Monday, December 26, 2011

Retreat is near!

I will be traveling tomorrow stopping to see some old friends and will begin my retreat on Wednesday. So you will understand a pause in posting. Please pray for me! Really.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The only threat the Church can and must fear is the sin of her members.

"The only threat the Church can and must fear is the sin of her members. While, in fact, Mary is the Immaculate, free from every stain of sin, the Church is holy, but at the same time she is stained by our sins. This is why the People of God, in pilgrimage through time, turns to its heavenly Mother and implores her help; it asks this so that she might accompany us on the journey of faith, that she might encourage the undertaking of a Christian life and support our hope."

Pope Benedict said this on the feast of the Immaculate Conception this week. It is profound. We need not fear persecution. These are reassuring words as persecution of the Church is increasing. But what can hurt the Church are the sins of the members of the Church -- yes. And we are beset by these as well -- the scandals we see all around us.

I think that what the Pope said is true on the individual level. I need not fear what anyone else does but only my sins. No one else's sins can send me to hell but mine can.

We need humility and obedience to embrace this standard. No more defensiveness and no more pointing of the finger at others. Difficult...but liberating!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Jacques Philippe Has the Answer...Again

This time from In the School of the Holy Spirit:

"We cannot receive the motions of the Holy Spirit if we are rigidly attached to our possessions, our ideas, or our point of view. To allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit of God we need great compliance and adaptability, and we can acquire these little by little by practicing detachment. We should make an effort not to "hang on to" anything, either materially, or affectively, or even spiritually. The detachment we should aim for is not that of saying "to hell with all of it," or of becoming indifferent to everything, or of practicing a sort of forced asceticism and stripping ourselves of everything that makes up our lives; that kind of detachment is not what our Lord normally asks for.

But we need to keep our hearts in an attitude of detachment, maintaining a sort of freedom, a distance, an inner reserve, that will mean that if some particular thing, or habit, or relationship, or personal plan is taken from us, we don't make a drama out of being deprived of it. Such detachment should be exercised in all aspects of our lives. But it is not the material aspect that is most important. We are sometimes far more hampered in our spiritual progress by attachments to our own ideas, points of view, and ways of doing things.

We may find it profitable to read the advice of a sixteenth-century Franciscan:
'Let your will always be ready for anything that happens, and your affections perfectly disengaged. Want no one thing more than another; but if you do, let it be in such a matter that if not that thing, but the contrary were to...happen, you would receive no upset but equal satisfaction. True liberty is to adhere to nothing, to have no dependence, no bias. God does not perform his wonders except in a thus solitary and disinterested soul.'

Even when the goals we are aiming at are excellent in themselves, attachment to our own "wisdom" may be a seriously bad obstacle in the way of docility to the Holy Spirit. Such an obstacle is all the greater in that this kind of attachment often goes unnoticed, because it is obviously easier to be unaware that we are attached to our own will when what we want is good in itself. Since the object we are aiming at is good, we fell justified in wanting it with a stubbornness that blinds us; and we don't realize that the way we want our idea to come about is not necessarily in accordance with God's plan.

Our wisdom and God's practically never coincide perfectly; and this lack of congruence means that at any stage of our spiritual journey, we shall never be dispensed from practicing detachment from our personal ideas, however well-intentioned these may be."

Thanks to Micah Walker for pointing out the quotation!

Saturday, December 3, 2011


In the penultimate Divine Comedy class, Mr. Benson spent a lot of time considering the figure of Vergil in the poem. There is never any explicit proposal of Vergil's salvation, as there is for the unlikely figures of Trajan and Statius. Dante's cultural world would want Vergil to be saved. But Dante, a loyal son of the Church, does not offer that -- explicitly. And he is sad about it. The best Dante can do is for Beatrice to promise to sing Vergil's praises before the throne of God. Surely there is something in that.

I think that there is indeed. And yet, the lacrimae rerum remain. There is grief that we are left in ambiguity about Vergil. Why are things as they are for Vergil, even if there seems to be good reason to hope for better things?

Isn't life like that? There is grief, even when we have hope. We do not see clearly, not only about final things like death and salvation but even about temporal things: can the past be rectified; will the future fulfill its promise? We live in the now, and it is not big enough to answer these questions. So there is grief. And there is hope. Sin is real. God is faithful.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

To Instruct and to Delight

Here is some good reading to make sense out of the world we live in. It is the journal that I had thought of producing! So much easier to let someone else do it. And do it well. Go be instructed and delighted! And then write or draw something and send it in!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

7 x 7

Well, 49 is 7 x 7 and so must be finer than a frog's hair! I am looking forward to it! Next will come the year of Jubilee.

I discovered today that I am exactly to the day twice as old as one of the graduate students! Let that be a cautionary tale for him!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Called to Life

Every time I read another one of Fr. Jacques Philippe's book, I swear that this one is the best. Ever. Well, here we go again! This time it is Called to Life. Actually I think that there is a somewhat of a sequence to the books that makes some sense. This one should come later than Time for God, for example.

Or maybe this all subjective on my part. In any case, I don't know when I have read something that was so piercingly true of where I am spiritually. Here is a passage that has sent me back to my knees several times already:
But often there are no answers. One can spend a lifetime, for instance, trying to assign responsibility for a situation without succeeding. Instead of being bent on getting answers, one needs the courage to leave certain legitimate questions unanswered -- something always painful -- and adopt a different perspective: "At the end of the day, what does God want from me in all of this?" [footnote: It is good to remember a fundamental point: It is not knowledge that saves but faith. What saves (helps us advance and grow in a positive, fruitful manner) is not being able to explain everything or completely grasping the complexity of every situation or parceling out responsibility. It is finding the right attitude, the one to which God invites us. Faith lies in welcoming situations with confidence and submitting our conduct to the will of the Holy Spirit.]

