Saturday, March 30, 2013

What is God up to?

On Holy Saturday of all days, one asks this question.  We do not see, and we do not hear.  For Catholics, I suspect that is what is so shocking about the tabernacles being empty and the churches stripped.  We are stripped of everything that we ordinarily hold on to see God.  We are left like our separated brethren who live this way all the time -- no sacraments or sacramentals.  We are left like the Church in Japan during their centuries of persecution.  For them, it is Holy Saturday all the time. 

Can we use this day to improve our inner vision?  To see that the glory of God is the glory of His sacred humanity: the truth of sacrificial love?  The cross answers Pilate's question: "what is truth?"  There it is, hanging on a tree.  This is the unique answer of Christianity.  Truth is not power, it is not detachment, it is not even being specially chosen.  There is not an answer to Pilate's question in the way he is asking.  Truth is found in loving sacrificially in obedience to our relationships: first to the one who loved us first, then to those we are charged with loving.  The order is important.  We cannot love others rightly unless we love Him by keeping His commandments.

Jesus' body lies in the tomb, but He is accomplishing the reconciliation of God to man.  He did this first in the garden as He sweated blood.  Now He is winning back those who died apart from God but longing for Him.  Today we must do the same, going in search of the lost.  Maybe that is yourself.  I think that it is for most of us, to some extent.  That is why we are drawn to the tomb with the Magdalen.  And then we must find and tell the others.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Breath and focus

Holy Week is busy time, but it is also a focused time.  Only one thing happens at a time!  I like this kind of focus, which is so hard for me to achieve on my own.  (This focus is also what I liked about exam week back when I had exams! -- Among His transcendental properties, I cling to God most as the One, the One who makes wholeness out of the fragmentation that I always feel that I am flying off into!)

Now it is Good Friday...I started this in the morning, but then the day took off.  It is pretty late now.  This day's one thing is done.  Now for tomorrow!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Here is the way Pope Francis put it

at the Chrism Mass in Rome:

"We need to “go out,” then, in order to experience our own anointing, its power and its redemptive efficacy: to the “outskirts” where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters. It is not in soul-searching or constant introspection that we encounter the Lord: self-help courses can be useful in life, but to live by going from one course to another, from one method to another, leads us to become pelagians and to minimize the power of grace, which comes alive and flourishes to the extent that we, in faith, go out and give ourselves and the Gospel to others, giving what little ointment we have to those who have nothing, nothing at all."

Read it all here.

It is time to talk of priesthood

Last night Bishop Choby celebrated the Mass of the Sacred Chrism at the Cathedral.  Even though his physical struggles were obvious, his homily was so richly developed and polished that I really wondered if it were not a published document that he was sharing with us!  I have to get in touch with his secretary Elizabeth to see if we can have the text.  I will share it with you if I can.  At this Mass we had an overflow crowd of people and priests, neither of which do I remember from the past, or at least not the recent past.  The liturgy and music were magnificent.  Much credit to my friend and brother Fr. Gideon, who has raised our Chrism Mass to new heights liturgically.  And many thanks to Jackson Schoos, the music director of the Cathedral.  There was also a bumper crop of seminarians at the Mass, thanks to Bishop Choby's relentless recruiting ;-)  But I have to say that I do not understand why we do not have even more seminarians.  What could be a better life than this?  I would think that any young man who had even half a idea of being a priest would rush at the chance -- and Bishop Choby would be happy to give it to him!

Priesthood.  That is what this Mass is about: the institution of the priesthood at the Last Supper.  The timing of the Chrism Mass was particularly powerful for me this year as it came just two days after my 19th anniversary of ordination.  I have certainly had my ups and downs in those years, but I have never once doubted the wonder of being a priest -- and I tend to second guess everything.  At this point, I cannot even imagine being anything other than a priest.  Really.  Of course, I am not a very imaginative person ;-)  After 19 years the wonders just keep coming.  This week, for example, I have experienced two firsts as a priest full of awe, wonder, joy, and sorrow.  One of the experiences is so private that I cannot talk about it.  The other I will shout from the house tops!  I am still basically in shock about the Eucharistic Adoration that the students (mainly freshmen) put together this week.  That is the best gift I could ever receive for my anniversary.  So thank you, Peter and all who helped to turn the Frassati House chapel into a house of love and prayer for 56 continuous hours!  What's next?!

I have written here that I am not a very good apologist because I have never doubted the faith.  Don't get me wrong, I don't live it worth a toot; but I do believe it.  Do as I say, not as I do, in other words!  I am the kind of Catholic that the more hostile of our separated brethren talk about.  You see, I believe the faith because the Church teaches it.  That's it.  I do think that I make some sort of effort to understand the faith, but I don't start from the point of view of not believing but of believing so I am not much help as an apologist.  Blame Fr. Turvasi for that.  He is the one that taught me that the method of theology is faith.  Anyhow, for much the same sort of reason, I am not much help to those who are "discerning" the priesthood.  What is there to discern?  To me, it is like discerning whether to breath.  Why not jump at it, if you have the chance?  What is the down side?  So it is good that I am not a vocations director or promoter.  I would just say: "get on with it!"

It seems that we could use a bunch more priests, but in the mean time, I will selfishly enjoy all the fun!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

“At last I shall get to meet someone who says he is my father!”

Here is an article from L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, about Pope Francis's visit to a juvenile prison to celebrate the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord's Supper.  The title of this post is a quotation from one of the inmates.  It betrays the hunger for fatherhood, which is perhaps one of the greatest hungers in our society today.  It is an example of the spiritual poverty that the Church must address.  The decision of the Pope to go to this place emphasizes his determination that the Church should fulfill the mission entrusted to it by the Lord Jesus to go the farthest margins of humanity to bring the Good News.

