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Trees, Pro-Life, and Bad Poetry

Several weeks ago, I visited the redwoods on the Mendocino Coast here in California with a couple friends and their three-year-old son. I have traveled to the redwoods in other parts of the state, but these were no less majestic and awe-inspiring. Among these tall giants, this small hobbit pondered the beauty of creation and the immanence of God’s love in everything around us.

Then the other day, a friend of mine posted on her blog an excellent response to the question, “Does God love trees?” which brought me back to my trip through the redwoods. She tackles the question in a very nuanced way, showing how all of His creation is imbued with His infinite love. So we must ask, “If that creation is filled with His love, should He not love even the trees, or should we neglect any part of His creation, even the part that resides outside of humanity?” The answer to both of these is, of course, no.

I think the issue here comes down to this, and I know that I may get some flack for what I am about to say, but what does it mean to be pro-life? Being pro-life means protecting the innocent unborn. Being pro-life means preserving the life and well-being of the elderly. Being pro-life means feeding the hungry, helping the sick, sheltering the homeless. Being pro-life means finding constructive solutions for immigrants. Being pro-life means recognizing and cherishing the beauty of a marriage between a man and woman, and the spiritual, emotional, and physical bond that they share. We must uphold the dignity of the human person, from conception to natural death and everything in-between.

But does life include not only humanity, but the rest of His creation as well? I would say yes. Unequivocally yes.

As my friend pointed out, God’s love is infinite, so how can any part of His infinite creation NOT be loved? If we are serious about being Christians, we cannot pick and choose; sure we may have particular ministries or causes for which we are especially devoted. We  must also know that while He loves all of creation, the love given to humanity is different than that to, say, trees. As Christians, though, we have a duty to be pro-life in every way. While we may each have our own particular focus and call to serve in a special way, the Church, the Body of Christ, is pro-life in every way: babies, immigrants, homeless, the elderly, the incarcerated, good stewardship… To be pro-life means to be pro-creation, and creation includes, well, just that: everything. We must maintain the dignity and beauty of all creation.

Speaking of which, I came across this the other day while going through some old computer files. I think I wrote it a few years ago. Maybe I will make a monthly feature called “Bad Poetry” in which I can ensure my pride remains in check… Pax et bonum.

Bloedel_Reserve_Willow_Tree

Old Man Willow

Long emerald fingers sway in the breeze.

Old man Willow stirs from his peaceful rest.
In this early morning light, he stretches deeply;
His roots reach into the cool life-blood of the flowing stream.

Majestic Oak, young Beech, joyful Maple;
All are nearby, stirring, stretching.
Some yet saplings, others old growth,
Old man Willow remains the first.

Then it began.

Slowly, steadily, they all disappear.
Young, old, friends, foes,
Everyone surrounding him vanishes.
One by one gone.

The machines came,
Harsh, loud mechanisms,
Pulled his friends from home.
This new life was young, energetic, and had much to learn

There were voices:
The ones pulling friends away, knowing no better.
They debate – will old man Willow suffer the same?
No, the young ones decide to let him be.

Ruling Pine, fair Ash, confident Chestnut, all gone.
Old man Willow observes a different scene:
Young couples picnicking, new homes built, small children playing,
Resting near the cool waters of his home.

The voices are different,
The stories are the same.
Birth, death…

Old man Willow reaches deep, drinks the cool waters.
Long emerald fingers sway in the breeze.

On the Unknown, Trusting in the Lord, and Thanksgiving

As many of you know, I left seminary and withdrew from the Diocese last week. The decision was not easy, nor did it come lightly or without a lot of prayer and reflection over the last several months. My reasoning and the promptings of the Spirit which led to that decision are contained in the note I linked to above, so I won’t rehash everything here. I reiterate, however, that I am at peace, and feel joy about the coming days, months, and years as I discover the Lord’s plan for my life.

This time of transition though has me in a state of reflection, and rightly so, since I was in some sort of formation for almost five years, counting my time at Franciscan University and my leave of absence. A lot needs to be processed. Much of this reflection also looks ahead: finding a job, finding an apartment, living life in the world, so to speak. Wondering what, or who, the Lord will bring into my life. All of this brings me back to some favorite words I posted on Facebook the other day, by the poet Rainer Maria Rilke:

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

The unknown, especially in our society, remains difficult to grasp, and brings fear into the hearts of even the most resolute individuals. Goodness knows this is true for me, and I am only a Hobbit trying to find his way on this road that goes ever on! After all, we have access to the sum of human knowledge 24 hours a day, 7 days a week via the internet and personal gadgets throughout most of the world. We have become used to finding answers instantaneously.

