Archive for August, 2013

Yes, I’m adding another Fr. Barron commentary — but this time, I’m adding my own thoughts as well.

Watch this short video before reading further.  It’s very brief, and my comments will be even briefer.

I just wanted to add something pertaining to the scene in which Andy (Tim Robbins) plays Mozart for the inmates over the airwaves.  When I first saw this movie, I must admit I was thinking to myself: “Andy, you IDIOT!!!  You spent so much time getting in good with the guards and the warden, and now you are practically putting your own neck into the noose!  What’s up with that?”

But the reason he does this is, ironically, the same reason behind the actions which had endeared him to the prison establishment.  He is not doing this for himself.

Baptism of Jesus Christ

Similarly, Jesus Christ came into this world not to be served, but to serve.  Referring to the fact of St. John the Baptist’s testimony to Him, He said this:

I do not accept testimony from a human being, but I say this so that you may be saved. (John 5:34)

People might easily have reacted to much of what Jesus said and did the same way I initially reacted to Andy Dufresne’s gift of music to his fellow prisoners.  He certainly was not endearing Himself to the political or religious authorities of the time, nor to the masses … nor, for that matter, even those who were among His followers (see John 6: 52-66).

But He was not interested in His own “reputation.”  His sole aim was, and still is, to bring to the light those who walk in darkness.

Similarly, the Church, following Her Master’s example, sometimes preaches things that are unpopular.  When She does this, think of Andy Dufresne and Mozart.  The Church’s goal is not to put people down, limit their enjoyment of life, control every aspect of their lives, or to appear “holier than thou.”

Like any good physician, the Church strives to tell people what they need to hear as opposed to what they might want to hear…even if this means She has to suffer for it.

Image from Wikipedia

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There are two problems with the way our society views celebrities.  The first is that we tend toward star-worship, and the second is that we tend toward star-demonization.

Star-worship poses, among other things, the danger of giving our young people and other impressionable folks the wrong values.  Whenever someone like Lindsay Lohan or Alex Rodriguez gets into trouble, we inevitably say: “And to think, our kids look up to them as role models.”

On the other hand, we can also adopt counterproductive attitudes.  We are too quick to judge celebrities’ resolutions toward improvement as being inauthentic — or else we believe they are reforming their lives as they should, but we insist on continuing to hold their transgressions over their heads.

Let’s face it: When addictions and other troubled behaviors become heavily publicized, people don’t forget.  Popular media unfortunately has a way, intentional or not, of maintaining people in their sins…and we, the populace, do no better.  It’s almost as if we, with our attitudes, will not allow them to change.

I think both problems can be addressed by implementing Christ’s great double commandment:

“The first is this: ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone!

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’

The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

Mark 12: 29-31

The first commandment can help us by assuring us that God alone is God; and His Son, Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, who is humanity’s Savior and role model.

If we can keep that central priority in mind, we won’t have to worry about idols — that is, false candidates for God — leading us into destructive behavior.

And then there is the second commandment, which is self-explanatory.  Who are we to declare Lindsay Lohan incapable of change?  And if she recognizes the error of her ways, feels badly about them, and repents, then what do we think we are going to achieve by treating her like the scum of the earth?

She is not the scum of the earth…at least, no more than the rest of us.  She is a precious child of God, made for His love.

We cannot nurture any hope for ourselves if  we do not hold hope for even the very worst of sinners.  Why?  Because then we make everything about us, not God.

On that note, I’ll end with the words of Christ:

Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle.

They said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery.

Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”

They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.

But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Again he bent down and wrote on the ground.

And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him.

Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, (and) from now on do not sin any more.”

John 8: 3-11

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Wanted to share this brief video (it’s less than 5 minutes), which was a top entry in an online film contest that took place last year.

It features a young married couple who chose to manage their family growth using the Creighton Model, which is based on natural bodily cycles and, as I understand, has a 99% success rate.

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This video (which is under 20 minutes) features Fr. Michael White, pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Timonium, MD.  Not too long ago, this church parish was ready to sputter its last breath and die.  Fr. White was ready not only to leave the parish, but also the priesthood over its condition.

Now it is perhaps the most thriving Catholic parish in the United States.

Here, Fr. White talks a bit about the philosophy behind the journey toward revitalizing the parish.  It’s interesting viewing, and a useful contribution to New Evangelization efforts.

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This video was made four years ago, when the first scandal came around.  Apropos now, don’t you think?

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On a weekend getaway in the Garden State.  Couldn’t help snapping a shot of this beautiful (if a little faint) bow shining over the hills behind a train station in Dover, NJ last night, after a day of on-and-off rain.


