Seminarian Casual http://www.semcasual.org Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary's Official Blog Mon, 07 May 2018 12:06:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.5 43669390 A Farewell from the Editor http://www.semcasual.org/a-farewell-from-the-editor/ Mon, 07 May 2018 12:06:12 +0000 http://www.semcasual.org/?p=13819 Transitions are messy. Let’s face it, transitions are messy. Someone told me that in college, and my life experience before and after has confirmed the truth of this remark. They can be physically messy, as in when one must physically move items from one place to another. They can be emotionally messy, because people – […]

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Transitions are messy.

Let’s face it, transitions are messy.

Someone told me that in college, and my life experience before and after has confirmed the truth of this remark. They can be physically messy, as in when one must physically move items from one place to another. They can be emotionally messy, because people – even those who characterize themselves as “progressive” or “change-agents” – actually are quite averse to change of any kind – whether for the good or not. Transitions force us to examine our lives, to look back on memories – some of which may fill us with joy, others which may require healing. They also present us with a future, yet one about which more is unknown than known.

After six years at St. Charles Seminary – and four and a half as the editor of this blog – I am transitioning to something new. It is, of course, a happy transition, as it means that I am preparing to be ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and assigned to one of our parishes as a parochial vicar. Nevertheless, it is always difficult to say goodbye to the familiar routine, to friendly confines, and to people you know – even when they drive you crazy from time to time!

The Apostles must have had a similar experience. The real beginning of their own ministry took place not with a grand Cathedral Mass and party with family and friends, but in the Upper Room, where the Risen Lord had said “Peace be with you,” and where his Holy Spirit descended upon them in the form of tongues of fire. At some point, they began to disperse – how else could they have fulfilled Jesus’ command to “teach all nations”? There came a point – and the early martyrdom of James is the latest this could have taken place – at which all twelve would never be in the same room again.

And yet, were they not always in the Upper Room? Didn’t their intense, three-year formation at the feet of the Master unite them in a bond which transcended physical time and place? Didn’t their fortitude in the face of opposition derive from that experience they had together at the Last Supper? Wasn’t the eloquence of their words a result not merely of their own learning, but of their encounter with the Word-made-flesh?

Because of those experiences, those twelve men – and others who joined them and others who eventually succeeded them – transformed a world and an empire. And while what used to be called “Christendom” is facing its own transition point – one 500 years in the making, in my opinion – the barque of Peter, which Christ built on with the planks of their lives can never fall into ruin, despite the significant challenges she faces internally and externally.

Hopefully, we’ve been able to express some of our own experience of the moment, this moment in history and this moment in our own lives as seminarians in formation. We’ve covered the visit of Pope Francis to our beloved city and seminary and major events in the Church and in our country. We’ve commented on sports and politics, culture and Scripture. We’ve profiled fine people – including our own seminarian brothers – who, in one way or another, participate in Christ’s mission.

Thankfully, all of that will continue. David Buffum – soon to be Deacon Buffum – has agreed to take my place as editor, and Matthew Kuna will take on the newly re-created role of assistant editor. Both are frequent contributors to this blog and will lead it well. For those who are curious, I will begin writing regularly – probably once per month – for CatholicPhilly.com. It will be a joy to write for that great website, the worthy heir of the Catholic Standard and Times.

It has been an honor to be at the helm of this publication for these years. I am grateful to all of my collaborators on this project, and all who wrote, edited, advised on, read, critiqued, inspired, and enjoyed the articles I was lucky enough to publish – and the few I authored myself. And if this transition has made me a bit more grateful for the journey we’ve been on together – and the pilgrimage which will continue – well, then it’s worth the mess.

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Candle of Eternal Fame http://www.semcasual.org/candle-of-eternal-fame/ Fri, 04 May 2018 20:07:20 +0000 http://www.semcasual.org/?p=13788 I venture to say you and I have something in common. When we were children, I bet at least one birthday candle held the wish “I want to be famous!” It is natural in our environment where we know more about our favorite movie star than we do members of our own family. We want […]

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I venture to say you and I have something in common.
When we were children, I bet at least one birthday candle held the wish “I want to be famous!” It is natural in our environment where we know more about our favorite movie star than we do members of our own family. We want to be known and we want to be loved. Communities of strangers gather in movie theaters just to see the latest film starring their favorite actor, or flock to the closest concert hall to hear their favorite performers. And they cheer and hold their devotion high to show their love for that person.

