3 Things To Fix-Up This Country

3 Things To Fix-Up This Country

A belated Happy Independence Day to everyone out there! And to all the Canadians up there who haven’t read my blog yet, a belated Happy 150th Canada Day, ya loveable northern weirdos!

I love this country (my country. America. I’ve never been to Canada). I don’t mean that in a perfunctory ‘sure, I was born here’ kind of way. And I don’t mean that the United States can do no wrong (we’re often really good at making mistakes). I mean I love this country. I want the absolute best for my country and everyone in it. And it doesn’t hurt that I like this country. I like our freedoms. I like baseball, and barbeque, and waving the red, white, and blue. I willingly worked for the federal government. Several times I have been a soloist at naturalization ceremonies, singing The Star-Spangled Banner as men and women born elsewhere become Americans. I freaking love this country (almost as much as Hulk Hogan does in that pic up there, but probably not quite as much).

But I also think this country has a problem. One, overwhelming problem. It’s our government, guys. Our government is terrible. I don’t mean that our government is bad right this second and will magically improve when one person or another enters or exits office. I don’t mean one leader is terrible. Our whole government is terrible. Look around and see the awful leadership seeping out at every level and in every sphere. So many of our leaders are corrupt, are influence first of all by money and political donors, are embroiled in one scandal after another. All of our leaders are embroiled in partisan bickering, unable to serve the common good or to compromise in any way if it means their party ‘lost.’

I have a lot of really hard opinions about our countries problem. But I also have the week from Hades at work, so I don’t have time to write the many treatises that I want to. Rather, I’ll just suggest 3 things that our country really, really needs right now:

  • Ideas: We need good ideas to fix our problems. This may seem like “duh, Mark” kind of statement, because of course we do, and because of course there are a lot of great ideas floating around out there. But the issue is that we do not focus on ideas. We focus on candidates, and on scandal, and on whether a “D” or an “R” is behind someone’s name. We are driven by petty competition, or by fears, or by controversial soundbites. But we are not engaging with real ideas for successful policy in this country.
  • Data: When we do spout ideas, they are usually not based in fact. So often, we spout off one fact or another, one ailment or achievement in this country, and we have no clue what we’re talking about. We say there’s more crime, when really there’s less. We say such-and-such is more affordable, when really it’s more expensive. If we’re going to fix anything in this country, we have to have a realistic idea of what our problems are.
  • Prayer: We think we can fix this place alone, and we just can’t. We have to dedicate our country to Jesus Christ through the Patroness of the United States, the Immaculate Conception. If we lift up our country in prayers, and our leaders in prayer, and each other in prayer, we’re going to be better off. If we don’t get serious about cooperating with the Holy Spirit in caring for this country and everybody in it, we’re not going to get anywhere, real fast. So say it with me, guys, and say it often: GOD BLESS AMERICA!
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Untangling The Light

Untangling The Light

I’m old enough to remember when the Holy Rosary only had fifteen mysteries. Just fifteen hard-working old-fashioned mysteries about the infancy, suffering, and glory of Jesus Christ. Then this new hip saint named John Paul II came along and decided we should be praying five more mysteries, the “Mysteries of Light.” What?!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the nature of the Luminous Mysteries. It seems a mystery in itself that it took until the 20th century for a set of mysteries regarding Jesus’s ministry to develop. It is a natural fit between the Infancy Narratives and Our Lord’s Passion. At the same time, though, there seems to be someone missing from most of the Luminous Mysteries who is present throughout the rest: Mary.

The direct role of Mary is really evident in the development of the Rosary. If you’ve read The Secret of the Rosary by Saint Louis de Montfort, you know how many Marian apparitions have been involved in shaping the Rosary as we pray it today. Even since de Montfort died in 1716, the effects of apparitions have been evident. The “O My Jesus” prayer appended to each mystery comes from Our Lady of Fatima’s appearances in 1917.

