Friday, May 27, 2011

Remembering Our Fallen Soldiers

Monday is Memorial Day, the day where we remember our fallen soldiers who died in combat. I am so grateful that there are so many brave women and men who have sacrificed their lives so that we can maintain our many freedoms, especially the freedom to worship as we choose.

I think that most of us forget how lucky we are to live in the United States. We go to Church on Sunday without the slightest worry or thought of being arrested or persecuted for our Christian beliefs. However, there are too many places in this world where you cannot go to Church without being harassed. Christians are often arrested and jailed for their beliefs. Churches have been closed. Clergy have been jailed or killed.

On Monday, make sure to take a few moments out of your day and remember our fallen soldiers who have died. These soldiers left behind spouses and children, fathers and mothers, friends and relatives.

I wish everyone a safe holiday weekend.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Power of Words

While surfing the net the other day I came across this new book by Nina Sankovitch called Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading (Harper Collins, 2011). The book will be coming out in early June and judging from some of the comments and early reviews I look forward to reading it.

The book is about the power of reading. In short, Nina spent an entire year reading one book a day and blogging about each book on her blog. Why did she do this? Nina spent a long time caring for her sister who had a debilitating illness and she eventually died.

What caught my attention were comments about how Nina changed and found healing through the written word. This is something that many people have mentioned. Every time I pick up a book whether fiction or non-fiction, whether a memoir or a collection of short stories I always come through a different person at the end. Sometimes I identify with the plot or a character or the specific situation in the book or story. If anything I always learn something about humanity and the human condition.

From a Christian perspective this reminds us of the power of The Word, aka the Bible. We forget that the Word of God is powerful, it inspires, encourages, reproves, leads to repentance, and reminds us of God's goodness and grace. The Word of God is powerful, it changes lives. Herod and Pontius Pilate put Jesus to death yet his memory, ministry, and legacy lived on through the preached Word of God and later the written Word. The world could never stop Christianity because they cannot stop people from talking about Jesus.

I look forward to reading Nina's memoir later this summer. I also hope that each one of you continues to read, study, and pray the Scriptures, which are really powerful.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Sowing Seeds of the Kingdom

Well, my vegetable garden is finally in, total plants: 3 long rows of green beans, 30 tomato plants (roma, yellow, grape, and regular), 15 cucumber plants, and a bunch of garlic, parsley, cilantro, basil, and thyme. Phew, it was a lot of work but well worth it. I enjoy taking care of the garden and tending to the weeds and watering, it gets me off my backside and into the warm sun and fresh air.

The Apostle Paul tells us in his epistles that we reap what we sow, if we sow sparingly we will reap sparingly. Ummm Paul must have known a lot about gardening!

It's true though. My mom put it another way, "you only get out of life what you put into it." From a spiritual perspective we could say that if you want to grow love, forgiveness, mercy, compassion, and prayer then you better start doing something about it now, these qualities just don't come from no where, they don't fall from the sky. It takes work, effort, blood, sweat, and tears sometimes!

Are you sowing seeds of the Kingdom?

Are you preparing the soil of your heart for God's Word to be planted and to grow?

Are you ready to work and grow love, compassion, and mercy?


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Out of Character???

The other day while driving I heard a very good interview on NPR Talk of the Nation about a new book by David DeSteno called Out of Character. It was one of those "driveway moments" when I just wanted to finish listening to the guest speaker. The book is about why we as humans do things that are not usually "normal" or "standard" for us. For example if you are a very financially conservative person and usually save money why is it that if one day you are feeling sad or gloomy you'll go out and splurge on a new suit or tie even though you don't need one? The author also gave an example of bad people doing good things. There was a bad accident somewhere in a big US city and a bunch of drug dealers on a corner went over and rescued several people from a building. We usually don't think of drug dealers as being good upright citizens with a moral compass yet when push came to shove these young men felt compassion and helped someone else. Amazing!!!

The rest of the interview talked about how our moral development is shaped when we are young but at the same time how we easily fall trap to temptations either good or bad at times, which is out of our character.

