Bring on the Revolution of Mercy

To celebrate the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, I have tried to complete all of the Works of Mercy during this past year.  As it turns out, it is a lot easier to feed the hungry and visit the sick than it is to counsel the doubtful or to bear wrongs patiently.

Last weekend, just a week before the close of the Jubilee on the the Feast of Christ the King, I completed my seventh and final corporal work.  The seven spiritual works have proven to be more elusive.  This doesn’t surprise me. I’ve said here before that I’d rather go out and feed the hungry and clothe the naked than pray for an end to hunger and poverty.

Some of the works have been spontaneous, and others were planned well in advance.  I didn’t plan to feed the hungry on the night I did, for example.  It was a bitterly cold New England winter night, and I was driving to my then-girlfriend’s apartment when I saw a panhandler in his usual spot.

I typically drove right past him without a second thought, but this night was particularly frigid.  No one, I thought, should be outdoors tonight.  A short ways down the street was a pizza place, and so I picked up a couple of slices and a large coffee.  It wasn’t a grand gesture, but he certainly did appreciate it. Read More

The 21st Century Angelus Bells

I have always been enamored by the Angelus.  It’s one of my favorite prayers, although I don’t pray it as often as I should.  It is short, but so much is contained within it.

It is also the history of the prayer that attracts me, and particularly the relevance the prayer had in Ireland, my ancestral homeland.  When the Angelus bells from the local parish would ring out, everyone would stop what they were doing, drop to their knees, and pray this wonderful devotion commemorating the Incarnation.

Coming from a family of tradesmen, I have this image of work crews putting down their hammers at the first peal of the bell, and the foreman leading the rest: “The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary…”  Or, more likely, a couple of peasant farmers would end their workday by praying over their harvest of potatoes when the bells rang out.  Even today, TV and radio stations in the Emerald Isle sound chimes in the morning, at midday, and before the evening news to remind listeners to pray.

I, living an ocean and almost a century away from my last ancestor there, don’t have a TV and am far more likely to listen to a podcast than I am to the radio.  There is no bell tower within earshot of my home or office, and I am not holding my breath waiting for my boss to lead us in prayer.

What I do have, however, is a smart phone and the Pope’s new app, Click to Pray.  Three times a day, in between notifications from ESPN and pictures of whatever cute new thing my niece and nephew are doing, my phone buzzes to remind me to pray.  I have it set to go off at 10 a.m., once I am settled in at work, at 3:00 when I am usually in need of a distraction, and at 7:00 at night once I am home.

As the app is a 21st century project of the Apostleship of Prayer, now known as the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network, the morning prompts often ask you to offer your day for the Holy Father’s monthly intention.  The afternoon provides an inspirational quotation, and in the evening you review your day and ask for the grace to live out the next one in greater accord with God’s will.

There are additional features as well where you can post your own requests for prayers, or pray for others.  Then, once you do, you don’t “like” the prayer.  You “click to pray,” and see how many people around the world are praying with and for you.

This is actually the second new media initiative from the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network.  The first, The Pope Video, harkens back to the original purpose of the Apostleship, praying for the Holy Father’s intentions.  Instead of simply seeing a few words written in the parish bulletin or Columbia magazine, you see a professionally done video with Pope Francis himself speaking about the issue and asking you to pray for it.

With all the time I spend watching nonsense, sports highlights, and how-to videos on YouTube, there is no way I can’t find 90 seconds to listen to Pope Francis.  He speaks in Spanish in the videos, which are uploaded to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube on the first Friday of each month, but subtitles ensure you don’t miss anything.

I don’t have a perfect record with the Click to Pray.  Many times the app will buzz but I will be in the middle of something else, and I’ll forget about it.  I do, however, pray far more often than I otherwise would without the app.  Perhaps if my phone buzzes enough, and I respond to it enough, I may actually become the handmaid of the Lord.


#SorryNotSorry: My return to the Sacrament of Reconciliation

I have a confession to make.  Actually, I already made it.  On December 8th, the opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, I was absolved of a whole lot of sins for the first time in a long time.  A really, really long time.

It wasn’t laziness or a fear of the confessional that kept me away.  I struggled with whether or not I should go for as long as I was away from the sacrament.  Each Sunday I remained on my knees in the back of the church while everyone around me went up to Communion.  Lent would come and go, and I knew that I hadn’t fulfilled the obligation to be reconciled at least once a year.

