Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

How It All Went

Ok, so today I ran the Marine Corps Marathon, my first marathon and my longest run ever, by 6.2 miles (about 10K).

First, I want to thank all my supporters. A lot of people donated money to the Archdiocese on my behalf, prayed for me, bought me shoes and nutrition supplies, cheered me on, encouraged me, and prayed for me. A number of you have called to check in on me and have emailed me your best wishes. Without that support, I would have bailed out about two months ago.Y'all are the best. I want you to know that when the howitzer (no starter's pistol for the Marines!) was fired to start the race, I offered the entire run to our Eternal Father for your benefit, asking him to bless you all for how much you've blessed me. I believe it is exactly the sort of sacrifice that our Heavenly Father loves to accept and to multiply.

Second, the race went well. I did not run the times I had targetted, but am very happy with having finished, and well especially in the last 3-4 miles, and having come very close to my desired time. The first few miles were hard because the course was so congested. Miles 18-22 were especially hard - I don't think I hit the wall (I think I did that once) as much as just became fatigued, very fatigued in the legs. There were water and carbohydrate-gel stands every two miles or so - a real godsend. At mile 22, as fatigue was hitting its worst, another young man whose name turned out to be Dave called to me while I had stopped to stretch, "Hey, c'mon, you can do it! Let's run together." So we did run together, each encouraging the other for the last four miles. The race ends on a fairly steep hill, going up an exit ramp off of I-66 or some such road (maybe VA-110). I slowed to a trudge, and then began to walk, just 150 yards from the finish! A hand gently lay on my back and pushed, and I knew it was Dave, and we ran in to the end together. Talk about a grace! It's a metaphor for life in Christ - we can try it alone, but it's so much better to go at it with others. Dave just came into Mother Church's fold at the Easter Vigil this past spring; and this coming spring will marry his fiancee. During our four miles together, we prayed a few Hail Marys and encouraged other runners who were struggling. Please take a moment to pray for their marriage to be blessed with fruitfulness and joy.

I saw some cool quotes, and even moving anecdotes, written on the back of peoples shirts. One said, "Pain is just weakness leaving the body." I like that. As a Christian striving with St. Paul to be a coworker with Christ in the labor of redeeming the world, I thought of my own little rejoinder.

Pain is the sound of the world being redeemed.

At the finish line, a Marine greets each finisher and puts a medal around his or her neck, and offers congratulations. People bring the finishers fruit and vegetables, sports bars, and lots of liquids. The Marines think of everything, and handled everything with gracious hospitality and efficient thoroughness. They have my complete confidence in every matter from now on. People were crying; I cried too - the pain is pretty real, but the joy, the sense of accomplishment, the camaraderie of the runners, the enthusiasm of the tens of thousands of spectators who formed a veritable gauntlet of cheers for about 80% of the course - it's all so much realer than any pain. I type that, 11 hours after having finished, as I ice my weary joints and down tylenol like jelly beans. Another shirt said, "Pain is for now; glory is forever." I really like that one.

One big lesson I learned: don't eat lots of jelly beans, no matter whether they are advertised as "Energy Beans," at mile 18 of a marathon. Trust me.

After the race, I called my roommate, Ben, who had my bag and phone, and he came to meet me. My friend Tamara called my cell phone before he got to me, and he told her where I was. I expected him, and am so grateful; I got her to boot, an unexpected surprise, for which I am also grateful. They stood with me in line for an hour while I waited for a massage (yes, the Marines think of everything) and then, while I was getting massaged, went to a sub shop and got me the best tasting sub I have ever eaten.

Bad news is that bad spelling and a data entry glitch seem to have prevented my times from being recorded by the official electronic device. Sorry to y'all who logged in to track me. Happily, I recorded my own darn splits, and will put them up in a few days when I've had a chance to figure them out for sure and format them properly, and when the photos from the race come out.

For now, a few stats are in order, from the time I crossed the starting line, about 3 minutes after the howitzer blasted:

1st 5k = 27:52.11
2nd 5k = 25:20.3
1st 10k = 53:12.41

last 10k = 63:52.38

total (42k / 26.2 mi) = 4:05:20.--
average pace = 9:21 min/mi

Thank you, all of you. Now, my icing is done and I'm ready for some zzz's. I've got school in the morning, and the Tylenol-PMs are starting to kick in. Good night. And, did I mention, thank you?