Certainly, the fact that people are coming together to share that love is not a problem. But as communications have changed, so has out concept of fame. Not long ago, fame meant everyone knew you because you are larger than life on stage and screen. But, now with social media, fame can come for the price of a camera, and your local neighbor becomes a national treasure.
We can strive for so many kinds of fame, so maybe we should be more specific with our birthday wishes. Do we want to be internationally famous? Nationally famous? Youtube famous? Maybe just locally famous would suffice. We would still be able to order a coffee without having our pictures taken or go to the grocery store without fans checking the fiber in our diets.

But, there is one kind of famous that we should really strive for — Heaven Famous! And, I bet you are already on your way, kid!
Heaven famous works the same way as the others. Everyone knows you, they can’t wait for what you do next, and they would love it if you would just take those few minutes to talk to them. And it is easy to do that because all those people are in heaven. And from the best seat in the house, they have watched you glow under the bright light of grace.

Your prayers, your struggles, and everything they have been watching of your life, a connection has happened. That next project you are working on, that night out that shows promise of a new direction in your life. Even the failures. That performance that was not as good as the last one. But, your fans are loyal, and they are looking forward to what you will do next, and they will be there to cheer you on when you step out of the wings, smiling and showing you love back to them.

Heaven famous does take work, though. Prayer and devotion are key. Making yourself present in the eternal lives of the saints. Introducing yourself to them, inviting them to your performances. Inviting Francis of Assisi to the animal shelter where you are going to adopt a rescue dog. Inviting Joseph Cupertino to the Monday morning performance of a final exam that you have spent time preparing for but know you need help along the way. Inviting Dymphna to that scary place where you know you always get anxious. Take time to figure out which saints are getting those VIP tickets and backstage passes to hang out after the show. Even if you are exhausted and just want to have company while you go over everything that happened, they will be happy to be there with you.

And when the lights dim, the projector runs out of film, and the last birthday candle of your life is extinguished, they will greet you with our Lord where you are loved by everyone who has come to know you. Happy that you are coming home after a long performance of joys and conflict. In a place where your desire came true to be one of the in crowd. A place where you are Heaven Famous!

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Down Syndrome, Dignity, and Ethical Relativism http://www.semcasual.org/down-syndrome-dignity-and-ethical-relativism/ Wed, 02 May 2018 12:15:14 +0000 http://www.semcasual.org/?p=13790 A recent opinion headline in The New York Times caught my eye: “The Ethical Case for Having a Baby with Down Syndrome.” Initially, I was taken off guard that a piece with such a loaded title would have passed their editorial board to publication. As I began to digest the article’s content, however, my hopeful […]

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A recent opinion headline in The New York Times caught my eye: “The Ethical Case for Having a Baby with Down Syndrome.” Initially, I was taken off guard that a piece with such a loaded title would have passed their editorial board to publication. As I began to digest the article’s content, however, my hopeful sense of surprise dissipated.

Dr. Chris Kaposy, a bioethicist from Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador, wrote a passionate op-ed about raising Aaron—his seven-year old son prenatally diagnosed with Down Syndrome—and why parents who receive such a daunting prenatal diagnosis should choose life. He highlights the demands, joys, and challenges of parenting Aaron and asserts the need to embrace persons with disabilities in our families and communities. An eloquent testament of advocacy, to say the least.

Nonetheless, Kaposy is abundantly clear: in his opinion, the abortion of unborn children diagnosed with Down Syndrome should remain legal. He states: “My wife and I are pro-choice and oppose placing limits like these on abortion…we don’t need new laws; we just need more people to choose to have such children.” In the end, he seeks to argue why children like Aaron should be welcomed into our society, not that we need to legally protect them in the womb.

Before further dissecting Dr. Kaposy’s opinion, I must express how much I am inspired by his family’s courageous example to choose life. Frankly, we need more voices like his in medicine—and in academia, overall—who witness to parenting children with Down Syndrome and call for their recognition and inclusion in our culture. I applaud them and sincerely thank them.