If even so small a prayer as the O My Jesus was introduced through a Marian apparition, I feel like the promotion of an entire new set of mysteries wasn’t done on a whim. It’s the first new group of five mysteries since they were put into three groups four and half centuries ago, and it’s almost certainly the last new meaningful set of mysteries that the Universal Church will enjoy. Saint John Paul the Great had such an intense devotion to Mary, making his personal motto “Totus tuus, Maria” and including her “M” on his coat of arms. Considering his devotion, and the numerous apparitions which have marked additions to the Rosary, I firmly believe that his promotion of the Luminous Mysteries was preceded by some sort of direct message from Our Lady. I don’t know what kind of message that was; I’m just saying: these mysteries were purposeful.

Saint Louis de Montfort, quoted by Saint John Paul in his apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae introducing the Luminous Mysteries, says:

“Our entire perfection consists in being conformed, united and consecrated to Jesus Christ. Hence the most perfect of all devotions is undoubtedly that which conforms, unites and consecrates us most perfectly to Jesus Christ. Now, since Mary is of all creatures the one most conformed to Jesus Christ, it follows that among all devotions that which most consecrates and conforms a soul to our Lord is devotion to Mary, his Holy Mother, and that the more a soul is consecrated to her the more will it be consecrated to Jesus Christ.”

The Rosary is obviously a devotion to Mary, and the Luminous Mysteries are no less part of that devotion. So lately I find myself looking for Mary in the Luminous Mysteries. She is so obvious in the Infancy Narratives of the Joyful Mysteries, and the Passion of the Sorrowful Mysteries, and in her participation in her Son’s Glory. But the Luminous Mysteries are not so often as clearly Marian.

Within the Luminous Mysteries, Mary is most evident in the Wedding at Cana. She asks Jesus directly for what she almost certainly knows will be a miracle, and then this becomes the occasion of Jesus going forth from her side. From Scripture, Mary doesn’t appear to physically be at the Transfiguration (witnessed by Peter, James, and John) or at the Institution of the Eucharist (a command to the Twelve). Though less clear, there’s no indication that she’s present either for Our Lord’s Baptism or at the Sermon on the Mount.

Of course, the Rosary is an exercise in Christological reflection, so Mary doesn’t necessarily  have to be front-and-center in every mystery, whether physically or mystically. But John Paul uses the message that “among all devotions that which most consecrates and conforms a soul to our Lord is devotion to Mary” to introduce us to these mysteries. I don’t think that message was meant to refer to Mary’s participation only in the Miracle at Cana.

So where is she in those other four mysteries? I don’t have all the answers to that question. The Eucharist is indeed to her “flesh of my flesh.” The Transfiguration shows us what she already knows about Jesus. But beyond those fragments, I don’t really know. And I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. So I’m going to put the thinking on you for a bit: Where do you see Mary in the Luminous Mysteries?

Art Credit: The piece at the top is by “Genzoman” and is one of my favorite pieces of digital sacred art. You can find it and more by the artist here.

What Do I Want For My Daughters?

What Do I Want For My Daughters?

This past weekend, my wife and I got out to see Wonder Woman, our first time going to a theater since our younger daughter was born (Today is her first birthday. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, LITTLE BUDDY!!). It was a fantastic film that I highly recommend and it’s about time that we get to see Wonder Woman on the big screen. This past weekend was also Father’s Day. The happenstance juxtaposition of those two things has me reflecting for the hundredth time: What Do I Want For My Daughters?

I want to tell them that they can be a superhero, that they really can do anything they want to. But I also want them to know that just because you can do a thing doesn’t mean you should or that they have to. It may not be what you are called to, and it may not be what the people around you need. Do I want my girls to get an education? Yes. Do I want them to go to war? No. Do I want them to have a successful career? I don’t know.

