Friday, December 2, 2011

Merton's Words

As we prepare for Christmas in this Advent season, I'd like to take the opportunity to quote the words of a wise man who realized something wonderful about what Christmas means for us:

It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, 
though it is a race dedicated to many absurdities 
and one which makes many terrible mistakes: 
yet, with all that, God Himself gloried in becoming a member of the human race! 
To think that such a commonplace realization should suddenly seem like news 
that one holds the winning ticket in a cosmic sweepstake.

I have the immense joy of being man
a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. 
As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, 
now I realize what we all are.

And if only everybody could realize this! 
But it cannot be explained. 
There is no way of telling people 
that they are walking around shining like the sun.

-Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

With these words, this trappist of Gethsemane has expressed something that I feel surprisingly often.  (I doubt I feel it as acutely as he did.)

I see people hurting all the time. I see pain both physical and spiritual. I see crushing guilt and debilitating disease. I see everything about people that you could imagine might convince me that human beings are in an awful way and are not anywhere near as well off as Merton thinks.

But I'm convinced Merton is on to something.

Whenever I meet anyone who shows me the ugly, brutal, weak, shameful, or pitiable side of humanity, I am only more aware of the Father's gaze on that person.  I'm only more confident that He first loves that person, before and after his faults.

It's a comforting place to be, not having to be angry or impatient or confounded by all the many lost sheep (among whom I count myself).  The abiding presence of God is a weighty thing that fills every space we enter.  If we were but to notice a small portion of it, then we could not fail to see the glory he has planned for us.

From day one, I have felt that my calling as a priest is to do my best to convince people that they are in fact "shining like the sun."  It's consoling to remember that the Good News really is good news.  It is pleasant to hear, no matter how much it takes us to task.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

What you're meant to be

Many people seem to regret certain things about their lives.  They look back and wonder if they've been doing what they should have been doing.  They're not sure if they've wasted their lives or not.  They don't know if they are who they were meant to be.

But there's a lot of hope still, because I think that Heaven is just going to be the place where we are able to fully be who we were meant to be.

In fact, that's why hell would be so bad.  If someone is depressed now in this life thinking on how they haven't done what they were meant to do, imagine doing so for eternity.  Imagine never ever being able to be fulfilled.  In the absence of God, we cannot flourish.  We cannot be who we were meant to be because He intended us for Himself.  If we separate ourselves from Him, then we have denied ourselves the opportunity to be fully alive.

To all those who feel lost and think they have wasted their time:  no one has to wait to be who they were created to be.  Everyone can do that at any and every moment of the day. You just have to tell God you want it:  "God, make me that which you created me to be, because I'm doing a terrible job on my own."

Perhaps purgatory is just us becoming who we were meant to be, and then heaven is our enjoyment of it.

Friday, November 25, 2011

What's it like?

To a newly ordained priest, the question is often asked:

"What's it like to be a priest?"

Allow me to explain in greater detail than small talk after Mass might allow for:


I expected it to be an incredible amount of work and immensely rewarding.  Everyday I wake up shocked by two things:  how much I have to do and how much I love doing it.  While fretting over my present responsibilities, I still daydream about new projects and new ways of getting God's message of love out there to people.  The harvest is plenty, the laborers are few.

I expected it to be crowded and lonely, happy and sad.  I'm thankful for my many friends (priests or not) who continually offer their support and encouragement through what is truly a roller coaster life.  I'm thankful for my daily prayer, that mainstay of God's presence that stands as a reminder to me that I am not alone, that I can breathe in his Spirit throughout the day so as to not choke on the fumes of doubt and selfishness.

I expected myself to be completely prepared for it, insofar as I trusted that God was in control, and completely unprepared insofar as I might trust to my own abilities and plans.

I expected to be surprised.  I expected not to know how to handle half of what comes my way.  I expected complete and utter newness.

And yet, I expected to know just what to do or say whenever doing or saying was requisite.  God has yet to fail me in this regard (though I do have a bad habit of letting my own ideas get in the way of his).

I expected to be confident that this is my calling, that God has me where he wants me.
It is exactly what I expected it to be.

Hopes and Dreams

I sometimes doubt whether or not what I do makes a difference.  I sometimes doubt that I am doing what I ought to be doing with what God has given me.  I sometimes doubt that my plans for God's people are in fact God's plans for His people.

And I know that I am not the only doubter out there.  Many people come to me with very serious issues: fear, uncertainty, doubt, confusion.  No one really seems to know where he stands before God.  Whether it is the next couple hours, the next week, the next year - how is it that we are to glorify God?

Worries like this melt away when I read:
"Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much as dawned on man what God has prepared for those who love him."  (Paul in 1 Corinthians, quoting Isaiah 64:3)

Oh, I see - no matter what my own scheming may present for the future, whatever hopes I might have in my own achievements, or even in what God himself is planning to achieve, with or without me, I have nothing to worry about.

Why?  Because there is nothing that I can possible think of that is better than what he has in store for us.  I aim to keep working as best I can for him, happy to share joy and sorrow alike, secure in the knowledge that he will bring about in us this great thing that has not even dawned upon us.  It's so good that we--who are so quick to separate ourselves from the good--can't even imagine it.

That's part of why we find it so hard to trust in God.  His plan doesn't fit into what we think his plan should be.  But guess what:  his plan is way better than our own.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A sad end to Thanksgiving

I had a great day today.  It started with Mass, then a nice leisurely morning void of responsibilities.  Thanksgiving dinner was at my sister's house with her family, her in-laws, and my other sister's family too. It was great, and I love being around my nieces and nephews.  Then in the evening, I went to an aunt's house to see a gathering of extended family.  I left there around 8:15.

As I drove down Bel Air Blvd, I passed Toys R Us, and I saw the line.  Well over a hundred people were waiting in line for the store to open at 9:00.  Now, I haven't been living under a rock; I knew well in advance that a bunch of stores were opening late on Thanksgiving as a jumpstart to Black Friday.  I thought it was absurd and extreme, though I didn't really think much about it.

Seeing it was different.  It was shocking.  I had just left a wonderful family gathering, an evening well spent.  Next thing I know, I'm witnessing hundreds of people wasting that precious family time, and for what?  Saving some money on Christmas shopping?  Do you really think that getting the best toy at the lowest price for your family is more important than being with your family?

