Saturday, December 31, 2011

10 "Good News" moments of 2011

Last year, I celebrated the close of 2009 with a list of the top ten highlights of the year associated with Theology of the Body, Kenosis and Ruah Woods. I always enjoy remembering what God has done in the past 365 days, so I’m going to embark on the project again this year. What opportunities have we been blessed with this year?

10) Brian Butler coming to town

In April, Ruah Woods partnered with the Archdiocese of Cincinnati to host Brian Butler’s Theology of the Body for Teens training program. It was so refreshing to hear Brian speak, holding his audiences captive by sharing the hunger of teens for a challenging, beautiful message. It was also encouraging to see how many teachers, DREs, youth ministers and parents filed into St. Peter in Huber Heights and Immaculate Heart of Mary in Anderson Township to learn how to communicate TOB to the youth.

9) Kenosis Discipleship Week

In July we had our first Kenosis Discipleship Week – an opportunity for high school students to receive from the Lord and then to learn how to concretely give of themselves to their schools, parishes, family and friends. We had Mass every day, generously offered by local priests. We spent time in prayer, reflection, small groups and education sessions. We also had working groups, bringing their gifts and talents to the table to see how they can reach others in creative ways.

8) Tremendous range of speaking opportunities

It is such a joy to be able to share various aspects of Theology of the Body with an incredible range of audiences. This year, there were plenty of high schools, parishes, a couple of middle schools, Northern Kentucky University, Marian University, the Edith Stein Project at the University of Notre Dame, Theology on Tap, the first Parrhesia young adult conference in Cincinnati. With such a range of topics and audiences (junior high, high school, college, parents, academics, young adults), I am always given new opportunities to learn and to grow.

7) Kenosis Restore retreat: Encounter at the Well

This year’s Kenosis Restore retreat centered on John 4 – the encounter of Jesus with the woman at the well. It was a wonderful opportunity for the teens to pray, reflect in silence, spend time with other Kenosis teens, and learn about Christ’s thirst for union with each of us as a unique, unrepeatable person. These retreats are vitally important to our philosophy of first receiving God’s love in a relationship with Him, which enables us to give in whatever way the Lord invites us to give of ourselves.

6) World Youth Day

Madrid, Spain was my third (and quite possibly, last) World Youth Day, but my first as a chaperone. It was beautiful to watch the teens’ desire to be open to all that God had for them on the pilgrimage. It was also quite stunning to witness a million or more young people kneeling in the mud in complete silence during Exposition
of the Blessed Sacrament, led by Pope Benedict XVI. This is exactly what people need to experience when they accuse the young of an inability to rise to the challenge of faith.

5) Teaching at the seminary
What a tremendous gift it was for me to be able to teach a Theology of the Body master’s course at Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary of the West and the Athenaeum in Cincinnati this fall! It was an honor to be able to teach future priests, as well as two laypeople. I was also given the opportunity to further immerse myself in Theology of the Body and in the more precise theological aspects of the teaching that are not fit for hour-long talks or teen retreats. It is also exciting to see how an “adequate anthropology” might impact future homilies, marriage prep programs, and other parish initiatives.

4) Working with the Kenosis teens on various projects, retreats, etc.

This year, my fellow Theology of the Body education coordinator and I have striven to give the Kenosis teens opportunities to use their gifts and talents to build a culture of life and a civilization of love. We have had a junior core of six high sch
ool students on TOB for Teens retreats. Two teens created an incredible new promo video, which debuted at our September banquet. Some students have traveled with us to speak to junior high students. There are countless opportunities to use gifts of speaking, design, video work, writing, prayer and leadership to serve the youth of the Tri-state area.

3) Hearing a young man at TOB for Teens talk about his sudden desire to become a priest.

During a Theology of the Body for Teens program, one young man struggled to put into words the consistent call he felt during the program: “Even though you didn’t talk much about it explicitly, I kept hearing this voice say, ‘Be a priest! Be a priest!’ Then you brought a seminarian to speak to us, and I felt like he was talking to me. I want to consider going to college seminary next year, because I think this may be where God is calling me.”

2) Called to be More vocations pilgrimage walk

How to summarize one week of walking 150 miles with ten high school students and five adults in order to pray for vocations, discern personal vocations and to witness to the astonishing fact that God always calls us to be more? There were plenty of blisters, sore feet, injured knees and
ankles, long days of walking. But there were also beautiful churches (we stopped to pray in 30 of them), wonderful conversations with people along the journey, a wealth of community prayer and plenty of laughter. Even in the suffering, there
was joy. The teens are still talking about the pilgrimage walk and the ways in which it has impacted them.

1) John Paul II’s beatification

Not only was John Paul II beatified this May 1, but I was blessed to be present at St. Peter’s Square for the big event. How incredible to stand with a million or more people from around the world, as Pope Benedict XVI made the official proclamation. We applauded until our arms ached while they unveiled the portrait of Bl. John Paul II. The beatification gave me the chance to thank a man who I never had the opportunity to meet while he was on earth (though I did see him from a few feet away at World Youth Day 2002). Bl. John Paul II’s influence on my life continues to this day. How fitting to make a pilgrimage in order to thank him and to thank God for sending us such an incredible Holy Father in a unique time in the history of the Church and of the world.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Thinking about the Holy Family

The Holy Family is a mysterious reality that we tend to relegate to nativity sets that don't move. In many ways, then, our image of Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus is one of folded hands, frozen faces and perfect stillness. This isn't a bad place to begin. I was struck the other day by my parish's nativity set and the incredible humility of Mary and Joseph expressed through their facial expressions and the way in which they hold their hands. It communicates a reverence for the mystery present. We are called to cultivate a sense of reverence for the mystery of God's love in our own lives, and I can only imagine this sense was heightened considerably for Mary and Joseph. (John Paul II wrote in "Letter to Families" -- "In the life of husband and wife together, fatherhood and motherhood represent such a sublime 'novelty' and richness as can only be approached 'on one's knees'" (#7).

Yet, when we assume that Mary and Joseph glided through life as immovable statues, with eyes constantly glued to their Son, and hands always folded, it becomes a bit difficult to see how we could ever aspire to enter into the mystery of the Holy Family.

Do we imagine that these three people ate together? Took walks together? That Joseph taught Jesus how to be a carpenter, while Mary watched and smiled from the corner? That Jesus delighted His parents with His ability to memorize the Hebrew Scriptures? That Joseph awoke early to work for His little family? That Mary sewed Jesus' clothes, measuring Him and loving Him even in such an ordinary work?

What did they talk about? (It's easy to think they just sat in silence day-in and day-out.) For how long did Mary and Jesus cry when Joseph died? What did Joseph say to them as he lay dying? What did they say to him? Did they miss him?

Do we think about how Joseph protected his precious Son and wife? Do we think about Jesus and Mary submitting themselves to Joseph's care? Receiving Joseph's gift of self in humility and gratitude?

Do we think about Mary's constant "fiat" to serving her God in the most unique and unrepeatable way possible? Do we imagine the love of Mary and Joseph for one another, or do we only imagine they loved Jesus without caring for one another?

Do we consider how Jesus united His mother and father? Do we consider how Jesus served them, and allowed them to serve Him?

Do we ever wonder about the trust, commitment, surrender, self-emptying and faith that was required to love the way God called Joseph and Mary to love? Do we only focus on the peace and ease of it all? Was it difficult to love? Were there feelings of being incapable? How did they constantly rely on the Lord for their strength to love fully? Was it because He dwelt among them as their Son?