We’re working on the education right now, and will be as long we can. I’ve been blessed with a stellar education. My wife and my mother and my sister all have fancy degrees to show how much they’ve learned, and I want the same thing for my daughters. I want my daughters to learn how to think, because that will prepare them for anything that God calls them to, whether it be motherhood or religious life or a certain career path.

That said, there are certain things that my daughters are capable of that I don’t want them to do. One of them is go to war. Watching a superhero film like Wonder Woman necessarily makes you think of physical fights, and that’s one thing I don’t want for them. One day they’ll be capable. If they find themselves needing to protect their families, they’ll do it, and I’ll be proud of them. But I don’t want them to seek out that fight. A civilized society acknowledges that women and children are deserving of protection, even when women are able to protect themselves.

A career? Do I want my girls to grow up to have big powerful careers? If they have small children, no. No, I don’t. Children need their mothers, and small children need their mothers in a big way. My wife cares for our girls full-time, not because she doesn’t have other desires, but because she recognizes that it’s the best way to serve them right now. I know that daycare is an economic reality for many families. But the idea of my girls being cared for by strangers makes my heart itch. And if my babies have babies, I want my girls to know that being a mother is a calling in itself. It’s something to be celebrated, not derided as less than a career. Our Blessed Mother wasn’t known for a career, and my daughters don’t have to be either.

What I want most for my girls, is for them to do what God calls them to do. In this life, there’s absolutely no decision more important. God has a plan for each of my wonderful girls, one that he will guide them on, and which will bring them immense fulfillment, just as my marriage and my fatherhood fulfills God’s plan for me. In order for them to do that, they need a good Dad. I think a good Dad in this case has to acknowledge, with the Church and with post-1960s America, that women can contribute in every sphere. Also, a good Dad has to balance this acknowledgement with the practical application of Christianity: we can all do a lot, but there’s something real and specific God wants us to do. Pray that I can be a good Dad for my little girls.

Dominate Your Darn Dog

Dominate Your Darn Dog

This weekend, a co-worker of mine at a previous job was mauled by an “emotional support animal” on a Delta plane waiting to leave the Atlanta airport. Apparently, Marlin had the window seat while the middle seat had two passengers in it—a service member and the 50-pound dog in his lap. This dog started growling at Marlin as he was putting on his seatbelt, and then lunged at him, opening up Marlin’s face and puncturing his lip and gums. Marlin was pinned between the dog and the window for 30 seconds while this animal tore at him. The pictures are bad, and the lawsuit is coming swiftly against Delta.

This whole situation has made me livid, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, something terrible and completely preventable happened to a guy who was great to work with. There was absolutely no reason for Delta to allow this dog to travel in the way it did. If it had been in a crate, there wouldn’t have been a problem. If the dog had been muzzled, there wouldn’t have been a problem. Had the dog and its owner had their own aisle, there wouldn’t have been a problem. Instead, the owner and the airline thought it was a good idea to put a large dog in a cramped space with strangers on both sides of it. And for their terrible judgment, a man got seriously hurt.

Secondly, this situation makes me angry because it shows how out of whack our priorities are when it comes to animals. The proliferation of emotional support animals (many of which have little or absolutely no training) has made us think that our animals are responsible for us. They are not. We are responsible for their well-being, and for their behavior.

Sacred Scripture commands us to “fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that crawl on the earth.” The common law in the United States imposes on everyone a duty to exercise reasonable care in their interactions with every other person. So whether we look at the Divine Law or the positive law, we can come to the same conclusion: if you bring an animal into a public space meant for humans, you are responsible making sure that animal doesn’t hurt any innocent party. We can’t pretend that animals aren’t dangerous and won’t hurt anyone. We must treat them as unknowns and react aggressively if an animal threatens a person.

Why favor the person? Because the person is made in the image and likeness of God. The person possesses inherent dignity. An animal does not. An animal only has the right not to be mistreated. But any action toward an animal that’s meant to protect a person is not mistreating that animal. A human person is immortal, invaluable, worthy of the redemptive power of the Cross. An animal threatening an innocent person must be neutralized.

