Monday, December 31, 2012

Make those resolutions!

Well, I have.  I wrote them down and put them in my breviary yesterday before Mass at St. Mary's.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Fr. Lynn in First Things and a 75th Jubilee!

I was gratified to see a tribute in First Things to Fr. William Lynn, S.J., who died on Christmas Day, having turned 90 the same day. He was one of my theology professors at the Josephinum. Thanks to Fr. Lynn and to Fr. Francesco Turvasi, I am always confident of standing on solid theological ground.

Also, Sr. Catherine de Ricci, O.P., of "offer it up, honey" fame, celebrated her 75th anniversary of religious profession this morning at St. Cecilia Motherhouse! Yes, 75th. How awesome is that?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph

Just on time: the Feast of the Holy Family!

I went to visit some of my oldest friends in Chattanooga yesterday -- one of my favorite places, by the way!  On the way back, I stopped in Murfreesboro to see Fr. Mark Sappenfield, the pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church.  Fr. Sappenfield is a great friend in the priesthood.  He fed me a simple supper, and then we were talking about the need to propose the totality of the Catholic faith with a spirit of boldness and adventure.  That's the kind of stuff priests do.

Well, here is my chance this weekend.  The Pope has been getting me ready -- just look at the last few posts.  But I don't want merely to put the "smack down" on the People of God!  I would really like to inspire them to see the greatness within themselves and to embrace the sacrifice necessary to live it.  Submissive wives, for example, know how to put their husbands on a pedestal and how not to let them come down off of it!  Loving husbands know how to drain themselves in order to be strong for their wives and children.  Obedient children have seen how to forget whining in order build up the love at home.  It is all about the adventure of family life and love.

Many wives can't be submissive because they are too concerned about themselves.  Many husbands cannot be strong because they indulge themselves.  Better if the wives indulged the husbands and the husbands were concerned about their wives wishes and needs.  The children would then see how much happier everyone is when he is not thinking about himself.

Men and women really are different!  How can we ignore the physical differences?  But we do, expecting women's bodies to behave like men's.  Even worse, we ignore the spiritual differences between men and women.  Submission is a woman's thing: networking and multitasking.  Men need an ideal to champion: things to do well and vigorously.  Why do we let it be sports or career rather than family?  Children need secure love not indulgence in order to embrace obedience.

I saw this yesterday with my friends in Chattanooga.  The wife letting the husband stretch himself for the good of one of the children after she had prepared an extravagant snack in the kitchen, the father stepping in where a brother had stepped aside.  Nobody complained.

Friday, December 28, 2012


If our human identity, including our gender identity, is something that we create for ourselves, then it is very limiting.  It limits us to our own limitations.  That is exactly what being gay is all about.  It says: "I am made that way." Period.  And so I will become this limitation.  The Church says something else to the person with same-sex attraction.  The Church says to take up a crazy idea: chastity.  This is an idea that for the person with same-sex attraction is practically supernatural.  It is like being called to be Superman. 

For the person with same-sex attraction the call to chastity is heroic.  That person has to accept that for him there will be nothing like marriage, and that loss has not been freely given up but has often been taken from him.  And yet he is free to set out on the adventure of chastity.  I have seen this adventure embraced when I went to the Courage conference two summers ago.  One man spoke of being sexually abused as a boy by a neighbor trusted by his parents.  His sexual identity went spiraling in different directions as he grew older.  He finally decided to embrace the call to chastity.  And he was at peace in this adventure and struggle.  There was another man who in the midst of a successful media career in New York, met Fr. John Harvey, the founder of Courage.  He said that meeting Fr. Harvey saved his life.

For the person with same-sex attraction, the challenge of the virtuous life is painfully obvious.  Would that more Christians saw the call to the Christian life so starkly.  It is a practically supernatural call.  It is like being called to be Superman!  And so we all are!  It is just where we hit the wall of our fallen nature that we are called beyond ourselves.  Unfortunately for many, their brokenness is more acceptable or less obvious than same-sex attraction.  They can be tempted to be "good enough" Catholics without ever dying to self and setting out on the adventure of holiness.  It is the "made that way" mentality.

Here is a lighter example to conclude.  In the movie the Hobbit, Bilbo is so put off by the thought of adventure, especially adventure with those Dwarves, that he almost misses the call of his life to be more than the comfortable hobbit in his hole.  After all, he was made that way...or was he?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Now that I have reflected a bit...

I want to refer back to "You have to read this! Now!" I think that Pope Benedict is giving us the tools to understand what we believe about the family, much as Bl. John Paul gave us the tools to understand what our faith teaches about sexuality in what has become known as the Theology of the Body.  Pope Benedict is laying the groundwork for a theology to accompany our faith about the family delivered to us by revelation.  This is the work of theology, as St. Anslem put it: faith seeking understanding.

OK, what do I mean?  Bl. John Paul took the clear teaching of revelation and tradition about sexuality and, wedding it to his own philosophy of personalism, came up with the Theology of the Body.  It contains nothing new but rather explains the ancient truths in a new way because after the sexual revolution those truths were obscured.  I think that Pope Benedict is on to the same sort of thing for the family, taking what we receive from revelation and tradition and developing it theologically in ways that have become necessary because of the dictatorship of relativism.

We have come to such a point of relativism in intellectual circles, and more and more so even among normal people, that one can maintain that being a man or being a woman is not a real distinction.  We can choose any gender we want, and they are legion!  There is a sign on the men's and women's toilets in the Vanderbilt Divinity School saying something like this: "In order to create safe space, there is a gender neutral rest room on the ground floor."  Safe space?  What?  Anyhow, I am just telling you that it's out there.

I am excited by this theological effort because Pope Benedict is using the theology of revelation, a shoot of fundamental theology, to construct a theology of the family from the mess left by deconstructionism.  And he is also using theological anthropology, hand in hand with Bl. John Paul.  Pope Benedict is taking us back to the sources like a patient professor.

I think this verse will be the key to Benedict's development of family theology: "male and female he created them" (Gen. 1:27).  Pope Benedict will help us "to accept and personally make sense of" this duality.  The adventure of human life is to discover and develop the nature found in bodily identity.  Relativism rejects the notion of identity as a given and rather insists on the manipulation of identity by one's own will.  Pope Benedict even goes all green on us: "the manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned."  (The same is true about contraception.  Hormones are great for women but bad for chickens.)

Pope Benedict insists that he is on to something new.  In the past, he says, sexual identity was generally given by society.  This was not necessarily a good thing.  We can think of many off-base cultural versions of masculinity and femininity.  These deficient versions of sexual identity are part of the reason for the contemporary rejection of sexual identity altogether.  The Holy Father insist that we not merely turn the clock back to some culturally more comfortable setting but that we start from the beginning with what God has done as revealed in Genesis.  Sound familiar?  It is exactly what Bl. John Paul did for sexuality.

Now Pope Benedict launches off on the family.  If we cannot be defined individually as being a man or being a woman, then there is no basis for a normative reality of family.  Here is where Pope Benedict is going.  I can't wait to follow him!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What is the Church to do?

Last night, after all was over and I was back at the rectory, I had a conversation with Msgr. Owen Campion.  Msgr. Campion is a regular guest at the Cathedral rectory at Christmas time because even though he is the associate publisher of Our Sunday Visitor and has been a resident of Indiana for many years, he is a priest of Nashville and very much at home here.  Msgr. Campion is a great conversationalist and is very thoughtful and well-informed about things in the Church.  We were talking about the challenge before the American Bishops of how to present the Gospel in our rapidly secularizing culture.  We were in agreement that Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia is a master of this challenge.

In any case, our conversation got me thinking that the bishops -- well, all of us really -- need to get off the defensive on this or that particular "cause of the moment" and get back to Catholic faith -- the whole thing!  For example, I was reading that the Archbishop of Westminster (UK) addressed the issue of same-sex marriage, which is coming up before Parliament, by discussing the good of marriage, not only same-sex attraction.  Divorce and cohabitation are also grave threats to marriage.  So is contraception.  Just because the secularists are on a same-sex marriage band wagon right now does not mean that we have to imitate them in cutting things up into pieces.  Marriage -- the whole Gospel for that matter -- is a whole; and we must propose it all.

I think that there may be relatively few who will embrace the whole, at least at first.  People tend to be concerned only about what they are concerned about and fail to "connect the dots" among many issues.  Let them be heretics, literally "those who choose", for the time being, but we will remain Catholic, those who embrace the whole faith once delivered.  Of course, same-sex marriage cannot stand but neither can divorce.  Only if we stay "on message" on the whole thing can the beauty of the truth shine out.  And that beauty has the possibility of "connecting the dots" for those who are seeking the truth.

