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Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Deeper Meaning of Resolutions

The Problem of Reality

I had a friend come to me with a recent quandary.  She did not like the word "resolution".  (Oh-and I have a different friend who does not like the word "fellowship"). On both counts, the friends asked me not to use these words but to rather, come up with replacement words.  Replacement words?  It does not take long to figure out that this might get a little problematic.  The implication here is, if you don't like the connotation of a particular word, we can change the word and avoid the connotation.  Seems logical on paper, however if you do the higher math, you might find that all you've done is apply a thin coat of veneer to the reality of what really IS. Just because we rename something, doesn't mean we have removed its meaning; even though, subconsciously, this is what we would like to do.  If we are very honest we will quickly determine that this blurring of definitions is a rather common form of lying and it finds its origins, no doubt, with the Father of Lies:

Some Examples of Unreality

homemaker = domestic engineer
Divorce = marital restructuring
Boob job, nose job or any other kinds of body jobs = enhancement surgery
sin = missing the mark/being off target
dishonesty = bending the truth/white lies
laziness = procrastination
manipulating others = people pleasing
sarcasm (which means 'tearing at the flesh') = humor
Pornography = adult magazines
Strip joint = Gentlemen's Club
Pornographic content = mature audiences
Old = mature
semi-pornographic content = parental guidance suggested
Spouse = Domestic Partner
Fornicate = to living with someone who you are not married to, as though you are married
fetal homicide = abortion
Killing off older or vulnerable adults = mercy killing or euthanasia
God* = Good,  Collective Conscience, Life Force, Force, Energy, Universe, Chuck Norris, blah blah blah

(* I am pained to include the term Higher Power here because, for those in 12-Step Recovery programs, the idea of God has been so painfully maligned and associated with injury that there is a need for a God of one's understanding as a point of departure.  I have watched many a recovering addict/alcoholic expand their HP definition once they begin to trust God, themselves and others)

I am sure that you could find a dozen or so more on your own without having to work too hard.  We do this with just about everything that is difficult to talk about:  body parts, excrement, death are subject matters that have not been plumbed here, but you get the picture.

When we relativize the reality, we blur it to make it less recognizable.  A thin coat of varnish, pretties up something that might be really hard to tolerate, doesn't it?  When we redefine something to irrelevance, it can  keep us from making the necessary amends in our lives that lead to real growth.  Let me be very clear, if this sounds like a trick that an enemy might use on us to keep us away from reality, then you'd be understanding a bit of that playbook.

Welcome to Reality

So what's the solution?  Come to terms with the real meaning(s) of things. Let's starting with the word "resolution".   I suggested to my friend that she find a definition of resolution in order to plumb into a deeper meaning; obviously the meaning that she had internalized, had a foul odor.  Here's what she found instead:

Resolution is derived from the Latin verb Resolutio, originally Resolvere, meaning: to UNTIE, UNFASTEN, LOOSEN, UNBIND. The meaning has changed over the centuries meaning to change something with firm determination and will.  From Webster:  a resolve made, a fixed determination or purpose, the state of acting with fixed purpose; the answer or solution to a problem.

I just LOVE that!  If I unfasten, unbind, loosen something, I set it free.  If I make a resolution about something, I am becoming freer.  And everybody loves freedom, right?  I can do things in freedom.  I can become more me.  I can be more available to the pursuits that bring me true happiness and joy. I can pursue my heart's desire.  I can only pursue this as a free person, not as a slave.  Remember how Christ refers to his friends?  "I no longer call you slaves....slaves do not know what their Lord does; I call you friends because all things that I have heard from my Father, I have made known to you."  Freedom allows us to think and move and be.  It allows us to be us in the fullest sense. Resolutions bring us closer to this personal freedom.

It takes a lot of courage to be honest.  It also takes a lot of courage to want to change, but this leads to my next point.  Once we get honest about things, we realize that it behooves us to change. And this, my friends, is where the devil really loses power and gets irritated.  In myself, I recognize that personal change is possible in and of myself only to a certain degree.  I am usually thwarted by something or someone that I am powerless over.  For this I need Extra Help.  Prayer is my best tool.  More on this later on under "Tools..."

