Saturday, December 28, 2013

Common Life

"Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."

This is from the second reading for Mass tomorrow, the Feast of the Holy Family. Maybe because I have so little family and have experienced so little common life in seminary or as a priest, I think that I perhaps idealize family and common life. But this quotation sounds pretty good to me. Why don't we do it in our families or, in my case, in rectories? Whatever work we have to do or interests we have, surely this sort of communion is better and more real. Work and interests will pass away but not charity.

I will continue to be idealistic about family and common life. Maybe I will even experience it!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, December 27, 2013

Rough day

Up through Christmas, I was very busy, and even though I was sicker a few of those days than I am now, I seemed to be making some sort of progress. Now I just feel crummy physically and overwhelmed otherwise. It will be better. I am going to have organize myself for the long haul to deal with Daddy's estate, even though it's not that complicated. Things can only be done in a certain order. It will be good for me. I just wish that I felt better and had a little more energy.

I am just now starting to miss him. He was always there and supportive. But, you know -- I know, he still is. It really is not that different.

Maybe I'll wake up and feel better tomorrow. If I don't, I will deal with it.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Reclaiming Advent

The timing of my father's death has allowed me to bow out of a lot of "Christmas" celebrations.  I am grateful.  My father was a great believer in keeping Christmas in Christmas and not in Advent.  When I was a boy, for example, we always went out and cut down our Christmas tree on December 23, my grandfather's birthday.  And my parents had their big party on New Years Day.

My good friend (and one of Daddy's pall bearers) Roger Sisson gave me for my birthday, at dinner with my father, a wonderful Advent CD made by the nuns of the Ephesus Monastery.  I have had it almost continually playing in my car these days.

Advent is serious and seriously beautiful.  Advent cannot really exist side by side with all sorts of Christmas extravaganzas.  Some people have expressed sorrow that Daddy died so close to Christmas -- well not from his point of view!  We were not even into "deep" Advent yet.  And he actually died on one of the bright spots of Advent, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (as well as what once was the feast of St. Jane Frances de Chantal, whose motto is Vive Jesu.)  One of the resolutions that I am going to take from my father's death is to get back to keeping Advent as best as I can.  Being prepared for death is one of the lessons of Advent.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Bill Baker aphorisms

Maybe this is a good forum for gathering those quips that my father used to toss off with such flair.  I will get us started.  Please provide as much specificity as you can.

I have already referred to one:
"Everything will proceed normally at once."  Attributed by my father to Maj. Arthur Lee Burns of the McCallie School in the late '40s after a food fight in the dining hall.

From Doris Marie Sanders, former Clerk and Master of Chetham County:
"So be it."  After Daddy admitted defeat in a legal argument.

One of my favorites:
"Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from poor judgment."  Wise.

Jump right in with any that you remember!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Changed World

It is only beginning to dawn on me how much the world is now changed for me since the death of my father, following my mother's death by almost 20 years.

My fears are frankly pretty small.  I am afraid about the practical things of life.  I am dreading dealing with my father's estate because such things lie so far outside my feeling of competence.  But I really don't think it will be as bad as I fear.  I made some first steps yesterday that were easier than expected, even if there are frustrations ahead.

On the much more important level of knowing his fatherly love, I feel that more than ever -- and there was certainly never any doubt about that.  But it is stronger now.  I still feel backed up by the best "cheerleader" ever.

I am flat out happy for him.  See the posts above.

I guess what has changed is that I am a grown up now.  That feels different, and it is not at all bad -- but certainly different.

I am at Bethany, the Dominican Sisters retreat house, with my sister for a couple of days.  Mother Anne Marie practically insisted that we come.  My relationship to the sisters is certainly changing, as I mentioned at the funeral.  Although I have very little natural family (and that is more precious than ever), the supernatural ties are strengthening.  The same is true for my pastoral work: my family and "children" at University Catholic and at St. Mary's.  Over the weekend, a few kindly parishioners expressed surprise that I was at the parish, but I really could not imagine not being with my parish family at a time like this.

People just matter more.  That is the lesson from my father's life and from his death.  I am going to try to learn it permanently.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Evangelical Man

These have been some very tiring days, but at least for an extrovert like me these days have been full of life and love.  It was so good to see so many people who love and respect my father.  One aspect of my father that kept coming out was his evangelism -- his preferred word.

So many people came up to me and said that my father was the first person to welcome them to town, to church, back to church, etc.  Some of his signature modes of evangelism were over catfish, at the post office, or out of the trunk "bookstore" in his car.  "Let me buy you a catfish" was the opening to conversations that would eventually get to a serious challenge to deeper faith or to any faith at all.  But genuine human friendliness and a huge laugh always preceded the call to conversion.

Daddy put the old in the New Evangelization.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

First thoughts on my father's death

I feel safer writing than trying to speak these thoughts, at least for right now.

There is, like everything else in life, the self-absorbed side to grief.  All the what-ifs and looking for consolation.  I know that trap too well.  It is the mode that I am in when I first get up.  I am not saying that I can't or shouldn't feel sad and cry.  It would be inhuman not to do so, I think.  But it can easily become about me.  So instead I think about my father.  How blessed is he now, and I would not begrudge him that peace and joy for anything.

Although my father had many accomplishments in life and knew many joys - wasn't that laugh great? -- he was never at home in this world.  Never.  If truth be told, this world was often not kind to him.  He was uncomfortable.  He was great at putting others at ease, an ease that he himself never knew.  It was what made him great.  He refused to settle for things as they are.  He knew that things were meant to be better.  He was not a lawyer for nothing.  He really believed in justice.  But he was more than that.

He lived the maxim of Bl. John Henry Newman that to live is to change and to become holy is to change often.  He, the most conservative of men, was changing right up to the end.  And always for the better.  I am sure that I will reflect on this at greater length, but maybe I can sum it up this way.

He is now in the hands of the just God.   He is at peace, literally and for the first time.  Even if he is in purgatory, he is the happiest person there because everything in the Kingdom of God is as is should be.  Things are proceeding normally, for once and forever!

Maybe these are strange and impious thought for a son to have -- impiety being a sin against a father's love.  But I think not.  One of the greatest gifts he has given to me, besides cooperating with God and my mother to give me life and always loving me, is dissatisfaction with the way things are.  Because of him I can never be a conformist.  I hope that I will be able to keep my eyes fixed on the reality of Heaven, where things are the way they should be, as he did, and not be distracted by the vanities of this world.

One final and maybe not related note: the UCat students are making a spiritual bouquet.  (If I am not supposed to know, I found out accidentally.)  One of the recent graduates included this in her spiritual offering: one day's work.  St. Josemaria, pray for him!

Friday, December 13, 2013


Here are the (almost) complete arrangements for my father's funeral:

Sunday, December 15 -- 1-7:30 p.m. followed by the Rosary, Cheatham County Funeral Home in Ashland City

Monday, December 16 -- 10 a.m. Funeral Mass at St. Martha's Church in Ashland City, followed by a lunch at the church

3 p.m. burial at Evergreen Cemetery in Murfreesboro

We are still working on the possibility of a gathering following the burial.

Thank you for your prayers.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

William R. Baker, R.I.P.

My father just died about 10:30 this morning. The sepsis was simply out of control. He died peacefully, with the consolation of the sacraments and his faith and family.

Please pray for the repose of his soul.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Update, late evening 12/11

Things have gotten worse during the day. Daddy's primary doctor was here with us tonight. He just left a short while ago. He explained the severity of Daddy's infection. It seems to have developed from a kidney infection, most likely. There do not seem to be many medical options left, unless Daddy's organs themselves begin functioning again.

I ask for your prayers for my father. I am praying for God's Will for my father -- for what is best for him. I also ask you to pray for my sister, who had a hard day here at the hospital. The change for the worse began as she watched. She is getting a little rest now. And maybe a prayer for me, in your kindness.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:St. Thomas Hospital

Update, 12/11, early a.m.

Here is a little news before it starts getting busy around here.

It has been a pretty quiet night. Daddy's nurse has been both high tech and high touch. No big changes, but all in all he is a little better.

He is sedated and intubated. They are still trying to determine the origin of his infection to treat it in a more targeted way. A few of the worse possibilities have been eliminated. They are trying to get him rehydrated and to get is blood pressure up. He seems to be headed in a positive direction, very slightly and slowly.