Politics and secular causes are tricky things for the Church to be mixed up in because the time lines are so different.  We are acting from eternity, which rarely lines up with the news or election cycle.  That does not mean that we should not try.  At times, we have an obligation to try.  We have to try about same-sex marriage.  But the Gospel is still the Gospel.  Look at the early Christians.  The Roman state and culture certainly did not endorse the Gospel, but that is what those first Christians proclaimed -- the whole thing!  Of course, many of them ended up martyrs...

Monday, December 24, 2012

How did I come about?

"Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about" (Matt. 1:18).

While I was away this past week, I concelebrated Mass one day with Fr. John Dowling, the pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Fairfield Glade, TN.  Fr. Dowling is the host for a monthly day of recollection for priests from Nashville and Knoxville.  Fairfield Glade is in the Diocese of Knoxville but in the Central Time Zone so it's a compromise!  He has a brother, Fr. Kevin Dowling, in our diocese.  By the way, Fr. Dowling built this:
St. John Neumann Church, Farragut, TN

OK -- Fr. Dowling took this opening line of the Gospel for the day as the text for his homily.  And I am going to steal the idea and use it for my Christmas homily!  This line comes just after the genealogy of Jesus.  Whew!  That's always a mouth full!  Anyhow, one sees that the birth of Jesus came about in mystery.

And what about your coming about?  How did that happen?  Did you have anything to do with it?  I didn't think so.  The coming about of the sacred humanity of Jesus reveals to us the mystery of our own comings about.  Just like it is always easy to come up with reasons not to do something, there are many ways by which we could not have come about -- but only one by which we did!  And that one way leads back to the heart of God.

Let's wonder tonight at the coming about of Jesus and about our own!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Be(coming) a man!

"According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God."

I am convinced that a big part of the human adventure is, as Pope Benedict put it, to "personally make sense of" the sex given to us by God.  Especially so today, when the need for this adventure is denied.  The "made that way" view of humanity is so static.  There is no adventure.

This is leading back to Tolkien...but no time now.  Are you following me? 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

You have to read this! Now!

From Pope Benedict's Christmas address to the Roman Curia:

"So it became clear that the question of the family is not just about a particular social construct, but about man himself – about what he is and what it takes to be authentically human. The challenges involved are manifold. First of all there is the question of the human capacity to make a commitment or to avoid commitment. Can one bind oneself for a lifetime? Does this correspond to man’s nature? Does it not contradict his freedom and the scope of his self-realization? Does man become himself by living for himself alone and only entering into relationships with others when he can break them off again at any time? Is lifelong commitment antithetical to freedom? Is commitment also worth suffering for? Man’s refusal to make any commitment – which is becoming increasingly widespread as a result of a false understanding of freedom and self-realization as well as the desire to escape suffering – means that man remains closed in on himself and keeps his “I” ultimately for himself, without really rising above it. Yet only in self-giving does man find himself, and only by opening himself to the other, to others, to children, to the family, only by letting himself be changed through suffering, does he discover the breadth of his humanity. When such commitment is repudiated, the key figures of human existence likewise vanish: father, mother, child – essential elements of the experience of being human are lost.
The Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, has shown in a very detailed and profoundly moving study that the attack we are currently experiencing on the true structure of the family, made up of father, mother, and child, goes much deeper. While up to now we regarded a false understanding of the nature of human freedom as one cause of the crisis of the family, it is now becoming clear that the very notion of being – of what being human really means – is being called into question. He quotes the famous saying of Simone de Beauvoir: “one is not born a woman, one becomes so” (on ne naĆ®t pas femme, on le devient). These words lay the foundation for what is put forward today under the term “gender” as a new philosophy of sexuality. According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society. The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves. According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God. This very duality as something previously given is what is now disputed. The words of the creation account: “male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27) no longer apply. No, what applies now is this: it was not God who created them male and female – hitherto society did this, now we decide for ourselves. Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned. From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be. Man and woman in their created state as complementary versions of what it means to be human are disputed. But if there is no pre-ordained duality of man and woman in creation, then neither is the family any longer a reality established by creation. Likewise, the child has lost the place he had occupied hitherto and the dignity pertaining to him. Bernheim shows that now, perforce, from being a subject of rights, the child has become an object to which people have a right and which they have a right to obtain. When the freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God, as the image of God at the core of his being. The defence of the family is about man himself. And it becomes clear that when God is denied, human dignity also disappears. Whoever defends God is defending man."

There and back again...

I am proud of myself for a good segue title for this post!

Yes, I am back from my adventure in the woods.  And it was just that, especially a long and difficult (for me) hike on Wednesday.  It pushed me in ways that I needed to be pushed, and yet it was also really glorious in many ways.  The break was just what I needed, except for the time it took when I was already behind!  But now I am behind with energy!

Yesterday, a group of priests and seminarians went to see the Hobbit -- the other "There and Back Again"!  In reflecting on the movie, I have to say that I really liked it.  It is not the book.  It is actually much more than the book.  It presents characters discovering their vices and choosing to grow in virtue.  Amazing.  I will probably have more to say, but see above about being behind...  

Monday, December 17, 2012

I'm Out of Here!

For some reason, posts with angry titles get read more.  So until you all catch on to my trick, I have your attention for a moment ;-)

Actually, I am letting you know that will be away at least until Friday.  The end of the semester has come, and Christmas is not yet here.  I am able to get away for a few days to rest and recharge.  Not to be whiny, but I need it.

Those of you who know me, know what an extrovert I am, and yet now I need some time away from being social.  Last night, we had a caroling event downtown at St. Mary's.  It really was awesome.  New Evangelization, indeed.  Some of our party was invited on to the stage at a honky tonk on lower Broad to sing O Holy Night.  I am not kidding. (I will post pictures when some of the group send them to me.)  Anyhow, it sounds just like my kind of thing, but I had to make myself go through with it.  I was so glad to come home when it was over.  I have a bit more understanding of introverts!

It's time.  I am going to miss a couple of events that ordinarily I would not miss for practically anything.  Nevertheless, this is the right thing to do.

I want to pray more in these days, rest more, read more.  I am planning on some hiking.  I plan on not being digitally connected!  I also have a day of recollection with other priests built in!  It will be good.  I sincerely ask for your prayers.  Count on mine for you!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Giving Credit Where Credit is Due!

If you have been a reader here for long, you know how critical I can be of the Vanderbilt administration's handling of religion.  But I really think that things are better.  The first sign of a change was the appointment of Rev. Mark Forrester as University Chaplain, a title that had been scrapped.  I regret that I have not been able to be as responsive to the initiatives that Rev. Forrester has introduced because of my other duties at St. Mary's, but I appreciate them very much.  He has introduced religious observances in addition to interfaith ones.  See this newsletter of religious activities.

Rev. Forrester is making a place for religion at Vanderbilt.  That is quite an accomplishment!  Thank you.

Friday, December 14, 2012


Our country has once again been rocked by an act of evil.  This time 20 children have died, and eight adults.  May they rest in peace

I am sure that debates over gun control, mental health, security, and many other topics will result from this event.  Maybe something will be decided that will be helpful in the future.  But we should not neglect to ask deeper questions.

What is wrong that such killings happen so routinely in our country now?  Why is there so much unresolved anger?  Why is there so much alienation?  Our culture is breaking down, and the web of relationships that could help to vent anger safely or to supply healthy connections to the alienated individual do not exist any more.  It is every man for himself.  Read this profile of the killer.  What connections did this troubled young man have?  There was affluence and achievement but no connection.  Even more than their guns, isn't this lack of connection the common factor among such killers.

We must pray.  We must change.  We must care for and be involved with one another.  Family is not capable of being defined any way we like, neither is marriage.  Children need stably married mothers and fathers.  Corporate profits are not the primary sign of a healthy economy but rather the common good of the persons involved in the economy.  A healthy culture supports religious practice as a conduit of benevolence.  Our culture supports only the autonomy of the individual.  Who was it who said that it is not good for the man to be alone?  What we need is to restore the culture of communion, with the ties that bind.  We refuse to be bound to anything, especially the truth about the human person.  Things therefore fall apart.

We have come to the place that St. Thomas More warned his son-in-law about in A Man for All Seasons:  the barren plain bereft of the laws of God and nature and swept by every shift of the winds of relativism.  On such a plane, there is nowhere to hide when evil shows its face.  There is no cover left since the trees of civic and religious culture have all been sacrificed to the furnaces of individual autonomy.


