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On the Passing of a Friend and Mentor – Fr. Paschal Cheline

With sadness and yet joy, I recently learned of the passing of Father Paschal Cheline, beloved monk and mentor to so many people over his decades of monastic life. Sadness, knowing that his loss is a great one; joy, knowing that he can finally rest from his labors, and through the mercy of God, enter the Father’s house.

When I first entered Mount Angel Seminary, I was filled with a combination of joy, trepidation, and just a general feeling of “oh my gosh, I’m actually here!” As a fresh bright-eyed seminarian of 24 years old, I had some life experience under my belt, but not a lot. Even now, as I approach my 30th birthday, I feel that there is so much more I need to learn, and so many areas in which I need to grow. Back then, and even now, I wondered where and how this growth would occur. How would God work in my life? Then I met a certain monk who loved literature and classical music, who loved liturgy, art, the Church, seminarians and students, and loved living life. Above all, he loved God; he loved Jesus Christ.

Fr. Paschal Cheline - Courtesy of Mount Angel Abbey (I hope the don't mind)

Fr. Paschal Cheline – Courtesy of Mount Angel Abbey (I hope they don’t mind)

Little did I realize the impact that Fr. Paschal Cheline would have on my life. My first encounter with him occurred at the Mount Angel Seminary orientation: my grandfather had just dropped me off and turned back toward Sacramento, my room was a complete disaster from unpacking, although to be fair it’s always a complete disaster, and I found myself praying for guidance from the Holy Spirit during this new phase of my life; much of that guidance would come from Fr. Paschal. Many of my friends who attend or have attended Mount Angel will recall from their own orientations “the talk”, where Fr. Paschal laid forth some of the, shall we say…finer…details of human formation and community life in a humorous yet straightforward manner. From there, Fr. Paschal’s words of wisdom and support would continue to guide me throughout my time at Mount Angel and beyond.

Fr. Paschal helped to reawaken within me many things which I had lost over the years, due to my own life choices or other distractions that I allowed to get in the way. His constant encouragement to read fiction novels, along with Mount Angel’s wonderful literature program, pushed me to re-discover my love for the written word, both in reading and writing. Since that first year, I have not had any time in which I was not reading a novel, even if it took a while to get through said novel due to school work, ministry, and even now lesson planning. Fr. Paschal also immersed me back into classical music, some new artists and some old favorites. I remember clearly one Saturday afternoon when I was worrying about writing a paper and Fr. Paschal told me to “put on some headphones, pour a nice glass of wine and enjoy Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis.” The man had a way of knowing exactly what was needed to encourage or enliven one of his charges.

All of this, however, is secondary to how Fr. Paschal helped to nurture my love of liturgy and the Faith. From private conversations to even his “Liturgical Tidbits” before Evening Prayer on Tuesdays, the Holy Spirit working through Fr. Paschal brought me to a love of the Church and Jesus Christ that I had never imagined. When I first met him, I was still a relatively new Catholic with so much to learn. He recognized my love of learning, and pushed me to a depth of study and prayer I thought not possible. Even now, as I approach the 10th anniversary of my baptism, and with still so much to learn with new discoveries occurring all the time, I often return to Fr. Paschal’s words and encouragement.

I recall with fondness one of our last meetings together, during which he had spoke to me words that I know he has spoken to many other guys, but they were no less relevant: it was towards the end the spring semester in 2014 and I was walking through Anselm Hall, the college dormitory, to go check my mail. By this point in time, I had been struggling with my discernment, and did not know what would come next. As I proceeded past his office, I found Fr. Paschal walking, which was rare at this point in time, down to the staff lounge to have lunch. I asked if I could help him with anything, and he invited me to share lunch with him, some delicious pasta that a friend had made for him that he wanted to finish before it went bad. I suppose recognizing the Hobbit that I am, perhaps he knew that if he offered, I could help him in the task! So we enjoyed each other’s company for about an hour over that pasta, and talked about many subjects, a true blessing because even at this time he was a busy man and often had his attention pulled in many different directions by numerous tasks and people.