But the unknown should not be something we are afraid of. The books and rooms that Rilke refers to contain great treasures. Some of them contain heartache, others contain joy, still others burst forth with peace, while some contain an unquiet that will startle our souls. But they are all great and fabulous treasures.

How do we open these books, or unlock these doors? By approaching the Great Unknown, the One who is all at once the Unknown and yet is closer to you or I than any human being could possibly be. We have fear of the unknown, but by relying on Him, by allowing Him to teach us the language of the book, or provide the key to open the the door, that fear vanishes; it must vanish, if we truly rely on Him.

I know, easier said than done…

I suppose my point is this: yes, life has unknowns, something that I have become quite cognizant of in the last two years. Those unknowns, however, need not frighten us. Their mystery is something to be lived and cherished, to be turned over, as everything else, to the One who walks with us, leads us, and even carries us through all our lives.

Well, enough of all that rambling! I also wanted to take a moment to say thank you to all those who have walked with me these past years, and who continue walking with me into the future. The grace that He has given me through you all has been a great gift in my life. I would list all of you here, but there are way too many to count, and remember! (I’ve tried… I just spent the last hour trying to list everyone. You should try it sometime for your own life. A very humbling experience, to be sure!) Just please continue to keep me in your prayers, especially for a job, new apartment, and another special intention. Know that you all remain in my prayers as well.

Pax et bonum.

Trinity, Love, and Vocation

This summer I am traveling around my diocese giving talks regarding vocational discernment. Specifically, we are inviting men to consider a vocation to the priesthood as part of an initiative called the “Fiat Missions” through our Office of Vocations. At the parish we are speaking at this week, we were asked by the priest to reflect specifically on the Holy Trinity and the meaning of “vocation” since tomorrow is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. I thought that I would share my reflection here, although I have made a couple of small edits to fit the format of the blog. You can also visit our diocesan vocations blog here, where I am my fellow seminarians write about various experiences throughout our journey and how the Lord works in our lives.

Fiat Mission Reflection – 15 June 2014 – Trinity Sunday

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Before I was Catholic, I lived a very worldly lifestyle. I was in college at the time of my conversion and I had a great job working in a local school district. I had a girlfriend, and my spiritual path aligned with the New Age Movement. For all intents and purposes, by worldly standards, I was a young person who was successful, on his way up in the world. I loved everything about my life. I loved me. But something was missing. Eventually, I discovered an emptiness, a sort of lacking in my life.

In today’s Gospel, and as we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, I am drawn to consider, with everyone here, exactly what was missing in my life, in our lives, and perhaps what continues to be missing in some degree in so many other lives: true love. In the words of St. John today, we hear that “God so loved the world, he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” So many of us continue to miss this love of God, the love that the Father sends in the person of His Son. Before my conversion, I only loved myself; it was in no way a sacrificial love. What we see in today’s readings, however, is that the creator of the universe gave Himself, gave His son, for us. We continue to see that love, that self-gift, in the Holy Spirit. The saving mercy that we find in Christ continues to guide us all in the person of the Spirit here and now. In turn, we are called to live out the love of the Holy Trinity in our own lives.

Today, on Trinity Sunday, as complicated as the reality of the Trinity may seem, we need to focus on only one thing to begin grasping this beautiful doctrine that the Church presents us: love. In the Trinity, we see the love of the Father in creation, the sacrificial love and mercy of the Son, and the continued guidance of the Church through the love of the Holy Spirit. This love is constantly shared among all three persons of the Trinity, who continually give themselves to each other.

But! As we can see, this love is not some self-contained thing that remains in God alone! He gives us that love. But how do we respond? Do we respond by loving ourselves and the world alone, just as I was so intent on doing during my early college years? No, we must give that love back to Him, by loving Him with everything we can. So here, brothers and sisters, is where I get ready to challenge you: do you love Him? Do you love Him by not only coming to Church on Sunday and other days, but by everything you say and do throughout your lives? When those times come when that love does fall short, and this happens to all of us, do you return to His love in the sacrament of confession? Most of all, do you seek how to fully live a life of love, how to fully glorify Him in everything? St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, writes,

I know of no other means to reach perfection than by love. To love: how perfectly our hearts are made for this! Sometimes I look for another word to use, but, in this land of exile, no other word expresses so well the vibrations of our soul. Hence we must keep to that one word: love.

