Lent- Transformation or diet plan?

Desert with sand dunes reminds me of Lent

As a young person, I gave up T.V. for Lent.

Yes, you read that correctly. As a twelve-year-old, I wanted to give up T.V. As a young person I believed wrongly that Lent was about giving up something. My twelve-year-old self thought that we earned God’s love through our Lenten sacrifice. My parents supported me. In fact, they liked it so much, the no T.V watching became the household norm.

I grew up.

As I re-entered the Catholic Church and matured in my faith, I began to see the real beauty of Lent. I have learned that Lent is much more than a diet plan. When approached correctly, it can radically change your life. I know that it has changed mine.

Purpose of Lent

Lent has a three-fold purpose: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These practices help us empty ourselves so that we can be filled with God’s presence.

Prayer

Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is week Mathew 26:41

Every morning is a battle. The alarm goes off and I am faced with a choice: to snooze or not to snooze. My tired eyes beckon me to sleep for five more minutes. Yet my soul knows that those five minutes I could be spending with God. Jesus tells us that prayer protects us from temptation. In my life, I am tempted to fall into despair. In those moments I turn to the Divine Mercy prayer.

Eternal Father, whose mercy is endless and whose treasury of compassion inexhaustible, look kindly on us and increase in us Your mercy, that in difficult moments, we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your most holy will, which is love and mercy itself.

Prayer has helped me fight my inner demons. Nowhere has this become more clear than during Lent. I discovered the Litany of Trust during the fourth week of Lent. I decided to pray it every day during Lent. Since then I have seen my confidence grow and God doing impossible things.

Fasting

I like food.

I am the worse when it comes to fasting. It seems like every Friday I get a craving for fried chicken. One time I had left my Friday holy hour hungry. I decided to go through KFC drive through because I could not wait. As soon as I had the food in my hands, I remembered that it was a day of absence from meat. I reluctantly ate it as to not waste food.

In my moments of weakness I recall Jesus’ example:

And he fasted for forty days and forty nights and afterward he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “if you are the son of God command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “it is written, man shall not live on bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Matthew 4:2-4

I know that if I was Jesus, I would have given into the devil’s demands. By forcing us to fast, Lent reminds us of our human weakness. Every time I’m tempted to snack on some crackers or gorge on fried chicken, I realize how much I need God’s grace.

Alms Giving

I am frugal with money.

I struggle with Works of Mercy because I keep to myself and help myself. God decided to shake me up. One Saturday after confession, the priest told me to do a random act of kindness as part of my penance. As someone, who keeps to themselves, this was completely out of my comfort zone. I agonized over the decision. Ultimately, I ended up buying a cup of coffee for someone in line behind me. God must have a sense of humor. It turns out that the people in line behind me were buying together. When the cashier asked me if I wanted to pay for both, I awkwardly said yes.

I’ll admit that it did feel good to buy them coffee. Ever since I have looked for ways to do random acts. I hope to one day get to the point where my Lenten sacrifice involves doing an act of kindness every day. Until then God has a lot of work to do.

Lent reimagined

Lent was never intended to be a self-improvement plan or a diet regimen. It transforms us by making us walk in Jesus’ footsteps. Like Jesus, we allow the Holy Spirit to lead us to the desert. We can be tempted by hunger, greed, or business, but we will not give in. Instead, we will find that we need God.

Nature is Ensouled: A Response

Nature: blue sky, grass, rocks

that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until the present time. Romans 8:22

I love Twitter.

Catholic twitter is regular twitter except for all the people you follow are Catholic. It is a happy place mostly. Occasionally you will get people riled up about something. I still have not forgotten the dancing priest outrage. Last month, an article, Nature Is Ensouled written by the Center for Action and Contemplation had people talking.

People were accusing Father Rohr of being heretical. Intrigued, I took a look. Skimming the article, my eyes fell on this statement,

I’m not saying God is all things (pantheism), but that each living thing reveals some aspect of God. God is both greater than the whole of our universe, and as Creator inter-penetrates all created things (panentheism). No exceptions.

Father Rohr seems to be suggesting Panentheism is compatible with Christianity. Now to the average person, what Father Rohr is saying may sound appealing even correct. I wasn’t so sure. Not satisfied I sought to research.

In my research, I learned that New Age focuses on harmony and communication with nature1. This sounds good on paper. Even I can understand the appeal. I have always felt that nature had a deep inner beauty.

I value knowledge.

Thus I understand the appeal of a lounging to discover some inner connectiveness. Yet there are three problems with this.

1. Relationships

The Christian God is relational. God wants a relationship. If Father Rohr is correct then I need to “discover the soul in other things to live in union with the source of all being.” 2 Yet discovering some hidden soul is completely opposite of Christian values. I don’t need to become one with nature, rather, I need a relationship with Jesus Christ.

2. Searching in vain

The Bible is just one big love letter from God. The stories in the Old and New Testament show how God is pursuing humanity. I typically don’t give into romantic sentiment. Yet I love the idea of being pursued by the Divine creator. I don’t get that with new age religion. Rather New Age teaches that I have to search for the divine.

3. Who is God?

I am made in God’s Image.

I have a rational soul.

God is my creator.

Ultimately. New Age Mysticism challenges me to define these three fundamental truths. Yes, both New Age and Christianity believe animals do have souls. The difference is a matter of degree. In Christianity, animals have material souls. These souls decay and die. Yet New Age insists that animals and God are intertwined 3.

It is so easy to fall into error. It is easy to be taken in by the longing for interconnectedness. I understand the appeal of wanting a deeper connection with the divine. Yet I would not trade in a relational deity for an impersonal essence. I am sad that an institution with Catholic roots would fall far from the truth. The earth’s redemption may come (Romans 8:22), but let us focus on growing deeper with Christ.

