Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Dominican Duo

Yesterday and today we celebrate two of the best that the Dominican Order has to offer: St. Catherine of Siena and St. Pius V.  They are both awesome, reforming saints.  In my opinion, they are both too little known.  I think that it has to do with being so Dominican.  What I mean by that is that they were such realists.  What you see is what you get.  Not too concerned with PR.

St. Catherine could actually smell the stench of sin, no matter how prettied up or important the people.  It would make her sick.  She literally lived off of the Eucharist for long periods of time.  She talked to God -- and He talked back, and she told the Pope to get back to Rome.  That's all pretty real!

St. Pius V thought that he should reform the Church, as the Council of Trent directed.  So he did.  He began by reforming himself.  He saved the Church from heresy and from the Turks.  But he could be a little stern -- he almost had St. Philip Neri brought up to the Inquisition!  But all was for good.

No Franciscan preaching to the birds or Jesuit Baroque extravaganzas -- so much better photo ops!  Just the real deal, and let the chips fall where they may.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

What does my life mean?

I give you a new commandment: love one another.

For the past week or so, I have been reading a book about Fr. Emil Kapaun.  He was a priest of the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas and served as a military chaplain in World War II and in Korea.  In Korea, he was taken prisoner by the North Koreans because he refused to save himself by leaving some of his flock who were wounded.  He served them heroically in the prison camp and died there.  He was just awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor a couple of weeks ago, and his cause for canonization has been presented in Rome.  I recommend his story to you, but today I want to focus on something that came out late in the book about someone else.

In the process for canonization, proof of a miracle obtained through the Servant of God's intercession is one requirement.  One of the potential miracles obtained through Fr. Kapaun's intercession involves a young man who was injured while pole vaulting.  He missed the mat and landed on his head.  The doctors were surprised that he survived but even more surprised that he showed no signs of catastrophic brain injury or severe physical disability.  This young man seems to be very ordinary, even after the healing -- or as ordinary as a pole vaulter can be!  He says that he realizes that his life must mean something, that there must be something for him to do with his life.  He asks: "why was my life spared?"  He feels the weight of responsibility for his life.

Of course, he is right.  It took a miracle for him to realize it, but I kept thinking that it is true for all of us.  Even though most of us are not the recipients of miraculous healing, it is pretty miraculous that any of us are here at all.  Why do I exist rather than not exist?  I can't answer that, and I bet you can't either -- except for the love of God.  So your life and my life also have this weight of responsibility that the young pole vaulter is feeling about his.

Jesus gives the answer in the Gospel today.  When St. John the Evangelist was an old man -- the last of the apostles, the only one not to die a martyr's death, one of those entrusted with the deposit of faith by the Lord Himself, the beloved disciple -- many people would come to him to ask about the meaning of life.  Sort of like those silly images of people climbing a mountain to ask a guru a burning question, only to be told that the meaning of life is: "rice cakes"!  Anyhow, when anyone would come to the beloved disciple seeking enlightenment, as an old man he had reduced his teaching to this one quotation from the Lord in the Gospel today: "love one another."

Before you turn away in disgust thinking that this is not much more help than "rice cakes," let's consider love.  Don't worry, I'm not going to give you another Greek lesson!  Why is love a real answer?  It is a real answer because it is something that we can all do. (Kant's got a hold of something with the categorical imperative!)  I can love anytime and anywhere.  Nobody can stop me.  It is not like saying that I must be Postmaster General -- or must get this internship, or must make this grade, or must marry this girl, or must feel fulfilled.  Many external things can interfere with these goals.  But love, I can always do that.  It may not be easy, but I can do it.  So far, so good.  Also, love comes from the inside out.  It is primarily an interior reality that bubbles out all over the place.  It changes me, not things.  So many of the answers offered for the meaning of life -- if we even ask the question -- are about doing something.  But not love.  Love is about changing from selfishness to sacrifice.  It does not change the world directly, but it does indirectly by changing us.  We start to act as people whose lives mean something.  Our vocations are, as St. Therese said, to love.

We have different ways to love.  There are big loves, like the love that I hope that most of your are preparing for: the love of a spouse, by which you give your live away as Christ did for love of His spouse, the Church.  (Here I point to the crucifix, for those of you who have a pool going!)  Or the similar love of a priest loving Christ's spouse directly or of a religious loving Christ as the bridegroom of her soul.  There is the huge love of parent for child.  I was talking to a young man yesterday about the love he has for his son, whom he and his wife had prayed for so much as they dealt with issues of infertility.  Now that he is here, love has really begun in a new and demanding way!  The love of children for parents, especially as people are living longer and need more care.  There are also all kinds of smaller loves.  I experienced one on campus this week when a student, a young man, in passing actually looked me in the eye and said "good morning."  That is a rare love around here!

