Monday, April 30, 2007

Gone to God via the Cistercians

Lo, in the midst of a very busy week at work I am off to Sparta for a retreat with my Cistercian brothers at Our Lady of Spring Bank Abbey near Sparta, WI. I may or may not be able/ willing to blog during this time. So, I leave you with some very meaningful words from another Cistercian, Michael Casey, from his book Toward God: The Ancient Wisdom of Western Prayer.

Prayer, then, is entering the unseen reality of our lives. It is allowing ourselves to experience the mystery in which we are. Suffering is a door in the wall that daily routines erect around our hearts. Passing through it we begin to understand something of the dark side of human experience, something profound, something a little frightening because it is so large, yet something immensely tender and gentle too.

In bringing us to the reality of our life, prayer also introduces us to the reality of god's life. We are put in touch with the persons of the Holy Trinity, not through words but at a deeper level. We feel that we are from the Father and that our whole life is a journey toward God.

We discover a sense of solidarity with the Word, in our being bonded with the person of Jesus and in our union with all the saints. We experience the presence of the Holy Spirit, inciting us to good, turning our thoughts to God, directing our actions, supplying for our weakness and, like a homing beacon for an incoming plane, guiding our steps toward the very heart of God.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Have you heard the Shepherd's voice?

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, in Year C marked by that most evangelical of all statements, John 10:27-30:

"Jesus said:‘The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life; they will never be lost and no one will ever steal them from me. The Father who gave them to me is greater than anyone, and no one can steal from the Father. The Father and I are one.’"

I loved this Sunday as a Lutheran. It fit in well with deluge of post-Easter pastoral activity: baptisms, confirmations, graduations, first communions, all in a rush to happen before Summer sets in. Besides, it gave the congregation a chance to sing "The King of Love My Shepherd Is" before everyone decamped for the summer, while we still had the good basses and sopranos to provide harmony.

In my Roman Catholic incarnation, I've come to see the shepherding through different eyes. It's less about activity, and more about being in relationship. True to that insight, I found that this Sunday is the annual World Vocations Sunday in the Catholic Church. It's about the call to be totally for God.

Many people are surprised to find that I, as a former Lutheran pastor, don't immediately jump on the bandwagon of support for married priests and women priests. Part of the reason is that I now see the priesthood as a state of life, not simply a career, or even what many would call a calling or vocation. The depth of that calling demands one's all- that tiresome old saw about being married to the Church and all that.

It's true.

The Shepherd is also the true Spouse. While that doesn't automatically narrow the field of candidates to single males, it does say a lot about how priesthood is "done." I speak from experience, that one who is called to the depth of ministry inherent in shepherding will always, ALWAYS, feel a pull between family ties and that calling. This isn't to say that it's not possible. I just see lots of common sense in the Church's wisdom.

Many say, especially here in the USA, that we Catholics have a shortage of vocations, and for that reason we should open the priesthood to married men and women.

Nothing could be further from the truth. We don't have a priest shortage.

We have a shortage of persons hearing the call, a shortage of men listening and responding. If you don't believe me, just visit any mainline Christian denominational seminary and listen to their tales of woe about the pulpits going unfilled these days. And many of these ecclesial bodies already have both married and women clergy. The calling to give totally of oneself is just not easily heard within this culture of "what's in it for me."

Finally, what I have found nurturing to my sense of vocation is not necessarily to ask "God, what would you have me do?" That's a good question.... but there's something more basic here.

I found that when I got really serious about developing a habit of virtue ...

being a more loving person....
praying more....
attending daily Mass....
praying the Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet....
regularly confessing my sins....

When I began to get serious about these things, then all of sudden the listening got easier.
It's almost as if I was a weathervane and by turning toward the wind I found my purpose for being.

Last night I had a dream and could remember only one word from it, and a date, Canisius, and the year 1534.

I googled that word this morning and discovered a saint by that name, Peter Canisius. I must've heard about him somewhere in the past, buried in the subterranean recesses of my mind. But this morning I found this quote from Peter Canisius. By the way, he was a Jesuit in Germany who was styled the second apostle to the Germans. He swayed many fellow Germans with his sermons to return to the Catholic faith from nascent Lutheranism. I still can't figure out what 1534 signifies, but Canisius was in the middle of his preparation for priesthood, and working on a master's degree at that time.

But I did find his own commentary on his calling to priesthood. It's all about the pursuit of virtue, hidden in the Good Shepherd's most loving heart:

Before he set out for Germany, Saint Peter Canisius received the apostolic blessing, and underwent a profound spiritual experience. He describes it:

"It was as if you opened to me the heart in your most sacred body. I seemed to see it directly before my eyes. You told me to drink from this fountain, inviting me, that is, to draw the waters of my salvation from your wellsprings, my Savior.

I was most eager that streams of faith, hope, and love should flow into me from that source. I was thirsting for poverty, chastity, obedience. I asked to be made wholly clean by you, to be clothed by you, to be made resplendent by you.

"So, after daring to approach your most loving heart, and to plunge my thirst into it, I received a promise from you of a garment made of three parts: these were to cover my soul in its nakedness, and to belong especially to my religious profession. They were peace, love, and perseverance. Protected by this garment of salvation, I was confident that I would lack nothing but all would succeed and give you glory."

May all those called to priesthood and the religous life be as motivated, and as successful.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Thoughts about Dejection

Finally returning to my work with Meg Funk's book Thoughts Matter this weekend. The next section is on dejection. I am certainly not in that "space" right now, although I have been in the past. When I was, it seemed nothing external, (change of scenery, anesthetic use of alcohol and relationships) or internal (prayer, looking on the bright side) could help ease the pain, or, in severe times, numbness.

So, I gladly hear these words again from Meg Funk, and I put them away for later reference when needed. If you need them now, then know you are being prayed for tonight:

Cassian insists that we will all experience the thought of dejection that comes from resentment, disappointment, or loss, or even from an unknown disturbance of mind.... Detachment, not indifference, should be my preferred pattern of thinking. Sorrow will always be with me. But Christ has overcome all evil, sadness, and even death itself. It is important to realize that just as I am not my thoughts, neither am I my moods or feelings....

To stay in the middle, renunciation by controlling my thoughts is more than getting over depression or letting go of a lifestyle that is sinful. It is being aware moment by moment of the true nature of reality.

Friday, April 27, 2007

A Biological Basis for Love?

I am not sure I really need this information to support my theology, but it IS interesting to note a recent article by Robert Wright. He contends that the urge to love, to care for "the other," has a biological basis with evolutionary consequences. In other words, there is a structural imperative in our physical being that enables, even encourages, the urge to get outside and beyond ourselves.

I immediately thought of Pope John Paul II's theology of the body, with its emphasis upon relationship as a turning toward "the other." Also important is Benedict XVI's consistent emphasis on the selfless love of God which we humans are to emulate. These are theological facts of life which we often forget; hence, the Magisterium's consistent prodding reminders that we are made in order to love God and one another.

Here's the article. Enjoy.

ROBERT WRIGHT: Why Darwinism Isn’t Depressing

Scientists have discovered that love is truth.Granted, no scientist has put it quite like that. In fact, when scientists talk about love — the neurochemistry, the evolutionary origins — they make it sound unlovely.More broadly, our growing grasp of the biology behind our thoughts and feelings has some people downhearted.

One commentator recently acknowledged the ascendancy of the Darwinian paradigm with a sigh: “Evolution doesn’t really lead to anything outside itself.”Cheer up! Despair is a plausible response to news that our loftiest feelings boil down to genetic self-interest, but genetic self-interest actually turns out to be our salvation. The selfishness of our genes gave us the illuminating power of love and put us on the path to a kind of transcendence.Before hiking to the peak, let’s pause for some sobering concessions.

