St. John Lateran

The Cathedra of St. John Lateran. Personal Photograph, April 2019.

Within the Roman Catholic Church, today is the feast day of the Dedication of the Archbasilica Cathedral of the Most Holy Savior and Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist at the Lateran, or far more commonly known, the Dedication of St. John Lateran.

This church is the “mother” church to western Christianity. The first public Christian house of worship in Rome, first dedicated in 324 after Constantine converted and the Roman persecutions ended.

As seen in the picture above, it contains the cathedra for the Bishop of Rome (thus Rome’s cathedral) and the Bishop of Rome is, of course, better known as the Pope.

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Oblation Scheduled

God willing, I will make my final oblation to St. Meinrad’s Monastery on June 4, 2022 at the Archabbey Church in Indiana.

What? What is all this?

St. Meinrad’s is a Benedictine Monastery. St. Benedict was a 6th-century monk who wrote a new rule for living a monastic life. He wasn’t the first monk, but his Rule of St. Benedict helped spur a new era of monasticism which transformed the Church and world of his day. Over the centuries, monks have continued to live under his Rule. As St. Benedict’s Rule itself says it is only a beginning and allowing the Rule to be executed in a way that makes sense given the circumstances, which has led to some monks wanting to “go back to the basics” a couple of times. As such, the Benedictine family includes “Benedictines” (OSB), “Cistercians” (OCist), “Trappists” (OCSO, of great beer lore), and so on.

Monks? But, you’re married with kids?

The Benedictine tradition is most known by the professed monks (or nuns)—men or women who live celibate lives in community at a monastery. Some perform various ministry in the world, others are cloistered (that is, live generally isolated from the broader world). Benedictines lift up ora et labora, or “prayer and work”, and so these monastics orient their lives toward prayer, in particular, the liturgical prayer of Liturgy of the Hours and lectio divina (holy reading) and work—this is why some Trappists make beer, some monks do woodworking, some sell food things. Work, when is good and lifted up to God, can be a holy effort and it is good to work to provide for one’s existence.

I’m not going into a monastery and becoming what you’re picturing. There is, also, a tradition of “oblates”—people who offer themselves. Oblation and oblates come from the Latin oblātus, a form of offero, meaning “to give”. In St. Benedict’s day, this originally meant children offered to the monastery—someone giving their first-born to God was taken very literally sometimes! That went out of practice pretty soon thereafter. After about a century, there were age limits put in place and they were free to leave. The oblate would have to opt into profession later.

Over the centuries, this evolved to lay people who committed themselves to the monastery and now typically means secular oblates. These oblates continue to live their regular life, wherever they are with their families, in their typical professions.

So… what?

As a secular oblate, I make three public and solemn promises (not vows) to a monastery:

  1. Stability of Heart: A commitment to the specific monastery of St. Meinrad’s.
  2. Fidelity to the Spirit of Monastic Life: Basically, do my best to be a monastic in the world. Balance, prayer, and whatnot.
  3. Obedience to the Will of God: Continue to grow and discern God’s will through spiritual direction, prayer, and failthfulness to the Catholic faith.

Practically, there are five practices that oblates at St. Meinrad agree to as part of executing this:

  1. Pray the Liturgy of the Hours. This whole thing is about balancing the secular life with the spirit of monastic life, so I’m not bound to pray the whole thing. But something.
  2. Read from the Rule of St. Benedict daily.
  3. Practice lectio divina daily. A reflective, meditative method of reading Scripture or other religious text.
  4. Participate frequently in Mass, reception of the Eucharist, and in Reconcilation (e.g. Confession).
  5. Be attentive to God’s presence in ordinary, daily life.

Commitment to a specific monastery?

This is something that is a bit different than a lot of lay orders. Oblates are similar to “third order” (lay Fransicians, Lay Dominicans, etc), though technically different, as there’s only one Rule for Benedictines.

