"The wood of the desk is the wood of the Cross."
An older Dominican friar told me this as I discerned a possible Dominican vocation. It spoke to me. Oftentimes, we look to study, reading, writing as an escape, a form of leisure. Real study, study that pursues Truth, however, is, as in all things that lead us to Truth, a challenge.
Many students know this struggle, but how often do we unite this struggle to acquire a greater understanding of the world to our call as disciples to understand Jesus, His Church, and His ways? A good Lenten penance can be to read a good book, a book that expands our understanding of God and deepens our relationship with Him.
To develop a spirituality of study is to admit to both God and myself, "I am not enough." When we take up study for its sacred purpose, we recognize there are simply things I cannot know and the more I know, the less I realize I actually know. Study is concurrently a growth in understanding and humility. In other words, the study we pursue, even scholarly, is neither bombastic, proud, or arrogant. It is the simple recognition that God has something more to offer me and I long to share it with Him.
During Lent, we are called to strip away the vestiges of our life. Why not replace social media and blogs with holy reading? Instead of reading the latest pablum about entertainment "news" spend some time plumbing the depths of God. You'll like what you find.
In order to stir the fires, here are some recommendations from my book shelves, in no particular order:
Time for God, by Jacques Philippe
Treatise on Prayer and Meditation, by St. Peter Alcantara
The Contemplative Life, by Thomas Philippe
Introduction to the Devout Life, by St. Francis de Sales
Abandonment to Divine Providence, by Jean-Pierre de Caussade
The Soul of the Apostolate, by Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard
Christ, The Life of the Soul, by Blessed Columba Marmion
True Devotion to the Holy Spirit, by Luis Martinez
Interior Castle, by St. Teresa of Avila
Story of a Soul, by St. Therese of Lisieux
Jesus of Nazareth (Three Volumes), by Pope Benedict XVI
God and His Image: An Outline of Biblical Theology, by Jean-Dominique Barthelemy
The Three Conversions in the Spiritual Life, by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange
The Confessions, St. Augustine
1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Matthew 6: 24-34
Pleasure and fear are strong impulses and motivations. They can drive a weak, feeble man to audacious acts and they can humble the bravest and strongest among us.
For instance, a simple man who derives great pleasure from doing the will of God and tempers his passions through a righteous fear of the Lord is a just man. He knows God, he experiences God's love. On the other hand, the man who is led about by his passions constantly seeking one physical pleasure after another all the while fearing what will happen if he is truly ever discovered or if people really get to know him is a disaster. He distances himself more and more from God's love to the point where he eventually does not see God at all in his life and he slowly but surely drifts away from Christ and His Church.
Jesus confronts each of us today. If a bird, doing what a bird is supposed to do, is cared and provided for by the Lord, what other way is there to the Lord than to strip down the vestiges in our life and purify our motivations so we are doing the Lord's will without thought or concern for the morrow?
They sent me to Vietnam.
In February of 2015, I was called to the office of the Student Master. He asked me if I wanted to go to Vietnam -- I did not, but believing obedience works miracles, I agreed to go. Just like that I was going to Vietnam for the summer to teach my Dominican brothers English.
As a former middle school English teacher and always feeling called to the missionary life, I was, after the initial shock wore off, fired up about getting to spend a summer in Vietnam. I had never been to Asia nor had I ever lived for an extended period in a tropical climate. I also love food and trying new things. Add to all of this the opportunity to live with my Dominican brothers and to pursue our common life of prayer and study, albeit in a completely new and different culture, and I was stoked to go.
Life in Vietnam, to say the least, was tough. The heat and the humidity, the unrelenting heat and humidity, made it difficult to adjust physically. The brothers varying degrees of English competence and willingness to speak in English made it hard to adjust socially. Oh, and the food at the Priory was far from the quality of the standard Vietnamese restaurant. Dinner was mostly a close your nose, chew quickly, and swallow affair. (That is, of course, when they didn't serve durian. Durian smells terribly and the mere smell of it made it nearly impossible for me to eat.) Oh, and the morning bell rang at 4:30 am each morning to rouse us for Lauds and Mass.
This might defy imagination, but my summer in Vietnam was the best summer of my life up until that point. Here are three lessons I learned that are applicable to everyone's life, especially as we prepare for Lent.
First, when we strip away the many distractions in our life and get back to the basics, God does incredible work in our hearts. For two months, I did not watch TV, read blogs, surf social media, or even worry about anything so much as resembling a social life. My days were work, prayer, study, and community. It was heaven.
