Solemnity of All Saints. God has adopted us as his children. "See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we might be called Children of God. Yet so we are." Children are innocent; they enjoy things simply because they are good. Children love to sing for the fun of it, while adults only sing if they think they are good at it and that people will notice. What does being a child of God look like? Here and now it looks like the Beatitudes. In the next life it looks like a multitude which no one can count, wearing white robes and praising God. (1 Nov 2009)
Halloween is the perfect time to reflect on the strange new popularity of zombies and vampires. The early vampire movies depicted creepy old men sucking the blood of young women while they slept. They were a form of undead that had to sleep during the day to avoid the killing power of sunlight. But the new vampires are young and hip. Buffy used to slay them; Angel was one. In Underworld and now Twilight, vampires have become heroes. They walk among us in broad daylight, dressed in the latest fashions and wooing the hearts of women. Quite a makeover. What’s next, Vampire Eye for the Human Guy – where vampires show ordinary guys how to catch their style?
Then there’s the Zombie. Partly rotten, dripping blood, and stumbling slowly through a city street seems to do little for their public image. How much more can you do with a zombie? Yet they are now popping up everywhere. The Zombie Reporting Center listed 24 new zombie movies in 2007 and the trend has continued strong. Now there are zombie angels, zombie strippers, Zombie Diaries, and no shortage of zombie comedies. What’s next, a zombie family show? The cartoon Zits recently ran a series called "6 Reasons why Zombies would make cool Parents."
Why are such strange things suddenly so popular? This author speculates that zombies are how we see our world, and vampires are how we see ourselves. Let me elaborate and see if it makes sense to you.
Zombies – they trail blood as they stumble around, but if they get their hands on you, they will eat you. Very many of our neighbors and fellow citizens stumble through life like zombies. They wander from thing to thing doing one thing after another without a lot of thought or concern. They rarely sing, often groan, and never take time to sit and think about what they are doing. How often do we engage in real conversation with the people around us? And when we do, we are always afraid that the person in front of us might take advantage of us, monopolize our time, or worse. I think the new self-checkout kiosks are so that we can avoid even the minimum of contact with others because it is so painful. We thoughtlessly consume food, drink, and whatever else is put in front of us, regardless of its quality. Watch kids walking through the hallway in a high school, then watch a zombie film. The similarities are remarkable. Perhaps the popularity of zombie films finds its roots in a simple fear: we are afraid that the strangers all around us who have to chug coffee and energy drinks just to put on the appearance of being alive, will soon look up, notice us, and come after us.
My Secret Vampire Life
So how about the vampires? They look like ordinary people, but deep down they are different. As long as they can control their desire to drink blood, they can live ordinary, productive, almost-human lives. This is how we see ourselves. Each of us believes we are different from the others and special. Our "real self" is something that we hide when we put on masks at work and at home. So often the people around us are completely uninterested in us, and they go about their daily life oblivious to the fact that we are someone special. We are afraid that if we show who we really are, those around us will be repulsed by it. At the same time we secretly dream that we can find someone who will discover who we really are and love us for it. Until then, we keep our sunglasses on.
So life is a struggle between zombies and vampires. Not a pleasant place to live. Fortunately, the answer to this dilemma is closer than we realize. It consists very simply in recognizing our own humanity, and doing the same for others. Being human is more than just producing and consuming. Imagine if the time spent beating levels in guitar hero were actually spent learning to play the guitar? Our own lives and those of our friends would be so much more enriched. But you can’t quantify that, so unless it can be packaged and marketed, we aren’t interested. We have a yearning for love, beauty, goodness, community, and authentic interactions. Yet while we feed our bodies (and how!), we starve our souls. We rarely touch people, afraid of spreading germs or being accused of something. We spend little time and money on music, art, or dance. We fail to appreciate what we are eating and we miss most of the sunsets and the goodness of people all around us. Slowly we become zombies. Fight the undead! Take time out to pray and meditate. Think about what you are doing and what it means. Are you learning to appreciate your own humanity? Are you taking time to recognize the humanity of others and rejoice it in? A good reminder every week is to take time to come to church. It reminds us of all the important things that can’t be quantified, like friendships, love, beauty, joy, and flowers. Most of all, time "wasted" being human is time spent the best way possible.