So thanks for your prayers, and keep them up. He is still very sick, with many questions unanswered.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:St. Thomas Hospital

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Prayers please

I think that most of the few of you who still read this blog already know about my father being in St. Thomas Hospital. He is in the critical care unit with sepsis. He is very sick. I ask your prayers for him.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:St. Thomas Hospital

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Do whatever he tells you

That is my advice about Pope Francis, borrowing a line from someone ;-)

Here is a great article about reactions to the Holy Father.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Really, really basic stuff

The big mystery that is overwhelming me right now is the wonder that there is anything at all, let alone me!  So amazing.

And then I figure that if God can take care of all of that is, He can take care of me, especially my sins and failures.  I need only let Him do it. 

So simple.  Why has it taken me 51 years just to get this far?  Thanks be to God anyhow ;-)

Friday, November 29, 2013

Compare and Contrast

Here is the top article from the front page of Wednesday's Tennessean: Diocese of Nashville

And here is the article just below it: Vanderbilt

See why it is fun being the representative of one at the other?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Pope refers to Robert Hugh Benson!

Really amazing that Pope Francis has read Lord of the World But it is so.

It's the best apocalyptic novel that I've read.  I like his historical novels of the English Reformation as well  -- and best of all his contemporary novels (early 20th century England).  Msgr. Benson was the son of an Archbishop of Canterbury.  He converted to Catholicism, became a priest, and was the Catholic chaplain at Cambridge.  He supported his work with his novels, which he churned out at an amazing pace.  They are amazingly good, considering.  He had a brother who wrote comic novels!

C. S. Lewis, Rest in Peace

Friday, November 22 is the 50th anniversary of the death of ... C. S. Lewis.  Yes, Lewis died the same day that JFK was assassinated. 

Let me say first that I do not unreservedly endorse C. S. Lewis.  For example, he had two good Catholic critics who can point out some of his errors: Elizabeth Anscombe from the point of view of philosophy and his good friend J. R. R. Tolkein from the point of view of art and life.

Nevertheless, I recommend him and quote him all the time.  He is a great porta fidei, although I fear that he is becoming dated by the total overthrow of reason in intellectual circles. I think that he will be best remembered for the way he engages his imagination in the service of faith, which is something that we do too little of.  Too often we forget that imagination is a power of the soul and therefore most fully engaged when giving form to that which we know by faith.  Just as faith is a way of knowing so imagination is a way of seeing.  We must see what we believe, as the Gospel yesterday said: "Lord, please let me see."  Lewis lets us see virtues and vices, angels and demons better than just about anyone I know.

So let us pray for the repose of the soul of C. S. Lewis!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

First Week of November: Death and Dying

Well, November is proving true to form.  The first week was all about death and dying: funerals, anointings, etc.  It was a heavy but great week.

The most beautiful part of the week was the funeral of Fr. Terrance McGowan's father, one of our newly ordained priests.  It was a poignant moment for me for many reasons, but the funeral itself was simply profound, in particular Fr. McGowan's homily.  Maybe I can preach that well someday!

Something for Remembrance Day:

Finally, please pray for the Nashville Awakening XIII retreat this weekend!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

What fathers are for...

Go read this from...the Huffington Post -- what?!  No, it really good.

Maybe this is what FTFH is becoming: shreds of sanity from the secular press.  We'll see :-)

Friday, October 25, 2013

You need to read this.

Go ahead and read this article on the need for children to attach, and then I will talk about it!

Done?  OK  The first time I heard of attachment disorders was at a conference on raising money for Catholic campus ministries.  Although I did have some rocky experience with Petrus, the company that put on the conference and whom I hired for a time, I give them credit for projecting a big vision for campus ministry.  At their own conference, they brought in speakers to help the chaplains in their ministry, as well as with money.  One of those speakers was a psychologist from IPS, a Catholic graduate school of psychology, speaking about attachment disorders.  It made so much sense out of what I was seeing on campus, not only the obvious things like the hook-up culture but even things like why so many good guys don't ask girls on dates.  She had this crazy idea that babies and small children need lots of their mothers' time, attention, and physical contact.  I thought that this was so true and explained so much.  But I also thought that it would not get anywhere: that in the world's view it was just a kooky Catholic's idea.  And then I just happened to run across this article in a secular newspaper.  I rejoiced, and I had to share it with you.  I have no idea who the writer is, but I need to find out.

Over my years in campus ministry, I have become convinced that ordinarily a human foundation has to be built before much of anything supernatural can be established.  At least at places like the universities where I minister, there is no real human community, despite the banners and mission statements which proclaim it.  Everyone is pretty much doing his own thing without serious reference to other people, much less to God.  I see young people on the brink of engagement or marriage still making decisions about careers that will be detrimental to the formation of a marital union.  There is so much fear of giving up anything of the self in order to form relationships.  This does not bode well for the children of such a union.  Will such a mother sacrifice the time necessary for attachment to take place?  And will such a husband offer the tenderness to his wife to give her the confidence to make this sacrifice?  Yes, if they see the formation of a family as their vocation and fulfillment.

Finally, I want to point out that this article is from The Chattanooga Times - Free Press, which is the parent of another newspaper named the Times ;-)  I confess to looking at the Chattanooga paper regularly.  I really love that city, from my high school days. 

Oh yeah, and a shout out to my friends at St. Mary's Catholic Center at Texas A&M.  I am so glad that I went to visit them so early on in my chaplain days.  I think that St. Mary's and A&M generally do foster community.  Any Vanderbilt fans down there for the game this weekend should go to the St. Mary's tailgate.  Tell them I sent you!  It is that sense of community rooted in Catholic faith that causes me to say that as a university chaplain if I am good and say my prayers, when I die I will go to College Station!

It is good to be back!


Saturday, August 17, 2013

So long...for now!

A new year is beginning, and I need to make some changes.  Taking on a parish along with the chaplaincy of University Catholic did not seem such a big thing when the assignments began last year about this time.  By the end of the school year, however, I realized that I was not keeping up.  Ah, but summer was here, I thought to myself, and I so could catch up.  Well, it has not happened that way.

So I am going to make some changes, very practical ones --like what I do when I get up in the morning.  I am afraid that Finer than a frog's hair is not going to fit into the new schedule.  Who knows, it might be back.  I kind of think so, but for now it's "goodbye" to virtual Fr. Baker.  I will still be "live" at St. Mary's and at University Catholic ;-)

Please continue to pray for the parish, the chaplaincy, and, in your kindness, for me!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Here we go again :-)

Well, little as I am ready for it -- here we go again: a new year at University Catholic!

As overwhelmed and unprepared as I feel, we have come a long way since 2006.  I wasn't even on campus until August 16 that first year.

What is really making the difference this year is Caroline Duffy, the director of campus ministry.  She is awesome!  And just in time.  Of necessity and definitely a positive development, I will be chaplain, not chaplain + a lot of other things.  That is the way it ought to be -- and has to be.  She and Kathleen Cordell are a dynamic duo!  I don't know how they put up with me.  Really.  And there is the new FOCUS team.  I think that I scared them to death yesterday, dragging them around Nashville.  You see, three out of the four are new to town.  I was trying to be hospitable, but I am not so sure it that is the way it turned out.

It will be a joy to be with the students again beginning this afternoon for our leadership retreat at Marymount.  I am looking forward to it -- but just a few things to do to get there ;-)

On other fronts, seminarians are leaving town.  St. Mary's needs a lot of attention to get things started for the fall.  Here we go -- so please pray!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

and what about continence?

I have been reading and hearing more about the vocation to celibacy, which I have posted about before.  Here is my take in a nutshell.  It is a vocation and not a default.  It positively frees one to love in a remarkably generous way.  This is the vocation that single people are called to, perhaps for a time or perhaps permanently, perhaps in conjunction with ordination or with religious consecration or perhaps not.  It is established by the Lord Himself and strongly endorsed by St. Paul and has existed from the beginning of Christianity.  I think that it is the vocation of those with firmly established same sex attraction.

Well, if that is not enough to get me burned at the stake, try this!  Continence within marriage is a good idea.  About the only time we hear this suggested is in relation to NFP.  Couples are taught how to avoid pregnancy by use of voluntary continence during fertile periods.  But what about continence at other times and for other reasons?  Of course I am celibate so what do I know, but it seems to me that for those who are married the practice of voluntary continence would be an obvious ascetical practice, right up there with prayer, fasting, and alms giving.  If voluntary continence were a more ordinary part of Catholic married life, then NFP would actually make more sense.  It would be just one more reason for applying this healthy practice.  I think that it would strengthen marriages.  Don't we value more what we abstain from periodically?  I think that it would be a good antidote and perhaps even a preventative measure against the effects of pornography within marriage, including fascination with non-conjugal sexual practices.