Well, if the Holy Father can do it, maybe I should look into it...Nope, not enough time.

I was impressed with the amount of good theology BXVI could get into 140 characters, including one of my favorites: "Offer it up!"

Humm...Is the 140 character homily possible?  It would certainly be a challenge but what a blessing to all!

Or how about this: Tweets in heroic couplets?    Limitation has always been a spur to creativity.  It is profoundly human.
Let me give it a shot, in honor of my patron saint, whom we observe today:
What do you find at Anthropologie or Prada?
Amor?  San Juan de la Cruz whispers: Nada

This could be fun ;-)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Thanks to the DOS

Yesterday morning, I had those cravings that cereal just can't satisfy, and I was trying "to stay calm and carry on."  A comfort breakfast was in order.  I suggested to myself that I needed to go to campus to check the mail, which we still get on campus -- go figure.  I had some meals left on my meal plan so I was off to Rand.  Best decision.  Ever.

Not only did I find a yummy breakfast -- note to self: meal plan is a great deal at breakfast!  I also ran into to students.  Only in exam week would that happen before 8 a.m.  I also ran into the Dean of Students.  I am glad that he saw me.  Boy, he has a terrible job, but I am grateful to him!

Yikes!  What a politically correct minefield he has to run around in!  I received an email from the DOS office last week that was worthy of Orwell in its use of PC double-speak.  I am not really sure what it meant.  On Wednesday nights when we were having Esto Vir fun in the Pub, I could see him toiling late in his office.  What a thankless job.  So I want to thank him.  You see, it is because of him that University Catholic is still around in the way that we are.

I believe that he is a liberal man and would therefore like for the religious organizations to be free to be what they are.  He has overseen the implementation of the non-discrimination policy to protect this freedom as best he can.  I appreciate him for this liberality of spirit.

I think that his seeing me in Rand before 8 a.m. during exam week is a confirmation that he has been right.  And maybe if he had seen the young men of Esto Vir in the Pub on Wednesdays, he might have thought so again -- or the Ministers of Joy handing out goodies to soothe exam stress, etc.  He is the one who has to deal with the recalcitrant fraternity boys who think that binge drinking is an asset to the university and all sorts of other nonsense.  He knows better.  He knows that religious life offers something more to the students and should be allowed at the table.

So thank you Dean Bandas.  Sincerely.  

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

I hope this post is not too snarky...

I am technically challenged.  I tried to post this email greeting that I received, but I couldn't.  So you will have to click to see it.

It is about the most depressing image ever on a "holiday card."  In the first place, the picture (which is the stained glass window I have to look at at Benton when celebrating Mass -- another good reason for the ad orientem position!  Fortunately the congregation probably does not see it as it is above the choir loft.) has no "beauty."  It is dark and ugly.  The only thing that I can say for the window is that is explicitly Christian, even appropriate to Christmas, as the only thing that I can make out in it is the Greek word "Logos" in the middle.  It is not about "the season" but about the Word becoming flesh and thus explicitly about Christmas.  The window, like the rest of Benton Chapel, is anything but "warm"!  "Joyous holidays" indeed!  All from the Vanderbilt Divinity School.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Winding down...looking ahead!

This semester is winding down.  What a great semester it has been!  A return to normalcy -- actually not a return to anything but the establishment of a new normal.

I have to acknowledge two young men who have been such a part of establishing the new normal.  One is the president of University Catholic for the past year, PJ Jedlovek.  PJ came in as president in the midst of the controversies at Vanderbilt last year, and he held the course steady.  One of his greatest accomplishments is to had over a vibrant organization to his successor.

The other is Joey Kenkel, the current president of Belmont Catholic.  Although there have been outstanding students involved in promoting Catholic life at Belmont in the past, Joey has accomplished the formation of a community that continues to emerge and to take its place in the life of Belmont.

Both of these young gentlemen are just that: gentlemen.  Their leadership is that of the servant.  It is patient and wise.

This semester has been a difficult one for me personally as I have tried to figure out how to be chaplain and pastor at the same time.  It has been rough going at times!  But I think that I am figuring out how to do it.  I am leaning more and more on those around me, and I am taking my time on some things (maybe too much time!).

I am eager to look ahead to next semester and a new year. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012


Not really...but I find more people will look if I start that way ;-)

This could turn into a rant as it stems from reflections on an article in the Vanderbilt Hustler, often the source of a rant on my part.  But not this time!

In the last issue, the big story was on Adderall.  My reflection on this article and its sidebars left me sad.  A significant number of students at Vanderbilt seem unable to cope with life without resorting to harmful practices: Adderall, other drugs, binge alcoholism, pornography, casual sex, etc.  These all seem to be used as coping mechanisms.  They are not good for that.

It is a sad thought that life at Vanderbilt is so difficult that students seek to escape from dealing with it, and it is sad to think that they have no better ways of dealing with the difficulty than by these destructive behaviors.

Students try very hard to get into Vanderbilt. Yet when they get here, many of them do not find life at Vanderbilt a healthy challenge and adventure but rather a burden from which to seek escape at every opportunity.  It is the dark side of the "work hard, party hard" reputation of the school.  I like a party as much as anyone, but little of the social activity at Vanderbilt seems to stem from joy or to result in joy.  Rather it is frantic: a frantic escape.

Two thoughts.  Maybe Vanderbilt pushes its students too hard and expects too much from them on many levels.  I think that this might be part of the problem.  I do not sense much of a community at Vanderbilt so that faculty members and administrators really know what students are facing in the totality of their courses and responsibilities.  Everything is about reputation.

Whether there is anything to the first point, it is certainly true that many students do not find a sense of adventure and accomplishment in coping with the difficulties in their lives.  They find burdens instead, burdens from which they seek escape.  They fail to cope.  All kinds of things can help with this, but fundamentally what helps is an understanding of the meaning of life's difficulties.

As I have said many times before, providing meaning is not something that Vanderbilt is good at.  But it is something that the Catholic Church is good at.  That is why we keep proposing Jesus Christ and students keep responding!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Superabundance of meaning

Pope Benedict has done it again: Giving words to what my "heart heard of, ghost guessed"!

See what you think:
"Today, in this catechesis, I would like to reflect on the reasonableness of faith in God. The Catholic Tradition, from the outset, rejected the so-called “fideism”, which is the desire to believe against reason. Credo quia absurdum (I believe because it is absurd) is not a formula that interprets the Catholic faith. Indeed God is not absurd, if anything he is a mystery. The mystery, in its turn, is not irrational but is a superabundance of sense, of meaning, of truth. If, looking at the mystery, reason sees darkness, it is not because there is no light in the mystery, but rather because there is too much of it. Just as when humans raise their eyes to look at the sun, they are blinded; but who would say that the sun is not bright or, indeed, the fount of light? Faith permits us to look at the “sun”, God, because it is the acceptance of his revelation in history and, so to speak, the true reception of God’s mystery, recognizing the great miracle. God came close to man, he offered himself so that man might know him, stooping to the creatural limitations of human reason (cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution, Dei Verbum, n. 13). At the same time, God, with his grace, illuminates reason, unfolds new horizons before it, boundless and infinite. For this reason faith is an incentive to seek always, never to stop and never to be content in the inexhaustible search for truth and reality. The prejudice of certain modern thinkers, who hold that human reason would be as it were blocked by the dogmas of faith, is false."

YES!  Go here to read the whole thing.

This is even better than Fr. Hardon's thought about "and" as the most important word in Catholic theology!

 "What oft was thought but ne'er so well expressed."  Alexander Pope, Essay on Criticism

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


OK -- I got you to look!

Actually, I'm not irate about anything.  Oh, I think that you all can tell that I care deeply about many things and am deeply concerned about many things.  Probably more deeply than it shows, or at least I hope so!

I have some reason for trying to avoid appearing irate.  I don't think that it is my vocation as a priest to be irate, generally speaking.  I think that is more a part of a lay vocation.  I am not kidding.

I think that priests should be clerical and that the lay faithful should be lay.  What do I mean by this?  Well, I need to take care of the Church, my bride.  I need to pray with her.  I should worry about things as routine as the music at Mass and getting new linens.  I should make sure that we have the sacraments available: Mass and confessions, as much as possible.  I should teach and counsel as wisely, faithfully, and well as I can.  Being irate about politics or culture generally gets in the way of these things.  And I do slip over the line when the inanity of the Vanderbilt administration sometimes pushes me too far!

