8 a.m. Amtrak Thoughts

As I depart Philadelphia for Boston (actually made my train, this time), I am reflecting upon the great experience I had at the Society for Catholic Liturgy’s annual conference. Presenting a paper and discussing theology with numerous scholars is always fun and exciting, but this conference went a bit deeper.
I am not a stranger to Philadelphia; as many of you know, I began my undergraduate experience at a college seminary down there. After leaving seminary formation in 2016, I have been wrestling with the question: “How am I now to serve God, the Church, and the world?” This conference helped confirm a lot of what I have learned since leaving the seminary.
Between my time at Boston College and living with the Assumptionist community in Brighton, I have come to realize that the future of the Church is largely dependent on a collaborative effort between ordained/consecrated religious and the laity. Yes, we need good & holy priests and consecrated religious… but we also need holy laymen and laywomen. But here’s the thing– they already exist.
At BC, I have met a ton of folk who are far more spiritually advanced, mature, and self-sacrificing than I am… and most do not wear a priestly collar. That’s not to discredit the many holy priests and bishops I know of, but in my experience, I always viewed “holiness” as something belonging to the clerical/religious state. Yet, since I have been at BCSTM and even by attending the conference, I am blown away at the many devout Catholic men and women who serve the Church in numerous ways. At the conference, I met Catholic theologians both on academic/pastoral tracks, musicians, architects, artists, and parish employees/volunteers, all who are striving for holiness, living out lives of love of God and neighbor in the various roles they have. Some were mothers/fathers of 5 children, others were single lay parish volunteers, but all were on fire with the Holy Spirit and were single-minded in their mission to make Christ known and loved, especially through the Sacred Liturgy.
The most impressive example of this, however, is in the hospitality and kindness shown to me by a former seminarian brother of mine, Brian. Brian and his roommates throughout the years have not only provided me shelter when I have been in Philly over the years, but they have put forth an amazing example of what it means to ‘be’ Church in 2017. Brian, especially, has proven to be a good example of how to live the Gospel. Whether it’s in his work with the underprivileged and needy, his efforts on the streets to help those most in need, or even just living a life of faith, hope, and charity, Brian and countless others have demonstrated that following Christ takes on many forms.
I am still unsure of the future (who isn’t?) and what I am meant to do in life, but I feel rejuvenated and inspired by the numerous folks I met these past 2 years, including this past weekend. I am thankful that this conference provided me not only with an opportunity to present a paper in an academic forum, but also to show how the Christian life takes many shapes and forms, and one needs not to be in the clerical state to make a difference in the Church.
Anyhow, I am thankful for all of your prayers and support over these years, especially to those who have been very patient with me even when I have been a jackass! I’ll close by sharing this poignant passage from Lumen Gentium.
“The lay apostolate, however, is a participation in the salvific mission of the Church itself. Through their baptism and confirmation all are commissioned to that apostolate by the Lord Himself. Moreover, by the sacraments, especially holy Eucharist, that charity toward God and man which is the soul of the apostolate is communicated and nourished.
Now the laity are called in a special way to make the Church present and operative in those places and circumstances where only through them can it become the salt of the earth. Thus every layman, in virtue of the very gifts bestowed upon him, is at the same time a witness and a living instrument of the mission of the Church itself “according to the measure of Christ’s bestowal”. (LG, #33).

Summorum Pontificum: 10 Years Later

10 years ago, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI issued his Apostolic Letter, Summorum Pontificum: On the Use of the Roman Liturgy Prior to the Reform of 1970. In it, he not only specified the permissions of Catholic priests to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass according to the 1962 Missal (aka “Latin mass”), but he also broadened its reach, asserting that the 1962 Roman Missal was  “never abrogated, as an extraordinary form of the Church’s Liturgy.” (Art. 1)

As Crux’s Elise Harris reports:

The document established that the post-Vatican II Roman Missal, first issued by Blessed Paul VI, is the ordinary form of the Roman rite, and that the prior version, last issued by St. John XXIII in 1962 and known as the Traditional Latin Mass or the Tridentine Mass, is the Roman rite’s extraordinary form.

In the motu proprio, Benedict noted that the Traditional Latin Mass was never abrogated. He awknowledged clearly the right of all priests of the Roman rite to say Mass using the Roman Missal of 1962, and established that parish priests should be willing to say the extraordinary form for groups of the faithful who request it.

Benedict also established that the faithful could have recourse to their bishop or even the Vatican if their requests for celebration of the extraordinary form were not satisfied.

One need not look far to see how, in merely 10 years, the desire for the Latin Mass has increased astronomically, and newly ordained priests are far more likely to be open to learning/celebrating than those of the Baby Boomer generation. That stated, it is important to remember that the Ordinary Form of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the form common to most Roman Catholics since the 1960s, is by no means invalid… Pope Benedict himself even stated that “these two expressions of the Church’s lex orandi (law of prayer) will in no way lead to a division in the Church’s lex credendi (rule of faith); for they are two usages of the one Roman rite.”

Today, we give thanks to the Holy Spirit for the gift of both Pope Benedict XVI & Pope Francis, and in a special way (and this is my personal opinion), for the way the former focused on honoring the Church’s liturgy, and the way that the latter teaches us to live out the liturgy’s fruits.


 

Should We Feel Bad for Murderers Who Commit Suicide?

What the Internet’s reaction to the deaths of the “Facebook Killer” and Aaron Hernandez tells us about human compassion — and its limits.

Inthe span of 24 hours, both the “Facebook Killer” Steve Stephens & former NFL star Aaron Hernandez took their own lives. Stephens was at a McDonald’s in Erie, PA when a worker at the fast food restaurant recognized him & promptly called the police. During the pursuit, police say, Stephens shot himself in the head — effectively ending the pursuit as well as his life. Hernandez, who a few days ago was acquitted in a double murder charge, hanged himself with a bed sheet attached to his prison cell window. He set up a barrier behind the door, presumably to prevent anyone from rescuing him.

Two murderers now dead by their own hand. Tragic… or maybe not?