This has dawned on me partly from my reading, partly from the experience of the Love and Responsibility series this summer (which has been totally awesome), and it crystallized during a conversation with Fr. John O'Neill on Sunday.  (He has a unique perspective as a priest and gynecologist.)  In any case, why not look to the ancient wisdom of the Church when we are faced with a terrible assault on chastity both inside and outside of marriage?  The beauty and power of celibacy and continence are part of the Church's arsenal of spiritual warfare.  Let's bring them back!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

a small detail

I guess that I should have added that the seven churches pilgrimage was on foot: 12.3 miles, to be exact!  (I thought that it went without saying ;-)

Everybody start thinking about Eucharistic Adoration.  Hard.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Whose Transfiguration?

I have an early morning habit (probably bad) of drinking coffee and browsing New Advent to read up on Catholic stuff on the interwebs.  This morning I read an article by Bishop Conley of Lincoln on pornography.  It got me thinking, or rather set my stomach churning, about what is wrong in the world.  It is not that everything is bad.  On the contrary, we have created a world of remarkable superficial order.  On the outside, we are all very bureaucratic and competent.  We follow procedures.  We are even superficially nice!  Those who are not competent and nice are basically outliers in our culture.  They are the ones who do not make it.  They are our service projects.  We don't allow things like blatant racism or cruelty to animals.  We are actually very judgmental.  We also cure diseases and promote public transportation.  But all is not well.  There is the interior life, or rather, the lack thereof. 

We live in a world that is very sick in the private and interior areas of life.  It is basically a desert and a wasteland.  Demons prowl around in it, like the demons of pornography that Bishop Conley talks about; the demons of anger; the demons of self-pity; the demons of avarice; the demons of ambition; the demons of boredom and loneliness; the demons of addictions.  They grow to horrific proportions.  They are generally kept well out of sight.  And they are unchecked, except by the necessity of keeping them private.  And there in private, they breed shame.

I do not think that ours is a world that has lost the sense of sin but that has totally privatized it.  One of the students made the point that when his friends are drunk, they express their shame at themselves, just as when they are drunk some of the other private demons come out.  This interior desert needs to be cultivated rather than left to the demons!  St. Peter Chrysologous asks: "Why then, man, are you so worthless in your own eyes and yet so precious to God? Why render yourself such dishonor when you are honored by him? Why do you ask how you were created and do not seek to know why you were made?"  Yes, WHY!

The problem is that our world cannot answer the question of why.  Indeed, we are very good at the question of how.  Somebody can tell you all about the neurotransmitters of addiction to pornography -- or whatever they are!  But why? -- not so much.  Why do I want more than this wonderfully efficient world has to offer?  Is there an answer?  Yes, and it is found by cultivating the interior life.  Can my interior life be developed in a way similar to the way that I develop my intellectual and social abilities?  YES!

But not in private.  We are made for communion with God and with one another, i.e. for religion.  The interior glory of humanity is what is transfigured in Jesus.  The Transfiguration "wonderfully prefigured our full adoption to sonship."

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Seven Churches Pilgrimage

On Saturday, the first ever seven churches pilgrimage happened!  Yes, it happened!

We arrived at St. Mary's to find 5th Avenue closed off and huge cranes in the parking lot.  The devil was throwing everything at us!  But we persevered.  We began a bit late, fell further behind in the middle, but ended up just about on time, finishing strong from Holy Name.

Anyhow, here is how it went.  First up and over Capitol Hill, through the Bicentennial Mall, into Germantown, and arriving at Assumption.  From Assumption to the Motherhouse, where we were greeted warmly by my sister, Sr. Margaret Andrew, and refreshed by the offerings of water, gatorade, and cool wash cloths prepared by Sr. Jane Dominic.

Thence to St. Vincent's and a little rain.  We passed from there between Fisk and Meharry, past Planned Parenthood, and on to Cathedral.  Then a rest and refreshment at Frassati House.  Next was the longest leg to St. Patrick's.  The pastor, Fr. David Perkin, who is also the vicar general of the diocese, and Bill Whalen, the CFO of the diocese, whose wife is the parish secretary, were power washing the entrance of the parish!

Finally to Holy Name in East Nashville.  We did it!  Seven churches!  And then the "victory lap" across the Woodland Street Bridge, through the Public Square, up Deaderick Street, and back to St. Mary's.

So what is up with this crazy idea?  Well, it is an import from Rome.  At the time the Jubilee Years began in Rome in 1300 (it is amazing that the reading for the day on Saturday was about the Jubilee!), pilgrims had seven "must see" churches to visit for the indulgences, etc.  Much later, St. Philip Neri popularized the pilgrimage to the seven churches among the Romans themselves.  And now we bring it to Nashville -- during the Year of Faith.  It was truly a joyous and holy pilgrimage.  We hit the streets, just as Pope Francis ordered!

Let's do it again!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Finer than a frog's hair. Really!

I sort of regret sounding sort of defensive about Pope Francis in the last couple of posts, mainly because I really do trust him to do what is best for the Church.  That's his job and not mine, and he needs no defense from me!  He seems to know what he is doing and to enjoy doing it.  I certainly need to get on about my business in the same spirit -- with which I am way behind.  When I am doing my work as well as he is doing his...And my work really is exciting, too. On Monday, I was back in my old parish of St. Patrick's in McEwen for a little while with my friend, Fr. Mark Sappenfield.  It was good to see some of the things that were accomplished while I was there and to remember so many good people.  It got me thinking about places I have served in the diocese.  I have to say that I really can't imagine an assignment in the Diocese of Nashville that I would not be excited about.  There are certainly some that I would probably not be very good at and some that would probably be more of a challenge than others, but at this point in my life and priesthood I think that I could find the good in all of them.  And I certainly see the good in what I need to be doing for UCat and for St. Mary's.  So back to work!

P.S. Come on the Seven Churches Walk on Saturday!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

false distinction

There is nothing new in what Pope Francis said about the "gay lobby," etc. nor was there any change in tone.  The Church has much greater compassion for those with same sex attraction than the world does because the Church loves them in truth, not in sentiment.  I have posted, for example, about the compassionate work of Courage.  Guess who is the most prominent proponent of Courage?  Cardinal Burke.

So let's enjoy and exploit Pope Francis' popularity with the world, but let's not fall for the distinctions between him and any of his predecessors.  There is simply no substantive difference.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Understanding Pope Francis: He is a Catholic!

Everyone is just going to have to get used to the way Pope Francis talks.  He is not conforming himself to the world of spin and sound bite.  He is a pastor.  He is talking the way a good priest in Argentina would talk, not like a PR person.  I think it is refreshing.

In the first place, there is no way for the Pope to nuance himself enough to avoid the malicious misinterpretation of the press.  If he were to try, he would end up not communicating anything at all.

Instead, Pope Francis just talks from the context of who he is.  He assumes that everyone knows that he is a Catholic and believes the Catholic faith so there are lots of things that he doesn't need to say all that much: for example, that abortion and same sex marriage are immoral.  Does anyone think that the Pope thinks any differently just because he doesn't say so at every opportunity?

And so we come to the question of gay priests and the gay lobby that the Pope was asked on the plane yesterday.  The first part of his answer was not said because he assumed that everyone already knew it.  It is contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church  paragraphs 2357-2359.  That is what Catholics believe about homosexuality, and Pope Francis is a believing Catholic.

What he did say is what the world is not prepared to hear: the truth of forgiveness and redemption.  That's the basic message of Christianity.  We can suffer the effects of disorder in our lives, but Jesus is greater than that.  What we cannot be is advocates for disorder or protectors of sin.  That is the distinction that the Pope was making between gay and the gay lobby.  Next question?

Monday, July 29, 2013


Of course, the huge-est story is the Pope in Rio.  Go read all about for yourself!  Here is a good summary of articles.  Krakow, anyone?

Unfortunately, I was not able to follow much during the events in Rio so I will be reading up myself.  We were in the midst of the vocations extravaganza (see previous posts) here in Nashville so I was planning and participating in glorious ceremonies and celebrations right here.  At Fr. McGowan's first Mass at St. Mary's yesterday, for example, they just kept coming for Holy Communion...and then for McEwen barbecue at lunch following Mass.  See what I mean?

I think that we can see from all of this that the old Church has a lot of life left in her!

One observation: we are in the midst of a generational shift, at least among the clergy of Nashville -- and I am in the middle -- in age closer to the older generation but in churchmanship (sorry to borrow a term from my Anglican background, but I can't think of a better one) closer to the young.  Actually among the young, I am probably seen as dangerously liberal ;-)

Anyhow, I am happy about it all and happy to get back to normal -- whatever that is!  For today: a day off!

