Aventuras: La Parroquia de San Felipe

Ayer yo vine a la Parroquia de San Felipe de Jesus. La parroquia es en un barrio pobre, pero la gente son maravilloso. Ellos son muy humilde y generoso. El Señor es bueno todo tiempo! Yo estaré aquí solo hasta 29 de agosto, pero conozco mi teimpo aquí será bendito!

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The parish is currently undergoing a major renovation. All of the windows in the temporary chapel have the medal of Saint Benedict emblazoned upon them.

Yesterday I arrived at the Church of San Felipe de Jesus. While it is in a poor neighborhood, the people are so very wonderful. They are kind, generous, and humble. God is good all the time! I will be here only until August 29, but I know that my time will be blessed! I was especially excited when I discovered this parish has a strong devotion to Saint Benedict, my patron Saint, and Saint Michael the Archangel.

The pastor I am with, Fr. Augustín, is a wonderful man – prayerful and loving of all the people with whom he comes in contact; a true example of priestly humility and generosity! He has been so very patient with my fledging Spanish skills so far, and has encouraged me to work hard and to not be afraid using my new language. I am looking forward to learning a lot from him!

Over the next month, I will try to update you on current happenings with the usual photos, etc. Word on the street has it that Fr. Augustín enjoys going places, so I think that I will be able to see a lot more of the city, not only during excursions, but shadowing him during his different ministries as well.

Por favor ruega por nosotros en Mêxico todavía, y conocen que nosotros somos rogando por tu también. Muchas gracias y hasta luego!

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, ruega por nosotros!

(And my next posts in the Saint Augustine and Looking Up series should be coming out this week. También por favor perdon mi español. Yo estoy aprendiendo todavía.)

Aventuras: Visitando el Asilo de Ancianos (Visiting the Nursing Home)

 

Last night, we had the privilege of visiting a local Catholic nursing home, just 15 minutes walking distance from the seminary. I’ve been in quite a few different and very fine nursings homes in the United States, including my service in an Alzheimer’s care facility back at the seminary during the last school year. Taking these experiences into mind, I had certain expectations, but those expectations were quickly thrown out the window.

This particular nursing home, run by around 25 religious sisters and many support staff, houses approximately 120 residents. During our tour and visit with the staff and residents, we were greeted with open arms and had some terrific conversations. As the tour progressed, I was struck by the facilities: when one thinks of a nursing home, images of a quasi-hospital environment come to mind, one that is often very stark. Not so here: it felt like home; it didn’t feel like a nursing home. Going through the different sitting rooms and dining areas, I noticed the personal touch given by the sisters, as well as the comfortable environment in which the residents were able to live, with quality furnishings, always-available amenities, and pleasant surroundings. And as you can see in the pictures below, the chapel is bigger than many churches I have visited!

Does this mean that nursing homes in the United States are somehow deficient? Certainly not! We can provide excellent care to our seniors during these crucial years of their lives. There is, however, a difference in the way the two cultures approach the issue of senior care, I think: I felt as if the residents here in Mexico were much more integrated into life, rather than what can sometimes be see as being set aside. This nursing home, or asilo de anciano, even treated us to a dance that some of the residents had been rehearsing for an upcoming fiesta! It was truly an active and lively place! Some moments with residents that will remain with me for a long time:

  • Alicia, who was very interested in where we were from and hearing about our background and work in the United States. A wonderful lady with a great sense of humor!
  • Refugia, who, according to the sister, is currently 117 years old (even checked with my professor to make sure I heard her correctly). While I do not doubt the veracity of her claim, the current verifiably oldest living person is 116. Whether or not the records are incorrect or Refugia simply does not have the records any longer does not matter: this wonderful lady was clearly full of life and blessed us with her presence!
  • Nina, with whom I had the longest conversation, all in Spanish of course (God bless her for her patience with my burgeoning Spanish skills). She had actually lived in the United States for many years, and had some comforting words as I continue to learn Spanish: “When I came to the U.S., I knew three words: hello, thank you, and hamburger. If I can learn English, then you will learn Spanish just fine. You will be a terrific priest!”

