Monday, May 11, 2015

done for a while

OK -- I just decided that I am done posting for a while. The school year is done, and I have a bit of a break. I will extend the break to blogging as well. I will be with my sister this week for her home visit. And then after next weekend, I will be a part of the Rome Experience again -- the summer program for seminarians that I have worked with for a number of years. This year, I get to go with them for their retreat at the beginning of the program in Ars, France. That is the parish of St. John Vianney, the patron of priests. And then to Rome. Of course, I am looking forward to this time. I serve as a confessor and spiritual director and anything else that I can do to help the director. It's a good gig! I will be back on June 5.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Go, St. Pius!

One of the deacons of our diocese, who oversees the bookkeeping at several parishes (that's something for a deacon to do -- but let's not get sidetracked!), was telling me of attending the 50th anniversary of his parochial school graduation. That got me to thinking of my own 8th grade graduation at which were told that this was our real alma mater, no matter how much more schooling we went on to have. I have to say that I agree in my case.

I graduated from the 8th grade at St. Pius X School in 1977. The years at St. Pius are more important in my life than any that have followed in any school, including seminary! Going to St. Pius is one of the things that unfit me for this world more than anything else. It was simple, simple, simple. It was a good school. It was Catholic to the core, and it helped that it had an authentic Catholic core! It was profoundly human, in the best sense of that word and with the limitations that it carries as well. It was poor, and it was inexpensive. It was diverse, not by social engineering but in reality. It is practically impossible to image such a place today.

I will be going back to St. Pius for some of these well as to Ashland City, to McCallie, to Holy Rosary, to McEwen, etc. What a wonderful mix!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015


I am liking this process of giving tribute where it is due, but it is harder than I thought. I am going to have to give myself more time not only for writing but for processing internally. Some of the most deserving tributes are just going to take a long time to capture. I have been beginning and then deleting a lot. Remembrance gets complicated. Of course, life and people are complicated. Worst of all, I am complicated. In writing these tributes, I am learning about myself in ways that I did not expect. It is a good and painful process of discovery. I see how much neglect of people there has been in my life. It is prompting me to make amends where I can. Thanks for listening.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Mr. Henderson/Fr. Christopher

I need to get back to the tributes to the people who have influenced my life in such kind and generous ways. I left off with my friend, Michael Tinkler. That got me to thinking about my time at McCallie, my high school alma mater in Chattanooga. You see, I was a boarding student there. But not a typical one. The Tinklers largely saw to that on the human side. I always had a home to go to, if I wanted. At school, I also had a very strong relationship with a teacher, whom I actually never had in class. Mr. Henderson had been tipped off by Fr. Morely, an Episcopal priest and his pastor who was a friend of my pastor, Fr. Conly (see above) and of my parents. Mr. Henderson sought me out from the start. I needed his mentorship because I was really uncomfortable in many ways leaving home as young as I was. I probably leaned on this relationship too much, but it was a real blessing. In one of those crazy twists of Providence, we have both gone on to be Catholic priests. Mr. Henderson of those days has been for a long time Fr. Christopher. He added some flair to my ordination in his Maronite vestments!

There is one story that captures his goodness to me and the good example he was as a mentor. In the spring of my freshman year, I was in a play at school. We were in the final days of rehearsals and so were practicing late. I was coming from the theater back to my dorm room when I ran into Mr. Henderson. It was unusual to see him on campus at that time because he lived off campus. But I did not think too much about it. I went on to my dorm, and in a few minutes I received a phone call from my father saying that my grandfather had died. This was back in the dark ages of pay phones in the hallway of the dorm so there was no privacy. I went back to my room, deeply distressed but with only noisy high school boys around who didn't know that anything was the matter. Just then, Mr. Henderson appeared. I was very relieved and comforted. I don't remember exactly what happened, but he got things worked out, and I was ready to leave when my sister came to pick me up the next morning. I received his kindness gratefully and took his presence totally for granted. It was only some time later that I realized why he had been on campus at all. My father must have called him when I could not be reached. He came over to campus. When he talked with me coming back from play practice, he realized that I did not yet know the news so he waited around until he was needed, never letting on about anything. Need I say more?

Monday, April 27, 2015

the end always comes as a surprise

It dawned on me last night after the 9 p.m. Mass that the students will be leaving. The year is coming to an end. Of course, I can read a calendar, but I mean knowing it in my gut. They won't be around pretty soon. I will miss them. The end always comes as a surprise, I think, because I don't want to face it. I think it will always be this way for me. I will probably be surprised by death.

One of the perfections of God that I most long for is His immutability. I can't wait to be beyond change. My friend the Cranky Professor, who is an early medievalist, loves to quote for me the beginning of St. Gregory of Tours' History of the Franks: "A great many things just keep happening." Amen, brother!

In the mean time...let's get ready for next year.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Going out with a bang!

Today will be quite a happy Sunday! Confessions and Mass in the parish, a talk at 3 to Get Married, Mass at Belmont, and a holy hour and Mass at Vanderbilt! But it's the last Sunday for the semester. Can you believe that?

So pray for a good end to the school year. Pray for me to be a faithful servant today. And, if you can, pray for a little more help for next year ;-)

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A lovely idea

"I mean about Christmas and the star and the three kings and the ox and the ass."

"Oh yes, I believe that. It's a lovely idea."

"But you can't believe things because they're a lovely idea."

"But I do. That's how I believe."

This is a quotation from Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. Charles is asking Sebastian about whether he actually believes his Catholic faith, and this is how Sebastian replies. Although it seems superficial at first glance, I would argue that this is a good reason to believe. Catholicism is indeed a "lovely idea." It is beautiful, and it is true. I do not mean here in an abstract sense, but as we actually encounter things.

I am reminded of the conversion story of a parishioner from Tennessee Ridge. Michiko was a little girl in Japan at the end of the Second World War. She was being raised by her grandparents. Her mother worked some distance away and would come to visit when she could. One time, she told Michiko a story "about Christmas and the star and the three kings and the ox and the ass." Where her mother had run across this story, I don't know. At the time, Michiko received it as any other bed time story. But years later as she was walking home from school, she passed a Catholic Church -- she was from the island where St. Francis Xavier had first landed in Japan -- and saw a nativity scene in front of the church. She remembered the story that her mother had told her years before. The pastor, an old Irishman, was outside and saw her interest...You can guess the rest of Michiko's story.

It was the story of the Incarnation, not the proof of it, that converted Michiko. It is indeed lovely. And it is an idea. Such a crazy idea that only a story can really do it justice and make it true: the Word became flesh.

I think that we have forgotten just how lovely is the story of Jesus Christ. It really is a lovely idea, in a world of very unlovely ones.