Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Bundle of Joy

Posts will be sparse in the the upcoming weeks because my wife and I are expecting our new baby.  So I will not have time to blog much.  I will post when I can.  Please pray for my family as we welcome our new addition to the family.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Christian Manliness

The concept of manliness his vast meanings, there are whole websites devoted to the topics which will show men how to use a plunger or shave with a straight razor.  Society says men should be macho or strong and to some extent emotionless (unless it’s anger).  Any hint of attributes to the opposite are considered weakness.  Even the phase “metrosexual” which was popular a few years ago was trying to get over this notion that men have to be neanderthals to be a “real” man.

Think of a movie with a man in it.  What qualities does he have? Depending on the genre that you thought of, your man has certain qualities.  Action movie, you have your Liam, your Arnold, your Sylvester with their muscles and disregard for authority cocky attitude. You went romantic comedy? You had your rugged attractive bad boy with a sensitive streak that he don’t show.   You went Disney? You have your gallant prince who uses his might to destroy the evil forces.  All of these guys are distant and use brawn over brains and usually cause conflict because of this (it would be a movie if there wasn’t conflict).  The sensitive guys are relished to the sidelines or side kick or quirky neighbor roles.    

This blog post is not just a critique of hollywood actors, I want to look at society view of manliness very the Christian understanding of it.

Lets start with the manliest guy of all time, Jesus.  Jesus did get angry, but Jesus also showed other emotions too.  He wept openly (John 11:35).  Just listened to people, he healed them and he taught them.  Jesus didn’t abuse his masculinity to lord it over people, he used to to connect to them.  The perfect example of is when dealing with the woman caught in adultery, he had every right to stand up for the law and lead the charge to stone her, but he did not.  He could have told the crowd, “listen to me, I know best”, but he did not.  What did he do? He made one statement then squatted down on the dirt and wrote in the sand.  That is a true man that leads by example and not by power.  

Another example about Jesus was his fearless approach to the crucifiction.  His defense of himself before the Sanhedrin and before Pilate.  Both of which had “manly” men that wanted to uses their power and authority to persecute the weak.  Though Jesus was fraile from the ordeal that he was going through we was anything but weak. He boldly told Pilate that authority comes from above and did not back down when questioned.      

Look at the saints.  Very few of them are warriors.  They didn’t get to be saints by winning battles.  They got to be saints by allowing himself to be weak and let God work through them.  Society manliness is wearing the most trendy clothes, St. Frances shunned his fancy clothes in the town square.   Society manliness is doing everything necessary to get the most money. The saints tried to live in poverty.  All notions of hollywood manliness are put out by the saints.  Real men don’t rely on their power to get people to listen to them through intimidation, real men meet people where they are and help them with the problem at hand.

Jesus manliness didn’t come from outside but from inside.  He had a self determination that he exuded through his actions.  Jesus didn’t need muscles or guns to show his authority he had all of his manliness inside of him.  Christian men are called to live out this internal manliness.  Manliness doesn’t come from outside.  Designer jeans, bench pressing or growing a mustache will not make you more of a man.  Standing up for your principles in the face of adversity when all of your friends have left you will.   Standing up for the marginalized and following the example of the Jesus will.  

I could write a whole book on this and many have been written about it so I will wrap up this topic for now, in pointing out that original man Adam was swayed from his convictions by the devil and lost all God had given him.  Jesus was not swayed and took on the devil and won for all of mankind.  That is true manliness.   

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Sunday's in Lent

So during lent we are posed with question of “What about Sunday?” do Sundays count at part of lent or are they a solemnity that we break our fast and celebrate the Lord’s day?

Technically no
Sundays are not counted as part of Lent.  They are regarded at the Lord’s day and therefore a day of rest.  Being that they are a day of rest no fasting or abstaining should be done on Sunday. 

Technically St. Joseph’s Day(March 19th) is a solemnity too which you could break your Lenten fast as well.  so you are not under any obligation to your Lenten sacrifice on Sunday

If you live on technicalities where is the sacrifice?
The other side of the coin it that if we are looking as lent as a whole then we should keep up our pattern of behavior even on Sunday.  Just because you are not under the obligation does not mean you should not take it as an opportunity to grow in holiness. Jesus went to the desert for 40 days to fast and pray.  Scripture does not say that Jesus came out of the desert every 6 day went to town for a good meal pronouncing that it was the Sabbath so he can break his fast.  So we too should follow the example of Jesus in continuing to give up our indulgences (candy, beer, etc.) throughout the entire forty days so that we can grow in holiness and closer to God.   

Are we called to rest on the Lord’s Day as prescribed in scripture or are we supposed to continue to a complete lenten journey?  That depends on your motivations.  Are you living out the 40 days of lent or are you living out lent 6 days at a time then making up for it on the seventh day?

