Friday, December 19, 2014

A Melancholic in Advent

I suspect one of the reasons that I am so fond of Advent and of trying to keep it in the old-fashioned, somber way is temperamental on my part. You see, I am a melancholic (I think), and I need a somber prelude to the joy of Christmas. Maybe other people are joyful all the time, but I have this somber stuff to deal with in my life. If it is joy all the time, what are we melancholics supposed to do with all that stuff?

On Tuesday evening, I spoke at Theology on Tap at a brew pub literally across the street from where I live. I talked about "My First Christmas as a Priest." Let me give you a hint: it was somber. I won't go into the details of the talk here. (After the response to the talk, I think that I might write it up at some point.) But let me say that I cannot separate this time of year from times like that in my life. I am not morbid about it; it actually gives me hope. But that hope comes about in time, not all at once.

This year, to be honest, my melancholy is not all from memory. It is a present reality too. I am trying to skip out on some of the celebrating this year. I am just not there...yet.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Roll Tide!

My sister, Sr. Margaret Andrew, O.P., just received her Ph.D. from the University of Alabama in secondary education. If you want to see for yourself go here at page 13 or here at about the 59 minute and at the 2 hour 20 minute marks.

I am so proud of her! And I was so happy to see her big smile as she was processing out! I wish that I could have been there, but duty called. But I did watch :-)

Meet me in St. Louis

Well, I'm doing something that I don't do much of anymore and really shouldn't, but...

I am in St. Louis for the wedding of two former Vanderbilt students. I am very happy for them, and I certainly enjoy getting to see and be with so many former students. St. Louis is one of the "feeder" cities for University Catholic.

The wedding is at the old cathedral right under the arch -- it's even older and certainly grander than St. Mary's (although I do have to give Bishop Miles credit for what he built in Nashville at the time). We are staying at a hotel right downtown. This morning I walked to a real diner a few blocks away. It was the real deal. Check out the White Knight, if you are ever in St. Louis! And then I walked back down what was a grand boulevard, lined mainly by impressive civic buildings and little parks. Wow. St. Louis was a city, in a way that cities aren't anymore. The train station, court houses, war memorials, the opera house -- all on a monumental scale and  set in very inviting public spaces. Unfortunately, you can see the decline of the city, but these monuments remain and still inspire. When St. Louis was a great city, its private wealth and power to some extent was extended to the public life of the city. There are even grander public areas around Forest Park, and then there is the new cathedral. The arch would be about the last gasp of grand St. Louis. I don't think that cities see themselves this way anymore.

Nashville, for example, never was and still isn't the city that St. Louis was, but Nashville is in ascendancy right now. The sort of things that are being built in Nashville now are mainly about private consumption rather than public aggrandizement: the condos and swanky bars of the Gulch, for example. There is a bright spot here and there: the downtown library, for example, but even that is modest in comparison to these buildings in St. Louis.

Anyhow, it is fun to be in a city that once had a vision of itself as a public thing, a res publica.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

a small Catholic moment

Yesterday, I went to the funeral of a dear friend, Ruth Benson. The Bensons have been friends of my family for many, many years in Nashville, later in Sewanee, and at the beach at Gulf Shores. The Bensons have touched my family at many points over the years. Ruth had fought an heroic and graceful battle with cancer for more than a year. She approached her death as she had lived her life, with deeper and deeper trust in the Lord Jesus.

Bob and Ruth Benson converted to Catholicism over 20 years ago and had made Our Lady of Lourdes in South Pittsburg, TN their parish. It is down the mountain from Sewanee on the Chattanooga side. The church is very small and humble but quite lovely and traditionally devotional. The pastor is a shepherd of souls. The funeral was simply what the Church has in mind for funerals. We prayed for the dead. The homily was a pastoral reflection on death, with personal reference to Ruth by her pastor. The music was the unadorned chant of the ages. The small church was filled to overflowing.

