Friday, December 12, 2014

The dignity of a haircut

The New York Times just featured the story of hairstylist Mark Bustos.  His weekdays are filled by giving $150 haircuts, often to celebrities.  But his Sundays?  His Sundays are dedicated to giving free haircuts to the homeless of New York City.  

The story of Mark Bustos' unique way of affirming the dignity of the person is here.  

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Christmas gift list ... or should I say book list

It's been awhile since I've offered a Theology of the Body-inspired Christmas list for those of you looking for gift ideas (whether for friends and family or for your own wish list).  This year, though, I've seen sufficient new material to warrant a new post.  I try to stick with new resources, though a few other ideas might pop up in the list.

First up, we have Prof. Stanislaw Grygiel's "Discovering the Human Person: In Conversation with John Paul II."  The "in conversation" phrase seems to be applied rather liberally to biographies and studies of saints, but this particular book is written by a student and friend of the late Holy Father.  I have not read the book yet but was able to hear some of Prof. Grygiel's reflections in person at the John Paul Institute in Washington, DC.  He always had beautiful insights to share, and left us in awe of his personal experiences with the late Holy Father.

While we're on the subject of St. John Paul, I'd highly recommend Jason Evert's St. John Paul the Great: His Five Loves  Or, for about triple the cost of one book, purchase 32 copies in paperback to give to all of your friends.  Leave a copy on a coffee shop table with a note to anyone who would like to take it.  It's a different kind of biography -- a collection of verified stories of JPII that give fresh insight into who he was and what he loved.  My copy is quite underlined and asterisked. 

These Beautiful Bones: An Everyday Theology of the Body by Emily Stimpson didn't come out this past year, but made its debut late enough in 2013 to warrant a mention.  What a beautiful book!  Emily Stimpson is a gifted writer, with words simply flowing from her pen in such a way as to captivate the reader with her beauty, humor and insight.  Her book seeks to go beyond the idea that Theology of the Body is "just about sex" and instead to challenge us all to see how we can live TOB more fully in other areas of our lives (manners, what we eat, how we work, etc.).  It's the perfect book for the TOB aficionado and the person who has never heard of Theology of the Body.  All will find insight, challenge and beauty.  

Another book that I have not yet read but which looks quite promising is Anthony Esolen's Defending Marriage: Twelve Arguments for Sanity.  I've long found Prof. Esolen's writing to be engaging, witty and enlightening, and I have no doubt his reflections on this important matter will not disappoint.  

For the newly expecting couple, "Gift of Joy: The Blessing of the Child in the Womb" is excellent.  The actual blessing is not in the book.  Instead, co-authors Archbishop Joseph Kurtz and Msgr. Brian Bransfield introduce parents more fully into comprehending the mystery they are living while awaiting the birth of their child.  

I'm sure there are plenty of other items I could add, though I risk not posting this until it's too late to purchase these books in time for Christmas.  For the Theology of the Body or St. John Paul II fans in your life, chances are likely that at least one of these items is not yet in their possession.

Happy gift-giving and receiving!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Why not live together before marriage?

One of the resources people ask me for are articles or pamphlets about cohabitation. Why not live together before marriage? It's virtually assumed today that two people planning on marriage will share the same address before exchanging rings.

There are quite a few articles and summaries of the problems with cohabitation, but today's article, "Why I Don't Live With My Fiance" was one of the best, simple explanations I have seen.

I don’t want to live with my fiancé because his title says it all. He’s still my fiancé. He’s not my spouse. He’s not the man I married—he’s the man I will marry. And when we’re married, we will move in together. Why then?

Because then I will know it won’t be a decision based on finances or split rent. It won’t be a decision based on the desire to sleep with each other. It won’t be a decision based on a trial run to see how things go and with an easy out when the going gets tough.

Rather, our decision to move in together will be based on a public profession to love each other in good times and bad, in sickness and health, until death do us part. It will be a decision based on mutual self-respect in a way that says, “You are worth more to me than a split rent check. You are worth more to me than any self-gratification. I don’t need a trial run of living together because I already know I want to spend the rest of my life with you,” that’s what dating is for!

Read the rest of the article here. It's worth bookmarking and sharing when you need a handy answer to a common question.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Vocational Discernment 101

Just last night I was having a conversation about vocations discernment in which I recalled the words of Matt Maher during a concert at Franciscan University ten years ago. He said, "Sometimes people make finding their vocation their god." It becomes this all-encompassing thing to obsess over and spend every waking moment contemplating.

Exhibit A: "An attractive guy/girl sat in front me during Mass today. Maybe I'm called to marriage! Or, maybe it was an invitation from God to give up this good for the greater good of priesthood/religious life."

So, it was rather good timing that The Culture Project reposted an article from July entitled, "Your Vocation is Not About You." Benjamin Mann has some thought-provoking insights into how we view our vocation (whether in the future or the present).
Our expectations are wrong. Consciously or not, we sometimes expect a vocation to solve all of our problems, answer all of our questions, and satisfy all of our desires. But these are not the purposes of a vocation. Discernment, likewise, does not consist in finding the choice that will meet those expectations.

Your vocation will not live up to these unrealistic hopes. Nothing in this world will answer all your questions, solve all your problems, or satisfy all your desires. These are impossible, immature ambitions, and the spiritual life consists largely in realizing that they are impossible and immature.

