Thursday, August 30, 2018

Abuse Crisis Reflection

 
Here is a reflection I wrote for the Notre Dame Alumni Association's Daily Gospel Reflection, located at faith.nd.edu.
Gospel: Matthew 23:13-22

Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples:
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You lock the Kingdom of heaven before men.
You do not enter yourselves,
nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You traverse sea and land to make one convert,
and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna
twice as much as yourselves.

"Woe to you, blind guides, who say,
'If one swears by the temple, it means nothing,
but if one swears by the gold of the temple, one is obligated.'
Blind fools, which is greater, the gold,
or the temple that made the gold sacred?
And you say, 'If one swears by the altar, it means nothing,
but if one swears by the gift on the altar, one is obligated.'
You blind ones, which is greater, the gift,
or the altar that makes the gift sacred?
One who swears by the altar swears by it and all that is upon it;
one who swears by the temple swears by it
and by him who dwells in it;
one who swears by heaven swears by the throne of God
and by him who is seated on it."
Reflection

It is a certain rite of passage as children when we encounter the sinful or at least human side of those who serve as our mentors. I can vividly recall scenes when family members and spiritual leaders fell from the pedestals where I had placed them in my mind’s eye. We then begin to understand St. Paul’s message to the Romans that “all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Nevertheless, these are sometimes painful events that, depending on their severity, can present trials to our faith.

I cannot help but read today’s gospel passage without bringing to mind the most recent round of scandals that have plagued the Catholic Church. We weep bitterly with the victims of the abuse carried out by those who were entrusted with their spiritual care, and we cry in disbelief that something so sinister could have gone on hidden for so long. The betrayal is deep, especially because, like the Pharisees in the gospel, these are the leaders who are ordained to protect us from evil and spiritual harm.

We are left wondering what we can do to help, knowing we cannot undo the wrongs of the past or exercise complete control of the future. During my prayer with this gospel, I thought about the following themes that I would offer. We must, first and foremost, pray for the Church without abandoning it. So much contrition, forgiveness, and healing must take place, and our prayers and presence can only help facilitate that. Secondly, we can lend our support to appropriate and ongoing reforms to ensure that the most vulnerable are protected without question, any future abuses are snuffed out without delay, and transparency is the norm. I think it is also important for us to search our own hearts, guard against our own inclinations to sin, and seek forgiveness from those we have wronged. No one is exempt from temptation or the depths to which the human heart can move towards evil, and individuals earnestly seeking holiness is a tremendous means of redirecting our culture.

Finally, I would suggest that we recall that ultimately, we are followers of Jesus Christ and no one else. We commit ourselves to the one who was without sin and who can be our refuge and ultimate source of hope in times such as these.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Journey Through Lent with Art


I have been working on an enjoyable Lenten project for my work at Faith ND called Journey Through Lent with Art. My editor Josh Noem and I have selected works of art depicting the upcoming Sunday Gospel for Lent and paired them with audio reflections we have crafted. For Holy Week and Easter Week, we have prepared art and reflections for each day's gospel. Click the link above to see the entire campaign.










Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas Day Reflection


Here is a reflection I wrote for the Notre Dame Alumni Association's Daily Gospel Reflection, located at faith.nd.edu.
Gospel: The Nativity of the Lord
Luke 2:1-14

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered.

Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.

He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

Reflection

During the summer after my first year at Notre Dame, I participated in a summer service project, serving at a homeless shelter in downtown Denver. While many of the residents there had checked into the shelter for a determined period of time, one area of the building was a large room where the "overflow" guests stayed. These were people who simply needed shelter for the night, possibly because of the weather or the transient nature of their lives at the moment. Each night, the staff would count people at lights-out, making sure there was sufficient room for everyone. Some nights, people faced the same plight as the Holy Family—turned away due to insufficient space.

Today's Christmas Gospel, complete with the details of a very inconveniently timed census and an overcrowded inn, caused me to remember my time in Denver. It is not always clear who counts in our society today and how we make room for others in our lives. Examples race through my mind: a peacefully and miraculously developing baby in the womb, seen only by the ultrasound machine; the sun-worn migrant worker, fighting weariness and hardship to feed his family; the disheveled addict, sleeping in a heap of belongings under an overpass; the weary streetwalker, trafficked and trapped in a silent hell; the frightened victims of an endless war whose ghostly faces show the weight of their worry. Who counts, and how can we make room?

Of course, Jesus comes to show us that everyone counts—from the simple shepherd to the learned scholar—and in God’s house, there is room for everyone who desires a place. What a powerful message contained in a poor, humble baby. This holy and divine child, who takes on all our loneliness, sin, and death, arrives to save us and give us lasting hope. Jesus does not come to redeem only a few. He comes for all, communicating God’s lasting desire to incorporate each of us in the final tally of those eternally happy in the many rooms of heaven.

O come, let us adore him!

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Third Luminous Mystery: The Proclamation of the Kingdom

The following is the final of twenty monthly reflections about the Mysteries of the Rosary as they relate to family life. The mysteries will not be necessarily chronological but presented as they interact with the liturgical year.