Well, you might say, "maybe the whole family was there; it was a family event."  Really?  Standing in line waiting to get the best deals is the best "family time" you can come up with?  Stay home and play a game or watch a movie or something, anything.

Go shopping tomorrow.  Is nothing sacred?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

4th of July Weekend

I've been on the other side of ordination for over three weeks now.  After a few weeks of off time (spending time at the beach with friends, moving in to the rectory, and travelling to St. Bernard Abbey and EWTN), I've officially started my assignment as parochial vicar of St. Pius X in Mobile.

The weekend was a blessed one.  I preached all three Masses, and was the principal celebrant at two of them.  The parish threw a reception for me after each one, and it was a great opportunity to begin getting to know all of these new faces.

Next came July 4th, which is also my birthday.  I celebrated Mass in the morning (saying Mass on your birthday is pretty cool), and I was glad that daily Mass was in the church and not in the chapel, because there is no better place to celebrate Mass on July 4th in the city of Mobile than St. Pius X. 

The main stained glass window at St. Pius X, Mobile; there
are more to the left and right that depict similar motifs.
The great stained glass windows above the main doors depict, simultaneously, God's providential care of the United States of America and a certain parallelism between Judeo-Christian stories/themes and the history of the US.  It has everything from the Constitution (or maybe the Declaration of Independence?) to the Spirit of St. Louis and even a lunar module.  Watching over everything is the resurrected Christ showing his wounds.

Detail showing the Visitation and spacewalk.

It's certainly a unique depiction, and it provided the idea for my Fourth of July homily: as we celebrate our Independence from the British Crown, we should all take time to remember and rejoice in our dependence on God.

One particularly intriguing parallel is made between our Lord in the womb of the Virgin Mary at the Visitation (or maybe it's John the Baptist in Elizabeth's womb?) and a man on a spacewalk, complete with umbilical cord.  I think this is the first time I've ever seen inculturation of the Faith into the American ethos.  The church was built in the late Sixties, when the space race was captivating the hopes and imagination of the American people.

I'm looking forward to learning more about the artwork from the parishioners and from the founding pastor, Msgr. Jennings.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Salvation for the Wealthy

I am not a "wealthy" person, but I am very aware that there are many people in the world who do not have nearly as much as I do.  Especially, as a seminarian, all of my needs have been provided for (thanks be to God and to all of my generous benefactors, known and unknown to me).

And so, whenever I read the following from the Gospel of Matthew (or its parallels in Mark and Luke), I'm generally a little unsettled:

Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to (the) poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and said, "Who then can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible." (Mt 19:21-26)

Normally, the closing words of the passage are what set my mind at ease: "For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible."  It's not an excuse to be rich, to be greedy, or to lack charity, that Jesus provides here, but rather a hope that we, who are all attached to the things of this world, have hope in him that we might be able to let go of them and instead hold on to him.

That's my usual thought process in front of this passage, but St. Augustine has clarified it much more in his Exposition of Psalm 85 (86, by most modern numberings).  I'll just let him speak for himself:

From St. Augustine's Exposition of Psalm 85:
Bend down your ear and hear me, Lord, for I am needy and destitute. (Ps 86)  Not to the rich does he bend down his ear, but to the destitute and the needy; that is, to the humble, to the one who confesses to him, to the one who needs mercy, not to the person who is sated and self-important and boastful as though in need of nothing, the kind who says, I thank you that I am not like that tax collector there (Lk 18:11).  The rich Pharisee was flaunting his merits; the poor tax collector was confessing his sins.

But now, my brothers and sisters, you must not take what I have said, "He does not bend his ear down to the rich," to mean that God does not hear those who have gold and silver, a large household and country estates.  Such persons may have been born in those circumstances, or may hold that rank in human society, only they should keep the apostle's warning in mind: Instruct the rich of this world not to be high-minded (1 Tm 6:17).  Those who are not high-minded are poor in God, and to the poor and destitute and needy he bows down his ear.  Such people know that their hope does not lie in gold or silver, nor in any of those things with which they seem to be surrounded for a time.  Let them count themselves lucky if their riches do not ruin them; it is gain enough if their wealth is no hindrance, for it cannot be any profit to them.  What does profit rich and poor alike is a work of mercy, which a rich person can perform in both will and deed, but a poor person in will only.  When people in comfortable circumstances despise whatever there is in them that ordinarily blows up human pride, they are God's poor.  God bows down his ear to them, for he knows that their hearts are bruised.


Learn to be destitute and poor, whether you have possessions in this world or not, for you may find a proud beggar, or again a man of property confessing to God.  God thwarts the proud, whether they are clothed from head to foot in silk or in rags, but he grants grace to the humble, whether they own this world's wealth or nothing at all.

Taken from The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century, Volume III/18: Expositions of the Psalms.


Well, Judgment Day did not come yesterday.  I can't account for anyone who was raptured (though maybe I just don't know any true believers).  So what are we left with?  The same stuff we had before:

- a God who loves us.
- the invitation to love Him in return.
- the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church through which to do that.

This whole thing was very similar to a "predicted" earthquake that was supposed to topple Rome last week.  Many of the Italians didn't go to work that day, and kept their children home from school to prepare and stay safe.  But it didn't happen either, just like the world didn't end yesterday.

It's surprising to me that people believe in these kinds of things, when instead, what we're really asked to believe in, is such a reasonable and wonderful divine plan.  Sure, it's according to the wisdom of God and not the wisdom of man, so we might not see that wisdom at first.  But that doesn't mean it's bonkers, either.

For all those who placed their faith in a date instead of God, I'm truly sorry that you did.  Since everything you believed in was false, what now will you do?  Do you despair?  Do you lose your faith?  Or, do you seek out the Truth that sets you free, the Truth that you were mistaken about.  For let me assure you, it was not God who got the date wrong.  (Not that I think many of these people read my blog, but you never know, right?)

Jesus will come again in glory.  I believe and hope that he will.  There's no question in my mind.

The world might not have ended, but my awesome
cheap sunglasses have.  After having them for three years,
they broke a couple weeks ago.  Best €10 I ever spent.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Dr. Grace Augustine and Augustine, Doctor of Grace

I've never seen Avatar, but I just did a Google search for "Augustine the Doctor of Grace" (because that's what he's called) and learned that Sigourney Weaver's character in the movie is Dr. Grace Augustine...

That's a pretty big coincidence.  Is James Cameron a closet patrologist?