Have you hugged your zombie parents today?
Hollywood is churning out more and more films that destroy the world. The classic nuclear holocaust and radioactive winter has lost popularity recently, but climate change might cause floods of biblical proportions or a new ice age. Gigantic meteors could pulverize the earth. When the possibility of natural disasters ends, the real terror begins. An unstoppable pandemic viruses, engineered in a lab, might turn most of the human race into flesh-eating zombies. Our brilliant technology might get out of hand, turn evil, and kill or enslave the entire human race. Am I exaggerating? Perhaps, but last year was remarkable in that it featured Wall-E, the first children’s film that was set on a lifeless future earth.
The film 2012 is another version of these fears using an old Mayan calendar. It is fairly obvious that the Mayans were not predicting anything, they just didn’t bother to add more digits to their date (the end of the world happened a long time ago for them). However, the idea of entering a new year 1, even in a calendar no one uses, seems exciting. Why is it that, instead of rejoicing in the possibility that we could be beginning a new era, we are terrified that it might bring about our destruction?
America today is not a land of hope, but a nation of fears, because we have arrived at a crossroads. We had been convinced that each new discovery, each new medical breakthrough, each new invention, each new housing development, each new corporation, each new gadget, was bringing us greater happiness, prosperity, security, and peace. We got everything we asked for, but in the end we have not received what we wanted. Our stomachs are full, our pockets are full, are houses are full, our calendars are full, but our lives have never felt so empty. We have hundreds of friends electronically at our fingertips, but we have never felt so lonely. We have more choices, fewer limitations, more possibilities, more shopping, more entertainment, more power and wealth than any society before us. Why does our life seem bland, fragile, hopeless, and pointless?
We as a nation have lost our way. On a mostly subconscious level, we know the path we are walking will not lead us to happiness, and we are increasingly convinced that it is gradually bringing about our own destruction. While we are afraid to voice these fears, Hollywood has no qualms about exploiting them in larger-than-life ways. We might not be living on a lifeless planet or hunted by zombies, inside we are lifeless and hunted by a darkness we cannot name. Some of you might find this description too dark and morbid, but I am exaggerating the fears that lurk on the edges of our minds.
I noticed in the movie trailer for 2012, one of the scenes shows the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel splitting in two, separating the finger of Adam from the finger of God. This is precisely the key. As long as we live in harmony with God, we live in harmony with the world and with ourselves, and there is peace. We as a nation have refused to listen to God, telling ourselves that it is hard to hear his voice. Arrogantly we believed that science could fix the scars of our sins, that economics would allow us to live selfishly without hurting anyone, and that entertainment and spirituality would fill the void in our souls, a void cries out for God. So we thundered ahead, building a brave new world, heedless of the dangers until it has become obvious that we are not moving in a positive direction. Old financial bulwarks have fallen, families are collapsing, and depression like a cancer spreads through the land. Do we continue, and risk destruction? Do we choose a new path? If so, which one?
Our poor choices were based on false values. We as a nation need to re-examine our values, listen to the voice of God. Pope John Paul II diagnosed the whole disease, from politics to economics, from science to art to medicine, with a single idea. We need to obey the truth of the natural world and respect the dignity of every human person. Medicine, science, politics, economics, must be built to protect and promote the dignity of the human person as revealed by Jesus Christ. In a very simple way, Wall-E gave the same message. The willingness to welcome new life and respect that life is the key to a new path. If we refuse to welcome life, the light of God will be choked off by the dust of our sin, and it will be a cold, dark cultural winter.
No, I am not suggesting that if we do not listen to God, all our cities will fall into the sea. I am suggesting that we will fall into cultural apocalypse; tyranny, violence, terror, political and financial instability, and all kinds moral evil. I hope this does not happen, because we have time now to reconsider our path. If it does happen, however, I am not afraid. We know from the Book of the Apocalypse that many beasts must come, and plagues and terrors and darkness, before the world is ready to receive Jesus Christ in the second coming. So, if this cultural winter does happen, you will find me huddled around the fire of the faith, keeping it burning until a new generation is strong enough to emerge and rebuild civilization with the grace and power of the Gospel.