  1. https://www.allaboutspirituality.org/new-age.htm
  2. https://cac.org/nature-is-ensouled-2018-03-11/
  3. http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/interelg/documents/rc_pc_interelg_doc_20030203_new-age_en.html#1.4.%20The%20New%20Age%20and%20Catholic%20Faith

How to lead a small group

How to lead a small group

Introduction

Small groups are a relatively recent phenomenon in Catholic parishes. Yet in Protestant churches gathering in small groups are a normal occurrence. Parish renewal groups such as Rebuilt and Forming Intentional Disciplesemphasize small groups. They see small groups a way of establishing a community. I served on the board in charge of discussing small groups. This made me realize that Catholics don’t understand the point of small groups.

What are small groups

A small group consists of 6-10 people, who hold each other accountable. Here’s what a small group is not:

  • a bible study
  • a book club
  • a place to go deeper in theology

While I love all those activities, none of those actives by themselves make a small group. Rather, a small group shares life together. They usually began with a meal and prayer. After that, they have no real agenda. The group might do Lectio divina, or watch a video. You should get to the point where you do not need a program. A program should be a jumping off point for relational ministry. Getting through all the questions is not the goal of a small group.

I have been a small group leader for youth, young adults, and adults. I know a thing or two about leading small groups. Below are 5 tips for being a good small group leader.

Tips To Be A Small Group Leader

1. Same page

You want to make sure your leader and co-leader are on the same page. This means you need to talk about expectations. Questions that need to be discussed include:

  • will there be food and who’s bringing it
  • how often will we meet
  • what will we be discussing
  • will attendance be required

If the leaders are not on the same page, then the members will not know what to expect. Likewise, this makes members confused and less likely to come back.

2. Introduce People

Your job as facilitator is to help people enter into a relationship with each other. Thus, you need to facilitate interaction. The first couple of times you meet, you want to have a good ice breaker. Later on, you may want to collect birthdays and contact info. You can send encouragement and prayer to those you think might need it. You can encourage others to do the same.

3. Spiritual Introduction

We all come from different backgrounds, cultures, and ways of life. Some people in the group may have an active prayer life. Others still struggle with accepting Jesus as the son of God. St Paul talks about this in 1st Corinthians 3:1-3a

”But I, brethren, could not address you as spiritual men, but as men of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even yet you are not ready, for you are still of the flesh. 1st Corinthians 3:1-3a (RSV Second Catholic edition)

Until everyone agrees to be on the same page spiritually, the group dynamics will not work. Thus as a facilitator, you must make sure that everyone is ready to go deeper. It is better to start too basic and then get complex.

4. Delegate Responsibility

One of the biggest mistakes leaders make is a failure to delegate responsibility. Yet the group will die if nobody takes responsibility and the leader ends up leaving. I had this happen to one of my young adult groups. I had given roles, which people had reluctantly taken, but I failed to invest in those roles. When I moved to Connecticut for three months, the group died. People contribute to groups that matter to them and when they feel the can contribute.

5 . Plan with other groups

One thing I miss about Protestant churches is how small groups became large. Currently, I am a leader of a young adult small group at a local parish. At the introductory meeting, the young adult leader shared his vision. He envisioned having multiple groups throughout Hampton Roads. This was last year. Our group still meets bi-monthly. Yet we have never interacted with another group. It makes us feel disconnected and unsupported. In my Protestant church, we would meet weekly in a small group. Yet once a month all the small groups would get together. We would grab wings or go bowling. It helped remind us that we were a part of a much larger community.

I would like to see the local parish eventually figure this whole small group thing out. The relationships I have formed in those small groups have been valuable to my spiritual formation.

Christian Films vs Bible: Which Tells a Better Story?

Red theater seats that you would find when watching Christian films

Last Saturday, I got together with my friends. We decided to play board games at a local coffee shop. I brought The Catholic Card Game. The creators took the mechanics of Apple to Apples or Cards against Humanity and made it Catholic. They made it Catholic by having all the cards have some Christian or Catholic theme to it. As a player, you can make some pretty fun inside jokes. One of my favorite cards played was, “in the name of Jesus, I command you to stop liking Christian films.”

I have been very critical of Christian films. My friend knew this and used it to score a point from me. The more I understand about film, art, and beauty, the more I’ve come to devaluing Christian films. I am discouraged by the current history of Christian films. The Bible offers the blueprint for telling a compelling story.

I first became aware of Christian film criticism through the Youtube channel: [Say Goodnight Kevin}(https://youtu.be/Bw3Ll_1l7Io). Kevin provides a critical analysis of Christian films. Most of what he says speaks to my heart. The God’s Not Dead review is no exception. Kevin states that the problem in the God’s not Dead review. The filmmakers are more interested in selling a message than telling a story. The characters become one-sided in order to serve the message.

The Bible shows us brokenness and weakness, morally gray people, God’s power, and trials.

1. Brokenness and weakness

In Christian films, the Christian character is usually not broken. Yet God uses broken people all the time. Let’s take Moses for example. Moses was chosen by God to lead the people out of Egypt into the promised land. Moses objected by saying that he had a stutter and could not speak. St Paul talks about a thorn in his side that would not go away. St Paul describes how God’s strength is made perfect in St. Paul’s weakness. Christian films would do well to show God using what society has deemed as weak or broken.

2. Morally gray people

Returning to Moses, he was also a morally gray individual. He murdered an Egyptian guard for attacking a Jewish slave. Likewise, David was a man after God’s own heart, but he committed adultery. Very rarely if ever do we see Christian films display nuance. They never have the Christian character perform a morally questionable action. They also fail to show growth over time.

3. Show trials after becoming a Christian

The book of Acts describes how the apostles were arrested, beaten, and kill for their faith. Yet many more became Christian partially due to their witness. It would be beneficial for Christian films to show 1. What caused people to convert, and 2. Them choosing to stay in the face of trials.

