Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fr. Larkin - "I am the luckiest man in the world to be a Catholic priest."

At our seminarian retreat in August at the Oklahoma City Pastoral Center we had the chance to hear from on Fr. Kirk Larkin. He has been recently diagnosed with a large inoperable brain tumor. He shared his story with us including the ways his life has changed since finding out he has cancer.

When he was younger he was a faithful Catholic but didn't think about the priesthood really. One day his pastor, Fr. Petusky had those at mass turn in pieces of paper with the names of people they thought would make good priests. Kirk of course put did this with everyone else and didn't think anything more of it.

Some time later Fr. Petusky asked to meet with him and told Kirk that he was the person that had been most suggested by the parishioners. This of course came as a surprise. Fr. Petusky said that he would support Kirk if he wanted to do it but wasn't going to force him.

For 5 years Kirk continued with his life through his late 20s but none of his relationships really seemed to work out. They didn't end badly, there was just that something that never seemed right. Finally he came back to Fr. Petusky and agreed to try it for one year. He did so well he skipped 2 years of Conception and went to 4 years of theology and was ordained.

After 6 years of priesthood he started to notice that he was very suddenly having trouble remembering things he had long ago memorized and even reading was difficult. Medical tests revealed a large inoperable brain tumor.

Now, I've not met many people with cancer, especially the kind as severe as Fr. Kirk Larkin's but I can still say that he is very unique among this group. He is so optimistic and joyful. His every word, through no intentional effort of his own, makes you feel that pure kind of happiness like when you see a newborn baby or a couple at their wedding. He truly speaks with the peace of Christ.

Where some people might despair and loose hope he has found all the hope in the world because he knows that God is with him. He said, after reflecting on his vocation, "I am the luckiest man in the world to be a Catholic priest." He understands the awesome gift and responsibility he has received to be able to be the hands and feet of Christ, to act 'in the person of Christ' as he delivers the sacraments to his people. To do the work of Christ is to truly know Him.

He said later, "I am really not afraid of death." He is looking forward to the everlasting life with the Father, for the place prepared for him (John 14:2) and he understands truly the nature of prayer and the intercession of the saints when he says, "I can do infinitely more in heaven than I can do here."

The other priests there had some words to and about Fr. Larkin. Fr. Scott said, "I imagine him holding a cup with me at the altar, connected through the Eucharist."

And Fr. Novak, commenting on the likely brief time of Kirk's priesthood relative to how well he has fulfilled his vocation said, "It doesn't matter how long we serve, but that we serve."

I only met him briefly but in that short time he made a huge impression on me and though I of course hope to not get brain cancer I now have a great example of how to live in the face of supreme challenge, with supreme trust in the promises of Christ. Thank you Fr. Larkin!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Stem Cells (and their Funding)

I have in the past written a paper on Stem Cells so I am familiar with the topic. The technology has surely advanced in the time period since but the moral implications of the branches of research has not. I am writing this now because of the recent discussion of stem cells related to the cessation of funding for embryonic stem cell research. This in not intended to be a technical report. Please forgive the lack of specific data cited. This argument is not predicated on technical facts only moral facts.

In short, as stem cell is a type of human cell that can differentiate into any necessary kind of cell. The benefit of this is that parts of the body that are not self-repairing can be repaired. Example: If you cut your skin it heals because it is self-repairing. If you cut you spinal cord it doesn't because it isn't self-healing; you're just paralyzed. (The reasons why different parts of our body do and don't heal, while interesting, isn't relevant to this discussion.) However, you could inject stem cells in the cut region of the spinal cord and those stem cell would turn into spinal cord cells and heal the cut.

As should be obvious, stem cells look like a massively important medical implement and as they can be acquired morally they are, however not all sources or Stem Cells are morally permissible.

Stem Cells come in two basic varieties, embryonic and non-embryonic. Both varieties, after acquisition are grown and kept in the same manner as any other kind of human tissue can be.

Embryonic stem cells are harvested from within a fertilized human embryo (egg and sperm). Because the cells of an embryo are differentiating into all the different kinds of cells necessary for a human body it is full of stem cells. In this process the embryo is destroyed.

