Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Many of you know that in addition to being your friendly neighborhood campus minister, I also earn a living as a kiltmaker and as director of the Scottish Tartans Museum in Franklin, NC. Get to know me and you’ll discover that I’m a big Scottish Highland Dress buff – in fact I’ve written books and numerous articles on the subject and hold various honors in the field. I actually started working part-time at the Scottish Tartans Museum (the only such museum outside of Scotland), while still a student at WCU myself. I’m very proud to now serve as its director.
I am also currently the only American member of the Board of Governors of the Scottish Tartans Authority, an organization based in Perthshire, Scotland, dedicated to promoting Scotland’s tartan weaving industry and heritage. (Tartans are what we would call plaid designs, typically seen worn in a kilt, which in Scottish tradition represent clans, families, places, etc. and denote affiliation).
So what does all this have to do with Benedict XVI’s upcoming trip to the UK? When His Holiness arrives in Great Britain, he will be first received by Queen Elizabeth II at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh. The Scottish Catholic Bishops wished to celebrate this historic occasion by commissioning a new tartan design. As Benedict will arrive in Scotland on Sept. 16, the feast day of St. Ninian, the earliest Christian missionary into Scotland, they wanted to call it the “St. Ninian tartan.” The Scottish Catholic Media Office approached the Scottish Tartans Authority with the idea.
This is where your intrepid campus minister gets involved. Brian Wilton, director of the Scottish Tartans Authority, phoned me up. I had designed several tartans in the past for private clients. He knew I was a staunch Catholic and worked in campus ministry. Would I be willing to submit a few possible designs for the St. Ninian tartan? How could I refuse!
With much excitement I set to work, researching St. Ninian, learning about the papal visit, the Catholic Church in Scotland, and coming up with three different tartan designs which I felt represented the spirit of the occasion. In the end, one of my designs was selected to be the official tartan chosen by the Church.
I was thrilled, as you may imagine. However, I was even more excited to receive a phone call from the Catholic Media Office in Scotland, offering to fly me over to be present at the formal unveiling of the new St. Ninian tartan on Sept. 9, at the Scottish Parliament building, before several Members of the Scottish Parliament and Cardinal O’Brien, president of the Scottish Catholic Bishops Conference. I truly am honored, and to be perfectly honest, it still doesn’t seem real to me. However, the tickets have been purchased and confirmed. I’m flying over to Glasgow on Sept. 6.
The Scottish Catholic Media Office’s generous offer to fly me over is also allowing me to take advantage of another opportunity. I had previously been awarded a grant from the Scottish government to tour various tartan manufacturing facilities and museums where collections of historic tartan textiles are housed. This was in order to aid my work at the Scottish Tartans Museum. The grant was to cover my travel expenses while in Scotland, but not the flight over. So I am very blessed to have this double opportunity.
One of the major reasons for Benedict XVI’s visit is to canonize John Henry Cardinal Newman, famous English convert, theologian and educator. He is somewhat of a patron for Catholic Campus Ministry, with campus ministry houses across the English speaking world named “Newman Centers” in his honor. The Pope will be giving several talks underscoring the importance of education while in the UK.
Though the tartan I designed is named after St. Ninian, Cardinal Newman’s canonization is commemorated in the tartan by the inclusion of red and white stripes – taken from the color of Newman’s coat of arms.
So this trip is very much imbued with meaning for me, and provides me with a rare opportunity to combine both my passions for Scottish Highland dress traditions and for helping college students grow in their Catholic faith.
I will be gone from Sept. 6 to Sept. 17. Please pray for me during that time, for safe travel and safe return home.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
This weekend I am, together with several students, heading off to the far away land of Hickory to participate in our annual Diocesan service retreat, "Give Your Heart Away." Please pray for those of us participating. I always look forward to these Diocesan events, because they give me a chance to meet and get to know Catholic college students from other schools within our diocese. When I talk with these students about our respective campus ministries, I will often discover that they are amazed to hear we are able to offer Mass, right here on campus. You see, with the exception of Wake Forest, WCU is the only school in our diocese that has Mass on campus. At other universities and colleges, the Catholic students have to either arrange a car pool or a school van to drive students to the closest parish, or simply make their own way to Mass. When these students discover that we have Mass on our campus, within walking distance, every week, they are envious.
So we are very fortunate (and blessed) here at WCU. And the more I reflect on it, the more blessed I realize we are. Despite the fact that our regular chaplain, Fr. Williams, has been ill and on leave for some time, the Diocese has always made sure that we have a priest available here on Sunday evenings to hear confessions and offer Mass for us. Fr. Shawn O'Neal has driven in from Bryson City the past two weeks. Fr. Shawn grew up in New Orleans, and he even made it out to celebrate the Mass for us last Sunday evening, instead of staying at home in front of the TV, cheering on his beloved Saints as they took their first Super Bowl victory. Next week we will have Fr. Jack Denny, from Maggie Valley, join us to be our celebrant. And we will welcome him with open arms. Yes, we are very blessed to be so provided for in our sacramental lives.