However, it is necessary to call attention to a logical inconsistency here. By legally permitting abortion based on the diagnosis of Down Syndrome, our society asserts that these children’s lives do not have intrinsic value. The baby with this disability, in turn, is viewed as a burden, not a person with dignity. One cannot call for the inclusion of children with Down Syndrome in families and society, while simultaneously insisting that abortion should remain a legal option for parents who receive this news from a neonatologist. Such undermines the very effort to promote the “acceptance, empathy, and unconditional love” of children with Down Syndrome, for which Dr. Kaposy argues.

I do agree that the conversion of hearts and attitudes toward children with Down Syndrome is key to their acceptance in our world. (I actually think it will be impossible to make any strides in preventing abortions if we do not focus on this.) However, our dignity as human beings is not dependent on these dispositions. The moral decision of aborting a child with this prenatal diagnosis is not an issue of personal values, popular opinions, or social norms. Such ethical relativism opens the door for anyone to choose what is right or wrong without consideration of truth or goodness, like the objective right of every person—regardless of his or her abilities or status in the world—to life. An argument for why parents should choose life for their Down Syndrome child must begin with the dignity that is inherent to every human person, not subjective choice and individual attitudes.

Posing legal limits on aborting children with Down Syndrome is essential to advocating for their dignity. Pennsylvanians received the exciting news recently that our House of Representative overwhelming passed a bill that aims to do just this.  To date, the only other limit placed on abortion in the first 24 weeks is that parents cannot discriminate on the basis of sex. House Bill 2050 will expand this limitation to protect children with Down Syndrome. As the bill moves to the Senate floor, our prayers and voices must come together – even in the face of political backlash – in defense of the dignity of the human person. Such a legislative act would be a truly ethical response to affirm children with Down Syndrome.

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Moralosis misdiagnosed http://www.semcasual.org/moralosis-misdiagnosed/ Sun, 29 Apr 2018 16:35:23 +0000 http://www.semcasual.org/?p=13796 A new contagion has been identified.  It appears to have broken out already in Ireland.  It’s poised to break out in California. “Moralosis” is its name. In an engaging commentary, John Waters defines this virus as “an attempt to separate the ‘moral issues’ from the core of Christianity.”  He sees the effects of this disease […]

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A new contagion has been identified.  It appears to have broken out already in Ireland.  It’s poised to break out in California.

Moralosis” is its name.

In an engaging commentary, John Waters defines this virus as “an attempt to separate the ‘moral issues’ from the core of Christianity.”  He sees the effects of this disease in his native Ireland, where a senator claimed “it’s no wonder people feel disillusioned with the Catholic Church” after she listened to a priest at Easter Mass preaching about abortion. It also seems to ail the California State Assembly, which will soon vote on a bill the would ban the sale of books expressing free religious speech in the realm of “sexual orientation change efforts.”

Waters rightly identifies the problem in the societal tendency to dismiss any statement of moral conviction as mere “moralism” that cannot be tolerated by an enlightened public. The symptoms are clear. But the diagnosis misreads the cause of the problem.

The instantiating sign of the emergence of this disease, for Waters, is Pope Francis’s first interview (9/19/13), published worldwide in Jesuit magazines. In response to a question about pastoral work with Christians living “in complex situations that represent open wounds,” the pope said that the Church cannot insist on speaking only, or all the time, about moral issues. As he added there and has explained elsewhere, matters of morality are consequences, not starting points for, the proclamation of the Gospel.

According to Waters, the pope’s “central point appears to be that an ‘excessive’ emphasis on moralism serves to suffocate the deeper message of Christianity.” The papal position, in this diagnosis, appears as “a hastily conceived attempt to communicate a degree of relaxation in respect of certain aspects of Church teaching.”

Upon further examination, however, that analysis misses the mark.  What the pope encourages is communicating a message that seeks to dress people’s wounds before, not instead of, providing longer-term treatment based on the truth of the Church’s teaching.  He prescribes not the relaxation of doctrine (about which his words are clear), but the medication of mercy as a first response.  In other words, for the physician-pope emphasizing “the heart of Christ’s message” is not an excision of morality from Christianity, but a necessary salve that distinguishes pastoral theology from religious ideology (cf. Evangelii gaudium, no. 34).

