Thursday, February 28, 2013

"You are free"

I am having a hard time saying goodbye to Pope Benedict.  There is the objective excellence of this holy man.  But there is also my subjective attachment to him.  I admire the way he does things.  I like it that he does not dominate.  He does not rule.  He proposes -- eloquently, and he prays.

I have to say that I respect his abdication tremendously, even though I wish that he weren't abdicating.  I believe that the Church needs to be humble in this strong way he is showing us.  I really do not think that we will see him again.  He knows that he can't be out and about without influencing things.  He won't do that.

I think that the Holy Father is teaching us to know our place.  While he has been pope, he has upheld the dignity of the office, but he has not expected any personal deference.  Once he leaves the papacy, he will be able to live quietly in a monastery without needing to be in the public eye or to be in a position of influence.  That's his place now.  I think that I could learn from him.  I think that the whole Church could learn from him.  Here is an example of what I am thinking about.  Last week and this week, there have been Catholic Day on the Hill events at the state capital.  St. Mary's has been the site of Masses for these lobbying events.  There has also been lobbying at the capital about Vanderbilt's non-discrimination policy.  I don't much want to be a part of such lobbying.  I don't think that it is my place.  I do, however, want to offer spiritual formation to the legislators, to students, to anyone who wants it.  I think that if they are well formed, then they can decide what best to do. 

I think that the Church needs to form us spiritually and then set us free.  "You are free," as Fr. Turvasi used to say to me in spiritual direction, much to my consternation.  There is a great danger in telling other people what they are to do.  They never become free.  If we are free, then we are also responsible.  This what Bl. John Paul means by putting love and responsibility together.  Love is the greatest expression of freedom.

I want to recast my own priesthood in the model of Pope Benedict.  I want University Catholic to be this kind of chaplaincy.  I want St. Mary's to be this kind of parish.  I think that the chaplaincy and the parish need to be about forming the students and the parishioners to do what God is calling them to do. I am, for example, trying to address the need for catechesis at St. Mary's.  I think that it should be based on the family, according to the mind of the Church.  I don't see the need for lots of buildings, a lesson that I have learned from Jamie O'Rourke as my ideas for what a university chaplaincy should be have come and gone.  I see the chaplaincy now as a house of formation -- formation that the students must do primarily for themselves.

In the church, I think that there is a fear of this freedom.  Of course, freedom that is not well formed is a recipe for chaos.  So there has to be discipline and order involved.  Look at Pope Benedict again. These final days of his papacy have been so retrained.  No big hoop-la.  As he said at the end of the Mass on Ash Wednesday when an ovation broke out: "thank you, and now let us return to prayer."  There is also a hesitancy to accept the responsibility of freedom: to take our personal and family formation seriously.

He is a free man, and he is leaving the Church freer to be herself.  I want to honor that legacy in my own place in the mystical body.  As my friend, Fr. Austin Litke, O.P., pointed out while he was visiting here last week: "you are a liberal."  I hope that he's right.  I hope that I am free and responsible.  Pope Benedict is giving us an example of what this looks like.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

About last night...

I have received a couple of inquiries about the interfaith panel last night.  I was not as articulate as I should have been, but I was at least faithful.

The question that I fumbled about with a lot was, of course, on same sex attraction.  It was not really a question, as questions at such events rarely are, but rather a statement that same sex attraction occurs in nature and so is natural.  It did not seem the setting either to clarify the data or to go into what human nature means philosophically.  I tried rather to show that the whole question of same sex attraction is a part of the complexity of wounded humanity that ultimately involves taking up the cross in loving obedience.

Although I believe that often same sex attraction is transitory like so many other attractions early in life -- especially if not reinforced, there is the case of deeply set same sex attraction.  What about that?  Here is my more thoughtful answer from an old post.  It covers a lot more.

Gloomy

Hey, sorry for the gloom lately.  But it is still February so give me a break.

Other than meteorology, here are the other things leading to gloom.

1) me.  I am pretty much of a mess.  Answer: God loves you.  Are you smarter than He is?

