what I wrote and couldn’t wait to share it with a packed church on such an important day.

But things did not go according to plan. Starting around 4:00 that afternoon, I developed a headache which turned out to be a migraine. I was in pain and confused for a few hours. I felt dizzy and disoriented for much of the afternoon. I could see, but part of my vision was blurry. I took a long nap, got some medicine and right before the service started I felt a little better. Rather than have the pastor stand up and have to make something up, I decided to give it my best. I would be in a little pain, I thought, but that I could still do a decent job.

I didn’t.

In front of my fellow student friars, four priests, and an almost packed church that included friends, strangers, and even one of my professors, I failed miserably. Within twenty seconds I lost my place. After a few sentences, I became downright confused. Looking directly at my written reflection, I could see the words but they meant absolutely nothing to me. I said one sentence a few times because it seemed completely incoherent. Three times I stopped, caught my breath and tried again. I looked at my paper again, but they were only nonsense words. I couldn’t do it. After three tries and about two minutes of embarrassment, I looked at the pastor, said “I’m sorry,” and began to cry as I walked away. I made it to the sacristy, fell to the floor, and cried as hard as I ever had.

I had failed.

I hope that this doesn’t come off too dramatic or even privileged, but it was easily one of the top three most painful experiences of my life. Not only was I in a good bit of pain, I embarrassed the heck out of myself, messed up the liturgy, and back in the sacristy, my classmates, two priests, and some strangers saw me crying, something I have not let people see in many years. How could this night have went any worse?

But then a friar sent me a text and my perspective began to change ever so slightly:

In no way should you feel embarrassed. It was incredibly brave for you to try to do it. I’m very proud of you for trying to tough it out, but also knowing when to ask for help. While I’m sorry you had to go through it, I think for most folks it was a rather poignant demonstration of what carrying the cross looks like in real life. Several people said to tell you what a beautiful homily it was. And it truly was.

By most definitions, what I did up there was anything but a success. I stumbled. I lost my place. I didn’t even get 1/3 of the way finished before I quit. And yet, the result was anything but a failure. There before me, I witnessed my brother stepping in to finish my words for me. I felt my classmates and random members of the choir come to bring me water and console me (like ten people crowded in the sacristy within seconds!) Some even mentioned later that the abruptness of the situation broke them out of the predictable pattern and awoke them to something more before them. How could it be that I was unable to do anything right, that the plan failed miserably, and yet Christ’s message came through?

God transforms our failures into his success.

I stood up, relying on my own strength, thinking that I was going to talk about the pain Jesus went through, the humiliation He experienced, and how He even wept, but my strength was not enough. I couldn’t do it by myself. And I didn’t have to. There we were celebrating the moment in history when Christ triumphantly took our pain and weakness upon himself, subsumed our failures into his perfection, and it began unfolding once again before our eyes. I wanted to talk about this event, but God wanted to show it. My weakness was turned into strength, my failure into success. The Paschal mystery could not be contained by words.

To say that this year’s Triduum celebration went off without a hitch would be far from the truth. Before my Easter this year, I had to experience one of the most difficult crosses of my life. Nobody likes to realize that they are not strong enough. Nobody likes to admit that sometimes we fail.

But we do. And that’s okay.

It is in our weakness that Christ is our strength. It is in our failings that Christ is our success. It is in the crosses we bear that Christ is our Easter joy. May we never be ashamed of our weaknesses, despairing over our failures, or refuse to carry our crosses. Sometimes we fail. Every time Christ succeeds. Happy Easter! Alleluia!

Not So Minor

It is in serving the least of his day that Francis experienced perfect humility and minority.

It is in serving the least of his day that Francis experienced perfect humility and minority.

A man of great conversion, Francis is probably most well-known for dramatically renouncing his earthly wealth and high social status in order to minister to the lepers, those people so sick and disgusting that they needed to live outside the city (and wear a bell so that people could run away when they heard them coming.) The Franciscan charism follows in his example: As members of the Order of Friars Minor, the “lesser brothers,” we are called to live a life for the poor, with the poor, as the poor, renouncing any sort of wealth, power, or status, that would nurture a feeling of entitlement or honor. The lowest in society do not expect to be served or cared for, they know that they must serve others. That is what Francis wanted.

