Sunday, July 24, 2016

What's Missing from Modern Education... in Two Commercials

Just recently I attended a seminar at Notre Dame on the relationship between science and religion. It was spectacular. I had the opportunity to listen to several preeminent scientists, as well as some incredible theologians, all of whom helped elevate my understanding surrounding both subjects. I took notes like a starving man scarfs down a meal. It was great to be back in the classroom as a student again, especially a student like myself who loves theology and philosophy. Education is wasted on the young, I tell you! OK, maybe it's more accurate to say that it was, to some degree, wasted on me.

While I am mature enough to appreciate this now, when I was in high school, I was not. Perhaps it is the nature of education today, or maybe it was my lack of maturity, but I believe that when I was in my teens my time would have been better served learning a trade. The truth is that while I enjoy transmitting important information in my capacity as a teacher, I feel- in a sense- an absence, especially as it relates to my capacity to create and fix things as a man.

Man is, by his nature, both a creator and a redeemer (simply consider the nature of the majority of the jobs out there), for he is made in the image and likeness of God. And while I am not a fan of the cynical (and simplistic) adage that states; "if you can't do… teach",  I do sometimes feel that there is a lot to be said for a saying like this in a world that is as abstracted as ours. Unfortunately, for the past several generations we have created a kind of one track system of education, suited primarily to an office-cubicle kind of world. Consequently, it is not only me who feels this longing for a more "physical" brand of education, but many of my students as well.

My students often complain of what they like to call this "race to nowhere" education, wherein they are made to jump through any number of hoops in order to satisfy the latest demands of college administrators. While some of this problem can be solved by a more purposeful and focused education- wherein teachers and administrators grasp the deeper motive for education, and where subject matter in one class works in harmony and dovetails with other subjects (as opposed to existing in hermitically separate containers), there is something more at issue here.

What I am getting at is more than just the importance of kids playing a sport, or involving themselves in some sort of extracurricular activities. All of this is essential, but certainly not off the radar as far as educators are concerned. The larger point here is about the kind of education imparted by St. Joseph, a master carpenter, who happened to teach our Lord how to employ his holy and venerable hands in the art of creating and redeeming.

This is not a criticism of those who do good work in the field of education today; rather it is an encouragement for our culture to return to the noble and necessary work of learning a trade, or rather to return to the "carpenter's bench" once again. Consider St. Paul, for example, who studied the Law as a Pharisee, but who also learned a important trade (he was a tentmaker).

The following commercials to a large extent reveal what's is wrong with our mentality today, celebrating cleverness and technological superiority over craftsmanship. These commercials exist for the general purpose of making light of our ancestors and their retrograde mentality, but what they reveal, in my opinion, is something quite to the contrary:

The ironic name given to this "backward" family are the "Settlers". Obviously it is meant to be a double entendre, and the humor is well taken, but there is also a reverse humor, and I wonder if the makers of this commercial actually see it. We as a society have also become "settlers", but in an entirely different sense. So great is our obsession with technology that we actually have the nerve to mock people that are in reality better fit for long term survival in this world than ourselves.

In truth, we have built our various DirecTVs on the back of craftsmanship and innovation of our ancestors, who all too often worked their fingers to the bone to create a world stable enough for the leisure that we assume is our right today. We live in technological castles in the air, while they chose to build their lives on the rock of things fashioned from the earth. In any other age of the world- these so called backward "Settlers" would not only have been the ones who survived, but also those who serve as the backbone of society. By contrast, the "superior" family next door would in all likelihood have wound up becoming some sort of Darwinian casualty.

In the following GE commercial, similar humor is employed (i.e. prior generations can't seem to appreciate the technological savvy of the current generation). However, by the end of the commercial, as you will see, one is left wondering whether this kind of physical impotency is really a good thing after all:

It is possible that these commercials are attempting to make light of both world views, and truth be told, that is my take away- even if it is not intended by the company. However, in terms of real world application, it is hard not to come away from these ads thinking that we have lost something along the way far more than essential our "boiled clothes" or our "grandpappy's hammer". Indeed, creatures made from the soil of the earth after all, and the more we neglect that aspect of ourselves, the more we imperil future generations by placing undue focus on only one aspect of our being.

Do you genuinely believe that the young man in the above commercial would survive in a world of even slightly harsher conditions? Obviously, we need all sorts of people to run the world today, but right now with all of the "tablet toddlers" and "computer kids" out there, could anyone possibly argue that what the world needs now is a greater proliferation of screens with eyes glued to them?

And so it may be that the kings and queens of the future world are the plumber and the tentmaker, the carpenter and the cloth merchant. For if we need the above technology at all (and I believe we will), it will certainly not be for the purpose of useless entertainment, but rather for the kind of technological advances that allow us transmit the necessary means and methods of survival across the face of the earth, much like the monks' were able to do during the Dark Ages of Europe.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Millennials and Micro-Agressions: Why Our "Victim Culture" Needs the Sacrament of Confession More Than Ever

In adolescence we often believe (at least subconsciously) that all the good that has come to us is there on account of our own worthiness, while all the bad things are the result of the failings of those who reared us. The first day of spiritual adulthood truly begins when one realizes, not so much that everyone in the world is innocent, but rather that while we were spending our time assessing the faults of others, we ourselves were accruing a sizable debt.

In the past (or so it seemed), people tended to grow out of this behavior relatively quickly, after all, who would really have the time or patience for this kind of self-pitying narcissism? Today, unfortunately, this "victim culture" is somehow thriving and has much more of a market (as well as an audience).

Somewhere along the line we have taught this generation how to confess everyone else's sins, but have forgotten the most important lesson (viz. how to confess their own). We have practically given them trophies for existing, while simultaneously teaching them to despise the ones who have given it to them. This modern day Pharisee has no problem dismissing virtues that have been embraced for the past three thousands years, while elevating to the level of unchanging dogma terms that were invented in the previous month.

Practically speaking, this has become a total nightmare for every day communication. For who knows where and when all of these verbal land mines will be detonated. Indeed, what was once thought to be a pleasantry, has inexplicably become an insult. What was once thought to be an act of chivalry is now an act of sexual aggression. And what was once thought to be a simple attempt at humor, has now become grounds for firing. This is not to say that there are no examples out there of behavior that is worthy of condemnation, however, the following video should make it quite clear just how far we've taken this "art" of being offended by everything:

One has always been able to find people in society who will say just about anything in front of a camera, but what makes our times particularly unique is that the people that are speaking in this video (and the following one) are quite sober and reasonable in their assessment of these questions.