So the challenge is this, particularly for young people: just as God gave everything in His son, so too must we give everything we can back to Him, no matter how many times we may stumble. Ask God who He created you to be. Your vocation, whether you are called to married life, single life, religious life, or the priesthood, should be a vocation of love. Particularly for those young men considering priesthood, spend some time with the Lord, especially in the sacraments and through prayer in His presence before the tabernacle. I invite you to speak to a priest or seminarian about their vocation stories and what formation for the priesthood is like. Just like every other vocation, the priesthood is a vocation that should remain centered on love, on Jesus Christ. The love that we find in the Trinity, that sacrificial and self-giving love, is present in the life of the priest. How is God calling you to live a life of love? I don’t know, but I invite you to take the first step in finding out, in discovering how God beckons you to love Him and all His people.

Please pray for me, and know that we all continue praying for you.

Finding Meaning in Life

I came across a quote by Neil deGrasse Tyson recently that has me thinking:

The problem, often not discovered until late in life, is that when you look for things in life like love, meaning, motivation, it implies they are sitting behind a tree or under a rock. The most successful people in life recognize that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation. For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday. And lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.

This broad panorama of the Carina Nebula, a region of massive star formation in the southern skies, was taken in infrared light using the HAWK-I camera on ESO's Very Large Telescope. Many previously hidden features, scattered across a spectacular celestial landscape of gas, dust and young stars, have emerged. Picture: ESO/T. Preibisch

This broad panorama of the Carina Nebula, a region of massive star formation in the southern skies, was taken in infrared light using the HAWK-I camera on ESO’s Very Large Telescope. Many previously hidden features, scattered across a spectacular celestial landscape of gas, dust and young stars, have emerged. Picture: ESO/T. Preibisch

I am a huge fan of Tyson. He has done a great deal to further science education and awareness. Despite some misgivings about his portrayal of the Church in his remake of Cosmos, which is probably the result of Seth MacFarlane more than Tyson himself, I have seen every episode. I also listen to his podcast, StarTalk, regularly. So when I read this quote, I thought, “That sounds nice. It makes sense. We are responsible for our own destinies.” But something wasn’t quite working for me. While the sentiment was nice, there was something missing. I agree with Tyson’s thought that we should constantly be learning, and work towards lessening the suffering of others. His statement on how we create our own love and meaning, however, gives me pause.

The answer to my misgivings is best expressed in Sunday, May 18th’s, reading from the Gospel of St. John:

Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where I am going you know the way.” Thomas said to him, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

In some sense, Tyson is right; we must work to create love and meaning in our lives. That love, however, does not originate from ourselves. The love, the meaning we find in life, is in Jesus Christ. He is the only “way” that can give us true meaning and fulfillment. In His “truth” we find the reality of love, and the power of mercy and forgiveness. In His “life” we discover our vocation to holiness. Tyson is correct when he says love and meaning cannot be found behind a tree or a under a rock. In fact, they cannot even be found in studying astrophysics and piecing together the secrets of the cosmos, a pursuit which I have enjoyed following since I was a young child.

The pursuit of learning and scientific truth remains laudable, and can carry a person far in life, but it cannot carry a person to the fullness of truth; they are but roads to Truth. The love and meaning that Tyson speaks of, whether we realize it or not, comes from a journey with something greater than ourselves. This something, rather someONE, brings us to the fullness of Truth, the Word of God.

Study the world. Study the universe, but remember that the true meaning of life goes much deeper.

Pax et bonum.

PS: There’s a new post over at Consider Priesthood. Check it out!

Pope Francis: Fasting and Prayer for Peace in Syria on Saturday

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On Sunday during his Angelus address, Pope Francis announced a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, to occur Saturday, September 7:

I appeal strongly for peace, an appeal which arises from the deep within me. How much suffering, how much devastation, how much pain has the use of arms carried in its wake in that martyred country, especially among civilians and the unarmed! I think of many children will not see the light of the future! With utmost firmness I condemn the use of chemical weapons: I tell you that those terrible images from recent days are burned into my mind and heart. There is a judgment of God and of history upon our actions which are inescapable! Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake. War begets war, violence begets violence.

With all my strength, I ask each party in this conflict to listen to the voice of their own conscience, not to close themselves in solely on their own interests, but rather to look at each other as brothers and decisively and courageously to follow the path of encounter and negotiation, and so overcome blind conflict. With similar vigour I exhort the international community to make every effort to promote clear proposals for peace in that country without further delay, a peace based on dialogue and negotiation, for the good of the entire Syrian people.

Later on, he references Pacem in Terris, written by Pope John XIII:

What can we do to make peace in the world? As Pope John said, it pertains to each individual to establish new relationships in human society under the mastery and guidance of justice and love.

