Any Given Sunday

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “I wonder what Bob thinks about the readings for this Sunday’s liturgy?”

Have no fear… Any Given Sunday is here.

Any Given Sunday is a project started by my friend, Bob Perron, who is the director of youth and young adult ministry for the diocese of Wheeling-Charleston (in West Virginia.) Every week, he features an inspirational writer/speaker who reflects on the upcoming Sunday readings. And this week he asked me to do it.

So I did! You can check it out here and I’d encourage you to bookmark the page as every week it provides great insight on the readings for the Sunday Mass.

Radiant Joy

These past few days, I was blessed to be a part of the Catholic Youth Ministry Training Convention, sponsored by Life Teen. The theme of the conference was “Radiant Joy.”

What surprised me about my experience at the conference was that it was so… restful. It shouldn’t have been. I flew to Arizona right after finishing a weekend conference (which was preceded by a week of intensive sound-checks and practices to prepare for it) for a quick two day trip. I had to give two workshops (both at 7 AM each day) and an afternoon keynote. Since it was being videotaped, I had to put extra time in my powerpoint presentation—something that took numerous hours of work. All told, it had all the makings of a hectic weekend.

But it wasn’t. It was anything but. It was wonderful, restful, and joyful.

Much of that was due to the conference itself. The folks at Life Teen are the most hospitable, professional, and altogether excellent folk a person could hope to work with. The liturgies were beautiful, the prayer was intense, and the speakers were inspiring.

One of my favorite talks was given by a friend I hadn’t seen in years, Tom Wilson. He gave a talk about how to guard your joy, or more specifically, to unguard it. He encouraged us to share our joy with the world and not hide it under a bushel. He talked about the importance of a sense of humor when approaching life and how humor is a sign of a healthy spirituality. It reminded me of a quote from St. Teresa of Avila: “Take God very seriously, but don’t take yourself very seriously at all.”

Tom also clarified that having a sense of humor is not about being funny. Funny people tell jokes and have a quick wit. But people with a sense of humor have a balanced perspective on life. To have a sense of humor you have to be humble. He quoted C.S. Lewis: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.”

There is often a stereotype that to be more holy you have to be more solemn. But that is not the example of the saints. Those who seek and find holiness are radiant with the joy that only God can give.

Then Mark Hart followed by inviting us to pray for deeper joy in our lives. He gave two great quotes from two great saints. “The only reason to take this life seriously is if it’s the only life you have,” said St. Francis. And Blessed Mother Teresa said, “Joy is the net by which we catch souls,” “starting with our own,” Mark added.

Jesus said, “I have told you these things so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11) Happiness is often based on happenings, meaning that it depends on if things are going well. But joy is a state of being that isn’t hampered by the negativity around us. Tom shared a personal story about his wife who, coming out of her fifth surgery in her struggle with breast cancer, was still able to make jokes. Where did that humor come from? Her love of the Lord.

My gratitude to everyone at Life Teen for letting me be a part of that experience. And I was so blessed by the participants at my workshops and the people I got to connect with between sessions. May we all continue to radiate the joy of Jesus Christ.

Out of the frying pan and into the fire…

…or at least that’s what it feels like. Literally. I left 90 degree weather in Steubenville, OH yesterday to be in 100 degree weather in Phoenix, AZ.

They’ll tell you it’s a dry heat here, as if that makes any actual difference. My allergies don’t seem to care. As opposed to blowing my nose in Steubenville and getting a mucusy discharge, I blow my nose here in AZ and it’s like oatmeal. You’re welcome for that image.

But the one fire that’s been constant is the Holy Spirit. Last weekend the Catholic Charismatic Conference was really amazing. Powerful worship, great speaking, and healing miracles! I’m sure I’ll talk about that in an upcoming post. Thanks to everyone to came out, especially those who were so encouraging of the worship we led. It was awesome.