The other kind are non-embryonic which are harvested from regions within living humans or from places like umbilical cord blood. Harvesting of this kind of cells leaves no damage to the donor.

The moral difference is this: At conception, a life begins. Therefore the destruction of an embryo to harvest its Stem Cells is a destruction of a human life. Non-embryonic cells require no such destruction of life.

Analogously, embryonic stem cell harvesting would be like taking a person, against their will and removing their internal organs to be used elsewhere leaving the 'donor' dead.


Some might argue that it embryonic stem cells should be pursued regardless because of their large benefits but they are committing a logical fallacy in their argument. They say that stem cells give someone suffering from some ailment a better life, which is true, but what they neglect is that the better life for one person comes at cost of total destruction for another life. They are quite literally arguing that 1 < style="font-style: italic;"> grow up? Being used to cure cancer or something is equally important."

Response: Who's to say that embryo's purpose in life is to be used for stem cells? Another human being is hardly at liberty to divine the purpose of a fellow human. An argument that the purpose of certain embryos is to be destroyed for research is analogous to an argument that certain Africans existed for the purpose of being slaves. In both cases a human being is destroyed against their will for the good of another. (I considered putting good from the previous sentence in quotes to show that I was using good ironically, but I decided against that. The benefits of embryonic stem cells are good just as the produce of slaves was good. The problem in both cases though is that the bad is worse that the good is good)

Maybe that embryo's purpose in life is to grow up and cure cancer as a doctor.

There's no way we can make proclamations about what a human being exists for and so we must give all humans the chance to be what they will be.


As for the funding part; if, as argued above, embryonic stem cell research constitutes a destruction of a human life then that would mean the government is funding destruction of human life, something most people would rather their tax money not support.

To repeat an important point: Only embryonic stem cell research is morally impermissible. There is nothing morally wrong with non-embryonic stem cell research.

*to those that get emails about this blog, the repost is b/c of fixing a typo. Apparently there's no way to edit a post without reposting it...If there is, let me know.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Christian Community Experienced

At the end of Totus Tuus I made a list of things to do and people to see before I headed off to school in Indiana. One thing on that list was the Matt Maher concert in Jenks on the Riverwalk. . I knew that many of my teammates from the summer would be there as well as many others from Tulsa. The ‘many others’ are friends I have come to know through various retreats and events in the Tulsa Diocese that I’ve been fortunate enough to attend because of Stillwater’s close proximity to the city and inclusion in the Diocese. [This led to the irony that until I went to the ‘Seminarian Days’ retreat for my own diocese I knew more about the Tulsa diocese for which I am not a seminarian.]

I met with Totus Tuus people for ice cream before the show and we reminisced about the summer. As start time for the concert got closer we strolled down to the Amphitheatre and found seats. As the general area began to fill I would look around occasionally and see someone new. First it was two other Totus Tuus girls, then some TEC people and even some priests.

The show starts and most people are standing. I'm sitting, but not out of disinterest. I sit down where I can't see just so that it's only the music I experience, at least until I get a good feel for it. I haven't listened to praise and worship music recently but I know Matt Maher is a good musician so I wanted to make sure and appreciate the music without getting distracted by what the band members looked like or how they had the sound equipment set up.

To my right was Fr. Kerry Wakulich, a recently ordained priest of the Diocese of Tulsa. In short, this guy is a good way. He has so much energy and is just all over the place, literally. During one of the livelier parts of the concert he was standing on the seat behind me singing jubilantly, jumping around and cheering. He's one of those people that it's not possible to be in a bad mood around. His joy is too contagious. He’s doing all this of course in his black clerics and traditional roman collar. An unusual (but awesome) sight for sure.

To my left is the lovely Miss Kelly the Greater (a nickname from the summer. I'm Kelly the Lesser); less jumping that Fr. Kerry, but just as much joy. I've rarely seen someone get so much out of Christian music. Yes a lot of people have experiences of God when they listen to praise and worship and yes I'm biased because of our friendship but with her I know her joy isn't just because of the musical experience but rather what is contained in the music, the Truth of God.