Towards a Solution

The question is what has inspired this self-centered obsession with how others have failed us? Let us first consider Jesus' rather ironic saying about the danger of judging others; "You hypocrite, first take the beam out of your own eye, then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from the eye of your brother" (Matthew 7:5).

Here Jesus is describing something that is a physical impossibility, namely the reality of an entire plank/log of wood being lodged into the eye of a human being. The purpose of this hyperbole is to make a point about how hypocrisy distorts and disfigures our perception of the world around us.

In other words, when we enthusiastically set ourselves up as the supreme judge of the goodness of others, we are so comically off base that we are worthy of a kind of satirical mockery (and so Jesus in essence does just that). At any rate, if we had even an ounce of humility we might see just how merciless and disproportionate our judgments are under these circumstances (an idea that is embodied in this saying).

Yet the point here is less about what our neighbor did or didn't do, and more about our own failure to recognize what needs correcting in ourselves. By neglecting this essential discipline, the faults of others become significantly (and mysteriously) magnified. As we become more innocent in our own eyes, others become increasingly guilty. It's magic!

In the meantime, we are so preoccupied with our campaign of perfectibility, that we progressively find ourselves incapable of even listening to such "offensive" personages, fearing that even the sound of their voice might taint us. Consequently, not only are we offended by most everything, but we go about looking for further opportunities of being offended, like some child in the first grade (or Pharisee) taking pleasure in tattling. Indeed, these hypocrites love the sin, but hate the sinner.

However, what Jesus is saying here is not merely that personal hypocrisy is a bad thing, but rather even more importantly, that self-recrimination is something which is good and necessary. To put it another way, if we do ponder our faults and failings before launching into an attack on others, we may well see their faults in the proper proportion (faults that are quite frequently more forgivable than we first thought), an initiative that might genuinely lead to the resolution of the problem as opposed to a shouting match.

There is a tremendous difference between pointing out failings and trying to resolve them. In this case, Jesus isn't simply looking for his followers to have a proportionate response to the wrongs committed by others, but an attitude of remedying the situation. To remove a splinter from someone takes tremendous caution and care (I think of a mother trying to remove a tiny splinter with tweezers), not the reckless bluster that we often bring to these occasions.

For these reasons (and many more), the Sacrament of Penance is needed more than ever today. Where else in our society is this form of self-accusation encouraged? Where else do we encourage individuals as a practice to critique themselves? To many individuals today, such criticism amounts to masochism, or a kind of self-harm, but to the one who practices it in reasonable measure, it is the key to seeing everything, including ourselves, in the proper light.

According to Scripture, before we can take an account of anyone else's transgressions, we must take a full accounting of our own. And if after we're done judging ourselves with sufficient care and circumspection we still have the strength to pick up stones and hurl them at others, then we should proceed with utmost caution, knowing that we too must be forgiven for our failings.

However, if (on the other hand) you find yourself a little less ferocious and little more humble after examining your conscience, you may want to use the rest of your strength to figure out how to heal a particular situation as opposed to exacerbating it.

By pointing the finger at ourselves before blaming others, and by marshaling our efforts towards a regimen of self-improvement, we  develop a healthy sense of conscience. This is not to be confused with a destructive negativity which seeks to turn everything into a sin, as our "victim culture" is wont to do, but rather to turn every moment into an opportunity to be the best version of ourselves.

As an adult, there are far fewer opportunities for genuine self-critique (in childhood it is built into the natural framework of things), but by developing a gentle spirit of self-examination, we can learn to hold ourselves to account and work towards improvement. In confession we get to observe the plank in our own eye, because we actually stand outside of ourselves and see our lives "flashing before our eyes". We take, as it were, a God's eye view. It is a judgment day of sorts, but on the bright side, when we take the initiative to call ourselves out first, we know that the story will end in our favor.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Best Scriptural Evidence for Saintly Intercession That You've Probably Never Heard

On a purely practical level, the intercession of the saints makes perfect sense to me. Yes, God is everything to me, but he's not the only thing. In other words, I cannot navigate life without the assistance of God's creatures (both living and dead). Whether it is the immediate help of a friend whom I ask for assistance, an ancestor who assisted in my physical existence, or better still, some historical figure whom I've never met before, but who is nevertheless responsible for much of the wisdom and prosperity that I enjoy in my culture today. In this sense, then, man does not live by God alone.

If this weren't really the case, then why would we even begin to thank anyone for anything? Indeed, where there's a will, and some good received, then gratitude should ensue. It brings to mind that popular joke about the man drowning, who refuses various forms of help/intercession under the pretext that "God will save him." He eventually drowns, and subsequently finds himself standing before God, only to discover that God had employed those aforementioned individuals as agents of His saving help. We are not mere puppets of God, we are, by His generosity, partners and ambassadors of his plan for salvation.

And that all makes perfect sense to me on a practical level. But looking for clear Biblical evidence that human beings can come to our assistance post-mortem, always poses a bit of a challenge for any number of reasons. Thus, when I heard last Thursday's Mass readings I had to take a double take. I've heard numerous individuals invoke the book of Revelation (e.g. Rev. 5:8 and 8:3-4) as a defense of the doctrine of intercession, but I always found the argument somewhat unconvincing- if only because divine activity is so other-wordly and symbolic (how could it be anything else). And this is part of the difficulty in making the case. How do we make something so other-worldly, a little bit more "earthy"… if only for a moment?

Enter the prophet Elisha and last week's reading:

"Then Elisha, filled with the two-fold portion of his (Elijah's) spirit, wrought many marvels by his mere word. During his lifetime he feared no one, nor was any man able to intimidate his will. Nothing was beyond his power; beneath him flesh was brought back into life. In life he performed wonders, and after death marvelous deeds."  Sirach 48:12-14 

Had I misread the passage? I read it again. No, that's precisely what it said "after death he performed miracles." The critique I had always heard about the intercession of the saints seemed refuted by this simple statement. Whenever I had previously attempted to draw the analogy of human and divine behavior, I was often reminded by those attempting to refute this that the rules of this life don't apply on the other side of the curtain. In this life, I was told, you are allowed to accomplish Godly works for the sake of the kingdom, but after death, not so much. And yet, here was a verse, one that I do not remember ever having read, before suggesting something suspiciously like a saint interceding after his physical death. How much more direct do we need it to be? I'll state it again; "After death he performed marvelous deeds".

