Tag Archives: humor

The “Becket” List

29 Dec

St. Thomas BecketI’m sure many readers have heard of The Bucket List. It’s the movie in which characters played by Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman have terminal cancer. They decide to make the most of their remaining time by composing a “bucket list” of things they wanted to do before they die.

And then the adventures began!

A few years ago I started a similar tradition. During the last week of the year—when I can’t put it off any longer–I compose a “Becket list.” This list in named in honor of St. Thomas Becket, the 12th-century archbishop and martyr whose feast the Church celebrates each year on December 29th. The Becket list, part serious and part whimsical, contains things I would like to do before the end of the year.

Without further ado (after all, I gotta get busy!), here’s my end-of-2015 list:

(1) Recall all the blessings of 2015.

(2) Do all the things I put off till the Christmas holiday, when presumably I would “have more time.”

(3) Remember those who left us this year. This not only includes beloved celebrities like Cardinal Francis George, Leonard Nimoy, and Yogi Berra, but also friends and family members who passed away in 2015. I especially remember my sister Dottie. May they all rest in peace, as we put our trust in the Lord’s abundant mercy this year and always.

(4) Set goals and make resolutions for 2016. It’s good that we use the calendar as a motive to challenge ourselves to grow. High on the list is truly taking to heart the Archbishop’s invitation to participate more deeply in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy this coming year.

(5) Finally figure out how to operate the Wii and Xbox 360 before we’re forced to upgrade to Wii U and Xbox 1. I’ll probably always be an upgrade or two behind, to the chagrin of my sons.

(6) Lose ten pounds (five “old” pounds and the five put on over Christmas). I hope the treadmill still works.

(7) Perform intentional acts of kindness. After all, performing “random” acts of kindness leaves too much to chance.

(8) Clean my office! Both of them! If you’ve seen either one, no further explanation is needed.

(9) Tax stuff. Sure, the IRS gives us extra time for some things, but I like to have my “ducks” lined up. And surely this includes end-of-the-year donations to Catholic apostolates and charities!

(10) Playoffs? Playoffs! Of course I have to make plans to watch the playoff run of the Kansas City Chiefs! If I had gotten another puppy for Christmas, I would have named him Tamba, or possibly Dontari or Colquitt. Maybe next year.

What’s on your Becket list?

This article appeared in the December 25, 2015 edition of The Leaven.

Give It Up!

4 Mar

I remember well my first Lent in a religious community in the 1980s. Most of us seminarians, like many people out in the world, gave up sweets for 40 days. The one time that this penance really came into play was during the afternoon coffee break. The nearby Au Bon Pain restaurant donated day-old pastries to the seminary, and these were typically brought out to give us a little sugar boost to get us through metaphysics and epistemology (with mixed results).

So, while the rest of us were wistfully looking at the full tray of Au Bon Pain goodies, one delightfully chubby seminarian walked up and started munching on a big chocolate croissant. In between bites (barely) he told me, “This year I decided to do positive penance, so I’m just going to be charitable.”

The seminarian was joking, but this did illustrate how our image of ”Lenten penance” can become skewed. As we celebrate “Fat Tuesday” today in anticipation of the beginning of Lent tomorrow, I thought I would point out four approaches to Lent that seem a little disordered.

(1) Lobstermania

Of course all Catholics are called to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays during Lent. Hence we have all the fish fries, cheese enchilada nights, and “parish soup and stations [of the Cross]” nights. If one simply went from parish to parish on Fridays during Lent, one would eat better than he or she normally would the rest of the year.

There’s nothing wrong with this, and in fact, these events can have the positive effect of building up the parish community.

Still, the purpose of the meatless days is to provide an opportunity for self-denial, so I wonder about going out to restaurants for lobster, mahi mahi, or other seafood delicacies that are technically “legal,” but hardly penitential. For vegetarians and for those who love seafood, abstinence from meat requires little effort, and so the challenge for them–and for all of us–is to internalize both the letter and the spirit of the fast and abstinence laws.