Since we crave to understand everything, this calls for a kind of conversion. But it is worth the effort, for sooner or later there will be a response.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How it's going...

I have to say that I recommend a little time off. Yesterday, I took my first full and ordinary (not a trip or something) day off in a very long time. I left after Mass Sunday night -- which is pretty late -- and went to my father's house in Ashland City which he still owns after he moved to Mary, Queen of Angels. Up to now, I had been thinking of that house as a burden -- something else on a to-do list. Sunday night and yesterday it was a retreat.

Sitting unoccupied for several months is never good for a house, but things were not too bad. With a little TLC, it will be quite welcoming. It seems to make sense to take care of the house this way for the time being since in this market it would never sell. So I made a beginning of cleaning things up a bit.

I woke up yesterday morning and went for a long walk just at sunrise on a beautiful trail that was converted from an abandoned rail line. It goes along what now is called a "wetland" in the river bottom. I had a peaceful day and got some work done -- enrolling in the new insurance plan of the diocese, etc. I wrapped things up stopping by to see my father and dropping off a few things with him. I even did some shopping! Then it was back to Frassati House in time to pray before Mass.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Hope Does Not Disappoint!

My favorite verse: Romans 5:5!

"Hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us."

Sunday, November 6, 2011


This weekend, I have been leading a retreat for graduate students. It has been very relaxing for me, and it got me out of a lot of other things ;-) I hope that it has been a good spiritual experience for the graduates!

Wow. I really needed this! Just some sleep, for one thing. And some TLC. As I have said before, this semester has been hard. Not necessarily bad, but hard. There needs to be some more ease and gentleness in my life.

One blessing that has come from the hardness is much greater clarity about what I need to do about all kinds of things. So don't be surprised to see me being more focused and observing boundaries about what is my responsibility and what is not. For this clarity, I am very grateful. Now, I need to put it into practice wisely and patiently. So please pray for me.

Speaking of clarity, I am more than ever convinced of the necessity to take a stand against the inconsistency of Vanderbilt's non-discrimination policy. What was OK yesterday is today discriminatory. What will be the case tomorrow? That is how inconsistent and arbitrary Vanderbilt is being.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Why we need monks...

Here is a link to a homily by Fr. Benedict, monk of Norcia. It is painfully on point to my particular situation of the last couple of weeks. The homily is entitled "Sin and Sickness." Go read for yourself!

Saturday, October 29, 2011


Today I will not be able to see Vanderbilt take on the Hogs of Arkansas, but GO 'DORES!

I am driving out almost to my old parish of St. Patrick's to visit our new retreat site with the Rachel's Vineyard team. It is Bethany, which the Dominican Sisters have just opened up for "outsiders" to use as well as their community. Please be praying for the RV retreat coming up next month. It seems that we are going to have our biggest one yet in the diocese.

I wish that I could stay and visit out in that "neck of the woods" where I have so many connections, but I have to run back into Nashville for a wedding this afternoon. The bride's parents have been leaders in getting the 3 To Get Married Retreat going. And then dinner plans in the evening with one of the FOCUS missionary's parents who are visiting.

My life is full of blessings. It is great that we have RV, 3TGM, FOCUS, not to mention V+C, Totus Tuus, Courage, OD, CL, Awakening -- all in some state of existence. Only a couple were here more than five years ago. I also have some connection to JPII High School, Dismas House, Hope Clinic, 40 Days for Life, CMA... None of these things needs a priest to run it, but they do need a spiritual father to share his life for its good. Oh yeah, and I do manage to celebrate Mass, hear confessions, give spiritual direction, etc. Those do need a priest!

There is life in the Church, right here in the Diocese of Nashville! There may not be much left in me ;-), but what is life for? The truth of the matter is that we need more priests to embrace their spiritual paternity, just like "real" fathers who show up when they should show up and do what they should do. And we need priests who let Him increase while they decrease. We are priests in what we do and in who we are for others but mainly in our relationship to Jesus. That sacramental core, fed by the interior life, is the one thing necessary.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


Well, it's Sunday again and time for joy. Ready or not. Enough of that post from Friday on repentance! The liturgical calendar is relentless. So is a stomach that hurts. But now is the time for joy. Later this morning, the Holy Spirit will use me to make a new Christian. Throughout the day, or the later parts of it anyhow ;-), I will serve in persona Christi capitis at Mass. I don't need a plan for any of that.

With that being said, how is the rest of the day to be spent? Do I have a plan? Should I have a plan? What is a plan? I my mind, I do have a plan. I have to because with my personality, I see a million possibilities. I am paralyzed to choose among them when I need to. For others who know their minds better than I do, like a great friend of mine, a plan is not so needed for such things. For a mind like that, a plan gets in the way in small matters.

I am speculating here, but I don't think I should have a big plan. I can be just as good a priest any where, any time. But I need the little plans -- for my little mind!

Happy Sunday!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Monday, October 17, 2011


Sorry about the post yesterday. I am not trying to be mysterious or gloomy, but maybe I was both. I feel that there is a transition going on in Vanderbilt Catholic and maybe in me too. These changes are basically what I would call "growing pains," and they are demanding a lot of trust from me which is a good thing, of course.

