Friday, July 14, 2017

Wabi Sabi

Kutaniyaki Bowl.
Photo by Caitlin Meyer 2017
                I’ll bet that title caught your attention.  Allow me to explain.  While sipping tea this morning, I realized that 30 years ago this month, my college roommate and I set out for intensive language studies in Kanazawa Japan.  Kanazawa is a small city of about 450,000 people on Japan’s western coast.  Among other things, Kanazawa is known for Kutaniyaki, vividly-glazed porcelainware, and Kaga Yūzen, beautifully-painted silk that’s hand washed in the clear waters of Kanazawa’s Asano River.  As part of our study program, we visited local craftsmen to watch them create these beautiful works of art.  That’s where I learned about wabi sabi.

                Wabi sabi () is a concept in traditional Japanese aesthetics centered on the wisdom and beauty of imperfection.  Artists express wabi sabi through asymmetry, roughness, and simplicity, often intentionally disfiguring their work before completion to emphasize the beauty of life’s imperfections.  In a world obsessed with perfection, wabi sabi is a refreshing and humbling reminder that perfection can only be found in God.

                God is infinite perfection and blessed in himself.  To say that God is perfect means that the attributes that God possesses are held to a degree that’s impossible to exceed.  Think about it this way, we understand from our world that there’s a hierarchy of qualities – objects can have qualities to a greater or lesser degree.  Water can be hot, hotter or hottest, for example.  As we ascend this hierarchy of qualities, we ultimately must come to something that is the greatest – “that than which nothing greater can be conceived,” to borrow Saint Anselm of Canterbury’s words.  That “something,” that “that,” is God.  So, if we understand God as the supreme being, the pinnacle of all being, then God must be perfect.  If God were anything less than perfect, he wouldn’t be God.

Have you ever wondered why human beings understand and strive for perfection when we’ve never actually seen it?   It’s because the desire for God is written in the human heart, whether we realize it or not.  God never ceases to call us to himself, so we yearn for the perfection that is God.  Our problem is that we seek perfection elsewhere.  We strive for the perfect body, the perfect spouse, the perfect vacation, and even the perfect martini, but we’re always left dissatisfied because perfection can only be found in God.

          In this misplaced quest for perfection, we designate as flaws those characteristics that do not fit our distorted concept of perfection.  Perhaps it’s the birthmark on our left knee, a crooked nose, or our spouse’s window-rattling snore; maybe it rained all vacation, or the kids cried for the entire car ride; or maybe even, heaven forfend, the martini was stirred, not shaken.  When we strive for perfection outside of God, we disregard the God-given beauty of all things; we fail to understand that perfection itself created us and loves us just as we are; we fail to find wabi sabi – the wisdom and beauty of imperfection.

          Life is a glass-half-full/glass-half-empty series of choices.  We can live life appreciating its beauty, or bemoaning its flaws.  It’s our choice.  Nothing in this world is perfect, only God is perfect; but everything is beautiful because it reflects its creator, the source of all that is good and true and beautiful, in its own unique way – even in its imperfection.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

God-like

          Last Thursday morning, I woke up thinking about what it would be like to consciously dedicate my day to being “God-like”:  greeting every event and every person I encounter as God would.  It seemed like a good challenge, so I gave it a try.  I lasted 13 minutes – I hadn’t even gotten out of bed yet.  Obviously, I need more practice being God-like, and that’s exactly what our readings and the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity call us to do.

          A central theme of the early Greek Fathers of the Church is something called theiosis or deification, which are just fancy words for “becoming God-like.”  Origen, Gregory of Nyssa and Basil the Great all taught that “the entire purpose of the Christian life was to make us, not simply better people . . ., but to make us divine.[1]  Becoming God-like is our Christian Mission in a nutshell.  We pray for it at every Mass, through your humble deacon, when he mingles the water and wine at the beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, saying:  “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”  Remember, man and woman were created to be like God.  While sin has tarnished our likeness with God, the Father never stops calling us to return to our original state of grace, to share in the divine life, to become God-like again.  So much so, that “God became flesh . . . to bring us to divine life.[2] 

So what is God like?  Well, today’s readings teach us that God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity (Exodus 4: 6); they tell us that our God is holy, glorious, praiseworthy and exalted (Daniel 3:52).  I guess you’re starting to see why I failed at being God-like in just 13 minutes.  Most importantly, though, we learn from Scripture what every football fan has engraved on his or her subconscious – John 3:16: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”  All of the characteristics we attribute to God can be boiled down to that one – love.  God is love, and so to be God-like, we have to participate in the community of love that is the Trinity. 