Friday, July 26, 2013

The vocations extravaganza barrels on!

OK -- we've wrapped up the two huge Dominican profession Masses.  What a delight!  I did make it to the lunch yesterday afterwards at the Motherhouse -- all home made by the novitiate sisters!  Vows professed in Irish, Polish, and Arabic, as well as Aussie English.  We had a more Southern (American, that is) flavor yesterday as well: especially well represented were the Heart of Dixie -- Alabama, as well as the ancient see of Bardstown, Kentucky.  We actually could have had a "War Eagle" section in the Cathedral.  A very pleasant morning's work.  (One of the seminarians from the previous post about Norcia -- the one from Cincinnati -- came down with his little sister.)

Now on to the ordinations.  Fr. Stephen Gideon, Master of Ceremonies extraordinaire, has decreed for the ceremonial team to be in attendance all afternoon to get ready for tomorrow.  Yikes!  At least we have to finish by 6 p.m. thanks to a wedding rehearsal.  Well, it will be a good time for fraternity.  And knowing Fr. Gideon, a good lunch ;-)  And then preparations for first Masses, various parties.

Not to be crabby but...perhaps we can listen to our chief shepherd in the midst of the extravaganza:

 “You must not let yourselves be marginalized. Faith in Christ is not a joke. The only sure way, is the way of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus.”

“Faith in God's Son, who became man and who died for me, must make a mess, must disturb us out of our complacency.”

“This is your protocol for action: the Beatitudes and Matthew 25."

“What do I hope for from World Youth Day? I hope for a mess, such a mess: that the Church takes to the streets. That we defend ourselves from comfort, that we defend ourselves from clericalism.”

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Ah, Norcia!

As you can see, it was not all work and no play in Norcia.  We are actually sampling the two varieties of Birra Nursia, made by the monks, in a delightfully civilized way: notice the glasses of light and dark beer, accompanied by the best meats and cheeses that Norcia has to offer, all in a garden setting.

At the table are seminarians on the Rome Experience from Kansas City, Lincoln, Cincinnati, Boston, Marquette, and good ole Philly!  This picture was just sent to me by one of the seminarians.

I wonder if I should go back next year? 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Nashville: an "it"city

I read somewhere recently that Nashville is an "it" city.  Whatever that is.  I think that it means that the powers of this world are intrigued with Nashville for the moment.  And that's a good thing?  Hum...

For whatever it's worth in the worldly sense, I do think that Nashville is an "it" city ecclesiastically.  We're not Rio, but just look at this week.  The perpetual profession of 11 Dominican sisters yesterday, and the first profession of 12 on Thursday.  The ordination of two priests on Saturday.  It's a vocation extravaganza!

I am so encouraged by the dedication of so many young Catholics that I know: the Totus Tuus teams finishing up at St. Rose this week, the Love and Responsibility series blowing up on Wednesday evenings at Aquinas, Endow and Oratory here at Frassati on Tuesdays, etc.  Really too much to mention.

And St. Mary's is like trying to ride a wave...I think that I am about wipe out at any moment!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

St. Vincent de Paul Society

I am sure that God wants there to be a St. Vincent de Paul Society at St. Mary's!  After asking for volunteers to form a conference in the parish, I have delayed in taking the next steps -- part of my being generally overwhelmed by good stuff.

Well, God took the project in hand.  I received a call from parishioners at St. Patrick's in McEwen about the possibility of having a meeting of St. Vincent de Paul Conferences in the Nashville area at St. Mary's.  So I said yes, of course -- and have finally informed the want-to-be Vincentians of St. Mary's of the opportunity landing in our lap or, I guess, in our basement!  If you are interested, come right after the 9 a.m. Mass tomorrow.

Thank you, Lord!

Now on to those other delayed projects!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Love and Responsibility

A group of young adults here in Nashville has begun a Wednesday night series titled Love and Responsibility.  It is really a study using Edward Sri's book Men, Women and the Mystery of Love: Practical Insights from John Paul II's Love and Responsibility.  It is simple and wildly successful.  I give credit to the organizing group and in particular to Mike Leahy, who has just the right touch as moderator.

In the first place, they have chosen their text well.  Dr. Sri is good.  He simplifies JPII, but he is faithful to the source.  He does not go out on tangents of his own.  It this regard he is superior to Christopher West and just about anybody else that I have read or heard in this area.

One of the things that I wish were more widely understood about the Theology of the Body is how it integrates into theology generally.  There in nothing new in it.  It does not stand apart or alone from the rest of theology.  During the discussion last night, I was moved to suggest something from St. Ignatius' rules of discernment as an aid to avoiding being swept away by sentimentality in relationships, one of the topics of the evening.  Confession would help too.  Maybe Theology of the Body can be way into to the fullness of Catholic theology, sacramental life, prayer, etc., for those who experience the relevance of religion through it, perhaps for the first time.  The danger is that one become an expert in this one facet of theology and neglect the rest.  That is why I think that Dr. Sri is a more reliable guide than Christopher West or others.  He knows a whole lot more!

Monday, July 15, 2013

A little humility

Here is a good column by Peggy Noonan.  When she is good, she is very good.  She has definitely hit upon something important: the gracefulness (literally) of humility.

Humility is the willingness to serve the lowest.  According to Romano Guardini, bowing down to serve is the essence of the humility of God.  Yes, God's humility.  There is a chapter in Guardini's book The Lord with that title.  It's a bit of a shock to think of God that way.

Oh, but how beautiful!  (This is the beauty that is transcendental!)  It inspires a perpetual round of bowing to serve.

But how to face the fear that Guardini cites to begin the chapter: "Sometime or other the disquieting thought occurs to anyone who seriously endeavors to know Jesus' life: Is such a thing possible?"

Dare we say "yes"?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Who is the Good Samaritan?

Here is an example of needing to start with Jesus.

We all know the story of the Good Samaritan.  (Get ready for it again, it's the Gospel for Sunday!)  So who is the Good Samaritan?  Good little boys and girls that we are, we answer that the moral to the story is that we are supposed to be Good Samaritans.  Well, that is the moral to the story -- that is its practical application.  That is the answer to the question of what the story has to do with me.

But there is a more fundamental question.  What does the story have to do with Jesus?  That should always be the first question.  Of course, He is telling the story, but isn't He also the best candidate for Good Samaritan?  The Fathers of the Church thought so!  Why don't we think that way, right off the bat?  Then I become the man beaten up on the side of the road, the Church is the innkeeper, etc.  See how fun this is?

Well, let's start!  Before asking what anything has to do with me, ask what it has to do with Jesus.

Friday, July 12, 2013

"You know the Way"

One of the best corrections that I have ever received was from an old man yelling at me to stop speaking in abstractions and get to Jesus.  He was so right.

The Person of Jesus Christ.  There is nothing more.  See John 14:7.

He is the starting point for everything.  If I need to use an abstract concept (and we do need to), I had better have a really good idea how that abstraction comes from Him.  For example, the word "faith."  Yesterday at the meeting of the Catholic Business League, Bishop Choby encouraged those gathered to conduct business according to their faith.  I hope that this exhortation from the bishop was understood as referring explicitly to Jesus Christ.  I know Bishop Choby meant it that way.

Or in our discussions here about the One or the Beautiful: what are we talking about?  Jesus is the One and the Beautiful, and there is no other.  Do we understand that?

Even the word "Gospel."  What is that?  It is the fact that Jesus suffered, died, and rose again in His flesh as God and man for our salvation. 

I need to be more explicit about Jesus.

I had a Jesuit of the old school teach me about half the theology that I know.  He used the old pedagogical methods of the Jesuits, always beginning with the definition of terms.  I want to adopt something like this methodology so that every time I speak I begin by making explicit how whatever I am saying derives from the Lord Jesus.  It would at least keep me on the straight and narrow!  It might even help others to see Him, rather than to hear my opinions.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

What I got this thing for

As you can see, I am on my iPad. I am at a doctor's office with my father, and I can get some work done this way. Otherwise, I prefer my computer. It was also handy traveling just because it is small and light -- but bigger than a phone. So on the whole, it's a good thing! But I am not really into apps, except iBreviary. That's nice, even occasionally for liturgical use :-) I used it for a anniversary blessing this week! I am glad that I have a black leather cover!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Park View Pl,Nashville,United States

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Back to normal

It is great to get started again on a more or less normal schedule. 

We had a great event here last night for Christina Wirth and Jennifer Risper, former Vanderbilt women's basketball stars, who played professionally in Europe, and are now beginning as FOCUS missionaries.