Returning to the initial diagnosis, there’s a note in the chart that warrants further consideration.  Waters supposes that “Most Catholics would agree that the Church should not pursue rules and ethics as discrete, self-standing realities, but only as concepts contextualized in the patterns of human freedom – a freedom defined ultimately by the Resurrection.”  But do they?

The real abnormality in attempts to quarantine moral positions from the public square is the failure to see the Church’s teaching as rooted not merely in faith but also in reasoning about human anthropology and freedom. Nowadays, unfortunately, what people want outweighs what is true.

Pope Francis’s interview didn’t cause this, though how people interpret his words may well be a contributing factor.   Moralosis has long affected every kind of healthcare because of the perennial condition of being human.

featured image from www.theconversation.com

 

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A God for all ages http://www.semcasual.org/a-god-for-all-ages/ Thu, 12 Apr 2018 09:36:26 +0000 http://www.semcasual.org/?p=13781 How old is God?  Eternal, you might say.  But Pope Francis has another idea. For many, God is a being the concept of whom is too abstract to picture.  Sacred Scripture acknowledges that “no one has ever seen God” (John 1:18; 1 John 4:12).  Biblical narratives of an encounter with the first Person of the […]

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How old is God?  Eternal, you might say.  But Pope Francis has another idea.

For many, God is a being the concept of whom is too abstract to picture.  Sacred Scripture acknowledges that “no one has ever seen God” (John 1:18; 1 John 4:12).  Biblical narratives of an encounter with the first Person of the Trinity take the form of mysterious manifestations (“theophanies”), often described in terms of natural phenomena such as a burning bush or a tumultuous whirlwind.

Artists have long been inspired to portray God in a variety of ways, usually in accord with the divine prowess and power.  More recently, Hollywood directors depict God according to their creative imagination, from a grandfatherly sage (George Burns in “Oh, God”) to a hip helper (Morgan Freeman in “Bruce Almighty”).

Now comes a new image from the Holy Father.  According to the title of his latest book-length interview, released in Italian last month and coming out in English in October, Dio è giovane (“God is young”).  Based on a line from the biblical book of Revelation (21:5), Pope Francis creates the new image with these words:

God is He who is always renewing, because He is always new:  God is young!  God is the Eternal One who has no time, but is capable of renewing, rejuvenating Himself continually and rejuvenating everything.  The most distinguishing characteristics of youth are also His.  He is young because “he makes all things new” and loves novelty; because (He) astonishes and loves amazement; because (He) knows to dream and desires our dreams; because (He) is strong and enthusiastic; because (He) builds relationships and asks us to do the same, (He) is social.

Published in anticipation of the upcoming Synod of Bishops – on “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment” – the book focuses on a wide range of questions reflecting the realities that they face in today’s world.  The papal responses demonstrate well his grasp of the youth culture and his affectionate concern for their well-being.  His commentary also discloses his idiomatic thinking, as when he says that youth are different from adults in as much as their feet are not parallel but always one in front of the other, “ready to leave and scatter” and “always launching ahead.”

For Pope Francis, both the “old dreamers” and the “young prophets” are critically important for a society that has lost its roots.  He reminds us of the “revolution of tenderness” to which we are all called and offers this enduring plea:  “Have no fear of diversity and of your fragility; life is unique and unrepeatable for what it is; God awaits us every morning when we awake to consign this gift to us again.  Let us take care of it with love, gentleness, and naturalness.”

It’s is a worthy thought for all ages, whatever image we might have of God.

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Statistics, Praxis, and Teaching on Birth Control http://www.semcasual.org/statistics-praxis-and-teaching-on-birth-control/ Mon, 09 Apr 2018 22:55:45 +0000 http://www.semcasual.org/?p=13777 In April’s edition of First Things, Mary Eberstadt presents a compelling case for the continuing relevance of Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae, despite its continual disparagement from both outside the Church and inside (particularly in the last few years). She notes toward the end that the Episcopal Church in the United States, which basically embraced the […]

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In April’s edition of First Things, Mary Eberstadt presents a compelling case for the continuing relevance of Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae, despite its continual disparagement from both outside the Church and inside (particularly in the last few years). She notes toward the end that the Episcopal Church in the United States, which basically embraced the contraceptive mentality tout court in the 20th century, has faced a disastrous decline within the last several decades. That’s true enough. However, that the Catholic Church in the United States has faced a similar decline, as a cursory review of the Georgetown’s CARA website will indicate.