You of the lay faithful have a much harder job because you all are responsible for the world in a way that we priests are not.  You do need to be involved in politics and business and all the rest of it.  You need to shape the culture in your marriages and families and in your careers and friendships.  You do need to express outrage at outrageous things in the world.  To fail to be outraged at injustice and evil is a failure of justice and charity.  And you need to fix the world, as best you can.

Then you need me and my brethren to feed and teach you.  To keep praying for you.  To bind up your wounds.  To encourage you.  I need to keep a home for you, your Father's home.  Who likes to come home to an irate father?   

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Thanks for prayers!

I gave you all a prayer list last week, and you must have been praying it up!  Things are going so well -- so many good things!  I need to ask your prayers now for more hours in the day or something like that.  Can you handle that?

Last night, for example, we had a Holy Hour of Adoration with Praise and Worship ending with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament -- at Belmont!  This was driven by the passion and determination of the students.  I am so proud of them!

Our new student leadership at Vanderbilt is coming into place.  I look forward to introducing them to you!  I even organized my desk at St. Mary's yesterday.  Wonders never cease.

I am especially grateful for the tremendous people of University Catholic.  The FOCUS missionaries and I had our semesterly adventure on Saturday.  Note to self: Chris is nervous about heights!  Caroline Duffy is ending her first semester at University Catholic.  What a blessing she is to me!  Faithful seminarian Brendan Johnson is always at the ready.  And what can I say about Kathleen Cordell other than she jumps in for everything?

OK -- Pray!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Sweetness and light

One thing that I want to work on for Advent is sweetness.  That sounds drippy, but I mean it.  Growing up in the rural South, I heard the injunction "be sweet" many times!  There is something to it.  I think that it is how we translate that fruit of the Holy Spirit, kindness, except is it so much more vivid.  Like sweet tea!  I was talking to a man from Ireland this week, and he commented on the sweetness of the South compared to New York City, which he had also visited.

Sweetness does not change things all by itself -- it is not enough just to be sweet.  In fact, it is a tragedy merely to be sweet.  You actually have to get down to the hard deeds.  But sweetness sure helps to grease the gears of hard deeds.

I catch myself often doing the right thing but not sweetly, with some impatience or unkindness thrown in.  That really means with some pride thrown in.  Doing things sweetly takes humility.  Being sweet will usually result in one not being taken seriously, and my pride does not like that.

But I know that I need it, and those around me need it.  So this Advent, I am going to "be sweet."

Saturday, December 1, 2012


Here is a fun rant on success from Fr. Longenecker that I almost totally agree with!  Because of my pastoral responsibilities, I would go off in a slightly different direction.  As a university chaplain, I mainly deal with the young.  I do not notice the need of many of the successful young people at the universities I serve to be religious at all.  And if religious, they certainly do not look for affirmation in success from religion.  So at least we are spared the hypocrisy of the "successful Catholic" that Fr. Longenecker writes about.  But the cult of success at "elite" universities does worry me.  So many of the bright and good young people I deal with do succeed at things that others expect them to succeed at.  And they want to succeed.  But why?  To what end or purpose, other than to succeed in our American success-driven culture?  Succeeding seems to be all that matters.

I had a conversation this week in which I said that I do not find an intellectual climate at Vanderbilt.  I did not mean that I don't find lots of very smart people doing very smart work.  I just don't find much joy in the life of the mind and spirit.  There is a disconnect between their intellectual work and joy.  Where are those conversations about what makes "the good life" that I remember from college or those eccentric distractions of mind and spirit that show joy?  There is just lots of work and then, for many, lots of escape.  It is the Vanderbilt myth of "work hard, party hard."  There is no integration of the life of the mind and "real" life.  This means that Vanderbilt is not a university in the literal sense of the word -- a place where one word is spoken and then elaborated in a multitude of directions.  The one word that fails to be spoken is Truth.  Vanderbilt is thus not a place of integration but of fragmentation and finally of alienation.    As long as Vanderbilt is driven by success more than by truth, it will not be able to lead its students to the good life but only to the successful one.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

I am "evolving" on Advent

For people who knew me back at St. Patrick's, my current approach to Advent would be a surprise.  In those days, I still was fighting the fight for a pure observance of Advent.  I resisted the incursions of Santa and twinkling lights into the somberness of Advent.  To tell the truth, I was something of a crank about it!  I am not that way so much any more.

Here is why.  First, I have lost the illusion that I can control such things, especially in the days when I was not a pastor.  Second, I have found myself in a completely secular world at Vanderbilt.  You can get into trouble at Vanderbilt for observing Christmas.  It has become a cultural thing.  Third, I think that I have come to see that crankiness has to be used selectively, if at all ;-)

I still try to tie our celebrations at the Frassati House to St. Nicholas Day or Immaculate Conception.  But I do see some value in letting in a bit of cheer for the students trapped in the midst of exams and secularism.  There is nothing drearier than the Vanderbilt campus in December.  I have noticed that there are some decorations at the Medical Center, unlike the main campus.  I guess that they realize that suffering people need some hope and cheer.  I remember being one of those people, bringing my mother for radiation treatments during late Advent and Christmas time of 1993.  And I do remember the decorations.

I think that the best way to keep Advent, as the best way to do everything in the Christian life, is with Mary.  For her, Advent was about waiting.  But there was also joy.  There must have been external observances of some sort: the equivalent of getting the nursery ready (a nursery that would never be used!) or of a baby shower in the midst of those days of waiting.  Of course, there was that disruptive, government coerced but Divinely Providential journey to Bethlehem.  With her, however, the interior life was most important.  So it should be with us.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Here we go!

What a great expression!  Peggy Hunt, who is a high school and college friend of my sister and who now practically runs the Dominican Campus, says this when she answers the phone and I ask for Sr. Margaret Andrew.  What a pleasant and adventurous response!

I have hit on another response to ordinary questions and greetings: Why not?  As in, did you have a good Thanksgiving?  Answer (with a smile): why not?  Why not, indeed?  When we have the option to have a good anything, why not have a good one?

So, why not end out the semester well?  Here we go!

If you want to pray for things for me: a good response to the mercy of God in our Advent Penance Service; wrapping up new University Catholic assignments and plans; a good response to the Angelic Warfare Confraternity enrollment on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception; a worthy celebration of that feast; peace and calm for the students pressed with work and exams; thanksgiving for the growth of Belmont Catholic and an opening at Trevecca.  Thanks!

At St. Mary's: organization of parish duties, from altar serving, to music, to counting the collection, etc.; thanksgiving for financial stability; outreach to the diverse downtown location.  Thanks!  I am already getting excited about Midnight Mass at St. Mary's.  How beautiful will that be?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Est in illo fuit

For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we preached among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in Him it is always Yes.
For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we preached among you, Silva'nus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No; but in him it is always Yes.

Read more:
For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we preached among you, Silva'nus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No; but in him it is always Yes.

Read more:
2 Cor 1:19
For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we preached among you, Silva'nus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No; but in him it is always Yes.

Read more:
For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we preached among you, Silva'nus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No; but in him it is always Yes.

Read more:
For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we preached among you, Silva'nus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No; but in him it is always Yes.

Read more:

Friday, November 23, 2012

It's Black Friday, and I feel fine!

As well as being Black Friday, it's my 50th birthday.  It is a nice milestone.  Maybe I can make more out the time that the Lord has left for me than I have of the first 50 years!  I want to work on that.

Here is where I am.  I am a priest in the Diocese of Nashville.  I am very planted here.  What little family I have is right here.  My father is just down the road at Mary, Queen of Angels and my sister even nearer at Aquinas and the Dominican Motherhouse.  What a blessing that is!  My father and I made a visit to my mother's grave in Murfreesboro yesterday on the way to Shelbyville for Thanksgiving with cousins on her side of the family.  So on the human level I am very rooted.  Christmas will be spent with cousins on my father's side in Ashland City.  I work at Vanderbilt where I was born and where my parents met.  The rest of the time I am at St. Mary's Downtown, the oldest church building in Nashville.   I feel a sense of belonging here that is not threatened by the political correctness of Kirkland Hall or the hermeneutic of discontinuity in the Church.