Additionally, Benedictines aren’t one religious order, like the Dominicans or Jesuits or one of those. Each monastery is autonomous (with some exception of smaller/newer monasteries that are still dependent on their founding, or “parent”, monastery). While monasteries do group together in loose associations and, altogether, are associated with the Benedictine Confederation, at the end of the day, each house is independent.

Either as a monk or as an oblate, we are stable to a particular place. As an oblate, even if move next door to another monastery, I’m still an oblate of St. Meinrad’s. I can “transfer my stability” to another monastery, but that’s a big thing. Think like a diocesan priest transferring to a different diocese. You can do it, but it isn’t supposed to be easy or common.

Archabbey? What’s that?

St. Meinrad’s is an archabbey. In practice, this doesn’t really mean all that much—the abbot is titled “archabbot”. St. Meinrad was named as one of two archabbeys in the United States as a nod and honor for how far St. Meinrad’s monks spread the monastic tradition in the U.S. I’ve read that there are 11 archabbeys worldwide, but I haven’t personally found an official source for that.

What’s left?

I still have a couple last things before this upcoming thing is official. 1. I still need to formally request acceptance from the archabbot. 2. I need to come up with three names to take in religious life, of which I’ll be given one. I never even took a confirmation saint, so this is a bigger challenge than I expected it to be.

20 Years Later

To honor those who died or were directly impacted by the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, I’ve started reading The Only Plane in the Sky, an oral history of the day compiled by Garrett Graff.

The events of that day changed our country (and the world, but I’m less familiar with that) forever, but what I like to focus on when reflecting on 9/11 isn’t the global political ramifications or how that day changed the Bush administration or raised up Rudy Giuliani’s name awareness, but the actions of regular people.

First responders noted that civilians were directing traffic in lower Manhattan to help clear the roads for them to get to the Towers.

Another was the story of the evacuation of John Abruzzo. John is a quadriplegic who uses an electric wheelchair. A number of men—I think I read eight or so—took shifts in four-man teams to help carry John down in his evacuation chair from the 69th floor. It took 90 minutes. Those men could have ran away, leaving John to fend for himself or only with one or two people to help (the chair was designed to only need one person to assist). They didn’t. They stayed and worked to ensure he could reach safety despite putting themselves at risk longer.

The passengers on Flight 93 are well-known. When they realized that they were the fourth plane hijacked, the other three had hit the WTC and Pentagon, and they were heading back toward Washington DC, they fought back forcing the terrorists to crash into an empty field, aborting their attack on the Capitol.

There are countless other stories like this. Regular folks in various ways stepped up to help. Not because they were trained to do it nor paid to do it. But because we’re people and people help each other. We take care of each other.

2020 and 2021 have been hard years, not in a small part because it feels like we’ve lost some (a lot?) of that willingness to subject ourselves to each other, to be in service.

Statement on SB 8

The 87th Legislature passed Senate Bill 8, the so-called “Texas Heartbeat Act”. I find myself in a torn state regarding this bill.

First, I sincerely believe in the sacredness of the whole human life—the “whole life movement” is a fair bucket that I fit into. On that front, reducing abortion is a good thing.

Second, that being said and in accordance with looking holistically at the whole life, Texas still supports capital punishment, will not expand Medicaid access, does not support working parents through family-leave, maternity/paternity policies, and is actively pushing COVID policies that are opposed to the common good. (Though, to be fair, they did expand Medicaid to new months from 60-days postpartum to a full six months in this session). SB 8 places restrictions on abortions without address any of the societal structures that promote abortion. The CDC has incomplete-yet-best-we-have data on abortions that detail the self-reported reasons women have sought an abortion. By restricting access to abortion without addressing the structure that puts women into difficult situations, we are increasing back-alley abortions.

Without breaching confidentiality, from my campus ministry days, I realize the fear, pressure, and panic that can occur with an unexpected pregnancy.

While I believe the world would be better without abortions, I want a world where children are celebrated, women are supported, men are responsible, those that need financial or material help get it—that’s a world where abortion makes a lot less sense. I reject the hypocrisy of those who fly a pro-life banner, yet reject attempts to create stronger societal structures to support humanity.