And now I’m at the Catholic Youth Ministry Convention (CYMC) powered by Life Teen in Scottsdale, AZ. All I have to say is… dang. These guys know how to put on a conference! Just gave a 7AM workshop (and people showed up!) and I’m gearing up for an afternoon keynote and another workshop tomorrow AM before heading back home to start prepping for the High School Youth Conference this weekend on campus. Some people like to burn the candle at both ends. Me, I just dip the candle in gasoline and light it up.

It’s so great to be here in AZ and see so many friends who I’ve done ministry with. Yes, I’m very busy—but I’m also very blessed! And as long as the “fire” that drives me is that of the Holy Spirit and not my own ambition, I know I’ll do all right.

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And so it begins…

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An empty stage. An empty field-house.

That’s all about to change.

This weekend is the “Charismatic Leaders” conference at Franciscan University, the first of nine conferences the University offers each summer (four of those are youth conferences.) I’m blessed to lead worship for all of them with an amazing band made up of students and alumni. Over the next two months, we’ll get to play to ten to twelve thousand people playing music that ranges from sacred Church hymns to contemporary Christian rock.

It’s been a busy week getting everything ready, but the mics are hot, the guitars are plugged in, the drum kit is in tune (yes, drum kits need to be tuned,) and the monitors are balanced. Now all we need is an audience… many of whom are already on their way here.

You can expect to get highlights from all the conferences right here on my blog, as God always speaks to me a new way every summer, with every conference.

I’m really excited!

Green Lantern and a new definition of “reality”

Green Lantern is gay.

And no, that’s not an opinion of the Ryan Reynolds movie.

This week it was revealed that Green Lantern is a homosexual. For those of you don’t know, Green Lantern is a comic book character with a power ring that can create solid constructs (a sword, a car, a large fist, etc.) based on his imagination to create and his willpower to create it.

Headlines have said,  “Green Lantern comes out of the closet” but that’s not entirely accurate. He was never in a closet—the subject was just never addressed. DC Comics (who publish Green Lantern) did a reboot of the super-hero universe and they decided to make this new incarnation of Green Lantern gay. This ends a few months of speculation after DC leaked that one of their major superheroes would be homosexual. There were lots of geeks talking about which one it might be. Me, I thought it was going to be Aquaman. There was always something fishy about that guy…

People concerned that a gay Green Lantern will encourage homosexual behavior, especially among young people, clearly haven’t watched an episode of Glee which is seen regularly by way more people than will read the comic. But GL being gay is a culturally significant statement, especially at a time when the popularity of the super-hero genre is at an all time high.

It’s not that Green Lantern is the first homosexual superhero (or villian) in the comic book world, though he is certainly one of the first “A-list” superheroes to be so. Marvel comics made news a few weeks ago when they announced that one of the X-Men (Northstar, a Canadian superhero who was one of the first heroes to be portrayed as a homosexual back in 1992) was getting married to his boyfriend. But in researching this blog I discovered that the first comic book homosexual marriage has already happened in… Archie Comics? (To which the world replied, “They still make those?”) But neither of the couples in Archie or Marvel has the kind of popularity that Green Lantern does.

The New York Post interviewed James Robinson, the head writer for Green Lantern:

Robinson, a British writer who lives in San Francisco with his wife, is no stranger to gay characters – he wrote DC’s “Starman” comic in the 1990s, a groundbreaking title that starred a homosexual superhero. He said the only agenda he’s pushing is reality.

“It’s a realistic depiction of society,” he said. “You have to move with the times.”

In my opinion, I think Robinson is being honest. Though I’m sure everyone at DC Comics are happy for the publicity (look for the Green Lantern logo to be quickly embraced by the gay community) I don’t think this is a publicity stunt. People who are homosexually active are a part of life and the writer wants to portray “reality.”

But it’s obviously not a real reality. It’s a reality where people have superpowers and wear tights. And though there are real homosexuals in the world, it’s rarely they are portrayed in a “real” way.