When we were done visiting residents, the staff did what any Mexican family would do when you are invited to their home: they fed us; in this case, some delicious deserts and cold drinks.

I am so thankful for my time at the nursing home. These sisters and residents have been a true blessing, and have provided a wonderful example of charity, compassion, and faith, an example that will help to inform and shape my future ministry. I truly think that both cultures can learn something from each other when it comes to senior care, combining the quality of medical care with the ideal that seniors are valuable, contributing members of society; in fact, I have already seen this integration take place in many places in the United States.

We must remember that it is our duty as Christians to uphold the dignity of all persons. That means remembering their worth and treating them as such, never forgetting the inherent dignity that each individual has at every stage of life. Please keep the residents, staff, and sisters in your prayers!

I have attached a few photos; there aren’t many since we were busy talking, and I haven’t included any with residents due to the need to preserve privacy.

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, ruega por nosotros!

Aventuras: Unexpected Detours

The last couple of weeks have brought many new experiences, as well as some unexpected detours. The most important, however, would have to be my brief return to the United States due to a family situation, for which continued prayers are most certainly appreciated! (Please note that the link leads to Facebook, and is only accessible if you are logged into the site. Sorry). This unexpected detour, however, still contained many lessons and brought some wonderful opportunities to continue practicing Spanish. Here are a few snapshots from the last couple of weeks, even though they are a bit different than the typical snapshots you might expect:

28 Junio 2016

I received a phone call from back home that led to my needing to return to the United States. The only reason why I mention this here is to thank everyone who supports seminarians and our way of life. Without your generous encouragement and support, particularly that of my home Diocese, I would not have been able to return home. So, thank you!

1 Julio 2016

I decided to try Uber on my own for the first time, and it was a great experience. My driver, Germán, was very talkative, which I much appreciated. This is what immersion is about: interacting with people, talking, and learning on the fly. I am sure there were probably several times when he could have laughed at my poor Spanish, but nonetheless he was incredibly patient with me and we had a great conversation. Please pray for him and his family: he works two jobs, washing windows and Uber, in order to support his mother and two brothers

Airports are wonderful places for people watching. On my way through security, there were many people who were estadounidenses as our flight was headed directly to Dallas without any other connections in Mexico. There was one young lady who was having a difficult time getting through security and the various checkpoints due to her lack of Spanish. Much to my surprise, I knew enough to help her and serve as a quasi-translator!

4 Julio 2016

After spending time with family, I returned to Mexico on the day we celebrated our independence. All of the flights were uneventful, although customs was…interesting. At the request of a seminarian brother, I brought back some SPAM from the United States. Well, I didn’t know how to say “canned meat”, so I told Mexican customs, “Tengo carne en mi mochilla.” Well, meat happens to be on their list of items that they check very carefully. Eventually, I was able to express to the customs agent what it was, and once he saw the two cans of SPAM he laughed and waved me through. A bit nerve-wracking, but you’d be surprised at all the creative ways you can use a language when you really really want to say something but don’t quite have the correct words.

I took Uber back to the seminary, and this driver had a bit of a surprise for me. We were having a good conversation, but about five minutes from the seminary, I noticed that all of her MP3s had English titles on the display. I asked her, “Tú hablas español?” Her response? “Yes, but when I learned you were here studying Spanish, I decided it would be good to give you more practice!” Needless to say, she received a 5 star rating on the app for that trip.

When I finally returned to the seminary, everyone was wrapping up a barbecue and watching Independence Day. Can’t think of a better way to spend a 4th of July evening.