Where was I? Ah yes, his words of wisdom, just a few of many of the years! He did not know about my struggles, but I think he sensed what was going on, and he told me this, which he has related to many men over the years: “Young man, it’s O.K. You can pull to the side of the road for a while and rest if you need to, but don’t forget to get back on the road! Keep the faith! Move forward, and don’t stop living!” These words continue to resonate with me today, and I hope they resonate with everyone reading these words now: no matter what the difficulties, know that the Lord is in control of it all, and keep moving forward. You won’t go wrong relying on Him!

I am, of course, no longer at Mount Angel, but the passing of Fr. Paschal I know is a huge loss for that small community up there in the beautiful Willamette Valley, as well as for the thousands of people he has directly touched, and even the hundreds of thousands whom he has indirectly impacted. I still wonder about what the Lord has in store for my life, but through the encouragement of Fr. Paschal Cheline, a holy priest, a passionate teacher, a dedicated mentor, and an understanding friend, I know that through it all, the Lord’s hand is there. While I am sure he would remind us that he was only one man who desired to follow the Lord in obedience, I think we can all learn from his example: look at the impact our lives can have if we but follow the Lord, no matter where He leads, just as Fr. Paschal endeavored to do throughout his many fruitful years!

As I sit here listening to the last movement in the “Agnus Dei” of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, even with the accompanying glass of wine almost finished, although I admittedly do not know if it is good wine since I am not a big wine connoisseur, I am reflecting on the time you gave to all of us, and your service to so many men discerning God’s will in their lives. I will be forever in your debt, Fr. Paschal; thank you for your years of dedicated service to the Church, to Mount Angel, and to the many students who crossed your path. May we continue to remember you in our prayers, and through God’s mercy, may you enter the heavenly paradise, with a special corner set aside to finally finish all those novels you never got around to reading.

Réquiem ætérnam dona ei Dómine; et lux perpétua lúceat ei. Requiéscat in pace. Amen.

Pax,

Dean

Belated Birthdays, a Hobbitish Toast, Beren and Luthien

Yesterday, January 3, was the 123rd birthday of Professor John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, an author whom I have had a bit of time to study. So at 9PM last night, elves, dwarves, hobbits, and men raised their glasses to that old Professor of Anglo-Saxon, who has changed so many lives.

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My own experience with Tolkien has not been insignificant. Source: Sr. Hilda Kleiman, Mt. Angel Seminary Journalism, 2012

I suppose some say I take this whole “Tolkien thing” too seriously, and I would respond to them this: you take yourself too seriously. In Middle-Earth, we find a world of beauty, and in that beauty resides truth. But what was that truth for Tolkien?

Tolkien was a man of faith, a faith that would infuse his works, sometimes intentionally but mostly unintentionally. He was devoted to his Catholic faith, particularly to the Eucharist and the Blessed Mother. This imagery is easy enough to see throughout the books, and would be too much to detail here. But I believe his faith also taught him something else, something that also creeps into the land of elves and hobbits: it taught him that in every moment of life, there is a bit of magic, a bit of wonder. As one worried person once asked me, no I don’t mean that kind of magic, but rather a type of magic that brings music to the soul, and calls forth the best out of all people. Perhaps rather than use the word “magic” I should say that in Middle-Earth and in his own life, Tolkien saw grace. in even the smallest of occurrences, life became for him a living fairy-story, infused with grace. To borrow his own term, Tolkien lived a very mythopoetic life, full of wonder.

Last known photograph of Tolkien. Source: Michael Tolkien via Tolkien Gateway

None of this can be seen more clearly than in his romance with a certain Edith Bratt. Tolkien would meet Edith when he was 16 and she was 19 while they lived in the same boarding house, and he was subsequently forbidden to have contact with Edith by his then-guardian, Fr. Francis. Being the good Catholic that he was, Tolkien obeyed of course, but in his heart he persisted, and waited patiently until he turned 21, after which he declared his undying love to Edith. Their marriage was not easy, as no marriage ever is (Edith even had to convert to Catholicism, which was not looked upon favorably by some individuals), but they led a blessed life. In his romance with Edith, he saw wonder and grace ever-present, and believed Edith to be the Luthien to his Beren (see below for the “Song of Beren and Luthien,” written by Tolkien, which details the story of two elven lovers).