Love is the most practical thing in the world, much more practical than economics or chemistry.  You don't even need money or a lab to do it!  You only need yourself.  When we really make our decisions out of love, then things do indeed change because we change.  Even the world can change this way.  It has before.  The early Christians changed the Greco-Roman world they lived in.  It was a cruel, weary, depraved world, even though successful and wealthy.  Eventually, things like slavery and gladiatorial games came to an end.  Babies were no longer subject be being abandoned to die if they were unwanted.  In many ways the world of the Christian "dark ages" was more enlightened than the Classical world it replaced.

So if you are feeling the weight of responsibility for your life -- and I hope that you are, like our pole vaulter who received the miracle.  Irresponsibility is no way to go through life.  -- then listen to the Gospel: love one another.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Hitting the road

My sister and I benefit from what we call "driving therapy."  Having spent so much of our childhood in a car, especially commuting to Nashville for school, church, and many other things, we find some sort of comfort behind the wheel!

I know that driving therapy has helped my sister cope with the demands of her dissertation this year.  I certainly experienced its benefits yesterday.  I drove down to Franklin County to be with the FOCUS team during their "off site" regrouping after the semester.  We had a holy hour and Mass in a beautiful little stone and wooden church, St. Margaret Mary in Alto.  Then we drove through Roark's Cove and up the Mountain to Sewanee for lunch and a little walking around.  Most people would not consider this a day off, but it was exactly what the doctor ordered for me.  Hitting the road!

On the way back, I stopped and visited the priest who was my first pastor after ordination, Fr. Steve Klasek, who is now the pastor of St. Paul's in Tullahoma.   We had a very good visit.  Then I proceeded to Murfreesboro and had supper with Fr. Mark Sappenfield.  It was a good day.  I really needed to get away for a bit.  Just ask some of the people here!

Visiting Sewanee did re-emphasize for me what a disaster "elite" higher education is for human formation.  I "go off" on Vanderbilt all the time, but Sewanee is terrible too.  All such places are.  I picked up a copy of the Sewanee Purple, the student newspaper, and read it when I got back to the rectory last night.  Awful things are reported there.  I think that my experience as a student at Sewanee did cure me of prudery.  I think that I am tolerant, maybe too tolerant, of youthful (or otherwise) indiscretion.  What gets me is the intentionality, almost inevitability, of the degrading behavior.  Everybody seems to expect it, even to desire it -- even the grown ups.  It is not regretted.  It is not even considered a mistake.  And yet...and yet maybe conscience is not completely dead.  There was an article about some sort of Facebook feature that allows for anonymous confession that for a while had a Sewanee "franchise." Is this something "hip" the Church could look into...oh wait, I forgot ;-)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The restlessness of Pope Francis

This is just me so don't read much into it.  There seems to be a restlessness about Pope Francis that is both inspiring and unsettling.  Inspiring in that he is willing to go with his gut in leading the Church.  One small example: he cancelled bonuses that the cardinal board members of the Vatican Bank had been receiving.  In the world of banking, it was not much money -- I think something like $30,000 each.  But why were there bonuses like that anyhow?  I guess that is what the Pope thought.  On the other hand, you don't quite know what to expect next with him.  I sure would not want to be one of his guards!

I think that the Holy Father is a man who knows what's up.  But he is in a new league now -- a league with only one player.  He wants to lead us practically into renewal.  How to do that?  He has two great predecessors who have paved the way with all the rationale needed for renewal.  He wants to get it on the ground.  I am with him!  I think that he is right that there have to be some new ways of doing things.  But that is tricky and probably requires some trial and error.  That's the unsettling part.

I think that we need this restlessness in ourselves.  The restlessness that rests only in God.  But where is He to be found?  Assuredly in the liturgy.  That seems to be where Pope Francis is most at home -- at daily Mass.  Me too!  Then we head out for the day into the uncharted waters and back again for tomorrow.  I am not so sure that I want things to settle into a routine with the Holy Father.  I want him to give us what he has to give.  Being uncomfortable in this world is a big part of it.  We are way too comfortable with the status quo.  We do not want change for change's sake, but we have to keep moving toward Heaven.