Yet, at the same time, I have noticed a trend in my past two years here at WCU as campus minister. I cannot help but notice that Mass attendance among students goes down in the Spring Semester. When I ask students about this trend, I'm told that it is "always" that way, because "students are so busy in the spring semester." Busy with what? With homework, studying, writing papers, completing projects, etc.
This was confirmed for me last year, when I led a group of students on a Lenten retreat. The theme was "True Repentance," and we talked about how you need to repent -- or turn away from -- anything that distracts you from your goal, eternal and perfect happiness with God through Jesus Christ. When I asked the students what some of the things were on our university campus that distracted them from Christ, I was honestly expecting answers like sex, drugs and alcohol. That is not what I heard, though. What I did hear surprised me. Without exception, everyone there said that academic pressure was the major distraction from their faith. The stresses of their studies weighed heavily on them.
Studying, of course, is a good and necessary thing. You should make sure that you schedule time to do your assigned homework, read your texts, write your papers, study for your exams. That's what you are in school for, after all. It's a good thing. But if it starts to come between you and God, then even a good thing can become an occasion of sin. It then becomes time to reexamine your priorities and look carefully and honestly at how you choose to schedule your time. Do your studies really demand your time and attention a full seven days a week, preventing you from keeping the Third Commandment to keep the Lord's Day holy? Are there other things that you give priority to during the week, taking away time meant for study, therefore leaving you scurrying to catch up on Sunday so you don't fall behind? So rather than keeping the Lord's Day holy, has it become a "back-up" day for all the things you don't get done during the week?
Before I go on, let me just say that I'm not pointing any fingers at anyone here. I think these are questions that all of us -- even non-students -- need to ask ourselves every now and then. Am I putting other priorities -- even good priorities -- ahead of my relationship with God? If I'm not honoring the third commandment, to keep the Lord's Day holy, am I still honoring the first commandment, to have no other God's before Him? Something does not have to be scandalous or objectively evil to come between us and God. Am I making my academic career, my job, my friends, or my hobby a "god" that I place above the Lord?
One weapon we can use against this is to make sure we never fail in our obligation to attend Mass. I used that word, "obligation," intentionally, for that is what it is for us -- a serious obligation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, "On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass... the Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin" (para. 2181).
Just to be clear, I'm sure by "serious reason" the Magisterium did not mean to include things like, "I need to get a jump start on my homework," or "I need to finish that paper I should have done three days ago," let alone, "I'm just too tired," or "there is a great show on TV I really want to watch." And, the truth is, it is when you are experiencing stress in your life that having a good relationship with the Lord really can make the difference. It reminds us that there are greater, more important things than our GPA, our internships, or whatever else we happen to be stressing over at the moment. These things, while important in their way, fade to insignificance when we realize that we were all made by an amazing God who also created the heavens and earth, everything seen and unseen, and that this magnificent Creator loves us so much that He entered into His own creation and suffered death Himself for the remission of our sins. And all He asks from us is to love Him in return -- not for His benefit, but for our own, so that we may experience eternal life and true, perfect happiness with Him.
And how do we love Him? By following His commands. "The one who obeys the commandments he has from me is the one who loves me," Jesus said (Jn 14:21). And regarding the Mass, the Eucharist, Jesus commanded, "Do this in remembrance of me" (Lk 22:19). Furthermore, Jesus insisted, "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood you have no life in you" (Jn 6:53).
Now I have gone on long enough this week, so I'll spare you (for now) a treatise on the Real Presence and all the blessings of the Eucharist. The point just now is that this was something of major importance to Jesus. (Just read the sixth chapter of John's Gospel). He really wanted to stress the point, and the Second Vatican Council further stressed the point by calling the Eucharist the "source and summit of our faith." John Paul II called the Mass, "the source and summit of the whole Church's worship and the Christian life."
Those are some big words from some big people. So I ask you to reflect on them, and spend some time in prayer. Can you really be a faithful Catholic, can you really maintain a close relationship with Jesus, if you are neglecting the "source and summit" of the Christian life?
Mass is offered in our chapel every Sunday evening at 7:30pm. So sleeping in is no excuse! And if you prefer a morning Mass, you have two options at St. Mary's in Sylva, at 9:00 and 11:00am. (And they have a Mass in Spanish on Saturday night at 8:00pm). If it's been a while since you've been to Mass, don't let that stop you from coming, you'll be more than welcomed back.
