Who We Obey Makes A Difference

From the archives (circa 2012)

On Sunday we heard, if we were really listening, great advice from the Acts of Apostles.

“We must obey God rather than man.”

Man tells us it’s okay to be mean if people deserve it or if it gets us ahead. God says, “ Love your neighbor.”

Man tells us it’s okay to execute in the name of government. God says, “Do not kill.”

Man tells us life begins whenever we say it begins and until then we can pretty much do what we want with that blob of cells. God says, “Before you were born, I called you by name.”

Man tells us that might makes right, power is everything, and the poor can take of themselves. God says, “The first shall be last,” and “As I have done, so you must do.”

Man tells us it’s okay to lie if it means we win the day, that the truth is flexible and its definition can change. God says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

Man hates. God loves.

Man is intolerant. God welcomes everyone.

Man breaks down others. God builds us up.

Man gets lost. God gives Light.

Man despairs. God sends Hope.

Man crucifies. God resurrects.

Who we obey is a very big deal.

~pjd

Back to School

I wrote the entry below back in 2015 when I started my doctoral studies at La Salle University in Philadelphia. This morning at 9 am, my oral comprehensive exams will begin. The written part will follow. St. Joseph of Cupertino, pray for us.

July 2015

I spent last week in a classroom studying the French school of spirituality. I read more than I have in a very long time and I wrote nearly a hundred pages of notes I pray I will be able to read when I need them.

I met ten of the most amazing people – priests, doctors, women religious, Catholics and Protestants, mothers and fathers, millennial and baby boomers. Together we laughed more than I can remember laughing in a very long time such that by the end of the week the silliest things brought us to tears. These will be my partners in this adventure that, if we survive, will end with doctoral degrees. It was a retreat, an overwhelming amount of work, and a moment of grace all wrapped into a week I will not soon forget.

At the beginning of every session, Brother John, our instructor, would close the classroom door and announce, “Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God.” These words from St. John Baptist de La Salle surprised me at first. It was such an easy phrase to hear and such a difficult phrase to live. As we heard the invitation to prayer twice a day and sat in the silence that followed, I began to wonder why it can be so hard for me to remember God’s presence in my life.

So I made a list.

Slowly but surely, I will begin to remove those things from my life that keep me from remembering God’s presence. For now, there are emails to answer, meetings to attend, and papers to write. Being away has its advantages but coming home brings a bumpy reentry to a reality that makes you long for being away again.

This reentry will be easier, I know because all I have to do is to think about the laughter shared and friendships forged to recall the joy I found in going back to school.

This week, do what you can to call to mind the words of St. John Baptist de La Salle and remember that you are always, always, always in the holy presence of God. When you find yourself forgetting, add whatever it is that made you forget to your list.

Over time – and with help – we can transform those lists to holiness.

~pjd

A Solemn Prayer

While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free.
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
as we raise our voices in a solemn prayer:

God bless America, land that I love
Stand beside her and guide her
Thru the night with a light from above
From the mountains to the prairies
To the oceans white with foam
God bless America,
my home sweet home
God bless America,
my home sweet home

Irving Berlin
1918


Happy Fourth of July, everyone, and may God continue to bless America.

God’s First

This Friday, we celebrate two great saints: St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More.

John Fisher was a bishop who refused to recognize the king of England, Henry VIII, as the supreme head of the church in England. He was executed on orders of the king, who could not stand being embarrassed by those whose reputations as a theologian and scholar were greater than his own reputation as ruler.

We celebrate Bishop Fisher that same day we celebrate my favorite saint, Thomas More. Also executed for his refusal to recognize the king over the pope as head of the church, More was the Lord Chancellor of England, whose final days are recounted in Robert Bolt’s play, A Man For All Seasons. I read that play every summer and taught it when I was a junior high teacher and, again, more recently, in a class I taught at a local university. At the end of the play, More stands on the dais, about to lose his head for following his conscience and says, (at least this is how it is in the play), “I have been commanded by the king to be brief, so brief I will be. I die here the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”

More and Fisher served the king well. When the king didn’t get what he wanted, he simply made himself the head of the church, granted himself the divorce, and thus was free to marry the woman who would become one of many in a succession of wives. It was a declaration that he wrote with his advisors that made him able to do these things and it turns out it was a declaration that went against his own coronation oath.