Things also change.  I change.  Praise the Lord!  Change is the path to holiness, according to Bl. John Henry Newman.  I hope that I change into more of the man God has made me to be.  I hope that I can change my way to get to God, who does not change.  The goal posts do not move.  I need to get the ball down the field!  God is right about everything.  The more that I can give up my response of "yes, but" the better off I am.  It's just "yes." 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Breather

Originally, I had planned to go somewhere the first part of this week starting Monday.  But then I needed to get my car worked on a bit so I thought that I would do that on Monday and then take off.  When Monday got here, however, I was just too tired to do anything.  At the end of Rachel's Vineyard, the facilitator tells the retreatants to take Monday off if they can.  The weekend is very traumatic emotionally and pretty physically demanding as well.  I realized that I had to take that advice for myself.  It was a slightly different experience for me this time on the retreat.  I was the only man present.  I realized in real life what good a man can do in that setting, apart from being a priest, although I think it is related.  I could listen and absorb things.  I could soak up some of the toxins that were spilling out.  I think that is what men are supposed to do for women very often.  Just take it.  Don't run away from the emotions, and don't try to fix them either.  Just take it.  Of course, one of the most valuable things that I did on the retreat was to offer confession.  And that is basically what happens there.  Jesus, through the priest, takes the sins away.  I was also there to do things, another masculine trait.  To celebrate Mass, most importantly.  And literally to keep the fire going!  With the retreatants and with the women team members, I listened to a lot but did not say much.  At the end, I was tired, and I just needed to retreat into my cave for a while.  That is what I have done, and it has been good.

The Human Pillar

At University Catholic, we have structured ourselves according to four pillars of formation: human, spiritual, intellectual, and apostolic.  Here is a great explanation of what the human pillar really is.  Anthony Esolen, the author of this piece, is right about just about everything.  I recommend his translation of the Divine Comedy.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

I think too much...

Yesterday and today, something in the newspaper made me stop and think.  In yesterday's paper, there was an article about the tax incentives that the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County is giving to HCA for locating certain divisions in a building yet to arise from the lake on West End Avenue.  This is the kind of stuff that gives me sympathy for the Occupiers, even if I think that their tactics are nutty.  Just why should a gigantic and hugely profitable hospital corporation not have to pay property taxes?  It's a business, and this is corporate welfare!  The Metro Government is redistributing wealth to the wealthy: the stock holders of HCA -- or is it a private company again, in which case this is even worse?  There is also the incentivizing of reckless real estate speculation.  The city is in effect rescuing the developer.  Cause a big enough embarrassment to your city, and it will rescue you from your folly.  Do you think that city would care about a big hole on Lafayette?

Here is the other thing that caught my attention.  One of the UT football players commenting on Derek Dooley's firing said that he understood why it happened, even though he admires the coach:  it's a business.  No, it's not!  It is supposed to be college football.  If it is a business, then the players should strike until they receive some of the profits.

Argh!  A business treated like it is a charity, and education turning into business.  Where is the common good in all of this?  I know that if Nashville didn't cut a deal with HCA, then Williamson County would have.  Isn't that ironic:  the "conservative" bastion of Williamson County using the government to influence economic growth -- so long as it benefits the wealthy?  Just don't allow the Contributor to be sold in Brentwood.

And college football -- what a travesty!  What on earth does it have to do with education, other than corrupting it?  Let the NFL set up their own minor leagues.

OK -- don't worry.  I won't be putting up a tent anytime soon.  As a Catholic, I so often notice and comment on the cultural decay around us.  But it is worse than we think.  It is not only personal morality that is decaying.  These matters of business and sports, for example, are matters of cultural decay as well.  Where is a sense of corporate responsibility?  Where is a sense of proportion about sports?  We have lost our balance in so many ways.  We are going to tip over again pretty soon.  Even the Church seems to wandering in the cultural wilderness.  Let's get back to the Gospel: calling and helping people to repentance and then leading them to commit to the fulness of the life of grace.  Maybe we should pay our taxes as well as HCA!  It would give us greater freedom from secular authority which we need in order to uphold our faith about marriage, the sanctity of life, etc.  The Church, for all her faults, will be here to offer order in the cultural chaos.  It is something that she is good at, and it brings out the best in her!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Tale of Two Retreats

Last weekend, it was Nashville Awakening XI.  This weekend, it is Rachel's Vineyard.  Both are really amazing opportunities to encounter the Lord Jesus for their target audiences, which are very different: enthusiastic college students in the one case and those seeking healing from abortion in the other.  It is strange to say, but the methodologies of the retreats are fairly similar.

What makes these experiences "retreats"?  Neither one, frankly, bears much resemblance to a time of contemplative silence.  I have come to the conclusion that Awakening and Rachel's Vineyard are retreats because they allow the Gospel to come to life.  For a moment, talk of the Good News of Jesus Christ is embodied and lived during these retreats.  That is why they are so emotional.  Not for the sake of the emotions but because the encounters with Jesus are real, and if real, then affecting the emotions as well as the rest of the person.

The challenge with these retreats, as with the more contemplative variety, is to "make it stick," that is, to continue to live the Gospel even after the experience has passed.  Relying too much on emotions undermines this process but so does relying too much on external structures.  The Gospel of Jesus has to be internalized so that we carry it with us.  I have seen this happen in college students' lives following Awakening and in the lives of the post-abortive following Rachel's Vineyard. Sometimes it does not happen, but I think that we should still try!  To experience the Gospel, even as a passing phenomenon, is an experience that may start to grow and bear fruit later.

I know that in both these weekends I have been challenged to live Jesus more consistently and so I am grateful for them.

Friday, November 16, 2012

"Changing the Culture"

It seems that blaming the culture is not only a right-wing obsession.  The Vanderbilt administration "is focusing on changing the culture at Vanderbilt and encouraging responsible drinking," according the Vanderbilt Hustler.

Just how would the Vanderbilt administration do that?  What do they have to offer that would promote a culture of "responsible drinking."  The virtue of temperance?  That would surely be discriminatory!  What they actually do is impose coercive social policies on the one hand and nanny-like police protection and dorm monitoring on the other.  Did you notice in the Hustler article that none of the RAs questioned had any comment for the article?  Just a coincidence?

The Vanderbilt administration would have to have a culture to offer to students in order to change the culture.  But they don't.  There are no roots of tradition at Vanderbilt to cultivate.  There is no transcendent vision at Vanderbilt to foster an identity.  Tradition and religion, the sources of culture, are both spurned at Vanderbilt.  There are no tools for creating a better culture at Vanderbilt.

The administration will have to settle for managing the anti-culture that they have imposed on Vanderbilt.  They are good at wielding the tools of management: incentive, coercion, and manipulation.  But they will not "change the culture" this way.

Culture is part of the wisdom of the heart.  It grows in the soil of communion and tradition.  That is why religious groups on (and off) campus are about the only sources of a culture that liberate students from the despair demonstrated by the frantic drinking described in the articles.  But those are the very groups the administration sees as destructive to student life!  Go figure. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


As I get older -- a week shy of 50!-- I have so much joy.  I know that I might not look or act like it sometimes (That sleep thing is still hanging on, although better).  But really I am very joyful down deep.  I wish I had a little more time to enjoy the joy -- but, hey, that's what Heaven's for.  I really am not worried about what is in the future.  I know that God is there.  That is enough.

I am constantly disappoint myself with myself.  But somehow God is not disappointed.  So I go on.  And all is well.  So I am sorry if I have disappointed any of you.  But I know that God will make it right.

My last big project of the semester is a penance service for Advent!  There is such freedom in penance, both the sacrament and the virtue.  It is a powerful tool of conversion and thus of the New Evangelization.  Let's pull it out of the closet!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Good Luck, Aggies!

As I sit at Nashville Awakening XI, my thought go to St. Mary's Catholic Center at Texas A&M.  We brought Awakening from A&M with much generous help from the Catholic Aggies!

And so, I want to wish them will today against Alabama.  Welcome to the SEC ;-)

Friday, November 9, 2012

Loneliness and Communion

Last night I heard what must be the best fund-raising dinner speech that I have ever heard.  It was given by Bill McGurn of the Wall Street Journal.  He was addressing what is good about a place like Aquinas College that knows itself and offers vision and communion in a world of alienation.  He brought his point down to a contrast between loneliness as a product of the culture of death and communion resulting from the Gospel of life.  It was a really good speech.  You left knowing why you should support Aquinas.

He cited as his source the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas, mediated to him through Prof. Ralph McInerny of Notre Dame.  It made me think well of Notre Dame, even though McInerny was a vocal critic of many things at his university.  But he was there.  Furthermore, it seems to me that Notre Dame still knows enough of its identity that at least the possibility of communion is there as well.  And maybe it is getting better.  At least, the football is getting better!