Unfortunately, in order to learn more, I'd have to watch the movie, and that's not likely to happen.  I have happily steered clear of the hype for this long, and I don't aim to change that.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Holy Week Pictures

Some photos from the Triduum at Ampleforth Abbey can be found here.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

How to Forgive...

I've noticed a few trends in people's responses to the death of Osama bin Laden. I just want to offer my thoughts on one of them.

[And by the way, whether or not it was just to kill him, under these circumstances or any others, I'm not prepared to make that call, so I'm not going to. If you think that's a cop out, so be it.]

Instead, I want to write about a misunderstanding of forgiveness among Catholics that I've noted in recent days (admittedly this is mainly from facebook status updates).

It seems to be more or less the Catholic or Christian extreme: the immediate prayer for his soul. Now, I do not want to say that since bin Laden was an enemy, he should not be prayed for. I myself do pray that God have mercy upon him. However, I think that this reaction is often times a way of masking emotions that we are afraid of allowing ourselves to have. It is fact that the man orchestrated the deaths of many people, for deeply malicious reasons. We should be angry about this. He perpetrated injustice on a huge scale.

The desire for vengeance is sinful, but feeling anger at injustice is not. Choosing to dwell upon feelings of anger and allowing them to fester in our hearts, this also is sinful. But simply being angry at someone for injustice, small or extreme, is to be expected. It is a healthy reaction, and the desire for justice is also healthy. Even so, the words of Fr. Federico Lombardi in response to bin Laden's demise ring true:

"Faced with the death of a man, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibility of each and every one of us before God and before man, and hopes and commits himself so that no event be an opportunity for further growth of hatred, but for peace."

Still, I think that many who strive to live the Christian life are afraid that both our anger at what he did and our relief that he is gone are feelings we should not have. The thought is that if we were to indulge these feelings in any way, we would be guilty of not only the desire for vengeance, but also of a complicit participation in the carrying out of that vengeance. In our attempt to distance ourselves from emotions that we consider to be dangerous and sinful, we immediately jump to the only thing that we know is okay - forgiveness and prayer for the dead.

Indeed we should forgive and we should pray that God have mercy upon him, but one thing must not be forgotten: forgiveness is not possible without an offense. One cannot let go of anger without having first been angry. It is inhuman for us to have witnessed the awful acts of this man and not be disturbed, angered, or offended on some level (varying very much depending on our nearness to those who were killed, though simply being American is enough to participate to a strong degree). To run away from such feelings is not forgiveness. To deny that we are angered is tantamount to denying that he did anything wrong, which is to eliminate the possibility for forgiveness. Rather than running from anger, we have go accept that it is within us and confront it. Only then can we say in a true spirit of forgiveness, "I have reason to hate this man, but I choose not to, definitively."

Skipping over the choice is to skip over forgiveness, to cowardly deny the problem. Forgiveness is instead a courageous choice. It is easier for some to opt for an empty shell of "forgiveness" than to face the darkness of their own anger. (For others, of course, it is easier to immerse themselves in the darkness of their anger, but that's not the issue I'm discussing here.)

All have sinned, so our prayer for the salvation of a good man should be just as fervent as the prayer for an evil man. We are saved only by the mercy of God, after all. So, pray for Osama bin Laden - this is the right thing to do.

For those who find that difficult because they do allow themselves to feel angry, please understand that forgiveness is the only Christian option. Yet, it is extremely difficult even in matters far more trivial than the case of a mass murderer; it is only possible through God. The adage holds true: to err is human, to forgive, divine. Nevertheless, we Christians, who are sinners, all pray very regularly to be forgiven our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. There is no qualifier to that which exempts us from forgiving those who have sinned heinously and grievously against us.

But, for those who jumped immediately to forgiveness, without any anger or fear in their heart, such a response may be virtuous, but it is not necessarily so. Just be sure that in responding this way, you are not hiding from or depriving yourself of feelings that you need to feel.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Great Epithet

I remember 6 years ago when Blessed John Paul II died, I heard a number of people ask the question, "do you think that the Church will give him the title 'the Great'?"  But very quickly the answer was spread around that such a title is not actually bestowed by any authority other than simple popular usage.  Still, I always found telling, that so many people were asking the question.  Clearly, there is some desire on the part of people that he be called the Great.  I for one think he should be.

And since I generally value my opinion quite high, I want to encourage anyone who might actually read this blog to do the same.  Only considering facility of speech:  "John Paul the Great" is one less syllable than "John Paul the Second", and while one syllable longer, it's got a bit more dignity than the fairly common "John Paul Two" and "JP2".

A crucial part of this is usage in other languages, but with a quick Google search you can find occurrences of not only the English John Paul the Great (the name of both a high school and a university), but also the Italian Giovanni Paolo Magno, the Dutch Johannes Paulus de Grote, the German Johannes Paul der Große, the Polish Jan Paweł Wielki, and even the Latin Ioannes Paulus Magnus.

From the page List of people known as The Great:
As there is [sic*] no objective criteria for "greatness", the persistence of later generations in using the designation greatly varies.  For example, King Louis XIV of France was often referred to as "The Great" in his lifetime, but is rarely called such nowadays, while Frederick II of Prussia is still called "The Great".

All that can be said is that he will be known as The Great only if that's what we call him.  So if you want him to "receive" that epithet, just use it!

* - It should read "as there are no objective criteria" or "as there is no objective criterion".  If I knew what I were doing, I would edit it; it is Wikipedia after all.  Maybe someone more savvy will take it up.  While you're at it, maybe you could add Blessed John Paul the Great to the list...

In the square just after the Beatification Mass.
You can see the banner of Blessed John Paul the Great
hanging behind me on the facade.

The Beatification

I was fortunate enough to have a seat in St. Peter's Square for the Beatification of John Paul the Great on Sunday.  It was a blessed day, but I'll share just one anecdote.

A moment that moved me in a particular way was the presentation of the relic of John Paul's blood to Pope Benedict.  The one's who brought the silver reliquary holding the vial of blood were Sister Tobiana, who tended to John Paul through his papacy, and Sister Marie Simone-Pierre, whose unexplained cure from Parkinson's has been attributed to John Paul's intercession.

But what moved me was the fact that Benedict was the one receiving it.  As I saw him take up the reliquary and reverence the blood of his predecessor, immediately the now famous image of then Cardinal Ratzinger being embraced by John Paul came to mind.

I thought of the early Church, and how the tombs and bodies of the martyrs were often visited and venerated by Christians who knew them in life.  When we today venerate the relics of those ancient saints, it is a different experience, because we are separated by hundreds of years.  In those first years after they were martyred however, the people who venerated them had known them in life, and sometimes even been close friends.  Similarly, here before me, a man who knew John Paul, and worked with him, and had a deep respect for him, venerates the blood of his friend.  What humility and joy Benedict must have felt in that moment.

It's actually kind of unique that the relic be liquid blood.  His body was not disturbed at all.  It was blood that had been drawn shortly before his death, and was simply kept at the hospital.  No one got rid of it.  (The fact that it is still liquid is not miraculous by the way - anticoagulants were added to it when it was drawn back in 2005.  This is not St. Januarius we're talking about.)

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Holy Saturday

On Holy Saturday afternoon I wrote the following.  This is the final entry of my retreat journal: 

Today I walked into the Church of Our Lady and St. Benedict in the village of Ampleforth.  On entering the church, I dipped my hand into the holy water font.  It is a particularly beautiful one:  about a foot tall, sitting on a pedestal, an angel kneeling down, holding out a large half shell in which is kept the holy water.  I did it out of habit, only half thinking about it.

But my hand hit dry marble.  The illusion created by the accumulated dirt and algae had tricked me.

… Oh.  Right.

A friend of mine said recently that the emptiness felt on entering a church on Good Friday with the sanctuary lamp out strikes him to the very core.  I felt the same, or similar, at the holy water font, when what should have been there, wasn't.  What a remarkable sign of Jesus buried in the tomb.

Then I went in and prayed.

When I came out, I looked at the statue.  (Without the water, it could hardly be called a font.)  It struck me that this angel knelt there dutifully throughout the year, hold up the water that stands as a reminder of their Baptism to all who pass by.  It is a joyful and wonderful task.  But today, she also has a duty.  She's there to trick me.  I am so used to dipping my hand in that shell, and the shell itself looks very much like it actually has water in it.  She kneels there inviting habit to take control so that…

…so that I might unwittingly find an empty shell, a dryness that pines like the desert for water, a desolation.  She's there to put me ill at ease, uncomfortable.  She's there to remind me of the incredible Mystery of Christ buried in the tomb.  She did her job, and now the power of Easter will be even stronger to me, for that lack will be undone tonight!

Easter Candle at Ampleforth
Happy Easter!

Good Friday

I had a cold all through Holy Week.  This was a problem because the monks had asked me to sing the Exsultet at the Easter Vigil.  (For those who are unfamiliar, the Exsultet is a long, joyous, and ancient chant in the presence of the Easter Candle, which symbolizes Christ himself.)  I was honored and excited at the chance opportunity, but all through the week there was a good chance that I physically would not be able to do it.

In a moment of prayer and surrender however, Good Friday evening, I came to the following conclusion:

If I must give up singing the Exsultet because of this cold, I have an opportunity for humility.  If I find tomorrow morning, however, that I do it, I have yet another opportunity for humility.

By that I mean that to let go of the honor of singing the Exsultet would take humility, even if I was forced because of a cold.  But there would also humility in being able to sing it despite the sick state I was in.  It would be something that could only be credited to God.  I know my musical talent is a gift from God, but every now and then I need a reminder.  If I were to sing his praises on the most holy of all nights, it would be by his grace alone.  I'm glad that so often he breaks down the foundations of my ego - I am generally in need of it.

[The story goes on:
On Holy Saturday morning, when I was going to have my final rehearsal, I woke up with a blocked up nose and a raspy, phlegmy throat.  I told Jeff, another deacon on retreat, that short of a miracle, I would not be able to do it.  He replied, "then ask for a miracle."  I did; and I had a lot of people praying for the same thing throughout the week.  I got my miracle, sang it well at the rehearsal, and then at the Vigil, even sang it a whole step too high (by accident) with no problems.  In fact, it was better than I have ever sung it.  Thanks be to God, for I know I did not do it by my own power.]

Random Bavaria Photo:
Overlooking Neuschwanstein Castle

Holy Thursday

At the Mass of the Lord's Supper, I served as one of the deacons with the monks.  As the abbot washed the feet of the chose twelve, I was at his side with the washbowl and towel to help him out.

Now, I have had my feet washed before at Holy Thursday, but I've never had the place I had this year.  I know that in years to come, I will be the one washing others feet, so the symbol of the abbot's servile work was not lost on me.

It's funny though that I talk about washing others feet as being something in the future!  The whole point of the story from John 13 is that we're all supposed to wash one another's feet, and not delay!  It's not just the presider's job at Holy Thursday; it's everyone's job everyday.

Random Bavaria photo:
Dinner in a beer garden

Wednesday of Holy Week Part II

My priesthood is not my gift to give.  It isn't even my priesthood.  Christ is choosing to give the gift to his people through me, and why he chose me, I cannot tell.  In my pride I am yet tempted to come up with reasons why I'm "great for the job," but as experience has taught me, no man, especially not me, is qualified for this enterprise.  Thank God for His help, for if I were left alone to be a priest, I would screw it up big time.

St. Anthony of the Desert supplies fitting words:
The performance of signs does not belong to us - this is the Savior's work.

Wednesday of Holy Week Part I

During the retreat I read the Life of Anthony, by St. Athanasius.  It tells of the life of St. Anthony of the Desert, who with St. Paul of Thebes is one of the great founders of Christian monasticism.  Much of the work describes his encounters with demons, temptations, evil spirits, and exorcisms.  Now, since we are all very convinced in this modern world that such things do not exist, these kinds of stories might seem anachronistic.

Now, putting aside for the moment that such things do exist, I just want to talk about the confidence with which Anthony approached these encounters.  It can be for us a great asset in combatting temptation.  Often times we can feel that temptation is so strong that it is inevitable that we will succumb to it, but if we listen to Anthony's view on demons and temptation, we might begin to recall that we are made in the Image of God, and called to a freedom that makes sin and the powers of evil pale in comparison:

"We must not fear them,
even though they seem to assault us
or threaten us with death,
for they are weak and have power to do nothing
except hurl threats."

"For these antics they deserve instead
to be ridiculed as weaklings."

"But if they held no sway over the swine,
how much less do they hold over people made in the Image of God!"

After reading such sayings from Anthony, I see that he can be a powerful intercessor for us in times of temptation of all kinds.  Whenever selfishness begins to manifest itself in us, in whatever way (greed, pride, lust, gluttony, envy, ...) let us ask Anthony to help us to live up to our Dignity, crushing temptations against the Rock who is Christ when they first appear, before they have the opportunity to grow into something more dangerous.

Random Bavaria photo:
Beneath Hohenschwangau Castle

Tuesday of Holy Week

For part of my retreat, I did lectio divina with the story of the man born blind from John's Gospel (Ch. 9).  I meditated with much of the story, but the final words of Jesus to the Pharisees struck me in a particular way:

If you were blind you would not be guilty, 
but since you say, "We can see," your guilt remains.

For a very long time I have thought myself able to see, and because of this, I've been stuck in my sin and pride.  However, through the past couple of years, and especially on this retreat, it is ever clearer to me that I am blind.  I am constantly lying prostrate asking for God's help simply because I know I am incapable.  I can only see because he gives light to my eyes.

This story is after all centered on Jesus' statement "I AM the Light of the World."  I was born blind, as was the man in the story, as well as the Pharisees.  And, like the Pharisees, I have insisted for all my life that I can see.  Now I know this is wrong; I can only see because he makes me to see.

God is content to let us continue on claiming we can see, claiming to have everything figured out, claiming to have the Truth.  He patiently bears with all of that nonsense.  He grants us the power to push him away, and we do not hesitate to use it.  But every so often, he completely brings down the barriers and leaps into our experience.  Every now and then, we need to be undone.  Thank God for those times when he disturbs us.  He stirs up the waters and brings our stagnant faith back to life.

Monday of Holy Week

I just want to quote the words of St. Augustine from the Office of Readings on Monday of Holy Week.  Augustine can sometimes be a little longwinded, so I often look with despair when I see his name in the breviary.  Yet, there is a reason he comes up so often, and every now and then, his spiritual/literary/theological genius comes out in force.

The case in point being the Wonderful Exchange.  This is a very famous passage about the Incarnation:

Of ourselves we had no power to live, nor did he of himself have the power to die.  Accordingly, he effected a wonderful exchange with us, through mutual sharing:  we gave him the power to die, he will give us the power to live.

There is very little I can say beyond the beauty and simplicity of those words, so I won't try.  Instead, I'll just try and live the life He gives us.

Random Bavaria photo:
Light rain at Andechs

Holy Week Thoughts

Now that the Easter Octave is almost over, this post and the ones to follow might seem a little late in coming.  I was on retreat over Holy Week, and then didn't have internet access for most of this week.  So, while I've wanted to share some of the fruits of that retreat, I haven't had the opportunity until now.  Don't worry though, I'm sure I'll come up with something for Easter after I post all my Holy Week thoughts.

The retreat took place at Ampleforth Abbey, in North Yorkshire, England.  It was great to be in a monastic setting as I made my retreat, especially since I began my priestly training at a Benedictine abbey (St. Joseph's in Covington, LA).  In the posts that follow, I certainly won't be including all of my retreat experience, but just some of the fruits with which God blessed me.  Also, after the retreat, I visited Bavaria with some other Mobile seminarians, so I'll throw in pictures from that trip.

Ampleforth Abbey

Saturday, April 16, 2011


I'm posting this a little late, but I haven't gotten the opportunity to write it until now.  The first line of Friday's Gospel really struck me (pardon the pun):

The Jews picked up rocks to stone Jesus. (Jn 10:31)

Immediately I thought:  What irony!  They would pick up little hand-held rocks with which to stone the Rock of Ages.

My mind started to explore the imagery, and what it might mean.  Their small rocks are the precepts of the Old Law, which as St. Paul teaches us, has no power to save.  In contrast is the person of Jesus and his New Commandment, to love one another as I have loved you.  The Jews can throw their rocks, but they will just shatter and bounce off of what is much harder and stronger.

And, figuratively speaking, this is just what happens in the story - he says to them,  "I have shown you many good works from my Father.  For which of these are you trying to stone me?"  They reply (in an audibly frustrated tone), "we are not stoning you for a good work, but for blasphemy."

Their slavish attachment to the letter of the Law rather than to its Author causes them to let fly petty accusations, which of course simply shatter and are deflected by the love and truth that He is.

While I'm on the topic of Christ as the Rock, check out these lines from Psalm 105:
[Psalm 105 is a recounting of salvation history, from Abraham, all the way to the Israelites in the desert.]

He pierced the rock to give them water;
it gushed forth in the desert like a river.

Now, if Christ is the Rock, then look at the symbolism of the rock in the desert from which God gave the Israelites water.  Here, the psalmist uses the words, "He pierced the rock." (referring to Moses striking the rock with his staff)  That word choice is very telling: Jesus' side was pierced, and blood and water flowed out.  St. John Chrysostom teaches us that the blood signifies the Eucharist, and the water, Baptism - both of which give life to the Church, the bride of Christ, born from the side of his dead body, just as Eve was created from the side of Adam as he slept.

And so, we see just how important Baptism is, since it gives us life while we are yet surrounded by the desolation of the desert.  Baptism comes to us from Jesus, who was pierced for our offenses.

Just some thoughts.  Have a good Holy Week!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


I'm just about two months away from priestly ordination, and I'm very excited.  It's getting hard to stay focused on the daily life here at the seminary, on my studies, on anything really.  But I wanted to give an update on the things that have been going on:

#1 - This one is huge.  A couple weeks ago,  I was graced with the opportunity to travel to the Holy Land (for the second time!) with three other Mobile seminarians, and a group from the Archdiocese led by Archbishop Rodi.  This was truly an amazing experience, and it deserves its own blog post, so I'll get to that later.

#2 - I've started playing music again.  That is to say, I've started just sitting down and playing music for no other reason than it gives me joy.  I had forgotten how refreshing and life giving it was, and I'm glad to get back into it, more regularly anyway.

#3 - Over Holy Week, I'll be making my canonical retreat before ordination, so please keep me in your prayers.  I'm traveling with some friends to Ampleforth Abbey in Yorkshire, England where we will spend the week not only celebrating the Triduum, but also preparing ourselves spiritually for ordination.  I was there two years ago. It's a wonderful location. The Abbey liturgies are beautiful, very reminiscent of my time at St. Joseph's Abbey in Louisiana.  I'm really looking forward to this retreat.

#4 - I've got my "thesis" topic. (It's really just a short 30 page paper to cap off the MDiv program.)  My area of specialization is patristics, so I'll be writing a few of the Fathers' interpretations of Gen 27 (that's when Jacob dresses up like Esau and deceives Isaac into giving him the blessing), focusing mainly on the moral problem of Jacob's deception.

#5 - Southern Night - the Gulf Coast seminarians at the NAC are starting our annual labor of love in putting together Southern Night, an invitation only event for the southerners at the seminary.  We go all out with specialty drinks, seven courses, music, etc.  It's always a lot of fun, but also a lot of work.

#6 - Clericus Cup!  The annual clerical soccer tournament is now going into it's third week.  The North American Martyrs are performing fairly well, but we need a win this Saturday to get into the quarter finals.  As always, the fans from the NAC are going all out, dressing up and shouting our heads off.  I'm more or less leading the charge as Uncle Sam.  If you don't mind dealing with the Italian, you can check out the tournament website: Clericus Cup (The "Photo Gallery" is easy enough to find; Martyrs pictures will always be found under "Girone B.")

I guess that's about it.  Things are going pretty well these days...

Love Your Enemy ...

... but who is my enemy?

Most of us don't have "enemies" in the sense of mortal combat, or combat of any sort, but that's not necessarily what Our Lord is getting at.

Rather than what we normally think of as adversaries, I think Jesus' words might also point us in a more creative direction. In examining my day, I can easily find that there are many people for whom it is difficult me to love. I would submit, therefore, that love your enemies means love those whom you find it most difficult to love. (and all those in between)

We all have a tendency to think that this or that person is just unacceptable, so incompatible with the way we understand things to be, that they're just not worth the time.  We find ourselves saying or thinking things like "I just can't stand that guy," or "there she goes again," etc.

Hold it right there.

Stop for a second and think if you could ever imagine Jesus saying or thinking the same thing in your place.  It's kind of a twist on the old WWJD.  Or better (worse?), imagine that you are that person, and it is Jesus who is regarding you.  You are a sinner, constantly "letting him down," failing to live up to his expectations - would he ever say or think such things about you?  Could you ever imagine Jesus saying "I just can't stand that guy" about ANYBODY?  No!  Not at all!  Not ever!

We often forget that it is also these people whom Jesus is talking about when he says "love your enemies."  Love that person whom you find it most difficult to love. Jesus does not hesitate to love that person, even if you do.

"I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least." 
- Dorothy Day

Back to Random Photos:
Clericus Cup season is back, and so is Uncle Sam.
Here I am holding up the Oscar that we wave whenever
a player from the opposing team takes a dive.
(It's pretty weird wearing fake facial hair.)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Idolatry: does this still happen?

I can't imagine bowing down to worship a little wooden statue, or a big golden calf, or any sort of idol.  People used to do it, but it's really just not done anymore, except maybe by a small percentage out on the fringe.

But most of us see the stupidity of it.  We can foresee just how awkward and bizarre an experience it would be to actually give homage to something that is obviously just a man-made object.  We have all listened well to the words of St. Gregory Nazianzen (even if maybe we haven't actually heard them before):

How can that which is seen be higher and more godlike than that which sees?

Gregory lived in the 4th century, when a very large portion of the world still worshipped idols, and so he loves to point out how backwards it is.  We are human beings, far more godlike than idols, because we're made in the image of God.  Idols are mere images of us, or of animals, or of some other created thing.

So it's settled - idol worship is just some silly ancient idea that's as stupid as it is irrelevant to modern man.  The First Commandment is therefore the easiest commandment to follow because it's so obvious, at least in our enlightened world, wherein no one would ever be so dumb as to worship a piece of silver or stone.  It's a no-brainer.


...well, no.  Leaving aside questions of atheism (perhaps for a later day?), there is a very real danger to which we all fall prey: that of putting other things ahead of God.  Sure, no one is so strange as to bow down and pay homage to a cat sculpture, but

I think it's really a question of priorities.  Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.  None of us sacrifices animals to false gods (at least, I hope not), but how many of us sacrifice our time or talent or treasure to worthless or even sinful things?  What's our real goal in life, and how does that manifest itself in the small things?  It's very easy to say that God and family are the most important things, but when it comes down to it, there's a strong tendency to not actually live that out.

And as far as I see it, time is probably the biggest thing.  It's the one that we're most possessive of - just think about the phrase "me-time."  Sacrificing our time to the false god of our egos is a pretty common and very self-centered sin.  Clearly everyone needs recreation time - that's part of being human.  But if we have enough time to watch 2 hours of TV, but at the same time don't have enough time for 15 minutes of prayer everyday, there's an imbalance.  If we spend hours of time on the internet, while neglecting relationships with those closest to us, there's also an imbalance.

Don't keep your time to yourself - give it instead to those who deserve it.

Just something to think about...


Better a little with fear of the Lord
than a great fortune with anxiety.
Better a dish of herbs where love is
than a fatted ox and hatred with it.
Proverbs 15:16,17

I love this scripture passage! There is so much to be learned from it. It's yet a another great way of saying what God has said to us so many times: "What good is it for someone to gain the whole world but lose his soul?" (Mk 8:36) We've all heard it, but we also conveniently forget it when it suits us. It's amazing how many things can suddenly become more important in practice than the faith that we believe in theory. How quickly do we switch from professing love for God and for our neighbor to needing to fulfill this or that selfish need.

We all want that fatted ox, when all we need is the dish of herbs, that is, if we let love in.

If the only thing that I have is the love of God, then I have enough... which means, we all have enough already! God loves us already. And yet we feel the need to fill ourselves with so many things that cannot satisfy. That's the heart of St. Ignatius' Suscipiat:

Take, O Lord, receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, my entire will. You have given me all that I am and all that I possess. Now I return it. I surrender it all to be disposed of wholly according to your will. Give me only your love and your grace. That's enough for me.

Moving on...