I am glad to be shaken up some.  Thanks, Holy Father!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Matt Maher @ Belmont

I had a fun time tonight with the students at our last meeting of the year at Belmont.  An internet concert was being filmed at Belmont tonight that featured Matt Maher, who is the biggest Catholic name in contemporary Christian music.  (Another Catholic prominent in that field is Audrey Assad -- a parishioner at St. Mary's!)  I was introduced to Matt by Jimmy Mitchell (who else?) back at my first FOCUS conference in Grapevine, TX.  Matt has since moved to Nashville -- East Nashville, of course, where I blessed his house.  He was very gracious tonight and came by to talk to the students.

I like Matt very much.  I also enjoy his music.  It tends to be less preachy than most CCM.  He draws his inspiration from Tradition, such as an upbeat Easter song based on a homily of St. John Chrysostom.  His music also has many subjective associations for me.  I was introduced to him by students early in my career at Vanderbilt like Jimmy and Mallory Ryan, and so it naturally tugs at my heart because of them.  The spring semester of the year that I had met Matt in Dallas, I went during spring break to my first Rachel's Vineyard retreat in Atlanta.  Jimmy had given me an advance copy of Matt's new album, which I had in the car with me.  After the retreat was over, I was practically in shock from the raw emotions laid bare in the retreat and had the drive from Atlanta back to Nashville in front of me.  I listened to the CD over and over again so that I have deep emotional associations with those songs.  I was literally moved to tears a couple of times during the concert tonight.  Going down memory lane in that way also helped me to see what we have accomplished here over the years -- like bringing Rachel's Vineyard to Nashville.  Sometimes I only see what is lacking.

[My experience tonight shows the power of such music and, I would suggest, its proper setting.  It communicates powerfully to the emotions and can therefore be an aid to devotion, including times of devotional prayer.  It stirs us in ways that give hope and encouragement.  But its subjectivity is also what makes it inappropriate for liturgy, which is supposed to be a communal experience.  In liturgical worship we are called out of ourselves into the Mystical Body and lifted up to the Father untied to Jesus.  We have to have the discipline to leave behind our private emotions in order to enter into a common experience.  I very definitely see a place for music like Matt's in expressions of devotion, but I have to say that I don't see it fitting into liturgical worship.  At a baseball game, for example, we sing the national anthem but not love songs.  Liturgy is a communal experience like a baseball game -- in some ways.  And we still really need love songs -- in their proper setting.]

OK -- I have digressed from my admiration of Matt and his music.  Let me go on the record to say that Matt's music has fed me in many ways.  I am a big fan!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Ending well

Well, it's that time of Sunday night when I can't get right to bed.  And tonight I want to relish the moment.  Our next-to-last 9 p.m. Mass on campus was such a blessed time.  We had a good congregation.  Our numbers have held throughout the year, more or less.  That is the exception in campus ministry, where the conventional wisdom is that numbers always drop over the year.  The music was beautiful.  I think we are getting our musical identity!  Many confessions -- is it because exams are looming?  There are no atheists during exam week ;-)  I am happy about the ending of this year -- a year that began with so many questions.  I think that now we are actually stronger than ever.

I do have a big challenge to raise a lot of money before the end of the fiscal year at the end of June.  The CFO of the diocese is on to me!  Hey, if you can help, please hit the donate button on the web site or send a check.  Really.  But money is my only problem at this point, and as my wise mother said: "if money can solve your problems, then they are not very bad."

St. Mary's was also an encouragement for me today.  The parish is coming together -- slowly.  Mainly the slowness is the fault of the pastor!  I am excited about the parish.  Everyone who is there is glad to be there.  Such a blessing!  I hope that once the school year is over, I can spend more time on the parish, getting some things started that are ready to roll.

It is good to feel this way.  The only obstacle that I see is myself.  Pray for me, a sinner!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Spiritual Solutions for Spiritual Problems

This is a quotation from a wonderful preacher, Fr. Christopher Henderson.  You have to imagine hearing it delivered with an accent straight from the Heart of Dixie, Sweet Home Alabama, to get the full effect.

This is to continue on a thought from yesterday's post.  For example, students getting drunk, passing out, and being left to freeze is a spiritual problem -- or several spiritual problems, even more than a practical one.  An email reminding students about the dangers of hypothermia is not a spiritual solution.  It is reasonable practical advice that might mitigate some of the symptoms of the problem.

Today the Church propose seeing Jesus as the Good Shepherd.  This is a spiritual solution.  Knowing that we are loved in this way might slake some of the thirst for oblivion betrayed in dangerous drinking or drugging.  It might also inspire imitation to care sacrificially for those who are lost in such oblivion.