Finally, the details surrounding the day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria:

To this end, brothers and sisters, I have decided to proclaim for the whole Church on 7 September next, the vigil of the birth of Mary, Queen of Peace, a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, the Middle East, and throughout the world, and I also invite each person, including our fellow Christians, followers of other religions and all men of good will, to participate, in whatever way they can, in this initiative.

On 7 September, in Saint Peter’s Square, here, from 19:00 until 24:00 [1-6pm Eastern, 10am-1pm Pacific], we will gather in prayer and in a spirit of penance, invoking God’s great gift of peace upon the beloved nation of Syria and upon each situation of conflict and violence around the world. Humanity needs to see these gestures of peace and to hear words of hope and peace! I ask all the local churches, in addition to fasting, that they gather to pray for this intention.

My friends, there is no denying that the situation in Syria is grave. Action must be taken. But our action must be informed by the Gospel; we need to be instruments of justice and love. This Saturday, pray for peace in Syria, and let us always remember to pray for peace throughout the whole world.

Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us.

Pax et bonum.

PS: H/t to to Rocco Palmo. For a full transcript of Pope Francis’ talk, as well as video of the address (you’ll need to brush up on your Italian), head on over to the original post.

Social Media 2.0 and Spreading the Word

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Fr. Rodderick, of SQPN fame, is down in Melbourne organizing and presenting at the Catholic New Media Conference. Today at the conference, he shared his and Ryan Eggenberger’s tips for interacting on Twitter and Facebook. Here is a sampling from the extensive list:

 

  • Do not engage in social networks where you are not planning to really interact there.
  • Be personal. Don’t hide behind a veil of anonymity. Comment. Wish people a happy birthday. Perform random acts of kindness.
  • Diversify your content and form (Facebook algorithm)
  • The Bambi advice: when Thumper is making fun of clumsy Bambi, his mother tells him: “If you can’t say something nice… don’t say nothing at all”. (about others, when reacting to complaints or angry comments etc.)
  • Only befriend people you really know, don’t follow back blindly. Limit yourself to a few hundred people.

I highly recommend taking a look at the rest of the list. Not only does Fr. Roderick provide good pointers on interacting with others on social media, many of the points can be applied to “real life” as well.

As Pope John Paul II reminded us in his beginning of his letter Novo Millennio Inuente (At the Beginning of the Third Millennium), we must be bold and “put out into the deep” (Luke 5:4). This includes reaching out with social media, and other new and perhaps unknown forms of technology, in order to spread the Good News.

Fr. Roderick’s list, however, takes all of this a step further: I see in his Social Media 2.0 tips not only evangelizing in word, but in action as well. After all, what we post on Facebook and in other places will hold no weight if we do not back it all up with solid actions. This means treating others with respect, knowing how to use those networks properly, and keeping in mind things such as etiquette and privacy. If we back up our words with solid actions, informed by the Gospel, both our words and actions will carry much more wieght, both in the social media networks themselves, as well as in so-called “real life” social interactions.

Check out the rest of Fr. Roderick’s blog, and be sure to listen to his podcast, The Break with Fr. Roderick.

Pax et bonum.

PS: Please also see my recent admin note.

Admin Note: New Posts and Beyond Summer Vacation

Hi everyone. It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

Now that summer vacation is over (my last post was in May), I am starting to get back in the swing of things. I will be posting again, with the goal of one post per week. Unfortunately, my schedule does not allow for more than that, and besides, you probably don’t want to hear my ramblings that often anyway! Again, this blog is meant to be a sort of commonplace book of material I come across, either on the net or in the “real world”. While much of it will be religious in nature, or at least related to matters of the Faith, sometimes I do branch out. Suggestions are always welcome, and can be left through the contact form on my About page.

So dear readers, please feel free to keep me accountable on that one post per week. I have some transitions coming up in a few months, so things may be interrupted then, but we will cross that bridge when it comes (and I will add more details later). Until then, thanks for reading, and please say a prayer for me! Know that you are in my prayers as well!

Pax et bonum.

A Link in the Chain

“God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.

He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work.

I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments.

Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.” ― John Henry Newman

As those close to me will attest, my vocational journey has not been without twists and turns. Just as anyone who discerns their God-given vocation, there have been moments of great peace and consolation about my future path, while at other times I have doubted everything. Modern wisdom would tell me that I should do this or that because I can be happy or do some sort of good in some particular place. Modern wisdom would also tell me that all of it is up to me, and that I can do what I want, because it is, after all, my life.

