Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Working to Beat Hell

I am inundated with work these days.  Resulting from a recent staff resignation, I am currently, along with my former responsibilities, director of high school formation, and co-director of middle school formation and the Newman Center.  I love it.  I love to be busy.  I love seeing God's work in the lives of people.  But, the grind, well, grinds at me.  I don't take much time for writing these days, and when I try, the words don't seem to come.  So, how about a song instead.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Sometimes Life is Icky

I want, in the sorest way, to blame someone. Anyone, really.  

My grandmother died last week, after years of ill health, and a week on a breathing tube following a stroke. Three feet of snow fell in Spearfish, and even more in other places. The cities are messy, their trees devestated, and their roads sloppy and ugly with dirty piles of slushy wet snow bedecked with splashes of back sludge from the streets.  Power is still out for many. Thousands of carcasses of dead livestock ornament the prairie.  Driveways are mud pits. Rain is coming this weekend. Three different people requiring two separate drives to Spearfish from retreat in Rapid City demanded my priestly attention.  My pillows refuse to stop falling off of my bed into the gap between the wall and the mattress because these retreat center beds come without headboards.  I cannot fix the hurt in my mother's heart at the loss of her mother. I cannot fix the hole left by expensive dead animals in my parishioner's corrall.  I can't even fix this stupid bed!

And there is absolutely no one to blame...

"Curse God and die," Job's wife said. Jonah and Elijah prayed for death. Moses complained of a stiff-necked people, and the people complained because they had run out of leeks. Adam blamed it all on his wife. She blamed it on the serpent. 

My dad claims it is the fault of the liberals. They blame it on George W. Everyone blames the schools, who in turn blame it on the parents.  Parents are the product of their culture, for which I assign blame to the baby-boomers.  They pass the buck to conservative religion. 

And all the blaming gets us nowhere because no one person is directly at fault. My grandmother is still deceased. My mother is still sad. Dead livestock still litter the plains. The streets are still gross. Everything is vanity...

So, while it is my gut instinct to wave a big 'ol middle finger to the world, throw my phone off a bridge, and run away to a place where I can hide under a blanket, I guess maybe instead I will do what Jesus said I should do. I'll go to him whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light, and I'll pray that we find rest. I'll work at pulling the timber from my eye, and I will try to love God and neighbor.

 Because trying to find someone to blame doesn't seem to get me anywhere. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

There Are No Sports in Hell

 
It is no secret that I have little interest in athletics in general and professional athletics in particular.  While I love to support my parishioners and their children in their athletic attempts, there are elements of sports culture that I find deeply disturbing.  I find fanaticism about particular teams and players to be repulsive, and, to my mind, the emotion displayed toward the failures and successes of a particular team is akin to toddlers' tantrums in the grocery store.  I fear that sports often encourage ignorance among among children and adults who seldom read any books, let alone good ones, and who can tell me the scores from the weekend, but none of the major current events.  I detest the power sports has over a family's ability to make free decisions about how they will live and schedule their time.  I deplore the notion that sports build character, though it is true that sports frequently reveal the character of athletes.  These, however, are the rambling opinions of one who never played sports, never considered them especially fun, and was never especially accomplished in anything athletic.  I freely admit I have a bias against sports.  Even adjusting for this bias, however, I fear something is seriously wrong with sports culture.  It verges on the pornographic.

Pornography is evil, not primarily because it is sexual, but because it objectifies humans.  It turns a person, made in the image and likeness of God and existing for his or her own sake, into a commodity.  Like slavery, pornography permits that I wantonly use another person for my pleasure or my gain.  It denies the dignity of the other, making him or her a thing, a means to an end, and in doing so, it degrades my own dignity which insists that I encounter each person in life precisely as a person other than myself who is of equal value, dignity, and worth to me.  The dignity with which I treat another bespeaks the dignity I believe that I possess.

There is little difference between the way in which we treat professional athletes and people in pornography.  To most fans, an athlete's worth is commensurate with his ability to perform.  He or she is an object meant to accomplish a task that pleases me, and if the athlete fails to do so, he should be sold like a cow who cannot produce milk.  Athletes have names and we know them, but what we know better is the position they play and the number on their jersey.  We talk about them by their position.  When they have finally eked the last ounce of skill from their aging bodies, athletes, except for a tiny shining minority, whither into obscurity.  A professional athlete is not a man or a woman, not a person, but a tool for my own pleasure by which I might vicariously obtain a fleeting victory, and know the glory of conquest.  