Too much of our lives are distractions. Think of how much reading or praying or fraternizing you can accomplish when you don't "Netflix and chill" or go on social media regularly. It's noble to give up one of these distractions, but why not go for the gold and try to sacrifice them all for Lent?
Second, not all coffee is the same. I did not drink coffee before I went to Vietnam. In fact, I had drunk only one cup of coffee before going there. I enjoyed greatly going with the brothers on a hot Sunday afternoon and having a cafe sua da (Coffee with sweetened condensed milk served in ice). I enjoyed it so much, the brothers gave me 20 kilos of coffee to bring back to the US. Knowing I would never drink that much coffee, I began to give it away to friends and family.
One problem: Vietnamese coffee is incredibly strong and is meant to be served in small doses. For weeks, my friends and family let me know how wired the coffee made them. One friend even thought he might be having a heart attack.
The lesson: Not all gifts can be given and used in the same way. Even a simple gift, when not used in accord with its intended purpose, can wreak havoc. Our Heavenly Father gives each of us similar gifts, charisms, and talents. We are, however, created by a unique act of Love. Therefore, we are all called to the same goal of holiness, but we need guidance and creativity in achieving this.
Third, don't drink snake wine. Not a whole lot to this one. Just don't drink it. Some stones are best left unturned. As Jesus said, "Let your 'Yes' mean 'Yes,' and your 'No' mean 'No.'"
A homily for the 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18
1 Corinthians 3:16-23
Spring Training has started. The world is objectively a better and more recognizable place when baseball is being played. Baseball, for all of its quirks, consistently reminds us how unpredictable life is. Think about it for a minute. Almost anything can happen during a baseball game or over the course of a season. The Cubs won the World Series -- this should be enough to prove all of this alone -- and a career journeyman could be an All Star or throw a perfect game.
Baseball also helps us recognize the difference between human perfection and the perfection God calls us to in today's Gospel. The perfection of a baseball game is quantifiable and easily defined. The perfection we are called to by Our Lord is mysterious. In fact, the perfection Jesus calls us to is best experienced and challenged when we must face the imperfections of the world around us.
Using the etymology of both the Greek and Latin words used to give us the "perfect" of today's Gospel, the perfection God calls toward is more about our intentions, our orientation, our end, our goal than anything else. To be "perfect," in other words, means to have my life, my heart, my mind, my soul constantly striving to fix itself on the goal, the end of my life -- union with God forever in heaven.
We are made for heaven and we are made to live our best lives when everything strives to reflect that reality.
Praying is simultaneously the easiest and the hardest thing we can do. It is easy because we are communicating with our Beloved and we are letting Him love us. It is hard because it takes time, it can be boring and monotonous, and we sometimes simply don't know what to say or do.
Much like spending time with a loved one, it is not so much what we do or how we do it in prayer, rather it is most important that we pray. St. Teresa of Avila, a great mystic and a woman of great prayerfulness, wrote tirelessly about prayer. Yet, within her writings, a consistent method or prescribed method of prayer never emerges. In fact, the great saint and Doctor of the Church prescribes one element as most essential to our lives of prayer: Determination.
She notes in the Way of Perfection, “There are so many reasons why it is extremely important to begin with great determination in prayer... This little bit of time that we resolve to give Him, which we spend on ourselves and on someone who will not thank us for it, let us give to Him, since we desire to do so, with our thoughts free of other things and unoccupied by them... The other reason for beginning with determination is – and it is very much to the point – that the person who does so struggles more courageously. He knows that come what may he will not turn back."
Everyone who reads this is starting for a different place in their spiritual lives. Some of you are just starting out while others are really looking to deepen an already vibrant prayer life. It does not matter where in the spiritual life you are; God always calls you deeper into His love. In addition, we are always in need of daily committing ourselves.
There are a million excuses not to pray, but there is only one reason you need to pray.
Here are some tips to get you started and to help you take your prayer to the next level:
A homily for the 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time
1 Corinthians 2:6-10
A coach or teach pushes his pupils beyond what they thought they were capable of doing. Sometimes in words. Sometimes in action.
The Gospel from this past Sunday is Jesus' way of pushing us beyond what we think is possible. Not only does he want us to be chaste in action, he desires we be chaste in thought. Not only does he not want us to kill, he wants us never to get angry. This is tough. This is hard. This is Jesus setting the bar higher to challenge us to follow after him with our whole heart, mind, and soul.