We’re all familiar with the Trinity – we’re baptized into the faith in the name of the Trinity, and we place ourselves into the dynamic life of the Trinity every time we cross ourselves.  But do we really understand what we mean when we profess one God in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit?  The short answer is no.  We can’t.  The Trinity is a mystery that’s inaccessible to the human mind; it’s an object of faith only because it was revealed to us by Jesus.[3]    

So how are we supposed to become God-like when we can’t fully understand what the Trinity is?  The answer is found in that one central divine attribute:  love.  Even if we don’t understand the Trinity, we know that “[l]ove is to will the good of another.”[4]  And Saint Augustine adds that love is Trinitarian; it’s comprised of three things:  a lover, a beloved and the love itself.[5]   If we understand the Father as the lover, Jesus as the beloved, and the Holy Spirit as the love that flows between them, we can see our path to participation in the divine life clearly.  “In the Trinity, three Persons engage in a mutual and self-giving activity that is so complete it makes them a dynamic unity.”[6]  It makes them a community of love.  So to enter into the divine life, we need to love, and we need to let ourselves be loved.  We need to be a community of love. 

Our challenge, then, is obvious:  we don’t always love.  We tend to be individualistic.  We often will our own good and not the good of another, so we prioritize looking out for number one.  We act as if we’re in competition with each other, and we seek advantage over one another.  We fear our neighbor, assume negative intent, and we lash out at others with no attempt to understand their motives or their circumstances.  Our problem is that too often we aren’t very God-like; we fail to live as a community of love.  If you don’t believe me, check out Facebook, the daily news feeds, and the gossip at the water cooler.

Trinity Sunday is the perfect time to rededicate ourselves to living as a community of love.  And it starts right here at Mass, where we come together as a community of love to share the Eucharistic meal.  But the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit “have to remain with us always and bear fruit beyond the Eucharistic celebration.”[7]  We need to heed the instruction at the end of Mass:  “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”  Strengthened by the Eucharist, we need to encounter the world as God does – with love.  We need to go in peace and be God-like.

I have to admit that those 13 minutes last Thursday morning were the best 13 minutes of my day.  I prayed for the health and well-being of my family and friends (I may have even thrown world peace in there); I was thankful for my many blessings; and I was happy.  Then I began to think about how I could be God-like at work.  That’s when I failed – for the silliest of reasons.  I started thinking about a negative situation that I might face later in the day – not a real issue, a potential issue.  I worried about what I’d say and do; and I began to have negative thoughts about the people who might be involved.  They hadn’t even done anything yet.  I failed because I stepped outside of the community of love and retreated into the dark recesses of my own selfishness.  Imagine how much better my day would have been if those 13 minutes had become 13 hours, or even a whole day.  Imagine how much better our world would be if we all tried to be God-like, even for just 13 minutes.




[1] Robert Barron, The Strangest Way:  Walking the Christian Path (Maryknoll, Orbis, 2002) at 29.
[2] Mary M. McGlone, “God for Us,” National Catholic Reporter, vol. 53, no. 17 (June 2-15, 2017) at 23.
[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church, Glossary.
[4] Catechism of the Catholic Church 1766, citing St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I-II, 26 4, corp. art.
[5] Augustine of Hippo, De Trinitate, ch. 2.
[6] John Shea, The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers: Following the Mystery of Love (Collegeville, Liturgical Press, 2010) at 205.
[7] Catechism of the Catholic Church 1109.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

For Good

                These past few days have brought back many great memories.  On Friday, I met up with two “old” friends after our quarterly tradition of “lunching” lapsed for more than a year.  We joked, we laughed, we shared our stories and lots of memories.  Yesterday, I attended the ordination of 15 new deacons for our diocese.  I met up with my formation classmates there, some of whom I haven’t seen for several years.  We joked, we laughed, we shared our stories and lots of memories.  By the end of the day, it was clear to me that these people and the memories we share are so much more than just part of my history.  They have shaped who I am – for good. 

                There’s a saying in the world of moral philosophy that “we do what we are, and we are what we do.”  Say that ten times fast!  This somewhat circular adage means that our nature (who we are) drives our actions, while our actions (what we do) form our nature.  The same can be said of the people and events of our lives.  Good, bad or indifferent, the people and events in our lives form us; they shape us; they contribute to who we are and what we do.  As Elphaba and Glinda sing in Wicked:

People come into our lives for a reason, bringing something we must learn.  And we are led to those who help us most to grow if we let them.  And we help them in return.  Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true, but I know I’m who I am today because I knew you.[1]

Every person, every experience changes us one way or another, and they always bring an opportunity for growth.  The question, then, is whether our interactions and experiences will change us for the better, or just for good.  God offers a change for the better in every moment of our lives.  We need to be open to it; we need to seize every chance meeting, every challenge we face, find the good that can come out of it and act on it.  The people and events of our lives will change us.  How they change us is up to us.