Some will be inclined to disagree with my observations, suggesting that interest in athletics is ultimately an expression of appreciation for the beauty of the human body and its ability to achieve magnificent feats and to endure tremendous strain.  That does not change the essential nature of our attraction.  The gladiators of the Roman circus did the same.  Was this sport?  If it is about pushing the human body to the limits of its natural abilities and our appreciation thereof, why are so many athletes now subjecting themselves to performance enhancing drugs?  Are they not ultimately attempting to make their bodies a better product for sale?  If we care about athletes as people, why did we permit Mohammed Ali to addle his brain in the ring?  Why did the NFL have to reach a financial settlement with concussion induced, disabled former players?  If we think they are people, why do we tolerate their inhuman and immoral actions so long as they retain an ounce of talent?  Why do we allow them to be bought and sold at incredible cost to cities, teams, and fans?  We pay fifty dollars to watch these men play, and kick the homeless out of the way as we rush to enter the stadium.

Does this mean that all sports fandom is immoral?  No.  There must be, I think, a middle way between sheer contempt for sports on the one hand, and quasi-pornography on the other.  We should, in fact, rejoice at the majesty of the human form when it achieves the actualization of its potential.  We should be moved at the glory with which God created man.  But, we have become flesh mongers when an athlete's worth is measured in performance.  An athlete is not good because he is good at sports.  He is good because he is human.  He is not valuable because he wins.  He is valuable because he is a man.  When we fail to acknowledge this, we have implicitly participated in the sale of human beings; we have become pornographers. 
                   

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

World Youth Day 2013 - Rio


I sometimes wonder why I keep doing this.  At about 7:45 AM tomorrow, I will load my pickup with a backpack and three other people so that we can make our way to Rapid City to join around thirty-five other people who, after Mass, will load a bus and head for Denver.  On Thursday morning, we will fly, via New York, to Brazil (Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro) for World Youth Day with our Pope.

This will be my fifth such trip.  Previous World Youth Day events have occurred in Canada, Germany, Australia, and Spain.  Each, to date, has been hard, exhausting, at least occasionally wet, and physically demanding.  Each time before leaving, I wonder what possessed me to sign up yet again.  Then I come home and find that I cannot stop thinking about what I experienced, how great the other people were, and when I might see them again.  World Youth Day is too hard to communicate in a single post.  As a result, I will be blogging about the event as we go.  i have purchased an international data plan that will allow me to do so, so I hope to provide an update every day.  You can follow our South American Adventures here:

riopilgrimage.blogspot.com 

Pray for us.  Pray for the other young people of the world gathering there.  Pray for the Pope.  Pray for Brazil.

We will be back in the US on August 31.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Enough

Christ the Great High Priest

"We seek the God of consolation, not the consolation of God."  These were words first uttered to me by a consecrated virgin on the campus of Creighton University while I attended a spirituality program a number of years ago.  They communicate a message stubbornly true - it is my place to seek God, not simply His blessings.

These words have flitted through my mind off and on over the course of a couple of months.  It is one of my greatest temptations, I have found, to seek consolation in human relationships.  With another person, I can find warmth, companionship, intimacy, sympathy, and company.  Perhaps more to the point, however, in another person, I can find distraction; I can ignore at least for a time, the omnipresent knowledge that I am less than I could be, more vicious than I ought to be, less perfect than I am made to be.  Human relationships easily become the building materials for a facade that permits me to believe that I can get through life well while avoiding solitude.

This is not to say that human relationships are bad.  In fact, they are good, beautiful, and necessary.  As with all things, though, they must be ordered toward the goal of salvation, and all too quickly they become an end unto themselves.  This is especially true, if not for every priest, for me at least.  Thus, after a period of prayer and soul searching, I recently found myself asking Christ, "Can you be enough for me?  Can I be satisfied with you alone?"  His answer was not immediate, but He seems to be making slow reply day by day.

The first thing He did was bring me to an awareness of utter exhaustion.  I am so tired.  I feel as though I could sleep for a week and still sleep longer.  An introvert by nature, I need silence, but I take too little time for it.  So, when my vehicle recently broke down preventing me from going very far from the rectory and with Msgr. Woster on vacation, I was left to myself in the rectory.  Having overcome my annoyance at the lack of transportation, I found I was uninterested in leaving the rectory.  I spent this past winter watching television shows on Hulu before falling asleep.  I read very little, which is an oddity for one who, until recently, averaged a novel per week.  No vehicle, a quiet rectory, and nothing new on television prompted me to return to my books.  I have finished ten or so in the last several weeks.  

Then, schedules being what they are, I have been unable to spend much time with the people with whom I would generally spend the majority of my time.  I have been, largely, alone with my thoughts, with my fly rod, and with my God.  Instead of boredom, I have been finding rest, peace, and a shifting perspective.

In the midst of all this, I celebrated the forth anniversary ofmy ordination to the priesthood.   As I prayed the preface for that Mass, especially the final paragraph, I was reminded profoundly of who I am: 

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, 
always and everywhere to give you thanks, 
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God.

