Tuesday, September 6, 2016


Andrew Peterson.... just listen.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Saving Iraq


The following is a heart-felt letter from a dear friend of our family, Mother Olga Yaqob. Please read, make any I effort you can to assist, and share with as many people as you can to help these poor souls at this horrific hour of their crucifixion. 

_____________________________

“We are one human family whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological  differences. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, wherever they may be.”

- USCCB on Solidarity


Dear Brother and Sisters,

Peace and blessing to you. I pray this letter finds you all well.

First, I wanted to take this time to express my deep gratitude to you, your families, your parishes and your communities for your care and prayerful support for the people of Iraq, who have suffered such a catastrophic tragedy in recent weeks. 

Second, inspired by today’s request from Pope Francis: “I ask all Catholic parishes and communities to offer a special prayer this weekend for Iraqi Christians,” I thought to ask for your assistance through prayers and, if it’s possible, through sharing this email with others.  Saint John Paul II said on December 30, 1987, “The ‘evil mechanisms’ and ‘structures of sin’ can be overcome only through the exercise of the human and Christian solidarity to which the Church calls us and which she tirelessly promotes. Only in this way can such positive energies be fully released for the benefit of development and peace.” 

It is my prayer and hope that our spiritual communion in praying for those who are suffering will become a seed of solidarity that, hopefully, one day, will grow into a more peaceful world for generations to come. 

As a servant of God and His people, I have served the Iraqi people from a very young age all through four wars. In those years, inspired by the teaching of Blessed Charles de Foucauld on universal brotherhood, I made an effort to learn four other local languages besides my Aramaic native language in order to be of service to all: Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, Chaldeans, and Armenians. Given the large percentage of Muslim communities in Iraq, I also chose to study Islam according to the tradition of both Shias and Sunnis, for two years so as to be of service to them. Through those years of serving in various villages and among many different ethnic groups and tribes, I became a strong believer of the power of solidarity that creates a bridge for healing and reconciliation.


The devastating reality of the last month and a half in Iraq stirred up in my heart the old memories from my homeland. In the last few weeks, despite the darkness of hatred, revenge, persecution, humiliation and death, I could not let go of the hope that the light of healing, reconciliation, human respect and honor of each others’ religion and tradition, that I saw for decades of growing up in a land that is made up of all these tribes, ethnic groups, and religious communities, would not be extinguished.  It was my confidence in this hope that led me to reach out to most of you, other religious and humanitarian organizations, and most of all, to have a daily contact with the Catholic leaders in Iraq.

These are some of the ways that we, together, can help build solidarity for peace:

1) Prayer: Yesterday, August 8th, the USCCB invited all the Catholic Dioceses in America to pray in a special way for peace in Iraq on August 17th. I was moved to tears of gratitude on behalf of all my beloved people in Iraq.

 

2) Raising awareness of people around us about the truth of this tragedy. Invite people to stay connected and informed. You are welcome to share the videos and the article below to help people be aware of the suffering that is taking place in Iraq.  


A 14-minute interview on EWTN:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=chnP_hHIE_M&list=PL0B89A05F9F6D3E47


A 9-minute video that I put together as a tribute for the Iraqi people:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0dNiDU_3M1A

 

An interview article by Our Sunday Visitor Catholic newspaper:

https://www.osv.com/osvnewsweekly/article/tabid/535/artmid/13567/articleid/15725/conflict-in-iraq-gives-nun-mission-of-peace.aspx

 

2) Donations. I'm sure there are many good organizations that are trying to help. One of them is Catholic Relief Services, who has already established a special fund for Iraq. http://emergencies.crs.org/iraqi-families-flee-from-violence/


Though I consider myself like a small voice crying in the wilderness of so much pain, I am confident that “the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” This light of my hope has never diminished because of each one of you, your powerful prayers and spiritual support to the people of Iraq, and your leadership in raising awareness about the need to pray for peace. 

With the assurance of my daily prayers for you and your loved ones I conclude my letter of gratitude to all of you and all the other American Bishops with the words of a traditional hymn (A Song of Peace):“May truth and freedom come to every nation;
may peace abound where strife has raged so long;
that each may seek to love and build together,
a world united, righting every wrong;
a world united in its love for freedom,
proclaiming peace together in one song.”


Gratefully yours in the Sacred Hearts of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,

Mother Olga of the Sacred Heart,

mother servant of the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth

www.dmnazareth.org

617-731-0379

Let us live for God alone, 
love Jesus without limit and 
“cry the Gospel with our whole life.” 

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1BBE6E38-7C50-40A8-949C-3BA794B2C471

9C1CA6BA-993C-42FC-A95A-A9D508428069

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Hymns to the Silence


Van Morrison is a master of sound and soul and I think it all comes from his courage to sit in silence. There's a silence that we feel in sadness and solitude and we feel it in the blues, we feel it in the spaces between Van's music. We feel it so strongly in a "hymn" like this one. 