Yes, love is physically mediated, a product of biochemistry. (Why this would surprise anyone familiar with alcohol and coffee is something that has long baffled scientists.) And, yes, the biochemistry was built by natural selection. Like it or not, we are survival machines.But survival machines are unfairly maligned. The name suggests, well, machines devoted to their survival. In truth, though, natural selection builds machines devoted ultimately to the survival of their genes, not themselves.Hence love.

A love-impelled grandparent sacrifices her life to save a child’s life. Too bad for the grandparent, but mission accomplished for the love genes: they’ve kept copies of themselves alive in a vibrant vehicle that was otherwise doomed, and all they’ve lost is a vehicle that, frankly, didn’t have the world’s most auspicious odometer anyway. Love of offspring (and siblings) is your genes’ way of getting you to serve their agenda.Feel manipulated? Don’t worry — we get the last laugh.Genes are just dopey little particles, devoid of consciousness. We, in contrast, can perceive the world. And how!

Thanks to love, we see beyond our selves and into the selves around us.A thought experiment: Suppose you are a parent and you (a) watch someone else’s toddler misbehave and then (b) watch your own toddler do the same. Your predicted reactions, respectively, are: (a) “What a brat!” and (b) “That’s what happens when she skips her nap.”Now (b) is often a correct explanation, whereas (a) — the “brat” reaction — isn’t even an explanation. Thus does love lead to truth. So, too, when a parent sees her child show off and senses that the grandstanding is grounded in insecurity. That’s an often valid explanation — unlike, say, “My neighbor’s kid is such a showoff”— and brings insight into human nature.Yes, yes, love can warp your perception, too. Still, there is an apprehension of the other — an empathetic understanding — that is at least humanly possible, and it would never have gotten off the ground had love not emerged on this planet as a direct result of Darwinian logic.

Some people, on hearing this, remain stubbornly ungrateful. They hate the arbitrariness of it all. You mean I love my child just because she’s got my genes? So my “appreciation” of her “specialness” is an illusion?Exactly! If you’d married someone else, there would be a different child you considered special — and if you then spotted the child that is now yours on the street, you’d consider her a brat. (And, frankly ... but I digress.)O.K., so your child isn’t special. This doesn’t have to mean she’s not worthy of your love. It could mean instead that other people’s kids are worthy of your love. But it has to mean one or the other. And — especially given that love can bring truth — isn’t it better to expand love’s scope than to narrow it?I’m a realist.

I don’t expect you to get all mushy about the kid next door. But if you carry into your everyday encounters an awareness that empathetic understanding makes sense, that’s progress.Transcending the arbitrary narrowness of our empathy isn’t guaranteed by nature. (Why do you think they call it transcendence?) But nature has given us the tools — not just the empathy, but the brains to figure out how evolution works, and thus to see that the narrowness is arbitrary.So evolution has led to something outside itself — to the brink of a larger, more widely illuminating love, maybe even to a glimpse of moral truth. What’s not to like?

Robert Wright, author of “The Moral Animal,” is a senior fellow at the New America Foundation and runs the Web site

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Epilogue: Dialogue and Prayer

Ok. I'll quit blogging on this subject after this one, last post. Last night I was privileged to join in a committee meeting where the following reflection was shared regarding the Divine Mercy motto "Jesus I Trust in You." I thought of two other areas where insights from this reflection might also prove helpful: the war in Iraq, and the announcement of our new Archbishop.

"Jesus I trust in you."

What is trust and how do we trust? What does that trust mean in ... areas of conflict or differences of opinion?

I know there have been times in my life where I have been suffering from a lack of trust, most everyone has. Yet we are to go on trusting in God and in each other instead of hardening our hearts. Are we to trust blindly?

Even well-meaning groups, councils and leaders have occasionally led countries, communities and individuals down paths seemingly less than fruitful. In addition, in hindsight many may ask, why did not someone question what was happening?

Tradition asks us to look at our actions in light of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul also says to bear with one another with love. (Ephesians 4:2) To look at our actions in light of the Holy Spirit means to test it with love. Maybe we are not called to trust blindly, but reflecting on our actions to make sure all our actions come from a place of love.

Ask questions and expect answers, but do so with love. When others question our actions, listen with love and respond in return with love. Maybe it is in this way that we can say, "Jesus I trust in you" with confidence and full surrender."

Discussion questions:

1. In areas of conflict, have you asked questions with love?
2. In areas of differences, have you responded with love to others who question you?

Socratic Method, Part II: Bush Among the Benedictines

Maybe dialogue will come back into style after all.

Recently, St Vincent College invited President George W. Bush to speak at commencement, a controversial decision, no doubt, given among other things his pursuit of war in Iraq. Wisely, the Benedictine leaders of the school scheduled a forum to discuss the invitation.

Of course, the forum was extremely heated, with debate flying high. However, I like the response of the students. They appear to have imbibed a large draught of the Benedictine spirit along with their liberal arts education. Here is an excerpt from the article describing the debate. I especially like the last comment. It incarnates the beauty of dialogue framed with hospitality.

"Speakers used the Catholic college's Benedictine values to strengthen both sides of the argument. Senior Katie Campbell said hospitality is at the core of the college's belief system. "If we don't welcome President Bush, we are being hypocrites, acting against our own Benedictine values and beliefs we hold so sacred," Campbell said.

But others said Bush's policies stand in contrast with Benedictine values. "We're not unwelcoming President Bush. We're not welcoming the problems of his presidency," said Zach Clark, a senior history major.

But even those who disagree with the president think he should come to St. Vincent.

"I am for President Bush coming because I am against his policies," said Shane Seremet, a junior political science major. "What better chance do we have to engage him in dialogue?"

Hard-line bishops, "Nien-sayers," Inquisitive Eunuchs and the Socratic Method

I have been surprised by the intensity of interest in and reaction to the selection of Bishop John C. Nienstedt as our new Archbishop here in St. Paul/ Minneapolis.

The "party-line" displayed by the print media was not a surprise. They called him a hard line bishop, much as I expected. More interesting to me is to digest the 130+ comments on the article, which run 20 to 1 in favor of this conservative swing. Almost uniformly the appointment is applauded, with auslanders often commenting, "I hope we get a bishop like this in our own diocese."

What is even more surprising to me is the level of anxiety among my own friends and fellow parishoners about this appointment (Uh-oh. perhaps that says something about the theological orientation of the people I hang with).

There is worry out there, among what I call the party of the "nien-sayers." They are concerned lest the hard-fought gains of Vatican II be diluted or reversed by this German from nearby New Ulm.

There is no denying that Bishop Nienstedt is very conservative. However, this sounds to me a lot like the buzz which arose at the elevation of the so-called "Panzercardinal" to the Papacy in 2005. And we've all seen how that turned out. Controversy-wise, it's a big yawn; pastoral-wise, it's been a breath of fresh and loving air.

After Father Charlie Lachowitzer prayed for our new bishop this morning at Mass, a pew-ly neighbor turned to me and commented on the local press reaction. He remarked something like this: "what's the big deal? Sounds to me like he's a Catholic bishop."

About right. But wait, there's more.

I have often wondered why the media seem to get Catholic teaching so very wrong so often. I am just not willing to roll over and concede, like some, that this dis-information feed is totally due to some inbred anti-Catholic bias.

After reading what they wrote about our new Archbishop, I've about decided that it is almost useless to try and absorb the answers which the Faith provides without also understanding the questions which these answers address.