How can we enter into the mystery of the Holy Family? How can we receive the model of their love? Is it possible to reflect the goodness of the Holy Family when our families are full of people who aren't sinless?

Did Joseph and Mary have to learn to love or were they just born with this superhuman ability to love perfectly? It's easy to forget that they were human. They were not love incarnate; they were entrusted with love incarnate. There is a difference.

So, let's pray: Mary and Joseph, intercede for us as we learn the truth about the gift of self. You were given to each other. You were given to your Son. Your Son was given to you. Through the gift of love in your Holy Family, you cultivated a space for Love to be born into the world. Pray for us as we strive to love the way your Son calls us to. Pray for us to receive the graces He gives us. Thank you for your "yes" to God's plan -- not simply for your own lives but for the entire world. Thank you for the many times you renewed that "yes" in the face of fear, confusion or hardship. Please pray that we might imitate the generous and selfless love that was present in your Holy Family. Amen.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

"The Child whom we contemplate is our salvation!"

It's a beautiful way to celebrate this Christmas season -- reading Pope Benedict XVI's Urbi et Orbi Christmas message.
Jesus Christ is the proof that God has heard our cry. And not only this! God’s love for us is so strong that he cannot remain aloof; he comes out of himself to enter into our midst and to share fully in our human condition (cf. Ex 3:7-12). The answer to our cry which God gave in Jesus infinitely transcends our expectations, achieving a solidarity which cannot be human alone, but divine. Only the God who is love, and the love which is God, could choose to save us in this way, which is certainly the lengthiest way, yet the way which respects the truth about him and about us: the way of reconciliation, dialogue and cooperation.

Read the entire message here.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The gift of life

Today is the feast of the Holy Innocents. It's a tragic thought to consider one man's greed and pride resulting in the brutal murder of all children under the age of two. Of course, we live in a culture that willingly destroys the lives of the preborn when they are deemed inconvenient.

If you did not see the recent story in the Cincinnati Enquirer about the Cordier family's decision to welcome their newest daughter into the family, it's a beautiful read. After learning of her diagnosis with Trisomy 18, medical personnel were shocked that the Cordiers did not choose an abortion. Instead, they are cherishing every unexpected, miraculous moment with their little girl.

For a time, Ann says, she felt a “black cloud” hovering over her. She knew that babies with Trisomy 18 die when the brain stops sending signals for them to breathe and for their hearts to beat. But that cloud passed.

“Then I was able to enjoy her life, rather than focus on her death,” Ann says. “I also felt this sense of duty to share her with everyone who had been praying.”

Says Andy: “It’s been a lot of prayers. That’s what we feel. The calming effect, just the joy. She’s got a bad condition, but just look how beautiful she is.”

Back in August, before classes started, Ann took Sophia to St. Gertrude School on the day kindergartners and first-graders met their teachers. She and her baby went from classroom to classroom, greeting teachers and families. Since then, Sophia has been to church and elsewhere in the community.

Before Thanksgiving, though, the family was again reminded of the fragility of her life when Sophia caught a cold that developed into pneumonia. She has nearly recovered now, although she still wears an oxygen tube in her nose.

“I’ve actually been praying for a peaceful death for her, thinking it’s imminent, but it might not be,” Ann says. “She has surprised every doctor, every nurse at hospice.”

It’s not common, but some children with Trisomy 18 live into early adulthood.

The Cordiers have tried to prepare themselves for whatever awaits.

“We focus on, should she die, what’s next for her,” Ann says. “It’s heaven. And she would be perfectly happy with Jesus in heaven.”

Read the story here.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Where's the silence? Where's the peace?

Merry Christmas! Unlike the consumerist culture, our Christmas just began and continues until Epiphany (even until February 2, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, depending on what you mean). It was a bit of a shock shortly after midnight, December 25 passing into December 26, to turn on a radio station that constantly plays Christmas music during December, only to find that since we were 25 minutes past the 25th, the window of time for Christmas music was apparently over.

Elizabeth Scalia reflects on another difference between a Catholic sense of Christmas and that of the culture at large in this piece. It is a wonderful read.
We have allowed silence to become a gift forgotten, one we only consent to unwrap when all of our alternative bows and strings have been unraveled, and our diversions have been utterly played out. Our inability to be silent puts our minds and our souls at a disadvantage, because it robs us of the ability to wonder, and if we are not wondering at the impossible perfection of the world in its creation—if we are not wondering at spinning atoms and Incarnations—then we are lost to humility, and to experiencing gratitude.

And, without gratitude, we cannot develop a reasoned capacity for joy.

Read it all here.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

"Adorable mystery of the Incarnate Word! Together with you, O Virgin Mother, may we stop and reflect at the manger where the Child lies, to share your own amazement at the immense "condescension" of God. Grant us your own eyes, O Mary, that we may understand the mystery hidden within the frail limbs of your Son. Teach us to recognize his face in the children of every race and culture. Help us to be credible witnesses of his message of peace and love, so that the men and women of our own time, still torn by conflicts and unspeakable violence, may also recognize in the Child cradled in your arms the one Saviour of the world, the endless source of that true peace for which every heart profoundly yearns." -- Bl. John Paul II

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The art of giving and receiving

Christmas has become the season for giving for appearance’s sake – grabbing a box of chocolates at Walgreens, slapping a red bow on the box and handing it to whomever you might feel the slightest tinge of obligation to say, “Merry Christmas.”

When Christmas approaches, one of the first questions we hear is, “Have you finished your Christmas shopping?” It’s a question typically followed by stress-induced sighs, eye-rolling and hair-pulling.

Have we forgotten the nature of a gift?

It’s a question worth pondering. Giving has become an obligation, an inconvenience and a practice rarely rooted in a desire to participate in the giving of God. Not only does our reflection about giving impact how we approach the presents under the tree this Christmas, but it also sheds light on the Gift that we receive in Christ becoming man, living, dying and rising for us.
Perhaps we should begin with the realization that we are even able to receive gifts. Before anything else, we received the gift of our very lives. Where there once was nothing, God did not create simply something, but someone. He literally loved you into existence.

Although God did not have to create us, it was fitting that He did. Why? Because who He is within Himself is Love. Love always wants to give and to be fruitful. So out of His abundant generosity, God created us as a pure gift.

But He doesn’t stop there. He gave us the gift of free will and of intellect, and therefore the ability to love Him in return. We aren’t robots who give a monotone, “I love you” upon command. The gift to receive love and to give in return is an unfathomable blessing, yet one we often take for granted.

God didn’t stop with the gift of making us in His image and likeness either. When Adam and Eve used their free will and intellect to choose their own plan, instead of embracing God’s loving gift, He did not throw His hands in the air in disgust or leave us to our own pitiable plans. Rather, He revealed His love to us in the most unexpected way – through another gift.

Approximately 2,000 years ago, on a particular day in a particular town at a particular time, a particular woman gave birth to God incarnate. In the greatest humility, generosity and desire for His creatures, God gave us the gift of Himself – a visible revelation of the Love that created us and then redeemed us. The silence and simplicity eloquently captures our attention – God loves us each intimately and profoundly, and is willing to slip into our daily routines to offer us a glimpse of His radical love.

What, then, is a gift? It is something we cannot earn or produce for ourselves. It is freely given. It is a revelation of generosity. It is irreplaceable. It expresses and solidifies a relationship between two people. A gift includes something of oneself, which, along with the gift, is either received or rejected.

