Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Silence

Once again, I tried to come up with something profound. And once again, God told me to shut up. Or maybe that's just the message they want me to deliver.

Let go of the tumult of this day. At least for a few moments, indulge in sacred silence. Quiet your mind, that you might hear your God whispering sweet nothings into your heart. We are, after all, celebrating them coming to us. So let them!

May you have a most joyful and fruitful Christmas!

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Choice to Love

Earlier this week, I watched an ESPN documentary about how Nelson Mandela used the sport of rugby as a tool to promote reconciliation and unity in post-apartheid South Africa. What struck me most was not Mandela's actions, but that so many of his fellow countrymen chose to follow his lead. They did not have to after all. It would have been understandable, perhaps even justifiable, for them to remain stuck in their anger and fear. But instead, whether reluctantly or eagerly, they chose to love.

We have spent the last few weeks celebrating Nelson Mandela, as we should have. But let us also take the time to celebrate those ordinary South Africans who chose to love their neighbor rather than fight them. Even better, let us emulate them.

"Yes, this path will be terrifying. It is uncertain and full of risk. But we owe it to our family to embark upon the journey. It is who we are and why we were created: to love our family, all of it."

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Monthly Reading Links

"We met Rafael's battered body in Capulín, El Salvador, where the dusty road out of the parish of Chirilagua reached its highest and widest point … Not too many days before, a young and vibrant Rafael had passed by this very spot, eager for a new life of promise in El Norte. But on this day, weighed down by hearts heavy with grief, we gathered together as a parish family to meet the 'hearse,' a beat-up old pickup truck that would bring home our young friend's lifeless remains."
Lisa Marie Belz, America

"I sat and stared at the words. I knew that if I could find time in my busy life to read this prayer every day, it would make a difference … As I folded towels, I re-read the words that had touched me so deeply. And in doing so, I found my answer! I quickly found some tacks and hung the prayer over my washing machine. And thus began a ritual, which I would follow for years, of praying this prayer every time I did the laundry."
Susan Erschen, America

"I feel a strong sense of almost palindromic symmetry of what I experienced. A six-hour flight brought me to the [International Space] Station in May. Six hours ago I was still on board. Now I am back. Nothing has changed – nothing will ever be the same."
Luca Parmitano, European Space Agency

"I never wanted a big wedding. I never wanted to wear a white dress or throw a bouquet. And when we took that out of it, when we realized we wanted a marriage more than we wanted a wedding, what was stopping us? Why couldn't we do it that Friday night?"
Taylor Jenkins Reid, Los Angeles Times

"When newspapers report on human suffering, they suggest we should care. When they demonize the same people, they suggest that maybe we don't have to, and when they focus on the status of material goods rather than that suffering, they suggest property is more important than people."
Rebecca Solnit, Los Angeles Times

Follow me on Twitter, @jwbidwell, for additional reading recommendations.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Gift of Ordinary Time

At the high school where I used to teach, we held a brief prayer service for the seniors just before the graduation ceremony. As the senior-year religion teacher, I was always given the opportunity to speak. And each year, I began my remarks by sharing a few excerpts from one of the first articles they had been assigned to read:
The ancient Christian church described days of the liturgical year that were not feast days – the Mondays and Wednesdays of our lives … as belonging to "Ordinary Time." The liturgy of Ordinary Time is unchanging; prayers are always the same.
On a secular American calendar, Sept. 10 [2001] belongs irretrievably to ordinary time … It was a day for errands and sluggish freeway traffic and paying bills and running late …
I think of late summer evening descending across America on Sept. 10, I imagine televisions lighting windows and telephone conversations filling the night …
I summon Thornton Wilder, the playwright who was one of the greatest inventors of America because he portrayed ordinary time for the stage. His play "Our Town" is about what happens in an American town on an ordinary day, very much like Sept. 10 …
Emily, a young woman, recently deceased, yearns to revisit the living. She is cautioned by Mrs. Gibbs, a neighbor, long dead, to "… choose an unimportant day. Choose the least important day of your life. It will be important enough." …
There is much to learn about America from the boredom, the freedoms, the mundane achievements and routine pleasures of … Sept. 10 …
This is what Emily learned in the end of "Our Town." …
"I didn't realize. So, all that was going on and we never noticed. Take me back – up the hill – to my grave. But first: Wait! One more look. Good-bye; Good-bye, world. Good-bye, Grover's Corners … Mama and Papa. Goodbye to clocks ticking … and Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths … and sleeping and waking up …"
My final, and perhaps most important, lesson to my students, on their final and most exciting day of high school, was to encourage them to recognize and celebrate the grace they received from the most boring and routine moments of the last four years of their lives. I offer this same lesson today, with Thanksgiving on the horizon and the start of another Advent close behind. It is so easy to ignore the gift of Ordinary Time, especially when we find ourselves face to face with the grand and the glorious, but to surrender to that temptation is to miss the point entirely.

"Look out your window … What do you see? Trees, hills, grass, concrete, metal bars, trash, crap, and all the other debris of modern life? No, you see something wonderful, something magical and wondrous … You see our reason for existence, our life's work and mission: to be a song of praise about life itself. Our grand and glorious purpose on earth: simply to be here, right here, right now."

We were created to be living witnesses to the truth that nothing is mundane. So let us proclaim that each and every day is the most wonderful time of the year.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Monthly Reading Links

"To be prophets of life is to demonstrate God's uniquely personal love for every human life. If we can understand God's love for the least among us – for the poor, the vulnerable, the unborn, or the disabled – we can understand his love for all of us. If we can witness to the dignity of disabled lives, we're likely to witness deeply to all human dignity. Our dignity is rooted not in what we can do, but in how much God loves us."
James Conley, First Things

"Sissy Goodwin is out shopping … He walks through a mall, a linebacker-sized figure in a pink skirt, lacy yellow blouse and five-o'clock shadow; a gold lamé purse slung over his shoulder and a white bow affixed to his receding gray hair. The 67-year-old college science instructor looks straight ahead, ignoring the stares and the catcalls … Back in the car, the object of such scorn puts on pink sunglasses adorned with a tiny red plastic bow. 'I got them in Reno,' he says. 'Aren't they cool?'"
John Glionna, Los Angeles Times

"I felt selfish for finding love when the man I once knew as my dad was disappearing, and for thinking about my future when my stepmother's own true love was receding into the past. But with every visit to New Mexico – barbecuing burgers, chopping firewood, shoveling snow off the roof – David stitched himself deeper into our lives. Every time he left, I missed him more."
Tanya Ward Goodman, Los Angeles Times

"The easy way to look at TOMS is to praise their charitable work. The harder, more troubling way … is to acknowledge [TOMS] as an example of how corporations have assumed work most often associated with self-identified religious organizations: building community, engaging in charity, and cultivating morals … So it is worthwhile to risk looking behind the appeal of charity to the transformed meaning of consumer spending … that occurs in the background."
Lucia Hulsether, Religion & Politics

