Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Jekyll and Hyde at CNN

Two very interesting opinion pieces were posted on CNN.com on Sept 16th. The first was about how the progress of adult stem cell research is making embryonic stem cell research unnecessary.

From the stem cell piece:
As you turn on your HDTV and watch the endless controversy over embryonic stem cell research, ask yourself: Should the government spend taxpayer dollars to develop that bulky old cathode-ray television you once owned?

As you install your $79 Blu-ray player, what if Uncle Sam was paying millions to develop Betamax videotapes?

This kind of government waste is what embryonic stem cell researchers are demanding even when science itself, according to scientists such as former NIH Director Bernadine Healy, has made embryonic stem cell research obsolete.

[and]

Adult stem cells have grown new corneas and tracheas, restoring sight and speech. Adult stem cells placed into children have repaired damage from fatal genetic skin diseases. As CBS News reported on August 2, adult stem cells appear to have the ability to stimulate tissue repair and to suppress the immune system.

"That gives adult stem cells really a very interesting and potent quality that embryonic stem cells don't have," said Rocky Tuan, director of a cellular engineering institute at the University of Pittsburgh.

The Church needs to do a better job of getting the word out that we are not anti-science, just pro-ethical science. Adult stem cells (induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPSC) have great promise, have already demonstrated some exciting results, and come without the immoral destruction of unborn human lives.

And then there was this piece calling for a new moral code which included the following gems:

Although few of us would turn to the Old Testament or the Quran to determine the age of the Earth, too many of us still turn obediently to these books (or their secular copies) as authorities about morality. We learn therein the moral superiority of faith to reason and collective sacrifice to personal profit.

[and]

Ask someone on the street to name a moral hero; if he isn't at a loss, he'll likely name someone like Jesus Christ or Mother Teresa. Why? Because they're regarded as people of faith who shunned personal profit for the collective good. No one would dream of naming Galileo, Darwin, Thomas Edison or John D. Rockefeller.

Yet we should. It is they, not the Mother Teresas of the world, that we should strive to be like and teach our kids the same.

[and finally…]

If morality is about the pursuit of your own success and happiness, then giving money away to strangers is, in comparison, not a morally significant act. (And it's outright wrong if done on the premise that renunciation is moral.)

Science, freedom and the pursuit of personal profit -- if we can learn to embrace these three ideas as ideals, an unlimited future awaits.

Wow. I think that's kinda how we got Hitler. So for our society to truly progress we must come to accept that "morality is about the pursuit of your own success and happiness". If morality is solely centered on my own well being then nothing I do to you or your loved ones may be construed as morally wrong so long as it brings me personal happiness and fulfillment. That is truly a scary world to imagine. By this principle the 9/11 hijackers did not commit acts of evil, child molesters, rapists and murders should be commended for breaking free of outdated moral constraints. No thanks.

Benedict in England

As Pope Benedict was heading to England he took a few questions from reporters on the plane including this exchange:

"Can anything be done to make the Church a more credible and attractive institution?"

“In my view”, the Pope replied, “a Church which seeks above all to be attractive is already on the wrong path, because the Church does not work for herself, she does not work to increase her numbers and her power. The Church is at the service of Another. She serves not herself, not to become strong; rather, she serves to make the announcement of Jesus Christ more accessible: the great truths, the great powers of love and reconciliation which appeared in Him and which always come from the presence of Jesus Christ."

So many Christians and churches today are focused on their stat sheets. They judge success by how many people then can convert or get to join their congregations. Pope Benedict brushes those things aside and draws our attention back to our main focus, being Jesus to those around us. Jesus was not concerned about numbers. When he healed the demoniac of Gerasene (Mark 5) the people there asked him to leave and he did. When he introduced the Eucharist in John 6 many left and he let them leave. He let the rich young man in Mark 10 walk away. Jesus knew his job was not to make friends and influence people, but to do the will of his Father. So too, the Church must not worry about who will follow us or who will walk away, but we must be true to God and faithful to his will in loving each other as Jesus loved us.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Hidden Way

I had the opportunity to write a few bulletin reflections for our parish. I decided to reprint them here. I've included the date and readings for the Sundays for which the originally appeared.