I’ve been blessed with a great life filled with wonderful friends and family.  I’ve had my share of challenges, but through God’s grace, I’ve experienced so much of the good he has offered through them.  These past few days reminded me of how much the people and events of my life have shaped who I am today.  And I thank God that, for the most part, they have changed me for the better – for good.





[1] Stephen Schwartz, “For Good,” Wicked (2003).

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Vocation

          In one of my diaconate formation classes, we got on the topic of our vocations – our calling to the diaconate.  Several class members shared how, during a pulpit announcement about the upcoming diaconate formation class, they felt as if the speaker were talking directly to them, as if they were the only ones in the room.  Others described conversations where someone unexpectedly suggested that they consider becoming a deacon, without ever having given it a moment’s thought before that.  My calling was nothing like those.  But no matter how the call comes, we’re all called to fulfill our baptismal mission of priest, prophet and king (or queen if you prefer).  That’s the message of today’s readings.

           Our readings today speak of vocations.  Saint Peter reminds us that we’re “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation . . . so that [we] may announce the praises of him who called [us] out of darkness into his wonderful light.”  (1 Peter 2:9).  In our Gospel, Jesus calls us to action, proclaiming that “whoever believes in me will do the works that I do and will do greater ones than these.”  (John 14: 12)  And we’re given a wonderful example of the communal discernment of vocations in our first reading where, “[f]aced with the inability to care adequately for all the people, ‘the twelve,’ . . . put their trust in the discernment of the entire community to resolve their problem.”[1]  It’s kind of funny that their solution was deacons.  Most think we’re the problem!

We all have a vocation – sometimes many.  The Catechism tells us that our vocation is the “calling or destiny we have in this life and hereafter” and that “the fulfillment if this vocation is eternal happiness.”[2]  While our occupation may be our vocation, there is a difference:  an occupation is what we do; a vocation is who we are – it’s deeper; it’s spiritual.  In the Christian context, we receive our vocation at baptism, where we are imprinted with Christ’s indelible spiritual character and take on his mission as priest, prophet and king.  You could say that “[w]e share in the priesthood and kingship of Jesus through the grace of our Baptism.”

          Now, this whole vocation thing may sound like a pretty tall order, and it is, but rest assured that God has given us all we need to carry out our vocations.  The divine empowerment that Jesus himself received from God is available to all who believe in him.  That’s’ why Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel that those who believe in him will accomplish even greater things.[3]  It’s a matter of trust.  “The Gospel tells us that Christ gave his life for us and has entrusted us with his mission.  In turn, he asks for our trust so that as we take on his mission, we will bring it to fruition in new and greater ways.”[4]  God will give us all we need to fulfill our vocation, and then some, if only we heed the words of the Psalmist:  “Lord let your mercy be upon us as we place our trust in you.”  (Psalm 33: 22)

          Each one of us is called, and each one of us is empowered with the gifts to fulfill our calling.  In the words of Blessed John Henry Newman, “God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another.  I have my mission.[5]”  God created each one of us to play a unique role in his great plan.  It’s up to us, then, to listen for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to consider the promptings of our community and to discern our calling in every moment of our lives.  Some may be called to specific vocations like mothers (Happy Mother’s Day, by the way!), fathers, priests, deacons or religious; others may be called to specialized fields of service, like social work or healthcare; and others still may be called to stand up for what’s right when no one else will.  We may be called to continue doing what we’re already doing.  We may be called to think outside of the box, to change things up, or to go in a new direction.  People are starving, sick, lonely, confused and desperate.  There’s no shortage of ways to be priest, prophet and king.  We just have to listen for our calling, trust Jesus, and follow him.   