I had someone involved in another Catholic ministry compliment Vanderbilt Catholic for the freedom that exists here. I am glad that there is responsible freedom here. There actually needs to be more, and that is one of the things that we are working on. That and a more radical commitment to our mission of proposing Jesus Christ in the fullness of the Catholic faith. Freedom comes from being who we are, not what others would have us be.

Although some admire our freedom, I think that it is a threat to others both in and out of the Church. I saw some eyes roll yesterday at Cathedral when I spoke of the new translations of the Roman Missal, which perhaps seem to some people to be an imposition. But they were all with me in exploring the reality of what participating in the Mass really is: our participation in the one, perfect, unconditional, and sacrificial offering that Jesus makes of Himself to the Father in loving obedience and for the salvation of the world. The opportunity to participate in that is no imposition nor is it a right. It is a gift of love that must be accepted on its own terms, including the mediation of the Church.

To those outside the Church, we propose a God who really does leave decisions up to us. We matter. And so that is why we must think about what we do. I doubt that there is an organization on Vanderbilt's campus that is more encouraging of deep and free thought than Vanderbilt Catholic is. I want as many free thinkers as possible because only freedom leads to the truth. Vanderbilt, as well as our culture, seems determined to limit freedom to think only in approved ways.

I think that we scare people, who really do not want to be free because freedom costs. The cost of freedom is responsibility. If I have chosen freely, then I am responsible for my choices. I cannot blame them on someone else. We live in an adolescent culture that wants freedom without responsibility. For example, Vanderbilt is hiding behind "policies" in advancing a particular ideology. If the university really had the courage of its convictions, then it would say what it believes: authentic religious faith is not welcome at the university because it contradicts the secular truth that the university holds. Instead, the university says that religion is welcome so long as it is neutered first to accommodate the preferred ideology. This is a rejection of freedom and an abdication of the responsibility of forming free men.

Ultimately, rejection of freedom is a rejection of love as a viable force in the world. Freedom exists for love, and love is the ultimate responsibility. But, boy, does it cost! No wonder people fear to love. It is so much safer to regulate! Among other things, the sacrificial love of the cross is a rejection of the bureaucratic ideal and the triumph of the free man.

Monday, October 10, 2011

My retreat is set!

I can't wait! Here is where I will be after Christmas.

Why I need a retreat, from Pope Benedict:
I shall sum it up like this: by withdrawing into silence and solitude, human beings, so to speak, “expose” themselves to reality in their nakedness, to that apparent “void”, which I mentioned at the outset, in order to experience instead Fullness, the presence of God, of the most royal Reality that exists and that lies beyond the tangible dimension. He is a perceptible presence in every created thing: in the air that we breathe, in the light that we see and that warms us, in the grass, in stones.... God, Creator omnium, [the Creator of all], passes through all things but is beyond them and for this very reason is the foundation of them all.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


I brought my little camera but have not yet figured out how to transfer pictures from it to the iPad, but I am working on it...when I remember to get it out of Buddy's car. An interesting photo essay may follow shortly :-)

One verbal post from the McCallie headmaster after the Blue Tornado put the scare into Baylor (boo!) School for Boys and Girls, coming back from a 31-7 deficit at half time and falling short in a final push in the last minute to end 34-28: "I could have been a little bit happier but not any prouder."

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:the Ridge

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Being Faithful at Vanderbilt

There is a lot of craziness right now about religion at Vanderbilt. Here are two examples:

From the students' perspective, the bigger event is the "Tailgate Evangelism" video. It seems that everyone has seen it. It consists of about 10 minutes of drive-by viewing of frat row before a football game this fall. There is commentary by the passengers on the iniquity that they are witnessing. Eventually those in the car start broadcasting their thoughts to the revelers. One young party goer was gracious enough to invite the "evangelists" to come party. I doubt that any hearts were moved closer to a commitment to Christ.

The other situation is more serious and more complicated. It is all "lawyer driven" and couched in policies. Somehow from this legal and policy perspective, Bible studies embody discrimination on campus but not rush. Go figure.

Anyhow, I am used to craziness and am not too concerned about either situation.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


Mercy is the key to the mystery of humanity. Christians proclaim a merciful and humble God because we have to. There is no other way to make it through the day. There are so many different theories of how to make things right, and yet there is only one that works: mercy. When we complain about suffering, God replies that He has suffered too...for us. When we struggle under the weight of sin, He takes it away.

We can always show mercy. We can bow down as He did, retaining not a shred of human respectability. Even our sins become essential in the proclamation of the triumph of God's mercy because how else would we come to know His mercy but for our need of it?

So relax and lighten up on all the straining after perfection in yourself and in the world: mercy makes sense of the world and of life -- but it takes humility.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Musings on St. Philip's Heart

I started a post about a month ago that I put away and found again. Here is a paragraph from it:

"A much better story of the heart is that of St. Philip Neri's heart. As Pentecost drew near in 1544, St. Philip was praying in the catacomb of St. Sebastian, as he did for long stretches of time, when he experienced a fireball entering his mouth and settling in his heart. Divine charity had hunted down St. Philip's heart, which literally expanded and broke his ribs! St. Philip's heart had no trouble loving. I want a heart like that. But mine is too selfish and unloving."

Loving or unloving: the choice of the heart. St. Philip chose to love. This choice made him love-able by God in this remarkable way. It also made him love-able by all those people who flocked to him. But the choice to love came first and then was perfected by being loved more.