If the very meaning of our lives is gift, then how does our material gift-giving reflect this? During this Christmas season, as we wrap our presents and check off our shopping lists, may we do so out of love, generosity and a desire to share in the love of God that is revealed in an outstanding way through the Baby Jesus entrusting Himself into our hands into our hearts.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Preaching joy on the Today Show

Fr. Robert Barron has a real gift. Watch his recent appearance on the Today Show to see his invitation to Catholicism.
Thanks to The Love of Christ Impels Us for the link.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The end of the high school reunion?

We tend to think little of the actual effects of media and technology upon us and upon our culture. It seems as if they are neutral tools to be used for good or for ill. In reality, however, it seems that social media and various forms of technology and dramatically transforming culture and the way in which we interact with others. It's a topic I have addressed before, but it always has a way of manifesting itself in new ways.

So, here we are at the New York Times again. They recently ran a story about the decrease in high school reunions. A major factor, the article reported, is facebook. Perhaps that seems a stretch at first, but the article does a compelling job of explaining why. People feel that they don't need to see one another when they know all about former classmates' lives through social networking.

But it's one thing to know about a person's life and another to know them. It's one thing to see a picture on a computer screen and another thing to shake someone's hand, give a hug or be present in real life. It's one thing to have a series of questions answered that are mostly available to the public online and another thing to sit down with someone and ask questions, have a conversation, learn about life in a manner that isn't neatly packaged on facebook.

In the article, one of the most fascinating quotes to me was this one from Michael Fox:
“Even as a borderline user of social networking, I have a pretty good grasp of where people are, what they do, their family life, etc.,” he said. “So a lot of the mystery of the traditional reunion was missing.”
This sentiment was echoed by Donna DeFilippis, who has been organizing reunions for more than 30 years:
“It used to be that you walked in the door totally blind, and there was such energy and excitement in the room,” Ms. DeFilippis said. “Today, even if you’re not friends with them on Facebook, you can get a cursory look at your classmates online, so it takes that fundamental mystery away.”
The absence of mystery. How often do we contemplate the way in which social networking robs us of the sense of mystery? Who would have ever thought that something like facebook would radically decrease the desire for a high school reunion? Who would have thought that engagements, weddings, pregnancies and other big announcements would seem less meaningful when proclaimed on social networking?

It reminds me of a children's television show, "Adventures in Wonderland," that I watched as a child. On one particular episode, Rabbit is struggling to get others' attention. He tries to be as loud as possible, screaming, yelling, making all sorts of noise. No one will listen. Eventually, he begins to whisper. At this point, the people around him come closer, they stop what they are doing, they become intent on hearing his words. They are curious. They want to know what mystery is surrounded by silence.

Today our social media-immersed world has us attempting to share monumental moments and experiences by adding to the noise. We submit our statuses and photos and comments and "likes" into a world so drowned in distraction and cacophony that the only response we receive is a "like" or another comment, placing our decision of a vocation or news of receiving a child on the same level as what movie one watched on Friday night or someone's opinion on PB&J sandwiches for lunch.

This isn't to place a blanket condemnation upon social media (after all, I am blogging, right?), but it is a cautious note that we all take time to consider how we are being affected and how we can seek to protect the beauty of mystery, silence and surprise.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Real faces, fake bodies

Apparently H&M has used computer-generated bodies to model their swimsuits (and perhaps other clothing). They photoshop a real face on to the fake body, and -- voila! -- they can market clothes.

But what impossible standard does this set for women today? That we can look at a fake body that looks real and entertain impossible ideas of looking like that? Does this tell us that no matter what we look like it, it just can't be good enough? That even models aren't good enough, so just by this sweater or dress to stuff the feelings of inadequacy for awhile -- not to look good but to forget our inability to be beautiful?

I just visited the H&M website and was unnerved by the eeriness of seeing fictitious bodies matched with real-life faces. It is almost as if it were another form of attempting to create a human or a hybrid or some sort of person-like entity.

And perhaps the strangest thing is that these bodies look rather real. We could flip through the pages of a magazine and have no idea that we are passing through pages of computer-generated unreality. It goes to show that reality is not always what we think it is. Authentic beauty isn't either.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Why receiving is giving

The other day I was walking into Panera for a quick dinner, when I noticed a middle-aged woman walking behind me. Struck with a momentary spirit of generosity, I decided to open the door for her and allow her to go first. She stunned me when she looked up and said, "No thanks." Puzzled, I continued to hold the door for her and gesture for her to go through. "No, you can go," she said. I tried a third time, to which she politely said, "Go ahead. Thanks though."

I'm still shaking my head a bit over this one. I realize it is often difficult to receive from others, but I have never had anyone willing to debate who should walk through a door first during three attempts.

I also felt disappointed. All I wanted to do was allow the woman to go first. It was simple. It didn't cost me anything, but perhaps my place in line. I wasn't asking anything from her, with the simple exception that she receive the gift. When she did not, I walked away feeling a bit rejected.

When we offer a gift, we aren't simply offering the material (or immaterial) thing. We are also offering part of ourselves. That's why a gift can never be a matter of mere economic exchange -- this for that. It's also why we have a desire for the gift to be accepted. When it is accepted, our gift of self has been too. When it is rejected, we have been rejected.

I'm sure the stranger at Panera had no intention of rejecting me. She even said, "Thanks anyway," as I invited her to enter the restaurant first. But in insisting that she be in control, she was not giving. She was taking.

May we all come to understand more deeply that our receiving is a form of giving ... not only in our interactions with friends, family and strangers, but even more so, with God.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Quote book

"As Scripture reminds us so frequently: Do not be afraid. God uses poor clay to create grandeur and beauty. He can certainly use us to renew and advance the work of his Church -- and he will."
-- Archbishop Charles Chaput

Friday, December 16, 2011

"Our Twins: A Short Story"

A friend from college and his wife recently shared the story of the birth of their twin daughters. While at first glance, the preceding sentence sounds as if it refers to a commonplace event, I cannot assure you that it does not. The story deserves a full reading, however, and I don't want to cut and paste any part of it to ensure that it is read in its proper order, in its entirety.

Read the Kuzmas' story and hear how this mother and father cherished life.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Encounter at the Well

This past weekend we had our second annual Kenosis "Restore" retreat. It is a gift every year to gather a wonderful group of high school students who have completed the Theology of the Body for Teens program in order to focus on prayer, silence, discernment and God's love. There is often a desire after TOB for Teens to share the good news with friends, family, co-workers -- sometimes even complete strangers -- but if this desire is not first rooted in prayer and receiving the love of God, then there is no way for God's love to overflow into others' lives.

This year's retreat was centered on the encounter of Christ with the woman at the well in John 4. Toward the beginning of the weekend, the teens were sent on a perilous journey from "Judea" to "Galilee." Meanwhile, a well was constructed in the middle of the main room. For the rest of the weekend, our talks were given surrounding the well in "Samaria."

In the beginning of John 4, it says that Jesus went from Judea to Galilee and "had to pass through Samaria." In reality, Samaria was not on the way. Why did he have to pass through? Because of His desire to encounter the woman of Samaria and to invite her to receive His love. Our first talk centered on the unique and unrepeatable love that Christ has for each person. We also talked about the beautiful way in which God uses particular people, particular times, particular circumstances to bring us to Him. In short, God has a particular plan for each of us that He invites us to receive.

Saturday morning began with quiet reflection on John 4, followed by a talk about the Eucharist as the source of the well. We also learned about the meaning and necessity of a water -- a concept that is somewhat lost in our current culture and situation. How does Jesus continue to fill us at the well? By giving of Himself in the Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith.

We didn't simply talk about the importance of the Eucharist, however. We were then able to attend Mass together in the retreat center chapel. Fr. Adam Puntel's homily fit perfectly with the theme thus far.