          My own calling to the diaconate was very subtle.  It started as an idea that grew into curiosity.  That curiosity led to a lot of research and many conversations.  With those conversations came affirmation that resulted in conviction and commitment.  And here I am standing in front of a couple hundred people in a dress (I think I pull it off pretty well, if I do say so myself).  My calling wasn’t dramatic – God probably figured that I was dramatic enough already – and it wasn’t immediately obvious.  It was a slow-burning sense of assurance that I was headed in the right direction.  While I can’t speak for you, my vocation certainly has been a blessing for me.  Through it, I’ve been privileged to serve at the altar, baptize, marry and bury 130 people; I’ve visited the sick and the imprisoned; I’ve organized charitable activities; and I’ve engaged in a lot of challenging theological discussions and have loved every one of them.  My vocation isn’t always easy, but it brings me great joy and fulfillment.  So much so that I pray for the same for you; I encourage you, no, I urge you to listen for God’s invitation, trust Jesus and pursue your vocation.

Readings:  Acts 6: 1-7; Psalm 33: 1-2, 4-5, 18-19; 1 Peter 2: 4-9; John 14: 1-12

[1] Mary M. McGlone, “Anything is Possible,” National Catholic Reporter, vol. 53, no.15 (May 5-18, 2017) at 23.
[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, glossary.
[3] Scott M. Lewis, “The Gospel According to John,” New Collegeville Bible Commentary:  New Testament, Daniel Durken, ed. (Collegeville, Liturgical Press, 2009) at 348.
[4] McGlone.
[5] John Henry Cardinal Newman, “Meditations on Christian Doctrine, Hope in God – Creator,” Meditations and Devotions (March 7, 1848) (emphasis added).

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Trust Me - A Wedding Homily

          In the 1992 Disney blockbuster film, Aladdin, a young street rat named Aladdin courts Princess Jasmine with the offer of a magic carpet ride.  Skeptical, Princess Jasmine asks, “Is it safe?”  Aladdin extends his hand and replies, “Sure, do you trust me?”  Trust me when I say that trust is the key to a successful marriage.  And that’s the message of the Gospel passage that Nadia and Ron have chosen for their wedding today.

          In our Gospel, we hear the familiar story of the Wedding at Cana.  When Mary noticed that the hosts had run out of wine, she turned to Jesus for help.  Though he initially demurred, Mary trusted that Jesus would make everything right and instructed the servants: “Do whatever he tells you.”  The rest, as they say, is history.  Jesus performed his first miracle; he changed water into wine and saved the hosts from disgrace.

          It’s fitting that Jesus should perform his first miracle at a wedding, and not just because it’s a miracle that married couples can live with each other day after day.  It’s fitting because marriage is a beautiful sacrament instituted by God from the very beginning of creation.  “The Church attaches great importance to Jesus’ presence at the wedding at Cana.  She sees in it the confirmation of the goodness of marriage and the proclamation that . . .  marriage will be an efficacious sign of Christ’s presence.”[1]  Jesus blessed the institution of marriage with his presence at the Wedding at Cana, just as he blesses your marriage today with his presence.  As Pope Francis said, “What happened at Cana two thousand years ago, happens in reality at every wedding feast.  It is the presence of the Lord . . . that will render your marriage full and profoundly true.”[2]

          There’s a catch, though.  While Jesus makes himself present to every married couple, you have to take advantage of it.  You have to welcome him into your marriage, you have to entrust your marriage to his divine wisdom and grace.  Our Psalm teaches us that those who trust the Lord and walk in his ways are blessed.  Likewise, Saint Paul tells us in our second reading that when we do what we’ve learned and receive what we’ve heard from Jesus, “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds.”  And trust me, there are plenty of times in a marriage when you should guard your hearts, your minds and sometimes, even your mouths – Nadia.  Nadia and Ron, if you want a happy marriage, of course, you have to trust each other; but you also have to welcome Jesus into your marriage, trust him, and do whatever he tells you. 

          Think about it, you’re not getting married to solve all of our problems, you’re getting married to face your problems together – forever.  The marriage covenant, then, should give you hope for the future – a hope that you’ll never be alone no matter what you may face.  “The more you entrust yourselves to the Lord, the more your love will be 'forever', able to renew itself and to overcome every difficulty”[3] – even putting up with Matt, (a.k.a. Jeff).  Trust me when I say that if you trust Jesus and do whatever he tells you, Christ will dwell with you, give you strength to take up your crosses and follow him, to rise again after you have fallen, to forgive each other, to bear each other’s burdens, and to love each other with supernatural, tender, and fruitful love.”[4] 

          Nadia and Ron, I can’t promise you a magic carpet ride, though I hear that Nadia may have a Jesus car from her childhood that flies and rides on water, runs on prayers and gives you food.  You know, Ron, I’ll bet the Jesus car is a lot more comfortable than the backseat of a police car.  Trust Jesus, he wants you to pay your tickets on time!  What I can promise you is this:  if you entrust your marriage to Jesus and do whatever he tells you, you will discover in marriage “a whole new world, a fantastic point of view” – one of love, compassion and understanding that will lead you through every happiness and challenge you may face.  Trust each other, and trust Jesus, and you will have a long, happy marriage together.  Trust me.