The same goes with heterosexuals. How many sitcoms show characters sleeping with one person or another, never dealing with the emotional or physical consequences of their actions? Over the past decade, we (media consumers) have all come to accept and expect a faux-reality of storytelling. Female lawyers are always hot. Crime investigations usually lead to a strip club. Sexual partners can be changed as quickly as clothes. People actually laugh at the dumb jokes written for the Disney Channel.

Sexually active people almost never get STDs (even though the CDC estimates that 19 million people get them each year.) Matters of faith are rarely dealt with. It is often the unspoken assumption that God doesn’t exist (as much as I loved The Hunger Games, notice how nobody facing their imminent death said a prayer for help or mercy?)

And here’s something you’ll never see from this “reality”: Some people with homosexual attractions can be freed from them through therapy.

There is still a lot we don’t know about where homosexual impulses come from. It could very well be that some people are born with them. But it is also the case, often unsaid, that many people develop homosexual attractions through the conditioning and experiences of their childhood.

As I’ve traveled around the country, often speaking on men’s issues, I have met a few men who, because of things in their past, ended up being homosexually active. These men gave their lives to Christ and went through counseling. And now they are happily married now and grateful for people who spoke the truth to them. (An example of one man’s testimony to this can be found here.)

Statements like those above are abhorrent to the gay community and I understand why. To say someone can be “cured” of homosexuality infers that being gay is a disease. They believe that homosexual attractions should be embraced, not questioned. It should be accepted, even celebrated, by society. People who think otherwise are close-minded and bigoted. People who suggest homosexual inclinations can be “cured” should be silenced. Homosexual activity should be seen as normal as heterosexual activity.

But it’s not. The truth is this: homosexuals cannot have “sex,” at least in the classic definition of it. They can simulate it, but not replicate it. They can engage in “oral sex” or “anal sex” but not “sex.” It is clear that the male and female body were created for each other—they have complimentary genitalia that can bring about a positive result: the creation of life. Such complementarity does not exist between members of the same sex.

And yet we don’t think about people involved in homosexual activity as “virgins” (as we might with a heterosexual person who hasn’t “gone all the way”) because as a culture we’ve redefined what “sex” means. And because we as a society have become used to having a false definition of sex (thanks in part to the unreal reality portrayed by the media,) many now push for a false redefinition of marriage.

Here is a key part of the Church’s argument against gay marriage. It’s not that marriage is a right that homosexuals are kept from receiving. Marriage is a reality that homosexuals can’t do. Humanity’s understanding of marriage preceded civilization and the government doesn’t have the “right” to change it.

I have said in a previous post how I feel that there are those in the Christian community who have much to atone for in the way they have dealt with people with homosexual attractions. And while I certainly feel that people shouldn’t be bullied or discriminated against because of their homosexual attractions or the decisions they make because of those attractions, that doesn’t mean I have to accept it as a “good” nor vote for policies that condone it. Loving and treating people with homosexual attractions with dignity doesn’t mean we need to accept homosexual activity as good.

Of course, as a Christian I’m operating with a different definition for the word “good.” The way the world often decides right and wrong is simple:

If you enjoy it and it doesn’t hurt anybody, then it’s good.

That is different from the Christian foundation of morality, spoken by Jesus:

Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34)

How did Christ love us? He loved us enough to speak the truth to us. Jesus accepted people where they were but loved them too much to let them stay there. He said what needed to be said, even though His words caused Him to be rejected and crucified. People who preach what Christ preached shouldn’t expect any different reaction.

Why not just “live and let live?” The answer is because that wouldn’t be the loving thing to do. Truths revealed by God are not restrictive. It’s just the opposite: “the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) There are many men and women who are trapped in homosexual behaviors and are told there is no hope for anything different. But that’s not true. There is hope. It can be a difficult road and everyone’s journey is different, but there is hope.

Using his power ring, Green Lantern changes reality using his imagination and willpower. It’s fitting that he’s the first major superhero to be gay because that’s exactly what advocates for homosexual behavior are trying to do. We who have received God’s Word can’t stay silent lest we allow fiction to masquerade as fact and abandon people, created for truth, to live in lies. It’s hard to speak that truth in love because many will take it as hateful, but we have a responsibility to try.