7 Julio 2016

Today we finished one of our classes, “Hispanic Ministry in the United States in the 21st Century: Blessings and Challenges.” Taught by Sr. Guadalupe Ramirez, MCDP, this course covered the history of Hispanic immigration in the United States, as well as the current issues surrounding Hispanic ministry, helping to prepare us to work with Hispanics in our home dioceses back in the United States. Even though it lasted for only three weeks, the course was packed with information, and our professor delivered the material that demonstrated not only her expertise, but her deep faith as well. I will be taking her lessons with me and using them for years to come!

In the meantime, we return to our full schedule of 6-7 hours of language classes on Monday. Please keep us in prayer as we approach final exams, and then our month-long parish assignments.

Tomorrow, we will visit Puebla and the Great Pyramid of Cholula, and on Sunday we will visit the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon in Teotihuacán. More pictures to come after this weekend. Until then, know that you all remain in our prayers. Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, ruega por nosotros!

Juno’s Jovian Journey is Just Beginning – Quick Facts

Late last night, or early this morning depending on your time zone, NASA’s Juno spacecraft completed a successful insertion into Jupiter’s orbit. The maneuver, considered the most risky of the entire mission was televised live (about as live as you can get due to the 35+ minute signal delay from the giant planet) via NASA. Take a look at the little probe that could:

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Juno spacecraft detail, via NASA. Original higher-res (easier reading) here

Why is this mission important? Juno will be only the second close-up look we will have had of the giant planet, and the science that it helps to complete promises to give further clues about our solar system and Earth itself. Juno takes its name from the Greek goddess, who was the wife of Jupiter and subsequently exposed Jupiter’s…immoral…endeavors, which he had been trying to hide. The Juno spacecraft is also meant to expose Jupiter, but in a much less embarrassing, and much more useful, manner…

Even Google got in on the Juno jubilation:

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Screenshot of today’s Google doodle

Here are some quick facts about Juno’s ongoing mission:

  • Launched: August 5, 2011
  • Arrived: July 4, 2016
  • Total time to reach Jupiter: 5 years
  • Total distance travelled to reach Jupiter: About 19 AU, which included an Earth gravity assist in 2013 (For those playing the home game, the distance from Earth to Jupiter ranges from 4 to 6 AU. Why didn’t Juno fly straight to Jupiter? Because planets move, making even a manned Mars mission difficult…)
  • Speed approaching the Jovian system: 74 km/s
  • Current speed: 0.5 km/s
  • Current orbital period: 53 days
  • Orbital period after a realignment in October 2016: 14 days
  • Total planned “science orbits” after realignment: 33
  • Projected end of mission: After a total of 37 orbits in February 2018, after which Juno will plunge into Jupiter’s atmosphere, incinerated in a fiery cataclysm of space exploration awesomeness.
  • Lego minifigures on board: 3 (seriously)
  • Twitter accounts: 1 (@NASAJuno)

I highly recommend visiting the following Juno sites: Space.com, NASA, and the Juno YouTube Channel

Until I can post some of the sure to be wonderful pictures from the Juno mission and other tidbits, which might be a while considering I am currently a tad busy*, keep looking up!

Todoa gloria a Dios.

*Speaking of which, a new Aventuras post will be coming up in a couple of days. You can check out the last one here.

Aventuras: Our Lady of Guadalupe

Last Saturday, we saw Mary.

In Mexico City.

In person.

O.K., maybe I should explain myself a bit. We had the distinct privilege of visiting the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe and seeing Juan Diego’s tilma in person. For those who are not familiar with the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, take a few moments to read it here.

Trinity TilmaWhile I have often desired and prayed to see this wonderful piece of living history in person, I never knew that I would have a chance to actually come and see Our Lady of Guadalupe. In the tilma displayed in the Basilica, we see an imprint that can not be explained by human scientific reason. Analysis of the tilma has shown time and again that the origins of the image are unexplainable, but for one with the eyes of faith, there is certainly an explanation: the Holy Trinity. The tilma is full of imagery, bringing together Christian and Aztec symbolism. One of my favorite parts of the tilma are, surprise surprise – this is the Believing Astronomer after all, the stars painted on the brilliant field of blue. The arrangement of these stars corresponds to that of the Winter Solstice in 1531, when the Juan Diego unfurled the tilma in front of Bishop bishop Zumarraga.

