Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Peace and All Good

"Wow! That's powerful." These are words that my dear friend, Fr. Thomas F. Vigliotta, ofm., a Franciscan friar, would say all the time to some of the most trivial of revelations. These words, typically said in jest, however, resonate with me now more than ever as I think back over the time that I had with from 2008-2013 at The Catholic Center at the University of Georgia in Athens, GA.

While I have not blogged in a little over a year, I felt a particular call to put down a few words in light of Tom's passing away this past weekend. As I type this, Tom's funeral arrangements are underway, and sadly, I can not be there physically. I hope that my attempt at writing connects me to him in a very spiritual way that transcends physical proximity. As a way of showing solidarity from a distance with Tom, his family, and his dear friends, I attended mass this morning for him. Fr. Tom, or Vigs, as some of us liked to call him, always made a point to teach us how connected we all are as a human family whenever we gather together around the altar to celebrate the Eucharist. Often, he would tell me, "I'll remember you at the altar where it matters most." I think I'm finally starting to understand it. If we can not be thankful for each other in this world that with which God has blessed us, then what else do we have?

Sitting in the quiet of St. Dominic's Church this morning, I listened to the words of the first reading from the Book of Genesis (Gen. 32:23-33), the Responsorial Psalm (Ps.17), and the Gospel from Matthew (Mt. 9: 32-38). Naturally, given where my thoughts were this morning, I found that all of the readings echoed memories and/or experiences that I have of Tom.

The first reading from Genesis tells the story of Jacob receiving the name Israel from God because Jacob had "contended with divine and human beings and [had] prevailed." Earlier in the reading, the Genesis author uses the word "wrestle" to describe Jacob's contention. If I had ever approached Fr. Tom seeking a solution to a personal struggle, he rarely, if ever, gave me a definitive answer. Rather, he would simply encourage me to continue "wrestling" with it through prayer and reflection because he knew that that's where I would learn the most about myself and God. This could be so frustrating because I just wanted him to tell me the "right" answer, but he knew that would not help me grow spiritually. I guess now I have to "wrestle" with the fact that my friend isn't a simple call or text away anymore but rather a simple prayer away. For teaching me how to "wrestle" with my faith and still be ok, thank you, Thomas.

The refrain in the Responsorial Psalm was "In justice, I shall behold your face, O God." If there is one major element of my faith that blossomed under Vigs, it was my understanding of social justice. To put it lightly, social justice involves becoming aware of and  an advocate of change for those people, ideas, circumstances, environments, etc. that might in any way, shape, or form, hinder one's ability to maintain his or her God-given human dignity. As the refrain suggests, when one experiences true justice, one will see the benevolent face of God. The face of God sees and knows all who reach out in faith looking for justice. For teaching me that justice requires an infinite amount of compassion to sort through the gray areas in life, thank you, Thomas.

Lastly, the Gospel today could not have been more relevant in my reflection on my relationship with Tom. The story today speaks of Jesus casting out demons, curing illnesses, and being a shepherd to the people in ways that no one had ever seen before him. The Gospel goes on to speak of the work of God being an abundant harvest having very few laborers to complete the work. Fr. Tom, in the charism of St. Francis of Assisi, labored for God's harvest better than most of us will ever. He taught me that as a fellow laborer in Christ all I can do is try to center my life around perpetual attempts to follow Jesus through compassionate justice, endless peace, and unconditional love. For being a true laborer shepherd to me and countless others over your life time, thank you, Thomas.

peace and all good,

(From left to right: Fr. David Hyman, ofm., Me, Fr. Tom Vigliotta, ofm.)

May we be ever-faithful, ever-mindful, and ever-joyful.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

It is Personal!

Hello, my friends! While I know I have not posted since the beginning of Lent back in March, rest assured that I have still been trying to reflect on where I see the Spirit working in my life and in the lives of others. Since my last post, much has transpired in my life:

We have celebrated Holy Week (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday), Easter Sunday, the entire Easter Season, and Pentecost. I hope that in that time you were all able to find the story of faith reflective in your own lives by understanding that we all suffer (Good Friday), we all wait in hope for something better (Holy Saturday), and we all have resurrection moments that bring us hope (Resurrection Sunday) to go out and share that hope with others (Pentecost).

I found myself trying to live out the above events (known as the Paschal Mystery) amid the other goings-on in my life. In the last couple of months, I have run the Boston Marathon and have finished my first year of teaching and coaching at my high school alma mater. I've gone away on retreat for a few days. I have watched my younger brother marry his high school sweetheart and have visited wonderful friends in the Atlanta/Athens, Georgia, areas. And now I find myself in Edwards/Vail, CO, finding time to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation in the Rocky Mountains while resting and training in the cool, clean air that comes with being 7,000 or more feet above sea level.