The Creed

When you recite the Creed, are you being real or are you being a robot? Do you even know what you are saying? Is there a difference between believing there is a God and believing in God?

The Word of God

Hey, here’s a new film by Outside Da Box that I wrote the script for. What do you think?

An amazing man, on and off the pitch

Professional soccer is one of my favorite sports to watch and it’s hard to find better soccer than the English Premiere Leauge (come on, La Liga, you only have two real teams. And Serie A has as much credibility these days as professional wrestling.)

I’m a Chelsea fan. For those of you who don’t know, Chelsea is a team in London. Apparently, being a Chelsea fan is like being an Philadelphia Eagles fan—it’s not something you’d wish on someone you care about. While in England, I saw someone wear a t-shirt that said, “A.B.C. Anyone But Chelsea.” That just about sums up most people’s attitude toward the team.

The reason I root for Chelsea is because the first (and only) English soccer game I went to was a Chelsea home game and, like a baby who bonds with the breast it’s first fed from, I was immediately hooked.

But one of the biggest reasons I love Chelsea is Didier Drogba.

On the pitch, fans both loved and hated him. He was an amazing forward, scored spectacular goals, and was usually the man to bury it in the back of the net for the big games. But he was also highly emotional, prone to flopping (for you non-soccer fans, that’s going down with a fake injury) and inconsistent with his focus. But when he was on, he was on. When Drogba was healthy and disciplined, there was no striker like him.

A spectacular player. But that’s not what impresses me the most about Didier Drogba.

Droba is from the Ivory Coast in Africa. It’s a country that had been ravaged by 27 years of civil war that only ended in 2002. That was when Drogba joined the national team. Though the war was over, there was much unrest, corruption, and fighting. The country was a powder keg waiting for someone to light a match. But one of the things that kept that country together was the national team and it’s leader, Diger Drogba.

After winning a 2005 game in which the Ivory Coast qualified for the World Cup for the first time in history, Drogba grabbed a camera-man during the on-field celebrations and spoke to his beloved country:

“Ivorians, men and women, from the north and the south, from the east and the west, you’ve seen this. We’ve proved to you that the people of the Ivory Coast can live together side by side, play together toward the same goal… We promised you this celebration would bring the people together. Now we’re asking you to make this a reality. Please, let’s all kneel.” The entire team knelt as he continued, “The only country in Africa with such wealth cannot sink into war like this! Please, put down your weapons, organize the elections and things will get better.” (Quote taken from this article.)

He has used his popularity to bring peace to his country. He has used the wealth he gained from soccer to build orphanages and hospitals for children. When asked about his life after soccer, he said, “I want to help with a lot of things: my charity, the hospital. I hope to keep learning. For me it’s important to open my mind. I love to meet people and listen to their stories, their experiences.” The journalist interviewing him commented, “In 15 years as a journalist I have never had an interview with an athlete that felt more like a two-way conversation.” (This is the whole article.)

Two weeks ago Chelsea won the title, “Champions of Europe.” It was to be Drogba’s final game in a Chelsea jersey, and fittingly enough his last touch of the ball was to drive the ball into the back of the net for the game winner. At 34, his talents are starting to wain. He’s off to China where’s he’s getting big money (much of which will be spent in the Ivory Coast) and will dominate the field, just as he did in the Premier League. Will he still flop? Will he still let his emotions get the best of him? Will he still be unfocused? Sure he will. But in the grander scheme of things, in a world where professional athletes are treated like gods and many of them fall into immorality and materialism, Drogba’s legacy will not be as much about the goals he scored but the lives he saved.

My good friend, Gene Monterastelli (who really taught me to love the game) summed it up best:

“He can lack focus. He can flop and moan. He can do amazing things with a silly little ball. And somehow lets opportunity slip by him on the pitch. None of that will ever matter. If we could all be so bold as to take advantage of the opportunities and platforms we are given in the name of love and peace.”