I kept contrasting all of this to Vanderbilt.  One of the many joys of this year has been the Esto Vir conversations in the Pub on Wednesday evenings.  This week we talked about friendship and communion.  There is much talk at Vanderbilt of community but not much of the reality.  (The football is not that good either.)  The essential commitment to culture is not found at Vanderbilt.  There is only a commitment to radical individualism, which cannot sustain culture.  For those who find it, University Catholic offers the perennial culture of the Church, embodied in local community.  Our Awakening retreat this weekend is one of the best incarnations of this culture.

I suggested to the young gentlemen that a search for communion is behind the enduring appeal of fraternities at Vanderbilt.  Although deeply marked by moral decay, the fraternities do offer the remains of a culture beyond the individual.

This is the latest outrage of the death of culture at Vanderbilt.  I fact-checked myself on this one, it seemed so incredible.  So this weekend, is it Awakening or this:

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Hope does not disappoint...

Nashville Awakening XI starts tomorrow so I ask for your prayers.

It is great timing for a retreat!  For the students: before the final push of the semester.  For us all: after a traumatic election.  For me: getting my feet on the ground as a chaplain and a pastor.

The next weekend is the Rachel's Vineyard retreat for post-abortion healing.

Also, pray that we are able to get Courage started in Nashville.

Thanksgiving for a successful 3 To Get Married retreat earlier in the fall.

These are the things we have to do: reaching the people, not controlling the spin.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Let's put the horse back in front of the cart!

For too long, to the extent that faithful Catholics have been standing up for anything, we have been standing up too late in the process.  A good example is the acceptance of same-sex marriage, which has just shifted to the majority in this election.  We have not defended and insisted on the Catholic understanding of marriage for far too long, even within the Church.  Is it surprising that people don't understand what the big deal is about same-sex marriage, if we have silently accepted contraception, divorce, cohabitation, etc.?  And that is exactly what we have done.

We have to start teaching the Catholic faith -- the whole thing.  And we have to start living it.  OK -- bishops, you are about to meet in Baltimore.  Teach us and lead us.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The City of God

We had a movie on Saturday based on the Confessions of St. Augustine.  I was relieved that it was competently acted and directed.  But it was no Man for All Seasons.  I have seen at least a couple of students with copies of the Confessions since the movie so that is a win.

The movie opens with the literal Vandals at the literal gates of Hippo.  The secular world that St. Augustine knew and loved was crumbling: Roman North Africa.  It would never return.  This prospect, although painful, did not freak out St. Augustine.  He realized that the secular order is not the same thing as Christendom.  The Kingdom of God is, after all, within.

The current election has called to the attention of some American Catholics that being American and being Catholic are not necessarily compatible.  This fact has been true for some time.  It is one of the hardest things that I have to get across to students here at Vanderbilt.  In many ways, they cannot go along uncritically with the Vanderbilt way and be good Catholics.  It is particularly acute for the medical students.  I can see the strain in the faces of the conscientious ones as they begin to find themselves in compromising situations.

The power and allure of this world are strong, and the accomplishments of an entity like Vanderbilt Medical School do have much to commend them -- but not enough to sell out one's soul.  There is, however, no way to be a complete purist.  I have seen a good friend driven almost crazy by an attempt at such purity.  I saw this complexity portrayed in the movie when St. Ambrose, as Bishop of Milan, comes into the Imperial Court and speaks prophetically to the Emperor and his mother while at the same time observing the elaborate court rituals which come so close to idolatry that the Church actually bases much of her liturgical worship of God on them!  Go figure.  I am afraid that there is complicity and compromise to some degree even in the case of a Carthusian. 

I am not sure that Catholics of good faith have to come to the same conclusions in every particular.  As a matter of fact, I think that some of us are called to mix it up in the world more that others.  But we cannot lose our souls, and we must admit that we are being driven more and more to the margins.  I am going through the painful process of witnessing freshmen undergraduates being rushed by fraternities and sororities.  These organizations have social power and allure.  They also partake somewhat of the good of communion and do some good works.  But there is a moral decay deeply imbedded in them.  I see good young people making compromises.  I think that most are going too far in their compromises.  But I will not abandon them.  Maybe there is still hope.

Hope does not disappoint. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

You Shall Love...

In preparing for the Masses this weekend, I was struck that Jesus replied to the question about which is the greatest commandment by saying: "you shall love..."

Of course, He is right about the commandments of love of God and of neighbor being the most important.  He is also right that we can be commanded to love.  Love is something that we can choose and, according to the Gospel, something as Christians we must choose.

Love is what we must get right.  Come to Mass today for further reflections on this point, but in this post I am going off in a particular direction.

In every area, including the public forum, Catholics should be known primarily as lovers.  If people are going to be exasperated with us, they should be exasperated with us for being so loving.  Sometimes I don't think that is the case.  I think that it is not the case in the way we deal with the issues surrounding same sex attraction.

The Catholic faith maintains the liberating truth regarding same sex attraction, practically alone in the world today.  That fidelity alone is an accomplishment.  But it is not enough.  I may be wrong, but I believe that we operate on a different standard when it comes to these issues than we do to most other forms of human experience.  We are missing the love.

I was reading a thoughtful blog post about a college student trying to deal with his same sex attraction according to the moral teaching of the Church.  Of course, he was isolated from the predominant culture of his university because he was trying to be chaste.  But he also felt alone within the Church.  He did received helpful, if generic, support from the chaplain in confession.  Thank God for that!  But he felt that he could not tell his parents or his friends -- except for the one who wrote this post.  He was going it alone.  He did not appear to know of the work of Courage, for example, probably because it is so marginal in the Church.  Why would Catholic parents be easier to approach about any number of struggles but not this one?  Why would Catholic friends be insensitive to this struggle?  Aren't we loving?  Aren't we a communion of sinners?

So often, in our public pronouncements on these issues, we say that they are like so many other moral struggles.  I heard a CD of a talk on same sex attraction that took this approach.  It was otherwise very helpful, especially in teaching the truth of human sexuality.  But here, I think, it did not look deeply enough at the suffering involved.  In a way it is true that same sex attraction is similar to other struggles, but in many ways this struggle is particularly acute.  It cuts one off from so many of the healthy forms of communion and love.  The fear of isolation compounds the isolation.  When we add to that fear the fear of being rejected by the very ones who ought to love the most and best -- the Catholic faithful, whether parents, friends, or mentors -- then the isolation is overwhelming.  In this condition it is a relief to find some sort of acceptance, even in the wrong places, since it is not found in the right places.

Our fear of seeming to approve of the disorder, cannot prevent us from radically loving the person and their struggle.  When we get the love right, we will be more faithful witnesses to the Gospel. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The light bulb goes on!

I have George Weigel to thank for a light bulb going on in my mind this morning: a light bulb about beauty.  I have faced a funny interior dilemma about beauty.  I believe in the objectivity of beauty, and I believe in the power of beauty to lead to truth and goodness.  I also have a hard time seeing beauty in the same category as the good and the true (and the one, for that matter).  I am no philosopher, so I will not make that sort of argument.  I certainly see that beauty can entertain and seduce, as well as engage and ennoble.  I don't quite understand it as I do the other transcendentals.

Weigel gave me a way to understand what beauty, at its best, does in regard to truth and goodness.  Beauty can show that truth and goodness are objectively real: "a profound encounter with the beautiful in art, architecture, music, or literature can make even the deepest skeptic and the most assiduous relativist consider the possibility that some things simply are, well, true and good. That Mozart’s Ave verum corpus and Fra Angelico’s Annunciation are beautiful, and that the chord these beautiful things touch in us is noble, isn’t a matter of my opinion or your opinion; it’s just true, just as the experience of true beauty is undeniably good." (more)

Again, I am not proposing this as a philosophical argument.  Even I can already see some threads that need tying up.  I am proposing Weigel's observation about beauty to show how it works in the practical sphere.  Truth and goodness are not just abstractions.  We can "do" them.  We can "live" them.  Just as the Gospel needs witnesses to show people that it can be done, that it is not just a fairy tale, so beauty can provide a witness to the do-ability of truth and goodness.  Relativism and skepticism say to claims of objective truth and goodness: "show me."  Beauty can show it, just like our lives can show the reality of the Gospel.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Fun evening

I had fun last night, and I didn't even go trick or treating!