Today, I choose love. I will do so only imperfectly, but I will not wait to love perfectly. If I do choose love, I will be loved perfectly by God -- and imperfectly by others. I will be hunted down for love. Here is another quote from that unpublished post:

"Our hearts are made for loving. They are not made for not loving, although we can use them that way if we choose to. But they are not happy not loving. Hearts don't really know what to do with not loving. I remember the title (and not much else) of one of those strange unhappy books they had us read in high school: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Anyhow, that title seems to me to be so strange in that it misses the point of the heart: to love."

I need to let my heart be hunted rather than to hunt. I must choose this. There are two wonderful poems that I can think of that make this point. One is Donne's holy sonnet Batter my heart, three person'd God. Go read it. Along with classic over-the-top Donne imagery, the poet portrays reason as a weak and treacherous viceroy who obstructs the king of love entering his domain of the heart. The other poem is Francis Thompson's The Hound of Heaven. It is a much wordier and more tortured (yes, even more than Donne) poem, but here is how it ends with God the hunting hound speaking to the hunted narrator: "Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me." Choosing to love really does make us as vulnerable as a hunted animal. But vulnerable to being loved!

St. Philip has it right. Sit still and love God. Another name for that is prayer. You are much more likely to be hit by a fire ball of charity that way! It is really possible to resist the love of God and the love of others, even in our reason. That makes for an unhappy story. But when we give over our will to love, watch out!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

College Life

Vanderbilt won it's opening game last night. Even though it was stiflingly hot until almost the end of the game, I toughed it out! There were great fireworks at the end. Let's keep hoping that the much proclaimed new era is here under Coach Franklin. I will be there for the UConn game, for sure.

Anyhow, almost as interesting as the game for me are all of the cultural trappings, which at Vanderbilt take on a unique appearance. I was so happy to be walking over to the game with two of our FOCUS missionaries -- Elizabeth and Jerome. This was the first Vanderbilt football experience for both of them. Each of them has expressed to me a desire to find a way to propose Jesus Christ on fraternity row. I thought that they should see what they would be up against so we walked to the stadium down Kensington past the pre-game parties of KA, LKA, SN, ZBT, ATO, PDT, and last but definitely not least SAE -- I wish that I had a Greek font! At the game, we were right next to the student section so there was more to see!

It was not really a pretty sight -- beyond all the sun dresses! But what really struck me was the thought that had this been 1981, rather than 2011, Elizabeth and Jerome would have seen me in that crowd; and it would not have been a pretty sight either! I kept thinking what my student leaders would have thought of me at their age! From my perspective as chaplain, I see what is wrong in the picture; but maybe I can help Elizabeth and Jerome to reach out because as ugly as it is, there is something spiritual driving at least part of that mayhem. I remember it.

It is a funny balance to strike. Would that they not be like me then -- but how did I get here but from there? I was at the game in my clerics, of course, but proudly wearing my sorority stickers!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Big Picture at World Youth Day:It’s the Evangelicals, stupid!

Sounds like Vandy Catholic. What do you think?

Big Picture at World Youth Day: 'It’s the Evangelicals, stupid!'

Hidden Treasures

We are rolling out Vanderbilt Catholic this school year. We really do have so much to offer: Jesus Christ. I hope that we propose Him well. There is just about any way to approach Him and encounter Him in Vanderbilt Catholic.

Spiritually: Mainly in prayer and sacraments. Thursdays, in particular, will offer great opportunities to grow closer to Him: in Eucharistic Adoration, in Confession, in Spiritual Direction, as well as at Mass!

Intellectually: Look at my post at Vandy+Catholic for more information on iFACTS!

Humanly: We have been playing frisbee with nuns and eating barbecue with the best of 'em! Grace builds on nature.

Apostolically: All of the above, with the desire to propose Jesus. Our FOCUS missionaries are leading us on to campus as a mission field!

Pray that He be better known and loved!

Sunday, August 21, 2011


I felt like a chat this morning, but in my line of work that's not a time to chat. Nobody's up! So you get it instead.

What a mystery of people around me. That is about all I can say. Appreciating their mystery helps me with mine because aren't we really mysteries to ourselves most of all? It is hard for me to see others being confused and not immediately try to do something. And sometimes there is something that should be done. Usually it is the thing I don't want to do. The things that I can't wait to say or do usually need to wait. The same is true for myself.

The best that I can be for others is to be an icon of the Lord, and yet I keep choosing to be me instead. It really is a matter of recollection. I just forget Him. Can you believe it? And sometimes I deliberately turn away from Him. That is the worst. I hope that I am coming closer to the integrity of life that I desire: a constant state of recollection of Him. But there is this childish rival to Him in my heart. It's my own self-absorbed self that is so afraid of getting overlooked. He is my "mad woman in the attic" -- the unredeemed part of me. Jesus loves even him and quiets his antics.

I need to love him, too, but not let him run the show. I think that is what happens with priests who have trouble. Holy priests love all that unredeemed stuff, even in themselves and in those they are called to serve. But they manage it in themselves and help others to do so.

Managing. That really is it. It is not manipulating or controlling. It is a much more humble word, as in: "How are you doing?" Answer: "I'm managing."

P.S. This post might sound to you a lot sadder than it is. It is really just peaceful. The fact is that we are managing pretty well, for the time being!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Synchonicity with BXVI?