Coming Up: Marine Corps Marathon

So, the big day is just the day after tomorrow. I am very grateful for all the support I have received. Over a $1000 million dollar bills were donated to the Archdiocese of Washington DC's vocations program on my behalf. That's awesome. About as many people have told me that they are and will be praying for me.

In case you're curious, the gun goes off at 8 a.m. on Sunday morning, in what look to be perfect racing conditions. My Greek professor has run the MCM around 28 times, and the Boston Marathon several times too, and (I believe) coaches the women's cross country team at CUA. He told me that 58* (the expected daytime high for Sunday) is the ideal weather for a marathon - the most records are set at that temperature. He would know.

I went with some friends from school who are also running down to the DC Armory to get our race packets, tee-shirts, and most importantly, bibs and timing microchips. The place was filled with vendors and charity organizations: lots of stuff for sale, tons of free handouts, information, and a generally very jubilant atmosphere. That bodes well.

My bib number is lucky number 29686. Lol. Click here if you'd like to see the map of the course. The microchip tied to your shoe allows their computer sensors to track runners during the race and to time us from the time we actually cross the starting line, which might be 10 or 15 minutes after the gun goes off, because of the number of runners. I am, after all, number 29686, even if there aren't exactly that many runners. On race day, you can check up and see how far I've run, by going to their website by clicking here. You'll probably need my lucky bib number. Just in the last few days, I've met a number of other MCM racers, and discovered that some friends are running though I hadn't know earlier. It's beautiful, the camaraderie between strangers. I am also heartened by how young it makes me feel to be engaged upon something so new and exciting, at once both intimidating and inviting.

I could use the prayers because last minute obstacles and hassles pop up, and have already started to pop up. Nothing too serious, but you know how easily we can get discouraged by the little things. Like miles. Lolol. I'm getting pretty pumped - pumped enough to spend every spare minute on Saturday doing on homework (especially Greek, especially principle parts), because I don't know how much I'll be good for Sunday after the race (as much as I love principle parts). I suppose I could use the prayers for that, too. Let's keep praying for each other.

Midterms, inter al.

They're done, thanks be to God.

I did well in Hebrew, decently in Syriac, and as for Greek, well, let me just quote the Aeneid: "Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes."

I need to hit the flashcards; it's just that simple. I have slowly but surely been working on the last "Encountering the Risen Christ in..." on suffering. It's almost done. The Marine Corps Marathon is this Sunday; I will be offering prayers and sufferings during the run for any and all who will be doing likewise. Let's pray for each other.

A Saint for Our Financial Times

Pope St. Callistus I (14 October)

The Catholic Church has a saint for everything, even banking disasters. Don't believe me? Check out St. Callistus. Born a slave probably in the last quarter of the 2nd century, he showed a great deal of aptitude so that his master, Carporphorus, placed him in charge of one of the master's properties - a bank. This situation wasn't entirely rare - very wealthy men owned slaves, and they would pay for the training of their more intelligent slaves in a variety of fields. Callistus' master was a Christian, and most of the bank's clients and investors were also Christians - that was a bit more rare, and occured during a lull in persecution that lasted for a generation or so.

Anyway, Callistus blew it. In fact, he blew it so big that he split, got out of Dodge, took a road leading away from Rome. Carporphorus set off with guards in pursuit of him and when he apprehended Callistus on a ship in the Mediterranean, Callistus jumped overboard to escape. He was captured, brought back to Rome, tried, and sentenced to hard labor. Carporphorus eventually took pity on Callistus, who pled for an opportunity to gain new money from investors. So Carporphorus used his connections to secure Callistus' release from the labor camp. Callistus received an even more severe punishment, though, when in desperation he busted up a synagogue shouting at the assembled Jews and demanding money from them. Packed off to the mines, Callistus seems to have had the opportunity for prayer and reflection that he needed for a more sincere, deeper conversion. This conversion was perhaps inspired as he came into contact with Christians much worse off socially and economically who were being jailed and sent to the mines because of their religious beliefs. Whatever inspired it, his conversion seems to have been profound.