I look forward to seeing you there.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
My dreams have been somewhat erratic and rather more intense since we set the clocks ahead for daylight savings time (it's like self-imposed jet lag, but I figure it's just another Lenten penance). Generally my dreams make no more or less sense than anyone else's. Two nights ago, for example, I dreamed I was running in some kind of marathon race through an abandoned, post-apocalyptic urban city center.... carrying a full grown live sheep on my shoulders. Really.
Last night, however, I had a theological insight in a dream. Maybe it was the mocha chip ice cream I ate right before bed.
In this dream, I was talking with a young man, a college student I suppose, who had started attending Mass after a long absence from the sacraments. I was discussing his return to the Church, and he mentioned to me that he felt the need to attend Mass because (in his words), "I want God in my life."
What I told him, in the dream, was, "God is already in your life. I know He is, just from the fact that you exist. He is in your life, sustaining you in existence. No, you don't need to come to Mass if you only want God in your life. You come to Mass to worship God, because YOU want to be in God's life."
That's all I recall of the dream, and I woke up shortly after to the sound of the rooster crowing. (Why on earth did we decide to put the coop on the side of the house closest to our bedroom?) But I woke up with a feeling that I had just realized something profound. And while I don't recall any of the other circumstances of the dream, that particular snippet of conversation remains in my memory.
I think there is some truth to be found there. God is in all of our lives. You cannot escape from that truth. You can ignore Him. You can pretend that He isn't there. You can go years without thinking about Him. But none of that changes reality. God is there. He Who Is, the one who gave His name to Moses as "I AM," is the root and cause of all existence, including our own. The Almighty who knows all, who sees all, who understands all is always aware of our needs and conditions. To put it simply, He is always there with us.
Our decision is simple. We can either ignore Him and pretend like He isn't there. Or we can accept the reality that He is there with us and direct our lives accordingly. When we make the decision to be active Catholics and participate in the sacramental life, we say to God, "I know you are always with me, Father. I want to be with You, too."
Monday, January 11, 2010
This cannot be farther from the truth. Many Catholics, myself included, have a great love for the environment and understand our call to be good stewards of God's creation. I (we) love the earth because God made it, He made it good, and He made it for us to live in, enjoy, and care for.
And it also cares for us. The earth is given us to provide us with what we need in terms of food, shelter, comfort, etc. All the basic necessities.
This is not meant to be a theological treatise on why good Christians should care for the environment. It is enough for the moment to say that we should. So why are so many good Catholics "anti-environmentalist" then? Because the environmentalist movement today has become something that places the good of the environment over and above the good of humanity. I was reminded of this by a recent column in our diocesan paper, The Catholic News & Herald, by Fr. Roger Landry.
In it, he speaks of a recent push at the Environmental Protection Agency to classify carbon-dioxide as a pollutant. Carbon dioxide is, of couse, the gas that we human beings exhale every time we take a breath. Fr. Landry writes:
Once carbon dioxide... is classified as a pollutant, human beings become
categorized as polluters just as much as coal-burning factories; then, just like
such factories, human life can be regulated and even criminalized.
This thought probably seems outlandish to most readers, but they need to
know that it does not seem outlandish to many environmentalists.
Prior to the Copenhagen Summit, a British think tank, Optimum Population
Trust, launched a carbon dioxide offset scheme that encouraged summit
participants to counterbalance the amount of carbon dioxide of their flight by
giving $7 to a "family planning" initiative to prevent the birth of one child in
an African country.
Fr. Landrey goes on to relate that some environmentalists are also calling for all nations to impose China's ruthless "one-child" policy on all their citizens. Other examples of this sort of thing are easy to find.
But I was most shocked and disheartened (and disgusted) to read of this nonsense "offset" scheme. It is perfectly appropriate, in the minds of these people, to justify our air travel, so long as we counterbalance the environmental consequences of the fuel we burn by "preventing the birth" of an African child. What would the African parents think of this, I wonder? Sorry, ma'am, you cannot have any more children because, well, our European diplomats simply must continue to fly around the globe to attend these summets, you know. Otherwise things just won't get done. Important matters, you understand. Sorry about your family and all that, but well... we are more important now, aren't we? What hubris! What arrogance! What a horror, to actually think that your air travel is worth the life of a child.
And I note the money would specifically be directed to preventing the birth of African children. Why not children in Europe? Or America? I suppose our children are not brown enough. Oh wait, I forgot we are now living in a "post-racist" society. We don't think that way any more -- or do we?
So for those of you wondering whether good Catholics should work to protect the environment, absolutely we should. But can we sign up for the whole environmentalist agenda? Absolutely not -- and moral atrocities like this which are being advocated by environmentalist think tanks are the reason why.