This is not to suggest that Elisha is in some kind of competition with God. Quite the contrary, the point is death does not change our ability to love God and serve our neighbor. As a matter of fact, one might argue that our close proximity to God in the next life might only serve to bolster our efforts in this respect.

All the same, one may point out that Sirach is part of the Septuagint, and not accepted as part of the Protestant canon. And indeed, if there were no related verses to support my claim, I would agree that my argument would seem to be on shaky ground. However, what is most compelling to me about this passage is not simply what it says, but rather that it further corroborates and clarifies another passage which is in every Christian Bible:

"Elisha died and they buried him. Now the bands of Moabites would invade the land in the spring of that year. As they were burying a man, behold, they saw a marauding band; and they cast him into the grave of Elisha. And when the man touched the bones of Elisha he revived and stood up on his feet."     Kings 13:20-21

Hence, not only was Elisha capable of performing miracles in this life, but apparently, as both passages suggest, he "performed marvelous deeds" even after death. What marvelous deeds you may ask? See the aforementioned passage. In one fell swoop these corresponding texts not only point to the possibility of holy figures effecting miracles after death, but something still more shocking, that healing exists quite literally within their very bones.

The healing handkerchief of St. Paul  -Acts 19:12

From the Catholic perspective, these relics are not seen as an amulet, but rather derive their potency from the same Source they always did. Whether in life or death, the prophet's power comes from their unshakable union with God. Still, one common counter argument to this claim goes something like this; "prophets may have been necessary before Christ, but now that Christ has come and died once for all, there is no longer a need for them." Yet Christ did not come to abolish saints and prophets, rather he came- as the following prophets suggest- to share his intercessory power with all of his people, not just a select few:

"And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Moses, answered and said; 'My lord Moses, forbid them!' And Moses said unto him. Enviest thou for my sake? Would God that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!"
                                                                                                          Numbers 11:28-29

"And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Yours sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions"
                                                                                                       Joel 2:28

Were not these very words of Hebrew Scriptures fulfilled at Pentecost… and afterwards?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Why Are Catholics So Exclusive About Holy Communion!? 14 Ways to Approach This Delicate Issue

Recently I attended a Baccalaureate Mass, and I couldn't help but to feel the generally awkward vibe that tends to arise whenever Communion comes around, especially when the priest must explain that those who aren't Catholic may come forward and receive a blessing, but may not otherwise partake in the reception of Holy Communion. Maybe I am projecting, but it seems to me that such a statement (however gently uttered) can often come across as somewhat gosh and rude, especially in a climate where the very mark of politeness is to never exclude anyone from anything.

Thus, in our world today, the question is how might one even begin to explain the rationale behind something that seems to an outsider little more than an imperious dictate of the Catholic Church? Below I present ten possible approaches to this dilemma of hospitality. There are no quick fixes below because there are no quick fixes to the divisions among Christians. Yet, if nothing else (hopefully), there is at least the possibility of offering a more gratifying and sympathetic response than what tends to be the case (this is assuming that people attempt at all). Exceptions to this rule are duly noted, but this is more a guide to how to broach the topic in a way that invites discussion rather than a purely awkward exchange. Incidentally, this is not an indictment of any priests particular style, but rather some further options for those who wish to offer an explanation to friends, family, or anyone else who may be interested.

1. An Appeal to the Sacred

One approach might involve focusing on the preciousness of this Sacrament in the life of Catholics. Everyone (presumably) has something that they would deem priceless, something that they would cringe to think that someone might abuse, mock, or mishandle (a family heirloom, a daughter, a bullied child). Figure out what that person holds in highest regard, and use this as a metaphor to explain why the Church is so particular about how the Eucharist should be safeguarded. Thus, if one can understand the need for reverence in the one instance, how much more warranted would such behavior be when handling God Himself.

2. An Appeal to Intimacy

Another way to explain the Church's view surrounding the Eucharist involves employing the language of romance and intimacy. To put it another way, just as one shouldn't use the gift of sexuality in an indiscriminate way, neither should one approach communion with God (viz.  becoming one with God) as if it required nothing up front. Just as it is loathsome and dangerous to speak of God's name carelessly and without affection, or to enter the marriage bed without first being married, so also this act of union with God must be entered into fearfully via a covenantal process.

3. A Club/Organizational Approach

No matter what the organization, if you are invited as a guest to attend a function, it is more than a little presumptuous to assume that you would immediately participate as a full member would. In order to be a true beneficiary of all of the most cherished traditions of an organization, one cannot simply swoop in for a meeting (or a game) and expect to be a full participant. You must, as it were, go through the appropriate channels and rites of passage in order to enjoy what full memberships entails. To participate in the Eucharist in this sense is much more than just something you do because you prefer to to be included in the ceremony. Rather, it is a testimony, a sign of your absolute commitment and dedication to the mission and purpose of the organization (or at least that is as it should be). Can the individual who wishes to receive the Eucharist in this instance say this about their intentions?

4. Not Receiving Communion Can Also be a Sign of One's Dignity

If you reject the pope's authority to speak infallibly on matters of faith and morals, or you do not believe that the Catholic Church is the true of Church of Christ, then you should not be ashamed to declare this. One of the best ways to assert this conviction is by not receiving communion at Mass. Whatever you deem to be true in the most noble sense of the word, you should hold it with conviction and purpose. There is a certain power in knowing what you believe and what you do not. However, to state on the one hand that you reject the Church's authority, while simultaneously receiving a Sacrament that states that you embrace it, seems at best confusing. There is something beautiful in receiving communion for good reason, and something beautiful in abstaining for good reason. Both of these choices are no doubt honored by God.

5. A Scriptural Approach

If you grew up like me hearing stories about the Ark of the Covenant, and how you didn't touch it lest you encounter the wrath of God, then you too may have had a healthy fear of God's Holy Vessel. Hence, if the exterior of the ark was so dangerous to touch, then how much more dangerous would it be to touch all that was inside (i.e. the manna, the Commandments, and the rod of Aaron). According to Raiders of the Lost Ark (which is of course a highly reputable source), to even open the Ark could lead, inevitably, to a face-melting experience. Fast forward to the new Testament, wherein St. Paul warns in a similar fashion that to receive this "new manna" in an "unworthy" manner, can potentially lead to physical illness or death, and may even kill the soul altogether. Consequently, it is not out of a lack of hospitality or kindness that the Church places limitations on who can receive holy Communion, but rather out of obedience to what St. Paul says. These are fearful matters (in both senses of the word). And so, like the Ark, it would behoove everyone (including/especially Catholics) to "use as directed."