When the leader of this country takes the oath of office he or she promises to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” But now, we are faced with a situation at our southern border that is an adaptation of a law that violates the very constitution the president swore to protect.

The Supreme Court held in 2000’s Zadvydas v. Davis that due process rights apply to undocumented immigrants. The government may not separate asylum-seekers from their children indefinitely and without cause. Still, to date, more than 2,000 parents and children have been separated, often with no follow-up, no way of tracking kids or parents, and no path to reunification. It’s a policy rooted in fear and guided (or misguided) by those who believe that might makes right and people who are in danger of starving to death or getting shot on their neighborhood streets will somehow stop coming if the gate is locked.

Our current policy defies logic and basic human decency. In some cases, the parents are arrested at the border, not once they have crossed it. Whether the parents are fleeing persecution at home, violence in their streets, or are simply hoping to gain entry to a better life does not seem to matter. No amount of Bible quotes will get the president and his advisors out of this one.

We need an immigration policy in this country that both keeps us safe and treats others fairly. We need people who are willing to stand firm in the face of tyranny and demand change – even at the risk of losing their proverbial heads.

In short, we need people who are willing to be “God’s first” – not Republicans first, not Democrats first, not liberals or conservatives, or ultra-anything (except, perhaps, Christian), not watchers of news from one side or the other, but true, honest to goodness Americans who are willing to stand up and say, “Enough.”

Simple steps, like writing your representatives, is a beginning. I was challenged to do that last week by a late-night talk show host of all people. His argument was compelling, and I wrote my letters immediately. Signing petitions is another step. Posting on social media is another. Talking to your friends. Reading the paper. Inform yourself.

Because if we are judged on how we treat the most vulnerable, I cannot imagine the one will judge us all is happy about any of this.

This week, how will you be “God’s first”?

~pjd

Summertime

The homeroom teacher for Ace Number One stopped me in the hall the other day after Maureen and I finished playground duty. He asked if it would be okay if he gave our eldest a copy of Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine. He has read it every summer since 1964 and thought she would enjoy it.

It was a lovely gesture and I am anxious to reread my own copy as she works her way through the book. If you have never read it, put it on your list.

There are two scenes I love. I’ll tell you about the second one another time but in the early part of the story, set in the summer of 1928 about 12-year-old Douglas and his brother, Tom, the two boys are talking in their room. Tom tells Douglas that he has discovered that old people were never children, which strikes Douglas as both obvious and brilliant. Tom also points out that this is tragic because they cannot really do anything to help old people.

The two are amazed at Tom’s discovery. Because we live in the moment this is partially true; because the children cannot conceive of anything beyond the moment, they see it as a fact.

For the boys, growing up seems not to depend on figuring things out completely as much as coming up with new ideas about things. In fact, there is no reason to believe that adults have figured many things out but rather simply reached a consensus. But for the boys, summer is magic: growth happens without apparent change.

Do you remember summer? Not vacations to the beach, not getting out of school, but summer. That feeling that you have absolutely nothing planned, no list of chores, nothing written down or implied…tomorrow?

I don’t either.

Still, I find peace in remembering Catholicism 101: you cannot quantify grace.

So those moments of nothing have been replaced with moments of superficial importance. The “everything I have to do today” steps on the neck of “what will I do tomorrow?” and strangles it.

And I sometimes forget to find grace in the to-do list, emails, and phone calls.

Today, right now, I will close my eyes and remember. I will pray for patience. I will pray for the nothingness that surrounds me and the violence of busyness that consumes me.

I will pray in hopes that us old people aren’t so helpless after all.

~pjd

Becoming What We Receive

On Sunday, the Holy Father took the Corpus Christi procession outside Rome. Following the example of Paul Paul VI, Francis celebrated Mass in Ostia, a short distance outside the eternal city and the place venerated as the port town where St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine, died in 387.