Coming up with Resolutions

So be courageous and come up with that list of resolutions...maybe it's one or two things that your doctor keeps telling you to give up (cholesterol, coffee, cigarettes, anger, food, excessive drinking). These tip-o-the-iceberg bad habits usually give weigh to more deeply rooted ills and evils which probably have their origin in the seven deadly sins.  Do you think this might be why most people give up on their resolutions before the end of January?  They are attacking symptoms rather than the real root problems. I wonder what it would be like to use an Examination of Conscience as a tool to structure a Resolutions list.  Or how about the 10 Commandments?  This might help to tease out those unruly 7 deadlies, and hasten true change.  Add to this a monthly retreat to renew your commitment to following God's laws more faithfully.  

Another approach has trinitarian roots.  Devise a triparteid column list with headers such as: Health, Happiness and Character (Thank you Dennis Prager) or Mental, Physical, Spiritual.  

And then there is the giant unstructured list.  This is fine too.  Just be sure to post whatever it is your doing in a common location like a journal and don't wait until Lent to figure out that you've not spent any time reviewing it.  

Tools for Maintaining your Resolve 
(That's Re-Solve for those of you hanging in there with me on the real meanings of things). 

Prayer:  The action of recollection; our conversation with God who is the lover of our hearts.  Directing one's thoughts, actions and will towards God.  Every good action begins and ends in prayer. 
Courage: Courage is not the absence of fear, but acting in spite of it (Mark Twain).  The courage to want to change is a great spiritual virtue. The idea that we want to change is a signal that we desire to be better people.
Calendar:  track progress and ensure motivation & follow through.
Accountability - Let somebody in on your plan.  A friend or accountability group is a great support system to let others into your life and give you needed encouragement.  Who knows, you just might be an inspiration to others! My accountability group will be  sharing our "bucket list" items starting this January.  This includes my friend mentioned in the first paragraph who has happily renovated the "resolution" word for us. Kudos to you CAMH :-)   Oh, boy...there is a significant temptation to publish bucket list here on the Spikenard blog but let's just say that for now I will keep you posted on the progress :-)

Happy New Year! 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The 'Herods' in our midst

Herod "The Great" king of Judea was unpopular with his people because of his connections with the Romans and his religious indifference. Hence he was insecure and fearful of any threat to his throne.  He was a master politician and a tyrant capable of extreme brutality.  He killed his wife, his brother and his sister's two husbands, to name only a few.

Matthew 2:1-18 tells this story:  Herod was "greatly troubled" when astrologers from the east came asking the whereabouts of the "newborn king of the Jews," whose star they had seen.  They were told that the Jewish Scriptures named Bethlehem as the place where the Messiah wold be born.  Herod cunningly told them to report back to him so that he could also "do him homage." They found Jesus, offered him their gifts and warned by an angel, avoided Herod on their way home.  Jesus escaped to Egypt. 

Herod became furious and "ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under."  The horror of the massacre and the devastation of the mothers and fathers led Matthew to quote Jeremiah: "A voice was heard in Ramah,/sobbing and loud lamentation;/Rachel weeping for her children..." (Matthew 2:18).  Rachel was the wife of Jacob/Israel.  She is pictured as weeping at the place where the Israelites were herded together by the conquering Assyrians for their march into captivity.  

(The above was excerpted from Ibreviary, December 28, 2011)


Isnt' it strange how history repeats itself?  The names and circumstances are a little different but the image we witness from antiquity is eerily similar to the present day slaughter of the innocents that Pope John Paul II coined as the "culture of death".  The Israelites demanded a leader to respond to their every whim and need and they got a "herod".  They demanded a liberty of convenience to relieve them of their responsiblity to integrity and they got bondage.  They demanded a relief to fear and insecurity and they got tyranny and death.  

True for us. We have mistaken human figures for God; we call this government.   We demand and expect our needs to be met through government programs and services.  We have learned that the more "choices" we get, the less free and more savage we become.  We demand the pleasure of sex over its consequences and the convenience of intimacy over the responsibilities that it entails.  We fail to realize that the fruits of sex and and intimacy involve life.  And the very best place where life can flourish is in the protected environs of a family.  So when we want one without the other, chaos and disorder follow. 

Most women who I meet who have had abortions, regret them later. They may have demanded a relief to their fear and insecurity which they experienced temporarily in an abortion.  Unfortunately the tyranny that arises some time later results in great anguish for the woman who has tried to suppress her conscience either by drinking,  drugging, eating, spending, working or escaping into some fantasy world. The "herod" of addiction is a brutal tyrant to those who would refuse to face the friend in their conscience.  