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RamadanOur Muslim brothers and sisters completed Ramadan, a month-long period of fasting, yesterday.

From what I understand, this is a very strict fast.  Those observing may eat and drink before sunup and after sundown, but at no time in between.  And during this season of longer days, that must have been difficult indeed.

Such discipline and self-denial is vastly admirable, and is one of the traits in pious Muslims that my fellow Christians and I should be open to learning from.

The corresponding observance in Catholicism is, of course, Lent…as well as every Friday, which is designated as a special day of penance (contrary to popular belief, Vatican II did not do away with this — but that’s a subject for another post).

But why should anyone fast?  Isn’t there something puritanical and anti-body about it?  Doesn’t it betray a rather gloomy outlook on life overall?

Some have taken fasting too far, of course.  But a lot of good things have been abused and taken to excess.  Fasting is no more about the aforementioned things than football is about damaging your body and breaking your bones.

I’d like to present three of the main benefits of fasting (speaking from a Catholic perspective):

1. Gratitude. Depriving ourselves of bodily sustenance, as well as other things we have come rightly or wrongly to depend on, makes us aware of our total dependence on our Creator.  And when we look to our Creator with gratitude, we gain a greater appreciation of His goodness, benevolence, and care for us.

Further, gratitude is a safeguard against taking anything we have for granted.  We begin to see that absolutely everything is gift, and we learn to appreciate life as we never appreciated it before.

2. Freedom. Oddly enough, fasting confers freedom on us by making us less dependent on the things of the world for our happiness.  To appreciate the good things life has to offer is good in itself, but we can become too attached to them, and our attachments can take on the character of addiction (albeit usually a mitigated form of it).  Untethered by the bonds that weigh us down, we can walk through life with the lightness and freedom of movement that belongs to the saint.

Saint FrancisThe Franciscan lifestyle demonstrates this most beautifully.  It is no accident that both poverty and joy in creation are chief traits of this Order.

3. Penitence. Here we come to something harder to accept.  Nevertheless, we have to realize that in depriving ourselves of certain legitimate pleasures, we are making reparation for the wrong for which we are personally responsible.  And in Christ, we are able in this way also to make reparation for the sins of the rest of the Body of Christ and of the world.

We have all sinned.  God is infinitely good, loving, and faithful, and we have offended Him.  True, our sins do not affect Him in any way, as they would a creature.  He is God — infinitely perfect and happy in Himself.

But when we sin, we turn away from Him, treating the One Who is infinitely worthy as being not worthy.  And when we do that, we cause serious damage — both to ourselves as individuals and to the rest of the human family (we are all connected in and through God’s providence, after all).

So in that sense, fasting can be seen as a sort of “physical therapy” for recovery from the “injury” of sin.  By a process of painful “exercise,” we can overpower our dominating egos and grow in Christian charity.  And we can, in small ways, begin to repair the damage we have done.

And in that sense, fasting is also a sign of hope.  It’s depressing to think that ultimate reality is either bad or indifferent, and that we are the unfortunate band of helpless creatures lost in the middle of it.  But when we realize that Ultimate Reality is good and that we need to fall back into step with it (or, rather, Him), this changes everything.

I think it’s sad that the spirit of fasting has kind of subsided from the lifestyle of Christians in recent decades — especially since such witness is needed in what is often a culture of excess.  When we see how integral fasting and self-denial are to the devotion of Muslims, we should be inspired to revive our appreciation of this great gem of our tradition.

Image from Wikipedia

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Hubble_Ultra_Deep_Field_part_dScience fiction reaches its peak in space travel.  There is no more imaginative or enchanted “room” in the sci-fi household than the one that houses aliens, spacecrafts, and intergalactic quests.

In part one, we talked about the connection between myth and wonder.  In the great space operas of Gene Roddenberry, George Lucas, and others, science fiction speaks most poignantly in the language of myth.

The imaginative elements, while marvelous and very important to the genre, are only part of the picture.  The whole consists, I believe, of the unnamed, upward-reaching hunger of the soul…of longing in the form of a journey.

The very idea of technological development as a means of launching ourselves to the stars speaks of man’s boundless ambitions.

DanteDetailSuch ambition did not have to wait for the advent of modern technology to be given a voice.  Dante Alighieri, the great medieval Italian poet, ended each of the three books of his “Divine Comedy” with the same word: Stars.

As he emerges from the depths of hell, he rejoices that he can once again see the stars.

At the end of his long climb to the peak of Mount Purgatory, he is now prepared to journey unto the stars.

Having toured heaven and at last experienced the vision of God, he sings the praises of that Love that “moves the stars” (italics mine).