Shiro and LGBT in Children’s media

legs and feet on bed in front of TV which says Netflix

Introduction

Dear reader, I apologize for the late post, but I was gone all weekend. Also, this blog post contains spoilers for the Dragon Prince and Voltron. If you do not want them spoiled, please do not read.

Relational ministry is one of the key components of youth ministry. In relational ministry, one seeks to form a relationship with the youth. This relationship usually begins through discussion of tv shows, movies, or music. As someone, who aspires to work with youth, I find that it is important to know what they are watching. While working with the youth this year, they introduced me to The Dragon Prince and Voltron. Both shows have been heavily criticized for their handling of LGBT characters. In my own personal opinion, a diversity of people in any show, but especially a kids show, is welcomed. I am unique in that 1. I don’t expect media to have Christian values, and 2. I don’t get upset when a show incorporates new world views to consider. I do however get upset when the world views are not fully depicted or have no effect on the story. I realize that this topic can be divisive. When it comes to media representation I tend to take a midline stance on such issues. Yet I fear that carless representation will continue and ruin otherwise good stories. I will discuss the dragon prince characters, Annika and Neha, and Voltron’s character Shiro. Both are not a good depiction of LGBT characterization.

The Dragon Prince

The Dragon Prince is made by some of the same people who worked on Avatar the last Airbender. In a nutshell, The Dragon Prince is a fantasy show about 3 people. They discover a dragon prince egg and go on a quest to return it. Season 2 came out on February 15th. It was highly anticipated and received good reviews. It has been described as Game of Thrones for kids and teenagers. The comparison is not inaccurate. The show covers dragons, magic and political intrigue. Most of the characters are morally grey and have various motivations. It even quotes philosophical ideas such as The Veil of Ignorance. Thus I am sad that such a smartly written show must cater to LGBT diversity PR. The dragon prince avoids some of the mistakes of Voltron. I also have problems with the depiction of the LGBT as normal and without struggles.

Annika and Neha

According to the fandom Wiki, those are the names of the two queen mothers. They first appear in flashback during the episode Break The Seal. In this episode, Viren is trying to start a war but needs the permission of the surrounding land. In his meeting with the nearby kingdoms, the viewer meets Aanya. Viren tells her the story of her parent’s death in order to persuade her to aid in the war. In the flashback of the story, we see Aanya has two mothers. This is problematic.

Problems with representation

My problem is not that two lesbian queens exist. My problem is that they did not develop the concept far enough. As an adult viewer, I have a basic understanding of biology. I know that two mothers cannot give birth to a child with equal genetics. The child does have genetics from a male sperm donor. Perhaps Aanya is adopted rather than biologically related. If this is the case, then how can Aanya have a legitimate claim to the throne. The writers chose to make the queens have a lesbian relationship. By this choice, the show takes on more questions than it wishes to answer. Furthermore, the writers killed off the lesbian queens in a past battle. This makes the reputation feel forced. The writers need to provide answers. If not, they shouldn’t show a lesbian relationship with a child. Otherwise, it comes across as an attempt to convince kids that two women can have a kid normally. The reality is that it is not normal and always involves a third party.

Voltron

If guardians of the galaxy, transformers and power rangers had a baby you would have this show. It centers around 4 main characters. While studying at a military space academy, they discover the blue lion. It is one of the lions that form Voltron. Voltron is the protector of the universe. The 4 Characters are Lance, Pidge, Hunk, and Keith. All 4 people find the lions and throughout the series save cultures from the Galra, an evil alien race. The 4 teenagers end up being led by Shiro, who is a military space officer.

Shiro

The show depicts Shiro as a leader and space explorer, who is happiest while flying. He endures a lot of hardships including PTSD like symptoms. Despite this adversity, he becomes a hero. The only hint that Shiro is a gay character occurs in season 7 episode 1. The main story of this episode centers on Keith and Shiro’s relationship. Shiro is recruiting young teenagers to join the space academy. During recruitment, Shiro discovers Keith’s natural ability to fly. Shiro becomes a mentor and father-like figure to Keith. In this episode, the viewer also discovers that Shiro has the early onset of a muscular disorder. Thus he is being pressured to retire. About 17 minutes into the episode, the viewers get a one-minute interaction. with a fellow cadet Adam, who warns Shiro not to go on the mission. Adam asks, “how important am I to you?” Adam says, “if you go, don’t expect me to be back.” It could be taken as a concerned friend or a romantic partner.

Towards the end of the series, we see Shiro visibly upset over Adam’s death. In the final minute of the show, we see Shiro with another man. They are getting married. The show ends with them kissing.

Problems with representation

This depiction is problematic because of no development. This depiction implies that the only way for Shiro to be happy is to be openly gay and married. Yet Shiro’s priority was not marriage but flying. Shiro never struggled with his gayness and that is unrealistic. Some argue persuasively that it is Liberal PR move.

What I want going forward

I want a story first narrative. Writers should ask, “does making a person LGBT effect the story in a meaning full way?” I also want writers to not shy away from depicting openly gay characters because they do exist in life. Similarly, writers should not be afraid to depict same-sex attraction people, who choose to find their identity in other areas. Shiro could have been the latter. The media would rather try to win brownie points for being progressive.