"When I remember that Blue Ridge panhandler, I always end up thinking of Lazarus and the rich man. The story is a very disturbing parable … There is none of the information we like to have when deciding when or even whether to hand a dollar to someone. We know only that [the rich man] ate sumptuously and dressed well, and that Lazarus was hungry and sick, with no one but dogs to bathe his lesions. That is all we are told of the two men and that, Jesus seems to say, is all we need to know."
Russell Saltzman, First Things

"Like a Third Testament, the changes of the natural world … reveal God's unfolding work of creation. This book of nature, with its seasonal chapter headings, surprises me with each go-around. More than any other, the chapter on autumn stirs the mind and heart to higher things – look how few pages remain! Autumn reminds us that this created beauty is ours, but only for a little while longer."
Joe Simmons, The Jesuit Post

"According to the New Mexico Chile Association, about 78,000 tons of chile were harvested in New Mexico in 2012 – a crop worth about $65 million … The people who pick it, however, barely eke out a living, and some of them can't even afford their own lodging. Sin Fronteras Organizing Project's shelter in El Paso, Texas, opened in 1995 to house farmworkers who don't earn enough to rent an apartment."
Joseph Sorrentino, Commonweal

Follow me on Twitter, @jwbidwell, for additional reading recommendations.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Listening to Francis

It's been a little over a month since the big interview with Pope Francis was released to the world. And in that time, a mountain of spin and hype has been produced, from which the following comment is perhaps the greatest nugget of truth:
Breaking – Francis said something and most people are convinced it proves them right!
Sometimes, we really just need to sit down, shut up, and simply listen to the wisdom and experience of our siblings. This was one of those times. Unfortunately, it seems that most of us are so hell-bent on advancing our various agendas that listening to the pope took a back seat to mining his words for ammunition. Corporate religion thrives, because we continuously choose proof texts over grace. What is wrong with us?

Of course, who am I to talk. If I hadn't been quite so determined to write something profound about the interview, maybe this post would have been published on time. But giving up on that goal would have required meditating more than I care to on Francis' warning about "the lurking danger of living in a laboratory." What is wrong with me?

Yes, the act of listening, especially to someone like Pope Francis, is a grave threat to one's peace of mind. It's much safer to focus on proof texting.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Monthly Reading Links

"As it's come to be understood in the 21st century, the papacy is really an impossible job. A pope is expected to be the CEO of a global religious organization, a political heavyweight, an intellectual giant, and a media rock star, not to mention a living saint … Yet at his six-month mark … Pope Francis is drawing better reviews on those five scores than anyone might reasonably have anticipated back on March 13."
John Allen, National Catholic Reporter

"It was on this day … 120 years ago, that Swami Vivekananda created a sensation by his address to the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago … In retrospect it seems to have been one of those pivotal moments that brought a possible hope vividly before the eyes of people in that era of a slowing dawning global society … Noting this does not take away from the sorrow of 9/11/2001, but it does remind us that violence is neither the beginning or end of our human destiny."
Francis Clooney, America

"Somewhere in there, between the physical and virtual clutter, we are losing the ordinary qualities of home – the solitude to recollect, the time for families to talk … We are losing the 'nothing much' that is home. The room for tumult and quiet, for passing the time with friends, for the ordinary pleasures of a day well lived."
Howard Mansfield, Los Angeles Times

"In an old cemetery, where few headstones have been added since the '50s, a large crowd gathered … for a memorial that was 65 years in the making … 'Today we are here to right a wrong,' said Fresno Roman Catholic Bishop Armando X. Ochoa."
Diana Marcum, Los Angeles Times

"As citizens of the United States (indeed, of the world) continue to debate the morality and legality of strikes in Syria, I find myself thinking through the arguments for and against, and reflecting on them in the light of faith … In many ways the conflict I feel in my discernment is represented in this old photograph." [Of the author's grandfather, a "realist", interviewing Dorothy Day, a pacifist, in 1940.]
Emily Reimer-Barry, Catholic Moral Theology

"And so it is, as I remember my parents on their Yahrzeit, that I have come to the conclusion that perhaps God did not hide His face from them after all during the years of the Shoah. Perhaps it was a divine spirit within them that enabled them to survive with their humanity intact. And perhaps it is to that God that we should be addressing our prayers during these Days of Awe and throughout the year."
Menachem Rosensaft, The Washington Post

"Any one of these falls would have been enough. Yet God grants us a hundred or more in one place! It is too much… too much to take in, too much to ever hope to make a return, too much to do anything but fall down in worship … In the midst of such insane, awe-inspiring generosity, I prayed: 'Thank you. I accept.' The response I heard was the booming, raucous belly laugh of God as the falls crashed around me; the laugh of a delighted giver who simply cannot or will not stop giving."
Chris Schroeder, The Jesuit Post

Follow me on Twitter, @jwbidwell, for additional reading recommendations.

Friday, September 20, 2013

A Delicious Madness

One of the joys of experiencing a good TV show or book for the second or third time is that familiar lines arrive with new depth and meaning. Such has been the case for me recently as my wife and I have watched "Battlestar Galactica" and my thoughts have dwelt on a particular quote whose truth has become strikingly apparent:
To know the face of God is to know madness.
"I open my eyes and I see you … I close my eyes and I hear you … I cannot escape you; but why would I want to? You are beauty, glory, joy, ecstasy, and the shiver up my spine when I feel your touch upon my soul … You radiate in birth and death, in moans of pleasure and cries of agony, in our happiness and our pain … I feel this every moment and it overwhelms me. It pushes me to the brink of sanity and I am not sure I want to step back. I cannot escape you, and I do not want to."

This is not the faith of corporate religion or conventional wisdom. They prattle on about it being sensible and normal. They associate it with tradition, conservatism, and order. What fools we all are! The Church tells us that God became human, so that we could become God. Is that sensible or normal? What sort of order could possibly come from encouraging humans to take in the view from our Parent's eyes?

"From your perspective, you see love and hate, good and evil, right and wrong. I see what is and what will be, and what I see is love and good, always."

Ever since I embarked on this journey, I feel like I have been falling deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole. I lived with this revelation for so many years, but only started to live it after freeing it from its cage in my head. Each day, my vision becomes more and more wonderfully disoriented. And each day, the human perspective seems sillier and more superficial. Perhaps that is why I have such a difficult time finding the right words for this blog; for I am tasked with translating sacred murmurings into a language from which I find myself increasingly disconnected. But how could it be any other way?

"In that moment, in that very moment, whether it lasts a second or a lifetime, you know that you have touched the face of the divine. Whatever name you want to call him or her or it, you have touched that face and you will never be the same. Nothing will ever be the same again. You may try to bury the image, pretend it doesn't exist, but there it will be, forever and ever. Always lingering, always waiting, always hoping."