Throughout the day, we received a behind-the-scenes view of the Basilica, as well as presentation and tour from one of the Basilica’s canons, Msgr. Jorge Palencia. Msgr. Palencia gave us a personal tour of the main sites on the Basilica’s grounds, including the site of the first church, Tepayac Hill, where Juan Diego saw the apparitions, the parish church that stands next to the Old Basilica, and the museum in the Old Basilica itself. Having Mgsr. Palencia with us was a great joy, as he gave us insights that only someone intimately connected with the site could give.

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The Tilma depicting the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe (difficult to get a good picture from the viewing area)

The highlight of the day, however, was Mass. Shortly after arriving and seeing the tilma for the first time, we were escorted up to the sacristy where we vested for Mass. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, so I (and I suspect quite a few others of us) received a bit of shock when we processed out to the main altar. The Basilica was full, probably around four to five thousand people, and there we were, some wayward seminarians from the United States, sitting up in the sanctuary, just feet from the tilma itself and having the honor to serve at Mass with at least 20 priests and (from what I could tell) one or two bishops. Here was one of the most well-known images of Christ’s mother, and then He became present on the altar during Mass. An awesome moment, in every sense of the word…

In Our Lady of Guadalupe we find a point of unification for all people of the American, no matter what their culture or skin color. My own relationship with her did not blossom until many years after my baptism, but it wasn’t until I gave myself completely to her Son, through her help and intercession, that everything in my life finally come into focus.

No tengo palabras para describir lo que sentí en mi corazón el sábado pasado, pero sé que la experiencia hablará mi alma. Oremos por la intercesión de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, guiándonos siempre a su Hijo, Jesucristo. I do not have the words to describe what was on my heart last Saturday, but I know that the experience continues to speak to my soul. Let us pray for the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, always guiding us to her son, Jesus Christ.

Our Lady of Guadalupe spoke and continues to speak to my heart, and she continues to do so to all peoples, ultimately drawing everyone, if they are willing, toward Jesus Christ. In Christ that we find the ultimate meaning of our lives: to know God, to love Him, and to serve Him in this life and to be with Him in the next.

While at the Basilica, we prayed for you all, and I prayed especially for those intentions that were sent to me. Thank you very much, and please continue to keep us in your prayers!

Pax.

Some Pictures from the day (use the navigation arrows below to advance of move back):

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Aventuras: New Sights, Full Immersion, and Thank You

Now that I have arrived safely in Mexico City and gotten settled here at the seminary, started language courses, and become acquainted with the surrounding area, I thought I would provide a few “snapshots” of my first week and a half:

Lunes – 6 de Junio

It’s been a long day! My flight left Sacramento close to midnight, and I didn’t get any real sleep on the plane, so it’s been about 36 hours since I’ve had some good rest. All that said, this city is amazing! As soon as we got off the plane and into the car, we took in the sights and sounds of Mexico City. This summer holds a lot of fun, surprises, and growth! But first, sleep!

Martes – 7 de Junio

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I am now officially a student of La Universidad Pontificia de Mexico, or The Pontifical University of Mexico, which is about a 20 minute walk from the seminary. Here at the university we will take all of our language courses, after being assessed and sorted into appropriate classes. The campus is stunning – it seems to be a mix of modern university and old-style pueblo. The grounds are immaculate, and our new professors seem ready and eager to help us learn.

Viernes – 10 de Junio

Today is laundry day, but not just any laundry day – I ventured out to a large supermarket to buy laundry supplies with a few of the guys. It was a terrific chance to use my Spanish skills. All in all, a good trip. Well, until I realized that the “soap” I bought was actually fabric softener, realized of course after I had started the load! Oh well, back to the drawing board, and back to the store!

