Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sin, Service, and Social Justice from the Confessional

Most people, if not the overwhelming majority of people, tend to think that there is something generally dysfunctional about our world, that there's something amiss about our global culture, varying from people saying that the entire world is evil (A view I particularly dislike) to saying that all we need is world peace and everything will be spiffy (I also generally dislike this view).  Regardless of the degree or sort of malaise we might attribute our world's imperfection to, we can come to a fairly solid consensus that the world is in need of remedying.

"Oh!  There's you in the garbage heaps of Port au Prince,
cradling a starving child... Um, here I am, nicely dressed
in a massive basilica... so yeah..."
This being said, I'm finding it increasingly encouraging that more and more people (at least people that I know) are stepping up to the plate with a desire to do mission and social work (recession be damned, we've got bigger problems than securing a pension! Hoo-ah!)  Whether it be a friend of mine making trips to El Salvador, China, and Haiti (and probably Africa, eventually) every time I seem to turn around, or my little sister who shows interest in Latin America mission work, or my activist cousins, I've been seeing a rise in activists, missionaries, and social workers seeking to combat the commonly held notion that our world needs some fixing.  In truth, I feel a bit sheepish about my rather comfortable life in the seminary, working to become a Catholic priest in the ever needy region of.... Greater Cincinnati, Dayton, and God's Country.  Not exactly the slums of Haiti, as I've come to see in countless Facebook pictures.  

Don't get me wrong, I've done some pretty cool service work with STARR and the seminary, assisting the mentally handicapped, feeding several shantytowns of homeless quite literally out of the trunk of my car, raising and razing houses in the "ghettos" of Indianapolis's near East Side.  But, I also have an air-conditioned room, a car, health insurance, and a pretty secure career path, unless of course, a massive persecution breaks out, in which case, I'll live a pretty sweet life underground.  But I digress.  As Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said: “There are 200 million poor in the world who would gladly take the vow of poverty if they could eat, dress and have a home like I do."

So what about the seminarians, priests, and religious of the world living rather nicely in the States, probably never going to set foot into true poverty?  How are we to fight the evil of the world?  Well, you see, we look at the world's evils in a bit of a different light than the missionaries and social justice heroes.  Take sexual slavery, which was front and center here in Indianapolis (The Super Bowl is one of the highest occasions for sex trafficking in the world.).  Sex trafficking is a horrible crime, absolutely devastating and disgusting, etc. etc.  In today's world, there are more slaves than there have ever been, most for sexual servitude.  In the United States alone, there are over 100,000 children forced into sexual slavery.  Yes.  Even here.

Fighting sin and evil like a boss
So what's a seminarian/future priest to do to address the problem?  Hear confessions and celebrate Mass.  No, seriously.  Those are our weapons, and many many people don't realize how potent they really are.  You see, slave traders aren't born as slave traders.  They're born as children, sons and daughters of mothers and fathers, like you and I.  Its what happens after their born and before they sell or buy their first human being that shapes them into slave traders.  They are created by a culture laced with sin, and appear as the horrifying anomalies of that culture.  Our culture, saturated with sexuality (almost exclusively unhealthy, unnatural sexuality) makes for lots and lots of sexually dysfunctional people.  People with a consumeristic view of human sexuality.  We seek, to a lesser or greater extent, to consume sexual pleasure like we consume food or entertainment.  We've made porn and strip clubs so normal in our culture, and they engender within us the notion that other people's bodies are object for consumption rather than treasures for honor and love.  Thus, we find the odd collective of people who go to horrific ends to profit from such a notion.  

The Catholic priesthood, in its own distinct way, is tasked to fight that.  Before it ever develops into sex slavery,  or starvation, or war,  or the other terrifying evils of our modern world, the priest (and every other Christian) is tasked to kill it at the root.  Priests hear confessions and celebrate Mass because, unlike any other experience known to man, it is in the Sacraments of Jesus Christ that the battle against evil becomes most sublime.  It is in the confessional that the a man's lust is combated and forgiven, before it drives him to consume another.  It is in the Mass that Jesus Christ, through the priest, compels people to abandon their selfishness and pride, before it compels them into apathy for the struggles of anyone but themselves.

