"I sought among them for a man that might set up a hedge, and stand in the gap before me in favor of the land." Ezekiel 22:30

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Big Thanks to Fr. Z for the Shout Out

My day/week/month/year is pretty much made.

I got a shout out from Fr. Z, complete with a link to my recent post about the the Mass, music, and the youth.

Thanks Fr. Z!

Monday, March 24, 2014

"My" Feast Day of the Archangel Gabriel

I have to get this one in before the end of the day.

Today, March 24th is the Feast of the Archangel Gabriel (my namesake and patron) in the traditional Roman calendar. I like to think of it as "my" feast day (Just kidding!)

I wanted to share the Collect from the propers of today's Mass in the tridentine rite (extraordinary form). I find it's a simple yet powerful prayer.
O God, who did choose from among all other angels the Archangel Gabriel to announce the mystery of Thine Incarnation, grant in Thy mercy that celebrating his feast on earth we may reap the effect of his protection in heaven.
I know we're not supposed to "name" our guardian angels, but I've always felt as if I've had the Archangel Gabriel watching over me.

I've always been proud to bear the name of this angel (except of course when someone calls me "Gabrielle." I hate that.). The mystery of the Annunciation, which we celebrate tomorrow, has always felt more real to me because of this connection with the Archangel Gabriel, and in some ways, I've almost felt ownership of it - not in a bad way though. I really think this is part of why the Church says children are supposed to be given a biblical name or a saint's name, so that we can come to more deeply appreciate and connect with the life of the saint, or in my case, connect with this great mystery of the faith.

Does your name make you feel more connected to a particular saint or story?

Feely-Goody Feeliness: Sacred Liturgy, Music, and the Youth

I recently saw this little video.

It's really rather hilarious and includes some memorable lines.

After watching, I immediately had some thoughts, some of which may be obvious (or not-so-obvious) to some readers of this blog.

See what you think. Watch the video yourself first:

Before I go on, I should warn you: if you're easily offended, just stop reading now. There are comments below that could be taken as harsh, hateful, uncharitable, or just generally non-feely-goody. I'm going to discuss aspects of modern Catholicism, namely sacred music, in such a way that I might be labeled a *gasp* "traditionalist." Please don't take offense. Do take the opportunity to comment below if you feel the need. But, I digress...

Personally, I would have to agree with the underlying notion of the video: I'm not a fan of "modern" music during Mass.

I have many reasons why, not the least of which is because if Mass is supposed to give us a glimpse of heaven, then it should be in many ways "otherworldly." If we bring in secular-sounding music, then Mass loses much of that otherworldliness.

The video makes a separate but related point in a comical fashion:

Perhaps it's not the music that attracts the youth (or any demographic for that matter), but instead the content of the faith, and how well they know it.

Maybe, just maybe, young people go to church because of the example they get from their parents AND due to their level of catechesis. Parents are the first teachers. If the parents aren't teaching the faith, do you really think the music will?

Maybe you can't teach a teenager to appreciate the depths of Catholic theology with "Our God is Greater." But, good catechesis can.

Maybe we shouldn't be trying to attract the youth with the latest selections from Matt Maher, Chris Tomlin, and Audrey Assad. We already have the greatest "rock" star of history in St. Peter (see what I did there?). Oh, and don't forget his boss, Jesus Christ fully present in the Eucharist. What more could you ask for? What could be more attractive?

I know, I know. You say "Some people do come because they like that sort of music," and you're right. Some people do. But with shrinking churches, a steadily greying crop of parishioners, and more and more young people rejecting church and not coming back, we should ask ourselves: is this a successful strategy? Is what we've done to sacred liturgy with the music really working? By watering it down and making it sound just like anything else, have we succeeded in filling pews?

I contend that it is not working, or at the very least, that it is not working very well.

Now, I'm not against certain modern Christian/Catholic music. Definitely not. In fact, I find some of the new stuff is quite good, inspirational, and uplifting. I truly do enjoy some of it... outside of Mass.

And that's where it should stay.

One of the biggest problems in the world today is a lack of delineation between the sacred and the profane; between what should be revered and what is part of everyday life.

Take marriage for example. Once thought of as the pinnacle of human interaction and devotion, it has become watered down to nothing more than a social contract due to easy divorce, contraception, pornography, and all other sorts of sexual deviancy. Is the Mass any different?