In the early afternoon, we had a panel of four seminarians who answered questions about prayer and discernment. There were a lot of laughs, some note-taking and plenty of food for thought, as the seminarians witnessed to the importance of prayer and cultivating a desire for prayer.

Later in the afternoon we had men's and women's sessions dedicated to a masculine or feminine approach to prayer and the Eucharist. I can't speak for the men's session, but I do know that the women's session focused on the application of John 4 to our personal lives, as well as growing in our ability to receive.

After dinner, we had a talk in the chapel about Christ's thirst for us. We often talk about our desire for God, but we don't always consider that He desires us as well. This was the perfect lens through which to view confession and Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, which took place
during the remainder of the evening. Throughout the night there was also an opportunity for students to spend a half-hour in prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

On Sunday morning we had a final talk to send us forth on the journey. The woman at the well left her water jug at the well, went into the town and told everyone about the Christ. What does that mean for us?

After Mass with Fr. Kyle Schnippel, we were ready to be sent forth, in a similar way to the woman at the well. Ready with renewed realization that we can only give when we are receiving God's love, we walked away knowing that Christ desires to encounter us daily.

It was a whirlwind weekend! There were also games, sports, a talent show (a yearly highlight!) and opportunities for conversation. The retreat aims to be a blend of talks, small group discussion, silent personal reflection and fun. It continues to be a gift to serve the teens in Kenosis. Their faithfulness and desire for Christ teaches all of the adults in ways they probably don't realize.

So, thank you for your prayers. It was a fruitful weekend.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Back from retreat

Slow blogging! As you can imagine, leading retreats can be a tad exhausting -- though very worthwhile. Consequently, I have not yet had the time to write a follow-up report. Thank you so much for the prayers. It was a wonderful weekend. Within the next day or two, I will give a full report.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Please pray for the conclusion of our retreat today, as the Lord invites each retreatant to encounter Him in a unique and unrepeatable way.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

"Love Multiplies, Not Divides"

Take a journey with Joseph Koss, as he experiences becoming a father of one, then transitioning to the role of father of two.

My wife and I are the best of friends. She admits that she knew that I might be the one while we were dating because she, “never got sick” of me. The fact that I didn’t bore her is a pretty awesome feat, as she is a very interesting and fun person. So when our daughter came there were some nervous thoughts about how we wouldnt be only focused on each other, or how we would divide our love or time. But things came naturally, and our little girl became an extension of us, it was as if our love was so awesome for one another it couldn’t be contained in just two people… so it created another! God really is pretty amazing isn’t he?

As my girl grew, so did I. As I said, we had just moved to Alaska and I was learning to live a very interesting life. Hiking, fishing, hunting, and now this winter trapping. All very outdoorsy activities that are a way of life around here. We are very attached parents, and our daughter is always with us. I started taking her out on little adventures with me. Hiking, fishing, hunting and the like. As this winter rolled around, which starts in October for us, she started going out to the “river” with me to go trapping. I don’t expect her to be a tomboy or even really desire it that much, my goal was to spend time with my daughter. So as we grew to be buddies, our second child grew in my wife’s belly. A lot of people said, “It’s a boy!” They were excited because they knew I would finally have a son, and that I would be able to take him on all my adventures; that is when I got scared.

Read the whole account here.

Friday, December 9, 2011

If a Catholic martyr wrote a letter to his girlfriend, what would he say?

"My dearest Maruja:

Your memory will remain with me to the grave and, as long as the slightest throb stirs my heart, it will beat for love of you. God has deemed fit to sublimate these worldly affections, ennobling them when we love each other in him. Though in my final days, God is my light and what I long for, this does not mean that the recollection of the one dearest to me will not accompany me until the hour of my death."

Read the rest of Bartolomé Blanco Márquez's letter here.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Prayer request

Our second Kenosis "Restore" retreat is this weekend, and we would love your prayers! The theme is, "Encounter at the Well," and we will be delving deeply into John 4. Please pray for the 21 teens registered to attend, as well as the 6 adult leaders, and special guest 5 priests and 4 seminarians. We have a wonderful weekend planned and know that your prayers will provide a tremendous opportunity for the retreatants to draw closer to Christ.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Support Sacred Heart Radio

Tomorrow is a Sacred Heart Radio pledge drive, which are always so much fun! That's not sarcasm, by the way. One of the beautiful aspects of a local Catholic station is the way in which it draws a whole city (or tri-state) together. Pledge drives are always like little reunions. And the station knows how to plan drives to coincide with major Catholic feasts, ensuring that a good Catholic celebration will be had by all.

Please consider supporting the station tomorrow, either by calling or by pledging online. Without Sacred Heart Radio, we would be missing some excellent Catholic education, formation, prayer and unification.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

"The Freedom of Astonishment"

Brad Bursa has some great thoughts about the gift of life in his latest column, "The Freedom of Astonishment":

The billboard points to a truth that it most likely didn’t intend – even the most valiant attempts at self-creation depend upon others. Reality exists outside of me (it would even exist without me), and I simply participate in it. Reality is simply a given – it is given to me. My engagement with reality is filled with “givens” – namely, my wife, my children, my good health, my sufferings, etc. Not even my job is self-made. Any success in the workplace can be traced back through a network of “givens” – my schooling, the virtues passed on to me by my parents, support received from co-workers and employers. I think a purely self-made man would never escape his own mind, though I’m not sure what would be in that isolated mind. Failing to recognize the mistake in this “self-made” conception of life squashes any chance of astonishment. Self-made implies a self-imposing will, forcing life to conform to given standards. There is little room for surprise, only careful calculations.

Life is meaningful, not because I create my own perfect reality, but precisely because it is given. Life is gift. Life within reality has been given to us as a sort of intimate relationship – like that of child given to parent, and parent to child. Questions about what makes life meaningful, or where am I going, find their full flowering of meaning by plumbing the existential depths of my being.

Read the rest here.

Monday, December 5, 2011

"Hidden Sacrifice of the Priesthood"

Fr. Kyle Schnippel has some great thoughts on the sacrifices of families of priests and religious.

However, there is a sometimes hidden cost of responding to a priestly or religious vocation that becomes quite evident this time of year, but not necessarily for the priest or religious, but for his or her family. Because of our responsibilities and assignments, we often miss family gatherings during the holidays, or when we get there, we are so tired and worn down, all we want to do is sleep; yet nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters, parents are all excited to see you and want to hear about what we have been doing.

But especially for members of religious communities, even this is not an option. Often stationed in houses around the globe, families have to make due with a two week ‘home visit’ at different points during the year. In between, hand written letters are often the only means of communication that goes between family and the professed. While the evident joy can temper some of the feelings of loss in the rest of the family, there is still something missing when that son or daughter’s chair remains empty during Christmas Dinner.

Read it all at his blog.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Quote book

"In the first place I say this: you must never think that you are alone in deciding your future! And second: when deciding your future, you must not decide for yourself alone." - Pope John Paul II

Friday, December 2, 2011

A "yes" to the dress is a yes to what?

A friend sent me this blog post, "How Wedding Dresses Transform Women." It's not from a Catholic blog, nor is it from an authentic femininity-minded magazine. It's from the often-inappropriate Huffington Post.

So, it's a bit of a surprise to read such a beautiful depiction of one woman's experience with brides-to-be. She begins with women who are merely going through the motions, who would like to just wear a white pant suit, slip on the ring, ready to return to business executive life as usual.