After all, these two men committed one of the gravest crimes: the taking of innocent human life. Stephens sadistically filmed himself shooting 74 year-old Robert Goodwin, a self-taught mechanic and grandfather of 14 grandchildren. Goodwin died in a pool of blood on a sidewalk, shot by a man he did not even know. Stephens uploaded the video to Facebook, broadcasting the horrific murder to millions.

Hernandez, though acquitted of the double murder charge, was still serving a life sentence for the murder of Odin Lloyd, who was shot 10 times by Hernandez. The former NFL superstar tight end for the New England Patriots had just signed a five-year, $40 million contract extension. Following Lloyd’s murder, Hernandez destroyed his home security system, his personal cellphone, and even hired a team of house-cleaners to cover up his crime.

These two men committed murder and their crimes were highly publicized, hitting the “breaking-news” headlines and taking the American media by storm. Both men were found guilty — Stephens by his own hand recording the graphic murder of Goodwin, and Hernandez by an official court trial proceedings. There is no doubt whatsoever that their actions were abominable. Whatever justice may have been served was cut short by their very own deaths by suicide.

And yet, should we feel bad for them?


This is an extremely provocative question. After all, we feel bad for victims because victims are those who suffer from crimes committed by another person. We feel bad for victims of theft, assault, harassment, etc. because we can see that they were the subjects affected by another’s misdeeds. It’s quite natural to sympathize with the families of Goodwin and Lloyd, because we see that a loved one was taken from them. As humans with a rational soul, we can determine between what is “right and just” & that which is evil and unjust. We see that both Stephens and Hernandez committed evil & unjust actions; we can see that the families of the victims deserve justice for such crimes.

Common Mob Mentality

Certainly, the popular opinion in America is this: feel bad for the victims, but not the perpetrator. The criminal (whether it be a thief, murder, rapist, etc.) made his/her own choice and screwed up. They committed an evil act which should be punished by that which justice requires. To feel bad for a criminal, therefore, is to somehow neglect the victim & the victim’s family, the innocent, and the reality that illegal/immoral actions must be punished accordingly. In the case of high-profile crimes, such as the ones committed by Stephens and Hernandez, the American public certainly feels confidence in their convictions:

The basic argument is this: if you commit a crime as grave as murder, you deserve death. Or, as a Facebook friend commented on my post, “ Why should we feel bad for him when he himself showed blatant disregard for human life, by killing a man?” This argumentation is common, and it seems to make sense at first.

Until it doesn’t.


You see, to “feel bad” for a murderer who commits suicide is not to justify the murder or pardon the murderer from any wrongdoing — it simply is to mourn the fact that he or she did not find in themselves any possibility for redemption and change. When people “feel bad” for criminals who commit suicide, it is because they view the human person as someone who can change for the better — despite flaws, difficulties, or even egregious criminal acts. No one is saying, “Eh maybe Stephens/Hernandez wasn’t that bad of a guy.” That would be pure insanity. What IS being said by those who feel bad for criminals is that, despite their terrible decisions, there is something in them that is worth something, something worth hoping for change, something in them which unites them — even tangentially — to us fellow humans.

Humanistic Principles

Every human, regardless of age, race, appearance, gender, sexual orientation, political/religious beliefs, etc. is endowed with an intellect and free will. Though animals in one sense, human beings transcend basic animal behavior through their rational & intellectual faculty. As I have written before, no squirrel stops on a hill to admire a sunset. No penguin has written a symphony. St. Peter’s Basilica was not designed by a walrus. While we humans share basic characteristics with animals, it is an obvious fact that we — somehow — are different. We can use our intellect and free will to pursue beauty, truth, and goodness… or we can use it to pursue ugliness, falsehoods, and evil. The choice is ours. And yet, whether we choose good or evil, we never lose the faculties of the intellect and will.

Every human, regardless of age, race, appearance, gender, sexual orientation, political/religious beliefs, etc. is also endowed with an inherent & intrinsic dignity that can never be removed from them. This is obvious in our own system of laws: for example, why can we ethically use a buzz saw to cut down a tree in the forest, but to use the same saw on a fellow human is a crime? Each human person has worth. But what exactly determines one’s worth? Is it age? In that case, we would be justified in the mistreatment of children or the elderly or some other age group — but we clearly have laws against that. So it’s not age. Is it economic status? Well, that would justify oppression against the poor, which anyone with a basic moral compass can say is not a good thing. So it’s not age nor status. Is it family of origin? If so, then it’s the caste-system, something that has grown increasingly problematic for India and human rights organizations.

Human Dignity- Intrinsic, or Something we Earn?

The fact is this: nothing we do or don’t do “earns” our human dignity. By virtue of our existence, it is ours. If we started determining who has/doesn’t have dignity, then we fall into the twisted mindset of certain totalitarian regimes and can determine whose life is worth living vs. whose isn’t. If we do not confess that all human beings have an inherent worth to them, then it is open season for us to do anything we want to a person we see as “unworthy” — murder, oppress, enslave, torture, exploit, etc. And that… well, I hope we can generally agree that this is a bad thing.

In the case of criminals, however, the morality of it all seems to be convoluted. We often think that, by affirming the basic human dignity of, let’s say, Mussolini, that we are somehow infringing upon the rights of others to be justified in their anger against him, his policies, his crimes, etc. In other words, by “feeling sorry” for criminals, we are somehow justifying their crimes and their evil misdeeds. But this is not the case at all.


The Hypocrisy of Limit-Based Compassion

No human can ever claim to be ethical while celebrating the death of another human being. A true humanist can never rejoice in the death of one of our brothers and sisters. Yes, even Bin-Laden, Saddam Hussein, etc. No one is saying that they are paragons of virtue or even should have gone unpunished. What I am saying, however, is this — these men, still, even seconds before their death, held an inherent dignity courtesy of being a human being. This doesn’t mean that they cannot be imprisoned for life — certainly, justice needs to be served. But there is nothing “just” about celebrating another’s death, there is nothing “progressive” about the taking away of human life — even when the criminal takes his or her own.