Providence had it that Callistus' name was inadvertently added to a list of Christians jailed for their faith, who were scheduled to be released as a result of secret negotiations between the Pope and the Emperor. When Callistus' release was made known to the kind-hearted Pope, he could not find it in himself to correct the mistake and have Callistus reincarcerated. Callistus was ordained a deacon and placed in charge of a large Christian cemetery outside of the city, a duty that he carried out very well.

After about a decade, a new pope, St. Zephyrinus, recalled him to Rome and gave him duties that kept him very close to the pope. St. Zephyrinus was a very loving man, but not very astute theologically. St. Callistus, on the other hand, was able to show his mettle by helping the pope weigh in about important controversies of the day. St. Callistus, the beneficiary of clemency on several occasions, helped the pope to articulate and defend the Church's already ancient belief that even the worst sins could be forgiven - even sins like adultery, murder, and apostasy. As an emancipated slave, and much to the irritation of many wealthy pagan and Christians in Rome, St. Callistus also successfully appealed to the pope to uphold the validity of marriage between slaves and freemen. This decision was important because it defended the equal worth of every human being and the sanctity of marriage as a divine institution rather than a mere social convention. Over the course of several years, the pope and the deacon became close personal friends as well.

When Pope St. Zephyrinus died in AD 219, Callistus was elected by the clergy of Rome to take his place. He was ordained a priest and then bishop, and installed as the new pope. A wealthy Roman priest, Hippolytus, rejected Callistus' election because he thought him too "soft" on sinners. Hippolytus got some dissenting priests to elect him instead, thus creating the first antipope. (Don't worry, Hippolytus would eventually repent and reconcile with one of Callistus' successors, receive forgiveness himself, and die in the good graces of God and the Church, and even be canonized a saint!)

St. Callistus was a bad investor and a troublemaker, and certainly seemed nothing but trouble and a bad investment to his master. Yet an influx of grace brought him from ruins and despair to new hope and a new life in Christ. In our own times troubled by economic structures founded on fundamentally sinful practices, doubt about the worth and meaning of every human life, and social mores contrary to Christian marriage, St. Callistus seems to be the perfect patron and intercessor!

St. Callistus, pray for us!

That's One Sassy Lady

So Flannery O'Connor is an amazing writer. She was, rather, because she is presumably no longer writing, but is enjoying her heavenly reward, which, I suppose, might well involve writing. She is amazing not only for the quality of her diction and the deftness of her pen, but for the richness of her content, for the splendor of her imagination. No speaker of English should die without having read at least a story or two of hers. Here are some quotes from outside her corpus of fiction.

"All my stories are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it, but most people think of these stories as hard, hopeless and brutal."

"Everywhere I go, I'm asked if I think the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them. There's many a best seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher."

(Dan Brown comes to mind... not you, roommie. The other "Dan Brown.")

"Faith is what someone knows to be true, whether they believe it or not."

How true. Atheists ignorantly think faith is a belief without experiential fact. It's almost the opposite; it is, having experienced a fact, clinging to it even when it no longer seems very believable. It's the same virtue that makes things like marriage possible. Marriage is the virtue, you might say, whereby one person, having seen the goodness in another, clings to that person even when he or she no longer seems very likeable.

"The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it."

"When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs as you do, you can relax a little and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock, to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind, you draw large and startling figures."

A Thought on the Rosary

This is from my nightstand devotional text, Mary Day by Day. The entry for today reads:

Instruct me in the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your marvelous works.
- Psalm 119:27

REFLECTION: The Rosary calls for a quiet rhythm and a lingering pace, helping the individual to meditate on the Mysteries of the Lord's life as seen through the eyes of Mary. Thus, the unfathomable rices of these Mysteries are unfolded. - Pope Paul VI

PRAYER: O Mary, when I say the Rosary, I medidate on Christ's Mysteries in union with you. Help me to imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise.

Encountering the Risen Christ in Prayer

Prayer is a touchy topic because it is always a personal one. As with all personal topics we expose our hearts and risk getting them mangled. The only way to avoid being personal in a discussion of prayer is to be sterile, and that is no improvement, for it certainly mangles the topic. As with the other installments of this series, I will start more objective, and work my way to the more personal.

