Saturday, March 30, 2013

Generation Y

Throughout Lent, I really tried to work on humility. I reflected a lot on making sure that I wasn't being overly willful or taking too much pride in my accomplishments (few as they may be). And then a devoted purveyor of my blog writes in a request topic. Suddenly, I feel like a real blogger.

So, thanks for the ego boost, Scoon. Here is your requested post topic!

To begin, I was directed to this article. 3-mistakes-we-make-leading-kids. It's from a blog by a chap named Tim Elmore, who writes about development and stuff. If you're lazy like me, you probably didn't even take the time to click the link; so I'll summarize, you lazy poop. Elmore points out that society is raising an entire generation of humans that can't do anything for themselves. His first insight gives a fresh look into risk-taking versus risk-aversion, measured as a psychological impediment to development. The rest of the the article falls into the same anecdotal theme that I'm sure we've all heard: Helicopter parent syndrome leading to inept young adults. My essay today, however, is not to criticize modern upbringing techniques, or a nostalgic look at the days that children could play all day unsupervised. Although I do agree wholeheartedly with those notions. I want to speak to those that have been developmentally stunted by the shortcoming of their parents.

Namely, Everyone.

Nobody's parents did a perfect job. Even my mom, from time to time, will admit that she may have had a few missteps along the way. I, of course, wholeheartedly disagree with her every time. I digress. I began to think about another author, Thomas Moore. He wrote a wonderful book called Care of the Soul. Please don't think I'm pointing you to a new-age self help book. This read is a truly introspective journey pulling thought from some of the greatest thinkers in history. And Moore writes beautifully. Enough plugging, back to the point. To take a lesson from Moore's book, the damage has already been done. The people who have been screwed up by the "everyone gets a trophy" school of parenting are now adults. There's no fixing this by looking backwards. The real snare here is that it is so hard to break out of a reality that one has been conditioned to see. To go back to Elmore, these particular people don't just have a set of bad habits, they are psychologically and (dare I say it?!) spiritually damaged. This, however, isn't the territory of the psychologist. In my humble unprofessional opinion, psychologists real power is to help people who are sick, as a doctor would. To further this analogy, I don't need to see a cardiologist if I am out of breath after walking up a flight of steps. I need to get me ass to the gym, or hire a trainer. In this way, a psychologist can't help shift someone's worldview, particularly someone who is perfectly psychologically healthy. This is the realm of the philosopher or theologist. When you boil down pure ethical philosophy, it distills into the question, "What does it mean to be a complete person?" People will always struggle to be happy and find purpose until they ask that question. 

So what is the answer? The most popular answer is to get people to start raising their kids differently. Good luck with that. People receive parenting tips about as well as I receive a balloon from a clown. (Have I blogged about clowns yet? This seems a grievous oversight on my part.) Particularly when you tell people that they should take less care of their kids. And, as I used Moore to demonstrate earlier, we all have something that is a little messed up inside based on our childhood experiences. The answer then is to remove the plank from our own eye, before worrying about the splinter in our neighbor's. Let's ask the question, "Am I enabling others to grow and become their own full person, or am I enabling others to continue down the road of dependency and self-doubt?" or, "Am I myself avoiding the challenges in life, because mediocrity is safer?" or even, "Am I allowing someone else or something else to dictate who I am; or am I blaming that for keeping me from achieving happiness or fulfillment?" We are now coming into spring, a time of renewal and fresh beginnings. I don't know about you, but I am going to be setting some time aside this week to look into those questions.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


I received an email chain asking everyone to pray the Rosary on Good Friday between 12 and 3pm. And I though I'd include some helpful instructions and ask you to pray too:

Or you can say it interactively on-line.

Have a great Holy Week and Happy Easter.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Authenticity and St Patrick's Day

I had to do a little reflecting before I felt I could speak clearly about this. I truly feel that after Valentine's Day, St Paddy's Day may be one of the most contrived of all the holidays. The term I was introduced to many years ago was "plastic Irish". This refers to all the cheesiness that accompanies those that express their "Irishness" once a year. The obvious allusion is to the cheap, New Years Eve or Mardi Gras style, throw away, gear that people are so quick to don: tiny green bowler hats, Kiss me I'm Irish shirts (or some offensive derivative), green beer, orange beards, rub-on Notre Dame mascot tattoos... in the same sense, it refers to the Irish-American music from the 40s and 50s. You know them: When Irish Eyes are Smiling, Toora Loora, pretty much anything by Bing Crosby.