For many people, compassion has limits. But I find that quite hypocritical and a bit odd. It is entirely possible to (1) condemn a crime/criminal; and (2) acknowledge his/her suicide as tragic. I feel bad for Steve Stephens and Aaron Hernandez, not because I think they were great people or worthy of praise, but rather because I mourn the fact that they felt that their lives were so depraved, so un-fixable, so irredeemable, that they decided to end their lives by their own hand. Me (or anyone) being righteously angry at them for doing the evil things that they did neither changes the fact that it was done nor does it help them (or myself) grow into a fuller human being. If anything, limit-based compassion is not compassion at all, and stunts human growth.

I know my position is not popular. After all, the Internet-mob mentality is louder and more popular voice, here. “Good, I’m glad he killed himself. ****ing scum!!!” is a more common response to their suicides than “While I think what they did was heinous, I wish they could have found redemption in prison.” The former of these reactions seems justified, especially since it seems to be coming from a place of solidarity to the victims. And yet, what happens when the family members of the victim forgive the killer? If anyone has a right to demand blood for blood, pain for pain, suffering for suffering, it presumably would be the families of Goodwin and Lloyd, those who were the innocent recipients of Stephens and Hernandez’s wrath. But that wasn’t the case for either family. They preached forgiveness and reconciliation — two forces of change greater than anything angry people on the Internet could offer.

And so, yeah, we can feel bad for murderers who commit suicide without minimizing the horrific and evil nature of their crimes. Just like the families prove, we should look to see how justice and mercy are not mutually opposed whatsoever. Compassion can be extended to both Stephens and Hernandez, even if it is as little as saying, “Damn, I wish they could’ve turned their lives around, albeit in jail.” In fact, displaying compassion for the victims and killers demonstrates how crimes affect the entire human family and how any of us are simply one action away from being on either side of the story.

Just don’t point it out to the mob — they are too busy sharpening their pitchforks.

‘Tinder’-ing & the Lies We Tell Ourselves

The search for meaning goes beyond a left or right swipe.

Photo credit: Marcos Mesa Sam Wordley/Shutterstock.com

“Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false Self. We are not very good at recognizing illusions, least of all the ones we cherish about ourselves.”

– Thomas Merton

The Bruins were up 2–0 against the Lightning, but the college kid sitting in the row in front of me last night at Boston’s TD Garden couldn’t care less. Among the many flashes of excitement on the hockey rink that come with attending one of the last games of the NHL season, none were apparently exciting enough to take his attention away from his smartphone. At one point, his entire row of bros were captured on the Jumbotron, and it was only when his buddy grabbed him by the shoulder, shaking him & screamed “WE’RE ON!!!” that this kid looked up from the illuminating, seductive phone screen. Intrigued by his dedication, I shamefully peered over his shoulder to see what all the fuss was about. It was then that I saw a picture of a very pretty brunette girl, green-eyed with a perfect smile, holding a red solo cup. He then scrolled down, and there was yet another picture of the girl, this time in a bikini, posing with friends at a beach. I watched as this kid cycled through her 4–5 pictures before swiping right — a sign of approval — and when he did, her photo disappeared into nothingness. Immediately, upon his screen came a picture of new girl, this time blonde… rinse, repeat.

While the Boston Bruins clinched a playoff berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last night, my dude secured a few Bumble matches himself. My eyes went from watching the fast-paced NHL game to occasionally glancing down and watching the process. He would come across a girl’s profile, examine her pictures for about 15 seconds, quickly glance at her bio for less than half of that, and swipe right. More often that not, his swiping went unrequited, at least for now. Every now & then, though, he would receive a notification on the screen saying that person ‘X’ matched with him. At one point, he went into the messages tab, and then I saw a list of girls with whom he had previously conversed with — there were about 6 or 7. However, he kept going back to this one particular conversation thread he had with one girl, and although he was the last one to reply (he actually ‘double-texted’), he kept re-reading their previous exchanges. Eventually, he closed out of the app, and went on Instagram, scrolling down the feed, before getting a notification that he has a new Bumble match.


Tinder. Bumble. Happn. And now Yellow, which has been dubbed controversially as “Tinder for Teens”. In the year 2017, the Internet isn’t that scary of a place anymore, at least not as scary as my mom warned me about, the days when Internet ‘chat-rooms’ were still in popular parlance and the thought of meeting up with someone you met online was horrifying. Social media grew, from the Myspace days to Facebook, from Twitter to Instagram, and as a result, the online ‘dating’ scene changed. Yes, Match.com still exists. There are online dating services such as Plenty of Fish (PoF), OkCupid, Black People Meet, Christian Mingle, etc. But none of them can really match the sexiness of the ‘apps’, as they are called. Tinder, Bumble, Grindr, etc. are not necessarily ‘dating’ apps, although you can probably get a date or two out of them. They aren’t ‘hooking up’ apps, strictly-speaking, although they can be used for casual sex. Apps like Tinder are so seducing precisely because their purpose is so ambiguous. Some people use them ironically. One girl I know who has Tinder downloaded it just to see what kind of weird, creepy pick-up lines guys come up with. Some people have these apps to meet new people, make new friends… but if anything should happen, so-to-speak, so be it. Whereas Match.com and other dating sites are quite clear about their intent (although they can still be misused), Tinder, Bumble & company thrive off of the ‘labeless-ness’ of contemporary, Millennial dating culture. Gone are the days of courting, “going steady”, and for some, even marriage. And so, in comes the world of label-free ‘dating’. The purpose of these apps are often clouded in mystery, and that in fact is what so many of us love.

I’ll flat-out just say it: Tinder is exciting. It’s exciting because it connects us to other people (albeit artificially). Whether these people are (1) looking for a serious relationship; (2) DTF; or (3) just on it to meet new friends, Tinder is the digital playground where users can roam, explore, and search for meaning — even if such an endeavor is done in vain. Tinder also places a sense of control in the palm of your hand. You think the person on the screen in front of you is hot? Swipe right. Does the dude have too much acne, is a bit too fat, seems like a loser? Swipe left. Once you swipe left on a person, his or her existence is essentially wiped from your concern. There is a (false) sense of empowerment given to the Swiper, that they can filter out the ugly & undesirable people from their lives… something that is harder to do on a blind date.