I am amazed at how often I seem to be hitting somewhere in the vicinity of the thought of Pope Benedict as we go through the year. Of course, we are looking at the same things (the lectionary and the liturgical year) and from the same point of view as Catholics. But, dang, it makes me feel good to know that I am in his company! Even if he says everything so much more precisely and elegantly than I do.

It happened again this week for the feast of St. Clare. He even gave a travelogue reflection, as I am wont to do and did for that day. Look at this:

"Tomorrow, dear friends, we celebrate the memorial of St. Clare of Assisi. I would therefore like to recall one of these spiritual "oases" that is particularly dear to the Fransciscan family and to all Christians: the small convent of San Damiano, situated just below the town of Assisi, amidst the olive groves that slope towards [the Basilica of] St. Mary of the Angels. Near that little church, which Francis restored after his conversion, Clare and her first companions established their community and lived a life of prayer and simple works. They were called the "Poor Sisters," and their "way of life" was the same as the Friars Minor: "To observe the holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rule of St. Clare, I,2), maintaining the union of mutual charity (cf. ibid., X 7) and observing in a special way the poverty and humility lived by Jesus and His most holy Mother (cf. ibid., XII, 13).

The silence and beauty of the place where the monastic community lives -- a simple and an austere beauty -- serve as a reflection of the spiritual harmony that the community itself seeks to realize. The world is studded with these spiritual oases, some very ancient, particularly in Europe, others more recent, while still others have been restored by new communities. Looking at things from a spiritual perspective, these places of the spirit are a supporting structure for the world! And is it not the case that many people, especially in times of quiet and rest, visit these places and stay for a few days: even the soul, thanks be to God, has its needs!"

I joke that I have never had an original thought. And I really don't want to. I am so happy when my thought lines up with that of Pope Benedict, or St. Thomas Aquinas, or St. Paul, or, hey, even Jesus! Originality is way overrated, as is individuality to my way of thinking. How much more satisfying to fight your way intellectually through a topic and find Bl. John Henry Newman sitting there waiting for you and offering you tea or perhaps Chesterton holding out a good beer!

Saturday, August 6, 2011


Jeremiah 17:9
"More tortuous than all else is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it?"

Right now, this quotation seems all too true. The Courage Conference that I am attending is all about the tortuous ways of the heart. I have also recently been experiencing my own limitations when it comes to the heart. And as a university chaplain, I am always running into convoluted matters of the heart among my young 'uns.

As well as being the location of so many struggles, the heart is also the place of answers. We basically need bigger hearts.

Two of my favorite saints are closely associated with hearts: St. Francis de Sales and St. Philip Neri. Cardinal Burke spoke extensively in his talk Thursday night about the Providential role of St. Francis de Sales in the work of Courage. You see Fr. John Harvey of blessed memory, the founder of Courage, was an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales. If it were not such a cheesy title, I would be tempted to call St. Francis de Sales the Doctor of Love. I will need to listen to the good cardinal's talk again to get the wording right, but he said Courage's mission is not merely moral conversion but expansion of the heart.

I know that this is true. When my heart is out of whack, I cannot reason my way out of it. I have to jump over the roadblocks with love, and that means a death to self. If I am looking for love, I have to offer love. ("No hay amor, ponga amor, y sacara amor" -- St. John of the Cross) That is messy, dangerous, and selfless. I need to offer love that can be accepted, not what I prefer to offer because that is not really love at all.

Here comes St. Philip Neri with another lesson for us. Swallowing fireballs of Divine Charity hurts. A lot. But it produces bigger hearts. So we also need to look at receiving love as it is offered and not as we want it to receive it. Perhaps receiving love is the trickiest of all. There is an example of this in Midsummer Night's Dream. Titania is embarrassed for the rustics because the play that they are offering her is so bad. And it really is embarrassingly bad. Yet Oberon corrects her by telling her to receive the gift as it is offered. They are not embarrassed by their play so she should not be. Actually she should be delighted by it and receive their beautiful love conveyed in their not-so-beautiful play.

That's the remedy: to offer and to receive love selflessly.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Tipping Point

Well, as of tomorrow I will have been a Catholic for more than half of my life! If I add correctly, I made my profession of faith 25 years ago tomorrow. August 4, the feast of St. John Vianney, turned out to be a prophetic day for my reception into the Church.

In 1986, I was a year out of college. I had taught school for a year in Rome...GA. I had come back home to go to law school, which was starting at the end of the month. Fr. James McKenna, S.D.S. had instructed me, and Msgr. James Hitchcock received me into the Church at St. Martha's in Ashland City. My resolution is to find my sponsor with whom I have sadly lost contact over the years.

Maybe I will go back down this memory trail, but not now. I need to start the day!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Supply Side

When the fuel gauge is down below E, it is not time to start thinking about how to save gas. It's time to find a gas station! On a number of fronts, that is where I have been lately -- too close to E. I need to remember to find the supply that I need where it can always be found. The supply is, of course, in the person of Jesus Christ (-- and in His friends. I just got text message assuring me of prayers. That's remarkable if you notice the time!) I have been thinking, for example, more about my sins as hurting Him. I have been thinking more about catching and cherishing the grace flowing from His side. I have been thinking more about the delight that He takes in me and how little delight I take in Him. He is the supply.

Anyhow, I am searching for the supply again. I hope that I never get so close to E again.

Friday, July 22, 2011


When I start pulling posts down, I know it's time for a break. Besides, I have lots of work to do and not much to say. I am sure I'll be back.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Desiderio desideravi

I have desired with desire...