AUGUST 29, 2010 (Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29 – Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24a – Luke 14:1, 7-14)

I once heard someone describe the Incarnation as fireworks in reverse, or to quote the Genie from Aladdin, “Phenomenal cosmic powers! Itty bitty living space”. The infinite Creator of all things, the all powerful, all knowing Lord of the Universe, became a frail, helpless baby. The Eternal Word of God became an infant incapable of rational speech. The Incarnation was God’s ultimate teachable moment on the subject of humility, the subject of today’s Old Testament and Gospel readings.

Why should we seek the path of humility? Because Jesus did, and if it was good enough for him it’s good enough for us. Yet this runs so counterintuitive to our own nature. We want to be recognized and honored. We want to be first, not last. We desire to be popular, to have popular friends, to sit at the “cool table”. That, my friends, is the effect of Original Sin and it is the cancer at the core of our spiritual life.

Perhaps Blessed Teresa of Calcutta summed it up best when she said, “Humility is the mother of all virtues; purity, charity and obedience. It is in being humble that our love becomes real, devoted and ardent. If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are. If you are blamed you will not be discouraged. If they call you a saint you will not put yourself on a pedestal.”

Jesus calls us to humility, to be meek and gentile of heart like him, so that we can resist temptation and comprehend our complete dependence on God. Being humble is both easy and difficult. Once we learn to put others ahead of ourselves we can see all kinds of opportunities for humility. From the simple, like allowing others through the door ahead of you, to the more difficult, like letting someone else get the credit for your work, we are called to advance in humility so we can become more like Jesus.

The Narrow Gate

I had the opportunity to write a few bulletin reflections for our parish. I decided to reprint them here. I've included the date and readings for the Sundays for which the originally appeared.

AUGUST 22, 2010 (Isaiah 66:18-21 – Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13 – Luke 13:22-30)

When I taught high school religion classes I would always end each week with the Question Box. I passed around a shoe box and my students could write down questions they didn’t want to ask out loud. Without a doubt the majority of questions always started out with, “Is it a sin if I…” Of course the motivation behind these questions was to find out how much I can get away with before God gets angry with me. In other words, what’s the least amount I can do to get into heaven and the most I can get away with without going to hell? I always tried to answer these questions be refocusing the issue on following Jesus and his example rather than dealing with the question directly. I would simply state in return, “If you’re focused on walking with Jesus & following his lead then you don’t need to worry about him leading you into sin.”

We see this type of issue dealt with in today’s readings. The disciples ask Jesus, “Will only a few be saved?” Of course they want to know if it’s going to be easy or difficult to get into heaven. Will it be an exclusive club like a private resort or a public beach with all types of people crowding in? In his response, Jesus tries to refocus the disciples from a superficial concern to a deeper wisdom. He basically says, “Don’t get hung up on numbers, but focus on doing what is needed to get there yourself.”

Jesus paints a picture of two ways, the wide and the narrow. Both are open to all who want to enter, but one path is easy while the other requires some effort. Making it through the narrow gate requires discipline, and like the second reading says “all discipline seems not a cause for joy but for pain”. Yet, it is discipline that gives us the strength to make it through the narrow gate. Like children we don’t always appreciate what is best for us. We want entertainment and dessert when what we need is to do our chores and eat our veggies.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord

I had the opportunity to write a few bulletin reflections for our parish. I decided to reprint them here. I've included the date and readings for the Sundays for which the originally appeared.