Beyond the initial excitement of getting your first match, Tinder & co. eventually gets weird. There are those who swipe ‘right’ to everyone, see who ‘likes’ them, and then blocks all the ugly/weird/meh people. Don’t believe me? Here ya go. At some point, those with a basic moral compass will ask themselves: “What the hell am I even doing?” There is nothing more postmodern or commodifying than turning actual, flesh-and-blood human beings into objects we can ‘like’ or ‘dislike’, ‘accept’ or ‘return to sender’. Don’t get me wrong — I am NOT saying that every person is entitled to a date or a hang-out sesh. All I am saying is that, when you reject a person at the bar, there is still a form of authentic encounter, even if it’s a drunken one. There is still a recognition of the ‘Other’, even if the recognition goes only as far as “Sorry, I’m not interested”; even such a rejection involves an actual experience of someone as entirely Other. Tinder, on the other hand, is a self-enclosed circle where the Other is not encountered, but rather acquired. Those persons who would typically get a rejection at the bar are rejected anonymously. Have you ever wondered who you swiped right for and yet who didn’t do the same for you? Tinder treats human persons like any other object that, given a blemish or two, can be thrown out and replaced. And the difference between that & a rejection at a singles’ bar is this — one allows for authentic human interaction, and the other is Tinder.


Tinder also enables us to hide behind our “false selves”, to hid behind the masks we wear to present ourselves as desirable on social media. We become so enchanted with our online persona that we never actually stop and ask ourselves if we are being our truest selves. Instead, we live from distraction to distraction, from swipe to swipe, bathing in a pool of lies and self-deception, a pool party sponsored by Tinder & the like.

What are the lies that we tell ourselves? I’ll offer three, although I am sure there are many more.

  1. A person’s value comes from his or her physical appearance, ‘cool’ factor, & life as presented through those 5–6 Tinder photos displayed.

As human beings, we desire beauty. There is nothing wrong with finding one person attractive and another person, well… not attractive. I have many friends whom I find as physically attractive, while others less so. Is this wrong? No. However, if I established my social circle to only those finest, most beautiful people, then I would be treating human persons like an art gallery instead of people intrinsically endowed with dignity & respect by virtue of their very existence. Tinder does not care for that, nor really encourage it. On Tinder, you’re given a small presentation of a human person as displayed through a handful of photos. Obviously, these photos will most likely be pictures the subject finds the most attractive, funny, or appropriate for online ‘dating’, although that is not always the case. Regardless, in the few seconds one examines another’s profile, the focus from the start is on the pictures. Is the person attractive? Ugly? Tall? Short? Fat? Skinny? What kind of life do they live? Are all of the pictures taken in his or her room? Is that them in NYC? Wow, do they travel a lot? And then, if one is somewhat on a deeper level of interaction, the swiper checks out the bio. Are they funny? Do they try too hard to be funny? What sort of stuff are they offering as info? Eventually, our internal clock (guided by the demands of instant gratification) sounds its alarm, and we make a judgment. Do we swipe left or right? Then, afterwards, we are onto the next… and the next, and so on. At what point does the swiper ask themselves the crucial question: “Is it possible for me to make a sound judgment on whether or not I wish to meet this person based off of the trivial and shallow process of elimination?”

2. My value comes from how many people I match with, the quality of people who match with me, or how many people I can get to sleep with me.

The first lie, we see, is about the value we subconsciously attribute to the Other. The second lie, then, is about the value we attribute to ourselves. If I make a Tinder account and swipe ‘right’ to every single person in a 5 mile radius, would I not expect some to return the love? What if, after 400 swipes to the right, I check back a week later and receive 0 matches. What would it do to me emotionally? What does it mean when I essentially ‘approve’ of every person and have none ‘approve’ of me? Even if I do get a match or two, was it with an ugly chick? A hot guy? Someone who looks like he or she has options besides me? These are the questions which a person asks in their heart as the mindlessly swipe ‘right’ and ‘left’. There is also the issue of cultural/social norms & expectations. Aren’t college guys supposed to have lost their virginity by age 20? Isn’t there a subconscious rule that a guy’s desirability is made manifest in the number of girls he slept with? Indeed, there are countless pages dedicated to guys who were rejected on Tinder, such as here. For what reason would men act in such a vile way, if not for the illusion that their worth is somehow determined by a woman’s reception of them?

3. “It’s just Tinder”/Tinder has no real-life consequences.

This is probably the most insidious of lies, precisely because it seems to be so hard to refute. “But John,” you say, “why the hell are you making such a big deal about this? It’s just an app.” Perhaps so. But whether we realize it or not, how we act online is a reflection of what is going on inside of us. If I am an ass on the Internet but somehow act like I’m Mother Teresa in the school hallways, who is the real me? The line between “IRL” and the Internet is so blurred these days, especially given that most of our waking moments “IRL” are saturated with the Internet’s presence. If I am swiping ‘left’ to every ‘ugly’ girl I see, what are the chances that I start to view the ‘ugly’ girl on the bus as someone whose presence I can easily be disposed of? Do I let her sit next to me, and if I do, am I less likely to be as friendly to her as I would be if she was a total 10? At what point do I start to view the women I am in class with, work with, or even go to church with as a ‘right’ swipe or a ‘left’? You cannot objectify human beings from 11 p.m. — 1 a.m. & then treat the Other with respect & dignity at 8 a.m. Such a lifestyle is schizophrenic and deceptive at best. Our Internet behavior, especially in regards to approving & disapproving, was masterfully captured by the techno-dystopian series, “Black Mirror”. In an age where Yelp reviews can determine a business’ success or failure, are we that oblivious to think it won’t eventually spill over to human interaction/worth as well?


Iam not saying Tinder & similar apps are intrinsically evil. What I am saying, though, is that these apps can be used in a harmful way.

Since the beginning of recorded history, philosophers have largely held the belief that human life is a quest for meaning. Even philosophers who deny the existence of meaning are still, by their very denial, attempting to put forth an objective claim, a claim that they assert because they believe is true. So yes, even if we disagree about where it is to be found, we still search for meaning. Also, as humans, we are animals. We require nourishment, have the ability as a species to reproduce, we avoid pain and maximize pleasure. Is this all there is to us? Of course not. We have something different within us. As humans who seek meaning, we are different from the local goldfish. No squirrel sits on a hill at dusk and admires a colorful sunset. No woodpecker asks itself the question of why it even pecks wood at all. No penguin has composed an oratorio. We humans are endowed with a sense of the spiritual, a sense of self-awareness that no other animal can match. And this often frightens us.

