Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Olivia Newton--John Paul II on the theology of "Let's Get Physical"

It has been about a year since my wife put the idea out there to consider getting the "Total Gym" workout machine. After a chance infomercial with Chuck Norris a few months ago, the craigslist search began, and lo and behold, not only did we get a deal, but I found myself actually using it! During one of the first sessions of trying it out, I thought I'd turn on the "Music Source" channel on the television. Rather than "sweatin to the oldies", I thought I'd reminisce with some of the songs of my era--the 80s. (Generally speaking....bad idea). Second song in, and Olivia Newton John's "Let's Get Physical" comes across the soundwaves. Great song for a workout right? After all, wasn't it about exercising in the gym? Not. In 1981, I was just approaching the age of double digits when this song topped the charts, so it is fair to say that it's message went "over my head." Unfortunately, however, music videos were now on their way, and vague memories of this video in my teen years flashed before my eyes. (This is one of those times to thank God for such "vagueness" or "loss" of memory).

I also had just listened to a talk by Fulton Sheen who spoke about what he called the "Apostolate of Beauty." He gave advice to a beautiful young woman (he said matter of factly that celibacy doesn't make priests blind) to use God's gift of beauty in service to others. She did, and took his suggestion to work at a place where few people get to see beauty, a leper colony in Vietnam.

Now take the person of Olivia Newton John and her use of beauty. It was obviously more than the beat that made "Let's Get Physical" the number one song for 10 weeks in a row and the most successul song on the Hot 100 during the entire decade of the 1980s. Her song, like so many after her, have become an unchained melody of lust generators of which it's hard to see an end in our own day. But just as all error is the absence of truth, (as darkness is the absence of light), there is some light at the end of this tunnel to help us "renew our minds" (as the great passage in Romans 12:2 states). For just as "Let's Get Physical" was breaking the hit charts in the early 80s, chanting "let me hear your body talk, your body talk," light was being shed upon true body talk, from a man in Rome. Through a series of lectures about what "being physical" really means, and how ideed, "the body talks" -- that it has a language too, Pope John Paul II was giving to the world the first major teachings of his pontificate. In what has now become known as the "theology of the body", the world has been given a teaching for our times, what George Weigel has described as a "kind of theological time bomb set to go off with dramatic consequences, sometime in the third millennium of the Church." Well, I hope it "explodes" sooner. Why? Because the Lord himself said that one of the conditions to "see God" is to be pure in heart (Matthew 5:8). And with the level of impurity around us, both inside and out, is it a surprise that we are in a period of great agnosticism and even outright atheism? Is it that hard to make a link between those who boldly say they "don't believe" (and all that such an expression entails) with those who are in the midst of impure "body talk"? I don't think it's a stretch. Judge lightly here, but take an inventory of the lives of those who claim to disbelieve or ignore the teachings of the Church (or look back at the times in our own lives when we've "doubted") and see if this might not be at the root. Impurity puts cataracts in our spiritual vision. (As a test, see how clear minded you seem to be after a sincere Confession). It causes us to "lie down" (an ironic play on words) and settle for less-than-human intimacy, or, as Newton John puts it later in her song, to get "animal". Well, God has laid out the surgical tools through the teaching of Pope John Paul II. We but have to undergo the surgery necessary to "renew our mind" through prayer and study. (One such teaser, "Have you ever once thought of the marital act as imaging the self-donating love of the Trinity?" Yet that is what it is.) Such reflections may be the beginning of a "total gym workout" we didn't expect, but it promises both a temporal and eternal fitness that is sure to "get results." Here are some links to sites from trainers much more "fit" than I to help get started.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Coincidence: When God Chooses to Remain Anonymous