Sabado – 11 de Junio

13427730_10153839868369022_5875260542306651394_nToday we went to the Museo Nacional de Antropología, or National Museum of Anthropology. There was so much to learn, we felt like we hit only the very tip of the iceberg! Looking through the eyes of the Mayans, Aztecs, and Spanish, one gets a taste of the depth and breadth of the story of the Mexican people. If only we had about another week to spend here. I wouldn’t mind coming back to Mexico in the future just to study the history itself, visiting the ancient sites and getting to know the people even further. I am certainly looking forward to the various excursions we have planned this summer…

Domingo – 12 de Junio

Today, we visited la Parroquia de San Augustín, a beautiful church here in Tlalpan, the district of Mexico City that will be my home for the next three months. They have masses almost every hour on Sunday and they are ALL packed! We also had a chance to attend mass here three days ago, and the priest invited us back to the sacristy. Words can’t do it justice, so I will try to get the pictures posted soon!

Lunes – 13 de Junio

Today I started reading a book in Spanish called El Hobbit. Have any of you heard of it before?

Oh, and la venganza de Moctezuma is a real thing. (Edit 15 de Junio – So far 4 of us have encountered Señor Moctezuma. I got off fairly light so far, but prayers would be appreciated – some of the guys seem to have been hit hard).

Miercoles – 15 de Junio

Have I mentioned the weather here yet? It’s absolutely gorgeous. The temperatures are a bit on the warm side, but comfortable. Rain is frequent, usually in the late afternoons. My favorite part, however, are the nights: for the past several days we have had some pretty awesome thunderstorms, which are great for falling asleep to. The sounds of the weather at night, mixed with those of the city, have helped me adjust nicely to this new environment.

(Don’t tell my mom, but you should have seen how soaked we were the other day coming back from the bus after a short trip to OfficeMax – it was great!)


So, this first several days have been packed. They keep us busy – all told, by the end of the two months of classes, we will have had over 180 hours of coursework in language and culture. Then in August, I will be sent to a local parish to serve for one month, at the end of which Bishop Soto will come down to visit me and the other Sacramento guys. I can’t wait to take what I am learning here back to Sacramento to put to use in our diocese! I will try to organize and post pictures soon.

Before closing, I would like to say thank you to all of you who support your seminarians and priests. There are so many I could mention by name, but that’s simply not possible… My family and friends, especially my parents, whose love and encouragement have been constant… My home parish and diocese, especially my pastor and my Knights of Columbus council, without whose steadfast support I would not be here… And most of all, Almighty God for leading me and the other Sacramento seminarians forward in this wonderful life. To Him be the glory!

Please know that you are in all of our prayers daily. ¡Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, ruega por nosotros!

Aventuras en México: Time for Immersion!

Montaje_Ciudad_de_México

By Microstar [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

In just a few days, I will say goodbye to the ol’ U.S.A. for three months while I travel to Mexico City for language immersion at Seminario Hispano de Santa Maria de Guadalupe. This time promises to be full of grace, adventure, and many surprises, although I will certainly miss everyone back home!

The trip will consist of two phases, essentially. During the first part of the trip, I will be living and studying at Seminario Hispano, taking classes in Spanish as well as Hispanic ministry. During this time, my brothers and I will have a chance to visit the sights and sounds of the city, as well as many landmarks throughout the area, such as the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the ancient pyramids of some of Mexico’s original inhabitants. The second phase of the trip will find each of us in local parishes, exercising our new-found (and hopefully refined), language skills as we work alongside priests and laypeople of the Archdiocese of Mexico in order to continue our learning and growth.