Sports and Human Dignity

Basketball hoop in front of grey sky

Introduction

For as long as I can remember my family has always been into sports. Destiny deemed it so. My mom was a high school cheerleader and my dad was a high school football player. They took me to college basketball games in an infant carrier. My dad coached little league football and dragged me to those football games. As my brother grew up, My parents would drag me to his baseball games. I never played organized sports due to my disability. My parents still instilled in me a deep appreciation for sports. Some of my favorite moments in college basketball involve a good Cinderella story. I remember my dad and I watching the George Mason versus UConn game on March 26, 2006. We ripped up our very wrong brackets and rooted for George Mason all the way until their loss to Florida. The most memorable moment has got to be the VCU final four run in 2011. My parents are VCU alumni. They attend all the home games and took my brother and me with them. Thus my parents had traveled to Texas to watch VCU play. I remember the Florida State game, which set VCU up to face Kansas. At the time of the game, I was in the hospital alone. I had been suffering from back pain and numbness in my hands. Nobody could find out what was wrong with me. As I watch VCU play Florida state, It reminded me of humanity’s capacity to fight. I believe the appeal of sports touches our innermost belief that we can conquer all obstacles. We are obsessed with a good underdog story. This shows that we desire to see the little guy take on Goliath with nothing more than a slingshot and three stones. Sports remind us of human dignity.

What is Dignity

I have argued that the concept of dignity is multifaceted. Humans have inherent dignity by virtue of being members of Homo sapiens. Yet they also have a fuller dignity. This dignity comes from not who we are, but what we do. People refer to this definition when they say, “The person is behaving in a dignified way.” The Catholic Church agrees with me. The Catechism of The Catholic Church states,

The dignity of the human person is rooted in his creation in the image and likeness of God (article 1); it is fulfilled in his vocation to divine beatitude (article 2).

Humanity has dignity because humanity has God-likeness in them. Humanity receives their being directly from God,

then the Lord God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7 NABre).

God gave humanity his breath of Life. This means that we receive our being directly from God. Yet dignity is not inherently a religious concept, but a philosophical one.

A person can derive at the concept of dignity by asking what is the measure of a human being? At first, we refer to Aristotle and say that humanity is different due to our rational soul. However, we still consider vegetative persons human. Most people would concede that even babies born without rational capacity deserve respect. This respect forms the basis for our inherent dignity. Yet people also recognize that we lose something when we lose our ability to reason. What a person loses is the ability to fulfill their potential as human beings. This is what I mean by the term fuller dignity.

Is Autonomy enough

Steven Pinker in the article The Stupidity of Dignity wants to eliminate dignity all together in favor of autonomy. He says, “ because it [dignity] amounts to treating people in the way that they wish to be treated, ultimately it’s just another application of the principle of autonomy.”[^1] Pinker sees no difference between autonomy and dignity. I purpose the following thought experiment.

Imagine a world where every athlete has the option to take a drug that will make them stronger and faster. There are no side effects. They get put in a special league for people on the drug. Thus the competition is fair. Would you watch these sporting events?

Most people would not watch the league of super people because when it comes to sports we want to see human achievement. We want to see raw talent unaided by chemical processes. We intuitively feel there is something wrong with the special league of super people. Yet autonomy is never violated in the above scenario. Thus we need something more than autonomy to protect against unnatural enhancements. The concept we need is dignity.

One potential objection is that the drug is no different then external equipment. Yet in certain sports like swimming, the equipment is already regulated. Elite swimmer, Michael Phelps has spoken against whole-body polyurethane swimsuits because these swimsuits are, “distorting the sport.”[^2] Sports become distorted when it becomes more about equipment and less about human achievement.

Conclusion

Sports teach important life lessons. It teaches teamwork, good sportsmanship, and how to face defeat. More importantly, it shows us what humans endowed by their creator can achieve. We watch sports to see the capacity of humans. Human capacity matters because there exists something special about human nature. Catholics know that this specialness comes directly from God. We look up to athletes. They remind us that humans are amazing creatures destined for something greater. They remind us that every so often David can defeat Goliath. The next time you watch sports, let it remind you of the capacity for greatness that we all share.

[^1]: Pinker, Steven, “The Stupidity of Dignity” The New Republic (May 28, 2008), https://newrepublic.com/article/64674/the-stupidity-dignity

[^2]: Barrow, John D, “Why Ban Full-Body Olympics Swimsuits? A Scientist Explains Polyurethane” Daily Beast (July 25th, 2012), https://www.thedailybeast.com/why-ban-full-body-olympics-swimsuits-a-scientist-explains-polyurethane?ref=scroll

The Retrieval of Ethics: a Review

Introduction

From 2008-2011, I studied at the University of Virginia. I majored in philosophy with a minor in bioethics. I fell in love with the discipline of philosophy. I loved asking deep questions. One summer, I drove my mom crazy. I had been reading these deep philosophical books. I desperately wanted someone to discuss these big ideas. For example, I read, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. This book tackles deep issues such as cloning, organ donation, and the meaning of life. I never considered myself a good philosopher. Thus, I was completely shocked when I was nominated Most Outstanding Philosophy student. The award comes with a prize. The prize was a book titled The Retrieval of Ethics, by Talbot Brewer. I had promised to read his book. Yet life got in the way. The summer of my graduation I had neck surgery. Reading in a neck brace is no easy task. After my surgery, I entered law school and divinity school at Regent University. Needless to say, the heavy course work left little time for leisure reading. In 2018, I dusted off the book from my bookshelf and began to read. Admittedly, I struggled to understand the deeper philosophical arguments. Often I would re-read pages over and over underlining what I thought were the key points. In the end, Talbot Brewer says something interesting about our desires.

Three Dogmas of Desire

Brewer argues that modern philosophy needs to reconsider the nature of human agency. Brewer shows that the below argument is insufficient to explain human behavior.

  1. Desires are attitudes towards propositions
  2. Desires are distinguished from other propositional attitudes by the proper direction of fit between the world and mind
  3. Can formulate a rational explanation of any action by tracing it to it a belief/desire pair consisting in a belief that action will bring the world into conformity with some proposition and a desire takes the same proposition as an object[^1].