When I look at my own life, I struggle to identify a single way in which I am a minor in our society: I am a young, white, college-educated, middle class, heterosexual male, born in the United States to parents that are still married, a member of the largest religious organization in the world, and have no mental or physical disabilities. If that’s not enough, I joined one of the largest religious orders in the Catholic Church, giving me tremendous (and largely undeserved) respect as a religious and future member of the clergy. In literally every way that I can imagine I find myself among the privileged in society.

And unlike Francis who was able to renounce his status in society with a symbolic undressing before the bishop, I can hardly renounce the attributes that make me privileged in this one:

  • As I see racial discrimination continue to boil over in places like Furgeson, and I am reminded how much easier it is to be white. Upon arriving in Camden, one friar told me, “Oh don’t worry, you’re white. The gang members and drug dealers won’t hurt you because they don’t want to scare away their white customers.”
  • As I watch news coverage of the recent boarder crossings and immigration laws in Arizona and Georgia, I know that I will never be “randomly” stopped on the street and forced to prove that I belong, have to flee one country into a country that does not want me, or have to worry about my rights when abroad.
  • As a male, I know that I will never be given less money for doing the same job as a co-worker, fear being alone outside at night, or constantly have to prove my self and my gender as not inferior.
  • As our church and country continues to understand homosexuality, I am made aware that I have never had to worry about how my sexuality or sexual orientation could offend someone, what people might think of me if they found out, or being thrown out of my house by my parents.

This list could go on and on. As I look out into the world, I see people being discriminated against and made “lesser” in our society each day, and it is never me. I doubt it ever will be. And so I’m faced with a challenge. How do I ever become “lesser” in society? How do I ever even approach minority when things like race, gender, sexual orientation, education, and physical capability are not exactly things that can be stripped and handed to a bishop?

It is here that I would normally have a conclusion like, “For me, what’s important is… The key is… I’ve found that the best answer is…” Unfortunately, my reflection today is a little less complete than normal. The fact of the matter is that I simply do not know and I will have to sit with this struggle for a while longer. There are obviously some things that I can change, e.g. how I spend my money, with whom I associate, how intentional I am at being with the poor. As I leave formation and entire into a little more autonomous life as a friar, I know that there will be a little more freedom to choose where and how I live, and what ministry I do, making this a little easier to live out.

And yet, there is a part of me that realizes that I will never be the least in society and I am struggling to accept that. How can I say to be a friar minor, an imitator of Jesus and Francis of Assisi, with so much respect, authority, privilege, and “wealth,” both civilly and ecclesiastically? I don’t know. For now, all I can do is realize that this “great privilege” I have in our society is nothing but a lucky ticket in the womb lottery: I have done nothing to deserve it and ultimately am no better off than anyone else because of it. I am what I am before God, and nothing more. This is a bit of wisdom that I must always keep with me. For though I may never be able to fully renounce all that separates me from the least in our society, I know that there is always a full reserve of pretension, entitlement, and arrogance just waiting to be given up inside me. If I want to be minor in society, it starts with the attitude I bring to every situation: I am here to serve the people of God with perfect humility and minority, and they do not owe me anything because it is God who is truly doing all the work.

The Irony of Being Celibate

Today I attended a three-hour sexuality workshop to fulfill requirements set by the Church and my province. It was the first of two sessions that we will attend this year, the second level of a four-year program. Prior to this, my classmates and I attended three workshops during Postulancy and Novitiate, each consisting of two or three sessions per day for more than three days each. If that’s not ironic, that is, celibate religious men devoting a tremendous amount of time talking about and developing their sexualities, I don’t know what is. But wait, there’s more!

We talk about sexuality much more [intelligently] than before. 

The ironic thing about being a celibate in a religious order is not just that we talk about sexuality much more than we ever did before entering, it’s that we do it much more intelligently than in the outside world. Sure, guys would get together and talk about sex, but when did I ever have a conversation about sexuality? The thing is, sex and sexuality are related but not the same thing. Our schools were required to talk about the practical aspects of sex, but who ever talked to us about attraction, orientation, loneliness, friendships, non-genital expression, boundaries, or addictive behaviors? These topics are vastly underdeveloped in secular education and common knowledge, and were never the topic of my conversations prior to entering the friars. In religious life, these are common place.

