Saturday, October 8, 2011

Single Scope Charity

This morning I went with a group of seminarians to Louisville to join a local pro-life group in praying outside the abortion clinic. But don't worry, this post isn't about the abortion debate. That's only a backdrop. Anyways, we were there on the sidewalk across the street from the clinic praying a Rosary. Most of the approximately 40 people were kneeling on the sidewalk but I happened to be standing up against the building. I had my eyes closed so I wouldn't be distracted by things happening across the street so I was surprised when someone tapped me on the shoulder.

I opened them and looked to my left. A man quickly said 'good morning' and introduced himself as Robert. By his appearance Robert was clearly homeless but with the exception of speaking extraordinarily quickly seemed fairly normal. He asked me for some change so he could get a cup of coffee and maybe a sandwich. I reached in my pocket but immediately remembered that I had nothing in my pocket but some ink pens. (I don't carry my debit card or cash most days because there's no reason to here at the seminary so in my haste this morning I only pocketed my usual pens and rosary).

I turned my pocket inside out to show that I really had nothing. His face fell and he began to speak glumly and although I couldn't catch every word I certainly got the point of what he was upset about: "So these people can be all pious praying here on the sidewalk but can't spare change for someone hungry right next to them?"

I asked the people around me if they had any money and all said no. I don't know if they really didn't have any, like me, or were just afraid to interact with this guy and said 'no'. It's not my place to say but the look on their faces when I asked was certainly of apprehension and nervousness. Robert quickly realized he wasn't getting any help and walked off through the prayers reiterating his earlier comments...and I couldn't help but agree.

Yes, if abortion is really the evil we believe it is then praying in front of a clinic is charitable but that doesn't excuse us of responsibility for other people in need. (Even if we're not sure how our charity will be used, it's better to be too charitable than not charitable enough.)

St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Patron Saint of the homeless, pray for him.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Charity Mis-Represented

"The need is constant!   The gratification is instant!

The [local place] Blood Drive is coming!"

said the email I received this morning. Now, maybe I'm just being antagonistic but the second sentence of the tagline about instant gratification really bothers me. It makes me sad and a little upset to see personal gain trumpeted as a reason for being charitable. Yes, they mention the need, but fulfillment of the need is not the motivation they promote. It ought to be. If you're going to give blood the point is that you're doing it to help those that need blood not for some material gain of your own.

Why do I think this is important? Because promoting charity via material (or other worldly) gains for the giver cheapens the charity. To really prove this point would require a long moral-theological tangent but this isn't the place for that. This idea is something we understand implicitly but don't often thing about formally:

Giving for personal gain is lesser charity because it isn't selfless.

There are two other examples that illustrate this:

I was sitting in on a class once at a public university. A girl a few seats over kept going on about the event the previous night that raised a few hundred dollars for charity via a cover charge on a party where a sizable number of people got really drunk. I am of course a biased observer but by her telling it seemed to me a flimsy way to not feel so bad about drinking way too much. (it was 10:30am and by her own admission she was still drunk.)

This summer I saw many boys wearing "I [heart] B00BIES" bracelets/shirts etc... They idealogically abuse what their trying to save. Usually things worth saving are worth respect. Also, as someone else pointed out to me, 'Aren't we trying to save the whole person and not just the body part?' I know that purchase of those things helps fund research but it is fundraising tainted by an abuse of sexuality.

In all the examples I've given there are charitable ends in mind. I'm not denying that. But I am saying that their charity has been tainted, in various degrees, by the means and ways they go about that charity.

So, am I saying to not give blood? No. Give blood. It is a necessary thing. But do it for the right reason.

And let them keep their t-shirt. You're never going to wear that cheap thing anyways.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Return to Order

This summer was fun. I worked on the "Mission Team" at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic  Youth Camp in Oklahoma City. As a seminarian for the Archdiocese I was assigned there for the summer. It's not something I would have volunteered to do but that's only because I didn't really know about it. Once I got there and figured out my job it was a lot of fun. By the seventh week I was exhausted and ready to be done but that's the case with any summer job. I would definitely go back again but I know that Archdiocese will have need of me somewhere else next summmer.

Anyways, after camp was over on July 29th I had exactly one month before classes began at St. Meinrad in Indiana. What to do? What to do? At first I was plenty occupied with catching up on sleep, doing laundry, reading books etc., thing I just wasn't able to do over the summer due to the busy camp schedule. This recovery process however did not last four weeks. After the first week any delayed activities had been overcome and I was left to find useful things to do.

