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Haste makes waste…or not

Anyone who has known me for any length of time knows I am a consummate planner.  I do nothing – nothing – without first planning out not only the steps but the likely outcomes and potential required adjustments for each individual step.  I even mentally optimize each step to try to minimize the distance covered or energy or time required.  I like to say that I try to plan for the likely so I can anticipate the unlikely and still even deal with the impossible.  It’s a good theory and has just enough to it that it even sounds plausible.

Then there are days like today when I’m hit in the face with examples of people doing exactly the opposite of that and somehow by some foreordained miracle not failing miserably.  Clearly if my optimizations are so critical to success these people must have succeeded out of sheer chance or dumb luck.  They probably win the lottery three times in a month too – yes, that must be it.

planningOnly they don’t.  Rather than meticulously planning out the most minute parts of every step before even getting started these people did what they thought was the good and right thing and then worried about the details when they actually came up.  It’s amazing what has happened in the lives of the two people I’m thinking about as well, all related in some way to their willingness to not plan out every last step.

The first one is a friend of a friend who spoke at our Mens’ Group meeting this morning.  He titled his talk, “How hard could it be?” because he found in much of his life that this thought had recurred to him over and over at critical junctures in his life and when he followed through he wound up making giant leaps forward that would seem improbable to impossible for a planner like me.  I won’t recount his story here because I could never do it justice but his stack of success at a young age made me wonder just a little bit about this recurring theme in his life.

The second hit me as my wife and I were praying the Rosary while driving home from a visit to my in-laws’.  In the second Joyful mystery we contemplate Mary’s Visitation to the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth.  Now this is a young woman who has just been told by an angel that even though she is a virgin she is going to bear the Son of the Most High and without a full blown planning session or a second pass to micro-optimize her expected steps she utters words upon which hang so much of the fate of creation, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38)

But wait, she’s not done yet.  Being told of the pregnancy of her cousin, “In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.” (Lk 1:39-40)  She didn’t take her time and carefully plan out her path and all possible contingencies and contingencies for the contingencies.  She “went with haste“.  If this kind of leap-without-looking (or so it seems to this consummate planner) thing is not considered a fault in Mary, and clearly we believe it is not, then perhaps there’s something to it after all.

You see, the one thing all this planaholism (I think I just invented a word) lacks, and the one great thing both this man and Mary showed, is faith.  I plan, and I think many who are like me do the same, so that I can have control over everything that happens and minimize on my own whatever damage might come.  These two think just long enough to discern God’s will and then without any more hesitation they act knowing that God will fill in the pieces of the puzzle for them as they go.  Somehow they’ve found that balance between acting without thorough planning and planning so much you never actually act.

If we – if I – get nothing else out of this Lent I hope a slightly greater willingness to step out in faith might be the one thing we receive.    I haven’t yet figured out how it’s all supposed to work (see, there it goes again) but if it’s good enough for Mary and she was good enough to bear the Son of God then it quite well ought to be good enough for me.  May you all have a holy and blessed Holy Week and bear in mind that it is not ours but God’s plan that matters in the end.

Image credit: Perfectly Cursed Life


This post requires no commentary.  Other than to say the only reason I did not split a proverbial gut laughing was in deference to my wife who is suffering from a spring cold.  But only barely.

H/T to Father Z.

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Now this is how you do evangelization

I know I’m a little behind the times on this, but hey life gets busy for everyone sometimes.   A little over a week ago the Los Angeles Religious Education Conference (yes, that one) Fr. Robert Barron gave the keynote address and let me tell you I can almost guarantee that this was not the kind of keynote this conference usually gets.  Standing right in front of a crowd who will hear near pagan talks and the worst of nouvelle theologie he talks about such things as “Lead with Beauty” and “Don’t Dumb Down The Message”.  You could almost hear John Paul II’s continual admonition to “be not afraid” ringing in his mind as he works his way through this address.  And, lo and behold, he gets more than just limp-wristed platitudinous reaction but in fact very strong applause even at the points that are most antithetical to what most people think of about the LA REC.  I think he just proved that the Holy Spirit does still empower us to step into less-than-comfortable situations and speak God’s word with power.  And with results as well.

I know the address is rather long at just under an hour, but believe me you will find it utterly worth your time.  It might just put a dent in your “bunker down and wait until it’s all over” plans.


St. Joseph

If I had to guess what people find to be the most important part of the life of St. Joseph I would think it would be his decision to trust in the message of the angel and take Mary as his wife even though he had every reason not to, and that certainly is valid.  I do think however that a second decision in his life was almost as momentous even though it doesn’t get nearly as much attention.