Yesterday, Pope Francis spoke of lukewarm Catholics as those who are satellites around Jesus rather than real followers.  They never get too close but circle at a safe distance.  Great image.  Followers intend to catch up with the one followed!

Saturday, April 20, 2013


Once again, the Vanderbilt Dean of Students Office has sent out an email warning of the dangers of hypothermia to drunk or otherwise incapacitated undergraduates passed out on its leafy lawns.  It is the weekend of Rites of Spring, after all, which somehow always has bad weather and is the setting for much mood altering chemical ingestion.  OK -- I guess some lawyer has told them that this email would be helpful about liability.  It is hard to imagine a student deciding not to pass out under a tree or another student deciding to get the passed-out student home by remembering the email that good, ole Dean Bandas sent out.

Not that I am shocked by youthful indiscretion.  In my day at the University of the South, there was plenty of getting other people back to their rooms and being gotten back to one's room.  But I don't remember the university instructing us to do so.  Somehow, we knew.  There remained some patina of the duties of friendship.  Friendship is a spiritual reality, a form of love.  (In the midst of a terrible ice storm, I do remember this notice being posted: "The Vice Chancellor requests, until further notice, that you refrain from flushing the commodes."  How civilized.)

On a more serious note, we have witnessed terrible things in Boston this week.  There will be lots of bureaucratic "solutions" proposed.  But they are like Dean Bandas' email.  Well-meaning, perhaps helpful, but not really a solution.  We need more radical solutions than these.  We need conversion.  We need love.  I am not proposing a crusade, and I do not suggest that evil in the world can be eliminated.  But what will make more of a difference before, during, and after these events is conversion to the love of God.  And that needs to happen all the time, every day.  We won't need to be told by email or hectored by regulations to do the right thing.  We will do it because it is what we are always trying to do. 

What the emails and the regulations are trying to do is to create paradise without conversion.  It is saying that if we tweak things just right, then we can go on living as we like and everything will be fine.  For example, I can be selfish or irresponsible, and nothing bad will happen to me.  That's not real.  You can actually be responsible, and bad things are going to happen to you.  So what can I do about it?  I love the people who are having bad things happen to them -- everyday.  I have friends who can call on me everyday.  I sacrifice for my family everyday.  I pray everyday.

It is a burden to live this way.  It means that we don't get to do a lot of little things we would like to do.  It means we don't do some big things that we had our hearts set on.  It means we do lots of things that we would rather not.  It is a burden, but it is a burden that is light and a yoke that is easy.  When we live this way, it changes us.  When we live this way, it changes those around us.  When we live this way, it changes the world.  A little bit.  Slowly.

Human beings are more than clever animals who excel at self-preservation through communication and regulation.  We have human souls that are made for self-sacrifice, for love.  Let's try to be as adept at love as we are at management and see what happens.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Exile or Second Class Status?

We are wrapping up our first year of exile here at University Catholic.  Actually, it hasn't been much of an exile.  More like second class status.  It has not hurt us much, and it has helped in many ways.  I haven't met with a single Vanderbilt administrator all year :-)  That's a relief, after last year!  In the long run, I firmly believe that our new lack of university status is a blessing.  We really do not need and should not want Vanderbilt's approval for what we do.  It is Vanderbilt's loss, not ours.

I have been amazed that we have been allowed to do so much of what we have been allowed to do.  I think that Vanderbilt really does want us around.  They just can't say so.  We add to the diversity of the place.  University Catholic is the place to go for Catholic Christianity: religion that is robust, intelligent, challenging, mature -- and orthodox.  That is not to say that we don't have room for improvement.  We do, but by being more -- not less -- robust, intelligent, challenging, mature, and orthodox.

If we should run afoul of the university again or if we continue to "co-exist" ;-), we will carry out our mission.  I don't think that we should worry about it.  I did at the beginning of the year, and I have learned better -- mainly by being too busy.  Back in the days of the civil rights demonstrations, Atlanta described itself as too busy to hate.  Well, that's us.  Too busy to worry about passing fads in university life.  Actually, I think that the Church in our culture ought to adopt much the same outlook.  For example, marry people who really want marriage and don't worry so much about what the law and culture call marriage.  (It is already only a sham of the real thing.)  Take care of those who come to us.  And believe me, they will come.  Just take my answering machine at St. Mary's for that!