The grave of John and Edith Tolkien. Source: Álida Carvalho via Wikimedia Commons

I do believe Tolkien was a hopeless romantic, and I also believe that we need a bit more of that in today’s world. We need to see the grace and wonder that infuses everything around us, whether it is in finding our Beren or Luthien, being sent on a quest to change the world, or even as simple as planting a garden outside one’s hobbit hole. If we lose sight of this magic, we descend into mediocrity, and that my friends is no life any elf, dwarf, or man would ever want to live.

So, Professor Tolkien, we salute you, and hope that we may live that mythopoetic life which you so expertly demonstrated!

And for the record, yes, I have other interests outside of J.R.R. Tolkien and Middle-Earth, some very elvish. :)

Song of Beren and Lúthien

The leaves were long, the grass was green,
The hemlock-umbels tall and fair,
And in the glade a light was seen
Of stars in shadow shimmering.
Tinúviel was dancing there
To music of a pipe unseen,
And light of stars was in her hair,
And in her raiment glimmering.

There Beren came from mountains cold,
And lost he wandered under leaves,
And where the Elven-river rolled
He walked alone and sorrowing.
He peered between the hemlock-leaves
And saw in wonder flowers of gold
Upon her mantle and her sleeves,
And her hair like shadow following.

Enchantment healed his weary feet
That over hills were doomed to roam;
And forth he hastened, strong and fleet,
And grasped at moonbeams glistening.
Through woven woods in Elvenhome
She lightly fled on dancing feet,
And left him lonely still to roam
In the silent forest listening.

He heard there oft the flying sound
Of feet as light as linden-leaves,
Or music welling underground,
In hidden hollows quavering.
Now withered lay the hemlock-sheaves,
And one by one with sighing sound
Whispering fell the beachen leaves
In the wintry woodland wavering.

He sought her ever, wandering far
Where leaves of years were thickly strewn,
By light of moon and ray of star
In frosty heavens shivering.
Her mantle glinted in the moon,
As on a hill-top high and far
She danced, and at her feet was strewn
A mist of silver quivering.

When winter passed, she came again,
And her song released the sudden spring,
Like rising lark, and falling rain,
And melting water bubbling.
He saw the elven-flowers spring
About her feet, and healed again
He longed by her to dance and sing
Upon the grass untroubling.

Again she fled, but swift he came.
Tinúviel! Tinúviel!
He called her by her elvish name;
And there she halted listening.
One moment stood she, and a spell
His voice laid on her: Beren came,
And doom fell on Tinúviel
That in his arms lay glistening.

As Beren looked into her eyes
Within the shadows of her hair,
The trembling starlight of the skies
He saw there mirrored shimmering.
Tinúviel the elven-fair,
Immortal maiden elven-wise,
About him cast her shadowy hair
And arms like silver glimmering.

Long was the way that fate them bore,
O’er stony mountains cold and grey,
Through halls of ireon and darkling door,
And woods of nightshade morrowless.
The Sundering Seas between them lay,
And yet at last they met once more,
And long ago they passed away
In the forest singing sorrowless.

 

New Year, Unexpected Wonders, and Tremendous Trifles

“The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.” -G. K. Chesterton

The New Year is always a time of introspection for me, both intentionally and unintentionally. I try to look back on the previous year, see where things went right, and perhaps where they could have gone a bit differently, or even could have used a tremendous overhaul. Throughout the process, I also discover where I did O.K. for myself (that’s God’s grace rather, not me), and also where I fell completely short of who I am supposed to be, who God wants me to be, and fell flat on my face (ah yes, there’s me).Then I try to evaluate my goals for the coming year, what I am looking for in life, and finally, but most importantly, where I need to let God penetrate in my heart in order to more fully conform myself to His will (and hopefully avoid falling flat on my face again, but we all know that won’t happen; praise God for confession). In other words, I try to find Chesterton’s “wonder” in my life, a wonder that I could not quite put into words until I read the essay from which the above quote originates (praise God for a friend who is better read than I am).