First we have to ask what is prayer. Two definitions have been given traditionally by the Church, each given to her by one of her doctors:

St. Therese Lisieux wrote, “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.”

A bit more precisely, St. John Damascene wrote, “Prayer is the raising of one's mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.”

Starting with these definitions, and incorporating some other saints’ experience, we can say something like, “To pray is to direct one’s heart or mind toward God.” Now, the first thing to note is that prayer is not thinking or feeling about God, but to God. Key difference. It is the difference between spending time with someone and doing a criminal background check on them. In the latter way, you get to know lots of facts, but not the person; in the first way, you get to know the person. The distinction is so important that the romance languages have two entirely different words for the different kinds of knowing.

Lest anyone think I am dismissing the importance of the catechism or the Deposit of Faith and the doctrines of the Church about God that the catechism summarizes, it is important to bear in mind St. Augustine’s paradox. We cannot get to know God without knowing about Him, and we cannot truly learn about Him without getting to know Him. So how can it happen – prayer? If we cannot pray and get to know God without knowing something of His nature, and we cannot learn more about His nature with getting to know Him, how can we get started? The answer that St. Augustine looks to is grace – the free gift of God’s life shared with us on His own initiative. God has to break the ice in this conversation, and even when it seems that we are making the first move, approaching Him, it is He working in us that has brought us to Him. The scriptures bear out this viewpoint, too: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words,” (Romans 8:26).

As we go about our life, God is constantly dropping prompts into our life to get us to spend time with Him. He is an almost insatiable lover; not like some needy “friend,” but like a parent who wants what’s best for his or her little kids. The kids think they are all grown up when they are just a few years old, but Mommy and Daddy and God know how much work we still need before we’re really there. So God is always hovering close to us, closer than we are to ourselves. He just wants us to respond, so He can give us what we need to spiritually grow big and strong. And what we need, know it or not, is Him.

Of course, society throws up all sorts of obstacles to quiet time with a lover – look how busy and noisy our lives are. And God, though very much in love with us, will not force or manipulate us into spending time with us, although He is not above letting us learn the hard way that we need Him, and starting from there. To spend time with Him, we have quietly to set ourselves aside from the hubbub of the world, enough time to calm our thoughts, and then we have to ask Him to help us lift our heart and mind toward Him. Calm, leisurely reading of the Scriptures, praying the Rosary, or meditating upon some icon are time-honored ways to still our heart and mind so that we can hear His quiet whisper. Here again the spiritual life is like running: a prayerful relationship with God is just not going to happen with less than 20 minutes or so of practice at a time and frequent, regular goes at it. Running for 10 minutes twice a month is a complete waste. So is praying, if you are looking deliberately to build a relationship with God. Sure, you can toss up a request in just a few seconds, but what would you think of someone who only spoke to you when they needed something, and the conversation consisted entirely of requests, without so much as a please, thank you, or a by-your-leave? We wouldn’t hang out with such selfish losers for very long. It’s a good thing that God is more merciful and patient than we are.

Before too long we will begin to “hear” thoughts and feelings in our prayer. It becomes VERY important to examine these inspirations, especially ones that surprise us, seem to come from outside us or beyond us, ones that point toward a change in course or strengthening a resolve. St. Paul calls this examination a “testing of spirits,” to see whether this new inspiration is likely just our empty stomachs, propaganda from our culture, or even diabolical in origin; or whether it is perhaps truly of God. This testing of spirits requires a solid moral formation, because God will never tell us to do something immoral, that is, something against His will. (Let’s leave certain stories from the Old Testament aside – they complicate things for now.) Even with solid moral formation, it is very beneficial to have a Christian more advanced than oneself to whom one can refer in times of doubt. If one’s pastor is for some reason an unlikely candidate, another priest or religious is ideal, but not strictly speaking necessary.