Silence scrapes the soul clean of clutter; the clutter of the past of our own regrets and failures, and the future of fears and anxieties. Silence strips us too of comforts and security, the blankets that we tell ourselves to keep wrapped around us lest we feel the cold of isolation. But we all must at some time and often sing our hymns to this silence. It's the silence before the Mystery of Life, of Existence, of our own mysterious, broken and beautiful hearts. 

Blessed John Paul once wrote "To find the mystery there must be patience, interior purification, silence..." How few in the modern world, how few of us in this "Kingdom of Noise" allow ourselves to enter, to feel, to even embrace this cleansing silence. I love the heart of Van Morrison because I believe his is a heart that's allowed itself to be soaked in this silence. And with that courage the heart is solaced by the silence, by the Presence, by the One.

I wanna go out in the countryside
Oh sit by the clear, cool, crystal water
Get my spirit, way back to the feeling
Deep in my soul, I wanna feel
Oh so close to the One, close to the One
Close to the One, close to the One
And that's why, I keep on singing baby
My hymns to the silence...

I pray this new year will be for me a chance to return to that clear, cool, crystal water. To that place where the turbulence in my heart and in the world around me ceases for a time and that reflection of the Mystery, the Face of that Mystery (and therefore my own true face) will reappear. 

"God speaks in the silence of the heart, and we listen. And then we speak to God from the fullness of our heart, and God listens. And this listening and this speaking is what prayer is meant to be..."  - Mother Teresa

Pascal claimed that all of humanity's problems stem from our inability to sit alone, to be in silence. So let's have the courage to create a place for this sanctuary of quiet. Let's sing our hymns and see what swells up in the response, the echo from the Other Side. It just may surprise us, and continue to invite us deeper in. And we may find ourselves both emptied of our feeble sounds and filled with His New Song.

 


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The World Keeps Turnin'

A quick word from our mystical poet Trevor Hall!

The world keeps turnin'
It gets merry like a merry go 'roundIt gets cold like a frozen winterWell I change like summer fallBut I know love is all in allSeeds we're always sowingThe grace is always blowingWe've just got to lift the sailAnd we're bound to hit the shoreWe'll finally calm this storm...

- Trevor Hall


Tuesday, April 17, 2012



I've been graced recently to discover an incredibly gifted artist in Josh Garrels of Portland, Oregon. A grace-filled singer/songwriter with hints of Cat Stevens, Trevor Hall, and Matisyahu, with a passionate heart for God. He is a fervent seeker of the One and musically soars above so much of the canned music of our age. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Marriage Made in Heaven: Soul Meets Body



Ignore for a moment the strange name of the band, Death Cab for Cutie. If they knew how big they’d become on the music scene, lead singer Ben Gibbard confessed, they would’ve thought twice about picking that obscure name anyway. ("Ben Gibbard - Interview". Time Out Chicago. August 24, 2011) In this month of Valentine’s where we seek the warmth of love amidst the cold of winter, I’d like to take a look at this band’s sweet song “Soul Meets Body” and their search for meaning in life.


As with everything in this blog that references pop culture and Catholicism, we sprinkle a little holy water on it and voila! We have something mystical. It’s not meant to be an imprimatur sanctioning the entire life and work of the artist. Reading the lyrics to the tunes he’s penned, Gibbard seems to be a struggling soul who vacillates between a great hope in love’s lasting power and the hollowness that sees this world as all there is. But in this struggle for meaning, so often, great beauty is born. 



From their album, Codes and Keys, released in May 2011, “Soul Meets Body” soars as an achingly beautiful song with echoes of the original plan of God for humanity. It pines for that original unity in which the world and all of us were intended to live, and from which we have all been sundered by sin.




I want to live where soul meets body and let the sun wrap its arms around me and bathe my skin in water cool and cleansing and feel, feel what its like to be new


I always thrill at the hearing of songs like this in popular music, from bands not necessarily religious. It points to that universal thirst for a harmony between flesh and spirit that can be found everywhere, in everything. Musicians today are scratching out their notes in the cynicism of a post-Christian age, amidst scandals and hypocrisy, and even radical doubts and attacks on the existence of God. Some are truly seeking a deeper meaning in things, looking for answers. I find Death Cab for Cutie more real than most in facing these deeper questions. 

As Catholics, we believe God stamped this thirst for healing and wholeness in the human heart to remind us of eternity, and nothing in this temporary world can totally quench that thirst. Nothing can snuff out the desire either, not even a poor first experience of religion, or the scandalous example of some believers. It seems a wound from the past shaped lead singer Gibbard’s vision of the Catholic faith he was raised in. It’s revealed in the song "I Will Follow You Into the Dark":


In Catholic school as vicious as Roman rule I got my knuckles bruised by a lady in black and I held my tongue as she told me "Son, fear is the heart of love" So I never went back 




This experience is beyond tragic, since we know St. John tells us “perfect love casts out all fear.” (1 John 4:18) The wounds of an earthly father can change our view of the Heavenly Father. The sins of a school master can alter our knowing the love of the Divine Master. I wonder how effective this teaching of fear of punishment might be for the young as an introduction to God. Hmm. Ponder this thought of Pope Benedict XVI:




Our first experience of God is so important; we either experience Him as the police guard ready to punish or as creative love that awaits.