We simply need to remain faithful.  The goodness of Catholic faith in Jesus Christ is self-evident.  That's why it provokes the kind of responses that it does, for good or ill.  Except it is actually all for good: omnia in bonum!  We need to remind ourselves of this when we are in conflict, for example, as we pray for the chaplaincy at George Washington.  Remain happy and confident.  Bear wrongs patiently.  Forgive all injuries.  That way the gift of faith remains appealing to those who seek it.  And they are seeking it.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Being rooted

I had a delightful conversation yesterday afternoon in the living room of the Frassati House with the two students who happened to be there.  (Late afternoon is a time when the Frassati House usually starts to gather a crowd.  I used to have more such conversations.  This year has been too busy! -- Note to self for next year.)  The two students were a freshman girl and a senior boy.  The young lady asked me about what assignments I had had as a priest so I listed them off to her.  She commented on the fact that they were all around this part of Tennessee.  I explained to her about being a diocesean priest: that I would always be around here.  It really is one of the reasons that I am a diocesean priest.  I thought that God was calling me here.

Being rooted is largely the point of  the book I posted about earlier in the week.  It is the point of this post by Msgr. Pope.  He actually sees it as necessary for evangelization.  It is the point of stability in monastic life.

I was talking later last evening with a few students gathered to celebrate the birthday of one of them at at nearby restaurant that Vanderbilt actually has a legacy in the Fugitives and Agrarians for such localism -- of course, long since rejected!  They really were not familiar with the Fugitives and Agrarians.  But they agreed with the concepts that we were discussing.

I am delighted to see how many of the students want to stay in Nashville.  There seems to be a community of the faithful forming here, really without any organization from above -- or perhaps from very far above!  I have students tell me that they had never run into Catholics who really try to live their faith, especially ones their age, until they came here.  That is a lot of what they want to stay for.  It think that is good.

We have to start to care a lot more about people and places and not so much about accomplishment.  It is a fun aspect to St. Mary's.  It isn't going anywhere!  I received in the mail the tax reappraisal notice for the parish.  It described the plot as part of an original parcel of the plan of Nashville.  I think we will be there next week!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Terror in Boston

What can be said about the bombings at the Boston Marathon, which we all know about?  Lord, have mercy.

What should be said about the mass murder trial of Kermit Gosnell in Philadelphia, which far too few know about?  Lord, have mercy.

What should be said about the silent killing of the elderly in hospice care by over medication (see yesterday's Tennessean), again which far too few know about?  Lord, have mercy.

What should be said about school shootings, which we all know about?  Lord, have mercy.

What should be said about every sin?  Lord, have mercy.

Why not pass more laws or carry more guns -- or both?  Neither laws nor guns will save us, although we should do the best we can to come up with wise policies to mitigate the damage from evil acts.  There will be damage.  There is evil in the world.  But do not be afraid.  Why not?  Because Jesus says so!

He did not root out the evil in the world.  He endured it.  Finally, He triumphed over it.  Why won't He just fix things?  Because the problem really isn't the bomb but the man who made the bomb and the fear it causes.  The same thing that redeems the man who made the bomb redeems the fear.  Mercy.

Am I recommending passivity?  Look at the works of mercy: feed, give drink, clothe, visit, shelter, ransom, bury...and admonish, instruct, counsel, comfort, bear wrongs, forgive, pray!  Mercy isn't passive.  We should not be passive in the face of evil.  Let's do the things that will make a difference.

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Review

After an incredible but incredibly exhausting weekend, I found myself distracted by a book that I could not stop reading.  That rarely happens to me.  Last night, I read as long as I could after Mass.  I fell asleep on the couch in the rectory common room where Fr. Steiner found me at 4:15 a.m. when he was leaving for a fishing trip.  I eventually got up, had coffee, and went to St. Mary's because painters were coming but I didn't know when.  I opened up the church, said my prayers, and started reading again until I had finished the book just before time for confessions.

The book is The Little Way of Ruthie Leming by Rod Dreher.  It is about his sister's death from lung cancer and his return to his hometown of St. Francisville, LA.  It is a really good book and emotionally wrenching.  You can't predict every turn.  He comes to some wise conclusions.  I was drawn into it because it allowed me to revisit emotionally the time of my mother's death from cancer.  I realized that I have for the most part emotionally sealed that off for a long time.

One of the big struggles in the book is the author trying to deal with the fact that his sister had a hard time putting up with him, although she certainly loved him.  I guess that it is unkind for me to say this, but I understand her difficulty.  It speaks well of the book that I can like it without liking the author.  The book raises many issues of community and human formation that are much on my mind these days as I try to serve the university students and the parishioners of St. Mary's -- and as I try to be a human being!  It is a thoughtful book and not simplistic.  I gained a lot from it.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Msgr. Pope does it again!

