Sunday, November 27, 2016

I Will Go To You

We have two happy and healthy kids, David and Monica. People have occasionally asked us if we are "done" to which we would often reply "I would lose my mind if we had another," or, "yeah, we're not trying." After all, Deb will be 42 next month, and it feels like we have our hands full.

The implications of having or not having children is personal and feels high-stakes, and it's only natural to want to take the wheel. It is hard to trust God with one's fertility. We shared this sentiment early in our marriage; our kids for the most part were planned, we didn't have any problems getting pregnant, and they were born healthy. 

We became convicted of the Church's teaching on the Theology of the Body later in our married life together, and began to move away from artificial contraception to the practice of Natural Family Planning as a way of delaying pregnancy. Though we were conservative in practice, it was a complete paradigm shift of (the illusion of) control, a new way of looking at life not as burden or inconvenience, but as gift and blessing. Though not looking to expand our family, loosening the white-knuckle grip on our fertility came with its own graces--our consciences were at rest, our relations were more intimate, and not closing the door completely on the possibility of conception breathed a new kind of dynamic and life into our relationship that seemed fruitful and healthy.

We had found a miraculous medal (read about the story here) shortly before Deb's mom died in September, and started wearing it around our necks, not really thinking about the graces promised to those who wear it. We began to grow closer to God in trust. Deb loved her mom so much. We began to pray the rosary together every night and read scripture. 

Some unexplainable things started happening too. The evening after we returned home from the funeral, Deb and I were sitting in the living room talking to friends who had come over to visit. At the top of the stairs Deb saw a flash of white and a child running across the upstairs hallway, which she took to be Monica (so much so that she called out 'Monica!'). But when she went to the top of the stairs, Monica was in her room playing. A few weeks later, as Deb was leaving the chapel at St. Ann's where she was praying, she heard a voice in her head say, "you will name her Catherine."

Not long after that, we found out we were pregnant. 

We couldn't believe it. We always knew it was a possibility, but looking at the test we kept saying to each other "I. Can't. Even." Not expected, not planned. As the weeks went on and we adjusted to the idea of our family expanding, though, we started to get more excited, looking forward to welcoming a new life into our home. God was working on our hearts. I went out and bought some cloth diapers and a Bjorn (which we had used before but sold when we got rid of all our baby stuff), just figuring this pregnancy would be like the other two.

It wasn't though. Our baby made it to about twelve weeks in the womb and then went home to be with the Lord. 

There are a hundred little deaths that come with this event, including the death of the life you imagined for yourself (which is, ironically, the life that we never imagined prior to getting pregnant). You build a future world for yourself and make plans, go minivan shopping, etc. maybe foolishly so early on, but it is hard to contain. Then all of a sudden, it is no more. 

We do not understand, but trust in God's ways which are so much higher above our ways (Is 55:9). If I can glean anything from this experience, though, it is that opening yourself up to God's plan for your life, rather than your own, opens up a world of possibility--which does not preclude suffering and pain. But there is no doubt in my mind that it is a thousand times better than the alternative of nudging Him out and living for ourselves alone, trusting in our own limited designs and ideas for our lives. He does not waste opportunities. His way is perfect (Ps 18:30). 

It has been a hard year, but God is so so good. Thank you for those who have prayed for us. We know that an immortal soul was formed, and that God can bring good out of all things, for "though He slay me, I will trust in Him still" (Job 13:15). As tomorrow is St. Catherine Laboure's feast day, we pray our little Catherine Rose is with the saints in Heaven as we share in King David's words, "I will go to the child one day, but the child will not return to me" (2 Sam 12:23). 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Stranger

A man came in our office seeking help with logging into his email. He was elderly, rolling a suitcase behind him, and smelled homeless. The was overpowering and noxious, it seeped into your clothes. His presence was an awkward inconvenience at an inopportune time. I wanted to ignore him, but he insisted on waiting for someone, as his ride wasn't coming to pick him up for a couple hours. I remembered the words of Jesus to offer water to the thirsty, so I offered him a bottle of water, but it was more out of guilt and concession. He didn't want water.

I think he really just wanted to be seen and heard. And I refused to see or hear him. When we think we are some righteous people in our personal theoretical universe, we really need to check ourselves in the nitty gritty smelly business of everyday life. Because if you can't prove it there, the rest doesn't really matter.

I've proved myself in my heart as a Pharisee of Pharisees. If you're anything like me, you want to go home justified at the end of the day, be assured that you did your Christian duty, whatever that was. Maybe it's dropping off a can of green beans in the food collection box, or a dollar to a homeless person. But sometimes Jesus visits in ways that cut us to the heart and expose us for who we really are--impatient, judgemental, proud, self-congratulatory, disgusted. And you don't go justified. You go home uneasy and convicted.