Creative love is what we long for, and in fact it’s what God wants to pour out over our hearts through the Church’s sacraments. Sadly for some, individual pieces of the conduit this truth can flow through (namely human beings) can be a bit... rusty. But that’s our fallen human nature, not the Divine water of grace. Gibbard sings that he “never went back” to the Catholic Church (he refers to himself as an “indoctrinated Catholic even though I haven't been to church of my own volition in 10 or 15 years now." - www.filter-mag.com. September 3, 2010) But not going back doesn’t mean he’s not moving forward. Back to the tune of Soul Meets Body:




And I cannot guess what we'll discover when we turn the dirt with our palms cupped like shovels but I know our filthy hands can wash one another’s and not one speck will remain


We must keep digging. This digging deep into life’s experiences can reveal hidden treasures. Listening to the ache for meaning can itself give us meaning. I believe the key here is the element of the journey. The ancients termed it fides quarens intellectum - faith seeking understanding. And we do this together as the song sings, for we need a reunion of not only soul and body, but of person to person, and God and humanity;



And I do believe it’s true that there are roads left in both of our shoes but if the silence takes you then I hope it takes me too. So brown eyes I hold you near cause you’re the only song I want to hear. A melody softly soaring through my atmosphere... Where soul meets body...


For all those seeking a love that satisfies and that original harmony between soul and body, the spiritual and the material, man and woman, there is a melody playing. It’s the Song of Songs. It’s the Creative Love that awaits in the Heart of Jesus, in the ocean of His mercy. Yes, even despite the oil spills of humanity’s sins. He’ll wash one another in this mercy, and not one speck will remain!

In the music video for the song, which I highly recommend watching (below) we see a host of musical notes peeping out of a darkened forest floor as Ben Gibbard walks past. He meets his band in a little cabin and they play their song. We watch the notes rise up through the canopy of trees, over forest and field, past houses and towns and cities, to the sea. Some notes are detained, caught and even captured along the way. But a remnant make it through all obstacles. Those musical notes are each of us willing to seek and hopeful to find. We sing and cry out to the sea to “bathe my skin in water cool and cleansing. And feel, feel what its like to be new...”


Let us pray for a refreshing look at the waters of our baptism. The sea of grace is there for us, and we must swim it!


“Put out into the deep on the sea of history with the enthusiasm of the new evangelization."
- Blessed John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 6



____________________________________________________
Originally published in Phaith Magazine, February 2012

Monday, July 11, 2011

Listen to the Lion

Van Morrison
I've long been a fan of Van Morrison's music for several reasons:

1. He is Irish. Born in Belfast.

2. He is deeply mystical. Just listen to his
Poetic Champions Compose album.... brilliant!

3. He is not a fan of the music industry's obsession with merely
selling music. He wants to make music, the way spouses long to make love.

Van reveals in his very body language that the music is bigger than he is. If you don't know this, then seeing him in concert for the first time can be a little befuddling. Like a priest before Vatican II, he often turns his back to the crowds. This is not to give them the cold shoulder in a sort of musical snobbery. He is leading us into the Fire. Like the priest turning to the East from whence the Son rises, he says "Look, He must increase, we must decrease. Come, let us worship!"
Now let's recall as we proceed, I'm sprinkling holy water on this one, as I do with all of my film and music references. Blessed John Henry Newman said "With Christians, a poetical view of things is a duty. We are bid to color all things with hues of faith, to see a divine meaning in every event." St. Paul says "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely... think about such things." (Philippians 4:8)

Enter Van's "hymn" to the interior life, as I see it, from the album
St. Dominic's Preview, 1972. After an opening line "All my love come tumblin' down", he sings simple lines over and over, delving deep within himself in a sort of contemplative prayer, urging himself and listeners to "listen to the lion, inside."  

I see the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, unleashed to ravage my heart in the words of another metaphysical poet from across the sea, John Donne. I see flashes of Aslan's mane from C.S. Lewis' immortal Chronicles of Narnia. I see the Lion laying down with the Lamb in Isaiah's ancient vision; Christ the King coming to rest in my weak and vulnerable heart. And what does He unleash in me? Van chants on...
"All my tears have flown, all my tears like water flown, for the lion... inside me."
When Mercy hits the sinful human heart, in the place of vulnerability, the chink in the armor we wear daily to protect ourselves, the tears will flow. The question is, will we allow Him access? Can we look up from our own busyness, our constant chatter, and let His arrow pierce us through? Let Love come tumblin' down?

In these days of endless distraction, we must attend to this Lion inside. If we want to sing the songs of Zion once again, from our Babylonian captivity, we must let Him have His way with us. Let the journey within begin, let Him lead us home again. Let the way be that sea of tears, on which we journey. 

"And we sailed, and we sailed, and we sailed... All around the world. And we sailed... and we sailed... and we sailed... Looking for a brand new start." 
 