6. The Standard Applies to Everyone... Equally

The question I sometimes ask my student's is this; "Are there situations in which Catholics are not permitted to receive Communion?" Yes. Why? And eventually they come to it. The rules for Communion weren't established as a rebuke for Protestants, but as a standard for everyone, including Baptized Catholics. One could just as well say that the rules of communion are in place to prevent (in certain instances) baptized Catholics from receiving communion. Any human can receive Communion, no matter what religion or denomination they hail from, and any human may potentially be prevented from receiving communion, even if they are Catholic. The ultimate litmus for receiving communion is not what background you are from, but whether or not you choose to be in communion with the Catholic Church… for that is, in part, what the action itself implies. As for myself, I do not receive communion because I am a baptized Catholic, I receive it because I will, by the grace of God, to remain in union with the Church. Anyone else may do as much.

7. Turning the Question Around

Do Protestants ever limit who can or cannot receive communion? Up until about fifty years ago, most Protestant denominations did not permit inter-communion for the same reason Catholics do not today. If you didn't share the same beliefs, why would you then share a covenantal meal with them that suggested that you did? Today, however, many denominations insist that as long as you are baptized you may receive communion. Yet this too begs the questions; "Why should we draw the line there? Isn't that too exclusive? Suppose someone of good will would like to receive communion, but they are not Christian. Why exclude them? And what does communion mean as a concept in the first place?" By addressing the question in this fashion, it may expose something which has progressively gone missing from Christian theology- the importance of the sacred (i.e. that which is set apart for God). In the process of avoiding the appearance of any inhospitality, we have sacrificed the sacred in many ways. Indeed, by leveling off everything, we have massaged away the things that truly distinguish us (i.e. sacred objects, sacred rites, sacred books, and sacred names). Thus, by progressively opening communion to everyone, we slowly have abolish the very meaning of it.

8. …But What About Those Who Believe That the Eucharist is More Than a Symbol

To repeat, the reception of Holy Communion (assuming one is in a state of grace) is the ultimate sacramental sign that one is in union with the Catholic Church. If the individual attending Mass is a Protestant, and wants to receive communion, the question then becomes are you really on board with all  Church teaches (i.e. The Church's teaching on sexuality, Mary, the Eucharist etc.)? If you do not wish to subscribe to these ideas, then why would you publicly engage in an activity which states otherwise? And if you do believe all of these things… then why aren't you already Catholic? This line of reasoning may have particular force, especially for those who maintain that the Eucharist is much more than just a  symbol (viz. Episcopalians and Lutherans). The theological differences surrounding the Eucharist may seem negligible from their perspective (i.e. transubstantiation vs. consubstantiation… see above image), but the larger issue still remains. Receiving Communion is not only about saying "Amen" to the theology of the Eucharist, but about saying "Amen" to everything that the Church holds definitively.

9. Confronting the Charge of Inhospitality

It is not inhospitable to balk at a house guest who thinks it perfectly natural to enter someone else's home and start dictating the rules of the house. I certainly wouldn't go to someone else's home and do the same. The Church continues to open her schools, hospitals, charities and places of worship to those of different religious persuasions, but she also asks respectfully not be forced to compromise the values that she holds most dear.

10. An Historical Explanation

Lord, I am not worthy to receive you...

Most individuals simply look at this issue in the context of modern day society. Thus, it may be useful to consider this issue from a larger historical perspective. In other words, historically speaking, what has the Church taught concerning this issue throughout history.  For the most part, Catholic teaching hasn't changed on these matters. It's not as if the Protestant Reformation happened, and all of sudden the Church started excluding people from Communion. What the Church did pre-Reformation, the Church did post-Reformation, and what she did from the jump, the Church does today. It has been the historical been practice of the Church to exclude from communion those who do not practice the Catholic Faith in all its essentials (or those who publicly reject it). No one is worthy of the Eucharist (which is why we state as much at the Mass). Catholics receive it not because we are "worthy", but because, among other things, we accept Catholic teaching (e.g. "real Presence"), and remain united to the Faith, whatever our own personal shortcomings. Exceptions can be made in cases where people believe, and wish to convert, but for whatever reason are limited by their circumstances. However, the common denominator in all of these situations is a concrete desire to identify one's self with the Catholic teaching.    

11. What About the Orthodox Churches?

I do not begrudge the fact that the Orthodox Churches prohibit me from receiving Holy communion at their Liturgies (incidentally, they do it for the same reason the Catholic Church does it… see #10). Nor am I offended that, while they are permitted to receive communion at ours, their bishops will not allow it. Why doesn't it bother me? Leaving aside the whole complicated history, as well as the unique bond between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, anywhere that a religion regards the sacredness of an action so much that they take precautions to safeguard that action, I can truly appreciate that.  Hence, when the Jews get irritated with Christians for using the unutterable name of God in certain religious songs, I get it. And when Muslims believe that holy figures should not be depicted in any way, shape, or form, I can see the wisdom in that. And when the Mormons have a more "inclusive" religious service for anyone interested in the faith, while reserving a more private gathering for those who are committed Mormons, I do not see a problem with that. I am at peace with my own Faith, and I am happy whenever and wherever God is being honored, even if I am not privy given a "front row seat" at that affair. I do not need to be expressly included in a particular religious practice to appreciate and honor that practice. And if I were to be agitated by it, I should probably ask myself "why"?

12. What Should Priests Emphasize/Avoid

It is best to assume that most individuals are merely looking for instructions on what to do during this part of the Liturgy, rather than a theological explanation for why they can't receive communion. If you stop to dwell on the manifold reasons why some may receive and others may not, you may aggravate a situation that was otherwise copacetic. The point is a theological discourse should not be shoe-horned right before communion. Treat it as if it were assumed, and proceed from there, especially at those events that make this issue most challenging (i.e. funerals, weddings, and baccalaureates, etc.). The priest might say (or some variant thereof); "For those who are not Catholic, or for those Catholics who may not receive Communion at this time for whatever reason, please feel free to come up for a blessing, simply indicate this by…". I like to call it the "nothing to see here" approach. In my experience, explanations of a longer sort are more positively received when they are either addressed one on one, explained in a well articulated homily, or even provided in a written explanation in the program where one can read it without feeling that there are in the spotlight. Obviously this will not solve every issue, but avoiding certain "unforced errors" in this regard can be important when it comes to not exacerbating the problem.