For by the anointing of the Holy Spirit
you made your Only Begotten Son
High priest of the new and eternal covenant,
and by your wonderous design were pleased to decree
that his one Priesthood should continue in the Church.

For Christ not only adorns with a royal priesthood 
the people he has made his own, 
but with a brother's kindness he also chooses men 
to become sharers in his sacred ministry 
through the laying on of hands.

They are to renew in his name 
the sacrifice of human redemption, 
to set before your children the paschal banquet, 
to lead your holy people in charity, 
to nourish them with the word 
and strengthen them with the sacraments.

As they give up their lives for you 
and for the salvation of their brothers and sisters, 
they strive to be conformed to the image of Christ himself 
and offer you a constant witness of faith and love...
     
And suddenly, the answer was yes.  Christ can be enough for me.  It is not always easy, it is not without suffering, and it is not without the occasional desire for more.  But He is enough, and enough is all I need. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Jesus Christ, Zombie Hunter

 
Shortly after my return from my Mexican Adventure this past winter, the pheasant season having elapsed and the trout season still distant, I began collecting decks of playing cards.  In my zeal, I immediately purchased a wide variety of decks.  Among those novelty cards was a zombie deck from Bicycle.  In my music collection, one of the most frequently played tunes is a song called "Zombie" by the Cranberries.  I have repeatedly watched the Woody Harrelson  film "Zombieland," and laughed uproariously at each viewing.  Cinema and television abound with zombie-laden plots all of which pivot upon human efforts to avoid becoming entrees for the undead.  Zombies, it seems, are the "in thing."

In and of itself, this recent fascination with Zombies is not particularly disturbing.  They are neither more nor less horrifying than any of the other creatures that have sprung from the human imagination.  People like monsters.  People like to be scared.  More troubling to me, however, is the fact that popular media reveals something about how a culture perceives itself.  What is suggested about our culture when one of the most oft repeated themes is a zombie who is only half alive, driven by an insatiable need to consume, and whose state is contagious to those who do not suffer zombieism just yet?  

I fear we have become a culture of zombies. We abide in the land of the living, but are mostly only half-alive. We have no purpose, no meaning, no intention, no direction, no passion. We long for these things from time to time, when we are briefly confronted with a moment without noise and distraction, but we despair that such things exist, and so we settle for that which is cheap, disposable, and fast, hoping that enough consumption will eventually fill the gaping chasm the demands that we find meaning in our life. Thus we move from sleep to work to food to work to sleep, at every turn hoping for something more, and never finding it. We invest in one short-term relationship after another, our souls groaning for any little intimacy, even if at the cost of our dignity. We use and we are used and on sleepless nights, we are nauseated by the meaningless of our existence, always vaguely aware that we have accomplished little or nothing of lasting worth. So we plan vacations, and we think how lovely it will be when all the kids are home for Christmas, and we are devastated when they quarrel. To ease the misery, we turn on the computer, the tv, the radio and immerse ourselves in noise. Then we go to Mass and leave complaining that the music is boring, the prayers redundant, the priest too preachy, and the pews too hard. In a word, the one place where we can find a remedy to our zombieism fails to be just like the way I experience all the disposable consumption driven elements in the rest of my life.

Enter Jesus Christ. In him are beauty, meaning, passion, intimacy, purpose. To live in him, for him, with him is to find a cure for the zombie curse. It is really quite simple. Blessed Pierre Giorgio Frasatti said it best.  "To live without faith, without a heritage to defend, without battling constantly for the truth is not to live, but to exist."  Humans are meant to live, truly live. Zombies simply exist.  

 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Things Fall Apart






Entropy, as a recent article about the demise of dinosaurs defines it, is the tendency of things to run down or break down over time.  In other words, natural systems like composites and organisms have a tendency, over time, to stop functioning together and return to their component parts.  Other words approximating this idea are "decay" and "corruption."  Stars experience entropy.  Human bodies experience entropy.  Cars experience entropy.  The whole of creation, it would seem, experiences entropy.


Human aspiration also undergoes a sort of entropy.  There are certain things I shall never accomplish, particular promises of youth that shall remain unfulfilled, and always days when I will sigh and think, 'Would that I . . ." or, "If only . . ."  

I have been reflecting on this phenomenon in the last few days as graduation announcements flood my mail box, various mothers sniffle around the church preparing for their graduates' "lasts," and as young people brace themselves for impending goodbyes.  In the swirling and turbulent self-absorption that marks most periods of transition, it can appear that entropy is not a law of the material world alone.  

To summarize, change is inevitable and so common as to be unremarkable, except for the fact that it is experienced by individual people.  As an individual, each experience of change is something new and personal, carrying with it both the pain inherent to the old decaying as well as the potential for something new and better to replace it.  Entropy is not bad.  Rather, it is a necessary byproduct of existence in a world bound by time.  Its sting is moderated by the knowledge that though in time, man is destined for eternity.  