(2) Legalism Gone Amuck

It’s always fun to see what little kids “give up” for Lent. Some of us, even as grown-up kids, have learned to work the system. We give up Diet Coke, but we can have Coke Zero or Diet Pepsi. We give up Mounds, so we have Almond Joy. We give up television, but rent a boatload of videos.

Or we’ll make crucial exceptions. We’ll give up watching sports, which isn’t too tough once football season is over, but then make an exception for March Madness or Opening Day at the K (in other words, when there’s a sporting event we really want to watch).

Or we’ll give up alcoholic beverages, but make exceptions for everyone’s birthday, baptism day, saint day, anniversary, Tuesdays, and national holidays. And of course Sundays, solemnities, and St. Patrick’s Day never count.

These are, of course, voluntary acts of penance, and at times adjustments need to be made out of charity and prudence. But sometimes we might ask ourselves how much we’re really willing to sacrifice for Our Lord.

(3) Catholic X-Games

This one is especially attractive to zealous young people who really want to “do something” for God. One year as a green “revert” to the faith I actually tried to fast the entire period of Lent on bread, limited amounts of juice, and water. I didn’t make it to Easter, and after a couple weeks I was so weak I couldn’t do much of anything.

In subsequent years I tried to moderate the penances a little more, but still went a little overboard, especially when it came to depriving myself of sleep.

Therein we see the importance of having a sound spiritual guide who can help us maintain a healthier balance in our lives, especially given our work and family responsibilities. But even more, we can’t allow our penances to devolve into mere “feats of will power” rather than loving offerings to God. It’s not about us.

(4) Catholic Weight Loss Plan

All this talk of fast and abstinence ties in nicely with the need most of us have to lose a few pounds (okay, in my case, more than a few pounds). Hey, why start a diet on New Year’s with the Super Bowl just around the corner? And besides, why do you think they call it “Fat Tuesday” (Mardi Gras)? The idea is that we binge through Super Bowl weekend, culminating in an outlandish display of gluttony on Fat Tuesday. Even if we didn’t need to go on a diet before, we need to now!

There’s nothing wrong with losing some weight this month, and the fact that Lent provides some built-in impetus for such self-improvement can be a real blessing. The only caveat is that Lent is about 40 days of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving in anticipation of Our Lord’s suffering, death, and resurrection. We’re training for Easter, not for the Olympics or a Nutrasystems ad!

And a legitimate weight-control (and spiritual) program should be year-round and avoid gluttonous behavior.

Okay, those are a few mindsets to avoid. But how should we approach Lent?

I think how this time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving plays out differs from person to person, and our own individual approach varies as we go through different stages of life. But one thing is sure: Whatever we do, our focus should be primarily on the Lord, and secondarily on serving Him in the poor and needy in our midst.

Maybe my seminarian friend was right after all. It would be a most fruitful Lent indeed if I become more charitable–love God more, and love my neighbor more. Everything else is just (lo-cal, meatless) gravy.

Food for Thought

11 Apr

april showersI don’t know about you, but I have found the daily Mass readings for the second week of the Easter season to be overflowing with food for meditative prayer and daily Christian living. I thought I would share this “top ten” list of verses that have been especially meaningful to me this week, realizing of course that I’m only scratching the surface of these rich passages.

And by the way, we all know that April showers bring May flowers. But what do May flowers bring? The answer is found at the end of this list of verses.

(1) “Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe’” (Jn. 20:27, Sunday).

This episode in which Our Lord confronts “doubting” Thomas is perhaps the most compelling post-Resurrection appearance of Christ, which provides solid encouragement for those of us who have not seen, yet have believed.

(2) “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me” (Heb. 10:5, Monday).

This passage, which explicitly applies Psalm 40 to Our Lord, fittingly speaks of the Lord’s Incarnation, which we celebrated on Monday with the transferred feast of the Annunciation. But even more, we see that His becoming flesh, His taking a body, is connected to sacrifice. Our bodies too are instruments of sacrifice: “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1; see also Col. 1:24).

(3) “Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word’” (Lk. 1:38, Monday).