I am reminded of my own experiences doing apostolic work in a juvenile prison when I was in seminary.  I would go to talk to these boys and come back convinced that on the natural level it would have taken a miracle for them to have ended up anywhere but in prison, given how deprived they were of anything healthy in their young lives, including the almost universal absence of a father.  What good was I doing there?  When I went back to the seminary and prayed about it the answer came: "I was in prison, and you visited me."  Surely that's enough reason to go.

Wednesday of Holy Week

Let me try to do a better job of telling you what has been happening at Frassati House this week.  Since 9 a.m. Monday morning and continuing until 5 p.m. this evening, there has been perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel.  We will conclude with Benediction at 5 p.m. today.

This has been organized completely by the students, especially by freshmen.  They have been very careful to instruct the adorers of the gravity of the responsibility that they are undertaking.  They have seen this through.  I have to admit that I thought that they might be biting off more than they could chew, but I was wrong.  I just came back from a holy hour myself, and all was running smoothly.

Praise God!

This evening, we will shift into the Church's corporate observance of the Paschal Mystery with the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral.  I think that we at University Catholic are well prepared!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Pinch me, I think I am dreaming

...that or I have died and gone to Heaven!

Let me set this in context.  Last night I was called to the hospital.  It was actually for a situation that was new to me -- as I was beginning the first hour of my twentieth year as a priest.  In any case, when I was coming home I needed to go by the Frassati House chapel.  At about 3 a.m. there were students praying there.  That's because the students have organized continuous adoration for the first three days of Holy Week -- with the ring-leader being a freshman.  And it's working, as I saw last night and early this morning.

I have had many joys as chaplain of University Catholic, but this has to be right at the top of the beautiful experiences.  So come by and pray with us until Wednesday at 5 p.m.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Do everything to please God

That is what I took from my meeting with my spiritual director yesterday.  It is really what I needed to hear.  In the first place, it gives me the best possible motive for being good.  And I really need help being good!  But it also helps me not to obsess about doing everything perfectly because God is actually so easy to please.  He is displeased when I am bad, but I don't have to be perfect to please him.  I especially do not have to achieve perfect results in order to please Him.  You see, He is not terribly interested in the results.  If He were, He would just do it Himself.  Then the results would be perfect, as He is.  He wants us to struggle in trying to please Him.  Succeed or fail, we please Him in trying to do so.

OK.  Another good result of this is my becoming easier to please.  I have all these wonderful young people around me who want to please me.  Surely that is enough for me to be pleased.

Finally, if I have the choice of being pleasing to those around me or not, why not? This reminds me of another spiritual director I had way back in seminary!


Pretty much the way I see it

Friday, March 22, 2013

Listen to this

It's not what you might think.  Listen.

From my priest friends at our recollection yesterday.

A man + a woman = hope

I have been amazed by the fascination in our popular culture with apocalyptic and zombie themes right now. It seems to me to betray a huge failure of hope. We are afraid of our future. We seem not to believe that there is a future. It is downright un-American. It is definitely un-Christian.

Even in the movies, hope is reborn in the exploits of a hero and a heroine, culminating in their marriage. The Lord of the Rings is such a good example of this: Aragorn and Arwen, Sam and Rosie. It even has room for a celibate hero, Frodo, who bears witness to the world to come, our ultimate hope. As long as there is one man and one woman, there is hope against the zombies...or orcs or whatever.  All of humanity can come back from that humble re-beginning.

But it also has to be a real marriage: self-giving, unconditional, indissoluble, faithful. There is no hope in a contracepting marriage, in one that allows for divorce, in a selfish and unfaithful one. The hope actually springs from "ball and chain" aspect of marriage portrayed in some comedies and cartoons but which is real and essential. (The officer of a Church tribunal who argues for the validity of a marriage in an annulment proceeding is called the "defensor vinculi," literally the "defender of the chain.") Marriage is not a comfortable living arrangement. Any combination of people can claim a right to a comfortable living arrangement. That is what is happening in our culture right now, and maybe it's not so bad. But it's no help against a zombie apocalypse!

You see, we need children for hope -- and children that don't have to be outsourced. That takes a man and a woman and real sacrificial love. That's marriage.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Vive la difference!

How can one have any sort of conversation about marriage with anyone who cannot or will not see the essential difference between men and women as a unique and necessary difference among members of the human species?  Furthermore this difference, so obvious physically, is also unique and necessary in other aspects of the human person, including those that are influenced by social convention and religious truth.  There is literally nothing in this world regarding human beings as ancient and fundamental as the unique and necessary relationship of marriage between a man and a woman.  Every wedding of a man to a woman is the recreation of Eden and the reaffirmation of the human adventure.  This is not true of any other human relationship.  To deny this is to deny reality: biology, anthropology, psychology, philosophy, theology, and good old common sense.  To affirm reality gets one labeled a "hater."

I really do not want this to be a rant.  Rather I want to proclaim that I love the difference between men and women!  Fallen humanity does not love this difference -- and not just recently.  Sexism, which has asserted the superiority of men over women, is just as unreal and unnatural.  The sexual revolution also was a denigration of what is unique about women.  Rather than insisting that a woman's unique sexuality be valued, the sexual revolution insisted that the sexual norm is masculine.  The real revolution would have been to exalt maternity, that uniquely feminine sexual attribute.  Instead maternity was branded as even more of a liability to women.

Not that Catholic cultures, as far as I can tell, have been much better about these things recently, but we do have the intellectual, cultural, and spiritual resources to promote a sort of feminism that is based on the difference between men and women.  Let's go back to the early Church, when Christians really were different from their world in acknowledging the status of women.  The Christian "dark ages" were a big improvement for women over Greco-Roman culture, based on a Christian appreciation of what is unique and different about women as well as common human dignity.  We can do it again!

Right now, we are bogged down in what is probably a no-win debate about same sex marriage.  And we cannot punt this responsibility.  But can't we start to reassert the beauty of the difference?  I think that we already are.  Did you hear Pope Francis on St. Joseph's Day?  And on the day of his election, we were overrun at the Frassati House's Pope Party after the Mass that Bishop Choby celebrated at the Cathedral by the Dominican novitiate.  Talk about girly-girls -- and no pink in sight!  Rampant femininity bringing joy and love!  Vive la difference!