Jesus comes in the distressing guise of the poor, in the words of Mother Teresa. How often do we turn him away in our hearts and in person? It's easy to share an inspirational meme on social media. It is uncomfortable and challenging to sit with the actual, flesh and blood poor. We are called as Christians not to tolerate or endure the poor, but to wash their feet, strip off their rags and cloth them in the finest raiment, for they are Jesus, our Lord. Not in a theoretical, theologically lofty way. In a very stinky, very inconvenient, very embarrassing, very REAL way.

Make no mistake. Jesus visited me today. I turned my back on him, no time for you, not unlike the rich man who ignored Lazarus. I didn't want to soil my hands giving him the time of day. It was a heart issue. It may not have taken much for me to see and hear him, but the sin is damnable, to read about beatitudes than to live them, to study works of mercy than to practice them. We have both Pharisee and Publican within us. And we know which one went home justified...the one who beat his breast, lowered his eyes, all he could say being, "God, be merciful to me a sinner."

Sunday, November 13, 2016

A Quantum Leap

In the good old school days of physics, waves were waves, and particles were particles. Classical physics was deterministic in nature--given the exact positions and velocities of all particles at a given time, one could calculate the future (and past) positions and velocities of all particles at any other times. It operated based on certain assumptions about reality...assumptions that would prove to be off base when classical physics began to be applied to the atomic level in the late 1800's. Models of atomic vibrations were supposed to look a certain way based on classical theory, but weren't, and no one knew why. When Max Planck discovered that a multiplier of a base frequency (h) could be applied to atomic vibrations in whole number multiples (but not fractional, as was previously thought), it opened the door to what would later be known as quantum theory.

Unlike classical physics, quantum physics is not deterministic, but probabilistic.  It accepts a certain amount of uncertainty. Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principal pointed out the shortcomings of classical determinism at the sub-atomic level. You can measure an electron's position, but in doing so you destroy the possibility of measuring its momentum, and vice-versa. You have to accept that the combination of position and momentum is uncertain and cannot be measured simultaneously. This 'quantum indeterminacy' (QI) is the necessary incompleteness in the description of a physical system.

The quantum understanding of light, then, accepts a contradictory proposition--that light is both a particle (which has mass) and a wave (which has none).  How can light be both a wave and a particle? The American theoretical physicist Richard Feynman called it "the only real mystery" in science.

What does this mumbo-jumbo have to do with anything, you might ask? The funny thing is, it has to do with EVERYTHING. The implications bleed out into disciplines outside the realm of physics--epistemology, philosophy, theology--challenging the brash and simplistic assumptions we hold about the nature of objective reality and material existence. As Feynman stated with regards to the proposition of light as both a particle and a wave, "While we can tell how it works, we cannot make the mystery go away by 'explaining' how it works."

I think this kind of scientific humility of making room for mystery, of codifying a principal of uncertainty and, to a degree, paradox, finds itself at home in biblical theology. 2,000 years ago believers were interpreting the natural world in light of Revelation. They had no means to study the sub-atomic, but viewing the natural world through the eyes of faith was like wearing a kind of 'quantum glasses.' That which existed beyond the material realm of existence, could be both simultaneously known (in the light of Revelation) and had to be accepted as mystery. It was quantum by nature. Jesus affirmed the place of paradox--a kind of spiritual 'quantum indeterminancy' in Christian belief--weaving it through stories and parables, and manifesting itself most clearly in the mystery of the Incarnation.

The metaphysical reality of an eternal God taking on flesh, crashing through time and space to live among us as a man at a finite point in history, makes room for that which cannot be rationally reconciled. Classical Judaic determinism of adherence to the law as the predictable trajectory of salvation was disrupted by Christ crucified, a "stumbling block to the Jews" (1 Cor 1:23), as the means of salvation for those who believed.

God's own trinitarian nature in a communion of persons, as well, challenges even classical notions of monotheism at the time.  The hashing out of the nature of the Godhead in ecumenical councils (and among heresies) in the early Church was not unlike the the crisis in the world of 18th century physics.  Just how do you explain a mystery? How do you affirm it, codify it? There must be a place for it, a kind of epistemological constant in the life of faith. And yet, in doing so by creed, in attempting to nail down mystery, does one encounter the quantum problem of measuring position and momentum simultaneously?

