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.

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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