For instance, Catholic weddings have declined by almost 60% between 1980 and 2017. Sure, that is better than the Episcopal Church which, as Eberstadt indicates, married less than a quarter in 2015 that it married in 1980. But it isn’t that much better. Surely there are no hierarchs popping champagne corks over that particular statistic.

Less disheartening are the Baptismal records, which show that the decrease of Catholic baptisms in the United States is only about 25% since 1985. Yet anecdotally, this can be partly attributed – at least in the Northeast part of the United States – to immigrant groups, a community the Episcopal Church cannot draw from to the same degree.

My point is this: despite the official Catholic position on birth control remaining faithful to the tradition as re-asserted by Pope Paul VI, the reality is that, at least in the United States, the Catholic Church has faced significant contraction. Again, not to the degree of those communities which embraced contraception wholeheartedly, but nevertheless in a significant way. I think there is something to the suggestion that had the Catholic Church wavered in an official way on the birth control question, she would be looking at the same degree of decline as the Episcopalians. Yet the decline that is present shows that remaining consistent in the catechism is not enough if vast numbers of the faithful are ignoring the teaching in practice. It also shows the depths of the cultural desolation which have taken place over the last fifty years.

The recent social upheavals have taken an unimaginable toll on human welfare which it will take generations to resolve. Because of this, I am grateful that the magisterium of the Church has stayed true to natural law; we must never waver from it, despite what some in Rome whisper. But at the same time, we must not gloat over the decline of others, not only because it is bad for ecumenism, but also because the disparity between teaching and praxis is still embarrassingly high among self-described Catholics. The answer, of course, is not to change the teaching (which is impossible), but to gently propose an alternative way of life to a generation of people who assume – often uncritically – that the sexual ethos of the 1960s is the only possibility for 2018. It isn’t.

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Manhood, True and False http://www.semcasual.org/manhood-true-false/ Mon, 26 Mar 2018 14:40:09 +0000 http://www.semcasual.org/?p=13757 A seminarian relayed a story to me of a priest saying, “Boys are not ordained. Men are ordained.” Does that mean every human being with an XY chromosome over a certain age? Does that mean a man has proven himself through multiple demonstrations of machismo? What does it mean to be a man in today’s […]

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A seminarian relayed a story to me of a priest saying, “Boys are not ordained. Men are ordained.” Does that mean every human being with an XY chromosome over a certain age? Does that mean a man has proven himself through multiple demonstrations of machismo?

What does it mean to be a man in today’s society?

I wrote last week in “Boys Will Be Boys” of the importance of allowing ourselves to get dirty and to not be afraid of getting hurt. But, being a man is not the same as being filthy and broken. Being a man also has to do with how he moves forward after accepting this dirt and blood. To be a man means to provide, to love, to sacrifice in order for another to live. A good example of manhood can come from looking at the first man – Adam, created out of dirt, and while sleeping, had his rib taken out. Through his loss, a great gain was brought into the world as God created Eve. Adam’s loss was his participation in God’s creation. This goes with how men can recognize the importance of their everyday sacrifices.

So much about being a man has to do with giving something up in order for something greater to come into being. A man proves himself through sharing the love God has given him. He does not keep it for himself. We see such selfishness when guys refuse to grow up. They stay locked in boyish ambitions, seeking only what will make them feel good, and they give each other high-fives and chant, “You’re the man!” But, they remain stuck in a circle of self, often rounded off with promiscuity and social immaturity. While boys playing in dirt and chasing girls with earthworms may be a “Boys will be boys” sentiment, eventually he has to stop playing in the dirt, and start planting in the soil. He needs to stop chasing girls with earthworms and start thinking about how he can provide for her.