Ordinary Time, 30th Sunday. Today is Priesthood Appreciation Sunday and our readings show some interesting aspects of priesthood. Hebrews reminds us that only Christ is the high priest and all other priests participate in His priesthood. Jeremiah reminds the people how much God cares for them, a care which is Sacramentally visible through the priest. The Gospel shows that the priest is a disciple too. Priesthood is given to serve God’s people, and the priest not only leads, but he also follows. (25 Oct 2009)
The audio file is almost 8mb in size. I could reduce the size so it would be quicker to download, but that would also affect the quality. Is that something you would find helpful? Let me know if you have opinions on the subject.
The Power of Life has just developed a new vocations video featuring one of my priest friends, Fr. Quinn man. Check it out:
See more at: http://www.poweroflifeevents.org/
Ordinary Time, 29th Sunday. Jesus has been giving a long list of what it takes to be his disciple. Why? Because Jesus does these things and the disciple must be like his master. Jesus has made himself the servant of all and he deeply desires to serve you. But in order to receive his gifts, have to be willing to serve like Him. (18 Oct 2009)
Ordinary Time, 28th Sunday. One thing has struck me since I arrived here in this city: how sad people look all the time. No one really smiles on the street or in the mall. Some can’t even smile back when you smile at them. On a recent TEC retreat, I discovered people that are really, honestly happy. What would we have to give up to accept Christ wholeheartedly and be happy like them? (11 Oct 209)
If you want to experience the joy of Christ, the next Teens Encounter Christ retreat is January 1st. See: www.anchorofhopetec.org
Ordinary Time, 27th Sunday. What are we passing on to our children? The last three Gospel readings have all mentioned children. Are we passing on faith? Are we passing on love? Are we passing on respect for all human life? In addition to families, a very important resource for our children is our Catholic schools, as our GRACE appeal reminds us. (4 Oct 2009)
The Diocese has several appeals every year for different things – missions, religious retirement, seminarians, etc. While these are all good things, the priest feels the pressure to integrate the appeal well into Mass and still allow things to finish in a timely way. Any suggestions from the pew on how to do it better?
For the most part, priesthood needs very little equipment. To celebrate Mass, for example, all we really need are a few fancy garments, some pretty cups and bowls, a few expensive books, and a nice big church comes in handy too. However, it sometimes happens that we celebrate Mass on the road or in nursing homes or other places where all the equipment is not available. In that case, a very useful priestly item is the Mass Kit. It consists of all the basic things needed to say Mass with. They usually cost upwards of $100 and come in various sizes. The smallest are like equipment for doll houses, and the biggest ones practically contain their own altar. Not wanting to spend the money when I was a newly ordained, I decided to build my own. It has taken me a while to collect all the necessary items but here it is: Chalice (the cup), patten (the plate), water and wine, candles and crucifix, altar bread, and altar linens.
It needs to all fold up into a handy travel case. For a long time I couldn’t find anything that was just the right shape. Finally I settled on a Plano Guide Series case, like a small tackle box but without dividers. I called several sporting goods stores but none of them carried this particular model.One day I stopped at a local store. I described what I was looking for and the helpful salesman said, “No, we don’t have anything like that,” and walked away. Right behind his head on the shelf was exactly what I was looking for, and it was the only one in the store.
I had some chunks of 5×5 foam left over from the boxes they ship Easter candles in. Half an hour of snipping and I had a custom-made Mass kit.
The finished product is surprisingly heavy, weighing in at 2kg and measuring 9.5×7.5×4 inches. In the picture below, the dollar bill is for scale (contrary to popular belief, a collection is not a necessary part of Mass). It is also surprisingly expensive — the chalice and patten were each $40, the case was about $30, and the rest was free. So my home-made inexpensive kit cost me about $110. So I spent the same amount of money, just spread out over a period of time. At least I can brag that I built it myself.
Ordinary Time, 26th Sunday. Jesus talks about cutting off hands, feet and eyes. Is he serious? A malfunctioning gas flap on a car shows what Jesus really means: We cannot tolerate even a little sin in our lives. Even small sins begin to choke off the life of God that we desperately need. (27 Sep 2009)