It certainly wasn’t because I thought I was sinless.  I could probably use another couple doses of self-awareness, but I know full well how many times I take the counsel of the devil on my shoulder instead of the angel.

No, my issue was that I was well aware that what I was doing was wrong, but I wasn’t sorry for it.  What’s more, I knew I wasn’t going to stop.  How could I claim to be ready to turn back to God and beg for His forgiveness if I had no intention of stopping what I was doing?   Read More

Time for a More Personal Approach to Marriage Prep?

Of my many, many shortcomings, the one I perhaps dislike most is that I am not easily impressed.  It is a fault born of a blessed life, but a fault none the less.  On my second and final day of pre-Cana last weekend I tried, not always successfully, to keep this in mind.

Like on the first day, all of the content was solid.  Couples should be able to communicate with one another, have a shared set of expectations for how married life will be lived, and be able to formulate a budget and financial plan for themselves.

Additionally, I have nothing but praise for all of the speakers, who were a good mix of ages and conditions.  Even when I wasn’t engrossed in what they were saying, it certainly was not because they were presenting it poorly.  The young, attractive, clearly in love couple who spoke about their experiences with Natural Family Planning were especially effective, I think. Read More

My Not Entirely Enthusiastic Trip to Marriage Prep

For a recovering political junkie like myself, it was fascinating to watch the 2014 and 2015 assemblies of the Synod of Bishops, each of which focused on family life in the 21st century.  I followed every development, story, and twist closely, and I, like many, am eagerly waiting to see what Pope Francis will decide to do in its wake.

The need for the Church to do a better job in marriage preparation was a frequent theme throughout the assemblies.  This intuitively made sense.  If we do a better job preparing couples before they get married, we will eventually solve the much larger and more challenging issue about what to do when some of those marriages break down and end in divorce.  More and better marriage preparation seemed to be an obvious solution.

A funny thing happened a few weeks after the most recent assembly closed, however.  I got engaged, and suddenly more marriage preparation classes sounded like a terrible idea.  My girlfriend and I want a short engagement and a spring wedding, which means ski season falls right in between when I asked if she would and when I will promise that I do.  Being from San Diego she could not care less, but I’ve been doing my snow dance for weeks now.  The idea of giving up long awaited lift tickets to attend marriage prep courses was not an appealing proposition.

When I told my girlfriend, who is not Catholic, that we would have to attend, her first reaction was to ask if “they are going to teach us how to have sex.”  I replied that I’ve never been married before so I didn’t know for certain.  I suspected, though, that while they will explain to us what the Church teaches on the matter, I don’t think anyone is going to need instruction on the mechanics.

That was, if you can call it a complaint, the last time she complained about giving up two long Sundays in the Archdiocese’s Pastoral Center.  I, on the other hand, made it clear several times that I didn’t want to attend, ski season or not.

It is important to me to be married in the Church.  My girlfriend, on the other hand, has no desire to be married in a Catholic church and is only doing so for my sake.  I am attending the classes because this is what my church asks of me, and she is attending solely because she loves me, yet somehow I am the only one making my displeasure known.

We attended our first class last Sunday—while my friends were on the slopes—and the gentleman who was running the program began by welcoming everyone, and especially the non-Catholics present.  I squeezed my girlfriend’s leg under the table at this comment, and think it meant more to me than it did to her. Read More

If We Are Going To Kill Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, We Shouldn’t Sanitize It or Turn Away

The population of my hometown in 1801 was 2,000 hardy souls. On September 10th of that year, 10,000 people gathered on the Town Common. What caused the population to swell to five times its usual size? A good old fashioned hanging.

Earlier that year, Jason Fairbanks murdered his girlfriend—or failed in his half of a suicide pact, depending on who you believe. The jury thought it was the former and sentenced him to die, but he escaped and nearly made it to Canada before he was captured, returned to Boston, and finally acquainted with the hangman’s noose.

The story made headlines around the country, which was no small feat just 25 years after the founding of our republic. In our own day, the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev for the Boston Marathon bombings was watched around the nation and around the world, and especially here in the Hub of the Universe.