I managed to shed one more responsibility yesterday!  That is a step in the right direction.

I am looking forward to the beginning of "Love and Responsibility" at Aquinas tonight.  It has been organized by a group of young adults on their own.  They have asked me to come, which I am happy to do until school begins in the middle of August.  It meets every Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m.

I want to get working on catechetical and other things for St. Mary's.  The fall is just around the corner!

It will be a good day.  Maybe I can shake this yucky summer cold that I have!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Where I take my stand

I received an email that was a cri de coeur -- a sincere cry from the heart -- about how the Church is responding to the cultural and political crisis we find ourselves in.  I want to respond as best I can because I know that this is not an isolated concern but one that many faithful Catholics are struggling with, including your author.  This is an area in which there is a good deal of room for prudential judgment.  There are actually pretty few areas in which the Church speaks dogmatically, especially in the practical sphere, that is, about what we must do or not do.  So Catholics of good will can authentically disagree with one another.  A disagreement between good Catholics about how to respond to the legalization of same sex marriage is what prompted the email I received.

In this particular case, I had written that I agree with those (Msgr. Pope and George Weigel, for example) who basically recommend that the Church get out of the civil marriage business.  The writer of the email raised some good points against this course of action but especially urged that we must fight, even if we lose.  He was concerned with the Church losing its militancy and its virility.  All of these are valid concerns.  My response in this particular case is that I think we have already lost and so we had better come up with a new strategy.  The recent Supreme Court decisions seem to me to be only a short step away from the creation of a new fundamental right to same sex (and who knows whatever other kind) of marriage.  That is my perspective.  I tend to see way down the road.  The writer made the point that a super majority of states still holds same sex marriage to be illegal or unconstitutional so that there is still much left to fight over.  I am all for the strategic retreat!  And I do not lose hope.  So sign me up for a good fight any time.  (I think that I have shown a willingness to fight in regard to the situation at Vanderbilt.)

But what if we lose the fight -- which I think we will or already have?  Is it all over then?  NO!  Christianity is not dependent on civil recognition.  We go on proclaiming the truth in its fulness, not in some truncated form left to us by the state or the culture.  We cannot rely on the state or the culture for anything.  We did this for too long.  We liked being recognized agents of the established authority.  We allowed our message about marriage, for example, to be contaminated by the ideas of contraception, divorce, remarriage, etc. that the state and the culture promoted and approved.  Even before the same sex marriage issue came along, what was left of marriage in our cultural understanding of it?  We did not protest enough about these other things until too late.  If we want to stay in the political and cultural argument, then about all we have left is propose a different category of marriage that is indissoluble, is only between one man and one woman, is open to children, etc.  The Romans actually had different categories of marriage, but that is not what the early Christians opted for.  They did not seek to revive the sacred form of civil marriage.  They didn't really do anything political.  They just lived the Gospel.

I think that is what we should do.  Will that involve less fighting?  Maybe, for a time.  But it also leaves one pretty defenseless should a fight come.  The early Christians did not fight politically, but they did die.  They stood their ground, they were misunderstood, and they often died.  But in the end, they won.  That is what I think that we should do now.  We should stand our ground in the fullness of the Gospel, not in some political compromise.  Sometimes this might get us out of the public argument, and sometimes it might land us in the middle of it -- without much in the way of political tools to protect ourselves with.  Here is an example of what I am talking about.  The Church has a canonical process for dealing with public scandal.  The bishops should follow this process regarding politicians who, for example, promote the taking of innocent human life.  It is a slow process.  It requires courage and pastoral involvement with the individuals.  It will not end well in the press.  But it must be done.  I know of only a few bishops who have taken these steps, even though it is the law of the Church.  It probably would not end with any political gain, but it is the right thing to do for the faithful at large and for the particular politicians involved.  It aims at their conversion after all.

All this to say that I, for one, am not afraid of a political fight.  But I don't think that we can win it.  I will take my lead from the bishops on when and where to fight.  Even if we lose or if we surrender politically, it is not over.  It is actually just beginning.  What will we do with our institutions under the HHS Mandate?  I don't know.  I hope that the bishops are sorting it out.  In any case, I am ready to do whatever needs to be done: to go to jail defying anything immoral in the mandate, to close or sell the institutions, etc.  I just ask the bishops to lead us.  And if they don't, well, I will do the best I can to do the right thing, come what may.  But politics and culture won't matter to me much, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ does.

That's where I stand.

Some good news about Vanderbilt athletics!

Take a look at this!  The first professional athletes in FOCUS are from Vanderbilt.  Are you surprised?  Not me!

Christina Wirth and Jennifer Risper are in Nashville right now.  Come to meet them tonight at Frassati House.  We have Mass at Cathedral at 5:30 p.m., followed by a reception at Frassati.  It is a great time to celebrate Christina and Jennifer, FOCUS, University Catholic,...and something good about Vanderbilt athletics!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

My life is passing in front of me...

or at least my time at Vanderbilt. And it is a pretty sight!

I am here for the wedding of Geoff and Cristina (Villarreal) Smith which was celebrated last night at St. Claire of Assisi Parish. It is a testimony to Geoff and Cristina that so many of their Vandy Catholic friends made it to Houston. Really, my flight from Nashville seemed like a charter! It probably helps that the wedding is on a holiday weekend. I know that is why I could so readily come. I will be back in Nashville for Mass this evening, God (and Southwest Airlines) willing!

Geoff and Cristina are excellent examples of the fruit that one would hope to see from faithful campus ministry. They know the Lord Jesus, and they live Him. Their goodness and faithfulness attract others. So much of the early leadership of Vandy Catholic is here, including couples working on baby two, others finishing up terminal degrees, others establishing themselves in careers, and one entering seminary.

The weekend has taken me back to the early days. In November of 2006, my first semester at Vanderbilt, I flew into Houston Hobby, just like this time, rented a car and drove to College Station. That is when I started to have a vision for what could be at Vanderbilt. It has taken some purifying over the years, but I finally think I know what we need to be doing. It comes back to much of what we did in those early years: faithfulness to prayer and sacraments, orthodox catechesis, and fun and holy friendship. It worked then, and it continues to. Of course, there is always more, and that comes in time with the right people.

This group got Awakening going. They also came up with our leadership structure -- our first "board" are all present! They had a huge and vey public Compline group on campus. They include a lot of converts. And not least, they are SO much fun!

I take many lessons back with me to Nashville to get ready for University Catholic 2013-14!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Friday, July 5, 2013

A Priest in a Hilton Hotel

Well, I am on the road again, this time for a wedding in Houston. I had a funny conversation with a man on the elevator yesterday. As a priest, I have people volunteer to me all the time that they were raised Catholic or used to be Catholic. This particular man said that he had stopped going to church after he moved from where he was brought up. I tried to think of a way to engage him a bit without coming on too strong (in his case, this turned out to be misplaced caution) so I said that one good thing about the Catholic Church is that you can find one just about anywhere you go. Then he said that he agreed but that he had not expected to see a priest in a Hilton Hotel.

Good point, and I agree. It just happens that a fairly significant portion of my flock over the past few years at Vanderbilt are gathering here for a wedding. I certainly don't have to be here, and as a matter of fact I probably won't be in settings like this as much in the future as I have been in the past (see my next-to-last post). But that is another thing about the Catholic Church: it can and does and should turn up in unexpected places. Of course, you need to be careful about this. In my work, for example, I try to be seen on campus -- a priest is indeed an unexpected sight in a Vanderbilt dining hall or at a football game -- but I never go into dorms.

Well, I need to get ready to go down for brunch with a former student. See what I mean?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Thursday, July 4, 2013

Feast of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati!

Among other things, today is the feast of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, the heavenly patron of University Catholic.

I strongly encourage you to become more familiar with him.  Here is a great site for information on this young saint.  It is my intention in the new school year to promote devotion to Bl. Pier Giorgio more actively, especially within University Catholic.  Here is a prayer that we will be using a lot more frequently, at least at each Sunday Mass:

"Heavenly Father,
Give me the courage to strive for the highest goals,
to flee every temptation to be mediocre.
Enable me to aspire to greatness, as Pier Giorgio did,
and to open my heart with joy to Your call to holiness.
Free me from the fear of failure.
I want to be, Lord, firmly and forever united to You.
Grant me the graces I ask You through Pier Giorgio's intercession,
by the merits of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

There is also a great novena to Bl. Pier Giorgio -- which we should have been praying leading up to today (oops!) but which I want to include in our regular devotions.