Nature, Reality, Existence, cannot be simply explained away by scientific method, or reason alone, or atheistic humanism. We are in an age in which such a haughty and overly-confident secular determinism that makes no room for faith is presumed, but leaves in its wake holes and questions yet to be answered. Those who seek truth, those to whom happiness, joy, and fulfillment in this life proves to be frustratingly elusive under the classical secular paradigm, those who see holes in the fabric of reality and encounter paradox in their day to day, who wonder why they are here and what they have to live for, who hear the sound of the wind and know not where it comes from or where it goes (Jn 3:8) and is to these that recognize that the world's theory of existence is incomplete, lacking; that expectations of fulfillment do not manifest according to the prescribed deterministic formula. It is only in the quantum leap to faith that one enters into a new reality beyond the material, beyond the immediate, beyond the sub-atomic, beyond time and space...a new creation, born again.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Family Dinner

I have a pretty diverse Facebook feed. I may be reading a complaint about people taking Communion in the hand at one point, followed by someone sharing an Occupy Democrats meme, followed by an event invite for a Consciousness Awakening party in Taos next week, followed by a video of cats being scared by cucumbers.

Not living in a bubble and being immersed in such diversity, however, has its downsides. It often makes it feel like I have no real ground to stand on. It feels good to belong to something, to be around people of like-mind, to have an identity. I've never been good at that, though. I often wonder, should I throw myself behind a party-line? Should I unfriend people who are a scandal to my beliefs? Should I be a quiet observer? An outspoken polemicist? A rational devil's advocate? Such diversity. Such tension.

I think it's interesting, then, that this kind of contentious religious-political environment we find ourselves in is not historically unique. There was no truly rosy 'early Church' in which people were all of one mind in all things, getting along all the time, despite Luke's account in Acts. Jewish society in days of the early church was not unified, anymore than we are unified. Four distinct religious-political factions (as described by the historian Josephus) for example, were the Zealots, the Essenes, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees.

-Zealots believed in the overthrow of the Roman Empire. They would not tolerate pagan idols and practices in their land. God would bring about the Kingdom with their help.

-Essenes believed in withdrawing from the corrupt Temple system and the Empire. They would live holy lives in an alternative world until God brought about the Kingdom without their help.

-Pharisees believed in radical personal holiness. They believed in internalizing their religious law, and that God would give punishment and reward in the afterlife.

-Sadducees believed in the establishment. They made peace with Rome and focused on religious ritual. They believed divine punishment and reward happen in this life.

I think to my own religious tradition of Catholicism today, we have, respectively:

 -Liberation theology and by extension the (pejorative) 'SJW' Catholics; 
-Monastic and lay "Benedict-option" Catholics circling the wagons;
-Rad-trad Latin Mass Catholics committed to liturgical and doctrinal purity;
 -Cultural Catholics, content with the status quo and minimizing disruption.

And everything in between. Yet we are all Catholics. I'm sure Protestants have their own respective factions, as do Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, etc.  This is not kumbaya hand-holding. This is family, warts, fists, and all.

In Jn 4:22, Jesus reminds the Samaritan woman at the well that "salvation is from the Jews," while at the same time foretelling that a time was coming when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, apart from geographic or ethnic locale; "for such people the Father seeks to be his worshippers." Likewise when Jesus is before Pilate, he reaffirms his kingship, that he has come into the world to testify to the truth, for "everyone who is of the truth hears My voice." (Jn 18:37).

Pilate can only ask, like the post-modern world, "what is truth?" I don't believe in syncretism, the amalgamation of beliefs into a unified system, that all beliefs are equal. I believe Christ is "the Way, the Truth, and the Life," as he himself attests, and that no one comes to the Father but though Him. (Jn 14:6). Why would I believe in something I did not believe was true? Likewise I believe in the authority of the apostles and their successors, and that the Holy Spirit is guiding the Church in all Truth. But apart from that, there is great diversity within our church. There is no one 'right way' to go about worship, the application of faith, service, structural change, the realization of the Kingdom, prayer, stewardship, etc. There is one body but many parts.

In trying to imitate Jesus in my own life, I also realize that part in parcel of that is that "foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." Jesus was, in many ways, an outsider. He belonged to no political party, no faction that tried to claim him as their own. He was at the same time a reformer (Mk 2:23) and an adherent to tradition (Mt 5:18). He could trace his lineage in the human family as a man, yet he was also present before history began outside of time and space. He affirmed the need for bread (Mt 14:13-21) while recognizing that one does not live on bread alone (Mt 4:4). He was a king, but not of this world.  I am a far cry from being like Jesus, but in many ways throughout the course of that imitation I have felt an affinity for his lack of belonging, his loneliness, his moving among many different people but having even his friends fall asleep during his hour of need in Gethsemane.