God desires you. God desires me no less, just as you are as fully in the entire light and heat of the sun as I am on a hot day like today.

How can God be so crazy? What can he want in me? He wants me to desire Him. My desire for Him satisfies His desire for me. Why doesn't it work the other way around? But it doesn't. Why am I so crazy? What more could I want beyond His wanting me?

Two people wanting each other. Why is that not enough for them? What more can there be?

We do what we desire. Oh, how well I know it. The crazy desires that I have desired and then done. But such hope, if I desire Him.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Miami Virtue

The summer wedding tour continues from South Florida. Wowza.

I have never been to Miami before, other than to the airport in transit to Honduras. What a crazy city! It wasn't even here 100 years ago. And how superficial! I have never seem so much concentrated glitz ever. It also seems like it is the multiculturalists' ideal. It is fascinatingly diverse. I think that it is great that it exists. On the other hand, I am glad that Omaha exists too: tamer and more uniform. What meaning would Miami have without Omaha?

OK - the wedding. Well, Miami is about the only place this wedding could have taken place. Family members from Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Chile, Trinidad, Canada. A bridesmaid from Japan. Amazing. There were even a few white folks like me -- sorry, but I don't know what else to call people like me! Refreshing unity and diversity. The rehearsal dinner was at a Puerto Rican neighborhood restaurant. At the cocktail hour for the reception, there was a steel drummer. Jamaican wedding cake like an English pudding. A really authentic mixture for this family.

This one goes down in my travelogue of weddings. I've done traditional New England, classy Oklahoma, down home Gulf Coast, Notre Dame, War Eagle Auburn, "Which high school?" St. Louis, and all varieties of Nashville weddings. The one previous to this one was Old Nashville -- speeches and assigned seating at the rehearsal dinner but not at the reception (just the opposite here). I was so at home!

But all of them have the wonderful Vanderbilt Catholic reality to them. They are really Catholic. The couples really mean what they say! That's very refreshing. Beautiful, wherever it takes place.

One last funny thing from this trip. I went to breakfast with a young Vanderbilt graduate here in Miami. His family is Cuban. Driving around Miami, we were listening to what must be the only Country Music station in Miami. Multicultural, indeed!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, July 14, 2011

How long, O Lord?

Please pray for priests. (There has been another sad event with one of the priests in the Diocese.) Forgive us. Pray for our reformation. Spiritual problems require spiritual solutions.

Lord, have mercy on us.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Prompted by an email from a deacon and a conversation with CeeCee (one of our FOCUS missionaries), I preached this past weekend on the need to sow the seed, to evangelize. I don't think that there were many takers. Of course, I need to hear my own message: Keep sowing. I think that the message to evangelize is one that makes many people really uncomfortable. And so not surprisingly it gets neglected. I do the same thing about things that I am uncomfortable with or find boring.

It is a funny thing how to balance the necessities of having an ordered prayer and sacramental life, of evangelizing, of carrying out corporal works of mercy, of embracing the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience (which are for all Christians), of growing in virtue -- all of this in the midst of fidelity to my particular state of life with its necessary routine and structures -- boredom and frustrations, in other words. I am always getting off balance. Sometimes, I realize that I have just about completely neglected one element or that I have become too consumed in another one. As nerd-like as it sounds, I find that at a certain level I can improve if I simply put "it" on my calendar. That sounds boring! But putting something I need reminding of on my calendar helps not only to do it externally but can even help to acquire an internal habit.

No, this is not a self-help post! I am trying to figure out how to move myself into some of those less comfortable areas habitually, as I was urging people this weekend to move into evangelizing. What will make the difference is not to accomplish great works but to change my heart. My heart is changed in the details.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Something different

OK -- I will reveal something about myself. I am a local history nerd.

Come with me to visit Fort Nashborough next Saturday, July 23. There will be a reenactment going on there. It is the one-quarter sized replica of the fort built by the original settlers of Nashville that sits on the river bank downtown. Details to follow.

Think Overall.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

How slow you are to believe!

I have to confess that I let myself get flustered at times this week with the variety of things that the Lord had put on my plate. All was for good. And I even stayed on an even keel most of the time. I have had to impose on those closest to me, especially on my father and my sister. I hope that they understand. Also, those who work closest with me. There is no way for me to hide myself from them.

But anyhow, I think that God is being praised and glorified in all of this, especially in the parts where I am limited and imperfect. He never is! He must increase, and...

I want to listen to the Blessed Mother: "Do whatever He tells you." He is telling me to go pray right now, so that's what I'd better do.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Talking among the silent

I have been leading a silent retreat today for our Totus Tuus missionaries, and I have been talking all day! And now I am taking a little break to write to you before I talk to them some more.

I really understand the difficulty that some of the missionaries are having with silence. I have it to. As an extrovert, I really need somebody to talk to. I think that there is something wrong with this need, but it's there. I simply cannot be secure about any idea or decision without running it past someone else. Often I can tell what's wrong with an idea as soon as, but no sooner than, I have said it. I have to think out loud. I can give a talk so much easier than I can write a paper. I really can come up with more and better things to say than to write. I dig deeper to be more persuasive when I am facing my audience. Sometimes I write almost in shorthand. Kind of strange for a blogger!

Monday, July 4, 2011

It's a great day!

