All posts by Javier Soegaard

The Culture of Catholic Blogs, or A Word of Thanks

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Fr. Thomas Rosica, a long-time PR guru for the Church in North America, now an aide for the Church in Rome, spoke candidly about the culture of discord and division often found on Catholic Blogs.

I pray (and believe) that such a culture has never been present here.  Even more, I pray that I have never contributed to it through any post of mine, or any ignorant statement made therein.

Most of all, I want to thank all the writers here and all those who have read the entries here on CatholicHow (although we’ve been dormant for a few months!).  I have always found your posts and comments to come from a place of joy and curiosity, rather than from fear or judgment.

As we move forward and reinvigorate this forum of prayer, thought, and discussion I encourage everyone involved, writers and reader alike, not only to maintain this Spirit here but also to encourage it in other fora where perhaps it is sadly absent.

Thanks again to all.  You’re all great, and I’m honored to journey towards the Kingdom with folks like you.

Sortarican Out.

Vatican PR aide warns Catholic blogs create ‘cesspool of hatred’


Leave Your Signs at Home: A Guide to Seeing the Pope

By Javier Soegaard

As we all know, this was the greatest week ever.  Pope Francis was here and the Mets clinched the NL East.

Like several of our writers and, I hope, many of you, I was able to catch a glimpse of the traveling Pontiff during his Apostolic Visit.  However, thanks to the thoroughness of the TSA and Secret Service, my group and I almost missed our brief opportunity to see him in Central Park, NYC.

The security process to enter the park was seemingly absurd.  Snaking back and forth along Central Park West for a total of 18 blocks, it took us well over 2.5 hours just to get into the park.  With each tiptoed step and each city block passed by, everyone in line grew more and more nervous that we would miss the Pope’s short drive through the park.

IMG_2420I was tired too, buddy.

4:00 became 4:30, 4:30 became 4:45, 4:45 became 5:00, 5:00 became 5:01, 5:02, 5:03 and ahh he’s going to be here soon and we’re still not in!!  Eventually it became 5:16 and I texted my mother: “About to go through the metal detector”.  The pope then drove by us around 5:25, much to our relief and elation.  It was unreal.


I’m still unsure, however, why it took so long to get through the line.  I’m not sure why the security staff jeopardized so many people’s single opportunity to see the Pope.  Just thinking about it and conversing about it in line was a maddening experience.  For all their hyper-sensitivity in the security process, though, there was one thing they nailed and I believe it made all the difference.

They didn’t let people bring signs in. Except this guy, of course.  He brought in a cardboard cutout of Francis.  But other than that.  No signs.IMG_2418

This may seem insignificant, as signs are, on the whole, not a major security risk.  Like mobile devices, however, signs are distractions.  Some are harmless distractions, saying things like “We love you Pope Francis,” but others come as part of the camps, agendas, or theological opinions that immediately set believers against each other–the kinds that make people claim Francis for their side over against another.

I don’t mean to suggest that people shouldn’t have strong opinions, and even less that they should keep those opinions to themselves.  However,  for a moment, when the Pope drove by, our hands were free of everything but rosaries and mobile phones.  For a moment we knew very little about one another:  we knew not whether we were pro-life or pro-choice, for or against traditional marriage, for or against the Latin Mass, for or against women’s ordination, for or against stricter immigration laws, for or against ecological reforms, Democrat or Republican, rich or poor, people with good handwriting or people like me.

All we knew was that this adorable and admirable man in white stirred something within us; he reminded us of a unity we had forgotten: the union we have in Christ Jesus as members of the human family and as member of His Church.

So if you ever go to see the Pope, think about leaving your signs at home.  Forget your pretenses and your arguments and your well-held positions.  Just go and see the man who will remind you of that deep and beautiful connection you have to others in Christ.  Then weep if you have to, or laugh.  But most of all pray for those strangers locked in the moment with you, and pray for him, that cute old man in white of whom the Lord asks so much.

Why I’m Excited to See Francis (…in New York…Today!!!)

Image Credit CNS via CruxNow

By Javier Soegaard

I get a lot of great emails from my brother. He always seems to find the best, most analytical articles on sports, politics, and entertainment. He sends great invites to Brooklyn Dance Parties and other things that people in Brooklyn do that we Bostonians don’t quite understand (we’re a simpler, sleepier folk).

The best email I’ve ever received from him, however, was a forwarded email from the City of New York.  It indicated he received two tickets to see Pope Francis’ procession through Central Park, and, more importantly, that he’d like me to attend with him!! I don’t remember which came first: My celebratory dance or my affirmative response back to him. Either way, I was brimming with joy then, and am even more excited now as the day draws nearer.

Continue reading Why I’m Excited to See Francis (…in New York…Today!!!)

Church or Coffee Shop: Thoughts on Space and Self-Reflection


By Javier Soegaard

Wow. Careers are the new religion I guess. (This text from a friend spurred the following reflection. Blame him if you disagree or if your time was wasted.)