Once you make Mass less sacred, once you elevate the secular and de-value the divine, when you say "this isn't all that different", then what is important? Next time you're in church, I challenge you to ask a young person or teen (14-30 year old) whether or not they believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. And if they do believe, ask them to explain it. If the numbers I have are correct, 70% of all U.S. Catholics do not believe in the real presence of the Eucharist.

Shocking statistics to be sure. Is the music entirely to blame? Absolutely not. Catechesis in general is desperately needed.

But forget catechesis for a moment; is music at least a part of the problem? I contend it is.

When the musical selections for Mass are no different than what's on your radio dial, then going to Mass doesn't seem all that different. And if going to Mass isn't that different (i.e., otherworldly), then why is it important? If Mass isn't important, then what's so special about the Eucharist? And if the the Eucharist isn't special, then what do you believe in as a Catholic?

There's no denying it's a subtle process. But Satan works in subtlety. He's the father of lies for a reason. He doesn't get you to believe one of his lies immediately; he plants a seed and lets you draw the conclusion.

We know that teens and young people are especially receptive to subtle (and not-so-subtle) messages. That's part of the reason why they want the coolest shoes, the latest phones, and the hippest clothes. Messages are sent and received constantly, subtle or not. So, are we sending the right message through our worship as Catholics?

Next time you go to Mass, ask yourself this: is the message sent by the liturgy at this parish one that emanates holiness, devoutness, and a sense of the divine in our midst, and does the music have anything to do with it? If you're honest with yourself, the answer may surprise you.

If you want the youth to come to church, and a community of faithful that are on fire for Christ, it starts with liturgy that puts on display something not found anywhere else on earth. For that to happen effectively, music is so, so important. Then, once you have truly sacred liturgy, the catechesis to properly explain it will must naturally follow.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

This is the New Evanglization

You've probably already seen this amazing video.

If not, watch it right now...

For us Catholics, we talk a lot about the "New Evangelization." But what does that mean exactly?

[Steps onto soap box; begins rant]

Well, here you have it. THIS is the New Evangelization.


Because it shows Catholics - a nun in full habit "nun"theless - can be part of society. It proves that we don't have to hide who we are any more than any other group out there.

See, you don't have to be of the culture, but you do have to be in the culture if you're going to make an impact. You don't convert anyone by living in a bubble. Sometimes, I'm guilty of that myself. We construct walls around ourselves and create safe zones. We don't venture out to the world. But didn't Pope Francis recently challenge us to create a "messy" church?

Go out! Be bold! Live your life as a Catholic (or as a Christian of any sort) in public for people to see. Take your 6,7,8,9, or 10 kids to the grocery store. Say a prayer before meals every time you eat out. Tell your friends you have to go to the Stations of the Cross on Friday before you go out. Invite a friend to Church.

Christendom wasn't built by withdrawing to our nice little pre-made "Catholic Land." It's never been done that way and it never will be. Go on the offensive! Don't be afraid of the culture. Know the pitfalls, and be prepared for them, but participate in the culture to the extent that you can. Meet souls where they are, at the coffee shop, at the grocery store, or heck, even in the pew next to you. That person next to you might be wondering about all this God stuff, and need some encouragement. Perhaps they have become too enculturated. It's easy to resign ourselves to let the Holy Spirit do it, or simply to say "someone else will." Nonsense.

Live your faith boldly. This sister is showing us how. I know I can do better. Won't you join me?

[End rant; steps down off soapbox]

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Shoe Perspective

I saw this pictures on my twitter feed a little while back, and had to share:


It was supremely ironic that they just happened to show up on my feed in immediate succession. If this doesn't illustrate what's wrong with our priorities in society today, I'm not sure what will.

The second picture, well, you can see that fairly easily. It's a quite sizable collection of "Kobe's", if the caption is accurate. Kobe's, similar to "Jordan's", are the shoe line named after the basketball star, Kobe Bryant. In today's day-and-age, they are quite valuable. I'm no expert, but I'm going to say roughly that a collection like that could be worth as much or more than a new car.

However, don't you think something is a bit off about that?
The first picture is obviously cut off, yet you may still recognize what you can see of it since it is a somewhat famous image of a young Austrian boy getting a new pair of shoes during World War II. Here's what you're missing in all its glory...


Notice the simple and well-worn shoes on the boy's feet. No "Kobe's" there. Now, notice the shoes he has in his hands: simple, plain dress shoes. Again, definitely not "Kobe's." I don't know about you, but I remember being this age, and dress shoes were definitely not something to be happy about. They were uncomfortable, usually hand-me-downs so they were too big or too small, and in no way were they cool. Actually, my dress shoes now are nothing to get excited about either. Of course, this boy lived in a different day and age, so styles are different now than they were then.