2) Pope Benedict's departure from the papacy.  I do not dispute his decision at all.  It just makes me sad.  I will miss him.  I depend on his brilliant clarity of thought and his goodness.  Answer: You still have all of that, plus the adventure of a new pope.

3) The mess in the Church.  See #1, except bigger!  Answer: Jesus in the sacraments.  Duh.

4) The mess that is Vanderbilt on the level of meaning.  Although Vanderbilt is an impressive place, it is a completely worldly place.  As the world gets more and more confused and incoherent so does Vanderbilt.  Answer: And why do you think that the Bishop put you at Vanderbilt?

I give up!  There is an answer for everything.  So no more gloom.  And February is almost over!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Watching history

I am not one to plan my life by television, but I do plan to be by one on Thursday at 1 p.m. -- I think that is the local time for when Pope Benedict will be wrapping things up in Rome.  Nice for him to schedule this on my day off!

I have really tried not to think or to analyze too much about the abdication or about the state of the Church at large, but a few things do come to mind amid all the emotion that has certainly been unleashed within me.  I think that the Holy Father has done the most powerful thing that he could have done to reform the Church in the most Christ-like manner imaginable.  What has caught the attention of the world and, I hope, of the cardinal electors is the need for radical conversion within the Church so that she can become the witness to Jesus Christ in the world that she is called to be.

Even as more and more contradictions come to the fore, even at the highest levels -- Cardinal O'Brien staying home and Cardinal Mahony still coming to the conclave, it seems to me that the puss is draining from the wound.  Pope Benedict is using not his words or his actions but himself as the instrument to clean the wound.  Only then can healing begin.  We are at long last not playing "The Emperors New Clothes" any more.

It must take tremendous faith to hold to the course that the Holy Father has set for himself, a real step into darkness.  He loves the Church, and he is determined to go where he is being led: "Quo vadis, Domine?"

And for me, for us?  Let's follow the lead of the Holy Father.  Let us go where the Lord is leading us.  I have the realization, for example, of becoming more and more unpopular not only justly because of my own faults but because I try to stand with the Church.  It is not about me but about the truth of Jesus Christ.  At the same time, however, I notice greater love and dependence on the Church by those in need.  Globally, this is seen in the decline of the Church in Europe and North America but its vitality in Africa and Asia.

I have never felt freer in my life.  Thank you, Holy Father, for helping me to grow up a little more in the faith.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Sex and the Sects:

Gender Roles in Religion

That's the topic for the interfaith panel discussion this year at Vanderbilt to be held on Tuesday night in the Student Life Center beginning at 7 p.m..  As I have served on the panel for a number of years, I have agreed to serve again.  But I don't really want to.

In the first place, I have never experienced anything substantive or positive coming out of any of these panels.  On the contrary, my picture has appeared in some controversial settings because once I was seated next to another panelist who got into trouble about promoting violence.  Last time, I was next to an atheist.  At an interfaith panel.  Go figure.

This time the topic seems like trouble for a Catholic in this setting.  I am going to try to be ready to articulate the radical idea that there are two genders and that these two genders matter.  I think that Pope Benedict has given me some good material for this recently.  Of course, you know that this position is heresy, perhaps even a hate crime, at Vanderbilt.

The notion that gender is given by our nature to which we adapt ourselves rather than an infinitely malleable social construct is the basis for the gender roles in Catholicism.  It matters, for example, that Jesus was a man.  It matters that He was born of a woman.

I doubt that I will get to say much and that if I do that it will get much of a hearing.  But I will will give it a go!  I ask for your prayers.  Really.

what a beautiful Mass tonight!

After the post of this morning, I have to post that Mass tonight at Benton Chapel was really beautiful.  I am very grateful to the musicians who made such a beautiful offering to God.  It makes such a difference when there is a critical mass of musicians: in this case, voices, strings, flute, organ, and piano.  I am proud of and grateful for their efforts tonight.  Onward and upward!