Get to know him! 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Core Mission

First off, thanks for prayers while I was in Rome!  It was really a good trip, but I am very glad to be back home!  I think that I have a better focus on what I need to be doing and how to do it.  I need to stick to my core mission.  That is pretty much good advice for everyone!

If you read this blog, you have heard me thinking out loud about staying focused regarding St. Mary's as we start up new things and regarding University Catholic, especially in the aftermath of the controversy with Vanderbilt.  I need to do a better job personally of staying focused to be able to fulfill my responsibilities at my two assignments without stretching myself too thin.  I think that I am actually making progress on this.  I have just about worked out a real day off and a monthly day of recollection.  I think that I have found an excellent chaplain for Totus Tuus training for next summer.  I have already resolved what I can consider doing for things like the Rome Experience in the future and what I cannot.  I will be leaving tomorrow for my last out-of-town wedding.  Before I was a pastor as well as a chaplain, I found great joy in frequently being able to go to weddings of students in different places.  But after this commitment (which actually does not conflict with parish responsibilities as it is over a holiday and on Friday), I will only witness marriages at St. Mary's.  You see, that's my responsibility: to propose Jesus Christ where I am supposed to according to my vocation.  A vow of obedience makes this a lot clearer!

In reflecting on many things swirling around, not only in my own life and in the parish and the chaplaincy but also in the Church at large, I am coming to see the need to stay focused on the core mission of proposing Jesus Christ.  There are lots of good things that the Church can do, just like there are lots of good things that I can do or St. Mary's parish can do or University Catholic can do.  But what is the Church supposed to do?  For example, it is plausible for the Holy See to have some sort of financial institution to help with the practicalities of doing things around the world.  That is the rationale for the "Vatican Bank."  But it is not central to the mission, and if it becomes too much of a distraction, it should go.  I think that is what Pope Francis has said, and I agree.  That goes for just about any institution that the Church runs.

This is true of so many of the cultural and political matters that the Church is engaged in.  There is merit in engaging culture and politics, but it is not the core mission.  It would be best if lay Catholics would radically live their ordinary lives in the secular world according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, receiving formation and spiritual support from the Church.  The Church's job is really not political organizing or cultural propagandizing but proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Here is a practical example.  There is a bit of a disagreement going on in the Catholic blog world between Msgr. Pope and Edward Peters, a lay canon lawyer.  It is about how the Church should respond to the radical reordering of the understanding of civil marriage that is going on now in our country and in the world.  As you can imagine, I agree in substance with Msgr. Pope in proposing that the Church get out of the civil marriage business and stick to the business of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.  Mr. Peters argues that the Church has to stay engaged with the secular debates over civil marriage because it is a fundamental human reality.  Marriage is a fundamental human reality, and the Church should teach accurately about it.  Civil society, however, is diverging more and more from the natural law of marriage.  It is not the Church that is changing.  The Church's unique contribution to marriage is proposing that Jesus Christ has elevated it to the status of a sacrament -- a direct channel of supernatural grace.  It order to preserve the Gospel, the Church might have to distance itself from the civil misrepresentation of marriage, all the while affirming what is good and true in the natural order.

Core mission.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Homeward Bound!

I'll be back in Nashville tonight!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Friday, June 28, 2013

Probably unplugged for now

After this morning, I will probably not be able to post much anymore. We are on the move today, after the Pope's Mass for the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul at which he gives the pallium to the new archbishops from all over the world, including my friend Archbishop Sample.

Late in the afternoon, we go to Norcia, the hometown of Sts. Benedict and Scholastica. I will see my friend, Fr. Benedict, there. I have known him since he was an undergraduate at Sewanee.

Thank you all for your prayers, and please keep them up! Also, count on mine. Things are coming together well on the trip and at home!

We will in Assisi on Monday and then fly home Tuesday!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Thursday, June 27, 2013


I gave a meditation to the seminarians last night on a few points from the witness and teaching of St. Josemaria, since we had just celebrated his feast the day before. (I confess that I had given basically the same meditation at the men's and women's recollections back in Nashville last week.)

One of the points I mentioned was his "secularity." Maybe that's not the clearest choice of words, but I think it is accurate. St. Josemaria teaches us to love the world. That sounds pretty shocking to those who see themselves at odds with the powers of this world, among whom being "secular" is an insult! And in a sense, they are right. (But remember that the correct answer is usually "and.") We also love the world since God does. See John 3:16! We cannot turn up our noses at the world. I think that this is pretty much what Pope Francis means about the shepherds needing to smell like the sheep. It is also what the pope means about the Church not being "self-referential." (Talk about another awkward term!) I think that he means that the Church cannot be about ourselves but about others. He wants to get us "out there." Instead so often we stay "in here." This does not mean that prayer, worship, and contemplation are bad things. They are actually the least "self-referential" things that we in the Church ever do! But church politics and gossip are things that turn us inward. That is why the Holy Father hates them so much!

One of the bad things of being in Rome is just how much the world (in the bad sense!) is with you here. It is an especially gossipy place, for example. I hope that some of the rumors that we are hearing here are not true, but even if they are, we must not turn inward. That is not the direction of love. Sin is the ultimate way to turn away from God and from neighbor. And repentance is turning outward once again.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Archbishop Good Example

The classes for the Rome Experience take place at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, or Santa Croce for short. This week there is a big liturgical conference going on there as well. My friend Archbishop Sample of Portland, who is in Rome to receive the pallium from the Holy Father on Saturday, gave one of the talks today. It fit into our schedule so I paid the (very high!) registration fee to hear his talk. I am glad that I did!

The title of the talk was: "The Bishop: governor, promoter, and guardian of liturgical life of the diocese." It was an excellent talk -- the talk of a pastor, not an expert or scholar. It was nonetheless substantive. Archbishop Sample was clear and organized in his thought and presentation. The talk deserves a wide audience. He began with a summary of the documents on his topic. He then moved into practical application, saying that a diocesan bishop needs to use his sanctifying, teaching, and governing roles in overseeing the liturgy in his diocese. He ended with a tribute to "Summorum Pontificum" as providing the starting point for authentic renewal of the liturgy.

This is only a brief sketch of his talk, but there was one part that I will particularly remember! Archbishop Sample kept saying that a bishop's own liturgical practice should provide a good example for his people and diocese. This reminded me of a story about the archbishop from when he was a young priest in the Diocese of Marquette. My sister, Sr. Margaret Andrew of the St Cecilia Dominicans, once was on a summer assignment in the Diocese of Marquette. She told the pastor of the parish that her brother (that's me) had a friend who was a priest of the diocese. When the pastor asked who the priest was, she told him: "Fr. Alex Sample." The pastor replied: "You mean, Fr. Good Example!" So you see, the archbishop has a track record of being a good example!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Wednesday, June 26, 2013


It is Providential that I am in Rome when the Supreme Court's first same sex marriage decisions came down. Otherwise, I think that I might be even more apocalyptic than I am. These decisions are truly shocking. Period. Our legal system is unhinged from reality. Of course, we have known this for a long time. Roe v. Wade has long shown us that. But we go further into the abyss. This time the Supreme Court seems to be tentative about it but goes there anyway. In a short time, I am sure they will be going with a full imposition of same sex marriage. I guess they want to look thoughtful or moderate. But I predict that it will come to the same end.

Well, in Rome one gets a little perspective. Somehow things will go on, until the Lord Jesus comes in His glory. You can see it here. Talk about a place of ups and downs! It might not be pretty or easy, but it will go on. And therefore we go on...proposing Jesus Christ!

Come, Lord Jesus, come!

P.S. Yesterday was awesome on the Rome Experience -- a beautiful audience and then a beautiful Mass for St. Josemaria. And too much good food!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Busy day

Today we will be going to the Wednesday General Audience in St. Peter's Square. It will be a mob scene. But it will also be exciting. It will be my first time to see Pope Francis in person! Even though a general audience is frankly long and boring, if you don't speak Italian, you are with people really excited to see the Holy Father. And you do see him.

In the evening, we will be going to the Mass for the feast of St. Josemaria celebrated by the prelate of Opus Dei at a big parish church near the Opus Dei headquarters in the north of Rome. The Mass will be beautiful -- and packed with people.

There are always big events going on in Rome!

Today is the anniversary of one of the priests on the Rome Experience so I am going to concelebrate Mass with him early. It is also the anniversary of my Mother's death so that much of my heart will be back in Tennessee. That's a lot for one day.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, June 24, 2013

Rome Experience

Well, I'm here. I am delighted to see how much the Rome Experience, the summer program for seminarians, has matured since I was involved with it in its first two years. Just being able to have a stable Internet connection to make this post is a big improvement. I am also happy to be able to help out again.