The Annunciation is ordinarily celebrated on March 25th, exactly nine months before Christmas, but was moved this year out of deference to Easter, which is an eight-day feast in the Church. So we had a temporary break from St. John’s Gospel as we heard anew Our Lady’s remarkable “fiat,” as she consents to becoming a living tabernacle of the eternal Son of God. We too become living tabernacles whenever we worthily receive Our Lord in Holy Communion.

(4) “The community of believers was of one heart and mind” (Acts 4:32, Tuesday).

The Catechism (no. 2790) links this verse to the Lord’s Prayer: When we pray “our Father,” we acknowledge our communion with all our brothers and sisters in the Lord.

(5) Jesus said to Nicodemus: “‘You must be born from above’” (Jn. 3:7, Tuesday).

This famous episode points to the regenerative waters of Baptism, which truly enable us to become partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4) and heirs of heaven as God’s beloved children.

(6) “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. . . . whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God” (Jn. 3:16, 21, Wednesday).

Okay, this is a bit of a “two-fer.” Despite its familiarity, John 3:16 should never lose its freshness in our hearts. And God’s love calls forth not only a notional assent, but even more it demands a committed love, such that we not only profess the truth, but live it–even when nobody is watching.

(7) “But Peter and the Apostles said in reply, ‘We must obey God rather than men’” (Acts 5:29, Thursday).

Even though this passage gets misused at times, the premise here is a crucial one. Often we can live the ambiguity, in a sense obeying both God and man. But when push comes to shove, when our faith calls us to a higher standard, do we have the integrity of St. Thomas More to obey God, not men?

(8) “He does not ration his gift of the Spirit” (Jn. 3:34, Thursday).

God is more generous, more powerful, and even more present than we often give Him credit for, at least in practice. The Christian life, when all is said and done, is life in the Spirit. If our faith isn’t all-encompassing, it’s because we’re rationing God, and not that God is rationing His Spirit.

(9) “If this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God” (Acts 5:38-39, Friday).

These remarkably wise words of Gamaliel have proven to be prophetic, haven’t they? In addition, wisdom has a timeless quality, and so Gamaliel’s words provide sound guidance whenever we encounter purported private revelations, new spiritual movements, or other religious enterprises of questionable origin.

(10) “Jesus said, ‘Let the people recline’” (Jn. 6:10, Friday).

Okay, this one is a little tongue-in-cheek. My daughter Brenda likes to cite this verse whenever I ask her to get off the sofa and do something. But even this lighthearted anecdote shows how Scripture verses can be manipulated and taken out of context when removed from their natural habitat (i.e., the liturgy) and interpreted apart from the authority of the Church.

And by the way, the answer to my question at the beginning of this post is . . . pilgrims!

Lessons for Today

16 Jul
Three things jump out at me in today’s Gospel, which is taken from chapter 10 of St. Matthew’s Gospel.

(1) God’s sense of humor.

Today is the 22nd anniversary of my becoming engaged to Maureen, so I find it very amusing that in today’s Gospel Our Lord would say, “I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set . . . a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

A little piece of Suprenant family trivia: I was waiting for the next Marian feast day to propose, which was July 16th, Our Lady of Mount Carmel. However, like this year, that feast fell on a Monday in 1990, so I actually proposed the preceding Saturday. (Hey, if the Church can move the Ascension to Sunday . . .)

And, joking aside, my wife’s care for my mother in her old age and infirmity was incredibly edifying to me and a tremendous witness to our children.

(2) The lost life.

Our Lord gives us the paradox that if we truly want to be happy, if we truly want to live, then we will lose our lives for His sake. In this teaching we find, among other things, a wonderful catechesis on the deadly sin of greed (aka avarice, covetousness), which is a disordered love of getting and possessing.

Greed involves a failure to trust in Our Heavenly Father’s goodness, so we seek security in worldly realities, rather than in God alone. But a security built on worldly realities is a security built on sand, not solid rock. Or, as the soon-to-be-canonized Blessed Kateri, might say: “You can’t Tekakwitha when you die.” (Sorry about that!)

(3) The prophet’s reward.

