Monday, October 28, 2013


When I hear the word fame I often think of that lyric from the 80’s Fame TV series. You remember it, “Fame, I’m gonna live forever”. There are also lyrics that speak of making it to heaven and a plea to “remember my name”. Other parts of the song just repeat the word “remember” over and over and over.

The desire for fame seems to stem from the desire for “unity”, connecting with others, wanting to be remembered and wanting to remember others, not to mention the desire for eternal life, but the logic of worldly fame rests on a fallacy. It is a very strange idea indeed that our fulfillment depends on the thoughts, opinions and applause of others. What an odd desire to want to live always in imagination of others, as if that were the only place one could at last be real.

The phenomenon of reality TV seems to be a good example of the human desire for fame gone wild. It is one of those peculiar ways in which humans are different than animals, and it isn't just a matter of spectrum. Just like “religion” and “the arts” and even wearing clothes, some things are uniquely human and separate us from animals. Consider the animal closest to us. About 96% of a chimps DNA is genetically similar to ours, but they share 0% our religions, 0% of art & music and 0% of our clothes. I wouldn't necessarily expect a 96% match in these areas, but if all we essentially are is a self-running DNA code, I would expect greater than a 0% similarity. No primitive religious rituals or sacrifices, no primeval drum beats or structured dance, no basic cave drawings or banana sculptures, not so much as a fig leaf to cover their shame, and of course, no evidence of desiring “fame”.

Desires that are uniquely human can relate to the principle that every innate desire reveals the existence of its desired object. For example, hunger indicates the existence of food, thirst indicates the existence of water, and curiosity indicates knowledge. Similarly, the desire for perfect unity, living forever and being remembered forever, indicate the real existence of such things, even the desire to worship something above nature points to the existence of something supernatural worthy of worship.

Even false religion points to the existence of true religion; consider how the existence of counterfeit money suggests the existence of real money, even if one had never seen real money.

In the self-centered attempt to make a name for ourselves, we echo the sin of the Babel Tower Builders in Genesis 11:4. They said, "Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name…" Instead of trying to make a name for yourselves, let God make your names great and “rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven." (Luke 10:20). “…and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” (Gen 12:2)

Fame allows one to be remembered after this life as a way to “live-on” indefinitely. We all want to be remembered and to remember others. It reminds me of a homily I once heard about an elderly man married for many years. He would regularly visit his wife in a nursing home. She had a severe case of advanced Alzheimer’s disease and she had no idea who he even was, but we would still come to see her anyway. Some said to the husband, “She doesn't even remember you. Why do you bother to visit her so often?” The husband answered in protest, “Because I remember her!!!”

Our desire for fame (union, eternal life, remembrance) is wasted on trying to live on in the imagination of others, but can be realized in union with God and the Eucharist can offer us the source and summit of these desires. We go to communion and think about what the word communion means; unity, intimacy, closeness. The imagery of the vine & the branches show the kind of living closeness we are talking about. Remain in Him and He will remain in you (see John 15:4-5). We all want to live forever and that is what we are offered in the Eucharist. His body and His blood as real food and real drink; real nourishment for the journey to eternal life (see John 6:53-55).

Let’s not forget about remembrance. The Eucharist is all about remembering. “Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19) We have remembered Jesus for nearly 2000 years, but we also want to be remembered and remembered forever. Instead of trying to live-on in the imagination of strangers in the fallacy of worldly fame, let’s remember His promise to remember us…“I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Mathew 28:20) Let us remember too His name as Emmanuel, God is with us. Amen.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Gregorian Chants vs. Secular Rants

It stands to reason that any secular music that openly and proudly sings the praises of mortal sin (or any sin) is something to be avoided entirely, but what of popular music whose lyrics and rhythms are seemingly harmless?

I recently finished The Seven Story Mountain by Thomas Merton; a fascinating autobiography of a man that went from Atheist to Trappist in the first half of the 20th century. The book made a brief mention of music that gave me pause. The author described the austere warmth of Gregorian Chant. He describes it as something glowing, like a living flame which draws you within yourself. Here you are lulled into a peace and recollection and where you find God. This is why some never grow tired of it. Perhaps this is also why some can’t stand it.

In sharp contrast, Merton described other types of music that seem to do the opposite. They wear you out by making cheap demands on your sensibilities, toying with your soul so to speak. Once your feelings are drawn-out in the open, the devil, together with the vulgarity of your own corrupt nature & imagination, can get at you with their blades and cut you to pieces.

Thomas Merton
Trappist Monk
1915 - 1968
This is about where I paused in the book and recalled certain songs or types of popular music that may contain nothing objectively wrong, but somehow drew me out of myself in a bad way, to a place where peace is disturbed and God is forgotten. Impetuous rhythms can take up residence in the mind without any conscious effort on our part. Vulgar or perhaps just senseless lyrics repeat in our heads over and over. This makes it all the easier to lose God, and if God is lost, what will boogie-on-in to fill the void?

Is that what a fox says? Really?
Prayer, simply put, is directing one’s life toward God and I’ve heard it said that he who sings “well” prays twice. If this is the case, perhaps he who sings “badly” directs his life away from God twice as fast as he who does not sing at all. Certainly, listening to morally neutral music is not objectively wrong, but maybe having ear buds in your head all day long is. Just like eating candy, moderation and temperance is in order with an awareness of its effects. Perhaps with music, just like with anything else, we should ask ourselves now and then, “Is this bringing me closer to union with God or further away?”

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Weedbed of Sin

I attended a Mass given by a Franciscan friar, Fr Gregory, this weekend.  His homily gave birth to this post in my head.