"I cannot escape you, and I never will. Thank you my friend."

Will you join me in this most delicious madness?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Monthly Reading Links

"Each recent pope has had a catchphrase that represents his core emphasis … For Francis, his signature idea is mercy. Over and over again, he emphasizes God's endless capacity to forgive, insisting what the world needs to hear from the church above all today is a message of compassion."
John Allen, National Catholic Reporter

"Often conversations about racism and white privilege get stalemated because people are uncomfortable with the implications of complicity or guilt. Why are we so afraid of being uncomfortable? For me, avoiding this discomfort is impossible. What I learned from my grandfather's lived response to [Martin Luther King]'s challenge is a vision that proactively sought justice. His faith pushed him to name and relinquish the privilege of a situation he didn't create, but that perpetuated injustice."
Meghan Clark, Catholic Moral Theology

"It is telling how sensitive some people are to this possible implication of the gospels, that our entire economic system – or at least many of the taken-for-granted behaviors of those with wealth – might be under judgment and contrary to God's will. It SOUNDS like the Pope is condemning our mainstream agreement that progress means ever-greater social wealth and innovative gadgets, just as it SOUNDS like Jesus' story of building bigger barns and kicking back to eat, drink, and be merry might be challenging our pretentions to houses and resort-lifestyles in retirement. But, eek, that CAN'T be."
David Cloutier, Catholic Moral Theology

"'She's saying she's sorry,' the social worker who was with us translated. 'She said she's really, really sorry.' As I listened to 25 years of shame spill from somewhere deep inside her, it was impossible not to break down with her. 'I missed you,' she said. 'I've never forgotten you.' I would not cry again during my 3 1/2-hour meeting with my biological mother. But in those moments I cried because I understood the depth of her pain – and I knew I was helping to relieve it."
Matt Stevens, Los Angeles Times

"On his cartoon blog Zen Pencils, Gavin Aung Than turns inspirational quotes into comic strips. For his newest strip, he illustrated a quote from Bill Watterson's 1990 speech at Kenyon College in the style of Calvin and Hobbes, which Than considers 'the greatest comic strip of all time.'"
Gavin Aung Than, Slate

"On the Catalyst, the initial experience is one of 'dislocation' and 'disorientation'. The ship is beautifully appointed, but it is impossible to ignore the fact that it is 15 people (11 passengers + 4 crew) on a 75 foot boat … Over the week, though, I learned how important dislocation and disorientation were to the overall experience. By forcing me to shed my comforts – the quiet home of just my wife and I and the dogs; control over my schedule, and my meals; the Internet to fill unscheduled time; unlimited bathroom access – I was nudged into something more valuable than distraction: 'engagement.'"
John Warner, Inside Higher Ed

"These women have taught me, but not in the fashion my catchphrases had led me to expect. They offered no insight into how the poor are veiled images of Jesus. No lessons on how I could learn from their simplicity. They offered me instead a more basic lesson: how I, a guest, ought to esteem my hosts."
Joe Wotawa, The Jesuit Post

Follow me on Twitter, @jwbidwell, for additional reading recommendations.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Real Guru

The guru you are looking for is inside of you.
This is the central teaching of Sri Kumaré. He is the subject of a recent documentary that I watched a few weeks ago. He is also a complete fraud, sort of.

Kumaré's real name is Vikram Gandhi, a filmmaker who grew up in New Jersey in a devout Hindu family, but who had long struggled with faith. Skeptical of the sincerity of the gurus stoking America's infatuation with Indian spirituality, especially yoga, Gandhi set off with a camera to find out "if these spiritual leaders were for real or just full of it." He found only the latter, which inspired a new direction for his project. Gandhi himself would become a guru, the ultimate proof that "spiritual leaders are just illusions."

And so Kumaré is born, along with a collection of non-sensical sayings, symbols, yoga poses, and meditations. Devoted disciples soon follow. On the surface, it seems like an exercise in humiliation and mockery. As the experiment progresses, however, it becomes clear that Gandhi-Kumaré has actual truth to teach.
The guru you are looking for is inside of you.
"Do not listen to the preachers and prophets because they tell you that you should. Do not follow a teacher because you are afraid to be on your own. If you believe the message to be true in your heart, then listen to the messenger. If not, reject him, whomever or whatever he may be. Trust yourself. Trust your heart. She will not fail you. Believe in your own goodness, in your own loveliness. For that is what you are. Love and goodness brought to life. Turn your eyes inward, and you will see it is true."

God dwells within each of us. Some may be more aware of this reality than others, but that is not a sign of superior knowledge, just the randomness of grace. And while we can and should learn from such people, there is only one true teacher. Whatever the title, whether ordained or self-appointed, everyone else is a mere messenger.

God dwells within each of us. We already possess all the wisdom we will ever need. The messenger is simply there to remind us of that wisdom and to urge us to use it. Lust or pride may drive some to seek more power. Laziness or insecurity may prompt us to give it to them. But none of that changes the basic truth.

God dwells within each of us. Or "the guru you are looking for is inside of you."

And here is where we get to laugh at the divine joke. God chose the skeptic, the fraud, the phony guru to be their truest messenger, to remind us that we are all kumaré.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Monthly Reading Links

"Fifteen years ago, Ruett and Rhonda Foster were grieving parents in a courtroom. Their 7-year-old son Evan had been shot and killed by a gang member … Three young men were convicted and sent to prison. And the Fosters began performing their own sort of penance, making regular visits to local youth prisons, reaching out to troubled young men … They are still making those visits."
Sandy Banks, Los Angeles Times

"For his high school prom in 1942, Robert Clement bought a white orchid corsage in a fancy plastic box. He gave it to a female staff member who organized the dance. Others would think it was a kind gesture, that he was just a considerate young man. In truth, Clement didn't have anyone else to give it to. He liked boys. And he couldn't take a boy to the prom. Especially not seven decades ago in a small town."
Hailey Branson-Potts, Los Angeles Times

"It is time to drop the labels. They are lazy, inaccurate and often unjust. They push people away rather than draw them into conversation. They allow us to live in a fantasy world where we don't have to be confronted with the real positions of real people who may force us to look at a situation which is more complex that we would like it to be. Dealing with that complexity is difficult, messy and even risky – but it is a requirement of intellectual honesty and solidarity."
Charles Camosy, Catholic Moral Theology

"The first 'Thanksgiving' was not celebrated by the Pilgrims … It was celebrated by Spanish missionary priests a half-century earlier … The history we have been told – the history of the winners – is not untrue. But it is biased and incomplete … Without the rest of the American story, we are left with a distorted idea of American identity and national culture. And at certain moments in American history, this incomplete sense of American identity has led to grave injustices."
Jose Gomez, New York Post