When Oh Lord will this happen? Where will we hear Your Voice calling to us from the deep? When the muse speaks through the radio. When the poets and the minstrels of our day sing out, even unknowingly, those ancient longings, we can baptize the notes, wash the music in the water of grace. The music is never-ending and always beginning. Listen. Listen to the Lion, inside.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

"Shadowfeet"

I stumbled on this song today after a friend posted another song by Brooke Fraser on my Facebook wall. "Shadowfeet" is an incredible song, and a powerful myriad of faces appears in this video to help in the singing! Ah humanity, all of us so different, and all of us so alike in our yearning for the Infinite One Who alone can satisfy!



"Shadowfeet"

Walking,stumbling on these shadowfeet
toward home,a land that i've never seen
I am changing: less and less asleep
made of different stuff than when i began
and i have sensed it all along
fast approaching is the day

When the world has fallen out from under me
I'll be found in you, still standing
when the sky rolls up and mountains fall on their knees
when time and space are through
I'll be found in you

Theres distraction buzzing in my head
saying in the shadows it's easier to stay
but I've heard rumours of true reality
whispers of a well-lit way

You make all things new

When the world has fallen out from under me
I'll be found in you, still standing
Every fear and accusation under my feet
when time and space are through
I'll be found in you

Monday, May 31, 2010

Steve Winwood and the Blessed Trinity


Isn't it refreshing when we stumble on a song that gets us pondering the deeper questions? (and a snappy rhythm doesn't hurt either) Enter today's Twisted Mystic, Steve Winwood, with the very popular hit "Higher Love" from 1986.

Think about it
there must be higher love
down in the heart or hidden in the stars above.
Without it, life is wasted time
Look inside your heart
I'll look inside mine.

Now there's some good advice; introspection and exploration! Look within the heart and without to the universe. Funny that this is the very method thatPope John Paul II employs when he undergoes his mammoth teaching known as the Theology of the Body. It's called "phenomenological personalism" (impress your friends with that one). Essentially phenomenology looks at our human experiences - what attracts our hearts, what repulses them, what draws us through this life, forever chasing the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.

Steve Winwood (pictured above with guitar seraphim Eric Clapton) asks a very phenomenologically inspired question - "What fuels us in our relationships? What drives us to be more?" It must be, he supposes, a higher love. To this insight, any self-respectin' Christian would respond "amen." And this Higher Love has a Name... The Most High!

Facing our fear and standing out there alone.
A yearning and it's real to me
There must be someone who's feeling for me.

Yes, "somewhere out there, beneath the pale moonlight," someone IS thinking of you, and loving you tonight! This higher love is in fact real to me too, and I've tasted it even in my human relationships. Don't we talk of our love as being something bigger than just us, something we "fall into?" Well, it's more so something we are drawn up into. The Catechism tells us that "God is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and He has destined us to share in that exchange." (CCC 221)

The feast of the Holy Trinity that we just celebrated reminds us of this glorious reality, and our ultimate destiny. Did Mr. Winwood have an inkling of this? Well, who knows, but he's not called a Twisted Mystic for nothing! Listen to this almost mystical prayer from the 80's pop star:

I could light the night up with my soul on fire
I could make the sun shine from pure desire.
Let me feel that love come over me
Let me feel how strong it could be!
Bring me a higher love!

So the next time you're in the supermarket, or put on hold while trying to pay your cell phone bill, and this classic tune comes on, just use it as a chance for prayer. As Bamidbar Rabba once said, "Entrances to holiness are everywhere. The possibility of ascent is all the time. Even at unlikely times and through unlikely places."

Look inside your heart
I'll look inside mine.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Dance with Me

So often it seems there are two opposing images of God and Life that stand in the ballroom of this world. And they don't dance well together. Life wants to boogie, and God (we think) wants to sit with folded hands on the sidelines. 

While we're making our moves through Life, jumping "to the beat of the rhythm of the Night", and "everybody working for the weekend," God seems like the garish light of Day. 

"OK, party's over. Get ready for Church!" 

In this vision, God is the Debbie Downer, the wet blanket that smothers any spark of passion we find on the dance floor of Life. We have here the dynamic of pleasure versus puritanism. If it feels good, there must be something sinful in it. If it's boring, dull, uptight, it must be the morally right thing to do. But what if both extremes are faulty steps in the dance?

Years ago, during my discernment in the seminary, I remember giving talks to high school students, and they would always ask questions like this: "Can you go to parties? Can you work out? Can you listen to music? Can you drink beer?" It was apparent that their vision of seminary, or of being "religious", involved walking around with candles, chanting in Latin, and generally looking like liver and onions was for dinner... again.

But is this vision of the "Divine as dull" accurate? Is faith boring? Is God's dream for us one of gloom and misery, penance and pain. Are we allowed to "enjoy" this world, this life, or must we somehow seek to bypass it for the Kingdom to come? Why did He create us after all? What is our purpose? 

It seems that the desire to dance runs deep... to lose ourselves in something bigger than ourselves, to find ecstasy (which means literally to stand outside of ourselves). What do we do with this desire? It's universal, it must mean something.