AUGUST 15, 2010 (Revelation 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10b – 1 Corinthians 15:20-27 – Luke 1:39-56)

We need look no further than Mary for an example of how to love and follow Jesus. She responded with humility and openness to the Lord when the angel appeared to her. She did not know all of the details but she trusted God to provide. Her song, the Magnificat, is a testimony to simple faith and devotion to God. At the wedding in Cana she pointed to the waiters as she points to each of us today saying, “Do whatever He tells you.” She suffered the pain of standing at the foot of the cross uniting her sufferings with those of her Son. Mary witnessed her risen Son and waited in prayer with the Apostles for the gift of the Holy Spirit. All the while we are told that she pondered these things in heart.

Today we celebrate Mary receiving the fruit of her faith. Once again she is showing us the way and showing us what awaits each of us if we remain faithful. Like Jesus, she experienced victory over death and the grave. She placed her faith in God wand was not disappointed. The journey was long with its fair share of joys and sorrows but it was worth every step of the way.

The Church recognizes Mary as the New Eve. Like Eve she was born without original sin. Like Eve she was presented with a choice: submission through humble obedience or self-determination in prideful resistance. Rather than listening to the lies of the serpent she crushed its head, and we are all the better for it. Now she intercedes for us in our time of trial and temptation that we may follow her example and not the choice of the original Eve.

May we draw close to her and allow us to hear her encouraging us to “Do whatever He tells you.” Let us call upon Mary’s help to resist temptation and embrace humility. Mary show us your Son’s Sacred Heart and pray for us to one day experience the joys of heaven.

“Love God, serve God. Everything is in that.” - St. Clare of Assisi

I had the opportunity to write a few bulletin reflections for our parish. I decided to reprint them here. I've included the date and readings for the Sundays for which the originally appeared.

AUGUST 8, 2010 (Wisdom 18:6-9 – Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-12 – Luke 12:32-48)

As we reflect on today’s readings they can be best summed up in this famous quote by St. Clare whose feast day is celebrated later this week on Aug. 11th. We are called to love and serve God faithfully and at all times. While the writer of Hebrews recalls the faithfulness of the Old Testament saints; Jesus warns us that we do not know the day or hour of his return. My grandfather used to say that “the world ends everyday for someone.” In other words, time is short so make the best of it while we have it.

In every age there are those who are consumed with trying to decipher the End Times, to predict when Jesus will return. Not too long ago the Left Behind series of novels topped the lists of best sellers with fictional accounts of the Rapture and the return of Jesus. It can be tempting to try to read the signs of the times, especially when there are natural disasters, wars, political upheaval or economic uncertainty. If we listen to the words of Jesus, his concern is not in teaching us to figure out when he’s returning, but rather to know that he’s returning at a time least expected. His concern is that we live our lives everyday serving and loving God and our neighbors.

St. Clare left her family and possessions behind to follow the call of God just like the heroes of the Old Testament listed in Hebrews 11. She took literally the words of today’s gospel: “Do not be afraid any longer little flock…Sell your belongings and give alms…For where your treasure is, there your heart will be.” Like so many other saints, Clare heard the words of the Gospel not merely as words addressed to the Church, but as intended for her personally. What is it that Jesus is calling you to do today? Is it something you already know in your heart but have been putting off? Hear the Gospel in a fresh way and respond today to the Spirit’s prompting in your heart for we are called to act now and not delay.

Bringing the Mountain to Our Valley

I had the opportunity to write a few bulletin reflections for our parish. I decided to reprint them here. I've included the date and readings for the Sundays for which the originally appeared.

AUGUST 1, 2010 (Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23 – Colossians 3:15-,9-11 – Luke 12:13-21)

In today’s first reading we listen to the words of “the preacher” from the book of Ecclesiastes. The author laments that “All things are vanity!” Ecclesiastes is truly a book for our times, on one hand despairing for the apparent meaninglessness of the daily grind. We work and toil for treasures that rust and fade away. The unrighteous prosper from their wicked deeds while the innocent suffer. Our hearts are restless day and night for something more, but we don’t know what that is or how to satisfy this desire. It’s song of living in the valleys of life when we hope for something more than what we can see.