The following is a case of one of those hundreds of life stories and happenings, when a mere coincidence seems to be "something more" than mere coincidence. (The older I get, the more I understand why God focused at least one commandment on "remembering"). Here's where this memory starts. My last blog mentioned Fr. Leo Patalinghug, the priest-chef and his ministry and website "Grace Before Meals." My wife went online, printed off one of his family recipes, and started her great cook-off for our own family meal on a Saturday night. In the meantime, we headed off for our monthly check-up, our "first Saturday" trek to Confession. (I shouldn't really say "trek".... as the Church is located across the street). The regular priest was out of town, so a missionary priest was going to be there hearing confessions. (Why do I like it when that happens?) When we walked into Church, the confessional "light" was on, so, after a little extra "examination" and prep, I went on in first and knelt down. Silence. "In the name of the Father and of the Son...." Silence. "Bless me Father for I have....." Still silence. "It has been..." The silence was "too loud" to bear. "Father?"........... "Father.....are you there?" I pulled back the confessional "veil" and lo and behold, the only trinitarian presence in the confessional booth was "me, myself and I." When I walked out, I got a grin from one of the mothers who had been in Church before we got there, and who knew that the confessional was empty. Offering a slightly embarrassed smile back to her, I chalked this up to another meritourious moment in time to add to the bank of humility.
Rather than leave it at that, however, I walked on over to the rectory and rang the door bell. Within a few seconds, there he was at the door, Fr. Alex Vadakumthala (as I would come to find out later). Apologetically, he said he would be over in a few minutes; he had just arrived from India, via Frankfurt, via Chicago, via St. Louis, via Flint Hill, MO and St. Theodore's Church. (O.k, we'll let the excuse slide this time:-).
Well, glory be to God, we all got to confession. But here's where providence seemed to pull back another veil, as he occasionaly does for us. First, after my confession, without highlighting anything I had specified in the confession, Father prayed for a specific virtue / intention that I had been petitioning the Lord with over the past few days. Kind of interesting. Second, later on that evening, after following a prompting to make a special visit to a new neighbor across the yard (even though I didn't really "feel like it"), from my new vantage point, I was able to see Fr. Alex walking down the street. Hmmm. Earlier, Lynette had mentioned something about a meal for him, which I had dismissed with something to the effect, "they've got that covered at the parish, I'm sure." Well, with this other conversation coming to a close, I left and went over to Fr. Alex, invited him to the house for dinner, and sure, enough, a few minutes later we were having a conversation and found our way to the wall map (see picture above) tracking down the geography of Father's homeland. Third, in the midst of our dinner dialogue, I was asking him about all things "India." (He was a missionary priest, trying to raise funds for Medical Missions and the building of hospitals and the like in India). When I asked him about what the main meals are in India, he said, "rice and curry." And guess what "still warm" leftovers we were able to present to our special guest that evening? None other than Fr. Leo's family recipe of chicken with, go figure, "rice and curry".

We had a delightful visit (including a "gotta take a picture of this" snapshot moment as two of our "on loan" parakeets from vacationing friends both landed on his arm at the same time). The night ended with a prayer and a his priestly blessing on our family. After he left, we did our usual Saturday night "read the Gospel reading three times" family prayer time. For this Sunday, (19th Sunday in OT Year C), the readings were none other than being prepared for a guest to come knocking. I'd like to think that this knock was certainly more than a "coincidence" which, as someone once defined, "when God merely chooses to remain anonymous."

(P.S. Father's mission website is

Friday, August 6, 2010

Grace Before Meals

When the family was visiting a priest friend in Arkansas last month, we spent some time looking at a few photo albums of his. In one of the albums, my wife and I noticed a photo of a priest friend of his, (they studied in Rome together) who we just read about in the Summer 2010 edition of Faith and Family Magazine. His name is Fr. Leo Patalinghug. He recently gained notoriety on the Food Network for beating chef Bobby Flay in a cook-off. Fr. Leo has magnified in his own life, what we're all supposed to be doing in ours, using our God-given "talents" (both natural and divine) for the kingdom.
An article in the Arkansas Catholic wrote: "What I try to do is have parish missions that bring families together," Father Patalinghug said. "Do we have something for the whole family? We call it the Mass, but we have something extra ... it's food. "In the fast-food mentality, we need to spend time with the people we love. ... If we would be more like Jesus and feed people, even if they're our enemies, it's a sign of love," he said.
Patalinghug has appeared on the Food Network's "Throwdown with Bobby Flay," "ABC World News with Charles Gibson" and "Fox & Friends Weekend."
More recently, the Feb. 5 online edition of Psychology Today referenced a study by The National Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University that proved Father Patalinghug is onto something big. The study found that the number one factor against an increase in addictions and substance abuse was a regular family meal. A decade earlier, a Cornell University study made a similar discovery."