At St. Mary's, we have some work to do, but we are working on it.  Of course, things started out there with little foolishness and an openness to the Church's liturgical tradition.  So we will get there too!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

It's Sunday again,

and I steeling my nerves to hold the course on leading our liturgies at UCat and at St. Mary's into more radical conformity with the mind of the Church expressed in the Second Vatican Council.

I hope that I am not being too revolutionary in my approach, especially when it comes to music.  I really do not intend to upset people.  For the life of me, I cannot see how we can establish a normal practice of chant, organ, polyphony, along with other worthy sacred music, and some Latin to boot -- all of which the Council asks for -- without actually using chant, organ, polyphony, and other worthy music with some Latin included on a normal basis. 

I have, for example, nothing against Praise and Worship music for devotional purposes.  I think that some of it is very good at fostering devotion.  It is thus appropriate for times of private devotion, such as Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament or even during a retreat.  But I do not think that it is generally suited for liturgy because its appeal is mainly subjective and emotional whereas the liturgy is the objective and corporate worship of the Church.

I need to figure out a way to teach about this better.  But how?  The time of the homily is so limited, and so many things need to be addressed.  My hope is that the liturgy speaks for itself.  But I am afraid that we need to learn the vocabulary of the liturgy first before it can speak to us.  The liturgy speaks in symbols, and unless a symbol knocks us over the head these days, we don't get it.  We have lost so much of our imaginative vocabulary.  So I think that I need to spell it out.  Any suggestions?   

Friday, February 22, 2013

I can't help myself...

but with these opening sentences, how can I keep quiet?

"The phrase “hookup culture” is oft-repeated in reference to party schools like Vanderbilt. But ever since Frannie Boyle’s now infamous “afternoon delight” critique regarding the prevalence of sexual promiscuity at Vanderbilt that ran on CNN two years ago, our campus publications have been oddly silent on the matter."

Here is the entire sad column (complete with sensational picture and headline).  The most chilling line: "An unplanned pregnancy can be taken care of, while a lot of STDs cannot."  Any doubt about what "taken care of" means?  Frannie, where are you when we need you?

What kind of a place is Vanderbilt?

It is a place in desperate need of the love and life and light of Jesus Christ.  Condoms can be proposed as the answer to the problem of STDs (and unwanted pregnancies, etc.) only in the most mechanical view of the human person.  Epidemic STDs in a place like Vanderbilt are an indication of despair.  Everybody knows what to do not to get an STD.  These are smart people, by definition.  But they are lonely and isolated people.  Work hard, party hard indeed!  When life has been reduced to rankings, expectations, pressures, performance, and perceptions then there has to be an escape from it all.  And the escapes tend to be as subhuman as the pressures leading to them.

But this is not life.  Life is love and sacrifice; fidelity and commitment; friendship and communion.  These are human acts.  They are relational.  They mean something.  And they end in joy.  There is a source and pattern for them: Jesus Christ.  Let's propose Him!

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/26703/26703-h/images/image_039.jpg
Fra Angelico's Disciples on the road to Emmaus



I am so grateful for Lent

 15When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16He then said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” [Jesus] said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”  (From John 21)

This week I have felt like St. Peter being taken where he did not want to go.  Not that it has been a bad week.  Far from it.  But it has been a week of something big and different just about every day.  I guess it is my midterm week like the one so many of my students are suffering through.  We don't get to set the circumstances of our lives.  At least I don't, and I bet you don't either.

And yet I am very happy -- bone tired, but happy.  Lent actually helps.  My lenten disciplines have helped because they are things that I can do freely.  Sort of like loving and forgiving.  The circumstances don't matter.  There are more things that I wish I could have done this week -- not selfish things but things like spending more time with students or getting by to see my father.  I was not able to do them because of things that I had to do.  But my lenten disciplines have allowed me to say no to myself freely and not because I had to.  This freely chosen self-denial has helped me to accept the other, involuntary mortifications.  I am grateful for that.

I am glad that God helped me to pick out suitable mortifications this year for Lent.  They have not proven to be just more burdens but rather paths to freedom.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Deacon Bill Steltemeier, RIP

A dear family friend will be buried today, Deacon Bill Steltemeier.  The good deacon is best known for his work at EWTN being Mother Angelica's right hand man.  He deserves a lot of credit for that.  She is a hard woman to keep up with and to keep out of trouble!