The purpose of life is the unitive devotional service of God, which includes the love of our neighbor (in whom God dwells). This is the real purpose of any vocation. Some forms of life, such as monasticism, are ordered directly to this end; other states of life are oriented toward it indirectly. But these are only different versions of the one human vocation: to love and serve God, and become one with him in Christ.

A vocation – any vocation – is a school of charity and a means of crucifixion. Your vocation is the means by which your self-serving ego will die in order to be resurrected as the servant and lover of God. This is all that we can expect; but this is everything – the meaning of life, all there really is.

My vocation is where I will learn to let go of my questions, carry the cross of my problems, and be mysteriously fulfilled even when I am not happy. We have some choice as to how we will undergo that process; we do not – so long as we abide in the grace of God – get to choose whether we will undergo it.

Read it all here.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A most succinct summary of the human person

When the hundreds of pages of Theology of the Body need to be summarized in a minute or two, it's difficult to know what to say.  How to say enough without saying too much?

In the current issue of the "National Catholic Register," Katie van Schaijik fulfilled the task admirably.

To be a human person is to be made in the image and likeness of God. It is to be absolutely unique and unrepeatable. It is to exist from love and for love, with others and for others. It is to be embodied, incomplete and in need. It is to be called to a life-giving union and communion with God and others — or, with God through others.

Read more of her thoughts on "Personalism and Pope Francis" and the recent Synod at  

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Forgetting Jerusalem

Have you heard what happened in Jerusalem yesterday?  Perhaps you have not.  It is likely that you know that the "first openly gay NBA player is retiring" or that Buffalo has six feet of snow.  But Jerusalem?

I came across too references to "something" happening in Jerusalem on Catholic news, so I figured it must be a big deal.  A quick check of Google News came up empty.  But tomorrow, President Obama will be making a speech, and a Bill Cosby show might not air due to allegations he is facing ...

I checked a couple of other national news sites.  Nothing on Jerusalem.  But a baby with four arms and four legs is attracting interest in India and "Transgender People Push for Greater Acceptance" ...

So, back to Google News I went, thinking that whatever cryptic references to Jerusalem I heard must have been misunderstood.  This time I typed "Jerusalem" in the search bar.  And then I saw the news.

This morning in Jerusalem two Palestinians, armed with butcher knives and a rifle, entered a synagogue and brutally killed five men, including four rabbis.  

In the heart of the Jewish faith -- Jerusalem -- in the location they hold so dear -- a synagogue -- four leaders of the Jewish faith -- rabbis -- were attacked.  

And here in the United States, we barely heard a whisper.  Sure, it probably was a top story when it first happened, but after a few moments, more important things took the stage ... like Disney's new "Cinderella."

News is now entertainment.  We need to know what the latest celebrity kerfuffle is, but all of the injustices to human dignity and attacks on religious liberty and atrocious treatment of men, women and children around the globe?  Well, those only merit attention if they drive ratings and spike website visitor counts.  

Why aren't we stopping to mourn the loss of life in a synagogue in Jerusalem today?  Why aren't we praying for our Jewish brothers and sisters who, whether or not they were physically present in the synagogue during the attack, were attacked today?  

If you did not know about the attack in the Holy Land today, I hope you'll take a few minutes to read the story and to pray for those killed, those present and for all Jewish people.  

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A Vatican conference from the comfort of your home

It isn't too often one has the opportunity to partake in a Vatican conference.  Fortunately, the event occurring right now -- the Humanum conference focusing on the complementarity of men and women -- is open to all of us.  The conference features the presentation of short films on a number of topics, followed by live witnesses and brief presentations from people of various faiths.  The short films and the presentations are available on the Humanum website and are being posted soon after they occur live in Rome.

Be sure to take a look ... and to be truly authentic, perhaps you'd like to watch with a cappuccino or gelato in hand.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Quote book

"We are led to believe that success in life lies primarily in our being able to bring credentials, and yet, who would dream of saying to another person: ‘I love you because you are the most efficient secretary I have met in my life,’ or because ‘you are the teacher who best organizes the material.’ Love is not concerned with a person’s accomplishments, it is a response to a person’s being: This is why a typical word of love is to say: I love you, because you are as you are."
-- Dietrich Von Hildebrand

Friday, November 14, 2014

What do you know about China's one child policy?

I frequently hear people dismiss China's one child policy as something that is in the past.  They talk of it as if it's no big deal.  An entire nation forcing its women to be injected with Depo Provera or to have babies aborted all the way up to nine months of pregnancy is tragic, inhumane and something we cannot continue ignoring.  

In college, I was able to read "A Mother's Ordeal: One Woman's Fight Against China's One Child Policy," which I would recommend to anyone who would like to know what the "policy" is really like.  It reads like a novel, but it is tragically non-fiction.  

Rep. Chris Smith, who has long fought for the rights of the Chinese people, recently wrote about current United States legislative efforts to fight the one-child policy, which he describes in part as:

For more than three decades, most brothers and sisters have been illegal. And the price for failing to conform to the limit of one child per couple is staggering. A Chinese woman who becomes pregnant without a government permit will be put under mind-bending pressure to abort. She knows that “out-of-plan” illegal children are denied education, health care, and marriage, and that fines for bearing a child without a birth permit can be ten times the average annual income of two parents. Families who can’t or won’t pay are jailed, or their homes are smashed.