But the author has noticed something fascinating:
I am always amazed by these women! I usually respond that I have no pantsuits available, and that they should try a narrow and simple dress. I am not sure how this happens but when a woman tries on my dresses, she is immediately transfigured. It may be due to the whiteness of the fabric, or the definition of her body through the silhouette of the dress, and the natural flow of the expensive silk brushing against her legs as she moves. She tries her first dress on and is shocked by her own beauty. She begins to trust me. I suggest the same shape in lace, and she marvels at how skinny she looks and wonders at the many years she has professionally hidden herself in cashmere and heavy black tights. Bit by bit we inch our way into curiously trying on larger dresses and in one courageous statement she squeaks, "Can we try a veil?" The moment a veil is placed on her head she begins to cry, and then to sob.

It is the abandoned dream and vision of herself that was once forgotten somewhere between the divorce of her parents, high school exams, and her first broken heart. It is the internal struggle of regrets versus survival and that suddenly in the mirror a vision of herself looking like she is in love, and looking like she is vulnerable, and even giddy with joy makes her uncomfortable. It is a woman that she does not know. It is the woman she used to be, even as a little girl.

As a child, she would dream of being in love. Images from Disney movies, ballet, music, and TV convinced her some gallant man would profess his indisputable love for her and then confirm his aching desire to spend eternity with her in a perfect wedding.

I think that these thoughts are quite typical of young girls. They dream of being coveted, and they dream of being a princess. As little girls become teens and young women, often their princess fantasies are stamped out and substituted by professional protocol, and corporate culture. They have to fight for themselves to get ahead and protect themselves. They are taught not to rely on others, especially men. Reality and dashed expectations have given them a somewhat hard edge.

It's amazing to listen to the experience of designer Justina McCaffery in her wedding dress consultations. Is there any other piece of clothing that can evoke such a powerful surge of memories, dreams, hopes and ideals? Read the rest of the story here.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Quote book

"It is not that the greedy cannot give; they cannot receive." -- Fr. Brian Bransfield, "Living the Beatitudes: A Journey to Life in Christ

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A culture of vocations

Archbishop Timothy Dolan has some wonderful thoughts on "building a culture of vocations." Here's a glimpse of his wisdom and humor:

Do you know how sad it is when you are talking to a young man about becoming a priest, and we’ll start chatting, and you see there is an interest there, and he has his wits about him, and the know-how and the enthusiasm and the sincerity, and then you’ll say to him, “How can I follow through? Can I give you a call?” And sometimes — it will break your heart — he’ll say, “Don’t call the house, because mom and dad will be upset if they hear I am thinking about becoming a priest.”

There is what you might call the negative side of the family. I happen to think there might be a benevolent explanation for that, and that moms and dads deep down only want their kids to be happy, and they think that priests are unhappy. And if they think that priests are crabs, they don’t want their sons to be that. So that’s why I always say to priests, “We’ve got to be men of joy, or else what parent is going to want his or her son to be a priest?”

I think that is changing, and we’ve got a positive influence. When the family beams, when the family encourages, when the family fosters. You often see me write or speak about a “culture of vocations.” What I mean by a culture of vocations is that when our young people grow up in a culture that encourages you to do God’s will and that affirms one in his desire to be a priest, you are going to get priests. I grew up in such a culture. I said to my teachers in grade school, “I think I want to be a priest,” and they beamed and did everything possible to encourage me. My parish priest would. My folks would. My neighbors would. The parish would. I can remember as a kid — I must have been 9 or 10 years old — getting a haircut, and the barber said, “Hey shrimp, what do you want to be when you grow up?” I said, “I want to be a priest.” And he wasn’t even a Catholic, but he said, “Hey, isn’t that great?” Now that is the culture of vocations that we need in the Church.

Read it all here.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Miracle at St. Malo

A couple of weeks ago, a fire left the St. Malo Retreat Center in the midst of the Rockies in Denver a charred mess. It was a significant place for many reasons. Bl. John Paul II stayed at the retreat center during World Youth Day in Denver in 1993. His walking stick, Bible and other items from his visit have remained on display since.

And after the fire?

Miraculously, among the charred ruins, the late Holy Father's belongings were found unscathed.

Read more here.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Restore retreat: Encounter at the well

The second annual Kenosis "Restore" retreat will be December 9-11. It is open to all high school students who have completed the Theology of the Body for Teens program. Space is limited! Registration is available at the Ruah Woods website.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Anonymous Father's Day Official Trailer

From the makers of "Eggsploitation," this looks like it will be a moving, thought-provoking documentary:

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The adventure of life

College seminarian Sebastian, and friend of Unshakeable Hope, recently pondered the meaning of life and death on his blog. Here's a piece:
My very existence (as the Sebastian people know and love) is a contradiction.
I want to die for glory.
I want to live forever.
I want to be Peter Pan. Any one who knows me well knows this: I have an avid fear of growing old. Gerascophobia. Not so much a fear of dying, necessarily. Every one's afraid of dying (any one who tells you differently is trying to get your vote next November.) But I want to be always young and to have not suffer.
But we have to suffer. There is no love without suffering.
And if I do not suffer, I will life forever. And if I live forever, I can never die for glory. And if I never live with love and die for glory, namely God's, then I can never achieve eternal happiness and immortal life in Heaven with Him.

Read it all here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Life as gift

This is a phenomenal look at the incredible dignity and reverence with which the lives of young men with Down's Syndrome are treated in a community in France. Many thanks to Deacon Greg Kandra for sharing this on his blog. You can read more about the community here, (though the limited English portions make google translate a useful option).

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Instead of snacks on a plane, you can get ...

...pornography. Yes, Ryanair, the wonderfully cheap airline in Europe has announced that they are considering offering "in flight pornography" to their patrons. Apparently, chief executive Michael O'Leary said, "Hotels around the world have it, so why wouldn't we?"

Well, the New York Times is reporting the story, and it appears their worst fear is that a child might be sitting behind or next to someone looking at pornography. And then there's an account of one man who felt awkward when an elderly woman next to him on a plane caught a few seconds of graphic content on a film he was watching.

But, that's all. It might be bad for the children. Old ladies may feel uncomfortable. But, carry on!

Really? As someone who flies rather frequently, I cannot even imagine the discomfort and distrust that could loom through the tightly-cramped quarters of a plane, not knowing if other patrons are taking advantage of the "in flight pornography." It is already uncomfortable to be near someone looking at inappropriate magazines or watching particular films offered on the in-flight entertainment system. Certainly, there is a paramount concern of the danger this poses to children, but we also need to examine how the choice cannot be authentically beneficial to anyone.

What can we do? Well, I think a good place to start is to contact Ryanair. When I visited their website to find the proper contact information, I was startled by women in their underwear advertising a Ryanair calendar "for charity." So it appears that the problem is much bigger than the question of whether or not to offer pornography on flights. Perhaps we should start with the dignity of women, the dignity of men, the dignity of children and the responsibility to live that dignity in all of our interactions, policies and ideas.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Pope Benedict teaches children to pray

"What, then, is prayer? It is a cry of love directed to God our Father, with the will to imitate Jesus our brother. Jesus often went off by himself to pray. Like Jesus, I too can find a calm place to pray where I can quietly stand before a Cross or a holy picture in order to speak to Jesus and to listen to him. I can also use the Gospels. That way, I keep within my heart a passage which has touched me and which will guide me throughout the day. To stay with Jesus like this for a little while lets him fill me with his love, light and life! This love, which I receive in prayer, calls me in turn to give it to my parents, to my friends, to everyone with whom I live, even with those who do not like me, and those whom I do not appreciate enough. Dear young people, Jesus loves you. Ask your parents to pray with you! Sometimes you may even have to push them a little. But do not hesitate to do so. God is that important!"
-- From the Holy Father's visit to Benin this weekend

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Quote book

"The moral and spiritual strength of a woman is joined to her awareness that God entrusts the human being to her in a special way. Of course, God entrusts every human being to each and every other human being. But this entrusting concerns women in a special way -- precisely by reason of their femininity -- and this in a particular way determines their vocation." -- Bl. John Paul II (MD #30).