A thought on Memorial Day

A veteran is someone who, at one point in his or her life, wrote a blank check made payable to “The United States of America” for an amount of “up to and including my life.” 

I celebrate today with sincere gratitude for all who served and even died for the sake of my family’s freedom, and I pray for all those who are active in the military.

If you’re one of those people, thank you.

Reflections on “Unholy Night”

Maybe some of you have seen previews for the upcoming movie, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.” It is based on a book by Seth Grahame-Smith who also wrote the novel, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” As you can tell from those titles, Grahame-Smith likes to take a familiar topic and add crazy mayhem to it.

So I was interested when I heard about his latest book, “Unholy Night.” It’s the story of the three wise men… or maybe I should way it’s the untold story. In Grahame-Smith’s book, they weren’t “wise men” at all. They were thieves who unwittingly found themselves in Mary and Joseph’s stable as they hid from Roman soldiers. One thing led to another and they decided to accompany the Holy Family to Egypt, protecting them from Judean soldiers, Roman armies, and even the undead.

To state the obvious, it’s not very Biblically accurate.

Grahame-Smith takes a lot of liberty filling in the gaps of what is not discussed in the Bible and a few liberties with what is. But more significant than what he got wrong was what he got right. Mary and Joseph are portrayed as people of extreme faith who truly believe that their child is the Son of God. I thought he treated them reverently and respectfully. It is clear that there was something special about their child. Since I don’t have a high expectation of Christian themes being accurately portrayed in a secular book, I was quite pleased by the general direction of that storyline.

And then there was the violence. Lots of violence. These kind of depictions seem to be part of Grahame-Smith’s “signature” as an author. I thought of giving some examples… but they’re just too gross. Speaking of gross, one notably disgusting and creepy character is King Herod. He’s about as vile and despicable as a person could be—and probably a pretty accurate account of who he was in real life.

But aside from the violence (which might be hard for many to put aside) the novel also takes a look at what it means to have faith. The protagonist of the book is Balthazar, also known as the “Antioch Ghost” because of his clever thievery. He had long since given up his “childish” belief that God existed. He thought Joseph was a fool for believing Mary’s “virgin birth” story and that the two of them were fools to think there was anything miraculous about their child. But then things start to happen that make him question his belief…

I don’t want to spoil what happens for those of you who might be interested in reading the book, but don’t expect a tidy “Christian” ending where everyone accepts this baby as their personal Lord and Savior. Different characters in the story react differently, just as they do in real life. That’s one of the things I liked about it.

This book sits right at the intersection between faith and culture, but it does so more from a cultural perspective than a faith one. But here’s my question to you, dear reader: Is it ever appropriate to use the Holy Family in a work such as this?

Yes, the author portrayed Jesus, Mary, and Joseph with reverence… for a novel that was focused more on “kill your enemies” than “love your enemies.” I’m glad that Grahame-Smith didn’t have the Holy Family partake in the violence they were surrounded with. And though his story created a lot of violence, you could argue that much of the violence was already there. The Bible is filled with it. Innocent babies were slaughtered in Bethlehem when Herod heard about the newborn King.

As a Christian, I’m concerned that the book uses a sacred story as a vehicle for a novel filled with graphic violence. But if I wasn’t Christian, I might think that, amid the other violent books I hypothetically read, this one had a really cool faith element. So is this an example of inculturation of the Gospel message or manipulation of a sacred event?

I’m inclined to think it’s more the latter than the former but I can’t blame the book for that. It’s clearly not the author’s intention to bring us deeper into the mysteries of the Christian faith so it would be unfair to judge it by missing a mark it never aimed for.

So that’s my “reflection” on the book. Here’s a brief review.

Without going into all the caveats about the subject matter that may or may not offend a Christian reader, I thought that as a story it was pretty good. Good but not great. Unfortunately, it lets down a bit at the end. Though the idea of using Biblical characters in this kind of story was clever, the book gets bogged down by trying to make too many connections to the New Testament. I’d give it a three out of five.