The best re-presentations of the Faith almost always involve questions and answers on all sides. Like Socrates, the Lord Jesus taught this way, by means of question and answer. Another good example of this dialogical method is today's First Reading, the story of Philip the Deacon and the conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-40). The entire exchange between these two is a volley of question and answer, inquiry and explication. Respectful and loving, the end result is the much-to-be-desired conversion of a soul.

Somehow I believe that this type of respectful dialogue is one way forward to clear and consistent communication of objective Catholic truth. I think our new Bishop is quite capable of and willing to engage in such such dialogue. And the endpoint will be the same, I believe.... the salvation of all our souls.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Mark, His Words.

Today is the Feast of St Mark, that follower of St Peter who codified the apostle's memories of our Lord into the gospel which bears his name.

Appropos of yesterday's episcopal appointment of Bishop Nienstedt, here are some words from the Office of Readings which highlight the ancient self-understanding of the Church as a world wide teaching, praying, organized body composed of leaders and laity:

(warning: Irenaeus is the master of the run-on sentence)

Saint Irenaeus of Lyons (about 130-about 208), bishop, theologian and martyr

Against Heresies, I, 10, 1-2

The Church, though dispersed throughout the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples faith in one God, the Father Almighty, "Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them" (Ex 20:11; Ac 4:24); in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the coming, birth from a virgin, passion, and resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord; and his manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father "to gather all things in one," (Ep 1:19) and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord and God, Saviour and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, "every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess" (Ph 2:10-11) him, and that he should execute just judgment towards all…

The Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, carefully preserves it as if occupying but one house. She also believes these things as if she had only "one soul and one and heart" (Ac 4:32); she proclaims them and teaches them and hands them down with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. Although the languages of the world are varied, the strength of the tradition is one and the same.

For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world. As the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the truth shines everywhere, and enlightens all men that are willing to come to knowledge of the truth.

I like being part of this Church.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Habemus archiepiscopum coadiutorium!

We've been praying over this in our Archdiocese for a long time. My prediction on the range of reaction to the news, reading left to right:

"The end of civilization as we know it"
to "the coming of the Kingdom."

From my vantage point: the truth is out there, somewhere in the middle, slightly to the right of center.

Details on the appointment from one of my favorite newsletters, Got Culture?:

This is a week not only of goings but also of comings.

His Holiness Benedict XVI has named the Most Reverend John Clayton Nienstedt as coadjutor archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

The appointment is immediate. Archbishop Nienstedt, formerly bishop of New Ulm, will serve as coadjutor ("helper") archbishop until the Most Reverend Harry J. Flynn retires, presumably upon his 75th birthday, May 2, 2008. At that time, Archbishop Nienstedt will succeed Archbishop Flynn.

A press conference is scheduled later this morning. See the links below for more information.

Announcement of the nomination (Holy See Press Office, in Italian)
Biography, curriculum vitae, and statements (Diocese of New Ulm)
Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis (I'm sure a web posting will follow the press conference)
More news (Ray Marshall's Stella Borealis Catholic Roundtable blog)

May God grant him many years!

Please pray for our bishops -- Archbishop Nienstedt as well as Archbishop Flynn and Bishop Pates.

God, eternal shepherd,

You tend Your Church in many ways and rule us with love.
You have chosen Your servant, John, to be a shepherd of Your flock.
Give him a spirit of courage and right judgment,
a spirit of knowledge and love.
By governing with fidelity those entrusted to his care,
may he build Your Church as a sign of salvation for the world.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Monday, April 23, 2007

A Question of Love!

This past weekend the Bishop of Rome visited the resting place of the remains of St Augustine if Hippo, St Peter's of the Golden Sky in Pavia, Italy. He reiterated the theme of love, truly lived. B-16 never tires of saying it, and I never tire of repeating it.

Love for God and others is essential.

"Before the tomb of Augustine," Benedict XVI said, "I wish to again spiritually offer to the Church and to the world my first encyclical, which contains precisely this central message of the Gospel: 'Deus caritas est,' God is love."This is "the message that St. Augustine continues repeating to the entire Church," the Pope added. "Love is the soul of the life of the Church and its pastoral action."Only one who lives the personal experience of love for the Lord is capable of carrying out the task of guiding and accompanying others in the path of following Christ.

"I repeat this truth to you as the Bishop of Rome; meanwhile, with an ever renewed joy, I accept this truth along with you as a Christian." The Holy Father underlined: "To serve Christ is, above all, a question of love. The Church is not a mere organization of mutual encounters, nor is it, on the other hand, the sum of individuals who live a private religion.

"The Church is a community of persons that believe in the God of Jesus Christ and commit themselves to live in the world the commandment of love which he left us."It is, therefore, a community in which one is educated in love, and this education comes not despite but rather through the events of life."

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Love, still the best response

Here is a wonderful commentary on today's gospel reading, from Saint Augustine (354-430), Bishop of Hippo (North Africa) and Doctor of the Church

from Sermon Guelferbytanus 16, 1, PLS 2, 579

"After his resurrection, the Lord appears again to his disciples. He questions the apostle Peter, obliging him to confess his love, whereas he had disavowed it three times by fear. Christ had risen according to the flesh, and Peter according to the spirit. As Christ had died while suffering, Peter died while denying. The Lord Christ had risen from the dead, and he raised Peter thanks to Peter's love for him.

He asked him questions about his love which he confessed openly now, and he entrusted his sheep to him. What did Peter bring to Christ by the fact that he loved him? If Christ loves you, it is profitable for you, not for Christ. If you love Christ, it is still profitable for you, not for him.

However the Lord Christ, wanting to show us how we must prove that we love him, us reveals how clearly: by loving his sheep. Simon, son of John, do you love me? - I love you. - Tend my sheep." And that once, twice, three times. Peter speaks only of his love. The Lord does not ask him anything else but love, and entrusts only his sheep anything else to him. Therefore, let us love one another, and we will love Christ."

Friday, April 20, 2007

One Voice on Earth

Why the Catholic Church?

Hilaire Belloc addressed this question in a 1924 letter to Mrs. Raymond Asquith. I found this in Fr. Richard John Neuhaus' most excellent journal, First Things.
I realize that I have been quoting a lot of dead, white European men lately. My apologies... but this was too good not to pass on.

"Is not this what always has been?
Am I not here in converse
with That which heard the words
and saw the gestures and was startled by the cry of death
and stupified by the resurrection?

It is that answer which is the core of the affair;
and there is only one answer.

There is only one voice on Earth
which speaks in the tone of 1st century and the 13th,
and of the men who had gooseflesh at Emmaus,
and of the men and women who have the later visions
down to the last, and the many who are to come.

It is the-Church-as-it-is which commands attention,
convinces, and receives assent.

S0, in a long devotion one looks with a smile or a little fear
at the portrait thirty years old.
But the object received and loved is that of today,
and therefore of forever;
and of the past, all of it,
and of the time to come.

For my part I rejoice at new things.
They are to me the proof of life;
and the sudden burst of devotion
to the Mother of God 400 years after,
the special exaltation of the Eucharist
in such a rite as Benediction- not 400 years old:
these and the lesser things are part of a living thing in which I live:
not a document or a mere record.

And that living thing is not of man.
It is for man from that by which man is
and by which we have our knowledge of any and all beauty."

Virginia Tech and the Mystery of Suffering

What is the positive value of suffering? How can it add meaning to our lives?

From today's First Reading (Acts 5:34-42):

"After recalling the apostles [the Sanhedrin] had them flogged, ordered them to stop speaking in the name of Jesus, and dismissed them. So they left the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the Name."

During his homily this morning Father John Gallas mentioned a quote from St. Faustina Kowalska: "If the angels could envy, they would envy humans for two things. First, we receive Communion, and second, we suffer."