A word about how prayers are answered, or more to point, when prayers are answered. God does not always answer a prayer when we want. He’s in charge after all, and He calls the shots. Usually, for me, the prayer is answered well after it is prayed. For that matter, He responds to my queries for guidance, consolation, etc., sometimes quite a while (I feel) after I’ve asked. And He does so sometimes by stirring things up in the heart, sometimes but providentially arranging experiences, sometimes by making something that otherwise would have been lost in the clutter of life leap out at us, as it were, vividly, in full color, demanding a response and presenting its own solution, making the signposts of life shout aloud, you might say.
My own experience of the process of prayer, as I have described it objectively above, is what led me to the seminary.

Toward the end of my time in college, I heard about a “holy hour.” I had no clue. Turns out, it is an hour spent in prayer, preferably in chapel or some other secluded, quiet place, and preferably before the Blessed Sacrament, where we can sit face to Face with the Lord Himself… or more aptly put, heart to Heart. At first I undertook the practice so that I could feel pious. I told all my friends how holy I was, lol. Gradually, though, I came to sense that my prayer “wasn’t working.” I spoke with a priest. He told me that prayer doesn’t work. Not the answer I expected to hear from a priest, and I told him so. He clarified that prayer no more “works” than a chat with a friend “works.” It shouldn’t be something we do in order to get something, but something we do just because, well… almost just because. Ultimately, we prayer because we care about God. That basic lesson of prayer, that it is not an opportunity to manipulate God or to impress our church friends, is one that I have had to learn over and over again.

But an amazing thing happened. God broke the ice. We started to get to know each other better. Well, He always knew me, but now, I started to get to know Him, too. I was feeling new feelings and thinking new thoughts, thoughts and feelings unlike the way I had previously thought and felt. I felt like God wanted me to go to the seminary. So I did.

The funny thing happened on the way to ordination, though. I was a good student, well thought of by peers and superiors, and actively involved in, contributing to, and benefiting from the life of the seminary. I had gone from getting to Mass late because I was playing video games, to spending a couple hours daily in the chapel in meditative prayer, prayer that I felt had been fruitful. I took to it like a fish to water, which is generally considered a good sign. One day, after a few years in, the vice-rector was giving a conference. I was only half paying attention, and the other half of me was doodling or thinking about warmer weather and the beach, or something. Amid the clutter of my thoughts, I heard the vice-rector speaking distinctly for the first time in twenty minutes: “All of you men have been called by God, in various ways, to come to seminary. Many of you will be called by God in various ways to leave the seminary, without being ordained.” I was hit in the heart as with an arrow. The seminary’s vice rector is an avid hunter, and he could not have bulls-eyed that shot deeper into my consciousness if his life had depended on it.

Over the course of a year of prayer and guidance from my spiritual director, it became clearer that this course was the one to take: I must leave seminary because God Almighty, who I had thought had called me there for reasons I had thought had been obvious, was now commanding that I leave.

So in prayer, I made the most difficult decision of my life, and in prayer I was buoyed sufficiently, to carry it out with great determination. I left the seminary without a job or savings, and my sister’s guestroom/nursery to sleep in. She and her husband conceived their first child a couple weeks after I moved in, setting me on a timetable as well.

God continued, and has continued, to give me challenges practical and spiritual, moral and personal; and He has always given me the means to surmount them. When I have failed to, an honest self-examination has revealed the source of my failure: me. Each failure has been greeted by Him with renewed grace for a new go at it. Looking back in retrospect, I can start to see what He was thinking when He led me to the seminary. The healing and friendships I received from that place have already been so crucially beneficial that I do not like to image where I’d be without them. As with all of life’s stepping stones, they each lead naturally to the next. Nowadays I am starting to see, and feel, and experience, how the seminary prepared me for what has followed so far. I am starting to see God’s hand at work in the whole thing. I am getting better, in fits and spurts, slowly and with setbacks, at seeing God’s hand at work and responding proactively, rather than being and feeling bounced around like a pinball. My life is starting to have an order and a purpose like never before, even though I feel that I have less a clue where it is going than ever before. Before, I thought I knew but didn’t; now I know I don’t, and kinda do. My faithful confidence and commitment to God are slowly growing, my hope in Him and His good will for me is also slowly growing, and my dedication to serving Him and my neighbors in the details of daily life is also slowly growing. Jesus and I are getting to know each other, and almost despite myself, I find myself falling in love.