Given the charism of the IHM parish here in New Melle, Fr. Leo would be a great witness to echo what Fr. Stoltz is always reminding us about, of the importance of meals together as a family. Here is a link to Fr. Leo's website "Grace Before Meals." And here is a link to a clip that I just came across today (which prompted this blog) regarding Fr. Leo's recent appearance on the 700 club. Who knows? Maybe he might find his way out to our parish some day.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Praying with our Children: He who sings prays twice

In the midst of the delightful "battle of prayer" as the Catechism so deems it, I've always enjoyed the line, that in regards to praying with our children, parents are called to "mediate" not "meditate." Let me say that in a different way. Parents must be the pillars for family "mediation" and let go of any hopes of personal "meditation." If you're a parent who has children, and who tries to pray with them each evening, you not only know what I mean, you probably just laughed out loud at that last line. My wife and I have had some, how shall we say, "interesting" moments in time with "family prayer." They echo the pledge of our vows, "in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health"......(new emphasis) till leaving home do they part." Rather than speak about some of the battle wounds we've experienced, for now, let me just offer one little victory anecdote that I think has literally, "struck a cord" in this ongoing struggle. It is singing together.

I know it's simple, but St. Augustine's words, "He who sings, prays twice" seem to be the most successful "method" of prayer thus far in the Mueller family, or at least the one that pretty much guarantees a bigger smile and a lighter heart for all of us. Like the emphasis of the Vatican II document which exhorted the faithful to that "full, conscious and active participation" required in the Mass, singing together at home has brought about the "active participation" that this "parental magisterium" has hoped for.

On a practical note, I scoured four or five different hymnals that I had gathered over the years (keep an eye out at the parish when it's "new hymnal time" so you can get your freebie old one). I thought about some of the chants that my wife and I have heard over the years, from "Veni Sancte Spiritus" to the "Eight-fold Alleluia" . I looked up a few more things online, tried to be prudent about what would "work" practically, and created a five-fold Mueller manual / binder of our own personal "top twenty." While not all of us are known to carry a tune in a bucket, at least we're doing it together---to God be the glory, as we're singing in the "reign". And while this prayer form may not be one of meditation, it is one form of mediation that, as parents, we've certainly enjoyed.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Untold Stories of the Last Three Popes

This past week I listened to one of the new "Lighthouse Catholic Media" CDs. (Many parishes have a Lighthouse CD "rack" in the back of their parish church.) It is called the "Untold Stories of the Last Three Popes." Listen online here. Given by Bishop John Magee, the private secretary for Pope Paul VI, John Paul I and John Paul II. Wow! What an inspirational and insightful testimony to the character of these three "Holy Fathers". I really enjoyed hearing the stories about Pope Paul VI, who we often don't hear about, apart from his connection with the encyclial Humane Vitae.

The CD caught my eye, because about a month ago, I was privileged to watch an interview of Bishop John Magee with Jerry Coniker, from the Apostolate for Family Consecration. This was quite interesting to watch, as it focused on the untold stories of the interior life of Pope John Paul II. The description of the video below says it well:

Spirit of John Paul II: Stories of His Interior Life (DVD)
What you will see and hear on this timeless 90-minute treasure will give you a much deeper understanding of the life of John Paul II--from the intimacy of his private apartments to the silence of the conclave. Witness exclusive interviews with the people closest to him:
· His former private secretary, Bishop John Magee, shares "never told before" stories about the providential circumstances surrounding John Paul II's election to the papacy, as well as the assassination attempt on his life.
· Cardinal Jaime Sin, a close friend of Pope John Paul II, was sitting next to the future Pope during the conclave. In this exclusive interview, learn about Pope John Paul's reaction during the incredible moments immediately following his being selected by the cardinal electors--an election which changed the course of history as Pope John Paul II launched out on his remarkable pontificate. This account is awesome and moving.
In this fascinating program, you will also learn more about Pope John Paul II’s captivating relationship with the youth, and his total commitment to Jesus Christ and to the entire human family. You will also view rarely seen actual footage of Pope John Paul II himself.

The "Spirit of John Paul II: Stories of His Interior Life" will certainly help you to more deeply comprehend and appreciate the life and legacy of this great Pope and prophet for our times!
Simply amazing details and truly "untold stories" granted here as well.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Twelve Ways to Know God

Twelve Ways to Know God

One of my favorite writers is Dr. Peter Kreeft, professor at Boston College and author of who- knows-how-many books. He is a Catholic C.S. Lewis; a faithful, logical, witty, humble and sincere man. In an age that is tempted to believe that "science" (empirical science, that is) is the only avenue to what is "real"--his writings are a breath of fresh air. The Goliath of science is put in its proper place through the stones of faith from this modern David. Here's a sampling of an article of his called Twelve Ways to Know God. I adapted them slightly and put them in a memory aid for easier recall. When we wonder how one gets to know God, here's some good reasons to keep in mind.

