Victory Is His

For many years I struggled with a number of habitual sins common to the male of the species. I say I struggled with, rather than against, because for much of that time I was complicit. I knew these things were sinful, knew they weren’t healthy for me or my marriage, and yet I was only willing to resist up to a point.

I remember going to confession with Fr. Siebenaler in the old St. Michael church and confessing these same sins yet again. He spoke kindly but bluntly: “You remind me of St. Augustine praying, ‘Give me continence, but not yet!'” And he advised that if I truly loved my wife and wanted to leave these sins behind I should admit them to her and ask for her help in overcoming them.

I thanked him, did my penance, and returned home thinking, He’s obviously never been married—no way am I telling Jodi! Continue reading

More Than Meets the Eye

I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and Earth, of all things visible and invisible. — the Nicene Creed, emphasis mine

Each time we pray the Creed at Mass, we acknowledge—in fact, we profess our sincere belief—that there is more to this world than meets the eye. We believe in saints and angels, heaven and hell, the devil and his minions. We believe in the real presence of Jesus Christ—body, blood, soul, and divinity—in the Holy Eucharist. We believe in the power of prayer and redemptive suffering.

Practicing Catholics proclaim this belief in the invisible world and spiritual realities at least once a week. But do we live daily as if we believe heaven is for real? Continue reading

The Great Improviser, or One Blesséd Thing After Another…

I remember watching an improv comedy group with friends in college. Each member of the troupe was a whirlwind of wit and creativity, responding instantly to audience suggestions, random props, and fellow comics’ off-the-cuff reactions.

After more than an hour of nonstop hilarity and laughter, the group took its bows, then the members spoke briefly to the audience about how they do what they do: How they keep the laughs coming at such a breakneck pace when even they aren’t sure what will happen next?

The basic answer was so simple: Say yes, and

Whatever the situation, the idea, the inane detail added by the last castmate as he passes the scene to you, say yes, and build on it. Anything else — a no, a but, a hesitation, a rejection — derails everything. The joy of improv (for both performers and audience, I’ll wager) is in the way that it embraces the unknown and absurd and builds on them, laugh upon laugh, until the entire humorous edifice is revealed and the leader says, “Aaaaand scene!”

Say yes, and build on it. Embrace the situation and move forward. Such a simple trick — but it requires practice. (If you don’t believe me, get two friends and try Three-Headed Broadway Singer.)

It strikes me today that this is good advice for life, as well. This world is tilted, spinning, ridiculous in so many ways, and at times life appears to be, as an old saying goes, “one damned thing after another.” But it’s not. The sequence of events is not damned, but blessed.

We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. — Romans 8:28

God, in fact, must be the Great Improviser, to work out  His plan among so many free-willing, fallen creatures who are constantly doing the dead-wrong thing. God’s providence, it seems to me, must be a resounding, eternal, “Yes, and…”

Fr. Mike Schmitz shares great perspective on discerning God’s will for us, in which he reminds us that, even in scripture, when God’s appears to be taking His people by the hands and leading them, still less is known than unknown. In particular, he reminds us that, after being told by the angel Gabriel that she will bear the Son of God, Mary says “Be it done unto me according to your word,” and the very next line in scripture is, “Then the angel departed from her” (Luke 1:28).

Mary is left to improvise: to build upon that yes and each yes after, until the entire astounding edifice is revealed and the Master calls out, “Scene!”

Like Mary, we don’t know what’s coming: what incredible, impossible, unwieldy, absurd situation we may encounter, this moment or the next. But our response matters. In fact — since the universe is beyond our control — our response is all that counts.

It’s so simple, though it takes practice: Step with joy into the unknown. Say yes, and build upon it.

Lightning on the Stone

Blogger’s Note: At the Easter Vigil last night, the Resurrection account was from Matthew. The image of the angel appearing like lightning and sitting upon the stone struck meand Lightning on the Stone seemed like a bluesy spiritual someone ought to try to write. So I did this morning. It’s not quite as raw or ragged as it might be if someone sang it over a blues riff…but I’m satisfied.

In dark we walked to that dark tomb
And darkly dreamt of you
Your broken body sealed in stone
And lost in darkness, too, Lord
And lost in darkness too
In gloom we came to Golgotha
As black gave way to gray
I asked our sister Mary who
Would roll the stone away, Lord
Would roll the stone away
The Skull grinned blue—when like a flash
Of lightning from the Throne
An angel, gleaming white, threw back
And sat upon the stone, Lord
And sat upon the stone
As at the rising of the Sun
The Daystar shares its rays
Just so my face with wonder shone
To hear you had been raised, Lord
To hear you had been raised
The sky above was brilliant blue
As blue as any sea
And we rejoiced to tell that you
Were bound for Galilee, Lord
Were bound for Galilee

The Adjustment Bureau

A young, popular New York City politician suffers an unexpected electoral defeat. Suddenly he finds himself face-to-face with the girl of his dreams – a strange woman he’s never met before – in an unlikely place. Their time is short, the attraction is palpable enough for a sudden, passionate kiss, interrupted by campaign staff. She exits quickly. He has only her first name and these few moments. He delivers the speech of a lifetime, and from the jaws of defeat, snatches superstardom and frontrunner status for the next open Senate seat in New York state.

In a city as vast as this, he could never find this beautiful stranger using only her first name – but chance throws them together on a city bus, and it’s clear this is something special. Too special, in fact. He was not supposed to see her again. A group of grim, dark-suited G-men snatch him from his workplace to inform him: they are with the Adjustment Bureau, and this love affair not in The Plan. Whose plan? The Chairman’s – but you know him by many names.

What follows is a fast-paced, but coherent sci-fi romance that turned out to be the perfect mix for my bride and I – with Matt Damon doing a low-key Bourne, trying to outsmart and outpace adversaries who are nearly (but not quite!) omnipotent and omnipresent, and who are bent on keeping him from what he feels sure is true love. More than once he is ripped abruptly from Emily Blunt’s life, re-finds her, and works to regain her trust, unable to tell her what’s really going on.

It’s a solid, entertaining movie, with some language and sexuality (including two instances of a word neither Jodi or I thought was permitted in PG-13 films). And it’s thought-provoking after the fact: at one point, Damon’s character asks a more sympathetic “adjuster” if they are angels. This is not an idle observation, since the underlying problem in the movie is the problem of free will versus predestination. The film proposes a world in which beings who are less limited and more powerful than humans direct the world according to a grand scheme they themselves do not entirely comprehend. From what little I’ve read, this is in close keeping with Catholic traditions and teachings about angels – except that in the film, the adjusters suggest that they function to override human free will, which, unfettered, produced the Dark Ages and the World Wars, but with their guidance (i.e., free will only with regard to small, day-to-day choices), yields peace, happiness, and productivity. (Hmm…that sounds familiar.)

I don’t believe angels, according to Catholic teachings and belief, have the option of taking free will from us. They operate more subtly and keep the world operating according to plan…but we still choose. We make our beds, and we lie in them.

In the film, the very aggressiveness and implacability of the adjusters seem to increase our hero’s resolve and drive him to his climactic decision and the film’s resolution. It’s almost as if the adjusters themselves are off-plan…and as if that, in fact, is part of the plan.