Anyway, this is not a full blown book review, I just wanted to share this with all of you because I found it very applicable to the Christian walk of faith. After all St. Paul himself said that the good that he wants to do he doesn't and the bad things that he doesn't want to do he finds that he does them anyway. There is a constant battle going on in our hearts between making good choices every moment of the day.

I commend Dr. Desteno's social research. I am not sure whether or not he is a Christian, but his research reveals some deep human realities which is certainly applicable to Christians everywhere.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Book Review: A Life Together by Bishop Seraphim Sigrist

I was excited when my review copy of A Life Together: Wisdom of Community From the Christian East (Paraclete, 2011) arrived. Last year I heard that Bishop Seraphim was working on this book and was excited about the topic. For those who do not know him, Bishop Seraphim was the former Orthodox bishop in Sendai Japan where he ministered both as a parish priest and then later as a bishop.

At the heart of this little book is the notion of community from the Eastern Orthodox Christian community. Focusing on the concept called "sobornost" which is a Russian word roughly translated as "conciliarity" or "togetherness." As Sigrist mentions many times throughout the book sobornost is a difficult word to translate since the meaning is not exactly the same in English.

Sigrist does for the Eastern Church what Bonhoeffer's book, A Life Together, did for the Western Church. Actually if you read Sigrist's book and Bonhoeffer together you'll get a thorough understanding of community life and how it can be fashioned and formed in our modern times.

Creating authentic community life in complete freedom is not an easy thing to do. A Life Together is not a "how to" book nor is it a scholarly or academic excursus of the subject but rather it is very much like the ancient Patristic writings, short reflections on the topic without much commentary in between. In other words, A Life Together reads like a series of reflections on community life rather than an extended prose narrative.

Sigrist brings together a wide host of voices in his book showing us how community life can be envisioned. From the perspective of a parish priest, of which I am, this book is a gem. Creating authentic community where everyones time, talent, and treasure can be shared in a spirit of freedom and authenticity is not an easy thing. Temptations for control, authority, power, and identity are constant, yet that is not what Jesus envisioned. He reminded his disciples not to lord it over the Gentiles since they were culturally and religious different than they were. He also warned them about the great potential for the abuse of power and position.

At the heart of Christian community is solidarity really since that is what happens when we all gather together around the Lord's Table on Sunday morning and offer our common prayer and praise and offer the Bread and Wine of the Eucharist. Jesus gives himself to us and we to him and then us to one another. We become little Christ's to each other sharing in our common sufferings, pains, problems, as well as joys, happiness, and celebrations. Life is a mixed bag if you will, joy and pain, sorrow and happiness all together. By virtue of our baptism and confirmation and continual indwelling with one another we are formed and fashioned into a community. St. Paul uses the image of the Body, when one member suffers we all suffer, when one member rejoices we all rejoice. Whether we like it or not we are all connected to one another through the intimate bond of Christ.

A Life Together: Wisdom of Community From the Christian East would make a good book for a small book club or parish adult study. The short chapters would provide basic easy to read material and cultivate conversation. I commend Bishop Seraphim for taking on such a project.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Vacation or a Spiritual Retreat????

Summer is the time for vacations; day trips, a week at the beach, a cruise, or a multi week jaunt over to Europe. There are as many types of vacations as there are people! When I was growing up our family always took a summer vacation. We drove up and down the Eastern seaboard from Maine to Florida. Other families like to spend there time in one place like at a cabin in the woods or a week at the beach. Summer vacations usually require a lot of planning time, money, and energy figuring out the basic questions: what, when, where, and how. Very often you come so tired from you vacation that you need a vacation from your vacation!!!

A spiritual retreat is like a vacation but different. A retreat is like a vacation in that you leave your house or your local area and go to a different location whether a cabin in the woods or a monastery or retreat center. You could also go to a nice Bed and Breakfast. Taking a spiritual retreat means that you leave your regular surroundings and take time for yourself in quiet and deep introspection. You may want to take long walks and enjoy the nature around you, or maybe sit and read the Bible or perhaps a book or two. A retreat is a time for simplicity and reduction. When I go on a retreat (which is not often enough!!!) I make sure NOT to bring my computer, cell phone, or other electrical devices. I do not watch TV or listen to the radio. I spend my time in quiet. I also sleep a lot. I think we become so plugged into the world around us that when we take a few days to rest our body just collapses and we come to a major halt.