Holy Mary, Mother of Fairest Love, pray for us!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Now that the excitement that the Pope Emeritus stirred up just over a month ago has reached its fulfillment with the official beginning of Pope Francis' ministry as successor of St. Peter, we get back to Lent, particularly to this time of the Passion.

I looked at the headlines in the Tennessean and saw immediately how much the world remains in need of salvation and mercy.  The top headline is about the conviction of a young woman for killing her newborn twin sons.  It is the story of broken humanity all over again.  I wonder what might have happened if this young woman could have heard even one person encouraging her -- if, in the example of Pope Francis, she had had a St. Joseph to protect her -- the father of the children (as she goes to jail, where is he?), her parents, a friend,...anyone.  Instead she kept the pregnancy hidden and had to deal with everything alone and unprotected.  It is not good for man to be alone.

I also saw a headline having something to do with University Catholic.  Members of the legislature have introduced a bill to strip private universities of police power unless they respect the religious freedom of their students.  It is all about the non-discrimination policy at Vanderbilt.  (I doubt that they really intend to go after the Sewanee police force, although the bill might be applicable to Sewanee where the Episcopal Church is practically an established religion.)  I have been pressured by both sides to lobby about this bill, and I have declined.  Although there might well be legitimate questions about a private university exercising police power, especially in the case of Vanderbilt, which has been given extraordinary powers in the past such as the right of eminent domain resulting in the destruction of the neighborhood around Natchez Trace in order to build playing fields and parking lots, the real issue is the university's failure to allow free exercise of religion to its students.  We are involved because the university and its supporters continue to portray the decision of the unregistered religious groups as one of unjust discrimination.  It is a "no-win" situation for us.  So I choose to keep up the work with the students and keep my eyes set on Jerusalem.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"Protect one another"

Well, this has been a fun morning!  Caroline Duffy, our director of campus ministry, had the scathingly brilliant idea (I only hire geniuses to work with me!) of having an Inaugural Mass viewing party beginning at 2:30 this morning with delicious breakfast following.  And it worked.  There were over 30 people here at the Frassati House.  So much fun!

Anyhow, I was impressed by the "noble simplicity" of the Mass and the Pope's homily.  The thought that really struck me as a campus chaplain was on friendship: "protect one another."  That's it!  Here is the full quotation: "It means building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in trust, respect, and goodness"  Here's the full text.

The students really need to understand and to experience real friendship, not the virtual variety on Facebook.  Friends protect one another, which as the Pope suggested is really protecting Jesus in one another.  St. Joseph is fundamentally the protector of Jesus.

The protectiveness of friendship might seem self-evident but isn't.  Last year the Dean of Students sent out an email when the weather started to get cold encouraging students not to leave friends passed out in the cold weather...If you have to say that, what does it say about friendship?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Hard Day

Now that it is over, I will admit that today was about the hardest day that I can remember.  But it has ended well.  (Just noticed that it is already tomorrow!)

It did not begin so well.  I woke up way too early.  Then I received an emergency call that I did not react well to -- probably because I was too tired -- and which made me late getting to St. Mary's.  No shower on top of that -- until about 6 p.m. ;-)  After the messy beginning, I just never seemed to be able to get traction for the day.  But there were so many blessings, mainly many confessions, which somehow I was able to respond to with mercy.  Thank God for that!  And two new Catholics received safely into the Church at 9 p.m. Mass.

(There were even flyers put on cars parked for Mass at St. Mary's calling attention to an article by Hans Kung given out last Sunday at St. Edward's parish which was extremely critical  and disrespectful of the Pope Emeritus.  A cover letter was attached urging the readers to contact the Chancery to protest such an article being distributed in a Catholic parish.  I saw the same flyer on cars at Cathedral as well.  How long, O Lord, do your faithful have to endure their faith being undermined from within?)

I am getting ready to go tomorrow to the funeral of the mother of a priest I know very well.  I am very glad that I can go.  He was extremely supportive when my mother died soon after my ordination helping with so many of the practical details of the funeral.  I wish that I could return the favor but Providence has not directed it that way.  I will do what I can and hope for the best.

What can I learn from all of this?  It is pretty obvious, isn't it?   

Sunday, March 17, 2013


OK -- for all of us liturgical nerds, Pope Francis most definitely had on an amice at his Mass today at Sta. Anna.

Everything is going to be OK ;-)

Megabus, cont.

Sorry for the strange excursion into public transportation, etc.  For those of you who know me, I am not much of a Chamber of Commerce type booster.  I guess that I ought to be since I am at a downtown parish.  Schemes of 100 floor skyscrapers ought to get my heart racing.  But I actually get excited by smaller things.  I am happy when I see a new business open in the Arcade.  (There actually have been a few recently.)  While the SEC basketball tournament brought 30,000 extra people downtown this weekend, St. Mary's fish fry and Stations of the Cross brought 100.  But back to transportation.  This summer when I was in Champaigne, IL for a couple of weeks for FOCUS training, I had the opportunity of taking or picking up people from the bus station.  It is really a combination bus station, train station, city bus terminal, taxi stand, and parking lot all in one.  That seemed like a good idea to me.  Something useful, practical, and humble.  (With FOCUS training moving to Ave Maria Town in southwest Florida, I doubt that there will be as much coming and going.  There will not as much of a way to come, go, or pass through economically as there is in the heartland.  I guess I will fly there, for example, for the chaplains' days.)

Nashville is all about big things right now.  A while back, I vented about the corporate welfare that HCA and the imprudent developer who dug a big hole before realizing whether he could finish it is getting for fancy office space on West End .  Anyhow, that project has gotten worse.  On top of the 60 something million dollar parking garage that the city is basically building them for free, there will be an Intercontinental Hotel.  More private profit literally on top of public subsidy.  I was listening to a piece on public radio about some sort of lobbying outfit that President Obama is starting in order to support his agenda, tax free, I'm sure.  Even public radio was concerned about the selling of access to the president.  Power, money -- that's what matters, right?