"The fact remains that we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the wind, and join in the general Dance."
- Thomas Merton

Who is God? As the song goes (and ironically I'm not a huge fan of this song) God is the "Lord of the Dance." God's deepest identity in fact is not the lonely Old Man watching to see if you keep the rules, but He is the Dance. What does the Church really teach about God? "God Himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and He has destined us to share in that exchange." (CCC 221) Whoa.... ponder that one. Eternal giving and receiving, Eternal Love! Isn't that what our hearts really want? Wouldn't that be ecstasy? This is God's deepest identity! He is an ecstatic, eternal communion of life-giving Love! He is a Trinity! And this Blessed Trinity is Who we celebrate today!

The Old Testament book of Proverbs from today's first reading sings "When the Lord established the heavens I was there... and I was his delight day by day, playing before him all the while, playing on the surface of his earth; and I found delight in the human race."

It's time for some revisionist thinking on just Who God is, and on just what kind of Dance we're invited into. Who's giving these blurred and stilted images of God to us anyway but those who are only "dancing with myself" as Billy Idol once piped? That sounds boring to me. So let's cut loose, and get footloose in a manner of speaking. As Augustine once said, "Love God, then do what you will!" Let's dance in the Love and Light of this incredible God today, in the Great Dance of Eternal Love. 

And a word of advice from personal experience; Let Him lead.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What's Love Got to Do With It?

You must understand
That the touch of your hand
Makes my pulse react
That it's only the thrill
Of boy meeting girl
Opposites attract

It's physical
Only logical
You must try to ignore
That it means more than that...


What's love got to do with it? A good question to pose in our "hook up" culture where sex has been torn from the seemless garment of its original meaning. In the light of the Theology of the Body, Love's got everything to do with it! To say otherwise is like tearing the notes from the music, the blue from the sky, or the light from the sun! Love is so essential to human relationships that they aren't really human relationships without it! 


In Pope John Paul II's early work Love and Responsibility, he taught us that feelings and attractions are good and integral in our relating, but still form merely the "raw material of love." The spark that lights the fire. But if we stay only at this base level of attraction (where the "touch of your hand makes my pulse react"), we can actually begin a disintegration of the person before us, rather than the integration that love aspires to. Once pleasure becomes the only purpose for coming together, then the person is lost. It's called utilitarianism - you are an object essentially for me, and I for you. But "will you still love me tomorrow?" Well, the person isn't even loving you today!


Oh whats love got to do, got to do with it
What's love but a second hand emotion
What's love got to do, got to do with it
Who needs a heart
When a heart can be broken



This is classic Twisted Mystics material! In photo negative fashion Miss Tina has given us the true image of love! Simply take what she says and flip it on its head! The heart is in fact made to be broken. That's the very definition of love! The closed inward looking self, the cocoon of the heart must break out into the winged gift of love for the other person. It must step out and into others, not grasp and drag others into itself. The caterpillar consumes earth, the butterfly is consumed by the heavens.

I've been taking on a new direction
But I have to say
I've been thinking about my own protection
It scares me to feel this way

 

Scared? Welcome to the real world - the world where love is a possibility and the potential for everyone. It is scary because in love the heart must become transparent, vulnerable, and dare I say OPEN to the light of day. So many today engage in "protected" sex.... but let's stop and ask "What are we protecting ourselves from?" It may start at STD's and unwanted pregnancies, but press in further. Is it fear of commitment, fear of love? Now why would we fear love? 


Like our first parents Adam and Eve, we want to run and hide from the sacrifice of love, the radical trust that love asks of us. But in the words of Pope John Paul II, were invited to "not be afraid...." of anything. Love is not just a "sweet old-fashioned notion" then is it, Miss Tina? It is "ancient and ever new".... but that's another Song altogether, isn't it?



Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Amazing Grace of U2 by Christopher West

A new book called The Gospel According to U2 captures two of my great loves in life - Jesus and the music of these four men from Ireland: Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen Jr. Most people who follow popular music know about the Christian roots of the biggest rock band in the world. But many of the Christians who followed U2's career in the 1980's thought they "lost it" in the 1990's. I was one of them. And I was wrong.

Truth be told, I wasn't much of a Christian in the 80's. I was a rebellious teenager pursuing the pleasures of the world, and, because of it, I was empty. In no small measure, it was the music of U2 that kept me alive during those tumultuous times. With these guys, it wasn't your typical "sex, drugs, and rock'n roll." They sang about dying for love and yearning for heaven. Anthems like "Pride" and "Where the Streets Have No Name" got in my blood and became hymns of hope. They stirred a voice in me that sometimes whispered and at other times screamed: Keep searching!

I was new to faith in the early 90's, and it seemed the band that had inspired me to pursue belief had now gone off the deep end. I couldn't help but love the Achtung Baby album, but what was one to make of Bono appearing on stage dressed as the devil? It seemed he had flipped completely to the "other side." With tinges of self-righteousness, I decided to "pray for him."

In 2000, a friend and fellow fan of the "earlier U2" called me with great delight having just listened to their latest album All That You Can't Leave Behind. He said two simple words: "They're back . . ." They were indeed - as was my enthusiasm for their gift. In fact, I became a bigger fan of U2 in my thirties then when I was a teen. And I was also put to shame for how judgmental I was of them during the 90's. As Greg Garrett, author of The Gospel According to U2 put it, "What those in panic mode did not understand [about their approach in the 90's] was that U2 had not completely lost their minds; they had merely changed their methods." With deliberateness, they had exchanged their sincerity for satire and irony.