I know that when I say all this, a few people reading jump to a few conclusions, ones like:

  • “He must hate dogs.” No, I hate cats. I grew up with dogs, and I love a good puppy, but I believe that dogs have a place in our society. Usually, that place is behind fences or outside on a leash. Occasionally, that place is guiding a blind person or sniffing out a bomb. But those special tasks must be assigned only with caution, real regulation, and extensive training.
  • “It probably wasn’t the dog’s fault.” I’m not blaming the dog. The dog doesn’t have a free will and isn’t a moral actor. There really isn’t any such thing as a “good dog” or a “bad dog.” Animals don’t make moral choices. People do. So I’m blaming Delta and blaming the dog owner. The owner had a responsibility to assert dominion over his dog. The airline had a responsibility to protect its passengers. Neither of them fulfilled those obligations.
  • “The guy probably provoked him.” Yes, let’s blame the victim and see where that gets us. Eyewitnesses say Marlin wasn’t threatening the dog or the owner. He wasn’t even trying to touch the dog. And let’s be frank: a lot of times, it doesn’t matter whether or not an animal is being provoked. A child doesn’t know what a dog might find threatening. A child doesn’t know that he shouldn’t be in a gorilla habitat. But we still have to subdue nature when nature imperils the welfare of a human being.

Enjoy your pets. That’s why God made them. But remember that you’re in charge. Go out there and subdue the earth. And please say a prayer for Marlin and his family.

Sacred Orders To The Rescue

Sacred Orders To The Rescue

This past weekend, Maria and I got to see two of our dear friends be ordained, one as a priest and one as a transitional deacon in preparation for becoming a priest in a year. It was an absolutely beautiful Ordination Mass (if appropriately very long) in the lovely Cathedral-Basilica of the Immaculate Conception pictured above.

Both of these guys, individuals I should now be referring to only as the holy men that they are, were classmates of mine in high school. The new priest, Fr. Nick, was actually a year behind me in school, and it is absolutely crazy to think that anyone younger than me is going to be confecting the Eucharist on a daily basis. After eight long years in major and minor seminary, he was finally ordained into the Priesthood of Jesus Christ, and was absolutely beaming with happiness all morning.

Joe, our friend ordained a deacon, is someone I go way back with. I went to school with this guy starting in kindergarten. We played as kids and competed as adolescents, and I tried my very best to beat the tar out of him when we were 10. He was always one of the smartest guys around, and everybody assumed that he’d be a doctor like his dad. But in a year he’ll be a priest. He preached his first homily on Sunday, and then our little family received his blessing after Mass. It’s amazing to think that this man, who was once the youngest, smallest guy in the grade, is now my spiritual leader.

All day Saturday and Sunday, as I watched these friends be ordained and heard Joe preach for the first time, I kept having a compulsion to say ‘good for you’ and ‘congratulations,’ because they’re doing what they want to do. But what I really want say is “good for us.” Good for us that we get the benefit of men who want to dedicate their lives to nourishing the Church. They are a blessing to us for answering God’s call, for saying ‘yes’ to God’s grace for them, so that they can be channels of God’s grace for us.

Seeing their choices come to fruition pointed out to me how much discernment is not about one person, but about all of us. We are all affected by the choices one person makes for his or her life. Indeed, no man is an island. But it’s more extensive than that: no man in the Church can live in his own home. We all live in God’s House, and share in stewardship of His creation. In God’s plan, each of us has responsibility to others, an ability to help or hurt them. I’m responsible to my wife and my daughters. Fr. Nick and Deacon Joe are responsible to the many souls they’ll come in contact with in their ministries. We can each fail or succeed, to the benefit or detriment of God’s children. With grace, we will succeed.

So congratulations to Joe and Nick and every other priest and deacon being ordained this month, and congratulations to us, the Church, for the great shepherds we are gaining, men answering God’s call.