Don't get me wrong. I freaking love Saint Patrick's Day. And I love being of Irish decent. My problem is that the commercialized treatment of the holiday does get a little old. I'm not even talking about the stereotypes of the holiday, like over-drinking and general debauchery. I'm talking about turning a real people into comic strip characters. There is a thin line between laughing with someone and laughing at them. The Irish have never been a people who were afraid to poke fun at themselves. The problem lies in the struggle of the Irish in America for acceptance. The cartoon-like images of the Irish people as leprechauns or drunken brawlers or Papist sheep tend to dehumanize the popular view of them. There is a danger in taking away even a bit of another person's humanity. These type of jokes have a dark history in America. Our modern images are not as funny when we look at their origins.

Needless to say, these portrayals weren't meant to be whimsical or good natured. Imagine these images planted firmly underneath a "No Irish Need Apply" sign. When you've truly educated yourself on what it means to understand a people, or the background behind a "tradition", you start to see them in a different light. Sadly, most of these insensitivities are perpetuated by Irish-Americans themselves. I think if any were to dig deep and see the simmering hate, hidden in jokes and comics, that this country felt for Irish immigrants, they would soon feel like they are Al Jolson in black face.

Ireland is a place with a rich and extremely interesting history. Irish-American history is even more fascinating. The culture, music, literature and (dare I say?) cuisine are distinct and deep and rewarding. So what is left if we take away all the inauthentic Irishness of the day? I would reflect on my St Patrick's Day weekend to answer that. A special Irish Mass, marching in a Parade with proud Irish-Americans (particularly a congressman and a lieutenant governor), eating traditional Irish food, and listening to music that would be recognizable to someone actually from Ireland (some of it even in Gaelic!), was how I felt I was authentically celebrating being Irish and celebrating the feast day of the man that has so much to do with making Ireland so distinctly Irish.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Habemus Papam

I am a big enough man to admit that my prediction was wrong. Malachy did predict that this pope would come in during turbulent times for the church - I don't think I need to go into detail here. He also said that this pope will "pasture his sheep". Cardinal Bergoglio has been a huge proponent of the care of the poor and I'm sure will continue to be, as he took the name Francis. But sorry, Malachy, I can't find anything that makes me think he could be "Peter the Roman", although I'm sure there are already conspiracy theory types and apologists hatching explanations to explain how this still fits into the papal prophecy. But back to the more important item. Habemus Papam! We have a Pope! I think the popular assumption has been that this pope's name is reflective of St Francis of Assisi. It has also been said that the pope's chosen name has shaped his papacy. I would like to take a minute to explore the possibilities of what the name Francis could inspire.

Oh boy, that's a lot of sheep.
Francis began an order that was inherently tied to poverty; not only helping the poor, but eschewing any type of comfort or physical goods. There is not an unattachment to the physical world, in the Buddhist sense. Francis loved the world and everything in it, and saw it as God present in everything. This is the rejection of ownership or possession. I pray that this will guide Pope Francis to delivering a message of returning to what is important. To start viewing the world as a place full of people and life and experiences and not full of things and conquests. I almost feel I don't need to say it, but this Pope will obviously be very involved with increasing awareness of the poor and workers' rights, also.

St Francis was also given the task by God to rebuild his Church. Francis was a great reformer and attacked much of the opulence and corruption that was rampant in the Church at that time. This is also a time where the hierarchy has started to believe that they are higher than God's law. The responsibility of protecting the Church is a heavy one and it is understandable how one can get misled to into thinking that protecting it from liability and scandal can outweigh protecting its individual members. Pope Francis will be called to refocus the leadership to care for the faithful and return those who have fallen to the path of righteousness.

St Francis was also a great lover of nature. I don't think it is too much of a stretch to think that Pope Francis will press a message of conservation and respect for the environment.

While I think it is safe to say that Francis of Assisi is the most famous Francis, there is another one tied very closely to our new pope. St Francis Borgia was the second most important Jesuit after St Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the order. One of the most interesting facts about this Francis is that he was a Duke and gave up all his rights to royal title in Spain to serve God. He is almost single handedly responsible for growing the Society of Jesus all over Spain and Portugal. It is a fitting name for the new pope, since he is a Jesuit and entering a time when the church needs to be defended. The Jesuits have always been known as the great defenders of the faith.

The most powerful image appears when you combine both of these saints and see the common theme. Both men gave up money, power and prestige to follow Christ. I think this name reflects the humility and dedication that Pope Francis will bring to his office. The very instant I heard his name for the first time, my heart was in my throat. This was a purely spontaneous reaction before I even considered the ramifications of what that name would entail. It is a name that inspires hope and reminds us of the best parts of the Catholic Church.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


As probably everyone knows, the Cardinals are currently in the Vatican trying to decide which one of them will be the new Pope. Despite a concerted effort from friends and family to have me considered for the position, I was not invited. That aside, I have only been concentrating on one thing.

This guy: St. Malachy

Made this prediction:

In the final persecution of the Holy Roman Church there will reign Peter the Roman, who will feed his flock amid many tribulations, after which the seven-hilled city will be destroyed and the dreadful Judge will judge the people. The End.”