Of course, I am not so naive that I don't see that we need profits to keep the economy going.  I also recognize that politics cannot be expected to remain pristine.  It never has.  But, pardon the expression, what is the bottom line?  It seems to me that we have come to the place that it is money and politics period -- not what they are supposed to serve, the common good and the human person.  That is why I get more excited about the new shoe store and barber shop and especially the fried pie stand (!) in the Arcade than all the shiny new things in SoBro -- gag.  These little ventures are all run by people.

Well if money and power for their own sakes is the way the city wants to go, so be it.  But this cannot be the way of disciples of the Lord Jesus.  In our own little way at St. Mary's, we are a part of the world.  We are going to profit from having control again of the parking lot next to the church, literally profit.  Basically the parking lot will pay for itself, and then who knows?  Not that we are rolling in filthy lucre, but I have to say that St. Mary's is paying its own way right now.  I have never before as a priest had an assignment where I did not feel up against the wall financially, and that includes University Catholic.  It's nice not to have that particular pressure.  I want to make sure that we are using the financial breathing room to serve the common good and the human person in our parish.  For St. Mary's, I think that a big part of our mission is beauty.  God and our predecessors have blessed us with something beautiful.  We must be good stewards of this beauty in an uglier world.  The building is beautiful.  The liturgy is beautiful.  The spirit of the parish is beautiful.  Small is beautiful.  We do not need to become a mega church, no matter how many people come to St. Mary's.  We do not need lots of buildings and staff.  We need parishioners on fire with charity.  They already have buildings and talents.  Let's put them to use for the kingdom.  How can we serve those getting on and off the bus at our door?  How can we serve those working next door?  How can we spiritually support those who ought to be serving the common good at the capital across the street?  How can we make downtown a spiritual home for those who have made it home, as well as for those who are homeless?  How does the oldest church building in the city incarnate the oldest Church in the world?  Oh yes, and all this with patience and humility!

I hope that Nashville will use the blessings it is receiving right now for the common good and for human flourishing and not just to make money and to grow in power.  Let's try to follow a way at St. Mary's that does this: the way of the Lord Jesus.  I think that Pope Francis is all about this.  I am going to be looking to him for inspiration.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Speaking of buses...Megabus

I am perplexed that Nashville does not seem to want Megabus around.  In a matter of a few months, they are being run out of another drop-off point.  I hear about Megabus from students, who love it so it seems to me to be a great thing.  We have billions for conventions but nothing for low cost bus transportation that actually costs the city nothing?  Don't get me started.  Go read the Distributivists!

Anyhow, as a neighbor, may I suggest Music City Central as a drop off point?  It seems to answer all the green concerns about making Nashville a more walkable city.  When the drop-off was on Commerce Street, I used to see so many people rolling their bags around downtown.  Hey, every bus in Nashville stops in front of St. Mary's now, why not one more?

Hermeneutic of Continuity

That's a mouth full -- but a helpful idea.  It is the idea that Pope Benedict, especially, put forward for interpreting the Second Vatican Council.  Basically it means that one should interpret the Council in continuity with what has gone before rather than as a rupture with the past.  In the case of the liturgy, for example, even though the Council directed change in the liturgy, those changes were expected to be implemented not in a vacuum but in continuity with what had gone before.  It is the only way to interpret development in the Church that makes any sense.  It allows for change.  It accurately describes how change does happen in the Church: organically, the way that a vine grows, for example.  But it keeps the Church what it is, the vessel of salvation in the world.  The Church passes on the deposit of faith.  This cannot change.  The branches must remain connected to the vine no matter how long they grow, or they die.

I think that this interpretive key will help us to understand Pope Francis too.  He is different in some ways from Pope Benedict, but the way best to understand him is to focus on the continuity not the differences.  Then we will see and understand how he is leading us.  Some secular commentators seem surprised that the new pope is a Catholic!

We need this leadership on the practical level.  This is where Pope Francis will help us in particular.  Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict have shown us how to interpret intellectually the Catholic faith in Jesus Christ in the modern, secular world in continuity with Tradition.  I believe that Pope Francis will show us how to live this faith practically with the same authenticity.  The hermeneutic of rupture left us vulnerable to being conformed to the world.  Intellectually, we began to think that we did not really need Jesus, for example.  On the practical level, we have become enamored with power, comfort, success, practicality -- anything but the cross.  In his very first homily, Pope Francis reminded us that without the cross we are nothing, no matter how up to date we are.  This is not so different from Pope Benedict -- or Pope John Paul or Pope Peter!  Do you see how taking the bus is just a very practical way of saying that Jesus is Lord?

This will be good for us, especially here in America.  We are so good at practicality and comfort, but they are not the Gospel.  They do not save.  There is the need for salvation even (especially?) in suburbia.  The answer is in the way of the Lord Jesus, which is impractical and uncomfortable.  I believe another Francis has shown this all too well, in his very flesh!  And as another one put it: "live Jesus."  I think that Pope Francis is going to help us put into effect in our lives the great truth of Tradition.


Friday, March 15, 2013

Francis on Benedict

"I extend an especially affectionate thought, filled with gratitude, to my venerable predecessor, Benedict XVI, who, during the years of his pontificate enriched and invigorated the Church with his teaching, his goodness, guidance, faith, humility, and his meekness, which will remain the spiritual patrimony of all. The Petrine ministry, lived with total dedication, found in him a wise and humble interpreter with his gaze always fixed on Christ, the Risen Christ, present and alive in the Eucharist. Our fervent prayer will always accompany him, our eternal memory, and affectionate gratitude. We feel that Benedict XVI lit a flame in the depth of our hearts, a flame that continues to burn because it will be fanned by his prayers that will continue to sustain the Church on its spiritual and missionary journey."

From Pope Francis' address to the Cardinals.