Maybe it's because I'm still relatively young and energetic or because I drink too much coffee but I have a hard time just sitting around. I have to be doing something useful. That can be reading, writing, drawing, exercising, spending time with family and friends, something I can look back and be glad that I did.

The point is that I need to be doing things and doing them regularly and so I was very much ready to be back in school. At the same time I didn't want to go away from friends and family but without a daily necessary activity (aside from mass, but that only lasts 30min) I was getting restless. I wish I was disciplined enough to stay really mentally engaged without classes and academic deadlines but I am not (yet).

While being back in seminary makes demands on my time that I might prefer to be on a little bit different schedule it is nice to once again have regular things that must happen at certain times. To some people this may sound a little harsh to have most of my daily activities dictated but really it works out better. Once one gets settled in it isn't so much a matter of "I must go to X event at Y time." but rather "I get to go X event at Y time." I am capable of planning my day and being somewhat motivated but when I have good leadership taking care of those big things I can focus on smaller scale things (that in the long run end up being the bigger things).

In summary, it is nice to return to the order of the seminary (run by monks of the Benedictine Order), to return to guided growth both mentally and spiritually.

Please pray for me as I begin my second year of seminary formation.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Vocations vs. the World

I was talking to a friend recently that is considering joining the seminary, reminding him that it would be a good idea to apply. Nearby was a friend of his that took the opposing view. When I asked why they were so insistent that joining was a bad idea they replied that they had taken up a contrary position to undo the 'swaying of his opinion' that I was trying for.

I promptly pointed out (kindly) that their action was no less an attempt at sway than mine and that in my opinion it was a really unnecessary thing to do. The position they had adopted was the position of the whole rest of the world and therefore did not need any help from them.

This might seem harsh but I think it's true. There are plenty of voices out there calling for young people to get married (a beautiful thing, if you're called to it) or, negatively, to do whatever they want, to indulge in whatever makes them feel good, to live a life in pursuit of goods and success. So why then, would it be necessary to fight against someone trying to argue for the religious life?
My point is not to make an example out of this person (honestly, only half seriously) playing the devil's advocate but to illustrate that the Church is the one whose case we ought to be helping plead. As I said, the world has plenty of help but the Church could use a more laborers for the harvest, more fruit-bearing vines, more fishers of men. As I urged two posts ago, if you know someone considering (or who ought to be considering) a counter-worldly vocation, don't be afraid to talk to them. If that person is you, don't be afraid to seek out information and to apply.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Service founded in (Catholic) Faith

Last week, as part of our Seminarian Days retreat (an event for men already in the seminary for the ArchD of OKC, as opposed to the Emmaus Days retreat for men discerning seminary that was the context for my last post) we traveled to Tulsa to get to know our in-state diocesan neighbors. There were many good parts of the trip but what I wish to share here is what I learned during our visit to the new Catholic Charities campus on the north side of Tulsa, specifically the amazing way they run their work.*

First, exactly how many people they serve with exactly what services is not the important part but rather how they do this that is important. Put most simply, they put their Catholic Faith and the principles of Catholic social teaching first and let everything flow from that.

Approaching from the front the facility makes a strong impression. There is a beautiful bronze statue of Mary holding the baby Jesus, larger than life size and made of real cast bronze. The architecture is mission style with real, bold, white stucco and rough wooden beams. Above the chapel, with it's large, bright stained glass windows, is a bell tower in which hang three real brass bells.

Inside, where appropriate, like at reception counters, there is granite. The waiting area has leather chairs. In the teaching kitchen there are industrial grade appliances. In the dentistry area, the exam chairs, the x-ray equipment etc., is all of the same quality one would find in a professional dentist's office. On the patio in the courtyard there are chairs and tables durable enough to last a thousand years. The floors are polished concrete, the doors, all of them, are solid wood (as opposed to those flimsy hollow ones.)

In every room there's a crucifix. The ministries (food, clothing, dentistry, immigration, pregnancy etc...) are named for Saints and they really do ask for intercession from those Saints.