While I will keep my own personal travel  journal, I hope to share some of the experiences here as I discover more about, and immerse myself in, Mexican culture, beliefs, and language. When I am able to, I will post them here with the title “Aventuras,” providing a few “quick takes” of my travels and experiences in a place so rich with history, tradition, and faith. Feel free to drop me a line sometime, and know that you all remain in my prayers. In the mean time, please pray for my brother seminarians and me as we begin our adventure in Mexico.

¡Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, ruega por nosotros!

Backyard Astronomy: Go outside and look up!

This is part of a continuing series on backyard astronomy. While there is no set frequency on the posts, you can find them (and the initial introduction) here.

I remember like it was yesterday when I saw the Milky Way for the first time. My dad and I were camping, and as we sometimes did, we camped with only the stars as our tent and the granite Sierras as our floor. Looking up, far from city lights, I observed a multitude of stars strewn across the night sky, taking my breath away. Then, over in one section of the dark expanse of the universe I saw it:a band of faint but certainly discernible light touched by darker splotches, both extending across the night sky, almost as if someone had taken a cosmic milk bottle and spilled it on the canvas of the cosmos.

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Image of the night sky above Paranal on 21 July 2007, taken by ESO astronomer Yuri Beletsky. A wide band of stars and dust clouds, spanning more than 100 degrees on the sky, is seen. This is the Milky Way, the Galaxy we belong to. At the centre of the image, two bright objects are visible. The brightest is the planet Jupiter, while the other is the star Antares. By ESO/Y. Beletsky [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Astronomy does not start with expensive telescopes or fancy software. As I used to tell my English students, the best way to get started in one’s journey with the stars is to get away from the lights and look up. Only by using your own two eyes, unaided by any equipment, can you get a true idea of the sheer immensity of the universe. Well, you may not even get a true idea, but you might get an inkling!

So what happens if someone comes to me and says they are interested in studying astronomy? Here is what I would tell them:

  • First, shelf the plans for buying a telescope. You won’t need it for at least a year, although a good pair of binoculars will come into the picture before then.
  • Second, buy a planisphere. These hand-held charts are portable and should be part of the toolkit for any budding astronomer. Find a size that suits you, and make sure it corresponds to your viewing area! Case in point: when I travel to Mexico for language immersion this summer, I need a different planisphere than if I were back at the seminary in Oregon. The planisphere will help you to identify many common objects in the night sky and help you to grow more comfortable in navigating the cosmos.
  • Third, find a small flashlight and cover it with red transparent film. This will help your eyes stay adjusted, as it can take up to 30 minutes for our eyes to grow accustomed to the dark skies. One stray beam of unfiltered light can hamper, or even restart, that process. Use it to view the planisphere, or write in your journal (more on that in a later post).
  • Fourth: Find a comfortable viewing area that gives you a wide-open view if the sky, unhampered by trees AND city lights. Bring some snack and water too, and if it’s winter, don’t forget to dress warmly! If you want to stay off the ground, bring a reclining lawn chair or something similar; the idea is to stay comfortably while you look up for extended periods of time. The light issue is something that is increasingly difficult to overcome as urban sprawl and development continues unabated. Many of my students had never even been stargazing, much less seen the Milky Way!
  • Contact a local astronomy club! Even if you don’t plan on joining the club’s viewing parties, their websites often include tips for local viewing, even providing directions to particularly lucrative observation locations.
  • Finally, share it with someone! Whether it is the local astronomy club as mentioned above, a close friend, significant other, or even an online community, amateur astronomy can bring a lifetime of enjoyment, and what better way to experience the fullness of that enjoyment than by sharing it with like-minded individuals? When we share our experiences, we not only can help teach others, but we can gain new insights ourselves.

Notice how I made no mention of apps or other software. For now, stay away from them, at least while you are actually outside observing! For your first few trips, grow familiar with the night sky by just using the planisphere, rather than relying on technology. When you move on to binoculars or telescopes, it will make your viewing much easier and more enjoyable. I am not saying to never use star-finder apps, just don’t use them yet And by all means, use the internet for research before heading out. If you do end up using a phone app, however, make sure it has a a “red filter” mode or something similar, so as not to disrupt your night vision, and turn off any automatic lock screens and timers that will cause your phone to exit the app, again, for the same reason. See how much simpler it would be without the technology, at least when you are getting started?