But he is better known to me in relation to another woman, his wife Ramona.  To me Bill and Ramona are more than anything else people who love me.  Their home has always been a refuge of love for me.  We need such experiences of love more than anything.  These human experiences of love are the ordinary way for us to be open to the love of God for us.  It is what the vocation of Holy Matrimony is all about -- to provide a real experience of the love of God in this world: "This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church." Eph. 5:32

If I really need to, I know that I can always go to the Steltemeiers' home to be loved.  As I have gotten older, I have realized that these are the most important places in the world.  The Shrine in Hanceville is for me more than the magnificent Temple of adoration.  It is also the shrine of married love at Bill and Ramona's house.

May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace.  And remember Ramona in your prayers too.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Nashville Awakening 12

Well, there we have it.  An even dozen Awakenings!

It was really great.  Really.

I think that we should start calling ourselves "UCat" -- at Awakening we saw how hard it is verbally to move from saying V---- Catholic to University Catholic!  And we are becoming what the name says.  With no diminishment of Vanderbilt students, we are seeing identifiable groups from other schools taking part in UCat.  At this Awakening, for example, from Belmont and from Austin Peay.  Aquinas students are also more evident these days.  All for good!

OK -- it's Monday after Awakening.  There is a lot on the plate today, but maybe a nap this afternoon -- Asleepening?  ;-)


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sunday of Awakening

I am always up before anyone else at Awakening and so I ask your prayers for the retreaters today.  Sunday of Awakening is powerful. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

begin again!

Well, in my last post I think that I started analyzing again.  Enough!

So, I will be happy to enjoy the days we have left with Holy Father Benedict.  Yes, to enjoy him and to pray with him, as he reminded us after the applause at Ash Wednesday Mass.  Always the teacher, mildly correcting us about the liturgy!

In the mean time, Bishop Sample has issued a letter on pastoral music.  I really need to read it!

Awakening is this weekend.  Please pray!

Here we go.

After a little reflection

I am being influenced in these thoughts by George Weigel and by Elizabeth Scalia, to give credit where it is due.  I think that Pope Benedict is abdicating simply for the good of the Church in light of his physical condition.  That is the natural explanation.  But I think that the supernatural is building on the natural.

I think that Pope Benedict is leading us into a new reality of how the Church will relate in the world through this decision made only on the basis of the internal needs and realities of the Church.  Maybe it is actually a very old reality: the reality of the early Church.  We will no longer be influenced by nor seek to influence the perceptions of this world.  What do I mean by this?  The Petrine ministry, for example, will be exercised according to the needs and prerogatives of the Church.  The world can do all the speculating that it wishes, but the Pope will be the pastor of the universal Church.  He will not be influenced by "spin."

I think that this development is liberating for the Church.  To some small degree it is parallel to the liberation that we have experienced here at University Catholic in being kicked off campus.  Why does the Church care about the recognition of a secular university anyhow?

Pope Benedict is being who he is.  Let's be who we are.  If others like it, fine.  If not, that is still who we are.   

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

I love him more

Pope Benedict's abdication has made me realize how much I love him.  I really do.  I told a couple of people last night that I feel in some ways the way I did when another leader was stepping off the stage.  I remember thinking when Ronald Reagan was leaving office that I would never vote for a greater president.  That was from a 25 year old, but so far it's true.

I am in no way comparing Pope Benedict to Reagan, except for my completely subjective feeling that he is as good in his office as it can possibly get.  In the case of contemporary popes, that is mighty good -- certainly a higher standard than modern day presidents ;-)

No doubt, Bl. John Paul II is the Great.  Yet I am even more attached to Pope Benedict.  The way he writes and speaks with such directness and clarity inspires me.  He has embodied the hermeneutic of continuity, interpreting everything that is new in the light of tradition.  I really think that one big reason that Pope John Paul didn't step down as he became more infirm was that he totally relied on and had total confidence in then Cardinal Ratzinger.  Pope John Paul had told Cardinal Ratzinger when he submitted his resignation upon turning 75 that he need not write the letter: "you will be with me to the end."  And he was.