The burial was at the cemetery at Sewanee, and the procession took the back road up the mountain. It was foggy and rainy at Sewanee. The carillon played, muffled by the fog. Finally, there was a reception in Convocation Hall, one of the prettiest and oldest buildings on the campus. There I saw many, many faces whom I have known over the years, especially at Sewanee.

This funeral was characteristic of Ruth: simple, dignified, beautiful, and full of faith. In all of those respects it reflected her perfectly. It was also a gentle Catholic witness in that most respectable enclave of the old Protestant establishment -- also very like Ruth's personal witness. I had a brief exchange (and slightly uncivil on my part), standing in the dripping rain outside the church. One member of the congregation was teasing about standing in the back of the church. He said that the Protestants didn't get a seat, to which I replied, I hope in good jest, that we Catholics had been kicked off the mountain for our part. We all laughed, but it did seem to strike a chord: the Catholic witness enduring on the periphery. I hope that Ruth will forgive me!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Happy New Year!

I have spent the last few nights since I have been back in Nashville at the house for priests at St. Cecilia Motherhouse. There is an older priest giving the sisters talks on religious life for the beginning of year of consecrated life that Pope Francis has called. Since there were no other priests in the house because of Thanksgiving, the prioress asked if I would stay here with Fr. Henchey. It has been delightful, like a quasi-retreat. It is a good thing that I don't live in this house all the time -- I would be so spoiled! I have been able to join in with prayers and meals as my schedule has permitted, and I have been able to visit with Father as well. He is a wonderful priest -- for 69 years! And funny.

I frankly stole his homily from Mass yesterday for Mass at the parish last night. The end of ordinary time and the beginning of Advent actually focus on the same things: the end times and the second coming of the Lord Jesus. It was about supernatural faith and hope as exemplified in the Blessed Virgin. How we are to wait and watch well, as she did. We have something amazing to watch for, as she did and does. We forget the supernatural so often: the fact that God has greater things in store for us than we can imagine.

So we can have peace and joy as we watch and wait. Everything wrong will be made right. We don't merely hope to survive but rather we hope to see the establishment of the Kingdom of God in which all is made right and just. Secular hope is survivalist. Christian hope is righteous: all will be made right. We are one year closer!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

What I'm thankful for...

I am thankful for the love of God and for that love expressed through other people. I have been spending time with my sister the last few days. What I beautiful fountain of love for me particularly and more generally for just about everyone she encounters. I have learned so much about loving and therefore about really living from her. I am going home today, mainly refreshed by the love of God expressed through her love.

Love simply takes the edge off things because it comes from God. It doesn't really change how hard anything is. I hope that I give some of that love back to her and to everyone -- to take the edge off.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Catholic enclaves

I have come to Washington, DC to spend a few days visiting my sister. She lives at the St. Cecilia Dominican's new house of studies near Catholic University. I am staying at the Dominican friars' house of studies just around the corner. We have been to the National Shrine for Mass the last two days. We went to the new Shrine of St. John Paul II, which has a great museum. We have wandered around the campus of Catholic University a good bit. It is interesting to be in this Catholic enclave.

The gospel reading for today from Luke chapter 21 speaks of persecution providing the opportunity for giving testimony -- for martyrdom, to use the word from Greek. We certainly have that opportunity outside of Catholic enclaves, and we need to see it positively.

Whether in an enclave or in the wider world, we need to seek the way of vulnerability. We had a bit of an "enclave moment" even in Tennessee with the Amendment 1 campaign, which we won. Even though we won the Yes on 1 campaign in Tennessee, I am really much more drawn to crisis pregnancy work and post-abortion work. These services, I am afraid, we will always need in this hurting world. I would like for the Church to be known for these things first when it comes to abortion, rather than for the political struggles, even victories.

Let's enjoy a win every now and then, as well as being in a friendly enclave. But let's long for martyrdom -- for the opportunity to give testimony in a hostile environment!