I was at the Pub with a bunch of Catholic students sitting out on the porch and kind of cold!  It was sort of co-ed Esto Vir, since we were taking a break for the Vigil of All Saints.  We laughed and talked about such things as the distinction between "missionary dating" and "flirt to convert" and the moral issues involved.  I kid you not!  Missionary dating was universally seen as bad, but there was robust debate on the morality of flirting to convert.  Personally, I don't think it is such a bad idea.  I cited St. Paul in my defense: "What difference does it make, as long as in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is being proclaimed? And in that I rejoice" Phil. 1:18.

A happy All Hallows Eve.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Here is the answer!

From the readings for today:

"Brothers and sisters, be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ."

Human formation "issue"

I need to address an "issue" at University Catholic that falls under our pillar of human formation.  Actually, it is not an issue.  It is a problem.  We are taking the Frassati House for granted and taking the goodness of other people for granted.

By virtue of the fact that I wake up really early, I am usually the first person at the Frassati House in the morning.  I am also there pretty late as well.  I see things that I do not like to see way too frequently.  Last night, for example, after coming back from a fantastic event that Belmont Catholic had sponsored, I found the kitchen in pretty bad shape.  I also found Caroline cleaning it up.  She was doing this out of the goodness of her heart, but I am sure that cleaning the kitchen of Frassati House was not in her job description when I hired her as director of campus ministry.  The reason that the kitchen needed to be cleaned up was that we had offered wonderful left overs for supper after Mass last night.  (I hope that it can become a tradition, but it won't if there is not better cooperation.)  Many people had partaken of this offer but few made any effort to help clean up.  It seems to me that jumping in to clean up is as natural as accepting the invitation to eat.  It is just what a thoughtful person does.  And yet, almost every morning I find the trash can full, the dishwasher full but either not turned on or not unloaded, strange things left in the refrigerator, foods from the cabinets opened, etc.

This morning, I went over to get my computer.  Every light in the house downstairs, except for the kitchen, was on.  The living room, where I had seen a number of people before I left for the night last night, had paper plates and cups on the table, as well as papers on the floor and table.  It looked as if everyone in the room had simply stood up and left at some point.  This is true almost every morning.

Even the chapel was a bit of a mess, with kneelers left down and pews crooked.

Those of you who know me, know that I am not a neat freak.  I also understand that from time to time things get a little out of control.  All you have to do is to look at my office.  But I also know when there is a problem, and we have a problem at Frassati House.  Too frequently, too many things are simply left for "somebody else" to do.  This is not good human formation.  This is not communion.

OK -- what are we going to do about it?  How can we form habits of thoughtfulness in taking care of our home?  I would like for Frassati to remain home-like so I don't want to post signs or to restrict access.  How do we act like a responsible and caring family?  I need your help.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Monday morning

Well, here I sit at the kitchen table, waiting for laundry to finish, and wondering why I have gotten myself into something this morning that I perhaps should have said "no" to.  Just a regular Monday!

Mondays are interesting days for me.  We have Sunday Mass on campus at 9 p.m., and that really is the high point of my Sunday.  I love that Mass and find it a challenge.  Last night I was back here by about 11 -- relatively early for a Sunday night.  But I am never ready for bed then.  I am still too pumped up.  So I read the newspapers for a good while and then went to bed.

Even though Sunday is a late night, I still wake up early on Mondays usually.  Today, I have tried to keep it calm.  Drinking coffee, putting some laundry in, when nobody else is around, and going back and forth between getting a little work done on my email and browsing the Catholic interwebs!

I looked at my calendar for the day and remembered that I do have a commitment this morning.  Why would I do such a thing?  Well, it's those Dominican Sisters.  Can you say "no" to them?  I didn't think so.  But it will be great.  I also have candles -- lots of candles -- coming to St. Mary's today.  With my luck, they will come at the worst moment when I am across town talking to 7th and 8th graders about love.

All in a day's work.  This evening we have one of our first big Catholic events at Belmont -- a vocations panel, with Dominican Sisters among others.  It is a rather late evening commitment for them so turn about is fair play!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Good Stuff

I ran across the first chapter of a book about a modern spiritual awakening that happened in the context of an almost contemporary college party scene.  The author understands what is going on in the depths of the souls of the university students.  Go read for yourself!

Stories like this are always a conundrum for me because what I do seems to have so little to do with it.  The only mentions of the campus ministry at the author's (Catholic) university are not very flattering and incidental to her conversion.  Oh well!

Stories like this make me wonder what we are doing at University Catholic and how we can do it better.  Obviously something needs to be done.  Just what is it?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Can We Live Jesus?

"Whoever would be first among you will be the slave of all."

Jesus did this.  Can we?  Will we?  Certainly in personal matters, we should and can serve others.  That is what marriage is all about: serving one's spouse.  Can we do it at work, in politics -- everywhere and all the time?  Can we do it at University Catholic?

Is the civilization of love possible?  Yes, it is.  But it is counter-cultural.  We cannot get there by going with the flow.

The civilization of love is not compatible with the self-absorbed culture of ours.  I was reading an article this morning that spoke of the "single nation."  This is a culture based on the kinds of things that only those who are single can think are important: dogs not children, to sum it up crudely.  The civilization of love is likewise not compatible with corporatism and consumerism in economics, imperialism in foreign policy, or private interest in politics.  It is not compatible with letting others serve us rather than serving.

We can talk about the theoretical problems of each of these rivals to love, but it is easiest to see that they don't work.  The personal ethics of the "single nation" will die out in a generation -- by definition.  Who will take care of you if you have no children who have themselves been loved sacrificially -- and the government is broke?  Fido?  Maybe I am wrong about the practicality of corporatism and consumerism -- ain't money what makes the world go 'round?  But it is the selfish love of money that makes the world come to an economic halt, as in the Great Recession.  We can keep pushing our cultural imperialism of Hollywood and condoms on the rest of the world, but they hate us for it.  And politics -- who would argue that's not broken?

So instead, let's love.  What does that look like?  Well, in large measure it looks like something old:  family, community, simplicity, humility, the common good.  But it also has to be radically new -- literally going back to the roots.  Jesus looked familiar is some ways, but he was also unsettling.  We have to begin on a new basis: the human person, not abstractions.  Why don't we want to do this?  Because human beings make demands on us.  This is why we prefer puppy to baby.  Why we prefer corporate policies to relationships.  Why we prefer a huge resume to personal commitment.  Abstractions are easier than people.

Just do it.  We do not need another cause or campaign.  We need love, right where we are, among the people we are with.  We need it, for example, in University Catholic.  Vanderbilt promotes a sense of entitlement, preparing its graduates to join the entitled elites of this world.  It cannot be so among us.  We need to care about being a part of the liturgy in communion, not merely a liturgical consumer -- a "roaming" Catholic.  We need to pray for one another.  We need to cherish our home at the Frassati House with one another and do our "chores" there, not use it merely as a supplement to the meal plan or a place to go when all else fails.  We need to share our love on the campus and beyond.  We need to grow in our knowledge of this Catholic communion of ours.  It is wise.

The civilization of love is among you.  

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Delightful Discovery

I think that I have mentioned in a previous post that I have begun reading again.  Last weekend, I was having dinner at the home of some parishioners.  They live near Lipscomb University, and a local used book shop was mentioned favorably: Rhino Books.  I was intrigued.  There is another location of the same shop on Charlotte Avenue that I had noticed on my frequent trips along Charlotte.  For me, Charlotte Avenue has become the axis mundi, the "pole of the world."  Traffic is so much lighter on Charlotte than Broadway/West End/Harding Road that I use it in one direction to go to St. Mary's (located at 5th Ave, N. and Charlotte) and in the other direction to go to my father's at Mary, Queen of Angels.  So yesterday on my way to MQA, I stopped at the Charlotte Avenue location of Rhino Books.  It was delightful.  Quirky -- but not nearly as quirky as Elders -- and organized -- but not nearly as organized as McKay's.  Just right.  Of course, I still like the other stores, especially McKay's for real bargain shopping.  But Rhino had so many books to my taste.

After a short bit of browsing, here is what I came away with, in order of discovery:

Deliver Us From Evil, The Edge of Tomorrow, and The Night They Burned the Mountain by Dr. Tom Dooley -- in one volume.  Dooley is a figure that was still lurking in the Catholic imagination when I began going to school at St. Pius, although he has totally faded out now.  I don't know much about him other than his involvement as a Navy doctor in Vietnam.  He seems to me to embody that great effort to be American and Catholic.  I ran across a memorial to him at the grotto at Notre Dame.  I just dipped into the first book before I fell asleep last night.