Pope Benedict is a servant.  He still is.  He is serving us still with this supreme act of humility and obedience.  Servus servorum Dei, indeed.  The world does not get it.  How can one step away from such a role as the papacy?  In stepping away, Pope Benedict is going deeper into the mystery of Jesus Christ, who emptied himself of everything.  There is no other way to understand him -- or Him.

A really great lesson

I didn't mean to upset anyone yesterday.  My reaction at Mass was unexpected but in hindsight makes a lot of sense.  Very much like Pope Benedict's announcement.

A couple of comments have suggested mourning, but that is one of the things that the Holy Father is not allowing us.  I wanted to put the black bunting up on St. Mary's, but I can't.  It is a great mortification to have to forge ahead confidently.

The Holy Father is pressing us into the arms of Jesus for our confidence.  We cannot rely on Joseph Ratzinger -- or anybody else but Jesus.  The Holy Father is humble enough to teach us this point, even if we do not want to learn it!

It reminds me of the doctrine of St. Therese on confidence in Jesus for everything.

Monday, February 11, 2013

I'm not doing so well with this news...

At Mass at St. Mary's I lost it when I prayed for "Benedict our pope."  This isn't easy.

What beautiful humility...how appropriate on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes...we must pray

Adventure in Faith!

Pope Benedict has just launched us on to an adventure of faith for the year of faith.  Awesome!

We must pray!

Pope Benedict is resigning.  Pray!

In the light of my resolution about refraining from analyzing, I will refrain.  I will say that my best instincts did come forward in thinking of our Holy Father and the burdens that he carries, including the burden of this decision.

I had to go down to St. Mary's early and so spent some time in that historic and holy place to pray for the Holy Father, right before the altar. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Preaching to myself

I am sure that you have caught on that in these posts I am mainly preaching to myself -- because I am sure that I need it more than any of you!

I just read another one of Msgr. Pope's posts, and boy did it hit me right between the eyes!

I really want to help you -- but how can I do that when I am such a mess myself?  I think that I am seeing a plan here -- maybe just in time for Lent.  I have noticed that as I have tried to stop ventilating so much about the Vanderbilt administration, for example, and instead pull my critical eye closer to home, I am much calmer, even happier.  I think that it is time to do so even more.

There is disorder in my life stemming from pride.  The first step in curing it, actually, is not to start with reforming myself.  That would be just another form of pride.  No, I must love and trust Jesus more.  He is all that matters.  I have not been living as if I really believe that.  I kept acting like I matter, when in reality only He matters.

I am going to try something for Lent.  I have already thought of two of those regular things to do for Lent.  They are obvious ones for me, and if I assimilate them into my life during Lent that will be really great.  But I also want to try something a little different.  I want to give up analyzing: a fast from analyzing!  Analyzing is a way that I try to maintain control.  When I catch myself analyzing, I am going to remind myself to trust Jesus.  This might actually be one of those good mortifications -- one that will benefit those around me.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Sharing our weaknesses

I think that it is a good thing to share our struggles with one another.  I just read a post by Msgr. Pope of Washington D.C. in which he described his struggles with anxiety and his deliverance from them.  (By the way, I find Msgr. Pope often saying things just the way that I see them.)  In this post, he describes what might be considered a "failure" for a priest -- seeking psychological help and resigning from an assignment for which he was not well suited at the time.  I think that this is good for him to have shared this.  It is the truth, and he shared it for a positive point.

One of the things that Msgr. Pope recommends from his experience is to acknowledge where things have gone "off the tracks."  I agree with him.  I can see that I have adopted certain ways of coping with situations that are not really healthy.  These things always show somehow.  In my case, it is my sleep.  Someone whose life is really in balance does not sleep the way that I do.  So where is the lack of balance?  I could easily say that I have too much to do.  I think that is true.  But it is not the answer.  Lots of people have too much to do and sleep just fine!  I have too much to do and...I am prideful about it.  I don't really trust God with it.