I will say there is one place where I think a true sense of unity can be accomplished, albeit briefly, and that is sitting down to share a meal together. Breaking bread and eating with people of different races, cultures, religions, and backgrounds, is a way to affirm our shared humanity while not undermining what makes us different. We all have to eat, we all have to live on the same earth...why not take an opportunity to do it together every now and then? There is a place for the sacramental sharing of the Eucharistic bread reserved for believers within their own community. But there is also a place for sitting down with those outside our community--Republicans with Democrats, Muslims with Christians, blacks with whites--and sharing a meal and conversation.  We have a big dining room table in our house. It is big enough for many people. In fact, just last week I wanted to have friends over for dinner. I asked friend after friend, but everyone already had plans.  I was tempted to put it out on Facebook to see if any 'friends', random or otherwise, would want to come over to share a meal and some fellowship, a la Mt 22:9. I opted not to in the end this time, but hope maybe sometime in the future to have the opportunity again.

As we get ready to elect our new President and government officials on Tuesday, it is a good reminder that we are One Nation, UNDER God; that we are ultimately pilgrims in this land; and to recognize the eschatological tension of a kingdom "already, but not yet" here. Yet I hope that after the contentions and political ideology--whether on lawn signs, social media, or in person--takes a break from it's full tilt ad nasueum, we will be able to at some point in the future sit down and share a meal together as a (human) family.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Super Star Car Wash

The other week I cleaned out my car. It was starting to look like a garbage dump on the inside. I blame my kids: toys, daycare papers, clothes, socks, shoes, lollipops, books, jackets, apple cores, you name it. It gets to the point sometimes when you are just so far gone that to clean up just seems futile--why bother when its just going to get dirty again? It's too much.

Nevertheless, I did devote a morning to tackle the mess and attempt to "make all things new." I brought a big garbage bag out with me, and started to move the trash and junk out of the car, one by one. Eventually I could see the floor and the seats. Then, I moved on to detailing. I got the vacuum out and sucked up the crumbs in the crevices, the cupholder, on the floor. I took the mats out and scrubbed them. I put all my spare change in the change holder, and cleaned out the console.

Suddenly, I had a new car. It was amazing. It smelled good and looked good and even seems to drive better (though that was probably just my imagination). It made me want to keep it that way forever, so I became more vigilant about cleaning up a little bit at a time and not letting things accumulate. We'll see how long that practice lasts, but I feel better when I'm not sitting on a trash heap.

God is inclined towards order. He created the world out of disorder and chaos (Gen 1:2), setting everything in its place. We were made in the image and likeness of God, but because of the Fall, our propensity is towards disorder, like a leaf that naturally flows downstream when dropped in a creek.

Sin is the trash we fill our souls with. It clouds things up, darkening our spiritual intellect. It robs us of the joy of innocence. It is real, and it is serious, but it is not always apparent the extent to which we are living in it.

After Deb's mom died, we both went to Confession. She told me, "I feel closer to mom after the stain of sin is wiped, I'm more pure and able to hear God better and be open to Him."  Sometimes our burdens are heavy due to one or more grave sins, the ones that lead to death (1 Jn 5:17), and sometimes the weight comes from the accumulation of "little sins" that settle like soot on our souls. It's harder to hear God's voice, it gets tuned out. To confess one's sins and to be forgiven--is truly freeing.  It brings everything back into focus, into order.

I try to do an examination conscience and go to Confession once a month or so.  I know I am due when I start to feel like one of those PCs that gets bogged down and takes a long time to boot up; when I become negligent in prayer and slothful; when I am quick to anger and hungry for material comfort. When unchecked little sins lead to bigger ones, and the voice of the Lord becomes faint, replaced with the calling of the world.

The longer I go without confessing my sins with my lips, the more it starts to feel like my trash-heap of a car...why bother cleaning when I'm in it so thick? But when I do confess...I can't explain it. I just feel lighter, my spirit buoyed. I feel like my relationship with God is put back in order, things are in their rightful place, a friendship restored. There is suddenly room for grace, a grace that overflows. I can see the floor of my soul again. I've been given a new lease on life. Should I meet the Lord that instant, I would be ready.

God is so good, so merciful. He waits with open arms, so quick to forgive. He does not hold anything over our heads, does not remember our sins (Is 43:25). Nothing is too heavy for him (Mt 11:30), nothing new under the sun (Ecc 1:9). He leaves the pack for the one lost (Mt 18:12). He runs towards us, forgetting his dignity (Lk 15:20), throws a feast to celebrate.

Confessing our sins costs us nothing. It is available to all, anytime. It restores order in the universe, in our souls, bringing things into right alignment. It renews our friendship with God, washes us clean, restores us to grace. It gives us eyes to see the world anew. If you haven't turned to God by confessing your sins, if there is something heavy on your heart, I would encourage you to take a moment to open yourself to the working of grace and bring it before the Lord. Lay it at his feet. If you crack the door an inch, the Lord will throw it open the rest of the way, and invite you in to the banquet feast, washed and clothed in white.