If the brave woman still refuses to submit, she may be held in a punishment cell. If she flees, her relatives may be held and, very often, beaten. Group punishments will be used to socially ostracize her. Often, her colleagues and neighbors will be denied birth permits. If the woman is, by some miracle, still able to resist this pressure, she may be physically dragged to the operating table and forced to undergo an abortion.

The result of this policy is a nightmarish “brave new world” with no precedent in human history, where women are psychologically wounded, girls are the victims of sex-selective abortion, and children grow up without brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, or cousins. The United States government must take active steps to fight this atrocity.
Rep. Smith goes on to outline his efforts in Congress currently, as well as the support for the one-child policy given by the current administration (and, by extension, our taxes).  It's important to read and to know what is happening in China. 

It's not just China, however, that is choosing who should have children and how many.  Kenyan bishops recently drew attention to a puzzling tetanus vaccine campaign in their country (emphasis added):

According to reports from CISA agency in Nairobi, during a press conference in Nairobi, His Exc. Mgr. Paul Kariuki Njiru, Bishop of Embu and Chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops Catholic Health Commission of Kenya, questioned why the national tetanus campaign is aimed at girls and women aged between 14 to 49, excluding girls under the age of 13, in addition to the male population. Mgr. Kariuki Njiru reported the church had conducted laboratory tests on the vaccine used in the Tetanus campaign of March 2014 and found out that it contained the Beta HCG sub unit. HCG according to the findings is necessary for pregnancy. This substance, combined with the tetanus vaccine, actually becomes a vaccine against pregnancy. A similar methodology was used in previous tetanus campaigns in the Philippines, Nicaragua and Mexico.
This morning, I learned that in India this week ten women died and dozens more were critically injured during a government-sponsored sterilization campaign.  The women were pressured by the promise of $23 if they agreed to be sterilized.  The medical conditions were unsanitary, rushed and not remotely patient-centered.  And women died.

Why don't we hear more about this very real "war on women?"  Why instead are we as a nation concerned with who is going to pay for women's birth control pills, when women around the world are being mutilated and their children destroyed?  We have been silent for years as families suffer.  We turn a blind eye rather than learn what is really occurring.  It's uncomfortable to know.  But we really must ask what is really happening in China, India, Kenya and other nations.  And then we must ask what we can do to stop it. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Quote book

"Ironically, in a day when Catholics often decide that 'The New Evangelization' means “go online” we may need to rethink our approach. Maybe in an overly digitized age, the New Evangelization means that we must also go out of our way to meet real people, in real life, face to face.

“'Love God above all else' cannot possibly mean 'pin a Divine Mercy picture on your Pinterest page.' 'Love your neighbor as yourself' has to mean more than 'Like all your neighbor’s status updates that aren’t too political.'"

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Victims of the Lonely Revolution

With all of these depressing stories lately, it's time for some beauty. Anthony Esolen always writes with beauty, even if his subject matter is ugliness.

This time, he's penning about the Lonely Revolution (what we generally term the "sexual revolution) and its victims who are usually unmentioned. Victims like:

... children of divorce, who see their homes torn in two, because of a mother or a father who has shrugged away the vow of permanence. I see them straining to put a fine face on it, to protect the very parents who should have protected them, to squelch back their own tears so as not to hurt those who have hurt them. Who speaks for them, harried from pillar to post? Who pleads their case, whose parents conveniently assume that their children’s happiness must depend upon their own contentment, and not the other way around? Where is my Church’s apostolate for the children sawn in half, while the Solomons of our time looked the other way?


... the young people who do in fact follow the moral law and the teachings of the Church. Many of these are suffering intense loneliness. Have you bothered to notice? Have you considered all those young people who want to be married, who should be married, but who, because they will not play evil’s game, can find no one to marry? The girls who at age twenty-five and older have never even been asked on a date? The “men” languishing in a drawn-out adolescence? These people are among us; they are everywhere. Who gives them a passing thought? They are suffering for their faith, and no one cares. Do you care, leaders of my Church? Or do you not rather tacitly agree with their fellows who do the marital thing without being married? Do you not rather share that bemused contempt for the “old fashioned” purity they are trying to preserve?

It's a call to leaders of the Church, but really it's a call to all of us.  Read it all here, and say a prayer for those suffering from the Lonely Revolution.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The future of fertility?

Professor Carl Djerassi, a chemist who contributed to the development of the birth control pill, recently spoke to Britan's "The Telegraph" about his predictions for the future of sex, babies and their connection (or lack thereof).

According to Djerassi, by perhaps 2050, the majority of women will choose to freeze their eggs in their early twenties, thus "freeing" them to experience their careers without the worries of a baby interfering.  


Next, these women will be sterilized, thereby "freeing" them to live life without the specter of an unexpected pregnancy haunting their limitless sexual encounters.

And, finally, when women are ready to check "motherhood" off of their to-do list, IVF will be performed (possibly with frozen sperm, but that needs to be experimented with and researched first).  Genetic screening will become standard.

Sex will officially be "just for fun."  No one will have to worry about having an "unwanted" child.  Daily Pill-popping and abortion will be no more.

Apparently, Pro. Djerassi is unfamiliar with the number of women who have aborted their children who were "wanted" and conceived by IVF after they changed their minds.

Surprisingly, he did not mention artificial wombs entering into the equation, thereby "freeing" women from the biological constraints and responsibilities of pregnancy.  Such an arrangement would also give men equal womb access, which would give the equality-as-sameness that the Pill seeks.