If you have never taken a retreat before you may think about taking one. You can start small by taking a one or two day retreat at first, just to "test the waters." Then, later on, if you enjoy it, you can go longer, 3, 5, or 7 days. But time away from work, family, and other personal commitments is healthy.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Project Linus

Project Linus is one of my favorite outreach ministries. First of all I love the name, named after Linus on the famous Charles Shultz Peanuts cartoon. Linus was the kid always carrying his blanket around. Project Linus is a nationwide ministry that makes and delivers blankets to children in hospitals or children who have been in some sort of trauma such as a fire or car accident. For a few years now our parish has supported Project Linus and I encourage you to look into it for yourself. It is very rewarding to make blankets knowing that they are going for a great cause.

Don't worry if you are not adept at sewing. Project Linus blankets are easy to make actually. There is no sewing involved. More information about the blankets can be found on their website which I linked below. All you have to do is take some fleece, cut some tags on the side of it and then knot them and voila you have a Project Linus blanket.

I hope you get involved in this ministry. You will make a lot of children happy!!!!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Book Review: Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy by Adam Deville

I am very excited for Dr. Adam A. J. DeVille, his new book, Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy has just been released by the University of Notre Dame Press. Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy is the result of his tedious and detailed research in the important 1995 Papal Encyclical Ut Unum Sint, a document which discusses Christian unity. DeVille, an Eastern Catholic (also known as Byznatine Catholic or Greek Catholic) looks at Ut Unum Sint through the lens of Orthodox and Catholic dialogue for greater unity.

First of all I love the cover. It's bold yellow background with Pope Benedict XVI and Bartholomew in the foreground is very attractive and through images shows what unity is all about, the East and West coming together. Unfortunately, like most families, the Church has a long history of divisions, arguments, and ad hominem attacks. Ecumenical relations have been off and on and then off again. Hopefully with a renewed interest in dialogue, and with the publication of this new book, both East and West will begin talking again, at least I hope so.

DeVille is hopeful. Without giving too much of the book away I do want to mention a few hallmarks of his work. DeVille looks at commentaries from major theologians from both Eastern Orthodox as well as Roman Catholic (and Eastern Catholic) sources. He then attempts to shed light on how the Papacy could be transformed to include greater conciliarity and sobornost among the Eastern Patriarchates and Rome.

DeVille's clear prose, combined with his copious footnotes reveals that he has done his homework. As a reader not very familiar with Ut Unum Sint it would have been helpful perhaps to include either an outline or the entire document at the back of the book as a handy resource. Additionally, I would have liked to see more discussion of the basic structure and themes of Ut Unum Sint in the first chapter. However, those two minor comments do not take away from this book. If you are remotely interested in ecumenism or you are a theological student interested in the Eastern Catholic or Orthodox traditions I HIGHLY RECOMMEND that you read Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy. With greater interest in ecumenism in general, and in Catholic and Orthodox dialogue in particular, I can see this book having a long shelf life. I commend DeVille for his hard work and certainly we look forward to seeing more books from him in the near future.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Book Review: Into the Depths by Meg Funk

I have been following the work of Meg Funk now for some time. Funk is a Benedictine nun at Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, Indiana and the author of several books on the spiritual life: Lectio Matters (Continuum, 2010), Thoughts Matter (Continuum, 1999), and Humility Matters (Continuum, 2005). Funk is very active in ecumenical dialogue and at one time was the Executive Director of Monastic Interreligious Dialogue.