Taken together and by themselves these two quotes might lead one to believe that Christians practice some kind of self imposed masochism. Think self-flagellation, ....exaggerated penances,... "offering it up to Jesus.".

However, there is great value in recognizing some meaning in the midst of our personal trials and tribulations.

Psychoanalyst Viktor Frankl noted the secular psychological value of meaning. He observed that those who survived the WW II concentration camps were usually the ones who found meaning in their suffering. Frankl went on to build an entire school of psycho-analytical practice on this foundational truth: people need to find meaning amid the random chaotic events of our lives. The baseline of our lives is not the will to sex or to have power; it is the will to find meaning.

Nowhere is that need more apparent than in this week's renewed sense of tragedy over the lost lives at Virginia Tech.

The great stain on the Twentieth Century was WWII and its aftermath. Viktor Frankl mined that hell pit for the good of all. Among the newest "causes terrible" of our own century are the War on Terrorism and the personal violence in our own society. In the face of these disparate but related violences we confront the mystery of suffering. This mystery not only lends meaning to suffering, it also renders suffering redemptive.

Some suffering, Catholic Christians would say all suffering, can be made useful for our salvation by being offered up to God for others through love. Parents know this instinctively. I would do anything, anything, for my sons. There is no heartache of theirs which is not automatically and irreversibly my own.

That is the mystery of suffering.... love makes all things possible, or at least bearable. Love for another baptizes whatever we all undergo and makes even the most terrible of events a place of refreshing, if not for ourselves, then for some poor, anonymous soul who has an overdraft notice in the Treasury of Merit.

That bank's vault stands on Golgotha. Its primary account was opened there. But the largesse of our Savior is spread abroad wherever there is a deficit of Love and a surplus of sin.

Each of us must stake our own claim to a share of that Love, both for ourselves and for others. When we ARE able to claim it we are changed and, although it may not be readily apparent, so is the world.

That truth is what I am hanging onto during this very long week.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

by the Unseen Hook with a Twitch Upon the Thread

I've been watching the PBS Masterpiece Theater mini-series "Brideshead Revisited." Quite the Easter treat. One of the most poignant scenes is when Lady Marchmain is reading aloud the passage below from Chesterton's The Innocence of Father Brown to the family gathered in her drawing room.

The Evelyn Waugh-ite irony of this tableau is that the unspoken subtext is the group wondering how to respond to scoundrel son Sebastian's drunken binge behavior.

My own ironic delight is to think of us all as the thief-
each and all wandering a-stray,
but pulled back to penitence through the great Unseen Hook.

Long live Waugh!
Long live Chesterton!
Long live the God who seeks us all!

"Hallo, there!" called out the duke. "Have you seen anyone pass?"

The short figure did not answer the question directly, but merely said: "Perhaps I have got what you are looking for, gentlemen."

They paused, wavering and wondering, while he quietly went to the back of the cloak room, and came back with both hands full of shining silver, which he laid out on the counter as calmly as a salesman. It took the form of a dozen quaintly shaped forks and knives.

"You--you--" began the colonel, quite thrown off his balance at last. Then he peered into the dim little room and saw two things: first, that the short, black-clad man was dressed like a clergyman; and, second, that the window of the room behind him was burst, as if someone had passed violently through. "Valuable things to deposit in a cloak room, aren't they?" remarked the clergyman, with cheerful composure.

"Did--did you steal those things?" stammered Mr. Audley, with staring eyes.
"If I did," said the cleric pleasantly, "at least I am bringing them back again."
"But you didn't," said Colonel Pound, still staring at the broken window.
"To make a clean breast of it, I didn't," said the other, with some humour. And he seated himself quite gravely on a stool. "But you know who did," said the, colonel.

"I don't know his real name," said the priest placidly, "but I know something of his fighting weight, and a great deal about his spiritual difficulties. I formed the physical estimate when he was trying to throttle me, and the moral estimate when he repented."

"Oh, I say--repented!" cried young Chester, with a sort of crow of laughter.
Father Brown got to his feet, putting his hands behind him. "Odd, isn't it," he said, "that a thief and a vagabond should repent, when so many who are rich and secure remain hard and frivolous, and without fruit for God or man? But there, if you will excuse me, you trespass a little upon my province. If you doubt the penitence as a practical fact, there are your knives and forks. You are The Twelve True Fishers, and there are all your silver fish. But He has made me a fisher of men."

"Did you catch this man?" asked the colonel, frowning.

Father Brown looked him full in his frowning face. "Yes," he said, "I caught him, with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world, and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread."

Free Love

What enables us to love?
What hinders us from loving others?

Love is the freedom to give of yourself to others. So, the inability to give freely really constitutes lack of love.

And it starts with God. God is where love begins, as He freely offers himself to us in His Son.

Today's gospel reading contains the gospel gem (John 3:16) known especially to Protestants as the "gospel in a nut shell":

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that whosoever believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life."

The phrase is extremely popular for obvious reasons: instantly accessible, succinct, winsome.
And it leads us where we need to go,
to the heart of a freely loving, giving relationship with God and with others.

But sometimes we need some help getting there.
We need to be set free from ourselves,
in order that we might love more fully,
as we are fully loved.

Father Maurice Zundel, Swiss mystic, poet philosopher, liturgist and author, wrote very movingly of that freedom to love:

"Freedom implies an inner liberation, one that will radically transform us by opening up within ourselves an unlimited space; in it our instinctual ego ... will no longer limit our horizon.

This liberation can only be the work of boundless love, the result of discovering, in the depths of our beings, a Presence that will elicit our offering by offering itself to us..... and it is because this Presence is infinite that the love it awakens embraces the whole universe.

God is at the heart of our freedom.... Man is born from this silent dialogue with the mysterious Host who sets him free from his own self, by making the given that subjects him to the giving that fulfills him."

That last sentence is thick, but profound.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Steeped in Charity and the Utility of Souls

Happy St. Stephen Harding Day! He was the third Abbot of Citeaux, the motherhouse of my beloved Cistercian order.

Stephen Harding was a man steeped in charity, with strong administrative gifts, a rare combination indeed in the Church. He authored the Charter of Charity, which still guides the Cistercian family even today. It is noted for its recognition both of the freedom of individual communities and its call to loving accountability among them.

I daresay the spirit of this charter could provide a helpful model for both service and accountability between different ecclesial bodies and even among the various factions in our Roman Church today.

Here is how it reads, in part:

In this decree the aforesaid brethren, in the intention of obviating rupture of mutual concord explained and ordered and transmitted to those to come after, the bond and manner, or rather the charity whereby their monks divided in the body in abbeys in different parts of the world, should be indissolubly banded together in spirit.

They also considered this decree should be called Charter of Charity because putting aside the burden of any money contribution it pursued only charity and the utility of souls in things human and divine.

One can see how focused Stephen Harding and the other Cistercian founders were on the two things necessary: charity and the health of the souls of those intrusted to them.

My prayer today is that we always in the Church behave with a like-minded spirit. I know that often we don't.

Here are some 0ther "fun facts" about Stephen Harding from Wikipedia:

Saint Stephen Harding (died March 28, 1134), is a Christian saint and monastic abbot, one of the founders of the Cistercian Order. While Stephen Harding was born in Dorset, and though his name is Anglo-Saxon, he was a speaker of Norman French, as well as Latin. He was placed in the abbey of Sherbourne at a young age, but eventually put aside the cowl and became a travelling scholar of sorts. He eventually moved to the abbey of Molesme in Burgundy, under the abbot Saint Robert of Molesme (c. 1027 – 1111).

