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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My day in Traffic School

Hi, my name is Karen and I'm a red light runner.
I am powerless over the urge to accelerate at yellows and my driving skills have become unmanageable.
It's true. I got busted by Scottsdale photo radar twice - yes two times - within 60 days which means I had to spend my monday  - an incomprehensibly long time to sit on your buttocks - in "Just My Luck" traffic school. I am embarrassed, remorseful, a bit poorer, guilty but  As I sat in the class watching video footage of "Paul's Story: How my License was Suspended" I began to drift.  The room could have doubled for the waiting room that is Purgatory.

Imagine, if you will, not being shot by the intersection cameras but by a sniper.  You are pronounced dead and your corpse is zipped up inside of a black plastic bag.  Lights out amigos. The next scene is your soul entering the classroom of "Just My Luck" Purgatory where we are greeting by the angel Denise. She checks you in, gives you a manual, takes your token (like the one they needed to cross over the river Styx) and tells you that you are to stay seated until you are finished. Shock and awe is the expression of most of the unwitting "students".  They forgot to read the stuff that the court sent you...the Catechism of the Catholic Church. They thought this class was just a touch and go!   For real.  It's a long, indefinite period of something that we'll call time. As the shock of death has subsided some, we go around the room in Purgatory and introduce ourselves.  We are asked our name, our offense and just for fun...our pet peeves. Name is peeves are fun.  You get to project your anger onto other people's offenses and character defects.  But the offenses.  Those are a little embarrassing.  Some people are here for little offenses that they have committed numerous times. Others are here for big offenses that they committed just once and still others are here because they committed biggies multiple times.  It's not easy to talk about these things and most folks have an edge and an attitude about their offenses as though they are still someone else's fault.

That is until we began watching the videos and hearing the stories. Lives shattered and broken, sweet relationships spoiled by selfishness. I had no idea that I could check my sin record by just going to confession on a regular basis to make sure there were no outstanding violations. I missed the opportunities to balance my life by doing regular maintenance in my spiritual devotions. This caused a great deal of wear and tear on my precious soul. I feel immense pain and regret as I watch images of the people that I've hurt through carelessness and sin.

Angel Denise administered several quizzes to us while we were in Purgatory.  I thought I knew all of the answers but I quickly learned that I was a corner-cutter. The laws that I understood as a kid, had much deeper meaning when I was older and began traversing tougher terrain.  I never really updated my understanding of the Code of Conduct where all the laws are kept.  It seemed that most of the class had never taken the Good Book seriously either.  "You mean I really am my brother's keeper?"  The thought occurred to me as I sat on my stiff chair...I wish I could go back and change things.  I would have lived differently.

An immense longing for freedom coupled with a sober gratitude overtook me as I sat in my traffic school class on Monday.  I wanted to be in my car doing things right.  I was grateful for the privilege of a driver's license made poignantly clear to me by certain peers who had lost this freedom.  I made many resolutions: not to use my cel phone while driving; to stay out of the intersection box at all cost unless the light is noticeably green; to drive the speed limits and remain alert at the wheel; to set a good example for my sons.  But I also learned something deeper.

All of the lessons about driving can be a metaphor for living.  Stay devoted through prayer, frequent confession maintains one's spiritual health, be rooted in the Word, be mindful of the character defect weeds that can creep in, love God and love your neighbor.  Just as my driver's license gives me freedom to enjoy & travel the highways and byways, my living license allows me the privilege & freedom of doing God's will.  It is not a license to plow all over creation leaving mayhem and chaos in my wake.

Traffic school, not unlike purgatory is a great mercy.  I don't ever want to end up in traffic school again, but I am grateful for the insights that I received in my little stiff chair.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

"Experience is a hard teacher..."

..."She gives the test first, and the lessons afterwards".

Whoever coined this profound statement must have been sitting in on yesterday's Legislative Session on the Manhattan Declaration here in Phoenix.  From the Mass to the final words spoken prophetically by Princeton Professor Robert George one could feel the gravity of every anti-life/anti marriage initiative that has taken place since President Barack Obama took the oath of office.  Our culture faces a momentous challenge and just like Abraham Lincoln stated in his famous Gettysburg Address, we too, "are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war." This war, seems to be over the very institutions that this great country was founded".