          This month’s Rosary mystery, The Proclamation of the Kingdom, is a bit obscure because it does not have an image of an event readily attached to it. I suppose we could conjure a scene in our minds of Jesus teaching his followers, but that is about it. What we are left to do is think of many images that represent the coming of God’s Kingdom that is both underway here on earth and something we hope for in heaven. Of course, with this week containing Thanksgiving, I thought of the picture of the many preparations that are underway in homes across the country as another sort of coming is on the horizon: the coming of family.
          Cleaning the house, putting out the best dishes, preparing special foods, and a variety of other activities fill this week. All of it is geared toward a happy and successful gathering, but as many of us know, all the preparation does little to help if some kind of rift or tension exists within the family. Those sorts of problems take much more work over a prolonged period of time for wounds to heal.
          Preparing for the coming of the kingdom requires an extended effort as well. We often speak about it as an “already but not yet” reality, and what we mean is that certain elements of the kingdom were established on earth in Jesus’ lifetime and exist with us still, but other elements still have to be brought forth in each generation. We are part of both a legacy and a future, and we have the opportunity to help the kingdom grow or diminish in influence on earth by how we live.
          This month, we have already celebrated All Saints’ Day and prayed for our beloved dead on All Souls’ Day. Our common and often our personal pasts are filled with exemplary people who have made the kingdom alive and well in our lives. We strive to be part of this legacy of faith, passing on the Good News to the next generation and helping each other to prepare for what is to come.
          We know all too well, though, that each of us has some area in our lives that could be better prepared for the kingdom’s coming. Perhaps a damaged relationship, a bad habit, or a nagging grudge keep us from being fully ready. While we are in this life, we still have a chance to seek and offer forgiveness, to show greater charity, and to give better witness to what we believe to be true in our hearts. As we hear about the end times in the readings at the end of our liturgical year, we have another reminder about the opportunity in front of us. Perhaps even during this holiday season, we can take some important steps with our loved ones. May we seize this moment to do so, preparing our hearts for the moment when we are fully taken up into the Kingdom of God!

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Fifth Glorious Mystery: The Crowning of Mary as Queen of Heaven

The following is the nineteenth of twenty monthly reflections about the Mysteries of the Rosary as they relate to family life.  The mysteries will not be necessarily chronological but presented as they interact with the liturgical year.

            Given the number of children’s stories that portray members of royalty prominently, it is little wonder my boys have been somewhat fixated on the subject lately.  Their favorite activity is to assign roles to our family, but it took them a while to understand how they all could claim the title of prince.  My most amusing conversation was with my oldest son recently when he told me that, since I was a king, I could simply do whatever I wanted.  I assured him that even a king has restrictions and responsibilities, and if the queen is not happy with something, my title means very little!
             This month, we consider the final Glorious Mystery as Mary is crowned Queen of Heaven.  This is the culmination of all we have come to know and believe about Mary: her Immaculate Conception, her “yes” to God’s request to be Jesus’ mother, the sorrows she endured in life, and her Assumption into heaven.  All of this leads us to what must have been a blessed and wondrous reception into heaven.  The challenge for us is to understand how meditating upon this mystery can enhance our life of faith.
            The first item of importance that came to my mind is fidelity.  To whom or to what do we both pledge and actually give our loyalty?  With Mary, there is no doubt.  She gives her entire life to God and allows the means of our salvation to be born through her cooperation.  Not only that, she also remains faithful during what must have been very trying times, never forsaking hope that God was in control and had a plan.  Our loyalties are often less obvious or committed.  Many things can distract us from our vocations.  But Mary’s life is an important reminder of what God can do with a faithful servant.
            Also, since the intended audience of these reflections is those in families, I think it is essential to remember that Mary lived as she did while a wife and mother.  We sometimes may catch ourselves thinking of holy people in our lives and mentally making excuses for why we fall short.  Perhaps it is a priest, brother, or sister we admire, and we then think how much freedom we would have without the ever-present demands of family life.  Of course, we know that each Christian vocation has its own challenges and joys, and in Mary, we have someone who knows what is like to have a spouse and to pray for the safety and well-being of one’s child.  She managed all this while remaining true to God’s purpose for her.  Thus, she became an exemplary inspiration for us all.
            As we close our series on the Rosary, it is fitting that our final reflection surrounds Mary. She points us to God in all things, and she renews our hope that we, too, might accept the salvation offered to us. The rhythm of the Rosary is one the mimics our everyday lives. Much seems the same in our daily routine, but periodically, astounding and grace-filled moments occur. We have to ensure that the concerns of our day are not so prominent that they distract us from God’s actions because when we do notice them, we cannot help but be filled with gratitude. In the end, it is during our daily living that we ponder these things, like Mary, in our hearts.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Fifth Joyful Mystery: The Finding in the Temple

The following is the eighteenth of twenty monthly reflections about the Mysteries of the Rosary as they relate to family life.  The mysteries will not be necessarily chronological but presented as they interact with the liturgical year.