It is an inescapable fact that we as humans search for meaning in all that we do, even if our actions don’t correspond and fulfill this need. The alcoholic went to alcohol the first time for some reason. Those who shoot up heroin are looking for a high they cannot seem to find without the needle. The sex addict goes from bed to bed seeking an embrace that will satisfy his or her deepest yearnings. One one hand, Tinder affirms our needs, whatever they may be — the need to be appreciated, affirmed, desired, wanted, and loved. On the other hand, Tinder offers us a mask to wear, enabling us to lie to ourselves and to each other. Our bodies and the bodies of others become tools for self pleasure. We begin to view people’s worth by what they present themselves as rather than who they truly are. With Tinder, we lie to our minds which seek truth, we lie to our bodies which seek fulfillment, and we lie to our souls which seek rest.

We live in an age of commodity, or in what a certain wise man once called the “throwaway culture”. You like something? Keep it. Don’t like it? Throw it out, and get something new that you do like. Every single person reading this piece is doing so from a piece of electronic equipment that certainly isn’t their first — whether cell phone or computer. Is that to say that buying a new phone or preferring a certain model of laptop is wrong? Absolutely not. It only becomes “wrong”, so-to-speak, when we apply the same standards to human beings. It becomes wrong when we feel that we are the arbiters of another’s value. That ‘ugly’ person you swiped left at has his or her own story, a tale of victories and defeats, hopes, joys, anxieties and worries. And yet, you will never get to know that story, nor remember his or her name or appearance. This is not to say that every single person you meet deserves you to take them out on a date. But when you pass someone on the street without interacting, there still is a sense of encounter. You don’t devalue his or her existence quite like you can do on these ‘hook-up’ apps.


Inother words, our inevitable search for meaning goes beyond swiping ‘left’ or ‘right’. We cannot find meaning when we look at a person’s picture for 15 seconds and read the bio in even less time. We cannot find meaning when we disintegrate the “Other” into an object of our own pleasure, arousal, or need. We cannot find meaning when we choose to entertain illusions that distract us instead of engaging tough realities that challenge us. We cannot find meaning in the meaningless… but that doesn’t mean we still don’t try.

The 20th-century Scottish writer, Bruce Marshall, once wrote that “the young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God.” Similarly, when we are snuggled up in bed, bored/lonely/hungry/horny, and feel the urge to swipe left or right, we are looking for something to satisfy our deepest longings. Will we find such fulfillment on Tinder? Probably not. But if you still choose to log onto that app in the late hours of the night, take a note from Reddit etiquette & “remember the human” — after all, that’s the only subject you will encounter on there.

A Reluctant Rosary

 

IMG_20170319_185634-01I have a confession: I don’t pray the rosary. I know, I know. A Catholic who doesn’t pray the rosary? That’s like an American who doesn’t eat apple pie (a point of contention somewhere on the Internet, I’m sure). But yeah… I don’t pray it. I think, in the past two years, I have prayed the rosary six or seven times- of those times, I prayed it because I was at a pro-life event, participating in a parish retreat, or at a voluntary gathering with seminarians. Don’t get me wrong- it’s not like I don’t pray– I certainly do and make every effort for intentional daily prayer… but the rosary? Ugh… just not my thing.

For those who don’t know, the rosary is quite an honorable Christian practice- arguably dating back to the 13th century. The concept is simple: as Christians, we hold the Virgin Mary in high esteem, and thus are warranted to honor and venerate her among the highest of heavenly friends.  Mary is the Mother of God, the Theotokos, etc. and so pray that she intercedes for us, leading us ever closer to her Son, Jesus.

Why I wasn’t I into the rosary? I’m not too sure if there was one strong reason besides the fact that I just found it repetitive, noisy, and too structured. My ideal type of prayer is sitting in front of the Blessed Sacrament in silence, speaking to God from my heart, and allowing His Presence to fill my soul. Sometimes I use words. Other times, I read Scripture and meditate. I have a little prayer corner in my room, filled with images of my favorite Christian devotion- the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

But the rosary? I avoided it like the damn plague. Until today… today was different.

 

Sunday Morning Blues

I direct/teach RCIA at a parish in the North End of Boston. Usually, I take an Uber. Also “usually”, I get to the church for mass like, five minutes before it begins. Today was different- I surprisingly woke up with plenty of time, so I requested an Uber, who got me at the church for 8:24 a.m…. when the mass didn’t start until 9 am.

I got out of the Uber and was greeted by a cold blast of wind. It felt like it was in the low 20s this morning. Hurriedly, I stepped inside the church.

When I walked in, there were only three other people inside. Two of them were older Italian women, conversing quite loudly in their native tongue. One man, probably in his 60s, was sitting in a pew with his head down.

I dropped my jacket and backpack in the classroom adjacent to the sacristy, and checked my phone. 8:26 am. Stomach growling, I figured this would be a good time to grab coffee/light breakfast at one of the nearby North End breakfast joints. Then, I realized two things- the first being the mandatory one-hour fast to be observed by Catholics prior to mass, and the second being the fact that it was pretty darn cold out. Disappointed, I went back into the church and slinked into a pew. I couldn’t exactly pray in my ideal way (silence in front of the Blessed Sacrament) because those elderly Italian women kept chatting. I looked around. The older man was just staring at the statue of the Virgin Mary. Begging for time to have flown like an Air Force One, I checked my phone for the time- 8:29 a.m.

I consigned myself to the fact that I, a techie/noise-obsessed Millennial who couldn’t even pray in his ideal way, was going to spend the next thirty minutes hungry, annoyed, and prayer-less.

Suddenly, the chatter stopped. The man picked his head up. I then heard the sound of pew kneelers clunking on the ground. In one motion, they all knelt. “In the name of the Father…”

“Great,” I thought, “now I’m stuck with the rosary.”