No, I actually don't sit around all day reading Catholic blogs, but I do check in.  (I recommend New Advent to do this quickly and reliably.)  Anyhow, it's just a good day at St. Blogs!

Great, no, really great, post from Msgr. Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington.  I find that I appreciate his work in the blogsphere more than practically anybody.  Go read his post on the Church as thermostat rather than thermometer.  It is well done and thorough.

Marriage -- Boys to Men

Here is a good article on a topic that I obsess about: how to get good Catholic boys to ask good Catholic girls on dates -- and why that is important for the boys.  It is the great mystery of my work.  I have all these fantastic young people for the most part not dating each other.  Come on, guys, it needs to start with you.

The article basically says that men don't grow up until they are married.  I tend to agree, but what does that say about me, and those like me in priesthood and religious life ;-)  Well, I think that we see much the same sort of hesitancy going on there.  Instead of hanging out, it's called discerning -- a word I have come to hate in the way that most people use it.  It's like playing hard to get with God!  Now how is that a good idea?

Last night after Brideshead, I was taking out the trash -- hey, that's manly -- and thinking: "I love celibacy."  Really, I was.

A real day off

Yesterday, I actually managed a real day off.  It was needed, and it paid off.

I had the early Mass at Cathedral and said the opening prayer for the Catholic Business League.  Then I checked in with Kathleen at the office for a few things that she had ready for the weekend.  Then off.  Really off.

I went to Murfreesboro and hung out with a couple of priest friends: Frs. Mark Sappenfield and Nolte.  I rested.  I came back for the exciting conclusion to the graduate student viewing of Brideshead Revisited -- the BBC series (all 11 parts) not the wretched movie.

I went to bed and woke up, more or less ready to go.  Nice! 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

What to make of this?

Sunday we have a Gospel reading that intrigues me very much!  It follows just after the Gospel from last week.  Peter and some of the other Apostles have gone back to their "day jobs" of fishing.  They are not having much success until Jesus comes along.  After Peter and the others bring in the big catch, Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves Him.  It allows the Lord to confirm Peter in his pastoral ministry -- literally as a shepherd.  It also mirrors Peter's triple denial of Jesus earlier in the Gospel.  In Greek, there is an interesting twist to the questioning.  Jesus asks the first two times using the verb for agape love, and Peter answers using the verb for friendship love.  (Remember that Greek has several different words for things we lump together using only one word.)  The third time, the time in which they seem to come to agreement, Jesus uses the same friendship love verb as Peter.  Hum...

Many of the Fathers made a great deal out of this.  I am going to do some refreshing of my reading about this distinction.

There is also Peter's prologue to his third answer: "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."  Hum...

OK.  Is that enough food for thought for one day?  It seems to me to suggest, among other things, that vocation is about loving Jesus and only afterwards about what He will have us do.  Do I love Him?  And with what verb?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Fr. Austin playing bluegrass...and why not?

Go listen for yourself.

Of course, I am not really surprised as the author of the article seems to be.  Fr. Austin is from Henderson, Kentucky, after all!  Furthermore, the Dominican Order began in this country in St. Rose, Kentucky.  The first Bishop of Nashville, Richard Pius Miles, O.P., buried in St. Mary's, was from this community of Kentucky Dominicans.

The article is entitled "Hillbilly Thomist," a quotation from Flannery O'Connor.  The whole piece smacks a bit of New York condescension.  Oh well.  I bet you are a lot more likely to run into the ideas of St. Thomas in the hills of Kentucky than on the streets of New York City.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Here's the picture!




Yesterday afternoon, PJ Jedlovek, former University Catholic president, gave the defense of his honors paper in Math.  Some of the sweet girls of University Catholic went to the defense with PJ T-shirts on that they had made to cheer him on!  Of course, he passed.

That's what I mean by human formation.

P.S. I've got to see one of these shirts!

He dwelt among us

We have had an interesting couple of days on the campuses of Vanderbilt and Belmont.  At Vanderbilt, we had a Eucharistic procession across campus Sunday evening, and at Belmont yesterday we had Mass in the tiny chapel located in the base of the iconic bell tower at the center of that campus.  I was impressed by the devotion of the students who came to each service, but neither attracted very many students.  I have to admit that I question myself about the usefulness of these services.  Were we just Catholics being weird -- or worse, showing off?

I don't think so, and I would do both all over again.  As a matter of fact, I believe that the smallness but intensity of the services helps to prove their authenticity.  We were all sincere, even if misguided or odd.  We sincerely believe that Jesus was present, and that His presence makes a difference.