In eternity, there is no past and there is no future.  There is only now.  Thus, while bound in time, what I loved in the past, in eternity I still love now.  Because of eternity, love is never wasted, nor is it ever lost.  Likewise, all loving is a participation in the love of the Holy Trinity.  To be bound up in God's love in eternity is to find the fulfillment of all love that was "lost" in time.

When considered this way, goodbye is not goodbye.  Change is simply a step forward as creation proceeds in its orbit back toward its Creator.  Things fall apart. Except that they don't.
              

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Kinship With the Sailor

Is it naiveté that suggests to me that I share a kinship with the sailor? I know nothing of boats or tides, bows, sterns, port or starboard, but somehow a part of me is convinced that the sailor and I bear a likeness. This sentiment is not altogether ungrounded. I am a son of the prairie. We're not the covered wagons, used when white men first traversed this land, called prairie schooners? Did not Laura Ingalls Wilder remark in her Little House series about the similarities between the wind-blown prairie grass and the rolling swells of the sea? Cannot both prairie and sea leave one with the sense of having departed altogether from the rest of humanity? Is not the ocean, like the prairie, a vast and flat expanse disappearing into an unending horizon? Did I not, while studying in the tree-strewn, suffocating crush of Mississippi River Valley bluffs and cities, find solace looking across the enormous flat openness of Lake Superior?

These comparisons, however, are weak metaphors. They express similarity, but at the cost of revealing deeper dissimilarity. My kinship with the sailor rests not in what lies below us, but rather on that which graces the sky above. Only on the sea or on the prairie has one ever really seen the moon, and the stars.

By way of habit, I always scan the night sky, looking to find the Big Dipper. There it hangs, always visible, always in the north. When I know where north is, I also know where home is. Only when I visited Australia could I not find the Big Dipper. It was disconcerting. Though I have never been required to navigate across unknown distances guided only by the stars, these nautical road signs have guided me in other ways. As an undergraduate, the movements of Orion told me when it was time to go to bed. If he had disappeared from view, I was up too late. In moments of doubt, to look at the stars and from them be able to look toward home gave me courage. In times of loneliness, to know that my family could step outside and see the same stars as I saw gave me comfort. The stars ground; they tell me where I am, and where I come from. They remind me who I am.

I think think this must be true for sailors as well. Modern navigational equipment aside, I think they must all know that when worse comes to worst, the stars can guide them home. There is something holy about such knowledge. God Himself, after all, led the Magi by a star. Is it so strange that he should use them to lead me as well, to remind me who I am and in so doing, remind me whose I am?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Untroubled By the Snow

Sitting in my overstuffed chair watching the snow fall more than halfway through April is hardly the stuff of serenity for me, and yet somehow this evening I find that I bear no resentment toward the snow even after she nearly killed me on I90 trying to get to my priest fraternity gathering. I made it as far as Sturgis before contemplating abandoning my plans, but the couple of miles between Sturgis and the National Cemetery were enough to convince me. A wasted 36 miles on slippery roads? Oh well. It is wet, and wet is what this dry old land needs.

This serenity that I experience has little to do with the weather. Rather, I am a man in love. Having nearly accomplished a year in my current assignment, I find that I am deeply content. These are my people. I am their priest. They trust me. I trust them. If we were a couple, we would be approaching the stage where we could freely flatuate in the presence of the other.

In a word, I am content. I've learned a great deal about loving in the last few years. I think I'm getting the hang of it. I wonder if that means they will have to move me again.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Confirmation 2013



It was my privilege to once again serve as a Confirmation Sponsor for a young man at the Cathedral Parish.  I am also spiritual director for another young woman.  This letter accompanied their gift.

+++++ 

It was Shakespeare’s Juliet Capulet who immortalized the question “What’s in a name?”  Indeed, for her, it was only a name that created the barrier between her and the freedom to love as she wished.  All too glibly, however, did she and the overwrought fans of star-crossed lovers ignore the profundity of the question Juliet poses.  What is in a name?  To my mind, it is much more than an appellation to which we are conditioned to respond from our infancy.   There is a great deal in a name.