No matter where you are in your faith journey, Jesus loves you where you are, but He loves you too much to let you stay there. Follow his lead and encouragement and become the saint you were made to be.
First of all, I confess I am not proud of everything I tried and did in college. Some experiences were worth the risk. Others were totally insane. To start with, I went to college more than 800 miles from home at a school where I only know two other people (and I didn't know them very well). College was not an extension of high school; it was a complete restart.
Yet, in spite of (maybe because of), my many misguided attempts at finding happiness and fulfillment in life, God guided me closer to Himself and I began to fall in love with Him, His Church, and the idea of serving Him as a priest.
So, in no particular order, here are five things I tried in college that were totally worth it. I invite all college students to try them too.
1. Got involved with Campus Ministry. Knowing few people at my college, I headed to Mass the first few weeks, sat by myself in the back, and left without talking to anybody. Then, for the first time in my life, I didn't go to Mass one Sunday. The next Sunday I approached the Campus Minister and I told her, "I want to get involved and I don't care what you need me to do I'll do it." Over the next four years, I served our Campus Ministry in almost every capacity. I developed some awesome Catholic friends and, most importantly, being Catholic became a meaningful part of my daily and weekly life.
2. Carried (and occasionally prayed) a Rosary. The night before I left for college, my grandfather gave me a simple wooden rosary. He encouraged me to carry it with me and to pray then he told me he'd pray his rosary everyday for me. For four years, that rosary never left my side. No matter where I went or how much I messed up I knew someone loved me, someone was praying for me, and Our Heavenly Mother was looking out for me.
3. Attended a Retreat. Nora approached me after my first Mass in college. She was (and still is) one of the nicest and most genuinely caring people I had ever met. Consequently, I wanted nothing to do with her. She, on the other hand, had a knack for sitting next to me at Mass and at dinners after Mass and, almost always without fail, inviting me to upcoming retreats and events. She eventually won -- what's a guy to do when a cute girl keeps inviting him to a retreat -- and I went on my first voluntary retreat. It changed my life forever.
4. Met with a Priest Outside of Confession or Mass. Priests are busy men. To high school me, they were also holy men who looked down upon knuckleheads like me. Then I met Fr. Mike. Fr. Mike was funny, energetic, outgoing, and, shockingly, he wanted to get to know us students. Eventually, I agreed to meet him for dinner -- what's a college guy to do when someone offers you a free meal at a nice restaurant. After that dinner, Fr. Mike and I met somewhat regularly throughout my time in college and he helped me recognize more profoundly God's call in the depths of my heart.
5. Took a Spring Break Service Trip. Being a good disciple of Jesus, Nora was not satisfied with just getting me on a retreat. Sophomore year she convinced me to go on a Spring Break trip to West Virginia to serve the poor. That week helped me realize how beautiful a life of service could be.
1 Corinthians 2:1-5
You have every right to be mad, angry, frustrated, baffled, to disagree, to think and believe differently. As a Christian, you are first of all called, in spite of these feelings to love your brothers and sisters.
It is exceptionally easy -- too easy, in my estimation -- to cast someone aside. Whether it be their politics, their religion, their ethnicity, you name it. All you have to do is pull out your phone type out a few words and you're done.
No matter how ignorant or mean-spirited, even bigoted, the opinions of another person may be, we are no better than they are if we name call or ridicule or write off that person because of their ideas.
In Sunday's Gospel, Jesus tells us we are the light of the world and our light should shine before all. Imagine how much better our world would be if, instead of hating or ignoring those with whom we disagreed, we engaged charitably, if we challenged and critiqued while being a good, trusting friend.
A year ago, Antonin Scalia died. One of the remarkable aspects of his life that came to light in the days following his death was his close friendship with fellow Supreme Court justice, Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Perhaps there have never been too more diametrically opposed jurists to sit simultaneously on the Supreme Court than Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, yet they would spend holidays together. They were friends in spite of their differences (sometimes severe) of opinion.
It is my challenge to each of you this week to identify one person in your life whose politics, religious viewpoints, or personal decisions make you upset and/or uncomfortable. This is the person who you are called to enlighten with the Light of Christ, the Light of Faith.
We need more optimistic, loving Christians than witty Twitter celebrities.
God bless you, Fr. Patrick.
Fr. Patrick is a Dominican priest and the Campus Minister.