Because of this I find myself to be more self-aware and self-accepting of who I am than I ever was when I had the possibility to date. Talking about these topics ad nauseum (and I do mean nauseum) and studying them in an intelligent context has given me the language and skills to identify not only important aspects of my own sexuality, but also to understand those around me much better and to enter into relationships in a much more meaningful way. Why everyone doesn’t take a full two years to understand oneself, how one relates to others, and social dynamics is beyond me. Going through the process of becoming a celibate religious prepared me for dating more than anything else in my life.

Clearer boundaries actually makes for freer relationships.

Because I am very comfortable with who I am and the vocational path I am following, I never enter a relationship confused or plagued by sexual tension. I am certainly still attracted to people and find myself wanting to be around certain people more than others (welcome to being human), but there is a clear boundary in every relationship that was never there before: I do not want to date you. Really. I don’t care who you are. (I still may be speechless or swept off my feet, but I don’t want to date you!) This, I have to say, is one of the greatest freedoms I have ever experienced in being with people.

When I stopped looking at everyone as a potential date, relationships opened up for me.

When I stopped looking at everyone as a potential date, relationships opened up for me.

Before becoming a friar, there was always the internal tension in every new relationship: “Do I find her attractive? Does she find me attractive? Could I date her? Should I try? Am I trying already? What could I do to make her like me? Dang, look at that body! I wonder what she thinks of me?” With clear boundaries, I know that the answer to any one of these questions now means absolutely nothing to me anymore and am free to completely disregard them for a less superficial relationship that before. Do I succeed at this? Not always. Vanity is a tough one to kill and we all want to feel important around attractive people. I will say this though: giving up the desire to date has helped me tremendously in looking beyond one’s attractiveness and has helped me treat attractive women with much more dignity and respect than I did before.

The ironic and somewhat tragic part of this is twofold: 1) Obviously, that it took stepping away from women for me to objectify them less, and 2) more tragically, that I would be so much better of a boyfriend/husband now having spent three years learning how to be in intimate relationships while having absolutely no intention of possession or objectification. Come on! I’m nowhere close to perfect now nor will I ever be, but I often wonder what a relationship would be like with this more mature and respectful approach.

As “men in uniform” and in positions of authority, we are more attractive than we were before.

The last part is a little bit of a joke but true nonetheless: people in leadership positions, especially for organizations of service or selflessness, are very attractive to people. Add a great looking uniform and be under fifty years old and people will come in droves. As friars, we know that we are “attractive” people. We’re friendly; we’re jovial; we’re virtuous (sometimes); we’re in charge of important things. Whether deserved or not, people tend to think highly of “the brothers” and naturally want to be around us. This is a natural attraction that none of us has ever experienced in our lives.

The difficult part of this for some friars is understanding the difference between being attracted to “Br. Casey” and “Casey”. We were told a story as postulants of a well-liked friar that was very attractive to the people he served, particularly the single women. Seeing other options, he left the friars to pursue a relationship in which the girl later realized that it was “Br. X” that she had been attracted to all along, not X, and they never ended up getting married. (If that’s not the most twisted irony you’ve heard today I don’t know what is!) Sometimes, it’s both “Br. X” and “X” that people are attracted to, but the point remains: being a public person in authority wearing a respectable uniform is going to attract more people than we’re used to and we need to be prepared for that.

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To summarize, I know myself much better, I would make a much more mature and respectful partner, and I find myself with more opportunities than I had before. And this is preparing me for a life alone? Yes and no. While ironic in the sense that it has potentially prepared me for its opposite, celibacy is a gift that has truly prepared me to be a man for everyone, not just a man for someone. In this life, I know myself better, I am a more mature and respectful partner (to all) and I am given more opportunities to love than I would ever have been offered in an exclusive romantic relationship. I guess you could say the real irony of it all is that celibacy deters people from religious life because they are afraid that they will not find the love that they need. In reality, celibacy is a life learning how to love as many people as possible as well as one can possibly love. Wouldn’t you give up something too if you could do that?

The Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth

Do you find this picture provocative or offensive? Why?

God is, was, and will be a part of every step of creation.

Given the amount of quality material out there and the fact that this is a somewhat tired and irrelevant topic for most Catholics, I’m a bit apprehensive about devoting a post to “the religion and science debate.” What more can I say that hasn’t been said better by others? On the other hand, the fact that it continues to surface unintelligently in pop culture and even in our churches tells me that it can’t hurt to try a new medium.