Actually it is pretty far from daylight yet! But I can tell it is going to be a great day because every day is a great day. How silly I am to think otherwise. The only thing that can ever keep me from having a great day is me and my sinfulness. Otherwise things are great, if I have the meekness and humility to accept the greatness as it comes. In meekness and humility God made and saved the world. I can stand outside of that plan of creation and salvation as its critic, or I can enter into it with everything that comes my way. I am going to begin to enter in -- again.

Happy 4th of July!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Ontological Change?

This is an expression that I really do not like. I hope that you have never heard of it. Most normal people haven't. It means a change in what somebody is -- to go on being, but being somebody different from who you were before. It is hard to pull off an ontological change. Really God has to do it. It is a notion which helps with certain notional things, but is it a reality in the way we live?

Some of us got into a bit of a debate about whether marriage brings about an ontological change. I hated to bring it up, but the suggestion was made that it does. I am pretty sure that it does not technically. But that is why I didn't really want to bring it up because whether the changes in a person brought about by marriage are ontological or not, they are certainly among the greatest changes that can happen to a person. So it did not seem to matter much to me. From my point of view the changes at ordination are ontological; the changes at marriage are not or maybe are "quasi" -- whatever that means!

I am sounding anti-intellectual or anti-philosophical. I am not. Please carry on these debates. They do matter. But let's also try to learn to deal with changes well. That seems to be the most logical!

I am in my late middle ages, I suppose. I really doubt that I will live to be 96. My family are not long livers! It seems to me that change is speeding up in my life. Not so much in the things happening around me that I need to respond to. That is certainly true. At this age, the world somehow thinks that you should be more responsible for things. Most of that is an illusion. Those things will keep happening regardless of me. Cemeteries are full of indispensable people :-) But the changes within are amazingly revolutionary, including my response to the outside changes. I can't keep up with these interior changes, and I'm not surprised that you all out there might be confused. I don't really care to analyze all this but just to notice it.

I had a spiritual director once tell me that I think too much: that I need to stop analyzing so much and notice more instead. I am noticing the changes. And I am grateful for them. More grateful than I really can tell. I am sure that they are almost entirely products of grace: they are drawing me into a better and more supernatural life. And they are some how also rooted in the most literally mundane experiences.

All of this, I hope, is not mere navel gazing. The changes are for a purpose: to give greater glory to God and to offer His love more generously to others. I guess I would sum up the changes as making me more receptive to being loved by God the way He wants to love me. And He does love me! What a simple change. So wherever you are, please continue to change in this way!

Saturday, June 25, 2011


I find that being a priest is a challenge, a wonderful challenge, to live an authentic Christian life. The best that I have figured it out is to get up each morning and try to figure out how to do it all over again. I need to have some big vision of where I need to go, and I need to have the peace of the moment to "live Jesus" right now. I am not sure which is harder.

First, the big picture: without it, I am liable to following my own judgment. Am I being led somewhere in my priesthood, as Jesus was heading for Jerusalem? Do I remember the four pillars of my on-going formation: spiritual, intellectual, human, and pastoral? Am I conforming myself to Him spiritually? Am I forming my life according to His Truth? Am I living an authentic human life? Am I seeking out the lost? The biggest challenge for me is human formation, being authentically human. I have many faults internally that interfere, and I face many external obstacles to authentic human development and communion. To address these takes humility or else the cure becomes worse than the disease! I am constantly battling down frustration over my own lukewarmness and that in the Church around me.

Then the day actually begins, and even though I might have a big road map, there are many detours that come up. I think that one of the important things for me as a priest is to have a default "yes" position: in Him it is always yes. That means that I end up all over the place. I have to learn that my map is actually a series of detours all run together! There is no interstate highway in the priesthood. Each of these detours is an invitation to love in the details and also to re-engage the big picture, to "recalculate" my map as my GPS says.

It seems like I need to change a lot and yet remain steadfast. In order to get anywhere strategically, I have to lose all strategy and to live in the moment. The only way to do that is to pray, to study, to grow, and to labor. That's love for me because that is where He is. He is the one who loves me and for whom I love. I am trying to draw closer to Him by drawing closer to others, in the right ways. I need to be careful about how I do this, but I must do it.

Maybe you are wondering about the title of this post. Well, it reveals one way that I have found to come to some sense of peace within and communion without. The oratorian exercises of St. Philip Neri really help me. I used to wish for some perfect state of community, but now I have decided just to begin with what I have. On Wednesday nights, a group of the young men here (mainly captains in Fraternus) meet to pray in a way that St. Philip organized for young men back in his day. We have a guided meditation and a scripture passage that we all pray over and then talk about. We then reflect on the life of a saint who embodied the particular message of the meditation. Then we offer prayers of intercession and thanksgiving together. Then we sing, at least to the Blessed Mother! It is that simple. The oratory has provided for me a way to draw close in the right way to renew my priesthood. I wonder what God will do with it, but that is for another day!

Friday, June 24, 2011

They call me father

And am I? I am more and more seeing how to be a better priest by trying to be a father. It's that simple. Let me know how it's going. I can see a lot of room for improvement!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Be careful what you ask for!

I feel that my priesthood is being spent in a spiritual "Reconquista" led by Bl. John Paul and Pope Benedict -- which they are winning, by the hardest! And I really knew this from the beginning. There will be no rest and no business as usual in my priesthood. There probably shouldn't ever be, really.

I knew that things were not right in the Church when I began seminary. Many things still are not. Yet the center has held. Of course. There is a rock down there to stand on. The great sorrows are the souls that have been hurt, maybe even lost, in the upheaval. I have to trust God about that one. A great joy is that so many of the young people I deal with don't much realize the bad that has gone before. They are too enthusiastic about the good leading us forward!