When Robert left Molesme to avoid its corruption and laxity, Stephen and Saint Alberic went with him. Unlike Alberic, however, Stephen was not ordered to return, and he remained in solitude with Robert. When twenty-one monks deserted Molesme to join Robert, Stephen Harding, and Alberic, the three leaders formed a new monastery at Citeaux.

At Citeaux, Saint Robert was initially abbot. However, Robert returned to Molesme after a year, and Alberic took over, until his death in 1108. Stephen Harding, the youngest of the three men, therefore became the third abbot of Citeaux after Robert and Alberic.

As abbot, Stephen Harding guided the new monastery over a period of great growth. Bernard of Clairvaux came to visit in 1112 and brought with him his followers. Between 1112 and 1119, a dozen new Cistercian houses were founded to contain the monks coming to the new, austere, reformed monastic movement. In 1119, Stephen wrote up the Charta of Charity, which is a defining document in the Cistercian Order and establishes its unifying principles.
Stephen ruled the house at Citeaux for twenty-five years.

While no single person founded the Cistercian Order, most of the credit for the shape of Cistercian belief and its rapid growth in the 12th century goes to Stephen Harding. In 1133, he resigned the head of the order, due to his age and increasing blindness. He died the following year.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Anger Matters: Virginia Tech

While I have been thinking about my post on Anger for a while, today's stunning news from Virginia Tech has pushed me to do so today. I am not sure of any details about what happened today, but of this I am quite sure.

The source of our mistaken relationships, the fountain of anger begins within ourselves, and then lashes out toward or against others. In the end, however, as I have learned through my own bitter experience, it is ourselves we hurt the most when we fail to deal with our anger.

It is a failure to love, and that failure is death to the soul.

One key to dealing with anger, is to discern one's own thoughts. Specifically, when anger arises, we have the opportunity to look carefully at our souls and how we relate to God through others. Failure to do so results in blindness of the most complete kind.

Conversely, anger provides us the opportunity to practice vigilant discernment over our own thought life, and to recognize humbly our need of outside help, whether that be grace from God or simply the counsel of a wise elder to help us clear the air. In fact, in writing this I realize that the latter is perhaps the best way to achieve the former.

It is hard work.
It is interior work.
It is work helped along by the realization that such a road is also the road
trod by our Lord and His disciples.

From Cassian, as quoted by Meg Funk:

"We should constantly search all the inner chambers of our hearts lest, unhappily, some beast related to the understanding, either lion or dragon, passing thorugh, has furtively left dangerous marks of his track.

And so, daily and hourly, turn up the ground of our hearts with the gospel plough, i.e. the ocnstant recollection of the lord' cross. By doing so, we shall manage to stamp out from our hearts the lairs of noxious beasts and thel urking places of poisonous serpents."

Conf 1.22.2

So, no matter how many news analyses you see about what happened out East today, the most productive question for us to ask is this, "why is this happening to us as humans now?"

What in our own lives allows such anger to build up, lash out, and overtake our society and our individual lives?

Cenacle: Church in the Birth Canal

Cenacle...... it's the place where Jesus celebrated the Last Supper, First Eucharist and commissioned his disciples as Apostles/ Bishops.

Cenacle.... it's the place where the Twelve gathered with Mother Mary and where the Spirit borned them again on Pentecost. "You must be born again!" said Jesus to Nicodemus and through him to all disciples, and, sure enough, they were, and we are.

Cenacle... it's the place in the Book of Acts that was shaken again in today's First Reading ( Acts 4:23-31), the place to which the Apostles retreated to lick their wounds and be encouraged following the first persecution of their fledgling Jewish sect.

Cenacle... it's the place in both space and time where disciples gather during the 50 days of Easter and await the Spirit's outpouring. It's the place in our hearts and lives where God is birthed when we finally learn to trust Him because of the grace of faith, bestowed by the same Holy Spirit in Whom we are baptized.

It's a wet place, because we arrive there out of the waters of baptism.

It's a warm place, because the fire of tongues hovers over us as we are formed in God's womb.

It's an, inviting, home-like place, because we know the warmth of fellowship with the Divine Trinity there, and we are one with them in our very being.

Being in the Cenacle is so personal it may feel like it's just us and God, but it's not, and it's not private either, because we journey through Easter, through Church, through life to God with many others.

There is an intensely personal side to this birthing process, but that in turn does not make it private.

I like these words of reassurance and warning from Henri Nouwen (or as close to warning as this gentle prophet ever got):

"We like to make a distinction between our private and public lives and say, "Whatever I do in my private life is nobody else's business." But anyone trying to live a spiritual life will soon discover that the most personal is the most universal, the most hidden is the most public, and the most solitary is the most communal.

What we live in the most intimate places of our beings is not just for us but for all people. That is why our inner lives are lives for others. That is why our solitude is a gift to our community, and that is why our most secret thoughts affect our common life.Jesus says, "No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house" (Matthew 5:14-15).

The most inner light is a light for the world. Let's not have "double lives"; let us allow what we live in private to be known in public."

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Think Globally, Act Mercifully.

Today was Divine Mercy Sunday in the Roman calendar. It is a world-class holy day, despite having only been celebrated universally in the Roman communion for the last six years. Our local Catholic paper was packed with a list of over two dozen local celebrations.

There was an all afternoon event at the Cathedral of St. Paul, and I attended Exposition and Mass at Divine Mercy parish in Faribault. Good music, great preaching, opportunity for confession and prayer.

Divine Mercy Sunday is world-class in more ways than one. It's really all about the world.

For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world,

Divine Mercy is about spreading God's mercy, his everlasting grace and love, to the whole world. It's not only about accepting God's mercy for ourselves, it's also about sharing that mercy by being merciful to others.

Yet that message seems buried in the historical circumstances surrounding Divine Mercy. God chose to reveal this powerful message in the most unusual way.... by locution and vision to a Polish nun.

St. Maria Faustina Kowalska (canonized in 2000) received these messages in the early 1930's, as a harbinger of and defense against the shadow of totalitarianism then falling across the world. In fact, a young underground seminarian, the future Pope John Paul II, labored near her burial place and prayed in her local parish church during the war's darkest days. Hence, his strong devotion to Divine Mercy, on the eve of whose feast he died in 2005.

The pictorial depiction of Divine Mercy is a strange amalgamation, part Sunday school Jesus, part Sacred Heart, but totally reflective of Christ-centered piety with its tagline prayer emblazoned across the bottom, "Jesus, I trust in you!" The two fold stream, white for water and red for blood, recalls the piercing of Christ's side at the Crucifixion. Baptism and Eucharist, flowing from Christ, sheds God's love abroad in the world.

The world needs that mercy today more than ever. We need God's long lasting love to invade our poor little lives and to overflow to those around us.

Here is the opening prayer of the Divine Mercy Chaplet, the opening to a set of brief given by our Lord to be prayed each day at 3:00.m., the hour of His death, the hour of great mercy:

You expired, Jesus,
but the source of life gushed forth for souls,
and the ocean of mercy opened up for the whole world.
O Fount of Life,
unfathomable Divine Mercy, envelope the whole world
and empty yourself out upon us.

Friday, April 13, 2007

(Working) Breakfast with Jesus

Back when I was a youth pastor we organized
overnight "lock-ins" for various age groups.
I always ended the long Mountain Dew/ Oreo filled night with a little guided imagery meditation which I called "Breakfast with Jesus."

We gathered everyone together and fed them donuts and orange juice. Then I had them sit on the floor in a circle and close their eyes. Then I read today's gospel (John 21:1-14), which is John's account of Jesus third post-resurrection appearance to the disciples.

He appears mysteriously by the sea,
greeting the disciples who come in from a long night of fishing,
offering them grilled fish and bread, hot off the fire.