Incidentally, what was it that led the three Magi to the birthplace of Christ?  That’s right — a star.

Imagine lying on the ground and looking up at the starlit sky on a clear night.  What in the world could more evoke awe, wonder, and even a certain holy fear than this?  Beholding the vast expanse of the universe, who of us would not sympathize with the Psalmist, who says:

When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you set in place —

What is man that you are mindful of him, and a son of man that you care for him?

(Psalms 8: 4-5)

Yet by faith we know that we are created for a destiny greater than worlds, greater than universes…literally.

Because of his transcendence, God cannot be seen as he is, unless he himself opens up his mystery to man’s immediate contemplation and gives him the capacity for it. [T]he Church calls this contemplation of God in his heavenly glory “the beatific vision” (CCC 1028)

…no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him. (1 Cor. 2:9)

And in this sense our hope is transcendent.  We know what our destiny is by name: Eternal relationship with God.  But in a very real sense, we must have faith that this is the fulfillment of our desires without yet knowing what it is.  Because while we know it by name, we cannot describe it the way we would describe anything that is within the scope of our creaturely experience.  That’s probably why the premise of venturing beyond earth to unknown worlds is so intriguing to the human spirit.

Prometheus02PR180512I am reminded of Ridley Scott’s 2012 “Alien” prequel “Prometheus,” in which a team of space explorers venture to a faraway planet in search of the origins of life.  By the end, they are quite disappointed and nearly all killed — but (SPOILER ALERT), one intrepid archeologist escapes and determines to journey even further, carrying hope with her…

…in the form of a crucifix.

Batoni_sacred_heartIndeed, such hopes and aspirations as we have been discussing cannot be considered apart from the Eternal Word, Jesus Christ, Who, being God, deigned to become a human being, like the rest of us in all things except sin.

As God-become-man, Jesus bore our sins, infirmities, and death upon Himself, and then in His Resurrection raised human nature to new and eternal life.  As Pope Francis repeatedly indicates in his encyclical, “Lumen Fidei,” it is He who opens up vast, untold new horizons for humanity.

These horizons are open to everyone…not just people who wear funny suits and fly big ships into space 🙂

“Prometheus” image obtained through a Google image search; other images from Wikipedia.

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St. Mary MajorToday is the optional memorial of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome, which I think gives me a good opportunity to talk about the Virgin Mary as the Mother of God.

Many people object to this title.  After all, if God is God, then He doesn’t need a “begetter,” right?  And given the eternity of God, wouldn’t Mary have to have been begetting Him from all eternity?

Obviously, this scenario is preposterous.  And yet in 431 it was decreed at the Council of Ephesus that Mary was indeed the “Theotokos” (Greek for “God-bearer”), much to the delight of the faithful (it is said that the city was lit with the fires of celebration after the pronouncement was made).

Let’s put this whole issue in context…

The Council of Ephesus came in response to the claims of Nestorius, Archbishop of Constantinople, who held, contrary to traditional orthodoxy, that the man Christ Jesus was not God in the flesh; rather, the Eternal Son of God became specially united with the man Jesus of Nazareth, so that wherever the latter went he made the Son uniquely present to everyone he met.

Against Nestorius, the Council affirmed that Jesus of Nazareth was none other than the Son of God made flesh; that two natures, divine and human, dwelt perfectly in Him.  Although His personhood is in His divine identity as the Son, Jesus Christ was — and is eternally — one Person, fully God and fully human (because of the human nature He united with His divinity).

It is for this reason that the Virgin Mary was officially acknowledged as the Mother of God.

There are some who reject this, pointing out that Mary was the mother of Jesus’ human nature only, not His divine nature.


But mothers are not the mothers of natures, are they?  They are the mothers of persons.  Think of your own mother — she has a special relationship with you and with each of your siblings (if you have any) as unique human beings, not just with your “human natures.”

Just so, Mary was the mother of the Person of Jesus Christ.  At the risk of being redundant, I will say again that Jesus was and is, in His divinity and humanity, one Person.

Therefore, Mary is truly the Mother of God.

In and through Christ, she is also the mother of the Church…but that is a topic for another post.

Thanks for reading, and feel free to comment if you have anything to say (provided there is civility, of course).

Images from Wikipedia

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I’ve added another new page up top called “Religion/Spirituality Posts.”  It has a complete list of all of “Into the Dance” posts that focus on topics of religious and spiritual interest.

One problem though: As you will notice, the “search” bar is blocking half of it!  Does anyone know how I can fix this?  Any advice would be immensely appreciated.

Thanks for reading.

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