I do not want to go backwards. I think that I am the most progressive priest you could meet. I want to go so far forward that the status quo or even the "good old days" are hardly remembered.

I have come to see, however, that good is done only in charity. That largely means in willingness to suffer with calm and even joy. I am not very good at this! But I am trying to change and to be better. I am the problem in the Church that I most need to work on.

And so 17 years into priesthood, I feel just the same as at the beginning only a little bit wiser and more patient. If anything I am more zealous. And happier!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fathers' Day

This is a great Fathers' Day for me. This weekend at FOCUS training has been the occasion for me to understand better how I am called to be a father. I am embarrassed that it is taking me so long to figure it out. Give me a little while, and you all can let me if I am doing any better!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:St. John's Catholic Newman Center, Champaign, IL

Thursday, June 2, 2011


I am absolutely blown away by Totus Tuus training. I am having a blast -- a totally exhausting blast. I don't when my mind and my heart have worked so hard and with such beautiful rewards. I just finished talking about the Book of Revelation, and I get it in a way I never have before.

And these missionaries. Amazing. They act like they are normal. But they are so wonderfully abnormal. They love God. They trust Him. They want others to know Him. They are in the real world but not of it. I am so blessed.

OK -- time to pray more.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Pray for me!

I am teaching just about the whole history of salvation to our Totus Tuus teams this week. I have to confess that I am doing it barely one step ahead of the team members! And it is great -- for me and I hope for them.

It is coming to me more and more that as important as catechesis is -- and it is important, evangelization is even more important. And evangelization must continue. I am being evangelized this week. I am sharing the joy once again of believing in the Good News of salvation, which is the Good News of the Love of God.

So please pray for me. I am doing this on wobbly legs! I get weak and tired -- and whiny! But I begin again because He begins again with me!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Friends of God

I love the saints. The real ones. St. Philip Neri, for example. Through them, I am starting to figure out who the real St. John Sims Baker is supposed to be. He is not the saint that so many people imagine or want him to be. The perfect priest who knows exactly what he is doing, is ready to lead a crusade to make everything right in the Church and in the world, etc. Nope. He does not exist. The real one is a priest, indeed. A priest who finds the Lord Jesus in the midst of the craziness and failures of his life, which somehow end up not being failures when turned over to the Lord. A priest in communion. I often feel that when I am doing my best, I am imposing on others. That turns out to be communion for me. A priest who prays and then tells others what God has told him in prayer. That is the bit about never having an original thought. The saint in me is simply finding Jesus in me. He really is there. It is such a delight to find Him there where I never expected Him to be - in me. That's why I love all the things that are crazy about my life. That is where I find Him. When I try to get things just right, I lose Him. But when I abandon myself to what He is clearly calling me to do at the moment, then He is there in me. And in the who and the what he has set before me. The one last confession at night before going to the rectory, the call early in the morning to the hospital, the oratory time to pray and talk with others. I have no trouble at all recognizing Him in the tabernacle, but in my heart? -- yes. It is always yes in Him.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

It's the end of the world, and I feel fine

Once again, the end of the world or the rapture or something has come and gone to no effect, not to mention Y2K and global warming hysteria. In all of this, where is the early Christians' prayer: "Come, Lord Jesus"? The end of this world means the coming of Jesus in glory. This is Good News, I hope -- literally.

I am more and more convinced of the supreme sanity of the early Christians. I think that they are the best model for us in living out our faith. We should not rule this world or condemn this world but rather live as if this world is exactly what it is: passing away. I love this world in so far as I can glorify God and save souls. I despise this world in so far as it has contempt for God and ruins souls. In the end, I do not take much notice of this world.

Funny thoughts on the way to the beach! If Jesus comes this week, I hope that He will find me there loving Him and His creation and my family. Come, Lord Jesus, come!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Sabbath rest

Fatigue, raw emotions, uncertainty, etc. make for a precarious situation. That is where I have been this week. I navigated it pretty well, although there were moments!

I arrived at St. Louis Abbey yesterday afternoon, and did not find what I expected to find. But all was well. I was taken in by a friend who had extra room and had the best rest I have had in a long time. And now this morning a good time and place to pray. And free Internet. Yes, it is good to break the routine, if the routine has been unsustainable. I need to do something about that.

I am looking forward to Mike Stock and Laura Steiner's wedding this afternoon. It is really a happy duty to be here. They were each so instrumental in the early days of Vanderbilt Catholic.

I have good company for the ride home this evening. Things ares good.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Westport Plaza,St Louis,United States

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Things Change

Well, I just had a sweet visit from Chad and CeeCee. They knew that I was doing some work here at Frassati House and stopped by. Earlier in the evening a group had popped in and out going to McDougal's. They invited me; but as I had eaten lunch there, I declined. I no longer have the literal intestinal fortitude of a college student, although I do end up living like one a good bit. A graduate of just last week stopped by to pick up and pay for a bicycle he had bought from Chad. I ended up being the unexpected agent of payment and delivery. Now back to work and the summer quiet of Frassati House. Tomorrow, off to St. Louis for the wedding of Mike Stock and Laura Steiner, student officers when I arrived at Vanderbilt. My how things change.

UCat Dominicans -- not the one in the middle!

Newly named Br. Cyprian and newly professed Br. Pachomius, O.P. at St. Gertrude's, Cincinnati, Ohio, August 15, 2017

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