An Unexpected Gift

I’m not sure what happened next. Maybe it was the statue of the Sacred Heart in front of me. Maybe it was my Catholic guilt at not wanting to participate in such a “Catholicky” devotion. Whatever it was, I pulled down my kneeler and knelt in solidarity. After all, I didn’t want to look like an ass.

“For an increase in the virtues of faith, hope, and charity…” – “Hail Mary…”

Praying for an “increase” of the virtues of faith, hope, and charity implies that all three of these theological virtues can be an area of spiritual growth. I thought to myself, “How am I lacking in any (or all) of these?”

I started to think about my experience of the past week. I had a lot going on between school, work, family, and relationships. I got pissed and swore at a friend (-5 points in charity). Hope? With everything going on in our country, I confess that I haven’t been as receptive to this theological virtue whatsoever; I haven’t truly viewed heaven as my true home and this life as a pilgrimage. Faith? Hm.

My internal questioning continued. Was there any time during these past 7 days when I lacked faith? Hope? Love? What were my attitudes, actions and behavior- both good and negative- pointing to?

I was musing on my responsiveness to God’s grace so deeply that I completely missed the fact that we were on the Second Sorrowful Mystery- the “Scourging at the Pillar”: Our Father…

I put my head down. Among the many images of Jesus, Him being scourged at a pillar is not one that I am very fond of. I can even tolerate the image of Christ Crucified more than I can stand His scourging at the pillar. The cross is such a common image- people have it around their necks. It’s found in every single Catholic church. Heck, even my home city has a massive cross which illuminates the night sky.

But the scourging is different. The scourging reminds me that Jesus was actually tortured. His very flesh was torn and ripped apart by a whip with leather thongs, bits of sharp bone attached to the tip of each one. No one has an image of this around their neck. Urban Outfitters cannot sell a shirt with this image as a design. The scourging reminds us of Jesus’ actual pain and suffer-

“O my Jesus, forgive us our sins…”

Holy crap! We just hit the Fatima Prayer. “What have I been doing all this time?”, I wondered. Then, silence filled the church. My head was still bowed down, but my curiosity got the best of me, so I picked my head up and opened my eyes. One of the older ladies who was leading the rosary was walking towards me, smiling. When she got to my pew, she asked, “Would you like to lead the next one?”

“Sure,” I responded. (Meanwhile, I’m kneeling here wondering if I even remembered the structure of the rosary so that I didn’t commit any devotional faux pas)

“Do you have a rosary?”

Looking down at my bare hands, I shook my head ‘no’.

“Would you like one?”

I stared blankly at her, painfully aware that I was wasting her and the other two people’s time. But I felt… stuck. I mean, what the hell else am I going to say to a 70+ year old Italian lady in church on a Sunday morning? “No, I don’t want you dumb rosary?”

“Uh… sure,” I reluctantly responded.

She handed me this plastic rosary which looked like it was held together only by a flimsy string and hope.

Clearing my throat, I began.

“Hail Mary…”

Mary, Prayer, and Me

The Hail Mary is such a lovely prayer. The opening line echoes the Angel Gabriel who came to a teenage Mary to announce God’s plan of salvation. We begin the prayer by greeting this woman who is so “full of grace”… a woman who is blessed above all others, for she was the one chosen to bear God’s Son, Jesus.

Then, we pray for her to lead us to her Son. We implore her intercession for us to model her radical discipleship, her loving submission to the will of God. Then, finally, we ask her to watch over us and pray for us both at the current moment, and during our last breath.

Each “Hail Mary”, I prayed as if Mary herself was standing in front of me. I acknowledge her strength, her dignity, her beauty, her special-ness before God. I acknowledge her Son, who saved me from my sins. I ask her to pray for me and those around me.

Eventually, my turn ended, and it went to someone else to finish the 4th and 5th Sorrowful Mystery. By now, though, I was in the ‘zone’. I was comfortable, at least as comfortable as someone who had avoided the rosary like an annoying inconvenience could be. It was nice. Peaceful. It required a certain discipline on my part (remember, I was hungry and a techie-obsessed Millennial)… but anytime I started drifting in my thoughts, I felt a bit restless… as if someone was in the room and I wasn’t giving he or she my full attention. “I can eat & play with my phone later,” I reasoned. Now, I’ll offer this to God. And onto the next prayer, and the next, and the next. I began to see time as a gift, the debit card in my wallet as a gift, my loving family friends as a gift- everything became seen as a gift, a gift that was given to me by God and given to me so that I can return it all back to Him. How could I give so little to my Lord? Where am I in these meditative scenes of the Sorrowful Mysteries? Do I actually believe He suffered and died… for me? Me, insignificant John, was in the presence of God and His Mother, offering my time and energy to meditating on the mysteries of salvation as mediated through the life of Christ and the intercession of His Mother. This is why we have the rosary- not to simply rattle off a “to-do” list of prayers, but rather to participate in a rhythmic  hymn of petition, veneration, praise, contrition, hope, and healing. As a student of theology, I of course “know” about God, Jesus, Mary, the saints, and the like. But now more than ever, a quote by Padre Pio rings true: “Through the study of books one seeks God; by meditation one finds him.”

About ten minutes later, we finished up with our last “Hail Mary”. Making the Sign of the Cross, I picked my head up, only to find the once-empty church now filled with congregants. I got up from my pew, and went into the sacristy to speak with the Franciscan pastor before mass began. On my way there, I greeted that older woman who gave me the rosary. I thanked her, and she smiled. She invited me to help lead the rosary next week- same time, same place. I’m not sure what happened this morning, but I’ll say this- that little, plastic rosary is now hanging on my car’s inside mirror, a reminder for me not to be so reluctant about talking to Mama Mary.

In the Footsteps of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin: Day 1, “The Middle Ground”

In the Footsteps of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin: Day 1, “The Middle Ground”

“To go on pilgrimage is not simply to visit a place to admire its treasures of nature, art or history. To go on pilgrimage really means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God where he has revealed himself, where his grace has shone with particular splendor and produced rich fruits of conversion and holiness among those who believe.” (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, 11/06/2010)

I have gone on pilgrimage a couple times before: during my spring break in 2015, I went with a few classmates to El Salvador, to walk in the footsteps of the famous Archbishop Oscar Romero, a Salvadoran bishop who was a staunch opponent of violence & injustice, a fierce defender of the poor and downtrodden. Romero was murdered while celebrating mass on March 24th, 1980. I visited his place of birth, his places of ministry, the seminary which he had oversight of, the cathedral & many parishes he had direct contact with, and of course, the Hospital of Divine Providence where he served and was assassinated in. Given my love for social justice and desire to serve God’s people in areas of nonviolence & solidarity, I found Romero to be a good model of faith, life, and ministry.