A Memory Aid of how to come to Know / Experience God

At the heart and center of coming to know and experience God is Jesus Christ: “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9) If we want to know what God is like, how He relates to us, what He thinks of us, etc., the simple answer is look at the life of Christ. As the argument goes, He is either who He said He is (Lord), He was a lying fool (Liar), or He was a crazy man (Lunatic). The image at the left (the facial image of the Shroud of Turin--the supposed burial cloth of Christ) is fitting to post here, as this really helps us see "what God is like, how He relates to us, what He thinks of us, etc."

Here are twelve other ways to ponder under the double acronym of

(The first part highlights the "natural" aspects of our "SEARCH" for God. The second part highlights the "super-natural" aspects of God's SEARCH for man.

S Serving others. In tape 1 of Archbishop Fulton Sheen's Famous Audio Series (the Philosophy of Life, he gave the time-tested advice. "If you want to find God, find your neighbor." One must "act" their way into knowing and loving God, through knowing and loving their neighbor.
Experience (Ponder all the life experiences of personal and collective history. As Pope Leo XIII said, "All history in a way shouts out that it is God whose providence governs the varied and continual changes of mortal affairs.")
A Arts (Music, Architecture, Paintings, etc. Coming to know God through the goodness and beauty reflected in these) There is an Artist behind the art.
R Reason (reflection, logic, philosophy, the order of the mind shares in the divine mind. There is an Intelligence behind the intelligence.
C Conscience (the voice of God in the sanctuary of his dwelling). There is a Lawgiver, behind the law.
H Holy people (Saints are windows into God’s presence among men).


S Scripture Reading/Study (Privileged record of God’s Words and Deeds)

E Eucharistic Communion and Adoration (Spiritual Interior "Radiation" in Heart and mind)
A Apparitions (Historical Miraculous occurences (often through Mary, Queen of the Prophets) highlighting God's plan for man--i.e Fatima, Lourdes, Kibeho)
R Revelations given through saints and mystics to promote or expound God's plan for man (i.e. St. Margaret Mary and Sacred Heart)
C Catholic Teaching (embodied in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: faithfully records and expounds the meanings of Scripture and Tradition)
H Holy Spirit Prayer and Inspiration (All those other wordly-this-couldn't-have-come-from-me “promptings” and “coincidences” in thought and experience.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Get the facts....then decide for yourself.

This was imprinted on a series of cassette tapes I heard back in the early 90s. It was one of those write-down-on-an-index-card, "words of wisdom" that has become part of my life thinking. Echoing a friend of a friend's slapstick comments to "get to know"-- it's verbiage is now entrenched, and thus seemed to be a good title for a blog. Isn't this at the heart of what blogging is about anyway, "getting to know"?

Even in these our times of "information overloard", it can still be hard to "get to know". Just look at how many diverging views there are in the things that really matter. Then you take a look in the mirror of our own fallen nature and conclude: if we can't even trust our own ability at times to remain objective in the things that really matter to ourselves, then how about when dealing with the so-called "facts" or opinions that are presented before us by others?

Bottom line, life's decisions are about trust; trusting in the word of another. Who do I trust? I mean, really? Whose word do you trust...for the important stuff? In this valley of tears and contradictions, there's only one Word that I think can stand. And fortunately for us, that Word became flesh. And even better, we still have access to this Word in more ways than we might realize.

Getting to know involves others, thus the 2 in the get2know. The 2 stands for all those others on the journey who help us to become, as a contemporary "magi /wise man" Matthew Kelly states, "the best version of ourselves".

In a world which often looks out for # 1, I hope I can help be a part of a growing group of "number 2s" who are willing to share some of the wisdom and "info" that comes our way, and thus help others to strive for the only goal that "eternally matters." Thus, I can think of no better fitting article to start than one that comments on both "2" and "eternity", The Tale of 2 Churches.

(The first official blog---written on the day when Neil Armstrong said those famous words, "One small step for man, one big step for mankind." In my case, dealing with technological stuff, "One small step for the Lord, one big step for Shawn" :-D