Maybe that priest was wrong after all. Maybe prayer does work.

Our Lady of the Rosary, Ever Victorious

I originally wrote this piece for print in a parish newsletter for the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary two years ago. I have revised it slightly, and added a bit to the end.

After 800 years of nearly constant defense, Constantinople, the Rome of the East, fell to attacking Muslim armies. From the year of its fall, 1453, Muslim Turks poured into Europe. By 1571, not only were all the Balkans under brutal Turkish Muslim rule, but the Protestant Reformation had been racking Europe and destroying Christian unity in the West for two generations. Catholic Europe was disintegrating on the inside and being overrun from the outside. In 1571, a great Muslim fleet sailed from Lepanto, in Turkish-ruled Greece, in a bid to dominate the entire Mediterranean. If the Mediterranean fell, there would be nothing to protect Europe from another invasion from the South. Don Juan of Austria, a Spaniard by birth and a devout Catholic, commanded the only Christian fleet that stood in the way. It was considerably smaller than the Turkish fleet. The enemies of holy Christian Faith had, to all appearances, great cause to rejoice. Pope St. Pius V called on all Christians to pray the rosary and to beg Mother Mary to save the West.

On the morning of October 7, 1571, which happened to be the Feast of Our Lady of Victory, with practically every Catholic in Europe fervently praying their rosaries, the massive naval battle was joined. In an amazing upset, the Christian fleet not only won, but won in just five hours, virtually destroying the Turkish fleet. Don Juan captured over half of the Turkish ships, and his fleet suffered only a little harm. Tens of thousands of Christian galley-slaves were set free, and Europe’s southern coast was secured. Nobody doubted that Our Lady of Victory, answering the call of the rosary, had come to Christendom's defense. In honor of her devotion, the feast was renamed to be Our Lady of the Rosary.

In our times we witness not only the Christian faith dividing and even apparently dissolving. In places where crowds once packed into cathedrals, now only a few tourists wander into them. At the same time, militant Islamists are fighting the West with ferocious new vigor. Those who hate our Christian Faith again seem to have ample reason to rejoice.

But we have a cause of hope that is greater than they understand. That’s what the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary is about. What Don Juan had no hope of accomplishing on his own, Our Lady brought about for him. He barely had to break a sweat! It is as if each rosary bead were a cannonball. On that October morning, hundreds of millions of cannonballs were fired from all across Europe at the enemies of Christian Faith. The rosary is a nice devotion to Mary, yes; but we must not forget that it is a weapon. There is no question of hating secularizing atheists or Islamist terrorists; we Christians are not permitted to hate, “for we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against… this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness,” (Eph 6:12). Again St. Paul writes, “We are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds,” (2 Cor 10:3-4). Spiritual warfare is fought with spiritual weapons. Among them, second only to the Holy Mass, is Our Lady’s rosary. Do you fear for your faith, or for the faith of your children and grandchildren? Then cling to your Rosary! From whatever quarters holy Christian Faith comes under attack, we only delude ourselves if we do not know who our true enemy is. And he is already beaten by Jesus Christ. The enemy of souls, however impressive his battle fleet may seem, is always and everywhere turned back at the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary.

On a personal note, the Rosary is a perfect prayer for the laity. For me it has been a source of great consolation, a useful help in discernment, and a nice way to while away time with our Lord and Lady, rather than waste it with headphones. It does not require difficult training or the purchase of expensive, rare, or really any books at all. The verbal prayers are simply enough for a small child and the mental meditations are profound enough for a very advanced mystic. The verbal prayers, said silently or aloud, communally or privately, serve as a platform for reflection on the life of Jesus and Mary, and that reflection serves as the medium for entering into their heart and giving them access to yours. It isn't a "technique" as if communion with God were a skill; it is simple and intimate, like we'd expect of time spent sitting on Mama Mary's lap, next to the Baby Jesus. Since it was first promoted by St. Dominic in the 12th century, its usefulness for every spiritual purpose has been endorsed by the word and example of virtually every pontiff and saint. If you don't know how to pray it, check out the website for
Rosary Army.