So here we go. Science and religion. The great debate of our time. Some say that science is the only real truth, that religion is mere superstition that propagates fairy tales and manipulates people into violence. Others say that the only real truth is religion, that science is unreliable and that it denies the existence of God. Clearly, I would say, both of these opinions lack an understanding of the other and should be dismissed: even if one is the perfect option, neither lacks truth in some sense. So where does that leave us?

In between the two poles you will find many saying that science confirms religion and that religion guides science. Among Christians, I would say that this opinion is the most common. What they are trying to do, it would seem, is to reconcile the differences in the two in order to create one cohesive worldview from two different disciplines. This, as nice as it may sound, is yet another misunderstanding of the nature of religion and science.

The key to understanding the “debate” is that it is not a debate at all: religion and science are concerned with two completely different, mutually exclusive forms of knowledge. In the same way that art and engineering are two completely different, yet important, ways to understand a new bathroom project, science and religion have completely different goals. Science, using only empirical data (data that can be measured objectively with the senses), is concerned with the facts, that is, statements that can be proven without a doubt. Religion on the other hand, using divine revelation and human reason, is concerned with truths about our existence, that is, statements that give our life meaning. Which is better?

Scientists like Richard Dawkins or Neil Degrasse Tyson want to argue that this makes science better (although I would like to note that I do like much of what Degrasse has to say.) They say, and rightly so, that the great thing about science is that if something is a fact, it is so no matter what we believe. One can not simply “believe” that gravity does not exist because one doesn’t want to. Because of this, though, they look down on religion because of its lack of proof: “How can you believe in a God that you can’t prove exists?” they ask. What they want is a scientific answer to a religious question, facts where people are searching for meaning. To me, this is like asking an artist why they paint even though it cannot provide electricity for the house. It’s ridiculous because that is not the concern of art. As far as religion is concerned, there is no proof for what we believe because proof of God would actually collapse our free will. Proof does not allow for choice; it does not allow for faith. Surely this is not what God wants. Instead, the purpose of religion is to use the evidence we have, both from revelation and reason, to find meaning in our life about God to help us assent to him.

Because of this, it is a grave mistake for us as Christians to view science as anything other than an incredible resource. When we look to the world, we want to be as informed as possible as to how it works, don’t we?! It is a tragic reality that many Christians view science with skepticism, or worse yet, that they see it as a threat to their religious beliefs. Quoting Leo XIII’s encyclical Providentissimus Deus, John Paul II addressed the Pontifical Academy of Sciences with this remark in 1996: “Truth cannot contradict truth.” In other words, if something is scientifically true then it cannot be against the truth of God.

This statement must be the basis of any interaction between science and religion; it must be the lens through which we understand any new information, no matter the medium. To dismiss new truths from science (or any hermeneutical device for that matter, e.g. art) is to limit our ability to properly interpret the evidence of our existence. To dismiss them on the basis of a particular interpretation of scripture is utterly foolish. As far back as the 4th century, St. Augustine recognized that an ignorant faith only repelled people from the church:

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world. . . and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics. . . The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? (citation here)

It doesn’t matter what the topic is. Creation. Evolution. Reproduction. Homosexuality. Genetics. Astronomy. Thermodynamics. Fracking. Stem cells. If we begin from a religious statement that contradicts or disregards truth from other disciplines, namely scientific fact, because we are afraid to incorporate new information into a broader interpretation or as an attempt to pass off a statement of faith as a statement of scientific proof, we will look foolish and unattractive to non-believers. This is what we unfortunately see from Christians wishing to use the Bible as a science textbook, emphatically declaring that the earth is only 6,000 years old. It is a response that exhibits fear and a lack of faith. Why couldn’t God have created the world out of nothing AND continue to create it anew each day through the process of evolution? (For a truly fantastic article that deals with this specifically, I strongly encourage that you read “Creationism is Materialism’s Creation“.)

Using every possible form of knowledge does not make us atheists, it makes us grateful that God gave us the ability to reason!

Using every possible form of knowledge does not make us atheists, it makes us grateful that God gave us the ability to reason!