It is a beautiful, cool evening in Rome. I am going to bed soon, but I can see the dome of St. Peter's out of my window right now!

OK -- I should be able to post regularly. Please say some prayers about a couple of things I had to leave unfinished back in Nashville! Some things never change ;-)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, June 23, 2013

OK -- no more about the transcendentals!

Instead, I am off to Rome.  It's not exactly a Roman holiday but close enough!  I will be herding seminarians to a papal audience, to the papal Mass on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, to Mass with the prelate of Opus Dei on the feast of St. Josemaria, and on a short trip to Assisi and Norcia.  Not bad for just over a week actually on the ground in Italy.  Of all these things, I am personally most excited about Norcia because I will see my monk friends there.  (If I ever go missing, Norcia would be one of the first places to look -- there or Marbury, AL or College Station, TX!)  I will also see one of our seminarians just about to come home for the summer from the North American College, and I will be with one of our seminarians who is actually on the Rome Experience.  The seminarian at the NAC was a boy in St. Patrick's School back when I was there!  Yes, I am old.

Speaking of St. Patrick's, go look at page 15 of the Tennessee Register, the newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville.  My old parish had a Corpus Christi Procession on Highway 70!  Awesome.  Way to go, Fr. Baltrus!

Well, I had better pack soon!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

...and beauty is vain

Once again, I bow to Msgr. Pope for this post on physical charm and beauty.

My thoughts were drawn back to my post on the transcendental attributes of God which was also inspired by Msgr. Pope.  In it, I indicated some hesitation about "Beauty" as a transcendental.  As Msgr. Pope's post linked above indicates, beauty can be complicated.  The Book of Proverbs agrees!

There are those who are committed to evangelizing by Beauty: no less than Fr. Barron and Jimmy Mitchell!  You know the sort of thing: "beauty will save the world."  But I am a little hesitant.  There are charming and deceptive elements to Beauty.  Often the Good and the True are not very pretty.  The poverty, for example, that Pope Francis is calling us to.  And the pretty can be wicked.  OK -- I know that I am in danger of falling into puritanism, but I do think that Beauty is in a different category from the Good, the True, and the One.  I think that we need a little more nuance before embracing it for evangelism.

Roman Holiday

No, not my trip yet -- that's so tomorrow!

The movie.

Caroline has instituted movie nights on Thursdays at Frassati House.  (We have a pretty nifty home theater system donated by a benefactor who was moving to a smaller house.)  Anyhow, the movies chosen have so far been classic films that have some pretty clear Catholic themes: On the Waterfront, Life is Beautiful, Babette's Feast.  You get the idea.

Well, this week since I was in charge rather than Caroline, we had a more light-weight movie, chosen because of my upcoming trip: Roman Holiday.  It is indeed a classic, although a light one, starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck!  But it actually turned out to be more serious than I had thought.

To me, it is a delightful romantic comedy with great shots of Rome!  That is what I had in mind -- but I am 50 years old.  I was surprised by the reactions of the younger viewers.  They kept saying what a different world it represented.  And you know, they are right.  (I hope that my comments won't be a spoiler for anyone who has not seen the movie, but it has been around for sixty years!)  The movie is about accepting duty, rather than shirking it.  It is about adhering to social order, rather than upsetting it.  It is about respecting persons, rather than using them.  It makes a princess and especially a reporter look noble.  That is a different world!

Not to get too deep here.  That would spoil it!  But I was reminded once again of the need to foster counter-cultural communities where such human nobility of life can be encountered in reality and not only on the big screen!  It can be lived.  Human formation!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Look at this!

The parish boundaries of St. Mary of the Seven Sorrow's Church!  Or as well as Google Maps can do them.  The diocesean archivist found them in a document of Bishop Adrian dated 1943.  Few people, but just about every big building in downtown Nashville.  This has got to be the smallest geographical parish in the Diocese of Nashville.

For fun, click the map over to "Satellite" and zoom around downtown!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

One of my favorite places!

Our Lady of Alabama
Caroline, Kathleen, and I have been working on the University Catholic calendar for next year.  Since we have the calendars out, I have been looking at some personal things to go ahead and schedule like my retreat.  I just sent an email asking if I can go back to the Dominican Monastery of St. Jude in Marbury, AL.  I was there for my retreat year before last.  It was an incredibly powerful experience.  I am thinking that maybe alternating between a preached retreat with other priests and a totally silent retreat on my own might be a good plan.  This past year I went on retreat with some brother priests, and that is very good too -- in a different way.  It is also somewhere I like very much -- Featherock Conference Center in Schullenburg, Texas -- they have great retreats for lay men and women as well.

I want to give the sisters a plug for their vocation retreat.  If you know anyone (including yourself, if you are a young woman!) who might be called to the contemplative life, let them know about these good Dominican nuns! 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Penance...It's more than a sacrament!

Last night at Frassati House, we began Oratory again -- a gathering of young men to pray, reflect on the Bible, and sing together, following the inspiration of St. Philip Neri.  It was fun and inspiring for me.  Our Bible text was Matthew 6:1-18 on almsgiving, prayer, and fasting.  These are the three penitential practices that the Church sets before us in the Gospel for Ash Wednesday -- and today:

Teaching about Almsgiving. 1“[But] take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. 2When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, 4so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you."

Teaching about Prayer. 5“When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. 7 In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him"

The Lord’s Prayer. 9 “This is how you are to pray:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
11Give us today our daily bread;
12and forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors;
13and do not subject us to the final test,
but deliver us from the evil one.
14 If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. 15But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions."
Teaching about Fasting. 16“When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you."

Among the young men, there was eagerness for guidance from the Church in these penitential practices.  I have become convinced that a renewal of these three practices would help to renew the Church -- and me -- radically.  Ready, set, go!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Follow up to "Will the Church Help Me?"

The answer turned out to be "yes!"

The man requesting help called back very happy to say thank you after two parishioners reached out to him.

We are now working on beginning a conference of the St. Vincent de Paul Society at St. Mary's.  I'll keep you posted!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The One

Thanks to Msgr. Pope for once again being able to say clearly and rationally what I think in a much more muddled way!  "All things are one and connected because the one God, who is simple and one, produced them all."  Here his a post of his on God, and therefore being, as one.  He uses the fascinating connection between music and math to demonstrate the oneness of being.  Another analogy I thought of in reading his post is the digital world, in which the only real distinction is between 0 and 1, between not being and being.  The 1 contains all of being.

I think of the transcendental attribute of unity in more psychological terms and experience, rather than in the more refined and precise philosophical terms of Msgr. Pope.  Fr. Benedict Groeschel has written here about the transcendentals in this psychological way, connecting each of them with a saint.  He suggests that each of us relates to God primarily under one of the transcendental attributes: One, True, Good, or Beautiful.  More people at all times seem to relate to God as Beauty than any of the others, and St. Augustine is the example: "O Beauty, ever ancient..."  (Personally, I think of Beauty as a complicated, composite attribute, kind of like St. Augustine himself!)  Few connect to God as the Good.  It's just too hard to be that good!  St. Francis is an example -- and I would propose his namesake, Pope Francis, is too.  That is why it is hard really to "get" St. or Pope Francis.  St. Thomas Aquinas is the model for seeing God as Truth. That's pretty obvious.  And finally, there is God as One.  I think that this is a fairly obscure way to see God, and the saint proposed is fairly obscure, too!  St. Catherine...of Genoa.  Who's she, you ask?  Well, among other things she wrote one of the best treatments about Purgatory!  She was a mystic and a married woman, who was full of good works and lived in very chaotic times.  She simply hung on to God for dear life.  I get that, but I know that it's not normal.  I think that Peter's answer to Jesus, "Lord, to whom shall we go?" is an example of this sort of thinking.  It's all or nothing, you or nobody.

I think that one of the challenges of the spiritual life is to be able to see God in the transcendental aspects that don't come naturally to us and to understand the people who are attracted to God in those other ways.  I have always said, for example, that I think that I would have found St. Francis impossible to deal with!  It is why even saints can at times sort of bump into each other, like St. Pius V almost sending St. Philip Neri to the Inquisition.  Anyhow, I am grateful to Msgr. Pope for speaking well of the One!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Did Jesus really say that?

Here's the Gospel -- the Good News -- for the day:

"Jesus said to his disciples:
'You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery.
But I say to you,
everyone who looks at a woman with lust
has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
If your right eye causes you to sin,
tear it out and throw it away.
It is better for you to lose one of your members
than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna.
And if your right hand causes you to sin,
cut it off and throw it away.
It is better for you to lose one of your members
than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.