Many ancient cultures were of the opinion that to know the name of another gave one power over that person.  To speak their true name was to control them.  In a certain way this makes sense, I suppose.  One has but to call my name in a crowded room, and I immediately respond to their beckoning.  Likewise, sundry old ghost stories and childhood dares pivot upon the act of repeating the grotesque name of some ghoulish specter.  Perhaps more to point, God Himself uttered His name only to Moses, and from then on the Hebrew people held his name in great reverence, never presuming to speak it, and punishing as blasphemers those who did.  Moreover, by commanding that the cripple be healed in the name of Jesus, Peter restored him to full bodily integrity.  To use God’s name gives one power and authority.  Aside from His own name, in the Scriptures, God seems to emphasize the importance of the names of His own people.  Abram and Sarai become Abraham and Sarah upon entering into a covenant with the Lord.  Jacob becomes Israel.  Simon becomes Peter.  Saul becomes Paul.  In each instance, this name change accompanied a new relationship with the Lord in which the new relationship became the defining characteristic of the person’s life.  Names are powerful.   In a way, it could be said that a name becomes the shorthand expression of the very essence of who a person is.  To use a name is to make present the depth and breadth of a person.  A name is more than a name; it is who a person is.

If what I propose is true, a rather startling question begins to emerge.  If, when my name is uttered or when it is set to paper in my signature, it calls to mind the very depths of who I am, should I not be able to provide some more thoroughgoing articulation of that reality?  In other words, do I know who I am?  It is toward that end that I direct the remainder of my observations.  

There are, with all people, those things which make them unique.  So it is with you.  Your family of origin, your humor, your hobbies, your interests, and your intellect are all tied up in what it is to be you.  These things are important, and they are part of what I admire and find fascinating about you.  They are not, however, at their core, the most important things.  You are much more than these.

First and foremost, you are the beloved son of the Father.  This, more than all else, defines you.  He made an irrevocable claim upon you in your baptism, and He has loved you with a love beyond our ability to express in words from then until eternity.  He has loved you at your best, and He has loved you at your worst.  He rejoices in your triumphs, He stands by you in your miseries, and He never changes his mind about you.  No sin you have committed, no sin you can commit will ever prompt him to love you less.  You are His.  Forever.  He will never abandon you.  So must you never abandon Him.

Because the Father loves you, you are good.  I love my priesthood, and I cannot imagine another life for myself, but this calling has not been without its moments of suffering.  Most poignant, however, have been those moments when I have seen the goodness within you even as you struggled to recognize it in yourself.  Thus, I cannot reiterate emphatically enough that you are good.  You are not perfect.  You are prone to sin.  As with all of us, you are still working out your salvation.  This, however, does nothing to detract from your goodness.  You are good because God has decided that you are good.  In those moments when your goodness seems far from you, when sin seems to overwhelm you, and when you feel most wretched, please remember that I have never doubted your goodness, and if I can see it, dull-witted though I am, surely God who made you can see it all the more.

Because God has chosen you, and because you are good, you also, in a particular way through the sacraments you have received, are an image of Christ in the world.  You bear His mark.  You carry Him in the world.  You are not like other people, you are like Him.  This too, defines you.  Already you have begun to experience the difficulties of choosing to live in a manner contrary to that of your peers.  These challenges will continue.  It will be easier to be like other people.  Resist this temptation.  Do not be like them.  You are made for glory.  Pursue it always.

Fountain Pens and Stationary
All of these things and more are implied whenever someone pronounces your name.  This reality becomes even more prominent when you set your name to paper.  In applying your signature, you attest to the truth of some claim or you vow to keep some promise, and you offer the very depths of who you are as guarantor.  As I have established, who you are is no small thing.  It is a weighty matter to speak your name, and even weightier to write it.  As such, one should have a means by which to apply one’s signature the dignity of which corresponds with the task it is meant to accomplish.  Toward that end, please accept the gift that accompanies this letter.

Yours paternally in Christ,

Fr. Tyler Dennis     

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Greatest of These is Love


The following is more or less the homily I delivered a week or two ago.  I was asked to write it down, so here it is: 

+++++

"In the end, only three things remain."
In his epic poem, The Iliad, the Greek Poet, Homer, tells the tale of the beautiful woman Helen, and how she abandons her Greek husband to flee to the island state of Troy to be the bride of the Paris, a prince of that city.  In the story, the two principle heroes are Achilles, a Greek warrior, and Hector, the older brother of Paris.  For both men, in all that they do, the strive after honor.  To their minds, and in the minds of all ancient Greeks, this was a virtue beyond all others, because in achieving honor by means of heroism in battle or by some other means, they could provide for themselves some sort of immortality.  They would live forever in the memories of their people.  That I speak of them here suggests that they were right.

The Iliad provides helpful context in understanding St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians.  Corinth was, at its inception, a Greek city imbued with Greek culture and ideas.  Later, after Rome captured Palestine and the surrounding areas, Corinth would become a Roman city influenced by Roman culture, but it would retain mush of its original cultural identity.  Corinth was an important city, sitting at the crossroads of a variety of trade routes, and it was widely acknowledged as a city of opulence, wealth.  People tended to be somewhat better educated than other places in the world.  Corinth was also a city filled with houses of ill repute and the sort of businesses that attracted vagabonds, sailors, and traders far from home.  In a way, it was a bit like the ancient version of Las Vegas.  It was in this city, steeped in the culture and traditions of the ancient Greeks, that St. Paul established a Christian Community.  Having gotten that community on its feet, Paul continued on his missionary journey, leaving the community in the capable hands of a bishop he had appointed.  There were troubles, however, and Paul was forced to write a letter to the community trying to correct their errors.