            Summertime is when many families have a chance to go on a vacation.  And while these are meant to be relaxing excursions that facilitate some family bonding time, we probably all have tales of vacations that have gone awry.  These are the stories that are funny after the fact but in the moment cause a lot of stress.  I am sure each reader is bringing to mind a personal favorite, but many of us have a common story somewhere in our past: a lost child.  Though I could not fully understand a parent’s feeling of fear in such a moment until I became a father myself, losing a child is among the hardest things to experience while on a vacation.  My family still tells the story of when I was lost as a young boy at Santa’s Workshop in North Pole, Colorado.  I only vaguely recall walking around looking for my family, but I can tell you my parents remember it vividly! 
            Mary, of course, shares a similar experience in this month’s Rosary mystery, The Finding in the Temple.  As can sometimes happen when large groups get together, Joseph and Mary assume Jesus is with another caravan member on the return trek from Jerusalem following the Passover celebration.  Upon discovering he is missing, they quickly make their way back to Jerusalem.  They search for their son for three agonizing days until finally finding him in the Temple, curiously conversing with the religious leaders there.
            What happens next is quite interesting.  Mary, both relieved and frustrated with Jesus, questions him why he would do such a thing.  Jesus answers, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”  While it is tempting to dismiss this as a smart aleck remark from a pre-teen boy, there is something much more significant going on here.  Even though Jesus is many years away from embarking on his public ministry, we see that, in his human nature, Jesus is beginning to understand his mission.  While Mary and Joseph do not understand what he means at the time, it will later become apparent to them.
            This whole scene reminds me of a common exchange that happens throughout the development of a child.  Parents tend to want to hold on to children, to push pause on life and enjoy young children for as long as possible.  Children, on the other hand, are often eager to grow up, experience new freedoms, and make their mark on life.  This tension can produce some tears when milestones of graduations, moving to a new city, and making vocational commitments arise.
            When feeling this way as parents, I think it is important to remind ourselves of God’s plan for parenthood.  Children are gifts, given freely by God, and they come with tremendous responsibilities.  Not only do we need to care for their basic necessities, it is also our job to ensure they discover God’s plan for them and eventually help them to live forever in heaven.  Taking this long view, we realize that we do not own our children.  Rather, we shepherd and shape them for a time and then allow them to flourish in the ways God has planned.
            Naturally, this is easier said than done.  My wife and I constantly have older parents reminding us to cherish the time we have with our young family, and I am sure there will be emotional moments along the way where we will have to retreat to the comfort of home videos to relive these days.  Taking the example of Mary and Joseph, we can trust that our children are in God’s hands.  Even when we cannot understand everything that happens in life, we believe in a God who loves and cares for every single person unconditionally and who wants nothing more than to bring all of us home.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Second Sorrowful Mystery: The Scourging at the Pillar

The following is the seventeenth of twenty monthly reflections about the Mysteries of the Rosary as they relate to family life.  The mysteries will not be necessarily chronological but presented as they interact with the liturgical year.

          “You are grounded!” These familiar words were heard by many of us during our childhoods when our behavior was not exactly where it was supposed to be. Losing privileges like going to a friend’s house, watching television, or playing with a toy were hard lessons when we did not live up to our family’s expectations and values. Of course, those punishments pale in comparison to the ultimate form of discipline for many of today’s teenagers: the loss of mobile phone privileges. No matter how we experienced discipline as children, the ultimate aim was to help us reorient our behavior towards a moral end and to help us choose and love what is right. However, sometimes the fear of getting in trouble was a much stronger motivator than anything else!
          In the case of childhood, punishment is usually justified by poor or sinful behavior, but in this month’s Rosary mystery, we have a situation of an innocent man being punished. Jesus is there, having done nothing wrong, and yet he endures some of the cruelest punishment imaginable for our sake. It is amazing to consider the strength of his will to go through with something as painful as a scourging, knowing that all these events would eventually lead to his bodily death.
          What is our response to the realization of such self-sacrificial love? We can only consider the enormity of Christ’s gift every so often, and it can become easy to take it for granted. Even the words that we use to describe Jesus’ punishment and death do not really do justice to the reality of what they were. The Romans had nearly perfected methods of torture meant to produce tremendous pain while leaving subjects alive for prolonged periods. A medical description of what actually happened during a scourging or crucifixion like Jesus’ is not for the faint of heart. No matter what, to prayerfully meditate upon the depth of Jesus’ sacrifice is a fruitful exercise for all of us.
          When we do consider this well and come to a place of gratitude, another curious thing happens in our relationship with God. Instead of living in fear of a punishing God, we begin to flee from our sinful past and inclinations and become motivated by love to do what is right. It is actually a sign of a somewhat immature faith when we only act out of fear. Our goal is to see our sins as violations of a relationship more sacred than any other. We are disappointed with ourselves when we fail in that regard, and we become quick to seek reconciliation when we have done wrong.
          A similar transformation happens during childhood as we mature in our relationship with our parents. Those experiences and lessons can guide the healthy transition in our lives of faith. Grateful for the love of God as shown by Jesus in his suffering and death, we find ourselves seeking to show that love in return by offering ourselves in sacrificial love to others. Rather than being afraid to make a wrong move, we live in the freedom of a life infused by God’s will and guidance.