Brewer calls these three statements The Dogmas of Desire. He denies that statement 3 is true. Belief/desire pairs are not necessary or sufficient to provide a rational explanation. Belief/desire pairs are insufficient. There may be some object in which it may be impossible to determine how it could be good or worthwhile[^2]. Likewise, desires are not necessary. It is possible for an object to be intrinsically good and not desired by the actor.

Dialectical activities

Propositionalism is the idea that all action is a species of production. Thus it cannot explain why an action might be chosen for its own stake[^3]. According to the third dogma of desire, all desire action is calculated. This calculation produces some state of affairs in accordance with the idea in the actor’s mind. For example, I desire a pumpkin pie. Thus my actions would be calculated to make pumpkin pie come into existence. Yet according to Brewer, there is a certain type of actives that do not fit this model.

Brewer coins the term dialectical activities. This term describes the type of activity propositionalism cannot easily explain. He defines dialectical activities as all those activities whose point lies in any intrinsic goodness that is opaque to those who lack experience[^4]. His first example is our desire for God or a divine entity

Desire for God

Brewer argues that desires are not merely a set of movements towards different goals. Rather there exists a unifying principle. Brewer states that “The most comprehensive dialectical activity is the activity of living a good life.”[ ^5]. He turns to Augustine’s Confessions. in order to support this statement. Brewer describes how Augustine’s earlier desires were not substituted by his longing for God. Rather all of his earlier desires were a futile attempt to fulfill the longing he already had. Thus Brewer concludes that dialectic desires exceed a desirer’s articulation of it[^6]. Yet a desirer may arrive at a fuller articulation after experience[^7]. Brewer coins this attribute as perfectibility.

Brewer furthers his argument with references to Gregory of Nyssa and Plotinus. The former described the desire for God as a memorizing attraction to a good wholly present[^8]. This cannot fit the propositional framework since the desire is directed at a person, not an object[^9]. Plotinus described the human encounter with the Good. It was not as an intellectual exercise, but rather the response to an attraction. Furthermore, Plotinus thought that goodness comes not from striving. Rather it comes from “a loving desire oriented towards a divine mind”[^10]. Brewer uses these examples to make a philosophical statement on human agency. Yet philosophy is not the only area which needs to reclaim dialectical activities. Religion also needs to emphasize the dialectical nature of a desire for God

Impact on Religion

If Brewer is correct, then our desire for God is best oriented towards encountering a person. We cannot desire God out of a desire to be good or a desire to be one with God. This has implications for religious formation. The church has emphasized programs and parish’s renewals. These help to stem the tide of those leaving the church. Yet these programs and renewals aim at education or community building. Very few programs offer opportunities to encounter God.

I volunteer with the youth. I can get bogged down with teaching the information. I forget that encounters with God are really important. Youth encounter God through the Bible, sacraments, and adult leaders. Faith formation programs need to show how God satisfies our the longing. They need to show why other desires will be futile attempts. Philosophically speaking, humans need an overarching desire to unify their life. If they cannot find it in the sacred, they will turn to the secular.

[^1]: Brewer, Talbot. The Retrieval of Ethics. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009) 16.

[^2]: Brewer, 35.

[^3]: Brewer, 37.

[^4]: Brewer, 39.

[^5]:Brewer, 49.

[^6]: Brewer, 51.

[^7]: Brewer, 51.

[^8]:Brewer, 57.

[^9]: Brewer, 58.

[^10]: Brewer 59.

March for Life Controversy: A Response to Covington

Last Friday, January 18th The March for Life took place in Washington D.C. People from all walks of life come to protest against the legality of abortion. For this reason, the event has become highly politicalized. I attended The March for Life myself three years ago. I went with the Young Adult group at Holy Spirit parish. We attended The Life Is Very Good Rally in Fairfax, Virginia. Then we traveled from Fairfax to Washington D.C for The March. It was very crowded and we had a hard time finding parking. Nevertheless, I marched with a thousand others all united behind one idea. This gave me an exhilarating feeling. The event empowered me to want to help defend the vulnerable and defenseless. For this reason, I am sad to hear about the controversy that surrounded this year’s March for Life.

The Controversy

During this year’s March For Life, an altercation occurred. The altercation was between Covington Catholic high school students and Native American protesters. There appears to be a standoff between one of the high school boys and Nathan Phillips. In this post, I will attempt to break down what happened. I will then state some problems that occurred. I will attempt to draw a non-partisan neutral conclusion.

For those interested, the above is a link to an hour-long unedited video of the event.

The Players

The first party on the scene is the Black Hebrew Israelites group. If you have ever been to Washington D.C you have seen this group. I had the unfortunate luck to run into them in Chinatown. They tend to preach a lot of racist and nasty things. The first hour of that video attests to this fact. It should be noted that they say some nasty things about the high school youth as well

The second party on the scene is the Covington Catholic boys. They start appearing around 58 minutes in the video along with other young people. They were done with the March and waiting for their bus. At 1:09 in the video they appear to get anxious and rowdy. They claim they were chanting their school song. In my opinion, it looks no different than the way we behave at a basketball game or football game. I cannot make out what they are saying. One young man does take his shirt off and dance. They continue chanting, clapping, and dancing even after approached by Nathan Phillips.

The third party is Nathan Phillips. He walked into the crowd of teenagers. He beat his drum and chanted. He claims he was trying to defuse a tense situation. He approaches a young man, who for whatever reason does not move. They start at each other until the young men leave the buses. He claims that he heard chants of build a wall. He claims the students were mocking him.

Summary of the event

For those, who do not want to watch the video or do not have time, here is a neutral description of the events.

  1. Catholic students attended the March for Life.
  2. After March was over, students were instructed to wait by Lincoln memorial
  3. Black Hebrew Israelites were preaching

  4. Called students racial slurs

  5. Students start chanting and getting rowdy

  6. Native Americans begin their protest

  7. Nathan Phillips approaches the group of students

  8. Student’s continue to chant and be rowdy

  9. Nathan Phillips stops in front of one of the young men and there is a standoff

Problems and unresolved issues

Obviously, clips of this video have gone viral. These viral clips have caused a divide among Americans. Catholics are especially divided. After all one of the parties in question is a Catholic high school. I personally feel that all parties handled the situation in a negative way.