13. Whatever your approach, say it with love and vulnerability  

In all of this there should be love, charity, and vulnerability, not only for God's sake, but for the sake of one's neighbor. I know this from personal experience. The first time I ever tried to invite someone to Mass- and subsequently explain to them why they couldn't receive communion, it was nothing short of a disaster. I was "ham-handed" and extremely lacking in eloquence. My friend agreed to come with me to church, but after I botched the whole communion explanation, she rose up in rage, and declared angrily that "she didn't want to come to some my church anyway, especially one that thought that she wasn't good enough to receive communion". At that moment my heart broke, for that was the last thing I wanted to communicate. Right in front of her, I simply broke down. As she observed me, she suddenly had a change of heart, and began saying to me that she wanted to come after all. Her anger was miraculously quenched by my vulnerability under these circumstances. I am not arguing that you should weep your way out of every problem, but for whatever reason, my vulnerability helped to understand my motivation. This issue will not be resolved by avoiding it, or by coldly laying down the law. Christ was crucified not because he sternly shouted out a bunch of dictates, but because with arms wide open, he spoke the truth in love.  

14. The Sacrament Will Be Defined Down….          

Not only is intercommunion a problem from an integrity standpoint (i.e. how can it be "communion" if you share a different view about the nature and purpose of communion), but by allowing intercommunion you inevitably reduce the Sacrament to little more than a social convention, defined by popular opinion. In light of this, the Eucharist is doomed to become indistinguishable from the vague symbolic variants that are out there today. Communion is meant for everyone, but not without respect to some kind of assent of Faith. Thus, in the end, the real reason to set limits on the reception of Holy Communion has nothing to with looking down on anyone, and everything to do with preserving the integrity of the Sacrament. After all, how can we maintain an appropriate level of reverence for Christ truly present in the Eucharist, if we do not even require that the one who receives it actually accepts this fact?           

Sunday, May 29, 2016

What I Saw from the Choir Loft on Pentecost Sunday... and How it Changed My Conception of the Holy Spirit

Catholic art is not just there to be pretty, it is there to preach, or rather it is attractive because it has something profound and beautiful to say. I remember somebody once referring to the Holy Spirit rather condescendingly as simply a "bird", pointing out just how weak the symbolism is. In fairness, he was trying to encourage a more interesting discussion surrounding the Holy Spirit by suggesting that we could do a lot better than offering forth a "boring old bird" as the third Person of the Blessed Trinity.

Nevertheless, I would suggest that the problem isn't the "bird", but the lack of an artistic imagination on the part of those who behold this image. The key is to see these winged creatures as a child sees them. The creature isn't boring, we are. When we were children and saw a swallow ascending like a kite, who among us did not take flight with them? And what about those stories we heard as children (and the pictures we saw) of those ancient birds known as pterodactyls? What about the hummingbird, or the bluebird (on our shoulder, as it were)? And how "boring"is it to take a flight in a dream, or on a plane or in a parachute for that matter?

I say this not because it is always easy for me to come up with an inspiring images for the Holy Spirit, but because I too must do the "leg work" of the imagination if I'm going to be inspired with gratitude for the Spirit.

Consequently, what I observed from the choir loft this past Pentecost gave me quite a head start in this department. High above the congregation, and far from the priest and the altar, I experienced one of the most magnificent gestalt-switches imaginable, a trick of the eye that immediately provoked a deeper contemplation of the Holy Spirit. Maybe it was my imagination, or maybe it was intended by the creator of the iconographic image (or maybe it was some combination of both). What is irrefutable is the fact that it deepened my gratitude for the Holy Spirit.


First of all, while casually observing the priest from the choir loft, what I perceived on his chasuble was what seemed to my eyes to be the Holy Spirit "dive-bombing" humanity. When Jesus was baptized in the river Jordan, Scripture says that the heavens were "torn open" and the Spirit descended like a dove. Notice, Scripture never claims that the Spirit is a dove as such. Rather, the Gospels say that the Holy Spirit descended "like" a dove. At any rate, in this context the image struck me with incredible force, the notion that the Holy Spirit- like some youth waiting to get into a rock concert- rushing forth in a riot of divine energy, as the gates of heaven are torn asunder. Indeed, what a mind-blowing paradox, the dove of peace, appearing almost (as in the photo below) like some sort of divine arson.

Surrounding this particular type of Holy Spirit imagery, it is not uncommon to see accompanying streaks and flames that attend the action of the Spirit, ready to set the world ablaze with the love of God. Yet these streaks surrounding this Holy Bird also appear, at least to the untrained eye, to represent the tremendous speed at which the Spirit is traveling. He is like a doctor rushing with urgency to reach an ill patient, as if having in his possession some sort of vaccine, an antidote desperately needed on account of a world-wide pandemic. And perhaps the reason he leaves traces of fire wherever he passes is due to the pure speed at which he travels (like a Marvel comic book hero).

Secondly, I observed something of which I am far less certain, but which is nevertheless the very thing that inspired this post in the first place. Because I was so far away from the altar, my imagination (and eyes) were able to take a little impressionistic journey. Indeed, as I squinted to look at the vestment, it occurred to me that not only was the Spirit "dive-bombing humanity," but the image also revealed something quite opposite, though anything but contradictory.

Much like those images that reveal one thing when you look at them one way, and something quite different when you look at them another (see above image), so also for me at the Mass that day. Yes, there was a dove facing downward, but as I looked a little bit longer, I also observed what appeared to be a kind of Firebird facing upward. Immediately I was reminded of images I had seen somewhere depicting the mythical creature known as the Phoenix rising from its ashes. In this upside down Gestalt, what was formerly the tail, now appeared to me to be the head tilted to the side, and what was previously the head of the dove,  now represented the ashes from whence this mystical bird arose.

Thus, it dawned on me that the gates of heaven were not just "torn open" so that the Holy Spirit could  rush upon us, but that we too, like the Spirit, could ourselves storm heaven. Was it a dream, or are my theological instincts correct? Quite possibly both. For in Baptism it has been revealed that we too will receive the "wings" of the Spirit. Indeed, is this not the whole point of the dogma of the Ascension, as well as the Assumption? As a matter of fact, if all of these theological dogmas are true, then we too should one day expect to soar into the choir loft of heaven, we too should expect to rise from the ashes of our demise, singing for joy, not like some "boring old bird", but rather like those beautifully terrifying and exotic creatures described in myths of old, as well as the ones detailed by John in the Book of Revelation.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Stand by Me: 5 Popular Songs Which Provide Key Insights into the Hidden Meaning of the "Stabat Mater"

I wouldn't be the first blogger to point out that a song like "Let it Be" has certain Marian overtones, but I may be the first one to point out a certain reoccurring Marian theme known as the Stabat Mater in popular music. May is the month of Mary, so usually we are inclined to hear a decent amount of flowery images surrounding the Blessed Virgin Mary (both literally and figuratively). However, the Stabat Mater is- in many ways- the opposite of that.  The phrase is associated with Mary’s presence at the foot of the cross during the crucifixion. In fact, during Stations of the Cross there is often a hymn by the same name which accompanies the reciting of each station.     