All politics is local.
Arriving on the campus of the Phoenix Diocese, attendees on their way to the 8am Mass at St. Mary's Basilica were confronted by 100 or so protestors representing No Longer Silent, a group of christian clerics who are at odds with the Church's teaching on homosexuality and marriage. They claim that "Conservative political and Christian rhetoric condemning homosexuals has monopolized public perception of the stance of religious persons on this issue and further state that the Manhattan Declaration declares war on LGBT and women's rights.” 

Circus Maximus
To emphasize their position of tolerance, they shouted at attendees to "not believe the lies in the Manhattan Declaration" and carried signs that purported the church's intolerance and exclusion of LGBT people. They trespassed onto the diocesan property and impeded the attendees while cabling the gates of the diocese and locking arms to prevent entrance to the building courtyard.  Thankfully, the local police were able to peacefully lead the protestors away from the venue and remove the cable to allow the morning to continue. 

And continue it did.
How does one effectively synthesize the words of Bishop Olmsted, Ron Johnson, Mike Phelan, Alan Sears, Marjorie Dannensfelder and Robert George?  I don't know, but I'm going to try...

Our Bishop expanded on the Gospel passage about "not worrying about how or what our defense might be" but relying upon the Holy Spirit who will teach us what we need to do and say; to have faith and not be afraid.  He reminded us that Jesus did not  reprimand His followers with admonitions of "Oh, ye of little love or Oh, ye of little hope".  Rather, he admonished them for their lack of faith.  In our age, we, too, are challenged by the words of our Lord to have faith.  Without faith, we can have neither love nor hope.  However from the foundational virtue of faith, both hope and love flow.  The faith of our founders was tested and purified. It brought forth the great fruit of a free nation united in faith in God and embracing institutions which would solidify it for future generations: marriage and family. It is now our turn to to be tested and strengthened as gold in a furnace.  We are not to be afraid; rather, we are to be people of strong faith to carry out the work that others began. 

Ron Johnson, executive director of the Arizona Catholic Conference, said the goal of the seminar was “to encourage people of faith to be well versed about our core values and to emphasize collaboration with other Christians, especially in the public square.”  He reminded us of the sad reality that 45% of Catholics do not believe that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist - an astonishing statistic indeed.  He elaborated on the Pope's remarks that an alarming number of the faithful are becoming increasingly marginalized in society. Ron exhorted all Christians to embrace, learn and live their faith as this is an inherent act of protecting our religious freedoms that are under deliberate and vicious attack. 

Mike Phelan, Phoenix Diocesan Director of Marriage and Respect Life, elaborated on the efforts of the Covenant of Love Project and the freshly revised policies governing marriage preparation. The enhanced policy emphasizes that couples must receive “personal preparation for marriage, which disposes the spouses to the holiness and duties of their new state.” the new diocesan policy, instituted on January 1 of this year highlighted the teachings of John Paul IIs Theology of the Body, Natural Family planning and an expanded 9 month curriculum for engaged couples.  Impressive early statistics affirm the NFP method as an effective way for Catholics to plan the size and spacing of their families. NFP couples are experiencing a near 50% drop in divorce rates while they learn to trust their spouse, their design and their Designer. 

Alan Sears, President of Alliance Defense Fund, reminded us that the definition of marriage between one man and one woman is non-negotiable.  Marriage either means this or it means nothing at all. Alan and his team of top attorneys are on the front lines every day facing challenge after challenge to those who would sooner redefine marriage into nonexistence. I was surprised to learn that in the average state, roughly 1,100 laws are directly impacted by our current definition of marriage; this is not to mention our country's influence on other nations. One can but imagine the legal, moral, social and psychological pandora's box this will open if we consider the end game of marriage for any and all. Polygamy and polyamory are just the beginnings. Commenting on Vermont's Civil Union law, Alan compared this to feeding a hungry tiger for breakfast and negotiating with him about whether or not he'll eat you for dinner.  We simply must not be naive enough to believe that this is just about wanting gay marriage.  Those who wish to redefine marriage desire that marriage should not exist. For this, we are all called to stand and act. 