A brave new world indeed!  Where is the beauty of the mystery of fruitfulness, rooted in something (Someone) greater than ourselves?  Where is child-as-gift instead of child-as-commodity?  It's staggering to consider how detrimental this would be to society.  More than ever we would say, "We've forgotten who we are."

Monday, November 10, 2014

An uncoupled, open "marriage's" biggest victim

 OK, so let's get this straight ... Clark and Valerie want to protect their son Jonah from divorce, so their solution is to host an "uncoupling ceremony" on a California beach, live in the same home together and date other people.  For Jonah.  

Apparently seeing Mom with her boyfriend ... or not seeing her while she spends "private time" with him at another location is not damaging.  And, I guess knowing that Dad doesn't want a third divorce but that Mom is keeping her options open doesn't hurt either.

What is it about divorce that is damaging for children?  A broken covenant, a love that has "ended," a break in fidelity ("if you promised to love Daddy forever and didn't, then do you really mean it when you tell me you will love me forever?), a turbulent, unknown rollercoaster where there should be a secure foundation.  

So, what about Jonah's situation is supposed to be different?  His parents are dating other people and divorce is still a viable option, at least for Valerie.  Clark doesn't want to get married a fourth time, but he has trouble convincing other women to see where their place will be in the relationship.  Apparently, Mom's boyfriend Joseph has no problems with greeting Valerie for a date ... and then Valerie's husband.  And apparently Jonah is "fine" with it.  Why would he say otherwise?  Does this little boy feel like weight of his parents' happiness is squarely on his shoulders?  And might be feel that he shouldn't say a word because this odd little arrangement is being done "for him"?

It's just so sad!  Who does "uncoupling" benefit?  It would seem it benefits no one.  In the end, while Clark and Valerie say they want what is best for Jonah, it would seem that this uncoupled, "open relationship" is hardest on Jonah.  Splashing in the waves together after returning wedding rings can't possibly convey the same security and love that lifelong fidelity (even if clearly sacrificial) could give a little boy who just wants (and deserves) to know authentic love. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Cardinal Dolan on who we are

Cardinal Dolan has a gift for making seemingly overwhelming concepts make sense.  He recently took the phrase "image and likeness of God" and explained in the Our Sunday Visitor what this means for daily life.  As the late Fr. Richard Hogan liked to say, "You were made in the image and likeness of God.  Now act like it."

I invite us to see who we are: At the core of our being, each one of us has the identity of being a child of God, made in his image and likeness, redeemed by the precious blood of his Son, Jesus, and destined to enjoy eternity with him in heaven. That’s who we are. As Pope St. John Paul II taught, “being is more important than having and doing.”

It’s not just that I’m made in God’s image and likeness, but that every human person is as well, thus deserving dignity and respect. This is our belief in the Imago Dei (“Image of God”) central to Judeo-Christian revelation, cherished by other creeds as well.As Christians, however, we have to ensure that this truth of our faith doesn’t somehow make us the center of the world. There is a heavy stress today on individualism: my needs, my wants, my career, my sexual preferences, my convenience and my time are most important. But being made in the image and likeness of God means that God happens to be the center of the world!

If we properly understand who we are in God’s eyes, and in relation to other creatures and all of creation, we will sense that there are certain duties and obligations that simply flow from who we are.

Read the rest here.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Controlling life or death is only an illusion

Brittany Maynard's tragic death has skyrocketed to the top of news feeds for the past week.  The world waited in suspense as November 2 drew closer.  Would she choose to die or, as one of her final messages seemed to allude to, would she decide to keep on living?  But as we know, she did die.  As one author suggested, though, we will never know if her death was a free choice or one that was horribly influenced by the organization "Compassion and Choices" that hijacked Brittany's situation for their own benefit.

The loss of Brittany is certainly tragic.  The tragedies could continue to mount if people use her story as a catalyst for physician-prescribed suicide.  That's why another young woman with the same cancer shared her perspective on CNN:

Cancer has been in the news in Cincinnati lately.  Bengals' player Devon Still's four-year-old daughter is battling cancer right now.  Lauren Hill, a freshman basketball player at the College of Mt. St. Joseph, has been told she has until December to live.

There has been no talk of suicide pills or control of death for Lauren.  Instead, the entire city has rallied around her as she played her first (as she says, her first, not her last) college basketball game.  

Women like Lauren and Maggie Karner (above) are witnessing how to live, which is also how to die.  They are truly brave in submitting to the reality that we cannot control everything -- not death, nor life.  They are courageous in allowing their immense suffering to transform them and others, rather than to dominate them.

Pray for Lauren.  Pray for Maggie.  Pray for all who are faced with terminal diagnoses -- for the courage to live while dying.  

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Are we masters of communication in the social media age?

It was startling to learn that some students at Yale would like to institute "conversation tables" in each cafeteria.  Apparently, conversations are no longer a staple, (along with cold pizza and a greasy burger), in the dining halls.  Now, students text ... "talking" to people who are not sitting near them.  Their hungry neighbors are ignored.  Is technology really assisting our communication and connection?