The pope’s homily is a good read in its entirety and you will likely see headlines about his call for us to seek Christ in the “abandoned tabernacles” of the poor and lonely. But there was one paragraph that stood out to me more than others:

In the consecrated host, together with a place, Jesus prepares for us a meal, food for our nourishment. In life, we constantly need to be fed: nourished not only with food but also with plans and affection, hopes and desires. We hunger to be loved. But the most pleasing compliments, the finest gifts, and the most advanced technologies are not enough; they never completely satisfy us. The Eucharist is simple food, like bread, yet it is the only food that satisfies, for there is no greater love. There we encounter Jesus really; we share his life and we feel his love. There you can realize that his death and resurrection are for you. And when you worship Jesus in the Eucharist, you receive from him the Holy Spirit and you find peace and joy. Dear brothers and sisters, let us choose this food of life! Let us make Mass our priority! Let us rediscover Eucharistic adoration in our communities! Let us implore the grace to hunger for God, with an insatiable desire to receive what he has prepared for us.

Read that again.

What would our Church be like if every family made Mass a priority? What would our parishes look like? What would our homes look like if we choose “this food of life” again and again and again? Gone would be the yelling. Gone would be the hate, the swearing, the disrespect, the dishonesty. Gone would be the violence in our schools and on our streets. Gone would be the distinction between black and white, rich and poor, haves and have-nots. Gone would be division, derision, and polarization.

Why? Because if you choose the “food of life,” you become bread for the world. When we become what we receive, the only response is love.

“Let us implore the grace to hunger for God…”

Then let us get out of God’s way and let God work through us.

~pjd

Memorial Day

It would easy – too easy – to lose sight of why we take the day off from work today. Between hot dogs and hamburgers, beach passes, and cutting the grass, today marks the unofficial beginning of summer. Many of us will stand along streets to watch parades, catch up on household chores, and spend time with family and friends.

But it’s important, too, to pause for a moment and remember why we enjoy the freedom to do the things we love to do. Thanks to the sacrifice of someone’s daughter or son, sister or brother, mother or father, you and I get to vote for whomever we choose and then complain about the outcome. We get to speak our mind out loud without fear of recrimination and we get to worship wherever we choose.

Freedom comes at a price. Following the Civil War, which claimed more lives than any conflict in our nation’s young history, our leaders were faced with the need for the country’s first national cemeteries. Within a few years, Americans in towns and cities began setting aside a day in late spring to pay tribute to the fallen, decorating their graves with flowers and praying for the dead.

As wars continued, so did the number of cemeteries. Decoration Day gave way to Memorial Day, which was established officially as a federal holiday in 1968 and first celebrated across the country in 1971.

So even if you do not have a chance to visit a cemetery and lay flowers at a grave, you and I can pause this day and give thanks for the brave women and men who offered, as President Lincoln called it, “the last full measure of devotion.”

And so we pray…

God of power and mercy,
you destroy war and put down earthly pride.
Banish violence from our midst and wipe away our tears,
that we may all deserve to be called your daughters and sons.
Keep in your mercy those men and women
who have died in the cause of freedom
and bring them safely
into your kingdom of justice and peace.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen

—from Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers

 

reprinted from May 2017 (forgive the re-post, we are taking a break today)

Come, Holy Spirit

Come, Holy Spirit…

Fill our mouths with language that is kind instead of hateful.

Fill our homes with love instead of greed.

Fill our schools with knowledge instead of guns.

Fill the halls of power with authenticity instead of dishonesty.

Fill our skies with birds instead of weapons.

And fill our world with peace.

Give our children the wisdom to see that they are loved – and lovable.

Give our parents the courage to say, “no” to that which is harmful to children.

Give our leaders the strength to speak truth to power.

Give us all the fortitude to bring peace to our workplace and homes.

Wash us clean, Holy Spirit, that we may begin again, renewed, resolving to work for what is right, what is holy, what is just, and what is good.

Most of all, Holy Spirit, open our hardened hearts to receive your Spirit. Open our closed minds to receive your wisdom. Open our mouths only to proclaim praise to the Triune God, the giver all of gifts.

Amen.