Marjorie Dannesfelder, President of the Susan B. Anthony List:  "There is a dearth of special needs children in our society".  I have never heard this statement before and it deserves our attention.  What we don't have a shortage of are an increasing number of triple and quadruple baby strollers in town.  Have you noticed this?  Multiple births are on the uptick but down's babies are scarce. This is a bad sign. From the right to life comes every and all other rights. What kind of society have we become when it becomes okay to destroy the most vulnerable among us?  Marjorie reminded us of the words of the late anti-Nazi activist Deitrich Bonhoeffer, "Silence in the face of evil is evil itself".  She challenged us to be modern day Bonhoeffers and stand up to evil in our midst. She also reminded us that on November 2 we shall not forget those who sold out to evil and acted in poor conscience against those who trusted them (see Stupak is as Stupak does). 

Have you ever researched the ethics codes that govern the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecologists? Robbie George has. And just like me, he can't get over the reference of the word "healthcare" as it relates to abortion. Robert George, Princeton Professor, philosopher and co-author/signer of Manhattan Declaration was on hand to discuss a recent ethics refutation that he debated with ACOG on limitations that they wanted to place on doctor's rights to conscientiously refuse to perform abortions.  Yes, that's right, they said "limitations".  The ethics doctors wish to stifle the consciences of pro-life doctors who, in their estimation would be complicit in committing grievous sin by destroying the life of another human being. The ethics docs want this right limited. Actually, they want the pro-life docs to go away, plain and simple. (Sort of how Obamacare was voted into office by executive order rather than by legitimate political process).  Dr. George emphasized the point that doctors are to be about the business of science, not about the business of moral philosophy.  How in the world have we arrived at the notion that pregnancy is somehow a state of disease?  Dis-ease, yes, for some, but disease?? George advanced the notion that a sort of "professional cleansing" not unlike ethnic cleansing may be the next chapter in the Obamacare lexicon if we close our eyes to the opinions and matters of these ethics boards.  For it is not a matter of if a morality will be advanced into our legal and ethical codes - clearly morality has already been inserted there. Rather, it will be a matter over whose morality will be advanced. 

As he neared his conclusion, George reemphasized the license with with this current president has acted in the realm of so-called reproductive freedoms...remember the first things that the president did after he took office?  He abrogated the conscience protections that George W. Bush had so strenuously fought for.  This current president has NEVER supported any restrictions on abortion and he has referred to the bearing of children in one famous lecture as a punishment.

Human life is sacred.  It is best protected by God and God gave that privilege to men and women under the bonds of holy matrimony.  Want to fight poverty? Build healthy marriages. Want to build a culture of life?  Stop killing the preborn. Want to make a difference? Go read the Manhattan Declaration and sign it.  Want your voice to be heard?  Vote on Nov 2.

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.  (Gettysburg Address)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Good Examen

An examination of conscience is the purposeful act of interior evaluation prior to confession.  It's a butterfly net applied to our thoughts words and actions meant to capture and bring to consciousness not butterflies, but rather, sins - the matter that we take into the medicine box of the confessional. It is here that we lay them at the feet of Jesus, through the person of the priest, where he transforms them through absolution into grace. Ah!  The Sacrament of Confession....what an oft-misunderstood and untold treasure of our faith.  

There are ways to make a confession and ways to make a good confession and this is where a good examen or examination of conscience comes in handy. 

There are many examinations to choose from. I've used Ignatian aids, the small brochure; Guide to Confession and material adapted from 12-Step Recovery materials.  They all work and I've benefitted from them greatly.  But like most things, I can habituate them to saturation level causing their effectiveness to be dulled.  True of many things, I like to change the furniture around from time to time. As I continue to explore some spiritual interior remodeling, my Spiritual Director has wisely supplied a nice one that I've reproduced for you below.  It comes to us from Doris Donnelly, out of her book "The Fire of Peace: A Prayer Book - available from Pax Christi USA.  