Crazy Love

God loves us so much that it's just crazy. It almost seems stupid. If God were capable of being stupid, or wasteful, I'd say that the oceans of love He pours out on us is stupid and wasteful. But He can't be stupid or wasteful... just amazing. It's like having a friend who comes back from a fishing trip saying he caught a fish thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis big. You wouldn't believe him because it's exaggerated, too good to be true. But then, what if he showed you the fish one day?

Feast of the Guardian Angels

Here is a little prayer to invoke your guardian angel's help. I haven't thanked my guardian angel much lately, and heaven knows I keep him working overtime!

Angel of God, my guardian dear
to whom God's love commits me here.
Ever this day/night be at my side
to light, to guard, to rule and guide.

Grace, the Song

Here are the lyrics to U2's song, "Grace," by Bono, that I mentioned in my last post.

She takes the blame
She covers the shame
Removes the stain
It could be her name

It's a name for a girl
It's also a thought that
Changed the world

And when she walks on the street
You can hear the strings
Grace finds goodness
In everything

She's got the walk
Not on a ramp or on chalk
She's got the time to talk

She travels outside
Of karma, karma
She travels outside
Of karma

When she goes to work
You can hear the strings
Grace finds beauty
In everything

She carries a world on her hips
No champagne flute for her lips
No twirls or skips
Between her fingertips

She carries a pearl
In perfect condition
What once was hurt
What once was friction
What left a mark
No longer stings

Because grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things

Grace finds beauty
In everything

20 Miles of Miscellany

Ok, so when you run 20 miles, as I just (finally) did, a LOT of things go through your mind. Something I noticed was that as the run progressed and the hours (not that many of them) ticked off, my thoughts got more and more disconnected from each other. They felt more profound, but that feeling hardly guarantees their depth, now does it? So here are a few random thoughts from my little three-hour tour around Bethesda, Kensington, and Rockville. Well, to be honest, some came from the cooling-down and runner's-high period that followed.

Grace is like grass. It is a coincidence that they sound so similar in our language, but the analogy is apt. Running on concrete wears on you, especially your joints. A lot of that wear and tear alleviates immediately, and I mean within just a couple paces, of switching onto grass when it becomes available. Life is like that. It can really wear on you. And modern life is rapidly becoming a hard, concrete paradise like the ones so many of us suburbanites and urbanites live in. Grass softens things, makes them gentle, and lovely. So does grace. It makes life doable, even desirable.

My roommate and I started the run even though it was cool, raining, and promising to get worse - colder and rainier. My reasoning was that the Marine Corps Marathon will be run rain or shine, and I didn't want to bail then, so except in case of genuine physical danger, I shouldn't bail now. Tom isn't running the MC Marathon, so I am not sure what his thinking was. Maybe he did it for the sake of camaraderie. Maybe he's crazy. Maybe a bit of both. I used to be more of a wimp, but feel like less of one after the run. In point of fact, it didn't get colder and rainier. The rain let up and the temperature stabilized at about 60*, perfect for a run. That's how life is. If you can stick through the hard points, exercising prudence and relying on Providence, it pretty much always gets better eventually. At least it has for me.

As I finished the third of four loops, each beginning and ending at my home and measuring five miles, I called into the house, "Hey, Ben, would you do me a huge favor and run to the 7-11 and grab some ice. I'm out it looks like." God bless him, he did. Tom cooked dinner for the two of us and left it in the fridge for me when he went to his (overnight) work shift. My ma has done similar things for me on these runs. All these people have been praying for me, encouraging me, supporting what I am trying to do. It's mind-boggling. During my run I reflected on that a great deal, and prayed for the grace to get better and better at being a loving son, brother, roommate, friend, coworker, classmate... for the grace to make some kind of return on the grace given me. My heart swelled while I ran, and it wasn't just a cardiovascular thing. It is no coincidence at all that the word for grace in almost all the Romance languages is closely related to the word for "thanks." Usually, "thanks" is "grace" in the plural form. "Gracias por la gracia," you might say in Spanish. Thank you God, for the grace.

My second niece, to be born in a few weeks, is named Elizabeth Grace. No joke. I know, it's very thematic, so I offered part of the run for her, too.