Nevertheless, check out the blissfulness, the sheer mirth on display in this iconic image, and ask yourself: are you truly grateful when you receive something, even the simplest of gifts? Do you let gratitude and happiness encompass your being, or do you sulk and reject opportunities to be grateful? Do you constantly desire what others have?

We can only imagine what this young boy has been through in his few years on earth. I have no idea how much tragedy, loss, and pain he had gone through in the days, weeks, or months leading up to receiving those shoes. Living in a ravaged Austria during WWII would have been nightmarish. But, in that moment, it all seems to disappear. They are only shoes, simple material objects which we are not supposed to become too attached to; yet, the joy on display in this picture one might think the boy had seen Christ Himself, and in that there is a lesson.

In fact, if there is anything to learn from this picture, I think it boils down to three general ideas:
  1. Be simple. "Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?" Mt. 6:26. You don't need the coolest shoes, the hippest jeans, or the bestestest phone ehvar to survive. You need the essentials. Sure, material creature comforts are nice, but even in those, simpler is better: a nice fire on a winter night, a good beer, or a warm shower. Live simply and don't desire more than you need or what others have. 
  2. Gratitude is the best attitude. Have you ever given something to someone and not gotten a "thank you"? Or worse yet, have you gotten a "thank you" but merely a half-hearted one? Don't share that sort of attitude with others. Be thankful for what you have. When given something, even if it's not to your liking, show the person the gratitude they deserve. I know it can be hard, but who wouldn't want to be like the young boy in the picture above? Who wouldn't want to live with others who were just as joyful?
  3. Let joy fill your life. In his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Guadium  (The Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis admonishes some Christians "whose lives seem like lent without Easter." The Holy Father goes on to say "an evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral!" So, be happy! And not just happy, but joyous - even to the point of mirth. Live your life like the boy in the picture who has just received something priceless to him, because you have received a priceless gift in the death and resurrection of our savior, Jesus Christ. Go about your life with a smile on your face and joy in your heart. If anything can change their world, it is the joy found in Christ's redemptive sacrifice.
What lessons can you learn from the boy in the picture and the outlandish collection of Kobe's above?

Thursday, March 6, 2014

8 Things I'm Doing for Lent This Year

What is your plan for Lent?

Are you going to give up candy and sweets? Maybe refrain from coffee? Or TV?

Maybe you're committed to some nebulous version of being "holier" or even simply being a better person.

Even though the season of Lent has already begun, maybe you're still not entirely sure what you're going to set about doing.

Or, perhaps you're not even Catholic and you're wondering what in the heck all us Catholics are getting so worked up about. "Isn't Lent all about fish fries?" you ask.

Personally, while I am excited - the most subdued of ways - about the upcoming fish fries (If you want a nice map of fish fries around the St. Louis region, check out this map), I am more excited about the opportunity to renew and deepen my spiritual life in faith and prayer during this penitential season. For a good Catholic, Lent should be like the secular New Year's Day when most people come up with some resolution that will change their life. Lent is a profound moment to renew our spirituality in preparation for the celebration of the summit of Christian theology at Easter - and not just by refraining from something.

Sure, resolving not to partake in some pleasure is fine. But we would be remiss if we went through Lent year after year with the mindset to simply "give up" some habit, vice, or activity. Lent should not be a passive encounter with Christ and His suffering. Lent should be a flourish of activity, in addition to giving up things, with the goal to redirect our soul towards Our Lord.

In a hypothetical situation, you might ask "How are you going to do that?"

"Well, I'm glad you asked," I would hypothetically respond.