Translated, the Latin phrase means "the mother stood". On the surface, this is perhaps the least impressive thing that could ever be said about someone we are looking to emulate. "Sean stood", well, congratulations! Indeed, unless I was previously paralyzed, or had just come back from the dead, that is hardly an impressive feat. However, what I learned from listening to the Beatles, and other famous artists, was something quite unexpected. This innocuous little phrase is not only quite potent (if not poetic), but has been sung about and celebrated on more than a few occasions by a whole variety of artists.

How can this be (to use another Marian phrase)? I am not implying that these various artists have some kind of Marian devotion, but rather by virtue of their poetic insight, my own eyes have been opened (Emmaus style) to the beauty and power of a phrase that was formerly "hidden" from me.

1. The Beatles - Let It Be (Stabat as Comforter)

This song not only has "Marian overtones", it is practically a guide to Marian theology. I am well aware that Mr. McCartney wrote this song about his own mother Mary (and not the Mother of God), but need an artist always be completely aware of the profundity of his insight for the insight to be profound? I would love to ask Mr. McCartney if the phrase itself "Let it be" was an accident, or if he recognized the fact that it echoed Mary's fiat? I would love to ask him if he  recognized the fact that the lyrics seem to imply that this Mary is not only a mother for him individually, but a sign of hope for humanity in general? And lastly, and more pertinent to this post, I would love to ask him if he saw a parallel between his own mother coming to him at a dark time, and Mary at the foot of the cross?

"And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me, speaking words of wisdom, 'Let it be'"

This Lady of "Wisdom" does not pretend to take away the darkness, or remove the cross from the shoulders of the one who must bear it, but she does promise constancy, even while others abandon us. She stands with us until the darkness passes. Her burden is not that of the cross itself, her cross, as it were, is to watch her child suffer. Indeed, her cross is to stand firm and not fall apart beneath the weight of the agony of the one who is flesh of her flesh and bone of her bones.

2. Ben E. King - Stand By Me (Stabat as Companion)

"When the night has come and the land is dark, and the moon is the only light we'll see. No I won't be afraid no I won't shed a tear, just as long as you stand, stand by me… If the sky that we look upon should tumble and fall, or the mountains should crumble to sea. I won't cry, I won't cry, no I won't shed a tear, just as long as you stand, stand by me." 

This is another song with some very Biblical overtones. One might even call it apocalyptic (or at least as apocalyptic as early 60s music can be). In any case, I cannot help but to see a little of Golgotha (as well as the Gospels in general) in these verses; "From the sixth to the ninth hour darkness covered the land/ the sun was darkened… At that moment the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth quaked and the rocks were split." Matthew 27:45; 50

In this instance, the virtue of the Stabat Mater is quite clear: 'I can endure anything that hell throws at me, as long as I know that you are with me.' Without companionship in dark times, it is nearly impossible to avoid falling into despair. Consequently, only love can keep us strong in the face of death, and only the one who remains faithful to us through it all, can offer us a reason to hope in the face of misery.

3. The Pretenders - I'll Stand By You (Stabat as a Sign of Solidarity)   

One of the great virtues which tends to be present in the feminine is a willingness to "cover a man in his nakedness". In other words, when everyone else is running for cover, this lady is willing to stand with us. How difficult it is to endure the taunts, stares, and threats that accompany such a brave form of solidarity. As it relates to Jesus, this willingness to help "cover his nakedness" (for indeed he was naked), is something that few in Jesus' company were willing to do. Why? Beyond the potential threat to their lives, it was the larger burden of associating yourself with a loser, the guy, as it were, who "lost you the game", the one who will ensure that even your "friends" will have nothing more to do with you, especially if you continue to defend him. The ones brave enough to "stand" beside you under these circumstances, possess a form of moral courage that isn't so much measured by human activity, as it is by a willingness to prefer justice over human respect.

"I'll stand by, I'll stand by you. Won't let nobody hurt you. I'll stand by you. Take me in, into your darkest hour. I'll never desert you… I'll stand by you"

Perhaps my favorite Hollywood example of this was the time that Robert Downey Jr. defended Mel Gibson during an awards show ceremony.


4. Tammy Wynette - Stand by Your Man (Stabat as Loyalty and Forbearance)

In this particular song, "standing" is all about the virtue of fidelity to ones spouse, especially when one's spouse is anything but. Lyrically, one might argue that this song is somewhat misogynistic, if not particularly antiquated. Yet beneath all of the cultural trappings, there is the simple message in the song, one that many of the saints have echoed throughout history (St. Monica in particular comes to mind). Indeed, sometimes love is about fidelity in the face of betrayal. Obviously Jesus betrayed no one, but this kind of "stabat" is not simply about Jesus and Mary, but rather about the Christian life in general. If we think about it, there is probably someone in our own life who believed in us, or who stuck by us, even when we were monumentally unworthy of such fidelity. Without that goodness, that fidelity, that long suffering, there would be no hope for us at all! In any case, there are moments in the song that do indeed echo the fidelity of Mary at the foot of the cross.

"Even though he's hard to understand... Stand by your man, and show the world you love him. Keep giving him all the love you can… Stand by your man."         

5. Stand - Sly and the Family Stone (Stabat as Defender of Truth)

As exciting as the physical act of standing can (and should) be, the expressions that I am highlighting here are less about the physical act itself, and more about the metaphysical virtue of never backing down. For example, he was "the last man standing", "stand up for yourself," and Bob Marley's "Get up, stand up. Stand up for your right!" There are even famous books and movies based on this premise. There is Stephen King's novel "The Stand" which is all about a final apocalypse, and making a final "stand" against evil. There is also the movie "Stand and Deliver", a movie about a teacher who inspires students in low income situations to transcend their particular cultural circumstances. Hence, to stand in this particular sense is synonymous is not merely about being sentient, but rather about a kind of unconquerable will. The song "Stand" is in some ways a kind of self-help (it was the late 60s after all) approach to overcoming fear and indifference, and standing up for what you know to be right and true.