There are personal herods and societal herods as well.  The society that employs these herods fosters this bondage when we continue to make it okay for people to escape the consequences of reality.  Obamacare, divorce, mortgage bailouts, capitol punishment, gluttonous and irresponsible overspending, euthanasia, abortion, moral relativism; the realm of evils left untended and not remanded to the custody of the human conscience will not find a Robin Hood or his merry men to save them in the end.  Hopefully when the conscience is aroused there will still be time for an epiphany of repentance.  Will it be in time? 

I was struck by the words fear and insecurity that were used to describe the Herod of antiquity.  Here is this powerful guy enabled by a dysfunctional societal system that has left him to his own devices, and he is so scared and insecure of being relieved of his addiction (power) that he is willing to kill family members and helpless infants.  Stew on that for awhile.  If you've ever seen an addict, you know that they are mostly willing to go to any length to ensure that they get their "fix".  While the addiction is active, precious little is safe.  Keep this in mind as we elect or re-elect a powerful leader in 2012. 

And how about closer to home? Don't we all have some herods to tend to in our own life?  Are you in charge of you or is something else driving the bus?  Is the desire for power and control mastering you? Yes, there is an addiction to power and control and it's one of hell's ugliest demons. Just watch Lord of the Rings or read Genesis Ch 3 if you don't believe me.  

The slaughter of the innocents was a result of fear, insecurity and a paralyzed personal and societal conscience.  May we take the necessary efforts at home, interiorly, and abroad, in our communities to ensure that these tyrants are chained and muzzled.  When we take care to do this, perhaps we are enacting the 149th Psalm where the two-edged sword is put to use on our personal and societal herods:

"Let the praise of God be on their lips and a two-edged sword in their hand, 
to deal out vengeance to the nations and punishment on all the peoples; 
to bind their kings in chains and their nobles in fetters of iron;
to carry out the sentence pre-ordained;
this honor is for all his faithful."

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Merry Statistical Anomale

Did you know that, in scripture, there are somewhere in the neighborhood of not 5, not 10 but 456 prophecies regarding the Jewish Messiah, the Christ, Savior, Vanquisher of Evil, establisher of the New Covenant?  That's an impressive figure. The probability of one Individual fulfilling just five of those prophecies would be one in a million.  What's the statistical probability of one Person fulfilling all 456 of them?  Ready?  Here goes:


(That's 126 0s...from Abp Fulton Sheen's "True Meaning of Christmas")

Pretty amazing isn't it. 

O Come, let us adore Him. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Padre Pio's Christmas Meditation

Thank you Sandie M....

Padre Pio's Christmas Meditation
Appearing in volume four of the Italian-language edition of Padre Pio's letters, this essay was taken from Padre Pio's hand-written notebooks. To the best of my knowledge, it is presented here for the first time in English.
Translated by Frank M. Rega, December 2005.

"Padre Pio da Pietrelcina: Epistolario IV," Edizioni Padre Pio, San Giovanni Rotondo, 2002, pages 1007-1009.

Far into the night, at the coldest time of the year, in a chilly grotto, more suitable for a flock of beasts than for humans, the promised Messiah – Jesus – the savior of mankind, comes into the world in the fullness of time.

There are none who clamor around him: only an ox and an ass lending their warmth to the newborn infant; with a humble woman, and a poor and tired man, in adoration beside him.

Nothing can be heard except the sobs and whimpers of the infant God. And by means of his crying and weeping he offers to the Divine justice the first ransom for our redemption.

He had been expected for forty centuries; with longing sighs the ancient Fathers had implored his arrival. The sacred scriptures clearly prophesy the time and the place of his birth, and yet the world is silent and no one seems aware of the great event. Only some shepherds, who had been busy watching over their sheep in the meadows, come to visit him. Heavenly visitors had alerted them to the wondrous event, inviting them to approach his cave.

So plentiful, O Christians, are the lessons that shine forth from the grotto of Bethlehem! Oh how our hearts should be on fire with love for the one who with such tenderness was made flesh for our sakes! Oh how we should burn with desire to lead the whole world to this lowly cave, refuge of the King of kings, greater than any worldly palace, because it is the throne and dwelling place of God! Let us ask this Divine child to clothe us with humility, because only by means of this virtue can we taste the fullness of this mystery of Divine tenderness.

Glittering were the palaces of the proud Hebrews. Yet, the light of the world did not appear in one of them. Ostentatious with worldly grandeur, swimming in gold and in delights, were the great ones of the Hebrew nation; filled with vain knowledge and pride were the priests of the sanctuary. In opposition to the true meaning of Divine revelation, they awaited an officious savoir, who would come into the world with human renown and power.