There you have it: 6 steps to taking your first foray into night-sky viewing and amateur astronomy; next I will talk a bit about equipment. If you have any questions, comments, or anything to add, let me know. Until then, keep looking up!

Pax.

On the Journey: Spring Cleaning and Attachment to Sin

Augustine’s Confessions Book II, Chapters 4-5

“But our ambition to obtain all these things must not lead us astray from You, O Lord, nor must we depart from what Your law allows.” Confessions II.5

Pears

By Keith Weller – USDA, Image Number K5299-1., Public Domain

Moving has a way of forcing a person to evaluate his or her priorities. As I packed my belongings at the seminary in preparation for my language immersion trip to Mexico and my Pastoral Internship during the next academic year, I realized that I had a lot of stuff to weed out. Some of it were things that I no longer used, or old clothes, or items that I didn’t really need in the first place. Packing gave me a chance to focus on what should be my priority, namely, my formation and preparation for the priesthood, and so I was able to divest myself of quite a few belongings. Many items I kept too, such as those relating to what I consider “central” hobbies or interests in my life: theology, astronomy, or writing (and, of course, Star Trek and Star Wars). All in all, it was a very freeing experience, being able to take stock of everything and discern whether or not it was truly necessary in my life.

All of that said, I must say this: attachment to material things is no small obstacle to overcome!

In this week’s selection, Saint Augustine shows us the danger of attachment to material things. He relates what I consider to be one of the most jarring stories in Book II of the Confessions: when he and several friends stole an enormous amount of pears from a local orchard. This tale may not seem like much, but when one takes into account Augustine’s motivations, the reader can see just how dangerous material covetousness can be. He uses this moment to show how we can be attached to the material world for its own sake, and even more diabolically, how we can even be attached to sin for the mere feeling that it provides. Augustine even admits that he “had no wish to enjoy the things I [he] coveted by stealing, but only to enjoy the theft itself and the sin” (II.4).

We must remember, however, that material objects in and of themselves are not sinful. One does not sin by owning the best computer or the fanciest boat. Sin enters the picture when these items are loved for their own sake, rather than for the end of true joy in glorifying God and building up oneself and others in a positive way. After all, as Augustine notes, “The life we live on Earth has its own attractions as well, because it has a certain beauty of its own in harmony with the world’s beauty” (II.5). The beauty of God and creation as seen through material things cannot be denied! But what happens when we move into excess? Is the fanciest boat or best computer really that necessary?

The danger comes when we attach too much importance to material items, and again, Augustine leads the way in this thinking: “They are of the lower order of good, and if we are too much tempted by them we abandon those higher and better things, Your truth, Your law, and You Yourself, O Lord our God” (II.5). In other words, when we attach an importance to an item, a feeling, or even a person, that is outside of this proper order of things, then we lose our focus and we fall back in on ourselves, leading eventually to sin; we follow Augustine’s footsteps directly into the pear orchard.

camel_needle_gifThe pear orchard, however, is not an endless trap! We must work to reexamine our lives, and place everything where it belongs. We do not sin by possessing material items, but I do believe that it adds a greater burden on our lives, for after all, Jesus Christ tells us that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matt. 19.24). So let’s take a moment to examine our lives, our attachments, and discern where we can use a bit of spring cleaning.

Just don’t take away my books. Anything but the books!

Questions for reflection:

  1. Do I place inordinate attachment to anything in my life, outside of its proper order, whether that be a person, an object, or even an idea or emotion?
  2. How can I better re-order the priorities in my life so that my material possessions can help me become a better person, in terms of how I treat myself, how I interact with others, and how I relate to and worship God?