I was sitting in a nifty coffee shop along the South Boston Waterfront, just steps from the chapel where I work. Between sending emails and reading the waning pages of GRRM’s A Dance with Dragons, I noticed a cozy group of peers about 12 feet away. They were seated on couches, drinking their fancy latte-things, but unlike most patrons, they were not hard at work on laptops, tablets, and/or smartphones.

Instead, their implements were construction paper and markers.

Continue reading Church or Coffee Shop: Thoughts on Space and Self-Reflection

The Catholic Wedding Liturgy: A Sprint Through the Sacrament?

Gang Like A Wedding

**While we’re talking a bit about annulments, it might be fun to talk a bit, as well, about weddings.**

I read an interesting graphic several years ago which noted the steady growth in “inter” marriages across young couples in the US. Differences of creed, race, and ethnicity no longer present the same obstacle to love and life-long commitment they once did. The only outlier in this category, unsurprisingly, was a deep decrease in inter-political marriages. Red and blue, it would seem, mix as well as water and oil. Continue reading The Catholic Wedding Liturgy: A Sprint Through the Sacrament?

A Late Night in Ireland – Strangers, Songs, and Something Greater

Inis Mor Pub

By Javier Soegaard

Inis Mór* is the largest of the three islands in Galway Bay called the Aran Islands. The islands are famous for their sweaters, a naturally formed rectangular pool, and for being just far enough out of the way.

I ventured to Ireland in the summer of 2012 on something of a spiritual adventure / college football pilgrimage (the two go hand in hand I promise…), eventually taking a ferry to Inis Mór for a day and a half. Wisely and unsurprisingly I made sure to book my room at a hostel with a pub (or was it a pub with a hostel?). After a long day of getting lost on hills and getting lost in prayer, I knew a Guinness would be a welcome comfort, so I headed back to my lodgings.

As travelers and pilgrims are wont to do, I made friendly with my hostel bunkmate, an Italian 20-something named Mateo. Between his forming English, my Spanish, and our mutual love for soccer we were able to have quite an enjoyable evening of conversation.

As later hours approached, revelation came bounding through the door in the form 10 boisterous Irish women, all of various ages. Instruments and music books in hand, they immediately asked the pub manager, “Ya mind if we have a bit of a session? We’re not terrible.” With the smallest, but surest of nods he went back to his business of minding to the wonderful balance of strangers and locals. Continue reading A Late Night in Ireland – Strangers, Songs, and Something Greater

O Antiphons, Day 2: O Adonai


By Javier Soegaard

Adonai is a name that seems to have fallen out of fashion. Whenever I hear it, I am generally hearing a mediocre sermon about different Hebrew names for God…that or I’m listening to a woefully bad praise & worship song.

As far as Hebrew names are concerned, people are much more mystified by the “I am who I am” name God reveals to Moses, a name so sacred that many refuse to utter it. In the world of pop-Christianity names like Sustainer, Holy Mystery, and Father-God have made some headway, each an indication that personal history and culture shape the experience of naming God.

However, today’s O Antiphon, “O Adonai” tells us something even more marvelous and more sociologically stunning. Its text reads:

O Adonai and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

 Imagine yourself for a moment as one the monks charged with writing these antiphons. Your friend Brother Jerome wrote a beautiful antiphon yesterday about Jesus as Sapientia, the Holy Wisdom of God. The annoying and over-achieving Brother Vincent has already shown you his antiphon for tomorrow, celebrating Jesus as Radix Jesse, the root of Jesse. Like Jerome and Vincent, you are in awe of the imagery of the Old Testament, captivated by the many ways Jesus is prefigured and spoken of; you want to share this fascination with your whole community. You want them enter into the richness of the history, the law, and the story of God’s unfailing mercy.

So how do you do it?

You use the language.

You don’t just pick a symbol or a concept. You choose the very word through which people have been praising God for thousands of years. You don’t translate it to Lord or God. You let them pray with a word Jesus himself would have used, a word that Mary would have used, that Moses, David, Isaiah, or one of the Twelve would have used. You don’t just tell them about the story, you remind them they are part of it.

As we come to the end of the Advent season and the beginning of Christmas, let us again give thanks that we are not just part of some ethical society or business fraternity.  We are part of a history, a family of faith not united by our blood but by our common prayer to the God who is our Savior, the helpless child in a manger who is our Adonai.

The Hardest Penance


By Javier Soegaard

I went to Reconciliation the other day. I went where I like to go. I went where a lot of Bostonians like to go. In line with me were folks who looked abandoned, folks who looked down on their luck, folks who looked like CEOs—nobody seemed to look the same.

This odd and oddly Catholic collection of folks was not surprising. This church is a place where the priests have really taken on a mission to be confessors and reconcilers. They find that perfect balance of silence and conversation—of listening and interpreting—that illuminates the sacramental nature of Reconciliation.

As the priest was sending me forth to pray this week; however, he did something I didn’t like. He gave me the hardest penance I’ve ever received.

He asked me to pray one Hail Mary.  JUST ONE.

One chance to begin rehabilitating my life and relationship with the Church. One instance of each word, and each phrase, and each movement in what is already a very short prayer. One chance to speak with Gabriel and with Elizabeth, one chance to pray for all those nearing their earthly end, one chance to contemplate my own coming-to-terms with mortality.