It is from this letter and about these troubles that we receive St. Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians about the body of Christ.  The Christians of that community had been experiencing all varieties of spiritual gifts: prophecy, words of wisdom, speaking in tongues, and the interpretation of tongues.  And they argued about which of these spiritual gifts bestowed the greatest honor upon its recipient.  For this reason, Paul reminded them that as Christians, each of them had a role to play, just as in the body, each part must play its role, lest the body fail to function.  If a foot wants to be a mouth, the body will not work right.  If a hand wants to be the stomach, the body will not work right.  Likewise, in the Church, there are no roles of greater of lesser glory and honor.  Everyone has a part to play, and if he fails to do so, Christ's Body becomes ineffective in its mission.  

Paul ends his analogy of the body by reminding the Christians of Corinth that regardless of the gift they had been given and the degree to which they had been given it, their exercise of that gift would be meaningless if the failed to exercise it for the sake of love.   He begins his excursis, "I shall show you now a still better way," and then goes on to describe the qualities of love, finally finishing by insisting that the ability to prophecy would come to an end, that the ability to speak and interpret tongues would come to an end, and that all would disappear, except three things: "faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love."  God, he was telling them, would care little about which of the gifts they had received or how often they had received them.  In the end, none of these things would matter.  All that remained would be faith, and hope, and love.  Did they exercise these gifts for the sake of these virtues?  Most especially, did they use the gifts that they had been given for the sake of love?

This passage has profound and immediate practical implications for all of us today, because it means that just as the Corinthians were expected to exercise the gifts they ad been given for the sake of love, so must we.  It means that rather than doing what I must out of a sense of obligation or for the sake of recognition, I do it for love and for God's Greater Glory.  I cook breakfast for my family not because I am obliged to, for the sake of love.  I fry eggs in the morning for God's greater glory.  I drive icy roads to a job I don't particularly enjoy for the sake of love, as a way of giving out of myself and my resources.  I wash and fold clothes and place them on my child's bed so that he can sleep on them for the sake of love.  I wash dishes for the sake of love.  I change the oil, pay the bills, change a tire for the sake of love.  I go to school and study and do my homework always attempting to achieve my highest potential because it is a way of loving.  I scrub toilets for the sake of love.  In each thing that I do, I do it not because I am forced to, not because circumstances have bound me to doing it, but because it is a way in which I can love another, it is a way in which I make an offering of myself.  And this is important!  It is exceedingly important, because at the end of time, God is going to care little how many miles we drove, the particular grades we received, or how many times the toilet was scrubbed.  He is going to care, however, if we did each of those things for the sake of love.  because, in the end, only three things are going to remain: Faith, and Hope, and Love.  And the greatest of these is love.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Hemingway Loved Cats


I learned tonight that Hemingway loved cats, which prompted me to some armchair literary criticism.

I have been a fan of Ernest Hemingway for many years.  I read The Old Man and the Sea and I was hooked.  I had no idea what it was about, I just knew that there was something more that he wanted to say with that piece that floated beneath the surface of the novella.  While working in the Hole in the Wall Bookstore at Wall Drug on a boring summer day, I happened across a copy of his, The Dangerous Summer.  It was odd to find fiction of this sort in a store devoted to literature about the Western Portion of the USA.  With wanton disregard for the strict policy against reading the merchandise, I began browsing the introduction to the text, and learned of Hemingway's suicide.  I think I decided then that he was a tortured man.  It would be many years before I finally read Hemingway in a college course and began to understand his writing in its historical context.  For me, Hemingway has always smacked of sadness, disappointment, and broken dreams.  Even at its most positive, his writing is wistful, never satisfied, full of longing.  That, to my mind, is part of his allure.

As a result of my own reading, I was a little taken aback to find that Hemingway lore is surrounded with an aura of machismo.  To my mind, the idea of a passionate yet haunted cat-loving man is not incompatible with the idea of a mountain-climbing, lion-shooting, fisherman.  I am not sure why it comes as a shock to many to learn that Hemingway was a cat lover.  Dog owners, unless the dogs are of the lion-tracking variety, are not well-suited to leave on safari.  Someone has to care for the dogs.  Cats, on the other hand, tend to care for themselves.  They can be left alone for weeks and hardly notice the absence of their owners.  All of the cat and dog debate aside, however, that Hemingway loved his cats simply reiterates to me something that I have always assumed of Hemingway as a result of his writing.