"One special thing about me is that I have Down syndrome … Some people think that because I have Down syndrome I can't do what other people can do. But that is not true. Everyone can share their talents … God loves me because God made me. He made me just the way I am, and he loves me just the way I am."
Joey Kane, America Magazine

"Sometimes a police officer would find me in a state of what is termed 'camping' by the city's anti-camping ordinance … Sometimes the officers were polite, sometimes they were rude, but always they added, 'It's against the law.' As if I didn't know. As if I could do something about it. The hardships and insecurity of homelessness couldn't dampen my spirit as much as the humiliation that my city hated me. They must have hated me, since I was denied shelter and yet forbidden to live without shelter."
Paula Lomazzi, U.S. Catholic

"I end up dismissing the love shown to me because I'm too busy waiting for the moment to become a perfect, heart-shaped peg, and to slot itself in, just so. So I end up holding out, expecting love to come later in some deep, soul-bearing conversation. This can't be what extraordinary looks like, I think. But it can."
Keith Maczkiewicz, The Jesuit Post

Follow me on Twitter, @jwbidwell, for additional reading recommendations.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Revised Publishing Schedule

Starting now and continuing at least until the end of the year, this blog will be published twice per month, on the first and third Wednesdays, rather than weekly. The monthly reading list remains and will serve as the first post, followed by a topical essay for the second. Extra posts may be published to commemorate major holidays.

There are a number of reasons for this change, but primarily I am trying to listen to that part of me that is being drawn to sacred silence. With divine revelation, less is usually more. And I am just trying to be attentive to that truth.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Wages of Tolerance

"Who is my neighbor?" As I wrote in last Sunday's "Good News" post, we know the answer to this question. We know where this truth is supposed to lead us. We just fail to "carry it out." Why? Because we have settled for tolerating our neighbor, rather than loving them. Or even worse, we believe these acts are one and the same.

I wrote about this topic back in January, but it has become even more evident to me in the wake of the George Zimmerman trial. So much raw emotion is being spilt over this case. The subjects of our tolerance are tired of being unloved. Moreover, they see the harsh truth of our supposedly enlightened culture: if all Trayvon Martin deserved was our tolerance, then it becomes incredibly easy to tolerate his death.

"It is past time that we recognize this family of the One, this fellowship of the One. They are tired of us ignoring, neglecting, and tarnishing it. This family is our Creator's greatest gift to us and we spit upon it constantly. Enough!"

We cannot just tolerate the Martins and Zimmermans of this world. We must love them with everything we have. They deserve it. And so do we.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Firefighters & Deportees

Two articles in Wednesday's Los Angeles Times stood out to me in an unintentionally interconnected sort of way. The first was on the previous day's memorial service for the 19 firefighters killed in Arizona. The second told the story of the rediscovery of the names of 28 Mexican citizens who died in a plane crash near Coalinga in 1948. They were deportees on their way home, who became a nameless group buried in a mass grave. Two sets of people, separated by time and so much more, memorialized on the same sheet of newsprint. An unintentional connection bursting with meaning.

"We come from a common source. We are children of the same parent. Like it or not, we are family."

The firefighters certainly deserve every last drop of honor we can muster. But why did the deportees deserve anything less? A society should not be measured by the way it remembers its dead heroes, but by how it acknowledges the passing of those it labels as insignificant or unworthy. For these divisions exist only in our minds.

"In the end, we will all die. We will all return to the artist’s palette. We will all return as one … Our creator loves us all equally, saint and sinner. Our brother died and rose to welcome both to the banquet."

Recovering a name seems like such a small thing, especially when it is attached to someone who died so long ago. But a name means that you were known and loved, that you were a person with dignity, and that you have a seat at the banquet. These particular names remind us that we lost 32 siblings in that Central Valley canyon, not four individual Americans and a single inseparable mass of foreigners. Each one of them left behind a story that deserves to be heard just as much as the stories of those 19 firefighters who sacrificed themselves for us in that other lonely canyon.

So rest in peace, our dearest brothers and sisters:
Miguel Alvarez. Andrew Ashcraft. Bobbie Atkinson. Frank Atkinson. Robert Caldwell. Travis Carter. Frank Chaffin. Tomás de Gracia. Dustin DeFord. Francisco Durán. Santiago Elizondo. Rosalio Estrada. Marion Ewing. Bernabé Garcia. Salvador Hernández. Severo Lara. Elias Macias. José Macias. Christopher MacKenzie. Tomás Márquez. Eric Marsh. Grant McKee. Luis Medina. Manuel Merino. Luis Miranda. Sean Misner. Ignacio Navarro. Martin Navarro. Scott Norris. Román Ochoa. Ramón Paredes. Wade Parker. John Percin. Apolonio Placencia. Guadalupe Ramirez. Alberto Raygoza. Guadalupe Rodriguez. Maria Rodriguez. Anthony Rose. Juan Ruiz. Wenceslao Ruiz. José Sánchez. Jesús Santos. Jesse Steed. Joe Thurston. Baldomero Torres. Travis Turbyfill. William Warneke. Clayton Whitted. Kevin Woyjeck. Garret Zuppiger.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

True Freedom

Perhaps the deepest moral challenge to the United States, not only for this year but for years to come, is the ethical form of radical narcissism … when human judgment cannot see beyond its own exercise of freedom and exercises that freedom in isolation from the other.
Freedom as the right to say and do whatever I want. Freedom as the right to ignore any or all demands you make of me. Freedom as the fantasy of perfect autonomy. Is that the freedom we are celebrating this Independence Day?

Six years have come and gone since Kavanaugh wrote those words and the fantasy is as challenging as ever. Why? Because we continue to believe that freedom is about prioritizing the individual ahead of the family. How many of our brothers and sisters must sacrifice themselves for us before we finally get how backwards that notion is? Why do we refuse to see the truth revealed in our family's founding story?

So why did you come to be? … We needed to share ourselves … You call it love. To us, it is simply our way of being. We do not know how to stop sharing ourselves. We must expand and give love. We cannot be any other way.

We are free to join in our Parent's way, or not. No other freedom matters.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Monthly Reading Links

"Francis at 100 days: 'the world's parish priest'"
John Allen, National Catholic Reporter

"I'm Gay, My Dad's a Pastor, and ... We're Working on It"
Brandon Ambrosino, The Atlantic

"The Ten Suggestions"
Ben Bernanke, U.S. Federal Reserve

"The economics of inequality: Why the wealth gap is bad for everyone"
Charles Clark & the Editors, U.S. Catholic

"The Fight for Black Men"
Joshua DuBois, Newsweek & The Daily Beast

"Ensuring the Tenderloin's departed are not forgotten"
Maria La Ganga, Los Angeles Times

"On the Road"
Peter Leithart, First Things

Please follow me on Twitter (@jwbidwell) for additional reading recommendations.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Abandoned Sisters

The plights of two women caught my attention recently. Carie Charlesworth was an elementary school teacher for the Catholic Diocese of San Diego. She was fired from her job because her abusive ex-husband was seen as a potential threat to the school community. Sobhana Gazmer left her rural hometown to live and work in the big city of New Delhi. She endures constant sexual harassment and the fear of rape. Two very different women, with very different lives, yet both victimized by similar sorts of men. And both let down by a larger community that failed to protect them.

