Well, it's the end of the year, which always ushers in a flurry of "top 10" moments, reflections and lists. While we don't have to look very far for bad news (try the newspaper, Internet, movies, television and the general moral conscience of society), I would like to reflect on 10 wonderful pieces of good news from the past year, all related to Theology of the Body or Ruah Woods or the faith. And perhaps the even better news is that these "Top 10" barely scratch the surface.
10) The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II -- The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy was finally published by George Weigel. This second and final part of Weigel's biography of John Paul II was much anticipated. Having received it for Christmas, I am enjoying the portrait of the late Holy Father in the latter years of his life. It's so wonderful that on the third day of Christmas I was already half way through the 500+ page work.
9) In the fall, Ruah Woods hosted its first ever book discussion group. We had a wonderful time with nearly 20 young adults eager to engage in discussion over Edward Sri's Men, Women and the Mystery of Love: Practical Insights from John Paul II's Love and Responsibility. We had wonderful conversations about love vs. use, true friendships and relationships, modesty, "raising the bar," contraception and the gift of chastity.
8) Pope Benedict XVI's grace and humility in leading the Church, even amidst gross societal-wide misunderstandings. He dealt with many of those this year and yet continued to be an unwavering voice of truth. This year marked five years since the death of John Paul II and thus five years (and counting) of the pontificate of his successor.
7) It is always a gift to teach Theology of the Body for Teens. This year Courtney Brown and I taught 68 teens the program (including IHM youth ministry's fall retreat). As always we walked away blessed from meeting them. And they walked away with a renewed enthusiasm for their faith and a greater understanding of God's love for them. What a gift to watch teens say that TOB for Teens: "'is where the healing begins'. I can honestly tell you that after this class I have gained such a beautiful new respect for myself, for women, and ultimately for God and everyone." And, "I cannot thank God enough for loving me so that I was able to love myself and love others. In a way, I believe these classes were God’s way of calling me back to Him. Theology of the Body for Teens helped me when I thought no one could help me, and I appreciated all that Theology of the Body has done for me." You can read more testimonies and watch a brief video of teens and their parents at our Kenosis website.
6) The first Theology of the Body Congress in Philadelphia was amazing! It was such a gift to hear remarkable presentations by Fr. Brian Bransfield, Helen Alvare, Fr. Roger Landry, Michael Waldstein and others. There were friends from the TOB world at every corner and plenty of new people to meet. I walked away with 30+ pages of typed notes from the wonderful talks. And I'm not sure that I had ever really reflected on the fact that those engaged in TOB education and promotion now are among the front runners in the field.
5) How incredible to watch the Underground flood with people on Nov. 4 in order to hear Jason Evert's compelling chastity message! There were 500 teens, young adults and parents who crammed into the building. Yet despite the large crowd, one could have heard a pin drop during Jason's presentation and concluding Q&A session. His free materials were gone in minutes, as teens rushed to the table to receive miraculous medals, rosaries, chastity commitment cards and booklets. The lines to speak to Jason after the talk lasted for a couple of hours.
4) CREDO and Cast Your Nets were two local youth events that continued to draw large crowds in 2010. The numbers aren't even what's important -- who can ignore the enthusiasm of the teens who participate in these events? Then there's the student-led all-school Holy Hour at one local high school. Add to it the hundreds of local teens who head to the annual March for Life, and one has to have great hope for the future. It's no wonder John Paul II told the young, "For me, our meeting has been a deep and moving experience of your faith in Christ, and I make my own the words of Saint Paul: "I have great confidence in you, I have great pride in you; I am filled with encouragement, I am overflowing with joy" (2Cor 7,4). These are not words of empty praise. I am confident that you have grasped the scale of the challenge that lies before you, and that you will have the wisdom and courage to meet that challenge. So much depends on you."
3) The Human Person According to John Paul II by Fr. Brian Bransfield is the most remarkable presentation of John Paul II's thought I have read. The book was published this year and has received praise from many people looking to delve more deeply into the thought of the late Holy Father. Fr. Bransfield has a gift for simply expressing profound truths, connecting the dots and presenting a wealth of information in only 250 pages. The hundreds of footnotes point to the depth of research put into the work and yet Fr. Bransfield's pastoral heart make the work accessible.
2) On a personal note, 2010 was quite eventful. In May, there was graduation from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Washington, DC. Only a couple of days later I was off to Italy, where I saw the Shroud of Turin and dozens of gorgeous churches. But the purpose of my visit was to give a week-long seminar about Theology of the Body in Chiampo. I was also blessed to present to a campus ministry group at the Angelicum in the room where John Paul II defended his doctoral dissertation. Last but not least, I found myself dubbed in Italian during TOB interviews taped for Tele Giovanni Paolo II. It was incredible to see the hunger for TOB in Italy, even though this is the country where the audiences were first delivered. And it was truly a gift to be able to speak to such wonderful people -- the first groups to whom I spoke after completing my Masters degree.
1) Kenosis: Teen Disciples for Love and Life began on Sep. 14, the feast of the Triumph of the Cross. It has been extraordinary to watch the Holy Spirit work in the lives of the Kenosis teens in only three months time. They have eagerly attended meetings, looked for opportunities to share their faith with friends, surrendered their lives more completely to Christ during the first Kenosis retreat, and gathered strength in knowing they are not alone in building a culture of life and a civilization of love. They chose the patron and patroness of Kenosis -- St. Maximilian Kolbe and Bl. Chiara "Luce" Badano. And they can't wait to see what God has in store for 2011.