The Collected Stories of Flannery O'Connor.  For $6.  Need I say more?  For the Frassati House library.

The Marble Faun by Nathaniel Hawthorn.  For someone who loves Rome as much as I do, I can't believe that I haven't read it before.  It was the budget buster because it was a pretty, old edition.

The second volume of The Tennessee by Donald Davidson, a literary history of the river.  I finished the first volume that I picked up to read about the journey of the good boat Adventure to Nashville.  Now I am hooked and need to finish it!

And at the check out desk, The Collected Works of Oscar Wilde.  I had seen in my browsing a beautiful edition of his stories -- for $100.  I have been meaning to read some of his stories for a long time so I convinced myself that I was getting a bargain in this paperback edition.

I will be going back.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Reasons to Leave

Go read this post at the Aggie Catholic blog.  It is about why young Christians leave the practice of Christianity.  I want to look at the six reasons cited to see how they apply to University Catholic.

1. Churches seem overprotective.  University Catholic: Guilty -- I hope!  No seriously, we do not want to appear fearful and reactive to everything in the world around us.  We are not prudes and puritanical.  We can enjoy the goods of this world.  On the other hand, there is so much bad stuff out there that nobody ever points out as bad.  Co-ed housing for students is so tolerated and supported that my criticisms of it are met with incredulity, even by some well-formed students.  Another example is the annual drag show being held this weekend on campus.  It's bad, and Christians should not go.

Solution: real Christian community.  Human formation!

2. Teens' and twentysomethings' experience of Christianity is shallow.  University Catholic: Not guilty!  As a matter of fact, the one thing that I have been criticized for more than anything else (especially by older people) is that University Catholic is too deep and demanding.  Come to the deep end of the pool!

Solution: authentic Catholic liturgy and spirituality.  Spiritual formation!

3. Churches come across as antagonistic to science.  University Catholic: Not guilty.  We may offer a moral critique to certain scientific practices, but that's in our field of morality.  Science is science.  Bring it on!

Solution: Propose the harmony of faith and reason.  Intellectual formation!

4. Young people's church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.  University Catholic: Guilty, I guess.  The Church's teaching on sexuality is beautifully simple.  It is what the world does to sex that is complicated and artificial.

Solution: Theology of the Body, joined to prayer, mortification, and penance.  Intellectual and spiritual formation!

5. They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.  University Catholic: Guilty. That's why we got booted off campus.  Jesus invites us to follow Him and nobody else.  Need I say more?  But we Catholics are better at spotting His many disguises in the most unlikely people and places!

Solution:  Discipleship.  Spiritual formation!

6.  The Church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.  University Catholic: Not guilty.  We are not unfriendly to those who doubt.  We even have some empirical evidence of that.  But we will challenge the doubt!  As Newman says, "regarding Christianity ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt."

Solution: Virtue and Fruits of the Holy Spirit.  Human formation!

Well, that was fun!  I really think that we have in place -- did you notice the four pillars?-- what we need to flourish and to bring others to Jesus.  We simply need to be more faithful in living our plan.

Friday, October 19, 2012

North American Martyrs, Pray for Us!

Or Canadian Martyrs?  Oh well!

What ever you call them, they are amazing to me.  Go read about them in their own reports back to their superiors in France.

Even better, let's imitate them!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

First things first...and last

I have promised to start blogging on the documents of Vatican II.  I am going to begin with Sancrosanctum Concilium, the constitution on the liturgy.  In the first place, it is the first document of the Council.  It is also the one that deals with the most obvious changes that came out of the Council.  And believe it or not, it deals with the most important things.

I do so rather unenthusiastically.  I have come to love the liturgy so much that I am embarrassed at all the fussing over it.  I have come to see that when we celebrate the liturgy the way the Church directs us, it does what it is supposed to do.  We really do not need to try to "make it more meaningful."  It already has more meaning than I can ever appreciate.  I need to let it change me, rather than the other way around.

To celebrate the liturgy according to the mind of the Church, however, now seems to be doing something revolutionary.  In most places it seems unusual to give pride of place to things like chant, Latin, and organ; to use minsters and vessels according to the Church's direction; to preach the texts given to us in the lectionary; etc. 

Obedience to the liturgy is powerful.  It molds us.  We have to leave some of our preferences behind to enter into the liturgy.  When we do, we see that the liturgy is strong.  It is direct.  It is sacrificial.  It saves us.

OK -- having said all that, I think that I am ready to begin!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

How hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!

This statement is heresy to our world, even to many within the Church.  Go to a funeral today, and you would think that you were at a canonization.  Everybody goes to Heaven automatically!

Who could make such an insensitive statement?  Well, actually, Jesus -- in the Gospel for Sunday.  He says something even worse: "how hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!"  Yikes!  That is definitely heresy to this world.  We had better not listen to what Jesus actually says.  Let's make up a different Jesus instead who makes us feel more comfortable!

Let's be thinking about this!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Year of Faith

From Pope Benedict on Vatican II:

"Therefore I believe that the most important thing, especially on such a significant occasion as this, is to revive in the whole Church that positive tension, that yearning to announce Christ again to contemporary man. But, so that this interior thrust towards the new evangelization neither remain just an idea nor be lost in confusion, it needs to be built on a concrete and precise basis, and this basis is the documents of the Second Vatican Council, the place where it found expression. This is why I have often insisted on the need to return, as it were, to the “letter” of the Council – that is to its texts – also to draw from them its authentic spirit, and why I have repeated that the true legacy of Vatican II is to be found in them. Reference to the documents saves us from extremes of anachronistic nostalgia and running too far ahead, and allows what is new to be welcomed in a context of continuity. The Council did not formulate anything new in matters of faith, nor did it wish to replace what was ancient. Rather, it concerned itself with seeing that the same faith might continue to be lived in the present day, that it might remain a living faith in a world of change."

Hence, our series on the four constitutions of Vatican II, beginning a week from today!  Actually, I also intend to make the Year of Faith and the Vatican II documents the focus of my blogging.  I want to begin with the first constitution of the Council: Sacrosanctum Concilium, the constitution on the liturgy.

Some of you have probably noticed a bit more serious tone to our Sunday Masses this school year.  That shift has been intentional, and I do not apologize for it.  The liturgy is serious business!  It has taken 50 years, but the resources needed to offer the liturgy of the Church according to the mind of the Church, as expressed at Vatican II, are just now becoming available, at least in English.  I hope to explain and to teach about the Vatican II liturgy and to embody it in our Masses, as best we can.  This is very exciting for me.  I understand that it might pose challenges to what we are accustomed to at Mass.  It does for me.  But I hope that we can come to a deeper encounter with the Lord Jesus at Mass by being willing to follow the mind of the Church as it is shown in the Vatican II documents.  Shall we give it a try?

Friday, October 5, 2012

Two of my favorites!

The Little Sisters of the Poor and Frannie Boyle!

Does life get any better than this?!

Ask and you shall receive...

Yesterday, I was posting about my need for spiritual guidance to find my balance between my two assignments, and it came -- in a number of ways.  Everything from from being the topic of my spiritual reading to healthy and helpful conversations with friends and collaborators really helped a lot yesterday.  What also helped was my willingness to be open to the need for help and to be open to the help offered.

Now, I think that I will ask for sleep!  If I do, I will probably end up like Rip Van Winkle ;-)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

New Blog, Old Blog

OK -- I have decided to put the Vandy+Catholic blog to bed, just to play nice with the university.  I had started this blog in an effort to separate my chaplain musings from my more personal musings, but since I am now at St. Mary's as well -- well, I will type, and you can sort it out!

The link on the website says "Chaplain's Blog" anyway so be warned this blog is not an official statement of University Catholic but only of the chaplain.

Monday, September 17, 2012

All things to all men...

Well, this was another deeply satisfying and pretty exhausting weekend.  I am not really sure what God is up to with either University Catholic or with St. Mary's, but He is up to SOMETHING.  At times, I get freaked out living in the uncertainty.  Of course, I need to chill and be at peace.  All I need to do is to do what I need to do.  And I pretty much know what I need to do.  Each day there is a new challenge that presents itself.  Right now, I need to respond to the help that is being offered at St. Mary's and to make some decisions about supporting religious education in the parish.  With the university students, I need to be more intentional individually with some some of the young men.  I noticed at Mass last night how many young men were at Mass, which is a very good thing, but I was challenged to think of how to get some of them to make the next step as Christian disciples.  Of course, I need to "meet the people." 

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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