Reform of Priesthood?

Be careful what you ask for!  I asked for a pope to reform and renew the priesthood here.  It looks like we have gotten one who intends to do just that!

From Pope Francis' first homily as pope:  "This Gospel continues with an important moment. The same Peter who had confessed Jesus Christ said to him: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. I will follow you, but let’s not talk about the cross. This is not a part of it. I will follow you in other directions, but not to the cross. When we journey without the cross, when we build without the cross and when we confess a Christ without the cross, we are not disciples of the Lord: we are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord."

He has a track record of warning against clericalism.  He has already shown as pope a simplicity of style that he was known for as a bishop.  I look forward to see how he will teach and form us as priests.  We need it!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

I'm going to Rome!

No, not until summer.  I was just given an offer I could not refuse.  I had helped with the Rome Experience in its first couple of years at the request of Bishop Choby, who serves on its Bishops' Board of Advisors.  It is a summer program for seminarians who are not studying in Rome to have literally a Rome experience.  It was a great experience for me too, but it was a long commitment of six weeks.  The first years also had a lot of rough edges that had not yet been worked out.  But we made it through, and I flatter myself that I was helpful in getting the program started.  The last couple of years, I asked Bishop Choby to excuse me from serving for the whole program.  Well, this year I have been asked to help out for only one week at the end -- including a weekend in Norcia.  How can I refuse?

Rome is, of course, very much on my mind with the election of our new Holy Father.  I am grateful to the administration of the Rome Experience for inviting me back!

Francis, our Pope: the Holy Father

I am getting ready to say Mass for the first time praying for Francis, our Pope.  Even though I do not know him well, I already feel more secure knowing that we have a Holy Father again presiding in charity over the Church.  He looks the part, and acts it.

We need a father.  We need fathers.  How appropriate that the installation of Pope Francis will take place on the feast of St. Joseph.  Even Jesus needed an earthly father.  A father's love is one that takes us out of ourselves, that makes us grow.  I really think that Pope Francis is going to demand this of us and inspire it in us because he will love us in this way.

Did you notice that he didn't really respond to all the cheering in St. Peter's Square yesterday?  He stood poised and accepted it.  Then he spoke, actually leading us right off the bat.  He called for us to pray for Benedict XVI, and then we DID IT following him.  Then, even more amazingly, he called for us to pray for him, and we did -- in silence.

Our world does not like real fathers.  We are too wrapped up in ourselves and don't like to be called out.  Maybe Pope Francis is just the man to help us grow up, especially to help us grow up in our responsibilities to God and to one another as husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, fatherly priests and maternal religious.  This will bring healing and happiness to our world, especially to those who are trapped in some sort of arrested development and are fixated on self.  It will likely also bring intensified rebellion from those who resist growing up.  I think Pope Francis can take it, and I, for one, am more than happy to take it with him.  

This is going to be a great adventure!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Miserando atque eligendo

We have a new pope who appears to see his election as a challenge and adventure.  I think that he will be challenging us to accept the call to discipleship in a radical way.  This is very good news!  Get ready.

Thank you, Lord, for Pope Francis!

Roman Color

One of the most interesting things that the Cardinals did before the Conclave began was to celebrate Masses this past Sunday in each of their titular churches.  You see, the Cardinals are technically members of the clergy of Rome and are assigned a titular church in Rome, except for the Cardinal Bishops, who are assigned dioceses around Rome, such as Ostia and Frascati.  It is all a big fiction really, although I have heard of American Cardinals, for example, pouring a lot of money into restoration of their churches at times.  Frequently a titular church will have its Cardinal's coat of arms posted over the entrance.  Other than "taking possession" of the church after being made a Cardinal, there is not much connection generally with the titular church. This past weekend is the most significant event involving the titular churches that I have ever heard of.  Cardinals were out all over Rome in their churches celebrating Mass, in rose vestments no less!

The list of the titular churches is even more interesting than the list of the stational churches (including good links about each church).  The stational churches are those where the Pope would say Mass each day of Lent, long, long ago.  The North American College has resurrected the practice of visiting these churches for Mass on their day.  The only one the Pope still usually does is Ash Wednesday at Sta. Sabina, the headquarters of the Dominican Order on the Aventine Hill.  This year not even this was done since Pope Benedict had just announced his abdication and the media frenzy and crowds would have been more than the church could have handled.  This is a fascinating list and a useful tool for getting around to many of the ancient churches of Rome, if you are there for an extended time during Lent.  You get to visit these churches actually as churches.

I think that the list of titular churches is even more interesting because it contains newer churches as well as ancient ones, like this one sort of behind the Vatican at the bottom of a hill where a residence I have stayed in is located.  It's really no big deal, just a neighborhood church.  You can look through the list here, clicking away to see most of the churches.

You see, I really like to visit the churches of Rome.  There are so many!  I have to confess not liking museums very much.  My eyes cross, and I get overwhelmed.  But I like the churches, even if after a while one gets baroque fatigue.  That is why the really old ones and the newer ones are a good break.  And they are places you would not go otherwise.  Have a vicarious Roman holiday!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

"with" at Belmont

One of the joys and surprises of this year of campus ministry has been the deepening of ministry at Belmont University.  I choose that word carefully.  Like my work at Vanderbilt, I cannot point to huge numbers, but I can point to impressive depth of commitment in the students who are engaged.  It reminds me in some ways of my early days at Vanderbilt.  It is a joy.

Last night, as I am on most Monday nights, I was at Belmont later in the evening.  There was not really a program for our meeting, but we had delightful and deep discussion.  We were "with," as I like to say.  I think that these young people are becoming more and more connected to the Church and more and more desirous of connecting others to the Church.

Joey, the president of the Belmont group, talked about encountering hostility to confession while browsing on the internet.  He went on to give a testimony to confession.  That got us on to a discussion of the Gospel from Sunday, the Prodigal Son...and on and on.  We moved on, somehow, to talk about creativity.  Belmont is a great place for that!  We started from creation ex nihilo and ended up at procreation, passing through Catherine of Siena, Descartes, and zombies on the way! 