But God, always ready to confound the wisdom of the world, shatters their plans. Contrary to the expectations of those lacking in Divine wisdom, he appears among us in the greatest abjection, renouncing even birth in St. Joseph’s humble home, denying himself a modest abode among relatives and friends in a city of Palestine. Refused lodging among men, he seeks refuge and comfort among mere animals, choosing their habitation as the place of his birth, allowing their breath to give warmth to his tender body. He permits simple and rustic shepherds to be the first to pay their respects to him, after he himself informed them, by means of his angels, of the wonderful mystery.

Oh wisdom and power of God, we are constrained to exclaim – enraptured along with your Apostle – how incomprehensible are your judgments and unsearchable your ways! Poverty, humility, abjection, contempt, all surround the Word made flesh. But we, out of the darkness that envelops the incarnate Word, understand one thing, hear one voice, perceive one sublime truth: you have done everything out of love, you invite us to nothing else but love, speak of nothing except love, give us naught except proofs of love.

The heavenly babe suffers and cries in the crib so that for us suffering would be sweet, meritorious and accepted. He deprives himself of everything, in order that we may learn from him the renunciation of worldly goods and comforts. He is satisfied with humble and poor adorers, to encourage us to love poverty, and to prefer the company of the little and simple rather than the great ones of the world.
This celestial child, all meekness and sweetness, wishes to impress in our hearts by his example these sublime virtues, so that from a world that is torn and devastated an era of peace and love may spring forth. Even from the moment of his birth he reveals to us our mission, which is to scorn that which the world loves and seeks.

Oh let us prostrate ourselves before the manger, and along with the great St. Jerome, who was enflamed with the love of the infant Jesus, let us offer him all our hearts without reserve. Let us promise to follow the precepts which come to us from the grotto of Bethlehem, which teach us that everything here below is vanity of vanities, nothing but vanity.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Intensify your prayer life-fill up the sidewalk

The story I've posted below is a beautiful conversion that happened recently in Charlottesville, VA.  Here's a man that had been yelling and screaming at Pro-Life sidewalk counselors on a regular basis and who eventually came to a new understanding of abortion, in my opinion, as a result of the prayers that were offered for him in the midst of his rants.

As sidewalk counselors, we do this, right?  We pray for the folks that get right up in our face.  Or at least we should. Whenever or wherever I've been verbally accosted by someone who is pro-choice, I try to introduce them to facts about abortion, how it takes a human life; how it is bad for women; how it really harms society.  This usually fails because a thick veil of emotions is blocking real understanding. I have yet to my knowledge, been able win over any pro-choicer on an intellectual plane alone; not because the intellectual argument is not sound but rather because the argument of fact breaks down into emotional sparring.  I'm not saying we should jettison the idea of educating those with whom we come in contact on the sidewalk.  We should always educate and provide copious amounts of information as the seedbed of understanding.  What I do want to emphasize however is that we cannot stop at the intellectual or educational pursuit.  We must plunge headlong into supernatural terrain. Which brings up the profound need for PRAYER.

Prayer loosens the soil of the heart...tills up all those clods.  Prayer softens the sharp temper.  Prayer brings God into the discussion.  Prayer is supernatural conversation that transcends human abilities because it is a fruit of love of neighbor.  Prayer is what brought the man in the story below back to his sensibilities.  Prayer is what will close abortuaries and convert the hearts of the workers.

Prayer will also change the pray-er.  I used to become frustrated with the F-bombs, Brooklyn salutes and verbal jousting that turns most good folks off to the idea of standing and praying in front of an abortion clinic.  Now, I am resigned to the fact that this is due partly to the ignorance of the people who have never examined the flaws of the pro-choice mentality because of the moral decay & relativism of our generation.  And, (this second part is really a hoot to those who thing we are all mentally imbalanced anyway) partly due to the result of demonic activity that is prone to volatility when provoked.  (Please read Demonic Abortion.) How patient I can be is directly proportionate to my prayer life.  It is not me acting but God acting through me for the sake of that person.  That my prayer presence would actually cause someone to curse and explode is telling, is it not?  Further edification that it is not fang-less me that they are mad at, but a system that has continued to propagate huge lies about the sanctity and dignity of human life.  If they admitted that the pro-life "side" is right, then they would have to admit to being duped.  (And let's admit it....nobody wants to be a dupe.)

