“Find Christian Singles”

With targeted advertising, I often see such ads as the one above which promises to find other Christian singles for me to match up with.  I also get promises of many other things in my spam folder, which I’d rather not mention.  But the question of what it means to be a Christian single, and whether one can be content being so is an important question.  It’s also an interesting question for me because I’m a Christian who is permanently single.  So, last year, when my friend Beth Knobbe was soliciting articles for a collection of essays on living the single life as a Christian, I wondered: Do I count?

It’s an interesting question because for so many people being “single” means also to be “looking.”  Looking for that person that you might want to spend the rest of your life with, or just looking for someone whose company you enjoy who might make life a little less lonely.  But it could also mean that you are looking for God.  Which is often the case for me despite the fact that we are already “in a relationship.” But often “it’s complicated.”

For me as a priest being single means occasional loneliness, and even a bit of grief now and then over the fact that I don’t and won’t have that kind of relationship that two people who commit their life to each other in marriage hopefully do.  It also means now and then wondering, “what if . . . ?”  Yet, most of the time, my life is fulfilling enough that I’m not preoccupied with these questions.

Thankfully, Beth said that I did count, and so I did take a little time to write a brief essay, as did many others, about the experience of being a Christian single.  Those essays have been edited and collected into a book by Beth called Party of One: Living Single With Faith, Purpose & Passion, which will be published this summer.  So, if like me you have some questions about what it means to be single, and if you count, I’d encourage you to grab a copy when it becomes available, and even pre-order one now if you’d like.  Click here to access the Amazon page for the book.

You just might find that you are not so alone in the many joys and challenges you’ve discovered in being a Christian single yourself.  And for those of you that aren’t single, it might be a reminder of what it was like, or what some of your single friends might be experiencing (or not).  I know I’m looking forward to reading the other essays in the book!

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Osama Bin Laden & A Child’s Question

I must admit to feeling at once relieved, inspired, and disturbed by news of Osama Bin Laden’s death last night.  I saw the images of crowds celebrating outside the White House, heard some fireworks and sirens joining the celebratory chorus nearby, and watched as a student walked past my window on campus, playing the bagpipes.  I found myself laughing uncomfortably.  Clearly, I didn’t know how to feel.

Yesterday, interestingly, had begun with me questioning, in response to a New York Times article announcing the death of Gaddafi’s son and grandchildren: Is this article suggesting I should be happy at this news?  I was disturbed at the thought of celebrating anyone’s killing.  The same question came back to me again shortly before midnight as I listened to the President speak in ways that inspired in me a sense of pride.  When he referred to Bin Laden as a “mass murderer,” I was kind of shocked by the words, but also had to acknowledge their truth.  Later, someone being interviewed said, claiming he was not only speaking for himself, but for many: “I hope he rots in Hell.”  Despite my mixed feelings about the matter, I resented the fact that this man might think he was speaking for me.  No matter my relief at an evil man being prevented from doing further evil, I realized at least that I could not bring myself to wish this for him, or anybody.

Some of my friends are thinking about similar things, and asking important questions.  Fr. Jim Martin is asking: What is the Christian Response?, and Mike Hayes asks: Can We Forgive Bin Laden?

As for me, I’ll add to what I’ve said above something I wrote for America Magazine almost nine years ago in their “Of Many Things” column about my challenges teaching CCD in the Bronx that year.  Here’s an excerpt:

One day, for instance, they were challenged by the notion that God loves us, whether we want God to or not. Can’t God, some of them suggested, choose who to love and who not to? No, I insisted, God cannot not love any person; God loves everyone, unconditionally. To this came the astute and timely response of one student: “Does that mean God loves Osama bin Laden?”

Read the whole article here.

With Friends Like These . . . or the Tango Maureen

One of the interesting things about being a Jesuit is that we get dragged into a lot of fights, whether we are involved or not, whether it is merited or not.  People are especially eager to believe things about the Jesuits, especially if it seems to confirm their prejudices about us, both good and bad.  Someone years ago tried to speak to me about support for abortion among Jesuits, for example.  The assumption was that since Jesuits are “liberal” (another questionable prejudice), that there must be widespread support for abortion among Jesuits.  I told her—and it’s true—that I don’t know a single Jesuit whom I would consider anything but pro-life on the abortion issue.  Still such mistaken perceptions endure.  My most commented-on blog post ever was when I called out the author of a Catholic magazine article for a spurious claim that the Jesuits were at the “vanguard” of the opposition to a Vatican document when, in truth, the vast majority of Jesuits had expressed no opinion about the document one way or another.  If that logic held, then, there were any number of organizations that could have joined us in the “vanguard.”  But it’s much more sexy to blame the Jesuits.