It is this last point that keeps sticking in my mind, for it marks an abhorrent rejection of family. Gazmer herself seems to note this in comparing her hometown to the big city: "In Manipur, if any guy bothers you, you shout and everyone helps. In Delhi, it's a very different mentality." And unfortunately, one that appears to be shared by the diocesan officials who wrote in Charlesworth's termination letter that they would continue to pray for her, but left unstated the obvious fact that she and her children were otherwise on their own. What does it mean when even the Church refuses to live as family?

I am sure that the people of Delhi and the Diocese are good men and women who just want to keep violence from touching themselves or their loved ones. What they failed to recognize, however, is that Charlesworth and Gazmer are their loved ones too.

"You are my sibling. We are family. This is the essential truth of life. It is the only moral truth that really matters."

It is not easy being a family. It requires self-sacrifice. Clearly, fewer of us are willing to make those sacrifices than we would like to believe. But we can at least look honestly upon the consequences of that failure. How many Charlesworths and Gazmers must be thrown under the bus for our safety and peace of mind? How much hurt and sorrow must our siblings endure before we finally say enough already?

"Family is about hope, not fear."

Or at least it should be.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Fighting Off Silence

Since the beginning of May, my weekly posts have been late more often than they've been on time. Whenever I sit down to write lately, it feels like a chorus of adults from a Charlie Brown TV special has taken up residence in my mind. There's a whole mess of reasons for this, but here's the only one worth mentioning:

"Why do you babble so much about me? So much time and energy, for what purpose? What more is there to understand about us than love? You think too much and feel too little. You talk too much and love too little. It is the curse of your consciousness. You can see enough to open the door, but not enough to find your way through it. Close your eyes and the path will be illuminated soon enough."

Sometimes, it feels like a sick joke. God has given me these words to share. And yet the most profound truth they reveal is the beauty of human silence. I am drawn to that beauty more and more each day, even as my sense of duty pulses stronger and more urgently in my very bones. It's my own personal paradox to endure and enjoy.

But grace is like that, isn't it?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Hunt

I finally got around to watching "Zero Dark Thirty" last weekend. I wanted to see for myself if there was any merit to the controversy surrounding its torture scenes. While there was enough ambiguity in the details and style of the film that I could understand both its supporters and detractors, I also got the feeling that all of them sort of missed the point. And that is because, as the credits rolled, I was overwhelmed by the utter waste of everything that I had just seen being depicted.

How much blood, sweat, and treasure was expended in hunting Osama bin Laden? And for what? Well, on that question at least, the movie is quite instructive. It opens with audio from the morning of September 11th. Particular effort seems to have been made to highlight the pleas and screams of those trapped in the World Trade Center buildings. We want to believe that this film dramatizes the hunt for justice and national security, but it is really just a story about vengeance.

And what did our act of revenge buy us? Here again, the movie is telling. For it ends with the lead hunter sitting on an airplane alone and emotionally empty in what should be her hour of triumph. Her soul seems as dead as her prey. Perhaps the real hunters have kept a few of us alive for a few more days, but what good is that when compared to all that has been destroyed in the name of the hunt? Love was not advanced here, only vengeance. And that is the ugly truth of warfare that we refuse to see.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Life and Death of Gabriel Fernandez

Gabriel Fernandez was just eight-years-old when he died two weeks ago. His mother and her boyfriend are the ones who have been arrested for causing his injuries, but it is the county child welfare agency that is shouldering much of the public blame for his death. Unfortunately, the outcome of such outrage, according to a Los Angeles Times editorial, "is too often a cycle of invective, firings, discipline and policy changes that may satisfy a hunger for action, but only of the wheel-spinning sort."

I wrote about such "hunger for action" last month, and here it is once again. A child is dead. Something must be done. Now! Something will be done, we will feel better, for a moment, until the next time. And there will be a next time, because we always manage to avoid the truth of such matters: We failed Gabriel Fernandez.

"You are my sibling. We are family. This is the essential truth of life. It is the only moral truth that really matters."

Being family means that we are responsible for one another. It means operating as a community that gets involved in one another's lives, not as a collection of individuals who simply happen to coexist in the same geographic area. It means that when one of our siblings is needlessly killed, we all share in the blame and shame.

Is that last sentence unfair or just uncomfortable? Look into Gabriel's face in the family photographs published by the Times. Have we truly done everything in our power to ensure the safety and well-being of all children? Why does our "hunger for action" only seem to materialize after children like Gabriel are dead, rather than while there is still a chance for them to escape the abuse? Is it only the social workers' fault? For me, it is the photo in which he is wearing a yellow t-shirt. That is the one whereby Gabriel asks me to accept personal culpability, no matter how minuscule, for his fate.

The Times editorial on this matter concludes thusly, "There may always be tragic child deaths. But we can do better." That means all of us. All of us.

Rest in peace Gabriel. I am so sorry that we failed you.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Wealth & Comfort

How much damage does the comfortable life, well-being, do … The gentrification of the heart paralyzes us.
These words were spoken by Pope Francis three weeks ago, and have haunted me ever since. About a month prior to the pope's homily, I read about people paying tens of thousands of dollars in order to watch first-run movies in their homes. At the time, it seemed like an appalling luxury. But now, I think about my Hulu Plus subscription and wonder if there is really much difference, other than the price.

Yes, my wife and I live simply, free of extravagance, but we are certainly comfortable. I am presently writing this post from a comfortable couch in a comfortable apartment in a comfortable neighborhood. It is the typical American life. But such life is a pleasant fraud, because it demands we prioritize the maintenance of comfort over the service of God and our family. That is the haunting truth of the pope's warning.

It is also the truth lived by the pope's namesake. Just this week, my wife and I finished reading Donald Spoto's biography of Francis of Assisi, "Reluctant Saint". Something new catches my soul each time I read it, and this time around it was Francis' embrace of poverty. He rejected so much of the stuff we crave, yet still lived a life of wealth and comfort, of the kind that actually lasts. As his prayer "The Praises of God" proclaims, "You are all the riches we need." Francis had our life, or at least the medieval version of it, and then chose a better one, a beautiful one. This haunts me as well.