I'm going to miss "Steve of the Sidewalk" even though I've never met him personally.  I don't know where he's going but it's probably somewhere else that his strong light is badly needed.  So this is your invitation...whoever you are.  We need a replacement STEVE.  There are lots of souls who need your prayer.  If you're in Phoenix on Christmas Eve, join us out at Glendale Planned Parenthood (a.k.a. Eugie).  Bishop Olmsted will be with us to pray the Rosary at 11am.  

"After you have made a decision that is pleasing to God, the Devil may try to make you have second thoughts.  Intensify your prayer time, meditation and good deeds. For if Satan's temptations merely cause you to increase you efforts to grow in holiness, he'll have an incentive to leave you alone."
Ignatius of Loyola.

Merry Christmas,
Karen of the Sidewalk

Hi folks,

Today was my last day at the abortuary on Commonwealth Drive just around the corner from the Pregnancy Center in Charlottesville, Virginia. This particular clinic had fallen under the radar and been ignored for far too long until this year. Even the accountant who lives next door was shocked to see pro lifers standing vigil. I thought it was going to be an uneventful final day where I would get to say goodbye to all the wonderful pro lifers who have been sacrificing their Weds evenings from 5 pm to 8 pm to defend the unborn and be a living example of God's never ending love for moms and dads in need of spiritual rescue.

Many familiar faces and some new faces were there and I was glad to see them all -- but sad that it was going to be the last time. 

It turned out to be the busiest day I had ever seen at the Commonwealth abortuary -- the cars kept coming and coming. Most of the pro life volunteers were in the drive way ministering to their spiritual brothers and sisters that were there to abort their babies.  A couple other pro lifers were standing on the sidewalk in front of the abortuary holding signs and I decided to join them.

Eventually a car pulled over and a young man jumped out. It was dark, so I recognized his voice before I saw his face.

This young man had been a familiar sight at the Planned Parenthood during 40 Days for Life, but I'd never seen him at the Commonwealth abortuary. Many of you will remember him because he also pulled over during the Hour of Power and walked up and down Hydraulic Road yelling at us. Eventually the police were called and he reluctantly left.

It was obvious that God was working on him.

In fact, just last Friday he rolled down his window and yelled for us to go home as he drove past the Planned Parenthood. And someone else yelled back that God loved him and that he needed to start fearing Him. 

But tonight was different, it the wasn't the same young man we'd encountered so many times in front of Planned Parenthood. For starters he wasn't yelling at us. =-)

He told us that he recently had a telephone conversation with a female friend in Philadelphia and the topic of abortion came up and in the middle of that conversation he began to cry uncontrollably. At first he wasn't sure why was crying so hard. After all, he believed in a woman's right to choose and had been verbally jousting with us on that very topic for months. He said that he suddenly realized that it was wrong for these women to abandon their babies.

He then talked about the the Apostle Paul and how he could identify with that story. He said just as Saul cheered as Stephen was stoned, he had been stoning us with his words and been hateful toward us.  And then he quoted the words of Stephen shortly before his death, "Father do not hold this sin against them."

This presented the perfect moment for me share my first name with him.  ;-)

He said part of the reason he hated us was because he misunderstood us. He said he came to his conclusions about us based on television and other unreliable sources. He thought we were trying to judge them. And then we told him that we were there because God loves them and God loves those babies. And it wasn't about trying to prevent freedom of choice, but protecting the right to life of the child and avoiding the dire consequences of sin. 

To my surprise he began to weep as he considered his place in the world and what was going to happen to this country because of our sin. As he wiped the tears from his face he said he knew that our sin was going to bring an end to the world. He wept because he understood that sin would interrupt his plans and that he might not live a full life.

We agreed with him that sin has consequences, but reassured him that God has already prepared the way -- even in times of God's justice.

It's true that those who sow the wind will reap the whirlwind, but God has a spiritual cave for his faithful servants. And God sends them into the world to minister and offer rescue until the very end of time. And long after we've all given up and thrown in the towel God is still there until the end.

He heard a few stories of our own impatience when we'd given up. Even as some servants of God had given up on him, but God never gave up. He was told that he was an answer to prayers. And that one day his voice would be heard through the chaos of voices in the world by men and women hurting and in need of God's love. He didn't realize it then, but when he responded to the deafening call of God's voice and pulled his car over rather than ignore it ... his life would never be the same.

He fought and struggled with it -- but he never ignored it like so many busy Americans.

As I placed my hand on his shoulder and heard his name for the time I felt joy and sadness. I was happy that he was finally surrendering to God's plan for his life, but I was sorry that I was leaving just as it was about to take root and grow. I wouldn't get to see the miracle of his ministry in Charlottesville, but Lord willing many of you will get to see it firsthand.