In the chapel...oh the chapel!...the stained glass is large and vibrant. Immediately behind the central tabernacle is Christ's Ascension and on the sides are two relatively modern saints, St. Katherine Drexel and St. Martin de Porres, both of whom worked for the poor and under-privileged. The altar is real Italian marble (with a relic of St. Paul inside). The Stations of the Cross, the tabernacle, the holy water fonts and many other pieces were custom made, by hand, for this chapel.

It might at first feel that all that to just to brag about how nice of a place it is (which it is) but that it's the point. In fact luxury is the farthest reason for all of the above. It's about practicality, about doing things right and doing them for the right reasons. It's about the people that are served and their worth as human beings. And it's about doing what Christ called his Church to do without making any excuses or taking any shortcuts.

The facilities are of high quality (different than luxurious) because the people that are being served deserve to be treated with respect. It may seem silly to some to put nice chairs in a waiting room that serves mostly lower class people but as Dcn. Kevin S., our tour guide and the Executive Director said, "The person sitting in the chair is more important than the chair." These people deserve a respectable environment even if they can't pay for the services they receive. It isn't about the money. It isn't about the chairs. It's about the people and serving them as Christ calls.

And speaking of Christ's call...first, to prayer. The staff prays together up to three times per day, on the clock! Many of the staff pray Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer together in the chapel at the beginning and end of each day from the four-volume breviary. Plus, there's daily mass at noon celebrated by priests from around the Tulsa area.

Ah, the mass! Earlier I mentioned the real wood and the real bronze, the real bells the real Italian marble altar. They're real for the above reasons but also as a reminder of something even greater. Again, courtesy of Dcn. Kevin S.. He said that all these real things are for the sake of consistency, so that when during the mass the priest consecrates the bread and wine into the real Body and Blood of Jesus there is a consistent message. Everything here is true. There are no illusions, no imitations. It all works together as a whole. Real Jesus. Real Charity.

Before I close there are some other details that show the character of the place.
-They raised the money for the chapel first and put it most prominently in the front of the building.
-They take no government funding so that there won't be temptation to compromise values.
-They insist on being classified as a religious organization not just a generic social services organization.
-The 3 bells on top of the chapel are named "Ask and you will receive.", "Seek and you will find." and "Knock and the door will be opened."

In summary, Catholic Charities in Tulsa is a thriving and vibrant campus that helps thousands of people regardless of their backgrounds, beliefs etc., all without sacrificing any of their Catholic identity. Sometimes organizations downplay their Catholicity because they think it will be a stumbling block but Catholic Charities - Tulsa has shown me that such a view is untrue.

I am reminded of the first half of Psalm 127: "If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do it builders labor; if the Lord does not watch over the city, in vain does the watchman keep vigil. In vain is your earlier rising, your going later to rest, you who toil for the bread you eat, when he pours gifts on his beloved while they slumber."

The implication is that with God's help things are really awesome but if God's not involved, what's the point? If the value of the work He helps with is so far above what He doesn't help with why would you ever avoid asking?

*-No one at 'Catholic Charities - Tulsa' contributed to this blog post directly, asked me write it or even had any knowledge of it's existence before it's publication. Everything here is based on my experience of touring the campus and on comments made by Dcn. Kevin S., the Executive Director, that I wrote down during the tour.

Friday, August 5, 2011

On Vocations

This past Wednesday through Friday the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City (ArchD of OKC!) hosted the annual Emmaus Days retreat for young men considering a call to the Catholic priesthood. We had 16 men show up ranging in ages from early high school to late college, some at the insistence of parents or pastors and others of their own desire (which is not to say that the younger attendees were forced against their will but just that someone else had a motivating hand).

There were talks by priests of the Archdiocese, sharing both their vocation stories and experiences of priesthood. Some of the current seminarians also spoke about their reasons for joining and what seminary is like.

While the purpose of the retreat was focused on the priestly vocation, all members of the retreat staff are aware of and were quick to cite the fact that God calls people to many different Vocations. (The Latin 'vocare', simple means 'to call') Married life, without getting into theological intricacies, is a calling on the same par as the celibate life. The follow to that, of course, is that the seminary is not a place where you go once you are sure that priesthood is for you but rather a place to go and find out. There are many men that discern out of the seminary and become great husbands. (The necessary skills and abilities for the priestly fatherhood and the married fatherhood are astoundingly similar.)

Regardless of how many of this retreats participants actually enter the seminary (some said that for sure they were going to apply) it was encouraging to see these young men actively look into what kind of life God might be calling them to.