In between these two was a good place for me. I tend to fancy myself quite stoic. I like to pretend I'm a philosopher that needs to stay quiet to let the ideas develop. Sometimes this is true; most times it isn't. I need the reminder that sometimes I just need to relax and have fun. I’m not too good to clap and sing along. As the first few songs were played those around me were helped me to get into the spirit (Emotional and third member of the Trinity) and eventually I stood up.

Back before the concert, Kelly the Greater was talking about going to school at St. Gregory's University where she's majoring in Secondary English education with a minor in Catholic Theology. Fr. Brian O'Brien, the President of Bishop Kelly Catholic High school in Tulsa, hears this and leans over, business card in hand with directions to call him when she's about to graduate! It wasn’t a promise of a job but it was pretty close. I could tell he recognized in her the passion that we really need in our Catholic teachers, people that have a desire to educate kids especially in the faith, that aren’t just teachers because that seemed like a major they could handle. Even if it’s not there I know she’ll be a great teacher somewhere. This summer when we worked together I wasn’t a student but I learned a lot from her anyways, about what it means to have passion for the faith and how to incorporate that into daily life. The kind of teacher that teaches just by the way they live life, that's what we need!

After the concert the Catholics that had spotted each other before and during the show congregated over in an area of the amphitheatre. Someone suggested we do night prayer (part of Liturgy of the Hours) and so those that had them went and got their breviaries (prayer books); others pulled it up on iPhones. There were about 25 people in a circle for prayer. Many I knew personally but not all. Here that didn't matter. I got to be united with all of them in the common prayer of the Church. (Liturgy of the Hours is prayed by nearly all clergy and religious and many lay people) As Catholic Christians we can be united with each other even though we attend different churches in Oklahoma and even with fellow Catholics all over the world. That’s just incredible!

After we finished night prayer the line to meet Matt Maher had finally gone down and his crew was packing up the equipment. He probably thought he was done until 20 or more of us went over to the autograph area. He very easily could’ve said, “No, I’m sorry. I’m done for today.” But he didn’t do that. I could tell he was tired from the show but he never complained a word and did his best to smile and be grateful for the compliments. Someone lesser might’ve thought himself big for having so many people want to talk to him or might’ve thought he was too good to see a few more people but Matt stayed humble the whole time. It definitely showed me that he is a Christian first and a musician second.

After all this most people headed back home but a few of us stayed including me and two of my Totus Tuus teammates. We found some tables along the Riverwalk a little down from where the concert had been and sat and talked about life and religion but intentionally avoided trivial things. We in a really practical sense; what was wrong with the world but also what we as young Catholics could actually do about it.

As my two teammates were talking I overheard bits and pieces of the conversation of some guys a couple tables away. Words like “denomination”, “faith” and “belief” were drifting my way. I debated with myself for a couple minutes until my friends, realizing what I wanted to do, gave me ‘permission’ to go over and talk to these guys. I went over with the promise to myself that I would not try to analyze and fix whatever they were discussing. They were really nice guys and let me join their talk. They were sharing with each other the struggles they had been through in life and how their particular faith had helped them through and the things they had discovered along the way. One guy even went and got his guitar and played a song he had written about his challenges. He was actually a pretty good songwriter. After the second song I excused myself back to my friends happy to have met those guys and more well-rounded for the experience.

Soon my teammates and I were ready to head out. When we got out into the parking lot and prepared to part ways I confessed that I hadn’t really planned a place to stay that night in Tulsa and had sort-of forgotten to ask around earlier in the day. David offered me to stay at his place, an offer I was very grateful for especially on such short notice. I followed him back to his place and slept quite well on the soft new carpet. It was a good end to a great day.

Reflecting back I realized how the whole evening had been a huge illustration of the awesomeness the Christian community. All the people I saw that I knew reminded me how blessed I am by those around me. The charity of Fr. Brian to Kelly the Greater, Matt Maher staying to meet more fans after he thought he was done, those guys to me letting me join their conversation and David giving me a place to stay was inspiring.The joy of those around me at the show reminded me that it’s not all about saying wise things or writing well. Most of all though, the common prayer and praise of God through music demonstrated that the Christian community is not only possible but very beautiful and welcoming just as Christ intended.