In my earlier post, The Flowering of Evangelization, I drew the comparison between flowers and the virtues of Faith, Hope and Love.  Faith is the root, Hope is the stem and Love is the flower.   I asserted that Faith, like a flowering plant, is reproduced in others in the flower itself.  Not via the Hope in the stem, nor in the root Faith, but via the beauty and attractiveness of the flower on top.

Fr Gregory described his encounter with a weed in an otherwise lovely garden of bushes and flowers.  The weed had the tuft of white seedlings in full bloom, ready to be scattered.  The leaves below had sharp, spiky ends that would cut if handled.   The root was a long tapper that had bored deeply into the soil.

Knowing that this weed would spread and choke out all the other plants if left untended, he reached to pull it out.  Taking hold at the top, he simply shook the spore free, causing the seeds to spread.  This would eventually cause the weed to proliferate even faster.   Taking hold at the level of the leaves, he cut his hand on the sharp spikes that surrounded the stalk.  It was very painful.  He eventually reached as far down the stalk as possible to grasp the weed at the root.  He slowly and deliberately pulled the root out of the ground, careful to not break off the least part or else it would simply grow back.

This is a lesson for us when dealing with our sins.  Unlike evangelization, eradicating sin works from the bottom up.  Simply letting the sin alone will allow the sin to take deep root in us and will proliferate at its own pace.  Even worse is to take notice of it casually and half-heartedly pull at the top (why be radical?  everyone's got a little sin, right?).  This just scatters the seeds into other areas, accelerating its spread.

We may think to take a big swipe at it all at once and grab it in the middle to pull it out.  We immediately snatch our hand away from the sin.  It's too painful!  I'm not about to do THAT again!  Better to leave it alone.

No, the best approach is to get to the root of the sin. Here, speed is the enemy and may cause the root to snap making us think we have won when there is still more to be found, later to sprout.  Dig deep and get it all!

Lessons learned:

  1. Don't ignore the sin.  It will lead to more sin.
  2. Don't play with sin.  Rationalizing that it's okay will simply spread it faster.
  3. Don't think you can quickly end sin.  It can be painful to attack it, leaving you unwilling to try again.
  4. Go for the root!  Discover the need in you that is driving the sin.  Uncover your own motivations.  How does this sin have a hold on you?  What rationalizations do you make to protect it?  Work it out slowly and carefully.
  5. Fill the empty hole.  Plant a virtue where the empty hole was.  Otherwise, a new sin will find the soil already softened and ready.

This last lesson is very important.  Once a habitual sin is defeated, it is never permanently gone.  In times of boredom or temptation, it will seek to return.  Seeds are everywhere.  You must seek to fill that time with virtuous activity.  You must always remember that you never want that sin back in your life.  You must recall the work and self-denial you put yourself through to rid your life of it.

Make sure there's no bare earth in which to grow.  Plant yourself a garden of virtues!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Not by Reason Alone

Have you ever read the following verse in the Bible? “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24). It might be shocking to many non-Catholic Christians, but an informed Catholic should be able to take it in stride and place it in its proper context. It is interesting to note however, that the ONLY time the words “faith” and “alone” appear together in the Bible is in that one verse from James. That being that said, reason alone is also not enough.

Faith is something personal, this is why Jesus first asked his disciples, “Who do others say I am?” All kinds of reasons were given with all kinds of reasoning, but then the real point of the dialog comes in when he asked, “Who do YOU say I am?” This makes it personal and God wants it personal.

This makes sense to me as a father myself. I want my kids to have personal faith in me, not because they have evidence combined with the calculating logic of reason, but just because I’m their father. Obviously this would not be about faith in my existence, but let’s use faith in my judgment as an example.

Dad: You need to trust my judgment.
Kid: There is no evidence that your judgment is better than mine.

Dad: I’ve lived a lot longer than you.
Kid: That is only evidence that you are older.

Dad: I gave you life and everything you have.
Kid: That is only evidence that you have money and you know The Stork.

Dad: What about all the other times I’ve been right?
Kid: Your astonishing random good luck is self-evident.

Dad: Mom and everyone else in the family trust my judgment.
Kid: That is evidence that they do not demand evidence.

Dad: You need to trust me.
Kid:  Sorry, you need to provide evidence that you are worthy of my trust, and not just any evidence. It must be evidence that satisfies me.

So, at this point would a good father obey the child and provide whatever specific evidence the child demands? I think not. The father may just let the child suffer the natural consequences of not trusting in order to learn how to trust in the first place. In fact, I could even see a good father intentionally hiding evidence so that the child would have no choice but to trust. This is the only way a healthy parent-child relationship can work. Often times I feel quite certain that God made children as stubborn as they are in order to show us grown-ups how we act towards Him!

Trust is key for any good relationship and same is true for our relationship with God. It won’t work without trust. This is demonstrated throughout all of salvation history. If you know the people and the Bible stories, you know when there was trust and when there was not. Think about Adam & Eve, then Noah, then Abraham, then Moses, then the Israelites, then the Kings of Israel, then Mary & Joseph, all the way up to Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Think about who trusted and who didn't and how did it turn out?

In the first chapter of John’s Gospel we read about the two disciples of John the Baptist following Jesus and then asking him “where are you staying?” He replied "Come, and you will see." So they went and they saw (see John 1:36-39). The same is true for us today. First you must ask, then you must “go”, and only then will you “see”. He who tries to be a mere observer experiences nothing. Only by entering the faith experiment in trust does one have an experience; only by cooperating does one ask at all, and only he who asks shall receive.

"I believe in God as I believe the sun had risen, not because I can see it, but because by way of it, I can see everything else."
- C.S. Lewis