Well, maybe I am just indulging myself with the pleasant company of these young people, but I believe something is happening.  Pray that it is so!

A Scathingly Brilliant Idea

One of the students suggested this to me yesterday: that the Conclave elect Joseph Ratzinger as Pope!  That idea gets my vote ;-)

Monday, March 11, 2013

"Peter has spoken through Leo"

Apropos of the last post, today's Tennessean has this headline at the top of front page: "Factions form at Vatican."  It is hard to believe that's the top news in Nashville, especially since the article has precisely zero news in it.  There is nothing attributed to anyone.

We should, of course, take it as a compliment that so many people are interested in the Conclave, even if they don't get it at all or even if their interest stems primarily from hostility to Catholicism.  We should take this as a teachable moment while we have their attention.  In this way, it is sort of like the HHS mandate in giving us a chance to teach -- in that case about contraception, regardless of the motivations of those raising the issue.

Catholicism is about Jesus Christ, Son of the Father and Savior of the world.  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  That's why nobody should expect anything very revolutionary out of this or any Conclave, Pope, Council, etc.  Except that He is also always new so don't be too surprised by anything either.  Things stay the same, and things change.  But they do so in a particular way.  Jesus is always faithful to the Father.  That means that His Truth never changes and yet is constantly re-proposing itself to this very changeable world.  This is precisely why we must have a Pope!  The Pope guides us in this intensely personal way that the Father has chosen throughout salvation history yet he remains bound by Truth.  This is what Pope John Paul accepted and taught in the case of the question of women priests.  He said that the Church does not have the authority to make such a decision.  It is what Pope Benedict is teaching in a more personal way in stepping out of the office of Pope.

Perhaps I am being too dramatic or biased -- that's the danger of using political analogies -- but it seems to me that we are reaching the limits of what our American government was designed to be able to accommodate in this regard.  The President, as well as the country at large, do not seem to be interested in the limits imposed by the Constitution.  The country seems to be willing to be led personally by the President without restraint of the Constitution.  The Constitution as an old, written document seems irrelevant -- so let's move on.  If the Constitution is bypassed, then there are no restraints remaining except the whims of popular opinion.

Of course, we have no guarantees about the indefectibility of the United States government, as we do for the Catholic Church precisely in the Petrine Office: "the gates of hell...."  Just what did Peter proclaim that elicited this promise from the Lord Jesus?  "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

The reason that the world does not get what is going on in Rome is that is does not get Jesus.  The world, to the use the example from above, understands power and politics.  That is the understanding of the headline in the Tennessean.  That is what the world understood when Jesus was here in the Incarnation.  But Jesus is not President or Emperor.  He is Lord and Christ, again as Peter proclaimed, this time on the first Pentecost.  This is what Peter's successor to be chosen (most likely this week) will proclaim when he steps on to the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica.  He must proclaim it because the Pope is not master but servant -- of the Truth.

This is what intrigues the world: the Truth of Jesus Christ.  Let's seize the moment while we have the chance!  It will leave many scratching their heads and others beating their heads against the wall in consternation, but for others it will be relief and release from the dictatorship of the current moment, of relativism, of self.  The discovery of the Lord Jesus is salvation, and it is Peter who proclaims this salvation in Jesus Christ.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Everybody calm down

I am reading too much about the conclave, etc.  Everybody seems to be hyperventilating.  Stop.  Breathe.  Things will go on.  That is one thing we know about the oldest institution of Western Civilization.  There will be a pope!

Let's get on with it.  He might be good at organization or might not.  He might have charisma or might not.  He will be pope.  He will have universal ordinary jurisdiction.  He will be infallible when teaching on faith and morals.  Next question.

What else do we really need?  Oh yes, and he will be father.  Holy Father.

It's spreading

The practice of singing the Mass, that is, as well as liturgy more authentic generally to the actual teaching of the Second Vatican Council. I am seeing it here at St. Bernard's. Authentic liturgy is the essential element of the New Evangelizaton. First things first, after all, and what is more important than the worship of God?

I am excited to be a part of the reform of the reform. It must be carried out well, meaning first of all with charity. First things first! But then also with understanding, with skill, with steadfastness.

I am convicted that I must teach about this better and more. I am working on it.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:St. Bernard's Abbey, Cullman, AL

Friday, March 8, 2013


While I was on my retreat in Texas, I had the inspiration of bringing my father back to St. Bernard's Abbey in Cullman, AL for a retreat. Here is the background. The retreat center I was at in Texas is run by Opus Dei. Although I am not a member of Opus Dei, my father is. I do find the retreats and other spiritual offerings given by Opus Dei to be helpful in filling a void for on-going formation for diocesan priests. It is unfortunate that the nearest center to Nashville is in St. Louis, not exactly an easy commute of 5+ hours.

For many years, my father as a member went on retreats and other spiritual formation events at Opus Dei centers. He even went to Spain and Ireland. His physical condition now makes such travel much more difficult and so he has not been on a retreat for a while. I was reflecting about this on my retreat, and I received the inspiration of St. Bernard's. My father has an even longer connection to the monks in Cullman than to Opus Dei. As an Episcopalian, he was welcomed at St. Bernard's, even with groups of other men and an Episcopal priest for retreat. Even more poignantly, he spent at least a week there following my mother's death. The monks have always been true to their Benedictine (and Southern) charism of hospitality! I have been grateful for it myself on many occasions. During the times when I have visited the monastery, the monks have always asked about my father. So I am glad that we are back here now!

Once again, the monks are very gracious. My father is delighted by the changes that have occurred here since his last visit, in particular the total revision of the Divine Office. So here we are! I started off the time here with a 3+ hour nap ;-)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:St. Bernard's Abbey, Cullman, AL

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Holy Restraint

We prayed for "holy restraint" in the collect of yesterday's Mass.  That is about as countercultural as it gets!  And as profoundly human.