Lastly, I object to the enforcement mechanism in the bill. It is a novel idea—trying to provide enough cover to avoid the Supreme Court—where the State has no enforcement power. There’s no crime or criminal process. Only a civil process and the State or officers of the State are prohibited from executing it. This allows anyone to sue anyone as the way to enforce this. I think this is a dangerous can of worms.

If anything I’ve seen in the last couple of years is I do not trust nor want the general population of people to attempt to enforce things themselves. Between neighbors fighting neighbors over HOA rules to a few men chasing down a Black man and killing him because they thought he was up to no good, I do not foresee anything healthy, productive, or good to society coming about through this mechanism.

I hope efforts like “Pro-Life Whistleblowers” stop. I figure they have a lot of poor data after efforts like the TikTok creator who created an iOS shortcut to fill in random information.

I realize this position makes me too conservative for most of my non-church friends and makes me too liberal for a lot of my church friends. I share this primarily to present a different perspective than the general conservative or general liberal views that I’ve been seeing thus far.

Happy Birthday, O!

My eldest turns 12 years old today. I don’t feel like I’m old enough to be married almost 13 years with a 12-year-old, but here we are.

As she continues her path toward more independence, I find new joys in parenthood. As much fun as having my two-year-old wanting to play “tackle Daddy” for an hour straight where, as you can guess, I sit on the ground, then she runs and tackles me. Over and over and over. Having a 12-year-old where we sneak a stop at Starbucks for a coffee and a hot chocolate is a special experience too. Though, I sneak stops into Starbucks with my two-year-old, though she calls it Starbooks and I just get her an empty venti hot cup since her water cup fits perfectly inside of it.

I digress.

Happy birthday, O. 12 years ago today, you transformed a newlywed couple into a family. Thanks for keeping life interesting and for forgiving us for figuring everything out on you.

Juneteenth

As a white person, I’m so glad that Juneteenth is now a federal holiday. I want to address one of the only 14 members of the House (all GOP) who opposed it.

This is not at all replacing the Fourth of July. Not in the slightest. Juneteenth is one of the brighter moments in our history because it is when we celebrate that, as a country, we are able to correct a wrong. Slavery was deep-seeded. It was (wrongly) celebrated. It was the commercial backbone of half the country. Juneteenth is us celebrating that our country is an experiment, which means we must change direction when things aren’t right.

Yes, to celebrate this moment of correction demands us to remember and recall that for hundreds of years as colonies and as a country, we captured and enslaved hundreds of the thousands of people and shipped them to our shores. This same effort captured and enslaved around 12 million people. 12 MILLION! Not all went to the United States, but their labor absolutely contributed to our economic systems. We enslaved their children resulting in millions and millions of people enslaved in the “land of the free”.

As Marco puts it, slavery isn’t a dark moment in America, slavery was a dark era in America.

How can I celebrate the Fourth of July without acknowledging that our country isn’t perfect? It’s a sham if we pretend America’s democracy somehow insulates us from being wrong. By acknowledging the evil past and transformation away from it through the celebration of Juneteenth, it enhances the celebration of the Fourth of July that our country, founded on ideals not realized then and still not fully realized today, is able to become something better than we were founded, something better than enslaving people, something better than Jim Crow laws, something better than systematic racism.

The Fourth of July and Juneteenth are not in competition with each other. Juneteenth celebrates when, for the first time, the Fourth of July applied to enslaved people. The Fourth of July celebrates that we can have our Juneteenth moments when we’re open and honest about what’s wrong in our country because We The People are this country.

The 1776 Project or the 1836 Project—these attempts to pretend that America (or Texas) are great and glorious places beyond reproach is absolutely not American. By ignoring or whitewashing our history, we are preventing ourselves from critical examination of both what works in our country and what does not work in our country. Without that critical examination, we’ll never have future Juneteenth moments of correcting wrongs because we’ll be too ignorant to accept reality.