While his theology may need a little work, I find Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. to be a fascinating example of someone able to incorporate the latest in scientific research into a Christocentric Universe. Essentially (and briefly because this post is already too long and going down a rabbit hole we might get stuck in!) Chardin took Charles Darwin’s principles of evolution that all organisms have a natural, material propensity to grow more complex and to reproduce, and added a theological element to it: all of creation has a “driving force” within it so that evolutionary steps are not random, but rather an organism’s yearning to converge on one point, Christ, the connection between the creator and created. In this way God is in not some distant creator that walked away after putting his creation into motion. He is ever creating as it continues to unfold.

Ultimately, I will close by quoting a man most brilliant in his field, Albert Einstein: “Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind.” As Christians, we want the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, wherever God is willing to reveal it to us. Let us do as the Apostle Paul tells us: “Test everything; keep what is good.”

The Joy of Salvation

This was hands down the best liturgical experience I have ever had. Second place hasn't even finished yet this is so far ahead!

This was hands down the best liturgical experience I have ever had. Second place hasn’t even finished yet this is so far ahead!

All around the world, Christians are celebrating! Christ has risen from the dead! Our salvation is at hand!

How does one even begin to celebrate such a moment? At St. Camillus, we celebrate in the way of the Roman Catholic Church with the night watch of the Easter Vigil:

Just after sundown, turn off all of the lights in the church, and sit in the physical and spiritual darkness, awaiting Christ’s coming in joyful anticipation. We retreat outside of the church where a candle is being lit, the Paschal candle, the light of Christ in our darkness. With great praise, Christ illumines the night. From the One true light, everyone keeping vigil lights our own candle and processes into the church, now illumined by 1200 or more flames. What can we do but sing? Lumen Christi. Lumen Christi. Lumen Christi. There is anticipation of the joy to come in our voice, but our celebration is yet subdued. Three of the four priests approach the ambo, and taking turns in English, Spanish, and French, sing the ExsultetIt is emotive, haunting, and joyous all at once.

With only the light in our hands, we now sit for a journey through salvation history. Six readings, proclaimed in four languages, recall our journey from darkness into light, from Adam to Abraham to Moses, from sinfulness to forgiveness, from diaspora to reconciliation. We journey as a people in need of the light. Between each reading we sing a response, praising God, using many tongues to express our praise: Latin, French, Hebrew, Spanish, and Bangla are among them.

And then, all at once, there is a great light. The church lights are thrown on and the whole multicultural community cries out in joyful exultation the best way we can: Gloria Deo in excelsis, Gloria Deo sempiternam, “Glory to God in the highest.” From English to Spanish to French to Bangla, repeating the response in Latin, we are united in our diversity, made one from many in our great praise. An epistle from Romans is read, the Gospel and a homily is proclaimed in three languages, and the liturgy has just begun!

Those wishing initiation into the church are presented, so many they stretch the whole width of the church. We kneel and invoke the intercessions of the saints in a prayerful litany, Pray for us. Twenty eight people step into a pool of water for baptism, and each in their native language, have three buckets of water poured on them: “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” With each there is an eruption of cheers and a joyful Alleluia sung. The rest of us are renewed in our own baptism with our own “sprinkling” of water, chanting Wade in the Water like you’ve never head it before. The other catechumens are then received, either into full communion or through the sacrament of confirmation. 98 sacraments are received throughout the evening.

And as if this were not enough, it was then, after two and half hours, we begin the liturgy of the Eucharist. The gifts are presented with a traditional Bangla dance, and the Holy Spirit is invoked upon the gifts to make them new. A wonderful blending of cultures and languages, the Eucharist was blessed and communicated, uniting people from all around the world in the utmost pinnacle of our faith, the real presence of our Lord, now risen, here among us.

Throughout the whole liturgy, I was overwhelmed with the overflowing, almost tangible, emotion that I felt and witnessed. The absolute tipping point was after everyone had received communion, the whole church stood up and began to dance, shout, sing, and embrace one another as if a war was called off and we now knew we were going to make it; it was as if we had just been reunited with someone lost many years ago; it was as if we had been given an unexpected day to live when we had lost hope. And in a way, it was all of these things. Although we receive Christ in the Eucharist every week, even every day, there was something even more being celebrating among the more than 1200 people last night: we were celebrating our salvation. Christ has RISEN! The darkness is no more! The true light is with us, and dwells with us! Death has been conquered, our fear has been taken away.

If you’d like to see what I mean by overflowing joy, click the link below to see one of the baptisms, the “sprinkling” of water, the Bangla offering of gifts, and the communion song: