The Fruit vs. The Weeds

Today’s reflection given at St. Eugene’s Catholic Church on the Memorial of Sts. Joachim and Anne and on the day of Fr. Jacques Hamel’s murder:

Today’s Gospel fits perfectly for today, not necessarily because it is the Feast Day of Sts. Joachim and Anne, the parents of Mary, the Theotokos, but because of its significance in today’s current events.

This Gospel is Jesus’ explanation of the Parable of the Weeds. The Parable of the Weeds occurred just a few verses earlier in Mt. 13:24-30. Jesus is surrounded by a huge crowd and he teaches them about the Kingdom of Heaven using parables. As a Sooner, my favorite among these is the Parable of the Sower, but what the Lord gives us in the Parable of the Weeds is just as rich. Jesus teaches the people that when the fruit of the earth, the good wheat, is mature, it will be harvested, but only after the weeds are gathered and burned. The imagery is quite rich, but the disciples desired further explanation after the crowds were dismissed. They didn’t fully understand, and they desired more. The Lord goes into detail with them, explaining each character or setting and equating it to reality. The sower is the Lord, the enemy who sowed weeds is Satan, the wheat is the faithful (hopefully us…), the weeds are those who do evil, the harvesters are the Angels of God, and the furnace is Hell.

Anyone who has ever worked in a garden can relate to this Gospel very well. The Weeds can very easily take over. Just as weeds can take over a garden or field, so can evil in our lives.  We can see that in the world today.  Thanks to relativism, our world struggles to even discern between right and wrong.  With obvious problems, such as murder, the consensus of people is still that murder is not right in any circumstance. However, the lines begin to become blurred past that.  Things that were immoral just a decade or just a century ago are somehow morally acceptable now.  Relativism has captivated our culture and is slowly taking it over, just like weeds in a fruitful garden.

This morning I was able to visit St. Ann’s and to visit some of our parishioners there. I was also able to see some of the priests that live there.  As I was talking to Fr. Marvin Leven, he looked back on his life as a priest and told me “I would have done things differently if I had known what I know now” (paraphrase).  We learn from our experiences that the Lord has given us.  Each experience is an invitation to growth and a deepening of the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, even the difficult experiences.  However, the Lord will not force us to grow.  He allows us to choose what we do.  Satan wants our relationship with the Lord to degenerate.  He wants the weeds to cut us off.

Today in France, Fr. Jacques Hamel, an 84-year-old priest who has served the people of God since he was ordained in 1958, was killed at the altar as he was saying Mass. Evil has no limits.  Maybe it’s disguised in something that is good.  Other times, it is obvious.  We continue to hear story upon story of evil occurring in our world.  It thinks that it can choke out the good.  Yet, the priest Tertullian says “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” (Apologeticus, ch. 50).  It’s not too late to take back our field.  It’s not too late to turn our trust back to God and to further His kingdom in this fallen world.  We can look to the saints and martyrs as examples of how to live our lives for Christ.  We can ask them to help us, to help convert our hearts and our world.  We can be the Light of the World to a world of darkness.  All we must do is trust, believe, and live our lives as Christ asks us to.

Fr. Jacques Hamel, Pray for Us.

Sts. Joachim and Anne, Pray for Us.

Our Lady, Queen of Martyrs, Pray for Us.

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In the Silence, God Speaks

Photo Credit: Zachary Meador Boazman

Rediscovering the centrality of God’s word in the life of the Church also means rediscovering a sense of recollection and inner repose. The great patristic tradition teaches us that the mysteries of Christ all involve silence. Only in silence can the word of God find a home in us, as it did in Mary, woman of the word and, inseparably, woman of silence. This principle — that without silence one does not hear, does not listen, does not receive a word — applies especially to personal prayer as well as to our liturgies: to facilitate authentic listening, they must also be rich in moments of silence and of non-verbal reception. –Pope Benedict XVI

Tomorrow, my brothers in the Spirituality Year at St. John Vianney join those from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Broomtree, SD for the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatian of Loyola, a 30-day silent retreat that aims at disconnecting you from the things of the world so that you may better hear the Lord. Just as our bodies need exercise to stay healthy and fit, so too do our souls. During this retreat, we will be praying 5 hours a day, not including Mass. We meet with our spiritual directors daily to discuss the graces we have experienced and to evaluate our spiritual fitness. And then we pray. And pray more. To me, this is like The Biggest Loser, except for our spiritual side. It will likely be the most intense 30 days I’ve experienced in my whole life. The Lord will push me to the limits of what I see as “doable.”  But, in return, the Lord is providing me an experience of a life time. Very few priests, let alone laymen, will ever get to experience the Spiritual Exercises. Those that do frequently remember back to the experiences and graces they received over their 30 day. As intimidating, difficult, and “unfun” as it seems to many, I have never heard of someone describe their 30-day as a bad experience. 

I am excited for what the Lord has in His providence over the next 30 days. It is also extremely out of my comfort zone (which is honestly probably where the Lord wants me). Please keep me and my brothers in your prayers. We will return to Denver on June 15th. I will be back in Oklahoma on June 21st. 