As a future diocesan priest in the U.S., I may not get to feed the poorest of the poor.  But I'll fight my hardest against greed, the root of poverty.  I may not rescue the child traded in slavery, but I'll exhaust myself to the last breath to fight against the objectification and dehumanization of others.  Ultimately, I may not be the boots on the ground in the battle against poverty, starvation, and injustice, but I can guarantee that I'll be in the fight.

Learn a lesson from the priesthood.  Learn a lesson from all those invested in the battle for souls:  Not everyone is called to walk with the poor, but everyone is called to fight what makes them poor.  No matter how much aid money, how many cases of Plumpy-Nut, however many wells we drill and wars we fight, we'll never end evil unless we strike it at the root.  Our culture's greatest sins:  poverty, starvation, war, abortion, slavery, etc, are directly resulting from our own sins, no matter how small those sins may be.  We might think "My cocaine usage isn't hurting anyone," but we fail to see how Latin America has been torn to pieces by drug cartels, who are hell bent to see that you get your next gram of coke.  We might think "Its just some porn, its not that bad."  But you're only buying into a system of objectification, humiliation, and sexual consumption that's breeding some of our society's most horrific evils:  abortion, slavery, sexual abuse, gender discrimination, depression, suicide, the destruction of families, the devastation of marriages.  Our society is at the brink of nothing short of falling apart at the seams from the amount of rampant, immature, insincere sexuality.  The human heart is becoming increasingly empty and devoid from lust, because the more we feed our lustful hunger, the less capable we become of truly and genuinely loving each other.  And that, my friends, is killing us.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

3 Keys to Better Ministry

Henri Nouwen was a Catholic priest, university professor (Yale; Harvard School of Divinity), and the author of many books on Christian spirituality.

In Spiritual Direction he talks about developing "The 3 Disciplines of the Spiritual Life." They are:
  1. Solitude
  2. Community
  3. Ministry
Solitude is our 1-on-1 time with God. It's where we come to know ourselves as beloved by God, and created with a purpose. Spending time in communion with God fills us up and allows us to move into...

Community: This is where we encounter others and create a space of welcome between us, where all are free to love God and one another. Here, we affirm the goodness we see in one another, and the overflow of that community causes us to engage in...

Ministry: sharing our gifts and belovedness with a world in need. Ministry is the natural response of someone who knows they are blessed, and who seeks to share that with the world.

The interesting thing about the three disciplines is that, for them to work, they must be practiced in order.

To serve someone (Ministry), I must first acknowledge the goodness in that person (Community). I cannot know that my neighbor has worth and value unless I know first that I am valued by God (Solitude). Then I can recognize that my sisters and brothers are also beloved by God. It's all tied together.

Why is this important?

At STARR, we minister to our brothers and sisters in need. We have built up a community of students, in partnership with many sites throughout Indianapolis. But the thing is... if we don't spend time outside of STARR in solitude, we might not be giving our all. Taking the time to discern what your gifts are, and asking God in prayer how you are called to serve the world, will better equip you to make an impact at STARR and beyond.

Solitude. Community. Ministry. 
Do them in order!

Monday, April 9, 2012


"Alas, I've been blinded by the
Golden Rule!"
In the early years of Christianity, as a converted Paul tread his way across the eastern Mediterranean world, he carried with him what the New Testament called "dunamis", the Greek word that we distilled "dynamite" from.  "Dunamis", very roughly translated, means "power" or "excellence" and referred to Paul's good news.  Now, this was not news of "I've found this great moral teaching!  This Jesus guy has some great ideas of how to live a moral life, you should all listen!"  No, the Jews seemed pretty content with their Mosaic law, and the Greeks with their philosophy and logic. Paul barely touched on the moral teachings of Christ.  To Paul, the true dunamis, the true power of this new Christian sect was in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Paul fascinated Jew and Greek alike with the message of Jesus's death and resurrection, something that baffled and confounded all who heard it.  It was this message that had him tread all across the Roman Empire and suffer much persecution, and eventually to die a martyr's death.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

What Could We be Doing to Ourselves?

A psychologist on how we are becoming more connected and yet more alone. She speaks of how we need to stop concerning ourselves with being connected and begin actually communicating with live people around us and to listen to our own thoughts and hearts. “Because it’s when we stumble or hesitate or lose our words that we reveal ourselves to each other.”

It is worth watching. If you do not have much time, watch the first five minutes or so, then skip to about 16:30. Great things to consider this weekend while home with family and slowed down from classes and all...