1. The Media

The media initially put a spin on the story. They made the high schoolers look bad by over exaggerating the facts. For example, they stated that the students swarmed around Nathan Phillip. When in reality he walked up to them. In the eagerness to report breaking news, the media failed to do its diligence. Meanwhile, the story goes viral. This leads to the high school becoming a hashtag and the young boys becoming vilified. Likewise, the media is quick to believe that those in the minority are the victim. Now I am not saying the young men were angels and Nathan Phillips was not victimized. Yet it is not so black and white or cut and dry as the media claims.

2. Nathan Phillips

Nathan Phillips testimony is unreliable. Why did he say that the young men surround him when he walked up to them? Why did he say they chanted build a wall, when it’s unclear what they chanted? We must remember that this man was part of a protest. Thus regardless of his intentions, he has an agenda. We must take his testimony seriously, but we must also take the young men’s testimony seriously. The truth is likely somewhere in between.

3. Adults

My question upon hearing about the event has always been, Where are the adults? Why did they not know a protest was happening at the Lincoln Memorial? Why not move the pickup location elsewhere? Why did they think encouraging school chants was appropriate? Why didn’t they stop once it escalated? The young men should have behaved better, but the adult chaperons and the school failed them. They failed to prepare the young men on how to act appropriately. They failed to provide enough volunteers to accompany a group that size. I work with youth. They can be very rowdy. Yet you should have their respect enough to calm them down.

4. MAGA hats

The high school should have discouraged wearing the MAGA hats in such a politically charged environment. A Catholic institution, it should not have political affiliation with a particular person. Jesus was not a republican or democrat. Rather Catholic social justice incorporates both party lines. It advocates for providing help for the poor and immigrants. These are traditionally democratic issues. Yet it also advocates for pro-life stances and traditional marriage. These are traditionally Republican issues. The church has said that Catholics cannot vote for any non-pro-life candidate. Beyond that, it has neglected to make any political statement. The young men represent a Catholic institution. Thus they should also be encouraged to endorse a similar nuance. The school unwillingly made the young men targets for a political agenda.

5. The Youth’s behavior

I believe that the youth behaved in an insensitive way. They were attempting to participate in a protest they did not understand. They were encouraged by adults to be loud and rowdy. This behavior can be misconstrued as hostile. Rather than trying to drown out the protesters, they should have turned the other cheek. Regarding the young man, who stared down Nathan Phillips, my question is why? Were you confused? Were you pressured? Did you think that was appropriate behavior? If the young man moves out of the way we would have no controversy. Yet I do believe a lot of adults would not have moved out of the way and would have behaved much worse. We must remember that these are teenagers and not adults.

Conclusion

As a Catholic, I am disappointed. Covington Catholic High school did not prepare the students to witness a protest. They did not have enough adult chaperons. They allowed the youth to make a political statement by wearing the MAGA hats. Yet the Native American protesters and the Black Hebrew Israelites escalated things. All parties failed. We can go around pointing fingers and calling people names. Yet at the end of the day, we can either continue to divide ourselves or acknowledge that all parties are wrong and life is not black and white.

 

 

My Experience with RCIA

Top Five Things To Help Get The Most Out Of RCIA

Introduction

As a young teenager, I wanted nothing to do with The Catholic Church or Confirmation. Mass was boring and irrelevant to my life. God was either distant and hands-off or a fiction. Thus, when it came time for Confirmation, I decided not to participate. I did not want to profess something I did not believe. Fast forward 7 years later and I found myself interested in The Catholic Church once again. In order for a person to become Catholic, they must go through the RCIA process. RCIA stands for Rite of Christian Initiation for adults. It prepares adults and children over the age of 5 to receive the sacraments of initiation. These sacraments include The Sacrament of Baptism, Confirmation, and First Eucharist. As a Catholic Revert, who went through the RCIA process, I’d like to share my experience. I’d also like to share my top five tips for how to get through RCIA.

My Experience

My Catholic journey began by meeting with Chris Gross. He was the youth minister at St. Gregory the Great Parish. I had contacted him because I read he was a convert from Buddhism. At the time, I had a lot of questions. My own youth and young adult pastor was unwilling to meet with me. I remember sending an email to Chris and not expecting a reply. To my surprise, he did reply back and offered to meet me for lunch. We discussed the Catholic faith and he got me connected to the Young Adult groups in the area. He encouraged me to attend Mass. Thus I began parish hopping. I stumbled on Church of Ascension by attending adoration. I felt at home at Ascension. The music and welcoming environment reminded me of the churches I had attended in the past. I spoke with the Director of Religious Education about becoming Catholic. She asked me a few questions. She was impressed with my knowledge of the faith and put me on the six-month fast track. She assigned a sponsor to me. I must admit that I am grateful for the experience. Yet there were times where I felt incredibly lonely. Overall the process challenged me to be confident in what I knew and believed. There are things I wish I knew then that I know now. Thus, I hope the following will help others in RCIA.

Top Five Things To Help You Get The Most Out Of The RCIA Process

1. Get a Good Sponsor

I think most of my loneliness comes from not having anybody to attend Mass with or discuss the readings. I remember attending Mass during the third Sunday in Advent. Traditionally The Church uses purple when celebrating Advent. On this Sunday The Church uses pink to signify joy. As a new Catholic, I did not know the significance and my sponsor was unavailable to explain. Even when my sponsor was available, she would sometimes give me bad answers. For example, I struggled to differentiate between a mortal and venial sin. She said that a Mortal sin was anything that led us to deny God. A mortal sin is the deliberate choice to participate knowing that it is grave sin. Thus one should choose a sponsor, who is a Catholic in good standing and knowledgable about the faith. I would encourage candidates to attend daily Mass. People who attend daily Mass tend to be more serious about their faith.