While speaking to a new campus ministry group recently, the post-talk discussion kept returning to the topic of technology and authentic communication.  It surprised me since technology is not generally the first subject people associate with Theology of the Body.  Yes, I had mentioned it a few times during the presentation, but it continually resurfaced with various questions: "How do you go from relying on technology to tell people about Ruah Woods to interacting face-to-face?"  "Will the next generation know how to communicate authentically?"  "Does technology help or harm purity?"

Amazingly, though not an explicit subject within St. John Paul II's work, his Theology of the Body does have a lot to offer our conversations on technology.  After all, he is speaking of the body ... and technology is an inherently disembodied form of communication.  That's not to say technology should be discarded, but it should give us pause.  What does technology say about the human person?  How does technology impact the way I communicate?  Does technology foster authentic relationships?

Sherry Turkle, author of "Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other" raises some questions about technology in her TED Talk (below).  It's a great conversation-starter.

My brother attended a Relient K concert last week.  At one point, the band announced that they would be performing an unreleased song.  Immediately, the handheld devices went up to capture the moment.  Imagine the potential discomfort concert goers felt when they heard the lyrics to the song -- 

I remember when a photograph was worth
A thousand words A thousand words Now a thousand pictures come my way, every day and I like them all the same but they can't take my breath away I'm fighting the temptation not to look
But I'm still leafing through the pages like the world's my open boo Why don't I got something else to do? Feeling trapped behind the viewfinder to share it all with you But that's not what it's about I'm so tired of missing out
There are plenty of questions to explore when it comes to technology and the dignity of the human person.  Look out for information about how Ruah Woods will continue these conversations next summer!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Well, that's awkward 

The title, "The Devil's Favorite Word" intrigued me into clicking the link -- a blog post on i.d.9:16's site.  The word wasn't what I expected it to be.  It was awkward.  Yes, it was awkward reading it, but only because the "favorite word" spotlighted was the word "awkward" ... one that I happen to use frequently.

Why "awkward?"

Why do we find more things in life ‘awkward?’

Maybe part of the explanation has to do with alienation and community breaking down. We live surrounded by lifeless stuff and live less and less in the context of nature and human beings. People may be in the background, but rarely do we dwell with others. As a result, we are used to a sterile way of living that lacks intimacy and vulnerability. We control our lives and are used to keeping things (people most of all) at a distance. We do whatever we can to keep life comfortable. We aren’t used to moments when the depth and heart of things crash into us, lift us out of our comfort zone and call us to see or be seen, to know or be known.

We often escape these moments and dismiss them by saying, “This is awkward.”

Read the rest here.  It's definitely an examination of conscience for our generation. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Happy feast day of Bl. Chiara "Luce" Badano

As I've recounted many times, in 2010 when Kenosis: Teen Disciples for Love and Life was just beginning, the young people chose their two patrons: St. Maximilian Kolbe and Bl. Chiara "Luce" Badano.  Today is the feast day of the latter.

If you don't know anything about Bl. Chiara, you can read a short reflection here.  You can also watch a documentary about Bl. Chiara here.

Bl. Chiara "Luce" Badano, pray for us!

Beautiful story for which a subject can't suffice

A different version of St. Francis', "Go Francis and rebuild my church, for which you can see if falling into ruin."

And more info here.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Quote book

“Matrimony is a Gospel in itself, a good news for the world of today, especially the de-Christianized world.” -- Pope Benedict XVI

Friday, October 24, 2014

Why I don't like the Sr. Cristina phenomenon

From the first video of Sr. Cristina Scuccia's appearance on Italy's "The Voice," I felt uncomfortable. The entire Catholic world seemed to be lauding her witness, while I felt something I could not quite pinpoint that just didn't feel right. I spoke to a couple of friends who generally share similar views as me, but both seemed to think it was a great moment of evangelization.

So, I stayed silent as the Sr. Cristina videos increased and the YouTube hits climbed into the millions. In some ways, Sr. Cristina was becoming the new "poster child" for the New Evangelization. Everyone was talking about her.

The "singing nun" sensation grew this week with Sr. Cristina's release of the first song on her album, a cover of Madonna's "Like a Virgin."

My adverse reaction continued, maybe even grew. But she reclaimed/redeemed/renewed what Madonna did 30 years ago, the headlines read. Still, I could barely bring myself to click on the video, and when I did I did not walk away convinced.

Finally, this morning I came across the first criticism I've seen. Barbara Nicolosi was interviewed by the Catholic News Agency and is quite vocal in her disagreement with Sr. Cristina's musical choices.

Barbara Nicolosi, a Hollywood screenwriter and Catholic cultural commentator, suggested that Sister Cristina Scuccia’s choice of Madonna’s risqué song “reflects the lack of thought, seriousness and decorum that is predictable of so much of our societal and ecclesial life today.”

Sr. Cristina, an Ursuline nun, in early June won first place on the musical competition TV show The Voice Italy. She has now released a cover of the 1984 Madonna song as the first single of her new album.

Nicolosi noted the original song’s music video and its use of Catholic imagery was “widely condemned” among Catholics.

“It was clear that Madonna was ridiculing the Church’s reverence for the Blessed Virgin and so many lay people and clergy came out to speak against Madonna and the piece,” Nicolosi told CNA Oct. 22.

“That's another reason why this is a weird piece for a Catholic nun to try and repurpose.”

Nicolosi has plenty more to say here.

The piece confirmed some of my own misgivings, though we might have some different reasons behind our dislike of the pop music-singing nun phenomenon.  I think what bothers me in large part is two-fold.

