Saturday, September 02, 2006

Two sides to a coin

I work for college students. I live among college students.

We live in a time in which people don't recognize authority...at least most don't. People want to know that an authority figure is a human being not entirely different from themselves. They want to joke with us but they also want to know that, despite that, I'm also holy, that I live up to what I preach.

So, the question that keeps coming up for me is when do I tell students that I can't go with them, that our journeys must go in different directions. I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm never going to a bar with a group of students on a weekend night. I know priests who have done this because they met and ministered to students that they wouldn't have otherwise met. I can't get past the fact that bars tend to be places students go to get drunk. They lose inhibitions and act in ways that are inappropriate. It just seems unseemly.

Yet, sometimes students invite me over for a movie and, when I arrive, I realize one or two have a beer. They will even offer me a beer and, to be honest, I will have a beer or two with them. I'm not going to get drunk obviously but I'm not going to be puritanical either. I tend not to leave because the plan is not to get drunk but to have a drink and relax. I've had incredible conversations with students in this context because the questions that they've always wanted to ask but couldn't get the courage or didn't know how to ask them tend to come out. I feel like there's an opening for very good for ministry.

Yet, I sometimes fear that I'm getting too close; that I'm becoming too much like the "older brother" and not maintaining the "other side of the coin" that allows them to see in me the image of our heavenly Father. For me, this is what I'm learning here at St. Thomas. I'm learning how to be a priest to the current generation and how to figure out what the current generation needs in a priest. I tend to learn the hard way and there have been times when I've made mistakes, nothing that would in any way compromise my ability to be a priest but definitely times when I think that I wish I could pull those words back into my mouth or not act that way to this particular student. But, I feel blessed because students are very forgiving and very honest. They tell me when something is "not cool" and they tell me that they appreciate my willingness to walk among them now...to minister to them where they are.

I just hope that God will continue to give me the grace to minister to these students and help me be there for them when they need me. It's amazing. This has been one of those weeks where I , again, started asking if this is the right ministry for me and, if I'd stop listening to the voices that deform the gospel and listen to the people who I minister to, it would be to patently obvious that God has put me here. It doesn't matter if it's always comfortable. God wants me to be here. That is sufficient.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Bats in the bellfrey

Have you ever had a bat in your house?

I've had two circling my apartment in the last couple of weeks. One was above the drop celing in my kitchen. I called our janitor over and he took removed it from my house. Then, the other night, one was on my kitchen window. I thought I could get it out on my own but, one half hour of circling my living room later, I had a bat sleep-over in my apartment.

I found something out about mysel that night. Some people are scared of bats. I'm terrified. I didn't know this about myself. For all intents and purposes, this bat was trapped in my living room behind a stack of books in my book case. It couldn't have made it into my room because I had shut my door and put a pair of jeans below the door and hung a blanket over the entrance to the hallway (there's no door there so I used a blanket instead). I bet I got 15 minutes of sleep that night because I kept convincing myself that there was a bat in the room. Irrational? Absolutely! But that's what my brain told me was reality. Each time that I heard something in the room, each time that I felt movement close to my cheek, each time that I had an itch, it was the bat!

We rely on our brains to provide sensery data to us. Yet, our brains are not infallible. If there's one thing about the human person of which we are sure it is that. Look at history and we will see people who thought big rocks fall faster than little ones, the earth was flat and stationary with a bunch of star satelites revolving around it, and that the French are cultured. We search for hard and fast laws to define these realities. Isn't the true hubris of any civilization when that civilization believes it has all the answers or is capable of defeating all quandries?

I pose this because, quite often, the intellectual community will say that religion believes that it can answer questions that it cannot. Some of this criticism is justified. It's not fair to say that a four thousand year old document was trying to answer modern scientific questions about the creation of the earch, let alone the origin of human beings. The Bible was written to answer the question of who did it, not how was it done. They did an excellant job in keeping us focused on God and did the best they could with how the whole thing took place. I know fundamentalists give us a black eye by believing in a literal interpretation of Genesis (despite the discrepencies between the TWO creation stories) but isn't it AT LEAST ironic that some in the scientific community believe that they can bring about an end for the need for God. There are some people who believe that the time will come when all the questions we have will be answered and we will figure out that there is no God.

To this I quote a friend, "poppycock"! The more answers we get the more questions we have. When you answer one quandry it opens up a dozen more. Human beings are insatiably curious. That's why the Bush Administration can see a connection between 9-11 and Iraq and why the Democrats can see a connection between religion and terrorism: because we thirst for simple answers in a complex world, especially if those answers help us feel good about ourselves. Yet, in the end, there will always be things that we simply cannot resolve. I'm not being pessimisstic. I"m being optimistic in human society as a whole. We won't stop exploring because, when we do, we will die. Mystery is a necessary part of the human person. Some explain it away and, in the process, begin down a trek toward utter hopelessness. I prefer to allow it to exist and learn how to love it. I do so because I believe it loves me and wants me to know that.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

keeping the traditions

I've been reflecting on a phrase from today's reading....

"Therefore, brothers and sisters, stand firm
and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught,
either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours."

I've been thinking about how Paul had to get them to think "outside the box" or, better "outside the book" every once in a while. He had to remind them that the written word can be distorted and that God didn't just leave us an instruction book and abandon us. That just doesn't make sense that God would do that. God has been clarifying his relationship to us througout time, the fullness of that revelation being in the Catholic Church. We are the ones who have held "fast to the traditions (we) have been taught".

Fear not. Stand firm. Be proud to be Catholic.

Monday, August 28, 2006

murmuring

The disciples this past Sunday were murmuring. Our liturgy was very packed since we spent the first ten minutes, or so, introducing our rather large staff. So, I had to be brief and focus on what I thought the point of the homily was. Give them something to go home and think about.

I tried to focus on what it means to murmur...how that tears apart a group. I encouraged people that have complaints to approach people who can answer questions rather than simply complaining. I also encouraged people to not stay on the fringes but to get involved. I thought that was, in essence, what Peter was saying when he said, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

I wish I could have preached about the second reading about wives being submissive to husbands and such. And I wish I could have highlighted that, once again, Simon Peter is the one who has faith. But, you can't say everything.