At Vanderbilt, we began in Benton Chapel and launched out across 21st to the Peabody campus and the Commons, came back by the Medical Center, made a sweep by Kirkland Hall and then returned to the chapel.  I doubt that there were more than 30 of us, but we prayed the whole way, thanks to the hearty voice of Jeff Swaney, who led us through litanies, chaplets, and the rosary.  Frankly, nobody but ourselves seemed at all moved to any sort of devotion by the exercise.  Those we met along the way mainly seemed embarrassed, a few curious.  We didn't cause any sort of apparent ripple.

At Belmont, we set up the chapel for Mass in the bell tower.  I think you can count the number of Masses celebrated on Belmont's campus on one hand so this was still a bit of a breakthrough for the formerly Baptist campus.  The lights were on and the doors open so that we were quite visible and perhaps audible to those out on the quadrangle around the tower on a lovely evening.  We sang it all, just about, and I gave a lengthier homily than I should have.  There were about 15 people there, but that is a good crowd in that small space!

So why do I feel so good about these small and unusual happenings?  I think that when Jesus came among us the first time, his following was pretty small and unnoticed for the most part.  Yet His coming changes things radically, even if nobody notices.  Surely that is the message of the Incarnation, especially at the Annunciation.  Who knew?  But everything was changed forever.  I think that what the students and I did was significant because it shows faith in His presence.  Jesus came to Vanderbilt and Belmont.  A few recognized Him and loved Him.  That's enough.  We can trust Him to do what He will.

Archbishop Sample's homily

Here is the text that I promised.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Ever ancient, ever new

It's the second week of Easter, and things are starting to go back to normal -- starting to.  Last week, I was excited about going to Portland.  This week, I am excited about not going to Portland -- or anywhere else.  I want simplicity, and I want change.  I have my work to take care of, and I am called to new things.  How can I have it both ways?

I cannot speak for anyone else, but I know that I am called to a life of renewal and reform, not of revolution.  I need to become more of what I am supposed to be, not something new.  I need to work on priestly life as it is, not in a new situation.  I need to work with the people I am with, not some other ideal group.

Practically speaking, this means that I need to get up and get to work but always trying to be more authentic.  It can never be "business as usual."  It is always change, always conversion.  But change and conversion that are organic -- change into, rather than change from.

I am not very good at this.  I am not consistent, and I keep "backsliding" -- to borrow a wonderful concept from our separated brethren!  So then I need to begin again but in the same place, on the same foundations.  I know that this is the course for me.  Others, I know, are called to make new foundations.  I wish them well.  That path is exciting, but it has its own pitfalls -- more dangerous ones, I believe.  I need the safer path, even if it is not pristine.

I need to push myself along this path.  It can become too safe, or I can become too comfortable with the junk that has accumulated.  This day is one to clear out some of the debris, both external and internal!  So off to work on the same old road.

Sunday, April 7, 2013


That's a buzz word right now, thanks to Pope Francis.  I just don't pull it off at all well!  I can offer all kinds of excuses, some pretty reasonable and plausible -- but excuses nonetheless.  If I wanted simplicity in my life, I could have it.  It requires sacrifice and self control.  It also requires humility.

First of all, I had better begin working on simplicity in my life simply.  I also need to begin on the inside.  I am way too complicated inside.  I need a pure, simple heart.  Then other things can simplify.  But it does not work the other way around.  All I do then is create complicated programs of simplification!

Yesterday is a good example of what I am talking about.  There were lots of things going on -- too many actually to get them all done.  But I managed.  So far, so good.  But inside, I lost sight of the one thing that matters in the midst of the many.  I lost self control and was consumed by the many.  St. Josemaria has one of his good pithy saying that I need to take to heart: multum non multa.  Much not many.  I needed much love, and there is only one source for that.  There is where I blew it!  So even though I did many things yesterday, I didn't do much that really matters.  And I could have.

I think that today I will make one step toward simplicity.  I am not sure what it is yet so I had better pray and let God tell me. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Francis: special concern for people “tossed onto an existential garbage heap”

The "existential garbage heap" -- that's an evocative phrase.  Certainly one immediately thinks of the third world slums built literally on garbage heaps.  But can this expression mean more?  The young in our first world can find themselves there.  I find them sitting on the steps of St. Mary's shooting craps.  I find them at Vanderbilt after a weekend or after spring break.

Our boosterish city and university officials don't much care about the existential garbage heap.  It gets in the way of the narrative of success: a new convention center! a new set of dorms!  But what about the people?  How are they doing?  Very often, not so well.