Friday, November 18, 2011

God's calling in the produce aisle

Below is an old article of mine from Catholic Exchange before they removed their Theology of the Body section:

Rushing out of my study cave with the great cloud of comprehensive exam induced stress hovering above my head, I plotted out my plan of attack for the grocery store shopping to which I was heading. Nothing was going to stand between the milk aisle and me because any second lost was a second I would not be fervently studying.

My perfectly constructed plans reached a fork in the road after two steps into the store, when a salesman invited me to sign up for a gift card giveaway. I stood hesitating, attempting to decide between blowing off the opportunity to win $100 and surrendering some of my study time. For some reason, I chose the latter.

As I filled out the raffle ticket, the salesman invited me to sign up for a newspaper deal. Still in a hurry, I explained that I would be moving in three months, so a 26-week subscription to a DC paper wouldn’t do me much good. And like any good salesman, he began a conversation: Where was I moving? First time there? Why was I in DC? What was I studying? What would I be doing after graduation?

That was the moment when I began to realize that God was calling me to share Theology of the Body. In the middle of the produce aisle, I began explaining, now with genuine enthusiasm in my voice, how the late Holy Father spent the first five years of his pontificate developing this beautiful teaching. Instead of a microphone in my hand, I held my shopping list, and instead of standing in a room full of people eager to hear about the pope’s words, I stood amidst the broccoli, bananas and bell peppers.

“See, a lot of people think the body is bad. They assume that when we die, only our soul will go to heaven. Or they think that the body is bad, and the soul is good,” I explained.

“But John Paul spent five years explaining that our bodies are good. He talked about how we are made in the image and likeness of God, and that includes our bodies. We can tell by the fact that He created us male and female, that we are called to love. We are called to give ourselves to each other – whether it be in marriage, or even in a smaller capacity like volunteering to help others. God isn’t sexual, but He is love, and in our bodies we are able to image that.”

Surprised, the salesman (who was also taken aback at having met someone who has never left the Catholic faith) asked if Theology of the Body is only for Catholics. I assured him that it isn’t, and that it applies to everyone. I gave him the example of a Protestant church I’m aware of planning to host a series of Theology of the Body study groups this year.

And right there in the middle of the apples, asparagus and arugula, the salesman shared the story of when his father, a Protestant minister, first explained to him that God is love.

In those few minutes, the salesman wasn’t making any commission, and I wasn’t memorizing what Aristotle wrote about matter and form. But God was calling. He was asking that the work be set aside for a moment, and that He be given the priority.

As I walked away, a little slower than before, I chuckled at God’s insistence that I remember what’s really important. There I was, placing my exams above everything, nearly ignoring the opportunity to talk to a person about God’s plan. Ironically, isn’t it for people that I am taking these exams and completing these studies? Isn’t my desire to help others come to see the beauty of Theology of the Body?

It’s a lesson we need repeated frequently. When preparing Sunday’s homily, or researching for next week’s CCD lesson, or reading a new book about Theology of the Body, how often do we get lost in what we have to get done and forget why we are immersed in this work in the first place? If it’s not about our love of God and neighbor, then haven’t we missed the point?

John Paul seems a wonderful example of a man whose work was for his love of God and neighbor. His encyclicals, letters, addresses and even Theology of the Body audiences weren’t an academic exercise for their own sake – they were for people. John Paul wrote, spoke and lived for the man working in a rice field in China, for the woman oppressed in Sudan, for the Polish couple contemplating marriage, for the El Salvadorian family having difficulty putting food on the table.

In Laborem Exercens, he wrote:
[H]owever true it may be that man is destined for work and called to it, in the first place work is "for man" and not man "for work. […] in the final analysis it is always man who is the purpose of the work, whatever work it is that is done by man – even if the common scale of values rates it as the merest "service", as the most monotonous even the most alienating work. (#6)

No matter where God calls us, reminding us of the constant necessity of reordering our priorities, it’s a lesson worth heeding.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Oct. 22, 2012

If you haven't heard the news, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops officially approved the public celebration of the feast day of Bl. John Paul II in our country. Translation? We can officially celebrate his feast, liturgically, on October 22, 2012.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Letter to my future spouse

A young man who studied Theology of the Body for Teens (as far as I know, not in Cincinnati) created this video after completing the program:

Monday, November 14, 2011

USCCB's new marriage site

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops literally just announced the launch of their new site, Marriage Unique for a Reason, at their annual meeting in Baltimore. I'm especially looking forward to the blog updates on the site.

Evangelization on the highway

A car-full of girls in Kenosis were recently on a roadtrip, when they were engaged in an innocent encounter of waving to another car. The other car -- full of several teen boys -- was not content with a simple waving match on the highway. One of the boys held up a sign in the window with an inappropriate message.

The girls, all schooled in Theology of the Body, decided this was a moment for evangelization. They scrambled for paper and pen in the car, and then wrote: "Respect. We are precious gifts."

The boys didn't get it. So the girls countered again: "Why would you want to use us?"

Still, the boys were confused, so the ladies responded: "Be men. Not boys."

The boys drove away. The girls continued their roadtrip. But one has to wonder how these simple messages impacted the boys. Maybe they tucked the messages in their minds for a later reflection. Maybe they were intrigued. Maybe they didn't believe there were girls in the world wiling to wait for respect.

Maybe something as simple as driving down the highway became an invitation to these young men to live the fact that they were made for more.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Priest as Father, and Father as Priest

Wayne Topp has a unique perspective as a husband and father to bring to his role in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati's vocations office. He reflects on what he learned at the recent diocesan vocations director gathering in Michigan in this post.
So, there I was, at the convention’s closing Mass, in front of the icon of the NCDVD patron, St. John Vianney, asking for prayers that I might be a good and holy priest for my family because, in that moment, I realized, that is my vocation; that is my responsibility; that is my gift.

Read it all here.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

"Longing for Lilies"

Br. Philip Neri Reese, OP, writes about the desire for purity in his recent post, "Longing for Lilies" --

There is nothing on this earth so powerful as holy desire. The true solution to a sexualized society will not be a social remedy. The world is falling because our hearts have fallen first. The more tainted the things we desire are, the more tainted we who desire will be. The world cannot be purified without the purification of hearts. That means turning our eyes to things that are true and truly wanting what we see.

The Rule says “the eye is the herald of the heart,” and that means that the movies we watch, the places we go, the things we read, and even the conversations we have all call for an honest examining. For most of us, this examination will be painful, but it need not be scrupulous or guilt-ridden. If we don’t desire the things that we ought, we can at least desire to desire them, and the holy desires that we do have can serve as a focal point for our prayer and meditation. If we let Him, the Lord will kindle desires in our hearts and stoke them into a furnace that consumes the chaff of our old compromises.

Read it all here.

Friday, November 11, 2011

What are the odds you exist?