I asked the young people to close their eyes
and imagine having breakfast with the resurrected Lord.

What would He look like?

How would you feel as he approached you with breakfast?

What would you discuss with Him

as you sat warming yourself
by the fire in the chilly dawn air?

There is a wonderul air of unreality about this gospel account.
It appears like an appendage in the "rump" 21st chapter of the gospel,
often differentiated by scholars as different from the body of the work .
The gospel author is at pains to describe this sea-side event
three times as a "revelation" of Jesus to his disciples.

But as usual the author of the fourth gospel won't let us off
thinking that that this is simply some transcendental vision.
There's that mysterious catch of fish
with its curiously concrete count of "153."
And of course there's the breakfast..... Jesus as cook.

As best I can remember (its been almost 15 years ago)
my own meditation almost always consisted of asking Jesus questions
about this, that and the other.
Why do certain things happen?
What do you want me to do about "X"?

Strange thing,
now I notice two things quite different
from those meditations so many years ago.

One, Jesus comes and sits silently with me.
We eat, we sit, and we're quiet like an old couple
that no longer need to constantly talk to each other
in order to communicate.

Two, I realize that
He has come to me, a fisherman, in my place of work,
by the sea.

How did Jesus come to me today at work,
in the many joys and changes,
and delays and trials
which marked this up and down Friday?

How is He with me now in the late evening silence
when only keyboard clicks and furnance rumblings
break our shared silence?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Broken Bread and Burning Hearts

I am not simply a brain.
I am a man of flesh and blood.
I am both intellectual enlightenment and bone wrapped in sinew.

Yesterday's Gospel reading of the disciples on the road to Emmaus
made me pause to reflect on this interplay in my life
between intellectual understanding and the physical world.

When God calls,
He calls not only through the lure of intellectual truth and rational discourse.
Such study was how I first came to appreciate the Truth Catholic.
But that discovery by itself didn't suffice.

God also threw the curve ball of sacramental presence,
bodily signs....
physical things that truly exist in space and time,
and yet
they contain, reflect, communicate the Divine Love.

The disciples on the road to Emmaus
felt their hearts burning within them
as the Risen Christ explained the Scriptures to them.

The Socratic Method made flesh,
the questions and answers that bantered about in our minds,
Q and A
causing us to ask,
what is this really all about?

But that intellectual thrust and parry by itself
is not enough, is never enough.

They came to know Him in the breaking of the bread.
The crusty, day-old truth,
of the eighth day celebraton.
Simple bread,
become His flesh,
simple bread,
entering our hearts.

The way to a man's soul?
Through his stomach.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Name-Calling: John 20:11-18

What she needed was to hear Him call her name.
She didn't really need to touch Him,
tho' she tried to, ached to.

What Magdalene needed
was to hear Him call her name,
to have Him listen for
her grateful responsive recognition:

My Teacher!
My Lord!
Risen One!

And, turning around to face her,
He said in reply,
as if already from heaven he spoke:

My Father!
My brothers!

Monday, April 09, 2007


"A baseball swing is a very finely tuned instrument. It is repetition, and more repetition, then a little more after that. "

Reggie Jackson



Reiteration .

Saying it over again.

Repeating the same thing.

It bores me.

So I was supremely disappointed many years ago to find that the Liturgy of the Hours during the Octaves of Christmas and Easter uses the same psalmody and prayers over and over again for an entire week! Likewise, in the Benedictine Breviary, the one-week psalm cycle forces one to return all too soon to psalms which look increasingly familiar.

But, you know what?

That repetition is a wise thing, my friend.

This year I have found myself settling in to places of quiet and meditation I never knew before, partially because the endless cycle of prayer takes me back over and over again.
The track becomes a well worn path. See the reference to herb garden and boots in my post on the movie "Into Great Silence." See the movie, and understand.

Repetition, if rightly used, re-enforces a message which then gets down into the deep structures of the soul.

Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen!

Bring me forth in Love!

From the conclusion of Benedict XVI's Easter Vigil homily:

This is the joy of the Easter Vigil: we are free.

In the resurrection of Jesus, love has been shown to be stronger than death, stronger than evil. Love made Christ descend, and love is also the power by which he ascends. The power by which he brings us with him.

In union with his love, borne aloft on the wings of love, as persons of love, let us descend with him into the world's darkness, knowing that in this way we will also rise up with him. On this night, then, let us pray: Lord, show us that love is stronger than hatred, that love is stronger than death.

Descend into the darkness and the abyss of our modern age, and take by the hand those who await you. Bring them to the light!

In my own dark nights, be with me to bring me forth!

Help me, help all of us, to descend with you into the darkness of all those people who are still waiting for you, who out of the depths cry unto you! Help us to bring them your light!

Help us to say the "yes" of love, the love that makes us descend with you and, in so doing, also to rise with you.


Into Great Silence

I went to see the movie "Into Great Silence" yesterday afternoon. It was visually stunning and spiritually thought-provoking.
I didn't come away from it wanting to become a Carthusian. I am monk-ish but not THAT monkish.

But I did begin to take those everyday ADL's a little more seriously.


all done more deliberately, even mindfully,
and with a sense of God's abiding presence.

This reputation of the Carthusian order as a "community of hermits" reminds me of the bi-polar nature of our spiritual lives. We long for the Divine and try to order our physical surroundings so as to reach God. There is a sort of spiritual "feng-shui" which takes place in lives when God becomes the object of our intense desire.

This movie is like a divine "floor plan" for that sort of life. We look for meaning and significance "out there" when in actuality the Divine can be found while we circum-ambulate around and around in our herb garden.

Praise God (Benedicite Domine!), those well worn paths and boots in need of repair.

And I say go see this movie if you get the chance.

Baaak- Part II

Which came first, the protests or the spin?

Here's a little more on the continuing saga of PETA vs. Mepkin Abbey. I continue to believe that PETa is not so much interested in saving chickens as in making splashy headlines at the Abbey's expense.

From the National Catholic Reporter, April 6, 2007

Mepkin, PETA still at odds on eggs

For 10 years, David Gold, Jewish by birth, has been traveling from his home in Raleigh, N.C., to neighboring South Carolina to make retreats at Mepkin Abbey. In addition to many hours spent in prayer, Gold loves to join the Trappist monks in their daily work of caring for the abbey’s 21,000 hens and collecting and sorting the day’s egg haul, a labor that accounts for about 60 percent of the abbey’s annual earned income.

Gold said he loves “working in the egg room” alongside the monks with whom he sings and prays. “There’s a beautiful way that you see these guys,” Gold said. “There is something in the flow of it. There is something in the community of it. There is something in the overall culture of it that I think is important.”
For more than 50 years, Mepkin’s monks have raised laying hens, selling the eggs to local markets in South Carolina’s Low Country. By industry standards, Mepkin’s operation, which produces about 9 million eggs annually, is tiny, but the monastery’s egg operation received national exposure recently after the Norfolk, Va.-based animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, PETA, accused Mepkin’s monks of being cruel to their hens, a charge the monastery vehemently denies.

Following the initial story in The New York Times and a March 2 report in NCR, Gold wrote a letter defending Mepkin’s egg operation: “As a retreatant I have worked alongside the monks in all of their endeavors, including their egg operation. I have gathered thousands of eggs in the mornings and afternoons, and have worked almost every station in the grading house, where the eggs are inspected, graded and packaged for sale. As an animal lover I was keenly sensitive to the chickens that made that entire operation possible, and I can state without reservation that the care, love and concern that make Mepkin Abbey such a sacred place extend to every living creature on the grounds.”
The story and subsequent controversy over PETA’s tactics and whether Mepkin was unfairly singled out has served to shed light on the treatment of farm animals. It is clear that wide disagreement exists over what constitutes cruel treatment.