by Doris Donnelly
An examination of conscience is a way to hold ourselves accountable before God and each other for the evil we do and the good we do not do. Some refer to it as an examination of consciousness: scanning our motives, thoughts, and actions to detect our loyalty to or betrayal of the priorities of the reign of God.
The delicate and difficult part in this process involves what we hold as our guide for accountability. For centuries the blueprint for good conduct was the list of Ten Commandments, until Jesus proposed a very different set of guidelines with the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1- 13).
As early as A.D. 150 in a document written by the Shepherd of Hermas, the Beatitudes were accepted as the positive norm of morality for Christians, stressing the ideals of their founder and avoiding the "do nots" of the decalogue.
What follows is an examination of conscience and consciousness based on the Beatitudes. It makes sense only if we truly believe that the teachings of Jesus have practical applicability in the world in which each of us lives and breathes. If we admit that relevance, we will find enough power in our fidelity to these counsels to renew the face of the earth.
1. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
  • Do I fear being poor, in spirit or otherwise, and prefer to be rich in money, brains, or influence?
  • Is my desire for poverty of spirit congruent with my lifestyle?
  • Do I use the word of God to rationalize my lifestyle, or am I willing to have God's word criticize it?
  • Do I cling to my own ideas, opinions and judgments, sometimes to the point of idolatry? 
  • Do I contribute my time, talent and money to the poor of the world? 
  • Do I make it my business to examine the causes of poverty in our world and work to eradicate unjust systems?
2. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."
  • Do I grieve over loneliness, despair, guilt and rejection in the lives of others?
  • Am I willing to admit my own despondencies and need for comfort? 
  • Do I minister consolation and healing, or do I blandly encourage people to "have courage," thereby avoiding the opportunity to mourn with another? 
  • Am I doing anything to dry the tears of those who mourn over war, poverty, hunger, injustice?
3. "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."
  • Do I see any value in meekness or nonviolence? 
  • Do I cringe at the thought of being called meek? 
  • Do I understand nonviolence as a way to fight evil with good, and do I choose to live that way? 
  • How much are intimidation and force part of my lifestyle? 
  • Do I work for nonviolent social change? 
  • Do I foster a cooperative spirit in my children?
4. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied."
  • Have I kept myself ignorant of important current events that are manifestations of injustice?
  • Are my energies and passions focused on Christ, or are they scattered, disordered, divided? 
  • Am I honestly trying to improve the quality of life around me? 
  • Am I trying to improve the environment, racial relations, care for the unborn, sexual equality, the lives of the poor and destitute? 
  • Have I decided that I will not be satisfied until justice is fulfilled in my own life, within my family, my church, my community, my world? 
  • Have I let fear keep me silent when I should have spoken out against prejudice, injustice and violence?
5. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."
  • Do I operate on a double standard of expecting mercy but not wanting to grant it? 
  • Do I prefer the strict law and order approach, or that of mercy, tenderness and compassion? 
  • Are there places in my life where people are suffering because of me and my unforgiving attitude? 
  • Am I devoid of a merciful spirit toward those I call "enemy"? 
  • What is my attitude toward capital punishment, ex-convicts?
6. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."
  • Am I trusting and trustful? 
  • Do I value living without pretense, or am I constantly fearful that someone will take advantage of me? 
  • Am I open and honest about who I am and what I do? 
  • Do I deflect the attention and honor due to God and claim these things for myself? 
  • Have I been untrue to myself, even a little, for advancement, money or good opinion? 
  • Have I failed to take time for prayer, solitude, reflection?
7. "Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God."
  • Am I eager for reconciliation, or do I antagonize and yearn for revenge? 
  • Do I think apologizing is a sign of weakness? 
  • Am I willing to be a bridge in family and community arguments? 
  • Do I support violence in films, television and sports? 
  • Have I studied peace and taken initiatives to stop violence and war? 
  • Have I read, and do I support, the many official church statements against the arms race, nuclear weapons, war? 
  • Do I see the Christian vocation as one of peacemaker? 
  • Is my presence a source of peace to those around me?
8. "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account."
  • Do I criticize or ridicule those who suffer for their beliefs? 
  • Am I embarrassed to step out of the mainstream to stand up for a principle? 
  • Who are my heroes? Are there any among them who gave their lives without vengeance for what is true? 
  • Would I do the same? 
  • Do I worship security and fear costly discipleship? 
  • Have I called myself Christian without making my life a witness to the teachings of Jesus? 
  • Have I openly supported those who defend justice and give their lives for peace?
9. "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven."
  • Do I live confident of the promises of Jesus? 
  • Do I surrender to pessimism and anxiety? 
  • Do I perceive that there is a paradoxical victory in the cross of Jesus that breaks through power structures and conquers in peace and love? 
  • Have I become cynical rather than hopeful?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sunday, October 3, 2010