2. Buy a Catechism

One of the most memorable moments of the RCIA process happened during a discussion on Hell. I don’t know how the discussion started. I remember distinctly that an older lady suggested that Hell did not exist. I tried to defend the existence of hell but was quickly drowned out by others echoing her opinion. As the conversation continued, I remember getting more and more confused. I didn’t know what The Catholic Church actually taught. I asked for what the catechism said, but nobody could tell me. The older lady rudely asked, “why do you need hell to exist?” I left that session utterly defeated. I remember going home and looking online for a catechism. I knew that if the Catholic Church taught annihilationism then I didn’t want to be Catholic. Luckily the catechism clarified that Hell exists eternally. If only I had owned a catechism before RCIA, I would have saved myself a lot of heartaches. Unfortunately, I trusted the teachers and sponsors, who were not always correct.

3. Get Involved With a Group

When I was in RCIA, I was also in law school. These two activities made it hard to get involved. I do regret not putting myself out there more because it would have allowed me to meet others. Sometimes when you attend events, it can feel confusing or overwhelming. One time I attended Adoration. There was a social afterward. The greeter asked me if I attended a parish or if I was Catholic. When I told him neither, he was quite confused. Yet at that event, I met a lot of the friends I have now.

4. Know the Saints

During Confirmation, a candidate has the choice of taking on a saint’s name. I originally had no intention of taking a saints name. As a convert, I had not really had the time to develop a relationship with a particular saint. As luck would have it, I receive an email, with a saint of the day. Through these emails, I became closer to the saints. One saint, St. Elizabeth Bailey Seton, stood out to me. I admired her because she raised a family and was the first saint born in the United States. She supported education, liked to write and was a convert to Catholicism. Saint stories can help us in our Christian walk because they live similar to us. If they can make it to heaven so can I.

5. Enjoy the Process

I know that the six-month wait that I faced is not as long as the traditional one year wait. Yet, I feel that my RCIA process could have been longer for me. I feel like I did not have time to bond with my RCIA class. I was already baptized and had received the first communion. Thus, I was allowed to partake in the Eucharist prior to my confirmation. In my opinion, this was a mistake. It made confirmation feel like a formality. I think I should have been made to wait like everyone else. So if you are eager to receive, know that the waiting makes the sacraments have more meaning.

Conclusion

RCIA offers a powerful opportunity to grow a deeper relationship with the Lord. One enters into a relationship with Christ, and with the Body of Christ, The Church. Yet The RCIA process is not easy. I faced loneliness and discouragement. Because of the grace of God I made it through. I hope that the above tips help those, who are also considering joining The Church.

Sabbath vs Lords day: What is the Big Deal?

Introduction

People always seem surprised when I tell them that I have seldom missed Mass. In fact, the only time I missed Mass in recent memory occurred during a snowstorm. Some people I have encountered view church as optional. They tend to believe that you can call upon the Lord anywhere. The New Testament has certain scriptures that seem to abolish the Sabbath requirement. Yet The Catholic Church makes observing The Lord’s Day a requirement. The Church makes it a mortal sin to miss church without a grave reason. Why does The Church care so much about our presence in a building? After all, Jesus spoke against the Sabbath in Luke 14:1-6. Like all biblical interpretations, context is important. The Catholic Church’s teachings reconcile the Old Testament scripture with the words in The New Testament.

Old Testament

Genesis 2:3

The first reference to a mandatory day of rest occurs in Genesis. Here, God is creating the universe. Then, we read Genesis 2:3

God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation. Genesis 2:3 (NABre).

We as the readers learn key things about the Sabbath. God made it a day of rest. We believe God is all powerful. He did not need the rest. Rather God is choosing to rest. This choice gives an example to humanity. God knows we need the rest. We learn that the 7th day is blessed. Thus when we set aside the 7th day, God blesses us. Last, this verse tells us that God made the 7th day holy. Thus, we should keep our mind on holy things. Thus The Church has decided to make the 7th day a time of corporate worship. When we get to the New Testament this will be further expanded upon. From Genesis, we learn that the Sabbath is a concept that directly comes from God and not man-made laws.

Exodus

The next mention of the Sabbath occurs in the book of Exodus. In this book, God rescues the Israelites from spiritual and physical slavery in Egypt. Once the Israelites reached Mount Sinai, God gives them a code of laws. God designed these laws to help set the Israelites apart from other pagan nations. When dictating these laws, God said,

Remember the sabbath day—keep it holy. Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God. You shall not do any work, either you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your work animal, or the resident alien within your gates. For in six days, the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day, he rested. Exodus 20:8-11(NABre).

So The Old Testament, The Book of Exodus marks the beginning of the Sabbath being encoded into the law. The Book of Leviticus, The Book of Numbers, and The Book of Deuteronomy all mention the Sabbath. In those books, the Sabbath is no longer a mere memorial for the creation of the world. Rather, The Sabbath commemorates God freeing the Israelites from Exodus. The Sabbath has become a form of corporate worship.

Call Upon the Lord

Yet some people point to verses like Psalm 145:18 as proof that one is not obligated to keep the Sabbath. Usually, people who make this argument focus on the first part of the verse, but ignore the second. Psalm 145: 18 says

the Lord is near to all who call upon him,
to all who call upon him in truth

The interpretation depends on how one defines calling upon the Lord in truth. In my Bible, there are two scriptures cited after this passage: Deu 4:4-10, and Isa 55:6. Deuteronomy says,

See, I am teaching you the statutes and ordinances as the Lord, my God, has commanded me, that you may observe them in the land you are entering to possess. Observe them carefully, for this is your wisdom and discernment in the sight of the peoples, who will hear of all these statutes and say, “This great nation is truly a wise and discerning people.” For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the Lord, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him?