We also hear in today’s Gospel that whoever hears the Apostles (and thus their successors) hears Christ Himself, which is a commonly cited biblical support for the perennial teaching regarding our belief in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. But there’s more here. When we support the Church and her leaders, we are supporting Christ Himself, and when we support the work of our bishops, missionaries, and the like, we share in their “reward.” In other words, just as formal cooperation with sin makes us guilty for the sin, so also such formal cooperation with the mission of the Church fully makes us partners in the “new evangelization.”

Top Ten Confirmation Saints You Never Considered

23 Feb

Today the Church commemorates St. Polycarp (c. 69-155), a disciple of St. John the Evangelist and a significant figure in the early Church.

When my friends and I started having children, we considered naming them after great saints whose names seemed a little strange to modern ears. And typically Polycarp was on the short list of such saints–in fact, one friend would refer to his unborn child as “Polycarp.”

Yet in most instances we eventually came up with a saint’s name that was a little more mainstream. After all, what poor kid wants to go through grade school as Polycarp?

Choosing a Confirmation name is a different deal, though. For one thing, the person is a little older and can choose the name himself or herself. In addition, while one can and should have a special devotion to his or her Confirmation saint, the fact of the matter is that no one goes by their Confirmation name. So it seems to me the door is opened a little wider when it comes to choosing a Confirmation saint.

And so, now that Lent has begun and Easter season is just around the corner, I’d like to propose ten saint names that may be a little off the beaten path. I’ve limited the list to saints whose annual feast is celebrated by the Church worldwide. Here it is:

(1) Polycarp

Second-century bishop and thus an early witness to apostolic succession. The edifying account of his martyrdom is available here. Shortly before his death, he is reported to have said, in essence, “I’ve served Christ for 86 years, I’m not about to deny Him now.” This guy was tough as nails–the nails of the Cross.

(2) Hilary

Fourth-century Bishop of Poitiers and doctor of the Church. (Yes, Hilary is a boy’s name.) He is known as the “Doctor of the Divinity of Christ” because of his outstanding defense of the faith in opposition to the Arian heresy. And while Hilary Clinton may be a negative factor in choosing the name (hey, let’s reclaim the name for the forces of good!), Hilaire (form of Hilary) Belloc was one of the greatest Catholic intellectuals of the past century.

(3) Hedwig

No, she’s not the patroness of toupe-makers. She was a duchess, wife and mother of seven, widow, and ended her life in Cistercian convent where she had taken religious vows. She’s not well-known in this country, and she suffers from “St. Blaise Syndrome” (see number six, below), in that her feast day gets overshadowed by St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. But Hedwig is a biggie, and she is deeply loved and revered in Eastern Europe.

(4) Irenaeus

Bishop of Lyons around the year 200 A.D., and another important early witness to the apostolic faith. Wrote some great stuff (e.g., “The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God”). He wrote at length in opposition to the Gnostic heresy. That may not seem all that relevant today, except when we consider that Gnosticsm is the engine that drove the wildly popular Da Vinci Code series just a decade ago.

(5) Gertrude

Thirteenth-century saint known as “the Great.” She was a Benedictine mystic and visionary who helped to spread devotion to the Sacred Heart. St. Teresa of Avila, among others, have had a strong devotion to her.

(6) Ansgar

Ninth-century archbishop and missionary who did much to spread the faith in Scandanavia, and for that reason is called the “Apostle of the North.” Unfortunately, the Church double-booked his feast day, such that February 3rd is the feast of both St. Ansgar and St. Blaise. And since it’s cold season and people want their throats blessed, 999 times out of 1,000 the priest will opt to celebrate the feast of St. Blaise instead of poor St. Ansgar. But especially for those with Scandanavian roots (or a fondness for the Winter Olympics!), Ansgar is a most worthy patron saint.

(7) Isidore

There are actually two St. Isidores on the Church’s calendar. There is the feast of St. Isidore the farmer and also that of St. Isidore of Seville, a seventh-century bishop and doctor of the Church. Some have suggested that the latter should be the patron saint of the Internet. (On that score, I’m willing to wait for the canonization of former Chiefs’ offensive tackle Damian McIntosh!)