Yes we should keep holy the Sabbath, yes we should not fast or abstain from meat on the Sabbath.  But if you are just living out your week so that you can use Sunday as the time to indulge in everything you gave up then where is your Lenten sacrifice?  Look at the big picture of Lent the whole time from Ash Wednesday to the Wednesday of Holy Week.  Are you growing closer to God EVERYDAY or are you only doing it somedays.  Only you can decide how you keep holy the Sabbath.  

Side Note:
I am going to give a quick plug for friend that just published his first spirituality book entitled "Remove the Stone": Using Your Sins to Redirect Spiritual Energy .  I have not read it yet but I am ordering it and will post a full review in a future post.  But if his writing is anything like his preaching or his general intellectual world perspective I expect good things from this book.  Some of my local readers may know Father Lanoue as he is the Associate pastor at St. John the Evangelist in Severna Park, MD.  This is his first published book about spirituality.  I think it will be a good read and I look forward to reading it and posting a complete review soon.  

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ash Wednesday

"Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return"

A Catholic author once wrote, “Fear of death is not fear of the the unknown, you cannot fear something you do not know.  Rather fear of death is the fear of the loss of the known.”  This is the lesson to get from Ash Wednesday   It can be ominous to go before the person who is distributing ashes and be reminded of your own death.  There may be a good homily reiterating that you will eventually die and that the world that we know will exist without you in it. This can be disconcerting about how we will be separated from our loved ones.  The loss of the known sends fear throughout our body.  Leaving things is not the hard part leaving people is difficult.  

It’s is the fear of loss of the know that can be a stumbling block to accepting our other citizenship.  Our true citizenship is in Heaven and Christ has promised to prepare us a mansion when we arrive.  The one thing that can get us past this fear is living out our Lent.  Taking an active role in the 40 days to draw closer to God in prayer and sacrifice.  A spiritual house cleaning if you will.  This is different than the Advent anticipation of the Christ child, this is preparing to follow the savior as he opens the gates of heaven to us by dying on the Cross for YOU.  He didn’t die for a anonymous collective humanity, he dies for you individually.    

To get past the fear of the loss of the known.  We have to change our mindset about what the known is.  This life is temporary and we need of focus on long term (eternal) goals.  We have to have an understanding of where we want to go and a map of how to get there.  Our spiritual road map is the Bible, open it up and understand what God has promised us.  

In the Catholic church we have an abundance of writing of the saints.  Some more accessible than others, but all can be grown into.  If you have never had any exposure to reading writing of the saints Lent is a good time to start.  Starting with Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux, it is timeless and accessible.  Lesser know is Maurice and Therese: The Story of a Love which is an excellent book of correspondence between St. Therese and a young missionary.  (A future blog post I will compose a list of my favorite writing of the saints and the accessibility to readers.) 

So giving up your candy, your facebook, your ipad is all well and good but what are you going with that sacrifice.  Are you going to give candy money to the poor, are you going to fill your Facebook time with spiritual reading?   A deacon once said in a homily, “We have time to do anything we WANT to do”.  So what do you want to do?  We should want to get to heaven more than thing else because that is all that we have.  If we fail in that goal nothing else matters.  

You “job” in life is to get to heaven and try and get as many other people there with you as you can.  Nothing else matters in life, everything else will fall away and turn to dust.  In striving for heaven we strive to lose the known.  We become detached from the things of the world, all of the things that we know.  We seek to lose the world so that there is only heaven and that this world will not matter to us.  

With Heaven on our hearts we can stand firmly to receive ashes, we know there is nothing to fear about losing this world but so much to be gained in the next.  So we respond to “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” not in fear or dread but a resounding, firm and joyful “Amen!”

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

What do they actually teach in seminary?

Through my time in seminary most people had no idea what I studied.  It was not that they were dumb but they just took theology as a general answer without knowing exactly what that meant.  They thought I read the bible(which I didn’t actually read cover to cover) and learned about “church” stuff.  

So for this blog post I am going to break down exactly what a seminarian studies in school.  So if you ever see one you can can ask him about his ecclesiology exam.  Don’t ask him if he just prays all day, prayer is an aspect but he is studying to be a priest not a monk.

All of my “insider” information come from when I was in one seminary from 2005 - 2008 like many other colleges and universities they are always updating and tweaking the program. But with the topic of theology there is not a tremendous amount of new subjects coming out every year so a lot of it stays the same.  Other may have had different variations of courses but most seminaries are try to stay within a certain framework.  

Pillars of Formation
First I need to address the pillars of formation in the seminary.   There are four aspects (pillars) of life the seminary is trying to form and develop on every man that comes through the door.  

Human - This is basic human formation to make sure the person is equipped to deal with others in the real world.  Human formation involves getting rid of and adding certain character traits that will allow a person to represent Christ to all people.  This would include developing shy students into ones that can carry on a conversation with someone they just met.  On the other end of the spectrum would be the teaching a person with a dominant personality to be able to listen quietly.   