I'm being a little bit selfish since I was fortunate to see your ministries unfold before my eyes.

Many of you loved him when all he was expecting was hate. And many of you prayed for him and your prayers were heard and answered. And still others were stranding in front of those clinics for his eyes to see and his heart to ponder. And it changed him. Thanks for being faithful -- young men like him recognize God's servants when they see them. And your constant presence in front of those clinics is a reminder of the choice we must all make every day: who will we serve?

Think how different the story would be if the sidewalks were empty.


Steven Lopez
Spiritus Films

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Congrats Sr. John Mark Maria!

Despite wind, rain and a bit of ragged nerves, I was able to witness a joyful & blessed event at the Our Lady of Solitude Monastery out in Tonopah with the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration yesterday.  Our friend, Sr. John Mark Maria celebrated her first profession of vows to the Poor Clares....and she was truly radiant!  Having never attended anything of the sort yesterday, I felt that I was transported to another world.  All of the elements of this liturgy were truly beautiful and Sister was a most stunning bride.
Enjoy the slideshow below.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Juan Diego and the Blessed Virgin

Last night on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, some of our committees united to to pray on a spectacular, giant, 500 foot long rosary that was made by my friend Maria M.  She's a spiritual powerhouse, packed into a tiny 4' 11" frame; proving to me once again that great things can manifest themselves in small packages.  Those who were gathered prayed the rosary in three languages: english, spanish and italian. It was marvelous.  Afterwards, anglo that I am, hung around to completely butcher the Marian hymns in spanish with those who remained.  Despite my lameness of skill at singing, speaking or even clapping in spanish, I am humbly reminded that I am part of a beautiful, rich family of faith.  How is this so?  Because we have a common Mother--the most exquisite of God's creations. She unites us all under her mantle of love, as my pastor beautifully recommends in his intentions.   I also realized that it was good for me to listen to the music being sung and lauded about Our Lady & God's grace; even though the words were in a language that I did not understand.  Why?  Because the language emanating from their hearts transcends words.  Their devotion surpasses the senses.  Just like little Bernadette Soubirous did not understand the words "I am the Immaculate Conception" spoken to her by the Blessed Virgin a few centuries ago, as it was way beyond her level of comprehension.  She was 14 years old and had no formal education; yet she somehow knew that it was important that these words reach her bishop .  Perhaps this is how we may someday come to appreciate the music of the angels and the songs of heaven.  Though God's ways are far above our own and Mary is the sublime Seat of Wisdom, the heart language is the common bond, the bridge between two shores.  

I am grateful for the rich spanish cultural influences that have helped shape my faith and graft me into a spiritual family.  I made a Cursillo back in May of 2000 as a 4 year-old fledgling Catholic.  It was in the rollo room of the Mt. Claret Center where I was introduced to Mary as my Mother and climbed our little version of Tepeyac Hill to the Madonna icon which adorned the mini summit; where I learned sweet songs like DeColores, Alabare and Ave, Ave, Ave Maria.  I brought home souvenir words like "mananitas" and "ultreya" and allowed myself to be serenaded by mariachis, (who's name coincides with Maria).  It was a letting go of sorts and as I learned to surrender some of my pride and familiarity, I experienced an appreciation for worshipping Our Lord through His Mother that I had never before known or recognized.  Their vibrant love for Our Lady melted me and made it possible for me to love her too, like a daughter. I am forever indebted to my spanish compatriots for their extraordinary passion to Our Lady. 

