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!