Your Grace Is Enough

It’s hard to believe that my first year of seminary is wrapping up. But here it is, May. The Spirituality Year will be over in a matter of days, and the culmination of what the Spirituality Year prepares men for is upon us. On May 16, my 21 SY Brothers and I will travel to Broomtree Retreat Center in Irene, SD to embark on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, a 30-day Silent Retreat that revolves around Ignatian contemplation and silence. 

If I were to tell you that the year was not full of difficulties, I would be lying. Similarly, though, if I were to tel you that this year was horrible, I’d be lying even more. Even with the burdens that this year has carried, like the Media and Commerce Fasts, it had been the best of year of my life. I wish that every Christian man would be able to participate in this year. The graces that the Lord has poured out upon me have been incredible. There is honestly no way that I could describe all the things that the Lord has revealed to me this year. So, I’m only going to describe a few experiences.  

1). It’s the Lord who does all the work. 

Part of the Spirituality Year consists of a 30-day Immersion with the Poor. I worked with homeless and near-homeless people doing what is known as friendship evangelization. Often, this consisted in taking our “friends” to get food, go shopping, get healthcare, find jobs or housing, and so forth. 

We also had an apostolate, or pastoral assignment. My apostolate was at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School here in Denver. Every week, we would go to our apostolate and hang out with the kids. I was assigned to Mrs. Mary Donelson’s Third Grade Class. We would be in our respective classrooms for an hour then go help out in Extended Care for an hour and a half or so. 

Anyway, back to the grace. I felt like I did very little at my apostolate. Sure, I had fun and the kids did too, but did I really have an impact?  The answer is YES!  How? It is the Lord who does the work through you! If you open yourselves up to God and his Divine Will, you allow God to work through you. By just being me, the Lord worked through me. It is unbelievably hard to even think of this being possible until you see it. 

This grace has also been awesome for me to contemplate over the past several months. In short, if the Lord is doing the work through me, then I really cannot take “credit” for the work. I can thank God for working through me and for the things he has done to others, but I cannot say “Look at all the great things I’VE done.”  As a priest, he cannot praise himself for many of the things that he does. It’s only through the Lord that it happens. 

2). The Lord loves you more than you can imagine, no matter what you may have done in the past. It’s Satan who will try to degrade you. 

In addition to the upcoming 30-day silent retreat, we did a 3-day in the Fall and a 5-day in March. In one of my meditations, the Lord revealed to me Satan’s tactics. Satan, often times, is made out to be powerful, valiant, and cunning. However, this really isn’t the case. Sure, he can be cunning. But most of the time, his tactics are extremely sad and even comical. Satan will attack you where you are weakest. He will attack you in your past, saying how horrible or sinful of a person you are. He will rub salt in the wounds of your past, making you question your worthiness. But the truth is, Satan is pitiful. He has NO control over you once you turn your life to the Lord. He will try to attack you where you are weak because where you are strong, he would be struck down swiftly. Once you realize that Satan is weak and has no control over you, the quicker you can be free of anxiety and doubt and grow to recognize God’s love even more. 

3). I’m where the Lord is calling me to be. 

Even with the ups and downs of this year, my bad days still seem to be better than many of my good days were in the past. True happiness comes from following God’s Will and I feel that I have found true happiness. During spiritual direction recently, I described some of my current feelings about my life and my vocation. My spiritual director then said that it seems that these were signs that I had a pretty solid call to the priesthood. I responded and asked “So I shouldn’t leave the seminary?” He laughed and said “That would be absurd.”  

I ask for your prayers for my brothers and I as we prepare to head off to do our 30-day Silent Retreat. Following the 30-day, I have been assigned to spend the summer at St. Eugene Catholic Church in Oklahoma City. I will be there for several weeks before preparing to head back to Denver on August 20th. My posts will probably be more frequent following the 30-day Spiritual Exercises (we were asked not to blog during the year). 

More Opinions on the SAE Incident

Today, President Boren expelled two young men in response to the SAE racist chant.

I support President Boren in the administrative action. Sadly, names are beginning to be thrown around as instigators and “leaders” of the chant.  My opinion only, of course, but we do not need to be trying to run them out of town on a rail. Do we support what they did? Obviously, absolutely not.  Just as this has been one of the worst times for the University during our college careers, this will likely be some of the worst times of their lives. These kids (yes, they’re still kids…) made an absolutely horrible mistake, and they’re being justly punished for it. We don’t need to be making death threats, making fun of them on social media, and the sort. We should be praying for them and, if we know them personally, be helping them to understand their mistake and help them get on with their lives.

Live On, University

Late yesterday, news broke about members of SAE at my alma mater, the University of Oklahoma, chanting racist things. Honestly, I initially thought that people were overreacting, as we often do.  Then I saw the video (I won’t post that video on my page.  I’m sure you can find it very easily if you really want to, which you shouldn’t.).  It wasn’t a single member saying a single racist word; it was a whole bus full of members chanting a racist song, a song which was definitely taught, whether that be officially or unofficially (that is, I believe, still under investigation).  The song, quite frankly, is disturbing on so, so many levels. I am ashamed that this would happen at OU and that all of OU is shaded in controversy for what a small group of people have done.