It was a big gamble that took incredible chutzpa to pull off - indeed, they would have to (and did) put their musical career on the line for the chance to make at least two critical points to their vast, but divergent audience. First, by appearing - quite convincingly! - to have bought into the debauched excesses of "rock stardom," they knew a large segment of their fan base would not even begin to understand what they were up to, and would write them off (guilty!). But in the very process they would be demonstrating just how superficial, "uptight," and judgmental believers can be at times (guilty!). Imagine my surprise when I learned that Bono was actually acting out scenes from C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters when he dawned that devil costume.

The second point they were trying to make was aimed at a different segment of their audience - those who thought the excesses of "rock stardom" were the be-all and end-all of life. As with all effective satire, the joke was on those who believed the ruse. By appearing utterly self-absorbed and full of himself in front of stadiums full of screaming fans, Bono was saying: Don't you see how ridiculous it is for you to think I'm as great as you think I am!?

Bono and the gang are certainly not saints. But nor are they your typical debauched rock stars. Those with eyes to see it can recognize that grace is at work in these four men and their craft - amazing grace. This was confirmed all the more for me at a recent U2 concert in New York City. The pinnacle of any U2 show is when the band transitions artfully into "Where the Streets Have No Name," a song about heaven. On this night, it happened as Bono was singing "Amazing Grace" - yes, "Amazing Grace" - with eighty thousand people singing along. Then, behind Bono's voice I heard the familiar organ swell that signals the beginning of "Streets." I was pierced by beauty, utterly overwhelmed. And it seemed that, together, eighty-thousand people were tasting a bit of heaven.

What an amazing grace indeed . . . I was filled with such gratitude for these four men and what their music has meant to me over the years. And I hope this column gives you the permission to "claim the comfort," as Garrett says, that your favorite music has offered you.

___________________________________________________
Written by Christopher West. Published here -
http://www.christopherwest.com/page.asp?ContentID=131


Monday, October 5, 2009

Almost Paradise

I often ask an audience, before giving a talk or a retreat, what they want. What is your deepest heart's desire?

Typically, of course, it goes well beyond the shallow "lottery" or "new car" or "better job" picks. It runs deeper; it's a longing for happiness, joy, peace. And we want it to last. Even in the midst of life's daily experience of fading fads and fashions, frustrated dreams, economic upsets, and a near 50% divorce rate, we press on. We yearn to be happy.

Every human heart has a deep craving for infinite joy. Not just infinitely good feelings, but an Infinite Good. After all, we were made for joy, placed in the bliss of the Garden of Eden in the beginning, and God has destined us for the bliss of Heaven in the end.

"I have come that My joy might be in them, and their joy might be complete."

Oh but isn't Christianity all about rules and commandments and not screwing up? Isn't pure unadulterated bliss.... sinful? Are we scandalized by this idea that God actually wants us to... enjoy ourselves here?

The great secret of Christianity is that God says YES, I WANT YOUR ULTIMATE JOY. He wants us to experience happiness... even now. "Heaven all the way to Heaven," as St. Catherine of Siena put it. And one of the ways God has ordained for being a channel of grace and joy in this life is called Marriage. Yes, ironically, the very thing so often mocked, ridiculed, fractured, and revamped these days in our culture. The very thing that the media paints as being the quintessential wet blanket of spontaneity and fun. But listen to this:

In the joys of their love (God gives spouses) here on earth, a foretaste of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. - Catechism, #1642

Wow. Marriage as a foretaste of Heaven? I've heard it said more than once that marriage is hell! Even when I was first engaged that sad view came to me from certain people: "Oh, the old ball and chain" and "Enjoy your freedom now"

But when viewed through the lens of the Theology of the Body (TOB), this sacrament is seen as a "sign" of something else. The TOB in its profound reflection on the Scriptures reveals that human love, indeed the marital embrace itself, is meant to be a little glimmer, a coming attraction, an appetizer to the Main Meal that will be the Banquet of the Lamb! It's called the Spousal Analogy, and shows us that God's plan from the beginning was to "marry us!"

Earthly marriage is meant to veil the most incredible truth, and point to our deepest desires... our ultimate union with the God Who Is Love in Heaven! Understood properly then, marriage really is "Almost Paradise"....

Enter our Twisted Mystic of the day: Loverboy and the lead singer from Heart.

I thought that perfect love was hard to find
I'd almost given up, you must have read my mind
and all these dreams I saved for a rainy day
they're finally coming true, I'll share them all with you
cause now we hold the future in our hands

Oooh almost paradise... we're knocking on Heaven's door
Almost paradise, how could we ask for more?
I swear that I can see forever in your eyes
Paradise...

The word "almost" in this song is absolutely critical. The Spousal Analogy teaches us that this union with God can only be spoken of in human terms, and that in the end, all analogies will fall infinitely short of the Infinite Mystery of God. Marriage here is forever "almost paradise" because our spouse is a human spouse, with sins, and weaknesses, and limitations like everyone else. But the analogy still shines.