10 Worst (Hymns?) Campfire Songs

If you have not tapped into this wellspring of cathartic energy, you are missing out. Our friends over at First Things (back in July) published this masterful listing of worst Catholic hymns of all time. I'm not sure what I enjoyed most...the list or the exquisite comments that followed. What's amusing is how people choreographed their postings to be lyrically correct..."commmmme live innnnn the liggggght" my gosh, so easy to sing along too!

My contribution:
One Bread One Body (or as a favorite priest friend of mine quips: One Bed, One Body)
Go! (Never heard the song, just amused by the title)
We are one Body
Seed Scattered and Sown (sung with lisp)

Go to the site here:
Are these the 10 worst hymns?

My challenge to them now is to construct a Best Of list.

My contribution:
Panis Angelicus
Tantum Ergo
Ubi Caritas
Adore te Devoto
Beautiful Savior

Friday, October 1, 2010

It's the little things that count

So much can be learned from St. Therese of Lisieux and her way of simple, child-like faith as we celebrate her feast day today. Her way is sublime yet her way of life was profoundly simple, and as she reminded us...accessible to all. Her Little Way is the way of Love. But it's not a fleeting, emotional, sappy love-like feeling. It's the real deal; the crowning virtue of all virtues is Love. It is what drove Therese to Christ at a remarkably young age and what helped her to endure illness, pain and suffering in an untimely death.

Beyond her earthly existence, it is what continues to expand her zealous mission: to win souls for Christ so that we may know God's love and be his children in this life and in the next. So she is our friend.  She, like so many of our beloved Saints can be our "go to" model of prudence, wisdom and sanctity. How timely she is for me today. As I buzz around in all of my busy-ness, imprudently filling my day with tasks and commitments that sit like gravy and mashed potatoes on a full stomach, I am nudged to put a few things back - to leave room for the spouse of my soul. "But I'm too busy to attend daily Mass," I protest. Too busy? Too busy to take 30 minutes out of 24 hours to spend in the Divine Presence? I waste more time in traffic or on the internet. I should never be too busy for the lover of my soul, lest I tempt the same folly of the cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida from today's gospel. Woe to me! On the contrary, past history proves that once I do finally make time for God, I enjoy the rhythms of vocal prayer and the stillness of meditation. I find my way to God's heart and there I drink from the streams by the wayside...ask yourself the following question: Have you ever regretted spending time in prayer? (Me neither)

Somebody told me once that we cannot go to God with our hands full (or clenched for that matter). The hands must be empty and open to receive the vast treasures he has in store for us. In the same way, our hearts must not be filled with other lusts or closed to Him, for the great treasure of His Love longs to find its home in a place solely devoted to Him. This is childlike devotion. This is what the great doctor of the Church, Therese of Lisieux teaches us through the story of her own soul.

It is also of great comfort to me to know that in the church's motherly wisdom, she offers a humble daughter that never wandered from her homeland nor studied in great institutions, the title of Doctor. It proves to demonstrate that we can work out our salvation or sainthood in our own backyards. Some have said that what Therese inspired in her short 24 years is more than what most theologians have understood in their entire careers. Therese is my example of the beautifully possible and today I am renewing my commitment to the plausibility of holy simplicity...through her little way of love. The Little Flower earned her nickname by referring to herself "one of Jesus's little flowers" who gave glory to God by just being her beautiful little self among all the other flowers in God's garden. Her goal was to spend her heaven doing good works on earth, and from the looks of it, she's doing a beautiful job. I am grateful for this little Saint who through her powerful inspiration has helped wilting souls find their way back to the tender arms of our Divine Gardener.

"Jesus, help me to simplify my life by learning what you want me to be - and becoming that person." (St. Therese of Lisieux)