So it is fitting that today in the church we celebrate another extraordinary feast of a humble Mexican/Indian Man named Juan Diego.  May Our Blessed Mother's imprint be fixed onto your heart today just as the image was emblazoned onto his mantle; allowing us all to understand the perfect language of love that God longs to impart. I didn't know I was under the mantle back in 2000, but I sure knew that something different was going on.  Maybe a little bit like Juan Diego..."who is this aztec princess adorning me with Castilian Roses and emblazoning me with her image?  It is Mama. 
Juan Diego was born in 1474 in the calpulli or ward of Tlayacac in Cuauhtitlan, which was established in 1168 by Nahua tribesmen and conquered by the Aztec lord Axayacatl in 1467; and was located 20 kilometers (14 miles) north of Tenochtitlan (Mexico City).
On December 9, 1531, a native Mexican named Juan Diego rose before dawn to walk fifteen miles to daily Mass in what is nowMexico City. Juan lived a simple life as a weaver, farmer, and laborer. That morning, as Juan passed Tepeyac Hill, he heard music and saw a glowing cloud encircled by a rainbow. A woman's voice called him to the top of the hill. There he saw a beautiful young woman dressed like an Aztec princess. She said she was the Virgin Mary and asked Juan to tell the bishop to build a church on that site. She said, "I vividly desire that a church be built on this site, so that in it I can be present and give my love, compassion, help, and defense, for I am your most devoted mother . . . to hear your laments and to remedy all your miseries, pains, and sufferings."
The bishop was kind but skeptical. He asked Juan to bring proofof the Lady's identity. Before Juan could go back to the Lady, he found out his uncle was dying. Hurrying to get a priest, Juan missed his meeting with the Lady. The Lady, however, met him on his path and told him that his uncle had been cured.
She then told Juan to climb to the top of the hill where they first met. Juan was shocked to find flowers growing in the frozen soil. He gathered them in his cloak and took them at once to the bishop.
Juan told the bishop what had happened and opened his cloak. The flowers that fell to the ground were Castilian roses (which were not grown in Mexico). But the bishop's eyes were on the glowing image of the Lady imprinted inside Juan's cloak.
Soon after, a church was built on the site where our Lady appeared, and thousands converted to Christianity. Our Lady of Guadalupe was declared the patroness of the Americas.
He died on May 30, 1548, at the age of 74.

Juan Diego deeply loved the Holy Eucharist, and by special permission of the Bishop he received Holy Communion three times a week, a highly unusual occurrence in those times.

Pope John Paul II praised Juan Diego for his simple faith nourished by catechesis and pictured him (who said to the Blessed Virgin Mary: “I am a nobody, I am a small rope, a tiny ladder, the tail end, a leaf”) as a model of humility for all of us. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Friendship: Low expectations vs. High expectations

I set before you today 2 stories; One from current, popular culture; the other, from antiquity. I would suggest only two differences set them apart:  First, their time in history and the second, our familiarity with the saints mentioned in the latter.  Lest we forget:  Human nature has not changed.  The message & the challenge therefore, remains the same.  We are responsible for our neighbor. We are obligated to elevating ourselves, and our friends beyond the dung heap.  We have tools. (We don’t have to be tools; to use a popular euphemism.)   And if we are going to be a “tool” we should set our sites on sainthood, because WHAT ELSE IS THERE?

The Problem of Low Expectations.
Excerpted From Fox News, 12-8-11

Think most of the misogyny on MTV comes from men? Guess again, says a new study of the network’s shows, which finds women engage in a whopping 88 percent of the shows’ sexual dialogue, insult each other much more than the men, and offer themselves up in positive portrayals only when they’re talking about physical appearance and their ability to bounce back from getting ridiculed.

Television watchdog group The Parents Television Council (PTC) releases its jaw-dropping report “Reality of MTV: Gender Portrayals on Reality TV” on Wednesday, and got an exclusive first look at its findings. They're not pretty.  Nielsen data were used to identify the most-watched prime time reality shows on cable among the 12 to 17 demographic in 2011, which included MTV showsJersey Shore,” “Real World,” “Teen Mom 2,” and “16 and Pregnant.” Analysts then analyzed the content on the most recent full season of each show, logging the language and context of the language used.
Here are their bombshell findings:
-- Only 24 percent  of what females said about themselves was positive across all shows combined.
-- Positive dialogue between females focused on their appearance, sense of accomplishment and emotional resilience.
-- While terms men used for each other were often viewed as complimentary (e.g., big man, dawg, superhero, McGyver, winner), women used far more degrading language when talking about other females (e.g., rodent, skank, trash bag, trick, ho and much worse). 
-- Females talked about sex acts more than men, talked about sex more graphically than men, mentioned sexual body parts more than men, and talked about intercourse and foreplay more than men.
-- Although 88 percent of the sexual dialogue between females and males across all shows focused on intercourse and preliminary activities leading to intercourse, the topics of virginity (0.2 percent), contraceptives (1.4 percent) and STDs (2 percent) were only mentioned 4 percent of the time.
-- “Jersey Shore” made up 47 percent of the disparaging remarks (mostly coming from cast members Ronnie and Sammi) and 59 percent of the sexual references across all four shows.