Her new book, Into the Depths: A Journey of Loss and Vocation (Lantern Publishing, 2011) is a spiritual memoir. The book is divided into three parts. In Part 1 Funk outlines her early faith formation as a Catholic but then soon after as a Benedictine nun. She entered monastic life on the heels of the Second Vatican Council but her monastic formation was clearly pre-Vatican II. Stories of control, authority, and “following the rules” in the monastery were eye opening. Her stories reminded me of a friend of mine who is a Trappist monk who entered monastic life in the early 1950’s. He told me that when the monks were called into the abbot’s office they were supposed to kneel during the conversation, only later receiving a blessing and a piece of candy before leaving! Talking about "old school" geesh! Thankfully monastic and spiritual formation has changed since then. Eventually Funk's superiors allowed her to enter a graduate program at Catholic University in Washington, DC and a new world emerges as she learns more about theology, scripture, and liturgy. Her wonderful blog and her books attest to her love for life-long learning.

The second part of the book focuses primarily on a tragic incident in Bolivia where five of her friends die in a tragic car accident. Funk was the only survivor. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but needless to say this accident sends Funk into a spiritual tailspin and sets her on a journey to find healing and wholeness. This was my favorite part of the book and Funk lets the reader into her mind as she discusses her most intimate spiritual questions and concerns.

The third part of the book shows the reader the results of these efforts. Her coming to grips with her previous faith formation, what it means to be a Christian, as well as really living a Christian life which is healthy and wholesome.

The only shortcoming is that this book was too short! I felt that Funk held back too much when discussing her early faith formation in the monastery as well as her deep spiritual questions. Funk has been a nun for almost all of her adult life and surely she could have offered more insight into how monastic life changed in her monastery, perhaps offering some short anecdotes or vignettes. We see little for example of her fellow nuns and authority figures. We hear little about her friends in the car crash, all the people seem rather “flat.”

However, Into the Depths is a powerful book. Funk does not sugar coat the spiritual life nor does she idealize it, but shows the reader her own faults and foibles and her long-term bouts with depression. In the end we see Meg Funk as a real Christian, a real nun, and a real person striving to find God in the everyday. She should be commended for writing this book.

For for information about Meg Funk click here

To order a copy of Into the Depths click here

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Coming Soon---Review of A Life Together by Bishop Sigrist

I am excited about reviewing a new book from a friend and colleague , Bishop Seraphim Sigrist, former bishop of Sendai in Japan. This book, A Life Together: Wisdom of Community From the Christian East (Paraclete Press, 2011) looks at community life from the Eastern Christian perspective.

Sigrist looks at the concept of sobornost or conciliarity as the foundation for our life together. Sobornost is a Russian word which basically means "togetherness." Sobornost means that the Church is not just the bishops alone or the priests alone or the laity alone but everyone working together for the common good of the entire Body of Christ. Unfortunately, many parishes and eucharistic communities do not work on this model. The priest or bishop in many cases (too many!!!) think that they "rule the roost." Well, this is just false. The entire community is responsible for the well-being of everyone else.

One of my greatest frustrations in parish life is reminding lay people that they have an essential role to play and that they need to take greater responsibility and ownership of parish life including visitation ministry and stewardship. Ministry is not just for clergy but for everyone. We can all contribute something to the community of faith. I know many clergy who try to "do everything" in the parish and therefore the lay membership do not need to participate. Thankfully the tide is changing. I am lucky to have very good lay leaders who have taken on more parish responsibilities. Hopefully this type of leadership will increase over time.

A review of A Life Together will be coming soon, make sure to check back.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A 30 Day Retreat (one year later!!!)

Wow, I am amazed at how fast time goes by. Just one year ago my book, A 30 Day Retreat: A Personal Guide to Spiritual Renewal was published by Paulist Press. The book was started years ago and took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to see the light of day. I had to deal with revisions, marketing, creating a new website, starting a blog, not to mention more revisions and changes! It's amazing authors continue to write given the sheer difficulty of publishing these days.

It has been a good year though. I received some very nice compliments from readers and it is good to know that some parishes and small groups are using the book for retreats and Bible studies.

Oh yea, don't forget to buy a copy for yourself, for your pastor/priest, and for a friend, spread the good news about the Good News!!!