The passage from Proverbs also makes a great point about fear. People have asked me in the past about fear of the Lord - how is it that a God who loves us and wants us to love Him in return also wants us to fear him? Well, Proverbs shows us that there's a big difference between fear of the Lord and anxious fear. When one has a lot, one fears losing it, but when one has very little, there's nothing to lose.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. It's a holy fear that comes from the realization that God is God, and I am not. It's not an abject trembling before an overlord type god who can and will crush us at the first provocation. It is rather very much connected to humility. Even Mary, she who is without sin, has fear of the Lord. Even Adam and Eve before sinning had this holy fear. It is the kind of fear that does not preclude us from approaching Him, but rather encourages us to approach Him.

It is not the loss of our salvation that we should fear, but the intensity of God's love - a fearful and wonderful thing. It is knowing that God loves us even though we have done nothing to earn it. For such as us, who generally feel guilty when we have something we don't deserve, it is very disconcerting to be loved by God having done nothing to deserve it and everything to reject it. He sees our imperfections, yet looks past them and sees in us the Image of Himself. And so, we are rightfully fearful, not that he will change his mind, but perhaps that we will not change ours.

Cardinal Hume explained this humble fear very well:
How much better if I come before God when I die, not to say thank you that I was such a good monk, abbot, bishop, but rather God be merciful to me a sinner. For if I come empty handed, then I will be ready to receive God's gift.

And one more excellent quote for good measure:
The sign that a creature hopes in Me and not in himself, is that he does not fear with a servile fear. They who hope in themselves are the ones who fear... they spend so much... in acquiring and preserving temporal things, that they turn their back on the spiritual... I alone am He who provides all things... with the same measure that My creatures hope in Me, will My providence be measured to them. (God to St. Catherine of Siena, Dialogue)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Philosophy in High School, part II

Now, from my last post, please don't think that I mean that high schoolers should study philosophy in order to facilitate more vocations to the priesthood. That was only the beginning of my journey (or maybe, you could say that the beginning was my baptism, or maybe even in the mind of God before I was conceived...whatever).  It was only part of the process in realizing I should enter seminary and it's not the reason I stayed. If my vocation were based entirely on Platonism, I'd really be up a creek. There's a seed of the Word there, but still, it's only a seed.

No, I think it's valuable because it opens up young minds to a fuller experience of reality. It helps them begin to think on their own, much more than do "critical thinking" problems from a textbook in any other subject. Though it may not provide a lot of answers, it does teach how to ask good questions. The young mind is by nature more curious about things (well, I just thought of that--it might not be true, but it sounds good), so why not teach it to really think about things as well?

Enter my younger brother who is now a senior at the same high school. Philosophy has become a much larger part of the curriculum than it once was, at least from what he tells me. He approached me earlier this (academic) year about helping him with a research paper, which was to be a comparison of Plato and the Matrix. I don't remember exactly, but I probably shouted at him, "Yes, absolutely!" I was so excited.

I was at home at the time, so we immediately went up to the bookshelf that my parents have granted me temporarily to fill with all my philosophy books until such time as I have a place to put them.  From there I pulled my copy of The Republic, and for secondary literature, Jones' The Classical Mind, a text I had from my first Ancient philosophy course. I even had a copy of The Matrix and Philosophy that I had picked up on an impulse buy (subsequently reading only two of the articles, at most). Then I marked the relevant sections for him to read and sent him on his merry way.

Then, when I was home again over Christmas break I got the chance to answer questions and to explain to him as best I could, the Sun, the Divided Line, and the Cave. I'll admit, since I've been studying theology for almost four years now, and since I did more of my graduate work on Aristotle than Plato, I had to reteach myself a lot of the subtler distinctions as we went along. More than a couple times I started explaining things in terms of Aristotelian metaphysics, and had to check myself. Still, he showed genuine interest, and a real capacity to understand. He was "recollecting the forms" quite well.

Watching him think on his own was really cool, and the way some of his questions were able to confound me reminded me very much of what Aristotle says in the Metaphysics (and how far I fell short of it!):  "In general, it is a sign of the man who knows and of the man who does not know, that the former can teach..." and "he who is more exact and more capable of teaching the causes is wiser."

When I finally proofread his paper after Christmas break, I was happy to see that it was so much more than a simple compare and contrast of the plots of the Matrix and the Cave, but showed a depth of understanding of the bigger picture in Plato. He was even able to explain Plato's epistemology in more elegant and concise language than I had explained it to him, and he did so a couple of times in the paper.  He's eighteen, and I hadn't even started seriously reading Plato until sophomore year of college!

Do I think he's going to major in philosophy? No, and I'm not disappointed in that either. Not everyone who studies biology in high school majors in biology. On the other hand, he is quite capable not only of understanding philosophy, but of his own creative philosophical thought. And, while it seems amazing and out of the ordinary, it's really not. He's just being a human being, naturally desirous of knowledge for it's own sake.

Philosophy is something that human beings do naturally, at least when given the opportunity. Why not offer it to them as early as possible? (though not too soon, mind you) The sooner the introduction to philosophy, the less time spent in the utterly pointless and ultimately boring status quo of the world.

unrelated image:
That's right.  I'm a ninja.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Philosophy in High School, part I

I am a big fan of philosophy as part of high school curriculum. I don't know if it is something accessible to students at all levels, but it is definitely something that youth should study insofar as it is possible.  I speak from my own experience, though I don't claim to be absolutely right.

I was introduced to a very small dose of philosophy in my own high school experience. In my junior English class we read the allegory of the cave from Plato's Republic. I remember kind of understanding the concept, but it's pretty vague in my memory. I think we also had to do a paper comparing and contrasting Thoreau's Civil Disobedience and Plato's Apology (or some other dialogue), but I don't remember that too well either.

The first time I really philosophized during high school was senior year, and it was very Platonic in nature, so I wonder if that tiny introduction the year before made some kind of impression after all.

I was playing a lot of video games (imagine that - just being true to my generation). At that particular time I found myself totally enmeshed in Final Fantasy VII. When I wasn't playing it, I would still think about it, imagining what I was going to do next in game play, reviewing the things I still needed to collect, pondering the best way of getting more experience points, etc. Too much of my time was wrapped up in the game.

Cool game, and a surprisingly apt title
for it's place in my story...

Then came the moment of grace. I started reflecting on the game playing. I started to see it for what it was: an obsession. I started to realize that every moment spent on that game was a moment of reality of which I was depriving myself. Every ounce of my energy spent on that imaginary reality was energy I wasn't giving to real human relationships or to problems and resolutions that actually matter. The emptiness of the game became apparent to me in the face of the real world around me that I had somehow hidden from view for a long time.