First, the new evangelization seems to be confused with relevancy, and relevancy with modernity.  If it doesn't utilize the latest "thing" -- technology, slang, hit movie/music/television show, graphics, etc. -- then it isn't "relevant."  So we preach the Gospel by making T-shirts that look like secular T-shirts ... only ours have a Catholic message.  And we use the latest songs, but we change the lyrics.  We find the hit movie and redesign the poster.  And because the secular versions of these things are "cool" (although, I know the word itself is no longer "cool"), we hope that people will see the "Catholic" versions and jump on board.

Secondly, and somewhat related, a religious sister is one who is "set apart."  She is the bride of Christ in a unique way.  There is something mysterious about that, and it should be mysterious. In fact, I would argue that the mystery is intriguing and attractive to people who might not be regular church-goers.  "Here is something different," they might say.  "I want to learn more."

A religious sister is an icon of heaven.  I certainly hope we are not signing Alicia Keys and Madonna songs for eternity.  If a sister is "set apart" and a sign of heaven, then she has a unique gift to point our minds and hearts heavenward.  We should see this "something different" and be captivated.  We should see the joy and the love and the beauty and be pointed to God.

But, at least it seems to me, many of the people who were so intrigued by Sr. Cristina's appearance on "The Voice" were more entranced by the idea that a "Catholic nun" could sing or be on television or do something other than pray.  What different reaction might Sr. Cristina's rendition of "Girls just want to have fun" inspire versus the Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist's "Mater Eucharastiae" CD?  Sure, Sr. Cristina has a powerful voice, but is "Girls just want to have fun" really intrinsically beautiful?  

Is it appropriate for one who is especially chosen in love as the bride of Christ to become some sort of commodity for the world who wants to be shocked and titillated by a habited woman who sings?  Yes, there are religious communities who have recorded CDs, but there seems to be a difference.  These CDs and television appearances are an invitation into a hidden life -- an opportunity to catch a rare glimpse of women who are praying and singing.  Sr. Cristina gave a performance, and though she may have been praying while she was singing, no one would necessarily know that based on the songs, style and way of performing.  

One might argue that Sr. Cristina's music will be more popular because it is pop music, but lest anyone forget, chanting nuns and monks' CDs have shot to the top of the charts in recent years, dumbfounding many people.  There is something captivating about the music, the prayer, the witness that people find themselves listening to and then downloading and purchasing and playing.  They find it peaceful or inspiring or beautiful.

And beauty is a form of evangelization that we desperately need in an ugly world.

We certainly don't lack for performers in our culture.  We have any number of television shows to watch with singing competitions.  In that, Sr. Cristina became one among many -- another singer, another performer ... this one who happened to be a sister.  As a culture, I don't think we need a "Catholic" version of today's songs.  I think we need to be invited into something more, something beautiful.

Several years ago I was listening to another round of the age-old youth ministry battle -- Should those who serve the youth watch all of the latest movies, listen to the latest music and immerse themselves in the latest everything so as to be relatable?  Common thought is, "Yes."  But in this particular conversation, one young woman said she thought differently.  "These kids are surrounded by people who watch all of the movies and the shows and listen to the music," she said.  "And we tell them not to watch certain shows or listen to certain songs because they are bad influences.  Then we watch them.  What these kids need to know is ... 'I didn't watch that movie or listen to that song, and it's okay not to watch these things.  Not everyone is seeing this movie or listening to this music.  That itself is an invaluable witness.'"

Her thoughts struck me and have resonated with me even 8 years later.  The world needs witnesses who in not "keeping up" with all of the latest fads are actually saying it's possible to live differently and it's worth living differently.  I don't need to watch MTV to know that a young person needs to encounter Love.

So, in summary, after such a long post (!), I certainly respect Sr. Cristina's desire to spread the Gospel and to share her talents.  She has certainly been vocal about her desire to evangelize, and has been a witness in her decision to renew temporary vows when some women might have jumped for the chance of fame and fortune.

But every time I see a video of her clutching the microphone like a pop star or diva, I cringe a little. I cringe because it seems to me the songs and style are not becoming of a sister, are not worthy of a sister.  I cringe because I want to see something truly, counterculturally different when I see a religious sister.  I want the world to know that the Church has her own unique, beautiful gifts to offer -- not just covers and replays.  In seeing one who is "set apart," people's hearts can truly be captivated and brought to Something More.  Meeting people where they are doesn't have to be synonymous with catering to the lowest common denominator.  The world needs to be invited above.  A lay person might be called to do this by being "in the world" (not of it), but it seems that those who are consecrated are called to a different form of fostering encounters with Christ.  

And that's why the world may be pressing the "Share" button with every new Sr. Cristina release, but I just can't jump on board.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

What to read about the Extraordinary Synod

Now that the Extraordinary Synod has come to a close (and we have another year to wait until the Ordinary Synod), there are plenty of articles circulating with commentaries, interviews and summaries of the event.  Here are a few that I have found particularly interesting:

- "Archbishop Kurtz on synod and next steps" (video)

- Fr. Raymond de Souza, "Never too late to listen to Pope Benedict XVI"

- Fr. Raymond de Souza, "Eleven Ways the Synod Failed Pope Francis' Vision"

- George Weigel, "An extraordinary Synod, indeed"

- Mark Brumley, "Synod Suprise"

A real life love story ... in Cincinnati

Despite depressing news headlines daily, there seems to be a rise in headlines announcing the death of couples married for decades, within hours of one another. The stories are always touching, but the most recent one to grab my attention is from a local couple -- Cincinnati natives Helen and Joe Auer. The two were married for 73 years ...