Hence, men become gentlemen. Not the kind of gentleman who puts on the fancy clothes and smiles at the important people because they will help him climb the ladder he so desperately looks up at. Rather, a gentleman who, when you shake his hand, you feel the callouses on his fingers, his grip tells you he has spent hours holding his head in his hands in prayer, trying to figure out how he is going to get through the next day. When he looks at you in greeting, his eyes show you a life where he has been through the wringer, squeezed of everything, and when he was finally dried out, he went back for more. He keeps going until there is nothing left. And, when he is empty and dry, he asks God for what he needs so he can go out and sacrifice even more, provide even more.

Entering Easter, let us put on our Sunday best. Thank God for the suffering that is asked of you. Easter Sunday, let us look to our risen Lord, and ask him to show us how to be a man, and specifically how to be the man he is calling us to be.

And when we shake his hand, and feel the hole of the nail there, we will know.

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Steps we can take to “remain” free http://www.semcasual.org/steps-can-take-remain-free/ Fri, 23 Mar 2018 18:23:59 +0000 http://www.semcasual.org/?p=13761 In a recent homily, one of our deacons publicly announced a literary lacuna on this blog site!  He told the congregation he could not find any post that offered “five easy steps” to put into practice the Gospel teaching in which Jesus proclaims that “the truth will set you free.” It’s good to know SemCasual […]

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In a recent homily, one of our deacons publicly announced a literary lacuna on this blog site!  He told the congregation he could not find any post that offered “five easy steps” to put into practice the Gospel teaching in which Jesus proclaims that “the truth will set you free.”

It’s good to know SemCasual has such avid readers!  For future reference, we offer here a response to his homily.

The deacon did well to highlight the oft-forgotten condition preceding Jesus’ claim:  “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).  Rightly did the preacher note what Jesus did not say.  Discipleship doesn’t happen merely by reading or hearing the word, nor does it result automatically from studious understanding or interpretation of that word.  The key to discipleship, to the knowledge and freedom of which Jesus speaks, is “remaining” (or “abiding”) in His word.

But how does one do that … especially when Jesus no longer remains (physically) in the midst of those whom he calls to be His disciples?  The answer lies in various dimensions we can associate with the verb “remain.”

Step 1 – stay near.  The “remaining” of which Jesus speaks has a spatial dimension, as in staying nearby or remaining close.  Today, we can remain in His word by drawing closer to it through a regular reading of Sacred Scripture (all of which is the Word of God).  But this entails more than simply seeking information.  The Word of God is, primarily, a Person who speaks.  When we see or hear Him in our reading of that word, when we learn more about Him who fulfills that divine word, we draw closer to the One whose work of Redemption sets us free from the bonds of our sinful human condition.

Step 2 – stay with.  The spatial dimension also has a transcendent aspect.  We remain close to the divine word by staying with the Sacred Scriptures in prayer.  In considering a biblical passage in meditation, we savor the word, ponder its possibilities, and can be inspired by a sacred imagination that teaches in ways only God can.

Step 3 – stay strong.  This “remaining” also has a temporal dimension, as in the sense of continuing or enduring.  We remain in Jesus’ word when we stick with it, stick with Him, despite the multiplicity of other views that vie for our attention.  The world offers many ways that purport to lead us to freedom and happiness.  But will these really get us where we want to go?  In the end, only Truth will get us there, so continuing education in Theology, especially in terms of moral decision-making, is necessary.

Step 4 – stay as is.  More than just perseverance, the temporal dimension above also includes the notion of abiding as we are.  Said differently, to “remain” means to be where we are, to be who we are, and not to desire or wish to be someone else.  In this sense, the word challenges us to become who God intends us to be.  For this, we can benefit from a daily examination of conscience that acknowledges the ways in which we do live according to that word and the ways in which we still need to grow in our conversion.

Step 5 – stay attentive.  That continual growth in living God’s word as a disciple of Jesus shows that “remaining” is much more active than “resting.”  We stay attentive to God’s word when we remain on the lookout for that divine presence in our daily responsibilities and in the persons we encounter each day, such that we learn to see God in all things.

These may not be the “easy” steps the deacon was searching for on this blog site.  But at least he can know that his homily did inspire the writing of another post!

