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: http://www.ewtn.com/ewtn/bible/search_bible.asp#ixzz2D940Ctsp
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: http://www.ewtn.com/ewtn/bible/search_bible.asp#ixzz2D940Ctsp
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: http://www.ewtn.com/ewtn/bible/search_bible.asp#ixzz2D940Ctsp
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: http://www.ewtn.com/ewtn/bible/search_bible.asp#ixzz2D940Ctsp
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: http://www.ewtn.com/ewtn/bible/search_bible.asp#ixzz2D940Ctsp

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.

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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