Spiritual - the spiritual life of a priest is where he gets his strength to live out his calling.  Praying daily through the Mass and the liturgy of the hours as well as adoration is nourishing to everyone soul but the priest is called to live it out in a special way.  Developing good pray habits and practices will keep the priest fulfilled in life.  But many of these habits are learned thought practice and trying different things that work.   

Pastoral - the priest needs to learn to be pastoral.  We have all had contact with a priest who we thought was very pastoral.  They have a way about them that even if they disagree with you they will tell you in such a way that you don’t feel judged or hurt by the observation.  They also excel at the cardinal virtue of prudence which is the greatest of the 4 cardinal virtues.
Intellectual - Lastly the priest must be knowledgeable about 2000 years of teaching of the doctrines of the church, not that he is going to get into a heated discussion about the causes of the Crusades everyday but if he is sought as a wise counselor he has to know what he believes in order to practice what he preaches.   He has to be able to open up the scripture in the homily every week to try and reach as many people as he can on any given Sunday.  There has to be an intellectual foundation to that knowledge.  Passion without understanding in foolishness.

It is the intellectual pillar that the seminary focuses on academically, though they touch on the others as well in course work and cover them all in the formation process.  They do this through a standard fifteen credit college semester type schedule.

Before we even get to theology every student of the priesthood must have a foundation in philosophy. This will help in the understanding of the theology to come.  This is just not a course but 2 years of courses that range from ancient philosophy to philosophy of God and philosophy of nature.  Only after these two years(or four years if in minor seminary) can the seminarian proceed to the next level. So if you see a newer seminarian he might be still in the years of philosophy and hoping to move on to theology.   

Intellectual Pillar
There are 5 branches to the the Intellectual pillar some of them overlap so I will categorize them as follows:

Scripture - This is more than just reading the bible.  The beginning scripture classes actually teach more about how to read scripture (different methodologies for interpretation) than about scripture itself.  Later classes are divided into sections of scripture rather than scripture as a whole.  For instance there will be a semester of synoptic gospels or a semester on prophetic books of the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament) .  The semester will take you through the history of the books being studied such as when they were written, who the intended audience of the time and the circumstances of the location at that time.  The books are also picked apart to show significant passages and their understanding by biblical scholars.  Papers written about scriptures are called exegesis which is a critical explanation of interpretation of the text.  This involved research into biblical commentaries and different sources.     

Church History/Canon Law - This is one of the instances where the topics could overlap the Council of Trent gave us a lot of doctrine documents which would be covered in systematics but the council would be covered in church history.  Church history takes us on a multi semester journey from Jesus to modern day and everything in between.  Most church history teacher I have met were storytellers so they kept is interesting rather than solely times and dates, though times and dates were involved.  Finding out how the early church went from an early small community to a power force to the place it is today as a moral authority in the world is interesting.  This is not to say that all of the history is good but it still must be examined and learned from.  

I put Canon Law with church history though it could have been its own category.  Normally in the seminary there are only two semesters of Canon Law to get an understanding of what it is and how it is used by the priest.  Most priest are not going to be Canon Lawyers and if they are they go on for advanced degrees in that.
Morality - The Church is a moral authority in the world and has a large foundation to achieve that position.  This must be taught in subjects such as ethics, morality, and sexuality.  These courses can overlap with pastoral as well on dealing how to deal with sinful people and what constitutes a sin.

Pastoral/liturgy/Spirituality - I lumped this group together because while there is course work on them, a lot of this is done through action.  Some of these fall under the other pillars as well so are addressed outside the traditional classroom.  But courses on liturgy and practice of the sacraments is important to the life one is undertaking.  Understanding the pastoral side of administration and ministry is also important.  Incorporating all of those things with your own spiritual life is critical.      

Systematic - This is the subject where the big words come in, your Soteriology Christology and your Ecclesiology.  These are foundational doctrines that we believe but takes a deeper understand.  During the semester of Christology you face the question of how we came to the conclusion that Jesus was both God and man and why that distinction is important to our eternal salvation.  The doctrines of what authority the church has and what a bishop can teach and how binding is it on the people.  Papal infallibility and what are the limitations of this power.  These are all aspect of systematic and they can be heavy questions with big words that the church has wrestled with over the last 2000 years.  

I hope this give you a deeper understanding of what a seminarian is learning in his academics as he is being formed and being challenged in all aspects of this life.  Seminary can be stressful because it is not just another college it is formation.  It’s not graduate level Sunday school it is a academic gamut of theological understanding.    

For those looking for more specifics on the academic courses here are links to the academic programs of the two seminaries in the Archdiocese of Baltimore (the first and second oldest seminaries in the United States)