If Ecclesiastes reminds us of the valley, then the Feast of the Transfiguration celebrated later this week calls us up to the mountain top. Jesus brings his closest disciples with him, literally “up the mountain to pray”. While there Jesus is transfigured, his body and clothes become dazzling white and he meets with Moses and Elijah. Peter immediately does what any of us would do; he pleads with Jesus to stay on this mountain top and in this moment of glory. How often, when we have spiritual experiences of feeling close to God, do we wish we could just stay right there holding on to those feelings?

Our spiritual journey will take us across many different terrains. We’ll experience valleys and mountain tops, droughts and showers. We must learn, as St. Paul did, to be “content in every situation”. St. John Vianney, whose feast is celebrated on August 4th, also learned this lesson. He was not the brightest student and struggled mightily with his studies in school. He was assigned to a small rural, out of the way parish. Yet, he learned that he could be as close to Jesus as he wanted in the valleys and on the mountain. It was his simplicity and pure devotion that drew large crowds to wait hours just to go to him for the sacrament of reconciliation.

This is the secret of the saints. They knew they couldn’t stay on the mountain, but they also knew that if they kept the Lord in their hearts they could bring the mountain top down into the valley. Jesus lead Peter, James and John down from the mountain an in the verses that follow today’s Gospel they immediately were drawn into ministry. We too need to rely on the strength we receive when we receive the Lord to bring light into our valleys, to give meaning to the routine of our lives.

Being Ordinary

I had the opportunity to write a few bulletin reflections for our parish. I decided to reprint them here. I've included the date and readings for the Sundays for which the originally appeared.

May 30, 2010 (Proverbs 8:22-31 – Romans 5:1-5 – John 16:12-15)

Ordinary Time. It’s a deceptively boring label for the liturgical season we now find ourselves in. It’s not “special” like Advent, Christmas, Lent or Easter. There are no special, beloved Ordinary Time songs or decorations. No unique Ordinary Time traditions. It’s just ordinary, plain. It’s just like most of my life and yours. We “live and move and have our being” in the ordinary time of our lives, punctuated by special events like birthdays, marriages & anniversaries, job changes, and moving.

The challenge of the ordinary is keeping our passion alive. It’s easy to be excited when we’re standing at the mountain top of great moments in our lives. Love’s flame burns strong with little effort on your wedding day. Keeping that flame alive after five, ten, fifteen or more years takes far more than sentimental excitement; it takes hard work. So it is with the ordinary time of our spiritual journey. We can climb to great heights by attending retreats, parish missions or beautiful liturgies with all kinds of smells & bells; but we must also travel through the spiritual doldrums of everyday life. That’s why it’s so hard to get a seat for Midnight Mass at Christmas or on Easter Sunday morning while surprisingly roomy in the pew on the Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time.

There is wisdom in the Church’s celebration of liturgical seasons, especially Ordinary Time. It teaches us the value of embracing the ordinariness of our lives and elevating it to something more by redeeming it for Christ. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta said “Do not think that love, in order to be genuine, has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired.” That is the great opportunity that being ordinary presents to us. We must look for opportunities presented to us in ordinary and simple ways to show the love of Christ to those around us. Our challenge is not to grow weary or complacent as we “run the good race” which is more a marathon than a sprint.

The key here, as St. Francis of Assisi would say, is to “do few things, but do them well.” Commit to attending mass every week. Spend five to ten minutes a day in quiet and prayer. Our prayer life doesn’t have to be something special, it just needs to be. By keeping your personal spiritual commitments simple you’re more likely to keep them period. Don’t be seduced by the thinking that only exceptional prayer experiences are the only ones worth pursuing. I know that for me it is a constant struggle to accept that five to ten minutes of prayer are fruitful, that I should be striving for a 30 minute or more prayer time. At the same time I know that my pursuit of the perfect prayer experience is often the enemy of having a consistent prayer life. That is why I take inspiration from Ordinary Time to realize that there is value in the little, but faithful efforts that I make.