Weeping Over Jerusalem

They say that if you visit the Holy Land for a day, you can write a book. If you visit the Holy Land for a month, you can write an article. But if you visit for any longer, you can’t write anything. So complicated is the conflict and so profound the experience that trying to make sense of it as an outsider is almost impossible.

This week, this holy city will be in the news again. For years, US presidents have signed a waiver keeping the US embassy in Tel Aviv out of respect for the Palestinians and citing national security issues. Now we have a US president with his own thoughts on the matter, so today the embassy will officially move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a city whose future is always a hot topic anytime you bring the Israelis and Palestinians together for peace talks.

The day of the move is intentional. Today is the seventieth anniversary of the recognition of the state of Israel. The Palestinians call it the great catastrophe. You would need to read volumes to understand it well. You would need to understand the British Mandate, the atrocities of World War II, the Arab-Israeli War from the late 1940s, and more. You would need to understand why the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine never worked and why creating one state by forcing people from their homes to make room for people who were forced from their homes never works.

This week, there will be stories on the news about people protesting, throwing rocks, and burning flags. Then the commentator will mention in passing that several of those protesters were shot and killed. Watch the video. Listen carefully. One side will be labeled terrorists. One side will not. One side will pick up rocks because it’s all they have. The other side will load guns given to them by the US and shoot at the opposition.

It is not a fair fight.

There are reasons to be troubled, no matter your politics. We are running towards a peace process with our eyes closed. We are befriending some countries and alienating others. We are ignoring the past in hopes that we can change the future. But we do so at our own peril and at the peril of those who will grow up surrounded by barbed wire in Gaza and behind barricades in Bethlehem.

Pray for peace. Beg for peace. Spend these nine days between the Ascension and Pentecost not looking at the sky but watching the news, absorbing the story, learning what you can about the truth of the matter.

Then, when Pentecost comes, let us hope and pray that the Spirit of God washes over all of humanity, not just those with whom we agree.

Come, Holy Spirit, and renew the face of the Earth.

~pjd

Looking Up

This time of year always makes me think of the early followers of Jesus. Perhaps it is the combination of Easter, new life, springtime, and allergies. Trust me, it’s all connected in my head.

The readings for this season are all about those early days, how an experience of God-through-Jesus led people to faith. There are stories about how those experiences led to inclusion, exclusion, joy, and suffering. How persecution gives way to stronger faith and how conversion leads to a paradigm shift that gives the early church new leadership.

There was an article in the Wall Street Journal recently about the movie Paul, Apostle of Christ(which is well worth seeing). The article cited a remarkable fact: when Paul died in A.D. 67, there were 2,500 Christians. By the year 350, there were 34 million. Think about that for a second. In a time when you would be killed for professing faith in the Risen Jesus, the Good News spread, more people came to faith than left it, and the church flourished.

Then Constantine came along and institutionalized the faith into religion and things have never quite been the same. It seems we might have been better off when we had to tell the story than when we were allowed to tell the story. More on that another time.

This week, we will read about those early followers standing alone, looking at the sky, waiting for Jesus to return. They did not know when he would return, only that he had promised to return. So they stood there, staring at the sky, missing life around them.

The family continued our trek through the Marvel movies this weekend with Dr. Strange. In some ways, it was a typical superhero story: an overachieving protagonist is really a jerk at his core, arrogant and narcissistic. Then his world comes crashing down and he comes face to face with the one incontrovertible fact we all face at some point: life is not all about you. That new perspective requires a basic change in position. We no longer live for ourselves. We live for others.

The early followers figured this out. For them, it was never about gathering for Mass, making sure it only lasted an hour and then screaming at each other when one donkey cut another donkey off in the first-century parking lot. No, it was about serving others in the name of Jesus. It was telling the Jesus story. It was about the family meal where we remembered the sacrifice and sacred instruction. It was about taking care of the widows and orphans, the least among us, and caring for the basic needs in society. There was no right or left, only the Christ I see in you – and that required an action. It required selflessness. It required love.

Spoiler alert: the Jesus story still requires all those things. If only we could stop staring at the sky and get to work.

~pjd