Then, in this hypothetical situation, I would proceed to explain what I plan to do this Lenten season, just like I'm actually going to explain now:
  1. Workout everyday.
    • Okay, I know "working out" isn't a "spiritual" thing, but it is an act of self-discipline, and what is our prayer life if it's not an act of will and self-discipline? So, in order to train your mind and soul, I believe, you need to train your body and bring it under control of your will. So, working out every single day is a priority of mine this Lent.
  2. Pray a rosary everyday.
    • I must be a heathen because I don't already say a rosary everyday, right? But I admit it: I'm not as diligent as I should be. Sometimes I get a rosary in; sometimes I don't. There have been periods in the past when I've been a lot better than I am now, and I need to get back to that point. So, Mother Mary, here I come!
  3. No TV.
    • I didn't used to watch as much TV as I do now (I blame my wife. I love you honey!). So, this Lent I'm really going to try to keep the TV turned off - even for basketball! We'll see how long this lasts...
  4. Read More.
    • Because the TV is going to spend a lot of time off the next several weeks. I'm hoping that means I'll be able to get more reading done. This doesn't just include spiritual reading, although I do want to delve more deeply into the Catechism and scripture; it means I'm going to read some books for - *gasp* - pleasure.
  5. Refrain from alcohol.
    •  I definitely don't go crazy when it comes to drinking. But I have noticed that I've been having a beer just about every night with dinner lately. And Saturday afternoons on the couch, there's not much better than enjoying a cold frosty brew with chips & salsa and sports on TV. So, this Lent, I am going to refrain from alcohol (for the most part). Although, there is an open bottle of wine in the refrigerator right now, and it'd be a pity to waste it...
  6. Give up sweet tea.
    •  If you know me at all, you know that I don't drink coffee. Instead, my drink of choice is sweet tea. Because I enjoy a nice tall glass of sweet tea from McDonald's or QuikTrip, I'm going to give that up this Lent. Maybe I'll even donate the money I save to the poor.
  7.  Reassess my time on social media.
    • I spend more time than I would like on social media. But I'm not giving it up completely, because, 1) it's actually part of my job, 2) it's very difficult to stay in touch if without being on social media, and 3) someone told me it's part of the "New Evangelization," so I guess there's that. Nevertheless, I want to re-think how much time I spend on facebook and twitter when it's not work-related. So, this Lent I'm going to be seriously cutting back on the mindless browsing portion of social media.
  8. Bread and water for lunch.
    • This is a tough one. I'm a big guy and I need a lot of food to keep me going. But, I know that we as a society make waaay too much out of food than we need to. We're a decadent country and society, there's no arguing that. Even though I'm in no danger of being obese any time soon, and losing a few extra calories may actually do me more harm than good, I'm going to eat bread and water for lunch, at least on Fridays. Last year during Lent I ate bread and water for lunch every single day. I'm not sure if I can do that again. But I'm going to give it a shot. At the very least, lunch on Fridays are bread and water only.
There you have it. That's my Lenten plan. It's nothing too special, but I think it'll make a big difference.

Before I close, one quick disclaimer: I'm not putting this out here in a brazen attempt to prove how pious I am. Rather, I'm hoping that by showing you what I'm doing it can inspire you to do something similar (if you're not already), or to encourage you in your own pursuit of holiness. Also, by writing this down it provides me with a level of accountability to myself.

Blessings during this Lenten season. Feel free to share your thoughts or what you're doing for Lent in the comment section below.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Why I Climb

I am participating in the Fight For Air Climb on March 22nd. "The Climb", as it's sometimes very simply referred to, is not just another 5k, or something-something-a-thon. No. The Fight for Air Climb is a "race" to the top of the Metropolitan Building in downtown St. Louis. That's 40 flights of stairs in about 10 minutes, depending on fitness level (my fastest time was about 6:30 a couple years ago).

As the race nears, I would appreciate your help.

You see, a few weeks before I started dating my wife, her dad, Robert Farley, was diagnosed with lung cancer. Sarah and I had been friends for a couple years prior to dating, so when she and her family learned of the diagnosis, it was obvious that something changed in her. She was obviously deeply saddened by this new situation but knew that whatever happened would be God's will.

For the next 2 years and 49 weeks, her dad battled the disease despite the tolls on his body.

Then, one Monday morning he went to the hospital for what seemed like a common cold. The next Monday, he passed away, a mere 5 months before we were married. He was the father-in-law I never had.

This is now my fourth year participating in the Fight For Air Climb with "Bob's Builders." The first two years I participated for multiple reasons, not the least of which was to satisfy my competitive nature. I even took 3rd place in my age group one year.

But now it's different.

I'm a little older, not quite in the same shape I was while playing college basketball, but I'm still submitting myself to 10 minutes or more of grueling physical activity in memory of Robert Farley and his valiant two year and 50 week battle with lung cancer.

Please consider joining us by making a generous donation to the American Lung Association to support our FIGHT FOR AIR.

Thank you for joining this important fight for children with asthma, teens who are pressured to start smoking, people with lung cancer and emphysema, and everyone who wants to breathe healthy air in our communities. And thank you in advance for your contribution.

Please click here to make contribution.