These truths tug at me insistently and urgently, but I am too paralyzed to follow them. How do you escape the comfortable life when it is so oppressively omnipresent, and has always been so? Francis himself was bitterly disappointed by his brothers' failure to maintain the life of poverty he so loved. "Gentrification of the heart" is an insidious disease, because even those of us who see the comfortable life for the fraud that it is just cannot seem to shake its grasp. I have let go of many wants and needs this past year, but so many remain, even if others might consider them insignificant. They haunt me, as they should. May you too be blessed with such a haunting.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Friday, May 24, 2013

Knowing the Dead

Memorial Day weekend is upon us. Time for grilling and shopping. And in our rush to start summer with a bang, it is easy to forget that Monday's holiday was created for a more solemn purpose: to remember those who have sacrificed in our name. It is our moral obligation as citizens, and as human beings.

To fulfill that obligation, however, we must go far beyond patriotic jingoism or "support the troops" pep rallies. We need to listen to the stories of our dead. We need to gaze into their faces in the photographs they left behind. We need to read the words written about them by loved ones old and new. We need to get to know them. They died for us after all. Is that not the least we can do for them?

And once we are done with them, perhaps we can get to know those who have been killed in our name, whether enemy or "collateral damage". They died for our well being just as much as our own dead. Is that not the least we can do for them?

And after them, maybe we can get to know those who survived the battlefield, only to kill themselves here at home. They served on our behalf too, and walked away with a broken soul because of it. Is that not the least we can do for them?

And after we have gotten to know some of these beautiful, but dead, siblings, maybe, just maybe, we will finally start to see how truly asinine warfare really is.

"It is past time that we recognize this family of the One, this fellowship of the One. They are tired of us ignoring, neglecting, and tarnishing it. This family is our Creator's greatest gift to us and we spit upon it constantly. Enough!"

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Locating Hope

The priest most responsible for the Catholic landscape of Southern California, literally, is posthumously accused of child molestation. A twelve-year-old boy is arrested for allegedly stabbing his eight-year-old sister to death. Two local examples of the horrors we inflict on one another. Two more sets of victims and victimizers to join our parade of violence. It is easy to lose hope in our family, assuming we had any to begin with. And yet hope is there for the taking, if only we know where to look.

And that is our problem, for we look in all the wrong places, namely within ourselves. We seem to think that, with the right application of human initiative, we can produce hope. Charity, justice, even military force will lead us to the promised land, if only we can figure out the right combination of buttons to push. If we just have faith, the good guys will triumph over the bad guys. But what happens when they all look in the mirror and cannot tell who is who? Perhaps it is time we looked elsewhere.

"I open my eyes and I see you … I close my eyes and I hear you … You radiate in birth and death, in moans of pleasure and cries of agony, in our happiness and our pain, in the hidden moments of beings we are too proud and stubborn to truly see. You radiate from every particle of creation; for every one of them is an act of love."

Hope is embedded in every fiber of our being. But we did not put it there.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Traveling On

Dumbledore smiled at [Harry]. "We are in King's Cross, you say? I think that if you decided not to go back, you would be able to … let's say … board a train."
"And where would it take me?"
"On," said Dumbledore simply.
J. K. Rowling, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows", Page 722
We celebrate the Ascension of Jesus this week. Many a pastor will no doubt wrestle with where that train is going to take us. And as you sit there in your pew, ask yourself if any truer description has ever been uttered than "On"? I suppose it all comes down to another simple question: Do we trust they who built the railroad?

But of course you ask: “Where will I go?” Does it matter? To you, I suppose it does, but the answer will not satisfy what you want. You want a place, a destination. This we cannot give, because it is like trying to assign a place to us. We are everywhere and nowhere, every moment. Do you think it will be any different for you?

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Forsaking the Masquerade

Another late post. Another week where the planned topic crumbles, because it turns out to be nothing more than "ripped from the headlines" garbage. Another opportunity to forsake the meaningless noise in favor of something wonderful.

Two unrelated articles: a Washington Post feature on three peace activists who broke in to a nuclear weapons facility to stage a protest; a First Things commentary on our brave new digital world's desire to turn a profit from doing good. Two unrelated sets of people and causes, yet the latter offers up the key that allows me to make sense out of my discomfort with the former: "hype masquerading as idealism".

I know, how churlish of me. After all, I should admire those who risk death to call us to peace, especially an elderly nun. And yet, and yet … At the end of the day, what have those activists achieved, other than getting a security guard fired and the government to spend more money on protection for the very arsenal they denounced. As I wrote three weeks ago, we insanely chase a peace we will never catch, because the peace within our grasp demands things that are just too frightening to comprehend.

"Hype masquerading as idealism." It happens when we forget that after all the swords are turned into plowshares we can still kill one another with the farm tools. It happens when we forget that our lust for profit has caused much of the misery we are trying to alleviate with our good. It happens when we leave the fallout from our noble intentions as a mess for someone else to clean up. It happens when we are so eager to play a part in building our chosen utopia that we fail to see the fully constructed Kingdom in our midst. It happens far more often than we care to admit.

"Why are you so anguished? Life unfolds as it should. Stop and enjoy the process ... that is why you are here, that is why you were created."

We are an impatient species. We believe that love involves action. It is a dangerous combination, because oftentimes the action that love demands is internal, not external, especially in those moments when our animal instincts and our peers are urging us to hurry up and do something already. So what will we choose to unleash: a whirlwind or a gentle breeze? And whose guidance will we choose to trust?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Monthly Reading Links

"Who Francis may be based on who Bergoglio was"
John Allen, National Catholic Reporter

"A Special Vocation: To Show People How To Love"
Paul Gondreau, Catholic Moral Theology

"Love, Walmart Style"
Terrance Klein, America

"Sisters live to tell their Holocaust story"
Emily Langer & Ellen Belcher, The Washington Post

"Cheap clothes have helped fuel social revolution in Bangladesh"
Stephanie Nolen, The Globe and Mail

"On Corpulence"
Kaya Oakes, Oakestown

"The Violence We Live With"
Charles Pierce, Esquire

Please follow me on Twitter (@jwbidwell) for additional reading recommendations.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Give Mother Nature Her Due, Or Else

And so another Earth Day has come to pass. But it's not like we need a special date on the calendar to be reminded of our impact on the environment:

Perhaps my favorite quote on this subject came from Al Gore earlier this year: "It's like a nature hike through the Book of Revelation on the news every day now." Unintended though it may have been, there is an important lesson to be had from such apocalyptic imagery. We need to stop pretending that environmentalism is us doing Mother Nature a favor, when it is really all about our own self-preservation.

"The greatest lie, the greatest scam of our lives is that this world was created for us, for our pleasure and enjoyment, for our dominance. What stupid, arrogant animals we are. We were created for it. We are simply the audience."