A few months later, in July 2015, I went on another pilgrimage- this time to New York City, which is about an hour & a half away from my hometown. I went on July 31st, the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, and visited different Jesuit parishes & institutions in the city, culminating in a “healing mass” that evening at St. Francis Xavier Church in Manhattan. As someone who has explored Ignatian spirituality for a number of years now (and currently studies theology at a Jesuit university), I used that time in NYC as a personal retreat during a long and tiring summer, a time to really sit back & spend in prayerful reflection with the Lord.

Currently, I am in Chicago. Admittedly, this was my second choice. I originally wanted to go on an Ignatian-style 5 day silent retreat, but there was no room remaining, and the other retreat I could’ve attended was during the academic year & conflicted with my weekend work schedule. Needing a spiritual recharge before the spring semester, I decided to look elsewhere. Given a fortuitous turn of events (a cancelled Memorial Day trip which gave me airline ticket vouchers I needed to use by February 2017, meeting an Xavierian Missionary priest with connections in Chicago, the hospitality of the Spiritan Fathers here, etc.) I am currently writing this in a cozy, warm room in the St. Ambrose Church rectory, in the Kenwood neighborhood of Chi-town. Why am I in Chicago during a near-polar vortex, where temperatures are a balmy 10 degrees?

My experience of 2016, and a deceased cardinal of the Catholic Church.


I don’t think I will shock anyone but stating that 2016 was a tumultuous year, especially in the American political arena. Whatever your political inclinations are, the fact remains that our country is as divided as ever. Republicans vs Democrats, “liberals” vs “conservatives”, mainstream media vs the ‘alt-right’ Breitbart- all of these point to deep divides among the American people, making some wonder what is so “united” about the United States of America.

I was at work one day, and a random thought crossed my mind- the gentle, smiling face of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin. My mother, being a huge fan of his, of course had books written by him scattered throughout my house, which became familiar sights as I was growing up. But who the heck was he?

Appointed as the archbishop of the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1982, Joseph Bernardin immediately became the shepherd to one of the largest cities in the country. Home to nearly 2.5 million Catholics, Chicago is one of the most prominent places of American Catholicism, given the city’s illustrious history of European immigration and now diversity of peoples. Even today, you can walk into the hundreds of Catholic churches in Chicago, where you will experience masses celebrated in several languages, including English, Spanish, Italian, German, Polish, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Swahili, (etc.) to name a few.

Cardinal Bernardin entered the Catholic spotlight at a very turbulent time, a time not too different than today. Culture wars began to grow stronger, as the reception of the Second Vatican Council (held in the early 1960s) grew more controversial. How the Church was to engage the modern world was something that had a variety of opinions. “Liturgy wars” emerged as guitars, folk music, and contemporary innovations crept into Catholic worship. Outside of the parish, however, there was no respite from the battles. Political and religious debates raged on, especially on issues regarding abortion/contraception, drugs, capital punishment, Cold War, and a general ‘coming to terms’ with shifting demographics in urban and suburban areas.


Cardinal Bernardin is most well-known for two things- his ‘common ground’ initiative, and his famous “seamless garment” ethic of life. Cardinal Bernardin, seeing the Church grow divided over issues of theology, liturgy, and culture, desired to unify the Church faithful on both sides of the spectrum. He represented the “middle ground”, where dialogue could be cultivated, while not surrendering unchanging Catholic truths. As a proponent of the Catholic Common Ground Initiative, Bernardin sought to bring healing, bridging the increasingly-polarized groups in the Church/

He was met with resistance from both sides of the ecclesial-political spectrum. For conservatives, Bernardin represented a dangerous position, one rooted in fear & mistrust. Some cardinals, such as Cardinal Bernard Francis Law of Boston, thought that by establishing this “Common Ground Initiative”, liberal groups would seek to dismantle Catholic doctrine in a world already and increasingly hostile to the Catholic faith. Law’s position was complemented by Cardinal James Hickey of Washington, who, after the establishment of the initiative, said “ We cannot achieve church unity by accommodating those who dissent from church teaching.”

For liberals, reception of Bernardin varied. Some viewed him as not going “far enough” . Others thought his views on abortion and euthanasia (fierce opposition) were too “antiquated”. As mentioned before, Cardinal Bernardin’s other claim to fame was his defense of the “seamless garment”, a consistent ethic of life which held issues such as abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, torture, poverty, racism, nuclear war, and other violations against the dignity human person as fundamental to ANY discourse regarding the “pro-life” movement. Bernardin won liberal support in some of these areas, but many disagreed with his views on issues of sexuality & “reproduction rights”, by being unflinching in his opposition to the direct termination of life in the womb.

Ultimately, Bernardin’s dream of a united Church in America was never fully realized. His efforts were also curtailed by allegations of sex abuse by a former seminarian (which were later proved false). His health declined, and he suffered from pancreatic cancer- losing the battle in 1996. His writings on his own suffering and coming to terms with death was made famous in the work, “The Gift of Peace”.

Even in death, he is still the target of ad hominem attacks — a quick Google search of “Cardinal Joseph Bernardin” results in at least two major attacks against him, including one accusing him of being a “satanist”. In 2011, popular culture commentator George Weigel applauded the “end of the Bernardin era”, an era of “culturally-accomodating Catholicism”, an obvious pot-shot to Bernardin’s work in inter-religious dialogue, ecumenism, and social justice. These results and more articles, commentary, and blogs seek to discredit his seamless garment ethic and common ground initiative. Archbishop Gomez of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, for example, was met with Internet applause from conservatives when he criticized the “seamless garment” approach to life issues, saying that abortion and euthanasia “stand alone”… “among the evils and injustices in American life in 2016.”