Readings:  Sirach 26: 1-4, 13-26; Psalm 128; Philippians 4: 4-9; John 2: 1-11


[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church 1613.
[2] Pope Francis, Valentine’s Day Address, February 14, 2014.
[3] Id.
[4] Catechism of the Catholic Church 1642.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Christ is Risen!

El Greco, The Resurrection
My pastor told a great story in his homily last night at the Easter Vigil that I’d like to share with you.  Unlike in the West where we say, “Happy Easter,” the Easter greeting in the Eastern Christian tradition is “Christ is Risen,” to which the faithful respond: “He is truly risen.”  One day, there was a public debate between an Orthodox Patriarch and an atheist about the Resurrection.  The atheist went first, presenting a long discourse on how Christ’s resurrection is scientifically and logically impossible.  When it came time for the Patriarch to speak, he stood before the assembled crowd and proclaimed, “Christ is Risen!  Without missing a beat, the audience responded, “He is truly Risen.”  The people had spoken, and the Patriarch sat down. 

The fact is that the Resurrection is the sine qua non of the Christian faith.  Without it, Christianity is meaningless.  Christ either rose from the dead, or he did not.  There’s no middle ground.  As Bishop Robert Barron puts it, “It comes down to this:  if Jesus was not raised from death, Christianity is a fraud and a joke.  But if he did rise from death, then Christianity is the fullness of God’s revelation, and Jesus must be the absolute center of our lives.  There is no third option.”[1]

          It should be no surprise to the readers of this blog that I believe that Jesus rose from the dead.  While I’ve spent a considerable amount of time weighing the evidence and studying the arguments put forth by the Church, atheists and scientists, the most profound, the most convincing evidence I have come across is the voice of the people.  For nearly 2,000 years, billions of people have believed that Christ is Risen, including my forebears, my parents, my grandparents and generations of Meyers, Gallos and O’Boyles before them.  In the end, faith is a matter of trust:  trust in God; trust in ourselves and trust in our teachers, mentors and role models.  They have spoken, and I believe that Christ is Risen.  He is truly Risen!



[1] Bishop Robert Barron, Lenten Gospel Reflections, April 15, 2017.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Passion

                About ten years ago, I started a Good Friday tradition of watching The Passion of the Christ, the 2004 Mel Gibson-directed film starring James Caviezel as Jesus.  It’s a powerful movie that I recommend highly, but be warned, it’s brutally graphic.  So much so, that my tradition only lasted a few years.  As I became more and more familiar with the movie, I started to anticipate the rough scenes and found myself preemptively closing my eyes to shield myself from the horrors of the crucifixion.  Well, if I’m going to close my eyes for two-thirds of the movie, what’s the purpose of watching it?

                It’s embarrassing to think that if I can’t handle the crucifixion in a movie, how would I have handled the real thing?  As much as I’d like to think that I’d bravely join Mary and John at the foot of the cross, I suspect that I would have been one of the disciples who ran away and hid. 

                It’s easy for us today to be numb to the horrors of the crucifixion.  We didn’t witness it for ourselves, and we know that the story has a happy ending.  Besides, who wants to think of such things when they remind us that Jesus wouldn’t have had to go through it if we weren’t a sinful people in the first place?  It’s much easier to focus on the resurrection than it is to contemplate Good Friday.  But as the saying goes, without Good Friday, there’s no Easter Sunday.  The resurrection only makes sense in the full context of Jesus’ life, passion, death and resurrection.  We need to consider Good Friday in order to understand what Easter Sunday really means.

          Since I’ve wimped out of watching The Passion of the Christ, I try to take some time on Good Friday to imagine how Jesus felt.  What it felt like to be falsely accused and condemned to death, scourged at the pillar, crowned with thorns, crushed under the weight of his instrument of execution, stripped, and nailed to the cross.  Of course, I can't really imagine what it was like for Jesus, but this little meditation certainly helps put my own Good Friday “sufferings” in context:  when I’m feeling tired from hours of liturgies; when I'm hangry from fasting for a few hours; and when I grouse about not having enough time to get things done.  It’s humbling to think that Jesus’ Good Friday was much worse than mine could ever be.  And a little humility seems to make Easter Sunday all the more meaningful.