Recently I’ve been thinking about the fact though that it’s not just our critics who love to drag us into their fights.  It’s our friends too.  People, often with little thought, are sometimes quick to presume that we are on their side in a given matter.  Or, short of saying that we are on their side, they somehow implicate us in what they are saying.  Again, this is either because it’s more sexy to include the Jesuits, or because they are using “Jesuits” to refer to an amorphous constituency within the Church that includes some Jesuits, as well as many people who are not Jesuits.  It’s more akin to a pop culture phenomenon than an assertion of the truth about the Society of Jesus.

What prompted me to think about this in particular this week was Maureen Dowd’s column in last weekend’s New York Times entitled, “Hold the Halo,” about the beatification of John Paul II.  In it, she cites John Paul II’s support of Maciel, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, as evidence against his beatification and eventual canonization.  And, she makes a valid criticism, as few would deny that for all his virtues, John Paul II had something of a blind spot when it came to Maciel.  He refused to believe that Maciel might be guilty of the things that we now know he was indeed guilty of.  Now perhaps I’m naïve, but I’ve always believed, contrary to the assertions of Dowd and others, that this was not a case of deliberate concealment of Maciel’s crimes, but a certain naivete on the part of an aging Pope.  But here I’m not really entering into the debate about whether John Paul should be canonized or not, because what bothered me more was where she goes next.

“The ultra-orthodox Legion of Christ and Opus Dei,” she continues, “were the shock troops in John Paul’s war on Jesuits and other progressive theologians.”  Now I presume from this statement that Dowd would consider herself as, at the very least, positively inclined toward the Jesuits (whether she is our ‘friend’ or not, I don’t want to presume to say), but there are so many problems with this statement that I hardly know where to begin.  First among them is, of course, the fact that she equates Jesuits with “progressive theologians,” as if every Jesuit can be presumed to be a progressive theologian.  Only a small percentage of Jesuits, of course, are theologians, and not all of them could be said to be progressive.  Nor can this be said of all Jesuits, as people often presume.  The joke among Jesuits is that if you poll four Jesuits about some matter, you’ll get five different opinions.  It’s funny, because it’s not far from the truth.  And the Jesuits were never at war with John Paul II!  The pope did intervene in Jesuit governance at the beginning of his papacy, because he was led to believe that he had reason to be concerned about the Jesuits.  If there was going to be a war, it was then.  But what surprised many—including the pope—was that the Jesuits did not rebel, but obediently accepted the situation (even if they weren’t so happy about it).  There never was a war.  Among Jesuits you’ll find as many men many who are ardent supporters of John Paul II and his papacy as you’ll find detractors.  And you’ll find many, frankly, who don’t find it necessary to have an opinion or stance toward any pope, because the main focus of their lives is their ministry to the people of God.  Indeed, belief in the importance and primacy of their ministry is the thing that you’ll find most Jesuits in agreement on.

There is much more I could say about the implications of the above statement and the ways in which it distorts the truth.  But, again, my main goal is to point to it as an example of how “friends” of the Jesuits sometimes misrepresent us as much as our critics, and anyone who might believe themselves to be “at war” with us, might.  So, thanks Maureen for liking us, but if you want to speak of a war on “progressive theologians,” leave it at that, and keep us out of the equation.  Sure, there are some Jesuits who share your concerns about John Paul’s beatification, but there are also plenty of Jesuits, even some “progressive theologians” among them, who will also be celebrating the beatification this weekend of a flawed but holy man and pope, even if he wasn’t always our biggest fan.

Thanks for “Buddies”

My friend Mike Hayes has written a nice response to my “Friends and Contacts” post, and in doing so named me a recipient of one of his Lenten “50-Day Giveaway” gifts.  THANKS, MIKE!!!

The gift will certainly find pride of place on my desk, and is rather appropriate to the course I’m teaching this semester on Catholicism and Popular Culture in America.  The gift is a “buddy Christ,” which you might remember from the movie Dogma.  This week in class we’ll be discussing the movie The Exorcist, but we will finish out the semester discussing Dogma.  So, I’ll definitely bring my gift along with me to class that day!

Mike is a good friend, and a great disciple to young adults across the nation!  He’s way up there in Buffalo these days, so I don’t see enough of him.  Still, I thank God for the gift of his friendship.  And, yes, he is among the privileged few who appear in my text-messaging inbox!

He blogs at “Googling God,” which you’ll find a link to in my Blogroll, and a feed from down below that.

THIS ALSO SERVES AS A CHANCE FOR ME TO WISH A BLESSED EASTER TO ALL MY ‘BUDDIES’!