'It was also said,
Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce.
But I say to you,
whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful)
causes her to commit adultery,
and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.'"

In our sexually "liberated" world, the only thing that one could say about sex and marriage that would be considered offensive is that we can and should live in sexual purity and marital fidelity.  Jesus is downright offensive!

Men -- Jesus thinks that you are man enough not to play around with porn.  You can and must do the tough things that are necessary to get it out of your life, like restricting your access to the internet.

Unmarried men and women -- you can be pure in your relationships.  You can set limits and boundaries and not follow the example of those around you who live without prudence about sex.  Don't fall for the rationalizations about things that are obviously foolish and dangerous like staying overnight together for any reason or getting one another sexually stimulated.  You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see that these are bad ideas.

Married couples -- you can remain faithful and loving to one another, even when it hurts and even when you are upset with each other.

Divorced men and women -- you, too, can be expected to keep your commitments.  Seek the spiritual help that you will need.  Realize that being separated from your spouse is not a normal or natural state.  You will need spiritual help to live this way.  Do not date, unless and until you are free to do so by having your marital situation regularized in the Church -- there is an exception in the passage.  It is unfaithful to God and to your spouse to do so, and it is misleading to the person you are dating.

We can choose the way of the Lord Jesus in our bodies.  We must choose it, and then back up the choices with concrete precautions.  This is what the Lord says today.

Sexual purity and marital fidelity are big deals, even though our world thinks not.  It is because the Lord knows our frailty that He is so tough on these matters.  We can't do it on our own.  Take the practical and common sense steps that are needed.  And do not neglect the spiritual support you need.  Go to confession.  Pray!  Make Jesus a part of your daily life.

But there is hope!  Here is the first reading for today:

"Brothers and sisters:
We hold this treasure in earthen vessels,
that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.
We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained;
perplexed, but not driven to despair;
persecuted, but not abandoned;
struck down, but not destroyed;
always carrying about in the Body the dying of Jesus,
so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.
For we who live are constantly being given up to death
for the sake of Jesus,
so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

So death is at work in us, but life in you.
Since, then, we have the same spirit of faith,
according to what is written, “I believed, therefore I spoke,”
we too believe and therefore speak,
knowing that the one who raised the Lord Jesus
will raise us also with Jesus
and place us with you in his presence.
Everything indeed is for you,
so that the grace bestowed in abundance on more and more people
may cause the thanksgiving to overflow for the glory of God."

Do I hear, "Amen" and "Thanks be to God"?

Thursday, June 13, 2013


Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us!
Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, pray for us!

These are our patrons at St. Mary's and at University Catholic.  I hope that we can become more devoted to our heavenly patrons.  They do a lot for us.  They are our friends in high places!  That is what patronage means.

Patronage is a word that has some baggage here in Tennessee.  We had a governor who went to prison because of corrupt practices of patronage.  Even in the Church, we seem to be de-emphasizing patronage.  That is what is behind the dropping of " 's" off the titles of churches: St. Henry Church rather than St. Henry's.  Nevertheless, patronage is an idea that has a rich spiritual heritage.  Just what is so important about patron saints?

Like so many other things in the Church, one needs an understanding of Roman culture to understand what the Church means by patron saints.  Here is a good book on the topic.  Roman culture was not individualistic or egalitarian.  Everyone had his place and role in society.  Common folk had their aristocratic patrons, and the patrons had their clients.  Clients would go to their patrons for help in the larger world, and patrons grew in influence by what they accomplished for their clients.  This is more or less the cultural framework that informed the development of patron saints.

Like Roman society, the kingdom of Heaven is not individualistic or egalitarian!  Heaven is a hierarchical communion.  Go read Dante!  Whether you like it or not, the saints in Heaven are spending their eternity praying for you!  Shouldn't we be paying a little attention to them?  It is really fun and enriching to have friends in Heaven.  For example, one of the things I will do as soon as possible when I get to Rome is to go visit St. Philip Neri at the Chiesa Nuova -- his church.  It would feel odd to go to a friend's home town without stopping by to say hello.

Patronage is just this down-to-earth -- and as high as Heaven!  Back here in Nashville, I hope that we can come to know, honor, and rely on our patrons.  They have a lot of time on their hands to be looking out for us!

Our Lady of Sorrow, pray for us!
Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, pray for us!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Will the Church help me?

In the homily last Sunday, I told the congregation about a phone message that was on the answering machine when I got to St. Mary's on Saturday.  It was a man who was asking for help.  But this was different.  He said that as a child he had lived at St. Mary's Orphanage.  I suppose that was why he was calling St. Mary's Church --  There actually is a connection.  Here is a link (click on St. Mary's Orphanage) that tells of the connection to the parish and to the Dominican Sisters.  Now he is 74 and has no one to take care of him.  He asked: "Will the Church help me?"

I told that story at Mass, and after Mass one of the parishioners agreed to call him.  It took several tries, partly because we were not sure of the number he left.  It turned out that he needed a mattress.  The parishioner arranged for a mattress to be delivered to him since he lived out of town.  The store gave him a set of sheets, and the owners even went back later to take him a box of food.  He called back to thank the parishioner and the church.  He was so happy.

We are definitely starting a conference of the St. Vincent de Paul Society at St. Mary's!  Want to join?

Monday, June 10, 2013

About St. Mary's

My time as pastor of St. Mary's, about 10 months now, has been an interesting experience for me.  There has been growth at St. Mary's, but it is still a quite small place.  Since the parish is so small and has long since shed many of the institutional trappings of typical American parish life, we can try some new things.  Since we are downtown, a lot of people come our way but few are permanent.  What are we supposed to be doing at St. Mary's, and how am I to serve as pastor of this place?  These are fun questions.  I am noticing some things.  The Saturday evening Mass is a Mass of visitors.  This Saturday, we even had guests from the Yukon!  What is the best way to "do" that kind of Mass?  Sunday morning Mass has many more local people at it, but for one reason or another it is not a stable community -- yet.  For better or worse, I think that this is part of being an urban Catholic parish.  Just about everyone who comes to St. Mary's is passing other parishes on the way so it is not surprising that many don't make it all the time.  Also, many of our regulars are young adults who have not put down their roots yet.  I was standing outside of Cathedral as the Sunday 5 p.m. Mass let out last evening, and I saw a number of my parishioners or at least people who come to St. Mary's sometimes.  (I hope that they didn't feel "busted" -- I just happen to live at Cathedral!)  Also, we don't offer many things that other parishes do.  Rather than focusing on why they don't come all the time, what causes them to come to St. Mary's at all?  They don't have to.  On weekdays, there is mainly a different set of regulars at the 12:10 p.m. Mass: downtown workers.  I don't see most of these people on the weekend at all.  And then there are the downtown residents, my "real" parishioners.  And of course, there are all the people who are downtown for one reason or another: catching the bus across Charlotte at the Music City Central or heading to a show at TPAC.  What to do with all of this interesting information?

Here are some ideas.  I think that music and liturgy should be priorities.  That is one thing that is true of everybody who comes to St. Mary's: a desire to pray.  I think that many people make the effort to come to St. Mary's because it is a place of prayer.  The beauty of the building is conducive to prayer, the "noble simplicity" of the liturgy is as well.  St. Mary's is a church, and Mass at St. Mary's is Mass.  Our size and resources limit what we can do right now, but I think that we are making progress and can do more as well.  I would like to have the doors open more.  It is amazing how many people will wonder in when the doors are open.  I would like to continue to build our music program.  We are committing considerable resources to restore our pipe organ because it is the primary instrument of the Church's liturgy.  I would like to offer more opportunities for prayer, perhaps the Liturgy of the Hours or novenas.  I will be offering a course in prayer.

I announced this weekend more specific plans for catechesis in the parish.  Since we have more families, we need to help them catechize their children: first by helping the parents deepen their faith and by giving them help in bringing the faith into their family life.  I think that we have identified some good programs and materials that are already available -- no need to reinvent the wheel!  Next weekend, I hope to announce ideas for meeting the needs of those who come to us for help, both materially and spiritually.  I think that what we have to offer is the Christian charity of our people.  Movements such as the Legion of Mary and the St. Vincent de Paul Society are centered on prayer and people.  I think that they will be a good fit at St. Mary's.

I will need to be a better leader, not doing more myself but taking the time to "meet the people" who are the right ones to get things going.  So pray for me since I am organizationally challenged! 

That is certainly enough for now!

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

Popular Posts