Though all of the above events have their own intricacies and back stories that I wish I would have spent the time to share over the last few months, one thought/reflection has been constant. Before I expand on this thought, take a minute to think about the people that bring you the most joy as well as the people who seem to bring you the most anguish. Once you have done that, call to mind that each of those people are blessed with gifts, talents, and skills that have the potential to positively influence all those around them. Remember this especially when thinking of the people who bring you anguish. Now that you have done this you are ready for the reflection.

We have all heard the saying/disclaimer, “Don’t take this personally, but…” Well, this saying is the basis for my reflection. Over the last few months, the idea of “taking things personally” has really resonated with me. I have come to be a proponent of taking everything personally. Why? Because when we take things personally, we then internalize the situation which provides us with more clarity of the complexities that life throws our way. For example, when we watch the news and see awful injustices taking place in our communities or around the world, do we sympathize and move on, or do we try to “take it personally” as if those injustices were happening to us and our loved ones? If we can do the latter, do you think we may be more likely to understand the struggles of others and view them through eyes of love and compassion? I firmly believe so.

For Christians, taking things personally is what our faith is all about. We believe that God took things so personally that he gave us Jesus to teach us how to be personal with each other. Our “churchy” word for this is the Incarnation (God made flesh), or as we might think of it, God made personal. So, as I conclude, I hope that we can all take things a bit more personally because in doing so, I believe that we will come to know God, ourselves, and others, in a tremendously deep way that will change the world for the better.

May we be ever-faithful, ever-mindful, and ever-joyful.

Here are some pictures from recent events. Enjoy.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

A Lenten Sculpture

Well, friends, we have entered into the season of Lent yet again. As I may have mentioned in the past, this is my favorite season of the church year. Though it can be quite difficult to find the time to contemplate that I truly desire during this season especially, the challenge in and of itself can be quite rewarding. As a Catholic religion teacher of adolescent boys, I find that the challenge is even greater to impart on the young men with whom I work every day. Teaching them how to truly embrace the reasons for why we "give up things" for Lent is tough. I'll share two of the ways I will try to communicate this to them.

The first way that I hope to share the meaning of Lent with my students comes from something that I learned a few years ago. Common Lenten practices consist of giving up favorite foods, drinks, TV shows, poor habits, and in some cases these days, giving up social media access. In theory, these are good individual things. However, if the point of Lent is to bring us closer to Christ through the Paschal Mystery, then we must ask first ask ourselves what was the point of Christ's crucifixion. I asked my students this, and they were able to tell me that Christ loved us so much that he died for our sins. Correct. He loved us and died for our sins. These italicized words are communal in nature. With this idea of community in mind, I try to share with my students that when they are determining what they will "do for Lent" they should consider how those actions can make them better for their not only themselves but also their communities. Does simply giving up a certain food or drink for Lent help us work with others? Does removing oneself from social media enable us to be more socially present? Perhaps, yes. Perhaps, no. All of our journeys are different, but we are all called to a "new evangelization" that asks us to go out and bring the faith to people rather than waiting for them to come in.

This idea of individual journeys leads me to the other way I'll try to teach Lent to my students. This way comes from something I read recently in my Living with Christ subscription. The editor in the booklet talked about how Michaelangelo referred to his sculptures as beautiful works already created he just needed to knock away the stone to find them. The editor likened this idea to our Lenten journeys. He said that our Lenten time is be a great time for us to continue knocking away the stone that surrounds our lives until we are left showing our true beauty that God already completed out of love. I hope that this sculpture concept will resonate with my students as it has with me.

The editor's complete reflection is in the picture below:

After all, as I tell my students, everything that we do within the church should always point us toward the Kingdom of God. With this in mind, here is a quote that I found the other day in my Lenten reflective material, "God's kingdom is, first of all, the active presence of God's Spirit within us, offering us the freedom we truly desire." May our Lenten journey practices provide us all with that freedom.

May we be ever-faithful, ever-mindful, and ever-joyful.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Spirit of Sport

Recently, I attended a faculty award ceremony. There, the marquee award recipient graciously thanked the many folks that had inspired and encouraged her over the years. Several of these people that she thanked were coaches. As a result of their positive influence on her, she came to truly embrace the beauty of sport. As a convert to Catholicism, she appropriately found a quote by Pope Pius XII reflected her belief in sport.

"Sport, properly directed, develops character, makes a man courageous, a generous loser, and a gracious victor; it refines the senses, gives intellectual penetration, and steels the will to endurance. It is not merely a physical development then. Sport, rightly understood, is an occupation of the whole man, and while perfecting the body as an instrument of the mind, it also makes the mind itself a more refined instrument for the search and communication of truth and helps man to achieve that end to which all others must be subservient, the service and praise of his Creator."
- Pope Piux XII, Sport at the Service of the Spirit, July 29, 1945

This perspective on sport is quite appropriate considering the Sochi Winter Olympics currently underway. We may find ourselves getting caught up in the political and social elements of the games and how good or bad the conditions are for a city to host the games. While our concerns and perspectives should not go without recognition, let us please remember the athletes above all else. They are recognized on a worldwide scale only once every four years making these couple of weeks so important for them. Their efforts and stories certainly encompass Pius XII's definition of sport.