Thus to have the privilege of calling upon the Lord, the Israelites must abide by the laws and statues. Calling upon the Lord is not merely making a request, it is submitting to the will of God. His will in the Old Covenant was to set aside a day to rest and honor Him.
So In the Old Testament, God instituted the Sabbath in order to provide us with a day of rest. He codified it as part of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:8-11. The Books of Deuteronomy, Numbers, and Leviticus provide information regarding the Sabbath practice. Obeying the Sabbath is necessary in order to call upon the Lord in truth.

New Testament

Yet we as Christians are not bound by only the Old Testament. We also follow the New Covenant established by Jesus Christ. A thorough examination of the scriptures shows that Christ honored the Sabbath. Yet he also challenged the authority at the time. He presented himself as a living sacrifice. He replaced the temple sacrificial system. Yet Jesus did not abolish the Old Testament law, but rather fulfilled it.

Jesus in the Gospel

We know that Jesus did not abolish the Old Testament law based on Matthew 19:16-17.

”If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”(NABre).

Jesus told the rich young man to keep the commandments. Hence, we as Christians are also obligated to keep the moral law. This moral law includes a prescription to keep the Sabbath holy and to rest. If that is the case, did Jesus do or say anything to undermine this commandment.

Luke 14:1-6

On a Sabbath he went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing him carefully. In front of him, there was a man suffering from dropsy. Jesus spoke to the scholars of the law and Pharisees in reply, asking, “Is it lawful to cure on the Sabbath or not?” But they kept silent; so he took the man and, after he had healed him, dismissed him. Then he said to them, “Who among you, if your son or ox falls into a cistern, would not immediately pull him out on the sabbath day?” But they were unable to answer his question Luke 14:1-6 (NABre).

Here Jesus deliberately heals on the Sabbath. This at first glance seems to undermine the authority of the Sabbath. The reality is that Jesus is not saying to not rest or worship God. Rather, the Israelites needed to be reminded about mercy. The Pharisees had interpreted a law to allow the untying of bound animals on the Sabbath. Jesus is extending that compassion towards humans, who are bound by affliction.

Matthew 12

Jesus also spoke about the Sabbath in Matthew 12:5-8

Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests serving in the temple violate the Sabbath and are innocent? I say to you, something greater than the temple is here. If you knew what this meant, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned these innocent men. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath

In Matthew 12, the Pharisees rebuke the disciples for picking the heads of grain on the Sabbath. In verse 5, Jesus mentions that the requirements of the temple outweighs the requirements of the Sabbath. If that is the case then Jesus’ presence outweighs the Sabbath as well since he is the son of God.

Jesus establishes a new covenant during the Last Supper. He gives us his flesh to eat in the form of bread and wine. This meal takes the place of the Passover meal. The Sabbath celebrated by the Jews commemorates God rescuing them from Egypt. The early Christian Church established The Lord’s day to celebrate The New Covenant.

Writings of the Early Church

St. Paul writes about the Sabbath in Colossians 2:16-17.

Let no one, then, pass judgment on you in matters of food and drink or with regard to a festival or new moon or sabbath. These are shadows of things to come; the reality belongs to Christ.

Here St. Paul says that the Jewish traditions were shadows of things to come. In other words, the Jewish traditions point to Christ. Christians do not need to celebrate the Sabbath but celebrate Christ. Yet the Sabbath rest is still a moral requirement. In Hebrews 4, the Bible says, “Therefore, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God. And whoever enters into God’s rest, rests from his own works as God did from his. Therefore, let us strive to enter into that rest, so that no one may fall after the same example of disobedience.”

The example of disobedience refers to the Israelites. They were given the promise land as a share of God’s rest but failed to honor the Sabbath.

In Hebrews 10:19-26, the Bible describes how Christ has replaced the Jewish temple worship.

Therefore, brothers, since through the blood of Jesus we have confidence of entrance into the sanctuary by the new and living way he opened for us through the veil, that is, his flesh, and since we have “a great priest over the house of God,” let us approach with a sincere heart and in absolute trust, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. Let us hold unwaveringly to our confession that gives us hope, for he who made the promise is trustworthy. We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works. We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another, and this all the more as you see the day drawing near. Hebrews 10:19-26

This passage opens by explaining that we can enter the Holy of Holies. Jesus Christ made a way through his flesh. The term flesh represents His sacrificial death on the cross and His flesh given to us in the Eucharist. The terms sprinkled clean and bodies wash with pure water refers to Baptism. Finally, the author of Hebrews states that we should not stay away from our assembly. The assembly refers to Christian house churches. These assemblies are described in the Book of Acts.

Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart Acts 2:46 (NABre)

Since there were not physical buildings yet, the early Church met in houses. The term break bread refers to the Eucharist. The Bible even tells us what day of the week these celebrations took place

On the first day of the week when we gathered to break bread, Paul spoke to them because he was going to leave on the next day, and he kept on speaking until midnight Acts 20:7 (NABre)

The early Christians broke bread on the first day of the week, which would be Sunday. Hence Sunday is now the new day of rest.

Conclusion

The Sabbath foreshadowed the celebration of The Last Supper. The former was a memorial to the Passover meal. It helped the Israelites remember how God rescued them from Egypt. Similarly, The Lord’s day memorializes Christ’s death on the cross. We break bread with one another as Christ commanded us to do. We are still bound by the moral command of the Old Covenant. This entails, “taking up its rhythm and spirit in the weekly celebration of the Creator and Redeemer of his people.” (CCC 2176). Therefore I ask you, what is more, important than honoring God through the breaking of the bread? If nothing is then why are you not observing the Lord’s day?