But grace didn't stop there. The crucial step still had to be taken:

I asked myself, "What if?" I suddenly remembered that there was a yet higher reality, something truer than what I was counting as concrete. It occurred to me that just as much as my real life (on the level of high school, friends, and family) was truer than the world of Final Fantasy VII, just so was Life (on the level of faith, the divine, and the spiritual) a truer reality than everything else. It's not exactly Plato, but at the same time, it's not exactly opposed to him either.

And so I started to place emphasis on that which I had (rather suddenly) came to consider was the most important, the most worthy of emphasis. Above all else, God was the most real, and the most worthy of being the center of my life and of all my efforts.

It was in such a climate that I decided to enter the seminary. Imagine that: without philosophy (that is, actual philosophizing, not just learning about philosophy) I never would have joined the seminary. I wouldn't be the deacon I am today, and I wouldn't be approaching ordination in the spring.

Random picture:
Participating in the "bad sweater"
contest at the seminary.  I didn't win, but
I'm not mad, because that's a fine sweater.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


I've never really seen the value in the Fruits of the Holy Spirit.

[...wait, what!?  Did he really just say that!?]

Yep, I did.  But allow me to qualify it:

The only emphasis on the fruits of the Spirit that I remember from religious education growing up was that we had to memorize them.  That's all.  (Though, there is the possibility that I just wasn't paying attention.)  So I ask, why are they important, if all we're going to do is learn how to list them by rote?  I do not recall it ever being explained to me how these things are relevant to my life.

<in my boring voice>
1) Love, 2) Joy, 3) Peace, 4) Patient Endurance
5) Kindness, 6) Generosity, 7) Faithfulness, 
8) Gentleness, 9) Self Control

<in my sarcastic voice
These are the fruits of the Spirit.  Aren't you edified?

<back to normal me>
(that is, I hope I don't normally sound boring and sarcastic...) 

Time to stop trying to shock and/or entertain the reader 
and simply say what I mean:  

The Fruits of the Spirit are intensely important, but we can't just look at these nice qualities in a list and expect it to matter.  First, we need to hear the fruits in their context from St. Paul's letter to the Galatians.  Therein, he presents the fruit of the spirit in contrast to the works of the flesh:*

"Now the works of the flesh are obvious:  immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like.  I warn you, as I have warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patient endurance, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.  Against such there is no law.  Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires.  Since we live by the spirit, let us follow the spirit's lead." (Gal 5:19-25)

If we are to live according to the Spirit, then the fruits are for us a sign, in their presence or their absence, of how seriously we are taking this new life in the Spirit to which we are called.  If they are present in us, then that's a pretty good sign we're doing well.  If they're no where to be found, maybe it's time we dealt with that.

I think that most of us can get distracted by some of the more "extra-ordinary" works of the flesh listed, such as sorcery, idolatry, or orgies (which are no less real for seeming so out of the ordinary), and disregard the whole list as outrageous sins that "normal" people don't regularly deal with.  However, there are some very common and very insidious things in that list that we definitely ought to pay attention to.

For example, how many of us tend to lose our temper in outbursts of fury?  What about the tendency that many of us have to divide family or community into factions through the sin of gossip?  Even something like idolatry is very relevant--don't we all, even if we don't admit it, set other things higher than God on our list of priorities?  St. Paul is really taking us to task.

But if we think we aren't doing so well after examining the works of the flesh in our lives, how much more so when we come to see the lack of the fruits of the Spirit?  Do I patiently endure traffic, or a headache, or someone else's whining?  How self controlled am I?  Self control has to do with a lot of things:  food, drink, chastity, occasions of anger, etc.  Where is the joy in my life?  Forget just looking at the bad I have done; how much of a lack of the good is there in my life?

(I've never thought of this before, but I might consider using this whole passage, both the list of works of the flesh and the fruits of the spirit, as a guide for examining my conscience.  It's actually pretty comprehensive insofar as it covers (albeit generally) both "what I have done" and "what I have failed to do.")

And yet, even if we feel terribly accused and convicted by these inspired words of St. Paul, that doesn't mean it's doom and gloom, that all hope for us is lost, and we won't ever enter the Kingdom.  No.  All of it is put into perspective by what Paul writes a few verses earlier:

"You were called for freedom, but do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love. ... Live by the Spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh." (Gal 5:13,16)

This is why the Fruits of the Spirit matter:
Freedom is the key.  We are called for freedom and it is the Spirit who makes us free, who helps us choose the good.  Looking at our lives through the lens of the fruits of the Spirit is not just to point out how bad we are and how good we aren't.  So much more important than that, it ought to remind us that we can change!  Paul is not writing to condemn the Galatians nor to condemn us.  He's writing to remind them of the Truth he first preached to them, and to remind us of the Truth we have also heard.  By the power of the Spirit, we can live lives full of joy, love, kindness, generosity, etc.  (By the way, how awesome is the line: "against such there is no law"?)

Make no mistake, when Paul says, "you were called for freedom," he is talking to you. (and me, for that matter)  It's not some hypothetical, as though it us up to us first to decide whether or not we want to live in the Spirit.  It is already a fact:  you are called to be free, so don't waste that freedom on gratifying the flesh.  Take it as an opportunity to be who you were meant to be.

My short-lived stint as a stand-up comedian...
definitely not who I was meant to be
If you think you aren't very patient, then start working on it (and don't forget to pray often for the Spirit to guide you).  If you aren't living your life with joy in your heart, start looking for the many reasons for joy that you have.  The Spirit won't hesitate to help you see them; you just have to ask.  Go down the list, and anything that is lacking in you, make a commitment to welcome the Spirit into your life in that way.  We won't change overnight, but we won't change at all if we don't ever get started.

And while your at it, pray for the intercession of the saints, especially St. Paul.  He desired that the Galatians heard of these fruits--I'm pretty sure he's hopeful we hear of them too!

*- By "the flesh" St. Paul doesn't mean the same thing as St. John when he says that "the Word was made flesh."  John is talking about the mystery of the Incarnation, and how good it is that the Son of God became one of us in every way but sin.  Paul means something very different.  He uses the term "flesh" to mean our sinful inclination away from God, our selfish tendencies which are opposed to the Spirit.  

The usual random photo:
(a bit less random now that it's the norm)
The evening of Sunday, October 3, 2010
You all know what happened.