Mepkin supporters claim PETA’s singling out of the abbey is blatantly unfair since Mepkin’s operation abides by the guidelines of the United Egg Producers’ animal welfare program for hens raised in battery cages. They also ask why PETA isn’t taking on the egg-production giants, producers that sometimes have up to 1 million egg-laying hens.

United Egg Producers spokeswoman Diane E. Storey said of Mepkin, “They are following all of the science-based guidelines.”

Initially, Mepkin communications’ director Mary Jeffcoat called PETA a “fringe group,” and said its campaign against the abbey “is nothing but a publicity stunt … and the news media ate it up, and it’s unfair, and it’s unjust.” Abbot Stanislaus Gumula told NCR he saw no way to enter into a dialogue, saying PETA’s vice president, Bruce Friedrich, “wants to throw his position down my throat.”

That changed March 14, when Gumula sent a letter to Friedrich, who is Catholic, saying he was open to a dialogue. “I invite PETA to send me, in writing, all of the suggestions you have for ways in which we can improve our egg operation,” Gumula wrote. “When we receive your recommendations, we will deliberately, carefully and scientifically consider each one of them so that we can determine which, if any, we can implement immediately, which may take some time to implement, and which may not be workable.”

In response to Gumula’s e-mail, Friedrich wrote: “We will be putting together a full list of recommendations, with all of the scientific documentation.”
Still, it appears the two parties are far apart. In an e-mail message to NCR, Jeffcoat said Gumula’s letter “in no way admits that the monks believe they are mistreating the chickens. This letter is Mepkin’s attempt to find out exactly what PETA thinks should be done differently at Mepkin.”

Storey said PETA’s “main goal is to eliminate animal agriculture, and that means eggs, meat, cheese, whatever, and in order to do this they discredit animal welfare programs such as ours.” Friedrich isn’t backing down. He says the abbey’s treatment of the hens would result in criminal charges “and cause the monastery to be shut down if they were so grossly abusing dogs and cats” instead of hens.

No one denies Mepkin’s egg operation is in compliance with United Egg Producers’ guidelines, but the practice of keeping egg-laying hens in small cages and trimming their beaks is under attack by animal rights’ groups around the world for being cruel and inhumane. Egg producers and animal rights’ activists share little common ground in the debate.

Storey said there is nothing about PETA’s allegations against Mepkin that are true, and that a “cage production” system is “humane and ethical under our standards. We don’t take this lightly. It’s very serious to us. If our hens are not properly taken care of, they’re not laying eggs.”

PETA is not alone, however, in its assertion that caged hens are subjected to cruelty. The Humane Society of the United States, which claims to be the world’s largest animal welfare group, opposes caged egg production, and advises consumers to not buy eggs from caged hens.

In 2005, Paul Shapiro, director of the Humane Society’s Factory Farming Campaign, convinced officials with Earth Fare, a small North Carolina-based natural foods retail chain, to agree to stop the sale of eggs from caged birds in all of its stores, at the time 13 of them in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia. The company’s Charleston, S.C., store stopped buying eggs from Mepkin.

Mepkin’s battery cages include up to five birds per cage. Under United Egg Producers’ guidelines, the hens must be given up to 86 square inches of space per bird, Storey said, a total that was recently increased in the guidelines.
However, Shapiro said, that is still “less space per bird than a single sheet of paper. An 8 1/2 by 11 sheet of paper is 93.5 square inches. If you can imagine them thinking it’s acceptable to confine these four-pound animals in a space smaller than a sheet of paper for their entire lives, it truly is a nightmarish existence for these animals.”

Such tight confinement means the birds can’t spread their wings, Shapiro said. They are also deprived of dust-bathing, nesting and freedom of movement.
Storey said the chicks have their beaks trimmed before they are 10 days old to remove a “hook” at the end of the beak that hens will use to attack each other. The trimming, which PETA calls “debeaking” is done when the beak is soft so pain is minimal, Storey said. Friedrich claims the procedure causes extreme pain for the chicks that can linger for more than a month.

Due to animal welfare concerns, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden and Austria have banned battery cages, Shapiro said. The Humane Society filed suit in California to halt the practice of giving tax breaks to factory farmers who purchase battery cages. Bills are pending in New Hampshire and Arizona that would mandate that laying hens have enough room to spread their wings, something they are unable to do in battery cages, Shapiro said.

The fast-food giant Burger King announced that it would begin purchasing a small percentage of its eggs and pork from suppliers that do not confine animals to cages and crates. Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, called Burger King’s move, made in March following separate dialogues with the Humane Society and with PETA, “an important trigger for reform throughout the entire industry,” The New York Times reported.
Meanwhile, Jeffcoat insists PETA’s claims are unfair and she decries the attack on Mepkin.

“The monks at Mepkin Abbey, through every single day, lead faithful monastic lives that begin at 3 o’clock in the morning and end at 8 o’clock at night,” she said. “They’re vegetarians. They live Spartan lives. They pray all day long. In their heart of hearts they do not believe they’re abusing those chickens. They believe that they are acting in a very responsible ways or they wouldn’t be doing it. Why would they give up all that they give up and live that kind of life and intentionally do something that they would think was immoral?”

Patrick O’Neill is a freelance writer living in Raleigh, N.C.
National Catholic Reporter, April 6, 2007

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Head and Heart in Easter II

This morning's St Paul Pioneer Press carried the following story about one woman's journey into the Catholic Church.

Brave woman... to tell her story.
Great story.
It illustrates the difference when Truth makes the 18 inch journey from the brain to the heart.

