Thursday, May 9, 2019

the bread of life

During this part of the Easter season, the Gospel at daily Mass is from John 6, the Bread of Life Discourse, and the first readings continue from the Acts of the Apostles. I see a common theme of dependence. I must rely on Jesus the way I rely on food: of necessity and without question. The early Christians did exactly this. Illusions of self-reliance are no more than illusions. And, speaking for myself, these illusions are the root of so much of my sinfulness. You see, the problem is always pride.

I am glad that right now I feel really stretched. I have more to do than I am able to do. Without negating the need to be more productive, what I really need is to be more dependent on Jesus for everything, especially the interior things like resilience, patience, and kindness.

Just who do I think that I am?

Thursday, May 2, 2019

pastor of a big parish

I used to joke that the best thing about a small parish is that everything is personal and that the worst thing about a small parish is that everything is personal. It is certainly a shift to being a pastor of a big parish where very little is personal and probably shouldn't be. I think that it is an invitation to become more personal with Jesus Christ. That is the experience I have found here at St. Rose. I find that I am connected to many, many people by being connected to Jesus. Back in the day, it was the practice in this diocese for a new priest to have a good bit of experience in a big parish or parishes and then to be pastor in a smaller one (or ones). A new priest needs to learn detachment. I think that this is one of the most important lessons for a priest to learn. (I don't think that I had learned it sufficiently before I was made a pastor.) On the other hand, a priest, new or otherwise, never needs to be bureaucratic, and that is what some big parishes and their pastors are like. New priests can then take these bureaucratic ways into small parishes where the result is alienation. That is why a personal relationship with Jesus is so important for balance. With each new assignment, the one thing that I have definitely grown in is healthy detachment. It has taken a long time to get where I am! Healthy detachment balanced with generous pastoral engagement should be goals of formation and mentorship for seminarians and young priests.

Monday, April 29, 2019

dependence

Here is my declaration of dependence. Like the Declaration of Independence, it is largely aspirational -- that is, I am not actually living this fully yet. It does, however, state my intention to be totally dependent on Jesus.

Any illusion of autonomy or control over my life is exactly that: an illusion. I am totally dependent on God for everything, and I am dependent on other people, past and present, for practically everything as well. The more that I can accept this blessed state dependence, the more I will live in reality and will escape the frustrations of unrealistic expectations of autonomy and control.

I am a creature of God by nature and a son of God by adoption. As both a creature and a son of God, I am free, and my freedom is fulfilled when I accept it to live out my dignity as a creature and a son. When I misuse it to live apart from my identity as a creature and a son, then I am enslaved by selfishness and sin. I am also oppressed by anxiety.

God does not want me to be an anxious slave but a free son. I want this as well. In every aspect of my life I choose to surrender to Him. I am very far from this surrender, so far, in fact, that I don't even realize what I am saying in regard to many areas of my life. I will take it as it comes. I do see quite a number of areas to work on now. That is enough.

God will do this in me, if I will let Him. The most important step is prayer, coming to the Father through the Son. I need to identify myself with Jesus: through Him, with Him, in Him. I begin.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

reasons to be Catholic

Yesterday, our Murfreesboro daily paper had a front page article with the headline: "Please give me a reason to be Catholic." It is the same article that has run in other papers of the chain that owns the paper here, including the Nashville daily paper. Since I had seen it already in that paper, it did not register with me very much.  A parishioner mentioned it to me before Mass last night and so I gave it a second thought.

Truth be told, there are lots of important and obvious reasons to be Catholic. There is the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. There is the certitude of God's mercy in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. There is Truth itself. Those are all great reasons to be Catholic. I think what the headline ought to be is: "Please give me a feeling to be Catholic." I am not trying to minimize the point of the article. Although reasons to be Catholic are not lacking, feelings certainly are. How can something based on so many good reasons fail to produce good feelings? It is a reasonable question.

There is a disconnect between the truths of the Catholic faith and its practice. Of course, this is always the case to some extent, human nature being what it is. But if the disconnect is intentional, then we have hypocrisy. And if it is unchallenged and unreformed, then we have corruption. If it is both intentional and unreformed, then Heaven help us!