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. (Mt 2:13-15)

Joseph wasn’t just being asked to make a short, well-planned, well-provisioned camping trip with his new family.  He was being asked to flee from everything he had, everything and everyone he knew.  All his family, gone.  All his friends, gone.  All his business contacts, and probably even many of his tools, gone.  And with no promise as to how long he would have to make a new life in this foreign land.  Yet he made this trek without waiting, without planning, without complaining.Flight into Egypt by Eugene Alexis Girardet

I think all of us at some point in our lives are going to hear a call like this, with God asking us to step out in trust into the unknown.  That can be a very daunting proposition, particularly when we are responsible for others as well as ourselves – yet that is exactly where Joseph is when faced with this call.  Lent seems like the perfect time for us to quiet down our lives enough to perhaps hear an angel’s call.  In what way are you being called to Egypt with the Holy Family?


A Dominican Lent

This year I have started my Novitiate formation for the Lay Fraternities of St. Dominic, more commonly known as the Lay Dominicans.  After having spent a little more than the past year and a half between formation and discernment I really must admit that it is all finally starting to show a discernible impact on both my outlook and the practice of my faith.  The Dominican order is known for many things, and despite my dear Franciscan friends’ polite jabs I don’t place arguing at the top of the list, including a dedication to learning, preaching and teaching.  Perhaps one of their greatest effects though has been felt in bringing their deep devotion to the Rosary everywhere they are sent.  Imagine my surprise, then, to find out that the Rosary as I had come to know it ever since my days as a wee baby Catholic-to-be in RCIA is in fact not said quite the same way as in the Dominican order.  There are probably a thousand guides online for how to say the Rosary as I was taught (look, even a nice full-page PDF suitable for printing), so I won’t endeavor to reproduce any of them here.

St. Dominic Receives The RosaryDominicans, however, take a very slightly different approach.  As St. Dominic was a great proponent of praying the Divine Office the format of the Rosary is fitted into that of yet another hour of the Office.  A simple and direct explanation can be seen here, and a longer one with more optional prayers is here.  If you, in any way, either already pray the Office or would like to this is a wonderful way to reinforce the fact that we are not praying a disjointed random set of prayers throughout the day but are, in fact, praying without ceasing (1 Thes 5:18).  I find it a very necessary reminder of the unity of a well-formed prayer life, and a beautiful way to work my way through the day.  I’ll admit I hadn’t really been very diligent about praying a daily Rosary, but since the beginning of Lent that has changed much for the better.  Perhaps it’s not too late to add a simple 20 minute prayer to your Lenten discipline.

On a totally unrelated note, I did want to put in a plug for a set of Lenten reflections being put out by the Dominican School of Philosophy & Thought in Berkeley, CA.  A short video is posted with a reflection on the readings for every Sunday and you can receive notifications in your email so you can view the videos at your leisure.  Also, although this started I believe last year I don’t think it has received nearly the attention it deserves, the Dominicans of the Province of St. Joseph are posting a Preacher’s Sketchbook with patristic and exegetical commentary on the Sunday readings.  It’s perhaps a little heavier than the previously-mentioned videos, but the time invested is certainly rewarded.  May your Lent be holy and blessed and its end find you with a heart filled with longing for our Paschal Lord.


Lenten Evangelization

Most of the people I know tend to treat Lent almost purely as a time to turn inward, to contemplate our own personal spiritual state.  In many ways, that’s absolutely a core focus of this time in our liturgical calendar.  This weekend I had to present to my Lay Dominican Chapter on Chapter 3 of Pope Francis’s Evangelii Gaudium, and much of what I read there made me wonder if perhaps we aren’t all missing something.

Throughout this document the theme of evangelization is repeated – it works its way into every part, even areas we wouldn’t at first think of as related.  Contemplating that, I am reminded of repeated stories in the course of Church history where people were converted to the Faith – or away from the faith – by the example of people who lived authentic and austere lives, and I’m forced to wonder: why not now?  In an age where people are surrounded by the fake and artificial (hello “reality” shows, I’m looking at you) and by the insincere and inauthentic (let’s face it, that’s far too many of our politicians), they are absolutely longing for anything that is really real.

Lent is a time when most of us “get real” about our faith, even if our practice of it has been weak or thin.  In a world that is seeking the real, this is the perfect time for each and every one of us to renew that evangelical impulse that is part and parcel of being Catholic.  Get out there and take your Lent out into the world and don’t be shy* about it – you never know who just might be moved to finally open their heart to the Holy Spirit.

* That, of course, doesn’t mean that you should go out and be all flashy and showing off at your Lenten penance, because that would not be authentic at all.  Just be with the people you encounter – accompany them as the Pope writes – and when the opportunity arises, allow yourself to be a vessel for use by the Holy Spirit.  He’ll take care of the rest.