The most shocking finding – or at least the most disturbing – was the way the two genders spoke of themselves. The women were overwhelmingly more disparaging when speaking of themselves. With so much being invested and so much at stake in empowering one’s self, especially for girls, the overwhelming message from reality television targeted at teen girls is to be overly negative to yourself,” PTC President Tim Winter told FOX411’s Pop Tarts column. “After so many years of pursuing equality for women, our study suggests a glamorized, but grossly distorted view, of what it means to be feminine.”

According to the study, the issues surrounding negative media models of female and male behavior have only been exacerbated by the increase in reality television shows over the past few years, particularly as networks strive to reach the next level of shock value for their audiences. The report also claims that the continued success of these shows is dependent upon the “outrageousness of the content,” and that this can have serious implications on teens and tweens in the middle of establishing their own identity and core social values.

The PTC hopes that the study will intensify the national dialogue that has already begun with regards to the sexualization of women and girls in the media, and is urging parents to pay closer attention to the potentially harmful media images and messages their children may be consuming. They are also calling out advertisers, claiming that the media dollars underwrite television programming which contains “sexualized and narrowly defined gender portrayals.”

“Collectively, we must call upon media makers to present a more balanced view of ‘reality.’ We must demand more responsible depictions of how females and males resolve conflict and broader perspectives of what it means to be a female or male beyond the limits of current stereotypes,” the study concluded. “The saddest commentary is how ultimately these media themes and images serve to paint a very vivid picture of low expectations. The fear of setting low expectations for our young girls and boys is that they may fulfill them.”

MTV reps declined to comment until they had a chance to see the report.

So while the Fox article expounds on the idea that media is ultimately responsible for the steady downhill progression of self-esteem and poor view of reality; I would say that it is more symptomatic of a deeper spiritual wound….read on.

The Hope of High Expectations
From Mr. Bryan Y. Norton, SJ: 

Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Our Lord's sweet promise of repose in today's Gospel passage immediately makes me think of St. Augustine (354-430). In the opening paragraph of his Confessions-the first, true "autobiography" in all of Western literature and a perennial source of humanistic, philosophical, spiritual, and theological wisdom-Augustine famously writes: "You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts our restless until they rest in You." The connection between this Gospel reading and Augustine's own spiritual journey proves especially fitting on today's memorial of St. Ambrose. After all, Augustine recognizes Ambrose as a pivotal figure in his own journey of conversion:

"To Milan I came, to Ambrose the Bishop, known to the whole
world as among the best of men, Thy devout servant; whose eloquent discourse did then plentifully dispense unto Thy people the flour of Thy wheat, the gladness of Thy oil, and the sober inebriation of Thy wine. To him was I unknowing led by Thee, that by him I might knowingly be led to Thee" (V.13.23).

Tradition teaches that saints come in clusters. We can easily make the mistake of isolating the saints, as though December 7th were dedicated solely to the memory of St. Ambrose. Truth be told, though, the life of one saint always intersects inseparably with the lives of other saints. This realization should spur each of us on to sanctity: God sanctifies us through the most ordinary of ways, namely Christian friendship. This wisdom profoundly shaped the young Society of Jesus, for example. Long before the founding fathers of the Society were the "first Jesuits," they were simply "companions," "friends in the Lord"-amigos en el Señor.

Today's readings, clothed with the Tradition of the Church, bid us to consider our own experience of Christian friendship. Do we have, among the members of Christ's Body, true "friends in the Lord," with whom we can intimately share the joys and sorrows of Christian life? Perhaps we have lost touch with them. Perhaps we need to ask the Lord to send new companions into our lives. Such bonds of friendship strengthen us to receive Christ's yoke and enter into His rest. They that hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar as with eagles' wings; they will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint. Amen. 

While it may be a factor in better living and healthier productivity, the idea of unplugging form MTV still falls short of solving the age-old dilemma of bad alliances. Some of the most heinous acts in history have been committed by people who have never watched MTV; (Judas, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, to name but a few).  We must attack the root, for there is where the problem resides.

Where do our expectations reside?  Do we have any standards for friendship, or are we just available for anything?  Could we be counted on to deliver a tough message to a friend if we knew it was a matter of their integrity, or their eternal destination?  Do we encourage one another to follow the narrow path or do we simply sustain them on the broad highway?  The company that we keep is revealing of the interior life we engender. 

Food for thought. 

Do you know your Self?

Your real, new self (which is Christ's and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him. Does that sound strange? The same principle holds, you know, for more everyday matters. Even in social life, you will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making. Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it. The principle runs through all life from top to bottom, Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.
C. S. Lewis