In a few moments I am going to eat the dinner my roommate made me, and make myself a milkshake. You wouldn't believe how many miles you can get out of fantasizing about a milkshake. Grace, like the dinner, has to be not only freely given, but also freely received, whatever John Calvin might have said. Otherwise, it's not grace, but some sort of spiritual assault. God never forces the free will He gave us. Holy Mary, full of grace, was free to say, "No," to God, which is why her lifelong, grace-filled yes was so important, so revolutionary, so beautiful.

St. Joan of Arc was the illiterate medieval French peasant who, inspired by the Holy Spirit and numerous saints, took up the banner of the Dauphin and with it and his whimpering armies drove from France their English overlords. She was captured by her enemies and tried for a witch, or a heretic maybe. I can't remember, but it was clearly a show-trial to make Stalin blush, because the Brits were just bitter to be beat by a woman. She was asked by her show-judges whether she was in a state of grace, the state in which the soul is permeated and shot through by the life of God himself, and in moral and spiritual union with Him. It's a trick question though, because you can never know for sure that you haven't offended and parted ways with God, only that you have done so. That's a bit complicated and another story. For now, suffice it to say that the young woman of 19 or 20 years, being glared at and stared down by the hooligan bishops and barons of Burgundy and Britain, calmly walked out of their trap as effortlessly as Jesus Himself evaded the sneakiness of the Pharisees, and with a similar answer. She simply said, "I cannot say, but I pray God that if I am, He keep me there, and if I am not, that He bring me there swiftly." (The paraphrasing is mine. Bear in mind I just ran 20 miles.) The bishops were befuddled. But they burned her anyway.

We can never be sure, but if we have a good reason to doubt that we are in grace, we should hurry to confession, quickly. Go, get back with God. If you haven't been in a while, you've got good reason.

I didn't nearly get hit by a car this time, in fact, most of the cars were unusually (to my mind) careful to let us have the right of way crossing streets. Unusual for the DC area. Grace in action?

A few centuries after St. Joan of Arc, another young Frenchwoman, whose feast is celebrated today, Therese Martin, A.K.A. Therese of the Child Jesus of Lisieux, A.K.A. the Little Flower, wrote a great deal about grace. She is a canonized saint, and one of just 33 doctors of the Church, saints whose lives, thought, and writings have most profoundly affected the rest of us in the Church. She, without so much as a high school diploma and deceased at twenty four, is in the ranks of Augustine and Aquinas. It wasn't because she was a cutie, either. She was sharp. As she suffered in her death throes, succumbing to tuberculosis, she made a very profound comment. "I do not know how our Lord experienced the Beatific Vision [heaven] even while dying on the cross in such agony, only I know it because I myself am experiencing something of the same," she said. Her last words, buoyed up in agony by a joy and love deeper than anything human, and entirely outside herself, she coughed and gasped, "My God, how I love you," and breathed her last. As an interesting oddity, St. Therese wrote, directed, and starred in two plays about the life and death of St. Joan of Arc.

A couple weeks ago, my 8-month pregnant sister fell in the grocery store. While her baby cried for her, "Mommy, mommy!" and she struggled to get up, people came by, glancing down at her in pain and obviously in some distress, and kept walking. Ten, she counted. Ten people did as much. Flannery O'Connor, one of my favorite authors and essayists, wrote in an essay on Southern literature that grace is perhaps best defined by describing its absence.

U2, my favorite rock band of all time, has a whole song named Grace. Several of the members are Christians, and have suffered, and know what they are talking about. Google the lyrics.

To follow Jesus Christ is, as He said, to pick up our cross each day and to follow Him. Rather than to run from it, the Christian life requires that we do our best to take suffering by the horns. Grace, His Life - even to the point of His Flesh and Blood - shared with us, is what makes that possible. And it also provides a measure of joy, like today's huge rainbow, the cool night air along the concrete of Rockville Pike, a warm cooked meal.

Thank you God, Mama Mary, Mom, Megan, Claire, Tom, Ben, saints and angels in heaven who guard over me, and all the rest of you who fill my life with pleasant blessings. Thanks to all who have supported my effort to support our good archbishop and the Church's efforts to give us even more good priests.

Hmm... wait a minute, didn't I say something about a milkshake a while ago?