But for those that truly try to follow Him, and live our lives according to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we know that everything is not always about us. In fact, anything is rarely about you or me. In the end, it all leads back to Him.

So if finding one’s vocation is not simply about going where one feels most “happy”, then what is it? First, I think we need to realize that in the contemporary sense, happiness is often just a fleeting feeling or surge of emotion. In reality, true happiness, true joy, the eudaemonia of Aristotle perhaps (actually, much much more), resides in something outside oneself: to find his or her vocation, a person must search for where God is calling him or her to serve both Him and their fellow human being. But here’s the best part of it all: even if we don’t realize it at first, seeking one’s vocation in this manner will provide more happiness and contentment than one could possibly imagine, much more than simply seeking that path in life where they think they will do the most good or experience the greatest benefit (although discernment still contains an aspect of those things)!

Sometimes the path ahead is hidden from us. That’s O.K.; there is a purpose in that as well. When the path is hidden, we are still called to seek where we are to serve in the little matters of life, where we are called to give glory to Him in our daily actions. The kind ear lent to a co-worker, the helping hand at the after-school function, assisting a homeless person in finding a meal, or spending some time in prayer and conversation with Him: all of these are aspects of seeking His will, and in the end will serve as sign-posts for the larger direction that we are called to take.

The path will not be easy. There will be twists. There will be roadblocks. There will be naysayers. We may lose friends, or feel desolate. As long as we remember to trust Him, and remember always that “He knows what He is about”, we will come to the unremitting peace and contentment of finding Him in our lives.

Pax et bonum.

Oklahoma

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My heart goes out to those affected by the destruction caused in the wake of the Oklahoma tornadoes.

How do we explain such unspeakable disaster? The truth is, we can’t, not really. Not on this side of eternity, anyway. From a Christian perspective, we know that God brings good out of all things. Even so, sometimes we simply cannot explain what happens. When that’s the case, we help where we can and, most importantly, we pray.

Pray for all those affected by the devastation, and if you can, lend a helping hand. Catholic Charities is a good place to start. Here are some other ideas as well.

Pax et bonum.

Say Yes!

“The saints were not abnormal beings: cases to be studied by a ‘modernistic’ doctor. They were — they are — normal: of flesh, like yours. And they won.” -St. Josemaria Escriva

I often look at the example of the saints and wonder to myself, “How in the world can I live up to Francis? Or Benedict? Or St. Therese? Or Pope John Paul II? Or St. Josemaria? Or, or, or…” What I forget though, and I think many others forget this as well, is that the saints were normal people. Think about it: St. Jerome, one of the most prolific scripture scholars in the history of the Church, got up in the morning like anyone else, and probably had an established routine that consisted of little quirks and habits, just like we all do. In fact, knowing his personality, Jerome  probably wasn’t the most cheery fellow in those early hours. Mother Theresa rode in cars, trains, and planes. St. Francis walked on his own two feet, doing the literal work of rebuilding the Church with his own two hands. Blessed John Paul II dealt with aches, pains, and later in life tremendous suffering, just as so many other people do throughout the world. So what’s the difference?

They said yes. Yes to Grace. Yes to His plan. Yes to joy, abandonment, suffering, and the unremitting fulfillment that comes from following God alone. They weren’t perfect. Some were cantankerous. Others had bad habits. Still others were forgetful, or had other flaws that undoubtedly grated on peoples’ nerves. They came from all walks of life. They were normal people, just like you and me.

But along with all of that, they were open to the action of Grace in their lives.

So how do we find what we are supposed to say yes to in the first place? How do we follow Grace? That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it?! But you know what, even in my stubborn hardheadedness, I have found that it doesn’t have to be so complicated. Saying yes can be as simple as the kind act of opening a door, helping someone in need, doing some unseen act for the benefit of another. These smaller “yeses” will help when it comes time to give a bigger yes, a bigger commitment.

So meditate, ruminate, and mull over St. Josemaria’s words above. Remember that the saints were sinners just like you and me. Just as the saints were all sinners, flawed human beings, we all have the capacity to be saints. The road may be tough, but He is always there with us. I will leave you with some words from Fr. Paschal Cheline, a Benedictine monk and beloved mentor from Mount Angel Seminary:

“Get on the road, where you know it is (and you know the conclusion) and don’t get off. Now, you may rest a awhile, you may go to this side or that side a little bit, but don’t get off the road because you know that road is leading you where you want to go and where you should go. If you get off the road, which could happen, well, get back on! Don’t let your life fall apart! Grab your life and live it! I think that’s what God wants and I think that’s what holiness is.”

Pax et bonum.

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