Pope John Paul II has said that this Spousal Analogy is the best way we can image God! He said that it's the least inadequate of all of our analogies and images of God that the human mind can utilize, that of human love! The most intimate picture we can have of God here below then is that of a Lover with His Beloved.... Talk about a paradigm shift from God as Judge, or God as Grandpa!

... and in your arms salvation's not so far away
its getting closer, closer every day...

With the help of grace, and with a keen eye on the proper end of marital union, we can also realize that sex is not the be all and end all of human existence. Communion of our hearts with the Divine is! So, hand in hand, facing not just each other as man and wife, but turned towards the Son, lovers can discover that it's more than a feeling that fuels their joy... In the words of Pope John Paul II, "only the value of the person can sustain a stable relationship. The other values of sexuality are wasted away by time and exposed to the danger of disillusion. But this is not the case for the value of the person... which is stable and in some way infinite. When love develops and reaches the person, then it is forever."

I swear that I can see forever in your eyes... almost Paradise....

God, please grant us the eyes to see not just what is, but what ever shall be!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Pope and Pocahontas

OK, stay with me. I believe this works.

I was recently reflecting on Pope Benedict's latest letter to the world, Caritas in Veritate, and was captivated by the attention and reverence he gave to creation. It was in section 48. And then I thought about the Disney Pocahontas song.


Come run the hidden pine trails of the forest
Come taste the sunsweet berries of the Earth
Come roll in all the riches all around you
And for once, never wonder what they're worth

Now I grew up loving the woods. I discovered Thoreau's Walden when I was in high school and I found myself reading snatches of it constantly, and reflecting on them as I'd walk the bogs or the pine woods of southern New Jersey. As a young Catholic, I discovered that God not only poured his Grace and Love into us through the Bible and the seven sacraments, but through His first Book, Creation as well. God has planted (and continues to plant) countless lessons for us in the rise and fall of the seasons, and in the rhythm of life of all manner of creatures.

Creation is our first birthday present, in a manner of speaking. These miracles around us are like little love letters for us. With prayer and a sacramental vision, we can discover in a walk outside a shimmering trail of signs pointing to God.

Sadly, I've met many "Conservative" Catholics who are afraid to read this book. They feel it's like dipping our toes in the waters of the New Age movement. But how can God's creation, when rightly viewed, lead anywhere else but to... God? Enter Pope Benedict...

Nature expresses a design of love and truth. It is prior to us, and it has been given to us by God as the setting for our life. Nature speaks to us of the Creator (cf. Rom 1:20) and his love for humanity. It is destined to be “recapitulated” in Christ at the end of time (cf. Eph 1:9-10; Col 1:19-20). Thus it too is a “vocation”. Nature is at our disposal not as “a heap of scattered refuse”[116], but as a gift of the Creator who has given it an inbuilt order, enabling man to draw from it the principles needed in order “to till it and keep it” (Gen 2:15).
- Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 48

Years ago, when the Disney film Pocahontas came out, I remember being struck by some of the lines in the song Colors of the Wind.

You think you own whatever land you land on
The Earth is just a dead thing you can claim
But I know every rock and tree and creature
Has a life, has a spirit, has a name...

Now I knew there was some truth to this, but I knew as well that something was just a bit off as the song continued. Man suddenly became "lost in the cosmos" to quote a Walker Percy title. Just another piece of the mosaic, with "the heron and the otter as his friends." So just as I've met some who shy away from creation, I've met some who have obsessed about it, seeing God as somehow in everything - a kind of Christian pantheism. We should remember that the Spirit hovered "over" the waters in the beginning of Genesis, not within them. That's what we mean by the term "supernatural."

I think we just need balance, which is exactly what the Pope gives us in his latest encyclical:

...It should also be stressed that it is contrary to authentic development to view nature as something more important than the human person. This position leads to attitudes of neo-paganism or a new pantheism — human salvation cannot come from nature alone, understood in a purely naturalistic sense.
- Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 48

Keeping our heads about us is the key. Pope Benedict quoted his predecessor Pope Paul VI as saying that “the world is in trouble because of the lack of thinking.” We need to recognize that our place in the universe is not random or insignificant, nor is our role to act as dominators of the environment.

...It is also necessary to reject the opposite position, which aims at total technical dominion over nature, because the natural environment is more than raw material to be manipulated at our pleasure; it is a wondrous work of the Creator containing a “grammar” which sets forth ends and criteria for its wise use, not its reckless exploitation.
- Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 48

We are sons and daughters who have been given the task of caring for and custody of all creatures great and small. We are stewards of a great gift, and if we are attentive to it, if we listen to it, we can learn much from it. As the Pope said in his letter, "The way humanity treats the environment influences the way it treats itself..." (CV 51)

You can own the Earth and still
All you'll own is earth until
You can paint with all the colors of the wind

That "wind" in my mind is the Holy Spirit, Who alone can give us the insights and the grace we need to untwist what is twisted in our thoughts, our music, our agendas and ideas, and essentially our world. So come Holy Spirit, enlighten us!