What makes us truly arrogant little monkeys is the notion that we are an irreplaceable audience. How many messages to the contrary must the Landlord deliver before they finally penetrate our obliviousness? Yes, we are beloved children of our Creator; that guarantees us eternal life, not a permanent spot on this particular rock. This planet will do just fine without us, once we have all bitten the dust like the dinosaurs. But will that day come about through our own hands? That is the question.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Love & Good

No more hurting people. Peace
Martin Richard wrote these words for a school project many months ago. And almost immediately after the young boy's death at the Boston Marathon, his words went viral on social media, as a sort of collective plea for a world free of violence. A noble desire, but one that will continue to go unfulfilled. Why? Because we are not willing to do what it takes to make such words and hopes into reality.
But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
These are words we do not want to hear, especially right now. Love those who made bombs to maim and kill? Show them mercy and compassion? Bless them and pray for them? Yes, that is what we are called to do, for it is the only remedy that will work.

"Our brother calls us to love, love God, love your neighbor, love. How hard is that? What are you afraid of? If he was willing to die to love you, what’s your excuse for not loving those you fail to understand, those you despise, those you hate?"

I shared similar thoughts after Aurora and Newtown. I will do so again after the next community suffers from our love of violence, and the one after that, and so on. I am under no illusion that anyone will actually listen; we've ignored Jesus for two thousand years after all. But truth is truth, whether we want to hear it or not.

Yes, love is stronger than hate, and good will triumph over evil in the end. Many of us have spoken of these truths since Monday. But they are not magic talismans to ward off the bogeyman. Jesus had to die, brutally, before the Easter we are in the midst of celebrating could happen. Living that Truth requires a whole other vantage point.

"From your perspective, you see love and hate, good and evil, right and wrong. I see what is and what will be, and what I see is love and good, always."

Are we willing to embrace that kind of love and good? Are we willing to go wherever they demand we go? Even if that means loving those who killed Martin Richard?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Peace Be With You

There is a certain kind of irony to life in that just as the Church is celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the papal encyclical "Pacem in Terris", the world should be subjected to the saber-rattling of North Korea. Pope John XXIII shared a vision that "projected a world where peace would be achieved by governments dedicated to the fulfillment of human rights." Kim Jong Un is teaching lessons "about the value of having a nuclear weapon or two." So which of these two men is the crazy one?

I say we are the crazy ones. We chase a peace that will never come, while dismissing one easily within our grasp. Peace is not some utopian way of life that we can talk or kill our way into. It is a state of being that comes from placing absolute trust in Love, and that manifests itself most purely in the love of our enemies.

"Our brother calls us to love, love God, love your neighbor, love. How hard is that? What are you afraid of? If he was willing to die to love you, what’s your excuse for not loving those you fail to understand, those you despise, those you hate?"

Yes, we must fight injustice. Yes, we must reject violence. But simply because that is what love demands, not because doing so will bring about some magic land of peace and justice. Love calls us to tilt at windmills, and to do so joyfully.

"It is time for us to embrace our family, even though we will fail, and probably fail miserably. This is another paradox of our Creator. We can never truly be one family in this life and yet they compel us to try, they demand that we make the attempt."

And therein lies the key to peace: we are family. It is a truth more profound than any encyclical and more powerful than any atomic bomb. A truth we proclaim with a Kiss, and not a kiss that says, "I will tolerate you," but a kiss that says, "You are my brother, my sister, and I love you." A truth that reveals that the Kingdom we crave has been right in front of us all along, if only we would trust in it.

"So much of life is a paradox, but it is there that we find God the most. It is there, in the confusion and that mess that we must dwell. It is there that we experience true beauty, true joy. It is there that we can see something wonderful, something that sends a chill down our spine, and puts a smile on our face and a laugh in our heart, where we know with certainty who and what we are and why we are here in this time and place. It is in that moment that we are at peace."

Peace is not a grand dream, but a simple love. Peace be with you.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Birds & Wildflowers

I find myself at a loss for words today. I have plenty of topics and ideas to write about, but they all feel trivial right now. We scurry around day after day trying to build … what exactly? In my mind, I keep hearing Jesus speaking about how God takes care of the birds and the wildflowers, so we can trust God to take care of us as well. But we don't trust, so we scurry and build instead. And I am no better than the rest, babbling on and on when it's all so simple. What exactly am I trying to build?

"Why do you babble so much about me? So much time and energy, for what purpose? What more is there to understand about us than love? You think too much and feel too little. You talk too much and love too little. It is the curse of your consciousness. You can see enough to open the door, but not enough to find your way through it. Close your eyes and the path will be illuminated soon enough."

There is something breathtakingly wonderful surrounding us. If birds and wildflowers can trust in it, why can't we? Stop building, close your eyes, and see.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Monthly Reading Links

"Francis, Poverty, Aggiornamento, and the New Evangelization"
David Cloutier, Catholic Moral Theology

"A Place at the Table"
Brian Doyle, America

"Loving the Broken, or How the Church Becomes Real"
Ryan Duns, The Jesuit Post

"He was transformed by Mozart"
Randy Lewis, Los Angeles Times

"Habemus a View from Rome"
Eric Ramirez, The Jesuit Post

"In memory of Jack Beasley, a guy you may not have noticed, but should have"
T.J. Simers, Los Angeles Times

"A father-daughter dance — in jail"
Emily Wax, The Washington Post

Please follow me on Twitter (@jwbidwell) for additional reading recommendations.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

He is Risen

Earlier this Lent, Terrance Klein wrote that in our search for meaning "the temptation is ever to settle for neat, pat, cheap endings." It is a temptation many of us will be feeling today as we struggle with the resurrection of Jesus. How we want to believe that this has simplified life. But if we search our hearts and souls, we know that everything has been wonderfully complicated instead. Love will do that.

"You rose, so we’re saved … right? But maybe you rose not to give us heaven, but to give us back our earth. Life is lived here and now, not in some cloud-world we go to after we die. Perhaps you rose to show us the primacy of love, that nothing, not even death itself, can stop it. And maybe you meant to show us the kingdom we long for is right in front of our faces. You rose … I will rise with you my brother."

So let us rise. Alleluia! Alleluia!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Fig Tree

Once upon a time, a man was hungry. Spotting a fruit tree, he went over to it, but there was no fruit. So the man said to the tree: "May no one ever eat of your fruit again!"

Does this story sound familiar? How many electronic devices were told to "go to hell" today because of some sort of malfunction? Irrational anger is like a cherished human pastime. But what happens when "the man" becomes Jesus?
When he was going back to the city in the morning, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went over to it, but found nothing on it except leaves. And he said to it, "May no fruit ever come from you again." And immediately the fig tree withered.
When the disciples saw this, they were amazed and said, "How was it that the fig tree withered immediately?" Jesus said to them in reply, "Amen, I say to you, if you have faith and do not waver, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,' it will be done. Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive."
Matthew 21:18-22
"Jesus' act seems arbitrary and ill-tempered, but it is a prophetic action similar to those of Old Testament prophets that vividly symbolize some part of their preaching," or so says the note attached to the above gospel passage. Why are we unwilling to concede that Jesus' behavior was exactly what it appeared to be: irrational anger? Is Jesus' explanation for his behavior remarkably different than the rationalizations we come up with for hitting inanimate objects that have somehow annoyed us, especially when our behavior was observed by a friend or colleague?