I'd like to leave you with a story from ESPN's Outside the Lines program. This story is about a small high school football team facing tremendous odds at success. This story contains social justice implications regarding immigration, just living wages, and access to education. With these in mind, enjoy this real life example of what Pius XII was talking about.

Mendota Football

May we be ever-faithful, ever-mindful, and ever-joyful.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

New Self for a New Year

Hello friends,
I can not believe that I have let a month slip by without taking some time to reflect and write. As we begin a new calendar year, I pray that I will devote more time to my reflections and writings now that I have established a routine for school.

Today, in the Catholic Church, we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord. In the simplest of terms, this celebration  remembers the how the Magi (aka Three Wise Men or Three Kings) received a vision or message from God which led them to the home of Jesus. As men of faith, the reason they were able to find Jesus was because they were open to how the Spirit of the universe might speak to them. This openness, I'm sure, was a result of their own self-images being centered on something much bigger than themselves. This idea of self-image is one that I'd like to expand on a bit further.

During this past Advent, I used a daily reflection book by Fr. Richard Rohr, ofm., to guide my journey toward Christmas. One of the days he talk about "addiction to our own self-image." As I thought about this, I began to understand what Rohr was saying. Too often, we promote and maintain our self-image based what society, family, friends, co-workers, teammates, etc., says is "proper". While we certainly want to have a good self-image, that self-image is always at its best when we only view ourselves that way God views us: as beloved children.  Rohr says this in particular, "I will take God's image of me any day, which is always patient and merciful, over my neighbor's rashly formed image of me." Think about your best friend. Is your friendship predicated upon shared circumstances (school, work, clubs, organizations) where common ground takes the form of class, race, age, income, dress, language, style, social venues, or peer groups? If so, ask yourself if that friend would still be your friend if none of those shared circumstances existed anymore. This may be tough to answer given it's theoretical context. However, the beauty about our self-image in God is that none of those things matter! We are beloved in God's sight no matter what. Rohr concludes his reflection with a quote from St. Teresa of Avila, "Find God in yourself, and find yourself in God."

I hope that in recognizing our true God-self images, we will come to have the kind of life-changing epiphany that the Magi that we still celebrate today.

May we be ever-faithful, ever-mindful, and ever-joyful.

Friday, November 29, 2013

For the Birds

This past week I had the privilege of visiting with friends that I no long get to see on a regular basis. As always, being in their presence, whether in Athens, GA or in New Orleans, LA, brought me great peace, inspiration, and energy to live my life seeking the Spirit always.  Thank you, friends, for being marvelous blessings in my life.

Now, you may be wondering what the phrase "for the birds" has to do with my above thoughts.  Well, as you may know, the phrase "for the birds" often designates that something is insignificant, unimportant, or trivial.  I'm going to spin this phrase to mean the quite the opposite as I reflect on an experience of mine this week. Earlier this week, I went to the Audobon Zoo with a friend. Rarely do I go to the zoo, but anytime a friend who has not been there before wants to go, I welcome the opportunity. As we wandered through the different animal exhibits, we came upon the aviary. As you might expect inside this sealed off space, we found many different breeds of birds occupying the trees, branches, bushes, ponds, etc.  However, what you may not realize is that these different breeds of birds came from all different parts of the world.  The birds covered a wide spectrum of sizes and colors, too. They were magnificent to be around.  Their diversity struck me as interesting because many of these birds were out of their natural environments and living among other birds that were indigenous to completely different environments from their own. Yet, all of the birds seemed to have adapted quite well to each other and their shared home.  Upon seeing this, I reflected upon how often we, as humans, have difficulty getting along with other humans from very different environments, cultures, customs, etc. Are we not supposed to be more intelligent and rational than simple birds? Sometimes, I wonder about this.  Also, these birds not only were living in peace with one another, but they were not upset by our human presence at all. They crossed beneath our feet, flew over our heads, and sang their pleasant songs in ways that almost seemed to welcome us into their space.  How welcoming are we to others who are from "different parts of the world" than us?  Each time we see violence, poverty, injustice, hate, etc. perhaps we should think of the birds living in peace with one another sharing their space and resources so that they all may coexist beautifully. Is this not the purpose of God's creation?

So, next time you hear the phrase "that's for the birds" think about how it may be more appropriate to say "that's for the humans" instead. The Spirit was very much present with the birds in the aviary and as as a result of my being there, the Spirit was very much present with me, too.

May we be ever-faithful, ever-mindful, and ever-joyful.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Spirit of the Blue Dot

I just saw this shared on Facebook, and I figured I had to pass this along. Enjoy the reflection on the power of the Spirit that pervades and continues to pervade this tiny yet marvelous piece of God's creation.

The tiny blue dot.

May we be ever-faithful, ever-mindful, and ever-joyful.