Setting the Table

Setting the Table

I don’t really know who Paul Angone is, but this sentiment really gets me. Success in your twenties is more about setting the table than enjoying the feast. The worldly person might respond to this statement by saying that life is all about the present. Even the Christian might say that “sufficient for a day is its own evil.”

But doing God’s will now and laying the foundations for future success aren’t mutually exclusive. They usually are one and the same. God cannot use us for greater things later if we do not take up the small things –St Therese’s little way– right now with love and work and great joy. I completely agree with the picture’s statement. A tall building–a great life as measured by the hand of God–requires a monumental foundation. As my wife says, “It’s amazing how far back success begins.” This my favorite piece of wisdom from Maria. I’m at a point where I’m reaping rewards like a great job and home ownership and my amazing kids, while still laying the foundation for things later in my life. But I wouldn’t have the life I do if I hadn’t started laying the foundation for this life–according to God’s plan–when I was 18.

I wasn’t laying the foundation at those ages because I’m particularly good or because I had a plan. I did it because of God’s grace. But it’s important to recognize that success builds on success. Maria and I got somewhere at 18 (like college and a serious relationship) because of things each of us did at 16 (like good grades and thinking hard about what we wanted in a relationship). We got somewhere at 21 (marriage and law school) because of things we did when we were 18. And at 24, and now at 27 it’s the same thing. And one day I’ll get somewhere because of the work experience I’m building now. Every success builds on the next. I didn’t make any of the decisions about where I would go to school and what jobs I would have or what house we would buy or what our kids would be like. God made those decisions and we just worked at it. It was not always fun. Setting the table isn’t always fun. But we did the work.

In the next year, a lot of our friends are going to be preparing for and going to ten-year high school reunions. A lot of people who get to this point dread the reunion because they are comparing themselves (probably too harshly) to others. But many people dreading haven’t built something. When your success now is a product of what you did years ago, and your level of success later is what you do right now, you have to start building a long while back. It can’t all be about the right now. A good life is like a good house. Jesus, you’ll recall, is a carpenter. He’s helping us build something. The house of your life is going to start looking good about 10 years after you start building it. And if you think it’s always going to look that good, then it’ll fall apart in about 10 years too.

Your twenties are as good a time as any to start caring and start building that house. Life is short. Your twenties are when you have the energy for preparation and work. When you’re not yet too set in your ways. It’d be a tremendous waste to not use it to set the table, and build the house of your life. If you’re 28 or 32 or 65, it’s not too late to start setting the table. But if you’re 18, please don’t party til you’re 30.

Why A Fight?

You may wonder why I’ve chosen to call this page “Marked for the Fight”. It’s because I’ve always wanted to be a knight. Obviously.

No, I’m not talking about a physical fight. Anyway, “real” knights these days make films or write songs or discover elements. They don’t ride into battle. The name of this page refers to a spiritual fight.

When I was growing up, there was a framed piece above my bed. It said “Mark: A Mighty Warrior” above 1 Timothy 6:12, “Fight the Good Fight of Faith and lay hold on Eternal Life, to which thou art also called.” Now, this was Saint Paul’s exhortation to Timothy, not to the evangelist John Mark. But I think this fighting verse was used to describe my name because the Roman name “Mark” comes from Mars, the god of war, and refers to one who is warlike.

Christianity is a struggle. It is an internal fight against concupiscence, against our vices, against addiction to sin. It is an external fight for the truth and for a culture that is safe for our children. Each of us must work each day to conquer our own demons, grow closer to God, love others. Each of us is fighting something and fighting for something.

Is the struggle worth it? Yes. The verse promises that if we persevere in the struggle, we will gain Eternal Life. We will spend eternity in heaven with God. Thus we are each called to fight for the faith and that’s my focus in writing here. Why did I say “marked” for the fight instead of “called”? Because I’m a Dad; I’m not allowed to say no to a good pun.