Which is making me a little nervous, because one of the contenders is this guy: Cardinal Peter Erdo

File:IMG 4094s2.JPG
Go ahead, back sass me again!
I was doing a little light reading and found out that this is the very same guy that wrote exhaustively about how the Catholic Church should evangelize and spiritually relate to the "Gypsies" in Hungary. Calling them gypsies is a sort of nickname and not politically correct. They are actually called Roma. I don't think it's too much of a stretch to see the end-around St. Malachy is running here. The man who advocated for the Romani could certainly be seen as representing them, thus... Peter the Roman!! So I am making my Papal prediction right here. I am basing it solely on a thousand year old prophecy by an Irish saint. 

Peter Erdo For Pope
Let the Prophecy Be Fulfilled!

Too melodramatic?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


So I had a migraine yesterday. I've had them before, but never on this scale. Seriously, if I could've gotten out of bed, I would have killed myself. If you've never had one before, here's my best description: Try to remember the worst hangover you've ever had, like you should've gone to the hospital for alcohol poisoning hangover. Now combine that with a 7-11 super-size slurpy brain freeze. Now multiply that by 3000. Now add the visual field you get right before you pass out, basically blurry and no peripheral vision, like looking through a dirty telescope. Now subtract your will to live. I'm pretty sure that if that is a glimpse into hell, everyone that has ever had a migraine would be making sure right now that they are right with the Lord.

Speaking of, I had the pleasure of attending a Catholic men's conference over the weekend, called Man Up Philly. The speakers were incredible. While it was obviously geared toward Catholic men, the underlying message would have inspired everyone, from protestants to secular humanists. The part I wanted to distill and share with you was that these men were so passionate, so involved with their lives. So many of us care so much about what is going on around us that we forget to look inside. I think you can get that kind of introspection from many sources. This conference obviously referred to the Bible a lot. They also talked about Augustine and Aquinas and John Paul II, who were not just great theologians, but great philosophers in their own right. And there are other places too, like Plato and Aristotle, Immanuel Kant, the list goes on and on. Some people refer to this group of thinkers as moral philosophers. They tended to care about human beings more than where the world came from, or the meaning of words. They specifically cared about what it meant to be a good person. I italicized that to show that I wasn't talking about good as a person who follows rules or stays out of trouble. I mean good in the way we have a good car or a good power tool. Essentially, it does what it's supposed to. But isn't that the big question... what are we supposed to do? Aristotle said that the definition of a human is an animal that is rational, so the more we think logically, the more we come to the purest definition of a human. The Bible says we were created in the image and likeness of God, so we should be as much like God as possible. Sartre says that every action that we undertake is our example for how we think everyone else in the world should act. Kant says that we should treat everyone as an end in themselves and not as a mean, and that we should allow everyone to be their own rational agent. 

The common theme here? You first have to give a rat's ass about being a good person. I firmly believe that it takes effort and practice to be good at anything. I know, because there are a bunch of things I'm not good at, because I never practice: guitar, a second language, dancing, running long distances, the list goes on and on and on. I never understood how people think they can be good at life if they never practice the basics. No one would ever think they could just walk onto a football field, strap on a helmet and think they would be the next Walter Payton. Perhaps the difference is that we're thrown onto the field and not given a choice whether we want to play or not. Sadly, life also does not come with helmets and shoulder pads. There also isn't a single football player out there who would dare to show up to the first day of camp without having the entire playbook memorized. To continue the analogy, each team has its own play book and each play book has just as much chance of being the successful one at the beginning of the season. It all depends on how the plays are implemented and how the team responds to the plays and coaching. We have playbooks all around us. The Bible, Nicomachean Ethics, the Categorical Imperative, Existentialism is a Humanism, the Suttas of the Buddha. Ignoring these is what has lead us to a place where marriages don't work, people need prescription drugs to be happy, the environment is being destroyed, and where self-victimization is the new self-actualization. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

Squashed Philosophers

I wanted to give a shout out to one of my favorite websites of all time, Squashed Philosophers. A professor by the name of Glyn Hughes has spent time "squashing" down gigantic piles of text into something that can be read in under an hour usually. I was at first skeptical, until I started reading them. Now there are some philosophical texts that I have enjoyed reading due to the style of the author or the beauty of the mastery of the topic. As for the rest, I'm mad that I wasted my time reading the whole thing, when you can pretty much get everything important out of them in these abbreviated versions. Seriously, you can have the knowledge equivalent of a masters in philosophy after a month of diligent reading. I imagine that most people who are logicians or actual practitioners of philosophy would need to read the "unabridged" version. Seriously though, if are not an academic, you can't go wrong. I haven't visited in a while, and I'm shocked at the breadth of the work he has captured on there. My only warning is that it may be a gateway that could lead to hardcore philosophy use, and you may sound particularly douchey at your next party. I think it's worth the risk.