Limitations are what make life an adventure.  God doesn't have adventures --  except in the sacred humanity of Jesus, the greatest adventure of all.  Just look at how God created the world.  He spoke.  Awesome but not very suspenseful!  Angels don't have adventures either.  Everything is literally no sweat for them.  Just look at how they travel.  No TSA for them!  But for us, we get to strive!  Look at the creation of art.  The adventure of it is to take something limited and to produce the illusion that something more is there.  Isn't that what painting, music, drama, etc. all come down to?  That is why free form art is so boring.  Where is the adventure in that?  And why free form life is so boring as well.  Just look at the idle rich.  They don't get to strive. They have to come up with silly amusements for themselves.  But the cloister -- there's an adventure!  We also get to grow, something that God (again, except in the sacred humanity of Jesus) and angels can't do.  Grow, not only physically like a plant does, but grow our souls.  All of this, and more, because we are limited.

The desire to be unlimited and without restraint is whispered to us by the Evil One.  He has been using it since Eden.  It is the great temptation and malady I see in the human heart, beginning with mine.  We all want it all.  Of course, we make it look good.  We call it freedom or nonconformity or individuality...or highly successful.  The way that I succumb to this temptation, for example, is by agreeing to every good idea that presents itself to me.  How about you?

I need holy restraint in order to be me as God created me.  Being limited is what it means to be a human being.  God figured out a way to create limited spiritual beings: that's us.  It is actually quite an accomplishment.  Other spiritual beings are not restrained.  That is why there can be only one God.  That is why there can be only one angel per "species."  But there are lots of us sharing the same nature because we are limited.  It is related to our having bodies, to the material side of our being.  With matter, you see, there can be parts.  It starts here and ends there.  Somehow God was able to fuse spiritual being and material being in us: to create spiritual beings with limitations.  Awesome!  There's a topic for theology of the body -- above the waist!

OK -- so let's love our limitations and pray for holy restraint in order to be really human.  Please remind me of this the next time I'm fuming at the long traffic lights on Charlotte Ave.!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

About My Spring Break

Yes, leave it to Vanderbilt to have spring break during the coldest week in a long time ;-)  But it is what it is.  I have been having Masses during the day at St. Mary's this week but not the usual evening Masses for students so I have been doing different things with my evenings. 

On Sunday, we had Lent by Candlelight at St. Mary's which was a nice combination of a spiritual and social event for women.  We had over 50 women participate, and I had the able assistance of Fr. Tony Stephens of the Fathers of Mercy to help with confessions.  He had come in Sunday afternoon literally from a hole in the ground.  Fraternus had an overnight excursion in Cumberland Caverns, and Fr. Tony agreed to be chaplain for that event.  He is setting the apostolic standard pretty high, er, low!

On Monday evening, I went to hear Bishop Flores of Brownsville, TX give a lecture at JPII High School on immigration.  It was very good, if a bit heavy -- at least for someone as sleepy as I was ;-)  I really liked Bishop Flores.  He's quite the Texan and reads fantasy science fiction voraciously (Seminarian Brendan was delighted).  That was the topic of conversation at the reception!  He is one of the "youngest" bishops, along with my friend soon to be Archbishop Sample.  It is a great generation of bishops!

Last night, Fr. Neely and I went to the center of the universe, Murfreesboro, for St. Rose's penance service.  What a parish!  Fr. Sappenfield and his new associate Fr. Nolte have a tiger by the tail there.  Really, I was edified by the spiritual renewal going on in the parish as evidenced by the confessions heard.  Lots of men were present last night -- a good sign.  I think I took the St. John Vianney award last night -- last priest in the confessional!

During the day this week, Caroline and Kathleen have been whipping the University Catholic budget into shape.  I am SO THANKFUL to them.  It is exactly the kind of thing that I am terrible at.  With those two, University Catholic is getting into good administrative shape.  It never would under by guidance.  I can't organize a two car funeral precession!

Today will be one more good day in the office.  This evening is a "music summit" at St. Mary's to plan for Holy Week and to introduce the vision of becoming a real "Vatican II Parish" -- according to the documents of the Council as opposed to its "spirit."  I think that we have a great opportunity at St. Mary's to be that kind of parish.

Tomorrow I am going with my father for a retreat at St. Bernard's Abbey in Cullman, AL, an awesome place!  Then back here on Saturday to begin again.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

I had a long talk yesterday

with the Chaplain of Vanderbilt, Mark Forrester.  It began with a lot of reminiscing about ministering in rural Tennessee.  I was reminded at once that I was dealing with someone who understands that the human person is a mystery, and I was glad that I had insisted on a personal conversation rather than email to deal with a disagreement.  I realized that this would be a fruitful conversation, even if we disagreed about some, even many, things.  The practical standing of University Catholic and my own personal standing in the university would be helped by the recognition of the human condition that the chaplain and I share, but I also realized that our ability to deal with one another would not have any effect on the policy conflicts with the university hierarchy.  He is actually just about as out of step with them as I am.

The university is intensely secular.  This means that there must be a fix for every problem, including the problem of the human heart longing for acceptance and transcendence.  In student life, there is terrible academic, social, and organizational pressure and stress all around, with unhealthy coping mechanisms keeping people going.  That's the ugly side of "work hard, party hard."  The university hierarchy turns to legal fictions as solutions.  These provide paper fixes for the dysfunctions of student life -- and it is dysfunctional.    The administration does not recognize the longing of the human heart at work here, the longing for affirmation as a person.  Instead of promoting the "good life" for the students, the university plays games.  An understanding of virtue and friendship, for example, would really help the students to know who they are apart from their achievements, be they academic, social, or organizational.  Instead, the university offers the legal fiction of an "all comers" policy, even though they know that Vanderbilt (or the world) does not operate on anything like an "all comers" basis.  I pity the administration in some ways: the Greek system just about has them tied in knots.  They bend over backwards to preserve the Greek dominance at Vanderbilt, even though it is exclusive and generally destructive, and at the same time try to police it into politically correct behavior.  It is a futile effort, as the revolving door of fraternities leaving and returning to campus proves.  It is futile because it fails to take in to account the spiritual longings of the human person driving these destructive behaviors.  As Fr. Christopher Henderson says in his Alabama twang: "spiritual problems need spiritual solutions."  The problems of student life at Vanderbilt are fundamentally spiritual problems.  A secular university cannot answer them.