When Helen Auer died on Wednesday, she was sitting in her chair. Her husband of 73 years came into the room and knew right away. Joe leaned over, gave her a kiss goodbye, and whispered in her ear: “Helen, call me home.”

Just 28 hours later, Helen did. Joe Auer died at the age of 100. His children figured he could manage one night without her, but not two. Wednesday they will have a funeral mass in front of the same altar where they were married in 1941.

Read more of their beautiful story here.  Many more pictures of the couple are available through Meyer Funeral Home's site.

Friday, October 17, 2014

If I had five minutes to present at the Extraordinary Synod ...

Now I know that I am not, nor ever will be, an invited guest at the Synod.  There are married couples present in the discussions right now from around the world.  Most, if not all, of the couples have been married for decades and lead various marriage preparation or enrichment programs across the globe.  They have all been given a few minutes to speak to the Holy Father and the 200 or so bishops in attendance.  Their statements have also been disseminated to the public through the Vatican Press Office.

Knowing that I am not a national or world marriage leader, nor a veteran of a marriage spanning decades, as the Synod unfolds, there are still a few things I wish I could say -- that someone would say -- to the Synod fathers.  It would be something like this ...

Holy Father Pope Francis, Cardinals and Bishops of the world -- thank you for making marriage and the family such a priority that you are dedicating two Synods -- an "extraordinary" and an "ordinary" -- to these topics.  Thank you for wanting to bring the beautiful truth of these teachings to the world.  Thank you for recognizing the struggles and graces of family life and seeking to better understand so as to articulate the incredible identity of the family.

It is certainly no secret that marriage and the family are under great attack in our world.  This is manifested in differing ways by continent, country and region.  I believe, however, that all of these attacks have one thing at heart.  It is what St. John Paul II referred to in his encyclical letter, "Evangelium Vitae" as the "eclipse of the sense of God and of man."

The crisis of marriage and family is fundamentally, I believe, a crisis of anthropology.  We do not know who we are.  Formed strongly by the industrial, sexual and technological revolutions, we think we are what we do, the pleasure we obtain and the speed at which we can obtain objects and pleasure.  We, as a culture, as a world, are massively confused about what it means to be human; what love, freedom, sacrifice, truth, suffering, conscience, sexuality, our very bodies are and mean.  

It's a common misconception that the Church's "rules" are arbitrary and perhaps even vindictive sentences from a group of celibate men.  It is widely believed that Church teaching is not rooted in anything, is not valid or thoughtful or for our own good.  

This is what we need you to teach and preach and live and encourage.  The world needs to know that because of who we are -- and because of who God is -- we are called and invited to live accordingly.  We need to know that the Church doesn't give us arbitrary rules but a beautiful plan to be authentically human.  We need to know that openness to life isn't something we should grit our teeth and bear, but something we are blessed to receive.  We need to know that same-sex attraction doesn't make a person evil or undermine their dignity, but that same-sex sexual encounters cannot fulfill us.  We need to know that cohabitation isn't "test driving" commitment, but instead that we are capable of the radical risk of giving our life to our spouse.

We don't just need to hear about controversial teachings, though these are important.  We need to hear that marriage is a Sacrament, a vocation, a path to holiness.  We need to hear that marriage is a privileged way of revealing God's love to the world.  We need to hear the stories of married saints whose family life was heroically lived.  We need to hear Mass petitions for families.  We need to be sent forth with confidence that God's grace makes love possible.

We need to be challenged.  We live in a culture of mediocrity.  We are told consistently not to strive for higher things -- in fact, that we are incapable of higher things.  The Church is the lone voice stating confidently, "You are called to be more!"  This is a compliment, not an insult.  We need to hear it, to know it, to believe it.

We need mercy, yes, but we also need truth.  In fact, the two belong together.  To receive both of these, we need to know who we are.  And this brings us back to the beginning (literally, to the beginning of these thoughts and to the "beginning" of Genesis).  Holy Father, Cardinals and Bishops, you have been entrusted with so much goodness and beauty -- promoting and safeguarding the Catholic faith in the world today.  We need you to remind us of who we are, who the family is, who God is, and what He is calling each of us to live.  We don't need the truth to be watered down; we need it to be lovingly expressed.  

Please don't forget that the Church's teaching on marriage and family is beautiful.  What a gift to the world if you could remind us of that, encourage us to embrace that beauty and renew our confidence that this beauty is possible.  

Thursday, October 16, 2014

36 years ago today!

I can never get enough of this video!  It was 36 years ago that we received our first non-Italian pope in 455 years.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

What kind of movies did St. John Paul II watch?

Well, apparently, he watched "The Princess Bride."

The New York Post (via Catholic Vote) just wrote this:

Of all the fans who have professed undying love for “The Princess Bride,” there’s one star Cary Elwes never expected to hear from: Pope John Paul II.
Elwes briefly met His Holiness at the Vatican in 1988, a year after the movie was released. After posing for a quick photo, the pontiff turned to the actor and asked if he was the one from “The Princess and the Bride.”
Elwes was so startled, he could barely speak. “Yes,” he answered.
“Very good film. Very funny,” the pope said.
“I mean, what are the chances of that?” Elwes tells The Post. “‘Inconceivable’ was what went through my mind.”