Ernest Hemingway was the instantiation of the idea that the entirety of human life is to be experienced in the passing of a limited number of days, and should those days be marked by pain, he who lives them has been cheated.  For him, it seems to me, life was mostly bitter, punctuated by episodes of pleasure that served principally to momentarily anesthetize one to the bitterness and exacerbate the experience once the pleasure had passed.  And I love his writing because he is so gloriously yet tragically wrong.  Life is good, though punctuated by evil, and is worth living principally because good and evil alike serve to reflect the goodness of life as yet unseen, and intensify one's desire for beatitude yet to come.

Hemingway's cats, "purr factories" and "love sponges," as he called them, made something miserable more pleasant, even bearable.  For me, Hemingway's cats serve to prove that in a world created solely to make me happy, I can hope to be even happier when it ends.  Here's to hoping that Hemingway found in death what he could not seem to bring himself to believe in life.  Rest in peace, Ernest.                

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Beer Fairy

 
Arriving at my thirty-second year was a lot easier than arriving at my thirtieth year.  It had none of the trauma of realizing that I had left childhood altogether behind.  Rather, as one of my priest brothers reminded me, at thirty-two I have only one year left before I arrive at the age of the crucifixion.  Indeed.  That means that during the coming year, I will perform miracles and everyone will come to recognize me as the Messiah.

I spent my thirty-second birthday in the company of my Caritas brothers.  These three other priests constitute my fraternity group which gathers once per month to pray and share the happenings of our lives together with the goal of recognizing more acutely God's presence and direction in our ministry..  This time one of us was absent, so our group was three.  It was a really a refreshing time.  Rather than spend the evening, as we usually do, watching a movie, we decided that each of us would read the book we had brought with us.  No talking.

I enjoy these little gathering, but I have come to really appreciate the fact that at every gathering, we are visited by the Beer Fairy.

I am not a big drinker.  I never really have been.  I do, however, really enjoy a beer from time to time.  I tend not to buy beer as Msgr. Woster doesn't drink it much, and I avoid drinking alone.  So, it was too my great delight when, while at a Caritas gathering one morning, I stepped outside and discovered a six pack of Grain Belt Premium cooling on the deck of the cabin in Silver City.  No one seemed to know from whence it had come.  We were left to conclude that the Beer Fairy had visited us and left us a gift in our hour of need.  From that time, she has been very good about ensuring that we have beer at every gathering.  She even flew her beer cart alongside Fr. Spark's pick-up one evening to deliver her wares to him as he was on his way to our gathering.  She is most generous.  She never brings too much or too little.  It is always just what we need.  I wonder if she is as generous to all the other priest fraternity groups.    

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Wrapping up


Much to my own astonishment, I am packed and ready to catch my taxi at 6:30 AM. Jake is packing as we speak. Both of us have commented that it feels like we've been here forever and for no time at all. But I'm ready to come home. I knew it was time when, while sitting in line to go to confession at the Cathedral, I had to resist the urge to tell everyone that I was a priest and begin hearing confessions right there while I waited. It has been magnificently warm and sunny, and I don't relish returning to the cold, but I miss my people and my work. It's time to go home.

Jake and I spent our last day viewing the templo mayor. It is the remains of the great Aztec temple of sacrifice buried beneath the city center. While the sophistication of that ancient culture is quite amazing, I find myself constantly returning to the fact that these people ATE OTHER PEOPLE. Cannibalism pretty much overrides the positive factors within any culture by my estimation. This element of ancient belief was largely overlooked in the museum exhibits. It's hard to pursue an agenda about wicked colonial oppressors when the people they supposedly oppressed ATE OTHER PEOPLE. I am really not ok with this.

The day was hot. We stopped for a cold coke on the steps of the Cathedral when two girls came to interview us about our thoughts on Mexico. Overlooking the history of cannibalism, I rather like it here. Jake was disappointed that they had pegged us as tourists. I chuckled at that. We are wildly conspicuous We both stand about a head taller than most Mexicans, and I am huge compared to them. I never harbored any suspicion whatsoever that we went about unnoticed. I was just trying to be as little noticed as possible.

A nap, tacos, and an ice cream cone later, I am thinking about going to bed. Tomorrow we fly, and I'm back in the saddle on Thursday. I may have further adventures to report when we arrive stateside. Until then.












Monday, January 14, 2013

Homecoming

Today may have been the best day of our Mexican Adventure to date. Last night was a bit tense. Jake's ATM card was inexplicably not working, I couldn't figure out how to call my Dad to wish him happy birthday (I was finally forced to send a Facebook message), and we needed to get an early start today. I'm not especially good at early starts, so when the hotel room cleaner yelled something incomprehensible as we tried to get moving I was less than amused. Things improved as headed south on the metro toward the city's southern bus terminal. Today's destination: Cuernavaca.