And yet, hope remains. With the election of Pope Francis to the papacy, the seamless garment has been given new life. As the Catholic news website “Crux” reported earlier this fall, both Pope Francis and his pick for cardinals & bishops signal a return to Bernardin’s example. Nowhere is this more evident than in Chicago itself, with the appointment of Cardinal Blaise Cupich, an American prelate who is considered “progressive” by many conservative websites, including Life Site News, which criticized him for barring his seminarians (when he was Archbishop in Seattle) from protest-praying in front of Planned Parenthood, as well as calling issues of unemployment and hunger as areas of “pro-life” concern. Pope Francis and his picks for the Cardinlate both reflect a return to the “Bernardin era”, where bishops are to act as shepherds first and judges second, where priests and those involved in pastoral ministry are called to “smell like the sheep”, and where the Church becomes a place of mercy & reconciliation before a place of dogmatic pronouncements & exclusion.

Regardless, my 2017 New Years resolution stands, which included my resignation from Internet/Church “gossip” & polemical debates. I won’t go into the different areas of issues facing the Church, but I will say one thing- Bernardin’s legacy is something that current American bishops should take note of and follow.


As mentioned before, I am in Chicago. I am here to both spiritually “recharge” before the requirements & responsibilities of the spring semester emerge. I have retired from the “Church gossip” game, and am trying to grow closer to Jesus, who is the merciful face of the Father. My desires to go deeper into theological studies and pastoral ministry are being cultivated by the wonderful professors, student colleagues, and programs within my current graduate school at Boston College. My discernment continues, albeit slowly & gently, to see where God is drawing me to serve Him and His people. And now, more than ever, as 2017 begins, I hope to model Cardinal Joseph Bernardin in my academic, social, and pastoral work. And so, I journey through Chicago, to churches, shrines, places of pilgrimage, and will spend time in prayer & reflection. For my guide, I have “The Journey to Peace”, by Cardinal Bernardin & edited by Alphonse P. Spilly, C.P.P.S and Jeremy Langford. I have faith & trust in God that He will be present in these upcoming five days and will guide me closer to Him as I meditate upon the personal reflections of such a holy and venerable cardinal.

I invite you all to join me spiritually, as I walk in the footsteps of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin. Please pray for me and all those involved in pastoral ministry, that we may experience Christ with the same enthusiasm as this late Chicago cardinal did.

Cramming for Christmas

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I’ll admit- I’m not ready for Christmas. It feels like just yesterday I was stuffed from eating turkey  & mashed potatoes with gravy, laying on my living-room couch back home in Connecticut, watching the Detroit Lions play football. Then, it seems that I drove back, had some classes and papers to do, and here I am, with Christmas staring me in the face. Yes, I went to mass every Sunday, and yes- I heard the readings & prayers. But to be honest, Advent flew by in a whirlwind, and somehow I ended up here. I am, in fact, cramming for Christmas.

All of those Advent devotional books I was given went unread. Those prayer services went unattended. The discipline of daily mass, the Divine Office, and a daily Rosary loosened. While I did the bare-minimum of  attending mass weekly, it was largely at a different church depending on the week, and I cannot tell you what the homilies were about. I woke up, went to class, read books for class, wrote papers, submitted proposals, ate like trash, did my nightly “scroll on the phone until midnight”, and woke up the next day. My schedule (both work and school) intensified this past month, and while I kept up a (minimal) prayer life, I can say with certainty that I am not ready for Christmas.

What does one do when a liturgical season flies by without any real, tangible experience of God? How can I celebrate Christmas when I barely prepared the “way of the Lord”? Do I simply shut myself in my room and listen to Handel’s “Messiah” on repeat until December 25th?

I think my experience of Advent can be likened to the way the people of the Old Testament “prepared” for the coming of the Lord. When reading the OT, it seems like it’s a game of “Icy Hot”. For every person “on fire” with the Lord, preaching the coming of the “Messiah”, there’s a dozen instances of people whose hearts grew cold- they are asleep at the wheel, going about their daily activities, breaking the covenant God had established with them.

For me, it’s too late to “catch up” with those seasonal devotional books. No amount of Advent Hymn Pandora can make up for lost time. I am less than a week away from Christmas, and I am going to have to celebrate it with what I have. I long for Christ but this past Advent, my longing has been interrupted by things which I placed before the Lord. Thankfully, the Church has something that can be a spiritual buoy for me these last few days of the Advent season: the “O Antiphons”.

As the USCCB writes,

“The Roman Church has been singing the “O” Antiphons since at least the eighth century. They are the antiphons that accompany the Magnificat canticle of Evening Prayer from December 17-23. They are a magnificent theology that uses ancient biblical imagery drawn from the messianic hopes of the Old Testament to proclaim the coming Christ as the fulfillment not only of Old Testament hopes, but present ones as well. Their repeated use of the imperative “Come!” embodies the longing of all for the Divine Messiah.”

And here they are:

 

December 17

O Wisdom of our God Most High,
guiding creation with power and love:
come to teach us the path of knowledge!

December 18

O Leader of the House of Israel,
giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai:
come to rescue us with your mighty power!

December 19

O Root of Jesse’s stem,
sign of God’s love for all his people:
come to save us without delay!

December 20

O Key of David,
opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom:
come and free the prisoners of darkness!

December 21

O Radiant Dawn,
splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:
come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the
shadow of death.

December 22

O King of all nations and keystone of the Church:
come and save man, whom you formed from the dust!

December 23

O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law:
come to save us, Lord our God!

What if I used these as my prayer each day until Christmas Eve? Do not these antiphons, which uses ancient expressions of messianic expectation, speak to my heart today? I desire salvation, order, life, and light. Who else can save me, besides the Key of David (Dec. 20th), who opens the gates to eternal life? Who else can order my life in the way of God besides the Wisdom Incarnate (Dec. 17), who orders all creation? (Proverbs 8:30, c.f. John 1:3)

Or, in an academic comparison, if Christmas is a final exam, then these “O Antiphons” are my SparkNotes. I will pray with them and reflect on what the coming of Christ means- and how it has consequences for my life, my priorities, my relationships, and my worldview.

Come, Lord Jesus, and be gentle on grading me!