For anyone that may be considering a vocation to vowed religious life,of any kind, be not afraid to seek information and to try things out. There is no Catholic diocese, religious order or other vow-taking group that does not have a system for trying out that life before formally committing. With everyone you have the time and ability to see if that's really where God wants you.

And suppose you try something out and realize it's not for you, that's okay! It's like dating, no one's going to shun you if things don't work out the first time. If you really put your heart into finding God's will, everything will work out right.

"Do not be afraid." - JPII


For those who may know someone that you think would do well to consider some kind of religious life, 1) Don't be afraid to encourage them (with moderation) and 2) Pray for them (with zeal).

Come Holy Spirit...

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Joy Amid Sorrow

            We all know of the destruction of the tornado in Joplin, MO. Lives and property were destroyed. I have a friend who was scheduled to get married only a few weeks after the storms. She considered canceling the wedding on account of the disaster but I am very grateful and I think it most appropriate that it was not canceled.
            Some might argue that the joy and celebration of a wedding would be out of place and uncharitable given the context of the surrounding destruction but I think that instead, the opposite is true. Celebration is exactly what Joplin needs.
            Now, I’m not saying that there should have been a parade through the ruined parts of town to show off how much fun the wedding party was having but that the joy and happiness that comes from the beautiful sacrament of marriage can go a long way in lifting up a place that certainly needs it.
            Okay, so there are some happy people in town but there are still some not so happy people in tow. How does one group affect the other? The answer goes beyond normal social interaction.
            Firstly, the Marriage was celebrated within the context of a mass, which itself goes beyond social interaction. Mass isn’t just a preacher sharing good words but rather Heaven coming down to earth as the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ through the Holy Spirit. And then, within that, two souls are united in marriage, an occasion for even further heavenly joy. The point is that all this does good for the world beyond way beyond superficial happiness. It the usual kind of benefit we are used to seeing for people in need. It is a benefit beyond physicality. It is a benefit from God.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Ask a Baker About Bread...

And theologians about theology.

Scientists and their science are good and necessary. I want to begin there to avoid misunderstanding. I have a lot of respect for the work they do. It is important and our culture should be extraordinarily grateful for the ease with which we are able to live because of the work of scientists.

Secondly, I want to emphasize that science and Catholic Christianity are not opposites or even contradictory.  (Divisiveness between Catholicism and Protestantism is not my intention here but I can only speak for what I know.)

Those things are necessary to say this: The opinion of scientists on points of religion should be taken very lightly, as lightly in fact as the opinion of theologians on points of science. (Theological commentary on the morality of various scientific achievements is a different matter. They are not speaking of the science itself but rather the implication and/or affects thereof.*)

Now, a scientist may have reasons for believing certain things about matters of religion and those opinions may come about based on what he has seen in his research but those opinions are exactly matters of his personal opinion that should remain distinct from his position as a scientist because they are not the direct result of his science.

This has to be the case because they are not experimenting on the truths of religion. They can't. Religion is lacking exactly the physicality that science deals in exclusively. They deal in different realms.

I'm not addressing specific statements by specific scientists on purpose because I'm not here talking about the rightness of wrongness of any particular opinion but just emphasizing that we ought to be careful about how much weight we give to whose opinions. We wouldn't want to be logically fallacious now would we? (Improper Appeal to Authority is a kind of logical fallacy.)

Earlier I said that I was only speaking from viewpoint of Catholicism because that all I know. That's exactly what I'm encouraging related to opinions of scientists, that and nothing more.

*A theologian criticizing stem cell research, for example, is concerned with whether or not it is right to do, not how it is done.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Hands of an Apostle

I tipped the cruet over his hands. "Lord, wash away my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin." he said, as the water splashed into the bowl held below. Finishing this he took the towel from its place hanging over my left arm, dried his hands and returned it. As I turned away to leave he turned toward the altar and the congregation and began the familiar phrase. “Pray, my brothers and sisters, that our sacrifice may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.

Though it was only a moment, I was then struck by the image of his hands, resting there on the edge of the altar, contrasted against the white linen on the altar cloth. In that glimpse they were at the same time the hands of many old men and also the hands of very special men. This particular man at the altar was Archbishop Buechlein of Indianapolis but the specific location of his ministry is not what is important. What makes this man special is his office of Bishop, his role as a successor to the apostles, and as a successor to the Apostles those hands can do wonderful things.