This week has been a good test.  I have just come off of a good retreat.  At the same time, I have been hit with some very heavy pastoral responsibilities, with increasing ordinary work load, with a bit of a cold, etc.  For the most part, I have coped better than I would have before the retreat, but at times I have also fallen back on some bad ways to cope.  This has shown up in crazy sleep.  In confession this week, I was given the advice of St. Teresa of Avila: "let nothing disturb you."  When I told my confessor that I think I am doing pretty well with that about the bigger things but not with the smaller, he said: "you have to stop that."  Awesome!

Last night something wonderful happened.  I was running late to a wedding rehearsal at St. Mary's just after a meeting at Frassati House.  On the way, I received a call about a distressing pastoral situation.  As I arrived at St. Mary's, I finished the phone conversation with my thoughts still on the situation and began to rush to unlock the church to get people out of the cold, when I realized that I had just locked my keys in my car, with the marriage ritual and everything else I had brought with me inside the car.  Well, there was no time even for a good fit so I went on opening the church.  I called the couple that I was supposed to meet after the rehearsal to switch our meeting place back to St. Mary's from Frassati House -- since I would not have a way to get there!  When I explained the situation, the couple said that they would come on down to St. Mary's and take care of getting into my car during the rehearsal.  And that's just what they did.  I am not asking how they did it ;-)

Friday, February 8, 2013

Liturgy is hard

The worship of God is hard work.  Liturgy should not be easy or comfortable.  It is like the rest of Christian discipleship.

As you can guess, I am thinking ahead for the homily this weekend.  What I usually do is to pray over the readings, thinking both about how to explain them objectively and how to relate them to the congregation's particular needs.

The readings this week are not particularly liturgical, although the first reading does have a powerful liturgical setting.  But the liturgy is very much in my mind as we continue to assimilate the Church's directions about celebrating Mass.  Liturgical music in particular is a touchy subject.  See my rant in the last post ;-)

In the Gospel, the Lord Jesus instructs Peter to set out into the deep!  This command reminds me of what a student said to me a few years ago.  He was in RCIA at the time.  He told me that he wanted to swim in the deep end of the pool!  I think I understood what he meant.  He wanted a challenge.  He had certainly come to the right place for a challenge: the Catholic Church.  I am happy to say that he has embraced that challenge admirably.  Even in the area of music, he has gone from being a worship band bass player to a devote of chant.

To be honest, the Church's liturgy is challenging.  It is not like a mega-church song fest or a like a mainline church's homily with hymns.  It is work.  Literally.  That is what the word means: a public work.  It doesn't help that for many years the liturgy has generally been presented in its "lite" or shallow form, minus the challenge.  People have become attached to the lite liturgy.  In a way this is admirable.  One should be attached to the liturgy.  But it makes it harder to change, and change we must!

To be honest, I am not sure how to go about this.  I have tried different approaches.  I know that the changes need to be gradual -- that is the way it has happened for me.  There are also certain settings where some of the lite elements are appropriate.  But in general, we need to be moving into the deep with the Lord Jesus.  The liturgy makes present for us the saving mystery of Jesus' passion, death, and resurrection.  That's serious business!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Bad Apologist

I am really a bad apologist because I cannot see how the Good News of the Gospel is not self-evidently the Good News.  It needs to be explained, really?  So I am always getting myself into trouble by over estimating what people understand.

This goes for everything from morality to liturgy.  For example, isn't it obvious that celibacy would have wonderful, joyful things about it?  That it is not just a discipline or a sacrifice?  You really need to make a case for it?  Or isn't it obvious that some music is just better for Mass than some other?  I had a conversation about the song Lord of the Dance, a particular not-favorite of mine for Mass.  Just what does "it's hard to dance with the devil on your back" really mean?  I understand that people have emotional attachments to all kinds of things.  I do too.  But I really can't insist that my emotions should be indulged in the liturgy.  Especially when the Church gives us scripture to use in the places at Mass where we sing things like Lord of the Dance.  Is it better than the Bible?