I can't do anything about the administration of Vanderbilt.  I applaud the University Chaplain for trying.  At University Catholic we can work on fostering human formation in virtue and friendship, as well as providing spiritual formation through mystery and transcendence.  They are both ways of encountering Jesus Christ, true man and true God.  It is the good life we have to offer.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The little way

Yesterday, I talked about a big goal: renewal of priestly life.  Today, I will talk about little ways to get to that goal.  Those are the best ways.

First, there is my own life.  I need to be a good priest.  I need to work on my conversion.  I should be faithful and joyful in my priestly life. 

I need to pray for my brothers.  I need to ask myself how I can live in a more fraternal way especially with the priests I actually share a rectory with.  I need to be in touch with the priests in other parishes.  I need to reach out to ones that might be lonely or struggling in some way.  I need to reach out to ones with whom I do not see eye to eye, maybe even having the courage and charity to talk about those very things.

I need to pray with other priests.  I need to have a day of recollection with other priests.  I need to go on retreat with other priests.  I need to go and be generous at our priests' assemblies.

I need to stop seeing myself as indispensable from my own work so that I do not take time for fraternity.  I need to try to include other priests in my work and to be available to help them in theirs.  I need to be positive and encouraging to and about my brother priests.  I should refrain from criticism and discourage criticism in my presence.

I should be helpful and inviting to seminarians, to young men thinking about the priesthood, and to young men who might benefit from thinking about the priesthood.

I should be patient in all of this.  I should pray for my bishop and the other bishops that they serve as fathers to their priests.  I should pray for those engaged with priestly formation all the way up to the new Holy Father.

Well, I think that's enough to start with!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

My big goals

First: to be a saint.  Well that's, at best, a work in progress ;-)

Next: I think that I have only one big goal left in my life.  I have been blessed to see many wonderful things happen in my life.  On the outside, I have been blessed in my ministry.  Here is one thing, for example, that makes me very happy.  Next weekend, the good people of St. Patrick's in McEwen will pay off their new school building.  That was a project that was undertaken while I was pastor there.  I think that University Catholic and St. Mary's are both doing well.  Sure, there is plenty to work on, but we are on the way.  On the inside, I think that with some generous help I am also on the right track.  That has been a major effort at times, with much to work on.  Finally, I am blessed with a very happy family and personal life.

But what I would still like to experience in my life is some sort of fraternal renewal of the priesthood, especially within our diocese.  Don't take my saying that the wrong way.  I am very grateful for the many excellent examples of priesthood whom I have benefited from.  I also do not set myself up as a paragon of priestly fraternity -- far from it!  But I do think that we are missing something as a "band of brothers."  There are many models and examples out there.  My particular favorite is St. Philip Neri and the Oratory.  Whatever the external form, it is the interior reality of conversion of priestly life, prayer, and communion that someday I would like to experience.

If you all have read here for long, you know that I am pretty idealistic about the Second Vatican Council and its reforms.  In the history of the Church all authentic reform has been built on the reform of the clergy.  The renewal of priesthood is one of the missing elements, I believe, in the Council's general renewal of the Church.  Maybe an emphasis on priestly life is something to pray for in the new pope!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Spring Break, what?

Yup, spring break, with a dusting of snow on the ground.  Call it global warming or what you will ;-)  Actually, call it Vanderbilt's determination to march through the spring semester as absolutely quickly as possible.

In any case, I am glad it's here.  For all practical purposes, the school year is over.  Fortunately, I am not in a practical business.  There are still lots of chances for repentance and grace, the celebration of the Paschal Mystery, etc.  Not bad, eh?

And of course, there is dear old St. Mary's!

It has been good this week to come through something truly historic to put other things in perspective.  The events of this week in the papacy of Benedict XVI will be remembered in 200 years.  The events in politics, much less those on campus, won't.  I need to remember that.  I am a Catholic.  The Church has the truth to offer no matter what the circumstances.  We will be around long after everything else is in ruins.  So I need to get on with it.  Of course, listening to where people are and trying to respond -- but not altering the truth to fit these passing pressures.

Souls, always souls, are what matter.

Oh, and speaking of historical perspective, I had a good lesson last night.  I had an appointment with a young man about entering the Church.  I realized from something he said in our introductions that I had first met him at the interfaith panel a couple of years ago.  So I have to revise my assertion that nothing good has ever come from those panels.  I just needed to wait a while.  As I said, that's a good lesson.

Friday, March 1, 2013

I made it through the day somehow

Mainly by being very busy and very tired.  In God's Providence, I was not able to watch any of the proceedings from Rome live yesterday.  I have just finished watching recordings of the key moments this morning.  And tears did come, looking at the farewell at Castel Gandolfo.  What a beautiful place.  I can see why His Holiness likes it so much.

Here we go.  I get to go talk to a Rotary Club this morning about the transition, as a surrogate for Bishop Choby.  I hope that I don't blubber there.  I did make it through Mass last night, with the aching void in the Eucharistic Prayer -- the Roman Canon, of course!

But I am very happy for His Holiness.  Maybe this has been the case for some time, but I was relieved to see him using his cane so openly yesterday.  I really believe in my gut that he is responding to the Holy Spirit to lead us somewhere new, with freedom and responsibility.

So let us pray for the Sacred College of Cardinals.  A lot.

UCat Dominicans -- not the one in the middle!

Newly named Br. Cyprian and newly professed Br. Pachomius, O.P. at St. Gertrude's, Cincinnati, Ohio, August 15, 2017

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