Ashes to ashes

When I was still a wee little Catholic (which, admittedly, was in my early 20s) I used to get a bit of enjoyment at being the only one I knew who wore ashes from Ash Wednesday all day – everyone else I knew that even still went to Church would wipe them off before showing up in public.  Maybe it’s me being overly critical as I look back, but I think I actually tried to get seen wearing them a little, as if seeing someone being publicly Catholic was going to, I don’t know, shame or guilt people into coming back to the Church.  Yeah, I was a real piece of work back then (and yes I know I still am in many, many ways).

ash wednesdayTimes have changed, and I’ve grown older and maybe a little wiser, but also now have a lot more people to whom I’m responsible.  Back then I didn’t have to worry about someone seeing me be a Catholic, getting offended and finding a reason to “stick it to me”.  Now, it seems, that concern is ever-present, both because it can do so very much more damage to me and because people have such little taste for true religious tolerance.  For whatever reason, those included, this morning I just kept getting the overwhelming desire to wipe off the ashes before I headed in to work – work, mind you, with a staff meeting and another meeting with folks with whom I have not worked before.

I think God knew what was running through my head that morning, because the priest started his homily off in very short order with, “leave them on – don’t wash them off – leave them on all day, as an example to others that you are a sinner.”  With that last part he got me.  Instead of wearing them to make others know what they should be doing, wear them because of who you are, in admission that you are a sinner.  No matter how many times I come to realize it I’m always struck anew by the realization that conversion most often comes by being genuine and honest, not by a holiness that might be only paper thin.  When people know that we are right there in the trenches with them and not hanging out on some ivory tower watching over the world and shaking our heads at them, when they know that we know we’re no better – then when they see us joyful despite it all, when they see us get up and try just one more time, then they will think that not only is what you have something they want, but indeed something they just might be able to have as well.

May we all have a holy Lent, and may we all find joy in knowing that it’s not us that has to do the hard work.  Trust in God, and let Him do all the heavy lifting.  And keep those ashes on each Ash Wednesday that others might see that yes, you are a sinner, but there is more to life than just that.



With Lent coming up all together too soon it’s the time we each start taking a little bit of a spiritual inventory.  I think in these days one of the hardest problems to come to grips with is an inability to forgive – to truly forgive.  We’re surrounded with counter-examples of this constantly.  Some would tell us that those who have offended us have to be punished in like manner, some would say that our only available option in every case is to let things roll off our back like water off a duck – both of these extremes to me are counter-productive.  The first is a problem because it is quite clearly counter to both the example and command of Jesus.  The second is unrealistic because very few of us have been given and responded to the grace to never take offense, and I think also because some offenses are severe enough that they deserve a response, even when it is the positive act of forgiveness.

I’ll bet if you’re honest with yourself you can think of someone, and probably many someones, who you need to forgive even if they haven’t “earned” it yet.  After reading this article I’m finding it far harder to deny forgiveness to those around me who do something offensive.  In the end, it is not just the person who is forgiven that receives a great gift but the person who forgives as well.  That, I think, is a lesson our modern culture is definitely in need of learning.

I realized it was not justice or equity I wanted most of all, but relief. Often we think the cost of forgiving is too high, but we do not consider the cost of not forgiving.

I found relief in releasing his debts against me, especially as I realized my father could not pay what he owed me. Nor can many parents.

I found the yoke of forgiveness, then, lighter than the yoke of hurt and hate. I found the yoke of caring for him easier than the burden of abandoning him.


Gene Simmons … who’d a thunk?

Whether or not you’re a Gene Simmons fan, whether or not you’re a Tim Tebow fan, this man has a point and I can only hope and pray that eventually his common sense on this point will rub off on the popular culture.  And yes, I’ll be the first to admit I never thought I’d use “Gene Simmons” and “common sense” in the same sentence – as always, more for me to learn I see.



Virgin MaryFor Christmas my parents gave me Edward Sri‘s Walking with Mary: A Biblical Journey from Nazareth to the Cross.  It’s a great light read yet with some very deep thoughts upon which to contemplate even after the book has been put down.  It has been a great blessing for me to be able to put a lot of things going on in my life in perspective and to try to look at them the way Mary approached everything in her life.  You’ll note I said try as this is indeed a very long path and there are many obstacles and mis-steps along the way, but a book like this helps you take one step closer to getting there.

One of the ever-present temptations, at least in my life, to wander off or pull away from the path is a nasty combination of fear and difficulty in trusting God.  Though Mary certainly would have experienced all the sources of fear that just about any of us ever could, she never failed to trust God’s providence – particularly when it was not obvious how it would come to work out in the end.  Sometimes when the first chip falls it’s all together too easy to look up to heaven and wonder why God would let such a thing happen without also keeping in mind that whatever the reason He does it for our good in the end.

Mary’s example reminds us that no matter what may happen in our lives, we should always ask God what he might be trying to teach us through these crosses that come our way. Perhaps we have an opportunity to grow in patience or humility.  Or maybe God wants us to grow in greater trust or surrender of our own willfulness.  There will be suffering and heartache in this fallen world, but God can bring good from those difficult situations and use them to help us grow in certain ways that are for our spiritual development.  So the next time something frustrating or painful happens in our lives, instead of immediately pressing the panic button, adopting the “I’ve got to fix this right now” attitude, or complaining, we should pray and ask God what he is trying to teach us through these crosses.  We, like Mary, should keep all these things, pondering them in our hearts.