Popular Demand

It’s been nearly eight months since I started up this new blog on WordPress.  During that time, I’ve written about sixty posts.  It’s hard to know what will catch people’s attention, and because I get very few comments, I’m not always sure what speaks to people and what doesn’t.  But one of the most interesting things that has happened is with regard to a post I wrote rather early on, last September, called “Which Team Are You On?” (click to have a look).  It was a post put up rather hastily, based on a homily that I’d preached that day, in which I used talk of “Team Edward” and “Team Jacob” as a means of illustrating a point about that day’s readings.  To date, it’s the most read post on my blog, with visits to that page nearly every day!  I don’t know if the people that end up there leave disappointed, but it’s got me thinking about something I already think a lot about–how to get the message of Jesus out to people who wouldn’t normally hear it, or be receptive to it.  I’m willing to get on the Team Edward or Team Jacob bandwagon, if that’s what it takes!

This has got me thinking that somehow engaging “trending” topics on Christian blogs might be a more effective means of evangelization than a lot of the myopic infighting which takes place via many blogs.  Sure, many of those blogs get lots of hits, but mainly those are from people who want to get into the fight!  And perhaps we should be thankful that those who don’t normally hear the message of Jesus don’t end up there, because they might get a poor representation of what the message of Jesus is really about.  But I digress . . .

I’m starting to think about how such a discovery might lead to a more effective strategy for reaching, for want of a better word, the “unchurched.”  What other topics might garner such traffic from a more “non-religious” crowd?  Stay tuned, as soon I might try out some different strategies, to see how they pan out (sifting for gold!).  And I know I said I don’t get many comments, but I would welcome comments, e-mails or feedback from anyone who knows of such strategies that are working, or may have some ideas about what might work.

I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the future of the Church lies in evangelization, which will require us to go in new and creative directions (and perhaps some arm-twisting for us often reticent Catholics), so that we can be sure we’re not just preaching to the choir, but also to those who belong to other “teams.”

A Jesuit’s Path to Priesthood

The U.S. Jesuits have kicked off a video series, following one Jesuit on his “Path to Priesthood.”

Jesuit deacon Radmar Jao shares about his vocation, his past life as an actor and his thoughts as he anticipates his ordination as a priest this June.  Check it out, and stay tuned for further updates as the day approaches!:

Remember My Voice

The Saturday night mass at the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress was the end of the congress for me, since I had to fly home the next day.  And, at the end, I found myself very moved and even teary-eyed.  This had nothing to do with the fact that it was the end, or even the quality of the liturgy (which was very good), but with the man sitting behind me.

It had been a busy day in a tiring weekend.  Earlier, I’d taken the tab out of the collar of my clerical shirt, and had even found someplace to catch a brief nap.  So, I was sporting the casual, open-collar priest look.  When it came time for the sign of peace, I turned to my friends sitting next to me, and then to those behind me.  I had heard  the groanings of attempts at speech earlier in the mass, and had wondered at their source.  And here he was, a large, somewhat disheveled man who, upon seeing me turn to him, appeared very distressed.  He tried to speak, but what came out was only nonsense, and he kept pointing to his collar.  I quickly realized that the source of his distress seemed to be my open collar.  Clearly, he recognized that I was a priest who was missing something.  I tried to reassure him, even talk to him, but I could not bridge the communication gap.  Eventually, he pulled a collar tab out of his own pocket and I, as if to reassure him, took mine out of my pocket and showed it to him, but he still seemed agitated.  I looked to the people on either side of him, thinking that one of them might be a caretaker, but he seemed to be alone.

I turned back to the mass and began to wonder: Was this man a priest?  Was that what he was trying to say?  I, too, am a priest.  Or was it that I was somehow not living up to expectations by having removed my collar?  I began to think that he was a priest, though I could not be sure.  But in imagining that he was a priest, I began to consider what it might be like to be a priest without a voice.  Attending this joyous liturgy, and even mouthing some of the words of the mass to myself while doing so, I started to consider what it might be like if my voice were suddenly taken away.  What a privilege it is to “say” the mass, and what grief it would cause if that were taken way.  And suddenly I realized in a quite overwhelming way that surely there are hundreds if not thousands of priests who because of a stroke, Alzheimer’s or some other illness are no longer able to speak, or to do so intelligibly.  And like the man behind me, perhaps a priest, they heroically press on, attending mass burdened with the sadness of not being able to say it, and perhaps seeing other priests like myself who don’t seem to appreciate the privilege enough.