Incredible! You can view a bigger version here. This is definitely worth seeing and passing on to others.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Quote book

“The whole world is not as worthy as the most insignificant human person” – Msgr. Luigi Giussani (“At the Origin of the Christian Claim”)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Baby desperation

It's quite the predicament we hear in the news. On the one hand, women are career-oriented, blissfully single, quite independent, and therefore uninterested in being burdened by husband or child. On the other hand, women are desperate to conceive, willing to go to any lengths in order to be called, "mommy."

The UK's "Daily Mail" recently featured a piece by Liz Jones about this quandary. It's quite the study in using vs. loving. A few excerpts will give the idea, so you won't have to read the long, bizarre account:

Of course, not every woman in my position would resort to extreme measures. But I do believe that any man who moves in with a woman in her late 30s or early 40s should take it as read that she will want to use them to procreate, by fair means or foul, no matter how much she protests otherwise.

A 2001 survey revealed that 42 per cent of women would lie about using contraception in order to get pregnant in spite of their partners’ wishes.

Perhaps my husband should never have married me if he didn’t feel ready for a family. Perhaps I should never have married him. There are always two sides to every dispute, but I think the words I flung at him when we eventually broke up were: ‘You stole my last child-bearing years from me! ’

My own attempts at being a ‘sperm stealer’ failed. But there are plenty more like me who are willing to give it a try.

Among my circle, many girlfriends have told me how they have tricked their boyfriend or fiancé or husband. One found herself childless in her 40s, so she lied to a very new boyfriend that she was on the Pill. He is now in a new relationship having to pay support for a child he never sees.

Another friend was engaged but her fiancé walked out on her. She is 39, and told me she was hoping she was pregnant ‘so he would have to come back’. Yet men remain in blissful ignorance of such tactics.

While reading Liz Jones' words, I was struck by the emphasis that what needs to change is not women's behavior, but men's awareness of it. It seems as though women using men in order to become mothers is considered a reasonable behavior, so long as men know what is occurring.

Of course, the other person being used in this equation is the child -- an innocent, beautiful creature not willed for his own sake, but for the happiness and personal fulfillment of his mother.
Near the conclusion of the article, Liz Jones writes:

So when is a woman most likely to become a sperm-snatcher? If her career is not panning out exactly as she thought it would. If she is 37 or over and childless. If she worries the man might walk out on her. I believe these are the women who are most likely to be panicked into making the decision to get pregnant in whatever way they can.

Women today are used to getting what they want; they believe that ‘having it all’ is their right, not a privilege. Women no longer think merely being ‘married’ to their work is in any way satisfactory. Life without a child is seen as a failure.
Is the problem the desire to be a mother? Or is the problem the way in which being a mother is now equated with power, independence, worldly success? Perhaps the two attitudes of women mentioned at the beginning of this post are not as opposed to one another as they first seem. The desire for independence and financial success can be linked to the desire for a child ... if the desire for a child is shaped by the first desire, thereby taking a new structure of selfishness, instead of the selfless structure inherent to motherhood.

Motherhood as a personal endeavor in grasping for what I want is a far cry from Bl. John Paul II's thoughts:
This mutual gift of the person in marriage opens to the gift of a new life, a new human being, who is also a person in the likeness of his parents. Motherhood implies from the beginning a special openness to the new person: and this is precisely the woman's "part." In this openness, in conceiving and giving birth to a child, the woman "discovers herself through a sincere gift of self." The gift of interior readiness to accept the child and bring it into the world is linked to the marriage union, which -- as mentioned earlier -- should constitute a special moment in the mutual self-giving both by the woman and the man. According to the Bible, the conception and birth of a new human being are accompanied by the following words of the woman: "I have brought a man into being with the help of the Lord" (Gen 4:1). This exclamation of Eve, the "mother of all the living" is repeated every time a new human being comes into the world. It expresses the woman's joy and awareness that she is sharing in the great mystery of eternal generation. The spouses share in the creative power of God! (Mulieris Dignitatem #18).

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

When you can't be present at your own wedding

In Canon Law class, I learned about marriage by proxy, which was more likely to occur back in the day when politically advantageous marriages were arranged and either the bride or groom was unable to travel the distance to be present at the wedding. In that sense, then, I am familiar with the possibility of someone not being present at his or her own wedding. But this is a whole new idea of not being present:

Goodness! The bride's phone was not off or silent. The bride's phone was with her during the wedding. The bride's phone was picked up during the wedding itself! And there in the midst of the most profound act of her life -- giving herself totally and irrevocably to her husband and to God -- the text just cannot wait.

It's so easy for us to watch this clip and think, "I would NEVER do that!" Yet, how many times do we reach for the phone during dinner with a friend? When do we decide to tweet about whatever experience we are currently engaged in, instead of enjoying the experience itself? How often do we spend time on facebook instead of sitting in silence with another, making eye contact or having a meaningful conversation in person?

In fact, Britain's "The Telegraph" recently reported a study that found that the average adult on a date in the UK spends 48 minutes on a smartphone.
During this time they will send a staggering three emails, 12 texts and two photos, as well as posting three messages and two status updates on websites, such as Twitter and Facebook.
On a date? Really? If dates are traditionally considered the time and place for trying to impress another person, then how often do we pull out our phones with our long time friends, our family, our coworkers? How often have we seen families sharing dinner at a restaurant, each playing games or sending texts on their phones? How do we learn to see the dignity of the human person when we can't disengage from our 160-character interactions mediated by tiny keyboards and glowing screens? How would we treat others differently if we believed that they were really unique, unrepeatable, someone chosen by eternal Love?

How am I present? How can I become more present? If we want to be present at our own wedding, we should start being present at the kitchen table, at the work meeting and at the coffee date with a friend.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

"How can guys not lead girls on?"

After Thursday's blog post about why girls get emotionally attached quickly, I was asked how guys can ensure that they do not "lead girls on." It's an excellent and very important question!

On the one hand, girls have the capability of making a big deal out of nothing. But in that case, it is not the guy's fault if the girl thinks there is grounds for a relationship. However, there are definitely concrete ways guys can strive to not lead girls on. Here are some ideas:

- Don't spend too much alone-time, individual-attention, etc. with one particular girl if you are not interested in her. A guy may take facebook chats, long conversations after school and a CD of favorite music as no big deal, but a girl could easily think that special attention equals special relationship. Spending time in groups without exclusive attention is a good start.

- Being very clear in your intentions. "I'm really glad we are friends." "I want to be clear that I really enjoy our friendship, but I'm not interested in dating." Sometimes it's necessary to clarify where you stand on things. And sometimes it's necessary to clarify this on multiple occasions.

- Be careful to not compliment a girl too much. This might sound odd at first. On the one hand, we need a culture where young men can tell girls that they are beautiful, caring, gifted, etc. So, this is not to say that guys should never compliment girls. But, a guy who is always telling girls that they are beautiful, amazing, holy, etc., can give the wrong impression that he thinks of her as more than a friend. Therefore, compliments and affirmation have to be given prudently and simply.

- Say what you mean. Mean what you say.

- Be on guard against allowing a girl's desire for attention, affirmation, affection, etc., to feed into a masculine desire to feel protective, strong, needed, wanted, etc. Let me explain: Sometimes when a girl is (through words, behavior, etc.) making it clear that she might be interested in a particular guy, it can be tempting for said gentleman to act as if he is interested on the surface in order to feel a level of control, security, affirmation. But of course, this goes nowhere! The girl ends up feeling empty because the guy is not authentically interested in her. And the guy feels guilty because he used a girl to feel protective instead of being protective. Just a temptation to be aware of ...

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Quote book

"For Mary, receiving the Eucharist must have somehow meant welcoming once more into her womb that heart which had beat in unison with hers and reliving what she had experienced at the foot of the Cross." -- Bl. John Paul II ("Ecclesia de Eucharistia #56).