Those hands, at that moment resting on the altar, will be in a few moments extended out over the presented gifts of simple bread and wine. That humble food will become, through the power of the Holy Spirit, given him by his office, the Bread of Life and the Cup of Eternal Salvation.

Those hands, creased and tired from hard work, when laid upon the head of a young man or woman this Easter will seal them with the gift of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Confirmation.

Those hands, weary, but still with great power, will ordain men to the sacred priesthood, giving them also the power to channel the Holy Spirit just as their predecessors before them, back through the centuries.

Those hands may not have hauled in the nets of a fishing boat, drawn a sword to defend their master or healed paralytics in the Temple in Jerusalem but they are the hands of a servant of God. They hold the staff of a humble shepherd. They are hands in the employ of Christ.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

There's not an App for that.

A friend shared with me this ( article from the BBC about an iPhone app for the Sacrament of Confession. The app guides the user through an examination of conscience and helps them with how to make a good confession.

The current title of the article is"Catholic church gives blessing to iPhone app" but when it was first linked to me the title was "Church blesses iPhone confessions". This might seem like a trifle difference but I suspect that the title was changed after someone pointed out the difference. The original title implies that the app does what someone used to have to step into a confessional to do. Not true.

The Sacrament of Confession is one where the penitent, i.e. the one confessing, confesses their sins to the priest. The priest, who through his priestly office, granted him upon ordination, is acting in persona Christi, in the person of Christ to forgive the sins of the penitent.

Before one can tell their sins they must first know what they are. The act of thinking of and remaining conscious of one's sins is called an examination of conscience. This has always been a necessary part of confession. Since the written word has existed for the entire history of Christianity, either by hand or printed, there has no doubt always been prepared papers that guided penitents through an examination of conscious. This iPhone app is no more than a fancy version of that.

This app has no more to do with the actual forgiveness of sins than the previous papers did. The app may be more effective and user-friendly than past methods but even with the app one must still find a priest and say their sins out loud.

The iPhone has no metaphysical connection with God and can do nothing for your soul in and of itself. Only the priest has that.

This app should be very useful in helping prepare for the Sacrament and I certainly encourage people to use it but they must remember that it is no substitution for actually meeting Jesus in the Sacrament. There's not an app for that.

note: This post is not meant to discuss or even touch the surface of the theology of the sacrament of confession. For a thorough explanation see the "Sacrament of Penance" article in the Catholic Encyclopedia here (

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Straw god

I get a daily 'Word-of-the-Day' email. Mostly it's pretty good but occasionally the author goes on rants about religion. Today's email included this: "As long as we do our work honestly and not hurt others, what does it matter if we believe in some invisible superman in the sky, who happens to have such a fragile ego so as to condemn people for not believing in him, no matter how good they might be?"

He has a point, in a certain way. If you define God as an "invisible superman in the sky, who happens to have such a fragile ego so as to condemn people for not believing in him, no matter how good they might be" well then of course it makes sense not to believe in Him. I wouldn't blame you in the slightest. However, to say that about God and then to attack that view is to commit a Straw Man logical fallacy. (A Straw Man fallacy is where one constructs an idea different from what they are actually arguing against, attacks the different, artificial idea and then continues as if they had defeated the actual idea.)

This comes about in two ways, I think. The first way is that the arguer is well intentioned but has, through no fault of their own, been exposed to wrong information. When they argue they don't know they're committing a Straw Man fallacy. The second way is when the arguer already has a preconceived notion and then gravitates toward information and viewpoints that support what they already believe and thus their commission of the Straw Man is somewhat more willful (though not entirely willful since they are still operating from a false foundation). When they claim to be open-minded it often becomes biased toward what they already wanted to believe or not believe.

The solution is to actually learn, first about yourself and then about your topic, religion in this case. You have to learn about yourself that way you can understand they way you think, to know if you have any biases or preconceived ideas. Having these isn't necessarily bad and you don't have to purge yourselves of them but you must know about them so that you can better understand how you will receive certain information and experiences. Once you know about yourself then you can go on to figure out what you believe relative to provided information. Only then does the process make sense.

In summary, my criticism is less about his specific atheism (that's the strong impression he gives at least) and more directed at the way he has arrived at it. His approach will never yield truth because he isn't really seeking truth.