"Stand! There's a cross for you to bear, things to go through if you're going anywhere. Stand for the things you know are right. It's the truth that the truth makes them so uptight. Stand! "

OK, not Shakespeare. However, my point isn't so much about the genius of the song, as it is about the particular manner in which the expression is used here. To stand for something, especially the truth, is not only brave and virtuous, but downright (at least according to Stephen King) apocalyptic. The refusal to remain on the canvas, and to stand erect in the face of hell's fury is why Stabat Mater is anything but a passive stance. Thus, in the order of grace and virtue, Mary is the ultimate prizefighter, an historical juggernaut who cannot be vanquished- no matter how many haymakers the enemy throws.

Bonus Track: I'm Still Standing - Elton John (Stabat as Perserverence)
"Don't you know I'm still standing better than I ever did, looking like a true survivor, feeling like a little kid. I'm still standing after all this time, picking up the pieces of my life without you on my mind… I'm still standing."  

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The 10 Things I Learned from Prince About Venerating Saints

One of the biggest mistakes that Catholics make in attempting to explain the Faith to others is that they often tend to use language and concepts that are foreign to the listener. Indeed, they are much like the scientist seemingly incapable of using anything other than abstract scientific terms to explain themselves.

The challenge of the evangelist is something more personal and empathetic than all that. They have to stand outside of themselves and imagine what the Faith might sound like to someone who has never heard it before. In practicing empathy in this regard, they can then begin to help the other individual to truly comprehend the beauty of the Faith from their own perspective. The question is, how does one go about this?

Simply put, the best way to accomplish successful evangelization is not by becoming more "spiritual" in your explanation, but rather by being more down to the earth. The trick is to realize that the heavens have already spoken. It is now our job to translate and make those ideas incarnate. The good news about all this is that we do not have to re-invent the wheel. Not only are there good apologists out there, but even better, we have our own personal experience. The world already imitates in a secular way what the Church expresses in theological terms.

The doctrines of the Catholic Faith are fundamentally the doctrines of humanity, albeit infused with a supernatural significance (or, rather, their deeper significance). Hence, if you ever want to know how it is to explain the Catholic Faith to anyone, simply observe man and how he reacts to those things which he deems to be the most essential. In other words, he may not value what we value, but he will nevertheless ultimately go about those things the same way.

The clearest example of this can be seen every time some popular artist or celebrity dies. For example, a few weeks ago when Prince died, social media, along with society in general, spent several days in mourning, grieving over the loss of this artist who apparently meant so much to them.

Below, I outline 10 ways that people honored Prince (as well as other recently deceased artists), each of which bears a natural kinship to the Catholic practice of venerating saints:

1. Santo Subito

As is this case when many popular artists die, there's a natural tendency to idealize their lives. "Santo subito" is the Latin phrase which declares, on behalf of the sensus fidelium and the vox populi, that this man warrants immediate canonization. Obviously the standard is very different in the eyes of world as to what that means (virtue is not always high on the list), but nevertheless there is a similar attitude of indefectibility that we impute to the artist. There's almost a kind of general absolution that is granted to them, especially with regard to any indiscretions they may have committed. They are afforded this because of what of all the good we impute to their particular talents. Interestingly, the religious saint has much more claim to this "absolution", though the world tends to see it in reverse. Below is a tiny clip taken from the funeral of Whitney Houston, a beautiful singer, who tragically overdosed on drugs. However, Costner speaks of her as if were reflecting on the Blessed Virgin Mary. I point this out not as a mockery, but in order to indicate how natural this instinct to canonize is.

2. Iconography 

Whether one is talking about a famous figure like Princess Diana, or someone like Blessed Mother Teresa, the term “icon” is often used interchangeably. In the strictly religious sense it refers, at least artistically speaking, to a specific type of art that serves as a window to the divine. But in the broader sense it refers to anyone who seems to have transcended their own historical time period. The  world uses this term as a kind of catch all for anyone whose name has endured. Coupled with their memory, there is also usually some kind of iconic photo that accompanies their fame, not to mention an image which is ultimately emblematic of their success, and seems to embody what is most memorable about them. Prince is no exception on this front, for there are any number of "iconic" symbols, colors, and images associated with him.

3. R.I.P.

While praying for the dead is associated with the souls in Purgatory (i.e. those who have yet to experience the full beatific vision), these prayers are nevertheless offered for those whom we hope will be heaven, so it applies at least in that sense. Granted, this is only a rudimentary form of prayer, almost a subconscious aspiration offered by admirers of the particular celebrity, but it is prayer nevertheless. In the town that I reside, on the day Prince died, there was a neon billboard that prayed that Prince would "RIP", or rather, "rest in peace". The "RIP" prayer is basically a universal way that people can express their desire for eternal peace for someone without explicitly saying it (whatever your religion or irreligion). Perhaps this is because the acronym "R.I.P." feels a little less Catholic, thus the rest of the world is a little more OK with it. I won't tell them (or maybe I will), that it comes from the Latin requiescat in pace… which is a Catholic prayer for the dead.

4. The Name Change 

This example isn't so much about how individuals honor the popular figure as it is about how the popular figure seeks to define (or re-define) himself. Whether in Hollywood or in the religious life, it is hardly extraordinary to change your name. In the case of the religious figure, their name is changed often to embody some virtue or figure they wish to imitate. When one is canonized such a figure frequently becomes synonymous with their place of origin, or with some virtue (and sometimes even a flaw) that captures the larger narrative of their life. As it relates to the artist Prince, Prince was indeed his given name (though interestingly it was given to him by his father who had previously taken this as his own stage name). In any case, this was not enough for Prince, for at some point in his career he chose to change his name (so to speak) to an unutterable symbol. So "sublime" was this particular performer (apparently) that no word could capture his essence. Beyond "The Artist", as he was sometimes called, there are countless other examples of people taking stage names for all of the same reasons that religious figures do (Sting, Bono, Marilyn Monroe, Snoop Lion, David Bowie, Madonna, etc.), though their reasons for doing so are usually considerably less humble, say, than consecrated Religious who take on a saint’s name upon profession of vows. 