 

feature image from worshipoutloud.wordpress.com

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Boys Will Be Boys http://www.semcasual.org/boys-will-boys/ Thu, 22 Mar 2018 20:48:59 +0000 http://www.semcasual.org/?p=13755 My grandfather on my mother’s side had often entertained holiday tables with stories of his youth taking place in 1930’s Chester that were never without a mix of childlike innocence and boyish impishness. And many of those adventures may have included the confectionary concoction of a boy using his penknife to cut a small sliver […]

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My grandfather on my mother’s side had often entertained holiday tables with stories of his youth taking place in 1930’s Chester that were never without a mix of childlike innocence and boyish impishness. And many of those adventures may have included the confectionary concoction of a boy using his penknife to cut a small sliver of warm tar off the road and pop it in his mouth as a piece of chewing gum.

My dad enjoys telling the story of when he was a young boy and after enjoying nature, he came home to his mother, excited to show her the garden snake he found. She immediately screamed for him to take it outside, her motherly instinct setting in as she saw the thin reptile biting harmless fangs into his hand.

These two stories may sound gross to some, but set in the time they were, there is little doubt that the adults watching these events unfold were able to shake their heads and forgive it all with a sound “Boys will be boys.” And when those boys became men, they were still not afraid to chew on the road or let nature bite them when they got too close. Yet, it seems that being a boy and being a man have become different in an age where we try to be clean and pure. We are not allowing ourselves to get dirty, to stink of the earth, to sweat, to bleed because when we reached out, we got hurt in the process. Now, there is a generation of men getting manicures because they are afraid of getting dirt caked under their fingernails. And the dirt I am writing about is real and metaphorical.

As seminarians, as Christians, why are we often afraid to get dirty? When a brother is in trouble, why are we too scared to reach out and get his filth on our hands? We understand that underneath all that gunk is a brother in Christ, yet we tend to be afraid that his dirtiness on our hands may ruin our uninfected image. We cannot be afraid to get dirt under our fingernails while we claw out of the pit, our brother holding on to us because he simply cannot fight anymore.

Jesus Christ did not refuse the filth we brought to him. He let his hands get dirty as he healed and ministered to others. And he let his hands bleed when he healed all of us of our sins on the cross. He was not concerned about keeping an image of being above it all. He even descended into hell to release our first parents.

During this time of Lent, meditating upon the Passion of Christ, let us look around and see who else is being weighed down by their crosses. Let us see who is knee-deep in the filth of their sins. And in helping them up, let us not be afraid to get a little dirt on ourselves just so the other person can be a little cleaner. And when the people of God we later minister to as priests see us, they will recognize the strength we have received from such actions. They will see where we have been bitten when we raise our hands to bless them. They will see how we have chewed on the road when we smile. They will know that we love them because we are not afraid to take their dirt upon us, and in response, share the cleansing waters of God with them.

They will see how we have grown into the love God asks us to share.

After all, boys will be men.

 

Part two of this piece will be published next week.

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Liberalism’s Crisis Point and the Church’s Response http://www.semcasual.org/liberalisms-crisis-point-churchs-response/ Wed, 21 Mar 2018 14:29:39 +0000 http://www.semcasual.org/?p=13753 I just read about an app called Musical.ly. Designed to be a hub for aspiring performers to share their talents with others, it also serves as a playground for perverts, a soundboard for hatred and caustic humor, and a place where children display evidence of self-harm and feelings of despair. Indeed, this is just one […]

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I just read about an app called Musical.ly. Designed to be a hub for aspiring performers to share their talents with others, it also serves as a playground for perverts, a soundboard for hatred and caustic humor, and a place where children display evidence of self-harm and feelings of despair.

Indeed, this is just one more symptom of a fundamental societal ailment manifesting itself all around us. This can no longer be denied by anyone who is looking: school shootings have become a norm of American life, family structures have been hollowed out, depression and addiction have risen to epidemic levels over the past decade. In an effort to do something, voters in the United States, Britain, and now fun-loving Italy have turned increasingly to “illiberal” solutions in rejection of the very order that, supposedly, is supposed to help us climb out of this cultural wasteland.

But can it really? Can liberalism, as such, actually stop the bleeding (physical and otherwise) around us? In fact, Patrick J. Deneen’s much-discussed recent book, Why Liberalism Failed, suggests the exact opposite. In the book, Deneen makes the bold claim that what the United States (and the West more broadly) is experiencing right now is a kind of end-stage liberalism, one which is both the embodiment of liberalism’s triumph as well as its inevitable and self-made death knell.