Converting to Catholicism at Easter is one woman's next step in a spiritual trek away from a turbulent life.
Article Last Updated:04/07/2007 11:31:04 PM CDT
Tiffany Corrine Dow's journey to the Catholic Church has been an unsteady one filled with abuse, mental illness and three suicide attempts. The salves she tried in the past - drugs, promiscuity and anger - didn't work.
With her conversion to Catholicism this Easter weekend, she believes the road will just get longer.
"This isn't like all of a sudden I'm going to wake up on Sunday morning without problems," said Dow, 22. "It's not like I have the key and I've been healed."
Dow, of Eagan, was among catechumens Saturday night who were baptized and confirmed and took the Holy Eucharist for the first time as Catholics in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. It is the culmination of a monthslong formal process, known as the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, for people converting to Catholicism.
As Dow searches for personal meaning, she also searches for what it means to be Catholic. She was raised a Lutheran but says she now believes Catholicism has more relevance and meaning for her, or at least for the person she would like to be.
The archdiocese said it isn't sure how many catechumens there would be. But all have gone through a five-step process for conversion that includes learning about the Scripture and the history of the church, accepting Christ as their savior and going through a number of church rituals.
For some, the conversion is a matter of accepting a new faith, but for Dow, it has meant significant change. The family of the University of Minnesota graduate said they have seen a transformation in a young woman whose anger and defiance were paired with nothing but self-destructiveness.
"We had a tough time raising her. She fought with depression and bipolar and everything else," said her mother, Tracy Grassle, of Lakeville.
But since beginning the initiation process, "she did a 180," her mother said. "It totally turned her around, and I think it was the power of the Lord that did it. Her transformation of who she was and who she is now, it's almost unbelievable."
Many in the Christian faith believe Easter to be a time of miracles, and Grassle said she believes the change in her daughter is nothing short of that.
"I do think some of it could be just learning boundaries," she said. "But it was so fast when she decided to become Catholic, these turnarounds. It was like boom! I know she's learned to be graceful and to listen and not react to what people say. Not even a year ago she'd just lose it. But now she's so in control. I think a lot of it is her faith."
Dow is waiting for graduate school to start, and until then, she is holding down a variety of jobs: substitute teacher, freelance writer, owner of a house-cleaning service. (Although, as she says, "I'd rather be known as a journalist than a housecleaner.")
Like that smorgasbord of jobs, she has tried a variety of approaches to religion. She said she has long known she was searching for something throughout her life, but she was never sure just what.
All she knew was she wasn't finding it in the churches she sampled along the way.
"I tried a few churches after I got confirmed in the Lutheran Church but fell away from those," she said. "I wasn't taught right. Or maybe I didn't understand, of my own accord, what a relationship with Jesus really was. I guess the word would be 'lukewarm' Christianity. I saw a lot of people contorting Christianity in the way that they wanted to live."
She said that feeling was particularly acute growing up in the suburbs, where she felt there was too much emphasis on wealth and status.
"I just didn't see that surrender in other denominations," she said. "When you have other gods, like wealth and prestige, you don't have room for the real God."
In converting to Catholicism from Lutheranism, Dow will find familiar and foreign elements, said Gregory Walter, an assistant professor of religion at St. Olaf College, a Lutheran institution in Northfield.
"She will have an easy time in terms of worship, in terms of liturgy. It would take some careful detecting to notice significant differences," he said. "Liturgically, Lutherans and Catholics are very close, very similar. There's only subtle differences in that way."
But there are significant differences in the way each church views itself, he said.
"Catholics have at least an official authority structure, and Lutherans do not," Walter said. "Catholics have a quite dense and wide-ranging - and ongoing - set of what I like to think of as a large attic full of things that you can draw on."
The rituals and customs in that "attic" may be what Dow finds appealing, her mother said.
"I think the discipline of the Catholic Church is what helps Tiffany," she said. "She needs discipline in everything she does. The Catholic Church is much more disciplined than my church."
Dow is asked whether the changes she's experienced might just be the result of maturation and whether there are other ways she could get discipline and order in her life.
"I was called to come here," she said of the church. "I didn't want to be a Catholic, but I couldn't get away from it. It was a feeling that when I went against it, it didn't feel right."
She said she's stopped drinking, stopped going out to clubs, "trained myself to go to bed before 5 in the morning" and now, "I do a lot of things that a lot of people find boring."
But she believes her journey toward faith is one she could make only through converting to Catholicism.
"I have discovered Jesus more closely than any other faith I've been a part of," she said. "I feel like the structure of the church is conducive to a better understanding of the role I have with Christ.
"In my heart," she said, "it feels right and it makes sense."

Head and Heart in Easter I

This morning's St. Paul Pioneer Press carried the following article on their op-ed page. It is a very well written explication of Easter's significance for the non-believer.

The only point I would struggle with is that the command to love which forms the heart of Easter can only be actualized when Jesus ceases to be simply a great moral example and becomes our Savior in deed and truth.

That is the 18 inch journey of a lifetime, from our brains to our hearts. Contrast this wonderul though cerebral observation with the journey of Corrine Tiffany Dow in Part II. both are vaild, but Part I is incomplete without Part II

What will future visitors see when they roll away the stone?


Article Last Updated:04/07/2007 03:15:21 AM CDT

As someone raised in the Roman Catholic tradition, I was intrigued, to say the least, when I learned a month ago about claims that a construction crew in south Jerusalem had found Jesus' remains in a limestone box, alongside those of Mary Magdalene, his wife, and Judah, their son.
The story of how Israeli developers building an apartment complex had purportedly come across the ossuary of Jesus Christ reminded me of nothing so much as one of my grandfather's favorite Clancy Brothers tunes, "They're Moving Father's Grave to Build a Sewer."
Well, they're moving father's grave to build a sewer
They're moving it regardless of expense
They dug up his remains
To put in 5-inch drains
And irrigate some posh bloke's residence.
Well, I thought, so much for the claim in "The DaVinci Code" that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had absconded to southern France after the crucifixion and started their long-suppressed lineage. All those centuries of spiritual skullduggery for naught! So much for other recent claims that Jesus had wandered east to India. And so much, of course, for the central belief of Christianity that Jesus had died on the cross, only to rise again.
So much for Easter.
Before we dismiss the central celebration of Christianity, it's worth noting that the alternative explanations of Jesus' fate are themselves implausible. How, for instance, could Jesus have retired to a normal life making cabinets in south Jerusalem when his followers were going around preaching that he had ascended into heaven? The awkwardness in the synagogue each week - "What are you doing here?" - would have been palpable.
Still, it's hard not to wonder why there has been so much speculation, so many versions of what might have happened to Jesus.
The simple answer, of course, is that the story of Jesus' resurrection itself is hard to accept as a literal fact. It is, on its face, supernatural. It requires belief, the gift of faith. For those who possess such a gift, Easter celebrates the joy and promise of eternal life.
For those of us who come up short, however, and for those who may not consider themselves Christian at all, there is much to learn from and celebrate in the Easter story. It has little to do with idle speculation about what actually happened to Jesus of Nazareth.
It has to do with what the Easter story signifies: the transformative power of love.
Love was, after all, the central teaching of Jesus, what he added to the Ten Commandments: "A new instruction I have given you: Love one another. As I have loved you, you must also love one another. All will know that you are my followers by this sign alone, that you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35) He didn't stop there, with loving one another. He requires of his followers that they love those who hate them:
"I say to all you who can hear me: Love your enemies, help those who hate you, praise those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who punches your cheek, offer the other cheek. To one seizing your cloak, do not refuse the tunic under it. Whoever asks, give to him. Whoever seizes, do not resist. Exactly as you wish to be treated, in that way treat others. ... Be not a judge, then, and you will not be judged. Be no executioner, and you will not be executed. Pardon, and you will be pardoned" (Luke 6:27-38).
As the historian Garry Wills points out in his book "What Jesus Meant": "(T)remendous ingenuity has been expended to compromise these uncompromising words. ... The churches' later treatment of the gospels is one long effort to rescue Jesus from his 'extremism.' Jesus consistently opposed violence ... yet thousands, in the Crusades, would take up the sword to protect the site of the Lord's death."
The world has, in fact, never tried to practice what Jesus preached; indeed, those who have come closest, like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, have tended to meet a fate similar to Jesus: murder. Perhaps humankind is not yet ready, in an evolutionary sense, to be capable of what Wills calls "self-emptying love." Perhaps we never will be.
Nothing could be clearer, however, than that the development of the capacity for this kind of love may be the only salvation for the world. The stakes in each confrontation are so much higher, and a very few people can potentially kill millions. In Darwinian terms, the next adaptation essential to our survival will not be physical, but moral.
The Easter story, even read as merely myth, speaks to the transformative potential of love in its purest form. God so loved the world that he sent his son to show the way to a humankind plagued with internecine hatred; Jesus so loved humankind that he took upon himself the burden of all of our suffering and showed himself willing to die in the name of that love.
Just as Jesus' teachings regarding love and nonviolence have been compromised over the years, so has the message of Easter. God's act of self-emptying love was transformed into rage against Jesus's own people - the Jews - who were held responsible for his execution. The Holocaust, and the episodes of ethnic cleansing that continue to this day, are the best evidence that, in many respects, we are still not ready for Jesus's message of selfless love.

What would happen to our world if we developed the capability for such a pure form of love? We may never know. But the Easter story feels essentially right. If we achieve it, when fu-ture visitors roll away the stone, they will see nothing in the shaft of light but bodiless shrouds and vacant ossuaries: the tomb of our murderous hatreds, left empty in a world reborn.

John Farmer Jr. wrote this article for the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. He can be contacted at