It was a task that truly brought me to my knees. Once I overcame the somewhat laughable (but somewhat sincere) superstition that permitted my heart to get all in a tiff, I nevertheless paused for a bit, hesitant to jump to right into this single instance of the Hail Mary.

So I knelt and asked why this might have been my lot, why one simple prayer might be a spiritually healthy exercise for me. After several moments of thinking too hard, wisdom prevailed. This priest wasn’t trying to turn me scrupulous or fearful, he was trying to unclutter my life and send me out into the world to live the Gospel.

Instead of encouraging me further into a life of clutter and confusion, he offered me the balm of simplicity. Pray this simple prayer, pray it once, pray it like you always pray it, then go and live.

This was truly the hardest penance I’ve ever received—not because my relationship to the Church hinged upon the saying of one Hail Mary, but because I was challenged to live a life simple prayer and constant reconciliation with all my brothers and sisters of good will.

Two Weddings and a Funeral: The Story of One Scripture Passage


By Javier Soegaard

If you go to any parish, you can find books which offer easy suggestions for Scripture readings to fit nicely with major events in your life. There are readings for graduations, ordinations, weddings, funerals, and any event you can really think of. Graduation readings have to do with promise and potential; ordination readings have to do with service and sacrifice. Wedding readings have to do with love and bliss; Funeral readings have to do with sorrow and comfort—or so I thought.

At three points over the summer, I heard the same section of John 15 proclaimed: twice at weddings, the third time at a funeral. While occasionally the length of the excerpt varied, each instance contained this marvelous section:

As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you (John 15: 9-12).

I was startled when the priest began to read this at the funeral. It had made perfect sense at the weddings—it was about love, joy, and intimate relationships. Why then did it seem strangely appropriate for a funeral as well? How could the same words speak so powerfully to such radically different situation?

Well that’s the funny thing about God’s Word, isn’t it? It permits no sort of tidy compartmentalization. Of all the pages it has longed to grace, it certainly never intended to be written for those (somewhat) helpful books which distinguish wedding readings from funeral readings, First Communion readings from Blessing of the Animals readings. Life is not some staccato collection of isolated events, even less so are the Scriptures.

Rather, the Scriptures talk about life in its fullness and complexity, in its grayness and constant preference for paradox rather than simplicity. They paint a picture of life where grace works amidst sin, the weak prevail against the strong, and the Lord of Life conquers through his own death.

It is a wisdom that emerges not in a flash, but from its method of composition: employing dozens upon dozens of writers over thousands of years, each building upon the work of the past and hoping for the good of future generations. It is a labor borne out of patience and the courage to discern God’s presence and salvation even in the most harrowing situations.

And so our expectations are challenged. Scripture recasts the black-and-white world where weddings are nothing but bliss and funerals naught but comfort. It reminds us that the message of God’s love in Christ—God’s desire for us to be with him now and always—transcends the boundaries erected by the norms of sentiment.

This does not mean Scripture asks us to be weepy during weddings or do jigs during funerals (although if you put a few Irish people in a room, you can never be sure what will happen). What it does remind us, however, is to be more patient and more critical with the way we let Scripture interpret our lives. God’s Word is always a comfort and a challenge. It allows for no piecemeal, cut-and-paste approach to its wisdom. Rather, it always invites us into the bigger narrative of God’s unending love for his creation and calls us, in our vocations, to be heralds of this tremendous message.

CatholicHow Author Featured on FaithND

This was originally posted at FaithND, which provides daily Gospel reflection from Notre Dame alumni.  Check it out and sign up if you’d like!

(Luke 6:12 -19)

**Jesus went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, and James, and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Simon, who was called the Zealot, and Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.**

I often fear for the children that my (non-existent) wife and I have not yet brought into this world. Children imitate their parents. They take on their mannerisms, their habits, and their language. This means I have a lot of cleaning up to do. It means I have to embark on my own journey of imitation—an imitation of Jesus.

This call to imitation, however, does not just apply to my future status as a parent, but as today’s Gospel indicates, to any and all vocations to ministry.

While it is tempting to focus on this “Choosing of the Twelve” scene as the pivotal moment in this Gospel passage, it might be more fruitful focus on the bracketing actions: Jesus praying and Jesus healing.

When we see the choosing of the Twelve in the light of Jesus praying and healing, we realize that Jesus is up to something far greater than simply selecting his followers. He is teaching them, giving them a model for their lives of ministry after he returns to the Father. Jesus’ actions in this Gospel are showing them that they must pray before they serve.

As Luke indicates (and Mark elsewhere), the healing and reconciliation of God’s people has a tangible, draining effect on Jesus: “Power came out from him.” Jesus knows the Twelve will not be exempt from this experience of being drained, nor will any who come after them (I envision a lot of heads nodding here).

Thus, when Jesus calls us to serve, whether as parents, priests, educators, or whatever—he calls to a life like his. He calls us to begin in prayer, to build a real and robust relationship with God. Only then can we bring healing—only then can we ourselves be worth imitating.

Javier Soegaard ‘10