Deneen is at his best when he analyzes our current cultural situation. His descriptions of life today are critical without being melodramatic. He points out the fact that new undergraduates arriving at college campuses are forced to navigate all kinds of social questions unimaginable even by their parents. They must also decide whether they are going to “sell out” and seek to perpetuate the cycle of economic production and consumerism or be contented with a less exciting and less materially enriching life. They feel intense pressure to display performance commensurate with the incredibly high tuition and fees required to go such schools ($70,000 to go to my alma mater next year). And those are just the problems of those who are privileged enough to find themselves at an elite institution. For those less well off, the cultural breakdown manifests itself in other – more destructive – ways, as Charles Murray has chronicled: those in lower socio-economic strata have disproportionately experienced the loss of marital stability (and even rejection of marriage as an institution), drug usage, and economic stagnation over the past twenty years.

Deneen identifies today’s “liberals” and “conservatives” as locked into a kind of phony war which actually advances the same system: “the liberal project of statist and market deracination and liberationism, achieved through expansion of individual autonomy and the Baconian project of conquering nature.” At its core, liberalism takes many ancient forms of human relationality – democracy, trade, citizenship – and ancient goals of the human heart – liberty, justice, truth – and warps their meanings, subsuming them into a massive project of social engineering based on the absolute primacy of individual autonomy and desire fulfillment. Again, Deneen is quite convincing when advancing such arguments. He is correct when pointing out the inherent dangers of our “rootless” culture, in which economic transactions are touted for their completely de-personalized quality.

Indeed, Deneen makes a compelling case that while the human desire for liberty is real and true, the “liberty” of liberalism is just a parlor game. We have near-infinite consumer choice – at least in the United States – but we have no time for leisure or worship of God. Such activities, says Deneen, are considered “wasteful activities.” It borders on irresponsibility for a parent to, say, bring his child to Church on Sunday in lieu of a soccer game. Church won’t pay for a week at Stanford.

And yet for all its positive aspects, Deneen’s argument leaves one with many questions. Why, for instance, did many of the values Deneen consider important persist through most of the supposedly evil reign of liberalism, as he himself admits? Liberalism is collapsing under its own weight like a neutron star, says Deneen, and for that reason small communities will have to preserve the remnants of what is true, good, and beautiful. Yet small communities – the kind of close-to-the-earth interpersonal dealings which are the true experiences of life – have done quite well under liberalism. Ethnic enclaves like the Italian and Irish neighborhoods of old – and Liberian and Latino communities today – have thrived.

Michael Novak made the point decades ago in The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism: without a religious faith to undergird life, the institutions of Democracy and Capitalism collapse upon themselves. This is not to say that political and economic forms are beyond critique. Indeed, any just market economy will make provision for the poor and disadvantaged both from the perspective of morality and because it makes economic sense. Nevertheless, I would submit that the primary reason why our world seems so broken today is because of a loss of a sense of faith among a large group of people. Many – even those who profess belief in God – seem to experience this loss acutely.

Our moment is a moment for religious activity. Political forms will come and go. Economic policies need constant monitoring. But at the end of the day, only a robust public affirmation of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will bring about renewal in our society. The Church, then, must not squander such a critical moment in obsessing about maintaining structures of ecclesial life which have had their day. We must be flexible and open to the promptings of the Spirit. And there are signs of life in so many places, especially among millennials. They are thirsting for God, and they are not satisfied with a mediocre, arrogant, or dumbed-down faith. They want the Gospel in all of its radical implications – not a sanctimonious traditionalism or a reckless obsession with “new paradigms.”

Deneen identifies liberalism as the ideology which harnesses social structures in order to advance personal autonomy at all costs. That sounds to me like a perennial problem, one caused ultimately by the Fall. What is required to combat the human need for gratification is not a new political movement, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Deneen has done us a great service by coalescing the anxieties of our age in one insightful volume. But while the symptoms are unique to this moment in history, the cause is still the same: human sin. That will always be present while we reside in the earthly city. For this reason, the City of God must always be there to offer a truly alternative lifestyle – one infinitely more radical than liberalism and whatever may come next.

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