When I studied here nearly ten years ago, I lived in Cuernavaca. I stayed with a family who, at that time, had a son and a daughter of eight and thirteen years respectively. When I contacted the school to arrange for a motel in Mexico school, they were elated to learn that I would be coming to visit.

As it turns out, I should probably just have arranged to stay in Cuernavaca. Aside from becoming horrifically lost when we first arrived, and a slightly terrifying bus ride, we finally found some landmarks I recognized. Soon I was at the school where I was was laughing and hugging and feeling like I had never left.

From the school we wandered to the house where I stayed and joined most of the family for lunch. The mother and daughter of the host family then accompanied us to the local cathedral and artisans market for a bit of shopping. As the afternoon began to wane we stopped for a cool drink and a long talk.

After ten years, how does one answer the question, "How have you been?" I've been great. I've been miserable. Elated and despairing. Astonished and disgusted. How have I been? And so we talked. My conversational Spanish is weaker than it once was, but we managed to muddle through. It felt so natural, and the city itself so peaceful compared to the madness of Mexico City.

It was time to head back to the city much too early. We made our goodbyes. It was easier this time. I'm convinced I will be back to see them again. In today's visit, I found the remedy to the angst I experienced on Saturday. I came to Mexico for the people, and I found them again today. What a lovely way to spend a day.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Bravo, Toro!


Upon further consideration, I have decided that the bull fight deserves further description.

The sole purpose of a bull fight can be summed up in a single word: bravery. The bull fighting tradition came to Mexico from Spain. Part of the opposition to the practice in Mexico, in fact, arises from the notion that the sport is a cultural imposition from colonial times. Yet, it remains quite popular throughout much of Latin America. It is a sport defined by tradition. For a period before the fight begins, the brass band warms up and then plays to entertain the gathering crowd. This band features the trumpet quite dominantly. Think "cheesy Mexican gun battle movie scene," and you will get the idea.

At precisely 4:30, the band begins a traditional march, and the parade of bull fighters enter the ring. The parade consists of a marshall who leads everyone from atop his horse. Next come the matadors aligned according to seniority. Following them are their cuadrilos, a group of three men with capes who help manage the bull during the various movements of the fight. Behind them come the picadores mounted blindfolded horses covered in thick padding. Second to last comes a team of horses harnessed to a simple doubletree. Finally come the red uniformed men who clean the arena. The parade having ended, the first fighter and his cuadrilo take their places behind blockades in the ring. Gates are flung open and the bull rushes into the light from a dark chute. Until this point, he has been raised as a wild animal. He has been handled as little as possible for his whole life. When he has been handled, he has been encouraged to hate humans. He has been reared from generations of fighting animals. His sole purpose in life is to bravely attack anything in the ring until he kills them or they kill him. This is his moment of glory.

In the ring, the members of the cuadrilo work the bull with large magenta and gold capes as the matador watches seeing habits of the bull - the direction he prefers to turn, the horn with which he most often hooks, his speed, etc . . .

After a few passes, the picador, carrying a lance enters the ring. His job is to stab the bull at the base of the neck, weakening those muscles so that he has to drop his head as he charges. A trumpet call marks the end of this period, and the beginning of the banderilleros. Carrying two short darts about a foot long, these men rush the bull as he rushes them. They must reach over the horns, place their darts, and rush away without getting gored. Three sets of darts are placed. It is now time for the matador to work the bull. He must use his short red cape to provoke the bull, controlling the passes as the bull brings his horns within centimeters of the matador's body. The fight reaches its climax when the matador kills the bull with a sword, inserting it between vertebrae severing the spinal cord and piercing the bull's heart. He doesn't often accomplish this perfectly, but once inserted, the sword quickly kills the animal.

Though brutal, these fights are a thing of grace. They are a show of bravery by bull and fighter alike. Both look death in the face, and without blinking, try to inflict the same on the other. If this were just about killing, it would be cruel, perhaps even a sin. But the killing is not the point. The point is the grace, the elegance of brute force and years of practice. It is a dance, a beautiful dance. Perhaps not for everyone, the bull fights have won me over. I hope to see them again.

Olé


When I was here last time, I watched the bull fights every Sunday on television after Mass. I never had the opportunity to see one live. Today we made up for that. Call them what you will: artful, cruel, graceful, barbaric, they are an amazing experience of Mexico. The plaza de toros seats about 50,000 people. Because of dwindling popularity due to animal rights activists, the arena was quite empty today, but there were still plenty of Mexicans to drink, swear, and cheer the bull and torreros (Olé!). I have photos and video. I will upload videos when I get home.