Pope Francis wants us to have special concern for these as well.  It is a tricky thing to do.  The young people on the steps of St. Mary's are deeply hurt.  It will take time and patience for them to have any trust.  At Vanderbilt, it may be even trickier because there are vested interests denying much of the misery, especially the sexual chaos.

I think the best I can do as a priest is to open the doors and turn on the lights.  According to Pope Francis: "Open the doors of the Church, and then the people will come in … if you keep the light on in the confessional and are available, then you will see what kind of line there is for confession.”  Here is something more: "It is not a bad thing that reality itself forces us to 'put out into the deep', where what we are by grace is clearly seen as pure grace, out into the deep of the contemporary world, where the only thing that counts is “unction” – not function – and the nets which overflow with fish are those cast solely in the name of the One in whom we have put our trust: Jesus." 

Let us put our effort and imagination into reaching and addressing the misery of the existential garbage heap.  I need to resist the urge to diagnosis it with those in need of healing.  There is a time and place for analysis, but in the emergency room what is needed is action to stop the bleeding.  I need to show love first, then when things are more stable we can talk about the causes.  I guess that I am recommending spiritual triage.  Our world is too hurt to engage in debate and discussion.  We must love first.  I am going to try to live this way, to ask myself first how can I love right here, right now.  That should keep me busy enough!  When I would ask the FOCUS missionaries what I could do for them, CeeCee used to answer (in her funny "Baby" voice): "Just love us, Father, just love us."  She was right.

I think that this is what the world is sensing in Pope Francis.  He is leading with love.  I will try to follow him. (For a very interesting example of leading with love in a difficult situation, read here.)

Friday, April 5, 2013

OK -- let's return the favor and pray!

for the Catholic Chaplain at George Washington University, Fr. Greg Shaffer.  From what I can tell, he is being attacked for being Catholic on the issue of same sex attraction.  Read about it here.  I will be getting in touch with the FOCUS team director there, who is a Vanderbilt alum, for the real scoop.  In the mean time, pray!

I remember last year being in the public spotlight during our controversy here at Vanderbilt.  It is not pleasant.  Last night, I had a strange experience.  I was at a dinner on campus with Bishop Choby honoring the retiring dean of the Divinity School.  The Chancellor of the university was there.  Admittedly, it was a social setting, but in brief words said in passing, the Chancellor called me by name (so he was not mistaking me for someone else) and thanked me for my work at Vanderbilt.  Go figure.  I should have thanked him for clarifying our identity for us, if time permitted. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Archbishop Sample's Installation

I think that anyone would agree that the new Archbishop's homily was the highpoint of the three hour Mass. (I would link it for you, if I could find it online.) The homily was long too but worth every minute. It was strong and direct. I think that Archbishop Sample introduced himself well and set his vision for the diocese by being totally centered on Jesus Christ. It was a refreshing homily in being a straightforward presentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It was well delivered. It was a "grown up" homily -- no gimmicks. It was just what I would have expected from my friend. That is the kind of man and disciple of Jesus Christ that he is: Fr. Good Example! I know that he will lead his people to love Jesus better and more. What more could you ask of a bishop?

The rest of the ceremony was impressive, or as impressive as a gym can be. It took so long mainly because of trying to be inclusive of every possible group in the diocese, and communion was a little awkward. One thing I noticed was that there were absolutely no visual images: statues, icons, not even a crucifix. Still, quite impressive.

This was a blessed day for Portland.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

In Portland

Well, here I am on the west coast. This is the first time to spend a night this far west. (I did pass through the San Francisco airport coming and going from World Youth Day in Australia.) I have a lot of impressions so far, but I am going to hold off on commenting for a while. Here are a few random things. A student at Mass on Sunday night recommended Voodoo Donuts so I found that on an early morning walk today. Honestly, I think the reputation comes from the weirdness of the flavors and the establishment more than the quality of the donuts. This is a pretty place, especially pretty trees. The air is cool and fresh. Bishop Sample gave a strong and clear homily last night at vespers. He presided with dignity. There was no applause -- and no seeking of applause. He has such a confident and normal personality. I wonder what they will make of him here. We'll see!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, April 1, 2013


Great Easter! -- I was too busy living it to post about it.  I will have to process my thoughts a bit, but it was awesome.  One very interesting thing about St. Mary's.  We had almost as many people at the Good Friday Liturgy as at Easter Morning Mass.  That's a good sign!

Now I am off to Portland for Archbishop Sample's installation.  He is an old friend from seminary!

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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