Read more here.

Friday, October 10, 2014

A bucket list for an unborn baby

(If the video above does not show up, please click here.)

 Little Shane was born, baptized and welcomed home to heaven yesterday.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Where can we hear about the Extraordinary Synod?

Everyone is talking about it (or so it seems).  The Extraordinary Synod, which begins this weekend, is a topic making its rounds in newspapers, magazines, online commentaries, blogs and casual conversations.  To hear most people tell it, we'll be looking at a radically different Church in a couple of weeks, come the Synod's end.  For some, this is welcome news.  For others, Armageddon has arrived.

So with all of the controversies, conflict and confusion, where can we learn about what is going on in Rome?  There isn't going to be a CSPAN channel dedicated to bringing us the proceedings live from the Vatican.  We won't be permitted to listen live via iTunes.  Where can we hear something of the Synod that isn't a manipulation of the truth?  How will we know what is happening?

That's the question that's been on my mind of late, and one that was answered (at least in part) this afternoon.  I came across Archbishop Joseph Kurt's latest blog post, which mentioned his arrival in Rome and his thoughts on the upcoming Extraordinary Synod.

Here, in part, is what he said:

Of course this is the week of preparation for the Synod on the Family. The formal beginning of the Synod is on Sunday, with Mass celebrated by Pope Francis. I have come to Rome with great support and insights from many and with the rich tradition of Church teaching. I have three intentions, which I brought to the altar this morning:
- To appreciate the beauty of marriage, family, and the vision of sexuality given by Sacred Scripture and Church teaching.
- To restore the confidence of the faithful in their ability to form and sustain Christian families.
- To respond to the great need to walk with – to accompany as Pope Francis has said so often – those families who struggle and whose wounds need healing.

(See more at:

That clarity and simplicity assured me that Archbishop Kurtz's daily blogging from Rome about the Synod will be the place to turn for information.  Sure, it might not detail what Cardinal Kasper just said or which position Pope Francis seems to be advocating.  There won't be play-by-plays available.  But Archbishop Kurtz, as a passionate defender and promoter of the family will bring his love of the family into his reflections about what is occurring, and perhaps we will catch a glimpse of how the family is served at the Extraordinary Synod.  

To read Archbishop Kurtz's blog reports about the Extraordinary Synod, click here.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Our preoccupation with "sharing" isn't making us selfless

I have long admired Wendy Shalit's writing style and insights into our cultural decline. Her "Return to Modesty" was just re-released for its 15th anniversary. Consequently, her name has resurfaced again in the online writing world, after a few year hiatus.

In any event, I just came across her thoughts in TIME about selfies, social media and our seeming inability to enjoy moments without hurrying to "capture" them for the rest of the world. It's an excellent piece.
The larger issue here is our addiction to externalizing our private experiences to the point where we have nearly lost the ability to simply enjoy moments privately (or be allowed to mourn privately).

Did you hear about the woman who felt compelled to update her Facebook status while driving on a North Carolina highway? “The happy song makes me HAPPY,” she typed, a second before her car crashed into a truck. A Polish couple recently wanted to take some selfies near a cliff, and then—putting a bit of a damper on things—they actually fell off the cliff. It’s easy to distance ourselves from these tragedies and think, That’s crazy! That would never happen to me.

And yet social media is filled with videos of parents scaring their toddlers or filming their tearful reactions when told that Mommy ate all their Halloween candy. I seem to be nearly the only person who doesn’t find these videos funny, nor do I think that the appropriate reaction to a child’s tantrum is to film it and commiserate on Facebook about how hilarious it was. To me, these parents have fallen off a different cliff, albeit an imperceptible one; they’re breaking a private trust in order to feed the public’s appetite.

I can’t prove it, but I believe that the collapse of the public-private distinction has dialed down our capacity for empathy. Real empathy requires a private, intimate space, and, of course, a time when you’re not on Facebook.

Read the rest here.

Interestingly, after reading the op-ed, I found an article about high school students in Nebraska who say they want to be asked out to homecoming in person, not via text. It's not entirely the same thing as Wendy Shalit is expressing, but it is certainly related. A text doesn't create the same memory as a thoughtful or face-to-face encounter.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A very real -- and "pro-choice" -- look at abortion

I don't know that I have the words just yet to process this piece from New York Magazine written by an "abortion doula."  It is the most realistic, riveting, devastating description of abortion I have ever read ... and it is written by a woman who sits in the procedure room every week.  

She says she can't judge and wants to help the women, but she hauntingly describes what it is like to look at the blood and the pieces and to hear the screams of mothers in the midst of an abortion.  

It's graphic and a very difficult read, but one that exposes the reality of abortion far more compellingly than any pro-life literature really can.  You can find it here.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Quote book

"I have been able to celebrate Holy Mass in chapels built along mountain paths, on lakeshores and seacoasts; I have celebrated it on altars built in stadiums and in city squares... This varied scenario of celebrations of the Eucharist has given me a powerful experience of its universal and, so to speak, cosmic character. Yes, cosmic! Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world. It unites heaven and earth. It embraces and permeates all creation. The Son of God became man in order to restore all creation, in one supreme act of praise, to the One who made it from nothing." -- St. John Paul II