If ever there was a case for putting a man to death as punishment, surely this is it. However, I don’t want to see a needle inserted into the younger Tsarnaev’s arm in Indiana. Instead, I want to see him held in a pillory on the Boston Common for a few days, and then executed by firing squad.

Let his blood pour down Beacon Hill, past Frog Pond where children splash and frolic, and pool at the site of the Liberty Tree. I hope far more than 10,000 people show up to watch in person, and that it is broadcast live on every TV station in America for those who can’t make it to Boston.

If we are going to send him off to meet his Maker, if we have decided that he is no longer fit to breathe the same air that we do, if we have raised ourselves up so high that we feel comfortable declaring that he is a monster, not formed in the image and likeness of the same God who fashioned us, then I want as many people as possible to see just how far we have been reduced.

In Terre Haute, the first of the three drugs that will be injected into Dzhokhar’s veins is a barbiturate designed to paralyze him. This isn’t done for his benefit, but for ours. The Congress of the United States has decreed that killing criminals is acceptable, but that we shouldn’t have to see them twitch and gasp for air and struggle to live on the table. What a gruesome thing that would be to have to watch.

I want us to see his death in all its ugliness and know it is our tax dollars paying for it and our public officials carrying it out. I want to see his body pierced with bullets, just like he ripped the flesh of hundreds with shrapnel from a bomb he made “in the kitchen of your mom.” We rightfully condemn him for what he did. Let us see if we have the stomach to witness such a horrific act and to know that it was carried out in our name.

We shouldn’t kid ourselves about what is happening. Dzhokhar is now supposed to die in a clean, sanitary, orderly room, far from Boston and far from most Americans. There is nothing clean or sanitary about what we are doing, however. It is murder. His death certificate will list homicide as the cause of death. We shouldn’t try to sugarcoat it.

I have made no secret about the fact that I stubbornly hold on to an angry grudge against the brothers Tsarnaev. That makes me far from impartial, but I say shoot him. Then, as we stand over his bullet-riddled corpse, let us ask ourselves if we are really any better than he is.

Sermon on the Marathon

Two years ago I declared that Deacon Mike Rogers was a better person than I am. Last year I admitted that I still hadn’t forgiven Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the recently convicted Boston Marathon bomber. Now that the last athlete has crossed the finish line of the 119th running, I confess that I still hold an angry grudge against that coward Tsarnaev and his older brother Tamerlan. And, as if the list wasn’t long enough already, we can add Bill and Denise Richard to the list of people who are better than me.

The Richards lost their son after Dzhokhar stood behind him for four minutes on Boylston Street and then placed a bomb at his 8-year-old feet. Little Martin lost his life, his sister Jane lost her leg, and their family, and our city, has never been the same since. Somehow these remarkable people have found it within themselves to forgo vengeance and have called upon the United States government to take the death penalty off the table.

The 5th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel is one of my favorites in all of scripture, but that may be because I have such a tough time with it. In His Sermon on the Mount, the Lord teaches us that “whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” That sums me up pretty accurately. Shortly thereafter He says that “when someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.” Two years later, I’m still the one who wants to do the striking.

Jesus finishes by imploring us to “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” While I pray for a conversion of his heart, I don’t know that I will ever love any of the Tsarnaevs. I am certain that I don’t want to love them, and recognize the hardness of my own heart in that sentiment.

I have always opposed the death penalty, but here my reluctance to seek an eye for an eye is not because I see the face of God in this 21-year-old terrorist. Instead, it is because if he lives another 60 years, he will likely spend 57.5 of them in a solitary cell. With little to do but think, I hope most of those 23 hours a day are spent contemplating the families he destroyed in the city that accepted and aided his family when they arrived on our shores as refugees.

I will never be fast enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon, an event where people train for years to shave seconds off times that are measured in hours. Like everyone who has ever come close, however, I can’t tell you the number of times in the last two years I have thought about how I could have run five minutes faster, placing my family directly across the street from little Martin Richard. I continue to thank God I was so slow.

April 15, 2013 was one of the best, and then worst, days of my life. After running 25.5 miles, the brothers Tsarnaev pressed me into service for another mile, and eventually I want to say that I have gone the second mile with them. That finish line, painted in forgiveness, has proven to be even more difficult to cross. For now, I am still one who mourns. I pray that someday I may be merciful.