The Christian life is hard.  Isn't that obvious, too?  It is not supposed to be easy!  I have to deny myself everyday, take up my cross, and follow Him.  It seems like we waste a lot of time trying to present the Christian life as just like worldly life, except not really as good -- if we are honest.  Who can really say that any Mass is as dramatic as Les Mis?  Or any contemporary worship music is like Beyonce?  What we have to tell ourselves is that worship is not entertainment.  The Church is a communion not a social network.  It's different.  And it's better.

With Les Mis or Beyonce, what you see is what you get.  And that's all you get.  I want more than a passing spectacle or emotion.  I want something eternal.  At Mass and with the Church, what you don't see is what you get.  That is why we especially need to hear God's Word so we know what it is that we are getting: "This is My Body," for example.  This is why we need faith -- because we don't see it.  Faith connects us with something big enough for our desires.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

OK -- I'm writing about the March!

I need to cheer up -- maybe you need to as well.  This should do it!

January is an overwhelming month in campus ministry.  Sounds odd, I know, but it is.  That's why I needed a retreat at the end of it.  I guess that everyone thinks: "we can get the college kids now because they are on break or just started a semester" -- whatever.  Anyhow, it began this year with the FOCUS SEEK Conference, which was great.  Really.  FOCUS will tell you that this conference is the biggest thing in Catholic campus ministry in the country.  No disrespect meant, but it's not.  The biggest thing in campus ministry, the biggest thing in youth ministry, the biggest thing in Catholic education, the biggest thing in Catholic political action, the biggest thing fill in the blank about anything Catholic in this country is the March for Life.  Period.  And although it is not yet the biggest thing about University Catholic, after the experience and buzz of this year, I hope that it soon will be.  It has certainly been the best thing for us!

The March is so strong and happy and getting more so all the time.  I have been to the March many times, but this was the best ever.  Hey, the snow at the end helped ;-)  Of course, there are the cranky ones there -- like those that blame abortion on the Novus Ordo Mass.  But they are almost as exotic as any counter-demonstrators, of whom I saw 0.

Why is the March so strong and happy?  Simply because it is the truth in love.  Nobody there is marching for themselves.  We have all been born.  It is about love for the most innocent and defenseless.  It is about concern for hopeless situations.  How can that be anything but full of hope?  It is wildly disorganized.  Awesome!  It is pretty hard.  It is also wildly impractical.  Here we are marching in that city where power and money are everything, and they are nothing to us.  We don't have much of either.  But we have the love of Jesus Christ for His littlest ones.

The Vigil Mass at the Basilica is what a Mass should be: unmanageably awesome.  The March itself is an amazing witness.  In our case, the Cardinal O'Connor Conference at Georgetown was food for the mind.  And there was the fun of being together, doing something good.

OK -- I'm better now.  I hope that you are!

On my mind these days...

These are the things that are on my mind these days.  I am not offering any sort of argument because I don't really know what I think yet.

The incomprehensible failures in dealing with sexual predators in the priesthood.  Moral theology, canon law, and common sense should be enough for any bishop to know what to do in these situations.  Yet it goes on and on.  Pray.

Music at Mass.  Argh!  What the Church says it wants us to do with music at Mass is so far from what has been done for so long that it is hard to know how to start without alienating people.  Pray.  P.S. Can anyone find me Archbishop Sample's letter on pastoral music?  I see it referred to but can't find the text.  Thanks! P.P.S. Here is something kind of funny along these lines!  P.P.S. Another good post from the same source on a completely different subject.

Something good: the March for Life experience this year.  Really good.  Pray.

Finally -- and this one is particularly unclear -- the fruits of my retreat.  Really good.  Pray.

Oh, and the yucky cold that I have. 