With Christians, a poetical view of things is a duty. We are bid to color all things with hues of faith, to see a divine meaning in every event.
- Cardinal John Henry Newman

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Riddle

A couple of years ago, my wife and I were driving from some place to some place else when Five for Fighting's "The Riddle" came on the radio. "Have you heard this one?" she asked. "I don't think so..." Then she smiled, "You're gonna love it." She was right.

"The Riddle" is a tapestry in tune that weaves man's fear of being insignificant, the quest for meaning in life, and a child's sense of wonder into a love song. For Love, we discover, is the answer to the "Riddle."

Love is at the heart of singer/songwriter John Ondrasik's other works as well (The name Five for Fighting is not the number of band members, incidentally, but alludes to the penalty time for fighting in hockey). Through a dominant lead of piano and his operatic ability to hit those soaring notes, Ondrasik begins with the question of questions put to an old man who is soon to die; "What's the sense in life?"

What is it all about? Why me, why here, why now? The answer comes as a riddle. The aged man invites the younger to ask the big questions, to experience the wonder of the world and draw his own conclusions.

He said, "Son, why you got to sing that tune?
Catch a Dylan song or some eclipse of the moon?
Let an angel swing and make you swoon
Then you will see, you will see..."

Then he said, "Here's a riddle for you.
Find the answer: There's a reason for the world
You and I."


Today, we are so often made to feel insignificant as human persons. Some larger entity becomes the driving force of our efforts and our time, and we are cogs in the machine, consumers that must consume to drive on the economic mechanism, the success of the Almighty Dollar. But we know there's more to Life than this. We all hearken to the strains of this music that sings us a fairy tale, a story about our being More than just random pieces in a random puzzle that's the result of random chance.

"Man is not a lost atom in a random universe"
- Pope Benedict XVI

The younger man in the song grows older and has a son of his own. Still he longs to know the answer to this riddle of human life, and asks his son on the way home from school if he's "learned anything";

He said, "Dad I'm big, but we're smaller than small
In the scheme of things, well we're nothing at all."
Still every mother's child sings a lonely song
"So play with me, come play with me."


And hey Dad, here's a riddle for you
Find the answer: There's a reason for the world
You and I?


Faced with the enormous size of the universe, we can often feel that "in the scheme of things, well we're nothing at all." But it is not always the size of a thing that matters. Is not the miracle of human life communicated through the microscopic cells of sperm and egg? If the human body were compared to a universe, and those reproductive cells could speak, they would certainly think themselves insignificant. But the continuation of the human race literally depends on these seemingly insignificant, "smaller than small" cells!

Some philosopher's speak of the anthropic principle, according to which the whole universe seems to have been mapped out from the start for human life to develop. Dr. Peter Kreeft says "If the temperature of the primal fireball that resulted from the Big Bang some fifteen to twenty billion years ago, which was the beginning of our universe, had been a trillionth of a degree colder or hotter, the carbon molecule that is the foundation of all organic life could never have developed. The number of possible universes is trillions of trillions; only one of them could support human life: this one. Sounds suspiciously like a plot. If the cosmic rays had bombarded the primordial slime at a slightly different angle or time or intensity, the hemoglobin molecule, necessary for all warm-blooded animals, could never have evolved. The chance of this molecule's evolving is something like one in a trillion trillion."

The Riddle sings on...

There are secrets that we still have left to find
There have been mysteries from the beginning of time
There are answers we're not wise enough to see
He said, "You looking for a clue? I love you free."


For me, sitting in the car with my wife, driving down a random road to a place I can't remember now the first time I heard this song, I felt that "love" flowing right from the lips of the Creator. The answer to the "problem" of human life, of the whys and whats, is none other than a Person. We are here for each other.... You and I. We are made for communion with God and Neighbor. We are made to be gifts... and everything made is a gift for us.

A spirituality of communion indicates above all the heart's contemplation of the mystery of the Trinity dwelling in us, and whose light we must also be able to see shining on the face of the brothers and sisters around us.
- Pope John Paul II


If we surf through the lyrics of some of the "top hits" today, we find very few that celebrate the pure gift of love, the sheer wonder of looking at another person as gift and not just something to use for pleasure or power. "The Riddle" is a refreshing return to the miracles around us and in us as human persons, to the vision of life that is free from the distorted lens of lust. To the wonder of You and I.... made in God's image and called to image God.

The batter swings and the summer flies
As I look into my angel's eyes
A song plays on while the moon is high over me
Something comes over me

I guess we're big and I guess we're small
If you think about it man you know we got it all
'Cause we're all we got on this bouncing ball
And I love you free, I love you free....


If I could add anything to this Twisted Mystic, it would be to untwist this last verse. Are we all we've got on this bouncing ball? Does Ondrasik leave out the Divine Musician Who set the melody to this music in his own heart? Well, the riddle perhaps continues in another song of Five for Fighting's... "If God Made You:"

I can't say what I might believe
But if God made you then He's in love with me

This Twisted Mystic is obviously still searching for answers. But aren't we all?