But where does the “wonder” that Chesterton speaks of come in? In other words, what’s the Hobbit getting at???

Careful and the greatest wonders will pass in the blink of an eye… An image of Earth taken from Apollo 8. Source: NASA / Bill Anders [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I think sometimes we can get so wrapped up in the introspection and minutiae, so intent on trying to put everything together, we miss the fact that He, the creator of the cosmos and master of the universe, is right in front of us. There’s Chesterton’s wonder. We miss the wonder in so many ways… In the Eucharist when we receive Him out of habit, or when we visit Him in adoration and let our minds get bogged down by the minutiae of our lives. In the homeless person we try to avoid eye contact with in order to get to our destination faster. In the friend who is suffering a loss, when we keep talking about our own problems, our own tribulations.

I was talking with a good friend today, someone whom I have not had a chance to really chat with in a very long time. As we sat outside in Capitol Park, our conversation ranged the gamut of a variety of subjects, but at one point we got to talking about our vocations. Both of us have had, shall we say, a bit of a journey when it comes to vocational discernment. This person mentioned that in the end, it was selfishness that prevented us from seeing God’s plan, and I think that is true. We want this or that, but what does God want? Is our will aligned to His? Selfishness and pride keeps one from discovering the beauty and wonder of His grace, and how it will unfold for that individual person. For my friend and I, I think it wasn’t until we allowed, and I mean really allowed, just a bit of that wonder to enter into our lives that we began to see where God truly wanted us.

So yes, I think we miss the wonders because we are selfish. We miss the wonders because of our pride. Sure, we want to become great, and think we have it all together, but as Chesterton alludes to in the above referenced essay, in seeking out the greatness in our lives we forget that we need to be small, and in that smallness, the “Little Way” of St. Therese, we in fact discover true wonder, the presence of God in all that we encounter.

On a side note, I think Chesterton and St. Therese would be (and perhaps are!) very good friends. Anyway, back to my droning…

In the end, it leads back to Chesterton’s quite tremendous trifle: if we become too introspective, too big, and too wrapped up in trying to figure out where everything is going, we are being selfish and not allowing God to take control, and thereby allowing the wonders to pass by, whether these wonders be people, places, events, or just quiet moments with Him. We become so big to see the mountains, we miss the tiny flower that points us in the right direction. We need to be small (hey, I already have a head start!). We become stagnant and fail to take action. In our “bigness” (yes, that’s a word; I double-checked) we may become invulnerable and believe that everything is as it should be, sure, but it is not an invulnerability to be sought after or cherished, because this kind on invulnerability stifles wonder, and even love:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” -C.S. Lewis

So for this new year, let’s examine, let’s make our resolutions, which can be fine and good, but then let’s move. Let’s not become too big for ourselves that we lose sight of God’s wonder, which is probably sitting right next to us. Take action, and see the world. See the wonder, rather than getting wrapped up in a coffin of selfishness and pride. After all, a world without wonder is a boring world indeed.

Pax.

Gaudete Sunday: Finding Joy in Unexpected Places

Well, I suppose it has been a while since I have posted to these pages, and for good reason too: I simply have not had the time to post! Back in late July/early August, I accepted a full-time position teaching Middle School English at a private Catholic school in Northern California. The transition from seminary life back into working in education has not always been easy! Finding a place to live was probably the most difficult, and commuting for two+ hours a day before I found that place to live was almost as hard. I have found, however, particularly as I reflect upon the lessons of Advent, that in the times when there are many unknowns, there are also the most profound graces.

Often, we are called to simply wait, and that my friends is precisely what Advent is about. We wait for the coming of the Christ child, and sometimes that waiting bears with it unknowns which unsettle the soul. Where is God calling us? Why does this or that happen? What are we supposed to do in the present moment? Remember, Advent, at its core, is a penitential season, infused with joy as it is, and so we are called to reflect on these questions, and how we can invite Jesus into our lives.