I restored my collar, out of deference to this man—priest or not—who seemed to be concerned (some thought it was because I was about to receive communion from Cardinal Mahony, but I must admit that this thought hadn’t even occurred to me).  I found myself being even more deeply moved by this man’s plight, whether real or imagined, as I received communion, and took time to reflect afterwards.  I determined that I would ask the man, and hopefully be able to discover whether he was indeed a priest.  And, if so, I  decided, Iwould ask for his blessing.  I found myself verging on tears as I reflected on this, and continued to enjoy the splendor and music of the Eucharist we celebrated.  I found myself wanting to reach out to this man, to know who he was, to somehow get past his broken voice and find a connection.  Mass ended, I turned, and he was gone.  I’ll never know if he was, in fact, a priest, but he was to me that day in the truth of my imagination, and in the compassion which it inspired.

I was disappointed and further saddened by his absence, but I determined to remember him when once again my lips gave voice to the mass, a voice that he helped me to appreciate, that I might lose one day too.

L.A. Week: Countdown to Congress

After a pretty busy February spent giving talks and retreats in various places, I’ve finally reached my Spring Break vacation, of sorts.  I’m about halfway through my week in L.A. which has been a great time to reconnect with family and friends and prepare myself for what promises to be the somewhat overwhelming experience of my first Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, which some refer to as “Catholic Disneyland.”

My brother lives and works here as the Art Director for the show Parks & Recreation (my mother was somewhat taken aback a couple of years ago when he said his new job was with Parks & Recreation!  She hadn’t heard of the show.)  I spent the first part of my trip with he, his wife, and their three children.  They have twins–a boy and a girl–who are, as my nephew repeated more than once, “6 and three quarters” years old, and another four year old daughter.  The weekend was a reminder of the pros and cons of family life, as we moved from one sporting event to another.  There was T-ball with my nephew, where I was drafted as a third base coach, and practice for the two girls’ soccer teams that my brother coaches.  One of the Moms asked me, “Has he always been so wonderful with kids.”  And while this was the first time I’d seen him coach, I had to admit that he’s pretty darn good!  I’m also proud to see what a great father my little brother has turned out to be!  Saturday was soccer practice, and Sunday was the soccer games, and I had the joy of seeing my youngest niece score a goal!

She scores!

It was a bit of a surprise, because just minutes before she didn’t seem so into the game!  This was true of most of the girls on the team, whose interest seemed to wax and wane throughout the game.  Sustained competitive intensity is probably not so a common a trait for most four year old girls.

While all this was going on, I also provided entertainment–some voluntary, some not–for the niece and nephew who was not playing at the time, at one point simultaneously pitching balls to my nephew and kicking the soccer ball with my niece.  It was wonderful to spend time with them, as I don’t see them as often as I’d like, but also exhausting!  A reminder that I really need to get into shape!

I also had a wonderful dinner last night with my friend TerriAnn, who asked if she could bring her boyfriend, Ronnie Kovic, along.  I wrote back to her that I would be delighted if he could come and, isn’t his name the same as the guy from Born on the Fourth of July?  Not only was it the same name, but also the same guy!  It was wonderful to see TerriAnn, who I always visit when I’m in L.A., and to meet Ron, who is a lovely man, and who doesn’t look anything like Tom Cruise! 🙂  It was a privilege to meet a man who has really struggled with great hardship in his life, but has now achieved such great peace.  And he an TerriAnn are such a lovely match.

TerriAnn & Ron

We talked for hours, about all sorts of things.  Ron quizzed me on what I’ve been doing, I of course asked him about his experiences (and since I’m a movie nut, it was also exciting to be sitting with a Golden Globe winner!), and I got caught up with TerriAnn, who I hadn’t seen since my last visit to L.A.  How wonderful it was to see my friend, who lost her husband some years ago, to be so happy with someone new!  What a blessing.

All this is a prelude to the L.A. Congress which I hope will be an enriching experience, and also an opportunity to spread the news about my book, and to see a lot of friends and colleagues from around the country who I don’t get to see as often as I’d like!  I’ve also volunteered to be available for Confessions, which is always such a great privilege.

If you’re coming to the L.A. Congress, look for me at the booths of the Jesuits, Charis ministries or Saint Anthony Messenger Press (where you can also buy my book!).  I’ll report more on the Catholic Disneyland experience in a future post!

Thoughts For the Week 2

The second installment of my “Thoughts for the Week” interview (see below) is due to air this Sunday morning, for you early-risers!  For those who, like me, don’t rise quite so early, you can listen to part 2, and part 1, of my “Thoughts for the Week” interview at Spirituality.org.

My sincere thanks to the folks at Clemons productions and the Diocese of Bridgeport for this wonderful opportunity!

May I please ask your prayers for one of my interviewers in these two interviews, Fr. Mark Connolly, who has been experiencing some health problems lately?  Thanks.

Hope you can have a listen!