For me, this situation is a big part of the darkness that I have been talking about in other recent posts. I think that I am finding a way, but it is not a way that feels good superficially. It is a way that is bringing me more and more into total dependence on Jesus Christ. I come to Him through the channels of grace that He entrusted to the Church, but I am not so much interested in them as in Him. They are still working, and I don't know any other way. See above.

Yesterday, I said something that was perhaps beyond what I should have said. I encouraged the children preparing for first Holy Communion to receive Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament on the tongue. The reason I used was that this form of receiving Holy Communion demonstrates physically our dependence on Him. It is like a small child learning to eat solid food being fed by his mother. Or to use another image of the Church, it is like a pelican feeding her young by piercing her own breast.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

lightening up

The lightning of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, has appeared. Let's follow that light! (That image of Jesus as lightning is from the Exsultet.)

Yesterday was a really fun day in the Magic City of Birmingham, Alabama. I came down to visit my sister. It was a gorgeous, sunny day. We made a pilgrimage on foot to the shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon at St. Elias Maronite Catholic Church, with a few stops on the way. I also had a picnic with the sisters (my sister is a Dominican Sister of St. Cecilia). Very pleasant Easter Monday!

Now back to Middle Tennessee.

Monday, April 22, 2019

light in darkness

If you are a reader of this blog, you have noticed a lot about darkness lately. I wish that I could say that it has to do with greater understanding of St. John of the Cross from a book by St. Teresa Benedicta that I am reading: The Science of the Cross. According to St. Teresa Benedicta, darkness is an even more central symbol than the cross is in the writings of St. John of the Cross. I am afraid that these reflections are not so profound as that. St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa Benedicta are helping me to embrace the darkness that I have found myself in for some time. The darkness emanates a from a number of things, including the situation of the world, the Church, and my own soul. I experience the situation of the world and the Church as both quite dark right now. Darkness is not the whole story by any means. I am not blind to the progress that is evident in the world, especially material progress. I also think that there are sincere efforts at renewal in the Church. I do believe, however, that the equivalent of the burning of Notre Dame is going on culturally and ecclesiastically. Things are being lost that cannot be replaced. Perhaps many of these things do not matter, but many are beautiful. Some actually need to go. In the Church, the institutional aspects seem intrenched. At this level, I see an institution that does not know how to respond. In the world...well, let's not even go into the state of the world culturally and politically. 

This view of things sounds pretty dark, and I think that it is. My own soul is dark for a number a reasons. I have been in new situations in the last three years, and I have had to feel my way through them without much light. In this darkness, I have made wrong turns, discovered this, and turned around. Praise God! I think that I am a different man and priest from the one who left Nashville three years ago to go to work in the seminary. I need to change even more, much more. I have come to see that my interior darkness is not bad, and this understanding of darkness has been greatly helped by St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa Benedicta. At a very low point last year, I was counseled to see my interior state as one of spiritual darkness rather than spiritual desolation. That insight turned on a light for me. There has been progress, not in a straight line but progress nonetheless. I am thankful.

I may be wrong about this, but I see the way to deal with the darkness in the world and the Church as analogous to the way that I have come to accept my interior darkness. Let me say first that I may not be right about what I am proposing. I think that the key is the word "acceptance." By acceptance, I do not mean acceptance of everything in the world and the Church as good. For me that would be intellectually dishonest. I can't say that. I do not recommend accepting that everything in the world and the Church is good but rather accepting that it is. In my soul, I cannot annihilate what is there. In order to change, I have to accept that it is there. Then I can change, not it but me. The badness loses it's power over me, but it does not disappear. I can apply this insight to things outside of me as well. Even though I cannot fix the broken systems of the Church or of the world, God can set me free of them and perhaps I can show others how He is doing so. External means are necessary, but secondary. God must change my heart first. This is how I have found light in darkness. Today, Good Friday, is a dark day, but it is the only way to come to the light. Jesus is the light. There is no way to Him without the Cross.

Update: I let this post sit for a while, and now it is Easter Monday. I will go ahead and post it. I think it holds up even in the light of Easter.

Holy Spirit Novena (and/or ten-day devotion to the Holy Spirit)

Here you go: a novena or a ten-day devotion by St. Josemaria

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