We claim to believe in a fully human Jesus. So why are we uncomfortable with the idea that he was imperfect in some ways, just like the rest of us? The first reading for Holy Thursday's evening Mass is the story of Passover from Exodus. Our Jewish siblings began their annual celebration of this event Monday night. Why are so many of us willing to believe in a God who commits mass slaughter of innocent children on our behalf, but not in one who chooses to share in all of our idiotic humanity?

Perhaps the simple truth is that we do not want Jesus to be like us. That is a terrifying reality. He loves and forgives those we do not want to love and forgive. It is easier to put Jesus on a pedestal. His perfection is the perfect excuse for not even trying to be like him. But then who exactly are we worshipping during this Holy Week?

"Why is it that all we remember about you is death and resurrection, miracles and commands? Where is your laughter? Where is your anger? Where is the way your eyes sparkled when you talked? What about the times you were sick or drunk or silly or stupid or spectacular? What about when you were alive? You weren’t just some sacrificial lamb. You were one of us … You are one of us."

There is so much beauty in that one little cursed fig tree. So why do we try to explain it away? Are we afraid of looking in the mirror and seeing Jesus staring back at us?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Protecting Our Family

In his homily for the papal inauguration Mass earlier this week, Pope Francis declared that the human vocation is to protect creation and one another. Evidence of our failure to live out this calling is not difficult to find. And it is easy to wallow in that failure.

All this week, I have struggled over what, if anything, to say about all that has unfolded in Steubenville, Ohio. Given the date of this post, I have not been very successful in coming up with coherent thoughts. It is such an unholy mess and I just want to ignore it, but there is something about that mess that keeps drawing me back.

We have failed to protect one another in a colossal way in this instance. It starts and ends with the evil done to a young woman by her peers. But in the middle of it all, we have created a circus. Our brave new world may provide us with the tools to enmesh ourselves into the lives of people we will never meet in person, but it cannot expand our willingness to actually listen to those people; that is up to us.

In trying to understand this mess, I continually return to the many voices speaking of a "rape culture" that they believe permeates our society. I can see the truth in what they see, and yet I still find myself uneasy with such attempts to package human behavior. Do these constructs help us to see one another as we truly are, or do they reinforce pre-conceived expectations? Are they a cure for what ails us, or just an aspirin to treat the symptoms? Would I see this differently if I were a woman?

And then into this mix steps Pope Francis, who will celebrate Mass on Holy Thursday at a juvenile prison. The man who told us to protect one another is going to wash the feet of boys and girls not all that different from the ones in Steubenville. We are being called to protect absolutely everyone, both the young woman who was violated and those who violated her, everyone. But will we be brave enough to even speak up for this kind of love, let alone live it out? More personally, will I?

But will it even make a difference if we do? Today is the anniversary of the murder of Oscar Romero. Last weekend, my wife and I watched the movie version of his three years as the Archbishop of San Salvador. What struck me, in a way that it never did before, is the reality of failure in Romero's life. He did not end the oppression and the killings. El Salvador's civil war continued for more than a decade after his death. What was the point of it all? What good did Romero's love do?

It is easy to look upon martyrdom as an act of futility. Who can the martyr protect after he is dead? But as I wrote two weeks ago, martyrs are meant to be confounding. They preach a truth with their lives that, in the end, our contribution of faith, hope, and love is the only measurement that counts. Is it a coincidence that Romero was assassinated while celebrating the Eucharist, or a sign of what our vocation should look like?

Perhaps that is where my unease with Steubenville lies. We want to fix it, but it cannot be fixed. We want to end violence, sexual or otherwise, but it cannot be eliminated. So we scream in holy rage. But does that rage draw us closer to love or does it simply fuel more rage? I keep thinking about the washing of feet and I see Monsignor Romero with a basin of water and a towel, kissing the foot of his killer.

"There is no ultimate triumph in creation, just more life and more love."

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Habemus Papam

Today, when Pope Francis asked the People of God to bow their heads in silence and bless him, before he blessed them, I could not help but smile. And then, sitting in front of the television, I sent forth my prayers just like our brothers and sisters in St. Peter's Square. Here was an approachable and humble man, dare I say a holy man, or so my first impression told me. After reading John Allen's pre-conclave profile of him, I trust those instincts even more. Cardinal Bergoglio's papal name seems well chosen.

As auspicious as that name is, however, it should also serve as a sort of cautionary tale. Our new pope's namesake was indeed directed by Jesus himself to rebuild the Church. That is reason enough to excite the horde of Catholics who published papal wish lists prior to the conclave. But do we love Francis of Assisi because he was so successful or so faithful? After all, his own religious order pushed him aside during his lifetime. So let us be wary of ecclesial fantasy-lands and utopian dreams, while at the same time opening ourselves to all that this new Francis has to give to us.

For that is what a pope is, a gift from the Holy Spirit to all of God's family. Let us pray for our Brother Francis, that he serve our family well.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Martyrdom Lessons

But he understood at last what Dumbledore had been trying to tell him. It was, he thought, the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to the death and walking into the arena with your head held high. Some people, perhaps, would say that there was little to choose between the two ways, but Dumbledore knew -- and so do I, thought Harry, with a rush of fierce pride, and so did my parents -- that there was all the difference in the world.
J. K. Rowling, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince", Page 512
As I read this passage a couple of months ago, my thoughts turned to the story of the martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas, whose feast day we celebrate tomorrow. We are told that these two women, along with their fellow martyrs, "marched from the prison to the amphitheatre joyfully as though they were going to heaven, with calm faces, trembling, if at all, with joy rather than fear." Such was their spirit in facing death that Perpetua actually "took the trembling hand of the young gladiator and guided it to her throat." What are we supposed to make of such behavior?

For one thing, we have cheapened martyrdom. Too quickly and too easily do we cry persecution, too often simply because we have not gotten our way. As David Gibson remarked, "Ah, the joys of being a martyr who is in no danger. Doesn't get any better than that." Whatever else martyrdom is, it is not cheap or easy.

There should be something confounding about people like Perpetua and Felicitas. It's one thing to grimly do your duty while fighting the good fight. But to go to your death not just willingly, but joyfully, even gleefully? We use every means at our disposal to cling to very the last second of life. And yet here we have the young and vibrant, with children and friends to live for, welcoming death like a lover.

When we look at self-sacrificial love, most of us focus on the sacrifice. All the martyr sees is love. And they know that death is no match for love.

"But what of that which you fear most: death? Yes, the end will come, not just for you, but for this world as a whole. Do not be afraid, for this is a great joy. It is not an end, just part of the process of life. That is not just good, it is wonderful."

Saints Perpetua and Felicitas, pray for us.