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 fiancĂ© 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!