Monday, February 4, 2013

Balance

I used to talk about the value of tension in our lives, but I have recently picked up from someone (I wish that I could remember who you are to give you credit!) a better word: balance.  Of course, it takes tension to achieve balance, but balance is the end we are after and tension the means.  A temptation is to think that we can have balance without tension.  Doesn't that sound more comfortable?  But it's not possible.  Balance without tension is just to be a blob on the floor!  To go through life actually doing things in a balanced way requires tension: being pulled in various ways so that we remain upright.  The other way to avoid tension is to go all in one direction, but that is not balanced either.  This is what people mean by polarization: giving in entirely to only one source of pressure and cutting the ties to any others.  Being a blob or being polarized certainly makes life easier, but it is not real.  To remain balanced requires attention to the details, recognizing when we are going "off the tracks" in one direction or another or when we have stopped moving all together.

I am feeling some productive tension right now as a priest.  I feel pulled very much in the direction of being a servant, of needing to listen, of a greater struggle for humility.  At the same time, I know that I must lead.  These pressures are not contradictory, but they do create a tension.  Everywhere from our culture at large to my own particular duties in the parish and among the students, I think that the leadership of the Church needs to be humbler, stronger, more straightforward, and more sacrificial -- talk about tension!  We need, in others words, to be more like Jesus.  A priest friend gave an example from the life of Archbishop Sartain of Seattle (a native Tennessean!).  Apparently, he had heard of a serious situation of abuse of the Blessed Sacrament occurring in his diocese.  He immediately went to the person, who lived some distance away.  When he first encountered him, Archbishop Sartain began by telling the man that God loved him and that he as his bishop loved him too.  Then, and only then, he went on to address the situation with the Eucharist.  Balance.  Think of the tensions involved: time, distance, protection of the Blessed Sacrament, the need for correction, the need to serve, whether to delegate, etc.

In general, I think that I am a bit off balance, tilting a little too much to the status quo and to playing to my strengths and tilting away from challenges.  I have simply too many failures of charity in my life.  So I will begin again.  The tension is uncomfortable, but balance is delightful!  There is no shame in being out of balance; the shame would be in avoiding the tension necessary to be corrected.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Ordinary Time, for a little while!

It really is good to be back, even from a remarkably good retreat.  Here is where we were.  In the first place, I was pretty good on this retreat.  I kept a spirit of silence and peace, really turning away from things that distract me.  I didn't even get too spiritually manic, as I sometimes do on retreat: trying to be "super holy."  I think that I really encountered and rested with God.  I let my friendship with St. Therese deepen, helped along by Fr. Jacques Philippe's book about her -- a gift from my sister.  It was Providential that on the way to the airport in San Antonio, Fr. Neely took us to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower.  It is a Carmelite house, where he once spent a summer.  I highly recommend a visit.

I did come down with a little bit of a cold on the way home.  Yesterday was not a comfortable day.  I had really wanted to go to the funeral of Fr. Klasek's father, but finally turned back after seeing one too many cars skidded off on the side of road.  I got caught up a little at St. Mary's in the afternoon before Mass, stayed for a little while at the Art Crawl after Mass, but came home early.  I had a pleasant evening with Fr. Neely and seminarian Brendan.  There were other things that I missed, "Catholics on Ice," for one -- an ice skating outing for the students.  It's OK.  There is only so much that I can or should do.

I am feeling better this morning and ready to take on the day.  There is a lot to do!  Lent, Awakening, budgets -- all kinds of things are just around the corner.  We will see what the Super Bowl does to Mass tonight.  OK -- Happy Sunday!

Friday, February 1, 2013

I'm back!

Thanks for your prayers.  I had a great retreat.  Very calm.

It has been a little hectic returning.  Here are my thoughts on the week as I see it.

Pray for Archbishop Gomez of Los Angeles.  He is doing the right thing courageously.

Texas is awesome!

Pray for soon-to-be Archbishop Sample of Portland.  He is a good friend.

The father of my first pastor after my ordination, Fr. Steve Klasek, has died.  Pray for the repose of his soul.  I will be going to McMinnville tomorrow for the funeral.  Fr. Klasek was so good to me as a seminarian, a deacon, and especially as a newly ordained priest.  He remains a friend and mentor.

Everything is exploding both at University Catholic and at St. Mary's -- in a good way!

I am going to bed soon!


1st UCat priest

Fr. Josh Altonji and some UCat friends in Birmingham!

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