(8) Scholastica

Especially during the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, it seems appropriate to choose as a patron saint St. Benedict’s beloved sister Scholastica, who has the distinction of being the first Benedictine nun. (No wonder she got to be abbess!)

(9) Athanasius

Tremendously heroic fourth-century bishop and doctor of the Church. I would put him higher, except I already know several people who, despite the name’s length, have named their sons Athanasius because of his staunch defense of the true faith, which led to his being known for all time as the “Father of Orthodoxy.”

(10) Ignatius

Another two-fer. Many probably think of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits who developed the immensely helpful “spiritual exercises” as a means of spiritual growth. But there’s also St. Ignatius of Antioch, who succeeded St. Peter as Bishop of Antioch and then was famously martyred in 107 during the reign of Emperor Trajan. Click here for more on St. Ignatius of Antioch, one of my favorite saints.

Well, I hope this partial, lighthearted list is helpful to you and/or any confirmandi in your charge this coming Confirmation season. Our hope is in Christ alone, but we do benefit from developing devotions to saints who inspire us to grow in holiness.

Why Did the Religious Cross the Road?

26 Sep

The Apostle of the Interior Life crossed the road to give spiritual direction.

The Benedictine crossed the road to pray and work.

The Camaldolese crossed the road to build a hermitage.

The Carmelite crossed the road (barefoot) to find a secluded place to pray.

The Little Sister of the Lamb crossed the road to seek the lost sheep and to beg her daily bread.

The Daughter of St. Paul crossed the road to open a Catholic bookstore.

The Dominican crossed the road to preach the Gospel.

The Father of Mercy crossed the road to give a parish mission.

The Franciscan crossed the road to be an instrument of peace (and to make sure the chicken was okay).

The Jesuit crossed the road for the greater glory of God.

The Mercedarian crossed the road to set captives free.

The Missionary of Charity crossed the road to reach out to the poorest of the poor.

The Norbertine crossed the road to rebuild Western civilization.

The Oblate of the Virgin Mary crossed the road to give a retreat.

The Passionist crossed the road to proclaim Christ crucified.

The Salesian crossed the road to educate young men.

The Servant of Mary crossed the road to care for a sick person in his or her own home.

The Sister of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration crossed the road to spend time with Jesus.

The Sister of Life crossed the road to bear witness to the value of every human life.

The Ursuline crossed the road to educate young women.

We all eventually cross the road. Why we cross the road makes all the difference.

The foregoing was originally published by the Institute on Religious Life.

There’s a Patron Saint for That!

15 Jul

Yesterday’s post was devoted to Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha. I always thought that she should be the patron saint of fast-food restaurants (you know, “Take-it-with-ya”). In this spirit, I thought I would propose some other “patron saints” for your amusement as we look forward to the weekend.

Fast-food restaurants (Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha)
Chocolate milk (St. John Bosco)
Potpourri (St. Peter)
Bargain hunters (St. Francis de Sales)
Second helpings (St. Thomas More)
Pooty cats (St. Sylvester)
Bald dudes, bad hair days (St. Hedwig)
Furniture (Chair of St. Peter)
Forest fires (St. Blase)
Former first ladies (St. Hilary of Poitiers)
Distilleries (St. Pius V)
Perfumes (St. Peter Chanel)
Pilgrimages (St. Martin of Tours)
Security blankets (St. Linus)
Royals fans (Our Lady of Sorrows)
Entryways (St. Isidore)
Dog kennels (St. Bernard of Clairvaux)
Dairy farmers, Packer fans (St. Maximilian Kolbe)
Lite beer (St. James the Less)
Moneylenders (St. Charles Borromeo)
The Suprenant children (Seven Sleepers of Ephesus*)
Computers (St. John Damascene–think about it!)

*Unfortunately, the legendary Seven Sleepers of Ephesus are no longer on the Roman calendar!

Can you think of any others? Let us know about them on Facebook or at our Family Room discussion board