Thankfully, both SAE National and President Boren have taken a strong stance against OU SAE. Here is President Boren’s statement (from his Twitter @President_Boren):

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Luckily, the University’s quick response has softened the blow from SAE’s actions.  In fact, the White House has applauded President Boren’s actions.  One thing we must remember is this: as outrageous as what SAE members said is, we must make sure to remember that people make mistakes.  We should condemn the action, but not the person.  It is not wrong to express outrage, but we should stop short of judging the people.  This isn’t to say they shouldn’t be punished: there has already been some punishment and there is sure to be even more coming down the pike.

If nothing else, this has united the University and exposed a problem in our culture.  Through prayer, hopefully this will be resolved.

Reflections on the Feast of St. Agnes and the Vigil of the March for Life

Wednesday was my first full day in our Nation’s Capital. Overall, it was a great day. DC is such a cool city. I had so many misconceptions about it (like it bring crime-ridden). Its been a great experience so far.

Tonight, I attended the Opening Mass for the National Prayer Vigil for Life. To get a seat, we had to get there very early (I was there about 2.5 hours early and barely got a spot in the main church). I had plenty of time, so I decided to do the Office of Readings. The Second Reading from the Office of Readings was from St. Ambrose. Here is an excerpt:

It is the birthday of Saint Agnes, who is said to have suffered martyrdom at the age of twelve. The cruelty that did not spare her youth shows all the more clearly the power of faith in finding one so young to bear it witness.

A new kind of martyrdom! Too young to be punished, yet old enough for a martyr’s crown; unfitted for the contest, yet effortless in victory, she shows herself a master in valor despite the handicap of youth. As a bride she would not be hastening to join her husband with the same joy she shows as a virgin on her way to punishment, crowned not with flowers but with holiness of life, adorned not with braided hair but with Christ himself.

This was a perfect thing to reflect upon the day prior to the March for Life. Just as St. Agnes, was innocent, so are the victims of abortions. We must work to protect the innocents of our time. Much of this will be exemplified tomorrow, when hundreds of thousands descend upon Washington, DC to March for Life. Very fitting, the US House of Representatives will be voting on H.R. 36, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. Pray for the marchers, legislators and politicians, and the unborn!

St. Agnes, Pray for Us!

Reflections on the Last First Week of Class of my Undergraduate Career

This week has been full of emotions… haha who am I kidding.  No it hasn’t.  The only emotion I have experienced is the emotion that many would call “senioritis.”  However, my primary vocation and job at this time is to do one thing: graduate.  I have quite an interesting class schedule this semester.

I have learned many things so far from these courses.  Some of them I am about to share with you, along with my opinions of the classes (if there’s nothing interesting).

  This quote was taken from my Life After OU class, a class which pretty much does what the course title says.  The goal is to promote awareness of issues that many students do not know about, such as taxes, healthcare, etiquette, etc.  It seems to be a great class so far.  Best of all, it’s a 3 hour pass/fail.  Yippee!

Next comes from a required reading from my Adventures of Digital Humanities course (a course that is Presidential Dream Course at The University of Oklahoma).

The Internet represents the ascension of yahoos, a victory lap for plagiarists, the end of culture, the beginning of the dark ages inhabited by glassy-eyed chronic masturbators who judge truth by the number of thumbs up, wisdom by the number of views, and knowledge by whatever is most fun to believe … Our task is to learn how to build smart rooms – that is, how to build networks that make us smarter, especially since, when done badly, networks can make us distressingly stupider.

-Prologue, Too Big To Know by David Weinberger, pp. xii-xiii

Hmmm… Weinberger uses some harsh words.  But you know, he’s right!  Many of us both hate the people that this describes, yet fall into it ourselves.  I have been known myself to be proud of the fact that something I posted on Facebook got 209 likes (true story, by the way).  Our world is so full of self-gain, it’s hard not to get caught up in it.

Economic Geography is a geography requirement for graduation.  The course, taught by Dr. Travis Gliedt, is not the most interesting class it seems I am taking, but will help me understand even more about the geography field.

My Origins of Christianity class seems to spur my interest as much as (or more than) my geography classes (go figure, I’m going to seminary after all I guess).  The class is taught by Dr. Kyle Harper, a classical culture historian and Provost of the University.  We have assigned Bible readings, including from the Maccabees (!), The Golden Ass by Apuleius, and Confessions by St. Augustine, among others.  While it is not exclusively from a Catholic perspective, I feel that this class could deepen my understanding of the roots of the Church.

My Capstone project is Representing China Through Late-Night Humor. The project focuses on popular geopolitics and humor. The importance of this project can be seen by looking at the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris this month. The popular geopolitics field is growing by leaps and bounds and will continue to grow. Expect to see more about this project on my Geography
page.

Overall, it looks to be a fun semester, but a busy one as well. Between applying to St. John Vianney, March for Life (be looking for a new blog post on that soon), presenting at the Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting in Chicago this April, and, of course, graduation, I’ll probably be pretty swamped. I only need to remember this: only 15 weeks keep me from obtaining a degree from the University of Oklahoma. Boomer!