Friday, November 4, 2011

A life that started on google

There has been a recent crop of articles concerning the discovery of children that they have dozens of half-siblings, each sharing the same sperm donor. Many are on a quest to meet their biological father, and in the process meet their siblings.

I recently came across a TV episode chronicling one man's challenge to tell his fiancee that he has more than 70 children via sperm donation. During the show, he also meets two of his children. Additionally, two young women with a different sperm donor meet for the first time.

It's difficult to watch. All sorts of struggles and uncomfortable situations are inserted into what should be fairly typical relationships. And one can only imagine the implications in 10, 20, 30 years for those involved.

For one, we have Ben's (the sperm donor) fiancee who says over dinner: "I'm still having trouble wrapping my head around the fact that you have 50, 60, 70 biological offspring. I kind of deem that as selfish in a way. Did you think of the consequences that would come of it?" To which Ben is left rather speechless.

And later, Sharon, the "single mom by choice" who has two children, thanks to Ben's sperm donation, has a conversation with her 7-year-old daughter before meeting Ben. The mother wants to explain that she is not in a relationship with Ben, nor will she ever be. Yet, the daughter insists that the two must have "broken up" since they were once "married." The dialogue continues as follows:

Mom: "Why would you think that we were married?"
Daughter: "Because you got the sperm."
Mom: "How did Mommy get the sperm?"
Daughter: "Google."
Mom: "Google. That's good."

Goodness! Can one even imagine how the future will be impacted by the thought that life began with google? The entire 43 minute program is filled with heartbreaking scenarios that make one question why the idea to "manufacture" a baby simply because I want one would ever be a good idea. Our choices affect more than just ourselves.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Why do girls get emotionally attached right away?

At a local Catholic high school, a student recently asked, "Why do girls get emotionally attached right away?" I'm certain that the questioner is not the only one in the world asking, so I decided to share a few thoughts:

Simple answer! We all long to be loved, and love wants to say two things: total and forever. So, we are longing to meet the person who will commit to loving us for the rest of our lives. In our desire for this lasting love, we often get several steps ahead of ourselves emotionally (similar to how guys get two steps ahead physically/mentally). Just listen to five minutes of Taylor Swift! Her songs consistently show the yearning that she has for this guy to stay forever, or for this relationship to lead to marriage.

While there is nothing wrong with the desire to be loved, cherished, pursued, protected and respected, we have to remember that these things can only be authentically received, not grasped. Therefore, we have to allow our will to have mastery over our emotions – keeping our thoughts in check, and not fast-forwarding to a wedding day that may never happen.

A lot of times we call this “guarding the heart.” It doesn’t mean making our heart an impenetrable fortress that is incapable of love and vulnerability. But it means allowing ourselves to give and receive love slowly and in reality, instead of quickly in a fantasy world.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Unshakeable Hope: One year of posts

A lot can happen in a year. A new blog can manage to publish about 450 posts in a year. There can be more than 10,000 visitors. All sorts of topics, articles, videos and reflections can be introduced.
It's been a good first year of Unshakeable Hope. Thanks for reading and following and commenting and pondering.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Happy All Saints' Day!

“It is the great multitude of the saints – both known and unknown – in whose lives the Lord has opened up the Gospel before us and turned over the pages; he has done this throughout history and he still does so today. In their lives, as if in a great picture-book, the riches of the Gospel are revealed. They are the shining path which God himself has traced throughout history and is still tracing today.” – Pope Benedict XVI

7 Billion People: Everybody Relax!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Retreat recap

The Theology of the Body for Teens retreat came to a close yesterday afternoon. It never ceases to be amazing to watch dozens of teens line up for confession, praise the Lord during Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, and join their voices together in prayer. It also never ceases to be amazing to watch six junior core members of Kenosis speak to their peers with confidence, grace, enthusiasm and authenticity about the way God has transformed their lives. And it will always be a gift to work with young adults who are beautifully present to the teens by giving up an entire weekend to lead small groups and witness to God's love.

Thank you for the prayers.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Please continue prayers for the TOB retreat. We end at 3 pm today! It has been a blessed weekend.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Happy feast of Bl. Chiara "Luce" Badano!

Our wonderful patroness of Kenosis, Blessed Chiara "Luce" Badano's feast day is today. If you haven't heard of this 19 year old saint, who died in 1990, then you will want to read about her holiness in the everyday.

"I've realized that if we could constantly keep our soul open and ready for everything, how many signs God would send us. I have also understood how many times God passes next to us and we do not realize it ... Young people are the future. I cannot run anymore, but I'd like to pass them my torch, like at the Olympic games. The youth have one life to live, and we should spend it as best we can." -- Bl. Chiara

Friday, October 28, 2011

Prayers please

It's time for another TOB for Teens retreat. That means we need your prayers! This weekend, a full house of 26 teens, 6 junior core members and 6 adults will embark on an adventure of growing closer to God through learning about Theology of the Body.

It's the sort of event that is impossible without prayer. So if you are able, please offer a prayer or two for all of us this weekend. Thank you!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"Why facebook is the devil"

This is a brilliant, thought-provoking reflection on the influence of facebook and social networking sites on experience. Marc Barnes has plenty of thoughts to share in "Why Facebook is the Devil."

After all, is that not dying to the present moment – moving on from it? Is a man thinking about the future not but a ghost, dwelling neither here nor there? When you’re in a group of friends and something insightful or funny is said, phones are whipped out and passionate mutters of “Tweet-worthy” are heard all around, everyone has removed themselves from the present moment and thrust their experience out to the world to be validated.

Thought Experiment: If you Facebooked/tweeted/blogged/shared the greatest moment of your life and no one ‘liked’ it, would you think less of the moment? Would you think less of your friends? Is either option any good? Is ‘liking’ something on Facebook actually ‘liking’ it, or is it usually validating that it exists, i.e. “Yes, you did say/post that.”?

That’s not at all to say things shouldn’t be shared, but we share them like words on a tombstone, brief summations of the life of the thing – that really amount to its death. Why? Because as soon as we move from the event to the status update, when we give the event a small conglomerate of signs and symbols that by their nature as words cannot fully describe – hence, “you had to be there” – we make our events small, and then we are done with them. We try and make ourselves, in some strange way, the victors of that moment. Our experience has been wrestled into submission by our adjectives.

It is definitely worth reading, which you can do here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Remembering Michael

So often we overlook the reality of life of a miscarried child. Sarah Babbs has a beautiful reflection of the way in which she and her husband have been impacted by their little son, Michael, who died before his birth.

Confusion, as the ultrasound tech leaves to get the doctor. Hushed voices on the other side of the door. Poking and prodding. No tell-tale “thump,thump,thump,thump”, the sweetest sound you’ll ever hear. We never heard it. Condolences all around. The pregnancy stopped progressing at 8 weeks. “So sorry for your loss.” “You can try again soon, you are so young.” “A blessing in disguise.” Disgust. Pain. “Why God? Haven’t you taken enough?”

Tears. Sedation. Surgery. Recovery. No medication for the ache inside, for the aching of an empty womb.

A caring priest pours prayer, power, and oil of healing on our heads. “You are parents.” “The vocation of parenthood is to welcome souls that will glorify God in Heaven. He’s already there. Mission accomplished.” “Give him a name, a name you can call him, and remember.”

Michael John. “Who is like God? and God is generous.” He gives and takes away. Blessed be His name.

This month, our first baby, our little one in Heaven, would have turned two.

Read it all here.