Up next time: Confessions II.6-9

This is part of a continuing series, Companions on the Journey, which travels along with a particular companion in the spiritual life, one of the great saints, in order discover how some of their writings might be applicable to our everyday lives. Currently, we are traveling with Augustine of Hippo through his work, Confessions. You can take a look at previous posts in the series or read the introduction.

On the Journey: Cast Off Your Old Self

Augustine’s Confessions Book II, Chapters 2-3

I strayed still farther from you and you did not restrain me…For your almighty power is not far from us, even when we are far from you.Confessions II.2

To be Christian is to be in conversion, but that also means that we must recognize our past and God’s presence even in our darkest moments. Here in these two chapters, we find a stark picture of Augustine prior to his conversion to Christianity, seen now through the eyes of Augustine the believer. He recognizes the depths of his depravity and his continued descent into sin and lust, and at the same time recognizes that even though it seemed that God was not present, He was, in fact, always there: “How presumptuous it was for me to say that you were silent, my God, when I drifted farther and farther away from you!” (II.3). Even in the depths of sin, lust, and fornication, Augustine recognizes that God was still present, all at once never impinging on Augustine’s free will, but always waiting for the future bishop to return to His loving embrace.

800px-Hans_Speckaert_-_Conversion_of_St_Paul_on_the_Road_to_Damascus_-_WGA21655

Hans Speckaert (circa 1540–circa 1577) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Before I was baptized, I lived a life typical of many young people bound up in the world. I was also in school part time, but didn’t really apply myself. My existence consisted of living day-to-day, not really caring about those outside of my immediate reality, and sometimes even less.

Despite my continued spiritual quest through the New Age movement, God was essentially not part of my life, but he was certainly still present. I searched for fulfillment in all the wrong places, and like Augustine, “I should have awaited your [God’s] embrace with all the greater joy” (II.2). I found that while He was not a part of my life, I was certainly a part of His; in other words, He was always present, a fact that I can see so clearly now that I can hardly believe that I didn’t see it before.

I never saw him working through my parents. Through my mom’s and dad’s encouragement, or my sister’s willingness to be with her little brother (even when he was annoying). I didn’t see Him in the presence of my grandparents, who did so much to support my sister and myself, particularly my grandmothers, who constantly showered love on both of us and prayed for us every day. I never saw his presence in that of my teachers, who tried to push me beyond my own self-imposed procrastination-laden limits. In short, I was blind to His love present in the actions of others, and I wouldn’t begin to discover it until I was nearly 20 years old.

When we are mired in selfishness and sin, we are blind to God, our neighbors, and ourselves. Sin and vice cut us off from the divine life, and leave us empty, thrown askew into the world, to the point to where sin itself becomes the goal, in order to meet the expectations of the world, rather than seeking the goal that is heaven:

Nothing deserves to be despised more than vice; yet I gave in more and more to vice simply in order not to be despised. If I had not sinned enough to rival other sinners, I used to pretend that I had done things I had not done at all, because I was afraid that innocence would be taken for cowardice and chastity for weakness. (II.3)

But of course, we have hope, so much hope! Following Jesus Christ, we find that God is in fact always present in our lives, no matter what the mistake, misstep, or sin. We may find it difficult to approach His love, especially amidst a world that has, in many cases, confused sin for virtue, vice for love.

Like Augustine, let us begin to move toward God and heed the words of Saint Paul:

Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph. 4.22-24)

Questions for reflection:

  1. Where has sin and vice made me blind to God’s presence in my life?
  2. How has God worked through other people in my life in order to draw me closer to Him?

Up next time: Confessions II.4-5

This is part of a continuing series, Companions on the Journey, which travels along with a particular companion in the spiritual life, one of the great saints, in order discover how some of their writings might be applicable to our everyday lives. Currently, we are traveling with Augustine of Hippo through his work, Confessions. You can take a look at previous posts in the series or read the introduction.

+JMJ+