It is no accident that I am writing this on Gaudete Sunday, as the answer to all of these questions resides within what we remember today: joy. Where does God call us? Joy. How do we encounter the various ups and downs of life? With joy, for even in the difficult moments, He is there. What are we supposed to do in the present moment? Live out a joyful life in the Lord. I am not trying to express some rose-colored view (pardon the pun for you liturgical nerds) that everything is always perfect and we are bright-eyed and happy in every moment. What I am saying, however, is that it is in joy we must live, and the joy of a life in Christ Jesus radiates outward, touching our hearts and the hearts of those around us. Joy moves beyond mere happiness, beyond temporal satisfactions, and into the heart of Christ Himself.

Live a life of joy; be sure to have some fun along the way.

Live a life of joy; be sure to have some fun along the way.

Joy is precisely what I have found in this small school and community. Yes, it is difficult. The hours can be long, I have sooooo much to learn, and as any teacher at a Catholic school will tell you, the pay isn’t the best. But money isn’t everything; if it was, I would be an IT person, and not a teacher or writer. I did not expect to find the joy that I have discovered, but the Lord has a habit of blowing our expectations out of the water. Sure, I have dreamt of being an English teacher since I was in high school, but I was skeptical about moving to this little town. I have found, however, the joy of the people here is a joy truly reflected of those who follow in His footsteps.

I’m not sure what the future holds; none of us can be, even if we have strong inclinations to where He leads. I have hopes and dreams, especially of teaching, having a family, and, as another short person I know would be fond of, living a simple life with good tilled earth. All of this, however, is up to Him, and I only hope and pray that I will follow Him wherever He may lead. I am sure, however, that joy resides in just that, following Him, and that we can find this joy if we just trust and wait, inviting Him into our lives.

Please pray for me, that I follow His will alone, and know that you remain in my prayers as well! A blessed Advent to you all!

Pax et bonum.

PS: Now that things are finally calming down, I hope to post here more regularly (haha – we will see about that), including my promised Bad Poetry series, and another idea I am working on about the lessons of a new teacher…

Loneliness, Joy, and Remaining Open to His Will

I posted the following quote on Facebook earlier in the week, originating from Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta:

Mother-Teresa-and-the-Express-Novena

The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.

I usually post these sorts of things as I come across them due to a connection made in my own life, or due to something that I feel may help others in their own journey. I was surprised by the response to this one, however. I think there was such a strong reaction to this particular snippet due to the universality of loneliness; at some point in time, no matter what the career, family situation, or even vocation, every human being experiences loneliness. How do we approach this reality? How do we handle loneliness and a lacking of relation, both with others and with God? I think the answer resides in the words of a friend who responded to the above quote. I’m hoping she doesn’t mind that I use her words:

God’s response to our misery is mercy. And the only thing that we can give in response to His mercy is our poverty. This is something that I can really relate to! Even if we have material goods, we can be profoundly suffering and poor in spirit and love in our lives.

In other words, no matter what our inadequacies, no matter what our failings, there can only be one response to this loneliness: a complete and total self-gift to the Father, detached from worldly concerns and items, no matter what your state in life. In our misery, we find His mercy, and the only choice we have, the only thing we can give back, is our very selves. We must empty ourselves, responding in our poverty, embracing His mercy and love.

I suppose this seems counter-intuitive; I mean, we’re supposed to answer loneliness and misery with poverty? I thought Mother Teresa here is trying to eliminate poverty? No, there is a fine distinction to be made. So is God calling us to be miserable and poor? In one sense, yes, but in another sense, no! How wonderful is this contradiction!

You see, while we all encounter misery, while we are called to dwell in poverty and humility of self, God does not want us to be miserable and sad! No, He calls us to be ourselves, to find joy in life, to find joy in the every day occurrences, to find joy in Him. He responds to our misery with mercy, we in turn give back our poverty, and we experience eternal joy and love in Him! How beautiful is this life?! This response of poverty entails the very cure to loneliness Mother Teresa mentions in the above words, and to which I thnk my friend alludes: love. In fact, it all leads back to love. In all our trials and tribulations, God responds to us in love, and so we respond back to Him, and to all those around us, in love, inadequate as that love may be. Only then can this especially Western ailment be cured.