5. Relics 

Without getting into the different classes of relics that one can possess, it is more than a little easy to see the connection between the Catholic mentality surrounding relics, and the larger attitude of society surrounding objects connected to significant events and people. Whether you're talking about sports, film, music, or even loved ones, objects have an incredible power over us to the extent that they are connected to our favorite figures. Indeed, no one would call it strange to kiss a picture of someone we love, or even someone who we long to be loved by. No one would deny that they have at least at one point kept an object, ticket, article of clothing, as a keepsake because it connected us to a memory of a person in whose presence we felt a kind of glory. I can only imagine all of the Prince "relics" that are out there now. And while the Catholic faith takes it a step further by directly connecting those objects to the divine realm, this kind of higher devotion seems to be a natural extension of the former. One can even find direct examples of this in Scripture, whether in the Old or New Testament, all the way from the healing bones of the prophet Elisha, to the miraculous handkerchief of St. Paul. If we experience the power of some drumstick thrown into the crowd by a musician, how much more should we venerate the relics of one who is totally united to God in heaven?

6. Reverence and Piety 

Most people have certain level of respect for an individual when they have recently passed away. For example, if anyone makes jokes about this individual's death shortly afterwards, one may be heard to retort "TOO SOON", though that artist may have in fact "danced with death" their whole career. Yet, when it comes to music and Hollywood, there is a special kind of gentleness of tone that certain individuals may not afford anyone else. These individuals often build shrines, speak about their influence, and even wax poetic about the meaning and substance of their life. I still remember when heavy metal legend Ronnie James Dio died, and many of his admirers talked of his kindness and good deeds. Indeed, one does not to appear before a saint in a cathedral to see a vigil candle lit in the name of a beloved popular figure. Simply look at the awe and "holy fear" with which the devotee speaks of their favorite artist, whoever they are, and you will see that very same instinct. In this famous scene from the film Wayne's World, the lead characters demonstrate just how naturally we fall into religious postures, even when the figure seems to evoke quite the opposite of that instinct.

7. Beatitude 

Along with attempting to canonize these popular figures in the earthly sense, there is also a push by the vox populi to place him or her in the high heavens, bypassing in just about every the Catholic criterion (which is founded on holiness). This could be seen most distinctly after the death of David Bowie. One particular meme quipped that God had finalized his "super-group", for there had been a recent spate of popular musicians dying in a relatively short period of time. But, whatever the case, when artists like this die, people admit religion, if only as a kind of desire or aspiration, a way for that artist to live on in perpetuity. In some ways this explains the seemingly paradoxical study (Link #3) that came out in the U.S. recently that showed that people hadn't given up the belief in heaven per se, but they had stopped believing in God. I will leave to my readership to write the punchline on that one.

8. Revealing Our Favorite Stories About Them

When we become enamored with a particular artist or athlete, we often find ourselves scooping up every little detail about them, real or imagined. When it comes to the lives of the saints, the Church has sometimes been criticized for conflating the truth with reality. Yet this is not only a Church problem, this is rather a human tendency anytime when we encounter someone who is in our sight remarkable. Just look at how stories are sometimes framed surrounding Pope Francis (for good and ill), especially surrounding the manner in which he bucks the traditional narrative of a pope. My favorite story came with this particular headline: "Pope Francis Picks Up Hitchhiker" (Link #4). From such a headline, any number of magnificent images and stories might arise. What was the story on the ground? A priest friend of his from Argentina happened to be in St. Peter's Square as the pope was making his way through the crowd, so the pope gave this priest a ride in the "pope mobile." This is not to say that extraordinary things do not happen, but rather that even the ordinary becomes extraordinary in the presence of a beloved figure.         

9. Mourning Their Loss (though we never met them)

A few days after the death of Prince, there was an article (Link #5) in a music publication which successfully explained from a secular perspective- and provided justification for- why Catholics choose to venerate and mourn people whom we've never met. According to this  article, we do so because the artist is able to speak to our collective psyche; they give voice to our inexpressible desires and longings. Obviously one can quibble with the extent to which Prince does that in the positive sense, but what can't be argued is that the true saint does appeal to us for just that reason. He or she is able to make living a life of holiness that much more intelligible to us. If we struggle in understanding God's will for our own lives, or the meaning behind the world as we experience it, the iconic figure, for whatever reason, seems to be an apt translator. They make it easier not only to understand life, but to fathom the beauty therein even in the midst of sorrow. And so when they die (if they were alive in our lifetime), we feel sorrow because they made us feel, not only closer to the divine, but closer to ourselves.      

10. Intercession

Perhaps one of the most perplexing things, at least from an outsider's perspective, is why Catholics ask "dead people" to pray for them. As a Catholic, I cannot help but point out to people who say this, that saints are not zombies, nor are they spirits of the damned, but rather those who have entered into eternal life, or as Jesus said; "I am the God of the living, not of the dead" Matthew 22:32.

Nonetheless, what can the death of a musician like Prince teach us about this particular Catholic instinct. First of all, it should be pointed out that, Catholic or no, the instinct is already there, even if it's only in a rudimentary kind of way. For example, how many times have you heard an individual say; "I know she's watching over us", or "I felt her presence at that very moment." Yes, both of these common sentiments definitely imply a kind of grace filled moment, wherein an individual was helped/comforted by the presence of someone who is deceased and is not the Deity. However, as it relates to Prince and other famous figures such as these, do we collectively acknowledge their power to intercede, or pray for us? Perhaps not in the fullest sense- as it is not common practice to say; "David Bowie, ora pro nobis."

The dictionary defines it as "the action of intervening on behalf of another". Yet what is "intervening on behalf of another" if not gifting them hope in their hour of greatest need. In this case, it may be retroactive intercession, but God is outside of time, and is not limited by it. How many individuals have found their calling through an inspired writing of some saintly individual? How many people have felt saved by a song that came on the radio, or by an artist that seemed to translate the inarticulate groanings that lay deep in our hearts. On the road to Auschwitz, and in the heart of a starvation bunker, St. Maximilian managed to get his fellow inmates to sing songs of hope that they might face death, not in the grips of despair, but rather with a melody on their lips. Don't tell me that intercession is only praying "dead people", it is anyone in heaven, on the earth, or in between that gives us strength to run the race and finish it!

So as with everything on this list, we can see that the Church does not simply leave our worldly instincts as they are, but rather elevates them to their highest form, for "grace builds on nature, it doesn't destroy it". A final example of this parallel can be seen in Chris Carter's Hall of Fame induction speech. In the speech he even makes the connection himself. Yet what is most moving about his approach is that the speech is only secondarily about himself. First and foremost, the speech is about all the people who made him great, those who challenged him and those who saw greatness in him. The speech itself is a kind of sermon on the communion of saints.