Perhaps some of this is difficult to understand; I know I have difficulty with it, and I expect to for the rest of my life. We must trust, however, in His plan for our lives. We must trust that while there is loneliness and misery, there remains an even greater joy if we allow His love to penetrate our hearts. As Pope Saint John Paul II was fond of reiterating, we must not be afraid! Part of allowing this joy into our lives, letting go of this loneliness, is taking a step into the unknown. Perhaps this means stepping outside of our comfort zone, reaching out to someone, or taking who knows what step to a new phase in our lives. Oh, how I need to learn to take my own advice! There are, and always will be, questions, but that’s OK. Let us have embrace the joy that awaits us and take the next step, dwelling in the everlasting love that awaits us in the Trinity. Be bold. Be courageous. Take a chance and love. Cure loneliness and dwell in a life of joy.

Pax et bonum.

Man, Woman, and Fifty Shades of Grey

I recently read Matt Walsh’s post about the four reasons why women should not see (or read, for that matter) Fifty Shades of Grey. Basically, he points out that if you are smart, feminist, Christian, or just aren’t in to “stupid marketing ploys,” then you shouldn’t be taking part in any of this nonsense. Rather than rehash his four points, I want to focus specifically on one aspect of this hullabaloo that I think is very important: the dignity of man and woman.

sistine-chapel-creation-of-adam

For Women

My dear sisters, whether or not you are Christian, you must see and recognize the special dignity that each of you possess. Not only does this work play to the lowest common denominator in terms of readability, but it displays the female sex as something that is less than her male counterpart, dominated by his wealth and power. How would you feel if your daughter or sister were reading this book, or watching this movie? Would you want them to form their ideas of womanhood off of the notions contained in this work?

Let me put it this way: to be a true feminist, one must uphold the beauty and dignity of the female person in all her glory. After all, “a woman is to be found at the center of [salvation history]” (Pope St. John Paul II’s Letter to Women). There is no greater dignity than this, to follow in the footsteps of Mary, giving one’s “fiat” to the will of God in her life, no matter where He may take her. Through the female sex springs forth life, in both physical and spiritual motherhood. Yes, each person has a different vocation, but the call to motherhood, I believe, exists in every woman, just as the call to fatherhood exists in every man. This beautiful life-giving call, no matter how it is expressed, must be nurtured and respected in all of its glory, not denigrated and subdued in works such as Fifty Shades of Grey.

Besides, there are much better movies for you to go see!

For Men

My dear brothers, whether or not you are Christian, you must see and recognize the special dignity that each of you possess. While it seems the majority of the audience for this movie and the books is female, there are men that read these works. There are also men that have no problem with their wives, sisters, and daughters reading these works, or if they do they don’t say anything. Brothers, we are better than this! First of all, we need to stand up for the beauty and dignity of the female person. The duty rests with us to walk with, protect, and support the other sex. By staying silent, by not saying anything about these books, we are falling down on the job. When we do stand up for the dignity of womanhood, we must do it in respect and charity, keeping in mind that we are all God’s children.

Second of all, we need to stand up for the dignity and beauty of the male person! Fifty Shades of Grey, a work that reaches disgustingly pornographic proportions, reduces the male person to someone who only acts on lust and desire, seeking to control women for his own whims. Aren’t we above this sort of drivel? This goes beyond displaying chivalry or merely treating women correctly; it all leads back to remembering the intrinsic human dignity of all human persons, ourselves included.

Any woman or man who reads, views, or stays silent about this work falls short of his or her duty to protect the dignity possessed by each human being. Women: do not allow yourselves to be lowered to this level. Men: do not allow yourselves to be lowered to this level. Stand up, be courageous, and show the world what it really means to be in relation, to love, and to respect the opposite sex. All of it goes beyond being Christian; it touches on the basic tenets of being a human person.

I suppose there will be some who won’t like these ideas. Oh well. We are not here to be popular; we are here to uphold love and truth, in all its glory.

Pax et bonum.

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!

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